A Bit More on Leaving Academe

I‘ve made it clear, I think, that I’m out of academe at this point almost entirely. (This and this are perhaps the easiest examples. They are not the only ones.) I have given up working at the front of the classroom (note this, this, and this), and I have sharply tapered off the tutoring work I was doing as yet another supplement to my income. I do remain engaged in some low-level scholarship and commentary, as evidenced here and present in the papers I still present at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. There are one or two things I am told are in process, that are going to find publication at some indeterminate point, but all of that is comparatively minor stuff. I do not have a book in press, and I do not have an academic one in draft. Nor yet am I likely to have such anytime soon, if ever again.

Journal and Pen
This is the kind of writing I do most now. I think. Maybe.

I know this, I have stated it openly and repeatedly on multiple platforms. Yet many of those same platforms have begun in recent weeks (as of this writing, which is happening well before its publication) to show me ads about teaching products and practices, to offer me connections to people who are still engaged in the academic world–far more than did while I was doing such things as drafting classroom reports and commenting directly on others’ remarks about classroom concerns and practices. And I am confused by this (as well as mildly annoyed, I must admit).

Part of me wants to think that, because the body of writing I have done online thus far focuses in large part on what happened in and around my classrooms, that the advertising algorithms that continue to infiltrate life are picking up my work and sending materials my way as a result–though why I am getting them more now than when I was in the work confuses me. If the ads are improving their reach, they are demonstrating less understanding; “not” and “no” are hardly hard words to find or interpret.

The same concern applies if it is simply a matter of my writing having broader audiences now than previously (and I would be happy to find it so!); missing the negative is a problem in language as much as in mathematics. And if it is because I continue to associate with academics online…yes, I think the same concern still applies.

I have to wonder, though, if my online presence provoking more materials about education reflects some part of my psyche of which I am aware and against which I struggle. I did spend a damned lot of time and am spending a damned lot of money (thank you, student loans) learning (badly, in the event) how to be a teacher; I spent no few years working at making the classroom my profession. I have realized I was wrong to do so, that I do not belong at the front of the room and that I was damaged or warped or perverted (and not in the ways I think might be fun) by being in the seats in it, but I am not immune to the sunk cost fallacy. Part of me still thinks about returning to the work, even though I know, I know it would be a bad idea.

If the algorithms are responding to that…I think I have to worry. And I think I may not be alone.

Care to support my ongoing efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 79: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 20

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

The following chapter, “Jhaampe,” opens with a description of the titular city, one familiar from earlier. It passes after to Fitz proceeding deliriously under Nighteyes’s guidance to a dimly glimpsed figure who takes him.

I was wondering when we’d get here…
Awakening by Atrika on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

Fitz wakes intermittently as the figure who took him and others tend to his injuries, which range to frostbite in addition to the arrow wound and overall fatigue and ill treatment. As Fitz assesses himself and returns to his senses, he asks about his situation. He recognizes the Fool as he slips back out of and into consciousness, and the two exchange tidings as best they are able at the time. Among those tidings is that the child Kettricken had carried when she fled Buckkeep was stillborn, and she has mourned Verity as dead, but the Fool notes that Fitz’s emergence has provided new hope to him. Chade has been at work, as has Patience, but matters remain grim, and there has been no sign of Starling or of Kettle that the Fool knows of.

Fitz asks the Fool not to report his survival to Kettricken or Chade. The Fool reluctantly agrees, and the two begin to fall back into their old amity and ease, despite the pain.

In the chapter, the Fool makes one of his wryer comments about Fitz in response to being addressed as a revered figure: “‘Holy one?’ There was bitter humor in [the Fool’s] voice. ‘If you would speak of holes, you should speak of him, not me. Here, look at his back.'” There is a part of me, one steeped in the humorous writings of the past, one that looks for sometimes-subtle bits of wordplay such as this, that wonders if the previous chapter’s action, hunting and shooting Fitz, was plotted out for no other purpose than to make the pun in the Fool’s comment. Hobb borrows from Asimov throughout the series, as noted here, and Asimov several times wrote pieces specifically to put puns across–such stories as “About Nothing,” “Death of a Foy,” and “Sure Thing” in The Winds of Change and Other Stories come to mind as examples–so it is not outside the realm of possibility that another such borrowing has taken place in the present chapter. Whether intended or not, it does seem a useful setup for such a joke.

More broadly, I’ve argued that Hobb borrows freely from fools in Shakespeare in informing her own Fool, and the kind of word-play evidenced by the Fool in the present example is decidedly present in Shakespeare, both from “fools” and from other jokesters. Mercutio’s comment that calling on him the day after he is stabbed will find him “a grave man” is but one easily accessed example, while no few of Benedick’s remarks in Much Ado about Nothing are of similar sort, and even Othello‘s Iago expounds similarly. It may seem a strange thing to have the kind of pun at work that is at work in the chapter, but if it is strange, it is a strangeness with no small precedent.

Don’t joke around; send a little my way!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 78: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 19

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

The chapter treated for this post, “Pursuit,” opens with a passage glossing the military situation between the Six Duchies and the Mountain Kingdom as Fitz made his way towards Verity. It moves thence to Fitz conferring with Starling and Kettle as they flee from the burned ruins of Moonseye. Fitz sends the women ahead of himself, which Kettle recognizes as him drawing away pursuit from them to him. Starling is not so sanguine about the matter as they part.

A pivotal scene in the present chapter…
Bastard Hunt
by ThereseOfTheNorth on DeviantArt, here, and used for commentary

Fitz and Nighteyes move away, and Fitz ensures that he will be Regal’s sole focus for some time by Skilling openly and brazenly in the night. As he does, he finds Burl in the Skill, being tortured therewith through the efforts of Will and Carrod–while Regal observes with glee. Fitz opines about the depravity of his uncle, then lashes out brutally through the Skill. When he is next aware, Nighteyes is near frantic with fear at what Fitz has done, and the two make a slow pace as they flee for Jhaampe.

As they go, Fitz considers his situation again and the likely welcome he will receive from Kettricken, whom he believes to be in Jhaampe. Implications of news of his survival are unpleasant, and he considers bypassing the Mountain Kingdom’s capital–but rejects the idea as untenable for several reasons. His ruminations are interrupted by an encounter with a party of Regal’s soldiers that spots and pursues him–aided by one of the Old Blood. Fitz and Nighteyes flee, with the wolf working to distract the hunters from the slower-moving Fitz. It is not successful; the Old Blood hunter is wise to the deception, cornering Fitz and shooting him in the back with an arrow as Fitz tries to climb to safety.

Nighteyes pulls Fitz up the last bit of his climb, and their flight continues–slower now that Fitz has been shot. He begins, almost reflexively, to transfer his consciousness back into the wolf, but Nighteyes rejects him, and Fitz starts at what he had tried to do. When they achieve some distance from pursuit, Fitz tries to treat his injury. It is difficult, painful work, ultimately unsuccessful; Nighteyes ultimately snaps off the shaft of the arrow, leaving the head in Fitz. And still they must move on.

The thing that stands out to me as I read the chapter again is the juxtaposition of the shock at one of the Old Blood turning on Fitz and the relatively little attention the Old Blood receives in the pursuit. Yes, he is the one to wound Fitz, but he remains largely faceless and utterly nameless in the chapter despite his key role in inflicting yet another wound on the protagonist. Are readers to take it as passe that a member of an oppressed group would turn that group’s talents to the oppressor’s ends? If so, it is a subtle bit of commentary that seems all the more biting for being presented as off-handedly as seems to be the case here.

Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!

Remember your writer?


A Rumination on Sousa

Today is a holiday for band nerds–and I remain one, “unapologetic if inept” as my Twitter bio has it–across the United States, a punning reference to John Philip Sousa. Noted for his martial music–and so appropriately celebrated on March Fo(u)rth–he remains a presence in the repertoires and award-walls of bands nearly a hundred years after his death, as well as providing a welcome opportunity to inflict a bad joke on people annually.

The man himself.
Painting of Sousa by Capolino at the Library of Congress, here, which I think makes it a public domain image

I do not need to go into much detail about the man; his biography is easily accessible and written by better writers than I. Nor do I need to wax eloquent about his music; it is widespread and, again, easily accessible. Playing it remains a standard practice for concert bands and others, and it is certainly challenging enough to do, not only in its more famous iterations, but in the less-played pieces, as well.

I have to wonder at a people, though, who made the man and his work so popular. Thinking on it from the perspective of my own time, I am confused that marches would capture so much popular imagination–but I have written to that effect before, and what I noted then remains true. I do not know who benefits and how from the continuation of Sousa’s legacy in schools and in such ceremonial culture as the United States retains–diminishing as it is against the various influences upon it (and not without justice, though that is a discussion for another time). Someone must, obviously, or it wouldn’t be suffered to stay in place, even as much as it has.

Charts ain’t cheap; help?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 77: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 18

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

The next chapter, “Moonseye,” opens with a brief note about Moonseye’s position and its history with Chivalry Farseer. It moves thence to Fitz and the others’ conveyance to the titular location. Fitz makes contact with Nighteyes through the Wit, and they reassure each other of their lives and relative safety. Nighteyes also shows Fitz an incoming attack; when it falls, it is family of the betrayed smugglers coming to rescue their kin.

Definitely the kind of thing to give pause.
Nighteyes by Alcine on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary.

After the attack, Fitz is guarded more closely, and he describes Moonseye as he reaches it in custody. His incarceration is also described, and Fitz assesses his situation. He also tries to work on his captors, meeting limited success with that or with finding an escape option. Nighteyes has more success, however, and he informs Fitz of fires beginning in the town.

As the fire spreads, Nighteyes takes the opportunity to make himself known to Fitz’s captors. They flee, and Nighteyes pursues, retrieving the key to Fitz’s cell as Starling arrives to aid Fitz. They make their escape from the burning town into the bitter cold, where they join Kettle. Starling relays the status of the earlier party to Fitz as they flee, and Fitz shivers from more than the cold.

Through Fitz, Hobb lampshades the cyclical nature of the heroic journeys that pervade Tolkienian-tradition fantasy fiction. Bilbo returns to the Shire, as do Frodo and Sam, and Fitz returns to Moonseye, site of his earliest memories. In some sense, he has returned home, though he feels no real connection to the place. But, as with the earlier examples, the place he has returned to has changed–and not necessarily for the better. The Shire to which Bilbo returns has assumed he is dead (not without cause, admittedly) and begun despoiling his possessions. The Shire to which Frodo and Sam return is treated far worse, laid largely to waste and the depredations of outside forces. At Fitz’s involuntary return, Moonseye is more like the latter than the former, with troops loyal to Regal imposing their will far outside what should be the confines of the law. It is not the most comforting touchstone connecting Hobb to her literary forebears, but it is one that lines up relatively well with them.

Too, each of Tolkien’s Ringbearers moves on from the Shire. Bilbo retires to Rivendell before going with Frodo into the West. Sam joins them later. Fitz is similarly bound for other places–coincidentally, perhaps, a mountainous west. It is such things that push readings of Hobb towards the Tolkienian model; there are correspondences to be found, certainly, and I’ve written to that effect before. A closer examination of the parallels specifically to Tolkien, rather than to the amorphously European / English settings of Tolkienian fantasy literatures generally might be warranted–but that is yet another project for another time.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 76: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 17

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

The following chapter, “River Crossing,” opens with a brief note about the mounting resistance of the Six Duchies’ people to the Red Ship Raiders. It moves thence to preparations for the smuggling party to move on. Fitz indulges himself in elfbark, earning rebuke from Kettle.

Image result for rushing frozen river
Not the kind of thing that makes for an easy crossing.
Image from Shutterstock, here, used for commentary.

Later that day, Nighteyes ranges ahead of the party, to the annoyance of the smugglers. The group comes to a hidden barge, and they begin to cross the river–with some struggles. Weather and debris in the river make the crossing more difficult. Fitz and Nighteyes are attacked as they try to cross, and Nighteyes is swept into the water; Fitz is not, but he is subdued, along with the smuggler and most of the party. They have, evidently, been double-crossed by local soldiers who purpose to deliver him to Regal’s forces. Fitz reasons through how he has been betrayed and offers such mental support as he can to Nighteyes as the wolf labors out of the flooded river and finds some small shelter.

When Fitz is delivered to the soldiers’ local quarters, he is recognized by one of the Skilled Ones from his earlier training: Burl. After expressing some small curiosity about Fitz’s survival, he takes an inept report from the soldiers, rebukes them, and dismisses them. He then turns his attention to Fitz, noting to him that his erstwhile companions will suffer if he gets unruly. To prove his point, he has Starling brought in and two of her fingers broken in front of Fitz before securing the now-compliant Fitz for a trip to Moonseye.

Reading the chapter this time, I find myself sticking on the name of the character Burl. The Six Duchies tends towards emblematic names, as long since noted, and the word “burl” does refer to a misshapen growth of wood, so there is some sense to it; Burl is made misshapen by what Galen does to him during training, his loyalty to Regal an artificially imposed thing that cannot help but warp him. Burl wood, though, is often valuable as a material, one prized for its beauty; indeed, one of the things I have that I value most is the pen I use to write in my journals, one whose shaft is turned from maple burl. The physical description of Burl–a large man, formerly muscled but grown slack–and the depiction of him as ruthless and cruel (blithely ordering a flogging and the breaking of a musician’s fingers are hardly kindly words) do not conduce to that end. Perhaps the hardness of burl wood caused by the contortions of the wood grain are the resonances to be found, but that seems a bit odd a direction to go.

I continue to rely upon your support.

In Response to Lulu Miller

This one’s from my archive at home. Mind the changes.

On 1 January 2014, Lulu Miller’s “Editing Your Life’s Stories Can Create Happier Endings” appeared on NPR.org. In the piece, Miller reports findings by Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia that suggest one of the ways in which people negotiate trauma and disappointment is to rewrite the narratives of such events, in essence refashioning the stories of their lives into forms easier to handle. Miller introduces by way of an anecdote of her nephew (to which she returns to conclude the piece), bridging from the story of his triumph over his having been startled by a statue of the Frankenstein monster into Wilson’s comments. She also notes Wilson’s assertion that having people physically write new narratives allows for the kind of effects normally seen only after years of therapy, if in smaller measure; an hour of writing time divided among four daily sessions can produce sufficient change of perspective on a specific event to greatly ease anxiety and enhance self-image.

The power of the pencil: Writing about a troubling event in the past can help recast it in a more positive way.
Another instance of my borrowing an image from the article I discuss to aid in commentary…

Given that Miller is reporting decades of academic study for a general audience, there is necessarily some simplification of the topic; it is doubtlessly more complex than she remarks in her online piece. This can be potentially problematic, as the oversimplification may well lead to the adoption by persons in need of significant therapeutic intervention by a dumbed-down version of the technique in the absence of any psychological or psychiatric oversight, creating a situation not unlike self-medication. While the rewriting exercise is not likely to be as dangerous to the unguided user as the unsupervised use of pharmaceuticals, it is possible that the exercises, if done without an outside reader available, will lead to the reinforcement of the same negative attitudes they are meant to deflect. Miller does not offer the caution, and she does not offer a statement from Wilson offering that caution, which is a point against the piece.

Even so, the piece is written well, overall, and it offers a point in support of the value of writing as an activity. Miller’s use of an introductory anecdote humanizes her already-human topic, lending it an immediacy that serves as a pathos appeal to its audience. Her return to it in the end of the piece serves to unify the piece as a cohesive unit, lending it a sense of completion that makes it more authoritative through; if it is completed, there is an implication that there is nothing more to be said, that Miller’s is the final word on the matter. Also, the use of a young child as the focal character in the anecdote implies that the phenomenon is more natural than trained, given the relatively little time the child would have had to learn the behavior. Situating the phenomenon as one “naturally” part of human experience helps to universalize it, making it—and the piece discussing it–more accessible to the audience.

The identification of the therapeutic value of focused writing activities also valorizes writing as an activity in itself. While Miller’s audience is not likely to devalue writing, many other people are, as those whose jobs involve the teaching of writing are well aware. Indeed, the article makes some motion toward the resistant in noting Wilson’s work with those who assert that they are “bad at school.” Teachers of writing and teachers whose classes require writing often must contend with assertions that writing has no value, that it is an outdated practice irrelevant to the world in which students live; there is a prevailing opinion that “real life” has no need for the written word. Miller’s piece, and Wilson’s research upon which it is based, assert that writing has value outside the classroom and for more people than those who style themselves writers of one sort or another. The clear implication is that everyone benefits from targeted writing activities, making writing instruction all the more important.

Help support my ongoing efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 75: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 16

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

The following chapter, “Bolthole,” opens with brief comments about the bleedover of mannerisms between Old Blood and their Wit-partners. It moves swiftly to the resumption of the smuggling party’s journey–early in the morning. Fitz is put in mind of Molly and their child, and Nighteyes queries about it before heading off to hunt. Fitz secures Kettle, and they head off.

File:Blowing snow in Norway.jpg
It’s the kind of thing that hinders travel.
Sondrekv’s Blowing Snow in Norway on the Wikimedia Commons, here, used for commentary.

Along the way, Kettle discusses her reason for the journey: visiting a prophet rumored to be in the Mountain Kingdom. She describes the veneration of such prophets–the White Prophets–and Fitz puzzles over the words. She also notes Nighteyes’s presence, which Fitz tries unsuccessfully to explain away.

The party camps in an established bolthole–described in the chapter as such–for the night, not necessarily to the joy of all concerned. Kettle quizzes Fitz somewhat sharply, though she shares provisions with him, and they discuss the other travelers before Fitz excuses himself.

Later, Starling wakes Fitz while the others sleep. She quizzes him about himself, and he confirms his possession of the Wit–and other bits of his past. She reveals, in turn, her apprehensions about her future, worrying that her skills are not themselves good enough to secure her later life–but the song she means to make about Fitz will do so. She also rebukes him for his failure to understand Molly and how her life must proceed under the assumption–justified–of his death. And she offers intimate comfort to him that he refuses.

The smuggling party presses on, and Kettle manages to unsettle Fitz with some of what she knows. In the night, he dreams of another Red-Ships raid, sleeping uneasily.

The present chapter is, if memory serves, the first mention of the White Prophets as such. It is something that becomes important again and again later in the Elderlings corpus, so its appearance herein is something to mark.

Something also worth noting is Starling’s rebuke of Fitz for his misunderstanding of Molly. She comments with aspersion on his having blithely assumed that Molly would wait for him despite thinking him dead. To be fair, Fitz has been dead and come back from it, but it seems strange to think that he would think it a blase occurrence–the more so since Burrich, who occasioned the resurrection, thinks him slain again, and as a man gone feral. It is a pointed bit of self-centeredness on Fitz’s part, one that bespeaks his continuing assumption that he is the most important person in the Six Duchies. (Although it is likely true, and it is certainly true that Fitz is the protagonist of the novel, it does not excuse the blithe arrogance.)

Reading affectively, as I seem unable to avoid despite “knowing better,” I think I need to see to my own family for a bit. I can hope they will be waiting for me, largely because I’m not writing this from beyond the grave…

Care to lend a little hand?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 74: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 15

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

The following chapter, “Kettle,” opens with an account of Kettricken’s removal to Jhaampe and her searches for Verity in the Mountain Kingdom. It moves thence to Fitz joining the smuggling party’s preparations for departure. More have joined, and Fitz replaces one of the regular cart-drivers who has fallen ill. He finds himself charged with driving an old woman who complains of the changes.

An image of the title character by ladyatropos on DeviantArt, here, and used for commentary

The party sets out through the snowstorm, and Fitz attempts to chat with his passenger. She is generally quiet, however, though she does identify herself to him as Kettle; he recognizes her as being from Buck Duchy, which she does not deny. They do warm towards one another as the day goes on and the party makes camp for the night. The disposition of the smugglers in the camp eases Fitz somewhat, and Starling eases the rest with her music.

Fitz is disturbed from his following rest by the return of Nighteyes, who glosses his adventures with a far-away wolf-pack. They confer, and Nighteyes reveals that he is bound by Verity’s command no less than Fitz is; they depth of their connection startles Fitz. He finds, too, that he must account for Nighteyes to the party, which he does–though clever phrasing is needed to quiet Starling’s questions before they form.

Later in the night, Fitz feels the touch of Regal’s mind through the Skill. It unnerves him, though he realizes it is not directed towards him. He is more disturbed when he sees what Regal is able to do through the Skill, and he learns that Regal still searches for him along the paths to the Mountain Kingdom. Nighteyes offers some small reassurance.

Yet again, I find myself pressed not to read a novel written decades ago against current political events. In the chapter, Hobb, through Fitz, describes Regal as parasitic, “as a tick or leech [that] bites into its victim and clings and sucks life from” that victim–Will, in the present case. It is a particularly vivid image, apt enough for a despotic and illegitimate ruler. It is also one that seems to be something at odds with what such an awareness as the Wit provides would suggest. I comment in another webspace about the recognition of a (presumably non-Old Blood) falconer that such creatures as vultures and cockroaches serve useful purposes in the world despite their unsavory presentation; something similar would seem to be called for here. Fitz, however, uses parasites as similes for Regal, whom he hates

To borrow from Malory, the parasites “but did their kind” and do not deserve opprobrium for it–the more so because it is implied that such creatures do not really register to the Wit. That is, the milieu suggests that within it, although wolves and bears and eagles and weasels are sentient enough to conduct conversations through the Wit, smaller invertebrates are not. If they are not sentient, as other creatures–to include Regal–are, then they cannot be held to account for their actions, as such, and it seems…out of keeping with the milieu for one of the Old Blood to look down upon natural processes so.

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No Parnassus

Pen and brown ink sketch of Apollo and the Muses enjoying music
Apollo and the Muses on Mount Parnassus by Johann Christoph Storer, held at the US National Gallery of Art; I am told it’s a public domain image.

I make my prayers that some of nine might answer–
I know I’ll not hear that nonet at once,
And who scores for such a chorus, anyway?–
But all too often
The winds I would send forth
Are swallowed up by stronger breezes
Drowned out in cacophony
And come to no more effect than many other prayers
Directed more diversely
I gave up such devotions as others regularly observe
Seeing no effect from them that I would prize
Or that I thought altered by my words
But I still open myself to visits from those nine
Because they or something like them happens
And I can sit and scrawl out something
Or strike small blows in some succession
And have something emerge I show to others
I can hear the song and praise its unseen singer
But if no music finds my ears
I cannot say somebody’s called a tune

Maybe I need to read more–and that means I’ll need access to books and such, with which I could stand to have some help.