Last week, I said that something had to change. Specifically, I said, "I don’t want to do this anymore." I've said it before, but I meant it in the vague "someday-things-will-be-better" way. This time, I'm making actual plans to change things, and these plans vary greatly.
Plan I*: Find a job outside of academia as a writer. This would mean I'd likely work as a technical writer, or in marketing or communications. To do this, though, I would have to leave Eugene. This area just doesn't have enough large corporations or companies that will hire a person to write. There are a few larger companies here, but they hire infrequently (and, truthfully, right now they hire not at all).
I want to stay in the Pacific Northwest if at all possible, particularly if I have to work a traditional job where I must arrive neatly dressed and ready to work at 8:00 am Monday through Friday. This means that Portland and Seattle are my best options for full time work, with Seattle being significantly better in prospects.
Plan II: Apply to the creative non-fiction MFA at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Yes, that Iowa. It's most well-known for the Iowa Writers' Workshop, but even though the non-fiction program isn't directly affiliated with the IWW, it's the most prestigious non-fiction program in the country. If I can get in and get a decent fellowship, I could probably make this work.
Of course, this would involve leaving the Pacific Northwest for at least two, maybe three, years. It would also mean uprooting the kids from the Pacific Northwest and subjecting them to the Iowa winters. And by "subjecting them" I also mean "subjecting me."
Both plans have their pros and cons. Part of me just wants to turn away from academia altogether. I love being in the classroom, working with students, engaging them on topics I know they thought they'd hate. When I'm teaching, I feel whole in a way that happens only rarely otherwise, and only when I'm writing and, sometimes, when I'm with my kids. It's heartbreaking to think of giving that up. But the economic realities of my situation have done a lot to convince me that I need to seriously consider stepping away from academia for good. Corporate America could be my best escape.
But Iowa would give me a chance to read and study creative non-fiction in a way I haven’t been able to. I’d also be given a lot of time to write. I have a draft of my memoir, but it’s a long way from being done. Another MFA program would give me the space and time to finish it.
I ask myself, though, “Does anyone really do this? TWO MFAs?” It’s preposterous. And I’d really only want to do it if I didn’t have to add to my considerable debt. It’s already a risky prospect to get one MFA and fund it with student loans.
I’d be 42 by the time I finished another MFA program (maybe 41 if I hurried). I wonder about my financial security as I get older. I’ll have spent so many of my years raising kids and going to school—will I be able to work enough to build up savings? The answer is probably “no” regardless, but putting off entering the workforce and getting a good, full-time job would make it more so.
I know that, regardless of these points, I have to make some kind of plan. The enrollment at my college is slowly falling. Right now, the union has approved a short term “overload” plan that allows us to teach 7 classes in a 9-month academic year. We can always teach summer courses, too, if they are available. Seven classes is $28,000/year. But they will likely cut that back to the normal amount, which allows us to teach 5 courses in a year, or a 2-2-1 (to keep insurance for the entire year). That’s $20,000/year. Another college an hour away allows 5 classes a year, too, but I’d only make $12,500, and the gas and childcare would eat away at that meager salary.
These are the two options I’m considering now, as though I could easily weigh each on a set of scales to see which tipped more in our favor. It’s so hard for me to know. So, I make plans for both, and keep my fingers crossed, and hope at least one doesn’t go awry.
*I admit, using Roman numerals makes me feel like a grown up, and makes me feel like these plans could happen. Roman numerals are magic, yo.