Felice Picano, or How I Supported My Graduate School Habit

There have been several bloggy postings (such as this one with links to other blogs and this funny Bart Simpson-video one) recently about Thomas H. Benton’s recent Chronicle article warning our undergraduate students to avoid going to graduate school in the humanities, no matter strong their passion for literary studies. He also categorizes the reasons why students continue to go to grad school despite all evidence that their odds of finding full time jobs are plummeting with each day (and I mean full time jobs anywhere—the supposed fall back position at a community college is a myth: we are hiring 3 full time temps for next year at my cc and that is despite a double digit increase in enrollment).  Some of Benton’s categories certainly reflect my reasons for going to grad school a mere 3 years after graduating college and testing out various “careers”-all of which ultimately bored me to tears:

  • They received high grades and a lot of praise from their professors, and they are not finding similar encouragement outside of an academic environment. They want to return to a context in which they feel validated.
  • With the prospect of an unappealing, entry-level job on the horizon, life in college becomes increasingly idealized. They think graduate school will continue that romantic experience and enable them to stay in college forever as teacher-scholars.

I did have a pragmatic reflex, however: I didn’t invest a lot of energy in my entrée into grad school, only applying to 3 programs, assuming I’d stick with the one a mere 20 blocks from where I was working at the time, and where I thought I’d continue working (not).  And I stuck with it, despite those who asked me WHY I was entering the field when there were no jobs (this 20 years ago-the job crisis trend that never seems to end) and despite teaching 2 courses a semester for my first year, and 3-4 a semester during my next 6 years, as well as a juggling a few other jobs to pay the rent. 

And that’s really where I wanted to go with this post: those OTHER jobs, particularly one other job,  I did to make money during grad school.

And no, I’m not talking prostitution or selling my virginity or anything like this woman.

I had the traditional working in a bookstore (independent, naturally, thus lower paid than Barnes and Noble, but more “noble”), one that attracted the struggling grad student, so I was in great company. I even met a man there, who offered me several years of physical and emotional support (as well as psychological and emotional trauma, but that’s sort of off the subject) as I was writing the diss., so the job paid off in many ways. 

But the more interesting job that paid more per hour than the bookstore (and was the least stressful of all my jobs, including, naturally, teaching composition) was data entry. Before bookstore-man, I was dating another man whose father somehow had a contact who worked for Felice Picano’s publisher-I wish I remembered, but I don’t know if it was literally his own publishing company at the time, Sea Horse Press.  The publisher needed someone to type his previously published novels into Word or WordPerfect-probably the latter-so they would have an electronic copy.  For $10.00 an hour, and as a fast and accurate typist, I said “yes, I can!”

Felice Picano today

Felice Picano today

The New York Years by Felice Picano

The New York Years by Felice Picano

The interesting thing about Picano’s work is that it’s all about sex, gay sex.  (If you’re interested, you can read more about him here at Wikipedia and here at his website, which lists his current speaking engagements, and at the Barnes and Noble website here.)  This was during the late 1980s, after he’d already gained some fame when he was a finalist for the Ernest Hemingway Award (interesting connection there) for Best First Fiction with his 1975 novel Smart as the Devil. He also wrote memoirs, short stories and non fiction.  I don’t remember the titles I typed up, but they were memoirs: very vividly written, and engaging memoirs, too.  I was hooked as I typed, and not just by the sex (gay or not, according to recent reports, women respond to many sexual permutations). The writing was truly appealing. Yes, there was the occasional clunky description or sentence, but my youthful memory is of truly good writing: I wanted to read more, but alas, my dissertation topic was on an entirely different topic, so I never did get the time to read more.

But I’ve been thinking about Picano lately and all those very late hours I spent typing his work. I’m curious how it holds up and wonder what he’s writing about now. I am working on a paper that explores aging in fiction (think middle aging, such as Mary Gordon’s novel Spending: A Utopian Divertimento), and I’m curious whether Picano’s more recent work goes in the same direction. I’m thinking it does, or perhaps I’m projecting?

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