Merry Christmas, December 2010
Last Christmas was my hardest Christmas ever. Two weeks before Christmas, Bethel University administrators told me they were cutting my job due to budget cuts. At my age, that almost certainly would mean the end of my career as a college professor. I felt like a deer in the headlights. I was pretty numb for quite a while. I applied to about 140 jobs. Five were senior-level faculty positions; I was a finalist at one (they hired an inside candidate), and the other four withdrew their searches. Twenty-five were beginning level faculty positions; none of them showed interest in me, in part perhaps because I was a senior candidate. About twenty were in non-academic careers: sales, marketing, fund-raising; a few showed a little interest, maybe just because of the peculiarity of a Ph.D. in Philosophy applying for those jobs. Over eighty were in lower-level academic administration positions at smaller colleges or community colleges: chairs of departments, deans, provosts, vice-presidents for academic affairs. A handful showed some interest, for example by asking for more information, essays, administrative philosophy statements. In April I had a telephone interview for a dean’s position. In May I had an interview for a chairperson position. After the chairperson interview, I got a call-back for a second interview. By around July 4, I got an acceptable job offer as Chairperson of the Humanities and Performing Arts Department at Lansing Community College. I started my new job August 2.
Beth and I left Vadnais Heights, MN on July 26, leaving behind Kevin and Jayne. For just over two weeks we lived in a travel trailer behind my sister’s house, 145 mile round-trip commute to my job in Lansing. We moved into our house on August 13. Just like three years ago, we are paying two mortgages, waiting for our house in Vadnais Heights to sell. We hope it sells soon, and for more than we owe on it. We love our new house, location, and job. We miss our kids terribly. When the house sells, they will likely stay in Minnesota. The job situation there is much better than in Michigan (MN unemployment rate is 7.1%, MI is 12.8%).
We now live within about an hour’s drive to most of our relatives. That is wonderful. Being in Michigan, I know some good places to fish and hunt. I am just over a two hour drive from one of my favorite places in Michigan: Hoxeyville and the Pine River. I have a 16 mile round trip commute to work; I commuted by bicycle all fall, up until our recent snow storm which made the roads icy. I will be back on my bike as soon as the ice is off the roads. I play hockey with my brother and nephew on a team Sunday nights. We found a good church, just over 2 miles from our house. We are blessed.
My job is fully administrative, no teaching. I loved teaching, it was my passion. But that career was ended for me. Not being a professor, the time I used to spend reading for my classes and for research I now spend reading good fiction and a lot of Michigan history. I like my new job, and have good people to work with. It is meaningful and important work. I am grateful. A year ago, I could have never imagined things working out so well. It isn’t perfect. Because of the two moves over the past three years, with trying to sell houses in a declining market, we find ourselves pretty much broke, living paycheck-to-paycheck. And we are grateful, because we are living pretty well. My standard of living is in the top 1% of the world’s people. I’d like to think that the quality of my life is also in the top 1%, but there is still a lot of work to do to get there. I yearn for Thoreau’s “simplify, simplify,” or Dick Proenneke’s wilderness, except that I want access to books, to be with Beth, to have good food and health care, to spend time with family and friends, to have a reliable vehicle to drive to Hoxeyville, maybe even to have a cell phone to talk to my kids regularly, a good bike, and the list gets long.
You probably know what I mean. I want it all, and the all I want is often not the all I need.