Adrian Jones Pearson - Idiosyncratic, wry, and ambitiously constructed, Cow Country deftly blends the lunacies of contemporary academia with the tragic consequences of New World nation-building




Adrian Jones Pearson, Cow Country, Cow Eye Press, 2015.


www.coweye.org/index.htm




When a down-on-his-luck educational administrator arrives into the makeshift bus shelter of Cow Eye Junction, he finds a drought-stricken town and its community college on the precipice of institutional ruin. Struggling to navigate this strange world of bloated calf scrota, orgiastic math instruction, and onrushing regional accreditors, Charlie must devise a plan to lead Cow Eye Community College through the perils of continuous improvement to the triumphant culmination of world history. 
Idiosyncratic, wry, and ambitiously constructed, Cow Country is Adrian Jones Pearson’s most American work yet, deftly blending the lunacies of contemporary academia with the tragic consequences of New World nation-building. A must-read for anyone who has ever worked at an institution of higher education, or attempted to straddle partisan lines, this insightful novel offers a poetic requiem for the loss of our humanity – and our humanities.


"With quirky characters and impossible situations, Cow Country handles drought, institutional lunacy, racism, and romance with deft insight, as well as keen-edged satirical commentary." - San Francisco Book Review
"A zany, innovative addition to the campus novel genre." - Steven Moore

"Fast-paced, ironic, and at times, downright hilarious." - Midwest Book Review


A comical novel about life at a zany community college, from debut author Pearson.
When Charlie gets the job of special projects coordinator at Cow Eye Community College, he’s not quite sure what to expect, especially after his bizarre phone interview: “Several questions concerned my relevant experience in highly divisive work environments and how I might resolve a series of hypothetical conflicts—for example, what I would do if one of my colleagues tried to sever the head of a key administrator.” Nevertheless, after a long bus ride to the town of Cow Eye Junction, Charlie is met by the man in charge, Dr. Felch. Charlie, he’s told, is replacing the last special projects coordinator, who had “countless awards and commendations. References from the Queen of England and Archduke of Canterbury” (though she turned out to be an “unmitigated disaster”). His goals seem relatively simple: ensure that the school maintains accreditation and plan the annual Christmas party. Unfortunately, those directives are anything but. The constantly feuding, eccentric faculty doesn’t help. Sam Middleton, a medieval poetry expert, is a “card-carrying institutional anarchist,” while Alan Long River, the public speaking teacher, “hadn’t spoken a word to anybody at the college—his students included—for more than twelve years.” Bureaucracy rules the school, and opportunities for conflict and adventure are many, including a team-building exercise in which new hires must castrate a calf and heated focus groups; one of the institutional researchers has “been very adamant that no educational endeavor should be attempted without first conducting a focus group or a survey of some kind.” Whether or not this mix proves humorous depends on the reader’s patience for tongue-in-cheek jokes about backwardness (“the unfamiliar voice belonged to the college’s tenured negroid’”) and adjunct professors (“We’re not allowed to refer to them by name”). Ambitious in its creation of this kooky world, the book will certainly strike a chord with readers lost in their own wacky arenas of academic bickering. Others may be bored by lengthy orientation sessions and party planning, as with the seating arrangement for the Christmas party: “We’ve also made sure to bring them together politically, economically, and ethnically. In each group there will be at least one laissez-faire capitalist and one left-leaning socialist. One centrist and one anarchist. One tenured faculty member and one who is non-tenured. One white, one Asian. A lumper and a splitter. A Catholic and a Protestant. Sikh and Hindu. Jew and jihadist. Social scientist and actual scientist. Vegetarian and anti-vegetarian.”

Goofy academic struggles for those who need a break in the faculty lounge.  - Kirkus Reviews              


When Charlie arrives at the dusty bus station in the equally dusty town of Cow Eye Junction, he finds himself reeling with more than a bit of culture shock. This shock continues for the displaced educational administrator when he is picked up in a rusted out pickup truck by the chain-smoking president of Cow Eye Community College, which Charlie has been hired to save from losing its accreditation. This sense of displacement continues throughout the semester as Charlie struggles with reconciling the watery faculty with the meat-eating, discourages the leaving of severed calf scrotum in faculty mailboxes over the weekend, agonizes over an orgiastic math faculty, and fumbles through a tenuous romance.
With this novel, Adrian Jones Pearson paints a picture with a calf in a pen like in no other literary satire. With quirky characters and impossible situations, Cow Country handles drought, institutional lunacy, racism, and romance with deft insight, as well as keen-edged satirical commentary. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the slow unfolding of the semester’s events and join in the search to become something entirely.
Cow Country is a smirk-a-minute read, with wonderful comedic timing and sardonic situations that will greatly amuse any reader who has had the opportunity to interact with or observe the workings of institutions of higher education. The idiosyncrasies of the various characters and tangential anecdotes are hilarious in a deadpan kind of humor that makes it impossible not to want to know more. While the side stories and explanations can get long-winded at times, they are never boring. Readers who will most appreciate this book are those who have experience with academia, an ear for the absurd, and possess an appreciation for satirical humor. This well-crafted novel captures the essence of Cow Eye within its pages.
“And all of it should align with your overall reason for living, your purpose in this world, your own personal mission statement, if you will. In essence, people are no different from institutions because, if you get right down to it, Charlie, a human being is nothing more than a community college without the pelicans.” - Axie Barclay




Is it possible that the literary sensibility—person—that produced a clutch of novels under the name Thomas Pynchon has had a fat new novel out since April, under a different name, only to encounter a virtual vacuum of notice? That relative anonymity may have been expected, or might even have been among its aspirations, to prove a point?
Yes and yes. The book in question is called Cow Country, a 540-pager that came out of the chute from Cow Eye Press, a publishing house (if that is what it is) established in 2014 apparently for the express purpose of issuing Cow Country and perhaps related follow-ons, one of which is a centennial reprint of a 1916 eugenicist tract by Madison Grant, tying Americanism—patriotism—to racial purity. (Surely that is a stunt up someone’s sleeve.) Cow Eye Press sports a street address in Cheyenne, Wyoming, that is occupied by a registrar agent for company incorporation in the state, a firm that offers virtual offices in a locale “known for business-friendliness and respect for privacy.”
The progenitor of this novel, its faux leather back cover attests in urine-yellow type (a hue and liquid one finds in the narrative as well), “is an independent author of idiosyncratic fiction. His work has been published under multiple pseudonyms. Including this one.” Adrian Jones Pearson. He is on Facebook, of course.
The book looks like the kind of flotsam that arrives at literary-review offices (the surviving ones) across the country with numbing regularity. But we will ignore for the moment aesthetic issues, such as the elongated car that looms on the novel’s front cover like something out of the film Repo Man, to consider some of Pearson’s opinions regarding authorship and literary culture. If Pearson proves enough of a curiosity, we might condescend to examine some of Cow Country’s literary qualities.
“I’ve always had a severe distaste for all the mindless biographical drivel that serves to prop up this or that writer,” Pearson admits in an interview in a publication called Cow Eye Express, part of the auxiliary Web material associated with the novel. “So much effort goes into credentialing the creator that we lose sight of the creation itself, with the consequence being that we tend to read authors instead of their works. In fact, we’d probably prefer to read a crap book by well-known writer than a great book by a writer who may happen to be obscure,” the unknown writer asserts.
Hmm. Somewhere I have heard of an author as reclusive as J.D. Salinger (who has no further need to defend his privacy). No, not the Italian Elena Ferrante (also a pseudonymous invention), but an American. Rather than face what he (assuming the gender itself is not fictional) calls “a false and destructive system” that is nonetheless “a reality of our world,” Pearson notes that his response is to “manufacture disposable authorial personae for every book,” making each one earn its own way rather than piggybacking on whatever reputation a previous title may have earned its author.
That sounds like an honorable approach, as Pearson’s interviewer notes. Will it work? “Probably not,” Pearson concedes. “The reading public, and especially professional reviewers, tend to be pretty dismissive of new authors.” He allows that “skeptical” or “indifferent” might be a better characterization than “dismissive,” for unknowns lack the benefit of the doubt reflexively ceded to well-known authors. While Pearson recognizes that he may be consigned to “an utterly disjointed and fruitless literary career” as a result, there is an upside: He will not be forced to participate in a “dishonest system that I don’t believe in.”
Terrific, this seems promising enough to look into! We have an unknown author published by an unknown press with a huge chip on his shoulder about the state of our literary culture. What could be more interesting—albeit common—than that? But wait a minute, this is metafiction, fiction layered atop the fiction to orient our view of Cow Country itself. The interview is a fabricated story in a fabricated publication. Could someone be dropping clues like a row of bread crumbs, designed to stir in readers the thought that Pearson’s views are remarkably in line with those popularly believed to be held by a certain chimerical, widely known but seldom glimpsed author?
The only path forward from such an unanswerable question, much as it may pain us, will be to crack the covers of Cow Country and look under the hood of that ungainly car on its cover (a 1966 Oldsmobile Starfire, powder blue, in which a triumvirate of principal characters do some serious road time, it turns out). Rather than talk principally about Pearson or Pynchon, let us consider the literary sensibility of the author, sans any name, for a moment.
Imagine an Edward Hopper painting, or a Vermeer if you choose. It will be bathed in a certain light, a very specific quality of light that is common to most of the painter’s work and is rather readily recognizable, even when encountering a work of the artist that one has not seen previously. The literary sensibility evident in Cow Country has such a perspectival wash of its own, which saturates the novel’s narrative events, its characters, its concerns, its slackwater moments, its linguistic and philosophical play (complete with running jokes referencing California, tantric sex practices and Vedic imagery, vegetarianism, Esperanto, eugenics, bowls of barbiturates, technological progress and barren prose, Venn diagrams, and two wildly differing schematics meant to represent female orgasm).
Cow Country is at heart a playful novel, side-splittingly funny in a goofy, almost junior-high way, overworking its material far past expected bounds, taking Emily Dickinson’s idea of telling it “slant” and running with it in wild abandon, sometimes to the extent of losing its very breath. Nonetheless, it is clear that an extremely confident sensibility is in control, one neither unpracticed nor hesitant, one that is unabashed when its whim is to temporarily abandon forward narrative inertia for other ends. This sensibility will take its time, and not so coincidentally, messing with perceptions of time and progress and history are significant leitmotifs in Cow Country, as ambiguous time frames become the norm almost without notice. The U.S. flag bears from fifteen to forty-nine stars in its various appearances, for example, without explanation, and early on the narrator remarks casually about “the ominous red dirt stretching around me through the centuries.” There will be recurrent talk of lost civilizations, forgotten cultures, and tongues. The novel seems to revel in its own delight of cultural esoterica, and it displays both a fondness for and a corresponding suspicion of countercultural motifs of the 1960s–70s as well.
We find ourselves at Cow Eye Community College, situated in an unnamed western state amid a paroxysm of epic drought and self-doubt: the college is under threat of losing its accreditation, and Dr. Felch, its president, has hired the narrator to help unify a badly divided faculty to stave off what seems to be imminent institutional death. Charlie, whose title will be Special Projects Coordinator, admits that his own life has been “a collection of half-starts and near-misses,” the first of his two divorces entirely his fault but the second only primarily his fault, but he has new goals and not much time for a turnaround, either personally or for the endangered college itself. Need I mention that this novel is serious while spoofing, that the overwrought community college is a stand-in for community writ large, that high satire with a healthy dollop of bodily humor and a keen eye for paradox is this literary sensibility’s chosen (and perhaps as a person, inevitable) metier?
Many of the college’s edifices are named after various Dimwiddles, the patron family that supports the college with legacy money, descendants of a weapons manufacturer. “It was said that one out of every seven bullets fired in the world was made at the Dimwiddle Arsenal—and so each time an armed conflict flared up somewhere around the globe, the college received a direct influx of cash.” As an escort puts it to Charlie, “We’re very fortunate to have this mixed blessing.” That blood money supports a faculty that includes Will Smithcoate, a historian who refuses to update his thirty-year-old lecture notes; Alan Long River, a Native American public-speaking teacher who has not spoken to anyone at the college (including students) for a dozen years; and boisterous (and sexy) math professors prone to dressing as clowns and mermaids. And of course, the campus boasts its own shooting range.
Tense dichotomies—male/female, meat-eating/vegetarian, newcomers (change)/natives(tradition), conciliators/contenders, racial/racial—abound as Cow Country unspools in the proverbial middle of nowhere, the vacillating Charlie (“I may be many things [but] none of them entirely”) tasked with bringing harmony, gulling the accreditation committee, and recounting the entire travail. The fates of literature and the humanities and love itself hinge on the outcome, but the deck seems stacked against such underdogs:
“How can the great novel stand a chance in a place like Cow Eye,” the historian chides Charlie, “where the likelihood of finding an educated, well-remunerated, God-fearing, tax-paying grateful reader of meaningful fiction is so small as to be almost infinitesimal?” And on another front, when the accreditor committee is evaluating the college and is asked about the nature of love, its members reply that it would need to be “aligned with the overarching purpose for the college’s being; that it will need to be data-based and continually improving . . . measurable, replicable, scalable and incontrovertibly objective.”
This might be a good point to forget strict matters of content (such as the fact that the team-building exercise for new faculty at Cow Eye Community College is to corner and castrate a calf, an act equated metaphorically and literally by Dr. Felch as sowing the seeds of all European civilization) and look at some of the sensibility’s prose in an incontrovertibly objective manner. Here is a sample:
To say the campus of Cow Eye Community College differed from the town surrounding it and from which it got its name is to note that a daughter is often unrecognizable from the mother whose house she shares and whose surname she can no longer return to—or that an island tends to differ in color and content from the moister things around it.
To travel onto campus and off is to move from desiccation to verdure and back (the sensibility’s wording). Cow Country is structured into three main sections, representative of Eastern thought that the universe is endless cycles of emanation, incarnation, and dissolution, but even in the first creative phase of Emanation, the very opening of the novel, dark clouds clot the horizon: With the cattle industry twitching its last, “the cottage enterprises that always seem to rise from the carcass of moribund industry—the writer’s colonies, the yoga studios, the guided nostalgia tours through the abandoned meat-processing plants and slaughter houses—were already popping up like so many mushrooms from the scabbed-over dung piles of the countryside.”
What significant notice has the presence of this energetic (if loosely knitted and gamboling) work drawn in the literary press? Virtually none. Kirkus Reviews, which publishes capsule reviews of works well in advance of publication, termed it “a comical novel about life at a zany community college, from debut author Pearson.” Whether or not it is considered humorous would depend “on the reader’s patience for tongue-in-cheek jokes about backwardness,” Kirkus wrote. In the online San Francisco Book Review, a publication that runs sponsored reviews (i.e., paid for) among others, a review by blogger Axie Barclay totaling three short paragraphs plus a quotation from Cow Country credited the novel’s hilarious deadpan humor and its “keen-edged satirical comedy.” The Midwest Book Review, an organization and website devoted largely to promoting libraries and small-press publishing, mentioned the book and dismissed the idea that it would be accessible only to academic readers, calling it a “tour de farce.” And that seems to be the sum of it.
It is hard not to see some validity in Pearson’s assertions about unknown writers facing an uphill battle, given the silence that has so far greeted Cow Country. Certainly its publishing route is a factor as well, for widely recognized houses and imprints and independents such as Knopf, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Norton, and Graywolf, and a handful of others, do have an advantage when it comes to gaining the attention of reviewers and review-section editors.
To return, finally, to the question of the book’s sensibility and Pearson and Pynchon, my highly subjective but very strong impression is that the two authors are closer than kissing cousins, they are joined at the hip. The off-kilter sensibility one sees in the work of both would not be, in the words of the college accreditors, easily “replicable” by another, in my opinion. Encountering Cow Country was like going to a thrift shop and finding designer clothing with the labels cut off.
With a magnifying glass, one could look closely and find what seem to be minor instances of Pynchon jokes from earlier novels recycled in Cow Country, tweaked for their new context, perhaps the most specific evidence if one were searching for a smoking gun (“closure”) linking Pearson and Pynchon. But a far better way to contemplate the situation would be to immerse oneself in the skewed universe of the novel and feel (without extra effort) the pulsing of the mind behind its creation. Some of the reductive descriptive terms commonly applied to Pynchon’s work—zany, cartoony characters, oddball names—suffer not from their inaccuracy but from their inadequacy. They are visible here, too: In one paragraph, as if to say “Take THAT!” Pearson fires a quick burst of faculty names from the community college, names that came to him “like night through a windshield: Jumpston and Drumright and Manders and Poovey … Crotwell and Voyles. Kilgus and Spratlin and Yaxley and Jowers.” And that is not the half of them.
A more interesting quality of Pearson’s work—and a career-long Pynchonian characteristic—is the feeling of dislocation, as if one were in a box with no side labeled “UP” for orientation. The build-up of that sensation is in many cases subtle, the story line seems to be flowing along logical lines in a given direction, and only late in the day does a reader begin to feel slight confusion and question his or her own assumptions. The respondent in conversations that Charlie is having will jump from one character to another without transition, for example, and it becomes clear that it is not a single conversation but many, conflated, and they could not possibly be taking place at the same time (although paradoxically, the reader feels that they are). The flaming arrow sticking out of a covered wagon, which Charlie spots in the early pages of Cow Country, can be taken as the arrow of time, and indeed arrows crossing in the air and in diagrammatic form will appear repeatedly as we proceed. As college employees dicker over whether to use manual or electric typewriters, elsewhere in the novel the newcomers are decades ahead with their cultural accouterments. Will Smithcoate, the historian, adds the most spectacular perspective here, suggesting that “the future, you see, is but the past in disguise.”
To creep only slightly further out on a limb here, and just for fun, I would like to suggest that Pearson’s brief discussion of ruminal digestion—the cow’s internal food path—via Rusty Stokes, an animal science faculty member, is both a quick wink toward Melville and his whale minutiae and a parallel of the way that time is handled in the novel. Charlie repeats and repeats himself, characters repeat and repeat the essence of themselves when they suddenly pop into view, and something being passed for partial digestion (behind us as we read on) is then freighted up for new consideration (intellectual mastication), a loopy arrow of time if ever there was one, a ruminant opportunity. Not to mention that it bears some resemblance to the Eastern ideas of cyclical emanation, incarnation and dissolution.
The great Portuguese poet and novelist Fernando Pessoa created what he called heteronyms, alter egos or personas that allowed him to write as “them” instead of himself, a liberating and fruitful creative approach, he found. It is possible that something akin to that is going on here, if the same sensibility is behind both names, and that freeing oneself and one’s book from the connotation-heavy name seemed a good idea. However, Pessoa’s heteronyms are characters in his fiction—they express themselves and feel and act as personas—and that is not the case with Pearson, who, except outside the novel as his reality is created online, is merely a name affixed to Cow Country. So far.
I suppose that I could stand on some prominent public literary stage, such as the 92nd Street Y in New York, and offer myself up to be pelted by cow pies in expiation for hazarding all the above, should I be proved wrong. Personally, I think that chance is small, and encourage any reader who enjoys Pynchon’s work to check out Cow Country. It is certainly the closest to a Pynchonian experience one will encounter outside of a book actually bearing his name. If I am in error, to the person hiding behind Pearson I would say, To be taken for Pynchon is no small compliment but an enormous one, and your mimetic abilities in emulation of his sensibility are admirable. To Pynchon, I would say, Don’t fret, and issue a reminder that imitation is the highest form of flattery, no? - Art Winslow
http://harpers.org/blog/2015/09/the-fiction-atop-the-fiction/




At Harper's, Art Winslow unveils the literary conspiracy theory of the decade: Did Thomas Pynchon release a new novel under a pseudonym as a way of simultaneously escaping and critiquing the cult of personality that surrounds his writing? That secret Pynchon book, Winslow theorizes, is Cow Country, an obscure novel published earlier this year by the author Adrian Jones Pearson. The book itself freely admits that "Pearson" is a pseudonym, and its publisher Cow Eye Press appears to be a front; it was founded in 2014, Winslow writes, "apparently for the express purpose of issuing Cow Country and perhaps related follow-ons."
As an interview in the book's promo materials attests, Pearson's entire career is intended as a prank on the literary Establishment. "I’ve always had a severe distaste for all the mindless biographical drivel that serves to prop up this or that writer," Pearson tells his interviewer. "So much effort goes into credentialing the creator that we lose sight of the creation itself, with the consequence being that we tend to read authors instead of their works." In protest, the person currently known as Pearson chooses a new name for each project. "By forcing readers to focus solely on each book, I'm pretty much ensuring I will have an utterly disjointed and fruitless literary career," he explains. "But I feel good about my decision because I'm not forced to become complicit in a false and dishonest system I don't believe in." The orchestra of crickets that greeted Cow Country's release, then, would appear to be exactly what its anonymous author hoped for.
What leads Winslow to believe that it's Pynchon doing the pranking? For a start, there's the vast overlap between the two men's views on literary authorship. And then there's what Winslow sees as their similar sensibilities:
"Cow Country is at heart a playful novel, side-splittingly funny in a goofy, almost junior-high way, overworking its material far past expected bounds, taking Emily Dickinson’s idea of telling it “slant” and running with it in wild abandon, sometimes to the extent of losing its very breath. Nonetheless, it is clear that an extremely confident sensibility is in control, one neither unpracticed nor hesitant, one that is unabashed when its whim is to temporarily abandon forward narrative inertia for other ends. This sensibility will take its time, and not so coincidentally, messing with perceptions of time and progress and history are significant leitmotifs in Cow Country, as ambiguous time frames become the norm almost without notice. The U.S. flag bears from fifteen to forty-nine stars in its various appearances, for example, without explanation, and early on the narrator remarks casually about “the ominous red dirt stretching around me through the centuries.” There will be recurrent talk of lost civilizations, forgotten cultures, and tongues. The novel seems to revel in its own delight of cultural esoterica, and it displays both a fondness for and a corresponding suspicion of countercultural motifs of the 1960s–70s as well."
Other similarities abound, including the novel's love of "zany" places and names, its recycling of certain Pynchonian punch lines, and what Winslow calls its "feeling of dislocation, as if one were in a box with no side labeled 'UP' for orientation." By the end of Winslow's essay, we were ready to sign on for his lonely crusade to prove that Pynchon was the man behind Cow Country. But first, we decided to ask our contacts at Penguin for comment. And comment they did: "We are Thomas Pynchon's publisher and this is not a book by Thomas Pynchon." That seems to settle it!
But, then again, they would say that, wouldn't they? - Nate Jones


Meet Adrian Jones Pearson, Author
Adrian Jones Pearson is an independent author of idiosyncratic fiction. His work has been published under multiple pseudonyms, including this one. Check out Cow Country, Adrian's novel set at a fictional community college, and learn more about him on his website. 1. How did you come up with the setting for your novel? Well, I had always wanted to write a novel about the rise and fall of American civilization, and of course the American community college was the most obvious choice for the setting. The fact that Cow Eye Community College is located in a region that is itself in decline--with unprecedented drought conditions, changing demographics, a dying ranching industry, and an uneasy community struggling to come to terms with it all--made it even more perfect for my purposes. Plus, the year I spent in Cow Eye Junction was really an amazing experience, and I truly enjoyed my stay there; by the time I left, I knew for sure that this was the place to set my novel. And the rest, as they say, is history. 2. I don't think I've ever read about the college accreditation process in a novel before. What were the challenges of writing about this process? Of course the main challenge is that it's an incredibly dull subject that is not really worthy of literary consideration. Most people, if they're going to take the time to read fiction at all, will generally prefer to read stories about interesting personalities and events. So, yes, it was definitely a challenge. But as an author I also saw it as a great opportunity. Because if you can write about regional accreditation in a new and exciting way--if you can somehow make it sexy--then that would surely qualify as an accomplishment worthy of literary immortality. 3. Would you tell us a little bit about the main character of Cow Country? Sure. The main character is a man named Charlie who moves to Cow Eye Junction after a series of failed jobs and fruitless personal relationships. He's the kind of person who tends to be a lot of different things yet none of them entirely--in other words, the type who willingly chooses to go into educational administration. Over the course of the novel, we see Charlie trying to do his job while also attempting to leave a meaningful legacy of some kind. But the world around him is changing so fast that he can't keep up. Ultimately, he fails in rather spectacular ways, as is so often the case with educational administration.
4. What is your own experience with community college? I am, in fact, a community college faculty member and administrator, and so a lot of what happens in the book does come from my own personal experience. The castration scene, for example, and the focus group--not to mention the creative writing workshop, the tantric discovery session, and the Christmas party where faculty members are treated to a cow blowing demonstration--all of these are based on situations that I've found myself in, or that have happened to me in my career. With Cow Country, I really tried to leave no stone unturned in depicting the contradictions of American life, and I've been extremely fortunate to be able to draw so extensively upon my professional experiences in academia, and specifically my time spent in the community college environment. 5. As someone who teaches at a community college and struggles to find time to write, I have to ask you: where do you find time to write? It's not easy, that's for sure! As a community college instructor, you really have to make a concerted effort to find time for your writing, even if it comes at the expense of student learning and success. At least, that's the approach that I take, and I've found that it works quite well for me. Otherwise, I tend to catch myself exerting incredible amounts of time and creative energy--all my artistic exuberance really--on my students. In my younger, pre-tenured days I devoted myself entirely to my teaching, and I did it in the most tireless and self-effacing way. And now when I look back on that time of my life, I think, you know, those years are gone, and I will never get them back--and I feel a tremendous sadness. Probably the turning point in my evolution came when I hung a Japanese calendar over the narrow window in my office door so students couldn't see that I was in. This was such a simple and understated act of liberation--yet it immediately felt as if a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders! Since then, I've developed countless other strategies to help me cope from one semester to the next. For one, I avoid the composition classes like a plague. But if I do happen to get one, I always make sure to give minimal handwritten feedback on student essays, and those comments that I do give I tend to focus mostly on grammar and punctuation and other issues of syntax that don't require much concentration on my part. In class I have the students work in small groups to correct each other's drafts and provide peer feedback (previously I would provide the feedback myself) while I circulate around the room ostensibly overseeing group discussion but in fact working out important issues of character and plot development in my mind. I also have a system of coded symbols for feedback, and I use a five-point scoring rubric to simplify grading. (I just have to check boxes!) If a student needs individualized help with a particularly difficult concept being covered in my class, I don't hesitate to refer them to the tutoring center for a detailed explanation. And of course I try to incorporate as much technology in the classroom as possible--online instructional materials, web resources, automated graders and the like--to streamline the teaching process and to make it more efficient, which really helps to free up more time for my writing. Of course it's never easy to balance one's creative endeavors with the mind-numbing and creativity-sapping drain that is effective classroom instruction at the community college level. But I think after many years of struggle, I've finally found that balance for myself. And in fact, Cow Country is a wonderful testament to that compromise, evidence that even the most impossible creative feat can be accomplished if you just set your mind to it! -


Adrian Jones Pearson is an independent author of idiosyncratic fiction. His novels have been published under multiple pseudonyms, including this one.

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