Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Starting My New Job

When I finished at my last job back in February, it was my intent to try to take some of the stories that are kicking around in my head and turn them into novels. Though I knew that that wouldn’t happen right away. The plan was to spend the spring and summer with my kids, whipping the house into shape and spending some quality time with the children. It was a busy summer and a very rewarding one – the kids and I did a lot of stuff together and got ourselves on a very workable schedule.

Just before Labor Day, I began making serious preparations to start my new “job” – to begin writing in earnest. I was days away from sending the kids off to school, the youngest finally entering Kindergarten. This would leave me with about six hours a day to write, write, write. I’d spent months getting ready – I had filled several notebooks and Word documents with my ideas for characters, plotlines, themes, conflict, settings, dialogue, and even occasional snippets of prose. I joined a local writer’s roundtable and hung out with them every Monday for a few months. I had at least two novels and a short story (the latter aimed squarely at a particular writing contest) on the launch pad, ideas for quite a few more kicking around, and I’d even bought some books about writing and publishing to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. For all of having been an English major and later an English teacher, my actual professional experience with the publishing industry is effectively nil. Oh sure, I’ve written some magazine articles and I’ve written plenty of stuff for business. I even wrote a thick course on IT Project Management that I’m quite proud of, as a consultant to a local college, but with regard to writing (and selling) fiction, all I know is what I’ve read, and what I’ve read is very often contradictory, subjective, relative and only helpful if assimilated as information that could, possibly, maybe, potentially be relevant to me in some as yet undefined way, or may not end up helping me in the least.

Then came The Call. My long-time friend and former coworker Kathy Mollura gave me a shout to let me know that Onondaga Community College, one of my Alma Maters, was in desperate need of computer instructors to keep up with their skyrocketing enrollment. I’d certainly taught plenty of computer courses in my day and had the skills to tackle this one, so I signed up to do it. That was on a Saturday – the course actually began the following Tuesday. Oh, and Monday was a holiday. So effectively I was hired on one day for a course that began, for all practical purposes, the very next afternoon. I had no textbook, no curriculum, I didn’t even know the details of what I would be teaching that very day, let alone for the rest of the semester. Luckily, I can tap dance (metaphorically speaking) like nobody’s business. I dove right in, created some materials to get me up and running for the first week (as I was unable to access the college’s network during that time) and in record time I went from being Mike De Lucia, prospective writer, to Professor De Lucia, Adjunct with the Computer Information Studies department.

It was an accelerated course – only ten weeks long, with classes that were slightly longer than would have otherwise been typical. The textbooks weren’t terrible, but they were often vague and self-contradictory in places, which confused the students (and me) and necessitated that I practice direct lecture to ensure that the concepts the book couldn’t always convey clearly were taught. There did end up being some powerpoint materials that I was able to get my hands on, but still, creating two 90-minute lectures and related assignments, grading homework and creating one or two tests every week was a bit daunting. This was supposed to have been a little side-job that I did a couple of afternoons a week in addition to my writing. It ended up being a full-time job that wasn’t remotely worth the time investment on a dollar-for-dollar basis. I chose to look at it as an investment in the future – it may be that I’ll end up teaching for OCC again, and hopefully the materials I developed this semester will save a tremendous amount of labor next time. But I got no writing done. At all.

Now the course is over. I’ll finish grading the final projects today, then I’ll enter my final grades, make a backup copy of the entire course for myself, and put the whole thing to bed at least until next semester (assuming enrollment and staffing considerations warrant my return). That means that tomorrow I start my new job at long last.

Like a lot of people, I sometimes struggle with change. It isn’t that I fear it, though in this case the immensity of what I’m going to undertake and my wife’s occasional dire warnings as she’s tabulating our finances that “you’d better write a book pretty soon can be a bit daunting at times. But mostly I just find my mind racing during the lead-up to a major professional change, my thoughts awhirl in an attempt to grasp the complexity of my new role and to forcibly impose order on the chaos. At its worst, this tends to manifest in a week or so of sleepless nights, tossing and turning and ultimately giving up on the whole “sleeping thing” as a bad job as my fevered brow considers every challenge in the worst possible light and then attacks them in an often fruitless attempt to develop solutions that would allow me back into my comfort zone. Such has been my pattern over the last several nights as I fret over plot points for which I currently have no good direction or I agonize over continuity issues that may or may not even end up being a part of the story. But aside from being a touch exhausted, I’m no less ready to begin.

One of the nicer things about this 10-week delay in getting started was that I was able to assemble a workable office space down in the basement where, in theory, I might be able to write a little even if the kids are around (though I’m not really counting on it. 9 AM to 3:30 PM will be my prime writing time while the kids are in school. I’ll most likely need to scale back my writing dramatically when the kids are on vacation or breaks. I was able to get a nice scratch-and-dent desk from Staples for a very good price, and the hiatus even coincided with the launch of Windows 7. As such, I now have a brand new DELL PC on that desk, loaded up with Windows and Office 2007 and ready for some action. Today’s my last official day as a college professor, at least until next Semester. Tomorrow, I write.

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