Coffee heat rising

School’s out! (…almost…)

w00t! Yesterday was the last day of class! Would that I could raise a toast to it!

Two rafts of papers to read, two courses to post on Blackboard, and then with any luck at all an entire month’s break.

I got a head start on the magazine writing students’ papers yesterday. Today I’ll read the Little McBoingers’ freshman comp papers (what a bunch this class has been!), then finish the budding journalists’ papers on Saturday. With any luck, I’ll be ready to file grades by…what? Monday? Then a day or two to load next semester’s courses, and after that…waHOO! A whole month of freedom!

This is the first real, credible vacation I’ve had in six years. Despite my highly developed expertise in Creative Malingering, the fact is that while “telecommuting” I was reading arcane academic copy steadily, plus supervising three or four bright young editors from afar (and doing freelance copyediting, and noonlighting with one to four upper-division writing courses on the side, and running this blog). Before that, when I was on GDU’s teaching faculty, an occasional break would come up, but it was usually filled with unpaid course prep work. I would grab every summer course I could get, and the time in between was occupied with getting ready for the next round of courses.

Boy, do I need a break! The stress of working 12 to 17 hours a day while trying to make some very frayed ends meet plus worrying about what we’re going to do, if anything, about the underwater house is making me sick. It’s obvious that the belly thing is stress-related, plus I’ve developed a fantastic new hypochondria, highly annoying and distracting. What next, Lord?

Of course, this “break” will be blighted a bit by the Workman Waltz, an added round of hassle one could do without. In addition to the roofers and the AC guy, I need to get the plumber in here. The kitchen sink is backing up in a weird way…think something’s amiss with the garbage disposal. While he’s here, there are a bunch of honey-does he can attend to.

That notwithstanding, I have a vacation plan. Mostly, it entails finally getting back into a healthy exercise routine. The scheme is as follows:

Walk the dog first thing in the morning.
Later in the morning, walk in one of the mountain parks, probably the one in Glendale, which is cleaner and more pleasant than ours and whose proprietors have announced no plans to fleece the users with parking fees.
Ride the wonderful new purple bike in the afternoon.
Walk the dog again in the evening.
Spend the time in between gardening, touching up the paint, and reading stuff that is pure froth.

Maybe I can even get some socializing in somehow. That, of course, would entail finding someone to socialize with, not a likely prospect. But at least choir will be doing a lot of singing over the holidays, so that’ll provide some human contact. I’m going to spend Christmas Day at SDXB’s—with M’hijito at his dad’s and New Girlfriend in Denver with her family, we’ll both be orphaned again. Our plan is to hike part of the day and then fix a swell dinner.

So, maybe with some relief from work and a stab at getting back into what was once a pretty typical exercise routine, I’ll start to feel normal again.



Nikolai Petrovitch Bogdanov-Belsky, Mental Calculations. Public Domain.
Funny about Money, Snapshot of Purple Bicycle. You want that photo? Feel free!

School’s Out! (briefly…)

Yay! It’s spring break! One of the little blandishments of teaching that I’d forgotten about, it having disappeared in a fog of 9-to-5 overwork quite some time ago.

Mountain Laurel in bloom

Remembering it, however, after Departmental Chair kindly gave me three sections to plan for this semester, I set things up so that no student papers would sit on my desk and demand to be read over this lovely 70-degree week. The last raft came in on Wednesday, and I finished reading them and posting grades around 10:30 Thursday night. So…we’re looking at a whole week with no work!

The weather’s incredible and a mountain of household, yard, and computer chores have backed up and demand to be done. So there’ll be plenty to keep me busy over the next seven days. The question, however, is how idleness will play out not now but over the summer, when the community college hires no adjuncts (the plummy summer jobs go to full-timers) and even if they did, Social Security prohibits me from earning any more than a few classes in the spring and fall will pay.

Even though we didn’t work much around the editorial office during the summer, we were employed and I did have to traipse out to the campus several times a week. A lot of that traipsing amounted to time-wasting, but it did at least occupy time, if fruitlessly. Before I took on the administrative job, I always used to teach during the summer. Full-time faculty members earn a percentage of their salary for each summer course, amounting to a nice slab of cash—far more than adjuncts are paid for the same work. It was enough to fund a vacation, if I wanted to travel somewhere, or (more to the point) to cover some new improvement or purchase for the house. That’s where the dollars came from, for example, to buy things like the gorgeous sidebar from Crate & Barrel and the leather sofa and chair in the living room.

Next year, when I can earn as much as anyone will pay me, I may ask for a section or two at the West campus, which pays almost a thousand dollars more than the junior colleges pay. Probably to no avail: the university is hemorrhaging students as it raises tuition and fees while cutting services. The community colleges’ summer enrollment, we were recently told, jumped 17 percent over last year’s, which itself showed a significant rise. Thus it’s unlikely the university will have any summer sections to farm out to adjunct faculty…particularly since the Board of Regents just announced that, as a sop to students and parents enraged by the latest 20 percent (!!) tuition hike, they’re cutting university employees’ salaries by 2.75 percent. To make up for it, everyone will be trying to teach a summer section, and of course there will be far fewer sections to go around.

Mwa ha ha! How glad am I that I’m not working there anymore? Let me count the gladnesses…

At any rate, back on topic after that digression: What to do this summer? I’ve never had an entire summer break with nothing to do—even as a student, I went to summer school. Adding to the problem is that summer weather here is as oppressive as an Upper Peninsula winter. Instead of getting snowbound, though, people get heat-bound: it’s so excruciatingly hot you just don’t want to stick your nose out of the refrigerated cube that is your house.

I’ve thought about shutting the place down and going somewhere else over the summer. In 118-degree heat, it costs so much to run the air-conditioning and water that the cost of decamping to Yarnell probably wouldn’t be that much more than staying here. The problem is, though, that when you have a pool and a bunch of trees and plants, you can’t just shut the place down and walk away. In the summertime, when monsoon winds fill the chlorinated puddle with debris from the devil-pod tree and from every palm tree for miles around, you have to be here to clean the damn thing every day. And anything in a pot that’s not watered first thing each morning is fried by noon.

Back in the day when I was married to the globe-trotting lawyer, never once did we leave town but what we came home to some baroque new mess, crisis, or catastrophe. Yea verily, even before we owned a house with a pool, going out of town simply dictated that some fiasco would happen when we were gone. Dead cats, fires, thieving house-sitters, house-sitter killing himself and three young women in a drunken car crash, painter painting the black cat white, father doing battle with house-sitter’s wannabe burglar boyfriend, dogs retrieved from the kennel sick, ohhhhh god. I got to the point where I just. did. not. want. to. leave. town.

So. My enthusiasm for batting around the countryside all summer is about nil. Some things are worse than being hot.

This leaves: what to do next summer?

One possibility is to try to wring a book out of Funny about Money. I think there’s more than enough copy to pull together something coherent. If I finish off the “Financial Freedom” series before the semester ends, that can be the core of the thing. Anything that’s vaguely related can serve as support material, and a few entertaining irrelevancies can be thrown in as frills and flounces.

The question remains, though, whether I can sell something that’s already been done. Too many PF bloggers have already taken their (somewhat hackneyed) advice to press. Who is gunna buy a FaM book and how much are they gunna pay up front? I suppose I could go back to William Morrow. But both my agent and my editor there are long gone. No one at that house knows me anymore. And my inclination to seek out another literary agent is about as lively as my inclination to pack up and leave town for the summer.

The ancient book published through Columbia is still selling, though weakly…I might be able to persuade someone there to buy a FaM spin-off. It’s not very academic, though. On the other hand, in these times university presses need to stock their lists with at least a few items that will sell. The recession could work in my favor there.

Another possibility is to try to write a detective novel and peddle it to my favorite client, Poisoned Pen Press. These things are such a hoot! And I know I can write the stuff. I’ve done two novels, neither of which I’ve tried to publish. Though they are unpublishable, they did provide plenty of practice building characters, plots, and scenes. One of them, IMHO, is pretty damned good—certainly better written than some of the stuff I’m seeing.

PPP’s advances are very low: from what I understand, only about $1,000. The way you make money off the things is to get out there and peddle them yourself. Obviously, if I’m teaching classes every day I’m not going to have time to junket around the country signing books and schmoozing with bookstore buyers.

Still, in a Bumhood setting, where we see that we really don’t need extravagant amounts of cash to live quite comfortably, a thousand bucks of money happening is, well—not unacceptable.

Speaking of PPP, just now I’m reading a wonderful thing by a writer named Judy Clemens, The Grim Reaper’s Dance. It’s due out in August. This is an amazing piece of writing! In the first place, Clemens is a fluent and graceful stylist—the astonishing characterization and plotline aside, her prose is a joy to read. And then we have the fantastic magical-realist story…what a tour de force! The conceit that takes this mystery novel way above the level of genre writing is the protagonist’s companion: Death.

Yes. That would be him: the Grim Reaper himself. Our heroine Casey is shadowed by the very Personification, who, materialized in the form of an amusingly creepy eccentric, follows her around and generally watches out for her. Along the way, he collects this and that soul. Visible only to Casey, who herself is pretty postmodern, Death may or may not be a hallucination. That very ambiguity makes the story strangely credible and highly entertaining. It’s a great piece of summer reading—highly recommended!

A third possibility is to volunteer to commit some good works. Trouble is, most everything around here closes during the summer, and so there won’t be much to do. Nor, really, am I fond of working for nothing. I’ve never been much of a joiner, alas.

And finally, there’s the possibility of actually learning something. La Maya is always engaged in one painting class or another; she says her teachers are open to taking on rank amateurs. These cost rather more than I can afford, however.

One of my students teaches piano. Once she’s out of my class, no conflict would be entailed in hiring her to teach me to plunk away. That would be useful for choir: I do need to how to read music a great deal better than I can now.

Or I could take yoga or dancing classes at the community colleges. Tuition is amazingly low for several weeks of entertainment. Who knows? Maybe I could take piano at the college.

Speaking of doing something, it is, I’m afraid, time to get up from the computer and go kill some of the exuberant weeds that are trying to take over the front yard. Onward!

Why you should become a teacher

Here’s something that just came in from a student I taught a couple of years ago when I was doing a little “noonlighting” at the Great Desert University’s West campus—thought you might all get a smile from it.

I used to say that journalism is more immediately rewarding than teaching because you very quickly have something in your hand about which you can say “I did that!” It can take many years to see what effect, if any, you might have had on a student.

The project the student describes is a proposal. Classmates were asked to write a real-world proposal for a real, doable project, addressed to a living human being or group (not their instructor!) in a position to make it happen, and to argue convincingly why and how it can be done.

Every now and then we make a small difference in the world, eh?

—–Original Message—–
From: Stephanie Estudiante []
Sent: Sun 9/20/2009 8:32 PM
To: Funny about Money
Subject: Proposal


I was in your ENG301 class a few semesters ago. I thoroughly enjoyed your class and still work constantly to hone my writing skills. Just a couple of days ago I received a letter that the proposal we wrote (as a project in your class) was a success, and Discount Tire Co. made a very nice donation to the Foundation for Blind Children. While it certainly took some time to move through the system, I was very pleased with the result. I felt especially happy for the Foundation, as I know its needs are great. But I was also quite proud that my work produced a really worthwhile result. So, if ever a student questions whether the skills being taught in your class will be useful in the real world—I would say resoundingly—YES. I just wanted to let you know.

Thanks for a great class!

Stephanie Estudiante

The Foundation for Blind Children’s home page is here.

Would you like to congratulate Discount Tire for this excellent moment of corporate philanthropy? Write to them here:

Discount Tire
Corporate Headquarters
20225 N Scottsdale Rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85255-6456

A$k and ye shall re¢eive

Great galloping zot!

To get me to take on those two bloated, maxed-out sections of Writing for the Professions, the university is going to pay me for four courses. That’s fourteen thousand dollah, for a spring-semester net of seven grand.

While it’s peanuts for the institution (a full-time lecturer would earn between $22,500 and $25,000, plus benefits, to teach the same courseload), for me it means I will meet my 2008 savings goal without having to take a second job during the fall semester. And fourteen percent of that 14 grand will go into my 403b, adding almost $2,000 to this year’s retirement savings.

If the spring overload doesn’t kill me and I decide to take on two sections (normal-sized, we hope) in the fall anyway, by December 7, 2008, I will have exceeded half my three-year $25,000 savings goal.

My daddy always said the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Guess he was right.

2008 financial goal thwarted at birth

In a New Year’s Day post, Mrs. Micah described her 2008 financial goals and asked readers about theirs. I responded by remarking that I hoped to put $10,000 a year in savings over the next two and a half years to pay off a small second mortgage used for house renovation. The plan was to set aside $250 a month out of my current salary and do the same with the $3,500 a semester I expected to net from teaching two online sections of a required service course for one of the Great Desert University’s satellite campuses.

Yesterday, they e-mailed a contract for the two classes, urging me to sign it immediately and fax it back forthwith. Understand, for unknown reasons (of the sort that feed paranoia) I haven’t been able to enter the university’s site that allows faculty to view their course rosters. So, this morning a colleague and I accessed it through her password. And what should I discover? Every section except the two I’m slated to teach is capped at 20 students. Mine are capped at FORTY! And both are full. I’ve already had students on the phone begging for overrides.

In other words, GDU expects I will teach the equivalent of four sections–EIGHTY STUDENTS in a WRITING COURSE (if it looks like I’m shouting, it’s because I am)–and accept pay for two sections.


I’ve e-mailed the interim vice president asking to be paid for four sections. He of course will turn that request down. But it doesn’t matter. Even if he agreed to it, I can’t pack 80 students into my spare moments around a full-time job, nor will I try.

If you are an employer and you wonder why young college graduates applying to work at your business can’t write a competent cover letter, to say nothing of any other kind of business document, this is why. Writing courses at universities and community colleges are traditionally taught by part-timers who are shamelessly exploited. Most cobble together four to six sections by running around from campus to campus; it is physically impossible to do a decent job of teaching writing to more than 15 or 20 students in a course, and an instructor certainly should not be teaching more than two writing-intensive sections at a time.

Well, in the new destressification regime, my foot is firmly put down about this kind of treatment. Better to take a little longer (make that “a lot longer”) to accrue the funds to pay off the loan than to put myself through the overwork, anger, and grief that will result from allowing GDU to take advantage of me like that.

Revised 2008 financial goal: Save $3,000 and put it all in the Roth IRA. Snowflake the loan principal with freelance income, extra savings from penny-pinching, and windfalls.