Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series soon.
A content warning regarding sexual assault is in order here.
The following chapter, “Consequences,” opens with Serilla rehearsing her recent circumstances. Her efforts to resist the depredations inflicted upon her had been futile, and she had been abused with seeming nonchalance by the Chalcedean captain upon whose vessel she and the Satrap had embarked.
At length, Serilla is returned to the Satrap. He is filthy and ill, and Serilla upbraids him bitterly. She contemplates killing him before he opines that his death will only occasion her total surrender to the ship’s crew. She also notes that his current political position is fragile; he is away from his seat of power, and others doubtlessly plot to place themselves upon it in his absence. When he comments that he assumes she will have to be bribed, she agrees and begins to lay out some means of securing her independence and future security, holding the Satrap’s care against his agreement to do as she bids him.
The blithe disdain Serilla reports of her Chalcedean rapist and abuser is telling, speaking to a theme present in the Liveship Traders novels and elsewhere in Hobb’s Elderlings corpus: the idea of people as property dehumanizes those who presume to hold the “property” more than those who are held. That is, those who are enslaved may be dehumanized by their conditions, but those who enslave are made even worse; the former may be pitied and should be aided, but the latter deserve no such consideration, save only (and not necessarily even) in extreme circumstances. Serilla responds to her assaults in ways that those better informed regarding trauma theory than I might more meaningfully address, but those responses are not to be scoffed at or rebuked; what should be, and in the context of the novels is, is the (largely patriarchal and misogynistic) attitude that allows for such assaults to take place. It manifests to some degree in the Haven household, as depicted in Ship of Magic, with Keffria’s husband expecting deference even in error and physically enforcing his will–only on those who could not resist the physical attack. And it is evidenced in the deplorable words of the Satrap that claim rape is no crime, since what is infinitely supplied cannot be stolen. Ultimately, it is a cowardly practice, rightly abjured even as it is still entirely too prevalent in the readers’ world–but it deserves no less rebuke and opposition outside the novel than inside.
As I was chatting online with a friend of mine–yes, I have friends–I’d mentioned some of the work I’ve been doing recently. When I did so, I noted that part of that work is in drafting multiple choice questions and the answers for them–work that is not difficult, as such, but that takes a fair bit of time to do. That part makes sense, really; drafting multiple choice questions requires composing the stem (i.e., the question), the right answer, and three or four wrong answers (distractors). The distractors additionally have to look like they could be right (with the possible exception of one, which can be included as an “obviously wrong” answer and which I often use to make some kind of joke or another). But, anyway, as I was noting the work, I recalled a story that I recounted to said friend, who suggested I write it…
Back in 2009, I started teaching at a two-year technical college in Midtown Manhattan. While the main campus was just out back of Penn Station, south of the big post office, the location where I taught was further up Eighth Avenue, and I remember the wind always smacking me in the face as I rounded the corner of 57th Street to get to the door. And most of the teaching I did there and then was remedial reading and writing, working with students who had been out of schooling for a while and needed to get reoriented to it or who had dropped out of school and were working on their GEDs. Most of them were older than I was, something I’d gotten to “enjoy” the entire time I was on site at grad school, and many of them had had…strained relationships with formal education previously.
Now, my usual teaching practice at the time was still worked with what I’d learned as I was getting certified to teach high school English; within the boundaries set for me by the institution, I offered a large number of smaller assignments, rather than a small number of larger ones. Most of the time, those assignments took the form of short-answer quizzes, usually what I used to close class (i.e., lecture, discussion, and activities happened, then the quiz; students could leave once the quiz was in). I’d generally score them fairly leniently, or what I thought of as leniently, returning them to students at the next class meeting and going over answers. But since I worked from my background and expertise, and the students came from different circumstances, what I looked for and what they offered did not always line up.
As such, one group of students asked me–rather vociferously, as it happened–to give them multiple choice quizzes instead of the short-answer I’d been assigning. At the time, I was doing the preliminary research for my dissertation, which was taking a lot of time, and I was learning how to live with my then-fiancee in advance of our wedding now more than eleven years behind us, which was also taking some time. (I love you, my sweet sopapilla!) Knowing from experience even then how much time was invested in putting together multiple choice questions, I was hesitant to oblige–and I admit to no small degree of annoyance in my “youthful” arrogance. How dare these…students question my assessment methods?
Look, I know I’ve been an asshole at least as often as not. I’ve been trying to be better, but I can’t change what I’ve been.
Anyway, the students kept pressing for the multiple choice quizzes, and I finally had enough of it. My lips curled in what might have been a smile or a snarl, and I asked them if they were sure they wanted the next quiz to be multiple choice–I didn’t have time to draft one that meeting. They said “Yes” in one voice, and they repeated it when I asked again “Really? Are you really sure?” So I nodded, made a note, and moved through the rest of the class meeting as if nothing had changed.
I didn’t do anything when I got home that night; class ran until 9pm, and I had an hour commute back to the apartment. The next morning, though, after I’d gotten showered and some coffee into me, I sat down to work, drafting the quiz I’d give to my students when I saw them next. I spent a while poring over it, working in some detail from the assigned readings (one of the areas where I did not have room to change things was in the reading sequence). And when that class met again, they got to sit for the quiz. Their faces nearly lit in joy when they saw that I had, indeed, given them what they wanted; they got a multiple choice quiz. The difference between the right answer and the distractors was in comma placement and nothing else, but they got the multiple choice quiz they’d asked for.
And they got another one in the next class meeting; every answer was C. On the one that followed, every answer was C–except the second-to-last one, which was A. After that one, the students asked if they could go back to the short-answer quizzes; I was happy to oblige them.
Honestly, I should have been happier when I obliged them the first time. Getting into what amounted to a pissing contest…it’s never a good look. Years later, I find myself regretting it–as I probably should have years ago.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The next chapter, “A Change of Heart,” opens with Wintrow weathering the aggravated defiance of the liveship Vivacia. The ship has focused its attentions on Kennit, who has focused his on Etta, drawing the envious attention of and provoking pride in all aboard. Wintrow rehearses recent events, marking the ways in which Kennit continues to assess him. He also notes the revelation of Etta’s illiteracy and finds himself tasked with teaching Etta to read. Lessons are set to begin but are interrupted by the sight of a slaveship and the ensuing pursuit.
The Vivacia springs to the pursuit with a will, nearly subsuming Wintrow in her bloodlust. The Marietta joins her to take the slaver, and one of the crew of the slaver–the cook–attempts to bargain for his life with information about the hidden treasure of Igrot the Bold. Kennit takes charge of that particular situation, directing his own crew to see about cementing their hold on the ship and the disposition of the now-freed slaves. Kennit dispatches the cook, asserting repeatedly that Igrot’s crew had had no survivors, before ordering dispositions and scuttling the taken slaver.
Elsewhere, Althea meets with Grag Tenira, who seems to be comfortable in temporary exile. Althea’s path to him is noted, as are the concerns some have about her travel thither. Developments concerning Grag are also discussed; he is a wanted man with a substantial price on his head. Despite his need to depart soon, he states his love for Althea, and he asks her if she will marry him; she demurs, citing the need to reclaim the Vivacia before she can make any other major decisions. He acknowledges her choice and affirms that he will wait for her. The matter of Brashen Trell comes up between them, occasioning painful discussion that bespeaks a certain disregard by Grag for Althea’s agency. It dashes any thought she had had of a life with him, and she takes her leave.
The last passage is perhaps the most interesting. Until this point, Grag has been presented as a “good” character, and even with his failure to recognize Althea as being valid outside his understanding of gender roles, he comes across as more a benighted character than a “bad” one (such as Althea’s brother-in-law). And it is not out of line for him to want to find happiness on his own terms; the problem is that he expects Althea to defer to his views and his understandings, rather than that they will both have to accommodate each other’s. That, and the comment that because Brashen is a man, he is responsible and therefore to blame for Althea’s sexual expression, rather than Althea being in possession of her faculties and able to make her own decisions about sharing herself in such a way. As much a “good” guy as Grag might be–and “good guy Grag” does evoke some memes, even if likely unintentionally, but I read from who and what I am and where and when I have been–he suggests some problems inherent in even the “best” iterations of such systems as emerge from and reinforce strict gender dynamics. Saga Bokne has more to say on the matter, of course, and Goran Katavić’s work addresses similar concerns elsewhere in Hobb; Julia Hallgren Sanderson’s work also illuminates, and I would be happy to hear of others.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
A chapter titled “Salvage” follows, beginning with work to refit the Paragon ongoing under Brashen’s watch and with his help. Progress is noted, as is the difficulty the work faces of returning the long-beached ship to the sea. So is his continued difficulty addressing his addiction to cindin. And trouble emerges as the ship lashes out, frightening the work crews such that Brashen has to resort to threats to get work to continue. They extend to the ship, itself, despite the disapproval of both Amber and Althea, who look on. The three return to work, Clef joining them, and the sullen work crew resumes its own efforts.
At the Vestrit home, Malta entertains her friend, Delo Trell. The latter passes along a missive from her brother, Cerwin, and Malta muses ruefully on her current situation. The contents of Cerwin’s missive are paltry, Malta contrasting them with what she has had to learn about the family finances. She asks about how the Trells stand and gets little useful information from it; Delo reports the argument between her father and Cerwin had echoed that between him and Brashen, frightening her. Malta mulls over what her friend says, recalling more of the events of intervening days and the sacrifices the Vestrits have been making, thinking on the increasing separation between herself and her peers. Malta retires to her chamber and considers her situation further. The room grows oppressive, and she finds herself ensnared in a dream. During it, the dragon speaks to her, demanding she help persuade Reyn to help her.
As night begins to fall, Brashen calls a halt to work on the Paragon as he wrestles with his longing for Althea, considering their strained relationship. As the work crews filter away, he pores over ledgers, tallying costs ruefully. He approaches her where she confers with Amber at the aft of the ship, and the three discuss the next day’s prospects. Althea notes updates from Grag; the Teniras’ situation is not improving. Brashen’s temper gets the better of him for a bit, and he is rebuked for it. He continues, confronting Althea with what he has intuited about her truth; Althea makes a perfunctory denial, and Brashen stalks off to where Clef has a cook fire going. He and the boy speak briefly about luck.
After Brashen leaves, Althea makes to depart. She rails against Brashen to Amber, who defends the man to her, in turn. Althea admits to the woodcarver that she would like more of a relationship with Brashen, and Amber encourages her in that desire.
Brashen’s addiction to cindin has been noted at several earlier points in the Liveship Traders books, and it joins with the problems identified in carris seed and elfbark in the Farseer novels to suggest a theme in Hobb’s novels addressing the perils of substance use. (From the vantage of a rereading, I can also note that others of the Elderlings novels speak to the issue, as well.) My own perspective, coming from administering a substance abuse treatment facility, predisposes me to look for such things, as might be expected, but even without that admitted bias, the inclusion of such things–not only the drugs and their intoxicating effects, but also their sometimes lingering aftereffects –does a fair bit to reinforce the verisimilitude of Hobb’s milieu. The drugs with mystical properties have all too mundane ones, as well, or else the mystical is only an extension of the mundane; they have the same narrative effect, really.
Once again, I find myself thinking about the freelance work I do, reprising things from here and here as I have a little bit of idle time between projects. As I do, I recall not only the work I did in the classroom–more than a year ago, now, which is a strange thing to consider–but a large part of what led me to that work. I often tell people I was going to be a band director when I grew up; I went to undergrad with that intent, and it did not work out, for reasons I’m not going to get into here. When it didn’t, I switched majors, thinking I was going to teach high school English, instead; I was later persuaded to go to graduate school and try to become an English professor, which also didn’t work out, but it was of a piece with most of the rest of my life to that point.
It used to be the case–and it was so well into my graduate work–that I spent more hours reading than doing anything else other than breathing. I would walk between classes with my nose in a book; I would spend my free time poring over pages. It used to annoy my colleagues in Deuce-38, in fact; they would come into the bullpen office to find me leaning back in my chair, reading some novel or other, while they scrambled to get one thing or another done–or so I have been told by more than one of them, anyway. (I note, though, that I had arranged matters such that the novel-reading I was doing helped me with course papers that became conference papers, a publication that later became a blog post, and my master’s thesis.) I know it annoyed some of my high school and earlier teachers, who would see me with some paperback open on my desk and my schoolwork ready to lay down, completed, on theirs.
To be sure, I have not done as much reading of late as I should, and certainly not for leisure. It’s part of why I am glad to have the freelance work I have had (the money is nice, admittedly); drafting lesson plans and writing reviews help me to read when I would not otherwise be doing so. I have to read the books to do the work with them I’m paid to do, after all, and the fact that it is work and that it does draw pay means I can justify to myself the time spent doing it. (Yes, I know, it’s shitty in some ways to think in terms of “If it don’t pay, then there’s no way,” but my debts have not been cancelled, and I continue to have bills to pay.) And as I’ve been doing the work, I’ve felt my old skills, honed from long practice and the kind of focused attention that school still sometimes permits, reawaken; I’m seeing things in what I read that I would not otherwise see, that I do not think many readers see, and I find myself wanting to explore them deeply (in ways I cannot afford to take the time to do at the moment since I do have to work, both at the freelancing and at my day job).
More, the reading that the freelance work has been having me do has helped me to model better behavior for my daughter. As I write this, she is getting back into school as a first-grader, and she has reading homework that sometimes presents problems–not because she cannot do it, but because she does not want to do it, preferring to sit and watch videos on her tablet. Certainly, I have no problem with the tablet-watching in itself; I watch videos online, as I am sure that most of the people who read in this webspace do. And I understand, along with Twain’s Tom Sawyer, that “Work consists of what a body is obliged to do,” and the obligation itself makes a thing onerous that might well be enjoyed otherwise. But if I am reading, then she has more reason to do so, I think–or, at the very least, I am showing her what I want her to do, rather than simply telling her and expecting it to be done–or, worse, letting her figure it out on her own without any guidance.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The next chapter, “Piracy,” opens with Wintrow observing from the deck of the Vivacia as Kennit coordinates with Sorcor aboard the Marietta to seize another passing ship. Kennit exhorts the ship to the pursuit, and Wintrow considers the lead-up to it; the ship being pursued, the Crosspatch, had boasted of being able to evade Kennit and continue working as an elite slaver, and Kennit could not resist the open challenge.
Action to seize the Crosspatch ensues, with most of the work done by the crew of the Marietta, Wintrow having warned of the peril of spilling more blood on the liveship’s decks. The former priest frets somewhat about the carnage he watches alongside Kennit, but the pirate captain replies with strangely philosophical musings that give Wintrow pause. The pirates take the slaver, and Kennit commands Wintrow to accompany him to survey the takings.
In Bingtown, Althea makes for the Paragon, considering the liveship in a new way after seeing the gifts Amber had provided. She takes in the alterations to and maintenance on the craft as she joins Brashen and Amber–and the freed slave, Clef–aboard. Once all are gathered and the parts others have played are noted, they confer with the ship about the possibility of undertaking the mission to recover the Vivacia. The ship is hesitant, but Amis Ludluck, the ostensible owner of the ship, accompanies them in the discussion, as does Restart. She affirms the sale of him to them, explaining herself bitterly. Restart receives his fee, and he and Amis withdraw. Clef moves to comfort the sullen ship.
Aboard the Crosspatch, Sorcor reports to Kennit as the latter boards and surveys the taken ship. Wintrow accompanies him on his slow tour of the seized vessel. Some of the slaves aboard aver a desire to be delivered to their intended purchaser, and Kennit opines on the evils of slavery. He and Wintrow also confer briefly about the latter’s future; Wintrow affirms his bond to the Vivacia.
That night, as the three ships sail off for Divvytown, Kennit rehearses the aftermath of the day’s actions. Etta prepares herself for Kennit and approaches Wintrow, where he sits with an injured crewman near the Vivacia‘s figurehead. They confer briefly, and Etta moves to Kennit, who confers with the ship about their plans. Shortly after, Kennit and Etta retire to his cabin for an intimate interlude.
Later, Wintrow reports to Kennit the death of the injured crewman. After dismissing the boy, Kennit confers with the charm on his wrist, which rebukes him for how he uses those around him. It is a bitter, unpleasant conversation, and it bodes ill for Wintrow.
The chapter does much to reaffirm Kennit’s manipulative nature, reminding the reader that Kennit is not a good person by any standard. It also does somewhat to highlight the problems with attempting to use intellectual argument to prevail upon a corrupt person; Wintrow searches for a flaw in Kennit’s arguments, only to have more piled upon him before he can adequately refute the points made–and it is not because Wintrow cannot make the argument, but because Kennit does not care about the flaws in his own reasoning. He is, rather, interested in having his will prevail–and in a way that leads Wintrow along, rather than occasioning overt resistance. It is the kind of thin veneer of intellectualism that is often prized among the disingenuous and discriminatory, a papering-over of vileness that more people would do far better to attend to than currently do.
I find myself once again with a post in this webspace coming out as people wake, many hung over, for the first time in the year. Unlike last time, I will offer a bit of retrospection; the year now gone away was a strange one and hard for many people, and I do not think I am alone either in being glad to see it go or in hoping that the one now started will be better. I can hope there will be less upheaval, certainly, and that the year now gone will be an exceptional year–and that the normal that emerges will be better for more people than not.
It is a bit cliché, of course. Much as I deplore such things, I am not immune to them; I am a product of my backgrounds and situations, after all, although I am not wholly governed by them. None of us are, though all of us must contend with who and where and when we come from. What thee past year will force us to contend with is not entirely clear, although some things stand out, as others have observed with far more incisive wit than I find myself able to muster as I write this–if ever I can do so. Not even the staircase seems to be helping my thoughts on the matter this time.
I do not mean to make many changes in this webspace, at least not in the near future. The Hobb Reread will still go forward, and I hope to add to the Fedwren Project a bit more this year than last. Since I’m still not teaching and still not looking to do so, I’ll not be returning to posting lesson plans or class reports, although I might have some other things come up. I don’t yet know. I don’t expect to, really; I’ve looked at the past for far more of my life than I’ve looked to the future.
I have noted once again that I continue to do freelance writing work, with drafting lesson plans taking up a fair bit of the time I put toward such endeavors. I think about the work I do, as should be hoped, and, as might not be hoped, my mind sometimes wanders into strange places as I do so. Now, one of the things I am asked to do as I put together lesson plans is compose prompts for essay questions. My client has generally appreciated the work I have done on that score, which is gratifying, and my idle wonderings have turned to how I would answer such prompts if they were put to me. After all, I continue to write in this webspace, which means I need to have content for it, and composing essays addressing prompts would do a fair bit to provide me that content.
There are perils in my doing so, of course. For one, when I submit the lesson plans, I sell off my rights to them, transferring the copyright to the client (for an agreeable fee, admittedly), so what use I can make of the prompts is somewhat questionable. (I’m not looking to be at the front of such a classroom as might use the lesson plans, myself, so that’s not a concern, but still…) For another, and likely the more pressing, I know from years of experience as a student and as a teacher that no few students will go to some length to keep from having to do the work of composing an essay. They will, instead, look for others’ essays to present as their own; it was a common practice among the students at the school where I taught last, especially given the top-down, centrally-imposed assignment sequence. (Indeed, I suspect that a number of the views of this webspace are by students at that institution who are facing the assignments I used to provide, pulling down the samples I composed in support of my own students as copy-texts and hoping that the “originality checking” software the school uses will not see the original source. Please don’t do it; I know how much the school charges, and it’s a waste of money to blow it for plagiarism, if nothing else.)
Part of me understands that students who do such things do so after having been advised and cautioned against the practice. I know I was not alone in going over plagiarism and the need to properly credit sources in my writing classes; “someone went to the trouble of getting the materials together and putting them where you could see them,” I’d say, or something like it, “so say thank you and cite your source.” (I’d also say other things.) This was true at every institution where I taught, and I still work to credit my sources as I continue writing in less formal contexts now than before. (Styles vary, of course, but the important thing is making the acknowledgement.) If a student pulls down an essay I write, changes the name, submits it, and gets rebuked for it, that is not on me; the student chose do to something they have been told not to do, and so they should suffer the consequences of their actions.
At the same time, if I know that my actions will make it more likely someone will do something wrong, and I do not gain by the action or by the error, am I justified in undertaking those actions? Is the good that does emerge from the work I do–and there is some good, I am told, for at least some of that work–enough to offset the potential harm? Or am I overthinking things once again, showing the symptoms of chronic academic inclination that more than a year away from the institution has not much eased?
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series soon.
A chapter titled “Aftermath” follows, opening with Althea delivering Restart back to his home. It is a pleasant experience for neither of them, with Althea having to take charge of the situation while Restart fumbles about ineptly. He makes some noises of gratitude, provoking sharp rebuke from Althea for his trafficking in slaves; Restart begrudgingly releases one from his service.
Meanwhile, Keffria considers a portrait she had had made of her husband, as well as the relationship she had had with him. She realizes she does not love the man, if she ever had, and muses on the parallels between him and Althea before making to join Ronica in what had been her father’s study. They are interrupted by Brashen calling on the house, accompanied by Amber; they purpose to speak about reclaiming the Vivacia. Keffria is uncomfortable at their arrival, but Ronica sees them in just as Althea arrives back at the Vestrit house.
Althea is accompanied by Restart’s former slave, a stable boy, as she mulls over her situation and her failures. Her physical condition is remarked upon, and she upbraids Brashen before moving off to bathe. Ronica overrules her dismissal of Trell, however, and discussion ensues after Althea washes and re-dresses in haste. Brashen and Amber voice a plan to purchase the Paragon, crew the ship, and sail off to reclaim the Vivacia. Althea opposes the plan, but the newly-arrived Malta asks about it. Objections to and concerns about the plan are voiced and addressed. Many center on expenses, with Malta pleasantly surprising Ronica by asking about them–and surprising the lot of them similarly by affirming her willingness to wed Reyn in the interest of staving off the debts owed to the Khuprus family.
Amid the planning, Brashen also notes the unrest at the Bingtown waterfront that the Vestrits had missed. Grag Tenira had been involved and has vanished, though not unhappily. And planning to retrieve the Vivacia continues, with the former slave volunteering to sail on the mission. Others begin to accept roles in the plan, and people begin to retire for the evening.
Althea delivering Restart home and taking command of his household when she arrives rings of a misogynistic trope that has received no small amount of attention: masculine domestic ineptitude. Also called creative incompetence or strategic incompetence, and related to learned helplessness, the pattern speaks to the perceived infantilization of men when it comes to doing domestic tasks such as are involved in maintaining a household. (Notably, Althea “suddenly felt [Restart] needed to be treated like a child” as she sees about directing his household.) That is, men are depicted–and, per no few comments, enact the depiction–as having no ability to manage household chores (unless, of course, there is some overt gain in it). The pattern obliges others to “take care” of them, in effect subordinating them–and while it is certainly the case that some people are truly unable to care for themselves, and others may negotiate divisions of labor within committed reciprocal relationships, the pattern often extends outside such sensible bounds–as is the case with Restart.
While the sun shines It is easy enough to hold up the load Roots digging deep into the stone as leaves soak in The light and warmth provided them Yet when a cloud passes by Or night falls Then the stone shift and fall Slumping into frowning crags that look Heavy lidded Upon the world that the sunshine hides Until the day demands the rocks be hauled up again Showing unending labor’s wages to the world
Please note that I’ll not be posting on Friday, 25 December 2020. I’ll be with family and away from my computers.