The wide-eyed students at my small Honors program have just rung in another year of school with an orientation-week Foam Party*, and I’ve been relatively busy getting my shit together to teach another year of Freshperson World Lit—I say “relatively” because this is not, as Raylan Givens would say, my first rodeo.
I’ve been keeping it lively by adding some hard-learned lessons to my syllabus (such as a new proviso banning the multiple-paragraph sob story excuse—no more ten-page Ancient Mariner Rimes about your great-aunt with Lupus!), but for the most part it’s all instinct. Syllabus. Posting assignments. Buying new pens (always fun, though as more of my class goes paperless I find less need for them), folders, schlepping my water boiler, French press and a selection of decaf and tea to the office I share with another nice adjunct (and that, being located in a former convent on the residential floor, has its own bathroom! I’m George Costanza!).
I have loved the ritual of going back to school for as long as I have been involved with school—I love, to the point of non-erotic fetishization, the entire collegeyness of college, especially those breathless few weeks where everyone is either excited to be back or excited/terrified to be starting.
So why am I so bummed out?
I should be happy right now—because I was in the right place at the right time, I got handed three courses for Fall at an institution where I have not only taught before, but taught quite successfully. It’s a department where, as I’ve discussed before, there is no tenure and thus no cruel and unusual Lifeboating™ (WHB). I am very open about how much I’m paid—a rather queenly $3300 per course—because transparency is key in the adjunctiverse. This job has all of the things I love about university faculty-dom (THA TEACHINGZ! THA NICE COLLEAGUEZ!) and none of what hurt and terrified me so much (THA PRESSUREZ, THA KOMPETISHUNZ, THE MISERY POKERZ, THE POSTURINGZ). Plus, I work less than a mile from my husband, and we can ride Metrolink together to work.
…so why am I so bummed out?
A likely reason is that no matter how much I remove myself from the dominant paradigm of the academic cult, it is very difficult to shake off the feeling of failure as an adjunct. This was not as much the case during the Summer of Postacademia, when I spent most of the time fairly sure I would never set foot in a university again except to hit on 20-year-old guys (HA JK LOL GROSS).
In these past few months, I hope it’s been clear on this blog that I’ve undergone a pretty substantial transformation, not just in my happiness, but in my entire self-conception, an active and engaged re-forming of myself (a Wiederbildungsroman, as it were), not necessarily as a curse-spewing voice of the disillusioned (though that is a mantle I will accept with pride for as long as anyone chooses to give it to me), but simply as a writer who happens to have The PhD Degree in German. I am afraid right now, I think, that teaching three courses is going to suck me back in to higher ed with such ferocity that I will start to feel like my old self again. And lest we forget, my old self looked like this:
All right that’s not fair; I have pneumonia in this picture.
And lest we forget, my new self looks like this:
My new self just gained an inch of jacked-up muscle around each thigh from training hills in the Catskill region. My new self gets mani-pedis (when I can afford them) and sees movies in the middle of the day, and works with coaching clients, and writes 10,000 words a week, and does yoga and aromatherapy with Chakras and loves it. My new self is not a Grade-A Fun Ruiner who makes my husband want to lock me to the outside trellis with the bike chain. I love my new self, and I am somewhat terrified that by immersing back into college teaching—even though I enjoy it, find it fulfilling, and am great at it and, small deetz, need the $9900 not a small amount (otherwise, whence mani-pedis?)—anyway, I am afraid that my new self will be eaten alive by my old self, who lived not a small amount of her life in depression and terror.
I’m sure this is just the same low-grade existential freakout I get every time I’m overwhelmed by a new task. By next week I’ll be reveling in delight that I have almost every minute of my class planned out from when I taught it three years ago, and that this nominally part-time position is indeed part-time, and I haven’t actually plunged back into full-time academic terror mode.
And this will, I’m sure, become extra-apparent in a month and a half when the rest of those suckers go back out on the job market, and I spend my autumn weekends on bike trips and sewing my own clothes, instead of spending eight hours a day researching every aspect of what life would be like at Christian College In a Tiny Town With No Other Industry, and composing painstakingly individual, heartbreakingly sincere cover letters that an overwhelmed search committee member will spend forty seconds skimming for the word “Princeton” and then tossing aside.
And when I spend my Christmas break playing with my precious baby niece in Texas and then frolicking with my in-laws in San Diego—when I spend the biggest MLA interview day at motherfucking Disneyland with my friends—I will probably not feel like my old self.
I am sure things will turn out fine. But today, I am definitely Feeling All the Feelings.
*After I expressed enthusiasm for said Foam Party, a few of them invited me along (because that’s what kind of ridiculous sweeties our students are) to which I said, “The rule is that if you were old enough to go to the original Foam Parties in 1997, you don’t get to go to Foam Parties now.”