I usually take some time at the end of one year and start of a new to reflect on all the things I did NOT accomplish, all the ways my career has fallen flat, all the books I have NOT published, all the ways I am not living up to my potential or my expensive degree, haha. But I am ending this year content and surprised at where 2013 has ended and hopeful about 2014.
I spent the first half of the year ramping up my freelance editing and writing business. I took on numerous dissertation clients (thanks to word of mouth, more than I could handle, actually!) and wrote a dizzying number of textbook chapters, study guides, lesson plans, course curricula, and don’t even remember what else. I also indexed a friend’s fabulous history book, finished up editing a 4-volume encyclopedia on the history of women’s rights in the U.S., and signed on to write/edit a 2-volume work in the history of technology and inventions. I also had the incredible experience of being invited to post a short piece I had written about same-sex marriage that received an overwhelming and stunning number of views and reblogs and retweets. As the numbers piled up and the responses (good and bad) flowed in, I was sure this was the start of my new career as a blogger, but perhaps not, ha. Still, it was an awesome experience, the largest audience I've ever had, and I loved writing it. Lastly, I was (still am) determined to find an agent for my historical novel manuscript, and tried not to be discouraged by the rejections, focusing instead on the fact that *several* agents asked to see the full manuscript, at least. I sent the last big round of queries in July.
Even though my work plate was filling up, I needed something more regular (especially if we were going to be able to send Lillian on to middle school at Mount Madonna School), and so I also spent many months (in 2012 and 2013) looking for a full-time editing or teaching job. I finally broke into the pool to teach an online college course and completed that training over the summer, but I also sent my resume to local charter and private high schools, hoping to find a full-time position and really wanting to do something different than return to adjunct college teaching. I did not rule out the latter, though, as bread-and-butter work, and in late August I was offered two courses at two different local colleges. Surprisingly, I said No. Here I was trying to drum up work for all these months and now I had too much of it. Besides, something told me that the effort (the driving, the prep for new courses) would be more than the benefits. I always hate saying No to paying jobs, but also hate saying No to colleagues in need and to opportunities, as you never know what further doors will be opened. I said No, though, and planned to focus on my writing projects as the kids prepared to start a new school year (7th and 10th grades).
Another factor in my saying No to the local adjunct jobs was that David started a new job with a medical device company on September 1st. The offer came somewhat suddenly and he agonized over leaving his long association with the skateboard company, as they had been good to us, but besides being a positive career move for him as an engineer and allowing him to revamp his workshop and work at home full-time, the new job brought an increase in salary that relieved some of the worry about keeping both kids at MMS. Things seemed to be smoothing out.
Everything changed in September when I was asked to step in as long-term sub for the high school English teacher at MMS. I had subbed for this teacher a few times in the past, but now she needed to go on medical leave for at least 6 weeks. I was (still am) completely honored that she asked me and that she and the head of school entrusted me with the English and Creative Writing classes for the entire high school, grades 9 through 12. I felt that everything had come full circle in a weird way. Taking two years to write my novel and to continue my own literary education. Stepping away from the college classroom and writing high school textbooks and curricula and study guides. And being completely invested in the quality of instruction at MMS, for the sake of my own kids. I have brought all of this to the English classroom in what turned out to be not only a longer-term job than originally planned, but just a BIGGER job than I could have imagined.
When I got the call in early September, it was not that I was simply "available," or wasn't doing anything else. It was that I knew immediately that this was what I was meant to do for now – that it was what *I* wanted to do, more than any other job I had been looking for, but also that this teacher needed me and I would (hopefully) be setting her mind at ease about leaving her job and her students on such short notice. And once I showed up in class on the first day, I knew this would be more than a "sub" job and more than a full-time job. I did not hesitate to tell my women’s rights editor that I couldn’t work on any of the finishing details of the book (timeline, intro, bibliography) and that they would have to do it in-house (this was huge for me, too, as I am such a perfectionist about work that goes out with my name on it – but my priorities had shifted). I immediately emailed my technology and inventions editor that the book would have to be postponed until next year or that they could feel free to find another writer (this was a big deal, too, because if they cancel my contract, I will owe them advance money I’ve already received, but so far they haven’t cancelled it or rescheduled it). I said No to a couple of other freelance offers that came up, but I have continued to teach the online college course because it’s a very flexible schedule and it was difficult to break-in to online teaching in the first place, and I don’t know how long I’ll be at MMS.
Even though the teacher was telling everyone she would be gone for 6 weeks, the message I was getting from the school was to be flexible and, in my mind, I knew I would be there at least through final exams and winter break. Indeed, the original six weeks came and went without anyone really commenting on the date, as her medical condition was raising more questions than answers. I still don't know exactly how long they will need me, perhaps through the school year now, perhaps off-and-on if she plans to return at least part-time.
YES, I would like to stay at MMS through the year as I am very invested in the work I’ve done with these particular students and have loved every day of it! I wish I’d kept a blog of it all, but I HAVE, at least, kept a really messy handwritten notebook of what we’ve done every day. It’s been very emotional at times, filling the shoes of a very beloved teacher who is out due to difficult circumstances, but the head of school, the other faculty, and the parents have all supported me 100%. And what an amazing opportunity I have had to put everything else aside and not only get to know all of these students and get new insight into my kids’ school, but to be forced to read (or re-read) an amazing list of novels, plays, short stories, and poems. That is just what writers always wish for – more time to read – and I do not doubt that, working side-by-side with the students, my own literary education will continue to unfold and enrich my own writing in new and unexpected ways.
The one thing I do miss, then, is my own creative writing. So my goals for 2014 include revising my historical novel manuscript and reviving the agent search. I also have 25,000 words of a Young Adult novel that I am feeling deserves some new attention. I started this novel last year, in 2012, but is it too much to say that it has been a fortuitous happenstance that I have had the privilege of spending the past three months in the daily company of teens, talking about books and their lives?
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless--of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here--that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" Who said it? Watching Dead Poets Society with juniors. Robin Williams as Prof. John Keating. The play's the thing. Our dynamic Performing Arts teacher came to senior class and gave us ALL some new tools for accessing the text. Gift of the Magi and Creative Writing with the 10th graders. They are writing (you guessed it) parables.