Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Well, all signs point to the fact that academia is facing its most difficult times ever. The protests, the tuition hikes, the faculty job freezes- all of this in light of the highest enrollments in most schools' history. It's an extremely strange paradox that sheds light on how important the government is in funding education, and a lesson to be learned about what happens when government decides not to fund it any more. From my own personal experience, my visiting professor line evaporated into thin air in exchange for several more adjunct positions at Metro, and this certainly isn't an anomaly. It's a crisis, and I'm afraid of what the trickle down effect of this is going to look like. In lieu of hiring highly qualified, well educated teachers and giving them benefits, etc, schools are hiring adjuncts who teach 8-10 classes a semester in order to be able to pay their bills, and some are definitely more qualified to teach than others. At a school like CU, Berkley, I'm sure students will end up paying more for less qualified teachers, as I believe all state schools in California have had a hiring freeze on faculty positions for quite some time.
Again, in my own experience, the job market is extremely brutal this year. The MLA reports that jobs are down in English studies by about 25%, an unprecedented downturn that mirrors the global economic downturn. I'm putting myself out there this year, applying for jobs that look to be a good fit, but have absolutely no expectations of making it to the top of the pile. The piles, after all, have hundreds of applicants in them for each position. I suppose the right experience, a writing sample that catches their eye, or the right turn of phrase in a cover letter might give anyone an edge, it's quite a jungle this year in the job market. It's kind of laughable, actually. With 1 in 4 jobs completely eliminated and even more people out of work seeking jobs, it becomes a complete crap shoot. You have to wonder whether or not the hiring committees even read through all of the cover letters/ CVs, etc.
I'm not sure I really have a point, except that to be an academic right now probably means to be unemployed or looking for a job. Those with jobs are overworked or are being stripped of benefits or asked to take paycuts. I'm interested to see what next year will bring, but this year is pretty much a wash. Nightmare? Insanity? Pretty much.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Let me immediately clarify: Aunt Flo is NOT a euphemism for my period and this post is NOT about pregnancy or menopause. It's about my husband's real, true Aunt Flo who died early this week here in Denver. She was a cool lady and apparently in her day, a real socialite. She will definitely be missed.
When I entered my husband's family landscape about 10 years ago (then as the "girlfriend"), Aunt Flo was an interesting family fixture. She seemed even at that point to be on death's doorstep, at least at first glance. Bit when you talked to her, she was alert, and as soon as she smiled, it was obvious that she was very much alive, despite the fact that her body seemed to be completely giving up on her. Since then, she has been on a slow decline, but much slower than many of us anticipated. This woman is a fighter, and according to family who were with her at the end, that spark burned brightly till the very end.
I had the pleasure of looking through some old family photo's yesterday as the family gathered to comfort one another. She was a beautiful young woman with an uncanny resemblance (IMHO) to Tori Spelling. She lived till the ripe age of 89, so there were plenty of pictures, but the oldest ones were the most interesting. I got to see pictures of my husband's great grandmother who was 100% hispanic/ native american. I heard stories about how Aunt Connie, Flo's sister, worked for JFK in the White house (there's a picture of her, in fact, documenting this fact which is quite fascinating). Flo had four sisters, in fact, one of which is Brian's grandmother, Fifi. These women are true forces to be reckoned with, no doubt. Fifi, at the forever-young age of 87, wakes up between 4-5 am and goes to the pool to swim several miles every day. From there, she goes to visit her husband, who is buried at the Fort Logan military cemetery.
Until Flo's death, four of the five sisters were still living. All four of them have outlived their husbands, some by decades. It's quite a legacy.
My heart goes out to the family she leaves behind, especially her children and grandchildren. If the pictures of her life showed anything, it was that she lived a full and gratifying life- most of us can only hope to be so surrounded by love.
Monday, August 17, 2009
As someone who had been either a student or a teacher in academia since I was four years old, the end of August marks a specific timecode for me: the start of school. In whatever capacity, I have returned to school in the fall for the past 29 years of my life, with the exception of the year I took off between undergrad and grad school. And this year, of course. And it's weird.
I'm not entirely sad, but I have an inkling that I will miss the students, which are my favorite part of teaching. Each one is unique and a little odd, which I absolutely enjoy. I will miss talking about the things I'm passionate about, especially Creative Writing. I will miss being part of a campus community, which I really enjoyed last year at Metro. I will miss the paycheck and benefits.
I know that I'm far from being done; in fact, I joke with my husband that my career will probably not start till I'm over 35, so in the reality of this context, I really haven't even begun. I'm still waiting for that job that's worth missing- the complete package- and I'm willing at this point to wait for it.
But it is a bit surreal, says my biological clock, that it's fall and I'm not stressed out about syllabi, class lists, first assignments, etc. On the other hand, it's my biological clock that presented me with the ultimate imperative, who is turning three months in three days, named Celeste. And my poetry calls to me desperately: nurture ME. Publish ME. Make more of ME.
My mother described it today as a "melancholy" emotion, in the context of watching some element of the world move on without you. I think this is a wonderful adjective, especially as it applies. We always want to be an important element of something, and when that something moves on, seemingly unscathed, without us, we wonder about our purpose in both the large and small scheme of things. Purposes shift, though, and embracing this will surely be my saving grace.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
So my position as "visiting asst. professor" has come to an end at Metro, partly because they didn't renew my contract in a timely manner and partly because I'm just nowhere ready to hand Celeste over to a stranger quite yet. I sent the email several weeks ago announcing my decision to take a semester off, but haven't made it to campus to clean out my desk. (I've been battling with mastitis for a few weeks, among other things.) When I arrived today, my office had been torn asunder, personal belongings were missing, and all of my (remaining) stuff was in boxes. It was quite obvious that I had overstayed my welcome and that the powers that be were ready for me to go.
Usually the challenge comes in getting closure in a situation like this, but I'm experiencing more closure than I ever thought I would. I left the door open to possibly adjuncting next semester, but as I drove away from campus today, it felt much more like "goodbye" than "see you soon". I was cataloging the things I've contributed to campus, the students I've made extra sacrifices for, the extra hours I put into grading, the general level of my energy and dedication and suddenly felt very betrayed and ungratified. I've thought for two years that Metro and I were a good fit, but suddenly it seems all wrong. As I pushed Celeste in her stroller down the hallways, I couldn't help but feel that she was the reason I've been cast away like yesterday's newspaper, like I no longer have anything to offer this place. It was not the experience I was expecting, but then again, most of my experience at Metro has been unexpected.
Perhaps I'll pick up a class or two next semester, but as I reflect back on last year's full-time work load (teaching 4 classes per semester, 99% of them writing classes), it was a big factor in my lack of publications and creative production. I had very little space to write and reflect, which I'm excited about once again.
I also feel a big shift in priorities happening inside of me, which I'm not sure I EVER expected. I've always been so focused on my career, on getting that tenure track job, on forging my place in academia. . . but now I think I have some work to do before I'm ready for that. I have a lot of reading to do, poems and manuscripts to publish, and a name to make for myself in the poetry world before I move back into academia. If I've learned on thing in the past 10 years teaching college English, it's that it doesn't matter how good you are at teaching. To get a job, everything else matters more, like what discipline is attached to your Ph.D. or when your next book is coming out. It's time to work on this for maybe a year or two and see how the job search shapes up. I want to be part of interesting and provocative conversations about poetry, and very little of that is happening at Metro.
I'm shocked to say that I'm very content with my decision to say "farewell", or at least " see you when I see you". It's bittersweet, but much more sweet than I thought it would be. And I can't help but read more and more into the gesture of having someone else pack my boxes for me. No matter how much I wanted Metro and me to be a fit, they literally sent me packing. Our priorities, quite obviously, were not in line, regardless of my dedication, and that's just reality. I have a new reality, and she needs me more than any freshman writing student ever will.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
For the past five minutes or so, as I've been hacking away at months of unanswered email, Celeste has been "speaking" to me from her swing. Not crying- mind you- but vocalizing her desire to be held as opposed to, well, swinging.
But I could spend 8 hours a day for the next who knows how many months holding her as she drifts off to sleep. . . and then as soon as I try to put her down. . BAM! She wakes up. The swing eliminates that, and it helps her get to sleep so that I don't have to.
But I have the usual and unavoidable "guilt" about the swing. Shouldn't I be holding her? Rocking her? COmforting her? Am I a bad mom for letting a battery operated contraption do the lulling for me? But I have my own work to do, don't I? Things to invest my own time and energy into? Or am I not allowed to have my own time and energy? This is an has always been my own dilemma as a mother.
It was most pronounced during Eliot's infancy and early toddlerhood when I was in the throes of my Ph.D. I remember being so angry with him when he wouldn't nap- I had work to do! I had every hour accounted for, and without his nap, I would be behind. Somehow we made it through, but certainly I could have done better on my exams and dissertation if all naps had been accounted for. Or, dare I say it?- If I didn't have a child at all.
I was having a conversation with my friend Rebecca about this yesterday. She said she didn't know how I managed a Ph.D. with a newborn. I don't know either, but as I said to her, a lot of it had to do with compromising my standards of excellence and just doing what was required. I am a perfectionist, but when your attention is constantly divided, perfection isn't really an option. Some of your energy and attention is still your own, but not undivided attention. Once you're a mother, there's no such thing as undivided attention. Your attention is forever divided.
But I've always been determined not to be one of those mothers who hides away for 18 years to raise their children and then, as they wave to you from their dorm room window as you drive away, you ask yourself, "What have I done with MY life?" I'm determined to master the fine art of attention dividing, an I guess if the swing gives me a few moments of less-divided attention, this is a good thing. I should embrace it, no? I'm still not convinced.
She's kind of asleep now, and I stopped the swing. But she's squirming a bit and probably ready to be engaged by something other than the pink butterfly mobile above her swing. One thing is redeeming, as I remember from Eliot and feel equally with Celeste- when I pick them up from the bed that they're not sleeping in or the swing that may or may not have lulled them to sleep, the moment that the weight is shifted into my arms, they are forgiven. My attention is shifted and consumed by them and there's a spot inside somewhere, sometimes deeper inside than others, that melts and softens.
Monday, August 10, 2009
This is Celeste Lenore, the newest addition to the family as of May 20th, 2009. On Wednesday, she'll be 12 weeks old, which I can't believe.
It's not a great excuse for not writing on my blog; in fact, I haven't been good at blogging since my move to Colorado almost three years ago. I don't know why, except for the fact that things have been moving at a breakneck speed ever since. I've been really thinking more about it though and really want to reinvest myself. I have a lot going on that I'd like to "talk" about, though the dozen or so people who used to read my blog have no doubt stopped by this point. Perhaps I'll get some new readers someday :)
The most dramatic change, besides Celeste's arrival, is my decision to take a semester (perhaps a year) off from teaching. I was a visiting professor at Metro last year, which I quite enjoyed, but my contract was not renewed. This means I would have had to continue as an adjunct, which I was not willing to do for the money. Instead, I'll stay home with Celeste, help my husband with his business when possible, and work on my own creative endeavors in the moments between the moments.
I've become part of a new publishing consortium called Black Radish Books, which I would link to if I could, but we're still in the infancy stage of the projects. It's an exciting project to be a part of, and I'm working on a manuscript for publication with them in the far-out future. Interestingly, our group of 16 grew out of our involvement in the Dusie chapbook project, which has always been such a delightful project for me.
My husband, Brian, went out on his own in January of 2008 to start his own software and consulting business, Inversoft. He's really finding his niche now in selling his products to the gaming markets, so I'm excited to help him with copywriting and some marketing here and there.
Mostly, I'm excited about writing and reading again. It's been a while since I've actually felt like part of a writing community- like my work was part of a bigger picture and being read. (Teaching 4 classes per semester leaves very little time for anything else!)
Right now, I'm enjoying Jessy Randall's A Day in Boyland, a collection which she gave me at a reading in exchange for one of my chapbooks. I very much enjoyed meeting her and hearing her read- her sense of humor is definitely a dominant force in her poetry. I've only made it through the first few poems- I'll try to give a more comprehensive review once I've finished the collection.
So I'm hoping I'm back on the blog train. And wow, does this blog need a facelift!