June 19, 2007

...But I Still Need Quarters to Do Laundry

Woke up; reread the email; wasn't a dream. Checked several times.

Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of support and good wishes. If I can garner that same enthusiasm when Theories of Falling is actually in hand, I'll be a lucky woman. So many things happened right off the bat: withdrawing from book contests, editing my bio note, lining up blurbers, seeing a smidgen of Marie Howe's comments ("...the tough lyric voice that got under my skin"). The domino effect is both scary and gratifying.

This weekend, though, I went to the beach with old high school friends (and their kids), and that was a good reminder: a crying two year old is not amused by your big poetry news. I still need to do laundry. I still have to go to the DMV. My sister just won a big college scholarship ($10,000!), and for her application she produced 50 pages of prose. Single-spaced. She's way cooler than I am.

I was reading an article today about the increasing popularity of "midlevel careers"; lower pay, better hours. The biggest question I get from non-poets, in response to the book news, is "Does this mean you can be a full-time poet?" After I say "Um, not likely," they usually say "Well, does that mean you can teach, though?"

It's been several years since I thought of publishing as a stepping-stone to teaching. With many friends who are also college profsssors, I've come to believe that it is VERY difficult to strike the balance of doing justice to your student and nourishing your own creative impulse. I like editing; working at a quarterly magazine, the pace is never too frantic. It's a job I can love, but also leave at the office at the end of each day. If that means that I'll never have a salary in the triple digits...I'm okay with that.

C. Dale Young and Peter Pereira are both doctors and poets, and it figures prominently onto their blogs. Steve Schroeder periodically mentions his work as a resume-editor. Matthew Thorburn made a passing acknowledgement that he works at a law firm in his blog post the other day; I'd have never guessed. I'm curious, what are some of the other "day jobs" held by poet-bloggers? How high-stress is the job, and how does that figure into your creative life?

17 comments:

Andrew Shields said...

I teach, but I don't teach creative writing or literature; I teach language courses to (mostly) non-native speakers who are majoring in English. They speak good to excellent English already, and I help them iron out the final details.

It can be very time consuming, but the semesters are only 31 weeks of the year.

newzoopoet said...

I teach: creative writing, women's studies, poetry, literature, and comp. It's quite time consuming. It's not a job I can "leave" at the end of the day. The flip side is that it's nice to be a part of the academic world.

Are you serious about having to still do wash after getting a book deal? Damn! I was mislead. ;-)

Anne said...

Working in an academic library means that I can go home at the end of the day feeling that I've played some small part in making a good thing (the library, and what happens inside it) work. That's incredibly valuable to me. It also means I can go home at the end of the day and not be consumed by my job, which is even more valuable. The big bonus is that I get to work with people who appreciate and value books & writing, for the most part. They don't think I'm weird when, for example, I use my vacation time to run off and take a poetry workshop.

It also means I'm never gonna be rich or even reasonably well-off, so that's the trade-off, I guess!

Don said...

I am a corpse replacement technician. If they can't sew up a body quite right, I use make-up and the right clothes to replace the corpse in the coffin during the funeral service. It's tricky to pretend not to be breathing. My job gives me a lot of dead space to write poems with grave humor and buried images.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Probably 90% of my blog posts about resumes are mild bitching or posting funny client typos, which might give the impression that I don't like the job, but that's not true--it's more a function of what the blog is to me. I like the job because the hours are relatively short (and the schedule somewhat flexible), the pay relatively good, and I can move the business with me.

Suzanne said...

'I've come to believe that it is VERY difficult to strike the balance of doing justice to your student and nourishing your own creative impulse.'

I've come believe the same thing.

I used to work as a reporter and found that often I was too exhausted to even attempt writing poems. Now I'm at home with two small children and have become very efficient at managing my writing time. It's a nice gig.

Pamela said...

I'm a medical editor, and it's really a great gig for anyone. Your hours are basically yours to set, the pay is good, and you're rewarded for fixing comma splices and misspellings. The downside is that it's a very solitary job and often I have to wait for work (think spider sitting on the world-wide web waiting for fly to land!)

I started teaching (adjunct in poetry/creative writing) last fall, and, while I love it, I had very little time to write or even to think about my own work. The upside is that my students' enthusiasm for reading/writing poetry is contagious. I leave the classroom feeling both stoked and drained. Maybe now that my classes are planned (I was a last-second replacement), writing will come with teaching.

Talia said...

Suzanne mentioned being a mother, and you mentioned being at the beach with a 2 yr. old. My daughter just turned 2 a few weeks ago and it is rough. She is a fairly calm and reserved for a toddler, but she rules the roost. She determines when we wake up, when we eat, when she takes her nap (ie when Mom gets an hour or 2 to herself). I am a college student, currently on summer break, aside from the online math course I'm doing. And when I do have time to write, I find it difficult to find inspiration, as I crave more adult interaction. It is a 2-edged sword; I love the time I get to have with her, it's a blessing, but I'm looking forward to my busy schedule in the fall.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I teach English and Creative Writing - college and secondary level.

Brent Goodman said...

I work 8 to 5 as a copywriter & web editor for a pet supply company. Ocassionally I still get to write educational articles, but mostly I get paid to say as much as possible in as few words as possible: headlines, blurbs, and bullet points. And when I get home, work does not follow. I don't own a cell phone or blackberry.

Greg said...

I am the production manager (in fact, tho' not in official title) for National Geographic Magazine. I have a wide variety of duties. This job keeps me connected to the real world as well as the world of words, so to speak (not to mention pictures). Like you I leave it at the office. It pays reasonably well and is is a suitable job for someone with an MA in Creative Writing a deep & broad curiosity about the world.

Sandra said...

What a great survey! Thanks, everyone, for responding. I agree with Anne that it is especially good to work with people who love literature and are understanding about colonies and workshops.

Glad to know I'm not the only one doing copyediting-type work. It makes me mad when people assume that all creative writers lack grammar and punctuation skills because of our "poetic license."

Greg, I wonder if we're neighbors; I work right near the National Geographic office on 17th street.

Justin Evans said...

I teach high school. I am one year back into my major of History, after teaching sophomore and senior English. Next year I am going to be teaching a creative writing class to high school kids.

My teaching is good for me as a writer. I tend to get caught up with too many thoughts in my head, but teaching makes me concentrate on a lot of different stuff.

Next year I will be teaching 4 different content areas, and one of which is an Honors seminar I have never taught before with a self guided curriculum (Basically the students vote on what subjects they want to learn about, and I guide them through that.)

I find that teaching allows me to be more focused because I have to manage my time better than say with other jobs. Being in Nevada, I make enough money as a teacher to live comfortably.

The down-side is I have to document EVERYTHING when a student is failing so the parents know it was their son/daughter who decided to fail rather than me being a mean teacher. I hear that parents are starting to bother college professors and instructors now, so there goes the one advantage I held out for when it came to teaching college.

The up-side is I always have an excuse in one form or another to talk about literature, which always helps my writing process.

Not bad for a hick from Utah.

J.D. Smith said...

Though I'm not a blogger, I'll weigh in because I'm employed.

I edit what economists write, which offers a fair amount of job security. I have the most time off you could get outside of academia, so that's very nice, too, though the material can be a bit dry.

I have taught in the past, but I'm not in a big hurry to get back to it because the work can be draining.

Penultimatina said...

If I were just a professor I would have no problem balancing teaching and writing. It's the administrative position that consumes all of my spare time (well, the spare time that I don't spend blogging). I do wish that I could leave work at work, however. I feel like my job is always hanging around my neck. But there's nothing like spending an entire work day talking about poetry...

Matthew Thorburn said...

Hi Sandra,
That's true: I've worked in law firm marketing for nearly six years now. I'm the business development writer at a top ten firm, which means I do a lot of copywriting (and translating legalese into English) for my firm's brochures, web site and proposal materials. I also write a lot of ads. (That's the funnest part -- kind of poem-like in the saying a lot in a few words sense, as Brent says of his job.) It's a field I actually didn't know existed till a headhunter saw my resume online when I was jobhunting after grad school.

I don't want to give it up to teach full-time, but I'd love to add a low-res MFA teaching gig to the mix someday, a la C. Dale. That would probably be the best of both for me.

darcie said...

I'm not a blogger, but balancing work/life and writing is something I think about all the time so I hope it's okay if I weigh in... I recently quit a time-consuming high school teaching job. Like newzoopoet said, it's not a job I could leave at the end of the day. But I had a great friend there, also a writer, who always asked me if I'd written the day before and wanted to see what I'd been writing. That helped me get up early enough to work on poems. Now I have a baby and work from home freelancing-- and I realize it was easier to write when working outside the home full time. But after teaching at a college and a high school, I really want something totally outside the academic sphere. Stanley Kunitz said (I think) something to the effect that poets should be gas station attendants. But then, you know, there's the carcinogenic fumes. If I were to pick a job that I'd feel would really feed my writing (& not worry about $ or skills), I'd work in a bakery or a nursing home.