My friend — and one of my favorite poets, which is why I’m friends with her — Brianna Pike has some deceptively simple but necessary advice for all us writers, especially as we all head off to the literary smorgasbord that is AWP (where I’m looking forward to seeing Bri at her panel discussion!):
J.C. Sevcik has written a response to “the Insensitive, Shit-Stirring Rant” (his words) by Ryan Boudinot a week and a half ago. Which, you know, big deal — a lot of us wrote responses. But Sevcik’s is interesting because it appears in the same publication, The Stranger, that published Boudinot’s offensive listicle ten days ago (and followed it up with a lame, self-congratulatory “interview” celebrating all the negative publicity they were getting). And it’s interesting because Sevcik is one of the “Real Deal” students Boudinot praised, and he’s still calling foul on his former mentor.
Also, I should say that I saw Sevcik speak on a panel about memoir at last year’s AWP in Seattle, and he was amazing. I left that panel inspired, and I admire Sevcik’s work.
So I read his response, and it really is interesting — it really does say something new, something few of the rest of us were saying.
There’s a lot of apologist rhetoric in the first half of Sevcik’s response, explaining Boudinot even while criticizing him, even claiming in a few places that Boudinot was closer to correctness than we were giving him credit for. Personally, I think Sevcik goes too easy on his old teacher at first. But I don’t fault him for it; I understand that impulse, and I approve of it.
In fact, I want to call attention to one particular passage:
I’d like to instead redirect the conversation toward what Ryan’s piece can teach us about being a part of a larger literary community. I’d also like to explain why people who are talking about trying to oust him from his role as executive director of Seattle City of Literature are misguided.
Regarding that last bit: I’ve gotten a LOT of traffic here to my own website because of my response to Boudinot, and because my response got linked to by one of those groups calling for his removal as City of Lit director. For the record, I am not affiliated with that group and have no opinion one way or the other regarding Boudinot’s role with Seattle City of Lit. I do, however, love Seattle and Seattle writers — they’re the literary siblings to my own vibrant writing community here in Portland — and I fully support Seattle’s efforts to become a City of Lit, regardless who’s leading the effort. (Visit the Seattle City of Lit website to find out more.)
So, you’re welcome to read through the first half or read past it, whichever you prefer. But definitely get to the second half, where the really great text is:
Paddle your own canoe. Work your side of the street. Assume everyone else is an autonomous adult doing the same. Be the best teacher you can be. Be the best student you can be. Be the best writer you can be. Be the best literary citizen you can be. Treat everyone as kindly and generously as you can possibly manage. And when you fail, buy them some whiskey and say you’re sorry.
Be the best teacher you can be. Be the best student you can be.
Not long ago, I was having a conversation with my students about my teaching style, and they guessed — correctly — that my approach to teaching was to keep acting like a student. We’re all in it for the learning, gang, and I love that.
Be the best literary citizen you can be.
As readers and writers and editors and publishers and teachers and students: how often we all need that reminder.
And then there’s this line:
Excellence is important to aspire to, but so is acceptance. It is not enough to be excellent writers. We must also be kind and generous and patient, accepting and inclusive. We must also be excellent people.
Excellence is important to aspire to, but so is acceptance.
God. Can I just repeat that one more time?
Excellence is important to aspire to, but so is acceptance.
This is as close to the pith of my approach to teaching — especially creative writing — as I can think of. I push my students to strive for excellence, their version as well as mine. But (and this is just my style; other teachers have other styles) I feel I can’t push students unless I first accept their work and their ambitions on their own terms. Each writer must define herself, each writer must find his own limits, and only then can we work together to push beyond those limits and find their own ideal of excellence.
Yes, there’s plenty of need for tough love, plenty of need to teach students the harsh lessons of criticism and rejection. If we don’t do it, the writing world will. But it is equally important to support the things writers do well, on their own terms, however much it might differ from our own preferences. It is equally important for we writers and as writing teachers to be patient, to be as generous with our time and our efforts as we can afford to be, and, ultimately, to ourselves accept that there are myriad different kinds of writers, and there’s room for all of us.
And all these writers are women.
I spotted this list of 30 books by women in my Facebook newsfeed — the always-glorious Lidia Yuknavitch shared it — and I loved the first line of the intro:
“Let’s be real: You should be reading books, and books by women, every month of the year.”
But yes, it’s Women’s History Month here in the states, and while Emily Temple, author of this listicle, claims, “That women have contributed just as much to our literary culture as men doesn’t even need to be said,” I think, sadly, it does. We need to say it again and again, not just this month but every month.
So read a bunch of books by women. And the ones you don’t finish? Well, there’s always next month, and the month after that, and the rest of the year.
Need a hint of where to start? There are a bunch of great books on Temple’s list: Dear Life, the latest collection from Alice Munro; Toni Morrison’s stunning Beloved; Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, a book my wife is reading soon and I’m eager to read next; the seminal The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir; the super-excellent The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore; Margaret Atwood’s obligatory The Handmaid’s Tale; and of course Dora: a Headcase, by Lidia Yuknavitch herself.
And so many more.
But hey, I wanted to add some books to the list, too, because we can never have too many. So here are a few beautiful books I’ve read the past couple of years that have crawled inside and lived with me ever since:
- Blood Gravity, by Gayle Towell
- Every Kiss a War, by Leesa Cross-Smith
- Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith
- Landfall, by Ellen Urbani (actually forthcoming later this year, but I’ve read an advanced copy, and it’s great — you can read my blurb for it on the publisher’s promotional page)
- Leaving Clean, by Natalie Giarratano
- Longbourn, by Jo Baker
- My Only Wife, by Jac Jemc
- We Take Me Apart, by Molly Gaudry
And here are some books I’ve recently bought/been given and plan to read soon:
- Boneland, by Nance Van Winkel
- Excavation, by Wendy C. Ortiz
- A Little Mormon Girl, by Eva Hunter
- Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier
- Things to Make and Break, by May-Lan Tan
- What Came Before, by Gay Degani
- What Happened Here, by Bonnie ZoBell
And there’re plenty more books, too! If you missed my post yesterday about The Great 2015 Indie Press Preview, you can check it out now or just click straight over to that massive list of the forthcoming titles this year and add all the women to your list. Well, add all the books, really.
Happy reading, gang!
Last year, I was honored to see Hagridden previewed in The Great 2014 Indie Press Preview, dreamed up and wrangled by the amazing Michael J Seidlinger and published at Electric Lit. (And many thanks to David S. Atkinson for his enthusiasm about my book!)
So this year, it seemed only proper that I return the favor and preview a few books for The Great 2015 Indie Press Preview!
I previewed (and am genuinely excited about) Jenny Drai’s The New Sorrow Is Less Than the Old Sorrow, Shya Scanlon’s The Guild of Saint Cooper, and (gasp!) William Gay’s Little Sister Death(!!!). But those are just my three selections — the list is packed with loads of other forthcoming books, including a number of books from my friends and favorite authors:
- Nothing But the Dead and Dying, by Ryan W. Bradley
- F-250, by Bud Smith
- The Zoo, A Going, by JA Tyler
- Desire: A Haunting, by Molly Gaudry
- Letters to Quince, by Jenny Drai
- The Incoming Tide, by Cameron Pierce and J David Osborne
- The Strangest, by Michael J Seidlinger
- Hollywood Notebook, by Wendy C Ortiz
- Mental Hospital, by Ross Robbins
I’m also keeping an eye on anything coming out from some of my favorite presses:
- Ampersand Books
- Artistically Declined Press
- Broken River Books
- OR Books
- Writ Large Press
- Yes Yes Books
And a slew of new books from my first publisher, sunnyoutside press!
- Scattered Trees Grow in Some Tundra, by Cheryl Quimba
- Lot Boy, by Greg Shemkovitz
- Howard, by Sarah Boyer
- Sex and Death, by Ben Tanzer
- Underneath the Occipital Bone, by Deborah Wood
- I Got Off the Train at Ash Lake, by BJ Best
- Person People, by Bryan Coffelt
And there are plenty more than these — if you’re looking for a shopping list for 2015, you really do need to check out the whole of The Great 2015 Indie Press Preview.
It’s March. And it’s not roaring in like the lion — hell, here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s been spring for weeks, while back in Jersey, everyone is hibernating under several feet of snow and ice. The climate done changed, and the old axioms just don’t work anymore.
But within the pages of Jersey Devil Press, March is holed up not in hibernation but in a survivalist fury, armed to the teeth. We’ve got wolves in the stairwell and monsters in the front yard, Adam and Eve arguing over ass flaps and a waxworks obsessed with Brad Pitt’s butt cheeks. We’ve even got a relationship breaking up and reforming on a planetary scale, across eons and spanning galaxies.
In short, we aren’t taking the coming of spring lying down!
So jump in with us, gang, and enjoy the latest issue of Jersey Devil Press.
There’s this essay making the rounds on my social media. It’s called “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One,” by Ryan Boudinot. I’ve been seeing it for days, shared by friends and former professors, writers whose work I love, teachers whose work I admire.
I’ve been avoiding it for two reasons: One, it was getting almost universal praise, a lot of “hell yeah!” exclamations, and I only have so much room for bandwagons in my life (thank you for filling that spot this past week, blue-black/white-gold dress). And two (more importantly), I was getting the sense from the title and the cheerleading that this was one of those “thank god I’ve left the sham of academia and all you poser literati behind” essays, which always tend to rub me the wrong way.
But today I finally decided I’d too long avoided reading it. So I read it.
I was right about Boudinot’s general attitude. And in some ways, his approach is even worse than I suspected, because he doesn’t really attack academia or the institution of creative writing instruction — he mostly attacks the students who enroll in such programs. And while I’m fine poking fun at the occasional foolishness of particular students, attacking students in this way never sits well with me.
Granted, Boudinot often mocks students in order to comment on the larger problems of the institution — he describes a student who came to him commenting on The Great Gatsby and includes the aside “(for the first time! Yes, a graduate student!)” as a way for him to complain about the failures of academia to prepare students to his standards, as though we all have some universal reading list we’re supposed to be adhering to. But it still feels off to me to mock students in general, and often in his essay, he’s doing so merely to mock the students, not to make some larger point.
Still, I do agree with some of the things Boudinot writes. But overall, it bothers me, enough that I’m here writing a response to it, and I think one reason is that Boudinot starts off — purposefully, I suspect — with the things that bug me most. That abrasive contrariness sets the tone for the rest of the piece so that, no matter how much sense it makes near the end, I’m inclined to read the whole thing with wariness and contention.
So, to demonstrate how that works in my head (and perhaps to be fair to Boudinot’s not-so-bad ideas), I’ll address his points backward:
“It’s important to woodshed.”
Boudinot ends with something I think we all know — the least contentious point: that we should hit our students with regular doses of reality. “Occasionally my students asked me about how I got published after I got my MFA, and the answer usually disappointed them,” he writes, and then he launches into the usual story of toiling away “in obscurity, with no attempt to share my work with anyone,” for years as he perfected his craft.
Sure. Writing is hard and most of us will never make it as big as we think we deserve to. (Is anyone really telling students otherwise? Especially in an MFA program?)
There is an irony here, though. Boudinot ends by complaining that “we’ve been trained to turn to our phones to inform our followers of our somewhat witty observations. I think the instant validation of our apps is an enemy to producing the kind of writing that takes years to complete.” Which I find hilarious, because here I am reading Boudinot’s “witty observations” in an online magazine, after watching it — on the screen of my phone — spread through my various social media apps.
Still, he’s not wrong about his final sentence: “If you’re able to continue writing while embracing the assumption that no one will ever read your work, it will reward you in ways you never imagined.” It’s something I tell creative writing students (and composition students, for that matter) all the time.
“It’s not important that people think you’re smart.”
I get this. Because I tend to spend most of my time with beginning writers, I don’t usually run into this problem — I do a lot of work encouraging writers, telling them that they’re smarter than they think they are and that they do have valuable contributions to make to literature. So I’ve forgotten the kind of obsessive jerk with something to prove that I sometimes encountered in my grad programs. (Hell, I might even have been one.)
“After eight years of teaching at the graduate level,” Boudinot writes, “I grew increasingly intolerant of writing designed to make the writer look smart, clever, or edgy.” And I understand this complaint. As in architecture, form follows function, but a lot of writers are eager to look cool by building ridiculous “inventive” stories or poems or essays, to be avant-garde, to write something no one else has ever written before. “But writing that’s motivated by the desire to give the reader a pleasurable experience really is best,” Boudinot writes, and he’s correct in that.
I think he’s forgetting an important part of the learning process, though, which is to try things out for the first time. I spend a lot of my writing classes teaching students the “rules” of writing, and whenever I encounter that first-year student who wants to ignore the rules, I hit them with the old axiom that one must know the rules in order to break them. I think the reverse is true in graduate school: one must break every rule, and invent new rules to break — one must experiment wildly and fail fantastically — before one can return to a simpler, more direct way of writing.
Boudinot knows what I’m talking about: “I know this work when I see it,” he writes; “I’ve written a fair amount of it myself.” So why should he complain when his students do the same?
“You don’t need my help to get published.”
“But in today’s Kindle/e-book/self-publishing environment, with New York publishing sliding into cultural irrelevance, I find questions about working with agents and editors increasingly old-fashioned. Anyone who claims to have useful information about the publishing industry is lying to you, because nobody knows what the hell is happening.”
Yeah, fair enough.
Boudinot writes this section to counter the “old-fashioned” model of getting ushered into publishing through the auspices of faculty mentors. And while that might still work in some of the most prestigious programs, he’s right that it’s outdated and not terribly useful anymore.
I do find it odd, though, that his “advice is for writers to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other’s work as much as possible,” mostly by embracing the new self-publishing model. I have no problem with this advice, and while no one is going to get rich and famous in self-publishing (that’s my “woodshed” speech), I personally know a lot of writers putting truly inventive, beautiful work out into the world by bypassing the traditional system and publishing it themselves. But we also know that for every brilliant, inventive writer self-publishing important new literature, there are a few hundred hacks cranking out the kind of “smart, clever, or edgy” junk that Boudinot himself complains about. So. Hmm.
That’s why I still value the traditional pathway to publication — these “gatekeepers” of the system aren’t there to keep me out; they’re there to rein me in and help prevent me from making an ass of myself. (Making an ass of myself is what my blog is for.)
Which leads me to:
“No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.”
Here, Boudinot jumps directly in the middle of a pet peeve of mine: he seeks to silence writers.
“I worked with a number of students writing memoirs,” he begins. “For the most part, MFA students who choose to write memoirs are narcissists using the genre as therapy. They want someone to feel sorry for them, and they believe that the supposed candor of their reflective essay excuses its technical faults.”
Look. I get this. I’ve seen it, and just as those “edgy” experimentalists are more prevalent in grad school, these “narcissists” are more prevalent in grad school. They’ve made it that far, so they must have something important to say.
And no, just because they have something to say doesn’t mean I have to read it.
But I will never attack a writer for trying to tell their story. Ever.
But that’s not even the worst of Boudinot’s attacks here:
“Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable,” Boudinot writes. Viciously. Uncompassionately. And if that wasn’t inhumane enough for you, he ends with this: “In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.” (Emphasis mine.)
Holy shit, Boudinot. I know: reading bad writing is hard. Reading 500 pages of bad writing is mind-numbingly, hair-rippingly awful. Reading bad writing from someone who is supposedly worthy of graduate school is infuriating. I get all that.
But is it on par with suffering child abuse? Is it such an affront to you that you would actually wish child abuse — sorry, “more” child abuse — on someone?
Look, I’m sorry, Boudinot, but go fuck yourself, okay?
And remember, I’m working through Boudinot’s essay backward. That piss-stain of a passage there happens about the middle of the essay, and while the beginning set me off, I’d read two sections that had earned Boudinot some good will:
“If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.”
Sure. That feels pretty self-explanatory to me, and it’s one of the things my social-media friends are quoting most often when they share this piece. You want to write? Read! Read widely and often.
And, “If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.”
Again, fairly self-explanatory, though I take issue with the last part.
My first year of teaching, I had a student in what we then called “developmental” writing (which was better than “remedial,” which is what we called it when I was in school). This guy was a wonderful human being — sweet, earnest, respectful, hard-working. Dude went to every tutoring session he had time for. On every essay, he wrote three more drafts than I required. But he just was not getting it, and about halfway through the semester I learned he was on his third attempt at the class. He’d already failed it twice before, and he was on his way to failing my class as well. I asked my dean how he kept getting admitted, and the dean said he was on a special scholarship that would pay out as long as he was enrolled; simply put, the university kept admitting him because they wanted his money.
I sat down for a long talk with this student and, though it broke my heart to do so, I made one of those “woodshed” speeches and suggested he drop out of school, find a good job in a field he liked, make a life for himself.
He did not take my advice. He stuck with it, went to more tutoring sessions, kept turning in essays. He still failed my class.
And then, the next semester, with a different teacher, on his fourth try — he passed.
I have never forgotten that. And I have never again advised a student to quit.
So, yeah, Boudinot, students who complain about not having time to write need a woodshed moment. But they don’t need you to tell them to quit — they need you to teach them the importance of making time and the patience to keep working on it. Your impatience with them isn’t helping anyone.
Speaking of time and patience:
“If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.”
What in the actual hell is this? Yeah, I started writing my first novel when I was in seventh grade. It was an action-adventure genre novel, a cheap rip-off/mash-up of commando-unit fiction and The Karate Kid. So I don’t know what Boudinot means by “taking writing seriously,” but I certainly wasn’t writing serious work. Maybe he means “putting in the hours every day,” working in a disciplined manner on craft and style.
“By the time you were a teenager”?
I didn’t do that until I was in college. Sometimes, if I’m honest with myself, I feel like I didn’t do that until grad school. And between you and me, Internet, I don’t think I really even figured out how to write “seriously” until I was a couple of years out of grad school.
I think Boudinot would agree with me here: “After I received my degree in 1999,” he writes at the end of his essay, “I spent seven years writing work that no one has ever read — two novels and a book’s worth of stories totaling about 1,500 final draft pages. These unread pages are my most important work because they’re where I applied what I’d learned from my workshops and the books I read, one sentence at a time.”
So unless Boudinot was some sort of prodigy and finished graduate school when he was 12 years old, I don’t think he decided “to take writing seriously” as a teenager, either. Which is too bad — apparently, Boudinot is “probably not going to make it” as a writer.
And finally — or, firstly — there’s the thing that set me off to begin with:
“Writers are born with talent.”
Which I think is absolute horseshit.
I’ll grant you, there’s still a lot of debate about this. There are plenty of serious, respectable writers — some of them former writing teachers, a few of them even current writing teachers — who believe that writing cannot be taught, that MFA programs and writing workshops are a waste of everyone’s time and money.
“Either you have a propensity for creative expression or you don’t,” Boudinot writes, and there are plenty who agree with him.
But I don’t.
At least Boudinot concedes “that someone with minimal talent [can] work her ass off and maximize it and write something great.” And sure, I in turn will concede “that writers are not all born equal.”
But I believe that every person has the capacity to tell a compelling story, whether they have any “talent” or not, and my job — my pleasure — is to help each writer I work with find that story and tell it well.
But I’ll agree with Boudinot on this:
Not every writer has the “talent” for teaching writing, and if, by the time you finish your own graduate degree in writing, you haven’t decided to take the education you received seriously — if you’re not a serious reader of student work and you complain about having to read a lot of rough writing on your way to finding the gems — well, you’re probably not going to make it as a teacher.
Though I wonder why you’d waste your valuable time writing an essay complaining about it. Because frankly (and this is my woodshed speech to you, Boudinot), “It’s not important that people think you’re smart.”
About a month ago, I joined Late Night Library’s podcast series Late Night Debut, where I sat down for a conversation with author Margaret Malone about my sunnyoutside pressmate John Carr Walker’s beautiful book, Repairable Men, and then I enjoyed a conversation with John himself. That podcast is now live online!
Give it a listen — it really was a fun and fascinating conversation — and then buy John’s book. Seriously. I loved this book (you can see my Goodreads reviews here).
Today was National Adjunct Walkout Day. Or, for those adjunct faculty who couldn’t afford to walk out of their classes, it was National Adjunct Awareness Day.
I could have walked out of my class today, but I’ve already missed a couple of days because of my injured hand and since then, I’ve been so focused on catching up on my syllabus that I hadn’t prepared my students for a walkout, which means they wouldn’t have known what was happening. It would have been just a day off for them. So I took the latter option and turned class today into a two-hour conversation about adjunct issues.
I started by having students define the word “adjunct,” which they did admirably just from root clues. But then we looked up the dictionary definition: “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.” And I began explaining what adjunct faculty do.
We looked at charts about state funding for education: Oregon has great schools, but the state needs to vastly improve its funding for those schools. (The colleges and universities generally are doing everything they can to lessen the impact of low state funding, and my community college, to its credit, is doing a fairly good job of it.)
We talked about faculty ranks: my community college doesn’t do tenure, so we skipped the issue of tenure, but I did explain the various ranks of professorship as well as the different labels applied to part-timers and full-timers alike (lecturer, instructor, adjunct).
We looked up ratios of full-time to part-time faculty: in my community college, it’s two adjuncts for every full-time instructor, but at my smaller branch campus, the ratio is closer to 10-1.
At this point, my students (without my prompting) returned to the definition and wondered how it was possible that the primary teaching force in a school could get labeled “supplementary rather than an essential part.”
So I started walking them through the history of using adjuncts, how we were once the “supplements” to a tenured faculty, there to fill a need as education boomed after the GI Bill and as technological advances required limited-term faculty for specialized classes, but how rapidly — and beginning at community colleges like ours — administrators realized we were an economical alternative to a fully tenured faculty, and starting about 30 years ago, we became the default because we were cheaper.
This led us to a discussion of compensation for adjuncts as compared to their qualifications. In general, I explained, every adjunct usually has at least a masters degree and, as the market floods with more and more graduate students, often adjuncts have PhDs. (I’m one of them.) This means that, generally speaking, adjuncts are exactly as qualified as their full-time colleagues. But because we’re technically “part-time” (despite the fact that many of us teach on multiple campuses to piece together a full-time load), we get paid significantly less than our full-time colleagues.
Depending on where I teach, I get paid a salary rate per course or I get paid an hourly rate, but that hourly rate is only for the number of hours I’m in a classroom or holding office hours. If I have a full load of four or five classes in a term, that’s about 16-20 hours a week. But I do a lot of my work outside the classroom, and if I divide my salary by the actual number of hours I work in a given week, as opposed to the course load I’m given, it turns out that I make somewhere around minimum wage.
Of course, some might argue that I’m working harder than I need to, and that calculating my pay as an hourly wage doesn’t really matter. And in practice, I agree with this. I’ve never been much of a clock-watcher, and I’ve always been willing to put in the extra work if the work was needed to get a job done. Still, for my own sake and especially for the integrity of the profession in general and my colleagues, it’s worth paying attention to how much work our job requires in relation to how much we get paid, and even if I estimate conservatively and let myself get away with fewer hours in a given week, I’m still making somewhere around $10 an hour.
That’s the new minimum wage for Walmart employees.
Think about that.
What might it look like if, to work a cash register at Walmart, you first had to attend eight years of higher education and spend six figures (or rack up six figures of debt) on tuition and books and research, just to ring up someone’s groceries?
I was talking about these issues with my students today and one of them came up with an interesting suggestion. He said we ought to pay part-time teachers the way we charge part-time students. When a student attends school halftime, she pays the same tuition rate as a full-time student: the full-time student pays around $95 per credit hour (typical for community colleges in Oregon), and the part-time student also pays $95 per credit hour. It’s the same rate. Similarly, my student argued, we should pay part-time faculty the same rate as full-time faculty. So, for example, a typical full-time faculty member at a community college in Oregon gets paid $70,000 for teaching nine classes in a year. That’s about $7,777 per class. My student suggested that a part-time faculty member should make the same $7,777 per class, regardless how many or how few classes that adjunct is teaching. My students said that only seems fair.
(The average per-class rate for adjuncts in America as well as in Oregon runs between $2,000 and $3,000 per class — about a third the average rate for full-time faculty. Of course, we adjuncts don’t usually attend committee meetings or inservice workshops, and when we do, we’re paid extra, but even a generous accounting for that extra full-time work puts us at less than half of full-time pay.)
I like my student’s idea. I still think adjunct faculty should have access to at least health care (which under the ACA we are starting to get, but it’s still an uphill battle), and possibly some retirement benefits as well, though I understand that’s a hard argument to make. But at the very least, if we could be paid at a rate commensurate with our qualifications and on a par with our colleagues who have full-time contracts, that at least would be something.
But the most interesting conversation to evolve in my class today revolved around adjunct faculty time, not their salaries. In a PBS Newshour video I shared with the class, there was a line about how the heavy workloads adjuncts have to work, just to make ends meet, reduce their time available outside the classroom. No time or space for office hours, for example; no time to commit to committee work; fewer opportunities for one-on-one interactions with students.
I expounded on this and explained to my students that when I was in college, I was lucky enough to attend an institution that used very few part-time faculty, and almost none of my professors were part-timers. And everyone had an office. Everyone had spare seating in their offices — a stuffed armchair, or a couch, or a bean bag. I told my students how I pestered my professors, how I would follow them from the classroom to their offices. I would sit in their chairs, I would drink their coffee, I would listen to their records, I would sift through the books on their bookshelves, and I would talk to them for thirty minutes, for an hour, for as long as they would tolerate me. When the campus had events on weekends, my professors were there, and I talked to them. Some faculty had housing on or very near campus, and I would sit in their living rooms in the evenings, drinking tea, watching movies, engaging in intellectual salons. I told my students that most of what I learned in college I did not learn in the classroom, I learned outside the classroom, talking to my professors.
And then I pointed out how on our community college campus, the adjunct faculty have one strip of computers, about the third the size of the classroom I teach in, for the 70 or 80 adjuncts to share. We used to have a small conference space where adjuncts could meet with students privately, but space constrictions being what they are, that has since become a full-time faculty member’s office.
When I meet with students, I meet with them in my classroom, or in the hallway, or in the lobby of the building. And it’s rare for any adjunct to have time to meet outside of class anyway. Most of us are leaving the class immediately to rush off to our second or third jobs. Most of us are arriving to work just in time for class to start because we had to drive from our second or third jobs. And all of us have to carry our office with us in the trunk of our car, grading papers in the front seat or at a table in the student cafe.
In other words, while the quality of education that students get in the classroom is exactly the same whether they have a professor or an adjunct, the opportunities for engaging teachers outside the classroom is dramatically different.
I’m lucky enough to have a little extra time, at least this term, and I do try to engage my students outside class as much as I can. Today, one student stayed after class to talk with me about today’s discussion, and he told me that he thinks that kind of face-to-face communication outside the classroom is so important because it helps students better understand teachers and therefore better learn from them in classroom, but it also helps the teachers better understand their students so we can better teach in the classroom. These are his words, his insights. Our students know what good education looks like. Our educational institutions owe them the kind of education they expect and deserve, and part of that means providing better compensation and better working conditions for our adjunct faculty.
At the end of the class, I asked my students what they could do to address all these issues, if they thought this was an issue worth their time. (I know they have lives — jobs, extra jobs, spouses, kids, and so on. Maybe they have more important issues to worry about, though this one does directly affect their education.) Some suggested sharing the news on social media; I pointed out that the movement has a Facebook page and a tumblr, and there’s also a #adjunctwalkout hashtag on Twitter. Other students suggested making sure the media reports on the issue; I pointed to articles in the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and the LA Times just to hit the few I’ve seen so far. Other students suggested writing their state legislators — and this is when I got excited.
So yes, share your support for adjunct faculty on social media, demand news coverage of the issue in your local papers, but most importantly, write your state legislators and demand increased public funding for education, demand fairer treatment of adjunct faculty (and, frankly, demand fairer treatment for ALL faculty, because this isn’t a matter of full-time vs. part-time — we’re all in the same profession with the same ultimate goals for our students, and we should be united in our efforts).
Write, and let your community, your state, and your nation know that if we want the best education the world can offer, we have to treat our educators better than we do.
My students deserve that.
Simple but interesting “confession” about how much — and how little — real writers really get paid for our work. “Which, if you’re a cup half empty or full person,” Chloe writes, “this could either be incredibly dire or inspirational. I look at this list and think I’ve come a really long way. It’s obvious to say I would like more money.”
I think most of us who are working writers are nodding our heads at those lines!
Originally posted on chloe caldwell:
My friend Karina thinks money confessions are the new taboo. So here’s mine. Everything I list below, I did without an agent. There was no book advance for Legs Get Led Astray, and there haven’t been royalties for either Legs Get Led Astray or Women. The only times i really feel like I “sold out” for my writing was the GRAZIA interview and Men’s Health gig. But not even. I’m glad I did those things, they paid my rent. Everything else was written exactly the way i wanted to write it.
Age 25, pre-Legs Get Led Astray, 2011
- Masturbating with Moxie, The Frisky, $75
- Ortho-tricyclen ruined my relationship, The Frisky, $75
- 7 Day Sex Plan, The Frisky: $50
(Jobs that year: Worked at my dad’s store, MUSICA, babysat)
Age 26, post Legs Get Led Astray, 2013
- Heroin and Acne, Salon.com, $150
- Leaning To Sit Still, The…
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Late last night, shortly after the Oscars wrapped up, I posted this on my Facebook page:
I want to believe it is significant that at the whitest, malest Oscars in recent years, the night’s most rousing, most meaningful speeches were by a woman demanding equal pay for women, two African-American men spreading hope and compassion while still keeping our awareness on the continuing struggle for racial justice, a suicide survivor speaking hope and strength to every kid who might feel “weird,” and a Mexican teaching us about equality in true art and calling for more compassionate treatment of the immigrants who built and are still building America.
I don’t want their words to get lost in the reporting of tonight’s Oscars. I want their speeches to mean something.
My writer friend Marie Marshall agreed and wondered if there were transcripts available, to preserve their words. There probably are, but it’s early hours and the best I’ve found are videos accompanied by pull-quotes, so I decided to transcribe the speeches myself (parentheses link to videos of the speeches):
Patricia Arquette (best supporting actress, Boyhood):
To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!
Common (best song, “Glory,” from Selma):
Recently, John and I got to go to Selma and perform ‘Glory’ on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on fifty years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the south side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression, to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion and elevated by love for all human beings.
John Legend (best song, “Glory,” from Selma):
Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were fifty years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for fifty years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today then were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you and march on.
Graham Moore (best adapted screenplay, The Imitation Game):
When I was sixteen years old, I tried to kill myself, because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here. And, so, I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird, or she’s different, or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.
Alejandro Iñárritu (best director, Birdman)
Honestly, this is crazy, in a way, talking about that little prick called ego. Ego loves competition, because, for someone to win, someone has to lose. But the paradox is that true art, true individual expression, as all the work of these incredible fellow filmmakers, can’t be compared, cant be labeled, can’t be defeated, because they exist. And our work only will be judged, as always, by time.
Alejandro Iñárritu (best picture, Birdman)
I want to dedicated this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.