Those who regularly read my blog–and thank you, by the way–will likely have noted a shift in pattern in the past couple of weeks. I haven’t been posting my usual updates to the Robin Hobb Reread, and I have been waxing verbose on other topics. This follows a broader tendency in my writing–namely that I have been fairly snowed under, despite the still-summer heat of the central Texas where I live.
I’m alright, as far as all that goes, but I’ve been busy handling some other things, is all. I’m not intending to give up on the projects I’ve been discussing. Just need to get a few other things taken care of first, is all. So I’ll get back on all that soon.
Until then, thanks for following along! I really do appreciate it!
Schools have started up again, and that means assignments are starting again, too. Even down into elementary school, students are being asked to write–and writing is hard. It takes work. It takes attention to detail. And it takes time to do well.
Classroom teachers do their best, of course, but with twenty to forty students in a room, there is only so much time they can give to any one student–and when there’s one or two acting out, it’s clear where the teachers’ attention will go. The quiet student who sits and tries to get things done gets left out–not because of anything they did or anything their teachers have done, but because there’s only so much time in the class, and there’re so many other things that teachers have to do.
That’s where I come in.
I’ve been writing for years, and I’ve taught writing in the classroom and in individual settings for almost as long. My students have ranged from middle- and high-schoolers through graduate students; my clients have ranged from high-schoolers through PhD candidates and established scholars. Each has seen a marked improvement in performance after working with me–and you and yours can have the same success!
I’d be thrilled to put my time and talents to work for you. Let me know what you need help writing, and we’ll talk about what we can do together!
I have written before about Labor Day, here and here in this webspace, and as the observance comes around once again, I find myself in much less secure a position to write anything than in previous years. It’s my own fault, really; I shifted jobs without thinking things through, and I was hindered in the latter by not having joined the union. But that’s not why I’m returning to the topic now.
Recently, approval of unions reached some 71% of those polled, per Gallup. It’s not an unequivocal thing, as the report makes clear, but it is of some note–and some importance. My own experience as a union man–less presently than previously, when I was in a heavily unionized and union-integrated workplace and a member of UAW Local 2110–bears out the good of unions. Yes, it was the case that some members of the union were skating by, trusting in their collective contracts to cover their own inadequacies and stagnation. And it was the case that the specifics of the contract did not do as much to encourage innovation and development as could or should have been the case. But it was also the case that demonstrated expertise was explicitly and meaningfully rewarded; I got a 10% hourly raise upon completing my doctorate, for one thing, and guaranteed cost-of-living increases. I also had fully covered medical, dental, and vision, and I had access to retirement plans. (I did not invest in them, which worked out for the best, in the event, but that’s a different matter.) And it wasn’t just me; it was all of the working folk at the school, from department- and program-chair faculty through teaching staff and administrative support to the janitors and maintenance technicians.
I recognize that unionization is not something that everybody wants for themselves. I also recognize that there are some occupations where it ought not to happen–even some where it has. I also certainly understand why those who are driven to find profit–not earn, because “earn” does not really apply with them–oppose unionization. For me, though, it was a good and it is a good, and I delight in the increasing solidarity to be seen.
I noted in my previous post to this webspace that I am working on a Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) roleplaying game (RPG) campaign. Development continues on it, as might be imagined; I work on money-making jobs, after all, which take up time, and generating materials requires its own efforts and does not always go quickly. I expected as much, certainly, as I undertook to work on it. What I did not so much expect, however, was running into how much I have lost in the years since I last thought to do this kind of thing. I am running into…gaps in my knowledge, but I remember knowing a lot, and the…gaps are frustrating.
Admittedly, I’ve noted this kind of thing before, about having been able to immerse myself in things that I can no longer, given the different demands upon my time and attention and the many, many rewards that associate therewith. And I am not saying I would trade what I have to gain back what I had. It’s not like I actually sold it away, anyway; it’s less produce vended at the stand than fields that have been left alone, and while there are still fruits growing from that untended soil, there are a lot of weeds that have gotten in the way, and trees that promise yet better have sprung up amid the once-plowed rows.
A large part of what I’m having to do, therefore, is refamiliarize myself with the way things once were. It’s complicated somewhat by the advance of time; resources that once were available no longer are, and the resources that remain rely in large part upon what is now gone. It’s something similar to some of what I faced as a medievalist, really, and which others encounter in other places; we know there was stuff, because we have other commentaries on that stuff, but we do not have the stuff itself. So we have to reconstruct what we can, how we can.
I’m fortunate, though, that the game is as it is. For one, I’m moving a fair bit ahead of a particular point in the game’s canon, and avowedly doing so in a way that avoids a major, climactic event. It makes sense, therefore, that what comes after would also be different. That is, I am largely freed from constraints of the existing narrative–but I still need to address what happens with the major players in the game’s canon up to the point of departure. Were I playing in the game, I’d have questions about it; I have to expect that my players, for whom I am making the setting, would have similar questions.
I’m making my way through things, slowly, certainly, in the moments between tasks. And I am glad to be doing such a thing again; there’s a peace to it that I appreciate and that I often need…
So here I am, writing again about roleplaying games in my own small, nerdy way. I am once again working on putting together a campaign for the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) Roleplaying game, something I’ve done before. While I’m not (yet?) returning to that particular idea (who knows; it might go that way), the work does afford another opportunity for reflection and consideration.
Now, one of the things that the L5R property made much of, particularly in its earlier incarnations, was the player-driven nature of its storyline. From its origins as a collectible card game, it used player performance to drive the narrative represented in updates and new releases of cards and sets–and, eventually, the roleplaying game through which I was introduced to the property while still enmeshed in the mistake of thinking that I’d be a band director when I grew up. As I’ve played over the years, I’ve done as much as I could to remain abreast of the storyline and its developments, following even when the story reset itself as L5R switched hands. (Though I may be pilloried for it, I think the new version does some things much better than the older one–much better, in a few cases.)
Roleplaying games are, fundamentally, storytelling exercises, collaborative in ways that others aren’t (as Daniel Mackay asserts in The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art), and such things do much to build community and fellowship, as Gary Alan Fine finds in several studies across decades. This is true for L5R perhaps more than other properties, given its explicit orientation. More importantly, though, it encourages motion beyond the “canon” of the game–it has to, really, since without the willingness to move beyond that canon, the players participating have decided limits on what they can be and can do. And while it may be the case that a lot of play-groups look for the gaps in the story that they can fill, it is also the case that cleaving to canon too closely means the surprise of a good story…isn’t.
Consequently, as I thought about setting up my own game, my own campaign, and got started working on it, I decided I’d…move away from things. It’s something of a fanfiction move, I suppose, or it seems to fit with that descriptor–I’ve not done a lot with fanfiction, as such, although I am aware of the (sensible) assertions that much classic Western literature is, itself, fanfiction. (The Arthuriana I study certainly fits the model, Malory having refined works that expanded on Geoffrey of Monmouth as he expanded substantially from Nennius and Gildas–and then add Spenser to the mix!) I’m taking my point of departure from before the climactic events of the “canon” in either older or newer (as of this writing, at least) L5R; the milieu-shaping event simply does not happen.
I am, as might be imagined, still in the process of development. I’m still working out how the setting will differ from the “standard” one–as it necessarily will, even before the players get to play in it. I have to know where they start to see where they can go, after all. I don’t know that I’m going to do the kind of thing I did in West of Rokugan, so many years ago; I don’t know if it’ll be needed or advisable. But it’s nice to have this kind of project again–among the many others I get to do.
The threads are fraying Knots tied to hold the tapestry together Coming undone And the loom where it was woven Has long since rotted away The wood getting wet where it was stored And left unattended for too long
How the warp and weft were ever brought together Eludes now Such skill no longer ready to hands Stained with things other than the dyes Whose hues are now faded Among the tattering
Read the previous entry in the serieshere. Read the next entry in the serieshere.
After an ostentatiously “official” note from Detozi to Erek, “Scales” opens on Sintara fighting her way to provided meat, gorging on it to the extent that she can even as she notices the close regard of the Traders surrounding her and the other dragons. She assesses her progress with Alise and Thymara, finding their attentions to other dragons annoying, and finding other dragons’ insistence upon the superiority of their own keepers no less so. The dragon Mercor forestalls outright conflict, reminding them of their destination of Kelsingra and beginning a call to head away that the rest take up, speeding upriver from Cassarick.
Meanwhile, Sedric, Alise, and Thymara attempt to provide medical treatment to one of the dragons who shows injuries healing poorly. The dragon’s appearance and condition are detailed, and treatment begins–with Sedric taking the opportunity to secret away some portions of the dragon’s flesh and scales. Tats offers assistance as the treatment continues, but it is interrupted by the dragons–including the one under treatment–starting their upriver race. The keepers and others involved in the relocation efforts follow as best they can–and Sedric considers how he can make use of the bounty he has secured from the dragon he has helped treat. Efforts to persuade Alise to leave off–allowing him also to return to Bingtown–are futile, and Sedric finds himself compelled to come along.
Increasingly, I find myself appreciating the side-narrative in the missives among bird-keepers. It’s a nice little bit of world-building, and it allows for commentary not only on events in the novel, but more generally. For instance, with the present chapter’s prefatory materials, I find myself put in mind of Fredalian bullshit, the idea of those in power giving lip-service to standards of politeness or outright using them as abuse, with which idea I’ve done some work; Detozi’s outright citation of “official capacity” comes off as a sneering rejoinder to Kim’s officious rebuke, and one not undeserved. Warms my cockles, it does.
Read the previous entry in the serieshere. Read the next entry in the serieshere.
Coming after Kim’s response to Detozi’s imprecations, “Suspicions” begins with Leftrin waking happily aboard the Tarman, assessing his situation and his infatuation with Alise. Setting aside what he views as idle fantasy, Leftrin prepares himself for the day’s work, and he is disturbed therefrom by his liveship’s awareness of an interloper. Investigating, Leftrin finds a scroll in his stateroom, which he reads with unease, realizing it has come from Sinad and musing over the predicament in which he finds himself as a result. Leftrin muses, too, on how things could have differed, but he sets such aside infavor of addressing what confronts him in his now.
Elsewhere, Thymara is awakened by the demand to escort the dragons away, joining the other keepers in some confusion and considering what others have told her and the implications of the same. She confers with her peers about the event, and she finds herself somewhat annoyed at the prospects of travel that face her. Her traveling companion, Rapskal, chatters away about his dragon, and Thymara marks Greft’s greediness–and that of his followers. Discussion of the dragons ensues, with several of the keepers agreeing to take on additional duties, and more of their backgrounds emerges in ongoing discussion.
Sedric, joining Thymara, finds himself in an uncomfortable situation, not least concerning Greft. He forces his thoughts away from Greft and Hest and confers with Thymara, learning of the condition of some of the dragons and offering to assist in treating one of them. Meanwhile, Alise considers her own lack of progress with the dragons, particularly Sintara, who, as Skymaw, rebuffs and deflects Alise’s lines of inquiry. Despite the misgivings, however, she purposes to persist in her work.
I remain convinced of the romance-novel tropes at work among the Traders. I wonder what it is about that particular part of the milieu that prompts such; perhaps it is that the Traders are not quite as engaged in existential crises as the Six Duchies, despite the threats from Jamaillia and Chalced…
The thought occurs that, if Bingtown and the Rain Wilds are stand-ins for the nascent United States–as I’ve suggested–then Jamaillia is necessarily a stand-in for Hanoverian England; what, then, is Chalced? I don’t know that I have a good answer, really–but then, I don’t have to have one. That there are correspondences that facilitate reading and analysis does not mean they must be all of one piece. At one level, they cannot be, simulation necessarily never equaling the complexity of the thing being simulated. At another, accuracy is…fraught, as has been noted by a number of people whose opinions I esteem (for example, Kavita Mudan Finn and Helen Young). There is a tension between being “true” and telling particular stories, and while there is peril in straying too far from “truth” (Paul Sturtevant speaks to it, for instance, and I’ve motioned toward it, at least), this is perhaps somewhat less true in fiction than in “nonfiction,” given that fiction admits it is not true…or factual, which may be a different thing.
So that’s where this reading of the present chapter leads me. Whither next, I do not know–except that it will be to the next chapter!
Read the previous entry in the serieshere. Read the next entry in the serieshere.
Following a scathing rebuke by Detozi of the complaining bird-keeper, Kim, “Among Dragons” opens with Sedric seething at Alise’s conduct and actions. He plots their return, expecting that Alise will soon tire of the expedition, and his thoughts turn to Hest and to maudlin longing for him.
Sedric is interrupted by Alise’s part of the conversation with Sintara and her request that he take notes of their conversation. He retrieves his writing implements, which are detailed, as well as specimen bottles he means to use in pursuit of his more clandestine mission. Sedric balks as he follows Alise out into the muck to confer with the dragons, and he feels the ire of the Tarman directed at him.
Sedric’s discomfort continues as he observes the dragons’ attendants working with them, and Alise becomes aware that he cannot hear the dragon’s speech as speech; he confirms as much with disdainful words. Thymara joins in rebuke of Sedric, and Alise dismisses him back to the Tarman, and she finds herself jealous of Alise, whom she sees as “Skymaw’s” preferred choice of keeper.
Thymara’s thoughts turn to Tats and rehearses the shape of her trip with the dragons so far. Disgusted on several fronts, she stalks off to hunt and fish. She spears one fish but almost falls, caught by Tats coming to assist her unexpectedly. As she regains her footing, she asks Tats after his intent, and he notes Sedric’s presence out away from the rest of the group, and Sedric explains his presence as having followed Thymara to confer with her. Introductions are made, and Sedric expresses surprise at the continued talk of conversation between the keepers and their dragons. He flatters her as he asks her to translate for “Skymaw” to him, and she begins to make arrangements to that end.
I’m not entirely sure what to write about the present chapter. I have to wonder, once again, about the tropes being deployed in it; for one, Sedric certainly does not come off well, and he fails to come off well in ways that ring of stereotypes that, although historically attested, are better left behind. Again, though, I feel as if I am coming up against the shrinking limits of my familiarity with the relevant critical theories and practices, being long removed from academe; I do not know that I have the language anymore, if I ever had it, to be able to speak to the matter in the way it really ought to be addressed. And it’s a frustration to come up against my own limits, knowing that they used to be further out, and not have the resources anymore to address the growing lack…