Hide the Eraser

Tech, Retrotech, Fiction, Not Fiction & Whatnot

https://fivebooks.com/best-books/james-turner-on-philology/ gives a handy introduction to some key works about the 'pre-history' of modern humanities, with James Turner's answer here being the perfect explanation for why I never feel at home as a professor despite doing everything, outwardly, that would seem to say otherwise.

So do you think there should be philologists in universities now, studying this broad range of subjects? Or is that impossible?

I think it’s very difficult, not for any intellectually solid reason, but because of the institutions that have grown up around disciplines. For example, if you are an assistant professor of art history in an American university and you write a book about Dante, you’re going to get fired. You’re certainly not going to get tenure. It’s very difficult for people to ignore the present disciplinary boundaries and get away with it in the structure of the modern university. People who are not hampered by universities can do this kind of work and they should. People who are old and in no danger of losing their jobs can write a book like I wrote.

One correction there. It's impossible for anyone not already at the twilight of their career to do this kind of work. Not difficult. Impossible.

#itchytweed #highered #100DaysToOffload

Middle night and dampening din cricket cadence stereo tableslab slick with rain, decrescendo waxing, able pad, staffed and stylus, then sleep and bed

Mousing hour, clacking killed HB, for office use yellow, plain, letter-sized missive mirror, Facebook-free and de-googled, algorithmically unencumbered.

Tear and toss. Its work is done.


I've been writing a lot but under different guises and pseudonyms. I've found it very helpful to fragment everything. It's also been a bit of a pain the ass sometimes. Did I really mean to post that there? But it also means that different minor notes have had room to grow and develop. The impression of something like anonymity has been helfpul too. I don't mind at some point, later, claiming any of these identities. They are, after all, all true. But they have not all been equally expressed or expressible.


Atlas, total slacker


There's a nice writing exercise to help exorcise your inner critic. I saw it in The Artist's Way but you may find it in a lot of different variants. It's a visualization exercise. Every writer hears the voice of criticism when they write. And after they write... And before they write... It can be crippling. You can rarely shut it out or shut it up but you can defang it. You start by imagining what that inner critic looks like. Who's making all that noise? Draw it, model it, make a representation of it in some way and then post that in a way that you can be reminded of how stupid and ridiculous and pathetic that inner critic is.

Simple enough. But I don't think it's enough. Just one inner critic? Unlikely.

I would add, to my mental cacophony, at a minimum, the inner martyr. This character is the voice claiming I haven't done enough or that I'm being selfish. It's like a mission specific cousin of the critic, able to cut right to the chase about why I am such a fucking selfish asshole for sitting here putting words in order when I could be doing something that someone else needs. Like programming some shit for them. Or maybe making them a website. Or grading something or putting comments on a paper that a student will never retrieve. Or one of a thousand things that my family needs from me.

If this were psychotherapy, then, yes, of course the inner martyr would be a close relative, like, say, my mother. But I suppose the more colorful visualization is a monk, hunched over and bearing the weight of the world, like the Farnese Atlas but upright (take that, Atlas you fucking lazy non-multi-tasking slacker), tapping on a keyboard answering all the emails that come to him, starting at the screen rigged in front of him as he stumbles ahead, bleary-eyed and exhausted, arising at 5 am and falling asleep mere hours prior.

After he passes, then behind him struts the inner hero, who's just a handsomer, thinner, fitter version of myself. He doesn't actually need to say anything. He just sits there and glows.

And finally, loudly, comes squawking the inner critic. Older British chap blathering on about some pedantic nonsense and how no amount of education and no amount of praise (“”surely they're lying to you about that” he intones) will paper over your clearly pedestrian heritage and utterly unremarkable intellect. I suppose he's an Oxford don or someone of that caricature, clueless and bloated with condescension.

(With no apologies to all the obnoxious academics I have known, from whom my inner critic draws its form, I do apologize for singling out British-ness. It is less that I have met people of this caricature than that it is the collective image that one gets from reading reams of archaic academic prose.)

So they shout, those varieties of the inner critic.

A single inner critic is not good enough. At a minimum, there's a martyr and a hero in there as well.

Every day is an act of exorcism. But they're crafty. And shifty. And able to change costume at will.

#itchytweed #highered #academia

Today’s humanities disciplines are not ancient, integral modes of knowledge. They are modern, artificial creations—where made-up lines pretend to divide the single sandbox in which we all play into each boy’s or girl’s own inviolable kingdom. It is a sham. . . . If the lines were real, disciplines would not need so relentlessly to police their borders within colleges and universities

James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, 385

Last week Shadi Bartsch published a pithy piece in the Washington Post about the latest iteration of debate/discussion/confrontation around race, the discipline of Classics, and the adoption of various bits of antiquity (Sparta, stoicism, hyper-masculinity, etc.) by the far right. I have no interest in wading into those issues and their various and ugly eruptions in that field, except to say, as a starting point for what piqued my interest, that I agree with Bartsch on all points.

As I have no skin in this game about Classics specifically, seeing all of this from afar has made me think a lot about a different sort of question, relevant to all parts of the academy nowadays. Namely, who gets to decide the future of a discipline? Who gets a say in a field of study?


I've been looking for some names and branding related to work projects; consequently, I've been indulging in the joy of name generators. My favorite currently is https://namelix.com/, an “AI-based” site generator, both for what it comes up with and for the thoughtstorms it helps generate. It can do brandable names or compound names or a bunch of other types. I had only moderate success finding a good name for what I was trying to do, but came up with plenty of others that sounded like projects that should exist, but which I'm not able to pursue at present.

Some choice ones are unusable to me, but seem to deserve being birthed into the world:

Manguage: Is that a mansplaining site? A lexicon of bro lingustic idiom? I don't know, but it should exist. Authored by “Dr. Stones” or “Brofessor Manning” or something like that.

Grammarch: master of the grammar. Or a real grammar stickler's blog.

Tactfly: Either this is a site with a lot of fishing lures, or some sort of awesome drone site.

Junglish: a karl Jung fan site

Idiomance: some sort of romance novel featuring idiots?

Branslate: a blog by Bran; or all about fiber

These were mostly the “brandable” type from namelix, so they fell like portmanteaus. (Familiar and amusing in varoius bro-compounts: https://arnoldzwicky.org/2016/01/13/an-eruption-of-bromanteaus/).

Ah, well, not enough hours in the day to build these out myself. But I'm definitely checking out manguage.com when it's up.

#thinkpad #voidlinux #100DaysToOffload

My desktop, virtual and physical, can get crowded quickly during the week. Everything piles up and, far too often, there are a hundred open tabs, file folders piled on the table, and my mind is larded with unease. I've been trying a simple fix.


Photo by Saif Selim from Pexels Above: A view with tea; Not my view, but a view.


Making lunch at home

I have for many years been in the unfortunate habit of grab N' go food during the workday. Needless to say, this leads to some fairly unhealthy eating. There is something pleasant, comforting (homey?) about a simple meal made at home. It feels like an indulgence which I had not known I was missing.

Walking up and down stairs

I'm many months out from a fairly catastrophic ankle injury. I will never again take the ability to walk up stairs for granted. (Or walk down stairs, which is far more difficult and terrifying with broken biology.)

Loose Leaf Tea

With all the working at home, routines have been upended and remade, often rediscovered. In that spirit I have shifted to tea as my caffeine of choice. I yo-yo between coffee and tea in a fairly predictable way. Coffee intake swings up as I focus on its deliciousness and rely on the sharp kick in the brain to jumpstart my brain. Inevitably, stomach pain creeps in over the weeks and the inevitable afternoon caffeine crash forces me to lay off the coffee , at which point I realize that I didn't need it and can enjoy tea at all hours of the day. Thus tea. I have, until these past months, been largely of the cheap and basic type of tea drinker at home. It is somewhat harder to come by loose leaf teas around me, but there are many online retailers. (Thank you internet!) Someone got me a gift from Tea Runners (https://tearunners.com/ — Nepali Breakfast tea = so so good) and I got myself a selection from teabox (https://www.teabox.com/) which has lasted for quite a while now. It is that warm comforting drink that makes your mood improve (so science says).

My grandmother drank tea. It's what we had as a treat at her house. Lipton of course — she wasn't of the fancy tea generation or type. And I'm not really either. Simple black teas are fine. White teas are an indulgence. But the constancy of it. That's a comfort. And a reminder. And a memory for which I am thankful.

#Fiction #1000Beginnings

Song 1 from “The Florida Comedy”

Few people know that the entrance to Hell lies in Naples, FL. Even fewer realize that there is more than one entrance.


#Fiction #1000Beginnings

“Dedication”, an excerpt from “Memory Thief: A memoir”

For Antonia, For Uncle Joe, & for the Memory Thief

Let me talk about Antonia. She was more important to other people. She had a sister and a brother. Her mother and step-father. She had many many friends, spread out over the world. We corresponded maybe twice a year for the decade, after having spent a few years together at the start of our careers. In the same space at the same time for a short stretch. I was not part of her daily life and she was not part of mine.

News that she had aggressive cancer was a shock, part of a mass email. I wonder whether I just barely made the cut or whether I was somewhat in the middle of the pack. I certainly wouldn't be in the inner circle. I hadn't seen her since a conference, a few years before. We had walked in the snow, during a break, to find time for each other, just talking about where we had been going, mostly in career, a little bit of travel and what life was like. It was the last of a tradition of sorts, meeting at conferences. Maybe going to dinner. We had found time to go to dinner this time too, earlier in the conference. We went to another part of the city, where we knew we wouldn't run into the conference goers in our too small field. We went to a Thai place I think. And then the last time I saw her, in person, we walked in the snow. She told me it was ok to quit and I told her that I was done. She had been awarded tenure, but with scars. I had seen the truth that this wasn't what I wanted with my life. It was freezing cold, a Chicago cold heading to a record cold a few days later. Everyone stayed in the hotel. We didn't want to walk far, so we walked in circles on a side street. Alone but for each other and the building facades.

The last conference we had gone to dinner at a steak house. She told me about her trip to China, about the furniture she had brought back. She ate her meat rare. I wouldn't have expected that. She was so petite. We talked about my kids; I don't think we talked about her cats, but it is possible.

As I said, she was important to many more people in a much bigger way.

It is egotistical to focus on my memories of her. It feels like theft.

A friend said that something funny happens in your forties. You start to lose people. Just a small number, but it comes out of nowhere.

Antonia was like that. The email went out in October or something. She died in the Spring, with the flowers just coming back. It was the week I had reserved to visit her, because she could only have one person at a time and to limit her exposure to possible infection. I didn't buy the plane ticket in the end. I knew I wouldn't be making that trip and so I put off the purchase. I figured I would drive the 12 hours or so if necessary. Or I figured I would go and if she couldn't see me I would wave from the street. It didn't matter though. I never flew or drove up there. And then I should have gone to the memorial but I didn't. I don't know why. Busy with kids and family I suppose. I think the reasons for not going made a lot of sense.

The people who knew her better wrote up a notice, managed a memorial, set up a fund. Her mom emailed me while I was at the music school where my son takes violin. A narrow hallow in the back of a church, classrooms for Sunday school, hard wooden folding chairs to wait on. I cried later. My mom was there, the taxi service for her grandson from school to violin, and asked what was wrong. My friend died.

Something happens in your forties Jen said.

It's egotistical to make things about yourself.

About a year later my uncle was walking across a parking lot after playing the organ at church and he fell down dead to the pavement. I knew when my mom called and as soon as she said my name. I've heard my name in a thousand tones. This one only means that. Not communicating the how, but the fact of the it.

I have three uncles by blood, one on my dad's side, two on my mother's side. One of the joys of growing older is recognizing how much you are not like your own father but in fact like all the most admirable parts of your other relations. Uncle Joe was the oldest in my mom's family, like me — I'm the oldest. I'm the oldest of all my cousins, with decades down to the youngest ones. Elder child syndrome on the grand scale. And from the time I was little I felt the comparison to “Joey”, from my grandmom and my mom, without saying it in any explicit way. I have his clarinet. I had it restored and sent him pictures of it. He had studied to get a Ph.D. in an obscure musicological subject. I got a Ph.D. in an increasingly obscure corner of academia. He switched careers radically in middle age. So too I find myself at a crossroads. Quiet but not. Polymathic. Learn-ed (pronounced with two full syllables). Rarely slender. It all checks some boxes.

I don't like priests much, but the priest at the funeral almost had me believing in something. He said that Joe was a godly man and the lord took him without pain. Quick, no anticipation. After doing something he loved. I suppose I'm not like my uncle in that. He was a model of good Catholic boy even as a grown man, so far as I know. (But what do I really know about relatives I've known for my whole life but see rarely?) He played at church, he directed choirs, he worked through music. He said that he was playing more gigs as a lawyer than he had when he was a full-time musician. That was before the radical career change.

I've stayed stuck in my job too long. Maybe I'm a rule follower. I suppose I'm like my dad in important ways too. Dependable. Loyal. Committed.

He made time when we came through town to meet us at our hotel. he was working late and came out to see us at the hotel on the drive up that year. And then on the drive back down we went out to his house, outside the city. That was the last time I saw him, at his house, with my aunt and my cousins some 20+ years my junior (he married late), when we stopped by on the way back on our long drive.

I'm going to make everything about myself again.

I learned somewhere that talking about yourself isn't polite. It's an affront to others to put yourself first. I paid a lot of money to a nice man to help me think about that differently. And there are days when I think it worked. Actually there are a lot of days like that, which I'm thankful for. Contentment isn't really interesting though, is it, when compared to pain and suffering and drama. The everyday is sort of boring and ordinary, compared to the punctuation of new and shocking events.

You start to lose people, she said.

In a world where I'm at the center of all thought I can only be thankful for these lessons. I was in an abyss, which you can't understand if you haven't been there. The words don't do it justice — melancholia as they used to call it is at least poetic. But it is a void and a chasm— I think now of the opening of the Theogony, the chasm at the dawn of Hesiod's creation myth, as a deep tragedy. Not simply a space, but a darkness that buries you. I doubt the Greeks thought that way. But Hesiod is a much more exciting read if you read it this way. Otherwise it's just a list of names of gods and bullshit that no one cares about anymore.

The preacher might say something else. We get reminders, that life is precious and short and that we need to gaze out upon it in wonder and thankfulness. I can't claim to always hear them.

But I was talking about Antonia.

In another life, in my egotistical fantasy, we might have been more than friends. That's a thought that one keeps close. A hypothetical both impossible and unacted, scandalous and disrespectful. A different story. To utter it aloud is to betray.

Others knew her better. People wander at the edge of our lives and that is the way things are.

I miss Antonia, and Uncle Joe. And others to whom I am even more marginal. It is egotistical to think of myself. There are days when I'm scared and days where I'm complacent, but a lot when I'm simply grateful.

Something happens in your forties.

I'm grateful for these memories, thieved, that I hold for my very own.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.