On the ladder of academia, the bottom rung for a recent MFA-graduate with no publications is adjunct professor. First-semester adjunct professors at my school are given freshman writing comp classes, told to pick a theme, and cast out into the wild. Needless to say, I am hanging on to this bottom rung for dear life. Let me elaborate.
I am, all at once, an instructor in writing, literature, sociology, religion, film, journalism, poetry, and history. Only being very knowledgeable in one of these things, fairly knowledgeable in another, and not at all knowledgeable in most of the others, I feel like a four year-old who has been shoved into the deep end without water wings. I try to keep about two steps ahead of my students, but more often it's more like a half step.
The problem isn't that I can't teach them to write. The problem is that I must teach them to write about anything. So tonight, I am hunched over an ethno-historian's account of the predicament of Native American mythology, baffled and lost. The ideas are valid to our explorations, but so much of the article is just plain hard. This is the kind of article that, as a student, I would have read and tried to understand but ultimately would have left up to the wisdom of my professor. Now I am that professor, and I am not quite sure if I have the confidence of knowledge I used to attribute to my own.
At least I can fall back on my creativity and acting skills, which has gotten me through my first few weeks just fine. I just can't help but fall back into the trap of feeling like I don't know enough to be up there, especially tonight. It's all part of the journey - the climb up the ladder - but why does the first rung seem so far from the second? And will it be an easier climb once I go for the third? And will I maintain my sanity - and social life - in the meantime?
And can I even continue to climb the ladder if I'm not taking some time out for my own writing?
The ladder swings and I grasp, hoping to keep my grip for another week.