A Bit More on Leaving Academe

I‘ve made it clear, I think, that I’m out of academe at this point almost entirely. (This and this are perhaps the easiest examples. They are not the only ones.) I have given up working at the front of the classroom (note this, this, and this), and I have sharply tapered off the tutoring work I was doing as yet another supplement to my income. I do remain engaged in some low-level scholarship and commentary, as evidenced here and present in the papers I still present at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. There are one or two things I am told are in process, that are going to find publication at some indeterminate point, but all of that is comparatively minor stuff. I do not have a book in press, and I do not have an academic one in draft. Nor yet am I likely to have such anytime soon, if ever again.

Journal and Pen
This is the kind of writing I do most now. I think. Maybe.

I know this, I have stated it openly and repeatedly on multiple platforms. Yet many of those same platforms have begun in recent weeks (as of this writing, which is happening well before its publication) to show me ads about teaching products and practices, to offer me connections to people who are still engaged in the academic world–far more than did while I was doing such things as drafting classroom reports and commenting directly on others’ remarks about classroom concerns and practices. And I am confused by this (as well as mildly annoyed, I must admit).

Part of me wants to think that, because the body of writing I have done online thus far focuses in large part on what happened in and around my classrooms, that the advertising algorithms that continue to infiltrate life are picking up my work and sending materials my way as a result–though why I am getting them more now than when I was in the work confuses me. If the ads are improving their reach, they are demonstrating less understanding; “not” and “no” are hardly hard words to find or interpret.

The same concern applies if it is simply a matter of my writing having broader audiences now than previously (and I would be happy to find it so!); missing the negative is a problem in language as much as in mathematics. And if it is because I continue to associate with academics online…yes, I think the same concern still applies.

I have to wonder, though, if my online presence provoking more materials about education reflects some part of my psyche of which I am aware and against which I struggle. I did spend a damned lot of time and am spending a damned lot of money (thank you, student loans) learning (badly, in the event) how to be a teacher; I spent no few years working at making the classroom my profession. I have realized I was wrong to do so, that I do not belong at the front of the room and that I was damaged or warped or perverted (and not in the ways I think might be fun) by being in the seats in it, but I am not immune to the sunk cost fallacy. Part of me still thinks about returning to the work, even though I know, I know it would be a bad idea.

If the algorithms are responding to that…I think I have to worry. And I think I may not be alone.

Care to support my ongoing efforts?

Another Rumination on Leaving Academe

There is something of a firestorm going on in part of academe really close to that into which I once sought admission–close enough that I would have been expected to teach in it had I been able to secure the kind of tenure-line job I ultimately unsuccessfully tried to secure. I’ll not comment on specifics here; I do not need to, as the discussion is going on publicly and at great length online (and it might well be ended by the time this reaches public view). It will suffice that I acknowledge the “rebel” forces are correct and that the “traditional” parts of the “old guard” are wrong, though those in the right do not need my acknowledgement to know they are right and those in the wrong will likely look down upon me as a lapsed or apostate member of such church as they purport to be priests of.

Graduation Gown With Mortarboard On Retaining Wall : Stock Photo
It’s as good a place for a robe as any.
Graduation Gown with Mortarboard on Retaining Wall by Danial Najmi / EyeEm,
used for commentary

The issues on which the fracas touches and into which it delves are well worth considering, well worth applying to the world outside the ivory tower, and I have been working to consider my own complicity in the problems cited, both in my lingering academic work and in the work I do to lead a small nonprofit agency to help people who struggle against substance abuse issues. But the fracas itself lays bare some of the problems of academe to audiences that might not previously have seen them, which is a good thing in itself, and it serves as a reminder that I am better off for not having to be embroiled in them at this point. Because I am not seeking full-time, continuing employment in academe, I am not facing the kinds of struggles that others are and that are being posed against them unfairly and unjustly. And because I have some distance from the pursuit of that kind of job now, I can acknowledge that I did not “deserve” the jobs I did not get. It may not be the case that they went in all or even most cases to people who do deserve to have them–if “deserving” has anything to do with it, really–but I know I damned well ought not to have gotten them. The folks who have them and are struggling as they are–again, unfairly and unjustly–are far better at the work of academe than I. Those who array against them are lucky and privileged and do poorly in acknowledging neither; they do less well to stand in opposition as they do.

It is not an easy thing to admit to being wrong, certainly, the more so when so much of the work that gets done and the idea of self that gets bound up in doing that work depends upon being right. I well understand the impulse to resist it. But that I understand it does not mean I condone it; the opposite is true. Those invested in being right need to be right, not to assert that they are right. That they refuse to do so (again, as I write this; it might have changed by the time this gets seen) is a disservice to all, and I am glad to have as little part in it as I still have.

But I have to confess to lingering complicity. I still accept teaching assignments, and I still work within predetermined curricula that continue to transmit ideas that are problematic. I do so because I still feel the need to bring in the money, and I do still manage to make some small connections to people who would otherwise not have any access to the ennobling parts of continued study. They are still there, and they may be worth preserving, but there’s a damned lot that isn’t, and I’m glad I’m more or less quit of it.

Any support would be appreciated.

On Continuing to Leave Academe

A fair number of the posts I make in this webspace concern my somewhat conflicted departure from academic life. My various responses to Erin Bartram (here, here, and here), my reflections on my expatriate status, certain of my bits about my office spaces (this and this come to mind), and a couple indulgences of nostalgia (here and here), among others, speak more or less openly about facets of my departure from a line of work and career path for which I had imagined destined. At the same time, posts such as my continuing “Initial Comments” pieces (of which the most recent is here), my class reports (which I’ll not link at the moment), and others bespeak my continuing engagement with and immersion in the structures of formalized higher education. (That I do so much to make references in my writing also marks me as a trained academic, I know; who else but a professor or a wanna-be prof would make so many notes in a single sentence?)

To be fair, I do miss facilities like this one.
Image from the University of Texas at San Antonio website–
and I am an alumnus of the institution.

Clearly, then, I have not made a clean break with my former life, even if I have (largely) reconciled myself to the notion that I’ll never be a full-time scholar. Instead, I maintain a part-time contingent position at DeVry University in San Antonio,Note and I keep in mind the notion that I might pick up the occasional class at another school (though that does not seem likely in the near future or a more remote time). And while I do not give to that position the kind of fervor that I gave to similarly contingent positions in the past, I do still pursue it diligently, spending time and effort in preparing lessons and coaching students along; I still treat it like a job I mean to do well, if less because of a commitment to the profession than because of a commitment to well those things that I set out to do, whatever they may be. The effect is similar; I do more than I probably ought to do for my students.

Most, however, will note that it is not the work done in the classroom that makes a person an academic. Indeed, there is an unfortunately prevailing animus against the work of teaching and those who pursue it as their primary avocation; in addition to Shaw’s adage, there is too much disregard in higher ed for the work of those who teach younger students, and the promotion and retention of scholars is far more reliant on what happens outside the classroom than within it. But even in such areas, I seem to be holding on to an academic identity; I retain affiliation with several scholarly societies, participate in academic conferences, and, in at least some small ways, try to contribute to intellectual discourse. And it is not just in this webspace that I (flatter myself that I) do so; I still send off to journals and presses, hoping that I’ll find my way into print and others will use what I have done.

And there is one other thing: I never do enough. One of the things that academe traditionally inculcates into people, particularly “good” students, is a sense of insufficiency. There is always someone smarter, always someone doing more and doing it better; there is always more to be done. That sense lingers with me yet, despite my working one full-time and several part-time jobs and writing here and elsewhere (here and here, among others) and attending to the domestic and emotional needs of my family. If there is one part of academic life that will linger with me, I think that will be it; it seems to be among the few things that translates well into the “real” world.

Note: I acknowledge that there are critiques to be levied at my employment by a for-profit institution. I may well address them in another post to this webspace; for now, they would be a bit of a distraction. Return to text.

Care to support my work? I’d really appreciate it!

Another Student Story

A while back, I wrote about a former student I’ve decided to call Chuck. While he was something of a problem, largely for getting me involved with institutional bureaucracy, he was neither the only one such nor the first. Nor, in the event, was he the most problematic of them in that regard.

First Day Of College Read The Syllabus GIF - FirstDayOfCollege  ReadTheSyllabus Shock - Discover & Share GIFs
Useful advice that too few follow.
Image taken from Tenor.com, used for commentary.

No, that one for me was back at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I earned both of my graduate degrees and where I did my first few years of college teaching. In many ways, it was a good experience, although I readily admit I did not make the best possible use of my time there–but the fault for that is mine and not the institution’s.

While I was there, and maybe in my second year of teaching there, I had a slate of first-year composition classes, as is typical of graduate students in English. As is also typical, I had some conference activities scheduled, and, in an attempt to be responsible and forthright about them, I had noted on the course syllabus when I would be away to take care of them. And as is not uncommon, I also had a note on the course calendar about the mandated attendance policy–namely, that students could miss a set number of classes without penalty, but after that, grade penalties would accrue up to and including failing the course.

You may be able to guess where this is going.

As happened most sessions that I taught a class with a mandated attendance policy, some students suffered grade penalties due to missing too many classes. (In my defense, 1) the policies were mandated, and 2) I offered students the chance to “test out” of the class; if they could submit A papers without coming, I’d agree that they didn’t need to be in the room, and I’d excuse all their absences. None made the attempt.) As happened many such sessions, a few students failed on absences alone. And as happened more often than I care to recall, there were complaints about the grading.

The one that stands out, though, was a student I might well call Kofaire. She’d been a student in a second-semester composition class I taught in the spring, and she’d failed the class because she’d racked up something like thirteen absences in a class that met some forty-five times. (It’s been a few years, so my counts may be a bit off.) When she came to my office hours in the summer–because I tried to teach summers, needing the extra money–I looked over the records I had, quoted the mandated policy to her, and sent her on her way; I’d thought that would be the end of it.

Wrongly, in the event, because Kofaire went from me to my department head and made the same complaint. Of course, she got the same answer after the department head pulled her copy of my syllabus and the gradebook I’d turned in (because all of us were asked to do that). It should have ended there, and I think, on Kofaire’s part, it would have–but it stopped being up to Kofaire at that point, because Maman Kofaire got involved, then.

Karen | Know Your Meme
I don’t remember if her name was Karen…
Image from Know Your Meme, used for commentary.

I first learned of Maman’s involvement when I came into my office, checked my voicemail, and found not one, not two, but seven messages from her, asking (in various terms of politeness) that I call her back and talk about Kofaire’s grade. Now, FERPA being FERPA, and me still not having begun to mellow out in my old age, I did what I thought I ought to do: delete the messages. But they didn’t stop; when I came back to the office after teaching, I found three more messages waiting for me. And this went on for a couple of weeks, with every day seeing message after message after message asking and demanding that I talk with Maman about Kofaire’s grade.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t the only one getting to handle Maman. She’d gone in to talk to my department chair, bringing Kofaire with her and (inadvertently?) stepping around FERPA thereby. (The student, being present, could agree to have the conversation with others.) Kofaire had evidently been of the opinion that, if a day in the class had no explicit assignment made, there was no class that day–despite the explicit notes about when class wouldn’t meet. Maman seemed to think the same, complaining about spending her “hard-earned money for [Kofaire] to have a class with some damned worthless grad student” and vowing that it would never happen again.

My department chair sent her out of the office. I am told that the college dean did the same. As did the Dean of Students. And the Provost. Rumor reached me that Maman even tried to go to the University President, only to be asked something like “Why are you bothering me with this?” But it was more than rumor that let me know Maman hadn’t dropped the matter.

No, it was when Maman found out what classroom I was teaching in and ambushed me outside it, jawing at me for thirty minutes about how it wasn’t fair that Kofaire had fared poorly, and that she didn’t understand how some upjumped student could sit in judgment over her darling little girl. I count it to my credit that I kept my mouth shut except to say that “I can’t discuss students, ma’am” and to excuse myself as quickly as I could–to my department head’s office, where I reported the incident. I believe there was even paperwork.

I found out later from one of the campus police (I was in judo classes with him) that my report and the observed harassment from Maman Kofaire resulted in her being barred from campus. Kofaire herself, I believe, took second-semester composition again and had perfect attendance, scraping by with a low passing grade. And I have something of a story to tell, one I know others have, as well; maybe there’s some study that can be done about such narratives by someone who’s still able to be in academe…

I’m not writing syllabi anymore, but I am still writing, and I could still use your support!

Why Am I Still Doing This?

I met my wife while we were both in graduate school. The two of us had cubicles across from one another in the bullpen office we shared with several others, the Deuce-38 that might be of story and song had I paid more attention to the world around me and were I a better writer than I am. We got to know one another as we worked together, first on translating early English into modern, later on other projects, not all of which were academic in nature. But our first association was as scholars, laboring together to master knowledge so that we could make more of it, and that foundation still shows in our relationship and conversations.

Griffin Hall stands, deserted for the weekend, facing the Girard Park Tower on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019.
This is where it happened, of course.
The image is Abbigail Wilson’s in
The Vermillion,
and it is used here for commentary.

I point all this out to offer context for what follows, of course. My wife and I are both trained as scholars, although both of us have left off academia as a profession; she opted out of continued study soon after we learned of our daughter, while I gave up the search for full-time academic work a while back and left teaching at the beginning of the year this year. Even so, I continue to write, putting out chapter-by-chapter summaries of one author’s corpus and putting together such essays and other pieces as this. Indeed, I’ve been doing more writing, and more public writing, since leaving academe than I did while I was making a go of an academic career. (And, yes, I am aware that writing syllabi and assignments, and making comments on students’ papers for grading all “count” as writing. I think more of what I write now gets read, though, although how much of that was my attitude towards students and how much was the students’ attitude toward the work is not entirely clear to me.)

Not long before this writing, although some time before it will appear where others can see it, my wife asked me why I need to keep writing. I was penning pages in my journal when she asked, and I had said something about needing to write when she had asked what I wanted to do with her and our daughter on a sunny afternoon. And I didn’t have a good answer for her. I mean, I could have quoted Asimov, talking about writing as breathing, but she and I both know it’s not quite that important for me; I’ve spent many days not writing, although I admit to feeling some compulsion to keep putting words together. And it’s not as if I was writing for pay, which would have justified the time away to some extent.

The question has stuck with me, as might be imagined. I still do not have a good answer for it. Yes, I continue to entertain the fantasies that what I write will be of some use to others and that I will, at some point, be able to bring in a bit of money for my family from doing it. But they are largely–not entirely, but largely–fantasies. A more concrete answer, well, that slab hasn’t yet been poured.

Help me make it into and through the coming month?

A Consideration of Luna’s “Poem #335”

A while back, I wrote a short piece looking at “Poem #264” on Pen to Paper, a website that hosts works by the site owner and a number of others, including myself. Because I can never seem, in fact, to leave well enough alone–why else would I still be writing things that look like academic papers months after exiting academe?–it seemed to me to be a good time to go back to that blog and pull up another piece. In this case, it’s Luna’s “Poem #335,” the most recent of the site owner’s own verse on the site as of this writing.

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/writersblock.jpg
It’s like this sometimes, yes.
Image taken from
TVTropes.com, here,
used for commentary

The poem, composed of three non-rhyming quatrains of uneven line-length, adopts a second-person stance that appears to be a reflexive address; that is, the narrator appears to be talking to themself. (Yes, I know the singular “they” and its derivatives annoy, and I know it is easy to assume that the narrator shares the author’s gender unless there is textual evidence to the contrary. Still, for reasons I have addressed, I use it here.) The subject is a change in orientation towards writing, noting a shift from release to rebuke and a tendency to move away from writing therefore–with a cover story offered as justification for the motion.

As I read the poem, I am reminded of comments I have seen from other writers, namely that revisiting old works is not a good idea–and the problem the narrator of “Poem #335” cites is one occasioned by reading back over their own words. They cannot shout back from a page that is never turned, after all. Given my own propensity towards looking back at my own work, though, I cannot find fault with the narrator–or the addressee, if I am wrong about the narrator talking to themself–doing the same thing. It is often helpful to have a sense of context and continuity, after all, and it’s hard to achieve those without looking back over older work. (Hell, it’s hard enough doing so with the backward look. I’m pretty sure I demonstrate that difficulty.)

I also note that a focus of the poem seems to be that the narrator / interlocutor seems moved towards numbing and distancing. The feigned writer’s block is a defense against the emotions occasioned by writing; it is easy to read “the smoke and alcohol, / the hobbies and oversleeping, / [and] the binges and the purges” of the first stanza similarly. Working in substance abuse treatment as I do, I can attest to the frequency of recourse to chemicals to blunt the pain or ennui of daily life; having been a fan, I can attest, too, to the distance afforded by over-engaging in a hobby. I have to think the others work in much the same ways. All such matters are temporary, fleeting, and it is clear to my eye that the narrator is pointing towards a similar transience of feigned writer’s block; it can only stave off emotional engagement for so long, for so much effect.

It is also true, however, that doing the work of writing or of reading may well not be so cathartic as might be hoped and has been posited by any number of commenters. Wrestling emotions out onto the page–printed or pixelated–does not always empty the head and heart of them; sometimes, even if such opponents are pinned, they retain a grip on a joint or the throat, and being laid out does not mean they let go. So there is that to consider, as well.

If you could help me keep doing this, I’d appreciate it.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 114: Ship of Magic, Chapter 13

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


The chapter that follows, “Transitions,” opens with Brashen waking aboard the Paragon and considering the events of the previous night, and his situation. Realizing his straitened finances, he makes to head out and look for work. The ship greets him and advises him of where Althea has gone and warns him of some of the concerns in the work he purposes to do. The ship also turns to morbid talk of suicide and killing before Brashen leaves.

There’s a reason she keeps popping up, perhaps.
Amber: Liveship Trilogy by eternity8 on DeviantArt, image used for commentary

Meanwhile, Althea tries to pawn her jewelry in Bingtown, finding some success in addition to the increasing demands of daily living on one’s own. The shift in economics strikes her strongly, as does her withdrawal from Bingtown society. And she startles herself to arrive in Amber’s shop, at which she marvels before startling again to find Amber ensconced therein. The two speak of the Vivacia and slavery, with Amber speaking cryptically of a nine-fingered slave boy. She also gives Althea the gift of an intricately wrought bead in exchange for the chance to assist her later on.

Aboard the Vivacia, Wintrow works under the unkind tutelage of his father’s crew and considers his circumstances. Kyle summons him to his cabin to talk, and he does more to talk at him than with him. When Kyle offers an earring in token of an offer of early command, Wintrow refuses, citing his religious convictions; Kyle is angered by the refusal, and when Wintrow asks why Althea not be given the opportunity, Kyle angrily retorts that her sex makes her unfit. Wintrow argues against the sexism from Bingtown history, and Kyle replies from his own family background before dismissing Wintrow from his cabin. The second mate, Torg, returns him to his berth and locks him in, and Wintrow finds sleep amid despair.

In the night, Ronica calls on the Vivacia. Ronica tries to reach her husband through the ship, to no avail. She also learns that Althea has visited several times and leaves a message for her with the ship.

Once again, I find myself reading affectively as I reread the present chapter. It is not because of Kyle’s continued misogyny, the assertion that women somehow need to be protected from the concerns of working life, that they need to be kept happy and pampered; I know that I am in part the product of my upbringing in a part of the world that still does not do terribly well with issues of gender parity, and I know that I still have biases on which I am working, but I hope I am not the kind of tyrant Captain Haven is. Nor is it because of the foreshadowing of foresight coming from Amber, whose identity is known to Hobb’s readers at this point but which I will not make much of at the moment. No, it is because of Wintrow.

Wintrow, both as depicted and as he regards himself in the present chapter, excels in the environment of the monastery. Aboard the Vivacia, however, he is “Nothing remarkable….An indifferent ship’s boy, a clumsy sailor. Not even worth mentioning.” And while some of the attitude can be put down to adolescent angst and the upset at being utterly displaced, the shock is one I have seen described by those leaving academe, as well as one I have felt myself as I have done so. The university system as it has been in the United States and other places in the world is one that emerges from the monastery, and there is much of the monastic still about it in popular conception and, indeed, in the minds of some of the powerful within it (as witness some comments by a notable medievalist in May 2019, with which many disagree vociferously). So a monkish character might well invite identification from a bookish reader–and, as someone who spent twelve years in college earning three degrees in English (and focusing on medieval/ist literatures, no less!), I qualify as such a reader.

I did well in school, perhaps not as well as Wintrow in the monastery, but still enough to think that I was somehow special; life outside academe, though it goes well for me now, has disabused me of that notion. And I had my shift, my change well into my 30s; how much worse it would have to be for an adolescent…

Again, I read affectively, something I should know better than to do, given my academic background and formal training. But I still do it, which may be why I could not find a permanent place in the professoriate to which I trained.

It’s hot, here, but it’d be cool of you to send support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 111: Ship of Magic, Chapter 10

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


The following chapter, “Confrontations,” opens with Althea waking to the sound of Ronica berating Kyle for punching his adolescent son. Kyle responds harshly before backing off of a position he realizes is perilous for him. Althea enters abruptly and confronts him, but she is soon distracted by tending to Wintrow. She rages against her nephew’s situation for a moment as he continues to try to remove himself from that situation, and, in a rage, Kyle vows that he will cede the Vivacia to Althea if any captain vouches for her seamanship. He also rages against his own son, sending him packing off to the ship under duress before rebuking Althea. Ronica quashes the argument. She accepts the blame for Althea’s disinheritance, explaining her reasons for it and noting the terms of Keffria’s enfranchisement. Althea cannot but continue to inveigh against the situation, and, in the face of the continued insistence upon it, she leaves.

image
This rather speaks for itself.
Meme from FitzChivalryFarseer on tumblr, used for commentary

Kyle resumes inveighing against Althea, and when Ronica rebukes him for his behavior, he turns his anger upon her–not physically, but still coercively, and partly through exploiting Keffria’s indecision. Ronica reassesses her elder daughter, not favorably, and she is shocked yet again when Kyle announces his intent to trade in slaves. When he is met with objections to that plan, he demands charts to the Rain Wild River, only to be told that they had been destroyed. He disbelieves and continues to rage, and Ronica takes herself and Keffira away from him.

Kyle’s patriarchal tendencies are on full display in the present chapter. He demands Wintrow’s obedience physically, notes that things are done well “for a woman,” and rages at the Vestrit women because they “have no sons to protect” them or “men to take over the running of the holdings.” He repeatedly asserts that he is “the man of this family” and therefore its rightful head, owed obedience by all in it. It is an all too common attitude even now, that the presence of a penis is the primary determiner of ability, and it is still an all too common attitude that command means the imposition of will despite the knowledge and expertise of others. I must confess to being guilty of some of the same follies, and I am trying to sit with the discomfort that being reminded of them produces in me. But perhaps I am overly affective a reader in doing so.

I note as I reread the ways in which Kyle approaches Kennit. Both of them appear amid the trappings of bourgeoisie success; Kyle stands in a house built by settlers over generations and staffed by servants, commander of a vessel owned by the family descended from those settlers, concerned more with money than anything else. He is not heir to that family, as such, but married into it and is imposing his own views upon it rather than even attempting to understand the people he seeks to rule. Might he, himself, be taken as a metaphor for colonialist discourse, especially given his physical description in the text? Might he point towards intersectionalities of oppressive structures? Might someone still vested in academe make such arguments?

Help me mark tomorrow’s holiday?

A Letter

Dear Friends,

I know I have not been as good at keeping in contact with you, individually, as I ought. And there are many excuses I could plead, some of which might even be acceptable ones, but they are only that: excuses. Guilty as my conscience is, I might offer such even if I had not done wrongly not to write to you or otherwise get into some kind of contact, but I did do wrongly, as I well know. So I offer my apology for letting it be so long since I have reached out to you; I hope you will accept it and that we can keep in touch, moving forward, but I will understand if you do not, if we cannot.

I have been working on several blogging projects, including this one; I still post poems at my personal blog, and I still post something that seems like scholarship or moves that way for the Tales after Tolkien Society. Here, of course, I have been working on my Hobb Reread–and I have been neglecting too many other things. Having left academe almost completely behind–I no longer teach, I only rarely tutor, and I have not been doing much in the way of research, having limited access to any apparatus–I should have a much more open schedule for things than I seem to do. But I do not do them.

Again, I make no excuses for it. I do note, though, that I am still working through my experiences, trying to make sense of them, trying to construct something like a cohesive narrative of how I fell away from my intent yet again–I was going to be a band director when I grew up, then an English teacher, then an English professor, and none of those seems to have happened and stuck–and arrived in my current situation. I do decently enough that I ought not to complain, as I well know. I have a decent job that lets me help people, I am engaged in my community (to some extent), and I have a good family; each is worth enjoying. But I cannot let go of some bitterness and hurt. I should, but I am not sure how–or I am not sure I will land well when I finally fall completely away.

There are senses in which I have let go of too much. For all the problems academe has–and there are many, many problems, not least of which are the systemic racism, sexism, and classism embedded within it, despite the lip-service paid to equality and parity by many–it did have transformative effects upon me, effects which depend in large part on continued involvement within it. I do not have access to information as I did before, or at least not as ready, and I do not have as much time to sit and take in that information as I once did, as much time to turn it over in my mind and make it fit into structures that only barely suggested themselves before. And I can feel my mind stultify from the lack.

But I have prattled on long enough by now. I hope you and yours are well and will remain so, and I hope that I will hear from you again.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey B. Elliott

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 104: Ship of Magic, Chapter 3

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


The following chapter, “Eprhon Vestrit,” starts with Ronica Vestrit tending to her titular husband in his final illness and grousing about the servant, Rache, that had been sent her by Davad Restart and who had tended Ephron poorly. She mentally rehearses their life together and the plans that Ephron’s illness has halted. She also recalls arguments they had had regarding their daughter, Althea, and notes the shift in practice in Bingtown towards “keep[ing] one’s womenfolk free of such tasks” as estate management before musing on the falling fortunes of the Vestrit family and public shits towards slave labor and trading in Bingtown.

This might be the kind of thing on which the chapter ends.
Image from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources by way of the Pittsburgh City Paper, which I think means it’s public domain, and used here for commentary

Ronica is roused from her reverie by Davad calling at her home. Amid likely unintentional rudeness, he carries an offer from another Trader family to buy some of the Vestrit holdings. Ronica’s refusal carries the weight of tradition and history, of which she reminds Davad (and allows Hobb to inform readers, a smooth bit of exposition). Davad rebuts with assertions that the old ways his family and hers had followed are ending, and Ronica’s own refutation grows emotionally charged and fraught for them both. They retreat a bit, laying the blame at the feet of the governing Satrap, as Ephron wakes and asks for pain medication.

Ronica takes the chance to escort Davad out. Despite their earlier argument, they reaffirm their friendship and their common legacy of suffering. And as Ronica looks out over Bingtown afterwards, she muses yet further on the changes already in progress–changes that look as much like depredations as anything else to her old eyes.

While the previous chapter, treating Althea, made some motions toward it, the present chapter, where it focuses on Ronica, presents something of a feminist vision–not of feminine dominance, but of parity. This is something that Hobb’s Farseer works treat, certainly, as noted by both Bokne and Katavić, among others, but it is more prominent a concern in the Liveship Traders books. Given what I know about large, loud sections of the fantasy-literature fanbase, particularly those who focus their devotions on the Tolkienian tradition of which Hobb partakes to a limited degree, it is likely the cause of the lesser attention given the Liveship Traders books; a damned lot of readers (yes, I mean “damned”) mislikes “politics” in their reading, with “politics” being “a position I do not espouse and from which I do not benefit” in such minds, and questioning patriarchy as the Liveship Traders books begin to do in earnest in the present chapter reads as such a position to entirely too many people.

Perhaps related to the burgeoning feminist thread, too, are certain Marxist leanings–Ronica makes much of the shifting economic base, though she remains in the employer’s position rather than the laborer’s, so perhaps some other term than “Marxist” applies–and ecocritical possibilities–Ronica also makes much of the balance between the Bingtown Traders and their environment, noting the changes to that balance occasioned by the shifting labor conditions. Being out of academe, I am out of practice with such theoretical approaches, so that I am not the best person to follow up on their implications, but it is clear even to me that they are there to follow–which is another argument, among many, in favor of Hobb’s writing.

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