Tired

I should really be finish this linguistics paper off. It’s about hyphens. But it’s not going to happen tonight – probably in the morning. There are a variety of topics I could babble about in this post, and have been meaning to babble about, but the full-bore babbling instinct is out for repairs.

I could talk about my recent guilty enjoyment of a poorly-reviewed PC game, Scarface (which is a brilliant take, I think, on the movie of the same name – I’ve never played a game based on middleman-level cocaine distribution before).

I could talk about the persuasive writing class I taught tonight, which went well despite my repeated inability to pronounce the names of various OT prophets and the predictable failure of the laptop cart. The major ideas seem to have taken – that the gospels are a series of arguments that present four different perspectives on Jesus and the OT citation schemes that the respective authors use is not dissimilar to what they as students do when supporting their own arguments. Next time I’ll have a handout for everything instead of just half. There was way too much page-flipping. They kept up, though.

I could talk about my unrealistically optimistic view of the drive to San Antonio that I must do later this week for a conference. I hope the car holds out. I have a odd feeling it needs more attention than just an oil change and a wash. Nothing a garage on the way can’t fix if necessary.

I could talk about my new, more conservative approach to my doctoral studies. I have more or less decided to cut back some for sanity’s sake. Instead of sending out 3-4 papers this semester, I will aim for 2, and let the others simmer ’til spring and develop in presentations. This approach should allow me to swim to the shores of Christmas relatively intact. I was in danger of burning out. It’s still uncomfortable, but I no longer feel panicked.

I could also stop saying that I could talk about something and then start talking about it anyway, too, I guess.

The Dark World

In between work today, I got in a quick read – The Dark World by Henry Kuttner, from 1946. I read on Wikipedia a few weeks ago that it had influenced Roger Zelazny heavily, so I wanted to see for myself – and lo and behold, the connections are even more obvious than I’d thought.

It almost reads like a first draft of Nine Princes in Amber or even Jack of Shadows. Kuttner’s style is too florid, over-the-top, and even primitive compared to RZ, but the rest… an immortal with amnesia that gains a conscience, a power struggle with sharply defined and overtly color-schemed characters, generous bloodshed and sword-play, a mixture of Earth and some otherworldly place… they seem very much like proof of concept for more advanced parallel-world ideas that RZ came up with – the Trumps, Shadow, the Pattern and the Logrus, even the World Machine from JoS. It all feel rooted in this little 126-page book.

I knew he was a fan of Alfred Bester, which explains the vastly improved dialogue, but combine Kuttner and Bester with an energetic, poetic approach, and you get RZ. Neat.

I have been very, very leery of writing in anything resembling a RZ-way since I wrote an 11th Amber novel, The Road To Amber, on a lark as a much younger undergrad, back in ‘95 when he died on my birthday, only to learn that was a really silly thing to do that he didn’t want. I’ve still got the thing, somewhere, in a bottomless trunk. 65,000 words, I think. It helped convince me that I could begin, sustain, and end a story. If I hadn’t written that, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to write EJ.

And it was a really fun pastime, trying to imitate the master. I hit a good stretch more than once, but I came to realize that it all leaned on an already established and rock-solid skeleton – pulling off the surface hijinks are nothing, really, compared to what lies beneath. I wonder if the guy who writes the Oberon books, which I have avoided, has fallen into this trap.

But reading Kuttner has gotten me thinking again. What if the problems I’m having with my 2nd book, which has lingered for six years now even though it lives in my head every day, are at the core because I’m trying to avoid sounding like RZ? It looks like he was not bashful at all in embracing Kuttner, consciously or unconsciously. Why should I avoid 1st person like the plague? As I said before, the style is nothing compared to the skeleton, and this skeleton is mine. It might open the book up and allow for the kind of weird riffing that I like to do in this blog. It’s too bad I’m overworked.

Maybe I could get a PhD grant, and work on my dissertation AND the book in relative relaxation. I could, also, eject pigs from my backside.

Breathing, and Stipends

It’s Saturday, after a very busy week of classes, and I feel like I can’t breathe properly anymore. It’s just one thing after another. I thought I’d be in the semester groove by now, but it hasn’t happened yet. Already this weekend I’m behind, a situation that shouldn’t happen until late October at least. I hope I’m not burning out. I felt like that Thursday morning. Then again, there is no caffeine in the apartment. Maybe I just need my Coca-cola fix, and I can then read through the fifty hojillion pages I need to get through by tonight. I can’t do an all-nighter as H and I are taking a trip tomorrow, but I might stay up too late anyway.

The English department drama that I mentioned earlier was over our teaching assistant stipends. On the 28th, the first day of classes, we all got an email saying the stipend would be cut by over 25% percent in the spring. We’re already well underpaid – the second-lowest in the nation among English departments, according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed two years ago. I’m paid a little more as I’m doctoral, but not much.

Muttering, both constructive and not, ensued. The TAs met to discuss a response.

Earlier this week the department suddenly took back those cuts before the TAs managed to make a official communal response (although the grumbling from the dungeon, the TA offices on the first floor, I think, got heard in some form upstairs, through certain faculty) but there is still resentment, particularly since little explantation was given for why there was a cut to begin with. The drama is not over yet. There will probably be a department/TA meeting to try and resolve the strange lack of communication, and we’ll probably get an official explanation. Either way, I think the TAs will organize as a result of this.

It’s a drain on time to worry about these things, really, when I’ve got papers to go out, clases to teach, and classes to take, but stuff happens and it has to be dealt with. I don’t feel particularly self-conscious about mentioning this to the universe right now, as it’s been almost two weeks since the TAs were told of this, and the news has doubtlessly trickled out in plenty of informal mediums, either in rumor or factoid form.

A welcome if temporary return to laziness

I’m not going to tax myself this weekend, as the week was profitable. The Lasallian camp is done (great kids, I’ll miss them), my CE revision is sent, and the English department website is all but finished. Next week I have to apply a final coat to the website, and tackle my back-burnered article on Gospel metaphor, but those are tasks to worry about on Monday.

There is a dearth of good PC games available at the moment. I’ve been playing Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, but it only works on two levels – admiring the graphics (the draw distance is just gigantic), and watching my squadmates get lost. Concerning the latter, I thought the pathfinding in the first Baldur’s Gate back in ‘99 was bad. I’ve seen these supposedly crack infantrymen go the direct OPPOSITE direction I pointed them in so often that I have been sorely tempted to shoot them in the back of the head.

Ok, maybe not so much tempted as guilty. “Sir! I’m on your side! Agrrh!” Well, then act like it. I’ve had enough of your “Yes, sir! Moving! Moving to the destination!” while simultaneously pulling a Sir Robin and bravely turning tail. The funny thing is that they wouldn’t get shot in the back (by the enemy or moi) if they’d actually listen. I’m actively trying to get through the missions without any of them being killed. Half the time I just have them tag along a hundred yards back to mop up stragglers, as they’re too dense to do much else.

H, of course, just laughs. She hadn’t had this much fun watching me play since the merchants in Oblivion, whose establishments, just from the greeting sound files, all doubled as bordellos. “Would you like to take a look at my wares?” “I have the best prices in all of Tamriel!”

Perhaps I should go easier on Ghost Recon. The pace of the game is excellent. There is a good balance between realism (death is quick and sudden, ammo besides rifle magazines is quite limited, it’s tough to deal with suppressive fire) and fun (the squadmates really have to be nailed to be killed outright, the save points are not too far apart). And the squad is not completely hopeless. They use cover fairly well and the sniper can be really useful. I just wish there was a way to have the entire squad perform basic maneuvers, like “Everyone take cover!” or “Flush out that guy on the roof!” or “Leapfrog up the street.”

Privacy

I think the most interesting thing about posting online, blogs, etc, is the privacy aspect. What do you share? What do you withhold? Every blogger alive tries to present themselves as intelligent, well-adjusted, sane, knowledgeable, etc. If they indeed have weaknesses, vices, or foibles, such characteristics are only hinted at in a kind of universally understood mock-humility, i.e. “I am immensely clever but also human, therefore I am supposedly better and more trustworthy than someone who is just immensely clever and uber-human.”

Is there an honest way to toe the line between giving way too much personal info and complete, obvious santization or psuedo-glorification? I don’t know. There is a array of possible techniques, from the confessional blogger that relates their sex life in lurid detail to the airbrushed political candidate that neglects past sins. Everyone tiptoes through the minefield – or dashes forward – in their own unique way. The “second persona,” the author’s presentation of himself or herself, is pushed to the brink by the web. Identity dissipiates in a fashion a mere book or speech could only dream of.

I certainly withhold a lot. I don’t talk about my personal life much, save mild allusions. I don’t talk about my professional life beyond what I would reveal in a casual conversation with another educator. The dangers are myriad and need no elaboration. This removes a great deal of juicy material, of course, and creates what I like to call an “iceberg effect” where additional depth to any given utterance can be assumed. But the most interesting and most revealing things are still stripped away, much like a telephone signal is clipped at the top and the bottom, leaving only a bland middle. The rest is left to the imagination, or the careful assembly of a skilled close reader.

Eh. Another one of those classic rhetorical problems that has no solution, but bears awareness, discussion, and attention well.

I am eat all food, destroyer of worlds

Sometimes at the ESL summer camp that I’m working at this year, the kids can write unintentionally rich sentences. Their homework the other day was to write what they would do if they had all the food in the world. One eager lad immediately wrote down “I am eat all food,” which made me think of Oppenheimer and his Bhagavad Gita quote, “Now, I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

Working there has reminded me that my Southern use of irregular verbs is probably going to have to stop or at least to be curtailed if I’m going to keep professing for a living. I try to be good, but it’s hard to break a lifetime of habit, especially when day-to-day it doesn’t matter much and everyone else ’round these parts is not much better. “I’ve eaten” escapes my lips as often as “I’ve ate,” “I would like” is not nearly as frequent as “I like to ‘of,” and my personal favorite, “I like to ‘ve would ‘of, but I ain’t gonna” appears at least biweekly, not to mention “I done that” and the misuse of drove and wrote. I also contantly mix up read and write to the point of Spoonerism.

I am an ardent supporter of y’all, however.

Yay.

Earlier today I lamented that I had nothing good to post about. I came home late after pizza with H, though, checked my email, and learned that my first academic article, “Whatever Became of the Paragraph?” is getting published early next year in College English. A small impromptu dance resulted. No animals were harmed, although Kota (my cat) looked alarmed.

Revision is needed, but after looking over the comments, which were very positive on the whole, it doesn’t look like I’ll have to gut it like a fish. That is good. I felt pretty strongly about most of it, and I think the reviewers deftly caught the parts where I was more uncertain or tentative.

I am greatly cheered.

Catching up

Perhaps I should take a moment to clue in everybody about where the hell I’ve been.

The PhD grind continues. The spring 2006 semester was easily the hardest I’d had since becoming a graduate student. I escaped with a A- in one class, a scar that will surely haunt me to the end of my days. That’s my second, which keeps me at the frustrating 3.99 mark.

One more 12-hour semester in the fall, though, and the coursework is done.

I guess I did ok. I sent off my first academic paper, on paragraph theory, to a journal; I went to my first conference – CCCC in Chicago – and presented for the first time; and I won an award for being the outstanding graduate student in the English department.

I’m supposed to be revamping the English webpage this summer, but this task (when I actually get the server access to start it) will not quite pay the summer bills. However, I think a small teaching gig has appeared that will make up most of the difference.

In the meantime. I am not entirely idle. I have started teaching myself the Koine Greek of the New Testament, with the goal of getting through the Gospel of John by August. Why? Well, I have become more or less enamored with rhetorical criticism of the NT; I aim to send off a mostly-finished paper on NT agricultural metaphor by July. And I think I will try to write a history of prose rhythm teaching in the fall.

There are plenty of irons in the fire, I think, not counting at least two collaborations going on. If I am extraordinarily lucky, by Xmas I will have sent out five papers in 2006.

That would be a good thing, as when my comprehensive exams approach (spring 2007) I will not have much time to try my hand at publishing. I might get a paper out that summer as sort of a prelim to the dissertation, but I’m not counting on it. I’d like to leave the UoM in spring 2008 with 3 or so publications, and at least 1 of them being a good one in a good journal. Ideally one would be in comp, another in rhetoric, and another in NT criticism or tech writing, to show versitility.

That’s the plan. What actually happens between now and May 2008 is not predictable. But I am on schedule, one year into a planned three-year PhD, and I think it will come off mostly according to plan.