Ah the sea change! I am no longer required to journey into the city to rent my mind/body/soul to someone else who is making so much more than I am by land-lording me. And, in truth, making money by the mere fact of having me in the stable.
Is the old horse put out to pasture? Wow, such metaphorical twists here!
Well that is one way to look at it. Of course there are so many facets to retirement, not the least the glittering fact that I am no longer at the table in the Monopoly game. I will not be passing Go and collecting any $200 dollars.
There is pride in knowing I gave more than was asked of me, worked a good honest job for so long, and that students loved my classes and awarded me honors:”Faculty of the Year” and the “ISAE Service Award.” I never stinted when giving my talents to the company. Never even took a paper clip home. Well, maybe a few over the long years, attached to student papers. Of course. Still, I was honorable, trustworthy, and worked hard and long way beyond the call of duty for less pay than a doorman in NYC.
Teaching has been my vocation. Writing professionally my real work. Art collecting a twin passion. With more than one iron in the fire, retirement is not a dead end.
Everybody knows that the education game is played more under the table than on top. (Remember keeping a few monopoly dollars in your lap?) The truth is that ever since 1970 when I began teaching in the community colleges in California part-time instructors, now called adjuncts, did most of the work without benefits while a few, and I mean very few, tenured full-timers were set for life. There were often part-timers fighting to form unions, and one actually formed, but to no avail. Nothing has changed. Some departments have one or two or three full- timers and twenty five part- timers to do most of the teaching, performing the same jobs with the same credentials, just not the luck to land one of the precious few full- time slots. It’s all a nasty game we played as kids, “musical chairs.” And then there is the institutional prejudice against the “lowly adjuncts” by even the secretaries and staff that hurts, but not as much as the lack of equal benefits, like retirement savings. By a lucky stroke, and being in the right place at the right time, I landed a job at a private college, recently changed to a university where after ten years, I was asked to teach the material of more than three instructors, and I juggled genres for a brief portion of my fifty year career. With this added responsibility I was granted a “full-time-equivalent 80%” status and was at last admitted to the Olympus of real professors and was now perched above instructors with richer resumes. I was still barred from faculty meetings and denied a badge and could not call myself a professor. A cohort who split her working life with another private university was fired for signing an email “Professor” instead of “Instructor.” Really. Everyone knows “freeway fliers” who run from one place to another piecing together a living wage. Being a college instructor has long meant an itinerant existence. Shades of the wandering minstrel, Bashõ, and Romany….
My brief benefits ended abruptly when I took my position too seriously and began to act like a full-time professor. i.e., stating a personal thesis about respect for poets in an essay to my students. (posted elsewhere on this blog). I felt foolishly too comfortable and held forth (to profess is to hold forth?) I was forced to resign within ten minutes of being called into the office of the 30- years- plus- tenured professor in charge of me whose reason was “You made me so angry!” Back to my part-time status for one final semester and an end to the retirement savings benefit. The traditional whimper.
SO here comes the bang that always follows with apologies to T.S. Eliot, whose last Quartet is exactly where I am now. Back again my own person. No longer in harness but still under sail. Adventure awaits. New students advance. The excitement of lighting the fire instead of filling the pail. (Yeats’ idea of education.) Another chance to truly educate those who are happy to learn more about the writing life from a writer who teaches and not a teacher who writes. And even if the hair is turning gray, and the stairs are steeper, I am still the little girl on the first day of school who loved her pencil box.
I don’t think the “higher”education system will ever change, an institution built of iron and brick despite the fabled ivy tower, and lately we learned— on slavery.
A college librarian I met once had a wife from Jamaica with a lucrative bar-tending job in Manhattan where two recruiters from a California private college found her and convinced her a degree would get her out of such a lowly milieu. She took the bait, earned a degree and couldn’t find a job. Her husband told me she is cleaning toilets in a Motel 6 knowing she can never pay off her student debt. Halloooo out there. (Bernie tried to change the college system, and so did his wife Jane, formerly head of the elite Bennington College.)
Now I have filed a Fictitious Name Statement with the county, have 500 business cards and my plans for the first writing seminar under the banner “Summit Seminars” scheduled for the 17th of next month. It will not be a scam, and it won’t promise a fairy tale conclusion, only a very low-cost sharing of all I have learned in a lifetime of creative writing in hopes of forming a collection of earnest writers. We will flourish, and be uplifted by our working community of creative artists.
All is calm now. Fall is coming after the heat wave. I have prepared a lovely writer’s retreat for silence, creativity and immense satisfaction with more than one landing deck and little nooks tucked in among the towering cedars, mountain laurel, ponderosa pines, roses and lilacs of every color, a place to live deliberately. I am currently inviting students to a day, a weekend, or a week with as much inspiration as they can absorb. We may even plan a trip elsewhere to write ‘away’ since we will be free to create our own agenda. Ah freedom and a compass are essential to a happy adventure.
Coming home from a long voyage, means, it is time to scrape the barnacles, recover from the long rough journey, and prepare for a new one; are you coming along with me Camarado?
We begin our new community of writers in the forest of the San Berardino Mountains in October and will meet one weekend a month for a start…..Join us.
Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. —Bashõ
Original woodcut 1935 by Carol Thayer Berry of Maine. “Retired from the Sea” Pristine condition $250.(Unframed. Includes postage and professional mailing.)
A William A. Gonzalez is the artist who was “walked out on” by the acting director of the new MFA program soon after he began his reading in the college library. This prompted my essay “The Dangers of Intellectual Arrogance” directed to my small MFA poetry class about respecting artists, and this led to my hasty (forced) exit from the start-up MFA program.
(You can read my complete essay in my post “My Dog Daisy Buchanan.”)