Once again, I find myself thinking about the freelance work I do, reprising things from here and here as I have a little bit of idle time between projects. As I do, I recall not only the work I did in the classroom–more than a year ago, now, which is a strange thing to consider–but a large part of what led me to that work. I often tell people I was going to be a band director when I grew up; I went to undergrad with that intent, and it did not work out, for reasons I’m not going to get into here. When it didn’t, I switched majors, thinking I was going to teach high school English, instead; I was later persuaded to go to graduate school and try to become an English professor, which also didn’t work out, but it was of a piece with most of the rest of my life to that point.
It used to be the case–and it was so well into my graduate work–that I spent more hours reading than doing anything else other than breathing. I would walk between classes with my nose in a book; I would spend my free time poring over pages. It used to annoy my colleagues in Deuce-38, in fact; they would come into the bullpen office to find me leaning back in my chair, reading some novel or other, while they scrambled to get one thing or another done–or so I have been told by more than one of them, anyway. (I note, though, that I had arranged matters such that the novel-reading I was doing helped me with course papers that became conference papers, a publication that later became a blog post, and my master’s thesis.) I know it annoyed some of my high school and earlier teachers, who would see me with some paperback open on my desk and my schoolwork ready to lay down, completed, on theirs.
To be sure, I have not done as much reading of late as I should, and certainly not for leisure. It’s part of why I am glad to have the freelance work I have had (the money is nice, admittedly); drafting lesson plans and writing reviews help me to read when I would not otherwise be doing so. I have to read the books to do the work with them I’m paid to do, after all, and the fact that it is work and that it does draw pay means I can justify to myself the time spent doing it. (Yes, I know, it’s shitty in some ways to think in terms of “If it don’t pay, then there’s no way,” but my debts have not been cancelled, and I continue to have bills to pay.) And as I’ve been doing the work, I’ve felt my old skills, honed from long practice and the kind of focused attention that school still sometimes permits, reawaken; I’m seeing things in what I read that I would not otherwise see, that I do not think many readers see, and I find myself wanting to explore them deeply (in ways I cannot afford to take the time to do at the moment since I do have to work, both at the freelancing and at my day job).
More, the reading that the freelance work has been having me do has helped me to model better behavior for my daughter. As I write this, she is getting back into school as a first-grader, and she has reading homework that sometimes presents problems–not because she cannot do it, but because she does not want to do it, preferring to sit and watch videos on her tablet. Certainly, I have no problem with the tablet-watching in itself; I watch videos online, as I am sure that most of the people who read in this webspace do. And I understand, along with Twain’s Tom Sawyer, that “Work consists of what a body is obliged to do,” and the obligation itself makes a thing onerous that might well be enjoyed otherwise. But if I am reading, then she has more reason to do so, I think–or, at the very least, I am showing her what I want her to do, rather than simply telling her and expecting it to be done–or, worse, letting her figure it out on her own without any guidance.
It’s not like it’s a can opener, after all…