Friday, October 15, 2010

Imagine a writer, fingers poised above the keyboard, mind snapping away at whatever morsel of plot is defying description at that particular moment. Well, that's pretty much me, every day, or at least, what I would like to be doing every day. You see, I have this "day" job: college instructor. I emphasize the word "day" because no teaching job simply relegates itself to daylight hours. As a matter of fact, some of the most difficult parts of teaching occur at dusk. Yes, the teaching demons fear the light and like tiny vampires simply suck the life right out of educational practitioners. Those vampires try to destroy my love of teaching by forcing me to grade horrendous essays in which students continually confuse the meanings of words like "your" and "you're" or "there" and "their."

Yes, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it; I knew that teaching takes more hours per day than say, plumbing. I knew the hours spent in "teaching" pursuits would reduce available writing hours; however, the longer I teach, it seems, the fewer hours I have available for writing. You'd think that by now, I'd be able to grade a paper in no time flat and then serve up a new chapter in the WIP before clearing the north forty. The truth is: students coming from today's public school systems are, for the most part, woefully unprepared for college level writing and have little to no formal training in grammar and mechanics, the popular theory of education being that students learn said grammar and mechanics from reading. Given this unpreparedness, it takes much more time to grade than it did twenty years ago. Education in grammar primarily comes from copious comments that explain why the student's comma usage is flawed or the difference between the meanings of "defiantly" and "definitely." More time grading equals less time available for writing.

At least I can say I have a job, something that 9.6% of the American population can't say, and that's not taking into account the vast number of I'm-so-tired-of-looking-for-a-job-that-I'm-not-looking-any-longer individuals or those PhD's who've been reduced to bagging groceries at the Kroger. I can't complain about being employed, but I'm allowed to miss the writing hours I once enjoyed

I keep telling myself I should sacrifice sleep or time with the grandchildren, but the use of the word "sacrifice" usually implies unpleasantness on some level. In the past, my writing time just popped up like the lovely jingle announcing the arrival of the ice cream truck on a hot summer's day. How utterly pleasant! I'd finish one task, take a peek at my clock, and suddenly discover I had an hour or so before I was due to attack the next chore of the day. I'd rush to the keyboard and read what I'd last written. Then I'd think, "Oh, what would (fill in a character's name here) do if that happened to her/him?" Words would come, ideas would flow, and I would be in writer's Heaven. Not so these days.

These days I spend time plying my trade, not writing but teaching to write. I've heard the old addage, "Those who can't teach." Well, I suppose that's true, but not always for the reason the addage implies.