Not Even L’esprit de L’escalier

It has happened again
Half of a conversation
Taking place far away from any interlocutor
Provoking rage at someone who
Was never even there
And would probably not say the things to which
Response was given

I feel pretty, and witty, and wise…
Photo by Jimmy Chan on

Bad enough
To realize what should have been said
Descending the staircase
So how much worse
To critique a party that nobody threw?

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 344: Dragon Haven, Chapter 12

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

After a sad entry in the ongoing correspondence among bird-keepers, “The Locket” begins with Relpda exulting in having eaten Jess as she returns to the other dragons. She also notes that Sedric has drunk her blood, which occasions upset among the others. Amid the tumult, Sintara questions Relpda about events, and Mercor notes one means through which the dragons formerly created Elderlings. His comments occasion more agitated discussion among the dragons, and Sintara considers the tattered memories she holds, that all of them have. Relpda asserts herself, which comes as some surprise to the other dragons, and Mercor presses Sintara for details that are only begrudgingly given.

Of such sort are more memories than dragons’, stained and tattered and perhaps pretentious
Photo by Poppy Thomas Hill on

Sedric, returned to the Tarman, delights in restoring some semblance of civility to himself and his situation, and he reflects on his recent experiences. The distance between him and Alise receives attention, and he notices the locket he had had from Hest as he dresses. Taking it up, he considers his relationship with the man whose image graces the locket, and his thoughts turn warmly toward Carson. Sedric also considers that Leftrin might have been in league with Jess, which gives him some concern.

Alise’s return disturbs Sedric’s reverie, and the two confer together about their respective situations, carefully avoiding some topics but lunging headlong into Hest. She voices her doubts of her husband, and Sedric affirms that Hest does not love her. She is about to press Sedric about Hest further but is distracted by the recognition that he is beginning to take on the features common to the Rain Wilds, which he denies. As Alise presses about the locket, however, he relents and admits his relationship with her husband, expecting scorn and finding only compassion from her. Alise departs, and Sedric ruminates further on what he had with Hest, and the touch of Relpda’s mind on his offers some strange comfort.

Elsewhere, Carson and Leftrin confer closely about events, the former confronting the latter about the notion of harvesting dragon parts. Leftrin admits his involvement and lays out the situation, and Carson accepts Leftrin’s remarks that he is done with such dealings.

The present chapter is surprisingly illuminating about the Elderlings and their origins, as well as about the Others–some fairly deep links back into the Elderlings corpus, such things as I tend to appreciate amid sprawling narratives. (I like things to follow the rules they set out. It’s a preference that gets me into trouble in real life, where exceptions are the norm–and I lie outside it.) I am minded of the adage that “You are what you eat,” and I note that Hobb has long established that so much is true for the dragons–they take on memories from what they consume. It is of some interest that the reverse appears also to be true, that by eating of dragons people take on something of the draconic–and that there is some peril in it for both humans and dragons.

I note, too, that Sedric begins to come out in the present chapter, although only privately and only partially. What queer theory has to say about the narrative, I do not know, not being versed in it as I perhaps ought to be. I do know that the work done on Hobb’s writing in that line has focused not on Sedric, but upon Fitz and the Fool, and I cannot help but wonder at why (except that Fitz has been out in the readers’ world longer and more abundantly). Admittedly, Sedric seems more in line with stereotypes than Fitz and the Fool, which makes for less interesting scholarship–although there may be something to gain from contrasting Hobb’s handling of the characters…

Ah, to have the time to pursue ideas about books again!

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Hymn against the Stupid God 204

A spore I cannot help but have inhaled
Hyphae spreading through me without notice until
The bloom breaks out and spreads its gills
Poisoning the ground from which it breaks
And while other fruits are still on offer
They are fewer and their stalks wither as they emerge
From soil being leached away

It is a metaphor, yes.
Photo by Egor Kamelev on

Unknowing hands will reach out
Grasp what shows itself on offer
Thinking it a blessing from their native soil
In which they are deeply rooted
Mycorrhizae working to no good end

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Verse upon the Day’s Observance

To make a day a holiday
To give a day to people
By giving a day to people
Seems a noble thing
A high honor that endures

pro patria
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Who gets the day
Who loses it
And how those who have it mark it

And it is a big if
As many ifs are
Small though the word is
The way we mark it
Is the way we ought to mark it
Then what honor is it

Ought and is aren’t the same
Of course
I know it
You know it
I think
But there are a lot of people
Thinking that the way things are
Is the way that they must be
And I wonder if they’ve thought through what that means

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 343: Dragon Haven, Chapter 11

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

Following yet more of the exchange among bird-keepers in Bingtown and Trehaug, “Revelations” begins with Alise waking Leftrin from their sleep together after their assignation. They confer about their dreams briefly before dressing and parting, and Alise considers her situation and the experience. For his part, Leftrin questions his ship, but the Tarman gives no answer.

Can’t you just hear Peer Gynt?
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on

Downriver, Carson leads Sedric and Relpda back to the Tarman and the other dragons and keepers. Sedric chafes slightly at the situation but has no choice but to accepts it, and he reconsiders his long entanglement with Hest. Thinking about who may have supplanted him in Hest’s affections, Sedric finds himself pleased at how matters are changing.

Thymara stalks out to look for food for the group, unexpectedly accompanied by Tats. As they proceed, they discuss the possibility of return to Trehaug and the need to prove themselves. Thymara relates her experience growing up working alongside her father and the insufficiency of that in the eyes of her people. Relative risks of childbearing are also noted, and Thymara finds herself wearied by the recollection of Greft’s insistence that she pick a mate. Tats finds himself challenged on that very point, and Thymara denies both Tats and his challenger, injuring herself as she falls and flees.

Carson, Sedric, and Relpda return to the others. Alise, happy to see her friend return, is reminded by Sedric’s arrival of her responsibilities and entanglements in Bingtown, and she longs for his safe departure.

There is interesting commentary about what it takes to prove one’s self, something with which adolescents and young adults are (justly?) concerned. Given how often fantasy literature is assigned to younger readerships–even now, even in this time and after decades of serious academic treatment of the genre–this is perhaps understandable. Given Hobb’s insistence upon verisimilitude in the non-fantastical elements of her work, it is also understandable; I am not so far removed from my youth that I have forgotten the craving to prove myself, not seldom by mastering some obscure set of trivia, however useless it has been for me to do so. It might also be noted as an ongoing theme in Hobb’s Elderlings works. After all, Fitz spends a fair bit of time trying to find and assert his identity, and he wrestles with Hap’s doing the same; Althea, Brashen, and Wintrow also struggle to define who they are and oblige others to recognize the same, as do Malta and Reyn. Nor is as much restricted to Hobb; not for nothing is the Bildungsroman a commonplace.

Still, the specific questions raised about how to prove one’s self are of interest, the kind of thing I would be apt to point out to students if I had any:

  • Is breaking a rule a means of proving one’s worth? Is it so even if the rule is in place for good reason? What does it prove about a person to break a rule that protects others?
  • What does it mean to be a woman or a man? Why does it mean that, in the context of the novel and / or of the reader?
  • To whom is it needful to prove one’s self? Why?

I used to nurture, and I have not at this point forgotten, the idea of teaching a course on Hobb’s work. I have taught Assassin’s Apprentice, long ago, now, and it went over well. I am not as good a classroom instructor now as then, obviously, but I have gotten better at structuring lessons and developing assignments…I wonder if it might yet work.

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She Would Have Been 94 Today

For a large portion of my early life, my grandma–my mother’s mother–lived with my parents. Not long after we moved to Texas, she moved in with us; we moved around in Kerrville, and she came with us. And while there were years she lived with her younger brother, she was still in town and we still saw her a lot–and, later in her life and ours, she moved back in with my parents, dying in their house from the results of decades of smoking and more decades of enthusiastic use of talcum and similar powders. She was a fixture in my life for many years, and on what would have been her ninety-fourth birthday, it is only fitting that I would take some time to remember her.

The woman in question
Picture is mine

The thing is, I have trouble remembering. For all that I spent as long as I did honing my ability to remember things, for all that I still have in mind and keep in mind, I find it hard to remember the sound of her voice or the kind of jokes she liked (and hated), the taste of her cooking, or any of the things that she did. I know she wrote poetry, which she directed be destroyed rather than read by others (something that did not fall to me; I would not have been able to do it); I know well that she did as much as anyone to cultivate my love of reading, but I do not remember her doing it. Instead, I recall the stories of it, the things I have been told, but those are different than the things themselves, the representations always falling otherwise than the things being represented. And that seems to me to be a poor way to mark her birthday, even if it is all I have at this point.

Some of it, I know, is an issue of age. For a lot of what was going on, I was a child, and I was a child working through a lot of stuff. (For one thing, I did not do much to make myself liked in my youth, something that still has effects on me, decades later. I earned what I have; it sucks, but I acknowledge that I deserve it.) There are things I do not tell my daughter, things I know my parents do not say to her–or to me; it only makes sense that I would not have been told a number of things at the time, and it makes sense that the concerns of later years would mean that things would not come up again.

But I also know that I forget things as something of a defense. What I do not know cannot wound me in the memory, and I know that I am often paralyzed by recalling things. The flipside of being able to remember is having to remember, and not all recollections are happy ones, even in so easy and privileged a life as I have led. Where the line between the two lies is not at all clear to me, and I am not certain I can do the work to find it again, if ever I knew where it was.

Still, it’s not about me. It’s about her and her memory, which deserves mention even if I cannot provide the details that I should.

Miss you, Grandma.

Another Writing Prompt: “Is there anything you feel too old to do anymore?”

Oh, how very, very yes
Unless it is that I
Never felt young enough to do it
Or if I did
It has been so many years that
I have forgotten it
Or having known it
Which just shows that
I am
In fact
Too old for this kind of thing
That kind of thing
The other kind of thing
All the things, really

Feels like this, sometimes
Photo by Craig Dennis on

I know it’s the wrong answer
Age is just a number
You’re only as old as you feel
You’re barely however many years old
What do you know about being
Too old
And who decides what too old is anyway?
All that nonsense
You’ve heard it all, I’m sure

That much said
I will sit at my desk and write
Watching out the window as the world goes by
The young in years and yearnings
Doing what they do

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 342: Dragon Haven, Chapter 10

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

Following news of a message from Hest cutting off financial support to Alise and Sedric and a comment on the scandalous nature thereof, “Confessions” begins with Relpda eating and Sedric considering his increasing entanglement with the dragon. Carson’s return and his work to assist are noted, and Sedric wonders if Carson will also offer to help kill Relpda, as Jess had done and as Sedric had earlier desired. Sedric and Carson confer, and Sedric finds himself looking forward to simple pleasures and chastising himself for being so willing to resign his autonomy. Carson lays out his plans and explicates his reasons for having joined the expedition; the upriver journey will allow him to leave a mark on Rain Wild history that he would not earlier have been able to make. Sedric compares Carson to Hest, finding the latter lacking, and Carson comments with some aspersion on the intended machinations of some in the expedition. He comments, too, that Sedric need not return to Bingtown, noting his appreciation for the other man. But the moment of intimacy passes, and more of the truth of events emerges, and Carson finds himself considering matters more deeply as he and Sedric turn in for the evening.

Gotta love a map…
Crooty’s Map of the Rain Wild River: Colour on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Aboard the Tarman, Leftrin stands watch while his crew sleeps. He considers approaching Alise in the absence of Sedric and chides himself for the thought, conferring with his ship in the darkness. Leftrin ruminates on his ship and his family’s long work thereupon, including the refit that had given the Tarman limbs and a tail. The betrayal of trust that brought Jess aboard rankles both ship and captain, and they make their plans for the coming days. Tarman notes to Leftrin that Alise is awake, and the ship chivvies the captain as he makes to approach her. The two swiftly fall into an assignation, in which both delight.

The romance-novel conventions seem once again to be at play in the present chapter, and on the parts of both Sedric and Alise–which is itself good to see. Admittedly, it sits somewhat less comfortably with me that Sedric is getting them than that Alise is; Alise is (largely) an innocent, while Sedric is not so, and not because of Jess’s death. As I think on it, I suppose it might be a redemption arc in progress (as opposed to the self-actualization arc occurring with Alise), and there is certainly value in such things. I’ve certainly done many things I regret, some of which have been in the attempt to bring in more money, and I would like to think there is something I can do to make things, if not right again, at least better.

Too, as I think on the matter further, it is clear that both Alise and Sedric are in abusive relationships with Hest, relationships to which they therefore ethically need not be bound, even if there are legal/istic entanglements they must address. And maybe that is what is going on: commentary on the right of release from abusive relationships. It’s certainly foregrounded in the chapter’s prefatory materials, and it’s been clear that Hest is…unpleasant. So there’s probably something to explore, there, for those versed in such things.

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It’s Another from the Archives: Assessment Practice

I‘ve noted before, here and elsewhere, having a lot of examples of assessment practice drafted to help a student who grew up outside testing culture begin to acclimate to it. I’ve got others, including the one below. With testing season looming, I know people are looking for ways to help their students succeed, and I’m happy to note that I can help with just that kind of thing…and here’s an example!

The passage in the example below comes out to 114 words at a ninth-grade reading level, for reference. It is adapted for the medium. And, yes, the series of same answers are purposeful, something of a corrective against trying to game testing.

Read the following passage and use the information in it to identify the most accurate answer to each of the questions below.

1One area in which modern Arthuriana deviates from the traditional is in conflating the important swords of the text. 2That is, modern Arthuriana moves away from its sources in that it merge swords together in the narrative. 3The most prominent example is Excalibur. 4Modern tellings of the Arthurian legend equate it with the Sword in the Stone, the sword that Arthur draws out to confirm his kingship. 5In Malory, however, the Sword in the Stone is placed by Merlin as part of his plot to see Arthur enthroned. 6Excalibur, by contrast, is given Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. 7It is accompanied by a scabbard of greater value—but that is another story.

In sentence 1, “deviates” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

In sentence 1, “deviates” carries what meaning?
A. Moves against.
B. Moves away from.
C. Moves toward.
D. None of the above.

Sentence 2 provides what kind of context clue about the meaning of “deviates?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

In sentence 1, “conflating” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

In sentence 1, “conflating” carries what meaning?
A. Eating.
B. Gathering.
C. Mixing.
D. None of the above.

Sentence 2 provides what kind of context clue about the meaning of “conflating?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

In sentence 5, “enthroned” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

In sentence 5, “enthroned” carries what meaning?
A. Put into a box.
B. Put into clothing.
C. Put into power.
D. None of the above.

Sentence 4 provides what kind of context clue about the meaning of “enthroned?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

How does sentence 2 relate to sentence 1?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

How does sentence 3 relate to sentence 2?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

How does sentence 4 relate to sentence 3?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

How does sentence 5 relate to sentence 4?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

How does sentence 6 relate to sentence 5?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

How does sentence 7 relate to sentence 6?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

The main idea of the paragraph is in which sentence?
A. 2.
B. 4.
C. 6.
D. None of the above.

There is an error in sentence 2. At which word does it appear?
A. Merge.
B. Narrative.
C. Sources.
D. Swords.

Answers: 1, D; 2, B; 3, C; 4, C; 5, C; 6, C; 7, A; 8, C; 9, C; 10, C; 11, C; 12, D; 13, B; 14, B; 15, A; 16, A; 17, A

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Not Quite a Riddle, Really

Jack arrived
And many bowed before his coming
Beards grown white dragging on the ground
Hoary humility from their gnarled frames
And no few broke to bend so

Told you so.
Photo by Balazs Simon on

Brief though his reign may be
They clothed themselves thickly for it
Laying out lines upon the ground
Powerless in his presence

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