Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You shouldn't complain

I want to quit my job.

It turns out that relatively speaking, it is a sweet job. I get a great deal of independence. I get to talk about history to captive audiences who give me great reviews and who do a great job stroking my ego. It pays very well per hour and gives me lots of free time. It is even fun most of the time and being a community college professor, I may even be making a difference every so often.

But it isn't enough. It isn't what my heart desires. It isn't my calling.

I'm an adjunct. Most of the full-timers (most of whom don't have a doctorate)treat adjuncts like we're part of the family but only as contemptible, backward cousins. We don't get benefits. We have no job security, no union representation, and receive only a fraction of the pay for the same work regardless of our levels of expertise. I feel that injustice every day not only when I try to pay bills but whenever a full timer gets to take over one of my classes at the last minute or doesn't bother learning my name despite the fact that I've been there teaching generally two to four classes a semester for several years.

There's no chance I'll advance. Hell, I tried to suggest that I could teach religion classes for them but was told that I wasn't qualified. (My doctorate is in religion studies. The head of that department has a master's degree in communications.) The library wouldn't even let me take out material I needed for my classes for some time until my father came and gave them hell for it. (He's a full-timer so they listen to him).

I shouldn't complain. Even though the pay is lousy and I have absolutely no job security, I get to read, research, and present material to groups of people. These are things I love. I love the theatrics of teaching. I love the conversations with the students. I love the challenge of learning new things every week. Sure, it was only meant to be a starter job for me until I got my writing career going. Turns out there's no time to write when one is teaching Western Civilization, U.S. History, African American history, and women's history, grading papers, and dealing with students. I'm just not organized enough. If I keep working, maybe I won't notice as my spirit bends to this new reality. Hell, maybe if I stay busy enough, I won't notice when it breaks. It was stupid to think I would be a writer one day. We can't all be writers, right?

Sometimes someone tells me I should quit. Such people are never the people who rely on my income. We barely get by on our combined salaries and my husband has taken a hit in both pay and insurance this year. I could write a book about all the horrible and unethical things that happen to working class guys like him. (And when I say "I could write a book" I don't mean it literally. I'd never have time and no one would pay me for it.) Even working twelve hour days he can't pay for my student loans and our medical and living expenses without my help meager as it is. Our budget has always been an austerity budget. No frills for us. No vacations or fun purchases. No carpets on the concrete floor. We have second and third hand mismatched furniture. One of the kids is on an old couch we make up at night for him. Another sleeps on a cot. My husband and I don't have our own bedroom so we sleep in the living room on a fold-out couch. The kids and I wear hand-me-down clothes. We shop only in thrift stores and buy second hand toys for Christmas. Without my parents' help, we'd surely need government assistance.

But I shouldn't complain. What other kind of job would let me stay home with my kids? That's a real luxury. I shouldn't dwell on the fact that the job requires a graduate education that cost six times more than what they pay me a year and I never mention that I've looked for other work but find that academics offers pretty slim pickings for people like me. If it weren't for this job, I'd be working in some office or doing not for profit work and that would probably kill me. I'm not a real "works well with others" person. I'm happy only if all eyes are on me or if I'm left entirely alone. Not big into having to deal with politics and human interaction. Yuck. I tend to become dangerously depressed in those situations. I've been dangerously depressed before so I tend to be pretty careful about putting myself into situations that might threaten a return of that condition.

I fear that I've never been much of a realist. In my dreams, they pay my husband a fair wage and give him benefits that actually allow us to see the doctors in our community without having to give up buying luxuries like food. In my dreams, I could use my doctorate to get a job teaching for people who recognize me as an expert. In my dreams, I have time to write- not just blogs and notes for class but novels and tomes and treatises. In my dreams, I would not fiercely regret my decision to go to college. I wouldn't wake up every day feeling sick and sullen. I wouldn't have aged as much in this last year from stress-related stomach pain, migraines, and body aches. I wouldn't have to witness my husband working in situations that have resulted in bruising, injuries, night terrors, and a diagnosis of PTSD. (All while putting a good face on it so as not to worry me.) And since I'm dreaming, how about a vacation? In almost fourteen years of marriage, we've only had one family vacation and that was a weekend in Buffalo. On the first day my son broke his hand and on the last day, I had to have an emergency appendectomy. I'm not complaining...I'm just saying.

So I shouldn't complain. Everyone else's job sucks too- probably worse than mine. I hear about it all the time. No one likes going to work so why should I? What makes me so special? I must think I'm some precious princess if I think that a person should be able to follow their calling. Turns out that we do what has to get done just to stay afloat. Life isn't fair and no one is going to make special concessions for little old me. As my paternal grandmother used to say, "That's called growing up." So I guess I'm growing up. I'm realizing that being an adult means living with a dull, aching unhappiness but remembering that lots of people have it worse. In the end, that's the take-away lesson. No matter how shitty life is, it can always get worse. You shouldn't complain.


Mary Ellen said...

I've wrestled with some of the demons you describe, but I too shouldn't complain, because even though I gave up on the dream of being full-time faculty (working in student services instead), I do have health insurance and have been largely able to help the progeny through college. My spouse has been an adjunct like yourself for many years, and has some of the same misery of working harder for less money and zero recognition compared to the tenured folks at the same institutions. It's really a national scandal, but the "haves" cling to tenure codes because it is the only way they can have security. It totally sucks. I hope you can find some space in the cracks, along the edges, to do some writing that feels substantial to you, and that feeds your soul. You have done some amazing pieces on the blog. Hang in there.

Morgaine said...

Bullshit, 'miga! If we shouldn't ever complain, we wouldn't ever hear our own stories. And we surely would bust open at the seams, wherever they are.

We need to bitch and whine and complain. All things in moderation. But when we do, we can't forget to listen to ourselves.

Thanks! I needed to hear a good rant tonight.

Bright blessings!

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

You and my wife could join a club--how to get unfairly treated. You probably win the high-end prize since you have a PhD. But my wife has a degree in French and Linguistics from the University of California, yet at the educational institution where she works, she was in a similar situation for a long time: no benefits even though she was working long hours, often over 40 hours a week and not getting her own desk. One of the really weird deals, was at one point, "they" hired someone off the street with only a high school education, gave her what my wife had earned after 7 years, and "they" immediately gave this new person her own desk!

It's called cutting corners:-( Ever since California passed Prop 13, education has been on a downhill plummet.

As for writing--I've a degree in creative writing, but didn't get time to write until early retirement. If you think teaching community college is bad, consider this... well never mind--that's right, Bush's "No Child Left with a Mind";-)

Hope you don't have to wait that long--until you're gray-haired and over the hill;-)

Oh, by the way, most of our home furniture is still hand-me-downs. And I used to supply most my classroom with bookcases and filing cabinets I found or that were given to me.

Such is life. Certainly not the dreams we once hoped for...Makes it hard to practice what the book of James said about counting it all joy when we go through trials, doesn't it?

As a historian, I realize, however, that all of us live in probably the top 1% of humans who ever lived..

Here's quote from Helen Keller that has given me some thought:
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

I think the key, like my pastor said this last week, is to have eternal vision. That doesn't negate the heartache and disappointments and lost dreams, however we remember those who have gone before us and who are ahead of us, who had even less and yet didn't give up on the three: faith, hope and love.

I am holding you, your husband, and kids in the Light--that this new year will bring new vistas for you.

In the Light,


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. Really. I want to say I know how you are feeling, that I've experienced/am experiencing similar feelings - but then I run the risk of invalidating your feelings. After all, I can't possibly know how you feel. I can't walk in your shoes. I can only imagine it.
I wish you Shalom

Hystery said...

Mary Ellen, the adjunct situation is indeed a national scandal. I've read that between 70% and 80% of faculty are now adjuncts. Keeping so many of us part-time (for me that means 4 classes a semester), hurts the tenured faculty as well. In my school, the full-timers are a diminishing minority who are taking on more and more administrative work. My father teaches 7 classes a semester and also has to serve on committees and advise students. The entire situation is shameful. If I had understood that this was the way the academic system worked, I would have quit after my undergraduate degree. I only began to understand it when I was well into my graduate work and then it was really too late to quit. :-(

Morgaine, I'm glad you agree with my belief that bitching is beautiful. It needs to be done. I was thinking that I know so many people who are treated unfairly who just keep their heads down and only mumble beneath their breath. We need to articulate our problems for two reasons. Firstly, I don't think that those with petty amounts of power always know they are hurting folks. So we need to learn to holler. Secondly, if we all pretend we're fine and dandy, then we are each isolated in our pain. Often, we feel that all of it is our own fault. Because we are not sharing stories, we fail to see the systemic nature of injustice.

Daniel, your wife's story is awful. We should form a club. I also was not given my own desk for years. In fact, I just got one last year and then they even put a computer on it. They still haven't hooked me up on the internet but, hey, all in good time. I'm struggling right now to keep afloat. Kind of like treading water badly, sometimes my head dips beneath the waves and I lose sight of the light. But I bob to the surface eventually. I've had it much worse than this and kept going. I'll weather this too.

eileen, you have not invalidated my feelings at all. I think that most people know what I am feeling. That was why I wrote this. I think that though the particulars of my story are my own, the feelings behind them are too common. I know too many great souls who end up just slogging along through a morass of petty shit. I think of when my husband was working in a group home with men with development disabilities. He has a particular talent for making those guys feel like guys, you know, not like state wards without rights. But my husband had to spend time doing stuff like recording every mundane event and keeping records on their underwear. They actually had him write down the number, color, and texture of their underpants because they were afraid that caregivers like my husband would steal the clients' underdoddies. How stupid is that? My sister has to deal with a modern art gallery in a decaying industrial blue collar city that wants her to increase membership at the gallery but have also taken away much of the budget and advertising sources for that very task. We could all tell a dozen similar stories. We'd all get a great deal more done if we didn't have to deal with the ridiculous stuff that weighs us all down. Our culture is unjust, of course, but it is wasteful and illogical too.

Lone Star Ma said...

Hugs? Comfort and affection is about all I have to offer -
I know it's little enough but it's yours!

Hystery said...

Lone Star Ma, hugs are much-appreciated. Thank you.

Poimandrea Alchemi said...

Morgaine said:
"We need to bitch and whine and complain. All things in moderation. But when we do, we can't forget to listen to ourselves."

then Daniel said:
...the book of James said about counting it all joy when we go through trials...."

The first quote speaks to my condition; the second quote just makes me feel sick; but I am all-too-well-versed in the bitter facade of smiling cheerfully, while being "blessed" by a trial that is supposed to help me "build character".

That has to be one of the more abusive passages in the "New Testament" of the Christian canon; there are worse spiritual violences promoted therein; but the one cited above tends to be the passage that is often employed to make the dumb sheep engage in doublethink, and thought-police themselves.

I agree with Morgaine, wholeheartedly! Part and parcel of speaking plainly, instead of hiding behind a falsity of both emotion and intellect, at the whim of an imaginary deity's cruel practical jokes.

Hystery said...

Poimandrea, I do think I know where you're coming from with that and I share the belief that verses such as that have been used abusively. On the other hand, within the context of Daniel's conversation with me (which is much longer than that evidenced in this blog), it makes sense.

I have found that indeed darkness and pain, suffering and trials have been the contexts in which I have learned some of the most important lessons. I do not think they are "sent" to me for that express purpose (God forbid there be a God so cruel) but whether a natural part of the physical process of life or the unnatural consequence of injustice, I can not escape them. I do not ask for them. I do not welcome them, but once they are with me, I find that I become more aware of a Teacher whom I ignore unless I'm in trouble. It is in these Dark Times that I hear most clearly that I have a choice. Learn or despair. When I learn, I am then prepared to mitigate the effects of evil on others. I can confront death and learn compassion. I can feel pain and learn to comfort. I can feel injustice and learn to speak out. So many people with lives of great comfort and privilege never learn these lessons. That I can make this choice fills me with joy and gratitude...not for the pain itself, but for the choice that is illuminated within the pain.

Bright Crow (Mike Shell) said...

Dear One,

You are definitely allowed to complain...especially here where you can vent to friends who don't hold it against you and who want to lift you up.

I recognize the dilemma of writer-doing-other-work-and-not-having-time-to-write. Until I started blogging as Walhydra in 2006, I had no audience for my writing, because I never had the time to push something, even a short story or an essay, through the print world's publishing labyrinth.

But I write every chance I get. There's hardwiring deep within me which insists that this stuff cannot NOT be written.

I lift you up above the mirk, Dear One, where the real blessings of life can see you and touch you and be seen and touched by you.

Blessed Be,
Michael Bright Crow

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