Career Bullshit

I have given thought, in recent years, to leaving teaching.  It’s not that I hate working with teens, or hate the job itself, but I do hate a lot of the nonsense that goes with teaching:

  • Administrators who are more concerned with looking effective than they are with actually doing anything to improve the school.
  • The tendency these days to let kids get away with murder, but slam teachers for the slightest issue or mistake (hasn’t happened to me yet, but to colleagues, yes).
  • The social scapegoating of teachers as the problem in American Education, rather than focus on actual issues.  Do you have any idea how demoralizing it is to see people shit all over you and your coworkers day in and day out?
  • The relative low pay (sure, I get paid ok, but seriously, for the education I’m required to maintain, and the stress-level of the work, it’s not great).*

The last few years, I’ve had awful classes, which piled more and more stress on top of the usual job-related load.  This year, my classes aren’t so bad, but for other reasons I can’t get into in a public place with my name attached, the job isn’t going great for me.

So I’ve tried to look at other job possibilities, and you know what?  They’re terrible.

I’m 45 years old, and I’ve been a teacher for eleven years.  I’m qualified for a great deal of jobs who won’t even give me the time of day, because they don’t want to consider that eleven years of teaching writing is pretty much equivalent to three years of writing low-level brochure text.  Or they don’t want a middle-aged guy when what they’re really looking for is a twenty-something who will devote 99% of his time to the job.

Added to this, I can’t really take a job where my pay would be less than I earn now without causing my family a great deal of stress.  And we’d like to move in the next few years; upgrade to a better place in a better location.  Not going to happen if I leave for even worse pay.

So, option two: Sell some books.  Except that isn’t working out so well, and may never change.

Anyway, this is why I’m pretty unable to seem upbeat lately.  I feel like I’m carrying too many loads.

*If you’re tempted to get all high-and-mighty and inform me that I do get paid well considering I “only” work ten months, let me point out that I have a BA and three years of post-grad work, and I get paid half of what my wife makes with no college degree.  If it were just because I don’t work for two months of the year, I’d make more.  Also, quite frankly, what I do is much more important to our society than what most people do. Why are we paid so little?

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The Difficulty of Living For Me

Elli made an observation this morning, in the middle of a larger conversation, that is reverberating in my brain today.

She pointed out that when I need to do something for the family, or work, I get it done.  But when it’s something for myself, like fiddle lessons, or losing weight, or getting some time away from home doing fun things, I don’t follow through.

She’s not wrong.  And part of that is a very family-focused mentality, but it’s also a self-esteem issue.  On a deep level I can’t seem to get through, I don’t think much of myself.  No matter how I act, I see myself as wanting in every way.  So why should I cost my family money so I can learn to play the violin better?  I don’t deserve that.  Why should I go to movies, or have a night out?  I don’t deserve it.

And it’s really hard to break through that, because you guessed it: Why should I?  It isn’t worth it for me.

I’m trying to break free of this, but it’s a habit of mind that I’ve been living with for forty years now, and the neural pathways were laid when I was much, much younger, when I lived with my adopted family.

It’s hard to shed a toxic family, even when it’s been 27 years since you spoke to any of them.

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On Becoming the Johnston Family Archivist

I was just delivered a treasure trove. My late Uncle Michael had decided I should have the Johnston family records and paraphernalia, and my Aunt Kaye sent it to me this week.
 
This is an amazing treasure trove of documents, from pictures of my dad and uncle as kids, to pictures of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and even further back into the 19th century. There are newspaper clippings from V-E and V-J days, from FDR’s death and Kennedy’s assassination, as well as many clippings from a huge flood that hit Kansas City in 1951.
 
Best of all, there are letters, not only between my grandfather and his mother, but between my great-grandmother and my great-grandfather, dating to the literal turn of the century–one of the letters is dated 1900.
 
I’m looking forward to spending more time with this archive, and protecting the papers within it.
 
All my life, I’ve been connected to my mother’s family, but keenly felt the lack of knowledge of the other side of my being. Over the last few years, as I met Michael, and found my brother, I’ve become more and more steeped in the history of my dad’s family. It’s somewhat overwhelming.
 
There are lots of people who are holding on to the stories and archives of my mom’s family, myself included. But with my dad’s family, I’m it. There are others connected, of course–my dad and uncle had cousins, and the Johnston clan is all over this country. But my particular branch, my dad’s branch, there isn’t anyone left now but my brother and I, and those who come after us.
It’s humbling.
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The Things That Get In Our Way

Arthur Dent said it best: “I seem to be having this terrible difficulty with my lifestyle.”

My daily routine is to get up, help get my child up, and on some days take her to school.  When the work day ends, I pick her up.  I’m supposed to go to the Y, work out while she does her homework, then head home.  But I never seem to do that.

There’s always something that needs to be done, you see.  An errand I need to run, a car to pick up from the shop, a package to mail.  And then there’s a solid 30-45 minutes of traffic to get home. So I don’t go.

So I’m still fat.

I need to either get my days under control, and go to the gym, or I need to suck it up and go back on Medifast.  I am sick to death of carrying this extra 80 pounds around, and I want it gone.  Changing eating has helped, but not enough–I simply need more exercise.

This kind of thing gets in the way of writing, too.  There’s homework to help with, papers to grade, and when it’s all done, my brain is not at all interested in letting me create fiction.  Who cares where Azhan and Jasen are?  Who cares that Ereka is a prisoner of the Dalken Ro, and why should I figure out how she escapes? It’s much easier to sleep, or play a game, or watch something fun.

And who really gives a crap about the Zhen Empire and its people?

I’m working on ways around my daily errands and such, but it isn’t easy.  If you have a suggestion that doesn’t involve getting up at 5am to write (I am NOT a morning person, no matter how much it may seem otherwise once I’m actually awake), feel free to sling it my way.

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Age and Perspective Are Amazing Things

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was totally into Cosplay.  I couldn’t afford to do it right, but I did my best. I even marched with local groups in a couple of parades.

When I was in my 30s, I was over it.  I had no interest in cosplay.  I left fandom behind.

Now, at 45?  I’m over being over it.  I found a local vendor of Jedi Robes.  I could probably, with my wife’s help, try to figure out how to make them for myself, but frankly I think that would end with my wife killing me by bashing my brains out with a sewing machine.  If she agrees, I plan on getting this vendor to make them for me, and joining the Rebel Legion to revel in my cosplay and do Good Deeds at the same time.

That’s the thing about growing older–things you used to absolutely avoid because they were embarrassing, or shameful, become less so the older you get. At a certain point you realize that other people can’t make you feel bad for liking something.  Only you can do that, and you lose interest in it quickly.

I seem to have finally reached that point.

I grew up on singers like Neil Diamond, Anne Murray, Crystal Gale, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline.  But in the early 80s I fell in love with the New Wave, and I stopped listening to the old stuff.  My musical tastes became wrapped almost entirely in Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and all the rest of that era’s signature acts.

For years, I didn’t listen to the music of my youth, because someone might make fun of me.  But you know what?  Who gives a shit?  Anybody who wants to mock me for liking something can fuck right off.  I don’t need that level of crap; I get plenty at work.  So I listen to those acts from my childhood, and I listen to Britney Spears if I feel like it, or Disney tunes, or showtunes, or whatever the hell I want.

I don’t like sushi.  I pretended to, once upon a time, to fit in.  Screw that.

I hate horror movies.  Won’t watch ’em.  Don’t care.

I am a sci-fi geek.  I am a cosplayer.  “Forever in Blue Jeans” is one of my favorite songs.  Go ahead, make fun of me.

I don’t care anymore.

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Life After Viable Paradise – One Writer’s Path

The first few weeks–maybe even months–after I got home from Viable Paradise 17, I was filled with a righteous fire for writing.  Anything that got in the way of writing was crap.  I k

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Viable Paradise 17. I’m the goober in the top row, second from the left, standing next to Beth Tanner. You probably know her.

new–KNEW–that it was only a matter of time before I would be signing copies of my book.

You really can’t sustain that level of hellfire.  Well, I can’t, at any rate.   That’s not to say VP left me with unrealistic goals–but I created for myself some unrealistic expectations.

As the instructors took pains to tell us, several times, Viable Paradise is not the Easy Button.  It’d be damned nice if it were, and I’m fairly certain the instructors would be just as stoked for that as the students, but publishing simply doesn’t work that way.  Even the best among us took some time to get a story published, and one of the best writers in my class (my opinion, of course) is still writing her book.  Me?  Nada.  I am still a Nobody in the writing world.  No short story I’ve sent out has been published.

As for novels, I finished mine; the third one I’ve ever written, but the first one that wasn’t pure shit.  And as I’ve rather irritatingly chronicled here, it isn’t really going anywhere yet.  Maybe it stinks, or maybe it just hasn’t found the right agent.  But the bottom line is, it’s still sitting here, unread by all but one publisher, and they gave me a form rejection.

That doesn’t mean I’m awful–but it does mean that, VP grad or not, I have the same steep hill of probability to climb as any other writer.  I have to do the same slog through Agent Search Hell that any other writer does, just as every VP student before me, and every one after me, will have to do.

Aside from that, there’s the whole “living your life” thing to do, as well.  I know some writers like to go on about how, if you want to write, you will Do Whatever You Have To to write, but the truth is, very few writers can afford to do that.  Most of us have Things We Must Do. Sooner or later, the student work you haven’t graded demands your attention.  Your daughter* still wants to play Lego Marvel with you, and she won’t understand that your book needs to be written NOW.  And of course, your spouse needs your attention, too, as do your friends.  You can put them off sometimes, but not often.  Unless, of course, you want a divorce, which… let’s just assume you don’t.  Who needs that?

In my case, I found ways to cope with the demands of life but still manage to write.  I go to the coffee shop some nights after dinner, and write.  I try to get up early on the weekend and write a bit before my daughter wakes up and fills my house with the ungodly voices of YouTube.  I take occasional–very occasional, in my case–weekend retreats on my own to write in a nice, clean, quiet hotel room (I want to do that one more often, but it gets set aside by Things We Must Do).  And, of course, as a public school teacher, I do get some time in the summer to write (and take care of my daughter, who is of course also on vacation at that time).

Anyway, the trick to surviving life after Viable Paradise is twofold: First, you have to recognize the realities of the writing life, and manage your expectations of how quickly you’re going to hit the shelves (if ever).  Second, you have to find a way to balance your life between work, family, and the needs of the muse.  Is it easy?  No.  But what else are you going to do?

 

*Or son. Or cat, if yours is sufficiently evolved to have opposable thumbs.  Not dogs, though.  They don’t appreciate Marvel Comics. They’re more into Image**

**Yes yes, your dog appreciates Marvel and thinks Liefeld is a terrible artist.  But most dogs think Liefeld is the shit.  So, y’know.  Ew.

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Summer is Over. Let’s Check In

So, the blog fell into disuse over August.  I started to write posts, but they were mostly whining about how I wasn’t getting any fiction done, so I stopped.  But now we’ve begun the new school year, so let’s do a rundown of life.

Writing Life

I wrote very little over the summer, and most of it was terrible.  Part of it is that I’m in limbo, with several different projects on the burners, with none of them shaped enough to really get them written.  I’ve got a “Die Hard in Space” plot, a Sci-Fi Mystery save-the-world plot, a coming-of-age/revenge plot, two fictional oral history-type projects, and of course the second and third Zhen books. None of them are developed enough to write except the Zhen books, but I don’t want to start those until the first book is under contract (or at least signed to an agent) and revised, because I have a feeling it will change enough that it will force changes in the second and third books.  Also, the way book 1 is doing in agent rounds suggests maybe it needs more work.

On that note… Book 1 has been outright rejected based on the query alone 25 times, with 5 requests for partials, which all got rejects.  There’s one partial out now, but my pessimistic self expects that rejection any day now.  That’s only It’s really hard to know if this is the numbers game, or if I need to make some changes to the first three chapters to make the book more “eye-grabbing.”  Maybe I start off wrong.  Maybe Tajen finds out about his brother’s death in a stupid way.  Maybe I need to do more with Zhen anti-human prejudice in the first chapter.  I dunno.

I’m looking forward to October, when I’ll be heading to Martha’s Vineyard for a reunion with my Viable Paradise class (and students from other classes, as well as at least some of the instructors).

Home

Tegan has started in a new school, and while day one wasn’t awesome for her, day two seems to be better.  The savings we’re seeing from leaving Private School are enabling us to allow her to do more activities she’s into–she’s joined the school’s choir, and may start learning the violin in the school orchestra (she hasn’t made up her mind yet).  Bottom line, she’s happy.

Over the month of August I ripped the floor out of both of our bathrooms, laid down new tile floors, and installed new toilets.  Doing my bathroom was fairly simple, and took a day and a half, but Tegan’s bathroom had bigger problems to solve, and it took me nearly a week and involved repainting a wall, as well as installing new tile and plumbing.

Work

School started September 1.  My classes are pretty good this year, though the start of a new year is always somewhat awkward.  We’ll see how things shake out as the students and I get to know each other.

 

 

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