Saturday, December 10, 2016

Free-writing a pensive post to kick off December break: Where I have been (Part 1 of 3)

Gabrielle Library, Campus of Immaculata University, June 2011 (PHOTO: Niemoczynski)

As I am sure is the case for many After Nature readers, this is the time of the year when the semester winds down and its great wheels slowly screech to a halt where, for a few brief moments, it seems possible - yes, *finally* possible - to just for a few moments simply "pause, collect, and reflect." (Note well: Inevitably this will be a longer blog post, so for those who are skimming this then the below might not be for you.  Then again, maybe you are like me and today just happen to have some time and feel pensive enough as well in that you may be curious to read about what I have been up to.)

However let me just say that I don't have opportunities to just free-write like this very often, so the purpose of this post is just to free-write a little about where I've been, where I am, and where I might be going. I'll try to keep things as simple and to the point as I can. If that seems palatable then please feel free to continue. This first post will focus on where I have been, specifically in terms of my teaching. The second and third post will focus on my current teaching and scholarship and where I plan to take things in the future.

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Transitioning *back* to the life of a full-time college professor: The past semester at my new VAP position was exceptional.  This was my first semester in my new VAP position "officially" and in some ways it felt very familiar while in other ways it felt completely new.  I think I am lucky to have had the former tenure experience that I did while teaching with the Loras College philosophy department out in Dubuque, Iowa some years ago (for as horrible as all of that was); and despite the, for lack of a better way to put it, "insanity" present out there, I at the very least was subjected to the grind that many first-year tenure track folks find themselves subjected to and have been able to apply that knowledge to the grind of my current position today.  In other words, the 60-80+ hour workweeks of new full-time professor do not come as a shock to me (although with Loras there was plenty, and I mean plenty more that the average rational human being would find shocking in addition to any typical grind. But I digress...).

Looking back I do tend to look on the bright side as, unlike with Loras, Moravian is actually worth it.  Not that that is a surprise. I knew that it was a great job the moment I first spoke with them over the phone.  Very good people, extremely friendly and supportive, honest, and caring.  Fitting in, having good, caring colleagues who have your best interests in mind, having bright students, and teaching interesting classes, there's alot that makes the pain of adjusting to your first year of full-time professor life worth it and my current position never ceases to amaze me - so much so in fact that it doesn't feel like a grind at all.  True, I am tired...but again, when I reflect on just the experience of teaching there, I simply feel so blessed. If anything, it energizes me - if that makes sense.

So without trying to gloat, I am very, very happy in my new position and am very, very thankful for it.  I think it is ok to be grateful for such an opportunity considering all of the drama I had to go through during those Loras years to make a come back and essentially prove "the haters wrong" by continuing to go forward.  Which I did. Because, again, afterall, there were people out there who outright said "Oh, he'll never find another full-time teaching position again."  Or, "Oh, his health will never allow him to teach again."  That because they simply didn't like me, but also because they were intentionally trying to devastate my mindset of ever hoping to return to full-time teaching after just having had a "trans ischemic attack," otherwise known as a 'ministroke."  So I have to smile to myself these days because through blood, sweat, and tears I have come this far and then some. There were people who literally wanted to see me destroyed and I wasn't destroyed. I came back better than ever. While it has only been four years since all of this happened, tops, it feels like all of that went down decades ago.  But it's behind me now, and my recent successes achieved from my own hard work have helped me to to put that unfortunate past behind me.  Having a modicum of security now as compared to then, knowing that I worked for it, is something that (with as much humility that is possible) I am proud of; proud and certainly glad to have survived that.

Leaving Immaculata: I began my teaching career in 2004, the summer I believe, while teaching with my Masters degree in philosophy for Immaculata University.  The heart-breaker with this is that this semester was actually my last with them, so in effect a twelve year long teaching career with Immaculata has ended as of this month.  Even while out on the tenure-track with Loras for a year I still taught online for Immaculata and over breaks.  Even while I landed temporary full-time gigs at other schools such as West Chester University philosophy or East Stroudsburg University philosophy Immaculata was always there (and let's be honest, at the time it was for the money as much as it was for the experience). Although I did not teach there for the money exclusively - I needed to make ends meet, true.  But Immaculata always had a special place in my heart compared to West Chester if only because they treated me eminently better.  They truly cared.  Until just this year, Immaculata was my institutional "home" and as of this semester I am saying good-bye to them. I do so with the utmost respect and gratitude.

For me, like Moravian is now, Immaculata was always about a loyalty to first the students and my colleagues; and second, a loyalty to the general mission or philosophical vision of the school.  In my heart I was of course praying a tenure spot would open up with them, eventually, but it did not.  Sadly the school's classes began to dry up as financial woes shrunk class sizes from 30+ students down to 10, and then down to 5 or 6 students in a class - at which point I was paid prorated.  I did however give over a solid decade of what essentially was full-time teaching to Immaculata: 3/3 load each semester, teaching great classes.  My colleagues were exceptional (especially Stephanie Theodorou, whom I became great friends with, and we even did some collaborative research together) such as the Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy and a co-edited online OpenAccess book on animal emotions.  We even appeared together to do a radio interview!

As I mentioned above, fit is everything.  And with Immaculata there was a great fit.  But fit is also something that, honestly, takes at least a year or so to truly see if it is legitimate.  And there is real heart-break when beyond a year then *everyone* knows how excellent you'd be working there. So that is why it was a heartbreaker to leave because I knew that it was a great fit, they just didn't have the money to open up a tenure line for me, nor would they any time in any foreseeable future.  At least I knew that their words "We would if we could but we can't" were true.  Other places where I was temporarily teaching (West Chester University philosophy for example) had said the same thing but didn't mean it. While relying on the numerous students I was bringing in to declare as majors and demonstrate to the Dean that the department required a tenure line in order to handle all of these new students, they decided to use my blood, sweat, and tears to open a line but then not even short-list me for an interview for the position.  Once I realized that they were using me I left to continue on to teach where my hard work and genuine sincerity and care for the students would actually be appreciated. Immaculata was always leagues beyond West Chester in terms of honesty, integrity, fairness, justice, and most of all class.  

Immaculata was always solid and supportive, between 2004 and 2016 they were my institutional home.  I learned alot as a teacher, as a scholar, as someone contributing to their community. But, when one door closes another opens and they are certainly supportive in me leaving to take a more stable long-term (if not permanent, if converting to tenure) position with Moravian. So I thank Immaculata very much for everything they've given me during the past twelve years.

Turning Down Anna Maria College for Moravian: Yes, this is true. I can't remember if this was last summer or the one prior. I want to say last summer. I am nearly positive.  In any case, this is when the whole banking on Moravian "is an all or nothing deal" idea came up where essentially my wife and I had to decide as a couple what would be best for us given the prospects of my career.  When Immaculata fizzled out Anna Maria College was part of my last year on the job market and believe it or not they offered a tenure position.  In Boston, about four hours away from where my wife and I had just bought our first home not even a year earlier.  The home is near my parents, about an hour from Na's job (which she absolutely adores - she is now a "Global Project Manager" - and good for her, having come to the US with English as a second language, I am astonished by her tenacity and success); we are pretty much "in" the State Park with 80 acres of undevelopable land behind/surrounding us, mountains, forests, tress, etc. just beautiful.

 I mean, if I really wanted I *could* make a four hour commute up to Boston and back each weekend (that's four hours each way - and then sleep in a studio apartment during the week) only seeing my wife on weekends - but is that the kind of life we would want? We tried the commuter marriage while I was out at Loras and neither of us enjoyed that very much: and really, neither of us want to do that again. So, it was then (last year) that I had to decide that my career or any prospect for a tenure career at least was "over."  If not being able to accept a tenure offer in Boston then why would I continue to keep myself on the market?  I had learned to accept that I would be adjuncting (or having the status as an "adjunct" despite 3/3 loads) with Immaculata.  But then that is when Moravian called and suddenly things turned around pretty much out of nowhere.  The timing was a life-saver, to say the least.  Without Moravian coming in I probably would be in Boston right now making a four hour commute every Friday and Sunday.  Yikes.  I can't even fathom that.

Settling into my "new" institutional home of Moravian: But let me count my blessings. Things could be a lot  worse.  In the past many times they have been worse.  But as Moravian finishes up this semester I look back and reflect upon how far I've come, especially when there were such negative forces trying to hold me back, kill my passion, tell me that I wasn't worth anything, and so on.  Through our hard work I think we've come a long way.  I am so proud of Na for her patience with my career, I am so happy and glad that she can finally see the fruits of my success after struggling for so many years in attempting to find some measure of stability that would work for us.  I am glad that she has been able to see me through my health issues and see me finally return to teaching full-time which for a time looked like that would be an impossibility.  So we have been truly blessed.

To close, being blessed for Na and I is first and foremost the fact that we have each other and that my health has stabilized for the time being; that I have been blessed to be able to accept the Moravian VAP.  It is a great job where I am able to work with wonderful colleagues and students alike, it allows me enough time to slow down and focus both on my teaching and research by developing new, interesting classes that I haven't taught before or revamp older classes that could use a new twist; my classes are able to support my research trajectories - which is great - and the institution offers tremendous research and scholarship support.  And of course, finally, there is the stability of a permanent rolling contract (every two years) which if not an outright plan for tenure was the next best thing that I was looking for.  I couldn't ask for more.

Nalina and I have worked hard for the best ten years and I think we have both succeeded (she probably more than I! She never ceases to amaze me...) - but we now own our beautiful home, we live in a beautiful part of Pennsylvania with plenty of nature around and a good deal of privacy where we can enjoy ourselves, we can easily drive to my parents to take care of them if need be which is such a blessing for those who have aging parents, and we can still get to Philly or over to NYC on weekends for our cultural fix despite living in the remote wilderness that we do live in, but most of all...things finally settled down where we were able to take root. Being able to say that we've "taken root" in the world of philosophy is truly an accomplishment.  As I looked back Nalina and I have been together for ten years and married for nine.  I have only had my Ph.D. for seven years.  Being able to say we are settled down and have taken root after seven years with the Ph.D. is nothing to sneeze at: I mean, that includes two or more tenure-track position offers in those seven years (there were more but that's a story for a different day), two VAP positions (one of which is now permanent), moving from the Midwest to the Eastcoast and back not just once but twice... I mean, that's alot. It's good to finally be able to settle down and just now finally start to look at myself and say, "Ok, that was where I have been, but where am I now?"  What am I doing now and then where do I go from here?

In my next post I plan to journal about "where I'm now" and talk about my current scholarship, what I am reading these days, and what I am thinking about.  In a third post I'll try to reflect upon where things might be heading in the future... So stay tuned!

And of course, thanks for reading.