One of my favorite views in Knoxville is from the parking lot at U.T.'s visitor's center. Nestled into the hill on the west side of campus, the center overlooks the Tennessee River, Cherokee Farms, and Alcoa Highway as it rolls south over the river and on down towards the Smoky Mountains. Neyland Greenway starts here, too, and parking is free, so it's a great place to start a run or ride, or, even, to just think.
From the end of May until early August, this spot is serene, quiet, still. Traffic on Kingston Pike hums nearby, seemingly unhurried, even during rush hour. In the evenings, fireflies and cicadas take turns vying for visitors' attention. They blink by the water and screech in branches overhead, but in vain. Invariably, at sunset, the sky's reflection on the water steals the show.
Sometime in the middle of August, however, something strange happens. Almost overnight, this once empty parking lot becomes crowded. College students like ants appear everywhere—on sidewalks, in grocery stores, in dorms, all over downtown... Where once the cicadas reigned, laughter, chatter, and music fill the air—almost presumptively—as if the students feel that this is (and always has been) their show.
Indeed, the beginning of the school year brings with it a lot of change. Classes started this week, and Knoxville is no longer a sleepy Southern town. And, usually, I would be a part of this shift. I started graduate school in 2017 and have taught at U.T. ever since. This semester, though, I will not be among the throngs of students and teachers zig-zagging across campus to their various classes and programs. I'd been planning to—I had my classes lined up and everything—but this past summer I decided to take a step back. It's been a rough few years, and I wanted to take some time off to focus on my health, my loved ones, and, most importantly, on my long-term goals.
Let me explain.
In addition to working as a graduate student/adjunct professor since 2017, I have also worked remotely as a technical writer for a public agency in California. I started tech writing while living in Sonoma County in 2015 and was fortunate enough to keep my job when I moved across country for school. Graduate teaching stipends don't go far (and neither, to be honest, do adjunct teacher salaries), so tech writing has always been a good backup. Tech writing is not easy work, but it's a different kind of writing than the writing I teach (think "government jargon" where everything is as confusing as possible), and, somehow, that difference has made it doable.
But working two unrelated jobs has been hard. Between lesson planning, grading, and trying to keep up with tech-writing assignments, I've been overworked and constantly stressed—so much so that it's affected both my relationships and overall health.
Not only that, it's been my dream to branch out on my own for a while. My friends and family have encouraged me to create a website to advertise my writing, editing, and tutoring skills, but when was there time?
There wasn't. At least not without giving up something else I loved.
And so, here I am. I've given up teaching for now so I can focus on my website and long-term goals, as well as work on becoming a better version of myself. I've lost a lot recently, and I don't want to look back someday and feel I wasted time waiting for something that was waiting for me all along. After all, as the saying goes:
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”