Friday, May 11, 2012

Goodbye, day job!

The countdown clock at the top of this blog says "0." But this is an arbitrary number. Back when I decided to chronicle my last year at a day job, I had to decide on a final day, but what was that final day?

The last day of class? No, there would still be work to do after that: the grading of papers, the assigning of grades, the dealing with students (only one this semester, thank goodness!) who would contest said grades (I won).

The day grades had to be turned in? I didn't yet know what that date would be.

The day of my last paycheck? No, because by then I would have been exploring day-job freeness for a few months.

So I decided on Commencement day. The seniors and I are ending one stage and entering another on the same day.

And it's beautiful outside, such as rarely happens on Commencement Day in Middle Tennessee. It's currently 49 degrees, supposed to reach a high of 79, a light breeze, and clear. A perfect day for new beginnings.

Congratulations, class of 2012! I hope you're looking forward to what's next as eagerly as I am!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thank You, Universe

I’ve been racking my brain for a fitting wrap-up post to my year of pondering about and planning for my farewell to my day job, with little success.

Sometimes the universe steps in. And it did on Monday.

That morning I stopped by the university to pick up my rented cap and gown. Aha! I thought. Preparing for my last Commencement would be a good subject for the last post of this stage of the blog. Not too exciting, though.

In my mailbox I found mail: a photocopy of the cover of the new edition of a highly-regarded textbook, Literature for Today’s Young Adults, and copies of pages where two books of mine were mentioned (Anna of Byzantium was one of nine books on the editors’ Honor List for 1999; King of Ithaka was called “a perfect introduction to the tale of Odysseus"). This could be the subject, it occurred to me: receiving, in my academic mailbox, a validation of my non-academic writing. What a neat circle!

But the universe had something even better in store.

Sweaty and jet-lagged!
The logo on the envelope's return address caught my eye. It turns out that the mailing had come from Don and Alleen Nilsen. They co-founded the International Society for Humor Studies, whose journal, Humor, published one of my early (and, I confess, one of my few) scholarly articles. I later joined a class action suit brought by the Authors Guild against someone who sold downloads of copyrighted material without permission. That article published in Humor turned out to have been illegally downloaded three times (I'm still astonished that three different people wanted to read an article entitled "Cecco Angiolieri: A Medieval Italian Humorist?"). The AG won the suit and the settlement check for $1,500 arrived just as my twelve-year-old son and I were leaving for a trip to Rome—perfect timing!

Also perfect was the timing of the arrival of this kind mailing from the Nilsens (they didn’t have to send it—most editors don’t). Its arrival as I was toting my cap and gown would be hard to improve upon, and so this is the subject of the last post of stage one.

The incident makes so many full circles: the letter in my academic mailbox concerns my non-academic writing; I went into teaching Italian as a profession because of my love for Rome, and the illegal downloads of the article led to an enhanced experience of that city; I stayed non-tenure-track so I could write and so I could spend more time with my family, like taking Patrick to Rome; I published scholarly articles only if I enjoyed the topic and felt I had something new to say (a luxury of not going for tenure) and that article was truly a pleasure to write.

Thank you, universe.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For Dept.

I could probably have continued to manage both a day job and writing for quite a while. It’s the promotion and marketing that take up so much time and conflict with teaching (my hefty volunteer position at SCBWI is part of it too).

Luckily, when you write books for young readers, the promotion is fun. Exhausting, but fun. I’m hoping it will be less exhausting when I don’t have to cram so much into the short time between the end of my academic year and the end of most school systems’ terms. Here’s a roundup of a ten-day period that just ended:

Eleven authors in Missouri
April 19: left Nashville for Missouri

April 20: Children’s Festival of Books in Kirksville, MO. Four presentations (1400 kids attended—I didn’t see all of them!) and a dinner with attendees

April 21: returned to Nashville

April 23: last day of classes

April 24: left for Hoover, AL

April 25: visited two schools in Hoover; five presentations

April 26: left Hoover for Palm Beach County, FL

April 27: visited two schools, four presentations
They had 24 authors!

April 28: “April is for Authors” book festival, attended by parents, teachers, librarians, and some kids. A solo presentation, a duo, and a panel

April 29: brunch and a tour of Palm Beach with my former student RaeAnn. I love that we’ve kept in touch! Left for Chicago

April 30: participated in a panel I organized at the International Reading Association, then a signing with Rebecca Barnhouse and Ruta Sepetys, at the wonderful Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville

May 1: returned to Nashville to a stack of papers and projects to grade

So I had vastly different audiences of vastly different interests and sizes. Which was the best? I don’t know. They were all wonderful. It’s always great to spend time with writers (BEST people in the world!). My to-read list has expanded just from hearing them talk about their books.

I love meeting my readers (my favorite question of this go-round: “Do you know any famous authors?” I started naming some and she shyly asked, “Do you know Charles Dickens?”); I love talking to aspiring writers; I love reaching the parents, teachers, and librarians who will help kids find the books that will change their lives.

I’m exhausted (and I still have those papers to grade), but I can’t wait to have the time to get out on the road and do more!