That Adjunct Life: Year Two

I can’t believe an entire year has passed since I first began my journey as an adjunct professor.

No matter how many months pass or how many courses I teach, I still have not quite come to terms with the fact that I’m not a student anymore. I still feel like I’m a teaching assistant just playing at being a professor and waiting for my next term of courses to start. I still have not fully realized that I AM a professor and this IS what I do for a living now.

I have to admit that going to a job I love every single day is a fantastic feeling. My classrooms see both good days and bad ones, but the positive factors far outweigh the negative ones. I love my students and cherish the time I get to spend with them. I love trying new activities or assignments in the classroom and seeing how they turn out. I love improving as a teacher with every semester that goes by. While my wages are still rather modest comparatively speaking, I’m making more money than I’ve personally ever made in my life before. I’m feeling more secure in myself financially, professionally, and personally and am preparing to move out in a few months. Even though I’m certainly not without my complaints, life as an adjunct has treated me pretty damn well so far.

Do I still want the higher wages and higher stability that a full-time teaching position could offer? Absolutely. But am I content in the meantime doing what I’m doing now? You bet I am.

Year two, here we go.

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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.

 

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 home 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.

 

All’s Well That Ends Well (or Something)

The end of the calendar year is officially upon us.

Of course, anytime that one year comes to an end and another one is set to begin, we as humans naturally resort to nostalgic reflection, introspection, and prediction. We think about what went wrong in the last twelve months, what went right, and what we can do to make the next year an even better one (or, at bare minimum, a slightly less disastrous one). Every new year is chance to start again.

So, how does 2016 rate?

I think most Americans (and people in plenty of other countries) can agree that 2016 has been far from the brightest star in our collective sky. With notable celebrity deaths, global travesties, and a shit-show of a presidential election, I wouldn’t be surprised to find many people breathing a quiet sigh of relief when the clock strikes midnight and 2o16 finally slips away for good.

Putting all that aside, though, 2016 hasn’t been a bad year for me personally. In fact, 2016 has been packed full of firsts and milestones, both good and less-than-good. In the past twelve months I:

  • saw my first published academic/scholarly article in print
  • started dating my coworker/classmate-turned-friend
  • got into my first car accident
  • bought a new-to-me car for the first time
  • turned 24
  • went to Seattle with two of my TA friends
  • presented at an academic conference in Seattle with those TA friends
  • presented at writing center conference
  • graduated with my M.A. in English with a concentration in writing
  • had an awesome Harry Potter themed graduation party
  • got hired as an online writing tutor
  • went on vacation with a boyfriend for the first time to a place I had never visited
  • did all kinds of boyfriend-related things for the first time
  • celebrated 6 months with that coworker/classmate-turned-friend-turned-boyfriend
  • witnessed more than one major parent-related health crisis (again)
  • got hired to continue teaching at my home institution and to teach at the local community college
  • taught a total of seven college composition courses
  • had a final-round interview for my dream job
  • celebrated the holidays with friends, family, and my boyfriend’s family

In total, 2016 has been nothing short of a hectic, stressful, rewarding, surprising year full of twists and turns. While not everything that occurred this year was ideal, I don’t really regret anything; good things always seem to come out of the negative ones. In a lot of ways, this year wasn’t so much about being perfect…it was about setting the stage for where I want to go and who I want to be. I’ve accomplished so much professionally since I graduated in May, and my love life is more fulfilling than it has ever been before. I have good friends, supportive family, and a job I love. I’m not quite where I want and need to be, but I’m definitely headed in the right direction. I’m on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s what I think 2017 will bring.

So, friends, let’s say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the possibilities that 2017 holds. It’s going to be a great year.

 

Anxious Academics

I don’t really talk much about my anxiety. I don’t know why I don’t. I’m not exactly ashamed of it. I guess I just always feel like I would sound like I am looking for attention (which I’m definitely not) or exaggerating a nonexistent problem (which I’m pretty sure I’m not).

Some of my friends are less bashful than I am when it comes to talking about issues with anxiety. Among my peer group (broadly conceived), not having anxiety issues seems to be less common and more unusual than actually having them. Since a lot of my friends are around my same age with graduate degrees in English, this makes me question whether this simply generational, if this is a product of the high-pressure world of academia, or if English as a discipline simply happens to attract individuals with similar idiosyncrasies. Or, you know, a dangerous combination of all three.

When I think about stereotypical portrayals of English academics, a few things come to mind. The absent-minded professor that is so wrapped up in their own research that they forget things like scheduled office hours, committee meetings, and whether or not students turned in an assignment. The tenured faculty member that is still teaching off the same syllabus they first developed 30 years ago. The pretentious professor that looks down upon any student that can’t name 5 prominent literary theorists off the top of their head. In six academic years of taking courses and 2 and a half teaching them, I have definitely encountered professors that have fit into each of these categories.

So is that what I and others like me are becoming? A new option on the list of possible professor personality profiles? Anxious academics. Introverts forced to fake extroversion in order to make each class happen. Instructors that cry over their piles of textbooks and ungraded essays from a combination of stress and exhaustion. Fake-it-’til-you-make-it individuals that somewhat dread meeting a new group of students every term.

Anxious Academics. We’re a burgeoning demographic in English departments everywhere. New tenure-track professors and full-time lecturers might be them. Your TA is almost certainly one. The trick is getting us to come out of hiding.