Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On the Road Again

Whenever university administrators talk about the need for making budget cuts, I can't help thinking of their six-figure salaries and how they have more than enough money for food, nice clothes, and country club memberships where they can get together with their rich friends and talk about how hard life is.

At the school where I teach, there's talk of budget cuts. Although I am a full-time faculty member, my untenured status means that I might not have a job next year. When I first came here, they told me my contract could be renewed for up to three years, and that many people stayed longer. But now they're advising me to apply for jobs elsewhere, just in case, which makes me angry; I could have stayed where I was before and saved thousands of dollars.

I'm applying for everything that I'm remotely qualified for: postdoctoral fellowships, lecturer positions, and tenure-track jobs. I doubt I'll get a tenure-track job, though, due to the fact that I don't have enough publications. I've been trying to work on my research, but my two jobs are why I've been working more than fifty hours a week with no days off. I was so stressed out that the other night I had nightmares about being attacked by raccoons (WTF?) and being crushed by stacks of students' papers while having a bunch of red pens thrown at me.

I think that I can afford to be a little more choosy about where to work, despite my lack of academic publications. I have my PhD now, as well as recommendation letters from my bosses, teaching experience at both rural and urban colleges, and positive evaluations from students.

The question is where I'll end up next. I'm hoping for a place that's bigger than Small Town and a job at a school with a more selective admission rate. I saw ads for a few schools located in towns where the entire population was made up of less than two thousand people, and I immediately thought, "NEXT!"

It's okay if I end up in another college town, as long as I don't have to drive too far to get to the nearest big city. But I must admit that all those years in a big city have ruined me for small town life. Sometimes I feel claustrophobic in Small Town, to the point where I feel like shrieking, "I have to get OUT of here!" Other days I find myself wishing that I had a little bit of vodka in my coffee mug when I'm at work (and I don't even drink alcohol!).

My ideal teaching situation would be at a medium-sized Catholic liberal arts college in a big city or medium-sized town, where the majority of the students are respectful, disciplined, hard-working, and turn in all their work on time. Then I wouldn't have any more nightmares about red pens. I'd like to teach more literature classes than freshman composition classes. I'd like to teach English majors. I've mainly been teaching students who are only in my classes because of their General Education requirements and would rather be getting root canals while watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians than learning how to write thesis statements.

I'd also like a job with better benefits than the ones I get now; although I have dental insurance, I currently can't afford the copay for a dentist appointment. (I also have nightmares about my teeth falling out and me teaching while looking like a jack-o-lantern). I'd like a salary that allows me to quit my second job, so that maybe I could have at least one day off a week. Maybe then, I would be less of a neurotic workaholic, and I could finally let myself relax for the first time in more than a decade.

My biggest fear is that I'll end up in the middle of nowhere, teaching at a school whose students spend more time partying than studying, with coeds who are "offended" by pronouns (apparently that's a thing now. Insert eye-roll here).

What about you? What does your ideal day job (other than writing) look like?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lost Writing

Up until recently, I hadn't written any fiction in months, due to the demands of my full-time job and part-time job. I missed writing, even more than the time that I tried going without caffeine for months and kept having to resist the urge to chase after Coca-Cola trucks with my arms outstretched.

When I finally sat down to work on one of my long-neglected manuscripts, I realized that I couldn't find one of my notebooks. Whenever I write the first draft of a story, I always write it longhand in a notebook and then type it on my laptop when I'm revising it. It had been so long since I'd written anything that I couldn't even remember where I'd put the notebook, which held several weeks' worth of writing and was the only copy.

I reacted the same way that Marion Crane did in that shower scene in Psycho, or the way that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian probably react when the cameras turn away from them. I frantically tore apart my apartment looking for it, and I worried that maybe I'd left it behind in a coffee shop a long time ago. I'd accidentally left my journal in a cafe a few years ago; when I went back to get it, the baristas returned it to me, but exchanged knowing looks and giggles. 

Finally, I found it in the back of my small filing cabinet, underneath a stack of students' papers and printouts of scholarly articles for my research. If this were a movie, that would have been the moment when a choir would have sung "Hallelujah."

When I finally sat down to write, it felt like coming home. I felt soothed as I wrote, in a way that I hadn't felt in a long time. It was good to be in the company of my characters again and to step back into the world I created. They say that home is where your heart is, and my heart is in my writing, in a way that it isn't in the comments I write on students' papers or my notes for my academic research (but that may be because the latter often makes me react the same way that Marion Crane did when Norman Bates confronted her). 

I'll never be the kind of person who writes every day, because that just isn't possible with my work schedule. I have to work more hours at my part-time job this year, due to the costs associated with my car troubles and my increased rent. I also have to save money for the next time I move, which might be at the end of the school year. Since I'd like to leave Small Town eventually and move on to another school, I have to apply for teaching jobs for next year (most of the deadlines are in the early fall), which is very time-consuming. So is my academic research, which might as well be placed in the category "Things That Make You Go ZZZZZZ". 

But recently I found out that one of my former students self-published a book that she'd written. I did a Google search of some of my former grad school classmates, and I saw their impressive list of publications in fiction and creative nonfiction, as well as the awards they'd won for their writing. When I go to bookstores, I marvel at all the writers who somehow made the time to write regularly and put their work out there. 

It made me feel guilty that all I have are unfinished manuscripts that I started years ago and a stack of rejection letters. But at the same time, those things motivated me to start writing again, especially so I can regain that peaceful, soothing feeling that I get whenever I put things down on paper. 

What about you? Have you ever lost writing before? How did you deal with it? Have you ever had to take a hiatus from writing before?