Some Further Remarks about My Writing Process

A while back, I made a few remarks about how I go about writing. I like to think that I’ve improved somewhat since then; I’ve certainly added some writing experience in the intervening years, and I’ve amended how I present my writing in this webspace and in a few other places. (I think it’s obvious against the links to earlier materials.) I think, too, that how I go about doing this has changed, especially since I have abandoned the search for academic employment and, with few exceptions, any pretense of doing academic research. As such, additional remarks seem in order.

Contexts

Oh, SpongeBob…
Image from Giphy.com,
used for commentary

I still do some public writing at this point, generally taking one of four forms: on-the-job writing (including, for my present position, grant writing), freelance writing, the kind of writing I do in this webspace and others, and (less and less commonly) academic writing. Each has a different set of demands, though I will note that my earlier comments about writing to specific prompts still hold. Freelance clients still have detailed, individual requirements in terms of formatting and word count that I have to meet, and many will ask for specific wording for search engine optimization, while others want particular embedded links for marketing and the like. My academic writing tends to respond to specific calls for papers anymore; I don’t necessarily have a project I am burning to work on (at least not in that arena; it should be clear that I do in others). It has topic requirements and length limits, and I fear to have a clock thrown at me if I should transgress the latter. And much of the on-the-job writing I do functions similarly, with grants having their standards to follow, and required reports to state and federal agencies, as well. For such works, then, as I settle into where I’m writing–be it my work office or my amended home office–with a cup of coffee ready to hand and music playing, I look over the details of the writing task I’m responding to to see what all I need to write.

For writing in this webspace, though, and for some of the freelance writing I do (social media stuff for which I am under contract), I have a freer hand. Obviously, for work like the Robin Hobb Reread, there is a clear topic, and I have fallen into a common enough pattern that has emerged “naturally” from doing lots of that kind of work in other situations. But for entries like this one, or for other, freer work, I settle in and think about what all I want to have come across, what message needs sending. If I am writing on another’s behalf, I try to think about what will do that other the most good; if I am writing as myself, and not on a set project, I think about what all I need to get out of my head. Because that is a fair bit of why I write what I write here: I have things in my head that pester me until I let them out, and, while they may come to visit again, they don’t move back in.

Situation

As noted above, when I make to write, I do still tend to settle into one of only a couple of set places–I rarely write outside one of my offices, with the public library being the most likely outside location, though I do compose in my car on occasion, repeating lines of verse until they settle into my head long enough to be spat back out onto the page. I still drink coffee, probably more than is good for me, as I think about writing and do the work of writing, and I still listen to music that I’ve tried to curate to my tastes and needs. Owing to some political issues–I try not to give money to those who espouse policies I oppose, since the US Supreme Court tells us that money equates to speech (here and here, for example) and I try to be honest, however ineptly–the service I use for that music has changed, and the field of music open to me has expanded substantially (which I appreciate). But the basic situation remains more or less the same.

It is a pleasure to have some stability.

Drafting

It is like this sometimes, to be sure…
Image from Giphy.com, used for commentary

One change that has taken place in my writing process is that I have paid more and more attention to paratext. That is, I am not worried only about the words on the page; I am worried about how the words are laid out on the page, how they appear, what appears with them, and the like. It’s not a thing I was taught, either as an undergraduate or a graduate student. I did get a fair bit of instruction about how to form sentences and paragraphs, and I got quite a bit about how to find and deploy resources (and how to account for them on the physical page). But as far as placing the words on the page well, what I got was the old galley model, putting things in plain type on standard paper, double-spaced for ease of reading and review. And I understand why it would be so; like many, I was being trained to do research and criticism for publication, since, in graduate school, the assumption was that I would need to publish to acquire and maintain academic employment. (And, having scored physical papers, I find that double-spacing is easier to read than single, as well as admitting of interlinear comments that my students only rarely read. But that is another matter entirely.)

My older posts to this webspace, as well as my work in earlier webspaces, reflects that limited understanding. The text is plain and unadorned; I do use section headings where matters call for them, but the heading itself is the only indication. Images of any sort are absent or only minimally present. Occasionally, for particular exercises and demonstrative purposes, I colorize the text, but that has not always worked out well. Given the way that screens work, the text in my early posts is hard to read even aside from the opacity of my prose. (I know I’ve been an academic. I know what is said about academic writing. I know the truth of it all too well. Hell, I still fight the tendency, even in this very post.)

Owing to the work the most excellent Shiloh Carroll does for the Tales after Tolkien Society blog (which I curate and contribute to), though, I began working to incorporate images into my online writing, using them to illustrate and comment on things that I saw could use such. And I began using a bit more developed HTML in my texts, allowing for drop-caps such as appear in this piece and in others, both at the beginnings of the pieces and, as appropriate, at section changes and the like. I flatter myself that they help my readers.

I also flatter myself that they oblige me to be a bit more deliberate about my writing than I had been before. Often enough, I would simply sit and start writing, throwing letters at the pages in sequence and hoping that they would stick together well enough to be legible and make some semblance of sense. I’ve done enough reading of enough things throughout my life that they often have, even if they’ve not been particularly good. (Clearly not, or I’d not have had as many piece rejected as I have.) Knowing as I write online that I will be incorporating visual features beyond words in pixels on a screen, I pay more attention to the placement of words and sentences. Knowing that the screens will shift–I know better than to think that my readership will be primarily on a desktop–I try to set things such that tablet and phone readers can have an easy time of things. (The more lines of text a sentence takes, the harder it is to read and understand, I find.) Knowing, too, that character sizes matter, I try to lay words out so as not to isolate things inappropriately. And so I end up making some adjustments to my prose as I go along, such as rewriting the first sentence of the “Situation” section to keep letters and lines from being orphaned by the .gif.

I hope, as ever, that it makes for a better read.

Care to help me keep on writing? Click here, then, and thanks!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 67: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 8

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


A chapter titled “Tradeford” follows, opening with notes about the status of the continued fight against the Red-Ship Raiders–including the fall of Brawndy of Bearns. It moves to a disheveled Fitz making his disreputable-looking way into a nearby town. As he takes in the local gossip–and a meal provided through a local lord’s general largesse–he learns of the “King’s Circle” and the “King’s Justice,” gladiatorial trial-by-combat spectacles that have taken the popular imagination.

Jean-Léon Gérôme‘s Pollice Verso, hosted at the Phoenix Art Museum and, by report, public domain; image from Wikipedia (here) used for commentary

A pair of locals makes to challenge Fitz, and he almost rises to that challenge, but is stopped by a voice in his head–Verity’s or his own. Moving off, he finds an inn and avails himself of it. Bathing reveals to him the extent of his travels, and shaving shows him a face unfamiliar to him. But when he makes to sleep, he finds himself restless with worry about his task, and when he does sleep, he dreams of the fall of Brawndy of Bearns and the continued valor of his daughters, Faith and Celerity. Verity again rebukes him through the Skill, and Fitz awakes.

The next morning, Fitz again avails himself of elfbark and prepares to move on to Tradeford from the small town. The small effects of the drug and the depression that follows its use attract his attention, bespeaking his addiction. And as he leaves the town, he sees recently built–and still-occupied–devices of torment and execution, and he thinks of Chade.

Soon enough, Fitz comes to Tradeford and marvels at it. In a short time, he is able to get a bit of work, and he listens to gossip while he does the work, noting the lack of talk of the Red Ships and reference to Regal by his mother’s name of Mountwell. He also learns more about the King’s Circle and is disgusted by it. And he learns about Tradeford Hall, the now-royal palace, which he surveys, marveling again at the splendor on display. The disjunction between easy life inland and his own upbringing shocks him–and he realizes what will come if Buckkeep falls.

Two things come to mind most forcefully for me as I reread the present chapter. One is the trial-by-combat concept and its problems; Jacqueline Stuhmiller writes of such things in another area of inquiry, and even if Fitz himself accepts the utility of what might generously be called alternative forms of justice, the nature of trial-by-combat as spectacle is dangerous even in his mind. But the notion of such a thing looms large in the chapter, hence the selected illustration above, and I am once again hard-pressed not to comment on the novel’s intersection with current events (I write this in mid-January 2020).

The other is the final passage in the chapter, in which Fitz juxtaposes the grandeur of Tradeford with the sullen, obstinate strength of Buckkeep. There is a bit of jingoism to be found in the comment, even if it is accurate, and even if it is mollified by Fitz’s longing for the kinds of nice things he sees, his assertion that a ruler having such things for the people ennobles the people. As with many other things in the series, there’s a lot to unpack, more than the present task admits of handling; it may well be another thing to which I return someday…

Pay it forward; help me out!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 66: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 7

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


A chapter titled “Farrow” follows, opening with an extended rumination on Lady Patience and her assumption of power in Buckkeep. It moves to Fitz and Nighteyes’ progression towards Regal as Fitz considers Will’s interference and likely motivations. The two take stock of their condition and position as they enter the unfamiliar topography of the Inland Duchies.

Nighteyes by Myblack on DeviantArt, here; image used for commentary

Fitz reaches out to Molly through the Skill, seeing Burrich attending to her and attracting Verity’s own Skilled attention. Verity warns him away from such actions, and Fitz wakes to take from a dwindling supply of elfbark. Nighteyes chides him, and they sleep.

As they continue the next day, Fitz recounts his affection for Nighteyes, as well as an exchange in which he considers parity among animals. And an account of the intervening travel follows, glossing over weeks and miles passed by the pair as they move closer to where Regal has enthroned himself.

As they do, the holwing of nearby wolves compels Nighteyes, and he departs from Fitz for a time to pursue wolfly interests. Fitz is struck by the departure, and he watches from afar through the Wit as Nighteyes seeks out the pack–but he presses on, even so. And in the dreams that follow, he sees the continued depredations of the Red-Ship Raiders, considering how Verity and the late Shrewd must see and have seen the same things.

Fitz continues toward Regal, slowly adjusting to not having Nighteyes at his side. Through Sleet, he receives a message from Holly and Black Rolf. Regal has begun hunting Old Blood deliberately; Fitz begins to consider how he will carry out his self-appointed task of killing Regal.

Although the issue comes up in several other places in the series, the notion of posthumanism seems particularly prominent in the present chapter. Such thinkers as Ron Brooks might have more to say on the matter; again, I have stepped away from academe, and my own interests did not lie in such fields. But I do find the explicit rumination about the relative privileging of particular narratives based on species–and the repudiation of hierarchical relationships within those narratives–to be…worth thinking through. Given the propensity of speculative and fantastic fiction to work as metaphor or analogy, the applications of such rumination to dynamics of privileging race/ethnicity, gender, and the like emerge fairly plainly. My own inadequacy is such that I cannot sufficiently explicate the matter, not as it deserves, not in this medium (partly because my research apparatus is greatly diminished–along with the demand that I conduct research). But it is something to which I might return sometime.

Maybe.

I’ll have to do a lot more reading of a lot more things before I can do so, though.

Can I count on you to help me make it through?

In Response to Mark Celeste

On 6 November 2017, Mark Celeste’s “Dungeons & Dragons & Graduate School” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. The article is, in essence, a comparison between Celeste’s experience of a graduate English program and playing the primary example of tabletop roleplaying games, and Celeste’s points are generally correct. That does not mean, of course, that there are no points of concern, but there are comments made that are well worth considering–and repeating.

Image result for dice rolling gif
Image from ellieartwork on tumblr.com, here, and used for commentary

As far as points of concern go, perhaps the most prominent is that the comparison between graduate study in English and D&D is that of trivialization. To be fair, I’ve spent a great deal of time playing roleplaying games, including D&D, and I pulled from that experience while I was teaching (which I note), so it is with some sense of irony that I make such a comment. But D&D is a game, and it is one with a particular history of regard–not only the “bunch of guys and gals sitting around in their mom’s basement drinking Mountain Dew, eating Cheetos, and telling warlock jokes” Celeste mentions to lampshade the issue, but also one that has engendered (admittedly undeserved) fear and revulsion. (An older piece by one arkelias comes to mind as having explanatory power.) While it is the case that views are largely changing (as witness the fact that my high school has a D&D club now, whereas having dice on campus was actionable when I was a student), they are not wholly changed; some will still view D&D and games like it as iterations of evil, while others will take the comparison between English graduate study and gaming as yet one more indicator of the uselessness of that study. And while it is not the case that Celeste’s article appears directed toward arguing to outside readers that English graduate study is worthwhile, it is also not the case that the article will be used only for its “intended” purposes.

Again, however, there is quite a bit of good in the article. For one, as noted, Celeste’s points of comparison are generally correct; the identified parallels are, in my experience and in the experiences of others with whom I’ve discussed the matter, well, parallel. (Yes, I know “the plural of anecdote is not data” and all, and I’d be happy to see a citation to “more rigorous” scholarship on the matter, but until I see something that disproves my prior understanding, I’m going to continue with it.) I might also add that I, and no few others (again, going from discussions I’ve had with others), come to their chosen discipline through D&D and similar games, at least in part, so it makes sense that there would be connections to be found–aside from those, such as Daniel Mackay and Gary Alan Fine, who make formal academic study of such things.

For another, and more important, there is Celeste’s assertion that he doesn’t “think you can get through grad school without a dedicated hobby or two.” I’ve known people who have done so, certainly, but they have not been happy people, even if they have perhaps been more likely to land one of the few and coveted tenure-line jobs with which graduate students continue to be teased despite the ongoing contraction of that particular area of employment. Graduate work, particularly in the humanities, is traditionally isolating, breeding myopia that accounts in large part for the oft-cited chasm between town and gown, and getting outside that work, having a reminder that there is more to the world than the project being pursued, is helpful. For me, the reminders were judo and, yes, tabletop roleplaying games. For others, the reminder’s been visual art, or music, or something else entirely. (Sometimes, it’s less good.) The medium matters less than the message, though; finding the outside interest and engaging in it is helpful to getting through graduate school–and many other things, beside. And it may be the case that the connections formed through those outside activities come to bear when, at length, the search for tenure-track work fails, as it does for far, far more than succeed in such seeking.

Did I bring you as much pleasure as rolling a handful of dice? Could you kick in a bit for me so that I can keep doing it? Click here, then, and thanks!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 65: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 6

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


A chapter titled “The Wit and the Skill” follows. It opens with a musing on the place of minstrels in the Six Duchies. It then pivots to Fitz parting from the minstrel family after seeing them to an inn in a small town. After refusing another invitation to join them, Fitz heads off, reflexively noting the state of the town and the gossip to be heard in it. He also watches as a drunk is rebuked forcefully for speaking against the current regime.

Image result for black rolf robin hobb
A Redditor comments “Pretty much how I pictured Black Rolf.” I can’t much disagree.
Image used for commentary.

As Fitz makes to leave, he is approached by another through the Wit, and he offers help to the man–Black Rolf. Fitz and Nighteyes accompany the Witted man and his own bear companion–Hilda–to Rolf’s home, which he shares with another Witted one–Holly–and her hawk, Sleet. The Witted ones–who express a preference for the term “Old Blood”–welcome them hospitably. They do, however, express concern tending toward disgust at Fitz and Nighteyes, not for their bond but for their youth in building it, and with Fitz’s gaps in memory and prior bondings. They set it aside as done in ignorance and invite Fitz and Nighteyes to stay and learn from them. They also note the current state of affairs to Fitz, cautioning him in his work to kill Regal. And they press him to teach them how the Wit may be used against the Skilled.

Fitz refuses each offer, not to Rolf’s pleasure. Rolf notes that Fitz will return, and Fitz realizes the truth of it as Rolf and Holly speed him on his way.

I am once again struck by the desire to read the novel against current circumstances; it has been something of a refrain in my comments in this reading series, I know, and it is a legitimate area of inquiry to ask what an earlier work continues to say. I am also struck again by the idea of the Wit as a metaphor for homosexuality, as a number of others have been (see here for examples), though I maintain that the metaphor breaks down in later parts of the Elderlings corpus. (It might be argued that the metaphor instantiates the queerness it represents in refusing to remain stable as the narrative progresses, though that is perhaps more metacritical than is necessarily good for me to pursue. I am no longer in academe, after all.)

Strangely, I am struck perhaps most by the names in the chapter, particularly that of the bear, Hilda. Hobb is typically deliberate with naming in the Six Duchies, favoring emblematic names that speak to the character of those who bear them. “Hilda” seems such an oddity in that regard; the resonances that seem to associate with the name, except perhaps for being of a certain size and physical power (though “Bertha” and others work just as well for those), do not seem to line up well. I am perhaps paying too much attention to so minor a character, but, though I am not an academic, I still think as I was trained to, and the out-of-place detail nags at me. A bit.

Pennies for a poor scholar?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 64: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 5

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


A chapter titled “Confrontations” follows. It begins with a brief rumination on the reciprocal nature of the Wit before moving to Fitz describing fretful sleep and uncomfortable dreams. He wakes to an offer from one of the minstrels of intimate company, which he rejects; Fitz returns to sleep and dreams of being watched by Will, then of being the victim of Red-Ship raids in progress. Verity joins him in the dream and sends Fitz back to himself.

Not quite elfbark, but close.
Image from Wikipedia, here, and used for commentary

Fitz wakes in pain from his Skill exertions and sets about brewing elfbark tea to ease himself; the work occasions rebuke from the minstrels, who note its use in suppressing slaves in other countries. At length, the group heads out, failing to make the next town before nightfall. They make an uneasy camp that is soon relaxed as Fitz cannot help but betray some of his skill-set once again. The betrayal earns an invitation to join the group more permanently, which Fitz ineptly refuses.

The next day, the group sets out again. Through the Wit, Nighteyes warns Fitz of Forged Ones nearby. There is little time to brace for the attack that comes, and Fitz has trouble defending himself, as do his companions. Nighteyes takes injury, as do the minstrels, though the Forged Ones are defeated. In the wake of the battle, however, Fitz is rebuked for what appears to have been his cowardice, since he had moved off to engage Nighteyes’s opponent amid the fight.

Fitz sleeps and dreams again, and in those dreams, Will assails him through the Skill. Through the Wit, Nighteyes defends Fitz, and Fitz wakes in a sweat from what he explains as a nightmare. Through the Wit, Nighteyes signals his understanding that they must kill Regal and his inner circle, lest they be forever pursued.

I’ve not hidden that I work in addiction treatment at the moment (and am likely to do so for some time), although I am not a counselor. Inexpert though I am in such matters, and suspect as any diagnosis of a literary character must be, it does seem that Fitz is indeed addicted to elfbark; his swift recourse to that remedy is but one sign of it. The US NIH, among others, notes that fatigue and depression are observed aftereffects of certain illicit stimulants. While it is the case that elfbark is a fictional plant, it does bear some superficial similarities to the coca plant; it is not an exact analogue, but it is evocative. And it does have some explanatory power, offering another layer of verisimilitude to Hobb’s work; the fictional stimulant acts much like observed real ones, making it more believable for readers who do not have access to it. In a world that admits of magic, having a touchstone, even an unfortunate one, to the reader’s world is an aid to understanding and engagement, as Hobb herself notes.

I still continue to appreciate any support you can offer.

 

What? Another Office Piece?

A bit of time has passed since I last wrote about my office situations at work and at home. Recently, I’ve had a bit of a shift in both. As I’ve noted, I’ve left off teaching at DeVry (and I’m not poised to return to it in any other place, either), and, as part of that, and stemming from a desire to reduce the amount of stuff I will have to move next time I move (and another move will happen, perforce), I (with no small help from my wife and the loan of a truck from my father) went through the piled boxes of books, culling them; more than half of what was there went to a new home. (The journals were less fortunate.)

DSC_0605
The Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library in Kerrville, where the books went; image taken from the City of Kerrville website, which I believe makes it a public domain image

Consequently, there’s a lot more space in the small office that takes up most of the east end of the mobile home where my family and I live. (Yes, it’s a trailer. Whether we count as trailer trash is up to debate.) It’s not, as had been the case for some two and a half years, crammed full of things I thought I might use but now never will; I can move around in it, access what I do have out on my shelves without tripping over other stuff that served no purpose for me, even if I did not yet recognize that it merely made a messy mausoleum for a life I would never be allowed to live–and which I should not try to, even now. I can still do the writing and research I want to do, and I can do it without the pressure of “publish or perish” or the chimerical hope that getting one more thing out will let me have a full-time, continuing job.

I find myself feeling oddly about the change, though. In part, it’s due to sunk-cost issues. There’s a joke about a person arrested for stealing $10,000 in books from the college bookstore–and the hope that the three books were recovered. It’s an exaggeration, perhaps, but 1) college texts are far from cheap; 2) my wife and I were in college and graduate school for close to thirty years, cumulatively; and 3) both of us have multiple degrees in English. It can be imagined easily that we’ve spent lots of money on books (not a little of which came from loans we’ll be paying back for decades–and, indeed, I’ve been paying on my student loans for some ten years, now). Setting them aside needed to be done, but I am not immune to the fallacy of feeling, at some level, that I ought to have kept them and used them–despite all evidence to the contrary.

More, though, is that renouncing (many of) the trappings of an academic life is a renunciation of (all but a vestige of) an academic identity. Admittedly, I’ve been working on that for a while (as witness here and elsewhere in this webspace), and every step I take into being an expatriate (here and here) or exile has felt a tearing-away. Doing as much as I did in pruning away the books and journals felt like a piece of me was ripped out rather than ripped off, and the preposition matters. If, as I’ve noted before, the home offers, among others, a place to exteriorize interiority, to have much of what corresponds to the inner self taken away–even if given to the use of others, may they have joy of it!–is…not easy.

I will adjust, of course; there is no other option for me. And I know that the work of cleaning out was well done and needed doing. But I cannot deny that I feel…lessened in some ways by it.

Restocking and reconfiguring ain’t easy or cheap; send some help?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 63: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 4

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


The next chapter, “The River Road,” opens with a brief statement about the economic importance of the Buck River. It moves thence to Fitz waking from a drunken stupor at Nighteyes’s insistence. Hung over, he makes more preparations for departure; upon returning from getting water, he finds Forged Ones in the small hut where he had been staying.

harp
Something like this might be present; image from East Carolina University, here, used for commentary

Melee ensues as the Forged Ones attack Fitz–“Dreams too loud!” says one of him–and Fitz panics, fleeing as soon as he is able. The change from previous behavior gives Nighteyes concern, and Fitz mulls over the difference, trying to convince himself that he acted wisely and not from fear.

It is only much later, and coaxed by Nighteyes, that Fitz approaches the hut again. After nervously gathering–again–provisions, Fitz and Nighteyes set out. It becomes a pattern that they travel by night, resting by day, though the lingering effects of repeated trauma make Fitz less able to sleep than is ideal. And Fitz sorrows over the visible effects of the depredations the Six Duchies have suffered.

They come to a town, which Fitz investigates over Nighteyes’s objections. When assessing his available resources, Fitz, realizes he has lost the pin Shrewd had given him as a marker of his service; it was taken by a Forged One Fitz had killed as he fled. He resolves to keep the earring he had from Patience, that had been Burrich’s, and proceeds into the town. Therein, he finds food and news–the former better than the latter–and the company of a minstrel family that sympathizes with him over his evident ill-treatment. Reluctantly, Fitz agrees to fall in with them; he and Nighteyes both know that it is a bad thing for him to do.

The chapter is not the introduction of minstrels to the Farseer novels; they are mentioned before. But it is an early indication of the minstrels’ social function in the Six Duchies, not only as bearers of news (as in the medieval life Hobb’s Six Duchies evokes to some degree–with my usual caveat), but also as witnesses. As emerges later in the corpus, a minstrel’s sworn testimony is authoritative in Six Duchies legal proceedings. For Fitz to fall in with a group of them foreshadows their importance to come–and the Elderlings corpus as a whole makes much of predestination and glimpsing the future.

Also foreshadowed is that Fitz’s sloppiness will cause problems for him. He notes his errors with the minstrel group, and that much self-awareness might well help him as he proceeds. If he has already been so lackadaisical, though, the question has to arise of what else he has missed–and what others have seen. For it was noted to him that others watch, and even in the present chapter, it is remarked that there are informants about…

I continue to appreciate any support you can offer.

 

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 62: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 3

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


The next chapter, “The Quest,” opens with a brief passage on the powers and perils of the Skill before moving into Burrich’s preparations to leave Fitz behind. Burrich leaves, and Fitz considers his next actions.

Post image
From Epic by anndr on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

He confers with Nighteyes, who surveys the cabin where Fitz had been living with Burrich as he returned to humanity, and he considers the wolf. The wolf naps, and Fitz assesses his situation for the start of the journey. Over the following days, he makes preparations for his own departure, and the two linger near the cabin as Fitz convalesces a bit further amid his preparations.

After a traumatic dream, Fitz realizes that he has completely lost his sense of time; weeks have passed that he had thought days, and he understands the truth of Burrich’s fears for him. He does what he can to return from it and renews himself to his purpose against Regal, if with some misgivings as other ideas come to him. Considering some of them leads him to Skill to Verity; he makes contact and affirms that he will join Verity after he concludes an errand. In the wake of it, he reflects on the Six Duchies and his former life in the kingdom.

I am struck as I read the chapter again by how Fitz seems to waffle in his decision, realizing in part that the words Burrich and Chade had spoken to him had merit, realizing in part that he is bound to Verity through a kinship incompletely concluded but that is compelling, even so. He seems ever to vacillate between certainty and doubt, and I once again find myself reading with affect; I doubt myself often, possibly more than I do not, and I am not in nearly so straitened a set of circumstances as those in which Fitz finds himself. No, I have a regular job with regular duties and common expectations, things I have repeatedly addressed before–but I still doubt myself and my abilities. So I sympathize with a character who similarly doubts his strong intent.

I think also that the waffling humanizes Fitz, moving him away from being the kind of archetypal hero commonly perceived as being at work in fantasy literature (though I will note that Tolkien’s Aragorn expresses doubt, as does his Frodo; others can speak more to the matter than I, and more eloquently). For someone who has been uprooted–much less metaphorically than most who self-describe thus–it is only sensible that there would be doubt as to what to do now. Conversely, someone who focused utterly on the one thing would make for a more difficult read for many readers, or would come off to many readers as far less enfleshed a character than Hobb has given readers to expect. It might line up more neatly with best-selling popular novels, but I do not think it would make for as engaging a read. Certainly, it has not for me.

New year, new you; help me be a new me?

 

A Consideration of Luna’s “Poem #264”

I‘ve made no secret that my formal training is as a student of language and literature. As I move back to doing the kinds of things that got me into that study–reading and thinking about what I read–it seems fitting that I would return, too, to some of the exercises that accompany those things. It seems fitting that I would return to writing about the things I read, using that writing to shape my thinking and evidence it, and a poem posted by someone who has paid attention to my work seems a good thing on which to focus my attention.

File:Lady Reading Poetry by Ishibashi Kazunori (Shimane Art Museum).jpg
Ishibashi Kazunori’s Lady Reading Poetry, which I am told is a public domain image, used here for commentary

The piece in question, Luna’s “Poem #264,” is a free-verse composition in three uneven stanzas. Adopting a first-person perspective, the poem describes a performative reaction to being stabbed, one occurring after a coarse self-healing and catharsis, one juxtaposed with enacting betrayal or violence in return. The first stanza details the performance in six lines, couching it in terms of “juggling the knives” with which the narrator is stabbed and using them hopefully to earn money or to facilitate conversation about injury. The second describes the unskilled self-healing–the narrator notes that s/he “made my stitches rough”–and the catharsis, giving four lines to it. The third, a scant three lines, articulates the expected response of returning the injuries.

What emerges quickly to my reading is that the narrator has been betrayed. S/he notes “the knives stabbed in my / back,” and being stabbed in the back is a common reference to being betrayed, as it bespeaks having trusted someone enough to allow them into a blind spot from which they can strike deeply and with little fear of reprisal. Working from that, I read the poem as the narrator stating his/her desire to show off the injuries and their means of being inflicted, to appropriate them to some other purpose than was intended. They are, after all, “supposed to” be sent back whence they came, but they are instead made objects of delight or mockery, given how street performers are often regarded. This does not mean the injuries did not occasion anger, as the second stanza makes clear. But it does mean that the narrator is reclaiming the injuries inflicted; they are still clear (“I’ve earned my scars and how / much blood I’ve lost pulling these blades out” makes evident that the effects of the injuries linger), but they are the narrator’s, now, and not those of the narrator’s injurers.

Morbid as the imagery of knives, bleeding out, and roughly done stitches might be, the poem seems ultimately to offer a hopeful resolution. The narrator does suffer as a result of having been injured, yes, but s/he is able to make those injuries into something else. And if it may be permitted to read a bit past the poem, it might be hoped that the audiences who see the narrator juggle, who stop to listen or throw in a dime, might learn lessons from the performance that they can use to avoid hurts of their own. And so may we all.

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