A Birthday Rumination

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 143: Mad Ship, Chapter 5

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


The next chapter, “The Liveship Ophelia,” opens with Althea coming off watch to confer with the figurehead of the titular ship. The latter chides Althea for longing after things that cannot be corrected and presses her about Grag Tenira, for whom she is standing in as mate. The ship also teases Althea about Brashen, and Althea excuses herself to call on Grag. When she does, she is reminded of her father, painfully, and the two confer about Althea’s situation with the Vivacia.

The Adventurous Seafaring Women of the Age of Sail, in Their Own Words -  Atlas Obscura
A possible antecedent for Althea?
Image taken from
Atlas Obscura, used for commentary.

Grag also notes some of Brashen’s history, being old enough to remember more of it than Althea does. His reports of Brashen’s earlier dissolution leave Althea pondering, and Grag comments that her behavior is atypical of the women of her status in Bingtown anymore. Their talk turns toward his attraction to and appreciation for her, although he maintains a level head as they talk. Althea recognizes that, while she likes the man, she would not marry him.

Their discussion is interrupted by a summons to the deck. Chalcedean mercenaries are demanding to be allowed to board the Ophelia to inspect her; the captain refuses. The galley begins boarding action, and the liveship herself responds decisively; her crew scrambles to defend her, as well, but there is little need. Though she sustains injury, she inflicts far more on the mercenary galley as she makes her escape.

A couple of interesting points occur as I reread the chapter. One is the narrative turn at work; the escalation between the Ophelia and the Chalcedeans who are supposedly in the employ of the Satrap to which Bingtown owes at least nominal loyalty signals a sharp increase of antagonism in the colonial relationship at work between the Traders and Jamaillia. It would seem to mark the rising action on Freytag’s Pyramid, at least for one of the narrative threads at work in the series; there are more, of course.

Another point returns to the feminist critique that can be seen at work in the series. Much is made in the present chapter of the divergence between former and current expectations of Bingtown femininity, with the current the clearly inferior. And it is not only on the part of Althea, either; Grag expresses dissatisfaction with the current gender roles, although he still frames his perspective in the sense of the traditional gender roles presumed to be at work among the readership. While he clearly does not devalue the typically feminine sphere as so often happens, he still clearly regards it as a separate space–and seems to expect that Althea would conform to it, despite her earlier assertion of her sailcraft instead of her domesticity. So that remains an issue…

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 142: Mad Ship, Chapter 4

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


The chapter that follows, “Bonds,” opens with Wintrow approaching Kennit’s chosen commander of the Vivacia, one Brig. Wintrow asks Brig for information and assistance; it is forthcoming until the Vivacia comes under pursuit from Chalcedean mercenaries in the Satrap’s employ. The liveship and the Marietta, following, evade pursuit, after which Kennit summons Wintrow to his cabin. The pirate captain is in poor shape, wracked by pain. Wintrow tries to calm him, and Kennit demands that the amputation be performed post-haste. Wintrow agrees, and Etta offers her assistance.

Galley of the largest size, with five men on each oar, early 17th century
This seems an odd thing to show in an Age of Sail, but still…
Image taken from
Britannica.com, used for commentary.

Elsewhere, Brashen confers with his own captain, Finney, as the two share drinks and cindin. Finney speaks of clandestine deals, which Brashen takes to mean piracy until Finney purposes to use Brashen as a contact in Bingtown, thereby to get more money for them. Brashen tables the idea, citing his bad relations with family in the town, but he does not refuse it.

Aboard the Vivacia, Wintrow prepares to perform the amputation. Supplies are lacking, but Wintrow draws strength from the ship and takes stock of the situation as Sa’Adar looks on. Etta persuades the priest to summon the medical supplies, and they are forthcoming, although her methods breed enmity with the priest. When Wintrow is able to proceed, communion with the ship and with the pirate almost overwhelm him, but with the help of the ship, he is able to complete the procedure.

After, when Kennit has been returned to his cabin, he returns to the figurehead to confer with the Vivacia. The ship remarks that the nearby serpent that has eaten the amputated flesh feels somehow like family. She also notes that Kennit and she are forming a bond, through which the pirate is able to sense Wintrow’s doubt, to their peril. Wintrow tries to redirect his thoughts, but Kennit stops breathing, even so.

I confess to being uncertain why the interlude with Brashen appears where it does. I know that, in one sense, the placement is meant to convey the idea of contemporaneity; it is happening at the same time that Wintrow is preparing to amputate more of Kennit’s leg. But it need not be, and the brief passage intruding seems to me to disrupt the flow of the narrative at that point. Nor is it strictly necessary to present it there to cover “idle” time while Wintrow fares poorly at finding materials; there are other breaks in the chapter, sub-sections denoted by an extra space and more capitalization. (Paratext has meaning, too, as I told students repeatedly when I had them.) The information in the passage–Finney is a cheat, Brashen would like to be able to have some standards still–is useful for the plot, yes, but the placement and the pacing…I am not certain. But that’s just me, and it’s not like it puts me off the novel…

Trick or treat?

A Coming Project

It’s not exactly a secret that I do a fair bit of writing. I’ve been pretty good about keeping pace in this webspace, posting thrice weekly, and even if a fair bit of my writing is working through a re-read of novels, novellas, and stories I love, it’s still writing–and not all of the writing I do here is on that project. Nor yet is this the only place where I present my writing, as this and this attest, as well as the conference presentations I still occasionally do. And my mostly-online roleplaying games involve no small amount of writing, too, both in the actual play and in the chatter that surrounds it.

NaNoWriMo
Yep, this is the sign.
Image taken from
NaNoWriMo.org, used for commentary

I have tended to struggle, however, with writing narratives of one sort or another. I may be able to put together the occasional vignette taken from my daily life–like this, this, this, this, or this–but longer works have tended to elude me. Too, I do tend more toward a poetic voice than a narrative one, working with sound rather than story, even though I know prose fares better with more people than verse. “Poetry’s hard,” after all, and more people are lazy than aren’t. (For the record, I include myself among that group.)

For the record, I don’t intend on giving up the work I’m already doing. I’ll keep moving forward with the Robin Hobb Reread, which I am flattered to note is getting a fair bit of attention from folks. I’ll also doubtlessly keep going with the other blogging I do, here and elsewhere. I have responsibilities with one of the other blogs, at least, and I try not to let people down. (It still happens, and far more than I like, but I try, dammit.) But I think I will try to address the deficiency in composing an extended narrative–I think I’m going to try to do NaNoWriMo. Kind of.

I know it shows up in my biographical information that I’ve put in a fair bit of time on medieval studies. A lot of it has been more “medievalism studies,” to be fair, looking at how the medieval gets mis/used, but there’s no way to do that work without having a solid grounding in the traditional medieval; one has to understand the references to get the jokes. As such, I’m fairly steeped in the idea of narrative poetry–and, as noted above, I do better with poetry than with narrative prose. So I mean to spend my NaNoWriMo trying to put together a narrative poem.

By the usual standards, I’d have to write something like 1,667 words each day across the thirty days of November to make the 50,000-word expectation. There will be a few days, at least, that I cannot guarantee being able to sit down and write the equivalent of a five-page paper, although I remember being able to knock out five to ten pages with ease when I was appropriately motivated. I’ve got a decent chance at getting the work done, and I think it’s worth a try to do so.

We’ll see how it goes!

I could use your encouragement as I try to make this happen.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 141: Mad Ship, Chapter 3

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


The following chapter, “The Crowned Rooster,” opens with Jani Khuprus making her way through tunnels to her son, Reyn. He waxes poetic on the beauty that must have suffused them in days gone by, and the two fall into an old argument about the rule from Jamaillia. Jani tries to shake him from a partial reverie as he hints at a life within the wizardwood log in the chamber where they stand.

The Khuprus Family Crest
This seems to get it.
The Khuprus Family Crest by Dianna-Art on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Their discussion continues, revealing that it is the casing of a dragon, kept away from sunlight and possibly dead–but maybe not, maybe waiting to be freed, and possibly not happily when and if it is released. All of the wizardwood that has been found and sold has been such, the pupal dragons contained within dumped out unceremoniously as their chrysalides were harvested as lumber to be sold away.

Their talk turns thence to Reyn’s intended courtship of Malta. He seems set on marrying the young Vestrit, although Jani does not think it will go so smoothly as he does. Still, the family seems well disposed to his efforts in that line.

Another expository chapter, the present section takes readers away from the Vestrits, although not quite as far as might be thought; the Rain Wild Traders and the Bingtown Traders hold themselves akin, and Reyn purposes to wed Malta. The chapter also reminds readers of the colonialist discourse at work in the series; Bingtown and the Rain Wilds are colonies of Jamaillia, and the latter, particularly, serves to exploit natural resources on the periphery for the benefit of the core–which does not always recall the agreements under which it receives those benefits.

Prior to the present chapter, the exploitation was of natural resources only. What the present chapter introduces to the discussion is that the exploitation comes at the cost of other intelligent life. Although that particular issue is kept from the world at large, the Rain Wild Traders are all aware that their wealth is had only because they have desecrated the graves of thinking beings–and, Reyn argues, not necessarily only their graves. Pulling unclaimed resources is one thing; despoiling tombs is another; killing what amounts to teenagers–pupal states being roughly analogous to adolescence–is something altogether different and far more reprehensible.

The relatively sudden twist serves to nuance the entire setting further than it already had been by the involvement in the slave trade. More than before, it is clear there are no “good guys” in the work, although the Vestrits seem to remain the primary protagonists.

Your kind support continues to be greatly appreciated.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 140: Mad Ship, Chapter 2

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


The next chapter, “The Pirate’s Leg,” begins with Wintrow conversing with the Vivacia about the need to amputate Kennit’s leg again, as well as his apprehensions about the same. Their discussion is uneasy; Wintrow knows he faces the possibility of his death and his father’s, and the ship faces uncertainty in the lack of her blood kin.

A Civil War Surgeon's Tools | National Archives
These are likely nicer than what Wintrow discusses.
Image taken from the US National Archives, here, and used for commentary

Wintrow muses on his situation further. The tumult that the ship still feels hinders his ability to center himself. The micro-political tensions between Kennit and his crew and Sa’Adar and the freed slaves grates upon him. The deaths of the Vivacia‘s former crew weigh upon him. The burden of caring for his father tells upon him. Thinking through it leads him to places that are strange to him.

The Vivacia herself considers her situation, as well. Owing to her nature, she is preternatually aware of the goings-on aboard her. She makes contact with Kennit’s wizardwood charm, the experience confusing and frightening her.

Kennit struggles to consciousness through fever and sends Etta to fetch Wintrow. In her absence, the charm torments him; it leaves off when she returns with Wintrow. Nervously, the would-be priest examines Kennit’s leg, searching out how much more of the limb will have to be removed to save the rest of the pirate’s body. Wintrow arrives, with some trepidation, at a plan of treatment, to which Kennit agrees.

The chapter serves largely as exposition, laying out current states of affairs and reminding readers who might be new to the series with the present novel or who might have been away from the reading for a while of how things stand aboard the Vivacia. It also appears to foreshadow conflict between Sa’Adar and Kennit, setting up a confrontation to follow the promised amputation.

About that: Hobb is on record as favoring verisimilitude in her writing, remarking that “I think the best way to convince a reader that I know what I’m talking about when I recount the habits of dragons is to know what I’m talking about when I recount the details of raising chickens or putting a roof on a house.” As such, the eliding of many details about the surgery comes off as a way to cover gaps in her knowledge–gaps which are not themselves problematic, of course, as someone not a physician need not be expected to know how to take a leg off with some measure of safety. And it is handled well, covered by Kennit’s musings; I know that I have wandered into my own thoughts even at times when vitally important information is being relayed, so I can easily imagine characters who have already been humanized and shown to be flawed doing so, as well.

It’s almost Halloween; help me treat my daughter?

A Client Story

I have not made a secret of working in a substance abuse treatment facility, although I have generally not gone into detail about the work I do there. For one reason, most of that work is the mundane administrivia that keeps an organization–particularly a nonprofit organization that has contracts with state governments–going from day to day and week to week. Detailing my experiences with QuickBooks or billing insurance companies would not likely make for engaging reading, and, as should be clear, my writing already struggles to develop and maintain readerly interest.

My facility, as shown on the agency website,
www.hccada.org; your donation is welcome.

Another reason, and more important in the event, is that the work done at my agency is quite sensitive and personal. Although my organization offers only outpatient treatment, it still sees people at close to their worst. It’s usually only close to the worst, though every so often, one comes in who’s not close, but at their worst. It’s never a good thing to see happen, and it’s not something for which I am trained; all of my degrees are in English, after all, and if it has been the case that a lot of people have confided in me, I am (emphatically and explicitly) not a counselor.

Thus, when I got called in to observe a client who had said some things on which we had to act, I was…unprepared. While the counselor did what needed doing–I am deliberately being vague, thank you–I kept watch on the client. So I got to see the many open sores and several healed-over ones on the client’s exposed skin, the cracked flesh at the side of the client’s mouth, the twitching and picking at nailbeds and eyebrows, the irregular outbursts of weeping that may have been genuine but which ceased so suddenly as to appear performances abruptly cancelled. And, because I am not a counselor and do not want to be in a position of having said something I ought not to have said, I kept my silence throughout, even as the client tried to work up into a rage and pleaded to speak with their mother. I do not think it helped the client feel better, though.

In the event, the client received the needed assistance and has been discharged from our program; we recommended they go to an inpatient facility that handles what we do and the other factors with which the client must contend. Whether or not the client does so is not up to us; although we work with government agencies, we are not ourselves such an agency, and we have neither power nor desire to compel behavior. I am glad that the client was offered the needed help; I am also glad, more now than in the moment, of the reminder of what my organization does. I am often isolated from the actual work as I do my portion of the support work; the display of the problem we seek to treat is something I need to see, at least every now and again.

Help support my endeavors?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 139: Mad Ship, Chapter 1

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

There is discussion of suicide in what follows.


The first chapter, “The Mad Ship,” begins with the titular ship, the Paragon, sitting sullenly on the beach where he has been left over the past decades, trying to stonewall Amber as she cooks and tries to converse with him. She pleads with him for help, relating her endeavors to save him and the stern response she got from his owner, Amis Ludluck. Amber also notes that the Ludlucks appear to be ready to have the ship towed away and dismantled.

Mad Ship, the - PlentyWiki
The cover of the edition I’m reading
Image taken from ThePlenty.net,
used for commentary

The Paragon‘s resolve breaks at the comments, and he finds himself asking Amber if she will visit him when he is taken away. He then asks her to help him die in flame rather than face a dismemberment that may well leave him alive, voicing suicidal ideation that shocks Amber. She asks him what the likely plan to take him would be, and he answers. Both of them pine for friends not present, and the ship seems to prepare for an imminent end.

The Ludluck name is repeated in the chapter–it has occurred before, but it seems to be something of a focus in the present selection. Knowing that Hobb has a penchant for emblematic names in the Liveship Traders novels (as witness here, here, and here, among others that can be found), it seems fit to look for something in a repeated name. The “luck” part of “Ludluck” is clear enough; the “lud” part, however, bears a bit of inquiry. Collins reports it as being either an informal rendering of “lord” in judicial proceedings or, previously, “an exclamation of dismay or surprise.” Taken together, the components render the family name as “bad fortune” or “unexpected fortune.”

The former seems to be the more pertinent in the present chapter. There is much about which to feel dismay for Amber and for the Paragon, knowing that an unpleasant end may well be coming at the hands of those who should protect the ship, and considering whether being hacked apart or burned away is better is hardly the happiest discussion.

That discussion does point towards something worth considering, both in the present work and in the genre more generally: logical conclusions. The differences between the narrative milieu and the readerly have their immediate, observed effects, to be certain–but there would necessarily be other effects that are not necessarily evident. How magic might shape social structures differently than they appear in the “real” world is one example of them. Another, touched on by the discussion between woodcarver and ship, is the different effects of violence on different types of thinking things. The preceding novel makes clear that a liveship absorbs the emotions and thoughts of its surroundings (something treated also in Fitz, here and here), and the present discussion suggests that there are yet darker things involved in the lives of the liveships.

It is something to watch for as the novels continue.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 138: Mad Ship, Prologue

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


The prologue of the novel, “A Recollection of Wings,” opens not long after the end of Ship of Magic. Several serpents–Maulkin, Shreever, Sessurea, and others–linger near “the silvery provider.” Shreever considers their situation; Maulkin muses aloud over his uncertainty. A fight over food ensues, and Mauklin realizes that the other serpents have forgotten themselves and their intelligence, despairing that they will succeed in their quest. He, Shreever, and Sessurea share memories of a different life, and they recommit to moving forward as more food presents itself.

Looks about right.
Maulkin’s Tangle by Sandara on ThePlenty.net, used for commentary.

Brief as the prologue is–only some six pages in the edition I’m using to do the reread–it serves two useful purposes. For one, it re-grounds readers in the narrative milieu, serving as a powerful reminder that there is a non-human intelligence very much at work in the story. For another, proceeding as swiftly from and in the same kind as the end of Ship of Magic as it does, it reinforces the continuity between the two novels. While marketing alone makes clear that Mad Ship is the direct sequel to Ship of Magic, and while trilogy setups tend to promote the notion that stories continue through them, having so smooth a transition between novels is rare and serves almost to make the two books one in multiple volumes rather than separate works.

As the novel gets more fully underway, moving into chapters from the prefatory material, I expect I will have more to say. For now, though I am once again delighted to be pressing ahead with this project, and I hope you, dear reader, will continue along with me.

I’d love to have your help to help me keep this going!

Another Student Story

A while back, I wrote about a former student I’ve decided to call Chuck. While he was something of a problem, largely for getting me involved with institutional bureaucracy, he was neither the only one such nor the first. Nor, in the event, was he the most problematic of them in that regard.

First Day Of College Read The Syllabus GIF - FirstDayOfCollege  ReadTheSyllabus Shock - Discover & Share GIFs
Useful advice that too few follow.
Image taken from Tenor.com, used for commentary.

No, that one for me was back at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I earned both of my graduate degrees and where I did my first few years of college teaching. In many ways, it was a good experience, although I readily admit I did not make the best possible use of my time there–but the fault for that is mine and not the institution’s.

While I was there, and maybe in my second year of teaching there, I had a slate of first-year composition classes, as is typical of graduate students in English. As is also typical, I had some conference activities scheduled, and, in an attempt to be responsible and forthright about them, I had noted on the course syllabus when I would be away to take care of them. And as is not uncommon, I also had a note on the course calendar about the mandated attendance policy–namely, that students could miss a set number of classes without penalty, but after that, grade penalties would accrue up to and including failing the course.

You may be able to guess where this is going.

As happened most sessions that I taught a class with a mandated attendance policy, some students suffered grade penalties due to missing too many classes. (In my defense, 1) the policies were mandated, and 2) I offered students the chance to “test out” of the class; if they could submit A papers without coming, I’d agree that they didn’t need to be in the room, and I’d excuse all their absences. None made the attempt.) As happened many such sessions, a few students failed on absences alone. And as happened more often than I care to recall, there were complaints about the grading.

The one that stands out, though, was a student I might well call Kofaire. She’d been a student in a second-semester composition class I taught in the spring, and she’d failed the class because she’d racked up something like thirteen absences in a class that met some forty-five times. (It’s been a few years, so my counts may be a bit off.) When she came to my office hours in the summer–because I tried to teach summers, needing the extra money–I looked over the records I had, quoted the mandated policy to her, and sent her on her way; I’d thought that would be the end of it.

Wrongly, in the event, because Kofaire went from me to my department head and made the same complaint. Of course, she got the same answer after the department head pulled her copy of my syllabus and the gradebook I’d turned in (because all of us were asked to do that). It should have ended there, and I think, on Kofaire’s part, it would have–but it stopped being up to Kofaire at that point, because Maman Kofaire got involved, then.

Karen | Know Your Meme
I don’t remember if her name was Karen…
Image from Know Your Meme, used for commentary.

I first learned of Maman’s involvement when I came into my office, checked my voicemail, and found not one, not two, but seven messages from her, asking (in various terms of politeness) that I call her back and talk about Kofaire’s grade. Now, FERPA being FERPA, and me still not having begun to mellow out in my old age, I did what I thought I ought to do: delete the messages. But they didn’t stop; when I came back to the office after teaching, I found three more messages waiting for me. And this went on for a couple of weeks, with every day seeing message after message after message asking and demanding that I talk with Maman about Kofaire’s grade.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t the only one getting to handle Maman. She’d gone in to talk to my department chair, bringing Kofaire with her and (inadvertently?) stepping around FERPA thereby. (The student, being present, could agree to have the conversation with others.) Kofaire had evidently been of the opinion that, if a day in the class had no explicit assignment made, there was no class that day–despite the explicit notes about when class wouldn’t meet. Maman seemed to think the same, complaining about spending her “hard-earned money for [Kofaire] to have a class with some damned worthless grad student” and vowing that it would never happen again.

My department chair sent her out of the office. I am told that the college dean did the same. As did the Dean of Students. And the Provost. Rumor reached me that Maman even tried to go to the University President, only to be asked something like “Why are you bothering me with this?” But it was more than rumor that let me know Maman hadn’t dropped the matter.

No, it was when Maman found out what classroom I was teaching in and ambushed me outside it, jawing at me for thirty minutes about how it wasn’t fair that Kofaire had fared poorly, and that she didn’t understand how some upjumped student could sit in judgment over her darling little girl. I count it to my credit that I kept my mouth shut except to say that “I can’t discuss students, ma’am” and to excuse myself as quickly as I could–to my department head’s office, where I reported the incident. I believe there was even paperwork.

I found out later from one of the campus police (I was in judo classes with him) that my report and the observed harassment from Maman Kofaire resulted in her being barred from campus. Kofaire herself, I believe, took second-semester composition again and had perfect attendance, scraping by with a low passing grade. And I have something of a story to tell, one I know others have, as well; maybe there’s some study that can be done about such narratives by someone who’s still able to be in academe…

I’m not writing syllabi anymore, but I am still writing, and I could still use your support!