A Birthday Rumination

Thirty-eight years ago today, I was pulled screaming into the world. I am told–and I have to rely on what I have been told, since memory does not serve me quite so well at that remove–that I was a forceps delivery, and the image of sterile salad tongs cupping my head and yanking me out into light and cold seems apt enough. I wonder if I am the tomato or the carrot in such a salad, or if I am the olive or the cucumber or what.

Chamberlen forceps (Malden found 1813) in K. DAS after Kilian.jpg
Found on Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chamberlen_forceps_(Malden_found_1813)_in_K._DAS_after_Kilian.jpg. Presumably public domain.
Something like one of these, perhaps?
Image from Wikimedia Commons; I am told it’s public domain.

Whatever salad-fixin’ I might have been or might still be, though, marking another circuit of Sol is something that often prompts reflection and consideration. There’s been enough to consider, certainly, and not all of it has been a comfort. Occupying the position of privilege that I do, I know I am insulated from the direct effects of much of the unpleasantness and outright evil that has been at work in the world, and I am neither unappreciative of that ease nor unmindful of those who do not have it. I work with no few of the latter, and I do sometimes pay attention at work.

I am more or less comfortable at this point, as I sit and type out this post (well ahead of time, I have to admit; I mean to be at work on the NaNoWriMo project when this goes live). And that is a dangerous thing. It breeds complacency, laziness. I already do not do enough. But I also grow more and more accustomed to comfort, easing into it and succumbing to the inertia of my own indolence. I’d imagine I can get more than a few more years out of myself in such circumstances, but whether or not that’s advisable…

As it is, I have more writing to do and different. I also have a new year of me starting, and I had probably ought to see if I can’t enjoy some of it.

It’s my birthday, precious. Give us a gift?

A Note on the New Year of Hindsight

Now that everybody in my part of the world’s had a chance to get woken up and get their hangovers under control, a few comments are likely in order. It is a new year, after all, and the new year does tend to invite this kind of thing, the more so since I did not do a retrospective over 2019. (I usually do that kind of thing on the blog’s anniversary, which happens in June. I hope you’ll stick around for it.)

Image result for new year's day kerrville"
Image from the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau, used for commentary

For one, I’ve given up teaching. I realized, later than probably ought to have been the case, that I was not doing any good in the classroom anymore, that I was simply doing it to collect a paycheck. I’m in a position now that I don’t need the income–there was quite a while that I very much did, but such is not the case at this point–and it’s enough of a disservice to those who would attend classes to have someone who has more or less checked out that I decided I would, in fact, check out. I will not rule out the possibility of teaching again at some later point when I might be able to do some good with it, but I do not see such a time coming again for me at any point in the foreseeable future. I am not a prophet, though; again, I’ll not rule out the possibility.

For another, I do mean to continue to work in this webspace. Even if a lot of the traffic to it since I started has been driven by my students needing to access it, not all has been. Indeed, some of the stuff I’ve done here has helped some people do the things they’ve needed to do. Insofar as that’s the case, then, I’ll keep working on this. In truth, since I’m not teaching anymore, I might well have more time to put to this project; I’ve not been as good about keeping abreast of it as I ought to have been, I know, and I am not proud of it–but I can work to address it and make sure that, moving forward, I give it what it ought to have.

For the record, that does include the Fedwren Project and the Robin Hobb Rereading Series. And it will resume including my commentaries, in which I had formerly engaged and which I would like to turn to doing again; I have missed thinking about things and writing about what I think, even if I am not likely to get anything placed in any kind of scholarly journal and do not really have a need to do so. Again, I’m not teaching; I’ve long since given up on having the kind of academic position that requires publications, and it makes little sense for me to compete with the people who are (and who have institutional access to apparatus) and whose continued livelihoods depend on them getting (back) into print.

For a final note or two: I’m looking at getting a couple of poetry collections compiled and into print. I will, of course, be plugging them here as I get them closer to being done (I’d be a fool to not, and I try not to be a fool). Too, I’m looking at putting together a kind of synoptic history of a local group of which I was part and with which I am associated once again. More on that will come later, as I get more put together, but I will be plugging that here, as well. So there are some things to look forward to as I move into the new year, and I hope that you’ll follow along, as well! I’ll try to make it worth your while.

Did I bring you as much pleasure as a cup of coffee does? Half a cup? Could you kick in as much for me so that I can keep doing it? Click here, then, and thanks!

Another (!) Rumination on Teaching

I wanted to be a teacher when I was the age my daughter is now. I went through high school thinking I would be a teacher. I went through most of my undergraduate study thinking I would be a teacher, though the subject I thought to teach would change. I went into and through graduate school thinking I would be a teacher, if at a different level. I spent my early career years–and that’s a strange phrase for me–thinking I would be a teacher. I’ve spent the past few years clinging to that thought, holding tenuously to the notion that I should spend at least part of my time at the front of a classroom, trying to help bring others along.

the hobbit work GIF
Image from Giphy.com, used for commentary. Clearly.

At this point, though, my grip is slipping–and not because I am holding on with one hand to keep my bloated self from falling into a pit from which there is little chance of escape. No, it is because I am struggling to hold what I realize has been an increasing weight off of the ground, one that I have been carrying for years in no small part because I have been too stubborn to put it down. I have tried to do well at the work, tried to be responsible and responsive, tried to make some difference. And perhaps I have done those things in some small way; I do, from time to time, hear from one student or another, and I am gratified by it.

More, though, I have made excuses for remaining in the college classroom, as a glance back across this webspace will make clear. I have tried to justify my continued presence in a system that has made clear it has no permanent place for me, even as I have found what seems to be a permanent place outside it (and one that does, in fact, allow me to make good use of the skills and expertise I developed during my formal education, if perhaps not as I might have expected and not as well as others with more focused training might have done). And it is clear to me that the excuses no longer work; it is time for me to put the weight down.

Given the academic labor market (about which, perhaps, this and this), I am certain that others will soon pick up the weight I set down. And it is possible that I will need to pick it up again, myself, in time to come. But for now, so far as I can see, I am ready to leave it. I am ready to let go my grip and finally straighten a back that has bent at such work, usually hunched in a chair in front of a computer not unlike what results in this present piece of work, drafting things that will not be read. But at least such work as this is work that I enjoy, and I can no longer say the same for what I do in the classroom, despite years of making a go at it.

Thirteen years of it is enough of a sample, I think.

Even now, I remain thankful for what you give.

Initial Comments on the November 2019 Session at DeVry University

I have been offered and have signed a contract to teach a class at DeVry University for the November 2019 instructional session, a section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition. It is wholly online, with the session spanning 28 October 2019 to 5 January 2020; consequently, instruction will be almost wholly asynchronous, though I will hold a regular office hour, likely on Wednesday evening, given other scheduling concerns I have at the moment.

An IStock image by Jaroslav Frank appearing on Robert Ubell’s 13 December 2016 Inside Higher Ed article “Why Faculty Still Don’t Want to Teach Online,” used for commentary

The redesign I mentioned previously seems still to be in place, but they seem to tend to less grading than I recall from earlier experiences teaching ENGL 135. I will have to generate new examples, of course, but I need to be doing more writing, anyway, and students continue to benefit from having the models to follow. Given broader events, I am not sure how I can produce ethically sound examples that will still do what I need them to do; I am not the master of my own curriculum, here, but am obliged to follow a prescribed sequence once again. I knew that going in, though; my comments from more than a year ago still seem to hold.

For all the problems that are in place with the kind of teaching I will be doing, I am still glad to have the opportunity to do so once again. Though I presently need the funding less than I have in the past–the regular job I work treats me pretty well in that regard and in several others–it is still welcome. More welcome is the chance to once again put to work the skills I spent so long developing; I hope they have not atrophied such that they will no longer serve me or the students enrolled in my class.

A Brief Note of Apology

As happens every so often, other stuff has popped up for me. In attending to it, I’ve not been able to attend to this webspace (or a couple of others) as I would prefer to do. Rather than push out work that doesn’t meet (my admittedly low) standards, I’m pushing back a bit. I’m still working on the Robin Hobb Reread, and I mean to have my next bit of it pop out on Monday, 12 August 2019. Today, though, I’ve not got it ready.

I apologize for the lapse.

Additional Comments for the July 2019 Session at DeVry University

Since making initial comments about the session, I’ve had some additional information come up about my work in the July 2019 instructional session at DeVry University.  Namely, I’m only teaching one course this time around–ENGL 112: Composition.

Related image
Image from The Scribe’s Desk,
used for commentary.

The reduction in the teaching load does not mean all has changed, of course. The session still spans 8 July to 31 August 2019. On-site meetings for the class will still be Wednesdays at 1800 US Central Time in Room 105 of the San Antonio Metro Campus. Synchronous online sessions will still occur at the same times; sessions will still be recorded for later viewing. Office hours will still be online on Mondays at 1800 US Central Time; other meetings may still be made by appointment. And I still I appreciate having the chance to do this again.

Review of materials in the interim has shown me a few things about the course’s new assignment sequence. I am lucky in that some of what I have developed for my previous session teaching the course remains viable. There is still a profile essay called for, as well as a rhetorical analysis. Prior materials about the profile are here and here; those about the rhetorical analysis are here and here. I link to them again in the hopes that they will continue to prove useful to my students as they progress along their own work.

One of the larger shifts in the course is the alignment of the last two major assignments to a single topic. (There is mention of a course project as a separate assignment, but it does not appear in the gradebook, and it is not supported by other materials; I think it is a holdover from earlier iterations of the course.) I’ve still got some work to do on them, both in generating examples and in setting topics–for the assignments, a short essay and a short presentation, both work from a set of prescribed topics in the University’s online course offerings. The topics are decent enough this time; I’ve noted in such places as this my dissatisfaction with prior topic selections, but I think that is not the case with the new stuff. I still want to add more options, though, if only because I expect I’ll need other available topics if and when I teach the class again. My fallback, and probably the area in which I will develop the examples for the July 2019 session, is curricular reform. (I’ve floated the idea before, here and elsewhere. I’ll likely borrow from the older materials to generate the newer.) We’ll see how it goes over this time.

Over the next weeks, then, in and around posting class reports (since there are synchronous meetings, it makes sense to do them again) and adding to the Robin Hobb Rereading Series, I’ll see about getting the necessary examples and other materials put together. Even if I no longer put instructional materials together in the hopes of landing an academic job, I do still enjoy the work, and I do still think others benefit from seeing it out in the world. It is some comfort, at least.

Initial Comments for the July 2019 Session at DeVry University

I have been offered two classes for the upcoming July 2019 instructional session at DeVry University: a section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition (which I am teaching even now) and a section of ENGL 112: Composition (which I last taught during the November 2018 session). Both are co-sat, as was the case for the SPCH 275: Public Speaking section I taught during the recent March 2019 session; they combine an on-site hybrid group with an online-only group.

Image result for teaching
Image by David Senior for Flower Darby’s Chronicle of Higher Education piece, “How to Be a Better Online Teacher,” which I likely ought to read; used for commentary.

ENGL 135 appears to have gone through a redesign, which means the materials I’ve prepared for past students will not be applicable, or not as much so, as they are for the present session. There do appear to be fewer deliverables, though, which means I will likely not have as much work to prepare things as I have had in the past–or as much work to grade, which also has its attractions. I’ll need to review the course in more detail before I proceed, however, but that’s not particularly onerous.

ENGL 112 also appears to have gone through a redesign since I last taught it, so I’ll need to review the course and generate new materials in response to it, as well. Honestly, though, it is good for me to do so. Refreshing my teaching from time to time is helpful; it keeps me from growing complacent. I have seen many instructors at several colleges and universities grow fixed in their ways, inattentive to developing knowledge in their subject areas and in teaching, generally; it has not helped the students to be mired in the understandings of thirty years ago and more, nor has it helped those of us who have done more recent work in the academic humanities, to have such be the case. Nor yet is it good for the world outside to have things root in the exhausted soil of conclusions decades out of date and unresponsive to the many things learned since.

The session spans 8 July to 31 August 2019 (that’s what my contracts say, anyway). On-site meetings for ENGL 135 will be Thursdays at 1830 US Central Time in Room 106 of the San Antonio Metro Campus; on-site meetings for ENGL 112 will be Wednesdays at 1800 US Central Time in Room 105 of the San Antonio Metro Campus. Synchronous online sessions will occur at the same times; sessions will be recorded for later viewing. Office hours will be online on Mondays at 1800 US Central Time; other meetings may be made by appointment.

As ever, I appreciate having the chance to do this again. I’d hate to think that I’d get no use out of the studying I did to learn how to do it…

A Note on an Upcoming Project

At this point, I am back from my conference trip (about which I’ve remarked), and things are slowing down a bit for me. They are not slowed as much as would let me get started on what I want to do (I’ve got two gigs coming up, and my daughter is performing this weekend; such things need preparation.) Thus, as before, I’ll have to ask for a bit of forbearance as I get going again.

Image result for harried man public domain
It sometimes feels like this.
Image from PublicDomainVectors.org.

I am going to get going, though, and soon. And I know what I am going to be doing for a fair bit of it. Making reports on a class that meets online, and I am teaching one, seems a bit odd to me at this point; I think I’ll be on-site again soon enough, and I’ll make the usual reports at that point, but until then, no. Too, I may still do some of the In Response to posts that pervade this webspace; I run into things as I look at the world that seem to call for attention, and it does not hurt me to give it them. Neither, though, will be my focus moving forward for a while.

No, what I’ll be working on most will be something like my colleague Luke Shelton has had going on his website. (Check it out; it’s good stuff.) I’ll not be working on Tolkien, though; he’s already amply covered, and, after my recent conference trip, I feel so far behind in that research that I’ll not be able to catch up. Instead, I’ll build on the work I’ve been doing (less diligently than I ought to be) in the Fedwren Project and do an annotated re-reading of Robin Hobb’s novels. I had occasion to do some re-reading as I wrote the paper for the recent conference, and I was reminded in doing so of the love for the material I’ve felt for quite a while now. It sustained me through writing my MA thesis, and I realize I really ought to have pursued it more diligently in my research through the rest of my career in academe. (I might still have such a career had I done so, in fact, but that’s a different matter altogether.)

So, in the coming months, I’ll be working on that kind of thing in this webspace. I don’t know how long it’ll take me to do it, but I think it’ll be rewarding. I can hope I’ll not be the only one to see or feel the reward; I know what I’ve done on the topic has already helped at least one other person, and I wouldn’t mind adding to that, whether in the project itself or in others that I can hope might grow from it.

I can do more with your support!

A Brief Progress and Status Note

I have been working to post to this webspace at least every Monday and Friday, and I’ve generally done well with it in the past months. Occasionally, however, I have other things going on that keep me from doing as well with it as I might like. This is one of those times; I am preparing materials for the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies, and doing so is taking most of my attention and effort. I will try to have something up for the next scheduled posts, but I cannot promise it; I hope it will not be too much of a disappointment to have only such brief notes as this for a short time.

After the conference, though, I have ideas about how to proceed. I expect I will be able to spend some more time with them, and I hope they will be worth the wait.