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Looking Back at a Semester of Teaching, Surviving, and Blogging.

This Adrienne Young cover of a world-weary Grateful Dead song does not directly relate to this post. But this song has been stuck in my head over the past few months more than any other.

Another semester is basically done: four classes down, one to go. It’s been an interesting few months. After teaching seven classes in both the spring and fall of last year – plus three in the summer – I was down to five this semester (and one this summer). With budget cuts impacting public education at every level here in California, adjuncts like me, who have no guarantee of being retained from semester to semester, have been feeling the pinch. And through the course of this semester, I heard lots of nasty rumors about how bad things would be in the fall. It was only a couple of days ago, in fact, that I finally found out what my full fall schedule will be: six classes (at three schools). So it looks like we will be financially solvent for another few months. Hopefully, the worst of the class cuts are behind us. But in California, you just never know.

After nine and a half years as an adjunct history professor, living from semester to semester is nothing new. Through most of my college teaching career, however, my schedule has been set months in advance, so I haven’t been constantly stressed out, wondering if I needed to explore alternative career options. More recently, of course, I’ve been a bit worried. It would be nice to have the job security that comes with a full-time position at one school, and I occasionally lapse into self-pity due to the “injustice” of it all. Of course, in a world where most people have far less security than I have, I try to count my many blessings. Security can often be an illusion anyway. In life, there are no guarantees.

The fragility of life has been on my mind a lot this semester. My wife spent much of the last few months driving to where her dad lived, trying to help care for him as he suffered (and eventually died) from cancer. She also spent many hours doing research and dealing with insurance company bureaucrats in an effort to get him the best care available. This left me with more of the parenting responsibilities than normal. Now I am tempted to say that I happily took this on and played the part of the perfect, supportive husband and father. All in all, as husbands go, I did a decent job. Still, I managed to lose it at times, and, I am sorry to say, found more than a few opportunities to feel sorry for myself. (Human nature can be a bitch.)

In the end, however, we both did what we had to do. And though I would never wish this experience on anyone, as time moves on, I see this as one more step in a gradual journey toward greater empathy and wisdom. As my wife has said several times since, it is impossible to understand what it is like to see a loved one dying from a terminal illness until you have been through the experience yourself. The people who were truly supportive over these past months, by and large, were friends and family who had been through similar experiences. People with little personal experience with death often seem uncomfortable talking to someone who is facing tragedy. They seem worried that they might somehow say the wrong thing, and they often run away as quickly as possible. (I should know because I have often been that uncomfortable person.) Those who have been through it know that there is no right or wrong thing to say. Simply being there is what really matters.

Through the course of teaching, worrying about the future, and trying to be a decent husband and father, I also started this blog experiment. Since I started this blog at the beginning of the year, I have managed to crank out sixty-two posts. Both my motives for writing and my range of topics have expanded over this short time. When I first started writing at the end of last summer, the idea was to put together a book based on my years of college teaching experience. After a few months of composing some possible chapters, I decided to start this blog in order to get feedback from a few Facebook friends. Then, as I learned a bit more about the blogosphere, and as I received a little positive feedback, I decided to start writing this blog for its own sake. I then started shamelessly promoting this blog, using the few methods that I knew, in order to let people know that I exist. And in order to make things more fun, and hopefully to appeal to a wider audience, I began writing about more than just education. Now, I alternate between posts about history, politics, education, religion, current events, and personal ramblings like the “masterpiece” that I am composing right now.

But what am I trying to achieve by writing these blog posts? To be completely honest, I am not quite sure. Several motives seem to be wrapped up together: writing stuff that will hopefully have a positive impact on people, generating a little extra income on the side, keeping my mind sharp, creating some sort of a personal journal for the future, catching the attention of that “right person” who can help me build a career as a writer, stroking my fragile ego by looking for positive feedback, trying to gain some sense of tangible achievement, releasing pent up thoughts and feelings, and the list could probably go on.

As I look back on what I have written so far, I am pleasantly surprised by what I have done. (When I periodically go back and read old posts, I usually think, “that’s pretty damn good.”) I also can’t get over this nagging feeling that I have the potential to be much better. After all, before I started this blog not so long ago, I had not tried to write anything of any length since grad school. I have also been cranking out these posts in the midst of a crazy semester, writing in little bursts whenever I can squeeze in some time. If I manage to keep plugging away, and if am able to find more time to invest, how much better might I be in a year (or two, or three)? It’s hard to say. I may become a famous blogger and/or published author; or I may be a guy still maintaining the delusion that he can write things that more than a few people would want to read; or I may quit writing and go back to devoting more time to other (more practical) pursuits. With a light schedule over the next few months, I might have a better idea of where this writing hobby is taking me by the end of the summer.

Some would say that writing has value whether it finds appreciative readers or not. On some level, I agree. Still, I would be fooling myself and lying to anyone reading this if I claimed that I was not looking for an appreciative audience. If I just wanted to write to myself, I would keep a diary. So thanks to anyone who has read (and commented) so far. And if anyone has helpful suggestions or some kind words to give me a reason to keep at this thing, feedback is always appreciated. If nothing else, it’s nice to know that someone is out there.


  1. I think the main reason to "keep at it" would be that on some level, you enjoy it. That should be reason enough. :)
    - Jennifer

  2. Here's the Blog-Idol response:

    Randy: Yo Dog! You really did your thing and I was feeling it, man! You hit it out of the park tonight!

    Paula: Paul, what can I say, I love your writing! You could write the phone book and I'd read it!

    Simon: If I'm being honest I'd have to say that you've touched a nerve in America tonight; that is, you've inspired feelings with your writing and we want to read more. It's as simple as that. You've made it to the next round. Congratulations.


  3. Thanks, CM. I just might try that phone book idea one of these days.

    And Jennifer, I do enjoy it. The only problem is that there are also other things that I enjoy. The trick, as always, is finding the right balance.

  4. I know what you mean by documenting. I read in one of my psychology books that psychologists are reading blogs as part of their studies. That motivated me to start blogging, because I did not want my thoughts and ideas underrepresented in the world of psychology. Also, I sometimes get an irresistible urge to share things when I really should keep my mouth shut.

  5. One of the great things about the internet is that we all get a shot at sharing our writing without having to get a publisher to print and distribute it.

  6. Paul, I thought of why you *must* continue this blog. There's something poignant about a history teacher making history: blogging history.

    You are a blogging pioneer. If you fizzle out now you will be overshadowed by some later blogging "pioneer" Joe. Freeway Flyers from Southern California to Northern Maine will be popping up.

    BTW: You might consider adding "Ground Zero" to your title. It will attract more random searches. And I like that you write from "every man's" Ground Zero.


  7. Every Man's Ground Zero: Reflections of a Freeway Flyer



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