Sometimes, my writing elicits smiles. Other times, it does not cause even a small kerfuffle. Nonetheless, I plan to continue to string words together and to try to make use of my faculties.
I wasn’t always a full-time author. Decades ago, I was a full-time professor. Between engaging in research and engaging in imaginative writing, there were twenty years during which I focused on being a full-time mother. It’s true that individuals can pursue multiple interests as long as those interests are pursued sequentially.
Whereas I can’t reset the clock (and wouldn’t want to do so) for my children, at times, I cogitate on what it would be like to still be pestering university students and still be sharing my ideas at educational conferences and in highbrow journals. The ability to catalyze critical thinking in other people is valuable pedagogy. As recently as this year, a creative writing student of mine suggested that my verbal assemblages cause “cogs in brains to start whirring, worrying, and wondering.”
However, I doubt that I’ll ever again become a professor. Parenting ruined academia for me.
The intellectual elitism, specifically, and the social exclusivity, more generally, which I had once embraced, became noxious to me when I was preparing my young ones to negotiate the world.
Although during most of the semesters spanning my children’s youth, I taught a night course or two, I did so mostly because I continued to take joy in empowering students. Yet, that empowerment came at the cost of dissonance between the values I taught at home and the values I was expected to model as a teacher.
More exactly, my straightforward lessons about human interaction (I taught rhetoric) were often at odds with ivory tower balderdash. Notwithstanding the fact that after becoming a mother I carried on instructing undergraduates and graduate students, and, less often, carried on speaking at national and international meetings, I found that the authenticity, with which I was trying to imbue my offspring, was largely missing in collegiate venues.
My peers, many of whom either never married or never raised families, nevertheless, thought it was my attitude that was skewed. Then, as now, wannabe rock stars didn’t fret over: antiquated philosophical gin traps, governmental annexing of graveyards or troubles associated with coughing without covering one’s mouth. As a parent, I could not ignore such tricky situations. No longer was I merely accountable for the wellbeing of my students; I was accountable, additionally, for the wellbeing of my sons and daughters.
In one case, when I told a department chair that a teaching assignment’s location on a satellite campus and its questionable topic made it undesirable, he retorted that employees ten years my junior were jumping for such opportunities. He added that, as such, he had no need for the likes of me.
In another case, I “deigned” to refuse to inflate the grade of a student whose nuisance factor was flustering my dean. In the end, to satisfy that administrator and to transition away from that school to the one, in another part of the country, where I’d soon be lending a hand, I adjusted all of my students’ grades by the requested amount.
Analysis and evaluation, not politics, ought to be the élan vital of higher education. The former serves scholastic organizations while the latter stymies them. Forcing faculty to embrace unserviceable circumstances or making them accountable for unbalanced adjudication constitute cowardly machinations.
Gutless responses to goings-on are that much more reprehensible when inventive means of meeting goals are available. Crippling actions should not be sustained in the name of tradition. For instance, there were few female faculty members when I was a young professor. At present, however, a multitude of instructors of various demographic and psychographic stripes fill labs and classrooms.
Even if the success behind changes can’t be quantified, it’s been better to emit ululations than to throw stones at truth. Washington might have its swamps, but centers of tertiary learning retain enough of their own morasses to be similarly mappable.
Regardless of the weaknesses inherent in the existent system of formal studies, the discipline and knowledge it can supply is useful to writers. Both the tools I use when writing and the ones I teach to emerging writers have their roots in my university experiences. What’s more, the years I spent as a professor aid me in: getting the gist of magazines’ mission statements, knowing how to proof book galleys, and feeling at ease accepting invitations to join periodicals’ mastheads. Additionally, those years have facilitated my “talking the talk” with gatekeepers of scholarly monthlies and my lecturing on creative writing.
On balance, knowhow gleaned from the cerebral world cannot substitute for understanding gleaned from actually writing. Facility with a subject never translates into a guaranteed capability to convey thoughts about it. Fortunately, because my work was the exploration of written and oral discourse, the more that I taught and investigated, the more that I was able to develop all sorts of articulations.
Be that as it may, currently, I reroute every so often to check that my communicative pipes don’t freeze and that my ideological antitheft devices will deter baddies. As well, I sporadically rant to audiences that visions ought not to be lauded only for form, but also for function.
Consider that forasmuch as gelatinous wildebeests might bite their originators, their damage does not linger. On the other hand, any extolling of ordinary denizens’ honorable choices can help our world hobble along. Thinkers with even half of a cup of sense know that communal ills and private evolution, alike, can be nudged by means of poetry, prose, and other forms of inventive expression.
Accordingly, today, rather than teach Media Ethics, Social Values and Popular Culture, Women in Society, The Rhetoric of Identity, Persuasion, Argumentation, Public Speaking, Expository Writing, or kindred courses, I make statements about personal and public moral codes in my creative nonfiction and in my fabricated stories. I rely on poetry, too, as a vessel for sharing difficult sentiments. Since it’s important to me to take responsibility for getting folks to ask questions about their behaviors and about the rationale undergirding them, as long as I can inculcate more ideas with a flash fiction about invisible hedgehogs than I can with erudition about the elements of a compelling speech, I will engage in creative writing.