I’m in a rut.
This is part of a writer’s life, and maybe one of the toughest parts to navigate.
Spring classes are just starting, daylight hours are lengthening, and the temperatures (with a few exceptional dips) are rising. But work is plodding along slowly, as sometimes happens for a writer. My sleeping schedule is flipped: it’s been impossible to sleep at night, and excruciating to stay awake during the daytime.
That’s stressful. To compound the problem, I’ve got two competing internal monologues. One says, “Stay in your flat and write when you’re not teaching.” Part of my Fulbright award is built around the composing of new texts. They’re coming along slowly, and sometimes I feel like I’m forcing them forward when the ideas aren’t fully planned or ready to be realized. But I’m supposed to be writing on these particular ideas and themes, and so I work at it, regardless of how well it’s going. The other internal voice says, “You can write when you go home. Go see/feel/hear/love Russia.” There’s a balance I try to keep there, and both duties are equally important. I’ve seen a lot of Novosibirsk at this point, and so part of my latter-trip strategy is to save time and money for a good out-of-town trip or two each month: a chance to explore some different regions.
It’s been a very conscious balancing act lately, trying to split days in versus exploring. Through it all, though, there’s a giant clock ticking in the back of my head: it’s under three and a half months left until my Russia adventure finishes now, and so I feel some pressure. Write more, see more, listen more, note more, remember more. More, more, more.
This is to say nothing of the necessity for rest. But with a brain that’s screaming for quick accomplishment, that’s a tough allowance to make. All of this is to say I’ve been in a little bit of a mid-fellowship crisis the last two weeks, but as the spring semester starts and a set, weekly teaching schedule resumes, I’m slowly getting back onto pace.
One reason my sleep schedule is a bit upside-down is a very good one: two weeks ago, I had a chance to fly back to the U.S. for a job interview, and I’m pleased to share that I’ve accepted a tenure-track positions teaching creative writing, journalism, and literature at Brescia University, a small and close-knit liberal arts college in Owensboro, Kentucky. The trip was a whirlwind: two days on the ground and nearly three days of air travel sandwiching the interview, but the visit was wonderful, and I’m extremely excited about the caring and ambitious colleagues with whom I’ll work starting this fall.
Of course, this means I’m leaving behind a good thing. For the two years prior to my Fulbright grant, I made my home in Huntington, West Virginia, where I taught at Marshall University. My colleagues there were warm and gracious, and I learned a lot about serving students and navigating the various facets of an academic life. I met my fiancée in Huntington, and did some of the best writing I’ve ever accomplished in front of the window in my downtown flat. I’ve met amazing people there, enjoyed great food. I’ve complained and learned, explored and reminisced. I’ll miss Huntington as a home, and I know Rachael will miss it even more, since she’s spent a good chunk of her life in the region, but we’re both excited to move on and see what’s next.
Particularly as a writer, I’m excited to get to teach in multiple genres. While my writing practice at the moment trends toward creative fiction, I care passionately about the state of journalism in the U.S. I look forward to mentoring students in the art of asking and seeking answers to important questions, rather than contributing one more in a series of unending opinions or adding one more analysis to the pile of response tagged to someone else’s information collection. I look forward to teaching the hard but rewarding process of collecting fresh information, and it’s clear that Brescia is willing to put the resources in place to allow that work to unfold.
I’m also thrilled to work with a pair of campus publications: the student-run newspaper and an annual literary journal. Some exciting things can come from those venues, I think.
My trip home from that interview meandered for more than 30 hours, including long layovers in London and Moscow. Fortunately, I had enough time to visit London for a bit. It’s one of my favorite destinations, and there’s always a surprise or two in store.
When I finally reached Novosibirsk, I was delighted to find a job offer waiting. Two weeks later, I’m still waiting on my sleep schedule to normalize, but that’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
Question of the Week:
Last week’s Q and A session got some great feedback, and I’ve got some questions in reserve. If you’d like to send a question for a future week’s blog, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect through social media.
Q from S.B.: How much Russian have you picked up and what are your experiences with learning the language?
A: This has been an ongoing process. Some days I feel pretty good about my ability to communicate simply, and other times, I’m still left frustrated and at a loss. Immersion learning is a widely praised method for learning a language, but it’s a two-edged sword. When learning with other novices, there’s some margin for error. You’re not conducting the learning process with the taxi driver responsible for getting you to the right address or preparing the food you want or purchasing an event ticket—and those are some of the lower-pressure interpersonal encounters. In some moments, the learning gets quicker, but in other instances it’s easier to just shut down, stay in the flat, or got to the same familiar handful of restaurants, whose menus you’ve already memorized. So, the experience has been mixed as have the results, but it’s a work in progress and a test of endurance.
Fulbright Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.