Learning to Pay My Dues
Written by Anna Claire Hodge // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
Ten years ago, I spent a lot of time chain-smoking on my back porch with fellow writers.
On one of those evenings, I was surprised by an intervention of sorts. It wasn’t for any certain behavior, but for lack of it. A friend gently confronted me about my presence in my Master’s of Fine Arts program, where it seemed like I wasn’t at all fulfilled in the workshops or even my own work. When she asked me what I hoped to gain from the degree and what my writing process was like, I was too frightened to say “I don’t know” or “I’m scared.” I felt deeply that I didn’t belong there, and that my knowledge of canonical literature was sorely lacking. The latter is true, and although I was surrounded by professors and brilliant students, I didn’t think to ask for help.
These days, I have no problem admitting that I don’t know something. I didn’t finish Infinite Jest, I’ve not seen every Star Wars film, and words with double consonants still confound me. Back then though, I was a terrified kid fresh out of undergrad and praying that no one realized that I was an imposter. I had the distinct honor of working alongside poets that went on to publish many books; but rather than be inspired by our workshop discussions and their talents, I was intimidated. They were women who were doing what I’d hoped to, and doing it so much better. The smart thing to do would have been to turn to them for counsel or emulate their behaviors. Instead, I shut down.
I was immature, and entered each class meeting hoping to be showered with praise. It was hard to hear when one of my poems wasn’t working, or to jump into a conversation I didn’t feel worthy of being a part of. I wanted to be the best, but was too immature to understand that obsessive reading and practice were the only ways to get there. By the time I graduated, I would come around, and would eventually find my work well received after having honed my writing skills. It took admitting my fears to faculty, turning to my classmates for advice, and revising the hell out of everything I had penned.
After finishing my doctorate, though, I again felt disappointed that I wasn’t getting what I’d expected: a college teaching position. I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought I was a shoo-in. I was living in a new town, and all the local university positions had been filled.
I live in a neighborhood inundated with badass female entrepreneurs. From boutique owners to bakers, there are women here putting in the work and reaping the benefits. I was intimidated as hell to be surrounded by women I thought were far more successful than I, and with so many of them younger than myself. It felt like there wasn’t enough room for me - but that was just lazy thinking. I had been sitting pretty in grad school for 4 years and just wasn’t prepared for the face-slap of entering the job hunt.
I took a part-time position working with children, wrote for local blogs, cultivated an Instagram following, started a t-shirt brand, and tried like hell to find a position in which I could use my specializations. It can make you feel high and mighty when there are a bunch of letters after your name, and it’s fun as hell to drop mention of publications into conversation, but how long could I do that without anything current to back it up? I had fears of up ending up like a high school football star constantly reminiscing on his former glory.
It took being humbled and without full-time employment to show me that I had the ability to piece together a professional livelihood until what I’d hoped for came to fruition, and that feeling envious and petty would get me nowhere. And just as I’d begun to think that I’d not find myself teaching in a college setting, I was offered a full-time position as a Visiting Instructor at the University of North Florida. I left the interview, called my mom, cried tears of relief, and sent up silent apologies for ever having thought I was owed anything without fully paying my dues.
Anna Claire holds her PhD in Creative Writing and works as a Visiting Instructor at the University of North Florida. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs. Follow her on Instagram and check out www.annaclairehodge.com for more of her published work and musings.