I'm finding that when almost every single big familiar thing in your life is removed, you see what's really important to you. And I don't mean in a sappy, puppies-in-a-basket way. Although yes, puppies in a basket are crucially important.
I mean this: Now that I'm 2,000 miles from "home," and have left behind all of my friends, my church, my house, my neighborhood, my town, my job, my office of fantastic co-sufferers, my 2-hour driving distance from my family, and even my climate, things that are just not going to work for Candy are becoming clear very quickly.
Yesterday, I started teaching at the Little Bitty Community College. I despised it. And before you think "Oh Candy, give it a chance! Every job is hard the first day..." let me tell you that it wasn't about it being the first day. It was about contrast.
At the Big Giant University where I spent 9 years, I taught a dozen or so Freshman Composition classes during that time. During the first year that's all I taught. But with a huge stroke of luck and Divine choreography, I began teaching creative writing classes. There is an unspeakably huge difference between those 2 teaching genres. Freshman comp is a required course for all college students. No matter what their intended major, no matter how annoyed they are to be in school because their parents coerced them. The overall attitude, with very few exceptions, from the students in this course is "What? We, like, have to write papers? I, like, hate to write. Oh my God, I forgot to turn my phone off. Can I, like, answer it?" It goes downhill from there.
In creative writing classes, whether fiction writing, poetry writing, or memoir writing (all classes I taught regularly) the attitude is different. The courses are elective and those who sign up want to take them. Another perk: these students are usually juniors and seniors (because they get to sign up for classes first) and have had a couple years of college writing already, not to mention a little more life experience. They believe they have something to say, and that the world will be interested in hearing it, and that they are creative enough to make the writing good. In a word: motivated.
This does take the form of a naive arrogance sometimes. Like the total douchebag student I had in a fiction class once who said "I don't need to know how to write. I just need an agent." He was unbearable. A personality like an oily residue, not unlike his writing. Case in point: his scintillating story(wet dream) about the main character (himself) who was such a magnificent guitar player that Eddie Van Halen begged him to come over and show him some pointers. The main character coldly refused and the devastated Eddie quit rock 'n' roll forever.
It is not easy to "teach" a kid like that one, when what you'd really like to do is dip him in honey and drop him into a kiddie pool filled with red ants. But I'm at least interested in the genre, and in the group of students workshopping the story, and in whether or not we can salvage any of it. And believe it or not, I am not mean. Ever. When a student puts their creative writing in front of you, it is often, for them, like fileting themselves with a serrated knife in front of 17 of their peers. You must make a safe place for them. And I do. Even though I have many sharp streaks of raving bitch in my personality, I don't take it into the classroom. Everywhere else, yes. Class, no.
Yesterday, on my first day in the new classroom, it hit me that I am just done with teaching. The chance to teach creative writing at the college level in Phoenix is a gnat's foot away from zero, and even if I did get that kind of class here, the salary would still be one-third what I made at my old job.
So what I'm left with is a low-paying, dull-as-an-infomercial job (reading research papers about gun control, the advances in tanning beds, and binge drinking) ((those three topics all relate, don't they?)) that forces me to follow a schedule which prevents me from flying home to see my family until the semester is over. Unless I want to fly home on a Friday and back to Phoenix on a Sunday. This is not an attractive travel agenda to someone who needs a full day to recover from flying.
I know that most people with jobs do not have jobs they like. Even fewer have jobs that they love. That's how life is. But I need my job to at least have a point. I could go do chunks of temp work at Manpower and be stuck in an office filing medical forms 8 hours a day. But it would still have a point: I could go see my parents, 89 and 84, more than every 4 months. They have things to tell me, still, that I can't learn from college freshmen. Admittedly, my dad doesn't have much to say anymore, but I can still make him laugh, and I want to go do that as often as possible while he's around.
Teaching does have a point. There are people who want to coax irritable 18-year-olds into doing the assignments, and who don't mind the constant battle to win the hearts of teenagers over into the world of literature and writing when they would rather be text messaging "u b at th mall L8r?" But honestly, if I'd wanted to wrangle angry adolescents, I'd have had some of my own.
Some students are motivated. Out of a class of 18 there are usually 2 or 3 who rise to the occasion and crank out the work without acting as though you've asked them to knock out their own teeth, and they even do it well. There is the occasional victory. It's just not enough for me anymore.
Truthfully, I'm feeling more than a little brokenhearted. Teaching turned me into a person. It was the first place I ever found success. And now I have to let it go and figure out what's next. I can always go back. There is a neverending supply of low-paying positions teaching freshman comp. But I don't think I will.
There is much to be thankful for. There is a husband I'm madly in love with who wore fake hillbilly teeth with me at our wedding, and who is really, really good to me every day. And that's enough to start with.