where the writers are
Where I Work

Yesterday, I went to an end-of-the-semester party at a colleague's house in Richmond.  We have these parties, not surprisingly, at the end of every semester.  We are a California State funded school, so we don't have the funds to hold our parties at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley or anywhere else other than the occasional Chevy's.  In fact, we sponsor all our parties through the "Fun Committee," whose unlucky sole member is responsible for collecting funds every semester for parties, sympathy cards, flowers for our amazing secretary.  Teachers--if you didn't know--part often unwillingly with money.

But I don't think I've been to one of these parties since the end of fall semester 2005.  And before that, it was kind of hit and miss, too.  It was as if when I decided to leave my husband, I wanted to leave everything.  Aside from a few people, some of whom were and are my closest friends, I wondered how they had anything to offer me. They didn't know what I was going through; they wanted to talk about teaching.  All the time.  They wanted to talk about assessment and accreditation and Student Learning Outcomes.  A few of them liked to talk about writing, but this act of writing, strangely, isn't what these college English professors liked to talk about.

So in the years since Fall 2004, I've been sort of a ghost on my campus, going in to teach, and slinking out.  I am so there for my students, teaching my heart out every day, but I made a decision then to not be there otherwise.  I wasn't going to be on five thousand committees or go to the retirement party or even to department meetings.  I had better things to do, like try to feel sane and to write.  Maybe they didn't think writing was important, but I did.  I was a writer, for god's sake!  Don't we teach writing?  Isn't this what we are supposed to be showing our students?

Trust me, my High Horse was very, very high.

But yesterday, I realized something, something that has been coming over me recently.  As I listened to a retiring colleague speak, I remembered the day I came to the Learning Center for my interview with her.  I had just missed out on the full time job for the Fall semester 1989.  I was 27, the mother of two children, living with my husband in a rental house on one Oakland Public School salary (his) and mine (part time teacher at Chabot in Hayward). So, basically, we were broke.  I stood outside the building in the 105 degree temperature, knowing I had to get this part time gig, too, in order for things not to go completely belly up.

And my soon-to-be-colleague came out into the reception area once I was there, smiling.  She ran the whole Developmental program, and she seemed nice. In fact, I started to relax a little.  And then, when her slip started to fall down, her assistant trying to help her roll it back up and pin it to her skirt, I realized that I was going to be okay.  WE laughed, the interview went great because I was loosened up, and I was given three classes to teach that Fall semester.  And for the next year, I shared a very long and skinny office with her (it reminded me of a submarine), and she really shared:  her thoughts, her ideas, her life.  I learned so much from that desk seat, the walls of the old building thin, and I was privy to a number of teaching modes in the next room as I sat there grading papers.  I listened to everything.  And the next year, I got the full time spot, and I've been there ever since.

She saved my life, really.  Without her kindness and willingness to share with me, I would never have my job.  This is the job I will retire from.  This is the job that has sustained me, even when I wanted to ignore it.  These people--many of whom I looked at yesterday during the ceremony of sorts--are people who've known me for almost 20 years.  During times when I was more active in the department, I spent hours with many of them, learning about their lives and thoughts and ideas.

Why would I want to ignore that?

So I left the party yesterday, night starting to fall, four hours after arriving at this event I told Michael I would be home from in an hour.  Something shifted in me.  It was as if I remembered myself, finally.  I don't think this means I will be on five thousand committees again, but I think I'm stepping back in, moving toward, going back home.

Jessica