Personal Life

Being the Professor I Needed

As an adjunct professor, I have a few guidelines for myself that aren’t in any university handbook. They include

  1. Never be the horror story professor students remember for the rest of their lives.
  2. Be the professor young me needed as an undergrad (even if I didn’t know it).
  3. Institutional/systematic change begins in the classroom.

The first one is probably slightly selfish on my part as I like being well-liked, but number one trickles down to the next two. While I know not every student is going to like my class or me, the goal is to teach them as best I can, support their learning, and have them leave my classroom knowing more or feeling better than when they went in. Will students sleep through my class or play on their phones the entire time? Absolutely. But in regards to my third guideline, I’m no longer calling those students out, and I’m doing my best to continually learn, grow, and create a less ableist classroom for my students.

I’m neurodivergent, but I’m [generally] the kind of neurodivergent teachers like. I hyperfocus, I’m type A with my classwork, I ask questions and participate if I’m comfortable, and I have been the kid who is “a pleasure to have in class.” My partner is also neurodivergent and spent his entire school career with unmedicated ADHD. No matter how hard he tried, he struggled to pay attention or take notes, he fell asleep in class (due to struggling to sleep), and his ability to memorize things despite trying to hours was abysmal. He couldn’t help it. I watched him struggle, and I watched professors get frustrated with him or treat him like a terrible student who didn’t want to be there, a student unworthy of college. This was hammered home by coming from poverty, being Latinx, and not fitting traditional masculine standards for someone AMAB. One of my favorite teachers (now a friend and mentor) helped him a lot in her class, and I never forgot how much he appreciated her help and compassion. She could see he was trying when others wrote him off.

When I graduated with my MFA and started adjunct teaching, I decided I wanted to be a professor like my friend/mentor. I wanted to be the professor students looked forward to like I did her classes. The problem is, it’s easy to fall into hard-ass mode. Students are human. They’re obnoxious, they push your buttons, they don’t pay attention, and it was easy to see them as just trying to make my life difficult by not doing what they’re supposed to do. I took it personally when they didn’t do their work, especially when I knew they were fully capable of doing the work and turning it in. It was an incredibly stupid way to look at it, and I didn’t see it until I was sitting at an adjunct meeting at the one university I worked at and heard the older adjuncts talk about their students. I hated how badly they talked about their students, how they automatically assumed they were all trying to pull a fast one on them, but especially how no one seemed to care about the ones who were trying.

There are two things that changed my attitude real quick: how they spoke about international/non-native English speaking students and how they spoke about neurodivergent students.

I had a class that was 75% international students, and to this day, they were one of my absolute favorite classes. I stopped knitpicking their grammar flubs. I corrected them, but I didn’t take points off or factor it into their grades. These eighteen year olds had been in the US for like two weeks and were expected to write essays in perfect English. It was an absurd standard, so I didn’t hold them to it. Toward the end of the semester, one of my students mentioned how they were glad they didn’t have to stress so much in my class because other professors were taking points off for every mistake. These bright, wonderful students I bantered with and were proud of were being penalized for not being native English speakers. Then and there, I decided I would never take off points for grammar or spelling. There’s a difference between careless typos and other language-isms if you’re willing to pay attention. Besides, big picture essay issues are far more useful to correct than knitpicky grammar checking.

When we began to suspect my partner had ADHD, I dove into research for how to better support him and myself. We’re a neurodivergent couple, so what works for us doesn’t work for neurotypical people. After doing more research on autism and ADHD, I started to notice that a lot of what other professors complained about like not paying attention, doodling, having earbuds in, etc. are often neurodivergent coping mechanisms. Often ND people are paying attention, but they aren’t performing listening or focus in a way that NT people recognize. When I was a college student, I spent a lot of my time with my head down, but because I was taking copious notes, my professors didn’t criticize me for it. My doodling partner got in trouble. While I couldn’t easily listen to background noise back when I was in school, nowadays, I probably would have headphones in. I stopped bothering students when I thought they weren’t paying attention or they appeared to be multitasking. At this point, I say to myself they are adults; if they are just f-ing around instead of doing something to help focus, that’s on them.

The pandemic and moving online made me reevaluate if the policies in my classes were ableist or cruel or absurd. As an undergrad, I dragged my half-dead corpse to class when I was ill because we were docked points if we were absent too much and professors wouldn’t provide notes if you missed class. In my junior or senior year, my grandma got brain cancer and died not long before finals. I was spending all my free time at the hospital and not missing class because I was afraid my professors would think I was making stuff up (the joke was that grandmothers died a lot during 8 AM classes). Thinking back on it, I hate that I had to worry my professors thought I was a liar and not that I was young adult going through shit I never asked for or could have foreseen. I didn’t want students to go through that in my classes. I’ve made it my policy that you can basically miss as much class as you need as long as you stay active in regards to doing your work (which feels like the basic consequence of your actions). If a student asks for an extension, I give it. If a student who was otherwise active in class disappears, I reach out to see if they’re okay. The demographic of students in college classes is changing. It isn’t mostly upper middle class white kids with no job apart from school. A lot of my students are taking care of their siblings, their children, their disabled relatives, or their working full-time jobs (or the equivalent of). On top of that, some of my students have chronic illnesses. I have my own inflammatory issues where I have flare ups, and I know how to feels to have anxiety that makes leaving the house feel impossible. My policy has become put your health and well-being first, and we’ll figure it out if you need to catch up.

The worst thing is that I feel like what I’m doing is the bare minimum. There are things I know I could do that would make my classes more accessible, but I haven’t had the time or spoons to do it yet (like recording all my classes again and posting them on Youtube or somewhere else). I can’t make universities more accessible on a whole to those who aren’t native English speaking, neurotypical, or those unaffected by illness. Academia is notoriously ableist, and while some universities are trying to be less racist, they are sorely behind in making academia accessible as the student body changes. My hope is that if enough of us start to enact policies that support our students, we will bring about structural change within academia that helps not only the students but professors who need those same accommodations but aren’t comfortable to ask.

Personal Life

Prioritizing My Dreams

I have quietly come to the decision that I want to work toward becoming a full-time writer or creative. I’ve been thinking about this for a long-time and have been prioritizing my goals over the past few quarters to reflect this. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was even a tenable goal since my author income was pretty low after I derailed my marketing and such during the great burnout of 2018-2019. After reorienting myself to market my backlist better and publishing The Reanimator’s Heart, I’ve seen my income increase. It’s nowhere near what anyone would consider full-time, but it’s beyond what I ever expected to make this past year.

What I would like to do is incrementally move toward this goal of being a full-time creative, and I am taking that first step. I’m only working at one university in the fall. I won’t rag on my past employer, but I find working at this particular university is more stress than its worth. The class sizes are very large, the parking is miserable, and they have a tendency to cut my class like two days before the semester starts, which means I get left in the lurch and unable to make up that income anyway. By only working at one university, I will have more room to focus on my writing while, typically, dealing with smaller class sizes and a more predictable schedule. This university is better for me as I know and am friends with most of the full-time faculty in my department, the vibe of the students is different, and generally, I leave work feeling good rather than frustrated. This is the school where I teach creative writing classes, so I feel like my skills are valued there.

The hope is that I can write more while only teaching at one school. For my writer friends, this part is obvious, but more writing means I can publish more books, which, hopefully, means an increase in author income. Right now, I have decent momentum going with The Reanimator’s Heart and its sequels. I’d like to continue that, but if I’m bogged down by 3-4 classes, I can’t do that.

I know there are some of you out there who are like, “Kara, are you out of your mind? You are willing to trade guaranteed income for hypothetical income.” Yes, I am, but working in academia is never truly guaranteed income. Sadly, this is something I’ve learned a lot over the past few years. Classes get cancelled last minute, you get ghosted by universities, or suddenly a school decides to swap class times and your commute is now 2 hours longer than it needs to be. This costs me gas money, tolls, and my time. The last one is really what has been bothering me. I waste so much time driving between multiple schools or dawdling between classes where the schedules don’t line up perfectly. And I don’t want to do it anymore.

I’m still keeping an eye on the scant academic job listings, but more and more being an indie author feels like a realistic option. I don’t need to make a million dollars. I just want to make enough to pay my bills and occasionally go out to eat or buy myself something nice. That bar feels doable, though I hate that I need to figure out quarterly taxes. On top of all of this, I’m neurodivergent, and I think working for myself, eventually, would be a good option for me. I’m self-disciplined, driven, and willing to work hard to become a full-time creative in the future. Something I would love to do now that I’m dabbling with art again is make planner stickers. I absolutely love using them, and I love drawing objects. The intersection of two of my passions would be a great thing to explore, and this is why I initially wrote in this post that I’d like to be a full-time creative. A writer who also draws and has a little sticker store would be something I would certainly be interested in pursuing.

For now, I’m definitely still working at the small university as long as they’ll have me, but ultimately, being an author is the star I’m steering toward.

Personal Life

I Want to be a Mushroom, Not a Bird

The one thing academia and business have in common is the belief that everyone wants to be a bird. They want upward mobility. They’re willing to go where the jobs are, even if the promiseland is filled with people who absolutely hate your guts.

But that’s where the jobs are.

“You can easily find a job in the Midwest,” they say, or “You should apply to universities down South! The South is much more liberal where the universities are.” Considering I drove past a bunch of Confederate flags on thirty minutes away from a conference at a college in Upstate New York, I somehow doubt that.

It’s the same thing we tell people who live in red states. “Just move!” like it’s so easy. Sure, if we hate our families, have plenty of desire and/or disposable income to visit, are free from disabilities or chronic illnesses, aren’t queer or trans, I’m sure it’s very easy to uproot ourselves and fly off to a job that could fire us at any moment and leave us stranded somewhere we never truly wanted to be.

Maybe I’m a cynic. I think in worse case scenarios because someone has to give those shiny-teethed, business-minded bastards a reality check. Some of us don’t want to fly. Some of us don’t want to go someplace far away where no one knows us and we don’t know if we’ll ever feel like we truly belong. The threat of violence is always in the back of my mind. What if there are people who hate queer people there and they’re vocal about it? What if someone finds out I’m nonbinary and fires me? What if I need medical attention and no one will give it to me because I’m still potentially a viable incubator even if my partner had a vasectomy years ago?

But the people who suggest uprooting our lives for a job never think about that.

The sad thing is, I don’t even want upward mobility. I don’t want to be the boss or make six figures. I have no desire to soar so high that I lose sight of the humanity of others or that my grossly oversized paycheck is a sign of other people being underpaid. Other people have to be on the lower levels of the pyramid for it to stand, and I don’t mind being down there. I want to work to live, not live to work. I want to put it my time and go home to play video games and hang out with my dogs.

I want to be a mushroom, not a bird.

Mushrooms are just the fruit of a fungus. The important part is what you don’t see. They can have miles upon miles of roots where they feast upon dead material, gather resources, and stay connected to each other.

I want to be where my roots run deep. My family has been in New Jersey since the 1800s, and I like it here. I like going on boats down the Navesink in the summer or seeing the NYC skyline on a clear night while driving home. It feels like a place that wants me to be there and wants me to thrive. I feel safe enough that I can mostly be myself. My healthcare is protected, and my partner and I can both get our medications easily enough. I grew up here, my family has lived here for two hundred years, and to continue to be a part of my local area to make it a better place is what I want. NJ is good in many ways, but there’s always room for improvement.

Moving somewhere for a job where I’m not invested in the area feels shallow. I care about the students who live here or have come from across the world to be here. I want to show them that we’re nice here, that we want them to succeed too. I want them to have all the good things I had when I went to these universities and the things I wish I had. They’re all part of that root system, those little hyphae and connections that help us all to thrive. If I left for supposedly greener pastures, I would be torn out of that ecosystem. It would heal itself, but would I be able to reconnect in this new place. Would I always be a weaker, more damaged version of myself in this new environment?

I don’t need people to know me or even have local friends to hang out with, I just need to feel safe and supported. Mushrooms can grow alone if they have all the things they need, but is trading those known supports for a paycheck worth it if you need those things to flourish?


Happy Accidents

I did a thing. It was a semi dumb thing and I’m not sure why I did it.

As you may or may not know, my third book, The Earl and the Artificer, is also my MFA thesis project, so I have an advisor who is supposed to look at it and give me feedback along with a class who does the same. Thus far, my thesis advisor has been very lenient with me. Some demand at least a chapter a week or put their students on a strict schedule, but he’s pretty much let me do what I want since he knows I’ll get it done.

Well, I knew he would need to see something before the end of the semester, something substantial, in order to give me a grade. Originally, I told him I would hand in the finished piece (unedited) by mid-October. At the time, it sounded like a good idea. I’d have all the time in the world. I’m only taking two classes, so how much work could I have? A lot, that’s how much.

This is when I did something dumb. Part of my job in the English department is to create a newsletter, so I spend a bit of time emailing professors, harassing them until they tell me what they’ve published this semester or what events they’re holding. While emailing my advisor to ask him about his writing, I wrote, “I’ll be leaving an edited draft of the first act, which is about 80 pages in your mailbox next week.” I sent the email off without thinking much of it until about an hour later. NEXT WEEK?! Was I temporarily insane? At that point, I had only edited three out of the eleven chapters in act one. In less than five days, I would need to edit eight chapters to get them to where I was willing to show my advisor without cringing.

I immediately texted my best friend telling her of the stupid thing I had done. “But you work well under pressure!” she replied. I do, but why did I do this to myself? Why give myself added stress for no reason? If I had told him I would hand it in two weeks from then, he wouldn’t have cared and I wouldn’t have been freaking out. Then again, my best friend is coming from England in two weeks, and I would be worrying about my stupid project instead of getting ready for her arrival.

It’s strange, but it’s as if my subconscious gave me a boot in the ass. I’ve had ample time to edit my story, but I’ve been procrastinating and doing everything but writing and editing recently. Would I have had anything to hand in by the end of the month if I hadn’t accidentally cracked the whip on myself? Probably not.

Over the course of three days, I powered through chapters one to eleven, going over what I edited already and combing through the ones I hadn’t touched yet. Last night at midnight I finally finished. While I was too tired to add any new content to the story, I officially finished my edits of act one and will hand them into my advisor on Monday.

I’m somewhat proud of myself for actually getting this all done before the weekend and that on Monday I’ll be able to present my advisor with the first third of my work. After dilly-dallying for so long, it seems strange that I’ll actually be handing in part of my thesis. Luckily my mistake created this progress. Sometimes all you need is to give yourself a kick in the ass to get going.

Personal Life · Writing

The Anxieties of the Awkward Authoress


Most of us probably have a list of fears that we keep tucked close, hidden where they cannot be seen, where others cannot seek to infiltrate and destroy us.  I’m pretty open with a lot of my fears.  In the past I have wondered if there was anyone else who felt the same way I did, so by sharing my experiences, I hope I can spare someone that feeling.  This weekend, I confronted one of my main fears– social anxiety.

I feel I am getting better about dealing with a lot of people in one area.  It’s odd, I can go around New York City, moving shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, but when the crowd is vying for my attention and wants to talk (and go off script), it’s hard to deal with.  At my university, I worked two events, one Saturday and one Sunday. Sunday’s event was an open-house, which I’ve done several times already, but Saturday was my first writer’s conference.  Luckily, I was only manning the sign-in desk along with the other graduate assistant. Unfortunately, I forgot the signs I printed earlier in the week, which threw me off, but thank god, there was a script I repeated about eighty times that day.

For the rest of the day, it was smooth sailing, but when I got home, I threw myself down and took a two and a half hour nap to recharge. I should really say surrendered to the nap. I don’t think I could have stopped it.  That’s what happens quite often with social anxiety. Dealing with other people is stressful. They’re unpredictable, sometimes rude, pushy. More than often, they’re none of the aforementioned things, but one never knows when they’ll surprise you.

In May, I’m doing a reading and small seminar at the Steampunk World’s Fair, and of course, I’m worried about it. I worry about not making a good impression or that I’ll be dreadfully boring. Will I stutter or will they hate my books?  If more than a handful of people show up, will I freak out? Of course I will. I’ll bring water and coffee and possibly a bag to hyperventilate into, but I won’t stop myself from doing my reading.  Probably a dozen times I’ve asked myself why I signed-up to do a reading. I’m a nobody author with a tiny following.  I know at least two people will show up, and if more than that comes, I’ll be eternally grateful.  As a writer, my biggest fear is that they’ll hate my books. As a person, my biggest fear is I’ll make an ass of myself. Honestly, they aren’t too far from each other.

No matter how many times I read aloud or do group events, the fear is still there. I’m hoping that practicing every few days for about three weeks leading up to the reading will help to lessen my fears. Pretending not to be an anxiety-ridden introvert takes a lot of energy, and I’m beginning to wonder how long I’ll sleep after the Steampunk World’s Fair.

On the topic of the Steampunk World’s Fair, I’m supposed to have a short story in a you pay what you want bundle along with several other artists and musicians.  When I get more information about the bundle or what day I’ll be giving my reading, I will let you know, but for now, if you want to get a ticket, which is good for Friday to Sunday, please go here.

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Personal Life · Writing

Wrap-up and Resolutions

Wow, 2014 has been a crazy year for me.  A great year but a whirlwind of insanity at times.

This year, I began graduate school to earn my MFA in creative and professional writing, and now that a full year in the program has passed, I can say that I love it and believe I made the right decision.  I don’t think my parents were terribly pleased when I decided to change my course of study in the second half of my junior year from pre-med to English major, but I’m a lot happier reading and analyzing books and writing constantly than I ever was doing dissections and memorizing muscle groups (though biology and science still hold a special place in my heart and in my books).  In 2014, I also became a graduate assistant at the university I attend, which means I help out the professors and put together the end of semester newsletter as well as work on the department’s literary magazine. Continue reading “Wrap-up and Resolutions”


Checking Those Boxes


Often my posts mention my dealings with academia, and the stark contrasts between the “normal” world and the academic domain.  These differences have sparked an interest in figuring out the psychology of not only some professors but the world they are enmeshed in.  One of the things I have noticed during my time as a graduate student in an MFA program is the difference in publishing goals and how the professors treat their writing versus how most authors deal with their work and how they market it.

To be hired as a professor, one must publish at some point, and it seems for some that the only reason they have published anything is to able to put it on their resumes.  Maybe I’m naive and idealistic, but to write a novel or short stories to check off a box seems disingenuous.  If you have a passion for writing, why would you only write one book or a handful of short stories?  Most writers have a hard time stopping or getting other work done when the writing bug bites, so how can one instruct and inspire young writers when they haven’t really done it themselves?  Can you really consider yourself a writer or author when you only write to further your career goals?  It most definitely is not my motivation for writing, but I cannot say why others do it. Continue reading “Checking Those Boxes”

Personal Life · Writing

You Are What You Read

tbr pile oct 30What do your reading choices say about you?  Since beginning graduate school, I have been turning this question over in my mind as I listened to others in my classes mention who their favorite authors are.  Most of them are people I have never heard of or read but are rather famous in the contemporary lit world.  Typically, I hold my tongue and don’t mention what I read for fear of being ridiculed or looked down upon.  This led to a greater question: why do people read certain books?

Do people (especially those in academia) read for fun or do they read certain books because they feel it is expected of them?  As I continue my journey through the MFA in Creative Writing program, I find myself wondering what my professors read, especially when they are writers or poets as well.  What we read automatically becomes ingrained in our beings and eventually comes out in our writing. I can attest to the fact that when I read a book I love, I am inspired to write and often I will lean toward that genre or some theme found in that work.  If I read a book I had to drag myself through, it typically slows my writing to a crawl.  Oddly, while I didn’t love reading Virginia Woolf for the most part, her works had a huge influence in the way I deal with close narration and “head hopping” as others call it. Continue reading “You Are What You Read”