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!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 338: Dragon Haven, Chapter 6

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

After a missive that remarks on the flood and its effects, “Partners” opens with Sedric coming to his senses in the mouth of the dragon Relpda as she swims upon the swollen, caustic river. The two continue their mental communion, and Sedric begins to despair as he assesses their situation. Sedric prevails upon Relpda to put to shore, albeit with some difficulty on both their parts, and as they struggle to reach land, Relpda presses upon Sedric for more, effectively making him her keeper.

Source is in the image, I believe, but just to be sure, it’s from the blackandwhitemotley Tumblr feed, here, which I’ve used for commentary before

Aboard the Tarman, Leftrin gives orders to secure against the results of the flood and maintain both a vigil and a signal for survivors not yet recovered. Assessing the losses–which appear to include all the keepers and Alise–his thoughts darken, and Carson offers to assist in the search for survivors. Carson heads out to search, and Leftrin and his crew continue their efforts, Leftrin berating himself against the flood and its effects.

Sedric and Relpda continue to struggle together, Sedric realizing that the effort of preserving him is costing the dragon dearly. Sedric shunts aside thoughts of returning to Bingtown and bends his mind to how he might help his benefactor, making some headway to that end despite his overall physical ineptitude. As he does, however, he is surprised to be encountered by Jess. The two assess their improved prospects, and Jess discusses killing Relpda to sell her parts–alongside Sedric. Sedric takes some time to realize the proposal being made to him, and when he does, Sedric considers the offer, moving to pacify Relpda as Jess approaches.

The present chapter certainly makes much of pathos, emphasizing it through the burgeoning connection between Sedric and Relpda. As I reread, I find myself in mind of animals being led off to die, and the thought occurs to me that the present text might well be read as a musing on animalism or sentientism. As with many, many things, however, I am insufficiently versed in either philosophical approach to do more than recognize that they might apply; I must leave to others the work of explicating any such thing.

More and more, such is the case. I am some time away from academe at this point, and it is increasingly clear to me that I should be away from it. Even recognizing as much, however, I am called to continue such projects as this (even if with some pauses and hitches and false starts). I know there are still things for me to say about these works and about works like them, things that I can recognize and point out to others so that they can build upon what I find to learn yet more about the works and about the worlds they depict and in which they exist.

Such action, looking at what people make to better understand the made, the maker, and the world, is a goal of literary study, generally. Even though I no longer participate in that field professionally, I still think it is a worthwhile thing.

Need something written? Reach out below!

Or simply send support my way!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 327: Dragon Keeper, Chapter 12

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

Following a scathing rebuke by Detozi of the complaining bird-keeper, Kim, “Among Dragons” opens with Sedric seething at Alise’s conduct and actions. He plots their return, expecting that Alise will soon tire of the expedition, and his thoughts turn to Hest and to maudlin longing for him.

So juicy sweeeeeet…
Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

Sedric is interrupted by Alise’s part of the conversation with Sintara and her request that he take notes of their conversation. He retrieves his writing implements, which are detailed, as well as specimen bottles he means to use in pursuit of his more clandestine mission. Sedric balks as he follows Alise out into the muck to confer with the dragons, and he feels the ire of the Tarman directed at him.

Sedric’s discomfort continues as he observes the dragons’ attendants working with them, and Alise becomes aware that he cannot hear the dragon’s speech as speech; he confirms as much with disdainful words. Thymara joins in rebuke of Sedric, and Alise dismisses him back to the Tarman, and she finds herself jealous of Alise, whom she sees as “Skymaw’s” preferred choice of keeper.

Thymara’s thoughts turn to Tats and rehearses the shape of her trip with the dragons so far. Disgusted on several fronts, she stalks off to hunt and fish. She spears one fish but almost falls, caught by Tats coming to assist her unexpectedly. As she regains her footing, she asks Tats after his intent, and he notes Sedric’s presence out away from the rest of the group, and Sedric explains his presence as having followed Thymara to confer with her. Introductions are made, and Sedric expresses surprise at the continued talk of conversation between the keepers and their dragons. He flatters her as he asks her to translate for “Skymaw” to him, and she begins to make arrangements to that end.

I’m not entirely sure what to write about the present chapter. I have to wonder, once again, about the tropes being deployed in it; for one, Sedric certainly does not come off well, and he fails to come off well in ways that ring of stereotypes that, although historically attested, are better left behind. Again, though, I feel as if I am coming up against the shrinking limits of my familiarity with the relevant critical theories and practices, being long removed from academe; I do not know that I have the language anymore, if I ever had it, to be able to speak to the matter in the way it really ought to be addressed. And it’s a frustration to come up against my own limits, knowing that they used to be further out, and not have the resources anymore to address the growing lack…

I’d be happy to put my talents to work for you; let me know what all you need written, and we’ll talk!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 311: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 34

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

The next chamber, “Commitments,” opens with a brief in-milieu directive from an old Skillmaster before turning to Fitz considering the shift in his situation and preparing to return to the Fool and Prilkop on Aslevjal. He returns to the Witness Stones and contemplates them before passing through the Skill-pillars once again and making his way to the Fool. The two confer, exchanging news, and the Fool affirms a determination to absent himself from Fitz’s life. The risk of occasioning change is too great, and the Fool withdraws the marks of Skill-sharing from Fitz, leaving the two sundered and Fitz considering what has been given to him by those whom he has loved.

How the mighty have fallen…
Source should be visible in this.

In the wake of the loss, Fitz follows Chade’s bidding and makes to retrieve some of the purloined Skill-texts that the Pale Woman had had, aided by Prilkop. They find the corpse of the Pale Woman, and Prilkop notes that he and the Fool will return to their shared school–in Clerres–to address some concerns they have there. Prilkop also urges Fitz to remain with him for a short span before returning through the Skill-pillars, which urging Fitz, being called by Chade and Thick back to Buckkeep, politely refuses.

Some things present themselves as of interest in the present chapter. One of them is a bit of foreshadowing that I do not think will be a spoiler to point out (aside from the novel being nearly twenty years in print as I write this): Fitz refuses a polite warning from a knowledgeable figure, and that has never worked out well for him in the preceding texts. Never.

Another point is that the present chapter is, I believe, the first mention of Clerres, the center of power of the White Prophet religion. I offer some discussion of it here, in “Manifestations of Medieval Religion in Robin Hobb’s Elderlings Corpus,” and I have the idle thought that I might revisit the project at some future point, expanding the conference paper with quotations and, maybe, further analysis. It’s not like I was going to place it in a journal in any event, after all; I still do some of The Work, but I am decisively out of academe. Still, the name might well be a bit of sequel-planting for Hobb, which would not be out of line–but even if it is not, the detail is not a throwaway thing as much as it is an enrichment of the milieu. After all, people give names to places, and everybody’s from somewhere.

One more, before I close, is the discussion of responsibility and authority at work in the chapter. It does note receive much space, admittedly, but there is something of an undercurrent of the issue throughout the Six Duchies books. Much of the action in them, and certainly the bulk of the political intrigues, result from the abdication of FitzChivalry’s father, King-in-Waiting Chivalry Farseer, from that position and his self-removal from the line of succession to the throne of the Six Duchies. Would matters in the Red-Ship War have gone as they did, had Chivalry remained present in government? Certainly, Verity would not have done as he did…but I am not a fan-fiction writer, and certainly not in the Six Duchies. That way lies opprobrium, and I have faced enough such in my life already.

Send a little something my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 308: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 31

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

The next chapter, “Dragon’s Head,” begins with an excerpt from a minstrel’s account of events before turning to Fitz and the Fool returning to the Black Man, who marvels at the return of the latter from the dead. Thick makes a scattered report of what he has been told through the Skill, and reports are exchanged, in the flesh and through magical means. The difficulties in concluding the marriage arrangements between Dutiful and Elliania are rehearsed, as are their resolutions–which involved Icefyre shoving his head into the Narwhal mothershouse and touching it to the hearthstones therein.

Quite the fireplace decoration…
Dragon-head Drawing by kejig on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Fitz and the Fool confer about what was reported, and the Fool delights in connecting with Prilkop–the Black Man–whose experiences are both like and unlike his own. The Fool urges Fitz to return to his life and is surprised to have it affirmed that he will do so. And that night, Fitz connects with Nettle through the Skill, where the latter complains of the difficulties at court and makes her own report to the former, receiving his reports, in turn. Their conversation turns tense around the issue of Molly, but it ends amicably, and Fitz sleeps well in the knowledge that he will return home at last.

Were this the last chapter in the book, I’d not be worried. Even had I not read the book many times before, given what Hobb has shown throughout the Elderlings novels, and knowing how much text remains–nearly 100 pages in my copy–I would be worried. Fitz is in a good place, and that cannot be allowed to continue. And of course not; it is in seeing Fitz persevere against situations that are as often his own damned fault as not that so much of his attraction lies. It invites affective reading, which is something I ought not to do, given my training and experience–but it is how most people read, and I am far enough outside academe–more than ten years since my last degree, now, and some time since I had a college job–that I’m not really outside that “most.” Not so much anymore…

I could use your continued support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 298: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 21

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

The next chapter, “In the Realm of the Pale Woman,” begins with commentary about the White Prophets before turning to Fitz regaining consciousness in captivity, bound and brought before the Pale Woman. She is described as Fitz and the Fool are presented to her amid her gathered servants, a dragon in the midst of being carved, and the feral figure of Kebal Rawbread. The Pale Woman laughingly explicates his situation and theirs to Fitz before having them separated and taken to individual cells.

“I am so very sorry. So very sorry.”
Image is from facelessfrey on Tumblr, used for commentary.

Fitz surveys his cell as he is thrown into it, but he is not held there long. Instead, he is conducted to the Pale Woman’s chambers, where she is attended to as he looks on. Reluctantly, he washes and is shaved before sitting to table with her at her bidding, and after the meal, the Pale Woman expounds upon her ideas to him, interleaving her plans with no little inveighing against the Fool. Fitz feels his Skill begin to return among the discourse, and the Pale Woman moves to work her own Skill upon him to seduce him. He resists, however, and attacks her–ineffectively, in the event–when he sees what has been done to the Fool.

Enraged, the Pale Woman has Fitz and the Fool brought to her throne room again, where she sacrifices one of her prisoners to the nascent dragon and to Kebal Rawbread’s hunger. She has the Fool bound for his own sacrifice and tasks Fitz with the killing of Icefyre–to which he agrees, even as the Fool is tortured before him. Fitz is turned out into the snows on Aslevjal and left to find his way again.

There is more than a bit of fanservice in the present chapter, and as I reread it again, I found myself wondering why it was there, why it was so overt. I mean, I get why the Pale Woman would want to seduce Fitz into doing her bidding; a willing participant is better than an unwilling one, the later being likely to look for ways to subvert and suborn even amid coerced compliance. But having the heavy-handed attempt seems…out of keeping for a prophetic figure who would normally be expected to be both long-lived and long-seeing; it doesn’t seem very thought out or thought ahead, and that seems to be at odds with the whole thing of the White Prophets. Perhaps it is a part of what I’ve seen as the primary point where Hobb’s writing falters–the rush to the end, about which I have commented on occasion (April 2013 and August 2015). It’s as if Hobb has an “Oh, shit, I have to finish the novel!” moment, and it still sits less than well with me, a decade later (and more, really). And that’s a shame, because I clearly like how Hobb writes–well enough to write my MA thesis on her work and to return to it after giving up on being a “real” academic.

Loving something doesn’t mean being blind to its problems, though. But at least the problems are as they are and not worse ones…

I do always appreciate your support!

I Still Dream of Research

As is no real surprise, I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose in a book, and I’ve spent a fair bit of that time with a pen or pencil in my hand, or with a keyboard in front of me, making notes about what I have in front of my nose and trying to make some sense of it–not only looking at what the words on the page are doing within themselves, but also at what they’re doing within the contexts in which they exist. What they use and how they use it, what it means that they do, and what wonders they contain…I spent a long time in search of such things, orienting a large part of my identity around that search. I had to, really; it was the only way to learn how to do it in the ways that it needs to be done, insofar as it does need to be done (I am well aware that many would argue the point–and I don’t blame them).

Not entirely unlike this, no…
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

I do what I can to keep working with texts, of course, not only in my freelance work–which does give me appreciated opportunities to read things I wouldn’t’ve considered picking up otherwise–but also in this webspace and, on occasion, others. Still, there are many, many projects that I had conceived of doing while I was still a more “normal” participant in academe, ideas I had had for papers or monographs that I had intended to get around to addressing and just never did. And thoughts of them sometimes return to me, beckoning me all too invitingly.

Marvell comes to mind again, although I know not what coy mistress I address in considering putting together some paper on a series of writing commentaries in a major newspaper or plumbing an edition of a role-playing game for its textual import. Yet still I dream of such things, from time to time, and I wonder if it is, in fact, too late for me to follow such pursuits…before I turn again to the work at hand, for which I am paid and which I therefore very much need to do–such as that I might well do for you?

If you like, of course. As I hope is the case.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 262: Golden Fool, Chapter 12

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

The next chapter, “Jek,” opens with an in-milieu translated commentary regarding the violent removal by Tintaglia of Chalcedean forces from Bingtown Harbor. It pivots, then, to Fitz returning wearily to his assigned chambers from his audience with Chade and Kettricken, rehearsing how it had gone–which was not entirely well for him.

Illustration series for the Golden Fool by Robin Hobb
Image is Katrin Sapranova’s Jek, used for commentary.

When he returns to the chamber, Fitz finds Jek present, which disconcerts him. After an increasingly tense exchange, during which Fitz introduces himself as Tom Badgerlock, the Fool-as-Golden returns, recognizing Jek immediately and leading to some awkwardness all around. Badgerlock is dismissed, but Fitz spies out the reunion of the two and muses bitterly on the performative aspects of the Fool’s identity. Jek reports events down the Cursed Shores and in the Pirate Isles, noting what is said of Kennit’s child and of Althea and Brashen Trell.

Fitz fumes at the revelation, withdrawing and rebuking himself as he stalks through the hidden corridors of Buckkeep Castle. He spies out the Narcheska, finding her assailed magically via intricate tattoos of dragons and Peottre doing what he can to ease the girl’s sufferings. Fitz ascends to Chade’s tower room, grumbles about the lack of attention paid it by Thick, and writes out a report for the old assassin.

Descending, Badgerlock goes out into the common areas, where he is confronted by Selden. The Vestrit youth plies him for information, which questioning Badgerlock deflects through his servant’s manner. It is a near thing, though, and he stalks off in some haste, thinking about what will happen and purposing to see about Hap. Along the way, Starling confronts him, and an angry exchange ensues that leaves Fitz hollow. He proceeds to drink too much, and he goes to Jinna to apologize to her. At length, and after rebuking him for his many follies, she accepts the apology, and they return to some accord.

A couple things pop out to me in the present chapter. One is a bit of internal inconsistency that annoys; Althea’s sister is repeatedly identified as Malta–her niece–rather than as Keffria. It’s a small bit of editing mishap that might’ve been corrected in subsequent printings–I hope it has been–but I can only read the copy of the novel I have…

The other is something about which several of the entries in the Fedwren Project concern themselves: the Fool’s performed gender-fluidity. I’ll note here, as I have in many other situations, that those who have applied themselves to that study have done so with far greater insight and skill than is mine to employ, certainly at this point in my life, when I am so far away from academe as I am. I’ll note, too, that many people deal with similar situations, if not presented as forcefully as with the Fool. How many of us, as children, were shocked to learn that our teachers existed outside the classroom when we ran into them at the grocery store or the gas station? How many of us, upon finding out that our parents are people, felt they had failed us? How many of us, seeing our children grow away from us, are stunned by the realization that they are separate little people?

Something to consider.

Care to help me ring in another new year? I’d really appreciate it!