I teach freshman writing courses at Local U. in the fall terms. I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now, and over the course of staff meetings and walking the hallowed halls of the English building (most notably in the dungeons where all the adjunct offices are), I came to have a passing relationship with a number of my fellow adjuncts. One fellow in particular made an impression on me.
Mike is one of those people who’s hard to read at first. He presents a pretty imposing first impression; though he’s not particularly tall, he is broad and solid. With a mane of reddish hair and a long beard to match, he reminds me of a cross between How to Train Your Dragon‘s Stoick
and Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean
Anyway, there was something about Mike that just resonated with me, so when it was decided that CHS needed a part-time English teacher, he was the first person I thought of and the only person I wanted. I hunted him down (no small feat, given that I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember his name. Fortunately, being as noticeable as he is, the secretary for the English department at LU was able to discern my description and get me his email address), and started stalking him on email. He consented to an interview that went far better than I was expecting, and within a week or so, he was ours.
I was beside myself with happy. I had SUCH a good feeling about this guy, and I just KNEW he was going to be perfect and you know what? He is. I have fallen professionally head-over-heels, crazy in love with this man; he’s smart and funny, he’s got a rapport with the kids that strikes the perfect balance of freedom with responsibility, and he manages the sticky or uncomfortable conversations that happen in discussion-heavy classrooms with a nimble agility that delights me every time I witness it (and I get to witness it a lot; I tend to use his teaching period to grade my own work, so I’m camped out at my desk behind a half wall in the room). He challenges my thinking, too; I delight in the conversations we have outside of class, I love the way he looks at the goals and challenges we face, and he inspires me to keep pushing myself when I start to despair.
There should have been red flags. NOTHING in my life that happens with such ease and grace should be accepted on face value, so it should have come as no surprise to me that this perfect professional marriage wasn’t going to last.
Mike has applied, and has been accepted to, an MFA program in writing. This program wants him so badly that they called him to ask him to come to their school, they’ve offered him a full scholarship and a teaching gig. They would be idiotic not to want him – he’s dedicated and talented and would be an outstanding addition to any academic community – and he would be an idiot not to take it – how often do liberal arts people get their advanced degrees paid for? (In case you’re wondering the answer to that question, it’s “never.”)
So here’s my problem; I am DELIGHTED for Mike. I know that this is what he really wants – unlike me, who is a teacher first and a writer second, Mike is hellbent on being an artist. Writing is what he does – he works it and loves it and celebrates and agonizes over and wrestles with it. He keeps files and napkins and notebooks, he lies awake at night chasing down stories – he wants to hone and perfect his craft, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to do just that. I know this is what he wants (perhaps more than he wants anything else), and I’m thrilled that it’s worked out so well.
On the other side, I’m petulant and cranky and just shy of a temper tantrum because this wonderful opportunity is in… wait for it… OREGON. As in, how-far-away-can-you-be-and-still-be-on-the-continent Oregon. I got this wonderful coworker for exactly long enough to fall completely in love with him, to start imagining the kind of kick-ass English department we could design for this fledgling school, and the bastid is going to pack up and move literally across the country.
The search has already begun for Mike’s replacement. I had a candidate visit yesterday and, while there’s a lot to recommend this man, I’m not convinced he’d work. Since we are a department of precisely two, I need to know that I can work well with whomever we choose, and I’m not sure that this guy is it; his vision seems narrower than I’m comfortable with, and I could sense, even in that brief meeting, the potential for tension. I’m trying to keep a very open mind and to go with the flow of this change and to not let my adoration for Mike cloud my judgment of the applicants vying to replace him, but I also have to listen to my gut. Maybe I should let MIKE choose the next person to hold his job…