From the Bay Area Writing Project Summer Institute, 2002
by Michael Larkin
It’s early morning, mid-week, and I’ve got an entire day free from any scheduled obligations, a day that’s increasingly a rarity. Atomized coffee sanctifies the room. After the usual forehead massaging and inaugural half dozen games of computer solitaire, I manage a start, if I’m lucky, at writing a few words: Ennui hung in the low pressure system. Malaise traveled the electric third rail, sparking in the humidity. This was a Jimmy Carter cardigan pronouncement writ large in meteorology.
Waiting for me in the kitchen next door, there is a stack of student papers that grows, like proofing bread dough, with each moment I spend on myself, on my writing. There’s a class or two to plan. A particular question lingers of how to make the next day’s class useful for both the virtuoso student whose writing is complex and grammatically impeccable and the struggling student who can’t get her subjects and verbs to agree. This is besides the ESL students who understand quite well what I say in class but can’t yet write coherently in academic English, and the ESL students who write in thoughtful, mostly correct academic English and yet struggle to follow the uniquely American non-academic idioms that I bend every effort to edit from my teacherly speak because them dogs won’t hunt. I’m not getting any younger, and my students aren’t getting any more educated, facts with which I begin interrupting myself while I sit here whittling my fictions:
Twenty-plus years after, and the Georgia peanut farmer is what occurred to Jim Youngman. A respect for history was useful, and…AREN’T YOU GOING TO GRADE THOSE PAPERS? THOSE STUDENTS AREN’T GOING TO LEARN A THING THIS TERM UNLESS YOU GIVE THEM MORE ATTENTION…thinking of public figures, living or dead, was okay, but recalling the announcement of a one-term president while…GIVE IT UP. YOU DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS. ARE YOU GOING TO BE A TEACHER OR ARE YOU GOING TO BE A SELFISH JERK WHO CARES MORE ABOUT HIS WRITING THAN HIS FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS AND GOES THROUGH THE PEDAGOGIC MOTIONS AND LEAVES HIS STUDENTS WANTING, MALEDUCATED, PASSED ALONG THE C-MINUS DAISY CHAIN OF TEACHERS WHO NEVER TOOK THE TIME TO REALLY HELP THEM LEARN HOW TO WRITE?…riding the rails was doing nothing to make Jim feel better…YOU KNOW, FOR A FIRST PARAGRAPH OF AN ESSAY, THIS IS REALLY MUCH LONGER THAN IS PROBABLY HEALTHY AND WOULD LIKELY DRIVE YOU TO DISTRACTION IF YOU WERE READING IT IN ONE OF THOSE ESSAYS WHICH YOU’RE CONVENIENTLY IGNORING, RIGHT OVER THERE ON THE KITCHEN TABLE…
Oh, forget it.
I push away from the desk, disgusted and angry with myself, and prepare to face the hideous stack, a hideous stack that I’ve created with my own damned assignment.
ATTA, BOY, enthuses my teacher’s conscience which tag teams to my writer’s conscience that now enters the ring: NOW…WHY AREN’T YOU WRITING, YOU FOOL?
And so it goes.
This is the squishy middle: writing in fits and starts, too rarely finding a rhythm where steady progress can occur, and otherwise devoting time to teaching, enough time to put students through their paces and be of benefit to a precious few, but not enough time so that I feel my best teacher’s foot has been put forward. Feeling resentful when I have to spend time away from writing, guilty about the time I spend not serving my students, and exhausted shuttling between the two. I am neither fully writer nor teacher. Instead I have become a patchwork archetype from an academic horror movie: The Wreacher.
The Wreacher comes in a variety of forms. One might imagine the Wreacher as Frankenstein’s monster—an imperfect grafting of flesh, two anodes protruding from either side of the neck, two polarities pulling the individual in opposing directions: to write, to teach. It might be that the Wreacher appears at times as Ed Field imagines him in the final stanza of his poem, “Frankenstein,” the monster in brief refuge at the home of a kindly blind gentleman who offers him food and drink:
It is just as well that [Frankenstein] is unaware—
being simple enough to believe only in the present—
that the mob will find him and pursue him
for the rest of his short unnatural life,
until trapped at the whirlpool’s edge
he plunges to his death.1
Overdramatic? Perhaps. But it’s the fear of the metaphoric mobs* that keeps this Wreacher up at night, and I suspect keeps up countless others too. And unlike Frankenstein, every Wreacher—of necessity—is acutely aware of what waits for him outside the kindly blind man’s door.
I recognize the Wreacher, or its close cousins, when I see it:
There’s the tale—perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not—of the creative writing teacher who arrived in his university classroom one day, slapped down a revolver on his desk, and—perhaps drunk, perhaps not—said, “Today, we’re gonna learn about fear.” Pedagogic master stroke or Wreacher dementia?
A colleague tells me of a poet friend who took on half a dozen writing classes in one semester at an art college to try to make ends meet—hoping to practice her free verse in the land of impossibly high rent—and suffered a nervous breakdown.
A friend of mine in Pittsburgh, a fiction writer who plays drums in an alt country band and used to earn his keep teaching writing, tells me that he works construction now, that he’s given up teaching. “I had to. It was driving me crazy,” he says. “I still dream about it though.”
“I loooove my students,” one colleague gushes.
“I can’t stand my students,” another says to me.
They’re both perfectly sane, perfectly mad.
What is the writer’s thesis? I might ask my students at this juncture. Bellyaching, one of them wisecracks, causing the rest of the class to giggle. Fair enough; an appropriate opening student salvo. I might smile knowingly and note that this could be a place for the writer to think about either altering or acknowledging his tone. But let’s not go there just yet, I’d say. In the face of the channel-switching culture in which they (and I) were raised, I keep us on task. Let’s go back to the question: what’s the writer’s thesis? Several students diligently scan the first paragraph, and desperately want the essay’s central point to have something to do with the essay’s first paragraph being too long. They know that’s not it, but they’ve been trained to believe that the thesis statement must be the last sentence of the first paragraph so as to keep the reader dutifully notified of the essay’s focus and the writer on target with what he wants to say.
This drives me a little nuts. Not that they’ve been given a rather rigid structure with which to craft their essays, their arguments, but that I have to talk about the nature of theses at all. Haven’t they learned this already? Isn’t this a waste of their time? Why can’t they find the central point of an essay at all unless it’s revealed perchance by the laying of a last-sentence-of-first-paragraph key on top the essay, if they even have that capacity? (Shut up, Wreacher. Teach.)
At this juncture, I might say to the class, Sometimes writers make you work hard for the thesis because it’s a poorly written piece, and other times, the writer doesn’t want to put his thesis in the first paragraph. Sometimes, the writer doesn’t have a neatly encapsulated thesis statement at all. Sometimes, the writer is working inductively, rather than deductively.
And here’s a moment where the Wreacher recedes and the writer becomes glad he’s a teacher, because the writer didn’t have the words to mark this writerly practice, these variants on the thesis game, until he became a teacher and was forced to make sense of things so he could explain it coherently to someone else. For instance, the writer knew how not to make most grammar and usage errors and how to fix them, but he usually couldn’t give those errors a name exactly or immediately recognize them when he saw them. Now he’s a vigilant grammarian. Always on the lookout. For faulty parallelisms. And sentence fragments.
And as he’s found a name for these techniques and mistakes, conscious and unconscious, he’s been better able to explain how the students might improve their writing…
(FORGET THEM IMPROVING THEIR WRITING. WHAT ABOUT ME?!)
…and his writing too.
You see what I’m trying to do here. Trying to pull apart the writer from the teacher like two sticky halves of a saltwater taffy. Yet this points up a central problem: Can the two effectively be separated, compartmentalized to stand on their own, or once the choice is made to be both writer and teacher is the amalgamation a necessary and/or desirable result? The teacher can inform the writer, and vice versa, as easily as one can be subsumed by the other (and too often it’s the writer who gets subsumed). If one is to try to do both, as so many do, how is it to be accomplished effectively? Perhaps if we turn to an expert, an accomplished writer-teacher.
How about the late Wallace Stegner, the founder of the Stanford writing program, a writer and teacher for decades, accomplished on both fronts, widely praised and loved for his writing and his teaching? What might he have had to say on this Wreacher problem?
Stegner: “One [special danger that teachers must be on guard against] is that concern about students’ work will crowd out application to your own. It is fairly easy for teachers of writing to become ex-writers.”2
Right, OK. Worst fears underscored.
Stegner also talks about helping his ex-students after they’d graduated, how they came to him for help, recommendation letters, galley-reading, etc. This is not precisely a problem of mine, since I’m teaching beginning writers, mostly in composition, not advanced fiction writers who regularly go on to publish their work, though what he says still indicates the Wreacher phenomenon at work: “Once committed to the parental role, a teacher can be swamped…by the desire to help these young people….Their collective need can swallow his whole life. It really can.
“That is one reason I quit teaching. And even after quitting, I can’t escape it.”3
Oy. How did you do it, Wallace? All the novels, the stories, the essays, the biographies, the environmental activism, the students, the students, the students…why aren’t you still here so I can ask you?
Is it surprising that in an earlier essay, Stegner advises a young writer, one of his former students, not to teach? “For one thing,” he tells her, “you are so conscientious that you would let [teaching] absorb your whole energy. For another, I am sure you can write only if you have full time for it.”4
What now? No teacher wants his life swallowed by his students. Yet all teachers worth their salt care about their students enough so that the Stegner conundrum is forever looming, if not in full effect. What choices does one have? The proverbial “day job?” Do I leave teaching and go back to the soul-crushing, mind-numbing, manic-grinning if good-paying world of public relations, a world I inhabited for a while before graduate school, before teaching, before really trying to write something worthwhile? I need only think of my use of corporate-flack double speak to try to justify, among other things, the raising of checking account fees as a way of “better serving our customers”—just the kind of cerebral cortex-shutdown logic that I’d encourage my students now to riddle with bullet holes—to know that regression isn’t the answer. Knew it before I even asked it.
So what then?
I still have no thesis other than frustration, which perhaps leaves my thesis-seeking readers feeling frustrated as well.
Let me back up then and, like a student hunting a thesis with a golden key, add some layers to complicate this meditation. For starters: one major factor that generates some of the Wreacher’s uglier characteristics is a torn-between-two-lovers aspect that underlies the torn-between-two-lovers aspect of the writer vs. teacher choice/conflict. I’ll explain.
The act of writing is borderline anti-social. One must hole up, hermit-like, in one’s private space, shutting out loved ones, friends, students, telemarketers, and the strangely distracting appeal of cleaning the bathroom as a means of procrastination. As Annie Dillard notes of her ideal workspace for writing to get done: “Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”5 And in the dark, wonderful things can happen, joys are to be found in the midst of hair-pulling frustration. Here, the writer can create something that can connect with the outside world on a scale that she probably couldn’t have achieved even if she’d tallied the cumulative effects of having known many thousands of people in her lifetime. Here is where “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” comes to be. Here are generated Leaves of Grass and The Shipping News and The Joy Luck Club and Underworld (underworld indeed). Pick your favorite book; solitude is where it comes from. The writer can lay the patient (herself?) open on the table, locate the heart, see where the arteries lead, and then stitch herself back together, forever changed. The writer has remade herself, helped herself and others to think a little differently (and better, one hopes). Yet the fact remains that the writer, for all her putative literary connections to the community, for all the bustling cafes she might scribble her drafts in, for all the times she might generate or workshop her writing in the presence of a supportive group of fellow writers, the writer ultimately does her work—must do her work—alone.
The act of teaching, on the other hand, is fundamentally social and socializing. Of oneself and one’s charges. Several times a week, you’re given a group of generally eager young people to talk with. As long as you’re teaching, you’re guaranteed a community of students and fellow teachers that can keep you plugged into the world. And even if your communities are only of a few months’ duration at a time, you’re still getting out of your cave, you’re still seeing people. And many of those people you’re seeing are students you’re trying to serve, to provide with skills, to help resee the world, to give—in the grand liberal arts tradition—the tools to act in the world rather than be acted upon. You’re not writing a check in support of a cause and then going back to your tumbler of scotch, you’re giving of your time and energy, you’re jumping in with both feet, you’re getting your hands dirtied by chalk and ink. You’re also getting the benefits of each student’s worldview, if you’re open to it, thus learning something in return. You get the satisfaction of seeing a part of the students’ evolution, and the even greater reward of watching the students see it in themselves. (You can even suspect you had a small hand in this.) At minimum, you’re exercising your vocal cords and your social skills with someone other than the local grocery store clerk.
There are days when I’m at home in one of my “offices” (which, at various times, have looked strangely like either a bedroom or a dining room), the whole place to myself, and I find the well full, ready to be tapped. The mental line to the source of all mystery and understanding is open. The afternoon creeps past without my noticing, and I’m up 4,000 words for the day. I’ve laid my chips on the table, I’m way ahead of the house, and I’m buying drinks, thanking the dealer for her largess. Only I’m by myself. I’ve given up something with this choice to work indoors, alone all day: I look out the window and see the dying light of what was a beautiful day lingering against the orange tree in the backyard. I’ve missed it. There were other choices to be made today, and other people have made them.
So it is with great joy and gratitude that I, on this 4,000 word day, hear the key turn in the front door lock, and my wife comes home from work and announces that several good friends are coming over for an impromptu barbecue, and I’d better get on the grill, so to speak. I kiss her, for this is one of the rare days on the solitary/social divide: I get to have my marinated flank steak and eat it too. A solid workday’s creative hermitry behind me, I can offer companionship and be given it in return. Hosting a barbecue may not be the moral equivalent of leading a classroom of students through a writing exercise designed, in part, to build understanding across cultures (though a barbecue might accomplish that, let’s be ambitious in our barbecues), but as a means of connecting with the world, of feeling somehow human thanks to contact with others, grinning at those others with kernels of corn stuck in your teeth, it is just as good, if not better.
Yet for all the solitude of the writing life, what am I doing with this piece of writing if not trying to reach a community, to provide some empathy for my fellow Wreachers, to hunt for answers, to give a name to a state of mind that dogs so many of us? So writing isn’t completely solitary and selfish, yes?
The Wreacher exhibits anger and anti-social tendencies not simply because he holds fast to the writer’s anode, but because he is torn between wanting to write (and maintaining the solitary discipline it requires) and the desire to be social, and more specifically to perform a service, as teaching surely is. And this desire—for selfish fulfillment and social connection and service, which can be construed as another kind of selfish fulfillment—drives the Wreacher a little mad. He’s angry with Dr. Frankenstein (himself?) for unwittingly setting the mobs loose on him.
Yet if we extend this metaphor of Wreacher as Frankenstein, isn’t it possible that given more time and understanding, Frankenstein wouldn’t have been doomed, that he might have evolved into an accepted and highly functional member of society? He was part human, after all. Might the writer and teacher in this, a more civilized(?) world, have a chance to de-Wreacherfy? Maybe the problem is that I haven’t evolved enough yet. One needs time and resolve to slough off the scaly skin, to shed the webbing between the toes, to massage away the scars of stitching along the forehead, to snap off the neck anodes and reconcile these two competing halves. But one can’t simply wait for time to pass; one must be, in the parlance of the day, proactive.
Wendy Bishop would appear to be a Wreacher who has evolved.** In the context of an essay devoted to considering a creative writer/teacher’s place amidst the internecine conflicts of English Departments in general and the composition classroom in particular, she provides a hopeful model for what a Wreacher might become. She talks about the state of being the “writer-who-teaches” (the “WT”) or the “teacher-who-writes” (the “TW”) in the writing classroom and says, “[T]here is a need to explore the spaces between these figures, between the letters WT and TW and the site that is shaped when the two co-exist in the same paragraph, classroom, teaching life.”6 (Yes, exactly, though for my purposes here, I would add “writing life” to that list.) As a reflection of this exploration, this space, she uses the symbol of a circle with two arrows overlaid on opposite sides of its circumference, both arrows headed in the same direction around the circle, so that one is given a kind of visual representation of a dog chasing its tail. Bishop appears to have found a comfortable place to be by imagining herself at all times somewhere on that circular continuum, always moving toward or past being either a TW or a WT and not minding the occasional dislocations: “I love these two intimately connected activities. Some days I am a writer-who-teaches…and on others I am a teacher-who-writes…but inevitably, always I am one or the other.”7 It’s an admirable position, one that refuses to “other” the writer from the teacher, as I may well be doing here. Would that I could find her contentment and avoid the pitfalls of the teacher-who-writes-only-rarely or the writer-who-teaches-poorly-because-of-insufficient-commitment.
In her essay, “On Not Being a Composition Slave,” Maxine Hairston notes many of the familiar behaviors and attributes of the Wreacher that manifest in teachers of composition (Since it is the composition classroom where this Wreacher has spent most of his teaching time, this is the place where I’ll make my stand.)—“they quickly become overwhelmed by the grading burden, become slaves, in short”; and “They justify their failure to do any writing themselves by saying they are devoting all their time to their students…”8—and she offers her advice for breaking free. Besides advice about not harping on errors in grading and not writing copious comments on student papers, Hairston makes a series of suggestions designed to give students greater responsibility for and control of their writing—writing and workshopping in class, more interactive feedback between student and teacher, peer editing—and she applauds Donald Murray’s suggestion that a writing teacher should “act as a diagnostician and coach, not a judge.”9 Useful advice, all. The Wreacher intends to take it to heart, especially those things he’s not already doing or not doing well.
But what does this all look like in practice? Judging from what I’ve seen in my classroom and those of my colleagues’, and judging from my colleagues’ affirmative reactions to essays like Hairston’s, her piece could have been written yesterday. Yet it was written 17 years ago. Has anything changed? There are still Wreachers all over the academy, stuck in their muddy ruts and unable to figure out how to cede control in the classroom without either sacrificing their students’ learning experience or becoming freeloaders who don’t earn their paychecks. The mobs are marching, and the Wreacher isn’t sleeping very well.
It is a great irony that many writers who choose the academy because its structure can foster their work as writers—providing flexible schedules, extended time off every year, a chance to read and think about good writing in the context of one’s job—end up having work obligations piled on that keep them from writing. Partly for this reason, it is a dirty open secret that many teachers of writing dislike teaching, not necessarily (or not commonly, I’d argue) because of the act itself but because of the energy required to do it well, to give students the attention they deserve, and because of what that energy drain means for the teacher’s writing. No doubt recognizing this, a prominent, prize-winning writer once told me, “Don’t teach. Just write.” This advice is all well and good as long as one has a prominent, prize-winning writer’s cash flow. Or, to put it another way, as one of my former writing instructors confided after I had started teaching: “I’d quit teaching right now if I didn’t have this damn mortgage to pay.”
So what to do? The Wreacher’s problem defies easy answers, as all the best conundrums do. And the approaches to the problem will vary, of course, depending on the individual Wreacher, what subject he’s teaching, and what his mobs might be chanting at him. Some can survive on two hours of sleep a night. Others may be preternaturally organized. Still others may hold their teaching as paramount, and be satisfied with only an occasional burst of creative activity. On the latter point, following the chicken and egg construction, I’d venture that most creative writers in the academy came to the academy as writers first, and only became teachers later. The Wreacher, after all, comes with a capital “W,” not a capital “T.” This may be an uncomfortable truth for some teachers and especially—because of their frequent denial that they privilege publication and research over teaching—for the university administrators who hire them, but let’s call an egg an egg.
Bearing this in mind, this Wreacher needs to follow the sage advice of virtually every book ever written about the craft of creative writing: make time to write; make time to write every day. In that vein, I tell myself something like this:
Consider yourself on notice. You are a Wreacher with a cholesterol count of 280. You’ve got to get to the gym—your personal, unattractive, wholly devoid-of-distractions workplace. The mobs will sometimes tell you not to, but if you don’t you will die. So get in there in front of your notepad, your keyboard, your typewriter and shut the door behind you. Shut it every day for a few hours. Unplug the phone, lock the door, close the blinds, and get down to it. There may be forest fires, earthquakes, mudslides, and eruptions in the world outside, but you’re oblivious for now. If you hear an explosion, you’re going to ignore it and sit there until you’ve put in your minimum of two, three, whatever hours each day. If that explosion sounds suspiciously like the shouts of students clamoring for your time, well, they’re going to have to wait for office hours, because you’re closed for business at the moment. Those student papers, that planning, that innovative pedagogical thinking, they’re going to get their own allotment of time, but not now. You may have some late nights getting caught up, the rhythm may take some time to develop—hell, you may never get a rhythm—but the chances are the teaching work that needs to get done will get done. The fact is, you’ll be a better writing teacher for it—because you’re going to be writing, that thing you’re supposed to be teaching as if you know whereof you speak. And you’ll be a better teacher because you won’t take your frustrations out on your students, who didn’t choose your career for you or demand that you spend all your time on them in the first place, dummy.
This is not so much solution as it is extended mantra for me, one I have to constantly repeat to myself, even as I often defy its good advice. Especially when I do so. The way out of Wreacher monsterdom, it seems to me, is in finding a state of mind that works, one that allows the Wreacher to be transmuted into new form, a new form you can live with, whether that’s writer and teacher; writer/teacher; writer-who-teaches; teacher-who-writes; or any of a million other possible combinations that value one’s writer self in the way you need it to be valued. My mantra may not be yours.
Because of the very real danger of ignoring one’s writer mantra, one has to attend to the teacher half of the Wreacher as well if the harmonious reconciliation of the two halves is to continue. One can’t resolve to write regularly while continuing to practice the same methods of teaching; otherwise, the Wreacher will simply grow a new head. The Wreacher is a state of mind, too, albeit one that takes exactly zero discipline to maintain.
Let’s make a new start here. If the writer has to come first for you (you’re going to die otherwise, remember?), then it’s just as true for your students, even though they’re mostly going to go on to be writer/bankers (wrankers?) and writer/computer programmers (wrogrammers?) and writer/fashion buyers (wrashion wryers? One quickly begins to sound like Scooby Doo.) While they’re in your classroom, they’re writers, and they’ve got to believe that they are, especially if they are in a writing classroom they haven’t actively chosen to be in—e.g., a composition classroom—or you can forget it. How about taking the advice of Bishop and Hairston and others and spending some time coming out of solitary writer’s confinement, and, while acting as a teacher, going to write in the classroom with your community of students, maybe even occasionally sharing your work in the classroom (gasp!) when it seems instructive to do so. You need time to write; they need time to write. You need to walk the self-discovery plank of revision, and they need to take the hike as well. The difference is you need to show them how to walk the plank, and you can’t do that by holing up in my office and getting arthritic hands from all the illegible scrawling you’re doing on their papers, scrawling they’re not going to appreciate or read or learn from; the real work has to happen first in the classroom (model for them, you fool! Show them your anodes!), and then the work mostly has to take place when the students are off writing by themselves, pulling their own hair out, fighting off their own mobs. Play the part of the blind old man from Ed Field’s poem and treat them like human beings. Without abdicating your responsibility as a teacher, you’ve got to show them how to do it for themselves. It’s a perilous path—and a nebulous one, too, one that keeps changing even as you think the fog is lifting and you’ve found it—but is there any other way?
Maybe the place to start is to tell them you were a Wreacher once.
This hunt for integration or separation or for silencing of mobs or whatever it is that I’m doing here isn’t over, and it probably never will be. For now, however, I’ll offer a coda to end this stanza of the song, this movement in the never-ending symphony:
Every year, even before I was devoting the entirety of my work time to writing and teaching, the woman who prepares my taxes has entered “writer” for my occupation, even though there has been plenty of W-2 documentation to the contrary. As far as where the big bucks come from that the IRS is salivating over, it’s been those two or three universities every year that pay me enough for my teaching to keep me in chips and salsa. The fiction writing income? Does one have to report half a dozen complimentary copies of literary journals and a fifty dollar check? One isn’t what one gets paid to do. Right? Write.
At the passport check at Logan Airport last summer after a flight home from Europe, I’m given a card to declare myself. Name, address, occupation. I hover over the last entry for a full minute. Writer or teacher? Which am I? I can declare my citizenship and the over-the-legal limit of wine in my bag without hesitation, yet the “occupation” line gives me pause. I stifle a laugh as the impulse to grunt and groan like Frankenstein overcomes me. This is just the sort of behavior that could get me pulled aside for the secondary security check, which indeed I am. I frown as rubber-gloved security men rifle my bags. Will they find a pen? Incoherent scribblings of dubious provenance? Does America want to keep out those of conflicted vocation? Has airport security found a Wreacher? I grit my teeth. I draw strength from my tax return (and who can say that!?), and on the declaration form, I finally put down “writer.”
Postscript, 12 years later: Reading this essay now, I hear a subtext beneath the anxiety. At the time I wrote this, I had been working as an adjunct faculty member for five-plus years at six different colleges in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was just about to start a new adjunct position at a seventh where, a few years later, I found a permanent home.
The struggles noted above obtain for any writer-teacher, of course, and don’t entirely abate when one moves from a contingent position to a more permanent one. However, the much-documented problem of adjunct/contingent/part-time faculty in higher education exacerbates these effects for the writer-teacher and for any teacher subject to tenuous employment conditions. This is a problem that universities (and in the case of public institutions, the states that are affiliated with them) must address, and soon, unless we want our faculty, and therefore our students, to walk around the campus and the world beyond it as Wreacher-like zombies.
1. Ed Field, Counting Myself Lucky: Selected Poems 1963-1992 (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1992), 208.
2. Wallace Stegner, On the Teaching of Creative Writing, ed. Edward Connery Latham. (Hanover, NH: Montgomery Endowment, Dartmouth College, 1989), 42.
3. Stegner, 43.
4. Wallace Stegner, “To a Young Writer,” in One Way to Spell Man (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1982), 30.
5. Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 26.
6. Wendy Bishop, “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition,” College Composition and Communication 51, no.1 (September 1999): 14.
7. Bishop, 14.
8. Maxine Hairston, “On Not Being a Composition Slave” in Training the New Teacher of College Composition, eds. Charles W. Bridges, Toni A. Lopez, and Ronald P. Lunsford. (Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1986), 118-119.
9. Hairston, 122.
* The mob of self-doubt; the mob of teacherly obligation; the mob of student need; the mob of no-theoretical-basis-for-your-teaching; the mob of “writing is selfish”; the mob of simultaneous submissions ethics; the mob of obsessive-compulsive listing (like listing one’s mobs); the mob of…you get the idea. The point is each mob carries torches which make it difficult to sleep, liters of pinot noir and homeopathic sleep remedies notwithstanding.
** I am not presuming that Professor Bishop was ever a Wreacher, since she appears to have more actively embraced teaching and pedagogy as a passionate pursuit in addition to her work as a creative writer than has this Wreacher (and therein may lie the root of this particular Wreacher’s problem) but I submit that she has to have experienced a certain Wreacherliness at some point in her career or else she is a person possessed of a rare and god-like sense of balance. (OK, so I am presuming she was a Wreacher once.)
© Michael E. Larkin, 2014. All rights reserved