Monday, August 31, 2015

Culture Shock

Whenever I tell people that I moved to Small Town, Tennessee from Chicago, they say, "Well! That must be a big change for you! Do you like it here?"

That's not an easy question to answer. On the one hand, it is nice to walk around without random guys yelling lewd things at me or trying to grope me, like they did on the streets of Chicago. Here in Small Town one day, some guys driving a pickup truck pulled up next to me when I was waiting to cross the street and yelled, "God bless you!" And I thought, WTF?

Here are some things I've observed about Small Town so far:

The drivers in this town might as well refer to themselves as "Tailgating is my middle name."

Only the devil's children go out after nine P.M. (which is why everything closes by then, except the bars) or drive faster than 25 mph in the left lane.

Several people in this town want to shake hands with Donald Trump (I try not to scream in terror or run in the opposite direction when they tell me this).

"Hon," "honey," "ma'am," and "y'all" are Southerners' favorite words (because everyone has a Southern accent).

Many of the girls at the school where I teach wear pearls and skirts to class, and several of the boys drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag license plates.

Several of the students have gun collections and enjoy hunting or fishing.

Apparently even the younger people in this town think they'll live longer if they walk (and drive) as slowly as possible.

I've started swearing a lot more (with the windows rolled up in my car so no one can hear me) ever since I moved here.

The only way to cook meat is to fry it or barbecue it.

Many people have wide front porches with rocking chairs and porch swings, which makes it easier for them to sit outside and wave to newcomers like me while gossiping about them.

Spitting in public isn't rude. It's just common sense.

People in this town also apparently have the motto, "Why give a straightforward answer to a question, when I can take ten minutes to answer it?"

In Chicago, people are all, "Don't look at me don't look at me don't look at me BACK OFF!" But here in Small Town, I can't go anywhere without people staring at me and making comments under their breath, because it's pretty clear that I'm not from here.

This place is pretty much the opposite of Chicago. I can't help wondering when or if this place will ever feel like home, especially since I still miss Chicago terribly.

What about you? Have you ever felt like an outsider in a place that you visited or lived in, or have you ever experienced culture shock?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I Got Scammed

I have now officially moved to Small Town, Tennessee. Of course, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. The stress of this move has turned even more of my hair white, to the point that I fear I'm going to end up looking like an older, female version of Albert Einstein.

Since I had less than a month to move to Small Town, I had to hire a moving company in a hurry. I called almost every interstate moving company in Chicago. Several of them refused to do my move, since they said it was too small. Others said they weren't willing to do an interstate move to a small town. A few were willing to do it, for the paltry sum of $2,300-$4,000.

The cheapest one I could find turned out to be the Worst. Movers. Ever. Later, when I Googled "moving scams," I read about red flags that people should watch out for. Of course, this company had all the red flags.

For one, the sales rep claimed that they could give me a low price because they didn't do an estimate in person. Even though I gave him an itemized inventory, the movers ended up charging me hundreds of dollars more on moving day, because they claimed that my belongings took up more space than expected in their truck.

The sales rep also claimed that it would only take one or two weeks for them to deliver my things. Later, I found out that it could take up to three weeks. Fortunately, the delivery driver called me a week after I moved to Small Town, telling me that he would come by the next morning.

He didn't. He didn't come by the day after that, either. Neither he nor the dispatcher returned my calls (I called them thirty times EACH and left more than a dozen messages). I finally did reach the dispatcher at one point, who yelled at me and said that he didn't know where the driver was. The driver only returned my call after I threatened to call the police and file charges against him for theft.

I started to worry that I would never get my belongings back. Most of them weren't expensive, like my fifteen-year-old TV that still had a VCR. But I couldn't help worrying about the items that had sentimental value, like the small stuffed animal I've kept since I was fourteen, because it was the first gift I ever received from a boy I liked. There were also my high school yearbooks, which had signatures from my friends and classmates. I also fretted about the loss of all my books, especially the ones that were autographed by authors like Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, Studs Terkel, B.J. Novak, and Jen Lancaster.

Most of all, I FREAKED OUT about the possibility of losing more than twenty-five years' worth of journals, everything from the ones that had entries written in crayon to the more recent ones that included handwritten copies of my manuscripts (some of which I hadn't copied into my computer yet). Losing my writing was as frightening to me as a musician losing his or her instruments and songs or the Kardashians losing their audience (or their mirrors).

When the movers finally arrived several days late, some of my belongings were missing. A chunk of my table had been broken off. My drying rack for my laundry was broken as well, and so was one of my bookcases. The other bookcase had been taken apart, and the movers refused to put it back together (even though they were supposed to, according to my contract). All of my boxes were wet and damaged. The movers left fairly quickly, maybe because I kept waving a screwdriver around and shrieking about the cops.

I tried to call the company, but they either told me to file a claim online (though I doubt I'll ever get any money back) or hung up on me repeatedly (which they had done before). I plan to file a claim, as well as a federal complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. I will also post negative reviews of the company all over the Internet, including the Better Business Bureau (which gave this company an F-rating). I've learned my lesson, and the next time I move, I'll do my research. 

But at least I have my writing back. That's something.

What about you? If you faced the prospect of losing all of your belongings, what would you miss most?

Monday, August 3, 2015

No Money, Mo Problems

Last week I visited Small Town, Tennessee to find an apartment and meet my new bosses. Based on what I've observed of Small Town so far, the people there really like fried food, country music, and Jesus. Their favorite word is "ma'am," as in "Yes, ma'am," "No, ma'am," and "Would you like that fried, ma'am?"

Based on the people I talked to, Southerners are polite and friendly, and not only take five minutes to answer every single question but also think it's necessary to tell you their entire life story, even if all you said was, "Is there a Starbucks nearby?"

In Chicago, there's a Starbucks on practically every corner. But the people in Small Town apparently don't like coffee as much as fried food, which makes me wonder where they get all their energy. Maybe it's from listening to all that country music.

I was able to rent an apartment that's more than twice the size of my studio in Chicago for more than a hundred dollars less. But nevertheless, I am going to be thousands of dollars in debt due to this move to Tennessee. And this was AFTER I finally paid off all my credit card debt. (Not to mention I already owe thousands of dollars in student loans.)

I have to pay for movers to transport my furniture, and all the moving companies I called apparently have this motto: We overcharge because WE CAN. I could have had the Salvation Army pick up my unwanted furniture, like my fifteen-year-old lumpy mattress and box spring, for free if I had called them a month in advance. But since I only found out I got this job two weeks ago, I now have to spend hundreds of dollars on 1-800-Got-Junk to recycle/get rid of my furniture.

I am required to attend orientation for new employees. The Human Resources department told me they didn't have specific dates set up yet when I called them a week and a half ago. Of course, after I signed my lease, I learned that the orientation would be held three days before my move-in date. So now I have to spend hundreds of dollars on a rental car and a hotel room (I can't change my move-in date), since my parents aren't coming to Tennessee until a few days later. If I don't attend orientation, I won't be able to access any of my benefits (like health insurance) until October.

My parents are loaning me money for the down payment on a car (which is why they're coming to Tennessee for a few days to "help" me move. They're more likely to "help" me have a panic attack, seeing as how when I visited them during Christmas break, I ground my teeth so hard that one of them broke). I will repay them, and I will also be responsible for monthly car payments, car insurance, and gas.

I've also had to spend money on boxes, masking tape, and bubble wrap, and I have to set aside money to tip the movers. (Question: Do I tip the movers when they come to my apartment in Chicago, or after they deliver it in Tennessee? Or do I tip them both times?)

Since I'm getting rid of my old mattress and my broken desk, I have to buy new ones, which will also cost hundreds of dollars. I might not be able to buy those right away, which means I'll be sleeping on the couch for a while and using my desk in my office at school (and I use the word "office" loosely, since it's currently being used as a storeroom and I was informed that they would "probably get around" to cleaning it out by the time school starts).

Since I am a visiting, untenured faculty member, I get absolutely no financial assistance for my moving expenses from my new school. They also think that moving to a new state is "easy-peasy," which is why they want my syllabi for the classes I'll be teaching ASAP.

I know that I should be grateful that I have a job. I am, especially since it was so hard to find one. But I can't help resenting the fact that I've already had to spend a large percentage of my annual salary for this move, and I haven't even gotten paid yet. I thought I could finally quit my website job, but I'll have to work extra hours instead, and excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

What about you? Have you ever had financial problems or difficulties with the moving process? How did you deal with them?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Difficult Dilemma

I finally found a job, though it's not at the local school that I was hoping for. I'm going to teach full-time at a school in Small Town, Tennessee. Based on the online research I've done so far, the town is a lot like my Midwestern hometown, which I spent eighteen years wanting to escape from.

I wanted to stay in Chicago for at least one more year and teach at one of the local colleges. I also planned to spend more time on my academic research and try to get at least one article published and make one presentation at an academic conference.

But recently a school down South called and offered me a job that I had applied for a while ago. I applied to teach at schools all over the country and was rejected by most of them. Apparently, hundreds of positive evaluations from my students and several years of teaching experience do not matter nearly as much as published articles that might as well be titled "How to Make Yourself Sound Like a Pompous Know-It-All in 500 Words Or Less." But I digress.

I had to make a decision about the job right away, because the fall term is starting next month. I wanted to hold out for the local school, but they couldn't give me an answer yet. So what was I supposed to do: accept a job in an unfamiliar town halfway across the country or hold out for a job that I wanted but might not even get?

My professors were unanimous in their advice. "Go to Tennessee," they said. "It's time for you to move on. Teaching there for a year or two will show other schools that you have experience teaching at urban schools and rural ones and that you're willing to move. This will make it easier for you to get another job."

My parents, of course, were thrilled. They've been pressuring me to leave Chicago for years. They know that I love it here, but that doesn't matter because it's not the place that they want me to live in. Small Town, Tennessee is within driving distance of their home (though not in the same state), which means that they can see me more often. One phone call from them is enough to stress me out for the rest of the day, so I'm not happy at the prospect of moving closer to them.

They've also informed me that they will come with me to Small Town to "help" me move, which means dictating what kind of car I should get, what kind of furniture I should buy (even though I'm paying for this), which stores I should go to, etc., etc. I told them that I can handle it myself, but they're coming anyway. But I will NOT let them control all (or ANY) of the decisions I make.

I took a walk down Michigan Avenue recently. There was a guy marching up and down the sidewalk carrying a sign that said, "REPENT SINNERS" and yelling that everyone was going to hell. I nearly bumped into someone playing a ukulele and singing "Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga. Another guy looked at my chest and said, "Hi, boobies."

Sirens blared, horns honked, and people called out to each other across the street in several different languages. I looked at everything and thought, This is home. This is the one place in the world that I've always loved. This is where I want to be. 

But I don't have a choice. I owe thousands of dollars in student loans. I only have enough money to pay my rent through August. I knew that I would have to leave Chicago eventually, because with a Ph.D. in English, I have to go where the work is. I just didn't think I would have to leave so soon.

What about you? Have you ever made a difficult choice regarding your employment? Have you ever made a cross-country move?

Side note: I might not be able to respond to everyone's comments until later this week, due to issues with moving, but I promise I'll respond!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fake Reviews

When I first started teaching, I found out that there were a few "rate your professor" websites, and I was on them. I found a few good reviews that were written about me, where students praised me for my patience with them; some of the positive reviews indicated that the students planned to take another class with me.

I noticed one weird trend. On one of the websites, students could also rate their professors' looks with a chili pepper, to indicate that they thought their professors were "hot." I, alas, did not get any chili peppers. Maybe if I bothered to wear makeup or brush my hair most mornings (I usually go for the mad scientist look), I would have gotten at least one chili pepper.

There were, however, several bad reviews that were written about me. That's to be expected, because there are many bad reviews about a lot of professors on those sites. Undergrads who are disgruntled about not getting the grades they wanted can write the nastiest stuff they can come up with (and many of them do) and post it online for everyone to see.

The problem was that some of the stuff that was written about me wasn't true. One student falsely claimed that I was never available for office hours. Other students lied that I graded their papers unfairly and played favorites with certain students.

At the end of each term, the students fill out course evaluations about the classes I teach and about my teaching, which are read by my bosses. I keep their comments in mind and make changes to my syllabus or teaching style. Almost all my reviews from the past several years have been positive.

The online reviews, however, are another story. In both cases, the evaluations are anonymous, but I guess students feel freer to be more candid online. It bothers me that students can post incredibly hostile insults about me that aren't even true, and I can't do anything about it.

The moderators of the sites are undergraduates (or former undergrads) who claim that they're "helping" students decide which professors to avoid and which ones they should take classes with. I think they're helping students who are upset over their grades (or anything else) slander their professors. I also think those moderators know NOTHING about teaching, and they wouldn't survive a week on the other side of the desk.

Several of the schools that I applied to for teaching jobs requested copies of my course evaluations, which I sent. But I heard that some search committees also look at those websites, which worried me.

For a moment, I was tempted to post a few more positive reviews about myself. The thing about those sites is that I can pretend to be a student and post whatever I want. I could have written stuff like, "She's the best teacher EVER! People walk into her classrooms saying, "Please, teach me."

But I didn't. Once, a cashier forgot to charge me for an item that I bought. I brought the item back and paid for it, surprising the cashier. If I can't even lie about a two dollar purchase, there's no way I can lie about my work. I hope that the positive evaluations I sent speak for themselves, and that I won't end up having some kind of breakdown where I reenact the end of every Lifetime movie and start shrieking, "If I can't have this job, NO ONE CAN!" while the members of the search committee run in terror.

I have heard, though, of authors who posted fake positive reviews of their work on Amazon and other websites in attempts to get people to buy their books. I can't help wondering what makes them think that's okay, and if anyone has ever been fooled by those reviews.

What about you? What do you think of those rate your professor websites? Have you ever heard of authors who posted fake reviews?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Back into the Writing Groove

When I was finishing my dissertation, I gave up writing almost everything else, including the novels and short stories I was working on. I didn't blog as often as before. Even when I went to coffeehouses, I didn't write in my journal like I used to; I immersed myself in cups of coffee and heavy library books.

Now that I'm finally done with my dissertation (insert joyful music from gospel choir here), it's hard to get back into the writing groove, which is one of the reasons I haven't been blogging as much. I go to coffeehouses to write, and instead find myself checking Twitter several times an hour, where I see Tweets like #CancelYourEngagementZayn, which was trending on Twitter yesterday (apparently some One Direction fans are irate that one of the members is engaged and think that acting like obsessive stalkers will make him break off his engagement and marry one of them, which would only happen on the bizarro planet that they live on). Other times I see Tweets from people ranting about whatever it is they're "offended" by at the moment (Tweets like that make me want to leave Twitter altogether).

Instead of writing, I often find myself making paper airplanes that I try very hard not to throw at the guys who blast videos from their cell phones. Or I roll my eyes at the hipsters with their ginormous headphones.

At home, I sit down at my laptop to write, and instead I check my e-mail to find yet another rejection letter from yet another school. It's been disheartening to be rejected by so many schools, though I know that for every one full-time, untenured faculty position available, there are at least a hundred (or two hundred) applicants vying for it. I feel discouraged, because I spent too many years in grad school. I lost almost everything else that mattered (my twenties, most of my friends, potential boyfriends), and now I feel like it was all for nothing.

There is one school here in Illinois that said they MIGHT hire me, but only if the budget allows it; they can't let me know anything for sure until the end of the month. In the meantime, instead of writing, I've been applying for part-time faculty jobs (the low pay worries me, because then I won't be able to pay my rent AND my minimum student loan payment each month). I've also been considering jobs in retail again (insert primal screaming here) if I can't find any adjunct jobs.

When my professors turned to me after I successfully defended my dissertation and said, "Congratulations, Doctor!" I didn't even feel relieved as I thought I would. I felt worried because I didn't have a job lined up yet.

So needless to say, I've been preoccupied. If I knew what was going to happen this fall, I could relax. But since I don't yet, I can't stop worrying.

At the same time, I still want to write. But it's been so long since I've worked on my fiction and creative nonfiction that it's hard to get back to writing it.

What about you? Have you ever taken a long break from writing? What kinds of things did you do to get back into the writing groove?