This happened during the first month I taught at Pittsburg State, in Kansas….
Three times that first month I returned to my office after teaching to find that someone had covered my office doorknob with—glue. Rubber cement of some sort.
I mean—what the fuck? Three times this happened!
I’d only just arrived on campus—it’s unlikely I’d angered a student so quickly.
Could the vandal have been one of my alleged colleagues?
Uh, probably. I was unwanted in that department, and—even though there were some very fine people there that I like and respect (#notallgorillas)—I was never made welcome by the people I was working most closely with. I have a pretty solid theory about who put the glue on the doorknob, but, lacking evidence, I won’t name names (for now).
And...this is really pretty minor, right? Other faculty members in the profession--especially women and women of color--get treated far worse far more often. But still. The pettiness of this act was typical of what I experienced in my three years at Gulag State….
Obligatory book plug: I have two books set in the often petty and frequently absurd world of higher education—you should read them!
Professed is a comic novel filled with the struggles and rivalries and oddities and many weirdnesses American higher education...And it’s on a super sale at Amazon right now!
Normal School is an academic noir set to come out this fall, a book filled with murder, embezzlement, and lots of entertaining bad behavior. You can read sample chapters at the Normal School website!
PROFESSED: A Novel of Higher Education -- Kindle Edition
PROFESSED -- the prequel to NORMAL SCHOOL. You need to read it, you want to read it, and you can't afford not to read it!
Professed is a novel filled with the struggles and rivalries and oddities and weirdnesses of contemporary American higher education--favor-dodging, ex-girlfriend avoiding, grade-dreading, plagiarist-busting, dissertation-reading, office-mate annoying, litter-box spilling, book-stealing, unprofessional forbidden lusting, unprofessional forbidden lusting-fulfilling, cat-chasing, wrist-breaking, inopportune body-betraying, boyfriend-dumping planning, dead-professor missing, committee meeting texting, bureaucratic student miss-filing, classroom failing, hidden Confederate-history uncovering, book-writing, online teaching-demanding, student-advising failing, professional dysphoria-feeling, drunk-tank loitering, book discussion leading, unwise nasal-behaving, paper researching, academic schooling, sink-fouling, New Years' kissing, celebratory pool-playing, stranger-disemboweling, paper-writing, paper-writing failing, drinking-game playing, incomplete-taking...Yet, as the characters strive to fit into a rapidly changing institution, medicating themselves as best they can with sex and drugs and literature, learning actually happens. Somehow.
"Every academic needs to read this book."
Here I am reading the first Episode from Normal School. Chapters 1, 2, and 3. Listen and be amazed! Then go over to Normal School and read the whole thing!
Readings and Ridiculosities Five: Normal School Episode One
And then go to Amazon and buy some books....
When I switched from third person to first person, I had to jettison a few scenes that my final narrator wasn’t/isn’t involved in. Some of them I kind of like, like this one….
“Tee?” A deep, melodious voice. Ted Shuey’s voice.
Very early in the semester students become aware that I usually begin almost every class by saying something like:
“So—what’s going on today?”
I ask this question with the hope that a student will speak up and tell me something they have done since class last met. Maybe the student will have had an adventure—gotten arrested or fallen in love—or maybe they will have done something as mundane as taking out the trash. If no one volunteers a story I’ll usually ramble on with a story or three of my own.
Every semester there is a student or two who are very annoyed by this in-class storytelling. They really do get mad! I can see it in their eye-rolling in-class faces and I can really see it in their end-of-the-semester class evaluations.
I find their annoyance both amusing and sad.
I find it amusing because these students are apparently unaware that the class will last a mere 50 minutes no matter how many stories get told.
I find it sad because these students are apparently unaware that stories are at the very heart of what we do in class. Whether through poetry or prose, this class is devoted to increasing our individual and collective understanding of the world we live in. And stories are one of the most important ways we gain this understanding.
Remember this at all times: You have a voice. Your voice is unique. No one knows the stories you know.
Time is limited. Time is running out. Someday, sadly, you will be dead and your untold stories will die with you.
So: seize every chance you get to tell your story....
Interview with Slough Press….
SP: Let’s start at the beginning—before the beginning of the book, actually, to the dedication.
The book’s dedicated to your parents. How come?
Professed is a novel about higher education, and it was my parents who introduced me to this world. They were teachers, first in high schools, then in universities. I was conceived in Morgantown when my dad was in grad school at West Virginia University. I grew up in college towns in West Virginia and Nebraska and Minnesota and Texas. Actually, I’ve lived in college towns all my life.
Growing up in the Ivory Tower…
I don’t know about that. Few things annoy me more—or anger me more—than some idiot calling the non-academic world “the real world.”
All worlds are real worlds….
My parents got up every morning and went to work. They voted, they paid taxes. I do the same. Every academic I know does the same. Anybody who says that’s not the real world needs to be punched in the nose.
Maybe people look down on academics because they deal with ideas instead of—I don’t know, pipe fittings, or whatever….
Maybe. Though pipe fittings are based on ideas, too….
And books are objects….
Objects with a variety of meanings. The characters in Professed all get into academia because they love books—they love reading, they love the meanings that books contain, the meaning that books bring to their lives.
But there’s more to the academic world than books.
Of course. Academics work hard. There’s sadly little time for recreational reading. Anyone who teaches at a university is under tremendous pressure—pressure from students, from administrators, from colleagues, from the calendar, from their own idealized teaching self…and the university itself is under tremendous pressure from the contemporary culture at large, from the economy, from the politics. The business of education in the end has little to do with learning and a lot to do with business—and that’s not a good thing for professors or students.
Professed is set at a large unnamed university in Austin, Texas. Your other books are set in Austin, too.
I lived in Austin for a long, long time—I’m haunted by the place, perhaps. The delirious rate of change is sort of a constant—the old golden past is supplanted by a new golden past which is soon forgotten and replaced by another newer golden past, and meanwhile there’s this new new new city rising up around us and stretching out ahead into the future, and this new city is getting—newer. Bigger. Blander. Richer. Stranger. It’s interesting process to watch and to write about.
Your previous novel, That Demon Life, had a protagonist who was trying to isolate herself from the world around her. The characters in Professed are trying very hard to become part of the larger world.
And that world—the world of higher education—is pushing them away, right? In That Demon Life, Linda Smallwood wants to stay at home and watch TV, and her friends—I guess they’re her friends—keep dragging her out of the house and into extreme and ridiculous situations. The three main characters in Professed are forced by the university, by their desires to be a part of the university, into extreme and ridiculous situations—which makes sense, since higher education is itself extreme and ridiculous. And for a lot of people it’s tragic, too, a lot of the time.
But Professed seems to close on a hopeful note….
For an individual or two, sure. There’s always hope. That’s why we teach—that’s why I teach, at least. Education will find a way! We want to believe that. But I also think that if you look close enough, you’ll see that universities are full of broken dreams. And when I look at those broken dreams I find stories....