working writer or writing worker?
Blog Post by Maryanne Stahl - Jan.11.2008 - 8:43 pm
Like most American writers, I have a day job. For most of my adult life that job has been raising my two children, running a household, occasionally selling artwork and teaching college part-time. I also wrote, here and there, but it wasn't until both kids were in school that I found the mental room of my own to begin to write with a mind tward publication. After my children were grown, two of my novels were published, and I divorced (not sure whether there is a link there, but that's for another blog), I needed to support myself. I thought I could do so through writing and teaching college. I even thought that with an MA in English Lit and two respectable novels published, I could get a full-time job teaching college. But it wasn't so easy, at least not in Savannah, where I had moved to be near the ocean and get a fresh start. ("WHY did you move here?" nearly everyone I met asked. "Surely not for a job." "Er...I like the beach?" "OK.") So, I taught adult ed ($350. for 6 weeks) and subbed in the public schools. Soon, I needed a real job. I decided to try teaching high school, first at a private school and then in the public school system. I find it incredibly rewarding, especially at the arts academy where the students are so creative and talented. I try to inspire as well as instruct and they certainly inspire me. But of what use is this inspiration to me when working takes all of my spirit and more? About the only thing for which I have energy after a day that starts at 7:20 AM and more often than not ends close to 6 PM (when the janitors kick me out) is...well, frankly, flopping on my bed to watch a movie, but the fact is, energy or not, I must first attend to mail and bills, laundry and housework (not too much of it, I admit), and dinner. And plants need watering. And cats and dogs need attending. And I do have a relationship with someone I like to say hello to now and then...Et al. We all know what it's like. But then there is marking papers (I teach more than one grade of literature as well as Creative Writing) and preparing lessons and planning. Each English class at my school has 'outside reading' novels every quarter, in addition to regular class reading curriculum. During a given week I might be (re)reading The Great Gatsby, Julius Caesar and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail as well as marking essays, grammar workbooks, vocabularly quizzes, and teaching literature and corresponding terms and skills from the curriculum. I might be leading a Socratic Seminar, assembling character collages and leading peer-editing groups for college essays. (I'll leave out the Creative Writing block.) With four minutes between classes (and 'hall duty'), that doesn't leave time to even switch books, never mind mental gears. Oh, and I have my own coursework to complete for certification. I never took an education class in college, you see. I was too busy reading and writing. Yes, I have the summer break, but most teachers need to work during that time (which gets shorter every year). When I don't work, I DO write. But I also do everything else I don't have time to do during the school year (such as visit my kids and read and plan the next school year!) I realize that I should have started this career path a LONG time ago. If I'd gotten certified after college instead of adjunct teaching, mothering, and homemaking, I'd be well on my way to a comfortable retirement right now. But I didn't do that. And now, near retirement age, a card-carrying member of the AARP, I am beginning a career which at the moment doesn't quite pay my mortgage. Two careers: teacher and writer. I can't slack on the first and pay my mortgage, so the second suffers. So am I a writer? Yes. I was born one, I think. I have always written, even if for years at a time that writing took the form of letters and journals and odd characters to entertain my children. Even if, more recently, the impulse has asserted itself in flash fiction and blogging and posting on 'net forums. I don't necessarily always like to write. (I don't even necessarily like to have written, since I am never satisfied with my work.) I am compelled. So I publish short pieces, mostly, and now and then work intently on one of two novels I have going. Someday, I suppose, one or the other of them will reach an end. And then it will be time for the real fun of revision. Of course, most of my revision mojo is by necessity aimed at student work. (I actually feel pretty good about knowing that some of my students are so talented they will become writers and I will have had a part in it. That is almost as satisfying as having enough time and energy for my own work. Almost. And sometimes, more so.) One of my students recently had a car accident in which his vehicle flipped over several times and he was forced to climb out through the shattered windsheild. Incredibly, he was unhurt. As he stood on the side of the road, waiting for the police, he suddenly found himself outside himself, pondering how he would use this in his writing. You're a natural born writer, I told him. Like it or not. I hope he doesn't need to get a day job. But chances are, he will.
I was born in Brooklyn (wasn't everyone?), lived in Atlanta for 17 years, and now reside betwixt the ghosts and the sea in Savannah, GA. I teach advanced English and Creative Writing at a public (formerly charter) Arts Academy, paint and make folk art,...
Causes Maryanne Stahl Supports
PEN International, Greenpeace, Invisible Children, NRDC, Amnesty International, Free Tibet