There are Benefits to Working in the School of Hard Knocks

This past week has made me feel that I work at the proverbial school of hard knocks. My students are, for the most part, a pleasure. But with a fellow teacher resigning in a bit of a bizarre incident (and my needing to train a new teacher to replace said coworker in approximately 10 minutes), new students being dropped in my class with neither warning nor enough textbooks to go around, working 12+ hour days each day, and juggling a handful of life issues, I’ve been struggling to handle everything without breaking a sweat (literal or figurative).

Finding time in the daily swarm of grading and lecturing and reading to actually work on my book(s) has been a challenge–a challenge that I’m not handling well by quantitative means, as I’ve only gotten a half a chapter written this month. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to cope with reading LAR submissions when we open in two weeks. Either neither book will be worked on whatsoever, or I will not cook, see friends and family, or sleep until late September. I’m leaning toward the latter.

But there’s a funny thing that happens when you’re working this hard and investing so much in each class, each publication, each manuscript: you really quit caring about strangers’ critiques of you. As I was checking my LAR email as I consumed my vat of coffee before work today, I was greeted with a nice, early-morning hate email. From time to time, people decide to email me snide things about LAR, about our guidelines, about myself personally or editorially, or, in this case, about our mission statement. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit to be confronted by complete strangers behaving badly (what would their mothers say!?), but I’m noticing that there’s such a thing as a critical mass of hard knocks.

After venting about Mr. Angry for a few moments, I realized his rudeness was really only a small part of my day. There were plenty of other issues to handle, and plenty of other ways to invest my emotional energy. As a people-pleaser at heart, vituperative reactions to my work used to be hard to take. Rejection letters, however nice they were, used to be hard to take. Every publisher request for a manuscript that was later met with a “thanks, but no thanks” (I’ve quit counting) was hard to take, too. But I think I’ve reached critical mass. People can like me or not, have a use for my work in their publications or not. They can like my book manuscript or not. As much as I want to to do work that people like and appreciate, and as badly as I want to see my book go to print, I’m okay.

I’m going to keep writing my current manuscript, and tinkering with another. I’m going to keep investing in my students. And while I certainly don’t invite anyone to send me hate mail, I don’t think I’ll let it get to me anymore.

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