Monday, March 22, 2010
It's a Mad, Mad World
I am on a road that I'm not sure I want to be on. I want to be the person who can pack everything into her hatchback, cats included, and ease on down the highway to someplace new. OK, I think I want to be that person, but I know I have a strong affinity for 500 thread count sheets and indoor plumbing, so unless that trust fund materializes around the next mountain, I'm not that person. But I can play a little Bob Dylan soundtrack in my head and pretend that I'm that camping-chick (OK, the camping chick at the Hilton). I root so well it's easy to get stuck.
I'm bored at work. I've built a program up here. It's a good program. The classes are good. All the instructors are good. The students are learning cool things. Their writing improves exponentially with each class. Their hearts open as they develop a deeper relationship with language. They make me smile.
But there's no where else for me to go, and the endless days of the same classes semester after semester are starting to take their toll on me. I'm two years away from a sabbatical. I'm moving to primarily on-line teaching in the fall to try and better utilize my time and try to get some of my creativity back. I've given everything I have to creating new classes, prepping new textbooks, and designing new assignments. I don't have anything left, and if I don't figure out how to put it back, I'm going to be a lousy teacher. I'm not a lousy teacher. I think teaching is a sacred gift, so something's got to give.
I know this job is about as good as it gets, and I'm glad to have it. 500 thread count sheets aren't free, and I'm really not the person who's going to drive away with her cats in a car. But I'm thinking about it a lot, which tells me I need to try to figure out some other ways of doing things.
I think part of this springtime malaise is because I also feel creatively trapped. I am the only creative writer on a faculty of literature and composition teachers. We play well together, but we don't speak the same language. My tribe of writers has scattered to the four corners of the country. None of them are in Prescott. I am always the teacher, here, and that's unsustainable for me as an artist. Writing conferences don't come to Prescott. I've already been to grad school (could I possibly go again?) I could travel to some events, but they're usually in the middle of the semesters, when we're not allowed to travel. I've taken some online classes, which have been helpful, but don't cultivate the relationships I'm craving. I am on the way to becoming the teacher who writes instead of the writer who teaches, and I am absolutely not OK with that. I am supposed to be doing both. I am OK with that. But the pendulum has leaned far too much toward being a teacher in the past few years. In order to grow the program I've created here, writing took a back seat. It's tired of being the passenger.
I could go to Manhattan and sit in the subway tunnel and listen to Julliard trained musicians. I could go to San Francisco and watch the performance poets on the sidewalks. I feel pulled to wander, and with equal force, I feel rooted to a good, safe life here. This leaves me feeling like I'm going to be split in half. I told my friend on the phone yesterday, "I am artistically dying." It was so liberating to vocalize that at last. We had no brilliant solution, but at least it was out on the table.
I have two books coming out this year, and I asked myself in my journal yesterday, "Why is that not enough?" Why, in this world of publishing's collapse, is that not enough? And I came to the answer that the outcome, although cool, wasn't the reason for the writing. Publishing can't be the only outcome. It's too unpredictable. Too random. The two books coming out this year challenged me. One, though, is ten years old. It's been through many incarnations, but the puzzle of that novel is one I've lived with and worked with a long time. It's also complete. The challenge is over.
It's not enough because my writing is not as good as it can be. My stories aren't as complex as they can be. My sentences not as lyrical as they can be. It's not enough because I'm an artist, and a complacent artist isn't working in service to her art. It's not enough because I haven't stretched as far as I know I'm capable of stretching with my writing. I sit and stare at it and write the same old same old that works, but isn't pushing me. I don't know if I am capable of pushing myself. I know I'm capable of discipline and productivity. But I can only see what I can see. Everyone needs teachers to light up new avenues. Someone to say, "Yeah, that's good, but you can do better." Someone to say, "You've already written that story. Write something new. Start here." I give this to my students with every essay or story they turn in, but I seem woefully ineffective at giving it to myself.
So, OK, Universe:
I am artistically dying. Help me out. Thanks, much.