News & Views

Professor-Writer: Living the Dream?

You probably figured it out in grade school: Hey, waitaminute, Ms. Prisco only works 'til three in the afternoon. And then she's got summers off. Ain’t that swell! Teachers sure got it easy.

Then when you attended college, this idea was magnified: Say, wouldn’t it be peachy just to teach for an hour or two a day — you’d have most of the day to do nuttin’. Nuttin’ at all.

And then there are the English majors among you. You know who you are, those questioning the grammar and punctuation choices made in the previous paragraphs. You fell in love with language harder than you did your health & hygiene teacher in high school, harder than anything or anyone ever before, and your parents feared the thought of your living as a destitute poet in the East Village. (“I suppose she’ll be wearing all black all the time now,” they whispered to each other. “The Wallops’ daughter Karen just got her law degree, and she used to eat glue. What did we do wrong?”) But you couldn’t shake the bug, and when the fever broke the doctors sighingly diagnosed you with pretensions to art.

So in your head you cleverly combined the notion of teacher-life with your dreams of authorship and, lo and behold, you concluded, Well, if I want to write, what better way to feed my belly and pay for rent as well as my requisite booze habit than to become a professor? Surely, no other job will suffice. And thus the dream of professor-writer was born.

Perhaps some of you chose journalism, sharpening your craft and your ability to almost miss deadlines. Others, wielding a facility with language, may have drifted into advertising or marketing. Indeed, many successful mystery writers made his/her bones in the ad game. Dashiell Hammett. Dorothy L. Sayers. Elmore Leonard. James Patterson. Lee Child. Darrin Stephens. Don Draper. Some of you loved the lucrative environs and the corporate pressure and continue to turn out ad copy and thriller chapters in the same afternoon. But some of you balked at the stress and the endless line of launch meetings, and remembered the golden dream of academic/artist.

Whether you got there directly from grad school or via a series of meandering career paths, when you did get into the halls of knowledge and faced a room of fresh-faced first-years, you may have thought, “This is splendid. Oh, look! New chalk!” You’d teach for a few hours, you thought, then the long afternoons would lie before you like a field of guileless pages waiting for the sunshine of your brilliant words to illuminate them. But, first, there were a pile of essays to grade and lesson plans to invent. After which, sadly, you felt knackered.

That’s fine, you figured, you would work on the novel tomorrow! However, full-time academia comes with its own irksome tasks (committees, meetings, pen-shopping). If you’re part-time, well, you probably need to commute to (several) other schools to teach (#adjunctlife), but you could work on your book in your car, which very likely is also your home.

Wait! There’s still summer! Three magic months of your filling endless reams with your creative largesse. However, since enrollment is down, there are no summer classes, and you still need to eat, so you take a summer job dealing with annoying customers at Starbucks, and at least there are no essays to grade, and the murder of a customer at Starbucks would make a great premise for a mystery. Macchiato Massacre? Death Comes with Wifi?

But finally — finally! — you carve enough words and carve out enough time and complete your book, having taken a mere decade. Another decade flits by as you seek an agent and then a publisher. You share your news with your academic colleagues, but they might not be the best audience. (“What do you write?” “Crime fiction.” “Haha. No, but seriously though.” “No, really, crime fiction.” “Haha. That’s sweet. Have you done your student evaluations yet?”) But that doesn’t matter because you’ve achieved the dream, Professor Professor-Writer.

Meanwhile, while you toiled and taught, your successful lawyer friend Karen Wallop has written a dozen best-selling thrillers. And one of your creative writing students has self-published a depressing bildungsroman that is being turned into Oscar-bait. That doesn’t matter. You’re not jealous. You have your book, and maybe you learned a little something, too.

Maybe you realized it doesn’t matter what career you pick. Maybe it’s just being dogged enough, steadfast enough, perseverant enough (while wondering if those adjectives are repetitive) to finish. Or maybe it’s finding that the career of teaching is fulfilling in its own way. Maybe, just maybe, it’s finally realizing that Ms. Prisco totally deserved her summers off.

No, no, that's not it. What you really should have done is married rich.

—Richie Narvaez

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A professor-writer himself, Richie Narvaez is the award-winning author of Roachkiller and Other Stories. His fiction has appeared in Plots with Guns, Long Island Noir, Spinetingler, and more. His debut novel Hipster Death Rattle will be published in 2019.

3 Responses

  1. Erica Obey says:

    I believe the preferred term is “make an advantageous match.”

  2. This is great! And so, so true!