The Only Constant

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When I was hired to teach English here in Richland Center in 2018, the University of Wisconsin colleges were in the middle of a process called regionalization. Previously, all the colleges (except for the flagship campus in Madison) reported to an entity called the University of Wisconsin System, but under the new organization, each region had its own central campuses, with smaller campuses nearby effectively becoming branches of the larger campus. As such, even though I was hired by the University of Wisconsin-Richland, I began teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Richland. (The campus in Baraboo also became a branch of the Platteville campus at this time.) One benefit of this was that when I came to my new hire orientation, I got a lot of free swag with the old UW-Richland logo, since the campuses was transitioning to new Platteville branding. Free shirts and coffee mugs are still free shirts and coffee mugs, regardless of what’s on them, right?

Needless to say, the regionalization process had its supporters and its critics, and I still don’t feel like I know enough about it to have an informed opinion one way or the other, but as with everything else I do in life, I was committed to making the best of the situation. There’s no question that I’ve enjoyed my time in Wisconsin so far, and even though I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m always going to feel like a transplanted Toledoan wherever I go, I could very easily see myself finishing my teaching career, and maybe even retiring, here in Wisconsin. I still need to get back to Toledo for a visit one of these summers, but the timing just hasn’t worked out.

I was originally supposed to go back to Ohio in May of 2020 for the commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Kent State Massacre, both for personal reasons and to help me research my next book, but those plans were obviously disrupted by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business at the Platteville campuses was disrupted as well, and dealing with the specific disruptions on my end of things has been a real challenge. Like most colleges, Platteville has had to deal with enrollment drops — students and their families are rightfully worried about spending so much money during such an uncertain time, they may have health concerns about in-person classes, and may know that a lot of students just don’t learn as well taking classes online — but we’ve also had a fair number of instructors quit or retire since the start of the pandemic. Navigating these changes has unquestionably been difficult, and I’m not sure you could pay me enough money to make the kinds of decisions that my bosses have had to make these past couple of years.

A significant number of English instructors have left the Platteville campuses over this time, which has kept those of us who remain quite busy, even with reduced enrollment. The big quirk for me was the fact that despite so many English instructors leaving the Platteville campuses as a whole, everyone here in Richland Center has stayed, which has resulted in me teaching more online courses lately to make sure that there’s enough instruction going on at the other campuses. This, in turn, led to discussion over the past nine months or so of the possibility of me moving to another campus, in order to optimize the course offerings at all the campuses. As the most recent English hire at Richland, I was probably going to be the best candidate to move anyway, but I’m also the only English instructor here who isn’t married and isn’t raising a school-age child right now. Taking those things into account, it’s a no-brainer to me that I should absolutely be the one to move to another campus if the need came up.

There was some talk late last year of me moving to Baraboo, but that move never materialized, in large part because the company that bought my apartment complex last year kind of left me hanging about staying here. (The new company that took over the complex this April looks to be a lot better about that kind of stuff, at least so far.) I’d been scheduled to teach classes here in Richland this autumn, and even though I never stopped considering the possibility of being asked to move here, it felt like that possibility had died down for at least the remainder of the calendar year.

Last Monday, though, I got an email from one of my bosses, asking me if I could move to Platteville this summer to begin teaching on the main campus this September. The email kind of hit me out of nowhere, even though I was more than aware of the possibility of receiving it, so I asked if I could have a day to come up with the questions I was sure to have about the offer. I should have said that I wanted to “sleep on it,” though, because I couldn’t sleep at all Monday night, and I wound up waiting until Wednesday to ask my questions so I felt lucid when I typed up that email. My bosses kept getting back to me, and even though there are still a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross, it’s looking pretty likely now that I’ll be moving to Platteville in August.

Ever since the possibility of me moving to another campus reared its head, I’ve been thinking about the benefits and drawbacks to living in each of the three towns that UW-Platteville has a campus in. Platteville itself is a college town, about half the size of Bowling Green in Ohio, and it has a lot more amenities that appeal to me from having lived most of my life in suburban Toledo. (Similarly, even though Baraboo isn’t as big, a lot of those amenities are also close-by there due to being so close to Wisconsin Dells.) For all that southwest Wisconsin is beautiful wherever you go, though, the Richland campus, being the smallest of all the UW campuses, is able to tuck itself into the natural beauty a lot more; the vistas I see whenever I go to campus remind me a lot of the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, north of the 45th parallel, which Mom always called the most beautiful land on earth (and I’m still inclined to agree with her after all these years).

Even though I’ve got a lot more time to plan out this move than I had when I was first hired by Richland in 2018, and a lot more money to help make it happen smoothly, I think I’m even more intimidated by the process now than I was four years ago. Not only am I having to deal with the pandemic as I work out the logistics of my next move, but I’ve also got four years’ more stuff to haul with me, and even if I’m only moving about an hour away, that’s still a huge shift for me to make, especially when I’m teaching three courses this summer and trying to get the work for my next book back on track here.

I think the worst part of all of this, though, is that I’m nearing the end of my fourth year as a Wisconsinite, and I’m still feeling out of place here. As much as I needed to leave Toledo a few years ago, I think I internalized all the messages I got in my early years about how much of a fuck-up people thought I was, and how no one but Mom ever believed that I’d amount to anything, that it still feels like me leaving Toledo was never meant to happen. It’s almost a form of impostor syndrome, and especially as I move to a much larger campus here, I think those feelings are only going to get worse after I get settled in Platteville and start teaching there.

Moving from Ohio to Colorado in 2017, and then to Wisconsin in 2018, filled me with doubt as well, but even though both of those moves turned out okay, it’s hard to avoid feeling like things could still quickly take a turn for the worse here, and not just because of the pandemic. I’m not even moving to another state this time, but this is still a substantial move, and even though I’ve had a week to get used to it, I’m still spending huge chunks of my day figuring out what I need to do, and how I even got to this point in the first place. I’m sure that most things will work out for the better as a result of my upcoming move, but I’m still feeling in a daze as a result of all this stuff. These kinds of feelings can’t be assuaged so easily with free shirts and coffee mugs, so I hope I can figure out what I need to do on my own here.

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