Another Story Recalled

I have a tendency to tell stories about my past in this webspace, often doing so on Wednesdays so that my Mondays and Fridays can generally be given to the Robin Hobb reread on which I continue to work. (As I write this, I am approaching the end of the Liveship Traders series; there’re three more series in the Realm of the Elderlings, along with several shorter works, as well as the Soldier Son trilogy and some miscellany to plow through, so there’s no shortage of work left on that project.) Given some events, both those I’ve discussed and others I’ve not, I’ve had more cause than usual to look back and reflect; that means it’s storytime again.

Koebel.jpg
You know you need it.
Image from Wikipedia under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license, used for commentary.

Back when I was in the high school marching band, I was one of a great many people who were…irreverent, given to assing off instead of showing the discipline to do good work and get things done well. (For the most part: I had my moments.) But as much of a cut-up as I was–quipping, often lewdly, about things the director or other members of the band said, or making odd noises with things other than my horn–I was as nothing compared to one of the older percussionists, a guy I’ll refer to here as DB. (Those who know, know, but initials offer at least some pretense of deniability). Among others, DB had laid out an interloping kid in the bandhall, one who was in the room for a required speech class and who did not heed the friendly warning not to mess with the percussion equipment that was left out; I am told it took removing the carpet from the room entirely to get rid of the bloodstains.

Anyway, DB would, from time to time, be observed walking through the bleachers at other schools’ football stadiums, taking with him a cowbell and a drumstick. He’d take a few steps, hit the bell a few times, listen, and usually shake his head before repeating the process. Over and over again, until at last, he’d smile and nod and come back to where he was supposed to be. And he’d do this while the rest of us were loading in, week after week, occasioning…comments from the rest of us.

But there was a reason DB did his noisy little walk. My second year of high school saw us get a new band director; a scandal had, rightly, forced the one in place my first year to resign (he should’ve been fired and prosecuted, really), so a replacement was sought in haste and found. Said replacement was…less indulgent than his predecessor had been (which was to the good, really; the next year, the band finally started doing well again), and he…disapproved of certain songs in the band’s bleacher repertoire–among which was “Low Rider,” a student favorite. Copies were smuggled out to the students who needed them, and DB would make his way to his smiling little spot, cowbell in hand, and hammer out the opening measures of the song–a cue that I was not alone in following.

Admittedly, it’s a stupid little story, and I probably tell it badly. And it’s not mine, as such; I was never the person to step out first, although I’d follow gladly. Still do, most of the time; make of the example what you will.

The move continues, and more help is appreciated!

Not in the DSM

Spending years chasing dragons and
Finding the high just often enough to
Let me taste the eternal uncanny and
Whet my appetite for it again but
I lost my access to the steady supply
Suffered the pangs of withdrawal from
The intoxicants rolled up in those papers and
Taken in through eyes and hands and nose
Eased by grinding through the baser stuff
Enough to keep me going through the pain but not
Enough to ease the longing that
I still feel
The methadone with which I dose myself now
Does not stop the cravings that wrack me and
I need no naloxone to end the high
That ended long ago even though
I still chase it across the world and
Sometimes one of the few hits I can get
Will bring a touch of that old joy again but
There is no treatment program for this addiction and
There is no cure for it for any of us
Who have taken this thing into us across the years and
Tried to make it our lives
Freebasing in the basement of the ivory tower and
Unable to ascend from its lower floors to where
A steadier supply can be had
Even if it, too, is cut with other things

Care to send some help my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 208: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 29

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

And a content warning regarding sexual assault and related concerns is in order.


The succeeding chapter, “Kennit’s Women,” starts with the serpent Shreever considering the tensions between She Who Remembers and Maulkin. Neither seems to have decided anything as the group follows Bolt through the waters, and Shreever voices some small criticism to Sessurea, and Maulkin inserts himself into the conversation. He notes the peril of the sex-imbalance among the serpents, noting Bolt’s reticence and pointing to Wintrow as a possible help to them all.

Simpering little shit, sometimes…
Image from gil-estel on Tumblr, used for commentary.

Kennit approaches Althea’s cabin aboard the Vivacia, contemplating both his assault upon her and resuming it; the exercise of power entices him. Althea assaults him as he enters her cabin, trying to escape; he has his crew restrain and return her to her quarters; Wintrow is one of the restraining crew and hears her allegations against Kennit as Etta makes to tend the pirate captain. An argument ensues, and Wintrow suffers his aunt’s imprecations as he sees to Kennit’s orders. Kennit realizes he is losing control of the situation, and he tries to reassert it as Bolt summons him; the wizardwood charm on his wrist mocks him and notes Kennit’s coming doom.

Not long after, Wintrow tries to comfort Etta, who is acting strangely to his understanding in the wake of the encounter with Althea. Etta rebukes his folly, and Kennit intrudes upon them, demanding service and ordering Etta to the Marietta. He also rebukes Wintrow, expounding on his control of matters aboard the Vivacia. They are interrupted by the outcry of the ship, to which Kennit responds at length. After he does, Wintrow tries to comfort Etta again, and she avers her belief of Althea’s accusation against Kennit, accepting her supplanting in Kennit’s affections by Wintrow’s aunt.

Kennit makes slow progress across his deck to the figurehead, and the ship demands to see Althea and Jek on the foredeck. Kennit demurs, and the ship accuses him of raping Althea; he deflects the accusation, turning discussion towards Etta before the Vivacia returns it to the destruction of the Paragon. Kennit deflects there, too, and the ship accepts his dissimulations as Kennit has Wintrow bring Althea and Jek on deck. The latter is angered as she tends to the former, who moves through a drug-induced haze to confer with the ship and be told that she is no longer needed. Wintrow tries to offer some comfort and is rejected, and Jek conducts Althea back to her quarters.

There, Jek and Alteha confer, Jek raising some doubts as to Althea’s story. Wintrow again attempts to offer comfort and aid, only to be rebuked; he chides her, in turn, and considers circumstances.

Well.

The gaslighting going on in the present chapter is astonishing, and Etta is right to rebuke Wintrow’s folly. Honestly, it’s infuriating and distressing to read the chapter this time around, knowing what I know now that I did not in many of my earlier readings; I suppose it marks me as having grown as a person that I react to events in the book the way I do now. And I suppose that they’re to my chagrin both that it took me so long to arrive at such reactions and that I do not react more forcefully and emphatically to such things in real life.

It’s one of the values of literature and of literary study that reading the stories others tell helps us to reflect upon ourselves and our understandings of and place within the world. Literature is, among many other things, a means of self-examination; what we read and how we read it show parts of who and what we are. What I see in its particular mirror is not necessarily to my liking, and I know I will be taking some time and expending some effort to improve the image by improving the thing reflected.

We’re moving; lend a hand?

A Rumination on an Opportunity that Never Arose

Around two months ago, I wrote a bit about a missed opportunity in my classroom. I’ve been thinking about such things again recently, not least because I’ve noted a lot of people looking at the syllabus for the hypothetical course on mainstream fantasy literature I developed back when I was actually looking for college–level teaching jobs. In it, I note that

texts included [in the required readings] exist in an uneasy tension. They do contribute to what prevailing understandings of fantasy literature as a genre is, to be sure, and they do try to strike some balance between male and female authorship. But they also fail to reflect the engagement of dominant traditions in the genre with authors of color. It is in part to work against such failure, and the failure of dominant tendencies in fantasy literature to engage with persons of color, that the major assignment sequence in the course is oriented as it is. Further, the specific failures of the required texts to treat and reflect persons of color will comprise a recurring thread in the required online discussions. (2)

Truth.
Image from PHD Comics, here, used for commentary

The problem I do not mention is, of course, that I do not flesh out those assignments. I’d meant to do so, I think; it’s been a while. But after I gave up the search for continuing work, it became less of an issue; I was still teaching, but I was teaching required syllabi, as is common enough. As with many things, returning to the project slipped my mind; perhaps it ought not to have done, and it does not excuse my failure that I am aware of it.

There’s more involved in assignment design than many realize, of course, and more than I can necessarily address in a single post (especially given the other stuff that I have going on in and around composing it; I’m moving, as might’ve been noted, and I continue to freelance and to participate in an NEH institute). But it might be a good starting point to follow up on the suggestion made already; the major assignment sequence in the syllabus, which results in a conference-length paper, (was meant to have) aimed at 1) looking at canon-formation and 2) suggesting what works / authors should be included in a future iteration of such a course. That is, students would have been asked to examine how “standard” bodies of work grow up, identify an author or work that seemed to fit that pattern, and then argue that said author / work should be included in the body of work studied as “standard” for the genre.

Considering the matter further, I am not sure I would still require an annotated bibliography from students. I taught or “taught” the genre at multiple institutions across many years, and it was always a struggle to get students through it; I am not sure it still carries the kind of traditional heft it seemed to when I was going through undergraduate coursework and being taught how to teach college English, although it certainly has come in handy in the years since (and I still work on one, obviously). Nor yet am I sure about all of the details; the summative exam included in the syllabus is a nod to what I’ve seen of institutional requirements, and the minor assignments mentioned are largely preparation for the exam, following my teaching practices at the time. (When I had the “luxury” of writing my own quizzes and tests, I’d pull the tests straight from the quizzes. It seemed to help.) But such things are dreams, really, glimpses of a life that never will be; I have enough to do with the life I do live, and with that, I should be content.

For now.

Care to help underwrite my efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 207: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 28

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


The following chapter, “Dragon Dreams,” begins with Tintaglia landing badly with Reyn; he sends her off to hunt as he surveys their landing site, rehearses his routine, and reviews his present circumstances. He thinks of Malta, and, as he falls asleep near the dragon and a large fire, he dreams of her. In the dream, she hears his call, and Tintaglia starts awake with it. The dragon notes both the lowering barriers between them and his transformation into an Elderling.

Malta
The woman of the hour…
Malta by HazelFibonacci on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Malta, still aboard the pirate ship, muses on thoughts of Reyn and considers her own circumstances–which she believes leave her socially ruined. She rehearses her plans for freedom, and she manages to convince the waning Satrap to go out on deck. He muses on his own background and circumstances, and he presses Malta for details about it. When they are forthcoming, they bode ill for them both; he realizes he is worth more dead than alive, as his death allows another to take the Satrapy. Malta presses him further, and they dicker over details of how to proceed; Malta comes out of the exchange with a fine deal and a finer idea.

The present chapter shows Malta well, certainly; she’s come a long way from being the vain and petty girl she was when her role in the series started, and, though done with difficulty, it is a good progression. She suffers, as characters must, from limited knowledge; it’s clear she is ignorant of events in Bingtown, for example. But, given what she knows, she is making excellent use of her situation and the resources available to her–and in ways that make sense from the character’s background and history. It’s a fairly rare thing, actually, and its presence–a consistent presence in Hobb’s writing, really–does much to bespeak the quality of the novel. More writers would do well to read such things.

Let’s keep this going!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 206: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 27

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

A content warning: there’s discussion of suicide here.


The next chapter, “Key Island,” opens with the Paragon sailing with the tide–uneasily, but with determination. Amber confers with the ship, learning more of the history of the dragons, the region, and the Ludluck family along the way. The ship also notes the amalgamation of memory and personality that animates the figurehead, as well as musing on the desire for death and noting the approach to the island of the chapter’s title.

Satellite view of Niuafo'ou, 2005-03-19.jpg
Not unlike this?
Image is of Niuafoʻou Island, Tonga, per NASA, which makes it public domain, I think.

Brashen commands the crew aboard the Paragon, assessing their status and the ship’s progress. Clef reports the anticipated course and progress to his captain, and Brashen goes forward to confer more closely with Amber and the figurehead. They arrive at the intended destination, and Brashen takes a large contingent ashore, guided by the ship’s report from Kennit’s memories. They encounter the small settlement in which Kennit houses his mother and some others, meeting some resistance and more suspicion, but Kennit’s mother is fetched. Brashen relates to her that he means to take her aboard the Paragon to Kennit, and she agrees to come–along with a chained captive who has to be hoisted aboard as if cargo. Kennit’s mother restores the ship’s logs, and the captive, recognizing Brashen, announces himself as Wintrow’s father and asks to be taken home.

I note, with some interest, that Bingtown and the Cursed Shores are depicted as having access to whiskey. Although the typical spirit associated with piracy in mainstream United States popular culture is rum (with all of the unfortunate associations thereto appertaining), it could be argued that whiskey is more fully piratical, being so often a spur to smuggling and rebellion as it is. The latter becomes particularly important in line with my contentions that the Realm of the Elderlings partakes more of the Americas than of Europe and that Bingtown seems to parallel the early United States (as witness here); the Whiskey Rebellion was a thing, certainly, if not one that gets a lot of attention anymore. (Too, whiskey is a drink of choice in the distinctly-US Wild West; it’s another reinforcement.) I’ll admit that the point’s not a particularly strong one to argue in favor of my earlier assertion, but it’s not exactly a counter-argument, either.

Help support my continued endeavors?

Lament for What Is Not Yet Gone

Flowers blooming
Such as make a clear sky float atop the limestone hills
And strange clouds of the spreading cedar boughs
Lightning strikes of twisted oaks
And dancing rain of mesquite
Leaping deer grown fat with summer grass
Kings seeking queens even while they wear their velvet hats
Before their crowns emerge in full and they go to war
Where even the winners will be deposed
By the bullets of assassins who do not seek those thrones themselves
But others that sometimes serve as altars
Hearing prayers and receiving outpoured offerings amid lamentations
The smokes of burning drifting on the wind that
Cause no fear but merriment and joy
As people join together around the partial cremation
Partake of what remains
Small pieces of sky wrestled from within calcified clouds that mount
Stacked upon each other where once waters surged and flowed
And ran to depths imagined but seldom seen
And dogs find renown in writers’ work
Less still than they deserve
The virgin’s stream in which
Fish yet swim that are found in few other places
And none so sweet
And by which stand harder woods
Roofs overhead once but no longer
Foundations long since laid and built again
Where the slow fever of the world has yet to sear them away
The sands may creep in and cover them
Drops of brine fall to water the thin crop
Bringing in an uncertain harvest

Close…
Photo by Mauru00edcio Eugu00eanio on Pexels.com

Support a poet?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 205: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 26

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

A content warning regarding sexual assault is in order here, and there may be some homophobia present, as well.


The following chapter, “Courtship,” begins with Althea attempting to argue for her release aboard the Vivacia; Kennit refuses, citing her injuries and the danger posed to her by Bolt. He regards her lasciviously, musing on the effects of the drugs he has administered to her and noting the similarities between his situation with regards to her and his former abuser’s situation with regards to him. He continues to press upon her, and her ability to resist fades.

Althea Vestrit
We’re a long way from here…
Althea Vestrit by DoctorPiper on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Althea asks after Brashen and the Paragon, and Kennit tells her that the ship has been sunk by serpents attacking it. The news rocks her, and, in her emotionally and physically weakened state, drugged, she cannot effectively resist his raping her; she recalls Keffira upbraiding her for her first tryst years before, and loses consciousness.

Having concluded his assault, Kennit considers its implications for the ship. The charm on his wrist rebukes him harshly, and as Kennit considers quietly killing a crewman who might have overheard, the charm tells him that he has become the monster his former abuser was.

Elsewhere, Etta and Wintrow confer, and they take stock of what they know about Althea and Jek. Some of the information is conflicting. Jek is reticent. Etta notes that Bolt rejects Althea, railing against her. She also notes Wintrow’s foolishness, and Wintrow apologizes for his lack of understanding. He also kisses her, leaving both of them uncertain of where they stand in relationship to one another.

Unconscious, Althea finds the “original” personality of the Vivacia, suppressed by Bolt but still present. For an interval both seek death, but Althea presses the ship to endure; she is convinced to lead the ship back to waking life, and the Vivacia floods her with life as she returns to consciousness and awareness–but Althea loses her sense of the vessel.

So.

The big thing in the present chapter is, of course, the rape. I…hesitate to discuss it in detail, for several reasons. I will note, though, that I am struck by the connection to internalized victim-blaming depicted, as well as the implication that the homoeroticism Kennit displays in his comparisons of Althea to Wintrow derive from his own rape. Neither sits entirely well with me, although I do not recall either evoking that reaction from me in several earlier readings of the series. Then again, I am not the same person now as I was then; I hope I’m better, but I don’t take that for granted.

I am struck, if less forcefully, by Wintrow in the present chapter. His affection towards Etta is not new, certainly; his boldness is, and I am not sure there’s enough lead-up to be believed. Yes, adolescent boys are mercurial; I remember that much of it well. But such–dare I use the term?–nerdy boys as Wintrow…I have noted before my tendency to (over-) identify with the character, problematic as it is, and I don’t think I’d’ve had the nerve to do such a thing. Hell, I’m not sure I have the nerve now–not that it’d do me any good (or that I’d need it, being happily married).

It’s strange to go back to reading done often and enjoyed, only to find it…uncomfortable. It seems to happen to me more and more often, anymore. Whether that’s for good or ill, though, I hardly know.

I can always use, and do always appreciate, your support.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 204: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 25

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


The next chapter, titled “Refitting,” begins with the Paragon commenting about being beached again, Amber offering some comfort and consolation as Brashen dourly stalks the decks and directs repairs, the progress of which is described. Recent events are rehearsed, as is the ship’s strained attitude and internal conflict. The two of them discuss trust and secrets as Amber investigates the figurehead, and the ship relates plainly what liveships are and why the Paragon is as shown. The ship asks Amber to carve a new face for the figurehead, and Amber learns–and reports–that Althea yet lives.

Something like this, perhaps?
Image is by i_am_jim, here, and under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license, used for commentary

Brashen rushes to the figurehead and rebukes Amber for working despite her injuries, which are rehearsed. He receives the report of Althea’s survival and begins to find joy again, which starts to spread through the crew. They begin to plan how to retrieve her from Kennit, and the Paragon offers to take them to Kennit’s secret stronghold.

Readers of the Elderlings novels will realize the import of Amber’s conversation with the Paragon in the first section of the chapter, something attested to by no few of the sources noted in the Fedwren Project. There had, of course, been earlier hints, but the present chapter all but states that Amber was the Fool in the Six Duchies, and it points meaningfully towards later Elderlings novels; the character has clearly developed since originally appearing.

The chapter is a brief one, a volta of sorts for the novel. I am not certain it is a Freytag-style climax, but it certainly marks a turning point, perhaps more powerfully for its brevity. But it is not the only such point to come, either…

Any chance I can get your help to keep going?

Reflective Comments about the Sixth Year

It has been six years since the first post to this webspace went up, six years that I have been working on Elliott RWI. As I write this, I have published 1,057 posts to the blogroll (this will be post 1,058), and I have revised individual pages, collecting 40,752 views from 15,872 visitors as of this writing. In the last year, therefore, I have made 155 posts and collected 14,822 views from 5,361 visitors (based on “Reflective Comments about the Fifth Year”). Performance is markedly up from last year (see the figures below), which I ascribe to the influence of the novel coronavirus and my own continued shameless self-promotion.

Figure 1 is posts per year by year of blogging.

Figure 6.1

Figure 2 is views per year by year of blogging.

Figure 6.2

Figure 3 is visitors per year by year of blogging.

Figure 6.3

I am pleased to be able to continue doing this kind of work, and I look forward not only to another year of it, but many other years of it. I hope I can count on your help to do that work; I’d appreciate you sending a little bit my way here.