A Rumination on Taxes

Today is, of course, Tax Day in the United States. I have no doubt that, even as this piece finds its way to the part of the Internet where it can be easily seen, people are rushing to get materials together so that they can rush through tax programs and hope they do not end up being audited or so that they can speed down to one tax preparation office or another and pass the task off onto another. (Full disclosure: I do work for one such, Liberty Tax Service in Kerrville, Texas. I do their social media work and the occasional odd job.) All the while, they are like to complain about both the burden of filing taxes and actually paying them; I like to think myself removed from that, as I do not mind paying my fair share of things, and I would rather do or have the work done myself than trust revenuers to be diligent with such things.

Image result for taxes
Seems appropriate.
Image from Kiplinger.com.

I do not mind paying my portion because I enjoy many of the things I get and have gotten from doing so and from being among others who do so. I believe I’ve noted here that my father has been an employee of the US government for decades, now; his salary comes from tax money, and I’d not have been able to eat without that salary, so I appreciate it and its sources. I’ve been an employee of more than one state, working in each for an agency that is funded in large part through federal taxes (and, to a lesser extent, from state taxes); my own pay has come from such, and I have appreciated getting paid. The same has been true for my wife. And we both had our higher educations subsidized through tax-funded programs; I feel I ought to pay into a system from which I have benefited.

This is not to say that I approve of all the things to which my tax money goes. I would like to get more value out of the salaries I help pay to the legislators who get into office (too often above my objections, but still…) and the executives at levels ranging to the highest. I would like to see institutionalized discrimination based on inborn characteristics be stopped. I would like to see more devoted to education and rehabilitation that punishment and belligerence. And there are more things about which I could comment at length and with no small fervor–but I doubt it will be of much help or new insight.

There is this, at least: I do not expect to benefit without paying in. And there is this, too: I do not begrudge those whose needs are greater than mine having those needs met. There will come a time when I have need, or when some for whom I care have it. I can hope that they will be able to find it–but I know they will not if it is not there, and this day helps make sure that it might actually be there for them.

Care to see if you can get me into a higher tax bracket next time?


A Rumination on Publication

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Old-style publishing.
Image from Giphy.com.

It is clear to me, as I have attested in more places than I care to relate, that I will never have the kind of job I once envisioned myself having. I will never be a full-time professor, whether of the “cool” variety or of the traditional tweed-and-pipe type. (I gave up my pipe once I learned I would be a father. I miss it sometimes, but not as much as I love my kid.) While I continue to do part-time teaching, and I still putter about with research, neither gets to be my professional focus anymore. Not that I did a good job at either when they ought to have been, as I have noted elsewhere in places I do not care to find at the moment; I am not bewailing my circumstances–I have earned them, in part, and I have been lucky to have them in other ways.

What happens, though, is that the work that I would otherwise be trying to place with academic journals, or that I should have been doing for them, does not have the same urgency to find a home in such venues. And, indeed, I have the inkling that most of the journals where I might publish as an academic expatriate would not look quite so kindly on someone with a lack of institutional affiliation. I might claim that of the school where I still teach part-time, of course, which would address that particular issue–but I do not know that I want to tie myself to it in such a way. The job might always end; I might have to go to some putative home from my visit on its faculty. (That’s part of why I keep so much of my teaching material here, in fact; it’s a sort of suitcase when I need it.)

Yet I have done a fair bit of academic writing. Some of it, I’m proud of having done. I don’t know that I want it to languish unseen in the gathered files where I currently have it. (Yes, I’ve collected all or most of my writing not already released. I am vain enough to think it a good idea–clearly so, else I’d not keep several blogs as I do.) Yet I don’t think it would necessarily do well to send it to publishers; popular presses seldom want such things, and academic presses, as I’ve noted, are not like to accept work from outside academe. Too, my job is not contingent upon my research, but I know many whose jobs are, and I would feel poorly about getting in the way of their attempts to keep and retain jobs that I know now and learned too late are not for me.

There is an obvious solution, of course. I have access to several webspaces, after all, including this one. It would be a simple matter for me to post my papers here, those I would like to see receive some attention. (Not all fall under that rubric.) They are not peer reviewed in this forum, of course, but I do hold a doctorate in English language and literature; my observations would not be without merit. They might even be worth reading by those outside the field, which is a pleasant thought.

Care to support a subvention or something like it?

A Rumination on Social Media Platforms

I spend a fair amount of time and effort in writing, as those who follow this platform and others on which I work (such as the Tales after Tolkien Society Blog) can guess. (How effective those efforts are, I do not know, and though I hope they are quite so, I do not know that I want to know.) And I’ve recently made an effort to return to posting on yet another platform, one I had been more active on and seem to have neglected for quite some time. Another webspace has been detailing my efforts in that regard; I look forward to seeing how matters play out in that regard. But of moment for this webspace is some consideration of the social media platforms themselves–not only this one (since blogs do count as such), but of the others on which the materials here appear.

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A fair sample.
Image from HuffPost, used for commentary.

For the sakes of ease and of retaining the sanity I (arguably) retain, I tend to replicate materials across platforms. That is, I post in one place, and the post either populates across my media platforms or, in one case, I copy it over “manually,” so that those who view one platform and not others can see it. Doing so has the advantage of getting what I write in front of as many eyes as can be expected with minimal effort and less expense (because, though I would like to make more money from doing this, I have yet to do so–though that is a matter for another time). The problem, however, is that the process also tends to homogenize my self-presentation across those same media. While it is the case that having a consistent “brand identity” (and there is something indeed problematic in describing people in such terms, but it is one of the prevailing paradigms, and I cannot escape my social contexts) can be beneficial, the idea of different platforms, of different media, is that there should be difference of presentation among them.

Each constitutes a different context, addresses a different audience with a different purpose. What I seek to do in this webspace, for example, is to present myself as an engaged scholar and teacher, and as a writing professional. In another I maintain, I carry out any number of personal ruminations, opening my efforts up to critique but writing primarily for the practice of it. (It does seem to have been helping. I am writing better now than previously, if the results of some of my workplace writing are to be trusted.) In yet another, the aforementioned Tales after Tolkien Society blog, I also work for scholarship and cultural commentary. I am not ashamed of any of those presentations; I would not make them public if I were. (That I keep a personal journal, and in pen on paper, might be looked at in that respect, at least in part.) But I do not know that what I show in one context is necessarily the best to show in another. That is, I do not know that all my media platforms ought to be all that consistent. They ought not to be identical.

Ought they?

Help fund my efforts at expansion?

A Rumination on #WhanThatAprilleDay 2019

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Riding and in his litel woolen hatte; image from Luminarium.org, used for commentary.

The Greatest of Geoffreys writes in his most famous of works, incomplete though it is, that

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open yë,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages):
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
(And palmers for to seken straunge strondes)
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

Now is April come, and though no showers fall upon any given patch of ground, and though March was no drought for many places, still do I hearken to the call of the Greatest of My Name, who did have many problems in his life and was the cause of no few of them, yet still stands as emblem and encapsulation of the time and place in which he lived. For today is Whan That Aprill Daye, upon which those of us who know celebrate again the older languages we have studied, both those whose heirs yet live and those that have perished without issue yet are still kept in memory and regarded with wonder and amazement by those who serve as votaries to them in a secular priesthood that makes too many martyrs.

Though I am expatriate or exile from a country that I have loved but that will not accept me, one of many cast upon the waves to drift across strange currents, still do I look to the words written in days long gone by, seeing in them wisdom to be spoken again today and every day, though perhaps in words made new, since more move ahead than look behind, as if in fear that something will break upon them in pursuit and not relax until it takes them into itself and makes them other than they are. But I know myself not to be enough; I will never suffice if I remain as I am, and I wonder if the future has a place for me, or if I ought to let the past overwhelm me.

There remains virtue to be found in the works of the past, though many will not think so, and many others will look to them not for virtue, but to justify the corruption of the world they would instantiate and extend. There remains much in them that is to the bad, of course, but that is not less true of today’s works than of those that precede them; all are equally the products of human hands and minds, and there are none of us pure in all of ourselves. On this day, when we are exhorted to look to the past, it is a thing that bears remembering–for we cannot truly move ahead until we know whence it is that we have come, until we understand the forces that have shaped us from before we could be aware of them, looking at what has formed us awry that we may set it aside, gathering to us more of what has been good, that we may be the better for it.

There is grace to be found in the giving of gold
To seekers of solace in summer and cold
And workers for wisdom who once thought themselves bold;
Give, thus, and gently let you your grace hold.

In Response to Herb Childress

On 27 March 2019, Herb Childress’s “This Is How You Kill a Profession” appeared in the online Chronicle Review. In the article, Childress presents parts of his experience in academe to depict the incremental cruelties of academic contingency. After a series of assertions about how college faculty have been devalued through redefinition, he notes his wife’s career in academe–dissertation in 1982, thirty-year series of adjunct and similar teaching jobs–before working through his own at greater length. Interspersed with it are a number of editorial comments, some of which are startlingly resonant, that bring out the irrationality inherent to community and the peculiarities of the academic community and express some of the more curious aspects of continued alignment with academe by those who have been denied full placement within it.

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It seems fitting enough.
Image from Gabrielle Matthieu, used for commentary.

Given many of the things that I have posted to this webspace (for some examples, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this), it should come as no surprise that Childress’s article attracted my attention. As I read it that attention was justified; I read Childress’s account with no small sympathy, though my life in academe has been far briefer and still lingers. And I feel a strange mixture of defeatism and relief; if he, who did as much as he did, could not land a tenure-line position, then I never really had any chance–but I, at least, recognized that and got largely away from it before the efforts could undermine my physical health and my marriage. (My mental health is perhaps a different issue, though the health of any mind that seeks to enter academe is suspect.)

Some specific comments in the article deserve consideration, as well. The assertion that adjunctification is not bad only because of “how badly adjuncts are paid” and “the inadequate opportunities for our students to build enduring relationships,” but “also about fear, despair, surrender, shame,” emotional tolls paid most by those least able to carry such burdens. There is a significant investment in time and resources in becoming an academic, and for those of us who do not have family histories of such things, the failure to achieve the intended goals after so much effort is no small injury. As others have noted, we give up much of the identities and communities in which we are reared to make the attempt, and without admission to the putative community we have striven to enter, we are left uprooted and adrift. Even I, who am back again where I grew up, feel the distance and separation, and I know I can never bridge it.

Childress’s comments likening academic life to addiction are also telling. Even for those who manage to extricate themselves, the temptation to return is always present, and indulging it is always destructive. Again, it is a thing I understand. I see, day to day, people who have tried to beat addictions and failed for the moment, trying program after program after program in the hopes that one will finally let them get clear of their problem and in a place from which they can maintain a watch against it. I see some succeed, to be certain, but I see no few fail in the attempt; I see them relapse and slide back into the grips of indulged addiction, and it seems to be worse for them every time they do. It is a chronic thing even for those who succeed, and there is no program of support for those who fight against academe in such ways. Nor is there likely to be; even more than against drug addicts, there is a prevailing animus against academics, and there is less cohesive a community of those in recovery from academe to offer support in more than sporadic and anecdotal fashion.

Perhaps most resonant for me is Childress’s comment that “we [contingent academics] are refugees from a nation that would not have us. We have found our way to innumerable continents, but still hold that lost home in our hearts. We still, many of us, in quiet moments, mourn the loss of our community as we make our scattered way across diverse lands.” It is perhaps not so quietly that we mourn, as my own posts and the works of others to which my posts respond attest; we may not parade about weeping and gnashing our teeth, tearing our hair and rending our clothes, but we do not close ourselves away, either. But of more moment is that, well, I’ve made the connection before. I’m not accusing Childress of cribbing my work, of course; there’s little reason to expect that he read my writing (I know the limits of my fame), and there’s less reason to think that I am the first person to have had the notion to make the metaphor. But because I did make the connection, seeing it again spoke to me. There is some comfort in knowing that someone else sees something I do, even if we should both emulate Hoccleve in our questioning; having the company helps.

Help me purchase the burial plot?

A Rumination on Fire

I have made no secret of being an indoorsman. That is, I have not tried to hide that I would rather be inside on almost any given day; did I have my way I would stay inside the walls, keep within the rooms and halls that through work on which I’ve come to have a claim. Yet it’s also true that I enjoy–and I will not deny I do–setting up a bed of coals or logs from which smoke rolls in a firepit and staring at the flame.

One such culprit; photo mine.

It is a deep-seated thing, to be sure. I am far from the first to find comfort in staring into the flames, seeing them strain against the control under which they are kept, feeling their warmth, breathing in the sweet smoke of wood turning to ash. I do not expect I will be the last; my daughter currently values the fire more for what it can do to marshmallows (she tends to set hers aflame to toast them) than for what it does to other things, but I am working on her with it. She will learn, in time, that the flame itself feels like company, an unruly friend that can easily get out of control but, if guided, does much to make things better.

I wonder if I am like the flame in that. I know that I am not always good about keeping myself in check; when I do not, I say and do things I come to regret later (as opposed to the many things I have not done that I regret not doing). But I also know that, as long as I am amply provided and suitably guided, I get a lot of things done that might be done otherwise, but neither as well nor as swiftly. And I like to think that I am an amiable companion for those who would take the time to tend to me. It is perhaps not to my credit that I need such tending to be amiable, I acknowledge, but I do not think I am alone in needing to get something to be able to give something back.

The oddities of my thoughts are taking me towards four humors theory, which I know is not good in its particulars, even if there are some things that it got right. Not being a Galenic physician–I am the wrong kind of doctor for that–I am not going to delve too deeply into it. Trying to avoid magical thinking, I am not going to go into the other resonances that might emerge and would contradict the idea of my being a fiery type of person. I am also the wrong type of person to go into that kind of work. But that does not mean I cannot go out on an early spring day, stack a bit of firewood, and enjoy setting it alight so that I can watch the flames twist and leap through what once bore boughs.

Help me get some more firewood?

In Response to Matt Giles

I recently read Matt Giles’s March 2019 piece on Longreads, “Is It Ever Too Late to Pursue a Dream?” The piece focuses on a forty-something Canadian college basketball player, Dan Stoddard, and his efforts to make a professional athletic career for himself after decades in the regular workforce. In the engaging read, Giles makes a sympathetic portrait of his subject, using him to illustrate the idea that even remote dreams can be pursued at most any age–albeit not without cost. In all, the piece comes off as valedictory of Stoddard–and those whom Stoddard represents.

Photo from the article, by Brendan Burden, used for reporting and commentary.

There are problems in the piece, to be sure. Stoddard is presented as a synecdoche for the presumed readership of the piece (which is done well, I think–I expect I’m part of that presumed readership, and I found myself carried along), and there is some tension in that. There’s also some tension in the notion that a middle-aged white guy can come into a field whose other participants have been training for most of their lives to enter; even the leading image from the article, which I use to help link mine to it, points out the difference. Stoddard has clearly worked hard to participate, but it is still not the most comfortable image in the current sociopolitical climate.

There is a large part of me that wants to identify the general hopefulness of the article as a problem, as well. Stoddard makes great progress towards his goal, though he does so with no small effort and with no small strain on himself and his family. But he is in a position to be supported as he does so, which is not something that many or most can count on having. For the great many who are still in the position Stoddard had previously occupied–and, again, I am not contesting that he is working exceptionally hard to undertake his goal, nor yet that Giles presents the struggle compellingly–are not necessarily as lucky; they do not have such support, or they lack the luxury of using that support for themselves. The hope presented, then, is not one that most can act upon; it is not available to them. And that is not much hope at all.

I know I should not be quite so cynical as all that. For many people, there is hope that sufficient drive and action upon that drive can offer what appears to be an honest shot at a goal. Even now, I might make an attempt to return to academe, and I might be lucky enough to find my way back in in a serious fashion, rather than the tangential relationship with it that I currently have (and enjoy; I’m not about to make the attempt). But I cannot shake from my mind that I would do so at costs I am not willing to pay, costs that I would not be alone in bearing. And I think that is where there is some falsehood in the hope. Who of us would be alone in taking such a risk?

Help me pursue my dreams?

In Response to Christian Smith

On 9 January 2018, Christian Smith’s “Higher Education Is Drowning in BS” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. In the article, Smith rails against the various forms of bullshit that pervade contemporary academia; the piece lists a number of definitions of the term, some of which read as progressive, some of which read as reactionary. Smith identifies his own areas of privilege before continuing to inveigh against bullshit in academe and the effects on prevailing culture that he perceives as proceeding from that bullshit. He relates a disillusionment with the putative mission of academe against the systemic constraints upon it and the ultimate ineffectiveness of efforts to change them at local levels. Any change to come will likely be troubling for those who have to undergo it, Smith asserts, and, while he sees things as likely to resolve well, he anticipates having to deal with quite a bit of bullshit in the interim.

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A prime example.
Image from the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

I found myself interested in the article for the scatological reason: it treats bullshit, and I have some pseudo-scholarly interest in the topic. Indeed, I’ve written on the subject in presented work and in one blog post or another. And I was not displeased to find the wide-ranging definition of bullshit Smith advances in the article; I do not necessarily agree with it, but I appreciate seeing the attempt to clarify the term further than Frankfurt, Hardcastle & Reisch, and Fredal have done–even if it is unsuccessful. (It is too grounded in the concrete examples provided, of which there are many, and does not move to extrapolate from them. It also does not make reference to the earlier works in what might be called taurascatology, which seems a lamentable lack from a senior scholar.)

I was not as happy to see the reactionary tenor of Smith’s argument, though, as he hammers away at the various issues he decries. Many of them read as the same kind of talking points reiterated by informational outlets towards which he himself directs ire for their putative corruption of the nobler aspects of American life. (Really, the only change is in the level of affected politeness in the things ostensibly abjured; they’ve always been done, they’ve just been done in nicer clothing and with more forks on the table previously than now–but more forks cost more money, and maximizing profit is the thing to do.) Again, it reads as something that a senior scholar ostensibly invested in the “higher” aspirations of traditional liberal arts curricula ought to take more care to avoid; it smacks to me of the kind of sloppy thinking being abjured in the article.

But what do I know? I’m one of the second-rate PhD students trained by mediocre graduate programs at third-tier universities whose expensive sports programs drain money away from academics, after all, and so far from worthy of commenting on such matters–or such is one of the implications I get from the article. After all, did I deserve it, I’d’ve gone to a top-ranked school with well funded programs that only admits the truly meritorious, right? Not the kind where the parents of uncaring students fraudulently pad resumes to ensure they get in. Because that’s not the kind of bullshit in which academe is smothered at all…

Help me pay for a shovel.

Another Rumination on Destroying Records

It has been not quite a year since I last worked on file destruction at my workplace, and I find myself at it again, thinking on it again. Last time, I noted that the task sat ill with me, the need to get rid of information conflicting with my scholar’s attitude towards understanding, my medievalist’s lament at how little we know because of how much we have lost. And I am not unmindful of the associations between fascist and other, similarly oppressive systems and the destruction of knowledge–and I do not want to be associated therewith any more than I necessarily am because of the positions of privilege I occupy. But I am also mindful of the rights of the penitent to be forgiven, of those who have grown to have at least some of their earlier days forgotten–for I am still mindful that I have done things I would rather not have remembered, even if I seem unable to forget them.

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I’m told again that this is a public domain image of a public domain painting,
Pedro Berruguette’s Santo Domingo y los Albigenses.
I still use it for purposes of commentary–but I am still not sure I need to make the comment.

I still feel some unease at the task, to be sure. But perhaps I have done it enough that it is not such a shock, anymore. And perhaps my own increasing removal from academe is helping matters; I am less sentimental about the cultures of knowledge creation and knowledge retention now than I was before. I would like to think that I more carefully curate what I keep, though it is likely more a matter of my being less apt to acquire things now than I was before than of my being more selective about keeping the things I do acquire–and with the records of my workplace, while I recall that they are testimonies of human experience, they are not mine to keep or discard. All I can do, all I should do, is follow the guidelines of my institution with respect to them, and consign to destruction those records that have passed our retention policy.

I cannot help but glance at a few as I do, though, and I wonder about those who are my age or near to it, those who have names I dimly remember from years gone by, when I was young and thought the world was. I wonder about one man, already old when he entered our records, likely dead now; is he remembered elsewhere, or is my destruction of his client file the elimination of one of the last memories held of him? I know that way lies madness, though; I know that to hold onto things for thought that they are the last comments on one person or another means that nothing can be allowed to pass away, but there are things that ought to be allowed to die.

Immortality is a greater burden to bear than any ought to be asked to shoulder. I content myself with the thought that I am sparing some from it.

Yes, work still pays the bills–but more support is still welcome.

Yet Another Rumination on Roleplaying Game Design

I have made more than one post speaking to my old nerdy habit of playing tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs), as well as posts regarding my thoughts about designing them. As to the latter, I find myself taking a fair bit of inspiration from Rich Burlew’s The New World series, hosted on Giant in the Playground; I’ve discussed the series elsewhere, as well. In that spirit, then, and working from materials I’ve posted in other places, I offer what appears below.

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Seems someone had a blast.
Image from Phys.org.

Having noted before that my attempts to develop an RPG worked from sixes, and knowing that one of the things that people tend to do is try to explain the machinations of their observable universe in terms they can understand–usually gods and the like until observational technology allows for other ideas to take firmer hold–it makes sense to me that any RPG milieu in which I might work would offer religious ideas. And since RPGs admit of things that do not necessarily occur in the “real” world, those religious ideas might even have some in-milieu truth to them. That said, I am not necessarily convinced by religious ideologies, myself, and even if I might compose what I call a series of hymns in another webspace, it is not as an act of worship that I do it.

The idea of an anti-worship, though, of a religion that abjures the influence of the gods, is an interesting one. (I admit to being inspired in part by an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well.) If I follow that idea, then, and the earlier materials I’d glossed, then I would seem to need six gods to steer away from whatever people I might focus upon for the RPG milieu. The Stupid God is one against which I have inveighed at length already in what may someday be a collection of verse I would release for publication. (It might be nice to earn a bit of money in such a way.) Such a god, one that revels in and promulgates folly, would seem to be one to abjure, one to send away from the self and towards opposition. The Angry God, which I have also mentioned in other writing I’ve done, would seem to be another; there are certainly things about which to be angry, and there are benefits to being angry at times, but I’ve had a lot of anger in me for far longer than ought to have been the case, and I have not benefited from it.

Those are only two, though, and I do not know that both should be shunned as such; I have no reservations about condemning the Stupid God, for reasons I hope would be obvious, but, again, there are times anger is merited, and the god of such a thing would be useful to have on hand at such times. What to do with the others is not yet clear to me, but it is good to have some idea of how to proceed, of what slots to fill–and there is always room for things to change and grow.

May the Stupid God not claim too much of that room!

Care to contribute some more?