So far this year I’ve kept so busy with teaching, committee work, and supporting my new teachers that I don’t really have time to think (or write). But this week, more or less immobile and stuck in an empty house in a quiet neighborhood for the better part of a week, I’ve been thinking a lot. And for the first time really since getting to Chile I’ve missed home. But the home that I’m missing isn’t Vermillion, SD (or any place, specifically). Instead, it’s the university English department. I miss both being a student and teaching and I miss the people and the books and the assumption that most of the people I knew were readers or writers of some kind or another. I miss long days of writing and long days of reading and grading student essays. I miss talking about which classes to take, how to find good (read: paid) internships, how to make and stick to to a writing schedule.
Santiago is a particularly unliterary place (despite being at least a part-time home to a number of famous authors). Books were all but outlawed during the dictatorship and at least in my social circles (Chile is incredibly divided by social inequality), literature has not returned. An example: the director of a private university humanities program told me that she encourages students to read summaries rather than novels. She didn’t tell me this as a confession—she told it to me expecting that I would, without question, agree with her.
I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in January and found it much more to my liking—bookstores everywhere, tons of music and theatre, good universities, and, of course, Borges is treated as a saint. People read there, or so it seems. And they go to plays and there are tango and jazz shows in little no-name bars. It is, frankly, a better, more vibrant city than Santiago and while there I declared my intention to move to the city many times. I still might. Another year or two in Santiago (where I’ve decided to stay for only two reasons: the resume points and the paychecks) and I might head off to Argentina. Before Buenos Aires I wanted to go to Spain. And I might yet still do that, substitute Barcelona or Madrid for Buenos Aires. Both Spain and Argentina have good international schools where I could apply to teach. Additionally, I’ve entertained the notion of a Spanish or Comparative Lit PhD, for which I think I’ll be linguistically prepared in another two years.
But the more I think about it, more and more the idea of returning to the States sounds attractive. Specifically, the notion of trying to return to the English department. I still hate the notion of adjuncting—supporting an unethical system and still having to scrounge for work every semester—but I’m starting to come around on it, anyway. I’ve also started looking back into PhDs with a creative writing emphasis, something I haven’t even considered since undergrad. But as I look for ways back into the university and a reliable writing schedule, the PhD sounds more and more attractive. Honestly, I’ve taken enough workshops for a lifetime, but I still like workshop and wouldn’t mind doing a few more—and even writing a few more literature seminar papers—if it meant that I’d get to be back in the department.
I’ve been looking at UC-Santa Cruz lately, which would of course be a long shot. In my ambling through the program’s website I accidentally got re-routed to the undergrad creative writing page. I stayed around a little while and read their FAQs for applicants to upper division workshops and it reminded me of the way I felt as I was getting ready to go to Montana—reading policies, trying to remember who taught what and trying to make myself as ready as possible. I was so excited then, lately I’ve felt like I really want to return to that place, but this time I’d like to be the one helping the students get themselves ready. I want to have conferences about stories and help students understand how a workshop should function. I want to encourage students to read literary magazines and take classes in non-English subjects that interest them.
I want to be a student again, sure, but I also want to teach and advise English majors (or prospective English majors). In high school, at least at my school in Santiago, the students aren’t interested in things. That sounds imprecise and general, but I actually mean it: it is really, really difficult to get an alarming percentage of my students to identify things in which they are interested (except football). It’s discouraging and I think has contributed a lot to my sense of homesickness of late. I’m not used to dealing with people who aren’t interested in things. I don’t know how to do it, really.