More Idle Musing on Some Recent Writing Work

I have noted once again that I continue to do freelance writing work, with drafting lesson plans taking up a fair bit of the time I put toward such endeavors. I think about the work I do, as should be hoped, and, as might not be hoped, my mind sometimes wanders into strange places as I do so. Now, one of the things I am asked to do as I put together lesson plans is compose prompts for essay questions. My client has generally appreciated the work I have done on that score, which is gratifying, and my idle wonderings have turned to how I would answer such prompts if they were put to me. After all, I continue to write in this webspace, which means I need to have content for it, and composing essays addressing prompts would do a fair bit to provide me that content.

I’ve gotten back a few that looked like this, yeah.
Photo by cottonbro on

There are perils in my doing so, of course. For one, when I submit the lesson plans, I sell off my rights to them, transferring the copyright to the client (for an agreeable fee, admittedly), so what use I can make of the prompts is somewhat questionable. (I’m not looking to be at the front of such a classroom as might use the lesson plans, myself, so that’s not a concern, but still…) For another, and likely the more pressing, I know from years of experience as a student and as a teacher that no few students will go to some length to keep from having to do the work of composing an essay. They will, instead, look for others’ essays to present as their own; it was a common practice among the students at the school where I taught last, especially given the top-down, centrally-imposed assignment sequence. (Indeed, I suspect that a number of the views of this webspace are by students at that institution who are facing the assignments I used to provide, pulling down the samples I composed in support of my own students as copy-texts and hoping that the “originality checking” software the school uses will not see the original source. Please don’t do it; I know how much the school charges, and it’s a waste of money to blow it for plagiarism, if nothing else.)

(I note, too, that even some of the best schools to be found show such problems amid their students.)

Part of me understands that students who do such things do so after having been advised and cautioned against the practice. I know I was not alone in going over plagiarism and the need to properly credit sources in my writing classes; “someone went to the trouble of getting the materials together and putting them where you could see them,” I’d say, or something like it, “so say thank you and cite your source.” (I’d also say other things.) This was true at every institution where I taught, and I still work to credit my sources as I continue writing in less formal contexts now than before. (Styles vary, of course, but the important thing is making the acknowledgement.) If a student pulls down an essay I write, changes the name, submits it, and gets rebuked for it, that is not on me; the student chose do to something they have been told not to do, and so they should suffer the consequences of their actions.

At the same time, if I know that my actions will make it more likely someone will do something wrong, and I do not gain by the action or by the error, am I justified in undertaking those actions? Is the good that does emerge from the work I do–and there is some good, I am told, for at least some of that work–enough to offset the potential harm? Or am I overthinking things once again, showing the symptoms of chronic academic inclination that more than a year away from the institution has not much eased?

I am not wise enough to know.

I could still use, and will still appreciate, your kind support.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 157: Mad Ship, Chapter 19

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

A chapter titled “Aftermath” follows, opening with Althea delivering Restart back to his home. It is a pleasant experience for neither of them, with Althea having to take charge of the situation while Restart fumbles about ineptly. He makes some noises of gratitude, provoking sharp rebuke from Althea for his trafficking in slaves; Restart begrudgingly releases one from his service.

Frans Hals 092 WGA version.jpg
Not unlike this, perhaps?
Frans Hals’s The Fisher Boy, which I am told is public domain

Meanwhile, Keffria considers a portrait she had had made of her husband, as well as the relationship she had had with him. She realizes she does not love the man, if she ever had, and muses on the parallels between him and Althea before making to join Ronica in what had been her father’s study. They are interrupted by Brashen calling on the house, accompanied by Amber; they purpose to speak about reclaiming the Vivacia. Keffria is uncomfortable at their arrival, but Ronica sees them in just as Althea arrives back at the Vestrit house.

Althea is accompanied by Restart’s former slave, a stable boy, as she mulls over her situation and her failures. Her physical condition is remarked upon, and she upbraids Brashen before moving off to bathe. Ronica overrules her dismissal of Trell, however, and discussion ensues after Althea washes and re-dresses in haste. Brashen and Amber voice a plan to purchase the Paragon, crew the ship, and sail off to reclaim the Vivacia. Althea opposes the plan, but the newly-arrived Malta asks about it. Objections to and concerns about the plan are voiced and addressed. Many center on expenses, with Malta pleasantly surprising Ronica by asking about them–and surprising the lot of them similarly by affirming her willingness to wed Reyn in the interest of staving off the debts owed to the Khuprus family.

Amid the planning, Brashen also notes the unrest at the Bingtown waterfront that the Vestrits had missed. Grag Tenira had been involved and has vanished, though not unhappily. And planning to retrieve the Vivacia continues, with the former slave volunteering to sail on the mission. Others begin to accept roles in the plan, and people begin to retire for the evening.

Althea delivering Restart home and taking command of his household when she arrives rings of a misogynistic trope that has received no small amount of attention: masculine domestic ineptitude. Also called creative incompetence or strategic incompetence, and related to learned helplessness, the pattern speaks to the perceived infantilization of men when it comes to doing domestic tasks such as are involved in maintaining a household. (Notably, Althea “suddenly felt [Restart] needed to be treated like a child” as she sees about directing his household.) That is, men are depicted–and, per no few comments, enact the depiction–as having no ability to manage household chores (unless, of course, there is some overt gain in it). The pattern obliges others to “take care” of them, in effect subordinating them–and while it is certainly the case that some people are truly unable to care for themselves, and others may negotiate divisions of labor within committed reciprocal relationships, the pattern often extends outside such sensible bounds–as is the case with Restart.

Help me move more confidently into the new year?


While the sun shines
It is easy enough to hold up the load
Roots digging deep into the stone as leaves soak in
The light and warmth provided them
Yet when a cloud passes by
Or night falls
Then the stone shift and fall
Slumping into frowning crags that look
Heavy lidded
Upon the world that the sunshine hides
Until the day demands the rocks be hauled up again
Showing unending labor’s wages to the world

Sometimes, it feels like this, yes.
Image is Titian’s Sisyphus, which I believe is public domain and is certainly used for commentary.

Please note that I’ll not be posting on Friday, 25 December 2020. I’ll be with family and away from my computers.

One last request for a holiday bequest…

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 156: Mad Ship, Chapter 18

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “Wishes Fulfilled,” opens aboard the Vivacia, with Wintrow grilling Kennit regarding the fate of the ship’s previous captain. Kennit deflects the inquiries, reminding Wintrow that he had asked his father be spared and put out of the way, before sharply returning to a voice of command. As Wintrow serves him at table, Kennit reflects upon his condition and recent exertions before dismissing Wintrow to commune with the ship.

Not quite this bad, but moving that way.
Image from Jean Léon Gérôme’s The Death of Caesar, which I am told is public domain; it’s used for commentary.

Wintrow confronts the Vivacia regarding her silence as her former captain was spirited away. The ship replies that she is glad to be free of him–and that Wintrow should be similarly glad. They turn their discussion to their relationships with one another and with Kennit, the ship urging Wintrow to draw closer to the pirate captain. As she is doing.

In Bingtown, Althea retrieves and considers her formal Trader’s clothing. She also rehearses the events of the day, and she muses on Brashen and Grag, both. Not long after, she and Malta confer, surprisingly amicably, regarding their conveyance to the coming meeting; Davad Restart is not entirely pleasing to either of them. When he arrives, Althea and Malta join Ronica and Keffria in swiftly entering his carriage and getting underway. Talk along the way is distractedly polite, in the main, and Restart reports the rumor that the Satrap is himself bound for Bingtown.

There is some tumult as they arrive at the Traders’ Concourse, and Althea is rocked by her brief conversation with Grag. She is similarly unsettled to find Brashen and Amber present. Being seated with the Teniras and welcomed openly by them does not help matters amid the pre-meeting politicking. The meeting is called to order and business conducted, eventually reaching the Teniras’ concerns regarding tariffs. Discussion is heated, and Althea interjects herself into it forcefully; not all are pleased at it, though some are, and Althea is ejected from the meeting.

Outside the meeting, Althea finds Restart’s carriage vandalized. Other Traders emerge from the now-recessed meeting, seeing the vandalization and isolating Restart; Althea pleads to help the man, though others argue against it, and she ends up driving him home.

Of note in the present chapter is the Vestrit women’s travel to the Traders’ meeting with Restart. There is much in the passage that rings of quiet toleration of repugnance because of long practice and familiarity; it reads to me of the “Oh, that’s just his way; he doesn’t mean any harm by it” that is too often used to cover over speech and behavior that should be rebuked in the old no less than the young, and perhaps more in the beloved and befriended than in the stranger. And it does highlight the tension inherent in confronting those who have been and still are helpful and friendly when they do and say things that bespeak inattention and disregard for human dignity. Is it cowardly not to make an open confrontation from a position of disadvantage?

Send a holiday present my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 155: Mad Ship, Chapter 17

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The following chapter, “Marooned,” begins with Kennit moving to follow through on a promise. The progress of his recovery and adaptation to his amputation is noted, as is the status of the crew of the captured Vivacia. The ship itself quizzes Kennit on his intentions, and he deflects the conversation as he goes about his intention, collecting Sa’Adar, the former captain, and a few others of those freed from enslavement aboard the Vivacia.

Good bye, priest.
Drowning by Pretty-Angel on DeviantArt, image used for commentary.

The group takes the captain’s gig out to a hidden bay on a nearby island. The former captain attempts escape after making landfall, but he is quickly subdued and restrained. Kennit leads the group with some difficulty up a path to a small settlement where Kennit announces himself–to his mother. He surveys her situation and briefs her on what he has brought along–harshly. And when his announcements report that he is leaving the former captain–imprisoned, but alive–in the settlement as part of a promise to Wintrow, the boy’s father rages against his son. Kennit rebukes him sharply and tours the small settlement again, beset by memories. Some of his past–ruined by the pirate Igrot–emerges as he considers what was his childhood home.

As Kennit orders the former captain’s restraint, the latter asks for the pirate’s demands. Kennit reports that he has none, although he muses on possibilities as the other man is shackled and shut away. And he finds himself pleased when he returns to his mother, sitting to a brief meal before making to head out again. Sa’Adar resists being left behind, although he accedes to Kennit’s request for a blessing on his mother. When the two rejoin at the gig, Kennit is able to convince the priest to help him launch the boat; the pirate does not, however, help the priest into the craft, though Sa’Adar does heave himself in. After a tense conversation, Kennit pitches the priest into the sea and kills him. The charm on his wrist speaks wryly to him after, but Kennit sets it aside.

The nods towards Kennit’s past in the present chapter might smack of the kind of sympathy-building exercise I’ve noted elsewhere but for the fact that Kennit remains an asshole even with his mother–something for which he is rebuked, to no avail, in the text. The pirate, though clearly wronged, is not in the right, and he seems to acknowledge his error unapologetically; the Freduian excuse is not.

In truth, I am not certain how to feel about the chapter. I enjoyed rereading it, of course; there is a reason I keep coming back to Hobb, after all. And I appreciate the character development accorded to Kennit; while it does not excuse or justify his actions, the glimpse of his personal past provided does deepen and enrich the character, thus the milieu in which he exists. But, again, the man is clearly evil, and following him so closely is…not entirely comfortable. Then again, comfort is never guaranteed, and it is not always good…and there is hope in that I remain (at least) uneasy against the presentation of what is wrong…

There’s a week left; help out?

Some Idle Musing on Some Recent Writing Work

I have made no secret of my continued writing efforts–even aside from the ongoing entries in this webspace and others. Indeed, one of the ways in which I continue to work to bring in money for my family is to do freelance writing projects; those have most recently taken the forms of paid review work and drafting lesson plans. I enjoy both, really; the former has me reading again, which I have missed doing, and the latter pays pretty decently for a side-line, even if writing multiple-choice questions becomes something of an annoyance pretty quickly. (As I’ve remarked to several folks, not only does drafting a multiple-choice question require framing a solid question, it requires producing a correct answer and several wrong answers that have to be close enough to thwart the inattentive. It’s not always an easy balance to strike, though it is always tedious.)

Ah, to work with such things!
Photo by Janko Ferlic on

With the lesson planning, I have generally tried to put back on the role of teacher, writing what I would hope to be able to do with a class if I had one again and were actually in the frame of mind to be able to do a good job of it. (I was not always or even necessarily often, especially towards the end of my time at the front of a classroom, as I’ve noted. It was good that I got out of that line of work, even before the changes and upheaval occasioned by COVID-19.) So far, it’s been to my benefit; the purchaser of the lesson plans–I am not yet set up for direct sales of such things, though that or something similar might well be coming–has repeatedly enjoyed seeing the actual day-to-day activities I suggest, as well as my essay prompts. Other stuff has needed more work, but that’s to be expected when encountering a new client with a specific set of standards and expectations; I make the corrections I’m told I need to make.

Thinking back on it and on sequences of assignments I had in place when I had the privilege of setting my own assignment sequences (here, for but one example), aimed to have “students mimic the kind of work done professionally,” I am reminded that I got at least that much of it right. Professional writing is not a fire-and-forget thing, necessarily or even often; clients want things changed, and they don’t pay until the changes are made. (Some try not to even then, and some get away with it. It’s why I require a deposit from private clients.) Classroom writing is often a one-and-done thing, hammered out in haste too close to its deadline and shot off for review that does not precede revision; no wonder it is often so tedious for both writer and reader.

I have tried to make what I continue to generate less so; I hope I have, in some small measure, succeeded, and that I will continue to do so.

Care to fund my continued efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 154: Mad Ship, Chapter 16

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “Taking Charge,” begins with Althea retreating from Brashen’s exit from the Vestrit home. She muses on their shared circumstances and the paths that have led Brashen back to his home port, noting the changes that have occurred in herself and positing that similar amounts of change are likely to have befallen the Vivacia. And she watches from a window as Brashen departs.

Dragon Portrait
Something like this, perhaps?
Dragon Portrait by kaseykmay on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

In the middle of that night, Malta sneaks from her room to meet with Brashen’s younger siblings, Cerwin and Delo. She mulls over the family’s situation and purposes, filled with romantic ideas, to enlist the aid of others, beginning with Cerwin. She rehearses to them the situation of the captured Vivacia, even as her opinion of Cerwin falls against what she has learned of his brother, and as she blatantly manipulates him (above Delo’s objections, it must be noted) towards aligning with her family in the coming Traders’ Council meeting. He agrees, but the form of his agreement surprises Malta, to the disappointment of her romantic ideas. As the three return to their homes, Malta considers what she perceives as Cerwin’s deficiencies against Brashen–and Brashen’s evident interest in Althea.

For his own part, Brashen exits the tavern where he had found dinner and considers his situation. He decides to abandon the Springeve, and he mulls over his experience with the Vestrit women–including Malta. His thoughts, predictably, are most on Althea, and his feet take him back to the Paragon, where Amber stands ready to the ship’s defense. The ship recognizes Brashen, though, and introduces the sailor and carver to each other. After a brief argument, Amber informs Brashen of changes that have occurred in his absence, and Brashen rehearses his news of the Vivacia. The talk sends the Paragon into a strange, painful episode, and Brashen and Amber withdraw to continue conversing. Amber waxes philosophical, and Brashen retreats–toward Bingtown and away from the ship.

When she returns to her room, Malta seeks to reach out to Reyn again. The effort is futile, and she longs for her father’s return. Reyn, however, struggles in his own dreams against a voice in his mind that pleads for release. He considers what he knows of wizardwood and its origins as cocoons for strange beings: dragons. His thoughts turn at length to Malta, and they join in dream at last. She relates the news about her father and the Vivacia, imploring his help; he demurs, and the dragon that has harangued Reyn interjects, prompting Reyn to explain much, but not all, before the dream fades–and the dragon’s voice in Reyn’s mind does not.

One thing that the chapter points out–and there are other things to take from the text–is that the expectations a person may have of people from attending to tales are not apt to be fulfilled. This is something of an interesting message to receive from an author who focuses on verisimilitude in her fantastic writing; the in-text and out-of-text comments seem to be at odds with one another. That does not mean it the in-text message is without precedent, however; Don Quixote, for example, is a warning against overindulgence in genre fiction and romantic ideas, and there are many others to be found. And it must be remembered that Malta, despite her protestations of womanhood, remains an adolescent, and one who has led a relatively sheltered, certainly upper-class life; inexperience in the young is excusable, particularly as it falls away.

Friend, can you spare a dime? A nickel? Hell, even a penny?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 153: Mad Ship, Chapter 15

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The chapter that follows, “Tidings,” begins with the Vestrit women at work in the household. Althea excuses herself to go into town; Malta asks if she is going to see Amber, which Althea notes she is, and the issue of them being lovers is brought up. Althea denies it vehemently and storms off; Malta delights in having occasioned the reaction, while Ronica stalks off in disgust. With them gone, Malta mulls over her situation and purposes to be in control and command of herself before considering a meeting with another potential suitor.

The carver at work.
Image from noodlerface’s tumblr, used for commentary.

Elsewhere, Althea confers with Grag Tenira about Malta. He reports progress on the matter of the tariffs, as well as on the Ophelia; the latter goes well, with Amber being remarkably flexible and proficient in the work of repairing and restoring the figurehead. He also notes there’s been no word of the Vivacia, though he continues to ask. Local politics also get some attention in their conversation, and Althea finds herself thinking of Brashen Trell.

Brashen, dressed well and clean, reports to the Vestrit home. Malta greets him, sneeringly, and a tense exchange ensues before he recognizes her and notes that he has news to deliver. As she stalks off to get a runner to her mother and grandmother, Brashen mulls over the changes he sees and considers Althea’s likely disposition.

Following her conversation with Grag, Althea calls on Amber. The two confer, and Amber repeats back to Althea some of her own words from the conversation with Grag. The two confer about Althea’s desires, and Amber notes the gender dynamics that inhibit Althea’s achieving them. Sexual ethics also receive some comment.

Malta returns to Brashen, treating him with better manners, and Brashen begins to feel uncomfortable with her as they discuss his siblings. His addiction to cindin tells upon him; he is distracted, and not only by Malta’s coquettishness. When he tries to excuse himself, realizing somewhat belatedly what she is doing, he almost runs into Ronica and Keffria, who have returned. He reports to them the capture of the Vivacia by Kennit, offering what information he has available. It does not do the Vestrit women any good, nor yet does Althea’s brash entrance with Malta rebuked for eavesdropping. A fracas ensues, although it is soon quelled, and the family confers as to how to proceed.

The chapter is an excellent one for the feminist critique that pervades the Liveship Traders novels; the discussion between Althea and Amber is a frank and largely open treatment of one of the major concerns of such discourse. It also works as a striking counterpoint to the issue of the previous chapter; Althea is not nearly so constrained in her choices as Serilla is, and without the overt threats that the latter faces, but she is still very much confined by prevailing gender dynamics. One message to take away is that even the more genteel restrictions are just that; they force people to be other than they are, diminishing them all–and all of us.

I’d still love your help!

No Bacon, This

The pythons wrestle
Not over so noble a prize as Laocoön and his sons
Nor against such wisdom as he spoke
But instead about a bloated pig
Lurching soddenly forward
Constriction slowing its steps no more
Than the muddy ground sucking at its trotters
Coiling dread and unease gripping while
It limps onward
Knowing no other way
Unable to stop
But no more adept at finding solid ground again

Laocoön - Wikipedia
No, not this.
Laocoön and His Sons, image from Wikipedia and used for commentary.

I continue to prize your kind support.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 152: Mad Ship, Chapter 14

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

A content warning (sexual violence) is in order for the present chapter.

The next chapter, “Serilla’s Choice,” begins with the titular Serilla confined below decks on a refitted barge, seasick as she and the barge proceed with the Satrap towards Bingtown. She muses on her circumstances and situation, as well as those of the Satrap and his preferred Companion–a concubine, rather than an advisor, as Serilla is. The Satrap fares particularly poorly in the assessment, and not only Serilla’s.

One image of Serilla.
Image taken from badgerlock’s tumblr, used for commentary

Serilla also considers the retinue that accompanies the Satrap; it is extensive and seems calculated to inflame tensions. It also seems to be a means for getting the Satrap away from power, so others might take it. And it gives the Satrap permission to indulge himself and his baser desires without having to be concerned about appearances. This becomes apparent when he threatens to have her raped by the crew of the barge if she will not sate his desires; she refuses the Satrap and is cast to the crew.

The Satrap has not been a sympathetic character prior to this point, certainly; he follows the model Hobb establishes in Regal, exchanging fratricide for satyriasis but otherwise being very much in the line of rulership as doing what he wants. The present chapter, though, pushes Cosgo from being unsympathetic into irredeemable. It will not matter what he does henceforth; the stain of his actions will no more clean from him than the spot from Lady Macbeth’s hands (and there is, at times, a motion to reclaim such characters, as I have noted elsewhere). And it is easy to read a commentary into the chapter, as has been the case with many other such; Serilla’s choice echoes what many see a learned woman faces amid the restrictions of toxic masculinities at work in the world.

It is not her work to right the wrong or to prevent it. And the rest of us need to do better about that work. Far, far better.

Care to support your local struggling scholar?