Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash.
I know that I have much to be grateful for in this life – a roof over my head, food in the cupboard and refrigerator, love in my life, a young dog. I’m not food insecure or housing insecure. Yet, I’m close to it.
After a 33-year career in higher education, I have had difficulty finding a stable job. When my adjunct teaching assignments began to dry up in 2017, I lost 2/3 of my income in 2 weeks. Searching for anything at all, it took me 6 months to get a job at Starbucks, which I started in Jan 2018. On my first day of work, I had serious flu and had to delay my start day by a few days. I didn’t much like my work at Starbucks, but near the end of the first month, I could see the light at the end of the training tunnel. I preferred gathering foods and working the cash register and cleaning to making the drinks.
I found a job that paid $2.00/hr more at a busy deli counter at a grocery store, so I had no choice but to take it, even though my time at Starbucks was short. That store faced some cutbacks as well and for a while, my work was part-time, until one week, I didn’t get any assignments at all. Then I was transferred to another store, the largest in the chain (Sprouts Farmers Market) with a large island for a deli-counter. I had full-time work and it was difficult work. I mostly worked the closing shift, which brought me into conflict with the young people closing, who wanted to cut corners with cleaning and close up the counter much earlier than the store closed, so they could get out of there. I preferred to do a good job and make sure everything was neat and clean by the book so as not to jeopardize health.
I liked the deli job, especially working with customers or making sure tasks got done through the day. But it was grueling work and hard on my body. I quit that job to move across country, from San Diego to New Haven, picking up one teaching job on the way.
I had spent the 6 months working at Sprouts looking for more teaching work. I was hired by Southern Connecticut State University to teach 2 sections in the Fall and 1 in the Spring. I got the call on our first day traveling cross country, in two cars, with each car loaded to the roof with our personal belongings. When we reached Connecticut, I traveled to Norwalk to interview for another teaching job. I didn’t get that job, but stuck my head in the office for a developmental writing position. I got that section, a 6-unit course. So between the 2 courses at Southern, and the 1 6-unit course at Norwalk and an online class finishing my contract at San Diego Mesa College, I had a full-time teaching load.
But I no longer had health insurance and had to buy insurance. Almost half of my income went to health insurance. I would receive 70-80% of those monies back several months after completing my assignment, provided I didn’t miss a payment by a single day.
Adjunct teaching is a hand-to-mouth existence. My teaching experiences ended badly, with a disagreement with the militant director at Norwalk and practically comatose students and a curriculum that was far advanced for them, and an unresponsive administration at Southern in the wake of a hostile student. I served out my time for another semester with a mostly silent class.
Only teaching one class, I now had to file for unemployment and Husky health, the free health insurance for people with no money. I was suffering from nerves, anxiety, caused in part by the teaching situations. I signed up with New Haven Works, an organization that is supposed to help New Haven residents find jobs. My job coach stood me up for appointments three times. After the third time, I called her and she said, “What?” on the phone… “Oh, it’s you,” she said in a deflated voice. I raised holy hell and wrote to the executive director to get a new job coach. Finally, I got a temporary job at Sterling Memorial library at Yale University. After two months, I was switched from a temp worker to a limited duration employee at the end of May. That gave me health benefits again – GOOD health benefits. Plus I finally got my old 401K back into a system to be managed, and I was earning decent money without having to take work home – no more grading.
So I took up writing, which was, after all, my goal when I started college in 1981.
Now my Yale job is ending. Today is the last day, even though we haven’t gone to work for about 6 weeks due to COVID-19. The job was 5 weeks from being completed, but now the project has been canceled. All the jobs I have applied for to try to get full-time work – I’ve been passed over.
So I’m basically in the same position as before, 33-year career in higher education, with no prospects, a potential residence move coming up at the end of July and no idea how I’m going to earn money.
But it’s writing I’m most interested in right now. I’m perhaps 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through a memoir, with a great idea, which I need to execute and then contact agents to sell it.
Am I grateful? Most every day that it’s not raining, the girlfriend, the dog-Herman-and I walk in the woods at Guilford for some fresh air and exercise. The woods are beautiful. Spring is coming but it’s not in full bloom yet. It’s taking its sweet time getting here, which is fine, because that means it’s not getting hot yet. I’m grateful when I’m out on the trail and realize that I’m not sick, that I have food, that I have a roof over my head and someone to love who loves me back and Herman the Dachshund to accompany us.
For most everyone in the world right now, it’s not clear where the next meal, the next paycheck, the next opportunity is coming from.
Gratitude is foreign to me. I’m not ungrateful. I’m just not philosophical about it. I think the universe is more neutral and benign than the word “grateful” means. Grateful to whom or to what?
I didn’t think that life would throw me aside like this, nor that I’d have to scrap and struggle to get by after dedicated so much of my life to students and learning and caring for people.
I’ve chosen my paths through life. Not everyone has the freedom to do that. And I’ve been kicked and passed over and pushed aside. But I’ve never given up, and I’ve always tried to keep on the positive side of what’s coming next. That has kept me going.
It would be nice to know that in my retirement years, I can relax and not worry about paying the rent or putting food on the table, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, not yet anyway.
I’m one best-seller away from saying – “okay, I’m grateful.” Until then, it’s wait and see.
I am grateful to my readers. From here on out, my writing focuses more on memoir. And I’d like to hear from you. Let me know what you think, and I’ll keep writing more of what appeals to you.
Be safe and be well.