Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Second Fiddle Is Still Music

Yesterday was a busy one. I did an interview for the student newspaper about the prison project at 10:00. Then a promising prospective graduate student called to discuss service learning at the UA English Department at 11:00. Then I bought bike lights for a recently released inmate's bike at noon, when they were on sale. He has been riding across Tucson in the dark after volunteering at the Poetry Center. Tucson is a dangerous place to ride a bike after dark, even with blinding blinky lights. It seems drivers want to cut it close, but that's another essay.

Then I had to plan a panel and workshops for a conference this coming Friday and Saturday from 1:00 to 3:00.

Then, until 5:00, I had to write my Annual Performance Review, the document that accounts for how I spent my time on the clock at the University of Arizona. It is a ponderous document, containing cover letter, vita, teaching evaluations, supervisory evaluations, syllabi, writing samples, itemized efforts at improving my efficiency, and more.

So it was a busy day. Thing was, none of this was part of my job description. I am supposed to them on my own time. Nowhere in this document do I mention the work I do in the community, as personal or required writing, or at the prison. 

I don't get credit or release time or even office space to help with these programs. I just do them, sometimes for about 15 - 20 hours a week. It's what I do, credit or not.

And, this is a confession, one that might get me in trouble if my superiors were to read this, I do them before I do my regular work of teaching, grading, class observations, committee work, administration.

Why? you might ask.

I do them because they give my days more meaning, because they are important, because they are what rise to the top of my awareness, like butter fat cream floats to the top of raw, unpasteurized milk.

That's all fine, but what if they interfere with getting my regular work done? What about my contract? And what if I lose my job because I spent too much time doing tasks that don't pay the bills?

I am a responsible guy, after all -- married, supporting two sons in college, driving a gas-hog pick-up truck.

And, if I listen to people, I am taking big risks, skating on thin ice, risking disapproval from The Man.

They say you have to be rich or very special to do these kinds of service. Work first; do your real passions second. They say you are not a great poet or musician or painter, so you will have to wait. You aren't even tenure track, they say. Ordinary types can't get away with a life that follows the heart. Second fiddles are not supposed to do such things.

That is true. And I am not a star, not particularly a stand-out for a variety of reasons. But I don't know if that matters, really. 

Most of the necessary work that needs doing -- work that raises awareness of sustainability, inequity, and community -- doesn't pay.  It doesn't make money.

So be it.

Maybe it's time to get creative. Poor maybe, but creative. 

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