Saturday, May 19, 2012

Breaking Cycles

Skimming this blog, as well as my handwritten journals, I'm reminded that I seem to be stuck in a loop that I keep vowing to escape. For nearly a quarter century, the cycle has repeated. The number of blog and journal entries like this one is maddening.

I enjoy writing, so I declare to myself (in writing) that I am going to be a writer (1987, 90, 92, 96, 98, 2004, 06, 10, 11…). To subsidize writing, I turn to teaching — which many writers do. I convinced myself, and my wife certainly hoped, that teaching in a tech-based program at the university level would end the cycle. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. It's too early to know for certain. I was hired to launch a scientific and technical communication program. Unfortunately, science and technology are a small, tiny, minuscule, microscopic, aspect of what I am teaching.

NOTE: I don't mind teaching writing, and I study the history of philosophy (mainly the philosophers) as something of a hobby. But, what I want to teach, what I hope to teach, are the tools of writing — the technology. Also, there are complex issues outside the classroom that aren't the topic of this blog entry. But, I want to make clear that I would feel more balance teaching technology alongside other courses. I find technology offers something of a grounding for me: predictable and neatly organized.

I've "spiraled upwards" from teaching high school to community college to a private university. I liked the community college because I taught technology courses part-time, but we needed more income. It seemed logical to complete a graduate degree and teach full-time. The problem is, I pursued the "wrong" graduate degree.

I have consistently turned towards technology after each teaching job, because in tech I can work in relative isolation. It isn't the teaching I turn from, but the workplaces. Usually, I regret not having a more scientific or technical degree during this part of the cycle — I wonder if teaching outside humanities departments would be better for me. Would teaching programming or science be better? That's really what I want to teach even within the humanities: the technology of communication. With my degree, I should be able to teach in a technology-based field. I specialized in educational technology and online systems, but only English Departments interviewed me for full-time jobs as I completed my doctorate.

Consistently, as a predictable part of the cycle, I end up in technology outside education. I prefer to work among other techs. I'm not into video games or science fiction, and don't care about Star Wars vs. Star Trek debates, but I enjoy talking about hardware and software. Once in technology, which demands a lot of time and focus, I end up missing creative writing.

I'm a writing geek. That has many meanings. I love the tech of writing, from the history of language to the history of printing. I enjoy writing code. I'm a creative writer with a passion for the digital. I am fascinated by the design and distribution of words and meaning, as much as I am fascinated by the writing process. If I could balance writing and technology, that would be an ideal situation. Writing columns about technology for several years has helped, but that's not a full-time income.

To be a skilled programmer with a new toolset requires thousands of hours of study and practice. That time has to come from somewhere, which tends to be my creative writing time. I have dozens of software ideas and dozens of writing ideas. Often, the two overlap and I have ideas for software related to writing. When I was in high school, I coded a text editor that I kept improving throughout college. Writing meets programming. It would be great to have a team to tackle some of the ideas I have for applications.

Readers also know I have an entrepreneurial bent. For a writer, that's not bad: creative writing is self-employment and freelancing. When working for others becomes too frustrating, I seek a way to be my own boss. That hasn't produced the results I dream of, but it is while self-employed that I experience the most hope, despite the financial and emotional drain self-employment has been in our lives.

When I think about self-employment attempts, I feel deep regret and guilt for not succeeding and providing a secure future for my wife and our feline kids. I've written about this many times, too. We seem to have had the bad timing when it comes to business ideas: computers became commodities and thousands of small bookstores faded. Yet, I would rather be a failed entrepreneur than try to navigate most workplaces. Entrepreneurs believe, they must believe, they will have the right idea at the right time… eventually.

With the rise of ePubs and iBooks, my wife and I are now helping others prepare digital texts. Maybe this will be the right idea at the right time. Trust me, if you've read any books lately (even from major publishers) there is a need for editors and designers. I'd like to believe serious writers will pay to improve their final works.

I don't know what the future holds. Maybe I will get to develop tech courses and everything will be okay. Or, I'll move along the spiral into the predictable technology job.

I need to break this cycle.

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