Off to Work We Go

Week two of summer courses has officially come to an end, and I find myself conflicted by the prospect of actually working for the entire summer.

I have never truly worked all summer. Not to the point where I’ve had to turn down outings and vacations because “I have to work.” While I had “full-time” campus jobs during the summers in college and graduate school, I was always able to leave early for concerts or take off some time for trips. Not having that luxury this time around has left me feeling just a tad bitter. Seriously, I had to turn down an offer for a free week at the beach with my boyfriend because I can’t cancel that many class periods. Even if I could, I’d still have to teach online from the beach for a different school, and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone involved. So I’m just out of luck this summer.

Having said that, though, it feels good to be steadily productive throughout the summer months. My schedule is pretty generous, and I have three great groups of students. My fourth course (online) does not even begin for over another month. Money aside, I would probably be going crazy if I didn’t have anything to do right now. I worked every summer at my campus job in undergrad, had a library job and coursework during grad school, and treated finding a job as a job itself last summer. I haven’t had a true summer “off” since the months between junior and senior year of high school. I wouldn’t even know how to cope.

So, as I gaze out of my classroom window, frantically typing these words as my students complete a writing exercise, I find myself daydreaming of a world in which I have a full-time job, a world in which I get paid all summer without having to teach a single class, a world in which I can work on my article and conference proposals and be free to take any damn trip I would like.

Oh, what a wonderful world that would be. But, until then, it is off to work we go.

Be a Man

As swift as a coursing river. With all the force of a great typhoon. With all the strength of a raging fire. Mysterious as the dark side of the moon. According to Disney’s Mulan, these are the requirements for being a man.

Putting Donny Osmond and Ancient China aside for the moment, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a man in 2017. As a college instructor, I always find it important to take issues of sexism and gender representation to task in my sophomore composition courses. In past classes I’ve taught, my students and I have spent weeks talking about issues of gender in Harry Potter. More recently, however, one of my classes read and discussed an article regarding different types of masculinity displayed in How I Met Your Mother. Over and over again, pop culture proves to be an effective vehicle for getting students to think critically about masculinity, femininity, gender relations, and gender stereotypes. But the question remains…in our more open-minded, critically conscious, and self-aware society, how do we define what it means to be a man or a woman?

Over time, we have painted a portrait of the “ideal” man (and, no, unfortunately it does not include raging fires or the dark side of the moon). Men are expected to be strong physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are to be stoic in the face of trial, serving in direct contrast to their overly sensitive female counterparts. A “real” man is the protector, the breadwinner, the disciplinarian, and the head of the household. A man engages in many pursuits, namely watching sports, drinking beer, chasing women, and working with their hands. This is a pretty common perception of what it means to be a man, and film and television often reinforce this notion.

Ironically, none of the men in my life feat tidily into this definition of the “real” man. I know men of various ages that are much more nostalgic, sentimental, and emotionally driven than their female partners. I know plenty of men that take a backseat to their wives in terms of earning income, managing the household, and making family decisions. I know several men who would rather read a book of poetry or see a theatrical performance than attend a football game. I know strong men, weak men, shy men, bold men, committed men, flaky men, and every type of man in-between. So, clearly, our long-held notions of what it means to be a man no longer accurately represent the living, breathing men of 2017.

So what is a “real” man, then?

A real man is a man that respects women, children, the environment, his fellow men, and himself. A real man is unafraid to show emotions or admit moments of weakness. A real man views his partner as his equal and pays his equal dues when it comes to cooking, cleaning, parenting, managing the household, and supporting the family. And, of course, a real man never gives up on the things that are most important to him.

Humble Beginnings

As the semester begins to wind down to a close, I find myself reflecting on how I’ve gotten to where I am today.

As lame as it sounds, I honestly wouldn’t be an adjunct today if it wasn’t for Harry Potter. Without Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with teaching. I might not have majored in English. Heck, my entire life might have looked quite different if HP had never existed.

Allow me to explain.

I was first introduced to Harry Potter at the age on nine, when my third grade teacher began reading the first book to us. As we moved through Sorcerer’s Stone, I quickly became enamored with the magical world-building, the lovable characters, and the suspenseful storyline. Once we finished Sorcerer’s Stone, Ms. Masten moved onto Chamber of Secrets, and I was completely in love by the end of the year.

From that point, I started to read more and more. I read the third and fourth books, then I began looking for something else that could excite and inspire me as much as HP. While I found other books I loved over time, nothing could quite fill the Harry Potter-shaped space in my heart. Determined, I became an insatiable reader.

Around the same period of time, I began writing my first short stories. I figured that if I couldn’t find the books that were as good as HP, then I would write them. I quickly discovered that I loved writing just as much, if not more, than I loved reading. Every time a subsequent Harry Potter book would come out or I would encounter another excellent series, I just felt more and more motivated to write. By seventh grade, I was working on an elaborate book series and a handful of other written projects.

Needless to say, I have not become a best-selling author or anything like that (yet…), but my interest in writing fiction prompted me to major in English in my undergraduate studies. In college, Harry Potter became the quickest and easiest way to make new friends, especially with other English majors. We geeked out over our favorite moments, bonded at midnight movie releases, and took our Hogwarts houses very seriously. My friends’ house was even deemed the Hufflepuff Common Room, and they had a giant Hufflepuff crest fixated above their faux fireplace in their campus house.

By the end of college, I was still determined that writing fiction was what I wanted to do with my life. I applied to both MFA (fine arts programs in creative writing) and MA (regular English) graduate programs, and got accepted into one of each. After a lot of deliberation, I ended up deciding to stay at my undergrad institution and earn my MA so that I could apply to higher-caliber MFA programs later on. I was offered a teaching assistantship to fund my graduate studies, which meant that I would be teaching sophomore-level composition my second year in the program.

Sophomore-level composition at my university is theme-based, meaning that each individual instructor’s class is a different theme. I had a whole semester to design a course around whatever theme I liked, and I, of course, picked Harry Potter. The course was titled “From Hogwarts to the Humanities” and had units on identity, gender studies, religious studies, and philosophy, all connected to HP. When I finally got to teach the class in my second year, it was even more amazing than I had expected. I loved going to class every single day and reading all the great insights my students were bringing to the HP series in their writing and research. On the last day of the semester, one of the students asked if we could take a “family” photo. It was in that final class period, as we shed tears over a nostalgic HP tribute video and the end of our time together, that I knew I wanted to teach composition for the rest of my life. It probably goes without saying that, when I finished my Master’s degree, my graduation party was also HP themed!

So, while the concept may sound strange, Harry Potter truly changed my life. It impacted my hobbies, my friendships, and my career path. Without The Boy Who Lived, my life would look very, very different. Thank you, J.K. Rowling!

This post originally appeared on my instructor blog, Composition is Fun! You can view the original post here.

Adequate Inadequacies

Honestly, I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself this week.

I’m overworked and over-stressed, a result of a perfect storm of professional obligations, student assignments, and a healthy dose of procrastination. My hands have been cramping from all the handwriting and typing I’ve been doing, and, no matter how many hours I work, I just don’t seem to make a dent in the pile at all. Once I cross one thing off the list, two more just seem to pop right up.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve felt this way since I finished graduate school. Even though last semester I was teaching two more courses than I am currently, I did not have any “coursework” of my own. Signing up for a professional development course requiring 6+ weeks of graduate-level work was probably not the smartest move I could’ve made, especially since I found out shortly after that I would also have 3 weeks of extensive training for a new online teaching position.

Needless to say, after I accidentally attached a blank document to a training assignment and was not familiar with the course management site enough to fix (or prevent) the issue two hours before the final deadline, I had a full-blown academia-induced breakdown. I’ve been about a year overdue for one, so it felt sickeningly familiar in some way.

This little breakdown has been the crowning glory in my feelings of inadequacy this week. I’m a perfectionist with a fear of failure, so every little mistake I make seems detrimental. I’m feeling like an inadequate instructor because I can’t keep up with my grading because of my professional obligations, and I’m falling behind in my professional obligations because of grading. I’m feeling inadequate in my field because I don’t have a Ph.D. and, at this rate, don’t know when I’ll get one. I’m feeling inadequate because my boyfriend from an upper-middle class family finally realized how run-down and cluttered my home is compared to his. I’m feeling inadequate because I can’t look the way I want to or dress the way I want to or do all of the things that I want to do.

I’m feeling inadequate because I’m 25 years old and still waiting for my life to really start. But, I guess this is a rather adequate inadequacy to have.

 

When “You and Me” Becomes “We”

For the vast majority of my young adult life, I have been a bit of loner. An introvert at heart, I do not have a huge group of friends, nor do I see my friends as much as I could.  I never really dated in college and hadn’t had a proper boyfriend since high school. I’ve always been pretty independent and satisfied spending time alone.

So, when I first started dating my current boyfriend in my last semester of graduate school, the idea of not being single was somewhat hard to get used to.  I didn’t immediately think about inviting him to family get-togethers or group outings with my friends. I was thrown off when friends and family members asked where he was or what he was up to when I showed up to an event solo. I forged ahead with my own plans for a Halloween costume because the idea of a couple’s costume never even crossed my mind. I didn’t view my boyfriend and myself as a collective unit; I viewed him as a complement to myself.

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, when I stopped thinking of my relationship as “him and me” and started thinking about it as “us.” I suppose it was around Thanksgiving, when we went to each others’ family holiday celebrations. I had never spent a holiday with a significant other before, and it felt weird to be attending each event as a single entity. Although the experience was foreign to me, it was also pleasant. After that point, I resolved myself to the fact that we were truly a collective unit. 

Now, the idea of an existence completely apart from him is frightening to me. I now think of things in terms of us as a couple, rather than myself individually. We talk openly about trips we’d like to take, plans for our second year of dating, and ideas for activities we would like to do this fall. We hint at the possibilities of someday living together, getting married, and having children. And, not only have I opened myself up to the idea of doing a couple’s costume for Halloween, but we’ve actually already discussed potential costumes. 

This transition into the “we” versus “you and me” mentality is scary for an independent and reluctant introvert like myself, but it is also really exciting. It’s the start of a new chapter in my life, and I can’t see where the road takes us.

Academic Incest

One concern I often face as a young professional is the fear of committing academic incest.

When I was in college and applying to graduate programs, I received mixed feedback regarding my decision to apply to the M.A. program at my undergraduate institution. Some thought that staying at my home institution would be the best decision I could ever make, while others warned that earning my B.A. and M.A. from the same school would reflect poorly upon me later on.

Since I was offered full funding, I did indeed stay at my home institution for graduate school. This experience, as I’ve mentioned before, completely altered my career path and changed my life in so many ways, so I certainly wouldn’t change that decision. But, when I approached graduation, I was faced with the same conflicting feedback again. On one hand, friends and family were lamenting the fact that I couldn’t continue on at the same school to earn my PhD. On the other hand, some of my mentors celebrated the fact that I would finally be moving on, either to further my graduate studies or to start a career.

Of course, that didn’t quite happen either. While I am gaining teaching experience in other schools and contexts, I am still at my home institution as an adjunct instructor. I am now hired to teach the undergraduate student body I belonged to just three years ago. And, if I get things my way, I have no intention of leaving. If a full-time position at my university became available, I would apply as soon as possible. And I firmly believe I would be quite content staying in that role for the foreseeable future.

Several members of our department completed their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees at the university. In fact, many of the full-time lecturers were teaching assistants in the same program I was in. So many of us were so content with our experiences as students that we wanted to return to our roots and stay put. And that’s one of the things I love the most about my department and my university.

So why is there such a stigma against academic “incest” anyway? After all, who knows the campus and the students at a university better than those that have been students there themselves? Doesn’t this show commitment to the university’s values and a loyalty to the department that bred us? I’m not sure I can buy into the idea that this is a negative thing.

What are your thoughts on so-called academic “incest”? Share them below!

 

Mile Markers

Today, two of my friends announced their engagement. Of course, this announcement was not out-of-the-blue; the pair have dated for several years and have lived together for a couple of those years. But, still, this engagement is a milestone they (and everyone around them) have been waiting for. This time last month, my friends’ lives were business as usual, but now they have been whisked away by a whirlwind of elation and wedding planning.

The excitement and happiness I feel for the two of them makes me daydream about my own potential engagement someday. After all, that’s what I’m expected to do. It seems that once an adult relationship reaches a certain point, the countdown to engagement automatically begins, whether the couple acknowledges this or not. Once a relationship crosses this threshold, it ceases to be a relationship for the mere sake of being a relationship. Instead, it becomes a countdown to the engagement milestone. Eventually, those around us will start expecting it, just like I expected my friends’ engagement. At this point, there’s really only two options for how this thing can go: either he’ll “put a ring on it” or the relationship will come crashing down in fiery chaos.

So is this what adulthood really is? Just a series of milestones we live to check off of our lists?

We spend our high school years preparing to get into college. We go to college to enter into a job and begin our careers upon graduation. We land an interview and then land the job. We move out on our own and begin to establish ourselves. We find a partner, move in with them, get engaged to them, and marry them. Shortly after, we have children. This is what society expects out of us before the age of thirty. Our young adult years are a ripe time for important milestones, and our success is measured by which ones we reach, how quickly we reach them, and in what order they occur.

While I certainly want all of these things for myself, I don’t want to sit around just waiting for the next milestone to occur. I want to live my life fully in the in-between. I want to keep pushing myself to do better and be better and enjoy every moment. That way, the milestones won’t be my only crowning achievements but extra-sweet moments in an already sweet life.

I Guess This is Growing Up

In two weeks, I will turn twenty-five.

Back in high school and even in undergrad, I thought I would have my whole life figured out by now. I thought I would be settled in a career, married, and maybe even a mother by this point. I truly believed I would be a full-blown adult by now. The closer I actually got to the age of twenty-five, the more I realized that the vision in my head was a flat-out joke.

Instead of living some picturesque version of adulthood, I’m mostly flailing about, trying to figure out my life while holding my shit together. In fact, with each new phase of my life that I enter, the more chaos I seem to encounter. My mid-twenties are definitely the most tumultuous years I’ve experienced so far. Especially without the structure of school, life is incredibly freeform right now. While some people might find that to be exciting and freeing, I find it to be utterly obnoxious and, at times, utterly terrifying.

Over time, the pieces of my life puzzle have slowly started to fall in place. While I’m still not in a full-time job, I at least have a clear-cut vision of what I want to do with my life, and I’m working my ass off in multiple part-time positions to make that vision a reality. I’m still living at home, but I have concrete goals for moving out and am actively trying to become more independent. I’m over a year into the best relationship I’ve ever been in and have started to seriously consider the fact that this might be the man I’m going to marry. The players are all lined up; now the wait is on to see if they all fall into position to play the game.

I’m so close to having the life I want for myself. In some ways, this terrifies me more than the periods in which I have felt totally lost and directionless. I’m so afraid I’m going to screw something up that will prevent this rather feasible dream into becoming an activity. I’m afraid that I will have to reinvent myself yet again and set off on a totally new path, a path that, for once, I don’t want to venture down.

My friends seem to be in similar states of disarray. Everyone is in the middle of career changes and identity crises. It’s kinda like we’ve been living these semi-artificial lives and now we’re all in flux, transforming into the people we’re really supposed to be. It is a crazy, scary, exciting, fun, awful, weird period of life to go through.

Well, I guess this is growing up.

That Cupid’s a Sneaky Bastard

I can’t believe Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love, naked baby angels, and chocolate hearts, is almost here again.

In high school, I tried to write a description of love. Inspired by a friend’s composition of a similar nature, I spent several hours trying to capture the feeling…the gooey-eyed stares, the blush-worthy text messages, the rush of that first kiss. The problem was that, no matter how right it sounded originally, nothing I wrote really said anything.

Only recently did I realize that those words seemed empty because I had never actually been in love. What I felt then was not real love, but I can only recognize this because I have now felt what genuine love is like.

So…what is love?

Love is having an ice-cold glass of Mountain Dew poured for you when you come over, even though they only drink Diet Coke. Love is that nervous flutter in your stomach every time you drive to meet them and every time their name appears on your phone, even though you’ve been together for over a year and friends for even longer. Love is acceptance…of quirks and too-soft bodies and the intricate patchwork of each other’s pasts. Love is safety. It is the whisper of a touch, a reassuring squeeze on the knee, and a hug that you wish would never end. Love is feeling at home whenever and wherever you’re with them. It is enjoying spontaneous adventures, planned outings, routine tasks, and quiet moments equally, as long as you’re together. Love is spending an entire week together and still wanting another week, another day, another hour with them. Love is saying the words out loud and truly meaning them, not just in the heat of passion or in the parting of ways, but in the quiet, ordinary moments too. It is trusting each other enough to talk about hopes and fears, past disappointments, spur-of-the-moment whimsies, bodily functions, and everything in between. Love is feeling scared of the possibility of spending the rest of your life with them, but being far more frightened by the possibility of ever losing them.

This is love. Or, at least, this is love as I’ve learned it to be over the past year. I wasn’t looking for love, and neither was he; love snuck up on both of us when we were looking the other way. But, now, our relationship is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I can’t imagine a future without him. I hope I never have to.

So, as we approach Valentine’s Day once again, let’s all celebrate love, even if you’re completely single. Because love is real, love can be true, and love will find you when you least expect it. Trust me.

 

The Great Escape

I have lived in one place my entire life. It only seems natural, then, that one of my main goals since high school has been to get out of my hometown.

It started with dreams to go away for college. I really wanted to go to a school about an hour away from home, but my family simply couldn’t afford it. As it turns out, I didn’t even apply to any schools outside of the two universities in my hometown. There was no point in getting my hopes up.

So, college was not my chance to break away. In undergrad, I started to look at grad school as my opportunity instead. In addition to the graduate program at my  home institution, I applied to schools in other parts of my state, as well as schools in other states. My mother was a little concerned about me potentially moving several hours away, but I was confident I could handle it.

The possibility became tangible when I was accepted into a MFA program in northern Ohio. While I liked the idea of establishing my independence and studying creative writing, this particular program was definitely not the program at the top of my list. Suddenly, three hours from home felt really far for a program I wasn’t completely in love with, especially with two less-than-healthy parents. Surprising myself, I turned down the offer of admission, even though I thought the decision meant that I would have to take a year off from school.

Of course, as it turned out, choosing not to attend that university for graduate school turned out to be one of the most important decisions of my life.

A few days after I turned down the offer, I was given full funding to attend my home institution’s MA program. During my time in the program, I fell in love with teaching, fell in love with rhet./comp., and met the man I would eventually fall in love with. The decision not to move away from hoe changed the course of my career, my love life, and my identity. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if I had moved away right after undergrad to pursue an MFA.

So, with my Master’s degree earned at home, I set my sights on moving out for my PhD. This would be a move out of necessity, not choice; the closest PhD programs in my chosen field are both about an hour away. Getting into any program I applied to would be a guaranteed ticket out of my hometown. But, then, life happened. I got so caught up in trying to teach, grade, attend courses, do homework, meet department requirements, and attend conferences that I didn’t have any time, energy, or sanity left to apply to PhD programs in my last year of graduate school. After a significant mental breakdown, I resolved myself to taking a year off to work and focus on preparing my materials.

That did not go quite as planned either. I taught five classes last semester and barely made enough money to recover from a summer of no employment and the new financial responsibilities I had recently taken on. I couldn’t really afford the large amounts of money needed to take the GRE, send my transcripts, and cover application fees. With five classes, I also had so much grading and course prep to do that I hardly had enough time leftover to work on application materials and still maintain my meager social life. I finally resolved myself to the fact that I needed to put off applying for another year.

Now, I’m about a year away from the next application deadlines, and, for the first time in my young adult life, I don’t know if I really want to leave. It all appears in my mind so vividly. I can see myself taking a full-time job and getting a little apartment in an artsy neighborhood. I can see myself creating my own little life here with my boyfriend.

And, for the first time, I can see what a good little life it would be.