[Originally published July 18, 2013.]
Locate the grocery store in town where you are most likely to be murdered, and pay for everything by check. Most grocery stores have gotten wise to that whole technology thing. Gone are the times of the two-day delay between a check being written and cashed. But it’s safe to assume that any store whose front window has consisted of cardboard taped over broken glass for longer than a week has the older check system. The Shady Mart’s informal 48-Hour-Broke-as-Hell loan is convenient on those nights before payday, when you just gotta get your Ramen fix. If you need an extra day or two, try to write numbers that strike reasonable doubt into the hearts of bankers — 4s that look like 1s, backwards 3s, and if they call with questions, shame them with claims of dyslexia. Turn down the offers from random strangers to carry your groceries out to your car for you, no matter how insistent they get.
Sometimes students will ask you to write a recommendation for a job you have prepared them for, yet which somehow pays twice as much as your own. Always say yes. Somewhere around the second paragraph of your letter, use your thousands of dollars in graduate education to segue from the student’s accolades into a discussion of your own employable skills. Demand that they call you to discuss the student and, when they do, convince them to interview you instead. While you truly care for your students, this is the best way to simulate a hands-on lesson in Survival of the Fittest. It’s called the School of Life, and everyone has their own “That Time My Teacher Stole My Job” story.
Being that you’re still paying off the student loan for the MFA that skyrocketed you into adjunct stardom, under no circumstances should you turn down a free degree by correcting a student who calls you “Dr.” Let the rumor of your PhD spread amongst the student body, like the legend of That One Adjunct Who Was Hired Full-Time haunts the part-timer’s hallway. If a student has the audacity to ask you if you are a PhD, throw together a selection of Latin-sounding words, and attribute it to Abraham Lincoln before raising your eyebrows and moving on, or simply yell, “What’s it matter? You can’t take it with you!” and then automatically fail that student.
Keep up your health! You can’t afford a gym membership, but one of the lucky perks of adjunct-hood is the student gym, to which you have a free (!!!) membership. There is absolutely nothing ironic or conflicting about letting your students watch you trip up a treadmill at three-miles per hour, then asking them to respect your authority in class the following morning. Remember that your power as an instructor extends beyond the classroom, so feel free to give your students workout assignments when you see them in the gym — a relaxing 5K run, or a baker’s dozen of burpees. If they refuse, write them up for insubordination.
Take on a second job, and make sure it’s soul crushing. While your degree can’t seem to get you into a full-time gig, it does take you out of the running for the easy, low-pressure jobs you might enjoy — like barista or library book-shelver — where human resources departments will wonder Why would she want this job? Soon, you’ll land a position in an office where the entire staff is fluent in the language of boredom, and before you know it, you’ll be “shooting people emails” and “touching base” and “getting your ducks in a row.” To stave off the sort of suicidal ideations bred only in cubicles, challenge yourself! Stack all available reams of paper in a wall around the copier, and make your co-workers bust through, Kool-Aid Man-style, to get their reports. Have an intern steal someone’s lunch, then make everyone play a few rounds of “Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?” to find out who it was. See how long you can go without speaking to another human being. If no one notices, start speaking entirely in office affirmations — “You’re a shining star!”, “Way to go, team!”, “You really went above and beyond.” Give lots of high-fives and, when you get home, eat a cookie for every one that wasn’t with yourself.
Reroute your utility and rent money towards professional-development opportunities in your subject area, like expensive English conferences in different time zones. If you can’t afford a plane ticket, take a tip from the toddler crowd and ask to sit on another passenger’s lap. Attending these events is the only way to network and show that you’re serious. When you return to your home to find that the electricity has been cut off, summon your literary forefathers and write by candlelight, knowing that the book you eventually pen will be richer for the struggle, or, if you don’t make it, that Jon Krakauer is sure to memorialize you in a domestic version of Into the Wild when you’re found face down in a curdling bowl of Lucky Charms. If the hunger pangs begin to interfere with your concentration, punch out the cardboard window of the shady grocery store and fill up on jerky and 5-Hour Energy, or offer to take other people’s groceries to their cars for them. Don’t accept no for an answer.
Monetize. Stop thinking about what you can do for your class, and start thinking about what they can do for you. Assess your students’ strengths and weaknesses and select five of the males in your class to become a boy band, paying careful attention to the Maurice Starr model that wunderkinds like New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys used. The dual-enrolled high school boy will make a great Joey. Secretly integrate the binding contract into their next exam and name the rest of the class as witnesses. Use the storylines from students’ narrative papers on first loves as inspiration for your songs, then take that show all the way down to the Student Performing Arts Center.
If all else fails, get a PhD. Remember that student loans die with you, like your dreams are about to, so sign over another chunk of your soul to Sallie Mae and move back into your home in academia, the only thing that ever really loved you, besides Jack, who got hot and rich after high school, damnit. Unfriend him. There’s no room for Jack in your new life in academia. Spend entire mornings crafting a single paragraph, your afternoons in classes and your evenings in crusty bars with Bob Marley on the jukebox. Stay there for as long as you need to and rest assured that it’s only a matter of time. Once you emerge, the world will have come to its senses and will value its educators. And THAT is a (per diem, semester to semester, dependent on funding and enrollment) promise.