Sunday, October 31, 2010

Frivolous But Fun Piece in the Washington Post

On Wednesday the Washington Post emailed me and asked for a short OpEd piece on the labor politics of Middle-earth (really).  This is what I came up with on short notice: Dept. of What If: Would hobbits go on strike?

I started out with all kinds of in-depth analysis, but settled for cheap laughs.

There was a lot of back-and-forth with the editor (at one point I was trying to make a joke about the Shirriffs, and the editor put in something like "...the bourgeois is concerned with finding stray beasts, not oppressing the proletariat" and I wrote back "well, it would be the police apparatus of the State, not the bourgeois who were doing any oppressing..." and then realized I was actually being more nerdy about Marxism than I was about Middle-earth). 

But I think it ended up in a form where I can justify all the claims, even though at times it is a stretch.

For example, I wanted to hedge a little more on possible lack of upward mobility among the elves but also keep the joke about being stuck in a dead-end job for 1,000 years because nobody dies or retires.  We obviously don't know that for sure, though there might be hints in Laws and Customs Among the Eldar.

For the dwarves, I was thinking of the way they drive hard bargains for excavating elf caverns, and then how they change their minds about the price of re-fashioning necklaces (or promising to pay Bilbo gold, silver and jewels in the letter but only offering gold and silver to Bard).  Don't really know that there weren't wildcat strikes in Moria, though that's probably not a huge stretch.  The gold standard joke was a cheap laugh, but really, can you image dwarves using fiat money for any reason?

Otherwise I think I'm on solid ground.  Perhaps no one but Sauron goes into the Sammath Naur, but if he were running a smithy in contemporary America, he'd still need to put up handrails, lay down non-slip coatings on the floors, and post an MSDS for the boiling lava.

[update: thanks to those who pointed out the faulty link.  Fixed]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So What's Up with the Not Writing and Everything

I began this blog in June 2002, so it's been more than eight years (which is a millennium in internet time, I think).  The past two months has been the most protracted dry spell for posting that I've had. 

A few things are going on. 

The biggest happened at the end of August.  But (and I hate it when people do this on the internet, but oh well*), I am not ready to discuss it publicly.  The family members involved have already had their privacy violated about as much as is possible, and they don't need me piling on.  Suffice it to say that the situation involves people I love and the legal system in both its necessity and all its iron cruelty, and that it's more awful than anything I imagined could happen.  Some day I will write about it, but not now.

It's strange how something traumatic changes you.  I couldn't honestly say that (beyond the first few weeks) inordinate amounts of my time have been taken up, but there's been a subtle and very damaging shift in my ability to concentrate.  Moments of solitude hurt, because that's when you think too much (mowing the lawn has tended to be the worst time) and so I've found myself filling those moments with as much buzzing as possible: answering email, flitting from one blog post to another, following comment threads.  This takes up time but does not produce writing, and so when I've been able to concentrate, I've tended to spend that limited focus on my new book (now called Tradition and Influence) which was almost done.

Additionally, I am in what I had thought was my final year as department Chair, and there have been a variety of crises in the department.  I never kept this blog a secret from my colleagues, but a few times previously something I had written here was brought up to me or complained about.  I didn't care too much at that particular point, but given the nastiness that has overtaken my department recently, it has seemed like a good idea to self-censor.  One of the things I dislike most about being Chair has been the requirement to think about how what I say or write isn't interpreted as only my personal opinions, but that's the way the world is, and there's not much that can be done about it. 

Finally, "It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise." I've become increasingly disillusioned with the world of blogging and with internet communication in general. Scott Nokes suggests that the good discussions have migrated to Facebook or other places, and he's probably right, and it's even more likely that I'm just old and cranky, but it feels to me as if the conversations that sprung up around blogging have devolved either to partisan sniping or to coterie-focused back-scratching.  Since neither of those interest me, I've been withdrawing.  (Again, this most likely says more about me than about what anyone else is doing). 

So I've done a couple of things.  The first, which I did this summer when the events referenced above happened, was to plonk all of my Wheaton, departmental and academic acquaintances from my Facebook friends.  Sorry about that.  Given what was going on, it just wasn't appropriate to have Wheaton people or fellow academics on there, and I think for the forseeable future it will stay that way.  Nothing personal in the plonking, believe me, but it was something I needed to do.

Second, I have avoided posting things to the blog about policy, administration or chairing.  But since these things have been taking up a substantial part of my days, that has reduced the material for writing.

Finally, I have been focusing more on producing pieces for publication rather than on bloggy ephemera (though I guess in some ways the internet is more "forever" than JEGP or English Studies).  I actually don't like writing with that much focus, as I've always preferred jumping from one project to another when I get stuck on the first, but I feel like I have to husband my limited reserves of concentration.

So really this post is an apology to those readers who have stuck with me so long and are no doubt irritated by the lack of content.  I hope to do better, but don't know when I will. 

* This does read like one of the cliches of internet drama.  I'm sorry for that, but not sorry enough to make it too easy for someone to ferret out what I'm referring to.  My most immediate family is thankfully not involved.