Last night the moon rose through our window sweeping in the tide, alive with emotions that I haven’t wanted to confront for fear of an end that I’m not ready to face. This was the month that we were supposed to move. Classes start at universities next month and I was supposed to be a new doctoral student. Not an adjunct working working working to make below the poverty line. I answered an email last night telling my boss that I will not be returning this fall and I scrolled through lines and lines of emails that brought up a sour pit of sadness that I had forgotten was planted. My inbox was filled with students requesting to be written into my classes, alerts that doctoral students will be defending their prospectuses or dissertations, meeting requests for professional development workshops, textbook seminars, the comings and goings of the English chair, and my god what despair. Oh, how I love to teach. And write. I just love to write. I so wanted to teach and read and write and fill my days with doing what I love and be valued for it. But adjuncting just isn’t that job. It’s a shadow of what I wanted. An under paid, over worked, devalued shadow.
There is something, I don’t know, honorable about telling people that you teach at a university. I feel it every time I’m asked what I do and when I answer with my reply “I teach at Old Dominion University,” their eyebrows raise in reverence and esteem. “Oh really!” they say. I feel proud and valued in those moments. And the university knows that. That’s why they think that they can pay me $18,000 a year for teaching 6 classes, because it brings with it some type of cultural esteem that working at Wal-Mart just doesn’t. But my mom made more working at Wal-Mart than I make as a teacher at ODU. So, I quit. And I didn’t quit just because of the money. I’m too much of a romantic to quit over low wages. Walking back through the halls into the adjunct pit past the offices of associate and tenured professors is just too hard. People who I worked for as a graduate student, who wrote my recommendation letters, and who equally wanted to see me go somewhere will be on committees that I’ll never be invited to, will design courses that I’ll never teach, will write books that I’ll never write, speak at conferences with authority that I’ll never have, and I’ll walk by their offices every day with my head down, stuck, ashamed. I quit mostly because I can’t go back. Because I don’t want to be a part of an adjuncting system that exploits people for low wages in exchange for some sort of imagined cultural esteem. No thank you.
I’m really going to miss the students, those little shits. I’m going to miss thinking of creative ways to teach literature and engaging students in their writing. There aren’t many, if any other places to do that kind of work. However, I’m not one to stop at an end pass. I’m applying my creativity towards myself and my community by attempting to make a job for myself almost out of thin air. I’ve been working all summer to create a non-profit that builds, maintains, and supports learning and productive gardens at local schools. It’s a slow, bureaucratic process, but it’s going so well. Eventually, the goal is for me to be paid in the position as it’s executive director, to research and write articles on its behalf, to speak to the community on its behalf, to inject a passion for activism, social justice, and a love for our children on its behalf. That’s what I have been excited about all summer and it has made me move on from what I lost and wasn’t to be. I have an amazing education and skills that actually are valuable. There are so many things that I can do. I recognize that I am in a position where I can go months without earning any income, thanks to my spouse. That’s something that a lot of people can’t afford or have the luxury to take advantage of. But because I have this opportunity, I will not devolve into sackcloth and ashes. I will not accept what I don’t have to. I will push into the unknown and use my privilege for my community.
So. Here I am. My board of directors has named me the president of The Norfolk School Garden Collective. When I’m asked the question “What do you do?” that will be my answer. It’s what I’m building and creating. And I’m excited! I have no idea how it will work out or how it will be shaped, but I’m going to press into the unknown and what’s uncomfortable for me. I’m not used to working in this capacity. I have to adopt a new vocabulary that can speak to city leaders, school administrators, parents, food advocates, government agencies, and parents. I have so much to learn, I have so much to do and I have absolutely zero idea what I’m doing. But I’m up for the task.
I’m not sure how to symbolically or metaphorically close ones of life’s doors, or how to turn a page and start a new chapter. Those images are stupid and cliché anyways. I’m just walking. Living faithfully. Accepting what comes. And moving on.