Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Someday this will be a movie starring Drew Barrymore

I have work quitting or at least work flipping out fantasies. Among the best of these: Tom Cruise's flip out in Jerry Maguire . . .

and my favorite, Jim Carrey's back to you, fuckers, from Bruce Almighty . . .

Last week, I gave up $10,000. And while I didn't exactly flip out, or flip anyone off, I did sort of come to a screeching halt.

Last spring I was contacted to offer a couple of creative writing courses at Syracuse University: a lucky break for me. It was part-time work (aka adjuncting) but it paid well, and . .  well, it was SU. While I may have misgivings on the prestige of the big school for a lot of things (especially having gone to Le Moyne) I was not about to argue with the reputation of the creative writing program. Also, I could be teaching the next Lou Reed.

It went well. By which I mean to say, I liked it, but what I liked most about it was teaching creatively. I was also teaching a writing intensive on the interpretation of fiction: which is just what you think it is: a lot of interpreting, snow = death, inscribing pens = penises kind of thing.

In the fall, two sections of gender and lit opened up for the spring. Another writing intensive with even more pens, but with the added inscripted body, queer theory,  and performativity too.

It was a lot of work. And a good opportunity to show my mettle: gender / queer theory would have been one of my field exams, had I finished my Ph.D.

Ok: I have a problem with quitting.

I did this once before, my first time around in graduate school, in 1996. I had lost my funding. My first year, I was fully funded, working as an editorial assistant for Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies (MRTS). When it closed, and moved from Binghamton, I was shit outta luck. In fact, that might be the official language of the English department. I remember a shrug, and a I dunno coming from the chair when I went in to ask where else they could place me.

So my second year, I took a full time job as a proofreader / styles editor at Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing. When I thought I was going to get to read all of the Norton Anthologies (and get paid $7/ hour) I instead got to read an entire textbook on bovine venereal diseases. Seriously, inflamed cow vulva is nothing to laugh at.

I was studying full-time, working full-time and by October, I was pregnant. By December, I had to quit something, and the only thing I couldn't quit was being pregnant. (Yes, I know I could have. The baby was planned. I know. Who plans a baby in grad school? I do.)

So I left everything. School (leave of absence). Work. Binghamton. I found I could do one thing right then and that was have this baby.

Now, fifteen years later, I'm in the same boat. After struggling through the middle school years and watching my brilliant, (yes, I said brilliant) under-motivated son go from top of his class in Liverpool to bottom of his class in Clinton,* I decided something radical needed to be done. In the midst of a whole lot of bullshit sometimes you need to focus on one thing.

I pulled him out of school.

No one at the school district knows what to do with him. When I say this, I mean I haven't gotten any idea or solution from them that says "lets try this" that isn't just punishment. He doesn't need punishment. He needs inspiration.

We're in the midst of liberating here. We're homeschooling. And unschooling. And for the time being, following our curiosity towards doing whatever the fuck we want. To facilitate this, I quit my two writing intensives for spring. My move was deemed "unprecedented" by the department.

Unprecedented because I pulled out so close to the start of classes. Also, I expect, because in a highly competitive academic milieu, leaving for family issues just makes you a mom, when they thought you were a professional. Unprecedented because how could you give up $10,000 to stop everything and figure out how to teach your most important student? If I were a legit, full-time employee I might have been able to finagle a leave of absence, but when you operate as a satellite, they just kind of cut you loose.**

As always, I second-guess myself. I asked for a lot of advice. I got a lot of advice. A lot of it was super helpful. And I'm still getting lots of advice. I expect it will continue. Everyone (but the school, apparently) has ideas about how to raise and teach a child.

We had a meeting with the principal and the guidance counselor last week. A meeting where I expected to be offered some insight, some proposal, but what I got instead was a version of them telling on him, and what the told me was what I already knew. What I was prepared to say, instead, and what we did say, in a longer, more formal way was I got this.

You know what, I got this. Thanks anyway. And for the time being, I have to let go and not feel bad about my unprecedented decision to stop teaching 60 students in favor of teaching one.

*I'm not pitching some east cost / west coast Liverpool / Clinton thing here. Chances are, he would have done the same thing in Liverpool. But the reality is that he never got the chance to shine at Clinton. He was tracked into mediocrity and stayed there, and partially, my gut tells me that's because no one tried very hard to get to know him or notice his particular understated sparkle. That's right. I said sparkle.

** Also, yes, I know I am privileged to be able to make this decision at all. In another household, mommy would just keep working, and junior would just keep failing. Losing 10k is hard for us, but it's not the end. I'm not the sole or even the main breadwinner. And I'm still teaching one class: the fiction workshop.

1 comment:

  1. I find your no BS straight talk very refreshing Jen!