Don's Diary

November 4, 1994

MONDAY afternoon: Receive my first set of senior papers to grade. Randomly choose one to read. The title, "Orlando ain't no chick" reminds me that this is definitely, as they would say in these parts, a totally different ball game. Teaching in Baltimore has proved to be a constant process of rewriting the chronological and cultural agenda etched into my brain by seven years in the British university system.

Expecting the same attitude or, sometimes, aptitude, from Stateside students is not only short-sighted, but stupid. So far, D. H. Lawrence's language of loins is defeating them.

Evening: Nerve-wracked at the prospect of assigning an A or a B rather than a First or a 2.1. Struggle to adapt to a different system of grading.

Realise, alas, that no matter on which side of the Atlantic I reside, I will still be telling English literature students how to write a sentence.

TUESDAY morning: Discover that I will not get paid unless I sign up for a retirement plan. Nor will I qualify for the all-important health insurance until I complete the necessary forms. Immediately feel hot and feverish at the thought that if I fall ill now I will need to change profession in order to pay the bills.

Afternoon: Hurry to Human Resources. Spend what seems like hours shading small ovals in pencil on endless documents. Am reminded of O level multiple-choice papers. In this case I must also make totally uneducated guesses and check that I do not blur my art work. Do I want Personal Dismemberment Insurance? The exclusions for this read like a horror movie's prop list. Ask myself if I am likely to lose 2.5 fingers teaching the Victorian novel. Recognise that it does not matter which ones I choose since I will have to do it all again in a month's time. Another insurance company will be displaying its wares to the general university populace and we get to colour in more numbers . . . Human Resources. What a misnomer.

WEDNESDAY. Organise my letters of reference, my curriculum vitae and my covering letter, having heard that the Modern Languages Association Job Information List is out. Wonder whether, in my opinion and that of prospective employers, it is a blessing or a burden to be a Brit. So far my accent and nationality have been a help and a hindrance. Whereas a policeman, or, should I say, an officer of the law fell over backwards to treat me as some kind of royal descendant, car insurance companies consider that a foreigner is as risky to insure as a 17-year-old youth.

THURSDAY. Get paid. Literally. Walk up to the secretary who hands me a cheque. This happens every two weeks for nine-and-a-half months, a system which is playing havoc with my budgeting. Forget, far too frequently, that the disassociation of the end of the month salary and the beginning of the month rent cheque does not in fact signify that I have no bills to pay. Direct Deposit is neither standard nor simple to establish here. However, it is yet more imperative than at home, since, as everyone keeps warning me as I praise the lovely weather, in the winter it is sometimes impossible to get out of the front door, let alone across to the campus.

FRIDAY morning: Miss my bus to work. Miss, as a result, my first student appointment. Spend the rest of the morning trying to catch up. Maybe extortionate Maryland car insurance is not such a bad idea after all.

Afternoon: Attempt to rewrite my article. Thwarted by the fact that, as yet, I have neither learnt to use the PC in my office nor have I bought my own. And this piece is supposed to be in Stirling by next week. Thank goodness for fax machines.

SATURDAY. Speak to friends in Britain in order to compare notes. Term has not yet started for some whereas I have been teaching for four weeks. Someone asks how I am getting on in the Land of the Free. Reflect that there is nothing free about a North American city if, like me, you do not have a car. Shopping, whether for milk or mattresses, is a feat for a pedestrian. For the first time in my life I can actually afford to buy clothes and books. For the first time in my life I cannot find any. Not because of lack of choice but more because most of the clothes shops are in malls, five miles away.

SUNDAY. Hunt furniture all day. Have already sold my soul, or at least that of my credit card, to IKEA.

Force myself to remember that much as I would love an Art Deco cocktail shaker I cannot sit on it. Nor will it enable me to apply for jobs, write articles, or grade papers, all of which require something flatter and more substantial, like a desk.

Resist the urge, as I have done since my arrival, to buy up the antique shops, (which, funnily enough, are the stores closest to my apartment) in order to deal with the more urgent and practical necessity of finding things to sleep on, eat off and drink out of. Success for me at the moment is not scholarly. Getting an article published seems far less of a trauma than getting an apartment furnished. Whoever said I came to the US to be an academic?

Louise Tucker

Visiting assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore county.

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