So, I’ve been in denial for a couple of months now. I have decided, as you know, to leave my job as an assistant professor of English. I’m leaving because I want more time to write and because of some really misplaced priorities I see at my institution. I feel good about this choice.
But today it just hit me, despite the fact that my colleagues have been saying this for months, that to a greater or less extent, these problems – too much to do, too much time given to committees, too much attention given to fiscal profits – exist at every academic institution. That truth makes me so sad; teaching at a college has been my dream since I was a kid, and I’m heartbroken to realize that working at a college, even a community college, is so much less about teaching or working with students and so much more about perpetuating the institution itself. I want to cry.
The words that brought this idea home for me came from Thomas Mallon’s introduction to his book On Fact: Essays on Writers and Writing. He says, “If I regret my long detour into teaching – and I do; it’s the vocation of first, wrong choice for most writers. . . .” He then goes on to point out that when he started working for GQ, he “took to [it] immediately – no committees for one thing.” I read that and thought – well, yes, that’s right. Writing doesn’t involve committee work. Teaching does – by necessity and by habit. Here, the proverbial lightbulb went off and blinded me. Not exactly as Damascus road moment, but a big one nonetheless.
The reality is that I cannot be part of a college faculty in the way I’d like to and feel I should – with full commitment and vigor – and still be good at writing – or, sadly – at teaching for that matter. Perhaps there are these miracle institutions that give writers the space they need – if you know of them, do share – but I suspect, especially given the corporatization of most academic institutions, that I will never find that ideal where I teach a couple of classes, get coffee with students, write for a few hours a day, and still feel like I might want to do more than collapse into bed without a thought before I drop into a coma-like sleep. I’m just not sure that ideal exists.
So today, I mourn a lifelong dream and come to reality. I will have to find other work – perhaps adjuncting is the future of my teaching career – in order to keep myself healthy. That makes me so sad.