Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rational Fears

ThroughThe Fingers
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
Yeah, it's been a while and it's time to get caught up. Thanks to you who have commented in the last few posts, expressed concern and prodded me to make an appearance. If it weren't for you, I might just go ahead and disappear.

I have but one legitimate excuse and it only gets me off the hook for a part of my absence. I was without my PowerBook for over a month when its logic board failed. (I spent a lot of that time trying to figure out ways to back it up, since I hadn't done so since I bought it 11 months earlier. (Yes, shame on me.) The other computer is in a very inhospitable location for practical use. I can't tell you how happy bI've been to have the Book back.

The bigger problem, aside from time and feeling like I'm being pulled in too many directions, has been my inability to find something to write about that didn't sound pathetic. Time might not ever be a problem if people would just do their jobs right. I wish I could have back all the time I've spent trying trying to fix these screw-ups. I'm talking about things like billing errors, major errors in payroll deductions, contractor screw-ups and more. There have been far too many of these.

Otherwise, I hoped to be in a place where the unhappy events were past and I could start writing about things in The Grander Scheme. But my life remains focused on the daily Trials and Tribulations of Life with most (but not all) of these centered around finances, the house and trying to deal with the associated fears that dog me regularly. These are rational fears, by the way. I'm not a person predisposed to worry and I'm not very comfortable in this state.

The overriding fear is economic. Way back in the early post-storm days, some of you blog-friends kindly made material or monetary donations to help us out and I promised disclosure on the financial situation, but never got around to it. So, here's the untold story.

Once upon a time, I was married with one kid. There were two incomes. We were comfortable and doing okay. Then it ended. Willie and I split everything up fairly and I bought him out of his share of equity in the house. I was still pretty okay. Then came Rachel. Now, I was a single mother with two kids and one income. And no help with the parenting job. I had a choice to make about how to earn a better living and balance everything without compromising the well-being of my children, which has been and will always be my #1 priority. So, I started graduate school and paid for it with my savings. During that time, Rachel's dad decided to reduce the child support without bothering to warn me or go through the proper legal channels. That was years ago. The cost of everything has gone way up since then. and still, the situation remains unresolved. Considering the fact that it's a matter of interstate enforcement (he lives in Hawaii), any optimism is not practical.

Anyway, in December of 2001 I finished graduate school with a 4.0 GPA and honors. Because of my academic reputation and work history, I was offered the opportunity to teach at UNO. My department chair wanted to start a Music Business program at the university and thought I would be a great candidate to run it. The program was slow to develop but more than once I was offered the possibility of a full-time position as faculty, which meant a better salary with regular benefits and more job security. This prospect, my love for teaching, and the flexible scheduling and single-mother/kid-friendly nature of academic life made me willing to suck it up and scrape by on adjunct pay, all the while watching my savings continue to shrink.

By early 2005, a trend toward fewer classes seemed to be forming, so I agreed to start a clinical research business with a doctor I knew and limit myself to one class per semester. This would have produced a livable income. But then came The Storm, which blew our patient base away and killed the physician's practice and our research business with it. (I ran into him in February and he still hasn't recovered.)

I could find no suitable work in New Orleans when we returned from our exile in Virginia, but there was plenty of work to do at the house, so I immersed myself in it. Any money I could save by doing work myself was as good as money earned. That summer, I was contacted by my department chair and told he would be able to hire me to teach a full load of classes for the academic year, (beginning fall 2006), but still at adjunct pay. This, folks, is full-time work at part-time pay (or less). Adjunct abuse has become an alarmingly frequent practice of universities across the U.S., but in my situation, I figured it was better than nothing, (the N.O. job market has been pretty abysmal), and at least I'd have health insurance. Then, in the middle of last semester, I was informed that my schedule for this spring was being cut to two classes, effectively putting me back at part-time. I was asked to teach one of those as an Internet course. And naturally, of the two classes, it was the one that was least suited to distance learning: Music Marketing. In fact, I felt it was such a disservice to the students to teach this as a web class that I refused to do it, despite the fact that I could use the money. There is no text for this class and so much of what we do depends on live interaction, class discussion, and other such activities. I just couldn't bring myself to do anything less, so I refused to teach it that way. I hoped the Powers That Be would decide the class wasn't worth losing, but with enrollment still down and the persistent budget shortfalls, I guess they were okay with saying adios to it for spring.

So, now I'm teaching only one class and I can't bring myself to tell you what that means in terms of my truly pathetic income. I looked for other work but could only find opportunities for unsuitable 9-5 type jobs, jobs that would severely affect my ability keep things moving smoothly on the home rebuilding front, (a huge challenge under the best of circumstances), not to mention the small issue of the likely death of my spirit. That's not good for anyone, particularly my kids.

In the last month or so, the full-time instructor position has again been dangled in front of me, particularly with the impending departure of my Department Chair and his wife for the Greener Pastures of Texas. Somebody has to take his place as Chair, so there will be one less person teaching in the department. That bodes well for me, but already I'm being set up with expectations of lower than usual pay. I deserve fair pay and have for a long time. I've never behaved like a "typical" adjunct, aside from taking on several classes at the very last moment, (once a week into the semester). I give written assignments and essay questions --things that take a lot of (unpaid) time to grade, I keep adequate office hours to be available to meet students, and I do lots of other things I'm not paid to do, like serve as faculty advisor for independent studies and honors theses, not to mention all the Macs I've set up, fixed, and shown people (faculty and students) how to use. I've been willing to pay my dues all this time and at this point, I feel like I have.

So far, I've gotten verbal affirmations that I will, in fact, be hired as full-time faculty for the coming academic year (beginning fall '07) and have been scheduled for a full load this summer as well, but still have no contract and no indication of pay, a situation attributed to our interim dean's campaign for a permanent appointment. In the meantime, all of my earnings for the semester (and more) have gone to pay my homeowner's and flood insurance and I'm without health insurance once again. I looked at individual plans, but the premiums were almost as much as my monthly pay. I pay rent to my mother and on a storage unit, still pay utilities at my house and a portion of mom's, and still have the usual expenses of feeding and caring for and transporting kids.

I've already spent tens of thousands on the house but you have to look high and low to see the progress (the roof and foundation), and I'm terrified that I won't have enough money to finish the job. But that's another story and I'll post an update on the insurance settlement and the house progress next. I just had to get the big stuff off my chest first.

One day, I swear, I will have happy and mundane things presiding over my life and more time to devote to higher matters. Then I can return to better blogging. It seems like a dim memory, but once upon a time, I really think this blog was a much better read. And speaking of reading, I'm way behind on catching up on what you guys have been posting and when I do read, I find the rigorous task of posting a comment...enter the word verification 3 times before I get it right, preview, edit, correct if necessary, post... is just too laborous for me. I haven't had much time to spend at the computer anyway and when I am here, it's usually to tend to more business than anything else. But I hope to change that soon. I hope you'll still be with me.

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Blogger oyster said...

Well, that's what you get for setting high standards and then leaving us hanging for weeks on end.

Seriously, I wish you the best with the job and with the repairs. Hopefully, things will get better and you will be able to blog more. Good luck, and press on!

12:33 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Hey hun, you don't need excuses with us, I know how diffecult it is out there, and I am proud to say I know you. Your current struggle is monumental, and I know you don't like to "burden" us with the details of the misery. Devote your time and energy to the things that need it, and gabbing with us isn't one of those things.

That said, seriously I worry about you, do you have IM? Let me know how to contact you (I'm techrcg @ I must say just knowing that this post only scratches the surface make my own whining and kvetching seem trivial (Ityhink thats a good thing). You might be interested in the fact that I answered one of muses 5 things about me tag in her comments (not that it would catch you up on anything that is going on in my miserable life, but hey whatever).

1:53 AM  
Blogger TravelingMermaid said...

Lisa, my dear, your posts are always worth waiting for. I knew you had alot on your plate but I had no idea, really.

I'm sending you an email....reply when you have time and strength. No hurry. ((((hugs))))

1:09 PM  
Anonymous ashley said...

If they do not hire you full time after all this, let me know. I know a guy who knows a guy.

My wife's iBook had the same deal. She thought it was just the power adapter. She had to send it off, and they replaced the power adapter, the main logic board, the bluetooth/airport board, the key board.

They didn't replace the battery, but thank goodness they didn't replace the hard drive.

Damn, It's good to have you back.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Leigh C. said...

I am so sorry. This sucks. Post-Katrina, it seems, working for universities in the area sucks.

7:27 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks for the well-wishes. I don't want to give the impression that I spend all of my time wallowing in some kind of woeful fear. I feel the worry lurking under the surface but for the most part, I'm just hanging on the heels of some kind of faith that lets me believe that somehow, this, too, shall pass and we'll still be okay, even if it means redefining the meaning of okay.

Oyster, I shudder to think of how well I might be living up to those standards these days. (Which, in effect, may actually lower them. Hmmm...)

Richard, I'm not at the computer long enough these days to effectively use IM, (is there such a thing as efficient IM?), but I'll send you my phone numbers. .By the way, your "5 Things" expose was quite interesting. Maybe you can do a "Five More Things" list?

Mermaid, your should have gotten my response to your e-mail. Let me know if you didn't.

Ashley, I'm probably making a big mistake by having my Departing Chair be the agent of my future employment rather than not going to the interim dean and making the case for myself. I don't know. But I have made a plea to my Chair for fair pay that is hard to argue against. UNO has been running ads talking about the value of a degree from its institution and what kind of message will it send if it doesn't pay me as if that were true? If something doesn't happen soon, I just may need a little help from the guy who your guys knows.

Leigh, I don't think anyone in this industry will disagree with you.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Lisa, yet another blog, ooohhhh yeah, I know you just can't get enough.

11:55 PM  
Blogger muse said...

Still here, still reading (when I have time), still glad to find out how you're doing!

*big hugs*

12:40 AM  
Anonymous ashley said...

BTW, da wife has to send the iBook back to Apple, as the screen now only shows red pixels.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Dambala said...

I think we're all sailing through dark waters right now. Keep your head're not alone.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Sophmom said...

Oh, darlin', I have so been there. Frankly, just no health insurance is enough to keep a steady level of vague anxiety. We finally have some again. Not knowing how ends are gonna meet, feelin' alone trying to raise children, these things create a sustained tension that adds up. Stress isn't good for us. It's corrosive. Yours is real.

"I'm just hanging on the heels of some kind of faith that lets me believe that somehow, this, too, shall pass and we'll still be okay, even if it means redefining the meaning of okay." Say it over and over again. It really is true. Everything always changes. The pendulum will swing the other way. Good things will come. You're in my thoughts and prayers, darlin'.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Very glad to hear that you're still alive hun - I hope that the kids are doing ok at this point?

I wish that there was something that I could do to help in your situation, however being across the big pond means that I can only offer a place for you and the kids to take a break to should you be able to get the tickets.

The offer stands indefinitely and take care of yourself in the meantime.

A (Villagepig)

4:35 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

The infuriating thing is that TOO MANY off us are walking this path. I swore I wouldn't, but here I am.

And you're right, Sophmom. Good things will come and some have already. Elaboration to come.

Village Mom, (you're no pig!), that's such a lovely offer and perhaps some day I'll be able to pay you a visit. But I hope then it will not be because of a need to escape this frustrating state of affairs here, but just to say thanks in person to for being such a caring blog-friend. That's an adorable set of boys you've got there, by the way. It's amazing how much they've grown!

I'd almost given up on you when your old blog had stayed dormant for so long and your husband's blog did, too. I know you both have had your hands full! I'm going to update my links so I have Double Delight at easy access.

2:58 PM  

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