Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Partly cloudy and cold
Yesterday was an interesting day, and a good example of how the universe provides. I worked in the morning, and, late morning, had to go run a few errands, in one direction. Returning, on the spur of the moment, I drove in the other direction in search of a bakery I’d heard about near the airport. Since I arrived, I’ve been on the hunt for a good chocolate croissant. They are plentiful in NY; rare out here.
I FOUND the bakery, and was all excited. Especially since they have HUGE chocolate croissants. The counter person made a comment and I responded flippantly, and nearly a half a dozen people responded to my response. Turns out they were all either writers who teach, writers who don’t teach, or teachers. We wound up doing an impromptu bitch session about our work. I discussed current frustrations I’m having with some of my own teaching set-ups now, which is more about the business side of it than the students, quite frankly.
One of the other writer/teachers nodded and said, “These online-only places have to be less of a garden party and more of a university system. There aren’t any consequences for the student to quit; the only person who suffers, especially financially, is the teacher. Taking a class online is supposed to be about giving a student flexibility within that individual’s workday, not giving the individual an excuse not to do the work.”
Which is true. Any long-time class structure moving forward must have a steady financial commitment from the institution, so that I’m not penalized if someone quits. I’m still putting in the same amount of work. AND it needs to be a structure that doesn’t retain 50% of the course fee. I could see 20%, or even 30%, but 50% is out of balance. Administration and providing the board don’t take up 50% of the time put into a course. I understand they are in business and need to make a profit, and this model works well for them. At the outset, it worked for me, too. Now, it no longer does.
One of the other people at the table argued that they don’t get a certificate for completing an online class. I pointed out that the hardy few who survive my year long WILL get one — I’ve got it all designed and everything. I used to do it for the Nano mentees — make them certificates at the end of the session. Sure, it’s not a degree, but it is kind of fun to get something like that. I also pointed out, in the case of writing, those who successfully navigate the course and collect and apply the techniques we work on tend to get published, and regularly so. It may not be a diploma — but it shows that putting in the work pays of, both figuratively and literally.
I found it very interesting that ALL of them think I’m far too lenient with the students anyway. They think 1K/day and a short story every few months is too light a load. I think it’s a sane, steady pace, and I’m certainly not going to change it at this stage of the game! The writers all felt the bar HAS to be set high, to cull the herd of wanna-bes, and keep in the ones who really have the commitment and the talent.
One of them, who used to be an editor in both NY and London before she chucked it all to move here said, “They’re so busy pretending they’re ‘artists’ that they can’t be bothered with craft. Their job, as writers, is to tell great stories. Part of telling a great story is loving language and knowing how to manipulate language, how to pick the perfect word with the perfect shade of meaning for a sentence, how to order those words and sentences and paragraphs in a way that transports the reader. The craft means knowing that if I read a sentence with a sem-colon, I get a completely different image and have a completely different response than I do if there’s a period or a comma. I used to get a huge number of submissions where you couldn’t find the story because the rest of it was such a mess. To me, that indicates an enormous ego. It’s a slap in the face to the people receiving the submission. ‘I’m so important I don’t have to learn craft. You’re the servant — fix it.’ I’m NOT the servant — I’m the business partner. Anyone who’s made it past primary school should know basic grammar; if you’ve somehow slipped through due to a poor education system, or you quit school to take care of the family or go live your life and now found your passion is writing, it’s now YOUR job to learn it. The days of gentleman agents babysitting angsty, self-indulgent, self-styled geniuses is over, and good riddance to them. That’s the upside of the current dismal trend in publishing — no agent or publisher has the time to tutor would-be writers in the classroom basics they were given when they were ten. I wouldn’t hire a plumber who didn’t know the difference between a snake and a crescent wrench; why would I hire a writer who doesn’t know the difference between a semi-colon and a comma?” (Yes, she’d lived in England for a long time, too, hence “primary school”).
Later on, I had a phone conversation with one of my closest friends from NY. Her life is going in many exciting new directions; I’ll be travelling down there later this year to do her Croning ceremony. We discussed some of the elements from the above, and she said, “Look, you had to try this business model to see if it would work. It’s not in your best interest. Now you know. Now you can either find or create something better. Saturn Retrograde — you won’t be in the same place when it next rolls around. You’re good at that.”
Considering right now I don’t feel good at much of anything, it was nice to hear that.
It gave me a lot to think about. And they gave me some organizations to check out who work more along those university models with solid financial commitments. So I’ll send out some proposals and juggle those with the requests I’m getting in to present at other places, and figure out what kind of time/money ratio works out for me moving forward, and also what portion of time I want it to take of the day, so it doesn’t interfere with the writing. The writing is the most important thing, and I have to go back to being ruthless in that regard.
I feel like I’ve hit a plateau which is quickly turning into a wall, and therefore I have to change it. I’ll finish out my commitments this year, but next year will be about fewer classes with higher fees, and classes that are more difficult to get into. I don’t want to tell anyone that they can’t play — but they also have to keep up their end of the deal, which is showing up, doing the work, and learning the craft.
In the meantime, I have to go back to researching Master Herbal certification programs — I’ll probably find someone to discuss it with at the horticulture show next month. I had to give it up this year, because of the fluctuating income due to students leaving and me being penalized for it, and having to scramble to fill those financial holes. Being smarter in how I set up my regular gigs will help — I don’t cause someone else’s health problems or roof to cave in or whatever excuse people come up with not to fulfill their commitments, and I should not bear ANY of that financial burden, while still expected to put in excessive hours. It was my own stupidity for agreeing to a business model like that in the first place, because, silly me, I thought that if people actually had to apply to get in, it meant they really wanted to be there and had what it took to see it through. Lesson learned.
I’m sure Saturn’s next go-round will have something else to teach me! 😉
Hey, it took THREE rounds of Saturn returns kicking me in the butt before I had the guts to completely leave Broadway.
But the paths are opening. As challenging as this is, it’s also good, in many ways, and I have to appreciate what’s good about it. I just have to do some more exploration, find some new paths, see what makes the most sense moving forward, and what supports my own work best. Teaching, again, focuses too much of my energy on other people’s work, and I have to get it in balance with my own. Writing along with the classes helps, but there are other, gentle ways to adjust my day while still giving the students what they signed up for, and giving me the emotional space in which to write, which is just as important as the financial. The emotional demands of some of the individuals is just as draining (especially when they’re inappropriate) as the physical time spent on the work. A lot of the work is great and a joy to comment on — but the elements that aren’t working in the whole process need to be cut or changed.
Got a lovely letter from an old college friend. I’d written to him a few weeks ago, since all we’d done the past few years was exchange cards, and it was time to write more in depth. On my way to meditation, which, no doubt, will help even more in perspective. Then, it’s getting some client work done for tonight’s meeting, and back to the class and the page.