Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Finding a Path

September 12, 2012

Yikes! I haven't written anything in weeks, but since I doubt anyone reads these, I'm not feeling too bad about it. It is more the discipline of writing that I need. I always say I want to write, but I tend to put other things ahead of my writing. This morning, for example, I started the laundry, fed the animals, picked up the living room, made breakfast, made a phone call/ appointment, then checked FaceBook before I started to write. Why didn't I start to write sooner? Why do I always think that writing is not "real work" and therefore should come as an after-thought?

According to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, it is a result of the way that we were raised. I started writing stories, poems, and plays when I was around 9. I wrote my first "novel"--a science fiction debut--in sixth grade. But while my parents and teachers always thought my writing was wonderful, no one really suggested to me that it could be a career. Someone would read what I had written and say, "Oh, you should teach!" And so I decided to become a teacher. I do not blame my parents or my own teachers in the least. Writing is a risky business. It demands time, patience, openness, honesty, and persistence. It is a lonely existence and often comes with much criticism and few rewards. Teaching, on the other hand, offers a stable career and a predictable paycheck.

Except that my own experiences as a teacher--much as I love it--has not been the predictable paycheck. In the 1980's, teachers were in short supply and in great demand, but when I graduated in 1995, the market was glutted with teachers and jobs were scarce. Government funding has continued to impact the educational system in our country, so that many teachers each year are laid off or take early retirement. For every teaching position, there are hundreds of applicants. My first year as a teacher was in the world of the substitute, a journey through fire that I happily only had to endure for one year. My first full time position was at The Christian Academy in Brookhaven where I made 19,000. Okay, not exactly a living wage, but Ron was working at the time and we managed. I left TCA in 1999 following Ron's breakdown, because I knew it would be up to me to support our family while he worked through his illnesses. I took an offer from Westtown that almost doubled my salary; I hoped that my position as the main financial support of the family would be temporary, but Ron's car accident in March of 2000 dashed those hopes to the ground. It was all me, just me.

Westtown did provide stability and medical insurance and most of a graduate degree, but did not challenge me in any way. I felt stagnate there, my talents as a reading specialist used to proctor study halls. If it had not been for the lost income and the lack of faith in how we would survive, leaving Westtown in 2009 as part of a cut-back would have been a relief. Three years later, it is a relief. I spent two years finishing up my doctorate degree and adjuncting at three colleges. The income was horrible, but we scraped along with help from my father.

Last August, I took the position as professional development mentor with Catapult. I am making less than I did at Westtown, so I still teach at Springfield College and provide the academic support for students. We get by; we do a little better than just get by and we can afford a vacation now and then. Still, the myth of a steady income and a solid future as a teacher was something from my parents' time, just as Dad was with the same company for thirty years. These things don't happen anymore.

So, that's why I became a teacher instead of a writer. And why am I not a writer now? Because habits are hard to change. This summer, I have tried to write in my companion journal to The Writer's Way in the morning before I got out of bed; for the most part, it worked, even though I had to ignore the stares of three animals who did not understand why their breakfast was being delayed! But now that I am back to my hectic schedule, it just will not work. What to do?

Last night, I watched part of Julie& Julia, a lovely movie that parallels the lives of two women, one the renowned cook Julia Child played by Meryl Streep with padding and Julie Powell played by Amy Adams, a young woman determined to cook her way through Child's first cook book in an attempt to "find herself." At the end of the movie Julie's efforts at both blogging and cooking earn her a book contract and a career as a writer.

And I could not help but wonder, "Why couldn't I do that? Why couldn't I blog every day for a whole year about whatever was going on in my journey towards writing and find a book contract at the end and a job that let me stay home and write my pajamas? Okay, I am a good deal older than Julie--her bio says she was born in 1973, the year I graduated high school--but I am every bit as good a writer. Maybe better, if you consider the fact that I have never, at least in my writing, felt that profanity was needed to express my feelings. The English language is full of wonderfully descriptive words that are not four-letters long and if a reader doesn't know what the occasional word means, perhaps vocabulary will be expanded.

The internet is full of blogs, of course. It is quite possible--probably true--that no one will follow mine. Not even my mother, who died in 2002, or my father who knows how to use a computer but wouldn't know a blog from an e-mail. Perhaps I can get my best friend Chris to follow it. She's pretty loyal. The thing is, though, the hook. Julie Powell used the idea of Julia Child's cookbook to interest people in following her. what have I got?

I have a chronically ill husband. I am the Well Spouse, a term I only recently learned and one I think will become a part of Mama's Secret Letters if I ever get around to working on it. And having an ill husband, one who is not "the saint" that Julie Powell describes--one must wonder why she cheated on him after her first book was published if he was all she said he was, unless she was more of a whiner than the movie really portrayed--complicates life in ways that those with a wholly--or even partially--functioning spouse cannot imagine. That, of course, requires honesty.

But God has planted the idea in me, the need to come clean, tell the truth, air the laundry, open the door, spill the beans. Pastor Jim Carroll's sermon several weeks ago has given me the title for this work: Life:Altered. It is a topic I am set to speak about on October 14 at Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Can I keep it up? Well, I managed to finish a dissertation while working three jobs. This is probably harder. But, I begin.

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