Monday, November 12, 2018

Spoiler Alert

I've written more than a hundred pages of my book, Obsessions of a Workaholic, and since it is a memoir, I obviously know how it's going to end. The novel I've been writing, on the other hand, is  different because I've been trying to figure out the right way to end it.

One of my favorite movies is Alex and Emma, which is about a writer (Luke Wilson) struggling to write his second novel and the stenographer (Kate Hudson) transcribes the story for him after his laptop is broken. At the beginning of the movie, the stenographer, Emma, says that she decides whether or not to buy a book by reading the ending first because if she doesn't like the ending, she knows the book won't be worth reading.

I have to admit that I sometimes do the same thing when I'm browsing in a bookstore, especially when it's the book of an author I've never heard of. For example, I picked up a chick lit novel and skipped ahead to the ending, which was melodramatic and sad. There are some love stories, like Romeo and Juliet, where it's okay if the ending is tragic; if you think about it, Romeo and Juliet had to die, in order to show how destructive the feud between their families was. But the ending of that chick lit novel irritated me, especially because in most chick lit novels, the main guy and girl usually do end up together, and I knew I didn't want to read more than three hundred pages only to see both of them end up alone. I checked the Amazon reviews for that book, and judging by the angry reviews that dozens of readers posted, I could tell that I wasn't alone in this opinion.

On the other hand, sometimes knowing the ending of a story ahead of time ruins it for me. When I was in college, I read Anna Karenina for fun (I should also add that I liked reading the dictionary and thesaurus for fun because I really was and still am a big nerd). The book is almost nine hundred pages long, which is why it took me a long time to get through it. I had only read about seven hundred pages when a fellow English major, who saw that I was reading the book, spoiled the ending for me by telling me what happened to Anna Karenina (despite the fact that I was a well-read English major, I really didn't know). Of course, my reaction to that English major was basically this:


Of course, I would have rephrased it like this: Hello. My name is Neurotic Workaholic. You spoiled the ending of a book that has taken me weeks to finish. Prepare to die.

But either way, the ending of a book is the most important of the story, in my opinion, because an ending can make or break a story. The story does not need to have a happy ending in order to be a good story, but it does need to be a satisfying one.

I read a novel recently that was written by someone I follow on Instagram. It had a very interesting, original premise, and there were parts of it that were very well-written. There was a love triangle in the book, where the female protagonist was torn between two men. But then all of a sudden a new guy popped up, and she inexplicably transferred the love she claimed to feel for one of the other guys for the new guy. Despite the narrator's insistence that the new guy was the "right" guy for her, it made no sense to me, considering that more than half the novel was about her love for one of the guys in the original triangle and all the risks she took to be with him. The story also ended in a very disappointing way, so that I responded by exclaiming, "That's IT? Are you KIDDING me?" I wanted to track down the author and say, "Hello. My name is Neurotic Workaholic. You wrote an unsatisfying and unrealistic ending to your novel. Prepare to be whapped in the face with your own book."

Of course, writers can end their stories however they want; they don't have to write endings that don't feel right to them just so it'll satisfy their readers. But when I read a story with an unsatisfying ending, it leaves me feeling frustrated and like I wasted time getting invested in characters who didn't get the ending they deserved.

It's also the reason why I struggle with writing the ending to my own stories because I want to make sure that they ring true. One way I do that is by writing several alternate endings; that way, I can figure out which one sounds best and which one makes the most sense for the characters. Of course, I can't do the same thing for the ending of my memoir because if I had the ending I really wanted, the book would conclude with me driving off into the sunset with a giant bag of money, a dog (I've always wanted to adopt my own dog), and my mortal enemies (yes, I have more than one) being dragged away to prison and/or hell.

What about you? Do you ever skip ahead to the ending of books? Do you struggle to write the ending of your own stories?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Not the Marrying Kind

Recently, a cute guy my age sent me a friend request on Facebook. His profile stated that he was from the same town that I grew up in, but I didn't remember him. We had several mutual friends on Facebook, however, and he looked vaguely familiar; I thought he might have been one of the neighborhood kids that I used to play with when I was younger.

I accepted the friend request, but then he sent me a message with the waving hand emoji (side note: really? He can't just say hi? What is it with emojis anyway? It's like, we're 37, not twentysomething Millennials who eat avocado toast every day.). But the emoji wasn't why I didn't write back.

His profile stated that he was interested in meeting women, so he was probably hoping to flirt with me and see if it led to anything more. I was tempted at first to respond. He was attractive, and although he no longer lived in the same town that we grew up in, he now lived in a town that was close to College Town. But he was also clearly impatient because when I didn't respond to his emoji right away, he unfriended me just a few hours later.

He wasn't the only guy who's tried to flirt with me. Ever since I joined Instagram, I've gotten many DMs (direct messages) from random guys who clearly view the site as a way to meet women. These guys typically only have 1-6 posts on Instagram, keep their pages private, and are following hundreds or thousands of other people on Instagram, most of them women.

Here are some of their messages:

Instagram guy #1: Hey.

Instagram guy #2: Hello beautiful. You are so gorgeous. Has anyone told you how beautiful you are? Please DM me.

Instagram guy #3: Hello sexy lady I would like to get to know you better. Send me some private pics please. (I had to resist the urge to send him pictures of an inflatable doll with the caption, "Meet your new girlfriend.")

Instagram guy #2 (again): Hey I saw you liked one of my posts, so why didn't you write back to my DM? Why are you teasing me like this?

Instagram guy #4: I've been very lonely since my wife left me for some guy who makes more money than me. I think it would be fun for us to get to know each other better. Send me a DM beautiful. (These guys never address me by name, which makes me think they send the exact same message to all the women on Instagram that they're interested in.)

Some of them are clearly catfish, meaning they're using fake pictures of good-looking male models in order to entice women to respond to them. How do I know they're catfish? For one thing, my "type" has always been the good-looking, muscular jock, which is why I follow several male fitness models on Instagram (and some of them have followed me back, but they're not the ones who are DMing me, unfortunately). So, some of the catfish who have sent me DMs are the ones who've stolen a couple pictures from the real fitness models and posted them on their own pages. Even the Model told me that several guys had stolen his pictures from Instagram and created fake dating profiles on multiple dating sites to entice unwitting women.

Whether they're catfish or just guys who are stupid enough to think that if they call me "beautiful" enough times I'll send them pictures of my chest (I WON'T), I haven't responded to any of their messages and block them from contacting me again, especially if they get too aggressive. I also haven't rejoined any of the dating sites. After what happened with the Model, I'm still not ready to date anyone. I thought maybe it was partly because I still had feelings for him, although some of those feelings include the desire to push him into a shark-infested ocean.

But I think it's more than that. I don't have cable anymore, but the one current show that I do keep up with (I usually watch it at the gym) is Elementary. One thing I like about the show is how it depicts Sherlock Holmes as someone who fell in love with someone who deceived and betrayed him in the worst way; that's something that I can relate to. One way he deals with his heartbreak is by immersing himself in his work as a brilliant detective.

In one of the episodes from the second season, his female partner, Joan Watson, is struggling with her ambivalence towards her boyfriend. Sherlock tells her that she shouldn't force herself to be in a conventional relationship that she doesn't want to be in when she is unconventional. What he said struck a chord with me.

Whenever a guy liked me in the past, I usually felt annoyance or indifference. I thought maybe it was just because the guy and I weren't compatible. But I think it might have been something deeper than that, something I've suspected about myself for a long time: I don't want to be in a relationship with anyone.

On the one hand, I like the idea of falling in love. I DON'T like the idea of being alone for the rest of my life. But I also like that being single comes with certain freedoms : the freedom to live and work wherever I want (within reason), to travel wherever I want, and to spend my money and my weekends the way I want to.

I also wonder how some people are able to maintain long-term, monogamous relationships, especially because so many people fall out of love with their spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends. I think that the Model reached out to me that last time because he was bored being with the same woman every night, so he selfishly fulfilled his desires and ended up betraying both his girlfriend and me at the same time. Also, although I must admit that it makes me sad that he chose her to be his girlfriend instead of me, at the same time I'm willing to bet that she's not as oblivious to his selfishness and infidelity as he thinks she is. I think in order to be with a guy like him, she keeps her head stuck in the sand and pretends that he's as committed to her as she is to him.

There are people out there who don't have to be willfully oblivious like the Model's girlfriend and who stay faithful to each other because they love each other and don't want to be with anyone else.

When I was younger, I used to think that I'd meet the right guy someday and find happiness with him. After what happened with the Model, I have a much more cynical view of dating and men in general. I know that not all guys are like him, but I'm tired of dating and all the b.s. that comes with it. I don't want to take the risk of falling head over heels for someone else, only to have my heart pulverized all over again. It nearly destroyed me the last time, and I just can't go through that again. I just can't.

Several guys I met online last year, including the Artist, texted me every day and wanted to talk for hours every time. That did not charm or flatter me; it irritated me and made me feel like they were either smothering me or checking to see if I was out with other guys. It felt possessive and too much too soon, especially since even before I went out on my first date with the Artist he insisted on talking every day and got upset when I said I couldn't.

"When you like the guy, it'll be different," my hairstylist said, when I talked to her about some of the dates I'd gone on. "Then you'll want to talk to him every day." Maybe. But another reason it irritated me was that I have a full-time job and a part-time job, and I usually don't have the time or patience for long conversations.

I've always been an introvert who preferred my own company over almost everyone else's. I thought that meant that something was wrong with me, as my mother often says it is. But maybe I'm not meant to be with anyone. Maybe the reason I couldn't make it work with any of the guys I dated isn't just because they weren't right for me but because I'm not the marrying kind, and I'm just not good at relationships.

But who knows. The writer Emily Gould wrote at the end of her memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever, that she didn't want to be anyone's girlfriend and expressed doubts about the institution of marriage. But now, almost ten years later, she's happily married to another writer and has two kids with him. So maybe I'll end up like her. Or maybe I'll still be alone. In the meantime, it's been a relief not to worry about dating someone new and to focus instead on the other things that matter to me, like teaching and my writing.

What about you? Do you think it's true that some people just aren't the marrying kind?

Sunday, October 7, 2018

How I Became a Neurotic Workaholic

Two years before I left Chicago, I suffered a nervous breakdown and went into therapy. There were several reasons why I sought counseling, but the catalyst was that my best friend of more than fifteen years had ghosted me a year before. The last time we hung out, Former Friend told me that "it's not very attractive" to complain about work so much, even though they had vented about their job many times. After that, every time I suggested getting together to have coffee or lunch, Former Friend had an excuse for why they were too busy. It took me months to realize that they no longer wanted me in their life, which crushed me, because they were one of the only friends I had left.

In high school, I used to hide in my bedroom and shovel handfuls of peanut M&Ms into my mouth when dealing with my parents and sibling was too much for me. I gained thirty pounds in one year and struggled to lose the weight for years after that. I eventually lost weight by working out regularly and cooking healthier meals.

But after Former Friend ghosted me, I started binge eating and gaining weight again. I knew I needed help when I opened my refrigerator one day and realized that I'd filled all the shelves with large bags of peanut M&Ms. I was still in grad school at the time, so I went to the counseling center at my university, and they gave me a list of referrals to therapists who offered low-cost counseling.

At first, I felt ashamed and sad that I felt so alone that I had to pay a stranger to listen to me. But over the course of the next two years in therapy, I learned that there is no shame in seeking help when you need it, and I learned a lot of valuable things.

My therapist said that I suffered from depression and anxiety, including social anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My anxiety was connected to my workaholism, she said, because I always felt like I couldn't relax unless I got all my work done. But due to my graduate studies and multiple jobs, I always had a lot of work to do. My social anxiety was shown through my hyper-awareness of things most people took for granted. When I interacted with my students or with other people, afterwards I would berate myself for something I said or did wrong, and I thought that was all those other people remembered about me. I'd always known that I was neurotic and had low self-esteem, but it wasn't until I was in therapy that I realized how and why I became that way.

My therapist said something that struck a chord with me: "You are an amazing young woman. You're attractive, highly intelligent, and kind and compassionate to others. You've earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree; you're a Ph.D. candidate; you balance multiple jobs, and you're a good teacher. But you can't see anything good about yourself or recognize any of your accomplishments. All you see is what you think is bad about yourself because your family, especially your mother, has conditioned you to think that way."

When students approached me at the end of each term to tell me how much they enjoyed my class and that I was their favorite teacher, I used to think that they were just being polite. I thought the same thing when people complimented me on my writing. My therapist was right: I had internalized the verbal abuse that my parents and sibling had inflicted on me to the point that I couldn't recognize any compliments directed at me as being genuine. Although I hadn't lived with my parents and sibling for years, their voices were still in my head every day, pointing out everything I did wrong so that I was constantly obsessing about it.

I thought of the times my sibling and I fought and how they claimed that their screaming insults were justified because they were merely "responding" to my bad behavior. Sibling did not escape our parents' house unscathed, but is now in denial about the way they've treated us. Also, I always received the worst of it, like the time my father and sibling went out for ice cream, while I had to stay behind because my mother was angry at me; they knew that she would scream at me for hours while they were gone, which she did, but they left anyway. Both my father and Sibling are more willing than I am to tiptoe around my mother. Sibling says that stuff like that is my fault for "provoking" our parents because I talk back to them (my father and mother say the same thing). Sibling also says that I'm being too melodramatic about how they treat me.

I thought of my father, who is not usually as bad-tempered as my mother but who never protected me from her either. He has also made his share of cutting remarks, such as the time I was hired to teach at the college in Small Town and he said that it was good that I was "finally going to start working." I pointed out that I had been working multiple jobs for years, but he said they didn't count because none of those jobs were full-time and didn't come with health insurance or benefits.

Most of all, I thought of my mother, who has always criticized everything about me: my weight, my hair, my clothes, the way I walk, etc. Years ago, when she was visiting and I was out on an errand, she read through some of my course evaluations that my former students had filled out. Although most of the evaluations were highly positive, my mother honed in on the few that weren't. To this day, she reminds me of the bad things that my students said about me, to show that I made the wrong choice when I pursued a career in education, rather than the more lucrative career she and my father pressured me to pursue. Sibling caved in to my parents' demands and chose that career, which is partly why they favor Sibling over me.

I think that's one reason why I've spent all these years working so hard: I wanted to prove that my mother was wrong when she said that I wouldn't last five years as a teacher. But my therapist helped me realize that I shouldn't work so hard to get my parents' approval because they were toxic and nothing would ever be good enough for them.

Therapy also helped me realize how isolated I had become and that I needed something in my life outside of work. When I moved to Small Town, I accepted the invitation of Small Town Guy, who also worked at the college that hired me, to join his trivia team that met at a local bar every week. He introduced me to his other friends. They were kind to me and welcomed me into their group, and for the first time in years, I had an active social life.

I've been thinking about all of this as I've continued writing my book, Obsessions of a Workaholic. I also wondered why I let the Model push me around and why I blamed myself for everything that happened. My therapist might have said that I'd been conditioned to believe that the problem was solely within me, not in the people who treated me badly. But I don't put all the blame on my relatives for why I fell for the Model.

When he first messaged me on Tinder, I had just recently moved to College Town. I was lonely for the friends I left behind in Small Town. I wasn't attracted to the other guys I'd met on Tinder or Bumble. I'd been rejected by most of the guys I'd had crushes on in the past. The Model was exactly the kind of guy I've always been attracted to but who never even noticed me before. The fact that he not only noticed me but wanted to be with me was flattering and thrilling, like a fantasy come true. And despite the awful way he treated me, he did have a few good qualities.

For one brief, desperate moment after I found out that he had used me to cheat on his girlfriend, I actually considered pretending that I didn't know about her, because the thought of never being with him again hurt even more. But in the end, I couldn't do it. I knew in my heart that he saw her as girlfriend material, and me as a friend with benefits. There was no way that I could keep being with him, not only because it was wrong to hook up with someone else's boyfriend but also because I'd be cheating myself out of everything else I wanted with him.

Whatever I had with him was a fantasy. It wasn't real, even though I wanted it to be, especially after years of bad first dates and failed relationships. I had fallen back into the pattern of allowing myself to be treated like crap in the vain hope of one day having my efforts be validated with love. As my therapist told me, I needed to recognize the good in myself again, instead of only focusing on what was bad, and to remember that I deserved better.

Some days, it's still hard to do that, especially because my parents and sibling have no remorse for the way they've treated me and still make me feel bad about myself. I haven't completely cut them out of my life for complicated reasons that would make this post even longer, but my therapist taught me strategies for dealing with them. She said that I should severely limit the time I talk to them on the phone and spend less time with them, and I've followed her advice. She told me that I needed to put my foot down with all of them more often, and I have, much to their displeasure, though I still have a long way to go.

I had to put my foot down with the Model too. I never again want to let anyone, whether it be the Model or my relatives, make me feel like I'm someone whose feelings don't matter and who is worthless. Now, I take pride in my academic and professional accomplishments, even though my mother doesn't and my father says I still need to do more. Now, I know that I'm not a loser just because I'm still single at 37, even though my sibling tells me otherwise. I've also lost twenty-five pounds since May, and that makes me feel good too.

"You're stronger than you think," my therapist once told me. "You could have continued obeying your parents and done everything they wanted, but you stayed the course and focused on making your own dream come true instead."

I'm not sharing all of this to make you feel sorry for me. But I wanted to explain why I obsess over things that some people think are not a big deal, and why I regressed into a depressive spiral after I found out what kind of person the Model really was. If it hadn't been for what I learned from those two years in therapy, I might have spiraled even further. I thought maybe this post was TMI, which is why I almost didn't post it. But writing my book-length memoir, Obsessions of a Workaholic, has made me contemplate how and why I became a neurotic workaholic and also includes TMI about my parents and sibling (I do not refer to them as my family and never will). That's why I will have to edit some of it once I finish the rough draft.

What about you? Have you ever been ghosted by a friend? Do you ever worry about including too much information in your own blog posts or manuscripts?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

How Cardi B Gave Me a Wake-up Call

I joined Instagram a couple months ago, and one of the people I follow is the rapper Cardi B. She posted a video on her Instagram page where she said something that struck a chord with me. This is an edited, censored version of what she said:

"Why do you go to the pages of people that you don't like? People don't post when they're doing bad. They ain't never gonna post their problems. So why would you want to see them do good? Why? So you can get more tight with them? Eff that! I'd rather just not see the b--h!"

For weeks after I found out that the Model had used me to cheat on his girlfriend, I kept looking at their Instagram pages, even though it pained me to do so each time. He never posted any pictures of her on his page, but in his Instagram Story (which is a series of pictures or short videos that people can post, which disappear 24 hours later), he posted a brief video clip of himself at a festival...with her. They were with friends, and he didn't identify her as his girlfriend. But anyone could tell that she was, from the way that she beamed at him, so happy and in love. He had a smirk on his face, and I hated him so much at that moment that I wanted to slap the smugness right off him.

She posted less frequently on her page, but when she did, she included more pictures of them together, such as the ones of them celebrating his birthday in Chicago, or the ones of them at a friend's wedding, where she included a caption that boasted about what a good-looking couple they were. It hurt more to look at her page than his because she represented everything I would never have: a life with him. Several of her friends commented on her posts, congratulating her on her relationship, and her responses made it clear that she was pretty smug too, basking in their admiration of how great her life and boyfriend were. It all made me hate her almost as much as I hated him.

But when I saw that video that Cardi B posted on her Instagram page, somehow her words woke me up and shook me out of the heartbroken stupor I'd been trapped in for far too long. What she said made sense: why should I keep looking at the pictures of two people I hated and see more evidence of how happy they were? It didn't do anything but make me feel more alone and unhappy, and I didn't want to keep wallowing in my anger and bitterness. Not to mention, as Cardi B pointed out, people typically only post the best parts of their lives on social media, not the problems. Obviously, the Model and his girlfriend's relationship isn't as perfect as the Girlfriend makes it out to be. If it was, he wouldn't have wanted to be with me that night, nor would he have made plans to meet up with me again when he came back to College Town. Cardi B helped me realize that I was never going to feel better about the whole situation if I kept looking at their Instagram pictures. It was time to move on with my life.

Since I know that he works out at my gym in the morning when he comes back to College Town, I've changed my routine so that I only work out at night; thus far, I've managed to avoid seeing him. But since College Town is not that much bigger than Small Town and I know that he occasionally comes back to see his family and friends, I'm still afraid that I might run into him, or worse, that I might run into him AND her. I'm afraid that if I see him again, I might a) punch him in the face, or b) tell him exactly what I think of him and THEN punch him in the face. If I confronted him, he would either get defensive and act like I was the one with the problem, or, narcissist that he is, he would feel a sense of satisfaction to know that he affected me this much. I'm afraid that if I saw her with him, I would blurt out the truth about what he had done to her and me.

It's gotten easier not to think about him or to dwell on how much he hurt me, but unfortunately, he still pops up in my mind every now and then. I don't like watching romantic comedies anymore because whenever I see two people kissing, it reminds me of how I felt when he kissed me and how soft his lips were. I was going through my closet one day, trying to decide what to wear to work, and I found an outfit that I'd worn once that he loved and said I looked beautiful in. (Needless to say, I didn't wear it that day, and I tucked it away so I wouldn't have to see it again.) A friend of mine posted pictures of herself on vacation with her new boyfriend, and it turns out that they went to the same resort in Mexico that the Model and his girlfriend went to. Even just the pictures of palm trees that are omnipresent in people's social media posts right now make me cringe because they remind me of the palm trees in the Girlfriend's pictures of the vacation she took with the Model to Mexico, just two weeks after he spent the night with me.

I tried watching an episode of Criminal Minds while I worked out on the elliptical machine at the gym one night, and the sociopath in that episode had the same name as the Model. I came across an online article about a guy who reached out on social media to find a girl he'd met; all he knew was her name, and several women who shared her name responded. Her name was the same as the Model's girlfriend. I picked up an old manuscript of a story I hadn't worked on in years, and the name of the guy who my main character has unrequited feelings for has the same name as the Model.

It's easier not to think about him when I'm working. When I'm teaching, I'm not thinking about him or his girlfriend. I'm thinking things like, Why is that kid sleeping right now? If I can't take a nap during class, neither can he, darn it! or Why is that girl on Snapchat right now? Does she think I can't see her posing with cat ears? or They should really sell helmets that let you drink coffee while you're wearing the helmet, like they do with beer. I would totally wear one of those coffee helmets while I'm teaching. 

That's why I've found solace through my work, and that's why I've allowed my workaholic nature to control my life and my mindset once again. In addition to the time I spent in New York City, my work has provided me with something else to think about, and it has helped me free myself of my self-destructive addiction to the Model. And I will add that despite all the reminders of him, thinking about him now doesn't make me burst into tears the way it did last summer. My heart has hardened enough towards him that when I think of him now, I wonder how I could have been so foolish as to spend months pining for a narcissistic sociopath who treated me like dirt. I know the answer to that question, but that's for another post.

That same day I saw Cardi B's video, I stopped looking at the Model's Instagram page, as well as his girlfriend's. It's been a long time since I've looked at either one, and I've felt better ever since. Any time I feel tempted to peek at his page again, I watch Cardi B's video instead to remind myself why I shouldn't.

What about you? Do you ever feel tempted to look at the social media posts of people you dislike or who hurt you in the past? Do you think it's true that many people on social media only post the best versions of their lives and edit everything that detracts from that version?

P.S. Thank you, Cardi B, for bringing me to my senses, and thanks to all of you blogger friends for your supportive comments on my posts where I obsessed over the Model.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Truth Be Told

Recently, a former friend of mine published a memoir that included recollections of the small town we grew up in. There were several aspects of it that made me bristle and say, "Hey! That's not how I remember it!"

For example, Former Friend claimed that at our Catholic high school, there was only one single-session sex ed class a year, and it was taught by our gym teacher. But although it is true that they didn't really teach us much about "safe sex," what I also remember is that our religion teachers taught sex ed. I remember that sex ed occurred a lot more often than once a year, probably because they were afraid that we hormonal teenagers would be "corrupted" by the sin of premarital sex. (Little did they know that a lot of the students' minds had already been corrupted. If they had known, I can totally imagine the religion teachers shaking their heads sorrowfully while saying that we were going to go to hell unless we repented and the priests throwing holy water at us or something.)

(Side note: Although I am still a practicing Catholic and believe in many of its core principles, such as the Golden Rule of treating other people with kindness and compassion, there are several other things about the Church that I strongly disagree with.)

I don't remember our gym teacher teaching us sex ed, although he may have taught it to Former Friend and their classmates (Former Friend was in a different grade). I do remember that when the gym teacher taught us how to lift weights, he stood over us and yelled, "You're WEAK! Is that all you can benchpress, WEAKLING?" I also remember wishing I could say, "Who are you calling a weakling? Take THAT!" And then I'd karate kick him in the face.

Former Friend's memoir made me think about what might happen if I ever publish my work-in-progress, a book-length memoir titled Obsessions of a Workaholic. Since it's not a novel, I can't say, "It's fiction, and it's not based on you, of course," if someone from my life were to read it and get upset by my depiction of him or her. Everything that I've described in this blog really did happen, but I've had to alter the descriptions of some of the situations and/or people in order to protect their identities and my own.

That makes me wonder how much "altering" I'll need to do in my book. Since teaching has been such an important part of my life, naturally there are several chapters about my work as a teacher. But I have to be very careful about what I write, especially when it comes to the students.

Many of my students are good students who work hard, are polite and respectful to me and their classmates, and are dedicated to earning good grades and learning as much as they can while they are in college. Some of them have truly inspired me because of the writing they produced in my class or because of what they confided in me about their dreams for the future, which made me hope that all of their dreams would come true.

But as any teacher can relate, every year there is always a small, select group of students who are the complete opposite: the ones who are hostile and disrespectful, or the ones who believe they "deserve" A's just for showing up to class. These students are why my hair started turning white the first year I started teaching, and they are also why I always keep a bottle of Tylenol in my office at school.

Since I'm still working on the first draft, I've been writing down all the details that I can remember, everything from the student who confided in me about what it was like to be a transgender teenager in a community that believes people like them are mentally ill, to the student whose verbal attacks almost drove me to tears in front of one of the first classes I ever taught, causing several of the other students to feel sorry for me and apologize to me for that student's behavior after class was over.

I recently read a book titled Waiter's Rant, written by Steve Dublanica, who wrote about his experiences as a waiter at a fancy restaurant that the rich and famous dined at. His book was based on his blog, where he initially wrote under the pseudonym the Waiter. Once he revealed his true identity, he admitted that he'd never be able to get another restaurant job because of what he wrote. Fortunately for him, his book became a New York Times best-seller and he didn't have to wait tables anymore after it was published.

But the difference between him and me is that he didn't want to be a waiter until he retired, whereas I know that I want to spend my life as a writer AND a teacher. The problem is, if I write the whole truth and nothing but the truth about my former students, especially the ones who gave me the most problems, I could lose my job. Teachers are held to a different standard. Academia is a small world, and it's not just competitive, it's cutthroat because there are way too many people with PhDs and not enough jobs. I am a college professor, but I am untenured, which means that I don't have the job security that tenured professors have. If I lost my job, there would literally be hundreds of people lined up who would be more than happy to take my place.

This generation of students in particular is the one known for their "microaggressions" and demands for "trigger warnings" in their curriculum. Most of the students I've come across over the years are not like them, but there are nevertheless a few others I've read about in the news (as well as ones I've encountered in my own classes) who claimed that they were "offended" by things that their teachers said or wrote and then launched campaigns to destroy those teachers' careers and reputations, driving them out of their schools, and in some cases, out of education altogether. Sometimes, the teachers really did say offensive things, but in other cases, they didn't, but were nevertheless interpreted as such. Either way, I don't think that any of them deserved to be the target of hateful harassment campaigns.

Although I've achieved several of my academic and professional goals, I still have other goals. And I'm afraid that if this memoir did get published, I could lose everything I've worked for and everything I'm still working for if I revealed too many details about certain students.

I thought that if this book does get published, I could use my pseudonym: Neurotic Workaholic. But if and when I do become a published writer, I'd like to see my real name printed on my story, and if and when that happens, I'll reveal it on this blog. That's the thing about this blog: I can be more candid here because almost no one in my offline life knows that I'm the one writing this blog. It's different when it's a published book or short story.

For now, I've decided to follow Anne Lamott's advice about writing the "bad" first draft by including everything that I can remember, and I'll go back and edit it once I finish the first draft. I also try to remember what I've learned from other creative nonfiction writers I've read and heard speak: that what you write in creative nonfiction doesn't necessarily have to be 100% factual, as long as the core of what you're saying is true. David Sedaris, after all, is a creative nonfiction writer, but even he "embellishes" the truth about what happened. Dave Barry's hilarious columns are funny partly because he exaggerates a lot of things.

I think that one possible solution is that rather than describe the problem behavior of specific students, I could describe the problem behavior of a range of students, like the ones who sit in the back of the classroom, listen to music on their phones (even after I tell them to take off their headphones, they'll protest by saying, "But the music isn't even that loud!" And then I make a mental note to take some Tylenol right after class), and tune me out for weeks until they get their grades back. Then they blame ME when they don't get A's, and I also make a mental note to get my hair dyed to cover the white hair that is literally sprouting from my head at that moment. That might be less controversial than describing specific students.

What about you? Do you write creative nonfiction? If you do, how do you write about the "problematic" people you've encountered in your life? What do you think of memoirists who "embroider" the truth, as the writer Ruth Reichl admitted doing in her memoirs? (I love her books, regardless.)

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Ever since I got back from New York, I've been writing almost every day. Although I know that a lot of people prefer to work on one story at a time (and I can totally understand why since they can get it done faster), my workaholic nature has caused me to "multi-task" when it comes to my writing. That is, I'm currently working on three different stories: a novel that I drafted years ago but never revised, a creative nonfiction piece about teaching that I plan to submit to literary magazines that publish creative nonfiction, and a book-length creative nonfiction story: Obsessions of a Workaholic. I thought about just focusing on one of the stories, but I've been so excited about getting the words down on paper that I'm afraid I'll lose or forget them somehow if I put it off.

I've found that it's easier to write regularly when I incorporate it into my regular routine, like I did with exercise. Most days, I'd rather listen to Kylie Jenner talk about her lip fillers for an hour than spend that same hour working out, but because I'm now so used to working out at least 4-5 times a week, I feel worse if I don't go. And it's paid off, too, because I lost twenty pounds this summer. Although I still have more weight that I want to lose, the fact that I exceeded my weight-loss goal this summer has me dancing like this:
By a similar token, by making a point of working on my writing at least 4-5 days a week, even just for half an hour a day, it's gotten much easier to motivate myself to sit at my desk or go to a coffee shop and write, instead of lie on my bed and watch YouTube videos on my phone.

It's easier for me to write out my first drafts in longhand in notebooks at coffee shops (the baristas like me because I always tip them, and I do that so that they won't mind if I occupy one of their tables for an hour or two) or in my office at school.

Then when I write the second draft, I type it out onto my laptop at home and start making changes at that point. But if I try to write out the first draft on my laptop, my mind wanders and I start Googling random things, like "what does it mean when Millennials say 'That's so lit'? Is that a drug reference?" Or I start watching YouTube music videos of bands from the '90s, like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and then of course I start Googling "whatever happened to the OTHER members of Nirvana?" which leads to too much wasted time on Wikipedia.

I've also joined writing groups: one for my creative writing, which is a Meetup group that meets at a coffee shop near my apartment every week, and one for my scholarly writing (in academia, the prevailing attitude towards scholarly writing is "publish or perish"), which has monthly meetings on campus at the college where I teach.

Since Creative Nonfiction is one of the literary magazines I plan to submit to (actually, I already submitted a story about my life in Small Town to them earlier this summer, which probably won't get published, but it felt good just to put my writing out there), I paid $22 for a package that included an issue of their magazine, several issues of their "mini-magazine", True Story, and an anthology of stories that have been published in their magazines. They say that you should read the magazines that you want to write for, so that you get a better sense of what they're looking for. The package also included cool writer's swag, like a tote bag, a pen, and a small notebook.

Thus, I've managed to be very productive in the last weeks of summer, and after all the emotional turmoil I went through earlier this summer, it feels good to have a renewed sense of energy and focus on my work again. I've especially enjoyed working on my memoir, Obsessions of a Workaholic. All these years that I spent blogging about my life as a workaholic, I didn't realize that I was in a sense writing the first draft of this book. When I originally started blogging, I was just doing it for fun and so I could take a break from the scholarly writing that I'd been immersed in during grad school. But I've realized that there is a lot of stuff from this blog that I could use for the book, and I've also been fleshing it out and reorganizing it into a more linear narrative. It will take months to finish that book, but once I finally do, I will go back to work on another memoir: one about my experiences as a member of seven different online dating sites over the course of a decade. Even though it will be tough to make time for writing during the school year, I try to remember what I heard a successful writer say once: that even if you only write one page a day, in a year's time you'll have more than enough pages for a book.

What about you? How's your writing going, and what are you working on? What's your writing process like?