Monday, April 14, 2014

Writing about Religion

Although I blog and Tweet about a lot of things, one thing I don't usually write too much about is religion. I'm Catholic, but not the "I feel guilty about EVERYTHING" type of Catholic. I used to know some people who went to church almost every day, and they were basically the "I'm holier than you, you, and DEFINITELY you" Catholics. They criticized me because I only went to church on Sundays. (But I know that not everyone who attends church every day are the holier-than-thou types.)

I know that religion is a touchy issue for a lot of people, similar to politics. Most people have their own views on those issues, and when they start debating them, it can get complicated. But sometimes someone will say something negative about Catholics or Christians, and I'm not always sure how to respond.

For example, I follow several people on Twitter who are atheists. How do I know they're atheists? Because they Tweet about how they believe that everyone who reads the Bible is ignorant. They criticize anyone who believes in God. On Ash Wednesday, there were WAY too many offensive jokes about Catholics who got the ashes put on their foreheads. They say a lot of things that make me MAD. I know that not all atheists are like that; I've met several atheists who never talked about religion at all.

One of the best things about living in America is the right to free speech. So even if those people's Tweets about religion offend me, they have the right to write them. They have the right to their own beliefs, including the right not to practice any religion.

And I know that Catholics don't have the best reputation, especially in light of the abuse scandal. And I don't agree with all of the Church's perspectives. For example, I don't support its stance against gay marriage; I think that gay people should have the right to get married, and I don't think that straight people should be in a position to withhold that right from them.

But even though I don't support everything that the Church stands for, I am still a practicing Catholic, and I still believe in God. That's why it angers me when people claim that I'm ignorant or stupid for reading the Bible, because I'm NOT. I have the right to practice any religion I want, and that's another great thing about living in America.

Whenever I read a Tweet that offends me, I want to write back to that person and say, "God can see what you're Tweeting!" or "If I had a lightning bolt right now, I'd throw it at you!" But I don't. I know that if I say something to them, it will probably provoke an argument. And I really don't want to fight with people I don't even know. So I figure that it's better just to ignore the Tweets that bother me, or unfollow the people who write them.

I did, however, once write a Tweet that said something like this: I don't go around preaching my religious beliefs to everyone on Twitter. It'd be GREAT not to read any more Tweets that bashed mine.

I don't expect everyone to agree with my religious beliefs, but it'd be nice if they respected my beliefs, just as I respect theirs.

What about you? How do you deal with it when you read something online that offends you?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Age Is More Than Just a Number

1. When I was in college, I was innocent and naive enough to believe that my future career as a teacher would be like one of those inspirational teacher movies: some of the students might be difficult at first, but eventually, they would come around; I would inspire them to love literature and writing, like my English teachers inspired me.

Although I have taught many wonderful students and succeeded in inspiring them (and they, in turn, inspired me), there have also been many other students who never came around. In particular I was unprepared for some students' attitude that grades mattered more than learning. Before I started teaching, I didn't realize I'd get many nasty e-mails from students (and occasionally from their parents), demanding that I change their grades. I didn't anticipate the face-to-face confrontations with undergrads who threatened to get me in trouble with my bosses, unless I gave them the grades they wanted. I was shocked at many people's firm belief that if the students failed, it wasn't because of anything the students did wrong; it was the teacher's fault because she or he was a bad teacher (and yes, people have said that to my face).

I grew up (and I grew stronger) when I learned to stop letting them push me around. I learned to stand up for myself. I refused to back down, in spite of all the complaints, excuses, and threats, and I refused to change people's grades. I will admit, though, that some of these encounters left me shaken, angry, and frustrated as a result.

2. When I was in my twenties, I thought I could avoid credit card debt and student loans by working multiple jobs.

I grew up once I realized that even two or three part-time jobs were not necessarily enough to cover all my bills, and working so much often left me feeling exhausted and stressed out as a result. When my hours were cut at the stores where I worked or when I wasn't assigned enough classes, I couldn't earn enough money to pay my bills. As a result, I had to use credit cards (though I only used them for emergencies), and it took me years to pay off those debts (though I did pay them).

I grew up even more once I learned how to clip coupons, buy things on sale, to turn down some (though not all) offers from more affluent friends to go out on expensive outings, and save money.

I also finally broke my vow of avoiding student debt and applied for a small loan, though I was careful to set aside a third of it. That way I can use that amount to help pay off the loan once I complete my degree. I really DIDN'T want to get a loan, but after years of working multiple jobs, I knew I had to give myself a break.

3.When I was younger, I thought that even if I struggled financially as an English teacher, it would be worth it, as long as I loved my job.

I grew up once I realized that a passion for my work did not necessarily make up for all the financial struggles. When I was in high school and college, I didn't realize that I would have to work so many jobs just to make ends meet. I came to understand just how exploited, overworked, and underpaid most teachers are. The only thing that got me through was the fact that I genuinely loved teaching, and I still love it. It's the best job I've ever had, and I hope that I can continue doing it for the rest of my life.

But I know that I can't keep doing this forever. I can't keep working so hard at jobs that pay by the hour (which usually means the pay is extremely low) or accepting teaching jobs that don't provide long-term security or health insurance. I've finally realized that as much as I love teaching, I might have to pursue a different career if I don't find a full-time teaching job. It's SCARY, especially because all these years in academia have made me overqualified and underqualified for most jobs. I HATE the idea that I might not get to teach anymore, but it's a decision that as an adult, I might have to make when the time comes. (I still hope I won't have to make that decision.)

A lot of people claim that age is just a number. I don't agree with that, because who I was ten years ago isn't who I am now. You go through things as you get older that change you and that make you view the world in a different way.

It's my birthday today. I'm thirty-three years old. I still have a lot of growing up to do, but I definitely feel more grown-up now than I did ten years ago. It's not just because of my age; it's largely because of my work experiences, which made me see things from a more mature perspective.

What about you? What made you grow up, and how did that experience differ from what you thought it would be when you were younger?

Monday, March 24, 2014

What I Like about Twitter

When I first heard about Twitter a few years ago, I dismissed it as just another fad that people would get tired of eventually. I did read a few people's Twitter pages, and they mostly Tweeted stuff like, "Going to work. Ugh," or "This is a yummy lunch," along with a picture of whatever they were eating, or a string of "@s" that just said stuff like "LOL!" It didn't really hold my interest, especially since I don't really care about what other people are eating, unless they're going to share their food with me (because, you know, free food!).

I also dismissed it because I suspected that several of my students, who were constantly tapping on their phones during class, were either on Twitter or Facebook. (Side note: I can't help wondering if the current generation was born with tiny cell phones clutched in their fists, because they never let go of their phones.) I disliked any kind of distraction that kept them from focusing on the lesson, and I didn't really see the point of being on Twitter OR Facebook.

My opinion of social networking sites slowly changed after I started blogging. Before I started this blog, I was too shy to show my work to anyone, unless I was in a creative writing class and I HAD to share it with other people. I kept my writing hidden in notebooks, and I kept my dream of becoming a writer hidden from almost everyone.

What I like about blogging is that it gave me the opportunity to "meet" other people, many of whom were writers, who I probably never would have met otherwise. I like reading everyone's blog posts, and I like the "dialogue" that we all get to have, not just in our blog posts but in the comments that we leave for each other.

I set up my own Twitter page a few months ago, partly because of two people who were on Twitter: Joyce Carol Oates and Pope Francis. As a Catholic, I admire Pope Francis, especially because he seems to be very open-minded and is working hard to make some much-needed changes in the Church.

As a writer, I admire Joyce Carol Oates; I always thought she would be one of those writers who shun social networking sites in order to focus exclusively on their novels or short stories. But she Tweets frequently, and even though I don't agree with everything that she writes, it's still fascinating to follow her train of thought.

I started following many other writers and agents on Twitter, as well as a couple literary magazines. It's a good way to find out about writing contests and agents and magazines that are accepting submissions. It's also a good way to find out about new books that other people have written.

I also follow a lot of "joke bloggers", people who write witty and funny one-liners. Some of them are celebrities, like Conan O'Brien, Steve Martin, and Ellen DeGeneres. Others are stand-up comedians or just regular people with a great sense of humor. Reading these people's jokes makes standing in line, my daily commute, and dealing with annoying people a lot easier, especially because doing those things gives me something to Tweet about (and it gives me something to do when I'm on my commute or standing in line).

When I'm having a stressful day, logging onto Twitter and reading about what's going through people's minds often makes me feel better, especially when they Tweet something that makes me think, Yes! I thought I was the only one who felt that way!

I also like that you can "star" or retweet people's Tweets; it always makes my day when someone does that to what I've written, because it makes me feel good that other people are reading and liking what I'm writing. I like being able to "talk" to other people on Twitter, especially because similar to online dating, it's much easier to start a conversation with someone online than to just go up and introduce yourself to an interesting person in real life.

I think that a lot of people join social networking sites like Twitter because they want to make connections with others. It's not the same as an offline connection, of course, but it's still something that makes people, including me, happy. And I think it makes everyone feel like they're not alone.

Twitter and this blog allow me to express myself, because so much of "real life" consists of me holding my tongue; I know that if I say what I'm really thinking in real life, I'd get in trouble. But I can say what I want to say online (though I do censor myself in many ways, just in case), without as much fear that people will attack/criticize/reject me as a result. A fellow Twitter user, who calls herself Sigourney Beaver, Tweeted this recently, and I think it's something that applies to a lot of people, including me: "I'm more myself here than I am in some real life situations because I've just learnt to censor things. This place can be my escape sometimes."

What about you? What do you like about social networking sites, whether it's Twitter, blogging, Facebook, etc.?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why I Am a Teetotaler

Last weekend, Chicagoans celebrated St. Patrick's Day early by dyeing the Chicago River green and having a big parade in the Loop. I didn't go to the parade, but I did see people all over my neighborhood dressed up like giant leprechauns.

Even though I had a lot of work to do (as usual), I agreed to go barhopping with a group of friends. I rarely drink alcohol; in fact, the last time I had a drink was a year and a half ago, when I attended my cousin's wedding in New Orleans. The night before the wedding, my younger cousins dragged me to Bourbon Street with them and made me have a cocktail; I drank a third of it and then secretly poured out the rest in the street when they weren't looking.

Last Saturday, I caved in to my friends' teasing about how I am a teetotaler and drank a few cocktails. I didn't get drunk, though; with each cocktail I drank, I drank a Coke, because I figured that the stimulant (caffeine) would counteract the depressant (alcohol). Each time I ordered a Coke for the first time at a different bar, the bartender would get this puzzled look on his or her face for a moment; one of them said, "Okay, but what do you want me to put IN the Coke?"

My friends and pretty much everyone else at the bars we went to, however, DID get drunk. I watched as everyone else's movements grew looser and more relaxed. I listened to their voices become slurred and louder. A lot of people became really rowdy. Some other guys at the bars got really aggressive, which happens at every club and bar. It's like, "Just because you're drunk, that does NOT mean you have the right to paw at me, so get your frickin' hands OFF me before I make you walk around with a limp for the next three days!"

I had been having fun hanging out with my friends, laughing and talking about what was going on in our lives and with our work. But the tone of the evening changed after they got drunk.

It reminded me of when I was in high school and attended my first "drinking party", which was held at a farm, and everyone got drunk in a field (what? I grew up in a small Midwestern town). No one was driving that night, because everyone slept over at the host's house. I was the only one who didn't drink any alcohol, and I watched as everyone guzzled beer, ran around, and yelled at the top of their lungs. I drove home early (I was sober, after all) so that I wouldn't have to watch them anymore.

When I was in college, I went to parties where there was alcohol. When I was in my twenties, I went with friends to bars and clubs that served alcohol too, of course. Occasionally I gave in to peer pressure and drank a cocktail, a beer, or a shot. I never had more than one or two drinks, though, and I never got drunk, only "tipsy". I didn't like the way alcohol tasted. I didn't like the way it made me feel when I drank it, because I knew that it lowered my inhibitions and it meant I wasn't fully in control of my actions. As a Type A personality, I am a total control freak and I HATE it if anything or anyone tries to control me.

I used to think that part of being young meant clubbing and barhopping; often, TV shows that feature young people show them drinking and having fun. For example, the characters on How I Met Your Mother apparently spend 90% of their time at a bar.

I used to think that I was "boring" compared to them, because I never felt comfortable in that kind of atmosphere. I preferred to hang out in a cafĂ© or a bookstore, or go out for dinner with a few friends. Caffeine became my vice instead of alcohol, which is why I have become addicted to coffee and Coke (not "coke" with a lower-case C! I feel like if I ever did any of THOSE drugs I'd end up trying to climb the walls of my classroom and then my students would think I'm even MORE weird!). One of the reasons I moved to Chicago was because there are so many things to do here that DON'T involve alcohol.

So I stopped pretending to like alcohol, clubs, and bars. I still go to bars occasionally with friends, though I order soda 99% of the time. But I don't feel like I should have to apologize for the fact that I am a teetotaler, and I don't think it gives people the right to make fun of me or pressure me to "loosen up" and drink. I admit, though, that even though I resent people who judge me for being a teetotaler, I couldn't help judging people at the bars that night for getting drunk.

What about you? What do you think of the bar scene and drinking?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Characters I Can Relate to

As a workaholic, the only time I truly feel "relaxed" is when I'm working, because when I'm not working, I just keep thinking of all the things that need to get done. Either that or I'm thinking of the eight or ten people who irritated me that day (and yes, I know I'm the textbook definition of the Type A neurotic personality, but anybody who's read this blog for a while would know that.)

But one of the ways I do unwind, after spending long hours grading, completing projects for my website job, or writing notes for my dissertation, is watch crime dramas that I have stored on my DVR. I love watching shows like Elementary, CSI, Law and Order: SVU, NCIS, and Criminal Minds. It's fascinating to watch the detectives, crime scene investigators, and lawyers figure out "whodunit", and it's satisfying when the bad guys get caught (especially because in real life, the bad guys often never get caught or get away with a slap on the wrist).

The other reason I like those shows is that for the most part, the main characters on that show are workaholics. They're passionate about their work and dedicated to getting the job done. They spend most of their time working. They show the consequences of being a workaholic (which is another blog post in itself), like how they often sacrifice time with the people they care about in order to work.

On the other hand, I dislike shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. The doctors on Grey's Anatomy are workaholics, but based on the few episodes I saw, it seemed like they spent more time casting longing glances at the objects of their affection or dry humping each other in closets than they did working. I know several doctors in real life, and if they spent half as much time "hooking up" as the doctors on Grey's do, they'd never have time to take care of their patients.

On The Bachelor, the women act like their lives are over if they don't get that rose from some guy who murmurs sweet nothings in their ear (or in the case of Juan Pablo, the current Bachelor, who apparently murmurs vulgar nothings)...while also murmuring sweet nothings in the ears of a dozen other women. I could never have been on that show, partly because I don't look like a model, but also because I'd never be willing to take that much time off from my work (and also because I'd never feel comfortable in a hot tub, because being in a hot tub just makes me feel like a lobster being cooked).

One exception to my crime drama obsession is the show Once Upon a Time, though I don't like how sometimes it gets to be too much of a soap opera with fairy tale characters (actually, a significant number of that show's characters aren't from fairy tales). I like the Evil Queen, Rumplestilstkin, and Captain Hook, mainly because those characters are multi-dimensional and the actors playing them are excellent. I DON'T like how most of the characters never seem to work, because they are too busy casting longing glances at the objects of their affection or seeking revenge over the loss of the objects of their affection.

It's the same thing with books. If a novel doesn't have SOME romance in it, then I lose interest. But on the other hand, if it's ONLY about romance and never shows the characters at work, then I am tempted to toss the book aside (or the remote control) and go back to work. I think that being a workaholic has made me less of a "romantic" in that sense. I just can't relate to characters who have singular obsessions over the objects of their affection. 

Of course, I do want to fall in love and be loved, just like most people do. And I've devoted many blog posts to my search for love (which thus far has led me to a bunch of "frogs" rather than a "prince"). But at the same time, my work is something that I'm "married" to, which is why it's easier for me to relate to characters who feel the same way.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that it's bad if you care more about your significant other than your work; of course it's not. And maybe I'll meet someone someday who makes me want to "relax" by actually relaxing and not by working. I'm just saying that the stories I like best include characters who I can relate to, and that just happens to be workaholics.

What about you? What types of characters in books or TV shows do you relate to? What kinds of pet peeves do you have about other types of characters?

Monday, March 3, 2014

What I Don't Tell People at Graduate School

1. I think that the work of Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, and Richard Wright is more important than the work of Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and Karl Marx.

2. While you are listening attentively, taking notes, and asking intelligent questions at lectures and workshops, I am checking my watch for the thirtieth time and thinking, I'd rather explain string theory to the Kardashians than be here. Actually, I'd rather let the Kardashians explain string theory to ME than be here.

3. When I sit quietly at my desk in the office that the teaching assistants share, I try not to hear about the parties and outings that you plan together. And I try not to let it bother me that I'm never invited.

4. I feel much happier writing fiction and creative nonfiction than I do writing a dissertation that hardly anyone will ever read (even though I know that there's a chance that hardly anyone will ever read my fiction and creative nonfiction).

5. Oh, my dissertation? I've written about a hundred and fifty pages of b.s. so far, and you?

6. When you laughed at me for staying in the office to work on a Friday night, I never told you how I was tempted to pour soda all over your books and papers after you left.

7. I really do think it's great that you've won awards for your work. The last time I won an award was when I worked in retail, for being a fast and efficient worker.

8. The only people who think I'm doing a great job are my students.

9. I've burst into tears in the ladies' room and started stress-eating Starburst on more than one occasion.

10. I'm always nervous and stressed before I have to meet with my professors, and I'm even more stressed after I've met with them.

11. Sometimes grad school feels like junior high all over again with its "cool kids" and its "cliques", and I'm the weird outcast all over again. Back then I was smart and I earned good grades; at least I had that. But in graduate school, I usually feel like I'm anything but smart.

12. I gave up on trying to be included in the grad school cliques a long time ago. When I'm away from grad school, I go bike riding by the lake when it's warm. I write in cafes and take one-night classes at StoryStudio. I dance at the gym. I go to book signings and other literary events, where I meet authors (last week I got my picture taken with B.J. Novak, aka Ryan from The Office, at his book signing for his collection of short stories!). I read books without any footnotes in them. Those things make me happy, and they give me something to look forward to when I'm at school.

How about you? Do you keep secrets from the people that you work with? Do you still encounter cliques now that you're an adult, or were they left behind once you left school?