Thursday, February 25, 2010

Speaking Of The Teaching Life

Yesterday I spoke on an alumni panel at Sarah Lawrence College about life after the MFA. There were three other speakers, Joel Aure, who was my classmate, and two other women, Melissa and Karen. All three took the route of adjunct college teaching, whereas I represented teaching at an independent school.

I was fascinated and horrified by how they "glue" (Joel's neat word) together a living from adjunct teaching, substitution calls, and workshop gigs. At the very last moment, a college may call to cancel a course due to poor enrollment, or to add one. The adjuncts are also miserably paid. All the creativity and energy that could have gone into their writing have to be spent on networking and follow-up and frenetic lesson preparation and thankless piles of grading.

What was I thinking when I thought of taking that route after graduation? It is the kind of life that only a young person can sustain and enjoy. The speakers were in their late twenties and early thirties, and already they expressed a desire for more stability and certainty. They want full-time jobs. Listening to them, I feel lucky, yes, but also old.

But let the old ground keep sending forth new shoots. Plants don't grow when you keep digging them up. The obvious differences between the other three and me hide our more profound similarity. We all glue our lives together somehow. If it is not a call at 6 AM to hop down to Trinity to sub for a teacher, it is a tenuous application for permanent residency. The disjointedness we endure for the love of writing.

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