Friday, November 14, 2014

The Medieval Monastic Tradition: Making a Way Out of No Way

My essay about Gertrude the Great is up at the Living Lutheran site.  Go here to read it.

I am startled to realize how many of these medieval monastics I've written about.  Ten years ago, I would not have anticipated this turn of events.

I've been thinking about the strange twists and turns of a writing career--my brain returns to this topic periodically, but this time, it was triggered by this article on the Poetry website.  The author observes, "Those of us who matriculate through MA, MFA, and PhD programs join a select club relative to the general population: writers who can make some kind of living, no matter how meager, from work related to their art. Access to that club is so limited and our numbers so few that we become a class unto ourselves, a writing class serving as poetry’s own version of a 1 percent. It’s true that club isn’t so decadent as the analogy implies. I put in time after my MFA and again after my PhD earning lousy incomes as an adjunct lecturer, postdoctoral fellow, and visiting writer. I taught my share of overwhelming course loads for underwhelming pay without health insurance or job security. Still, I remained a poet in the academy and party to its culture even as it exploited me as a low-cost laborer."

I'm thinking of the strange twists and turns not just of a writing career, but in terms of my teaching and academic career.  I would not have anticipated that I'd find publication opportunities in writing about medieval monastics and mystics--but I have.  I would not have anticipated a website like Living Lutheran, which needs much more in the way of content than the monthly magazines where I first sent my creative non-fiction.

I'm also thinking of the twists and turns of other careers.  One of our colleagues who was laid off in March assumed he'd never find another full-time job--he's over 60, after all.  But he just told me that he'll be the first full-time online teacher at a local college.  In that capacity, he'll also be a lead instructor type of person, someone who keeps tabs on all the online faculty.  He's sort of a teacher, sort of a department chair, sort of a trainer.  Ten years ago, there weren't many of these kinds of jobs.

I've done my fair share of worrying about the future of higher education and my distance from retirement.  And yet, so far, I've made good for myself, but always in ways I didn't anticipate.

I went to grad school assuming that I'd get a lovely teaching job at a small, liberal arts college.  So far, it's the one kind of school where I've never taught.  But I've found elements of the liberal arts college wherever I went.

I'll continue to hold fast to tales of making a way out of no way.  And perhaps that's what most attracts me to these medieval monastics and mystics.  They, too, found a supportive community in the midst of a larger society which didn't understand their passions.

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