On David Nelson’s CV he states, “I believe that life is too short for a full time job.”
I like him. I really do. He introduced himself to me at Author Day at the Mid-Continent Public Library Woodneath Story Center. Andie Paloutzian, the program manager, invited me and ten or twelve other authors to the event.
Nick and I took up at a table next to the door. When the library opened, one of the first people in the door was David Nelson. He had read my first book and was very excited to talk to me. He gave me his card and told me to get with him. He ran a group at one of the Mid-Continent libraries. “Vital Conversations” met monthly and had thoughtful conversations about important subjects.
That started the day well. I always go into these events ready to take all books my home. But after David came through the line, library patrons started filing in. Nick and I sold book after book. It was astounding not just because I moved books, but due to the conversations I struck up with David, other community-minded people like him, and the other authors.
I contacted David a couple of days after the event. He invited me to the January meeting of “Vital Conversations.” I should bring books to sell. He didn’t guarantee I would sell any. But the group would be reading my books for the February meeting and I should be there to introduce them.
About twenty-five people attended the event. Everyone had their name on a folded piece of paper in front of them. The book for discussion that day was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I had not read it, but many of the people there hadn’t either. Those who did kicked off the conversation with David’s occasional guidance. What’s important was not that people read the book but participated in the conversation about race and humanity that were the book’s themes. Everyone had a say. I contributed my own experience. It was a fabulous day and I took a lot of energy from the gathering.
And I sold only one book. David apologized, but I told him that my involvement in the group was reward in itself. I’ll be interested when they get together next month, when the discussion centers on my books. Regardless of whether them or not, it will be a rousing discussion. My stories take readers through Red America, and the ways I negotiate the political and cultural divides will make rich ground for conversation. I’m intrigued in what I might find.
David also approached me at the right time. I’ve been thinking that I might need a job. (Yikes!) As Nick gets older, he becomes less dependent on me. I find more time on my hands. I see my wife working her ass off and despairing that she will work until she’s seventy to make enough money for retirement. I also face another situation that makes me uncomfortable. One of my classes this semester did have enough students to “make.” In the short-term, this means I must earn those $3,200 dollars somewhere else.
Then, I thought of David and his belief that life is too short for a full-time job. It would be great to sell a lot of books, enough to make up the hole in my income. But that is unlikely to get me anywhere now. It will come only over time, by participating in the community on the level of Vital Conversations.
What to do? I could look for a full-time academic position, which would be swell. Those jobs, however, are going the way of the dodo. As states cut funds for higher education—just this week Missouri Governor Eric Greitens cut $76 million from higher ed—more and more tenured positions go unfilled or are eliminated in favor of non-tenure track faculty on one-year contracts. Pulling up stakes for one year in a distant town just doesn’t fit the bill right now, and I’ve kept my eyes on the jobs market just in case something comes up in my field.
Increasingly, contingent faculty—adjuncts—fill spots that full-time, tenured faculty inhabited. I adjunct in the Johnson County Community College History Department. I will start looking for new positions at other community colleges this week. Being a teacher traveling from one institution to another doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve done it before and it was a bummer. Every school has different needs, administrative requirements, and odd ducks that treat adjuncts like furniture.
I complain but will do it. A friend of mine at JCCC teaches sometimes eleven classes a semester on contingent basis. He’s online at Fort Hays State, Donnelly College, and JCCC. He’s face-to-face at the Metropolitan Community Colleges’ Blue River campus and at JCCC. I admire his pluck and persistence. He’s been at it a lot of years. And I’ll do just about anything to keep from having to get a real job.
As Evelle Snoats says in Raising Arizona, “You’re young and got your health, what you want with a job?”
Yeah. Young. At 54, I’m healthy (if fat). My whole life’s ahead of me. I like being a writer and I’m a great teacher. As much as I grouse at the difficulty of engaging students, I do it. My evaluations show that I’m doing something right. Many times I get to the end of a semester and think, shit, it’s all shot. Then the evals come in, putting me above average.
I like to combine writer and teacher. I have a memoir-writing workshop scheduled with the Writers Place, a Kansas City literary center. I conducted a small workshop last March that turned out to be a great success. The women who took the class created a writing group that still meets today. I may have some work come my way through the Mid-Continent Public Library, where I held a great workshop late last year. That was fantastic. Twenty-three people, mostly older and retired, loved the two-hour class.
I will also start looking for more opportunities like Vital Conversations. These things introduce me to people I wouldn’t normally meet. Given leeway, I would teach my classes, write my pieces, and boob out on the TV. Vital Conversations, workshops, and other interactions with the public take me out of my space and relieve some of the desperation I feel on occasion when I consider my situation and income.
So, for now, I avoid a job, look for more contingent work, and get out of the house more. I haven’t had a real job since 2003. Even though I’m feeling a little self-applied heat, I’ll do just about anything to keep from working a real job. I worked real hard to get here, and it’s where I’m going to stay.