Today I drove 40 miles south, then a few hours later I drove back. I saw at least ten cars pulled over, but only got a look at four of the drivers. Two black; two white. I wish I could say I believed there’s a chance the six drivers I didn’t see were white.
Christians, if you’re going to drive like assholes, maybe don’t have those WWJD bumper stickers or icthyses placed prominently on the rear end of your car which I will undoubtedly see as you cut me off.
Brokeass white people with Romney Ryan stickers left over from ’12, one of these days I really will rear end one of you. Know how I know your asses are broke? You drive Jeeps and Ford Escapes from ’89 that almost look lacy for all the rust. Your cars make more noise than semis, and not cos you installed a muffler enhancer. And at least half of you drive around shirtless.
Anybody reading this have any experience with 4th graders and pickup lines? Asking for a friend.
Thinking about law school and getting a PhD with equal lather lately. Anybody know the starting salary for a social justice lawyer? HAHAHA.
Sometimes, I eat onions then I smell really bad.
Nobody in my family loves the Green Ralph Lauren cologne the way I do. Anybody who wears that wanna follow me around so I can inhale deeply your delicious odor like a sweaty perv?
My student’s incomplete is due on Monday. I will turn in his grade on Friday. Don’t know why I feel so anxious about whether or not he will actually turn in his incomplete. Maybe it’s related to the fact that I haven’t been brave enough to view my scores on rate my professor dot com.
Finally, I’m 34. It’d be really unfair if I were really perimenopausal. If, in fact, I am, I am looking for a gynecological surgeon for some pro bono work on my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. You may keep them for study. Say you found them in a dumpster. I don’t care.
Friends have complimented my work boundaries. That is, my no-bullshit approach to getting everything done and committing the appropriate amount of personal resources to each of my projects so as to avoid burning out. I’m telling you, this has been a hard-won way to live, there have been stretches of years during which I ran hot at full speed + did burn myself out.
I want to share with you five things I learned as a freelance Editor and Writer that translate DIRECTLY into the world of adjunct professorship.
1. Money F*cking Matters
It is certainly my impulse–and I think a lot of adjuncts have this problem–to totally live, eat, sleep, and breathe the teaching. But for what I’m getting paid, I just can’t. You can’t either.
That is, you have to allocate a number of hours that means you have time to do all the other things. Pick a dollar amount that you need to make per hour, figure out how your adjunct pay breaks down into that figure, then WORK THAT NUMBER OF HOURS. Do what you have to do: set a timer, set up a standing appointment with your hair dresser, best friend, acupuncturist, mom, or yogi to get you away from the teaching space at the end of that time.
If you have multiple teaching gigs, and if you’re adjuncting you probably do, spend the most amount of time on the school that pays the best, even if students at the other schools are needier.
Look, if you sweat blood in service of these really wonderful jobs, and do it in exchange for too little cash (which is kind of an unfortunate truism about them), you’re going to resent it. You’re going to ultimately take it out on the students. Don’t do that. It’s not their fault. And you have an obligation to provide some value. Which brings me to number 2.
2. No Is Not a Dirty Word
Protect your mental, emotional, and physical health by saying no. You will have more energy for teaching. Maybe that means saying no to a third section of a class on a day you’re not already teaching. Your dean/chair will understand. They know what you get paid. Maybe you resist the temptation to give them supplemental readings that are SO INTERESTING! Maybe that means sending a student who is way, way behind in her writing skills to the University Tutoring Center instead of helping them word by word, even if you totally love to do that sort of thing. It definitely means saying no to students who think they need you to meet with them on a day on which you are not at their school. Be firm, and kind, and remind them of your office hours.
For me, saying no to myself has been the hardest thing to learn (and I’m still learning). No, April, you may NOT make that deeply involved handout that will require hours of research, or hours of finding the perfect image. No, April, you may NOT spend an hour grading every paper. No, April, you may not make shit harder on yourself by doing grades on paper, even though you completely romanticize the grade book. Spreadsheets are good. The time you spend figuring out how to tell them to do your math for you is well spent. Which is a good segue to number 3.
3. It’s not cheating to use the internet to save time
This is what I mean: unless you are some kind of genius on the cutting edge of your field (and if you are, you’re probably not adjuncting or reading my blog), there’s already a handout or resource available for free on the internet about whatever you want to teach. Google it. Copy, Paste, Edit, Go! There are loads of study and discussion guides available about everything. If you’re out of mental energy at the end of a super long day but you still have to plan the following day’s lesson, or if you’re teaching something you’re not 200% familiar with, Get Ye To Yonder Interwebs! I teach writing and reading, so I rob stuff from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab all the time. I always give them credit, right on the handout.
It’s not that I don’t know the stuff I’m teaching, it’s that it would take me a LONG LONG time to write, revise, obsess, and create the perfect thing, which I WANT to do, but which is energy I need to use doing something else that pays better.
If you worry about losing credibility with your students, don’t. Your students won’t notice. And if they do, you are modeling information literacy. And that, friends, is an unbelievably useful skill.
4. But Sometimes, You Gotta Work for Free
I don’t mean in exchange for publicity or some other nonsense proposed to you by a person in a more advantageous situation than yourself. I mean, in adjuncting (and in freelancing), there’s a certain amount of stuff you have to just be willing to donate your time doing, but here’s my rule: don’t donate time unless it’s a new or more impressive line on your CV. That is, only work for free if the payoff is a direct, personal advantage that will allow you to advance your career.
Here are some possibilities in adjuncting:
1. Writing Syllabi. I am lucky to be in a school where I am barely supervised in the development of my courses, and developing syllabi from scratch is a rockin’ thing on the CV of a person whose University teaching experience could be described as “1-3 years.” I write them between semesters and do not calculate that time into my above-referenced hourly wage.
2. Advising Undergradutes. Some of my colleagues advise students. I would advise students for free, because a) it is fun, and b) it can be done during office hours in which one often hears the whistling of the wind against the prairie.
3. Advising a club–this is not exactly free labor because Adjuncts are often offered some extra cash or, if they’re lucky enough to be visiting or 3/4 time or full-time temporary (or whatever your school calls it), they may be offered an exchange of some sort: advising a club means you teach one fewer sections, but get the same money. But advising a club is heavy lifting (probably more hours than teaching, at least in the beginning). And while the joyous part of it is that you work with high-achieving, super-involved students, the disadvantage is it probably means some evening and weekend work, and going out of your comfort zone to write a grant or manage a budget or interact with school bureaucracy, all things that may come with a time-intensive learning curve.
5. If you hate the job, you don’t have to keep doing it.
All you need to be an adjunct is a master’s degree and a pulse. There are other gigs, and no university expects adjuncts to be long-term employees. That means many of the rules that apply to other jobs do not apply to adjuncting: you get no credit for showing up early and staying late. You get no benefits. You do not get a living wage. Therefore, do not feel strange loyalty to the institution that let you break into the field. Do not worry about personality conflicts (like, for example, if your dean or supervisor hates you cos you have breasts or just doesn’t get your communication style), do not worry about disappointing your boss, even if you adore her (or more likely him). Use a bad experience as a stepping stone to get into a better situation, and for chrissakes learn from it.
Maybe you don’t teach for a semester while you look, and maybe you fall into a better gig, or a full time job in another field, or the perfect school for you. But you do not, not, not stay teaching in an adjunct situation that diminishes you personally, professionally, or creatively. There is absolutely no advantage to that for anyone.
Do not misunderstand. I am not advocating being a shitty adjunct professor. I am advocating being a damn good adjunct professor while honoring your personal boundaries + the boundaries of your tiny paycheck. Do the best you can for your students, but be realistic. Do not do more than you can. Even if you want to. It’s not sustainable.
Take some of the excess (if you’ve got it) you’d like to devote to your delightful, eager, remarkable students whose energy is an eternal well of encouragement and joy, and funnel it toward this cause: make your experience public. Advocate for adjuncts, for labor, for aid to our broken, fucked up, awful, unfair economic system in this gorgeous land of opportunity.
My number 1 favorite thing about residency is that I get to spend a week not explaining myself or enduring weird faces from people because all the other humans there are precisely my sort of weird/neurotic/thinky.
A close second, however, is that a lot of people there call me April Line.
I have a really cool name for a writer. Perfect, even. It’s as if my parents knew. Hell, maybe they did.
And then there’s the pursuant wordplay: April Line, you so fine; April Line, where’s my wine? Of course, I am in a tribe of people who, like me, enjoy the sounds words make when they scrape across tongues. We enjoy rhyme for its own sake. We slide words together in lines because they are fun, because of the sounds, because because words. The words do not have to be true. I am not fine in an objective sense nor do I make a habit of fetching wine.
My favorite thing since I got home? The thing that gives me more joy even than particularly delicious beer, running, or good food?
My Writing Workshop, the first of which happened last night. I met a new student. I had an hour of that lovely thing where I can talk about being a writer like it’s normal. I can explain to people who get it about the weird writer brain thing. I can help them cultivate their own, give them guidance for how to overcome their inner critic, I can talk about all the articles I read about writing and writers to people who are interested.
I am knowledgeable and there’s huge power in knowledge. It’s energizing. I got home feeling excited and light and right.
It is micro-residency. It is how I’m sure I want to be a writing teacher forever. Because to teach writing is to always have a way into that world, the world where I’m not just a loon who has a big vocabulary.
Come join the tribe. The workshops are fun and affordable.
First, Button Poetry. I’m sending you to their foundation page, but there are loads of wonderful, educational, inspiring, well-performed, energetic pieces on their YouTube channel.
Next, American Life in Poetry, a free column edited by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. It’s lovingly posted each week, and is a great place to find new poets to read/love/internet stalk.
750 Words is a semi-social online writing experience. It is not for blogging or for writing for public consumption. A lot of people who want to write have told me they’re paranoid about sharing their work, but that they’re at a loss for maintaining accountability. This is a site to help build the discipline to write every day, based on the concept of Morning Pages. You can make friends, get rewards, and have “friends” or writers you follow. Try it free for 30 days, after that it’s $5/month–cheaper than 3 pages a day worth of pens and paper for sure.
I’ve been working on this post with a different title in my mind for a while. I would’ve called it “Why I Call Editorial Notes Love Letters.”
I planned to say it makes things that are really hard to hear a little easier to process. That there’s no reason other than love to provide such intensive reading, such difficult (for the writer and the editor) feedback.
But that’s bullshit. There is another reason: money.
And money is why I do it.
But I’m a woman, so I’m not supposed to be motivated by money, unless it belongs to someone else and I want to be taken care of by it.
Still, love of the work is part of it. But not other people’s work, my work. I love to read and talk about stories, to look at how they work, to take them apart, to know how to fix them. I am obsessed with that work.
But the idea of a love note makes it about the other person’s work, which I almost never love. Which I rarely even like. It makes it about my quest for approval. It makes it about my smarts serving another person’s ego.
That is not healthy for anybody.
I’ve been reading this book, it’s called The Female Hero. It’s literary criticism, feminist–which means examining the literature from a feminist-cultural lens.
It explains and attacks the idea that in the stories we read, women are heroines while men are heroes. That women, even when depicted as heroes are later “fixed” or “saved” by conforming to some cultural or social norm (marriage, usually, monogamy or motherhood); when women in stories are un-tameable, they often die or go to institutions. That it’s rare when women are brave and curious and wise, and when the end of the story is something other than killing those parts of them that are “unfeminine” and heroic.
So much of what the book says about literature is familiar to me from life.
And it made me realize something about myself, about the way I think about myself as a woman: there doesn’t seem to be a bottom to how the reality of April the Woman and what I have erroneously (and decreasingly, thank god) believed to be my obligation barely resemble each other at all.
I called editorial notes love letters because I am accommodating, because it is always somebody else’s story, because I am supposed to play a supporting role (an adoring fan, a lover, a helpmate, support staff), because I hoped or believed that playing this role would make the writers I read for accept and learn from the critique I levied, always with kindness and professionalism.
But the critique is never personal or emotional for me. It is never about the person who did the writing. The most personal thing I ever say is to suggest that a client should acquire more education or read more books. Calling it a love note makes it unnecessarily and incorrectly emotionally charged.
This is my mistake and I’m going to stop making it.
Editorial Notes are letters full of the fruit of my strong, fertile mind. They are successful because I am well-read, well-educated, and willing to say hard, productive things in clear, plain language. They are valuable because I am kind and diplomatic, and because I understand the process, because long, long before I was an editor I was a writer.
They are educational letters. They are nothing, nothing about love.
An advantage to being a woman is that I have not been socialized for infallibility. I will continue to share my mistakes of thinking, even when they are big and embarrassing like this one.
Do you have a big thought pattern revelation from your past? Something a book or a song or a conversation with your oldest, dearest friend made you realize?
I’d like to extract my mind from myself, the artist’s plague, and shoot her dead. Or strangle her. Or perhaps torture her for a time, like she’s tortured me as long as I can remember; perhaps that would be a more satisfactory end for this piece of me, is it the Id? The Uberself? The built-in cynic with a penchant for the soul squash? My masochistic inner other.
You’re not good enough.
You never should’ve stopped writing those five years, when your kid was small.
I didn’t. Not entirely. I blogged. Badly.
It’s too late for you now.
I know. I’ll get my MFA when I’m 34 instead of when I was 29. 34 is practically retirement age when you’re a woman. I should just give up. I’m out of time.
You’re a phony.
I’m very good at tricking people. It’s just because I know a lot of words.
People like you don’t get to do this.
It’s true. I’m a brokeass from a brokeass family. I could never afford the luxury to create, to commit my whole self to what I make. I will always be lesser because I am poor, because I have always been.
Also, you are a mother.
That, too. Mothers’ writing is the worst, nobody cares about dirty nappies and what it really feels like to breastfeed. People care about war.
You will never go to war. Also, you will never publish your essays.
I’m afraid of losing the people in them. The ones who are really important. Much more important than my writing life, my artist’s soul.
Perhaps it is bold to say that we are all constantly pushing hard against those conversations. I picture myself between two tiled walls, my back against one, my feet flat against the other, pressing till my face is red, till my gut is herniated, till the muscles in my thighs lock and ache. Keeping that sacred space between, the place where I get to breathe deep and free and feel alive because I am making. Perhaps other artists face lesser negative self-talk. Perhaps other artists feel like it is their right to do what they must, to create.
And when I’m feeling rested and healthy and positive, which is more often, I am able to recognize all of that for what it is: fear. Not just fear of failure: fear of judgement, of self, of what happens when we let it out? Does it get lost? Do I get it back? If I let my mind really fruit, the ante will be upped, I will push myself to do better next time.
As it is, everything I write sucks as soon as it is down. The process of printing exponentially increases the suckage. The more I work on it, the better I see it is with my rational mind, the more it sucks. How can I live with everything I write forever and ever, published or in a secret journal or on some disk somewhere or in a drawer, sucking. Letting it out means it sucks. But I can’t keep it in!
And it doesn’t suck. Not always anyhow. If I were left to myself alone, I could never believe that.
So, as much as writing practice is alone, alone, alone; I prize my weird and wacky and mostly long-distance community of other writers and artists. These are the people who’ve helped keep me from lobotomizing that cunt who lives in my mind. The ones who teach me how to quiet her, how to shut her in a room with meditation. These are the people who will read this post and nod and feel recognized. These are the people who help me to know that I do not suck, my writing does not suck, and I have every right to pursue my passion.
So when the self-hatred begins to mushroom and permeate and threaten my very will to live, I remember that awful/wonderful movie, LADYBUGS, and I shout over the din, YOU ARE GREAT! YOU ARE WONDERFUL! EVERYBODY LIKES YOU!
You are, too. What does your self say? What do you tell it? How do you shut it up?
I moved twice, took care of my dying friend, had more freelance clients than ever, lost myself, found myself, wrote a book, experienced real grief, improved my love relationship, repainted and decorated a room in our house (w/ my partner) got a restaurant job after a long non-restaurant work spell, explained the concept of “biological father” to my child, told her there wasn’t a real Santa, had the furnace replaced in our old drafty house, went to a writers’ conference, made new friends, lost track of old ones, and reconnected with people from childhood.
It has been intense and difficult and magical.
At the end of all of it, I got a Master’s degree. That photo up there is my me and my mentor, Nancy McKinley after our moment during fake graduation the last night of residency. She’s a fiction and essay writer, and a feminist, and among my favorite people on Earth.
The Wilkes University Low-Residency MA/MFA program is the one I’m working through now (I write my MFA critical paper this semester), and It’s amazing. If you’re not in the know, low-residency means that you go to campus for a small amount of time each semester and do the rest of your coursework online or by correspondence.
One of the recent graduates from the program, Lori A. May, actually wrote the book on the best low-residency MFA programs. So if you’re interested, that’s a great place to start, and it’s no accident that she’s there, at Wilkes, out of any of the other many low-res programs available.
I think New Year’s Resolutions are disingenuous at best. Every year I, instead of making a list of things to accomplish, try to adopt a general posture of self-improvement.
This year, my blogging slump will straighten, I will focus my excess energy on writing and teaching. I will say no to things that don’t help further my goals.
Why are you telling me this?
I must seem like one of those attention-seeking internet lame-os. I am. But if you’re reading this, you had, at least once, a passing fancy for my blog, and I need to confess these things to help keep me accountable. It’s a lot easier to break a promise to myself than it is one I make to internet strangers.
So, dear Internet Stranger (Internet Friend, Real-Life Acquaintance, or Real-Life Friend), thanks for being here.
And know that I will post on Wednesdays for the rest of the year.
Once a week, about 500 words (probably sometimes way more).
For me, for you, for art.
And if you’re in North Central PA, go click Workshop Registration and join me for a study of blogging or of memoir. Next week? I’ll list five of my favorite memoirs.
* Lyric from a poignant song from Love is Dead by Mr. T Experience.