A Rumination on Slowing

Time was, I drank coffee more by the quart than the cup (or by the liter rather than the cup for my metric-using friends). When I was an undergraduate, for instance, and worked in the campus coffee shop, I drank espresso like it was drip coffee, and I could knock it back by the cupful and go straight to sleep. As a graduate student, I would drink the bitter black brew–for I stopped taking cream or sugar in my coffee before I started driving–as long as it was ready to hand, which was most of the day each day. My consumption ran at times to multiple pots in a day, and I remember one day that I was into double digits.

The cup in question, mostly empty again.
Photo is mine.

Now, I am aware that I was not the smartest in doing so. My body served to remind me of it at times then, and I am chagrined at my youthful follies independently of those reminders now. The idea seemed good at the time, of course, else I’d not have done it–but so did various bouts of drinking that left me puking down stairwells or falling down them, and so did provoking arguments that left me sprawled on the floor against the opposite wall from where I had begun. (Clearly, I have not always had good judgment. Perhaps I have not often had it.) I felt I had need or would benefit–or both, as when I finished drafting my dissertation more than seven years ago, now.

Consequently, I have reduced my intake a fair bit. Rarely do I drink more than a pot in a day, anymore, though I seem most days to drain a pot or its equivalent. And I seem to drink it more slowly than I used to; even a year and a half ago, I would drink three cups in the morning before heading out ton work, but now, I drink only two. Nor is it the only thing I seem to do less swiftly now than before, though the list of such things is longer than I care to recount at the moment. (It is also not universal; there are some things I do faster now than before. Typing is one. I suppose the persistent practice is helping.) And I find that that is somewhat worrying.

As I write this, I am in my mid-thirties. I can anticipate a long life ahead of me, still more of it than has already passed. If I am slowing now, then I would expect that I will slow more–and, paradoxically, more rapidly–as I move through the remainder of my life. At some point, I would grind to a halt, and that might be the end of it, but if it is not…it is not a comfortable thing to contemplate. And even if it is, if I am at such a place in my life that things will get worse, and more worse than better, from here, surely that is also not a thing about which to be happy.

I have to hope that slowing down is not going to be a bad thing for me. But what I have been able to do, I have done because I can do things quickly and well. Losing part of that does not seem like it has much good in it.

Help me buy another cup?


Another Rumination on Publication

In addition to the academic work I’ve done and might yet post to this webspace, as I’ve noted, I’ve spent a fair bit of time writing less formal essays and poetry in other venues. I’ve also tried my hand at serial narration in this webspace, though that has not gone nearly as well as I would have liked. (There are reasons I abandoned the projects when and where I did. Some of them are even good ones.) I keep them in other places for reasons that must remain private for the moment, but I do toy with the idea, now and again, of sending them out for formal publication. I do still flirt with the idea of seeing my name in print, on the spines of books that other people read, even if there is much in me that hesitates to send ideas out into the world in ways they might actually be rejected.

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Image from iStock, used for commentary.

I am a coward, I know. The worst that can happen with a rejection is the rejection; it’s not money out of my pocket, in the main, and it’s certainly not a punch in the face or a kick to the ribs–or lower yet. I’ve suffered such any number of times, sometimes even undeservedly so, so I ought to be glad of a simple “no” instead of a more emphatic iteration. Still, the “no” scares me more than it ought to, and I seem less able to move past it than ought to be the case. I expect my students to persevere; I ought to demand no less of myself. And I’ve knocked until my knuckles have bled before…

I can easily come up with reasons not to send things out. Some of them would even sound good. But they would be excuses, ultimately, ways to talk myself out of making an attempt that might not succeed. The idea of being rejected is an uncomfortable one, even if it is one I know I must contend with (again; I’ve had papers handed back with “nos” of varying friendliness). I try to avoid it; not being rejected has occupied more of my time than actually doing something that might be rejected–or accepted. But as long as I am not told “no,” I do not have to confront the idea that I have somehow failed (again; it would not be the first time I’ve failed, as I think has been made abundantly clear in this webspace and elsewhere). I do not have to face evidence of my own unworth.

Really, though, I need to get over myself. I cannot not write the words; I am compelled to it, and I grow even more irritable than I normally am when I do not heed that compulsion. And since I am going to write them, and since I put enough of them where others can see them anyway, why would I not see about gathering enough of them together (and there are enough such out in the world) and trying to make a sale of some of them?

Help a writer out?

A Rumination on a Roleplaying Game Character

I have made no secret of my long-running play of tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). Nor have I made it much of a secret that I am currently playing in an online one, another Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) game, if one using an older rules-set than the current. (It’s still one more familiar to me than the current one; RPGs update, partly to make more money, but games continue despite them.) And, as is common, I have a character in that game, one character whose thoughts and deeds I narrate in reaction to the thoughts and deeds of other players’ narration of their characters and to the overall milieu which has been presented. It is, as Daniel Mackay has described it, extemporaneous, rules-assisted, collaborative storytelling, and I have found it to be great fun across years.

Not quite this automated…
Image from Giphy.com.

The game I am playing now has me playing a hunter turning clandestine security operative, and it dovetails with a concept I’ve often turned over in my head, playing L5R. There is a group of purportedly elite guards, and it has long occurred to me that they would be in position to be kingmakers or eliminate rising threats, and it has also occurred to me that their internal affairs analogue would be both present and fearsome. The character I am playing now is working towards becoming such, although that work is not going quite so well as I might like it to. (It’s a common thread with me; I’d like most of my work to be going better.)

The thing is, much about the character is at odds with who I am. There is little clandestine about me; I am open, perhaps too much so, and make little effort to hide. Nor am I so committed to causes as I would need to be to be able to act on their behalf; I am timorous in the main, averse to risk more than desirous of reward. I am certainly not an outdoorsy type, preferring air conditioning and indoor plumbing to open skies and tree-leanin’. (I remain Texan, however.) And I am aware that playing a character is, at best, a fleeting and transitory thing; I know better than to think that my experience in the RPG translates in any way to the real world.

I know that much of the allure of RPGs is escapist. That is, they allow players to inhabit other lives for a time, leaving their own behind. And they are or at least try to be fair, which the real world decidedly does not. And perhaps it is that fairness that I look for as I play, that notion that what happens happens not because the system is set against me, but because my own skills and choices, with some random chance at work, have led to such outcomes. I know I feel forces working upon me that I can hardly name and can worse understand, and I do not think I am alone; the idea that I have some control is a welcome one, time and again, at table or in online simulacra of one.

Dice cost money, even virtually. Aid in indulging my bad habits is welcome.

A Rumination on Wildflowers

One of the things I missed about the Texas Hill Country while I lived away from it was wildflower season. I had spent my undergraduate years commuting back and forth between Kerrville and San Antonio, going in around sunrise and coming home around sunset many days. During a good wildflower year, the pinks and golds and reds of the brightening or darkening skies would be mirrored by the ribbons of highway medians and the patches of open pasture amid the oak and cedar and mesquite, such that where the ground might stop and the sky begin was not always clear, and I traveled surrounded by beauty.

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And this ain’t even as nice as it gets…
Image from Texas Hill Country.com.

Now, the swampy lands of southwestern Louisiana have their charms, the solemn cypresses standing stern and point-decked pines reaching up. The cement and steel and sheets of glass of New York City offer testament to drive and grit and stubbornness. (Wind-swept plains bespoke in song fall short of their promises.) But always, in the spring, I would think of the blues and reds and yellows and purples that spring from the thin and stony soil unbidden in the lands where I grew up, and I would nearly weep at both the remembered joy and my absence from it. Even as I write this now, I–even I–feel tears upwelling, mawkish and overly sentimental though such may show me to be.

So far, this has been a pretty good wildflower year ’round here. I still drive to San Antonio, still drive to Fredericksburg and occasionally other ways, still get to see the layered ribbons of flowers threading among the hills and the patches of open pasture that erupt in color. I see the small stands of springtime flowers in people’s front yards and along the sidewalks in my hometown, whence I once fled and where I live again. Seeing, I–even I–cannot help but smile, and I wonder if, in years to come, my daughter will feel as I do. I wonder if she will look and see and smile and, when away and thinking on such things, feel tears well up in her eyes at the beauty of the thing and the wonder of living in a world that has such things in it.

For now, I will work to let her see, to help her have it in memory so that, even if she departs and does not return, as I had meant not to return in days when I was more prideful than I now am and far less equipped to earn it, she will have beauty in her mind always. And perhaps she will learn sooner than I did the lesson that such beauty teaches; I can hope she will be a better student than I too often have been, not in the classroom but outside it, where the teaching never truly ends unless it is made to do so.

Help me buy gas to go on a wildflower drive?

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.

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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?