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 Reflection on #Kzoo2019 from an #AcademicExpatriate

Over the weekend just past, I was once again in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, hosted by Western Michigan University. Once again, attending was a good thing for me, even if I was only there for part of the proceedings (rather than the whole event, as I have generally been–though that has not been the case most recently). It was also good to have gotten done what I took a brief hiatus to get done, and I am looking forward to getting back to work at home and on the various projects that are represented in this webspace. But there are some things that I do need to address about the conference before I move on.

It looks much the same as last year–but not quite exactly–in this picture I took.
I still cannot take credit for the title, though, even if I might continue using it.

I could remark on the commonplaces of the Congress. Issues of accommodation and access deserve consideration, after all, even if I am not necessarily the best equipped or the best situated to offer that consideration. Yes, I can crack wise about the conditions of my room, shown in the relevant picture (which originally appeared on my Twitter feed, @GBElliottPhD), and I do note that there is some value for me, if perhaps less so for others, in being a bit removed from the comforts and convenience of my daily life. But I am also aware that things which serve as comforts and conveniences for me are much more important for others, and I am trying to be better about listening to scholars of differing abilities about such things.

The aforementioned picture of the room. Not bad, in all.

Also important to note–because I am not about to get into the issue of comparing circumstances, and I have no desire to be taken as moving towards that issue at all–is the more-pronounced-than-usual whiteness of the Congress this time around. There was a boycott of it by a number of scholars, and I am sympathetic to it. (I was also not as aware of it as I perhaps should have been, for which I apologize.) What I read of the comments about it going into the Congress (which is less than I likely ought to have done, for which I apologize) suggested that one thing I could do to demonstrate support was to call attention to the issue in my own panels–and I believe I did so. In a business meeting I chaired, as well as in my paper presentation, I made explicit the need to do better with such things. For example, the conclusion of my presented paper:

Further study of other religious practices at work in medieval Europe than those commonly associated with medievalist tropes would also seem to be warranted, particularly as concerns depictions of in-milieu disadvantaged populations and their correspondences with real-world counterparts and analogues. Entirely too little has been done in that vein, with putatively mainstream audiences focusing more on themselves and those like them than upon respectful examination and appreciation of difference, and it has allowed rhetorics of ignorant hate to flourish entirely too much. It falls to further work on this project, and on any project, to work against such things with all possible vigor; I can hope that refinements to the current paper will serve that end.

I acknowledge that my backgrounds in racial and ethnic studies, in feminist studies, in gender studies more broadly, and in disability studies, as well as in many other areas of inquiry, are not as robust as could be imagined or hoped. The positions from which I have approached academe have shaped me in ways that have highlighted other issues that intersect with such fields but are not congruent with them, and I know I have had the privilege of looking at other things. I do not claim to have any particular expertise in them. But I can apply the expertise I have to at least point out the gaps in itself; I can refuse to pretend that my inexpertise with a thing means the thing is not worth expertise. No few humanities scholars complain of those outside the academic humanities ignoring the broad field because they do not work within it; how many of them will do he same thing with smaller areas of inquiry closer to them? I, at least, will try not to do so.

It is a small thing, I know, put against a large, large problem. But it is to be expected that the work I would do would be small; I am largely out of academe, an expatriate rather than an exile only in that I am allowed to return from time to time at gatherings such as the International Congress on Medieval Studies. I can hope that, in the coming years, others who have been here and would be here can well be here again–and I know that they can only be so, and should only be asked to be so, when they are treated with consideration and dignity. And I believe them when they tell me that they have not, even when and where I have not seen it.

Help me fund continued travel?

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.

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?

Reflective Comments for the March 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the January 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of SPCH 275: Public Speaking during the March 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in SPCH 275 during the March 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many were irregular formal presentations; others included homework assignments preparing for and reflecting on the presentations, as well as ongoing online discussion. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are below, with relative weights shown in the figure below:

SPCH 275 Grade Breakdown

Point values sum to 1,000.

Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.

The section met concurrently on-site and online in Room 105 at the San Antonio Metro Campus on Thursdays at 6pm, US Central Time, with online office hours generally being held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 27
  • Average class score: 699.9259/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 229.339
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 6
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 6

Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:

SPCH 275 Grades Earned

Additionally, since the class met at a prescribed time, it was possible to take attendance. Most students in the section missed at least one class meeting; some missed quite a few more, as indicated below (with the figure being classes missed, students missing that many classes, and percentage of students falling into that category):

SPCH 275 Students by Number of Absences

I must confess that this was not the best session of teaching I’ve done. Part of the issue is that the University is trying co-sat courses in an effort to fill classes; physical sections are paired with online-only. The idea is that each instructor will be able to help more students and that the students will benefit from exposure to yet more diverse viewpoints. In practice, however, it makes more work for instructors, and for those who will insist on a work-life balance, on keeping a part-time commitment a part-time responsibility, that additional work translates into less effective instruction. Or such was the case with me this time around.

I am pleased to note that more students earned A and B grades in the class than earned D and F grades. And I note, once again, that the chief cause of low grades among my students was simple non-submission of work; I can only award one score to assignments requested and not submitted. Admittedly, as part of a means to protect myself during the session, I operated under a restrictive late-submission policy, and some students ran afoul of that.

I am also pleased to note that things seem to have gone slightly better this time than last time I taught the course. It had been a year since I had a speech class, and I have evidently improved, if only slightly, in my teaching; the average score was slightly better, and I had higher percentages of students earn A grades this time than last. (The percentage of F grades awarded was reasonably similar.) So there is that to consider, as well.

As before, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to teach once again. I have been offered it at least once more (there is some suggestion there are more such opportunities to come), and I remain aware of my contingent position in the classroom. Keeping it, for what it’s worth, has been helpful.

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.

Related image
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?

Class Report: SPCH 275, 25 April 2019

After making some procedural notes, discussion turned to presentations of the assigned impromptu speech for those students present on-site and live online. Some feedback on speeches was provided for those who presented.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at approximately 1800 US Central Time in Room 105 of the San Antonio Metro Campus. The class roster listed 27 students enrolled, unchanged from last week; seven attended on-site or live online.

No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that, for those who did not present their impromptu speeches tonight, recorded presentations are due by the end of day Saturday, 27 April 2019, as the session closes at that time. Any petitions for incomplete status must also be submitted by that time, per University guidelines.

Reflective comments on the session will be forthcoming after the session closes and assignments are graded.

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.

Related image
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?

Class Report: SPCH 275, 18 April 2019

After making some procedural notes and addressing questions from the previous meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of visuals and of color schemes. Discussion worked from some basic websites, which were introduced to the class. Time to work on assignments was offered to students, as well.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at approximately 1800 US Central Time in a WebEx session necessitated by travel difficulties. The course roster listed 27 students, four fewer than at the previous regular meeting; seven attended on-site or live online. Student participation was reasonably good, given the circumstances.

No students attended the most recent office hour; the next and final office hour will be Monday, 22 April 2019, at 1800 US Central Time.

Students are reminded about the following upcoming assignments, due through Canvas before the end of day, US Central Time, on 21 April 2019:

  • Discussion Thread: Persuasive Speech Progress Check
  • Persuasive Speech (preferably as a PowerPoint file)
  • Persuasive Speech Documentation, including an outline, references list, visual aids, and self-evaluation (preferably as a Word file)