By David Press
When I came home in May 2012, after graduating from Brooklyn College with my Masters in writing and literature, I had no job, but I knew that teaching was my only way to employment. I was a freelance writer most of my time in New York City, but it never led to a permanent job and those experiences drove me towards being a fiction writer, so I focused on that. And what do fiction writers do? They teach. So I put my energy into being a college professor. I wanted to come back to my hometown to create as a job. My friend Tim Brearton, a crime novelist, and I founded a company called ADK Mogul, which supplied a crew list for films shooting in the area. We made one short film and got people jobs on the sets of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and along with Aaron Woolf (director of King Corn), championed the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign that helped fund area movie theaters with expensive digital projectors.
I came to do the work I wanted to do that I couldn’t do in New York City – not with various odd jobs, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off. That included teaching. I would be one of thousands of English adjunct teachers with a hot off the press – sorry, not sorry – MFA. Small fish in a big pond with hundreds of small fish looking just like me, or however that analogy goes. In Lake Placid, I would be one of a handful of English teachers.
I was right. By July, I got an adjunct teaching job at North Country Community College. This led to another offer to be an eighth grade English teacher at National Sports Academy. In Lake Placid’s Starbucks, I sat down with Phil Taylor, Dean of the Commercial, Applied, and Liberal Arts Department at Paul Smith’s College. He offered me one 8 a.m. English 101 course. With three courses at NCCC and one at PSC there was no way I could teach at PSC, NCCC, and National Sports Academy; so I had to make a hard choice.
I turned down NSA out of not being comfortable teaching middle school. Turns out that was one of the best – if not the best – decisions I’ve ever made. NSA closed two years later because of low funding. I would have been out of a job.
But that’s not why it was one of the best choices I ever made. Taking that one 8 a.m. English course led to meeting my future wife – Meggan Frost. There was a small group of staff and contingent faculty, all in their late twenties and early thirties, and some new to the area. Meggan, Andy Kelly, Joe Orefice, Marina Potter, Kate Glenn, and myself would spend weekends at each other’s apartments. (I was still living with my parents – despite teaching four to five classes, I was not making enough to afford my own apartment.)
It wasn’t until after New Years 2012 that I thought about asking Meggan out. She played clarinet in a local band called Crackin’ Foxy. She has a background as a professional musician, and she read everything. Most of the girls I dated in my twenties were the opposite of me – in finance, architecture, and non-creative. So they saw my passion as a hobby, but Meggan was the first one who understood my creative drive.
Not just a talented and hardworking musician, Meggan is also a graphic designer who drew when she was young, and minored in creative writing at Ithaca College. She understands my desire to write is not related to my day job. There is not a day that goes by that her compassion, empathy, and sheer ability to do anything she puts her mind to that doesn’t wow me. As a mother, she is rippling with knowledge and love for our son Calvin. In our four years of a relationship she has spearheaded so many projects with our home. Coming with a Midwestern-do-it-yourself attitude we’ve ripped up carpet in the kitchen, repainted the back porch, painted the bedroom, gutted a useless barn door that doubled as a garage, and installed a wall and a door to the basement. She even Sawz-all’d[i] a murder closet in the basement. This amazing space had a shower, 1950s Christmas decorations, rat bones, and a Tijuana Bible. We installed a pellet stove, re-did the kitchen, and the upstairs bathroom, and restored a garden that was overrun with Snow on the Mountain (aka Bishop’s Weed. Thanks for your helpful information, Randall Swanson!)
If it was me, I would have dropped the good old New York credo: “Yah getta guy!” to do all that work. Instead, I’ve learned a lot about home improvement.
I asked Meg to marry me in this white house with red doors and huge two-lot yard. We brought our son Calvin home to this house.
All this, because we both took a risk and said yes to Paul Smith’s College. Meg moved twelve hours away from friends and family in Michigan. I returned home to live with my parents and do the work I’ve wanted to do since I was thirteen. So I said yes to a college who has students and majors way out of my liberal arts experience.
We’ve done incredible work. We’ve achieved the goals we wanted to achieve when we came here. Paul Smith’s College has enabled us to do these things – to become better, more empathic teachers and people. The college helped me build a teaching career: I teach freshman composition, where the beginning stages of leading an empathic life begins. Creative writing: where I build on that empathic, creative life while giving the lessons I’ve learned in the twenty-three years I’ve been learning to be a writer. Lessons from great teachers like Denny Wilkins, Bob Viscusi, Ben Lerner, Helen Phillips, and even Stephen King – indirectly from his book On Writing. In Art of Film, I teach the importance of creative collaboration – no one can be all things, because everyone needs support. Meggan and I do that for each other. You have to work together to have a rewarding personal life. Most of all in my comics class where I teach my first love. Writing comics helped boost this learning disabled kid to show that I can write, that I do have something to say, and no one has any right to say I can’t write because I’m quote-unquote disabled. Comics gave me confidence and I give that confidence back to students in that class. You can do any job if you have the skill of writing and telling a story. The core of any story is in a standard comic book panel description: who are the people in the panel? What are they doing? How do they feel and what are they saying?
It was in that class that I often get from students, “Why this class? It doesn’t really fit in here (at PSC).” That’s why I teach it, because it’s different from what others would teach here, because it doesn’t fit in, because I never fit in anywhere. And that’s why I’m not afraid to move to Bloomington, Indiana. It’s because of my comics class that I met Zack Rosenberg, a PSC hospitality alum who helped me put together my first graphic novel, Walden, co-written with a brilliant colleague Curt Stager. I can’t thank Zack and Curt and our artist Emilyann Cummings enough for helping me get my comics career started and letting me work with them.
Meggan and Calvin are the greatest personal gifts I’ve ever received from PSC; Walden the Graphic Novel is the greatest professional gift. The greatest gift of all is the five years here because I stepped way out of my comfort zone and became enriched by the personalities, stories, and experiences at this college. I’ve never had such an education in life and work than in these five years here.
Thanks to Andrew Andermatt, Rebi Romeo, and the Big Three – John Radigan, Bob Seidenstein, and Charlie Alexander. (Thanks for the binder idea! I’ve never been more organized in my life!) You all made me a better teacher. To Phil Taylor, Sarah Maroun, Eric Holmlund – who made me a full-time faculty member – to Karen Edwards, I would not be where I am today, or where I’m going without any of you.
Most of all, to my students from 2012 to 2017. There are 567 of you. Wow. You went on this ride with me, you helped me become a kinder, empathic person, and that is something that I can never repay fully. (Yes, I know, adverb. Let it go!) With these lessons, I feel comfortable moving onto the next chapter of the book of my life in Bloomington, Indiana.
I love you all.
I’ve never lived outside of the Tri-State area for a prolonged period of time. I’ll know nobody except for Meggan and Calvin when I’m there. This reminds me of the comic book Ex Machina #40, written by my favorite writer Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Tony Harris. In this comic, the creators of the comic book meet their creation – the fictional NYC Mayor Mitchell “The Great Machine” Hundred – when Hundred wants his official biography to be a graphic novel. Vaughan admits to his creation about his debate leaving New York City and moving with his girlfriend to California. He doesn’t want to abandon New York, move far away from his family. Hundred says to Vaughan, “If you’re not with your people a city is just a place. Los Angeles needs New Yorkers too.”
So I’m taking New York with me to Indiana.
One final note: Come out to the 2017 Lake Placid Film Forum where I am the faculty advisor for PSC’s film team. The Sleepless in Lake Placid Student Film Competition asks students from New York State college film programs to write, direct, and edit a short film in 24 hours. This is the first time there’s been a team from PSC, so come out and support us if you’re in the area. The student showcase is June 9 at 7 p.m. at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
Thank you, again, for everything. If you want to stay in touch you can find me at davidpress.net, where you’ll find email and social media of your choice. Let me know if I can help any of you in anyway.
[i]. Yes, that is the first time that I can find that a major demolition tool has been used as a verb. DO NOT QUESTION IT. (Smiles. Walks away.)
David Press was an English Instructor at Paul Smith’s College, now he’s a dad and co-writer of WALDEN THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, a comic book adaptation of Dr. Curt Stager’s work on how climate change has affected Walden Pond. He and his family are moving to Bloomington, Indiana and can be found online at davidpress.net.