Monday, November 2, 2015

NaBloPoMo: Day 2 Brother, can you spare a dime?


I'm always flattered when I get a message from someone that says, "Hey, did you move your blog or something? I keep checking and it looks like you haven't written anything." Or when somebody walks up to me at a party or at church and says, "Why haven't you written anything lately? I need some vagina!" I get the seriously warm fuzzies. I do. And I've gotten a lot of that the past few months, because it's been years since I've gone 6 months without writing here.

For several reasons shortly after I wrote my last post I entered into a period of crisis -- not a cry my eyes out, call the therapist (oooh, that's what I need!), hide the knives, she's gonna blow! kind of crisis. Maybe more an epiphany about not just writing here on this blog, but my value in several areas of my life. So tonight I'm going to write about that, and I'm sure I'll sound like a whiny baby, but I need to write this issue and get past it.

Toward the end of the school year, I realized I was going to have to quit teaching at the magnet school for the arts where I was teaching creative writing. I didn't want to. I loved most of the kids, and I'm good at what I do. Too good, in fact, for the job I was in, but that's not why I quit. I quit because I was hired as an adjunct, and what you should know about any job with the word "adjunct" stamped on it is that stamp might as well say "drop 'em and bend over" instead. The shitty life of an adjunct is well documented.

Turns out when I signed the contract to work at an hourly wage for 15 hours/week -- because the school district won't pay any single adjunct for more than 15 hours/week -- I didn't realize I would be expected to work anywhere from 20-30 hours/week. That is, if I wanted to do my job right and well, which I did. Writing teachers carry a heavy grading load. One paper can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes to grade. And I assigned a lot of writing. When I figured out how much I was actually making, I was under minimum wage.

After my boss told me I was going to have to take another class for no raise in pay, I knew I couldn't continue there. First, because I felt small. I'm worth more than that. I really am. And second, because that shit is illegal. It's against federal law to require an hourly worker to volunteer extra hours. And it's illegal for obvious reasons. I could say a lot more about that, but I think you're all smart enough to figure that shit out.

So I made the decision to walk away from a job I should have loved. A job that made people think I was something special to be teaching there. And that the kids I taught were very lucky to get to work with me. It was a job that sounded so good rolling off the tongue. Turns out none of that will pay my mortgage.

And then I started looking around at what I do in the rest of my life, and I realized I have a lot of skills, but nobody wants to pay me for any of the time I spend doing those things I'm good at. It wasn't just the teaching of writing I was doing practically for free. I was being asked frequently to do everything else for free too.

For example, music. Hell, the name of our band is Free to a Good Home. We've never been paid for a gig, although at times money as been made from our music. However, I've bought a lot of equipment that we need in order to be a band. And I periodically have to replace that equipment. If I added up all I've spent on being a musician over the decades .... let's just say it's an expensive hobby. And I do it because I love it. Because I can't breathe without it. Because I don't want to live if I'm not playing music. It's not just a hobby. It's a passion. One that other people benefit from as well, without having to pay a dime (except my piano students. Bless them.)

Once I started listing things I do or am asked to do for free, I couldn't stop. There are the people I barely know who ask for free tarot readings. And strangers who want me to officiate at their weddings, which includes writing a custom ceremony, but don't want to pay me as much as they'd pay for a night of pizza and beer. And the people who want me to write their memoirs. Do you know how long it takes to write a fucking book? OK, I turn down most of those requests. But thinking about the barrage of requests made me feel smaller, simply because of the expectation that what I can do has no value as we define value. 

I don't turn down everything though. There's my church, where I certainly don't expect to be paid, but I still give a lot of hours. And other things like TEDx, which takes months of work to pull off. And theater, when I get a chance to do it, which isn't often. The dog-sitting. Writing bootcamps. The requests for time and energy from the neighborhood association; and then the guilt when I don't or can't help out. Mowing the absentee next-door neighbor's yard so it doesn't attract vagrants; boarding up the house on the other side when vagrants broke into it ..... The list could go on.

And since I've quit teaching, my granddaughter is with me at least 5 days a week. Even when I was teaching, I sometimes had to take her to class with me. You have to know, I love spending time with my granddaughter. I never resent her being with me. I miss her if I don't see her for a day. But there's a difference between spending time and providing free daycare with the expectation that I will always be available. Because then I don't get to choose when I do it -- kind of like all those years I was a stay-at-home mom. And I don't want spending time with her to become a burden. It's complicated.

It's complicated because I need to find something to do that doesn't make me feel small and used. Feeling used is quite different from feeling useful. I need to raise my value, even if it's just in my own mind, by doing something well and getting paid for it. Being the perpetual volunteer isn't working for me. Nor would it for most people, am I right?

Back to writing here on this blog. I love hate love hate love writing here. I love it when I do it, but I have to force myself to sit down and do it. One reason is because I don't have deadlines, so I can either do it or I can watch Netflix, or go sing karaoke, or rub one out, or read something somebody else got paid to write, like a book. I am as passionate about writing as I am music. As unable to live without it, although lately I've been satisfied with writing clever Facebook status updates.

So I need to consider whether I can continue to use my writing time and energy here on this blog, where I feel safe and comfortable and can write about vaginas or any other damn thing I want, or whether I need to find ways to make money with my writing. Ways that don't include teaching, because I'm not getting sucked down that drain again.

Somebody said to me after I quit my teaching job, and not in a very kind tone of voice, "Why were you teaching anyway? Was it for the money or for the kids?" The implication was that I should do it no matter how little I was paid because .... "for the kids." I heard that a lot at the school too. That we weren't there for the paycheck; we were there for the kids. The answer is if I'm going to do it, I have to do it for both the paycheck and the kids. We measure value in this country with currency. Money. If I'm valuable to that system, I need to be paid fairly for my time and effort. Who could argue?

I'm at that point with writing too. I can't give as much time to Coraline as I do and still regularly write here at 3:00 am simply for the joy of writing and for the connection with those of you who like to read here. That leaves no time for creating an income stream. So I need to try to create income from writing (which won't happen with this blog) or do something else, which would leave little time for writing here.

If that last paragraph sounds convoluted, I guess that's where I'm at. I'll be writing here every day this month. I've committed to that. And then, I don't know what will happen. If it's just one more burden, one more freebie I'm handing out, then I'm going to set it down for as long as I need to.

As I read back through this post, I realized I could have simply said I need to get a fucking job that pays real money, y'all!  I just had to use all the words instead.


  1. You're not whining. You're explaining it all. And it constantly amazes me how many (otherwise good enough) people just don't get it. I'm right next to you. I feel slightly less small reading this.

    1. Thank you. We adjuncts (and former adjuncts) have to stick together and stand tall.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. It feels good to know I'm not the only one ... although I wish none of us felt this way.