03 April 2009

Will not teach for cash

Time for a new post. . . .

This morning, I received a startling email. I subscribe to a Creative Writing listserv that announces writing contests, calls for submissions, and teaching jobs. This particular digest included an ad for a creative writing instructor at Centenary College.  The ad goes like this:

"Instructor wanted for 2-credit poetry writing course for the fall semester (September through December, 2009) at, Hackettstown, NJ. MFA required. The course meets once a week for approximately two hours. Salary $900. Centenary College is in the process of developing a creative writing minor. We anticipate ongoing teaching opportunities."

As quickly as my eyes widened at the "poetry instructor wanted: Centenary College" line, they also calmed down because I know that there are two Centenary Colleges in these United States (the "Jewel of the South" where I teach and the other one in New Jersey).  But still.

So I sent this to my husband, who did the following math (which, notably, does not even account for taxes):

Let's see, 18 weeks x 3 hours class per week. Plus 1 hour prep and 1 hour grading for every hour in class. No travel if you taught via video alongside your normal Creative Writing course this fall. That makes this offer approximately $5.56/hour. Of course, since the pay is capped, there is a natural disincentive to doing a good job if that means spending more time. What they're really offering, in economic terms, is a minimum wage job with a singular price floor/ceiling and an incentive for the employee to do a poor job.


I'm reminded of the advice we MFAs received at the University of Florida from the tenured prof who provided the massive lectures for Technical Writing: 400 students in the live lecture on Monday nights, 100-200 more in the video replays that happened at least two other nights a week.  We MFAs served as his teaching assistants, instructing the smaller "lab" sessions (18 students in a computer lab where we practiced whatever writing that week's lecture covered).

The prof told us very frankly that if we excelled as teachers of those labs, we were wasting our time and working too hard: that we weren't being paid enough to be great teachers and that our main task was to do our own graduate work. Therefore, he expected us all to be mediocre as TAs.

Once, I remember having an issue with a particular student, and I asked the prof about it; he advised me well about what to do but also starkly told me where to draw the line, reminding me that to be mediocre got his praise but to go the extra mile got his disapproval. This is partly because he didn't think the students were worth the trouble (the good ones would figure it out despite my mediocrity) but mostly because he didn't think it was really my job. 

He had a point or two there.

Looks like Centenary @ Hackettstown should expect the same kind of mediocrity.  Even poets should know better than to work for that pay.

17 August 2008

The grace of frowning years

Indeed, "caring for [mother] through the frowning years and glorifying the gospel are the same thing."

John Ensor's "Magnifying the Gospel and End-of-Life Issues" evokes a complex set of responses in me: a desire to do this as much as possible for the elders in my life (those in this stage and those who will enter this stage later, by God's grace), a wish that we could have conversations like this one with my grandmother, and a hope that I will engage this Christ-centeredly with my children or other care-givers in my last days (should they come relatively slowly and difficultly, as seems most common). May God help us face our own frowning years and those of our loved ones with courage.

12 August 2008

Mamma Mia!

"It would be charity to call the plot contrived."

Uh huh. It's almost a poor imitation of a Shakespearian comedy. And a total loss if not for all its beautiful people.

Also, if not for mother-in-law's monstrous large DP and fourth-act seat dancing, plus sister-in-law's extra butter on her low-calorie "small." But that doesn't have anything to do with the movie. Except to say that if you plan on seeing it, please take fun people.

So Mamma Mia! does not offer a stellar plot. Nor stellar singing. And I mean "not stellar" generously. But my main problem with the movie is simply this: every character lives for self and his or her fleshly pleasures without any hint of self-control or order at any moment, and they are all rewarded for it.

I don't want to complain that the movie fails as art (as Ebert deftly noted, it does not aim to be good in that way). And I don't actually want to complain that the movie heralds debauchery, though it does. Instead, the movie unearthed in me some sadness. Sadness that many viewers might secretly (or not so secretly) long for their lives to have such freedom as these characters seem to have.

Maybe some of us wish our twenties were full of one-night stands, or wish that our moms were cool enough to headline our drunken bachelorette parties, or wish for such steamy moments on the beach with beautiful lovers, or wish that we could become rich off three divorces and then fill our lives with plastic surgery and younger men. I wish it went without saying that such a life would be wasted. Vanity.

But the real temptation of the movie is to wish for the philosophical and relative freedom in which these characters seem to dwell. Freedom to determine your own identity. Freedom to explore all that life has to offer. Freedom to drink yourself sick. Freedom to sleep with whomever you wish. Freedom to be cool in the eyes of others. Freedom to live in loyal relationship that holds the truth of self-loyalty rather than God-vows at its core. Freedom to prize family over everything else. Freedom to long for the unattainable and actually get it one day. Freedom to write your own story.

It's not the objects of those prepositions that are important: it's the noun. The movie does not claim that drunkenness or promiscuity are necessarily good but that the freedom to choose those if you wish is. That at any cost, one should have personal freedom to choose for oneself what she deems best.

On our own, we will express such freedom only for temporary hedonism because we cannot possibly see the virtue of present agony for later joy. Oddly, that does seem the unapologetic moral of the movie. The characters themselves would not balk at admitting it. Why not get pleasure now? Why not rule the self?

The fact that we weren't made to do so is sufficient reason for me. But the eventual outworkings of it are compelling as well. The self is too short-sighted to get even the best pleasure now. If you're smart enough or powerful enough, you could acquire for yourself the best pleasure you can see now. But there's a world unknown beyond it. It's impractical to depend on the self for the highest pleasure.

Even the movie shows us this. Donna has suffered these twenty years because she didn't have the self-discipline when she was young to actually work at relationship. She has made it fine and worked hard and raised a lovely daughter, but she has suffered loneliness and fatigue and, ironically, loss of pleasure. All this, at least in part, because she did not work at love but expected it to land in her lap. She chunked the "agony" (as it were) of living in community because she preferred rule of the self unto immediate pleasure insofar as she could see it.

In the postmodern way, she eventually gets her pleasure . . . the man after whom she has secretly pined all these years. That's hardly a spoiler: it's a romantic comedy, after all. But will it last? She will have to set aside herself to do so. She will have to prefer his good over her own, and he hers. Methinks there is a tragedy to follow.

07 August 2008

Salary search

Apparently, I need a new (and more lucrative) job.

The power of numbers

It's hard to blink past this bit:

"If only 7 percent of the 2 billion Christians in the world would care for a single orphan in distress, there would effectively be no more orphans. If everybody would be willing to simply do something to care for one of these precious treasures, I think we would be amazed by just how much we could change the world."

This from Steven Curtis Chapman, reflecting on the beauty of adoption through his and his wife's journey. About two months now after having lost their youngest to an automobile accident in their driveway, the family is appearing on various television shows this week to talk about their hope amid grief. I can hardly count how many blogs I read have linked to the "Good Morning America" interview posted on youtube.com.

The pater familias appears again tonight, this time on "Larry King Live," so I gather this piece on CNN.com introduces that interview. Watch for it, you who have cable; I'll look for it online afterwards. Maybe he'll repeat this call. It's a stunning number: if all those adopted by the Redeemer would care for but one. . . .