A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 104: Ship of Magic, Chapter 3

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


The following chapter, “Eprhon Vestrit,” starts with Ronica Vestrit tending to her titular husband in his final illness and grousing about the servant, Rache, that had been sent her by Davad Restart and who had tended Ephron poorly. She mentally rehearses their life together and the plans that Ephron’s illness has halted. She also recalls arguments they had had regarding their daughter, Althea, and notes the shift in practice in Bingtown towards “keep[ing] one’s womenfolk free of such tasks” as estate management before musing on the falling fortunes of the Vestrit family and public shits towards slave labor and trading in Bingtown.

This might be the kind of thing on which the chapter ends.
Image from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources by way of the Pittsburgh City Paper, which I think means it’s public domain, and used here for commentary

Ronica is roused from her reverie by Davad calling at her home. Amid likely unintentional rudeness, he carries an offer from another Trader family to buy some of the Vestrit holdings. Ronica’s refusal carries the weight of tradition and history, of which she reminds Davad (and allows Hobb to inform readers, a smooth bit of exposition). Davad rebuts with assertions that the old ways his family and hers had followed are ending, and Ronica’s own refutation grows emotionally charged and fraught for them both. They retreat a bit, laying the blame at the feet of the governing Satrap, as Ephron wakes and asks for pain medication.

Ronica takes the chance to escort Davad out. Despite their earlier argument, they reaffirm their friendship and their common legacy of suffering. And as Ronica looks out over Bingtown afterwards, she muses yet further on the changes already in progress–changes that look as much like depredations as anything else to her old eyes.

While the previous chapter, treating Althea, made some motions toward it, the present chapter, where it focuses on Ronica, presents something of a feminist vision–not of feminine dominance, but of parity. This is something that Hobb’s Farseer works treat, certainly, as noted by both Bokne and Katavić, among others, but it is more prominent a concern in the Liveship Traders books. Given what I know about large, loud sections of the fantasy-literature fanbase, particularly those who focus their devotions on the Tolkienian tradition of which Hobb partakes to a limited degree, it is likely the cause of the lesser attention given the Liveship Traders books; a damned lot of readers (yes, I mean “damned”) mislikes “politics” in their reading, with “politics” being “a position I do not espouse and from which I do not benefit” in such minds, and questioning patriarchy as the Liveship Traders books begin to do in earnest in the present chapter reads as such a position to entirely too many people.

Perhaps related to the burgeoning feminist thread, too, are certain Marxist leanings–Ronica makes much of the shifting economic base, though she remains in the employer’s position rather than the laborer’s, so perhaps some other term than “Marxist” applies–and ecocritical possibilities–Ronica also makes much of the balance between the Bingtown Traders and their environment, noting the changes to that balance occasioned by the shifting labor conditions. Being out of academe, I am out of practice with such theoretical approaches, so that I am not the best person to follow up on their implications, but it is clear even to me that they are there to follow–which is another argument, among many, in favor of Hobb’s writing.

I continue to appreciate your support.

A Reflection on #Kzoo2020 from an #AcademicExpatriate

Were this year a normal year, I would be posting now about my experience at the International Congress on Medieval Studies on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ve done so once or twice before, I know, and I’ve commented about papers I’ve delivered there, such as this one. The Congress has its problems, as I think I’ve noted and as I know many others have written about far more eloquently and at greater length than I have it in me do do, but it also remains one of the few places where I can be part of a broader scholarly discourse, having sharply limited access to journals and the other paraphernalia of contemporary scholarly work.

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And there are these glorious accommodations, too!
Picture mine.

This year, due to COVID-19, the Congress did not meet. I am fortunate in that I was able to get most of the money I’d laid out to attend back; the rest is bound up in other things, and I do not expect to see it again. I am fortunate that the business meeting I was to chair was able to move online and do what needed doing. I suppose that I am fortunate in that I ended up not needing to write the papers I was going to have to write for the event and that I had not started when I needed to get them going; my sloth will not out in quite the same way as would have been the case had I tried to talk once again. (Obviously, I am admitting to it here, but telling doesn’t have nearly the same impact as showing, right?) Too, I was home for my mother’s birthday and for Mothers’ Day for the first time in many years, which is the kind of thing that should be celebrated.

But–and it should have been clear that a “but” was coming–I do miss the opportunity to hear new ideas pushed forward by people who have not yet been so ground down by the drudgery of academe that they cannot see farther than a single step in front of them. I miss getting to see friends I’ve known for ten years and more, now, and to enjoying their company again. I do miss getting to get up and advance my own ideas and see them taken up for consideration by others, to hear them discussed and debated; I miss feeling like I still matter in some small way inside the ivory tower I so long sought to enter and from which I had to make an escape because I knew I would never be let out of its basement. And I miss the power I felt in pulling together ideas, in making new knowledge–even about so small a thing as a series of fantasy novels or a particular kind of bullshit in something Spenser wrote–and, in so doing, pushing back against the boundaries of human ignorance, clearing out just a little bit more room for what we know against what we still have to learn.

I still have the chance, of course. I can use this blog to that end, and it is expected that the Congress will happen in 2021–and that I might well be able to attend it. But that good things are still to come does not mean it is wrong to sorrow for such good as was lost.

Help me save up for next year?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 86: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 27

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


The following chapter, “The City,” opens with comments about a reported old road in the Mountain Kingdom. It moves thence to Fitz’s addled stumblings through a strange city that befuddles his senses–mundane and otherwise. It takes him some time to regain his bearings and begin to puzzle out what surrounds him, and even then, what he encounters confuses him.

This would seem to be the kind of thing Fitz faces. Frozen History by MeetV on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary.

The day draws on, and Fitz finds himself growing chill; he builds a fire to warm himself, and its light reveals the decrepitude of his actual surroundings, different from the bustling city that presents itself to him from the past in images excited by his touch. At length, he begins to sleep and to dream in the Skill; he first sees Molly and Nettle, their daughter. He then sees Chade conferring with a lover and ally about Regal’s actions against the Mountain Kingdom; they seem to make little sense.

When morning comes, Fitz begins to explore again, moving through the recollected city in some awe. Among the images are dragons, and Fitz proceeds to find a position to survey his surroundings more thoroughly. The survey reveals the aftereffects of a cataclysm, as well as a map that Fitz realizes Verity will have used and copied. He scrambles to make his own copy before falling into Skill-visions again. Bewildered and frantic, he staggers back to where he had entered the city: a stone pillar. Passing through it, he emerges to find Nighteyes happily greeting his return.

This was another chapter where I found myself having difficulty following along. I begin to worry about it; I am supposed to be a damned good reader, and having challenges in rereading something I have read several times before–more than several times, really–does not suggest itself as a good thing. Admittedly, the action in the chapter is described as being confusing in itself, with Fitz shifting frames of perception from his present circumstances to those recorded and re-presented by the construction of the city without much obvious transition; my earlier comments that the reading should follow the action still obtain. I’m just taken a bit aback that I’m not used to it again by this point, is all.

Maybe that is more revelatory of me than of the text. I’ve noted, perhaps too often, that I am out of academe, moving from trying to earn citizenship in that strange country to being an expatriate from it to being now only an occasional vacationer therein. (I do still list as an “academic expatriate” in conference registrations, though perhaps “intellectual vacationer” might be a better label to use henceforth.) As I am farther and farther removed from daily work of reading and thinking and writing, it makes sense that my abilities to do such things fade. I am less than I was in those ways; I wonder what I have earned from the exchange.

Care to shower me with money to alleviate the drought of my wallet?

A Rumination on #WhanThatAprilleDay 2020

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A different portrait of Chaucer, again from Luminarium.org, here, and used for commentary

A year ago, I wrote about the words with which the Canterbury Tales begin, as well as about the celebration of the day that focuses on the enjoyment of older languages and literatures. The comments I made then still largely hold true; there remains much of value in what was written before and what was said, even if such things are too often ignored and too often put to the purposes of too often obstinately wilful evil.

As I reflect on those comments now and on the words that spurred them, I do so from a far different place (mentally and emotionally; the physical location remains the same). I am more removed from academe than I was then; I had given up the search for tenure-line work, but I still taught part-time and did some small work to incorporate the medieval into that teaching. Now, though, even that work is set aside, even if I still present a conference paper now and again, and I still look at how various properties refigure and borrow from the medieval. (Insofar as there is “the” medieval, of course, but this is not an academic treatment and the level of nuance and detail appropriate to such is not necessarily fitting here.) Working outside academe and vacationing there (for want of a better term), I better understand why thoughts about the older world are often set aside; I am not so far removed from scrambling for things that I do not recall the efforts involved therewith and the level of exhaustion that accompanies those efforts–even for someone trained to the strange disciplines of the mind that academia imposes. Nor yet am I unmindful that there is much of value in the newer world, as well; indeed, my focus is increasingly on that world, even if I still attend to what it keeps of its predecessors.

Too, I understand better why there is so much resistance to enhancement and alteration of the views commonly held about the medieval as there is. Some is the already amply identified elitism that inheres in the classification of things as medieval; there are various execrable ideologies that have held sway and still do, if fortunately less now, that benefit from and have therefore propagated such classifications. They are embedded in institutions, and inertia alone would make change challenging even without the active reinforcement that still persists. Too, there is still an association of medieval/ist work with children; it is still regarded as a thing appropriate to assign to developing minds, and the things learned early tend to remain in place long. And, again, doing the work of learning is hard, and many people simply do not have the resources available to them to do it–even if they know where to find them–and even if they can get around the unfortunate discourses that often surround those who push for more authentic, nuanced, and ultimately accurate views of things.

I still celebrate, and I still work to spread better information, even if I am not as well positioned to do the latter as before. But I despair that any knowing rain can ease the drought that has seized the shared plain.

There is grace to be found in the giving of gold
To seekers of solace in summer and cold
And workers for wisdom who once thought themselves bold;
Give once again that you still grace hold.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 85: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 26

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


The following chapter, “Signposts,” opens with comments about relative valuation before moving into the party’s continued travels. Kettricken notes to Fitz that the way will become harder and may force him onto the road; he replies that he can but go forward. Fitz continues to ponder the stone-game puzzle Kettle had put before him, and Starling continues to press Fitz for details about the Fool before asserting the belief that the Fool is a woman enamored of him.

A scene like this is near, perhaps Robin Hobb by Billou343 on DeviantArt, here, and used for commentary

Fitz rejects the idea. He also finds himself forced back to the road by a sudden shift in the terrain; Nighteyes helps anchor him in himself, noting some of the distinctions between wild and domesticated animals. Kettle then starts to accompany Fitz, and she sets him to considering the seeming nursery rhyme she had recited at an earlier camp. He realizes that it discusses Skilled ones, and Kettle offers little more before returning to stone-game puzzles. It makes for a slow march through the rest of the day–until Fitz makes to follow a road he sees but that no longer exists, and the rest of the party must save him from himself again.

Kettle frets in the discussion that follows, but the Fool, acting the part of the White Prophet, offers some words of comfort. Kettle allows Fitz to indulge his habit for elfbark, though not nearly so much as he would prepare for himself. As he takes the drug, Kettricken solicits his opinion regarding Verity’s likely course; Kettricken purposes to split the group to search for him, but Fitz persuades her otherwise, aided by Nighteyes. Verity reaches out to him with the Skill, and Fitz once again comforts Kettricken before he is distracted by the call of the Skill once again.

Once again, I found myself having trouble reading and keeping straight in my mind what all happens in the chapter–my earlier comments about such seem still to apply here. And it occurs to me as I think about what I have just read again that there might be some comment to be found in the chapter about the perils of making too close a return to a past that is not a person’s own. Such a comment suggests itself to me, given my training as a medievalist; the whole of the work such folks do is in approaching a past to which we might be heirs but which is not our own. There is always a threat of becoming too lost in the work, as old tropes of absent-minded professors and the partial home lives of many, many scholars can attest. Even now, even after I have left off academe almost entirely, I feel a pull when I do look back into scholarship, and I know that I may still find myself stepping off into space when it seems to me a road still stretches before me–though I trust that there will be hands to pull me back from it.

Too, there is something to be found in Kettle’s grudging permission for Fitz to take a small bit of elfbark. Allowing someone who is addicted to a substance to partake of that substance is a perilous thing; relapses happen, and there is always peril in making chemical modifications to a body. At the same time, there are effects of withdrawal that sometimes make such needed. I have seen clients come into the treatment center where I work who could not simply stop drinking; doing so would kill them. And there are concerns, too, usually associated with painkillers in the real world, that dosing as (should be) prescribed is fine–but the medicines lend themselves to dangerous overindulgence. How much can be taken from the text about such matters is unclear, but there is clearly something there to consider…

If you’ve liked getting this stuff, please help me keep doing it.

In Still Another Response to Eric Weiskott

On 21 February 2020, Eric Weiskott’s “tyrannical curriculum” appeared on his website. In the piece, Weiskott opines about the integration of teaching and research and the ways in which curricular structures and research demands combine to focus scholars’ attentions. Such focus skews research and understanding of individual works and the contexts from which those works arise, limiting prevailing knowledge of how things have been. He remarks on the ways in which his own privileged position within academe, as tenured faculty at an elite institution, allows him some limited circumvention of such constraints, but Weiskott also notes that the constraints still obtain in academe, generally, hindering no few potential endeavors. He motions towards some small way to alter circumstances, but he concludes with the idea that a lack of care by those outside medieval studies all but guarantees that such alterations will not take hold.

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The unintended tyrant?
Anonymous Portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, British Poet and Comptroller of Customs (circa 1340 -1400), which I am told is public domain and is used here for commentary

I’ve written in response to Weiskott before (here, here, and here), and I continue to respect and appreciate the man’s work. His students are lucky to have him, and his peers are, too. And I am generally in agreement with what he puts in the present blog piece. I have been shaped by curricular standards, certainly, as have been the students I have had in my classes–though I did make efforts, when I taught classes that would admit of them, to cross at least the periodical boundaries Weiskott mentions. My own work with the Tales after Tolkien Society being what it is, I could hardly do otherwise than to make the attempt.

I find that the discussion in which Weiskott participates through the article–if perhaps not overtly–is one worth having, pointing out that curricular decisions are always political ones. Propping up the Greatest of Geoffreys as a standard-reference author, or holding up Shakespeare or Milton as the other members of a putative holy trinity of English-language literature, or including Beowulf or Malory among a somewhat broader pantheon, or any such thing serves to indicate to people that “the educated” know those things–and, because they receive institutional support, they should know those things. It is a vision of what a populace should be, and embodiment of that vision is used as a stand-in for personal value (or at least as a veneer for the “real” personal value of how much money a person has or makes). And it is a vision that is imposed on people by others, not always others whom they choose; it is a vision that reflects ideologies that are themselves shaped by similar, earlier influences on the people who hold them.

There is some value in a canon, certainly. Having a common body of reference eases understanding and comprehensibility; having access to the reference helps people get the joke, and the world can damn well use more laughter. But having a common body of reference is also necessarily exclusionary; there is only so much that can be included, because we do not, as Marvell reminds us, have world enough and time to do it all. What gets kept out matters as much as what gets kept in, and those who have been excluded are likely to continue to be so as long as the conditions towards which Weiskott gestures remain in place. And I think Weiskott is correct to be pessimistic about the prospect of things opening up.

I’d like to keep doing this. Please help me do it.

In Response to Allison Schrager

On 29 June 2018, Allison Schrager’s “The Modern Education System Was Designed to Teach Future Factory Workers to Be ‘Punctual, Docile, and Sober'” appeared on Quartz.com. In the article, Schrager asserts a need to rethink current educational structures in the US–and to have that rethinking driven by corporate leadership. She glosses the history of public education from the viewpoint of industrialists invested in having a workforce habituated to factory shift-work standards, noting the unease of transition from self-directed home-based work to boss-commanded factory work. She also calls upon current business leaders to consider and push for changes to educational systems.

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This is the kind of thing that happened with my daughter.
Image from studentreasures.com, here, used for illustration

Schrager is, in her core assertion, correct; the educational system/s in the United States were set up in large part to respond to circumstances that are no longer in place. Manufacturing is an increasingly small part of the professional environment, so having systems of schools set up to supply manufacturing workers with ready-to-go employees is not wise. (Whether it ever was is another question entirely, one worth considering, but not one I’m going to go too deeply into here at present.) She is correct, too, in noting the sociocultural shifts that accompanied the economic shift from home-based work to factory-based. And there is some sense to the idea with which Schrager concludes, that those who will complain about the mismatch of graduates’ abilities and their own interests would do well to work to change schooling.

But.

Corporate and business interests leading changes to education is what has produced the putative problems identified in the article–as well as the many, many other problems identified in other places. Testing companies are easy examples to find, certainly, but there are others; calculator manufacturers and textbook producers (when separate from the testing companies) are also prominent, and there is a long-standing comment about the economic utility of a workforce smart enough to run machines but not critical enough to ask why they need running. Any changes to schooling need to be made with a clear idea in mind of what the point of schooling is–and I am not a fan of the idea that school ought to be a place where a person learns how to have a job.

As I write this, it is my daughter’s 100th day in school. She was excited at the prospect, certainly, and I am glad she was; it’s good to see her enthusiastic about being with people her age and forming relationships that may well last for decades. (I’m still in contact with a very few people I knew when I was that age, and I am aware of the relative lack of such connections I have; living in a smaller town tends to point out who all stuck around and who didn’t.) It did prompt a bit of reflection on my own educational experience, some of which was at the very school my daughter now attends. Certainly, things have changed–and largely for the better. Her school environment is immensely more nurturing than I remember mine being, which I think good. (I admit I approached school with a bad attitude–not disdainful of learning, but dismissive of my fellow students’ intelligence; it did not make for a good time, and I do not wonder much at my lack of connection to people in my hometown.) There seem to be more opportunities available to her than were to me, as well, and that is to the good. And what I have seen of the curriculum so far seems generally fine, though I have some specific disagreements–but that’s always true.

I know that I am not in line with many prevailing thoughts when I express my worry about education-as-job-preparation. I’ve been at the front of too many classrooms whose students viewed their degrees only as credentials for work to be sanguine about the prospect of the same thing happening to my daughter. And, yes, I have chafed at times at the mismatch of my own academic training and the professional circumstances towards which it was aimed; I do not know that I will ever be over the bitterness of it. But I also know that that training and the system in which I was reared (and how applicable “system” is to something that has emerged out of no unified plan, even if it does tend to favor particular sets of people consistently, is an open question worth discussion–in another place and time) are products of that same impetus Schrager describes. I do not necessarily share her ideas about the best way to amend things, but I very much agree with her that changes are needed.

Change is always needed. Everything can always be better, and it cannot become better while remaining as it is.

I don’t claim to know what the changes would look like that would make things better. I imagine they would have to destabilize the current systems to a great degree, which would cause difficulties; while testing companies and many other corporate interests in education are decidedly problematic, many or most of the people I’ve known who’ve gone into teaching do so to help people, and they would be displaced by such structural shifts. So I acknowledge that change is likely to be slow and that it is certain to be fraught. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need doing–or that it’s not worth the effort.

Help support the ongoing betterment of my being out of academe!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 66: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 7

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


A chapter titled “Farrow” follows, opening with an extended rumination on Lady Patience and her assumption of power in Buckkeep. It moves to Fitz and Nighteyes’ progression towards Regal as Fitz considers Will’s interference and likely motivations. The two take stock of their condition and position as they enter the unfamiliar topography of the Inland Duchies.

Nighteyes by Myblack on DeviantArt, here; image used for commentary

Fitz reaches out to Molly through the Skill, seeing Burrich attending to her and attracting Verity’s own Skilled attention. Verity warns him away from such actions, and Fitz wakes to take from a dwindling supply of elfbark. Nighteyes chides him, and they sleep.

As they continue the next day, Fitz recounts his affection for Nighteyes, as well as an exchange in which he considers parity among animals. And an account of the intervening travel follows, glossing over weeks and miles passed by the pair as they move closer to where Regal has enthroned himself.

As they do, the holwing of nearby wolves compels Nighteyes, and he departs from Fitz for a time to pursue wolfly interests. Fitz is struck by the departure, and he watches from afar through the Wit as Nighteyes seeks out the pack–but he presses on, even so. And in the dreams that follow, he sees the continued depredations of the Red-Ship Raiders, considering how Verity and the late Shrewd must see and have seen the same things.

Fitz continues toward Regal, slowly adjusting to not having Nighteyes at his side. Through Sleet, he receives a message from Holly and Black Rolf. Regal has begun hunting Old Blood deliberately; Fitz begins to consider how he will carry out his self-appointed task of killing Regal.

Although the issue comes up in several other places in the series, the notion of posthumanism seems particularly prominent in the present chapter. Such thinkers as Ron Brooks might have more to say on the matter; again, I have stepped away from academe, and my own interests did not lie in such fields. But I do find the explicit rumination about the relative privileging of particular narratives based on species–and the repudiation of hierarchical relationships within those narratives–to be…worth thinking through. Given the propensity of speculative and fantastic fiction to work as metaphor or analogy, the applications of such rumination to dynamics of privileging race/ethnicity, gender, and the like emerge fairly plainly. My own inadequacy is such that I cannot sufficiently explicate the matter, not as it deserves, not in this medium (partly because my research apparatus is greatly diminished–along with the demand that I conduct research). But it is something to which I might return sometime.

Maybe.

I’ll have to do a lot more reading of a lot more things before I can do so, though.

Can I count on you to help me make it through?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 65: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 6

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


A chapter titled “The Wit and the Skill” follows. It opens with a musing on the place of minstrels in the Six Duchies. It then pivots to Fitz parting from the minstrel family after seeing them to an inn in a small town. After refusing another invitation to join them, Fitz heads off, reflexively noting the state of the town and the gossip to be heard in it. He also watches as a drunk is rebuked forcefully for speaking against the current regime.

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A Redditor comments “Pretty much how I pictured Black Rolf.” I can’t much disagree.
Image used for commentary.

As Fitz makes to leave, he is approached by another through the Wit, and he offers help to the man–Black Rolf. Fitz and Nighteyes accompany the Witted man and his own bear companion–Hilda–to Rolf’s home, which he shares with another Witted one–Holly–and her hawk, Sleet. The Witted ones–who express a preference for the term “Old Blood”–welcome them hospitably. They do, however, express concern tending toward disgust at Fitz and Nighteyes, not for their bond but for their youth in building it, and with Fitz’s gaps in memory and prior bondings. They set it aside as done in ignorance and invite Fitz and Nighteyes to stay and learn from them. They also note the current state of affairs to Fitz, cautioning him in his work to kill Regal. And they press him to teach them how the Wit may be used against the Skilled.

Fitz refuses each offer, not to Rolf’s pleasure. Rolf notes that Fitz will return, and Fitz realizes the truth of it as Rolf and Holly speed him on his way.

I am once again struck by the desire to read the novel against current circumstances; it has been something of a refrain in my comments in this reading series, I know, and it is a legitimate area of inquiry to ask what an earlier work continues to say. I am also struck again by the idea of the Wit as a metaphor for homosexuality, as a number of others have been (see here for examples), though I maintain that the metaphor breaks down in later parts of the Elderlings corpus. (It might be argued that the metaphor instantiates the queerness it represents in refusing to remain stable as the narrative progresses, though that is perhaps more metacritical than is necessarily good for me to pursue. I am no longer in academe, after all.)

Strangely, I am struck perhaps most by the names in the chapter, particularly that of the bear, Hilda. Hobb is typically deliberate with naming in the Six Duchies, favoring emblematic names that speak to the character of those who bear them. “Hilda” seems such an oddity in that regard; the resonances that seem to associate with the name, except perhaps for being of a certain size and physical power (though “Bertha” and others work just as well for those), do not seem to line up well. I am perhaps paying too much attention to so minor a character, but, though I am not an academic, I still think as I was trained to, and the out-of-place detail nags at me. A bit.

Pennies for a poor scholar?

What? Another Office Piece?

A bit of time has passed since I last wrote about my office situations at work and at home. Recently, I’ve had a bit of a shift in both. As I’ve noted, I’ve left off teaching at DeVry (and I’m not poised to return to it in any other place, either), and, as part of that, and stemming from a desire to reduce the amount of stuff I will have to move next time I move (and another move will happen, perforce), I (with no small help from my wife and the loan of a truck from my father) went through the piled boxes of books, culling them; more than half of what was there went to a new home. (The journals were less fortunate.)

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The Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library in Kerrville, where the books went; image taken from the City of Kerrville website, which I believe makes it a public domain image

Consequently, there’s a lot more space in the small office that takes up most of the east end of the mobile home where my family and I live. (Yes, it’s a trailer. Whether we count as trailer trash is up to debate.) It’s not, as had been the case for some two and a half years, crammed full of things I thought I might use but now never will; I can move around in it, access what I do have out on my shelves without tripping over other stuff that served no purpose for me, even if I did not yet recognize that it merely made a messy mausoleum for a life I would never be allowed to live–and which I should not try to, even now. I can still do the writing and research I want to do, and I can do it without the pressure of “publish or perish” or the chimerical hope that getting one more thing out will let me have a full-time, continuing job.

I find myself feeling oddly about the change, though. In part, it’s due to sunk-cost issues. There’s a joke about a person arrested for stealing $10,000 in books from the college bookstore–and the hope that the three books were recovered. It’s an exaggeration, perhaps, but 1) college texts are far from cheap; 2) my wife and I were in college and graduate school for close to thirty years, cumulatively; and 3) both of us have multiple degrees in English. It can be imagined easily that we’ve spent lots of money on books (not a little of which came from loans we’ll be paying back for decades–and, indeed, I’ve been paying on my student loans for some ten years, now). Setting them aside needed to be done, but I am not immune to the fallacy of feeling, at some level, that I ought to have kept them and used them–despite all evidence to the contrary.

More, though, is that renouncing (many of) the trappings of an academic life is a renunciation of (all but a vestige of) an academic identity. Admittedly, I’ve been working on that for a while (as witness here and elsewhere in this webspace), and every step I take into being an expatriate (here and here) or exile has felt a tearing-away. Doing as much as I did in pruning away the books and journals felt like a piece of me was ripped out rather than ripped off, and the preposition matters. If, as I’ve noted before, the home offers, among others, a place to exteriorize interiority, to have much of what corresponds to the inner self taken away–even if given to the use of others, may they have joy of it!–is…not easy.

I will adjust, of course; there is no other option for me. And I know that the work of cleaning out was well done and needed doing. But I cannot deny that I feel…lessened in some ways by it.

Restocking and reconfiguring ain’t easy or cheap; send some help?