Tag Archives: college

I Did Nothing

After a grading bender on Saturday and Sunday, I managed to finish all my work before Thanksgiving Break even began.  So, when Monday morning rolled around and my husband prepared for work while I sat in my pajamas under my heated blanket like an elderly invalid, I quavered out this feeble question: “What should I do today?”

He replied, “Do nothing.  Do absolutely nothing.  Don’t clean. Don’t cook. Watch TV and read books all day.  Seriously, if that empty bowl of yogurt residue is not sitting on the table when I get home, I’m going to find it and throw it against the wall to watch it shatter into a billion yogurty pieces, a symbol of your broken serenity.”  (I might have made that last part up).

So I girded my loins and prepared for the daunting battle against my own sense of guilt.  You see, I don’t quite know how to do lazy.  I’m sure I’m not alone here.  When I try to relax, guilty, wormy thoughts squeeze through the cracks in my brain and whisper obligations to me (guilt worms can whisper, btw, and they look like this):


“Lazy cow,” they whisper, “there are so many things you should be doing right now.  Cleeeean something.  Wriiiite something.  Plaaaaan something, dummy!  Harvest someone’s organs!  Do something!  If you don’t, your humanity will be revoked, and you will become one of usssss! Blaaaaargaaaagarrr!”

It’s usually just easier to acquiesce to their demands, but on Monday, I decided to make a concerted effort to not put forth any effort.

I succeeded.

I watched movies.  I read books.  I stayed in my pajamas, curled up in my heated blanket burrito, drinking tea (dream big, people, dream big) and breathing.  Most of the time I feel like I’m holding my breath, swimming upstream against a steady deluge of work.  Monday I was finally able to take some slow, deep breaths into the brown paper bag of my first real day off in a long time.

Every now and then, another guilt worm would whisper in my ear, but I managed to stuff a sock in its terrifying maw long enough to enjoy my day.

In short,

Highlights of last week?  Listening to a teenage girl on the bus tell her friend, “White people and light-skin people look nasty, like they sick.  Look like somethin’ wrong with they skin.  Ugh.  I could never date outside my race.”

I get it.  I’m pale.  My skin is roughly the color of copier paper. Beetle-cleaned bones. Basmati.  But, come on, it’s not like I look like Lord Voldemort:

Hot.

My lily-white skin does react poorly to sunlight, though.  On my honeymoon, despite emptying the entire contents of a family-sized bottle of sunscreen onto my body, I still managed to get sun poisoning.  My whole face swelled up.  I looked approximately like this:

Hey you guys!

Also, when I was working at a daycare, a little boy asked me, “Why you draw all over yourself with markers?”  It took me a minute to realize he was pointing to the bright blue veins shining through my translucent skin.

I’m pale.  Still, I like my skin.  It keeps out pathogens and cat hair like most skin.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trying to chat that girl up and get her number, though; she might just vomit all over me, and then who knows what color I would be?

Highlight #2:  While having a discussion with my students about the purpose of higher education (whether it is simply to prepare them for careers, or whether it is also about shaping their character), one student raised his hand and said, “I think high school is when we shape our character and figure out who we’re going to be.  I think when we get to college, we should pretty much know that stuff already, so college should just be streamlined and focused on our careers.  We pretty much did all our growing up in high school.”

My response:

Did you think like that when you were a freshman?  I don’t remember thinking that, and a cursory/embarrassing visit to my old journal confirms that I pretty much felt like a fetus when I was 18 (and wrote like a fetus, too – a depressed, angsty, hormonal fetus).  Is this a common thought amongst college freshmen now?

If so,

I asked him, “Think about who you were when you were 13.  Were you pretty much the same as you are now, or different?” (Obviously he replied ‘Pretty different’) “OK then, imagine yourself when you are 23.  Does turning 18, legally becoming an adult, really put a stop to your ability or need to grow any more than becoming a teenager caused you to completely put away your childhood and suddenly become mature?”

Cue crickets and blank stares.

Anyway, I’m on break now, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  I hope you enjoy it with people you love (or at least tolerate).  Go find some leaves and roll in them for me.  All mine are covered in snow spat out by the encroaching winter demon who longs only to torment me with his jagged, icicle fingers.  Oh warm fingers and toes!  Would that I knew you still!  Pray you return swiftly and reattach yourselves to my icy stumps.

 

I’m Not Dead Yet

For anyone who follows my blog (a.k.a that one guy who lives in his second cousin’s basement and dreams of owning a cat Glamour Shots company), don’t worry, I’m not dead yet.

I disappeared for a while.  Things got a little hairy.

I should have known this week was going to be total shit when I returned from a trip to visit my family only to be greeted by my cat with a dead snake hanging out of her mouth.  Apparently she managed to catch and murder it in my basement.  My cat is basically a serial killer – spiders, centipedes, mice, human babies – you name it, she’ll eviscerate it.

Courtesy of The Oatmeal (link below)

 

The Oatmeal

Usually I just ignore her, but a dead snake on my rug requires a minimum amount of attention and squealing.  Anyway, this dead snake was clearly a harbinger of the week to come.

This week was the gnashing teeth of my cat and I was the limp, dead, gnawed-on garter snake covered in its saliva and malice.

Why? Grading.  It’s always grading.

On Wednesday I graded a mere, manageable 15 essays.  Chump change.  Candyland.    Thursday I graded 40 essays.  Yesterday I graded 46.

Every day I felt like I was being drowned in a toilet filled with student waste.  All my mental energy was dedicated to NOT collapsing into a puddle of tears, self-pity, drool and incoherent babbling as I slogged through one essay after another.

First, let me explain that it takes me on average 15 minutes to grade an essay.  So, yesterday I spent 11.5 hours on grading alone.  Do you know how much bad television I could have watched with that time?  That’s like 8 episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras 

Go with the octopus kid. Photographer = line cook with an overpriced camera and a portfolio that nobody cares about. At least if you’re an octopus you can spray ink all over anyone who pisses you off. Also, tentacles.

and 7 episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo

(Sweet baby, I could have totally used some special juice while I was grading, and by special juice I mean whiskey – lots of whiskey.)

Anyway, in short, this week was nightmarish.  Hellish.  All I wanted to do was watch bad television while I channeled my inner Liz Lemon and worked on some night cheese:

Instead, I graded and I graded and I wept and I graded and I slept a little and I graded and I almost died.  For real.  About halfway through, as I stared at the endless stack of essays, gazed around at my dirty apartment, as I smelled the death juices of a week-old bag of apples (from my sweet grandmother’s backyard) liquescing on my kitchen table with no hope of ever being baked into a pie, I felt like Artax in the Swamps of Despair:

(Ugh. Right in the childhood.  Damnit Artax, move your giant, depressed, horse ass!)

Eventually, though, I became delirious  and I could have graded all night.  Lord help the students whose essays I graded during that period of sleep-drunken insanity.  Here’s the comments I imagine I made on their papers:

“You get an F because there are WAY too many tiny dragons crawling all over your paper.  Next time, I require that you submit your work sans dragons!”

“You get an A because I like you and your paper tastes like vanilla bean and cuddles.  Oh God!  Why did your paper turn into lava?!?  It burns!”

“Aardvark.  Butthole.  Poststructuralism. Goethe.  Here C+”

Me, post-grading marathon.

To let off some steam mid-grading, I decided to go for a walk, but here’s the thing – I live in the hood.  Prostitutes perch so regularly outside my friendly neighborhood Kroghetto that a neighboring business owner made a sign out of poster-board and a half-dried-out sharpie that said, “If you don’t pay, they won’t stay! Say no to prostitution!”  He also drew a very subtle, RIP tombstone on the side.  I guess it was the headstone for a dead prostitute?  I don’t know.  Dude means business, apparently.

What I mean is that I live in the kind of neighborhood where walking is sometimes relaxing and sometimes it is sexual harassment.  Here are some of the phrases that have been shouted at me while out running/walking in my neighborhood:

1) (From a gentleman wearing an A-shirt and Hello Kitty pajama pants) “Mmmm!  Hey girl!  I’d loooove to catch up witchu sometime!”

2)  (From a pack of degenerate, loitering youths who are probably now in prison for lighting kittens on fire) “Sup shawty?  I’d hit it!”

3)  (From a man in one of those windowless vans I Iike to call rape’n wagons) “I’mma smack dat ass!  You look good in dem pants!”

4)  (From a man driving his car slowly beside me as I walked down the street) “Mm.  Mmm.  Mmmmm.  Mmmmmm” – he just kept saying that.  I think he was hoping I would acknowledge him.  Maybe he’d accidentally glued his lips shut while huffing a bottle of wood-grade Elmer’s and was just trying to solicit help from me.  Too bad.

Here’s my response to each scenario:

So my walk didn’t quite relax me, although I did get to walk past an entire busload of schoolchildren singing “I Believe I Can Fly” at the top of their lungs.  My first reaction to this:

Second reaction:  Space Jam was a modern masterpiece.  I must acquire and watch it right this minute.

Third reaction:  If I were that bus driver, I would swerve that bus over a cliff.

When I got home, no magical, naked elves had graded my remaining essays for me (Maybe I should take out a Craig’s List ad – “Seeking magical elves.  You grade my papers, I’ll sew some really shitty elf clothes for you.  Nothing sexual.  Some light nibbling from my cat might occur.)

I started to get viscerally angry at the stack of essays that never seemed to shrink.  Rather than stacking them neatly as I finished, I would fling them into a haphazard pile on the floor that my cat soon claimed in the name of snake-murderers everywhere.  Sidenote:  Next to murdering and eating olive oil, my cat loves lying on paper the most.  Even if there is a tiny post-it stuck to my desk, she will curl up on it and purr orgasmically for hours.  I think she might actually be this guy from Waterworld:

I let her do her thing and secretly hoped that some of my students had cat allergies.

Then, when a stink bug landed next to me, I dug out the essay of my least favorite student and used it to scoop the little bastard up while laughing maniacally.

I thought about squishing him on the paper just a little, just a little, but I managed to contain my crazy.

The moral of the story is that there is not one, but just know that I had 0 free minutes or brain cells for blogging.  So I’m back now, and I’m not dead yet.

Cashmere Toilet Paper

When I was in graduate school, I worked at a daycare.  For the blissfully unaware, working at a daycare is basically like attending a GWAR concert every day.  Remember GWAR?  They’re the heavy metal band of grown men who dress up in costumes, growl like the bastard offspring of rabid dogs and Incubi, and pour viscera over a roaring crowd.  All dressed up they kind of look like a Megazord from Power Rangers

megazordmade babies with some orcs

Hey honey!  Give Billy to the orc and get the camera.  This will be hilarious.  Aw, look, he's scarred for life!

(Honey, quick! Give Billy to the orc and get the camera. This will be hilarious. Aw, look, he’s scarred for life!)

and shoved some guitars in their hands.

Charming.  I hope they sent this copies of this picture in Christmas cards to their grandmothers.

(Charming. I hope they sent copies of this picture in Christmas cards to their grandmothers.)

For eight hours every day, my ears would be assaulted by the growling, shrieking battle cries of tiny, oozing cesspools who would attempt to mutilate everything in their paths (including myself and other children) while spewing buckets of bodily fluids on EVERYTHING until they (hopefully) collapsed into sticky little piles of sleep for two hours of napping in the afternoon.  If a room full of roombas became possessed by Gremlins, the result would be similar.  I would come home in the evenings, depleted, quickly change my clothes (which were usually covered in snail trails of snot) and head off to a 2.5 hour night class.

However, working at a daycare did have certain perks, like free weekends to nurse my battle-wounds and prepare for Monday’s onslaught.  I also never had to work earlier than 7 AM or later than 6 PM (except for when thoroughly baked parents would ‘forget’ to pick up their kids, eventually rolling in surrounded by a visible cloud of smoke, blinking their heavy eyes, as they mumbled ‘Aw, my bad’). Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the pay was well above the minimum wage with medical and dental benefits included.  Granted, these medical benefits were not superb, but if I ever happened to have my hand gnawed off by a deranged toddler, my new hook hand would be on the house.

The resulting, necessary therapy, on the other hand (ha!), would not.

Naturally I assumed that after earning a Master’s Degree and beginning my “career” as a college instructor, my pay scale would increase and my working conditions would improve.  These thoughts, apparently, were delusional on my part.  I try to imagine the rich white people who decide the pay-rate of adjuncts, but the only images I could conjure were Scrooge McDuck, Mr. Monopoly, Lucille Bluth and Mitt Romney (I don’t interact with rich people very often – or ever – apparently).  I think this is the closest approximation:

Just ask your parents for money!

Just ask your parents for money!

In my mind they are old men with diamond cuff-links and bow ties made out of 100-dollar-bills, sitting around a marble table, eating imported chocolate flaked with real gold leaf while speaking in the voice of Nigel Thornberry:

I then imagine them blustering in consternation, “Pay adjuncts fairly?!?  Next, they’ll want us to start hiring colored people and dames, I suppose!  We’ll probably have to stop bathing in pools of champagne and wiping our asses with cashmere sweaters too!” I feel for them.  Really, I do.  I’m all torn up.

I won’t bore you with my actual salary amount (well, really, I won’t depress myself by typing it out).  Here is an informative article, if you are interested: Adjuncts Paid in Packing Peanuts

Yet I once calculated that when I first started working as an adjunct, I was making less than minimum wage when I took into account the amount of money I made compared to the number of hours I actually worked each week.  Unlike my cushy daycare job, adjuncts don’t necessarily have the luxury of clocking out at the end of the day (this is the case with any teaching job, of course, but I’m speaking specifically from my experience as an adjunct).  We take our work home with us.  We grade papers late into the night, to the point of delirium, sometimes working 12 – 15 hour days.  We answer desperate student e-mails at midnight, rehashing information we’ve gone over 2,064 times in class.

Please, somebody, for the love of God buy this for me.  Maybe I'll just tattoo it on my face...

Please, somebody, for the love of God buy this for me. Maybe I’ll just tattoo it on my face…

We try to relax, but the thought of tasks that we should be doing pulses in the back of our minds like the tell-tale heart, reminding us of our crime – the murder of our own sanity.  Our work is almost always with us in one way or another,  unpleasantly present, like an ulcer or a tapeworm.  There is no such thing as over-time pay.   Additionally, adjuncts are not provided with any medical or dental benefits, which basically means that I have been curing the flu and broken bones with healing crystals, incense and pig’s blood for the past three years and having root canals performed by a chisel-wielding felon named Smooove in a bowling-alley basement.

It makes perfect sense that prison inmates are more medically secure than college professors, right?  We are, essentially, the Charlie Buckets of the academic world, staring through the window at the rich kids who get to gobble down unlimited diabetes while a dashing, mustachioed candy-man serenades them!  We are relegated to the task of scooping quarters out of storm drains with the hope that we can one day buy a single candy bar.  We inhabit the same world as those privileged children, but our experiences of it are so much different.

No bitterness here.

No bitterness here.  Only fantastic hair.

Hypothetically, I can increase the amount of money I make by simply teaching more classes, but enough classes are not always available and I don’t always have the mental energy (read: death wish) to grade 6, 500 essays every week.  Oh, how I envy my colleagues with their answer keys and Scantrons!  I see you, fellow cubicle dwellers, whipping through fifty tests in 10 minutes.  Have you no decency?  Can’t you do that in private?  There are English instructors to think of!

When I first started teaching, I tried to solve this problem by teaching a few classes while working part-time at the daycare.  This might have worked out fine but, unfortunately, I was also taking two night classes to finish up my degree and trying to eat and sleep like a human, not a giraffe.  Did you know giraffes only sleep for approximately two hours each day?  the more you know

Eventually I found I was working somewhere close to 80 hours each week which led to a fair amount of rocking, moaning, generally incoherent babbling and rolling into a blanket burrito of self-pity.

Most adjuncts either teach during the day while moonlighting as bar tenders, Wal-Mart greeters or circus clowns at night.  Others teach at a few different schools to increase the chances of receiving enough classes to pay the bills and to increase their carbon footprint speeding across town in their jalopies five times each day.  Still, even while teaching a full load of classes we’d likely make more money as exotic dancers.

Of course, the fly-covered cherry on top of this garbage Sunday is that, as adjuncts, we get the opportunity to watch our superiors do the EXACT SAME WORK that we do and get paid triple or quadruple what we make.  That’s more than a few Benjamins, folks – we are talking about Madisons here!

Yes, James Madison is on the $5,000 bill, and this is as close as I will ever get to it.

James Madison – look at that smug bastard.

They also receive medical benefits and an elusive, magical phantom known as job security.

Of course, I’ve seen enough comments on articles about adjuncts to know that some people genuinely wonder, “Why are you whining?  It’s your fault!  You chose to go into English.  You chose to teach.  You should have gone into physics or computer programming. You should have known teaching English wasn’t going to pay well.  I’m so much better and smarter than you.  Are you some kind of troglodyte?  Do you live in a cave?”

Yes, I studied English and chose to teach it because I am incredibly stupid.  You are so insightful.

I'm bringing this back, folks.

Glorious.  I’m bringing this back, folks.  All of this.  Flannel, mullets, holes in jeans.  Get ready.  I will rise from the ashes like a mid-90’s phoenix!  Or I’ll just be another run-of-the-mill hipster.

I teach English, specifically writing, because it’s important.  Most employers agree with me.  In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers lists verbal and written communication skills in the top 10 employer-desired skills and qualities:

Now with pictures!

The American Association of Colleges and Universities corroborates this finding and also reports that of the 318 employers surveyed, 80% think colleges and universities should place more emphasis on strong written communication skills.

So, as much as my students and the general public might want to think that math/science rules and English/the humanities drool, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not to employers.

But I think the importance of the humanities goes far beyond simply churning out desirable worker bees.  I don’t strive to simply teach students how to make a paragraph, cite their research, slap a title on it and call it a day; I try to foster the habit of questioning – questioning their assumptions, questioning the world, questioning me.  So many students come into my class never asking why, never thinking or reading against the grain (never doing anything, really, except playing Candy Crush on their phonesIcan’tafford).  I try to change that as much as is possible within the course of a semester.  I agree with Mark Slouka when he writes in Harper’s that, “The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be.”  He goes on to argue for the political value of the humanities:

Because they complicate our vision, pull our most cherished notions out by the roots, flay our pieties. Because theygrow uncertainty. Because they expand the reach of our understanding (and therefore our compassion), even as they force us to draw and redraw the borders of tolerance. Because out of all this work of self-building might emerge an individual capable of humility in the face of complexity; an individual formed through questioning and therefore unlikely to cede that right; an individual resistant to coercion, to manipulation and demagoguery in all their forms. The humanities, in short, are a superb delivery mechanism for what we might call democratic values.

You should read the entirety of his article:  “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School”  Smart stuff.

Education is about more than simply rote learning – spitting out facts, accepting them at face value.  I try to teach my students to consider alternatives, resist closure, interrogate critically the answers that present themselves quickly or easily.  Whether or not I succeed is another story, but I have to try because without this ability, we are automatons. We are Fanny Crowne in Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, sucking down soma and parroting the axioms that have been playing into our sleeping ears since birth.

So I teach with the hope that I can stir the sleepers.

I also teach because I want to help people to think critically, think creatively and express themselves fully.  So many of my students have remarkable ideas swirling around in their heads but lack the ability to fully communicate that vision to others.  I want to help them do that. (Then again, sometimes I wish I could protect the world from the minds of certain students by actually redacting any communication skills they’ve ever learned, ever, in their entire lives, but alas.  Usually they mitigate the written spread of their own crazy well enough on their own – again, it’s like deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs).

And to those who argue that going into the field of math or science would solve my financial/career woes, I will add that I see just as many math and science adjuncts as English adjuncts milling around the adjunct cubicle.  I recognize them.  They’re the ones with the damn answer keys, grading at warp speed while I grade at the speed of a tandem bike minus a second person to pedal with me.  The plight of the adjunct is familiar to the ‘hard sciences’ as well.

When we choose to be teachers, we do not labor under the delusion that we will be wealthy.  I’m sure that at some point in high school or college, we all attended some small group gathering in the home of a teacher whose modest, shabby surroundings made us uncomfortable.  We all had those awkward ‘running into teachers outside of school’ encounters (Its like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.) that made us cringe with unfamiliar pity.  We saw our futures.  I’m sure we all understood that we were not going to make the same money as a neuro-surgeon.  But I think what we did (albeit wrongfully, apparently) assume is that we would make a living wage – you know, enough money to subsist on more than a steady diet of government cheese in a van down by the river.

This could be me in a few years after the bitterness blackens my soul.  And gives me a sex change.

This could be me in a few years after the bitterness blackens my soul. And gives me a sex change.

We believed that education is valued enough in our country to compensate educators accordingly.  Instead, while college administrators enjoy their six figures, we live paycheck to paycheck, praying that something calamitous doesn’t happen in the meantime.

On a lighter note, I’ve compiled a list of possible career alternatives for those who need to supplement their adjunct income:

1) If we have learned anything from watching Breaking Bad it is that teachers can absolutely deal drugs on the side while eluding authorities and also having cancer and mustaches.  However, if you’re an English adjunct like me, maybe don’t start with meth.  You will probably die.  How about a nice, hydroponic grow house?

Tell me the atomic number for Beryllium or I'll blow your damn brain out the back of your skull!  Oh.  Sorry.  Wrong job.  Yes, you may go change your pants now.

Tell me the atomic number for Beryllium right now, you son-of-a-bitch, or I’ll blow your damn brain out the back of your skull! Oh. Sorry. Wrong job. Yes, you may have the lavatory pass now.

2) Also, I hear plasma donation centers and sperm banks are popular refuges for teachers. There are places literally begging for your fluids.  Since I have a seizure at the mere thought of a . . . needle (there, I said it) and I don’t have a penis, any braver or more-penis-having adjuncts out there are free to use this means of making money.

3) Give in, buy some boobie tassels and get ye to the strip club.  Try to find one with a fun name like Starbutts or Leave it to Beavers because that will amuse future employers.  Bring plenty of tissues for when you are crying in a ball of self-loathing in the corner.

4) Cardboard, sharpie and poor hygiene are all you need to make a sizable fortune as a pan-handler.  Most people will assume you are a drug addict or an alcoholic trying to get a fix, so don’t be afraid to play to that.  Be creative.  Throw out some pretend-honesty in the form of a sign reading, “I just want crack and drug cigarettes.” Pedestrians will applaud your candor and reward it with coveted dollar bills they were just going to shove into the g-strings of your colleagues over at Starbutts.

This guy.  Obviously an adjunct in disguise.

This guy. Obviously an adjunct in disguise.

Mmmm.  Alcohol Research.  Speaking of – Happy Murica Day everybody!

murica