Thursday, February 9, 2012

plowing more than one field

"I owe, I owe, so off to work I go."

"Work is the curse of the drinking class."

"Behold the lilies of the field. They delve not, neither do they spin."

"Lucky you." (This line is often spoken by non-teachers & non-writers when they find out that my teaching job only requires me to be in the classroom for certain hours.)

I am typing this at 8:00 a.m. local time, after staying up until 4:00 this morning, moving every movable thing out of the kitchen and first-floor bathroom in the house I share with my female spouse so the renovators can come in, tear down and replace everything (cupboards, countertops, floor, ceiling) while we are in Cuba for 2 weeks, attending the wedding of some Cuban musician friends.

Cubans understand work (saben por que & como trabajar?). They won't see us doing it, so they will see us as norteamericanas ricas, rich bitches with endless leisure time.

I have to bring 2 thick sheafs of student essays with me so I can grade them before we return. I dearly hope (please, Creator or Fates or Loas) to find time to finish my novella, which has been stalled for months because I haven't had a spare moment to work on it.

So how have I been wasting my time? By teaching, grading, dealing with students who visit my office in despair once they realize that they probably don't know enough English to pass a mandatory literature-and-composition course. Yet the university keeps recruiting students in non-English-speaking countries, not providing enough language training when they get here, and letting them register for (and pay for, a very important point) classes that are intended for the fluent. No one wants these classes to be "watered down."

Whatever the instructors do is guaranteed to make someone indignant.

I get paid a comfortable salary, partly because of my seniority in this job. How ungrateful of me to want less tangible rewards as well.

One of my stepson's roommates casually told me that the whole English Department is known to non-English majors as a nest of snobs who think they are better than everyone else and who are obsessed with minor grammatical details. Presumably, we should all get a life. And we should all be fired for not teaching the next generation how to write clearly. The contradictions in a stereotype never seem to prevent anyone from accepting it.

I have two adorably young, eager, attractive young women Teaching Assistants (both English majors, one for each of my current classes) who have both politely refused to teach the rules of grammar -- they don't know them & clearly aren't planning to learn.

I come home from school to cook supper (usually) and try to sort out some of the chaos in our house left over from the earlier renovating job (entire second floor walls repainted, carpeting removed & new flooring put in, new bathroom cupboards installed during the winter holidays).

I write reviews, mostly of e-books, at least one per month and usually more. I feel flattered when I get private emails from Big Names in erotic writing or the history of various lesbian/gay/non-traditionally-gendered communities, asking me to review their books. This work is unpaid, and I am rarely acknowledged as anything other than a reviewer. At a writers' conference in September, a fellow erotic writer thanked me for showing an understanding of her work in my review of it, and seemed surprised that I also write fiction -- apparently as an afterthought. (She & I have had 8 stories in the same anthologies.)

It seems I'm neither a real academic or a real writer. Yet there is no part of my life that doesn't involve teaching in some form, writing in some form, or basic life maintenance (cooking, cleaning, etc.) so I can continue to teach and write.

Retirement beckons to me like a mirage, a shimmering oasis in the desert which will probably look shockingly different up close. I don't have to retire at age 65, and I'm afraid to be completely without an earned income. I would love to spend full working days writing fiction (with days for self-promotion, like baking days & laundry days for a housewife of yesteryear). But in today's publishing market, I still might not earn much. I would have trouble convincing anyone (mostly the non-writers in my life) that my writing is more than a hobby. (But how much do you make?)

Somewhere deep down inside, I am something other than my various jobs. I am definitely other than the roles I play. So are we all.

Writing always holds the promise that a writer can speak directly to a reader, not in a conventional role, and not paid by the word, the volume of sales, the hour or the month. This is what causes me to lose track of time, both as a writer and a reader. It's the antidote to burnout on the job.


  1. It seems to me that if a woman wants to truly earn an advanced degree in English, it's necessary that she learn grammar.

    Have fun abroad.

  2. The trip to cuba sounds pretty exotic to an american. We forget that not everybody has these stupid policies we have for purely political reasons.

    We all grouse about odds and ends, but teaching is a calling you would definately miss if you retired I think.


  3. This resonates with me on so many levels. I taught community college for 2 years prior to having baby #1, I was often frustrated by students' lack of basic writing skills. Yet they had somehow tested into the class. It was disheartening to be told again and again, "I don't need to know this. I'm not an English major."

    I hope your trip to Cuba is wonderful, even if you do have to grade papers while you're there!

  4. Jean - There are so many excellent points here, I don't know where to start.

    I guess I'll focus on the fundamentals. You write, therefore you are a writer. And you teach, hence you're a teacher. It really doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about the issue.

    Furthermore, I think there's a two-way synergy between those roles.

    Have a fabulous time in Cuba!

  5. I tell students I sub for that I always write in books I enjoy because that is my way of "talking back" to the author. Reading is the only way we can experience the thoughts of another person as if we are in their minds. When I write I'm inviting you into mine for a while, to be entertained by the flashes of synapses that entertain me.

    It always amazes me that people have so little respect for English teachers, when the whole discipline involves learning how to think more clearly. It should be the most basic of skills and lauded as crucial. Instead we have people who graduate unable to think, lacking in logic skills, and unable to know what side of an issue they are on unless someone else tells them what to think. Explains a lot, no?
    Enjoy your time off! You deserve it!


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