The Affordable Care Act and my writing life

There’s a little scene in my book between my heroine, Mary, and Winslow, a town cop who’s made his interest in her pretty clear. She has just been laid off and isn’t feeling terribly well (for reasons many readers will have guessed) as they await Sunday dinner at Winslow’s dad’s farm:

The cracker was helping, and she reached for another with genuine appetite.
“There, you look better. You might want to get your blood sugar checked.”
“I haven’t gotten a doctor here yet. I probably just need to eat a better breakfast.”
“Potter is good; you met him when Father Arthur was sick.”
“I suppose I probably should get a check-up before the insurance runs out.”
“What do you mean?”
“It ends when my severance ends.”
She shook her head. “It’s very expensive.”
“You could get in a jam if you drop it. I’ve seen it happen.”
“And I might lose the house if I have to pay COBRA. I think that would qualify as more of a jam.”
He leaned back. “Lawson Police Department employees have excellent family health coverage.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Is there a job opening I should know about?”
“I just thought you should know.” He smiled.
Was this what passed for flirting nowadays? Look, baby, I’ve got great health insurance.

It’s not exactly the stuff of romance, is it? COBRA?  Fear of getting in a jam without health insurance? I’m dating my book! This scene should be completely obsolete soon. If by some miracle it’s still being read in fifty years, those readers will be wondering what the hell I’m talking about.

God, I hope so.

But I don’t feel bad about dating it. What would Jane Austen be without her attention to what various incomes — or lack thereof — meant to our heroines? Their economic reality informed every major choice they made.

As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of meeting people’s basic human need for access to affordable health care. So I’m a fan of the ACA even though it put a serious wrench in my life this year – and will probably do so again next year.

Last spring I learned that the college where I’ve taught for four years wasn’t going to allow adjuncts to teach more than two classes this fall. Usually I’ve had twice that, although it’s  not anything I can truly depend on.

For some of my most talented teaching friends, this was salutary. They got the hell out. The adjunct life is demoralizing enough without losing any hope of scraping a living out of it. While in the past, this college had hired mostly from its adjunct pool, that hadn’t happened for four years and wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. And while the college has faced serious challenges, like most of the rest of American higher education and quite a lot of American business, it has gotten far too comfortable with its vast supply of cheap, part-time, non-benefited workers.

For me, though, this presented an opportunity. I wanted more time to devote to my writing, I wanted to try to make a go of self-publishing, and I also wanted to stay in the classroom. Plus, these days my husband has the primary job and benefits in our family, and the tax man would actually penalize us if I got a good full-time job.

So I decided this summer was the perfect time to start Sheer Hubris Press. (Okay, so I also tried for a teaching gig at UAlbany, but I correctly guessed that I had little chance of getting it.)

Then the provision in the Affordable Care Act that caused all this havoc was delayed for a year. I dithered for a little while before I volunteered for more courses. Now I’m back up to my normal load of four.

So …now life gets crazy. I’ve had a full summer getting Sheer Hubris Press underway, but next week approximately 96 students become my top priority.

But it’s okay. One, I really do love teaching. A successful class recharges me in ways nothing else can. I love my students.

Two, it doesn’t hurt to get a little more money in the bank. The Awful Mess: A Love Story isn’t going to be paying our mortgage any time soon. I have high hopes that a promotion I have planned for next month will at least get it some recognition (check back next Monday!), but I’m going to be giving away the earnings it might bring in, at least for the month of September.

One, it’s for a good cause (Feeding America — because I’m also a big fan of the basic human right to not go hungry.). Two, as author friend Jenny Milchman put it only recently, this writing business is a very long game. That’s even more the case when you’re indie-publishing and nobody knows who you are. And that’s why I chose this route, actually. I suspect that my books are going to require a very long game, longer than a traditional publisher can afford.

So if you don’t see me flapping about marketing my book a whole lot after next month, you’ll know why. I’ll still be carrying on in the background, between student essays. Next up: A paperback edition (because I’ve gotten a book group request), and getting the next book ready for publication. And I have to fit in the premier of that one-act play, too, somehow!

I do plan to keep this blog up. I usually make my students write the equivalent of a paper a week, so it’s the least I can do.

Thanks so much for being here with me at the beginning!


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