Sleep no more

The Fussy Professional Task is done–that is, at least until they write back and ask for revisions.

And now it’s after midnight.  I was more sleepy before the FPT.  Now what?

Well, here’s something I’ve been meaning to write about.  I’ve agreed to become chair of the English department at SA for next year.

Dr. Tea, as I’ve mentioned before, has been wanting to step down.  After fifteen years or so, she’s ready for something new.  Elinor was supposed to succeed her–a change of which I heartily approved–but in the fall she, and we, learned that she and her husband would be relocating to a different part of the country.  So we are losing Elinor–but we already have Ph.D. Guy on deck, and I don’t think we’ll be making another hire.  He might have one history class, but he’ll mostly be teaching English.

Initially, I hadn’t seen chairing the department as something I really wanted to do, but in the fall I had a few weeks to get used to the idea, and to talk with Dr. Tea, and with the chair of the history department, who is a woman I really like and respect.  I had some conversations with the GGE, and with Stubb, and with my mom and sister, who helped me figure out how to talk about the kind of salary I would need.  I decided that I would be willing to do it, would probably enjoy many parts of it, and could manage the less appealing parts–but that I really didn’t want to try to keep doing NLNRU at the same time.  In fact, the idea that I could afford to stop teaching at NLNRU, at least for a while, was a great inducement.

Because here’s the thing: I have gotten more involved in NLNRU than I can really handle.  I’m only teaching one class, but I have an administrative appointment, and advising, and I’m on various committees.  If this were my only job, it would probably be OK–but of the two jobs, there is just no question that the one that makes me happy is SA.  I’m almost always smiling when I drive onto the SA campus, whereas when I drive onto the NLNRU campus I frequently wish I didn’t have to be there.  I could talk at more length about why–and it’s not the students, and it’s not most of the people, although there are a couple of toxic individuals.  It’s partly about the university, and partly about the position of our program in it, and partly about my personality (I think I’m just happier in a smaller institution).  And, of course, it is about just having too much to do and realizing that for my health and sanity, and the health and sanity of my loved ones, I need to cut back.  The weird thing is that it’s mostly not about being non-tenure-track–I have a multi-year contract, and a reasonable amount of job security, and am well compensated there (though not as well as at SA).

I have known about this change for a while, and all of the people know who need to know now–I’ll teach this semester, and then I’m done with NLNRU, at least for a while.  What I haven’t quite worked out is the narrative part: what is the story here?  Is it the story of someone who thought she would always work in higher ed and then discovered that she likes secondary ed better?  It kind of is, but it’s also the story of someone who never finished her dissertation, and the story of someone who thought she was maybe going to be a scholar but became a poet instead, and the story of a poet who thought she would sustain herself by teaching in a college/MFA program but found she preferred teaching literature in a high school.  Another story is the story of someone who went to a certain kind of college in the 1980’s and experienced certain kinds of changes to the profession while attending graduate school and then teaching at colleges in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  And it’s also possible to pick out the story of a mother who wants to ensure a high-quality private-school education for her daughter and so changed her career to make that possible–which has some truth to it, but is not at all the whole story.

And the story, whatever it is, is going to change, too.  It will probably include some losses and missed opportunities–because teaching at NLNRU has definitely given me chances to Meet Important People and get asked to Do Things (read, speak, judge a contest).  A small part of me is a little worried that now I’ll just be yet another high-school English teacher who writes poetry.  (A larger part, fortunately, continues to believe that it doesn’t matter who writes poems if the poems are good.  A poet can be an undertaker, Brooks Brothers salesman, housewife–or, like the next inaugural poet, a civil engineer.)

I don’t entirely control the story.  I also don’t get to read the ending ahead of anyone else!  I wonder, though, what I will say when I start saying this to people beyond my close circle (and people at SA, where the becoming-chair part is pretty generally known).  What will I say to my NLNRU students, for example?  On Facebook?  To people at the conferences I’ll be attending over the next few months?

I’ve had a while to assimilate this change–it’s been pretty much settled since the week after Thanksgiving–and I am feeling really good about it.  I’m just still wondering: what is the story here?

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Congratulations! It sounds like this is a good change for you.

    Growing up, I always thought that poets were people who taught high school—and slept on other teachers’ couches when they went to do poetry readings when they had books come out. Sometimes they tended bar, instead of teaching.

    It would be lovely if plot lines were clear while we were living our stories. It would be so much easier to make choices of all kinds. But I think mostly we don’t see the plot till later. Sometimes, much later. “Oh—it was that kind of story! I thought I was living a completely different genre! And minor theme was really major, and vice versa, and who knew that little versimilitudinous detail was a foreshadowing device!”

    Last night I learned that my husband took a grad class from a college contemporary of mine, a friend of a friend, really, who became an academic (Sir John did his phud at a relatively advanced age). I rarely have small-world moments. It made me laugh. How odd (to me) that a minor character in my life had a more significant impact on my husband and several of his friends.

    Reply

  2. SA is lucky to have you ready to step up! And as a reader of poetry, I am lucky to have you writing.

    You’re going to do a fine job, I’m sure, and you’ll bring your experiences together in good ways.

    But, seriously, don’t you think you should do some readings in the upper midwest?

    Reply

    • Posted by meansomething on January 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      Aw, thanks. And yes, I want to do some readings in the upper midwest–as soon as I have a publisher and a pub date for book #2, I’ll start planning my couch-surfing book tour.

      Reply

  3. I’m very exciting about this turn of events! And I look forward to hearing about your adventures in the months to come. I’m glad for your sake that you’ll be at only institution, for the sheer focus and (relative!) leisure of not having to juggle two schools.

    And I’m interested in your thoughts about the story that this represents. I’ve thought a lot about those life stories lately because D. and I have been crafting her cover letter and deciding which story she wants to tell.

    Reply

    • Posted by meansomething on January 19, 2013 at 11:04 pm

      I still think it would be really interesting to be doing this at the same time and comparing notes…

      Reply

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