Friday, August 15, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

For not doing very much over summer break it sure has gone by fast! This is especially strange because fairly early into it, I signed a contract for a new teaching job. This is the first time in my educational career that I was ensured of a full-time position in June.

This forthcoming job is great for every part of my life, save for my writing.

You see, for the last two years I have been mostly substitute teaching. This has meant that our family has been living on the cheap for the last two-and-a-half years. We did not vacation; we did not take our kids to the movies; we ate more pasta and Costco pizzas than any family should; we did not go to a sit-down restaurant unless we had a gift card; my wife and I stopped giving Christmas and birthday presents to each other. And on rare occasions when we did splurge, we still managed to skimp: when my wife and I took an anniversary trip to Hearst Castle, we got a cheap hotel with no view; when we got season passes to Great America, we never bought treats in the park; when we spent a day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, we never went on the rides.

I didn't buy books, CDs, blu-rays, or video games.

We had always been good about saving, but as the balance continued it's steady drip down I got a second job: retail, during the golden quarter, for slightly above minimum wage.

And besides having an awesome wife and kids, things were tough for every part of my life.

Except for my writing.

Substitute teaching, most days, are very productive for me. I estimate that during those two years I wrote around 200,000 words (not counting a nonfiction book that was mostly cutting and pasting) in various classrooms. When I was teaching full time, I had no time to write. I figured that eventually I would get my curriculum to a point where I wouldn't need to spend so much time developing lessons, but over those five full-time years that never seemed to happen. I stopped circulating my short stories. Occasionally I would tinker with my novel, but I had no desire to send it out to any other agents, and other than occasional notes I did no new writing for about five years.

Transitioning back to substitute teaching coincided with my discovery of ebook self-publishing, and I was able to publish (and later, revise and republish) my first novel. Some of my short story orphans found good homes. Not being able to decide which of my novel ideas to start next I started three of them. My book reading doubled. I began to think about starting some art projects. My creative life flourished.

Then I received a call to interview from a district that I had applied to months before and forgotten. An hour after the interview I got an offer.

This brings me back to this summer. Suddenly we didn't need to worry about money so much. As my wife is also a teacher, and teachers aren't compensated commensurate with their education and importance in our country, the money worries will never completely disappear, but compared to our previous no-frills existence this money was freeing. We booked a family cruise for our Winter Break. I bought some books, a few CDs, and a blu-ray movie, and convinced myself not to feel guilty about this. We bought my eldest son a bookcase, and would have bought our youngest a dresser if it was in stock. We didn't cringe so much with our back-to-school shopping. I have kept the second job so far, but instead of it paying the energy bill, it's going to the vacation fund. The monetary anxiety that had covered us molted off our bodies, and our flight feathers are growing strong again.

And I have the privilege that my only worry in all of this is how my creative life will suffer. When something wears out, or is outgrown, or breaks, we can replace it with little worry. My family is blessed that my biggest concern now is how well I will be able to carve out time from getting students to learn and work to produce something of my own.

I guess we'll see if I have the discipline and luck. A few more days and I'll get busy setting up my classroom. A few days after that I'll have my first day with students, and the real madness begins.

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