Somehow, almost without realising it, a year had passed since Esther left Brennan. In the first six months, Esther applied for numerous research jobs, received countless rejections and battled her total inertia and disinterest in writing academic articles based on fieldwork from a million years ago. On a whim she took up writing poetry. Rhyming poetry, so doggerel and rubbish according to those in the know, but it made her laugh and gave her oxygen. She also become an expert in cat moods and knew when her cat was sleepy, angry or hurt: clearly valuable knowledge that took up many hours in Esther’s day. Alongside this she was housekeeper, wife, mother and general factotum. This was considerably less exciting and seemed to consist of circuitous and repetitive arguments with sons 1 and 2 and resigned parenting conversations with the beleaguered husband.
Esther’s redundancy pay from Brennan lasted till December. By then Esther was faced with the awful prospect of asking the husband to finance her need for wine, clothes and books, not to mention the other dull but important household expenses. This did not sit well with Esther. It rankled and stung. It seemed achingly regressive and more suited to her Grandmother’s post-war generation than to an over-qualified 21st century academic. That Esther’s husband did not mind at all was little consolation. In fact, Esther would have preferred him to mind dreadfully. It would have given her an opportunity to rant about unpaid labour and domestic drudgery, not to mention the second, third and fourth shift women the world over were expected to engage in. Which shift she was on Esther couldn’t really tell, but that was beside the point. That Esther’s husband did not give her these opportunities to rant loudly, beautifully and self-righteously was massively frustrating. Esther had taken to ranting at the cat, but all that did was send the cat scurrying outside. Afterwards it always took a couple of hours before it deigned to return.
Faced with the very real prospect of the husband becoming the sole breadwinner, Esther returned to what she knew best: teaching in higher education. She sent out begging bowl emails to her local Universities and colleges. Only her undergrad alma mater responded by offering her a part-time contract filling their teaching shortfall for the Spring/Summer term. This consisted of first year teaching, second year teaching, third year teaching, fourth year teaching and undergraduate dissertation supervision. An idiot could see it wasn’t part-time and Esther liked to think she wasn’t an idiot, but in her desire for an income Esther overlooked the insane amounts of work involved in the job description and delightedly accepted.
On her first day in the job she smiled her way through a no-show lecturer, then spent the rest of the week battling timetabling trying to reschedule the class. The following week she had to cancel the rescheduled class. Three weeks in she had to cancel again due to recurrent staff sickness. Sickness, cancellations and poorly attended classes dogged the module for the entire term. A superstitious person might have said the module was jinxed. Esther was not superstitious. She became instead a master in the witty, grovelling, student apology email. By March, cancelled classes were nothing to the barrage of student emails requesting essay extensions by relating the most personal, horrific and banal reasons as to why they deserved one. In April she added never-ending marking to the mix. Standing in a seminar room engaged in some actual face to face teaching was a golden slice of intellectual bliss, in an otherwise administratively crazy day. Esther’s migraines returned and her poetic writing dwindled to 17 syllable haiku’s. Her cat took to sleeping on her chest and despite this hindering Esther’s breathing, was one of the few occasions when she could fully relax. When May finally arrived, Esther was worn out. She was close to her former Brennan levels of complete and utter emotional exhaustion. Esther had promised herself she would not let teaching consume her like that ever again. Reflecting on how easy that promise had been broken, Esther came to the unsurprising conclusion that teaching in Universities was a Hydra – a many-headed, continually growing monster. Unlike in the myths though, it was becoming clear that Esther did not have the required skill to sever all the heads, cauterise the stumps and carry on regardless. Esther acknowledged that few of her colleagues who battled with the beast managed any better. The Hydra after all had regenerative capacities, whereas Esther’s regenerative capacities were diminishing year on year. The unpalatable fact was that all of Esther’s teaching in higher education was leading her nowhere, except towards exhaustion and ill health. It did nothing to overcome her long term precarity. In fact, it seemed to actively perpetuate it.
With only two weeks left on her contract, Esther was back to sending begging bowl emails. She was kindly offered some hourly paid work in Brennan. Though gratifying, this would mean living away from home again and spending her hourly paid salary on flights and expensive Brennan life. Esther did not think she could stomach returning to the oxygenated air and flight delays of commuting again, never mind her terrible Co2 footprint.
Standing in the faculty office that June morning discussing exam marks and internally pondering her great academic choices, Esther was approached by Sandra. Sandra had taught Esther when she was a keen fresh-faced undergrad and Esther’s sons small and adorable. They discussed Esther’s teaching term, Sandra’s research leave and her new research project on Bridge. The card game. Jokingly Esther asked if Sandra had any work going. Sandra said she did. She had a paper requiring some work and a conference it needed to be presented at – would Esther be interested? Esther not quite believing her luck said yes. Somehow, miraculously, serendipitously, Esther had found herself work for June and July. Yes, it was more short-term work and yes, it was in a field she knew nothing about, but it was work, it was local and most importantly it was writing.
Throughout June, Esther read and anlaysed interview data on elite bridge players and played around with how bridge could be theorised sociologically. It was fun. It was a relief to be reading again and thinking about ideas (and not purely from the perspective about how these ideas could best be taught). In July Esther presented the paper on interaction at the bridge table to the conference. Sandra was thrilled. It had gone down really well. Would Esther like to carry on? There was more bridge data that required analysing and another paper that could be written from it. Sandra could fund Esther till the end of November for now, though it was possible there might be longer term work in the pipeline. Esther agreed, she wasn’t wholly convinced she knew where this was taking her, but hopefully it was her way out of the teaching cul-de-sac she had worked herself into. Maybe trusting her luck to the cards was the way to go.