Auld Lang Syne

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dream Job(s)

I am unemployed. Well, I an "unsalaried" at the moment. I work harder than I ever worked when I was employed by someone else. I don't keep regular hours, often working into the dark while the rest of my family sleeps. Sometimes however I need to go photograph the boats in the harbor or meet someone for lunch downtown.  Sometimes I write in front of the TV if the Red Sox are on or the Patriots. I am inspired by sports (more on that at another time). Sometimes I just need to sit on the porch. Mostly I am at the desk daily.

My workplace is my office, a few steps from my bedroom in a nice little victorian house on the coast of Maine. At any given moment, my CFO may come in and ask me what I bought at Amazon, or how much of the Staples receipt is for business and how much is for home. He often reminds me that I ought to consider eating something. I don't have dress-down Fridays at work. I work in my pajamas most days, so to "dress down" would be quite the sight — even for me, my sole employee.

This sounds like a dream job. And it is. But it pays very poorly. In fact, it hardly pays at all. The IRS is on point constantly trying to say this writing business is a "hobby." Stamp collecting, coin collecting: those are hobbies. What I do is WORK. I send out my writing in hopes of publication. I have been fortunate to have many poems accepted and published. I have 4 books under my publishing belt. I am Poet Laureate of my city. Success! you say. Of course. But where is the cash, the scratch, the green, the dough? The truth is that poets are EXPECTED (in the world of publishing) to give away their work, to be happy to have the poem in a reputable journal, to get excited about the one or two contributors' copies that arrive, poem on page such-and-so. Don't get me wrong, it is fine to see one's poem(s) in print. It is great to have the "publishing credits" and get nice comments from other poets when they pick up a copy and see the poems there. But none of us could live on contributors' copies.

What do we do then? We often take teaching jobs. I did this, fresh out of my MFA program. I was hired to teach Freshman and Sophomore Comp at a community college, Victor Valley College to be precise. I did this very well. Although at times mind-numbing, the class provided me with the chance to be fully engaged with students. I loved them and their interesting lives which poured forth into their papers. I fought to get them to be more creative in their writing by inserting as much poetry as possible into our assigned work. I raved about the things poetry can do to make life worth living. I got through to them and many of them became joyful in their writing. I had one class of 12 students who just shone! I loved that class and it was mutual. Still, it was a drag on my own creativity. What time was there to write? I wanted to teach creative writing rather than comp. I went to my department chair and asked to be allowed (yes, ALLOWED) to teach what was my degree: writing, creative writing. She informed me that those classes were "plums" reserved for full-time faculty (I was an adjunct). I asked if it wouldn't be better for the students to be taught by someone 1. with a degree in writing and 2. who actually is a working, published writer. Her response shocked me."It's not about the students." Well, wow. I pointed out to her (in vain) that not ONE of those "plum" faculty members wrote a word, published, or had a degree in creative writing. No problem for her or the college. It was NOT about the students (beyond their tuition and fees). This was the slippery slope to no more typical teaching for me. I quickly lost heart.

Fortunately for me, I am noting if not creative. I realized that 1. I needed more time for my writing, and 2. I could teach privately. I scrabbled together a plan and that is the path I travel these days. I conduct workshops for interested writers who want to know what I have learned and discovered about writing. I am putting my degree to good use. HOWEVER... the pay stinks. If I could do a workshop a week, I might be able to make a decent living. But let's face it... it's workshops twice a year, at best three times a year if I am lucky. In this economy I am grateful for that. And my books sell well enough to make me happy that they are out there for people to read and enjoy. The shining star is the plenty of time to write aspect of my "employment" situation. My dream job? Not quite. But very satisfying on a number of levels. I am not complaining (much). But my dream job IS out there. I know it is. How to make it happen is another matter.

I have had several notions of what a dream job might look like for me. The one that is the quirkiest and which makes my family laugh at me is to be a toll-taker in a toll booth on I-95. It would be so interesting to see all the people who come through, what they are doing as they drive, how they ae dressed — to imagine where they are going or from where they have come. OK, so not going to happen. I live on the coast, AWAY from I-95. Probably would not be too healthy either, breathing in all those fumes. So... what to do and where to go for the dream job that wouldn't end up killing me.

My real dream job is teaching in a low-residency MFA program like the one where I got my MFA, no wait! AT the one where I got my MFA: Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, Vt. Yes, I suppose I'd take a job in another program. I would. But my DREAM job is at VCFA. The facts and the problem: I am certainly qualified. I have a degree in CW, I have 4 published books, I have an intimate knowledge of the program and its workings. I am motivated, there are already on faculty a number of grads. Ha! That may be the problem. Due to accreditation (apparently) there is some kind of limit on how many former grads they can have on staff. Oh and there is some kind of hiring freeze (I've been told). Hmmmmm. Not good for me getting the dream job. But I may have a solution. I hope it is a solution. My proposal is that VCFA hire me as an ADJUNCT. I could be the girl in the dugout, waiting to be put into the game when one of the poetry faculty is absent for a semester on LOA (Leave of Absence). This happens, more than one might think. How they have handled this is to add to the student load of the other faculty members. Why not, instead, have me do it? I think this is a brilliant plan. I am working on this plan. Seriously, I want my dream job. The one without the gas fumes.

Until this becomes a reality (and I am working on it), I will apply to other MFA programs and stay here at my desk in my pajamas writing the best poems I can, sending them out and being grateful for the credits and the contributors' copies.

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