A few months ago, I wrote about how I was planning on applying to Iowa's MFA in creative non-fiction. I don't need another MFA, but what I could use is some writing time and, if I am able to land one of their better fellowships, then that would buy me a few more years writing. Of course, I'd have to take courses again, and workshop, but, I reasoned, I'd have more time than I currently do with my part-time-in-name-only teaching job.
Part of the other reason I thought about doing this was because the inherent insecurity in being an adjunct. I knew, for example, that the enrollment where I teach is falling as the economy gets better. I haven't been there that long compared to many of my colleagues, and so I'd be the first let go. I'm also low on the list for getting classes, so the end of each term is always filled with worry and anxiety, as I hope that I can land a second class (I need 2 classes to make it through financially, and most terms I need to maintain my health insurance).
As a result of this insecurity, a good portion of my life is spent in what I've termed "Potential Disaster Management." I calculate what we'd need to give up to make it on one class or what we'd need to do, God forbid, I got no classes. I look for freelance writing gigs. I consider setting up a tutoring service. I network with acquaintances. And in spring of this year, I applied for a second instructor position in another department at the college. I was hired. Buoyed by this, I thought that perhaps I'd be able to make it through every term, every year. However, there are no classes for me in the second department next term. I've managed to get two classes in my first department, so I'll be fine. But it's hard to escape the feeling that I am just skirting disaster and that, given enough time, it will hit me.
That disaster may come via that falling enrollment: I know that adjuncts have been, for the past few years, allowed to teach more classes than our contract allows because there had been such a surge in numbers when the economy collapsed. Once the union and administration ends that, I'll be stuck at 5 classes a year (with one extra in the summer if I'm very lucky). That's $20,000/year, maybe $24,000.
That's why the idea of Iowa, or something else, somewhere else, seems more secure. At least back under the auspices of a university, I will have some stability. A fellowship is only, at the most, $17,500, but it comes close to the $20,000 mark. And I'd qualify again for food stamps year round, other assistance. I'm also applying for fellowships at a few other universities, though each of them is difficult to land--the equivalent of a writer's winning lottery ticket.
And then I think about our lives here, how settled we are. We've been in this small city for the past 8 1/2 years. I have a close circle of friends I love. I'm comfortable here, established even. That's the rub, really. I've worked hard to scratch out a life here. I'm about to get seniority at the community college which means that my job will be more protected, and I'll have a bit easier of a time getting classes. It's not nearly as secure as tenure but, for an adjunct, it's pretty good. Am I willing to turn my back on that to move to a tiny, frozen town in the Midwest? Am I willing to uproot the kids, all of whom are excelling and happy, for something like "writing time" and a shot at "stability"?
I wish the decisions came easier. I know I can make lists of pros and cons, can calculate costs of living and moving, research schools. I have already done some of these things. Yet it all seems murkier, harder to decide. Do I accept what I have here and consciously set out to believe that it's enough? Is it enough? Or do I strike out for the east, hoping that those few years will help me finish and revise my memoir and start a second book? Will that, after all is said and done, be enough to make it somewhere else?
I've already made up my mind to apply. There's a deadline and I know I'll still feel the same pull in January or February. Maybe, I think, it won't matter. Maybe I won't get in or if I do, the fellowship or funding will be so small as to not matter. I admit, part of me is relieved to consider that scenario. Another Potential Disaster I'd manage to avoid.