The old song sings Of bulls that leap and bucks that fart Ascribing thus to the old hart The effects of a high-fiber diet And as the spring Prompts buds to bloom and fruits to start And birds to take flight and to dart I think that I may try it
But though the winter now has fled I doubt that Jack has laid his head Down all the way, and thus I dread The cold snap yet to come
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There was a time that my family made much of this day, noting that one of the roots from which they and I spring stretches back across the Atlantic to the land where Brian Boru played and ruled (though I did not learn about the harpist king until far later). The shape of the merrymaking was less important than the fact of it, although I look back on it now with a mix of longing and loathing–the former for the usual reasons, and the latter, as well.
Anymore, though, I find myself less and less inclined to do much on holidays. Even the “big” ones find me…hesitant, forcing myself through for the sake of Ms. 8–and today’s observance is not one of the “big” holidays. At least, it is not for me; I imagine that it is for others. I do not begrudge them their joy, although I have not always been fond of its demonstrations; I remember experiences of it in New York City that I would rather not. But drunken asshats are in many places and times; it’s not something peculiar to today…
The day may come again when I find delight in things I once did, when I can allow myself the space in which to do so. For now, though, I have yet work to do, and so such celebrations as I might undertake will have to wait a while again.
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The call to “Beware the ides of March” is familiar from Julius Caesar 1.2, a play I first encountered while in sixth grade at a school that no longer exists. (The building still stands, unlike that I attended for high school, but the institution it had housed is no more, part of it swallowed back into the elementary schools from which it had been taken, part cast off for a time to float on its own before being subsumed into another already-existing school when it moved into its new building. There’s some backhanded statement made therein, but that discussion is one for another time.) And it was not in my English class, although I do remember that class kindly (thank you, Ms. Wise). It was, instead, my social studies class, and it was used as a way to do two things, one I recognized at the time (make things come more alive), and one I realize only later, for some years and no longer having been at the front of my own classrooms (pad out lesson planning). But the experience has stuck with me, certainly; I remember it nearly thirty years on, including my pubescent voice cracking on the beginning of Brutus’ speech that he loved his land more than its leader.
I will not launch here into an interpretation of the play as a whole or of the scene in particular, nor yet of its contexts of sourcing or composition or reception. I was never a specialist in Shakespeare, for one thing, though I have been conversant in his works–and I am out of practice, now, as should be clear. Nor yet have I the time to do the work as it would need to be done, with citation and close reading and careful study. There was a time in my life when I did have such time, and I spent much of it doing such things (although less frequently with Shakespeare than with other authors), but I did not have in my life then what I have now, and not all of what I have now is what I would set aside to have what I had then.
No, instead, on what is the traditional anniversary of Julius Caesar’s death, and what might well be thought of as the date of his seeming apotheosis–because there have been and continue to be many who look back to the man as among the greatest examples, if not the greatest–I collect my pay and pay out what I owe (and there is no shortage of the latter, to be sure). I do my work, and I think of my family and how I can better support those in it. I wonder what my daughter will encounter in the coming years that sticks with her as the old lines have stuck with me, what experiences will shape her across decades and how, and how much of such things I will see. It is, really, just another day, one of many such I have seen and of many more I hope to see.
I’m sure there’s some comment to be found in that, too. But this is not, I think, the place to make it.
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The years have passed since we went on our adventure Passing from the hills into the high plains Packing into a tent that huddled against the wind As dark clouds blew in and disease And we returned to fear and hiding away Coming back to find that everything had stopped
Things have long since started again The sickness pervading the world And the one chance there might have been to start again Gone like so many who Drowned within themselves Choking on their own sputum as others swore It’s no big deal People die every day anyway
Still Still Still Still We have to wonder if it will happen again
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After a more extended passage in the ongoing exchange between bird-keepers, in which economic and marital prospects are discussed, “Divergence” begins with the weather shifting on the dragons, their keepers, and the Tarman as they proceed upriver. Leftrin voices doubts about the dragons’ memories and ruminates at length on his situation, musing on Alise and their entanglements. His management of the throng in his care receives attention, as does his recognition of building tensions among the groups and their members. And, at length, Leftrin is jolted from his reverie by the Tarman running aground, entirely unusually for the eldest liveship.
The keepers aboard the Tarman are summoned to assist the crew in plying poles to push the liveship off of the sandbar on which the ship has become grounded. Thymara assesses matters as she does her part, noting the changes to the keepers and crew since setting out on the expedition, not all of which are to the good. Alise also comes under attention, as do Sedric and the dragons, and Thymara notes tensions among the latter. Efforts to free the Tarman fail, however, as the liveship actively resists them.
Leftrin tries to gather information from his ship, only to be told things are “wrong” with no further detail. Efforts to free the Tarman are left off for the day, and Leftrin feels satisfaction from the ship at remaining in place.
Thymara goes out to scout for food, and Alise asks to accompany her. The two go off together, conferring as they do, and Alise becomes more than usually aware of the differences between her and the keeper. The shock of learning about Hest and the notion that Leftrin would trade in dragon parts sit ill with her as she thinks upon them, and she fumes at the doubts growing in her mind. She is surprised, however, to find solid ground in the Rain Wilds.
Leftrin retires for the evening, considering the events of the day. He mulls over Tarman‘s quirks and strange behavior, and he dreams of walking in Kelsingra with Alise, waking as she calls on his cabin in the night. She enters, and they talk together about the dream of Kelsingra they both had before falling into another assignation. Afterward, she remains in his cabin for the night, and they talk briefly together of others before he steps out to breakfast while she sleeps in. At table, Leftrin’s niece greets him, talking briefly about Alise, and Leftrin begins to consider ramifications of his actions. Over coffee, the two look ahead to the coming day together.
I have commented before, I think, on Hobb’s use of chapter-prefatory materials, noting the tendency in the Farseer and Tawny Man novels to do something akin to Asimov’s Encyclopedia Galactica entries in the early Foundation novels to provide context to and commentary on the events in the chapters they precede. I have also commented, I believe, on the ongoing exchanges among bird-keepers in the Rain Wild Chronicles novels, noting that they follow the general form of the earlier insertions. The noted enclosures, although only glossed rather than presented, offer insight into the broader goings-on of Trader society, as well as particulars of specific people not always directly seen. In so doing, they do the usual work of implying a greater world in which the events of the novel exist, lending to the “inner consistency of reality” necessary to sustaining a secondary sub-creation (to use Tolkien’s terms from “On Fairy-stories”) and to the verisimilitude Hobb has noted being at pains to produce in her work.
If I have remarked on it before, though, I find myself prompted to do so again by the more extended commentary between Erek and Detozi at the preface of the present chapter. The attention to the details of the work the two do, refining their trade and looking for means to expand their economic clout (not to be wondered at in a society that predicates itself on commerce; they are not called Traders for nothing), seems to me to deepen and enrich the overall narrative. That the personal relationship between the two is clearly growing stronger, as well, strikes my fancy. Not only does it play into some of the romance-novel tropes I’ve pointed out as being at work in the Traders-focused novels before, it resonates with me; my wife and I conducted a fair bit of our early romance through letters, and both of us feel our relationship is stronger than it otherwise would have been because of our epistolary courtship. Seeing others, even in fiction, feel the same is nice.
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Ever do I seek to simply Sit with pen in hand and page In front of me Using the former to fill the latter And get the things out of my head that well up within
It is not water that comes from that spring Dripping sometimes but flooding in season Nor yet does it leach away whence it flows Or, at least, it does not so in a way anyone knows For who remarks on one more hole in A thing already spongelike?
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This one needs a content warning about suicidal ideation.
After yet another part of an exchange among bird-keepers, this one working to refine their craft as well as to trade news, “Choices” begins with resumed progress up the Rain Wild River, the straitened circumstances of the dragons, their keepers, and the crew of the Tarman detailed. Greft continues to be an annoyance to Thymara, as do the boys competing for her affections. She and Tats put themselves to work fashioning replacement oars, if awkwardly, and they talk together as they do so. Tension between the two is clear even as they reaffirm their friendship.
Meanwhile, Carson emerges from the isolation in which he has wallowed in self-pity. He steps out on the deck of the Tarman to find keepers and dragons at play in relatively clean water flowing into the Rain Wild, and he assess their situation and his own as he stalks to the galley and procures a scanty meal for himself. Alise confronts him there, and a tense conversation ensues between them regarding his earlier revelations. At her prompting, Sedric explicates some of the gay culture of Bingtown, and Alise reacts relatively poorly thereto. She determines to break off her marriage with Hest, and Sedric cautions her away from Leftrin, citing his arrangement to sell dragon parts to Chalced. Alise stalks off, and Sedric finds himself changing and comforted by Relpda after she does. Faced with the dragon’s regard, Sedric considers suicide and is halted by Carson, to whom he confesses much and with whom he proceeds to an assignation.
Thymara stalks off into the night, considering how matters have fallen out among the keepers. She considers remaining in place in solitude, but she is joined by Tats, and she allows herself to accept his physical attentions until Greft interrupts. In the wake of his interference, Thymara again rejects Tats’s suit.
I am not surprised at Alise’s reaction to Sedric’s unfolding of gay culture in Bingtown and her duping thereby; being lied to, and for years, is not a happy thing. I suppose there is some homophobia in her reactions, but I am not necessarily in a position to be able to address it in any particular way. Others with more vested interests in such things, whether from experience or from more focused scholarship, would be able to say more; there is at least a paper in such a thing, if not more, and it is partly for such reasons that I continue to return to Hobb’s writing.
Sexual politics do seem very much to be at play in the expedition up the Rain Wild, though. I suppose it is not unexpected; a small group in isolation, particularly one largely composed of teenagers and young adults, can hardly be expected not to experience sexual tensions and to act on them, in many cases foolishly. The overt sexuality and the efforts to control and constrain it–for varying reasons, some of which appear on the surface of things to be more legitimate or acceptable than others–do heavily mark the narrative. It’s another thing that invites at least a paper, if one written by a better scholar than I know myself to be as I am now.
Perhaps someday I will once again be the kind of scholar who can grapple with such ideas meaningfully and well. Perhaps.
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If it were my second language, Something I had worked harder to learn– Because it is harder to learn another language later And I grew up a monoglot– Perhaps I would not be so sloppy with the words Hoard them more closely Place them more carefully Perhaps like coins As one author writes Or like jewelry Making more beautiful those who take them up and put them on
As it is I grew up with it Take it for granted Spend it all too easily Knowing I have an ever-full store Casting as if at a fan And with so much effect
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