A Thing Remembered from Teaching

I had occasion to write recently something that brought to mind for me some of the better days of my teaching, back when I had hope that I would have a secure teaching job and still had reason to think that I did a good job of it. It reminded me of a couple of things, actually, and I might write about the other one later–but the thing that came to mind first was the idea of students–of people, really–saying that they “don’t care.”

This is the kind of thing I was talking about. Dig in!
Image from Niteowlneils on Wikipedia, used for commentary and in what I believe is alignment with a Creative Commons license.

Now, the simple fact of making such a remark carries some certainty of care; it is an expenditure of time and effort to make such a statement, and expending them is not something done without some regard for the thing on which they are expended. The performance is itself an indication of caring; it is an instantiation of it, however small a thing it is. And it is a statement that tends to prove false quickly after being challenged, as I suspected and found when I was teaching at a technical school in Midtown Manhattan, back when I did such things in such places.

One session among the several I taught–and I did a lot of teaching, covering six or more sections of two or three courses in each of three fifteen-week terms at the institution, for which I was well compensated thanks to a strong and heavily integrated union–I fell back on an idea I had had the good fortune to learn early on in graduate school. Namely, I aligned my writing exercises–yes, following the not-too-apt generic model of composition classes because of institutional policies (because I did rather appreciate my paychecks) with problems I have spoken to, and others besides–along a single theme. One session, it was music; another, citizenship (I did try to be socially aware and engaged).

The first session I did it, though, I did it with food. I figured that all of my students ate, so they would all have material with which to work–and it was New York in which I was teaching, so there was no shortage of food to get and comment about. Given my own love of eating, and my then-budding enjoyment of cooking–my family uses it as bonding, among other things; cooking together helps us be together–I had some passion for the subject, and I figured that my students would have something similar.

Of course, there was the one student that is in every course at every school, it seems: the contrarian. And the one that session told me that he didn’t care what he ate; for him, he said, food was fuel and nothing else, not to be enjoyed or savored, but to be consumed and forgotten. (I am paraphrasing, of course; it’s been ten years or so, after all.) But I was still quick on the uptake then, as I am not so much anymore, and ready to reply with a riposte to a thrust of wit I was confident I could turn aside.

I asked the student if, since he did not care what he ate, why he spent money on food instead of fishing restaurants’ leavings out of dumpsters, where they could be gotten for free. After all, if it was not to be enjoyed or savored, but only to be consumed and forgotten, and the food still sound, why not? Or even if it was not quite sound, because, hey, he didn’t care, right?

He didn’t have an answer for me then. He did, however, have a paper for me when it was due, and I don’t recall that it was a bad one.

Did I bring you as much pleasure as a slice of pizza? Could you kick in the cost of one for me so that I can keep doing this? Click here, then, and thanks!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 112: Ship of Magic, Chapter 11

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

The following chapter, “Consequences and Reflections,” opens with Althea consulting the Bingtown equivalent of an attorney regarding the terms of her father’s will. They are, unfortunately, clear, and clearly not in her favor. She also asks about Kyle’s oath about ceding the Vivacia to her if she could present proof of her honest sailor’s skills; her interlocutor notes that it would likely work, but counsels her against pursuing the action.

-Amber- by AngellaMireille on DeviantArt, used for commentary

After Althea leaves, she fumes, musing on her situation, and determines that she will not live on her sister’s charity. She also calls upon the Vivacia at the docks, reminiscing on the status of women among sailors as she does so. As she begins to confer with the ship, she realizes that she can feel Wintrow at work aboard her–and that his suffering marks the ship, to its potential future peril. When she is interrupted by Torg, she sits upon her anger and counsels the ship to set it aside; the ship does not, but acts against the mate.

As Althea leaves, promising to return to the ship, she wonders about the ship’s intentions and harbors dark thoughts of her own. She also has an uncomfortable encounter with Amber, though the two exchange no words, and there is no hostility made manifest between the two. After, she eats and gives thought to how she will proceed afterward, being unwilling to accept more of her family’s charity, and she begins to realize how dire her family’s situation is. She also gives more thought to the Vivacia and her nascent development, comparing her to other notable liveships–including the Paragon, whose history she rehearses in part; the part is tragic enough.

After the meal, she sends a note to Ronica and walks out amid the shops selling goods from up the Rain Wild River. She sees Amber again, at her shop this time, and considers her situation again before making her way towards the beached Paragon.

The story of the Paragon that Althea rehearses is, as noted, a tragic one, the more so given that it depicts the ship as having come into consciousness amid fear and pain. Death has already been established as necessary to quicken a liveship–three generations of a single bloodline–with implications that the Liveship Traders novels do begin to investigate, but there is a patent difference between lives ending of old age and its often-associated infirmities and the calamities that befell those whose lives quickened the Paragon. It is hardly to be wondered at that a consciousness that forms amid such trauma would have problems, as ascertained by the standards generally applied. (How apt the application is is something with which the books concern themselves later.) The repeated traumas clearly do not help, either.

Help me recover from the weekend’s holiday?


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.

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.


Geoffrey B. Elliott

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 110: Ship of Magic, Chapter 9

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

The next chapter, “A Change of Fortunes,” opens with Brashen approaching the derelict liveship Paragon. He banters with the ship briefly before boarding with permission and returning to a rack he had established on a previous excursion. The ship is strangely pleased to have him aboard again.

Anyway, here’s an adorkable sailor. I’m glad I got Brashen to look like I imagined him when reading.
The sailor himself, as reader emmitys puts it here; image used for commentary

Kennit and Sorcor confer aboard the Marietta. Kennit again pushes his idea of pirate civilization, and he begins to win Sorcor over to it, the added details presented doing more to persuade the mate of the captain’s plans. Sorcor’s vehemence against slavers surprises Kennit, but he agrees to the amendment on which Sorcor insists. Sorcor blanches a bit at Kennit’s plan to take a liveship, but he strikes a deal to pursue a slave-ship for every liveship they pursue–one to which Kennit agrees.

Wintrow faces his family as his father, Kyle, insists that he sail aboard the Vivacia instead of returning to his monastery. Wintrow tries to refuse, but he is knocked unconscious by his father.

The chapter delves further into the overt politicism of the Liveship Traders novels, especially in Sorcor’s emphatic assertions regarding slavery. The chapter affirms his experience as legal property and begins to touch on the horrors of such a status; no words can truly convey such horrors, of course, but the descriptions of the tanning work to which Sorcor was forced and the conditions aboard the slave ships are particularly evocative. (They are more so amid the current-to-this-writing protests of George Floyd’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s, and far, far too many others’.) That Hobb is pulling from depictions of the Middle Passage is clear, and it is equally clear that slavery is being presented as evil even by the standards of the evil.

I cannot help but note, also, Kennit’s reluctance to engage slavers in the way Sorcor calls for him to do (ultimately successfully, it must be noted, but still). Kennit drapes himself in trappings of wealth gotten through effort, yes, but still stolen, and he frames his plans in terms that read to me remarkably like the putative American Dream; what he describes rings of suburbia in my ears. Yet for all that, Kennit resists the idea of freeing slaves and ransoming slavers, preferring the economic benefits of interfering with the slave trade to the moral imperatives of interdicting it. Again, while such issues were far from inaccessible in the context of composition, present circumstances call for a much more emphatic, and much less sympathetic, reading. Kennit may not be a slaver himself, but he is okay with slavery–so long as it makes him money, and it is only when his continued tolerance of slavery begins to threaten his economic plans that he relents and agrees to work against it.

More people need to be better about it than Kennit than are.

We’re half through the year; send me a bit to help me make it the rest of the way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 109: Ship of Magic, Chapter 8

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

The following chapter, “Night Conversations,” starts with Keffria tending to her mother and her children before slipping into bed with her husband, Kyle. After they reconsummate their marriage, they fall to talking about the events surrounding the funeral. Kyle inveighs against Althea, and Keffria finds herself in agreement with him, musing on the “man’s load of decisions and work” her mother had faced instead of the genteel lives of other Trader women.

The lady of the chapter
A portrait of Keffria Vestrit by electorpeach on Tumblr, used for commentary

The conversation turns to Wintrow. Keffria’s hopes for and pride in him are rehearsed, only to be thwarted by Kyle rising, ostensibly to check on Althea, whom Brashen is escorting back to her family’s home. As they proceed, they banter–more drunkenly on Althea’s part than on Brashen’s. Althea vows to reclaim the Viviacia and to make Brashen her first mate when she is captain. Brashen makes note of a woodcarver’s shop–Amber’s–as they pass, and Brashen begins to muse again on his situation.

When Brashen delivers Althea to her family’s door, Kyle greets them–harshly, going so far as to swing on Brashen. The commotion rouses Ronica, who rushes in and quashes the upset, dismissing all present. Brashen stalks off towards the Paragon.

Elsewhere, the serpent Maulkin wrestles with memory, and the serpents he leads press on northward.

The present chapter shows more of the more overtly political / critical nature of the Liveship Traders novels. Keffria’s musings on her mother’s work and Kyle’s blatantly paternalistic, patriarchal attitude are foregrounded, and neither is portrayed particularly pleasantly. Keffria’s musings come off as naive and spoiled (particularly when read against Hobb’s biography, and while biographical criticism is fraught as a sole means for determining meaning, it does have some value in discussing contexts of composition), while Kyle’s conduct is stereotypical in form. Internalized and externalized patriarchy are on negative display, and not inappropriately, maugre the heads of no few who bewail “social justice warriors” in their purportedly escapist works.

It is still the case, unfortunately, that only escapist works seem apt to engage with issues of parity; the “real” world does not do much more, in the aggregate, than pay lip-service to it, when it even does so much as that. (Yes, I am aware there are exceptions. The overall tendency remains in place, however.) One of the things that escapist works do is show what could be; one thing no few works do, even those that purport to be nonfiction, is present what their writers think ought to be. For those who look at relative parity as being objectionable, I have many words, though few enough that I would include here; there are other places for me to say such things than this, and fog the air blue with those exhalations. I look with hope for such things, though, and if it makes me a fool to trumpet it, then I will be a fool, for I will not stop winding that particular horn.

Support is always appreciated.

A Rumination on a Ritual

I believe I have mentioned that I have had occasion to work with the band at the high school I attended more than twenty years ago, now. I had a good time of it, and I had had plans to do more work with that band in the spring session now ended–but closures due to COVID-19 quashed them. There are plans to resume in the fall, and there is some hope that those plans will be able to go forward, though I have to keep in mind that a resurgent virus might quash them as it did the spring plans.

For your thoughts?
Image taken from the US Mint and used for commentary; I’m pretty sure it counts as public domain

Being put in mind of that work, however, I was also put in mind of my experience as a member of the high school band–something I have noted was among the very few good parts of high school for me. (I acknowledge that much of the bad was my own damned fault; I might’ve had it coming, but that doesn’t mean it was pleasant.) As a bandsman, I took part in any number of quirky little rituals, practices that were expected of people when I joined up and which I passed forward without actually thinking about them. Of course, as I have noted, I am prone to superstition and ritual, so it was not a difficult thing for me to fall into that part of the group’s culture.

One such ritual that reminded me of itself was that of putting money into our marching shoes before marching contests. I remember drum majors going up and down the lines of band nerds in their uniforms with bags of coins, giving one to each of us–usually pennies, but occasionally nickels or higher, especially if we were at a more important contest. Ostensibly, it was for luck, borrowing from the tradition at weddings (that I am not sure my wife followed at ours). I do not know if it worked, of course; there were some contests at which the band I was part of failed miserably, but I do not remember if we had pennies in our shoes then or not. It has been more than twenty years, after all, and I do not think many people remember everything they had in their shoes after twenty weeks or twenty days, let alone twenty years.

I don’t know if the kids in band now still do such things. I know that some of the rituals I did, they do; I have seen them do much the same dismissal drill I used to do, for example. But I also know that some of what we did, they do not; bleacher tunes I inherited seem not to be current with them. And that’s okay; things have to change to improve, and the band I saw last year is far and away better than the one in which I played. (We barely made area once; they made state.) Too, I know that the days of my youth are gone away, never to return; to try to make them do so is folly. Even so, knowing that some things remain helps me feel a bit more connected to the larger world, and knowing that some things do not that at least did no harm…Whitman is right that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” and Donne that none of us is an island, but more than a clod feels as if it might have been washed away.

Giving still makes for a good ritual!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 108: Ship of Magic, Chapter 7

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

The following chapter, “Loyalties,” begins amid the continuing funeral rites for Ephron Vestrit, who is buried at sea. Wintrow looks on uncomfortably throughout, not understanding the customs of the Traders. He largely escapes the notice of his family until Kyle sees him stumble and disdainfully assigns him to the new second mate, Torg. Torg puts Wintrow to work to keep him out of the way, and Wintrow struggles with the busywork.

One of the focal characters…
Wintrow Westrit by Chidori-aka-Kate on DeviantArt, used for commentary

After, when the family makes to depart the Vivacia for their home, the ship complains. More familial drama threatens to erupt, and Ronica stems it with a few quiet words to the ship and to Kyle. Wintrow is tasked to remain aboard the ship for the night after he escorts Ronica to the waiting carriage. She speaks to him of the ship, though he claims not to understand her. His unease with the quickened ship stems from his religious convictions, and the regard in which others hold him creeps into his mind. He moves to confront members of the crew and Torg, and while things go passably with the crew, Torg is another matter, entirely.

Wintrow leaves Torg and finds himself in conversation with the ship. He finds himself strangely stirred by her words.

Elsewhere, Althea drunkenly muses over her failures and regrets, and she mourns her father. Her family’s handling of the Vivacia rankles her, and she has trouble when she makes to leave. Fortunatley, Brashen is in the same tavern she is, and he makes to escort her home.

Once again, I find myself rereading affectively, sympathizing with Wintrow Vestrit in a way that was likely desired of audiences–and a fairly easy sell for the “typical” readership of fantasy novels. I have made no secret of being a nerd; if nothing else, I maintain this webspace and others (here and here), which is often regarded as being nerdy. Too, I got into grad school (and not for medicine or an MBA), which is nerdy, and I did so off of roleplaying games, which is even nerdier. And in keeping with that, I spent a lot of time in cloistered study–not unlike Wintrow, nerdy boy removed from “real” “manly” life that he is. (Yes, I have issues with it. Go figure.)

Consequently, the interactions with Torg struck something of a chord with me. I’ve known the type, as I think many have; I’ve been on the receiving end of the type, as I know too many have. And I continue, even now, to wonder how such people so often end up in positions of petty authority that they then use to berate and belittle and bedevil those about them. For they do, in life as in art, though art at least tends to offer their comeuppances for the audience’s view; the real world is less giving in that, often in keeping the comeuppance from ever happening.

Is it any wonder that I and those like me read what we do?

Can you help me make my nerdery pay?

Reflective Comments about the Fifth Year

It has been just over five years since the first post to this webspace went up, five years that I have been working on Elliott RWI. As I write this, I have published 902 posts to the blogroll (this will be post 903), and I have posted many individual pages, collecting 25,930 views from 10,511 visitors as of this writing. In the last year, therefore, I have made 155 posts and collected 4,881 views from 2,398 visitors (based on “Reflective Comments about the Fourth Year”). Performance seems to be slightly up from last year and continues the general upward trend in my blog’s performance (see the figures below), which I ascribe to continued regular posting and integrating images into most of my online writing. I do note, however, that I had fewer unique visitors–but they seem to be looking at more things when they come by.

Figure 1 is posts per year by year of blogging.

Posts per Year of Blogging, Year 5

Figure 2 is views per year by year of blogging.

Views per Year of Blogging, Year 5

Figure 3 is visitors per year by year of blogging.

Visitors per Year of Blogging, Year 5

I am pleased to be able to continue doing this kind of work, and I look forward not only to another year of it, but many other years of it. I hope I can count on your help to do that work; I’d appreciate you sending a little bit my way here.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 107: Ship of Magic, Chapter 6

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

A chapter titled “The Quickening of the Vivacia” follows, opening with Ephron being brought aboard the ship on a litter, as if cargo rather than the long-time captain of the vessel, while Brashen watches in pain. He helps Althea lay the man directly on the deck, and he springs to Ephron’s order to aid Althea in retrieving the peg from the figurehead, the older man praising him. They are able to return the peg to Ephron just in time to give it him before he dies, choking, and amid the revelation that the Vivacia will go to Keffira rather than to Althea.

Althea is soon wrapped up again in her grief at the loss of both her father and what she had thought was her birthright. The family fracas continues, with Kyle ranting about the incapacity of his elder son and Althea returning the peg to its hole to quicken the Vivacia, aided by Brashen. After she briefly confers with the now-wakened ship, she hears Brashen put off her decks, and, after another small fracas, she follows.

A take on the Vivacia, source in the image, used for commentary

For his own part, Brashen pulls his discharge pay and tries, without success, to get a ship’s ticket–a reference for his skills at sea. He plots his next course of action with no eagerness, regretting earlier lack of thrift, but he is interrupted by Althea storming by, and he follows her once again.

I am minded as I read the chapter again of funerals I have attended, in which I have participated or to the foci of which I have been close. There have been more than a few, if less than there have been for all too many of my age, who reached adulthood just before 9/11 and the jingoistic fervor that followed it, dragging many into service and into early graves or worse. It has often been the case for me that I have acted…badly…at such events and in the days and weeks surrounding them. I am given to understand that it is not uncommon, that many people are at their worst when dealing with the deaths of others, particularly those who had been close to them as an indulgent father is to a beloved daughter. (My daughter is beloved; I do not know how indulgent I am.)

I have asserted before, I think, that one of the strengths of Hobb’s writing is its nuanced authenticity. Her characters act like people rather than like roles, and even the protagonists of her novels display behaviors and attitudes that are other than optimal. They are certainly on display in the present chapter, with the family fracas surrounding Ephron Vestrit’s death showing most of the Vestrit family other than at their best. It is still clear that readerly sympathy is directed away from Kyle Haven–the slut-shaming in which he indulges after Althea re-seats the figurehead peg is hardly a valorization–but even with that, he is not the only one acting badly.

Avoiding Mary Sue is a good thing.

Can you spare something to help me keep doing this for another year?