Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Piecing Together Possibilities

Over the past few weeks, across multiple conversations, I come back to a central idea that bubbles up whenever I think about a future that doesn't involve a full-time job in academia:  what would it take to move my writing to a front and central (read main wage earning) position?

Before I go much further, let me answer the protests that always arise at the idea of the loss of full-time jobs in academia.  I don't think that higher education is going to disappear anytime soon, although the changes are coming quickly now.  I think there will be jobs for people like me, people with a Ph.D. in English.  But I think that those jobs will be part-time.  We've seen a serious erosion of tenure-track jobs in the last 10-20 years.  As people retire, those people are replaced by part-time people.

Maybe I can keep a step or two ahead of these developments.  But it's time to think about other possibilities, which leads me to thinking about how to make the writing more central, the academia at the margins.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm working on a memoir that looks at leading a spiritually integrated/honest life if one spends a lot of time in a workplace that doesn't always support that idea.  I've thought of ways that memoir could lead to other things:  regular columns in magazines, speaking engagements, leading retreats.  I've even thought of other books, like how to books (how to find a new job at midlife, how to use the lives of saints to inspire our 21st century lives).

I think back to conversations I've had with friends who have known me for a long time.  A few years ago, at Mepkin Abbey, one of my Charleston friends said, "You've talked about becoming a spiritual director for a long time now.  Maybe it's time to pursue that with more focus."

Another friend recently told me, "You've mentioned hospice work a lot lately.  Maybe it's time to contact some hospice people just to see what kind of jobs would be available."

I've always assumed I would need to be ordained to be a hospice chaplain.  In my Lutheran tradition, to be ordained would require 4 years of school that I would pay for, at least most of it.  So, barring some really good scholarships, I'd be looking at roughly $60,000-$80,000, I think.  And that's without counting the cost of relocating.

Of course, not every possibility would require lots of money or relocation.  I really like this program that trains spiritual directors, for example, a distance learning kind of program that would only require me to be on site several times a year.  It's like a low-residence MFA.  The same group offers this program for training retreat leaders.  It, too, is a low-residency program.

And there's always teaching.  I'm not opposed to academia, just unwilling to count on academia alone.  I'd love to do more teaching of poetry, especially if I could combine it with teaching of spiritual disciplines (a class on Writing Poetry, Writing Prayer anyone?).

As I told my friend on Friday, I feel like I have a lot of different pieces that could end up working together, but right now, I am unsure of how/when it will all come together.

Yesterday, it occurs to me that in 3 years, I'll be 50 years old.  I'd like to have these pieces in place by the time I'm 50.  Of course, if a different set of pieces assemble out of my discernment process, that will be O.K. too.  But I'd like to be ever more intentional over the next 3 years.

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