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 298: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 21

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


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.

Jek
Illustration series for the Golden Fool by Robin Hobb
Aww.
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!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 172: Mad Ship, Chapter 34

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


The next chapter, “Oracle,” begins with the Vivacia expressing her dislike of the situation as Wintrow lies upon her foredeck, recovering further from his earlier injuries and recalling the current state of affairs. He affirms the ship’s dislike of being moored at Others Island, with the Marietta not far off, and he comments regarding his ambivalence towards prophecy. The ship voices some recollection of the place, and they posit that Kennit’s earlier visits have entered her memory from his blood soaking into her wizardwood planking. They are further discussing the matter when interrupted by Etta summoning Wintrow to board a ship’s boat and go ashore.

creature from the black lagoon
I always imagined the Others looking like this, or close enough.
Image from this page on Universal Monsters Universe, used for commentary.

As the ship’s boat makes for shore, Kennit observes Wintrow and muses over the disposition of his crew and followers, focusing on his provisions for Divvytown. Sorcor’s surprising depths and reaffirmed tie to the place receive attention, and, as they make landfall and Kennit orders those other than Wintrow and Etta to remain with the boat, he reflects on Wintrow’s similarities to his earlier self. The pirate realizes that the Others do not want him present, and he sends Wintrow ahead to collect an item, noting that he and Etta will be present for the revelation. After a brief hesitation, Wintrow obeys, and Kennit and Etta follow after, Kennit puzzling over why the charm at his wrist had insisted he bring her with him.

As Wintrow obeys Kennit, he muses over his earlier instructions and the events surrounding Divvytown and its reconstruction. As he presses on across the island, he comes across detritus that he rejects as unimportant before happening upon a treacherous path that leads him to a barred cave. A stunted serpent is constrained within it, and Wintrow finds himself examining its confines, looking for a way to free it, working against the stone that has been built up around it.

Etta and Kennit continue across the island, trailing him; neither can see him for a time, and Kennit grows impatient. He demands Etta help him hurry along, and she does. Meanwhile, Wintrow continues working against the serpent’s cage, making some progress as the tide begins to come up. The serpent surges against the incomplete opening, sharing the experience of pain with him, and he struggles to complete his work of opening the serpent’s enclosure. He frees the serpent, sustaining substantial injury in the process, and remains in mental communion with the serpent as she makes it to the water–“The Plenty”–and purposes to rejoin her kind.

Etta and Kennit are summoned by the screams of pain and proceed towards their source. The Others seek to interdict them, and the pair press on as rain begins to fall. Kennit and Etta reach the gravely injured Wintrow as the Others attack, and melee is joined. The serpent flees, as do Kennit, Etta, and Wintrow, who make for the Vivacia, scrambling aboard the ship’s boat. The crew begins to tend to Wintrow in awe as he drifts in his mind and worries about what the ship will learn from him. Kennit defies the storm, and the freed serpent pushes the ship’s boat swiftly towards the liveship; the Vivacia calls out to her kindred serpent, recognizing herself and her in the same moment. And in the aftermath, as Wintrow rests and begins to recover from the new exertions, Etta and Kennit realize that she is pregnant.

If “The Storm” is the climax of one narrative thread in the book, this chapter is for the pirates and serpents. If nothing else, the revelation of Etta’s pregnancy denotes a major change; becoming a parent certainly changed my life enough, and if Kennit purports to be a king, he has a decided interest in ensuring the continuation of his dynasty. That there is an apparent heir serves to secure his ambitions–at least to some degree; the perils of pregnancy, childbirth, and youth still wait, of course. More, Etta seems herself to undergo something of a transformation in the chapter, although there is some critique to be read into her reliance upon Kennit’s urging and Wintrow’s exigency to enact it; increasingly removed from academe as I am, I am not positioned to do the work myself, but I can see that it needs to be done. Too, a looked-for messianic figure (noted here and here, among others) has emerged, which seems pretty solidly climactic.

If there have been climaxes, though, and ones into which some lewd humor might be read, what Freytag calls falling action is soon to follow–and falling down is not always or even necessarily often a pleasant thing.

Your kind contribution to my ongoing efforts is greatly appreciated.

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.