Year One Done.
Here I am, decked out in all my academic gear on the evening of my first graduation ceremony as a faculty member at Lamar. It was a great way to finish off an amazing year--perhaps one of the most eventful of my life so far with a new job, a move across the state, a hurricane, a new book, induction into TIL, and my ear problems. It's had its ups and downs, though in the end, I really wouldn't have had it any other way (except maybe the ear thing. That's really sucked).
Looking back, I think I'm at the point where I'm out of the "honeymoon" phase with Lamar and I'm starting to settle into a certain comfort and understanding for the department, the institution, and the community. That's a good thing. A healthy thing. I love my university, my students, my department and my colleagues. I love my job to pieces. But I also know that none of this is perfect, though it does feel like a perfect FIT for me.
This time last year, I was a wide-eyed, big-dreaming, anxiety-ridden hopeful assistant professor waiting on her contract. If I could go back in time and talk to that person who now seems so much like a kid, what would I tell her?
I'd tell her that it will work out. You'll get your contract. The job will be exactly what Chair said it would be. You will have friends in your department who care about YOU, both your work and you as a person.
I'd tell her to find people you trust on campus, good people, and lean on them. They're there. This year, I bonded with another new faculty member in my department, Sharon, and we've learned to navigate the craziness together of adjusting to a new culture, a new university, and a new department.
I'd tell her to go beyond the walls of the university and find her tribe outside of work. Initially, I was a little scared about leaving my poetry community here in the valley. I worried about not being able to find a group of like-minded creatives to nurture me in this most essential way. And to be honest, in Beaumont, there isn't MUCH of a poetry community outside the university, though this is one thing I'd like to work on fostering and growing. However, I have found so many like-minded spirits in Houston and the surrounding area. I am so fortunate to have been welcomed into this community with open arms! Case in point: I have a reading there Tuesday :)
I'd tell her to trust in her abilities as a writer and a teacher. In reality, you're not being asked to do anything new in this new job and life. It's just the next level. I'd tell her that she's prepared, that she's got the knowledge and skills to make it all work out in the end.
I'd tell her that it won't be pretty sometimes. Hurricane Harvey threw many of my semester goals and plans out the window. The first few months everyone--me, my colleagues, and my students, went into survival mode. I had to be flexible with everyone, including myself, as we recovered from what truly was a trauma. Though I wish that horrible storm didn't happen, there's a part of me, though, that's grateful. I was reminded by that by one of my students. For him, the hurricane meant a new beginning. "It gave me the push I needed," he told me. And looking back, for me, though the hurricane was probably one of the scariest things in my life, it also taught me that I can face those "scary things" and survive. I can function under pressure. It also gave me a REAL reverence for the people of the upper gulf coast of Texas--for their hearts, their perseverance, and their kindness towards one another when shit hits the fan. I'm glad I experienced this in my first year. It's part of what's making me fall in love with this complicated place.
Another obstacle I encountered was my ear problems. So that marked semester #2. It's been a significant challenge to function in the classroom with my hearing loss. I'm fortunate to have one "good" ear still and a plan to restore my "bad" ear, but I spent a lot of this semester in a health limbo, in pain, and in fear. I felt guilty for not being able to hear my students in the classroom, for missing out on conversations with my colleagues, and for always being that person who says "WHAT?" I was self-conscious about talking too load or too soft. And, I felt terrible for having to cancel class to visit my various specialists. In fact, I had to cancel my FINAL EXAM because that was the one time I could meet with the surgeon an hour and a half away in Houston who will hopefully ultimately fix my ear. My students were understanding and patient with me. Chair was more than understanding and patient with me. I even had a colleague offer to take me to surgery and care for me afterwards <3 That won't be necessary (I have B and even my parents are thinking of coming up to help), but it was such a kind offer. See, Katie, you've really landed in a good place!
I'd tell her to open her heart to blessings. This year is going to be "your year," girl. Along with so many unexpected bumps in the road, I also had many unexpected blessings. The most significant, of course, was this new job, but also my induction to the Texas Institute of Letters. I'm still in disbelief that this has all actually happened to me.
I'd tell her, girl, this is going to be one of the most stressful, craziest, but ultimately, too, one of the best years of your life. You got this!