Monday, March 30, 2015

My Thirties Are Showing

1. In 1995, when My So-Called Life was still on the air, I was a year younger than the show's main character, Angela Chase. I, like, totally related to her teenage angst and her crush on Jordan Catalano.

In 2015, I am now closer in age to Angela's mother, and I think that Angela was a little too self-centered and spoiled. I also think Jordan Catalano needed a haircut.

2. I do not think guys in their early to mid-twenties are attractive, because they make me feel old.

3. I have no idea what Snapchat or Yik Yak is. I also don't understand why Instagram is interesting, because I really don't care what other people are having for lunch.

4. Listening to twenty-two-year olds talk about their weekend plans makes me think I would need to drink several energy drinks just to be able to stay up as late as they do.

5. My students stare blankly at me when I make pop cultural references to the nineties, because most of them were born at the end of that decade.

6. I started browsing online and in stores for beauty products that will make me look younger, because my face has wrinkles, probably from all the times I scowled at younger people who got on my nerves.

7. I can't even understand half of what younger people say, text, or Tweet these days. It's like they have their own language, using abbreviations like "OMG" and "ILY" and words like "totes" and "bae." I looked up the definition for "bae", and I found out that it means "Before Anyone Else." It's supposed to refer to your significant other. But "bae" is also the Danish word for "poop." (I don't think most younger people are aware of that.)

8. I didn't grow up using a cell phone like young people today do. So when students send me irate e-mails demanding to know why I haven't responded to their other e-mails, which they sent two or three hours before, I tell them it's because I don't check my phone 237 times an hour like they do.

9. I've always hated posing for pictures, which is one of the reasons I don't post any pictures of myself on my blog. So I don't get the obsession with taking selfies. It's like, "Hey, I'm out to dinner with my friends! I'm going to take a selfie," or "Hey, I'm shopping for new clothes! I'm going to take a selfie," or "Hey, I'm standing outside a café where people are being held hostage! I hope I look good in my selfie."

(I swear I'm not making the last one up. I heard about a situation where people were held hostage in a café, and while law enforcement officers were trying to rescue them, random civilians were standing nearby, posing for selfies. Could they be more insensitive and despicable? I wish I could have whapped their cell phones out of their hands with those selfie sticks that people are buying these days.)

10. Forty no longer seems old to me, since my thirty-fourth birthday is this Wednesday, which means my fortieth birthday is just six years away. I do, however, still hear the Jaws theme song whenever I think about turning forty.

What about you? When do you feel like your age is showing, or are there ever times where you don't understand the latest trend?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hello Is Not an Invitation

Almost every time I talk to my mother on the phone, she wants to know, "Do you have a boyfriend yet?" When I tell her no, she often reminds me that I am getting older; I am an old maid; her friends' daughters (many of whom are younger than me) are now married with children.

I never told her about He-Who-I-Shall-Not-Name-Without-Spitting-on-The-Ground-and-Cursing. I haven't told her about most of the other guys I've dated, who are the reasons that chastity belts should make a comeback.

Recently, there was a controversy over a video that was made of a woman walking around and that featured all the men calling out to her. A lot of people criticized the video, because some of the men were "only" saying hello and therefore the woman should feel flattered, not upset. In all the years I've lived in Chicago, guys have tried to come on to me in public on a regular basis. It doesn't make me feel flattered, attractive or special. It makes me feel wary, annoyed, and scared.

Last week, I was walking home from the train station when I saw a guy walking towards me. I tried to step out of his way, but he blocked my path and jumped at me, arms outstretched, as he yelled something nonsensical at me. I stepped away again and he kept lunging at me, before walking off and saying, "Dumb bitch." I yelled after him something that rhymes with "Buck shoe." Maybe I shouldn't have, but I was angry that he thought it was okay to attack a stranger who hadn't even done anything to him.

One day I was on my way to a bookstore and a guy said, "Hello." I made the mistake of saying hello back, and he took that as an invitation to follow me down the street. When I ignored him, he started screaming at me and calling me a racist. (FYI: I am NOT a racist. I ignored him not because his ethnicity was different but because he was way too aggressive, which turned me off.)

That's happened to me before. When I reject or ignore creeps like that, they accuse me of being a racist, an idiot, a lesbian, a bitch, etc. It infuriates me that jerks think it's okay to harass women and then insult them when the women try to walk away. How would they feel if women did that to them? These losers just don't understand how scary and intimidating it can be when you're a woman walking alone, no matter what time of day it is, when you are well aware of what can happen (especially in a city like Chicago, which unfortunately is well-known for its violence).

I've seen women do it too, though to a lesser extent. Once I saw a woman trying to strike up a conversation with a guy who was at least fifteen years younger than her. He was polite but clearly not interested, and she clearly didn't get it. He finally told her that he just wanted to be left alone, and she walked away.

Sometimes, the guys aren't creepy so much as just clueless. I was studying in a coffee shop and one of the old men who are omnipresent in coffee shops (they're usually playing chess, reading the paper, or chatting with baristas) struck up a conversation with me. He invited me to have dinner with him sometime, and I politely declined, though I wanted to say, "If you weren't old enough to be my grandfather, I might say yes. But you are, so NO!"

I don't tell my parents about this. They'd just see it as more evidence of why I need to leave Chicago, because they want me to live in the same city as them, where they can control where I live, where I work, and even what kinds of groceries I should buy. I'd rather stay in a city that I chose, even if it means dealing with creeps on a regular basis.

I'm not saying it's never okay for men to approach women. It's just that there's a time and a place for everything. And if a woman makes it clear that she's not interested, then the guy should BACK OFF and not insult her.

The last guy I liked, who liked me back, wasn't someone I met online. He was someone who struck up a conversation with me one day, and we just kept talking. Unlike all those other guys I mentioned, he wasn't violent, insulting, creepy, or old enough to be my father (or grandfather). He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He didn't show his true colors until much later. 

What about you? Do you ever get harassed or approached by guys who think that hello or even just eye contact is an invitation? How do you deal with it?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Fifty Shades of Meh

A year or so ago, I took a one-night writing class at StoryStudio, where the teacher distributed excerpts from the novel Fifty Shades of Grey, in order to show us how not to write. After reading the scene, I agreed with the teacher: the writing was clichéd and terrible.

I'm not really into erotica (though I have read a couple erotic novels, and I was all, "Seriously, ANOTHER sex scene?"), but I'm still curious to find out what all the fuss regarding Fifty Shades of Grey is about. So I still plan to buy the book. As I stated on Twitter, though, I have enough Catholic guilt drilled into me that I may have to go to Confession afterwards, in order to confess the sin of reading someone else's impure thoughts.

Last week I went to a movie for the first time since last June. I had a coupon for a free movie ticket. I decided to watch Fifty Shades of Grey, because as with the novel, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

Now that I've seen it, all I can say is this: meh.

Everyone kept fussing over the sex scenes, but they didn't really faze me. My favorite neighborhood in Chicago is Boystown, where a lot of the "adult" stores are located. Some of those stores have S&M window displays that are more shocking than the sex scenes I saw in 50 Shades of Grey. I've always been curious about those stores but have never had the courage to go in, partly because I'm afraid that one of my former students will be in there and they'll say, "Professor! What are you doing here?" And I'll just say, " mean this isn't Garrett Popcorn?"

Also, if people played a drinking game and took a shot for every time Jamie Dornan took off his shirt in slow motion or every time Dakota Johnson bit her lip, they'd end up drunk and/or passed out before the movie was half over.

I was impressed by the acting of Dakota and Jamie, though their talent was wasted in a movie with a cliched storyline and even worse dialogue.  There were also several other great actors in that film, like Jennifer Ehle (whom I loved as Elizabeth in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice) and Marcia Gay Harden (who's brilliant and transforms into a different person with every character she plays, rather than play the same character again and again), and they were totally underused in the film.

But all around me in the theater were other grown women, who kept sighing over the relationship between Anastasia and Christian, or maybe they were sighing over the times where Jamie Dornan took off his shirt in slow motion. I kept rolling my eyes and thinking, Seriously? THIS is what turns a former Twilight fan fiction writer into a best-selling novelist? I could write a better love story than THIS, especially because this story doesn't even seem to be about love at all! It seems more like it's a stalker-with-benefits relationship!

It also made me think that 50 Shades of Grey was a rip-off of the 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which was written by Samuel Richardson. The "love interest," Mr. B., pressures (and at one point tries to rape) the virtuous Pamela into becoming his mistress, and he even tries to "educate" her on the terms of their relationship by giving her reading material about what he wants. Mr. B. is also a very wealthy man, especially compared to Pamela, who is a servant. (Sound familiar?)

I hated that novel, because Pamela spends a significant portion of that story terrified of the "intimidating" Mr. B., and then when he finally lets her leave (after holding her captive for a significant period of time), she realizes that she loves him and marries him. Despite her earlier efforts to escape him, as his wife she submits to his control (hello, Stockholm Syndrome!). Mr. B. isn't into S&M, but the relation between him and Pamela was definitely about dominance and submission.

I might never get published, and I definitely don't think I'll ever achieve the kind of mainstream success that E.L. James has achieved. Even she admitted that she didn't think her book would turn into the success that it did, and that's a good attitude to have, because there are far too many aspiring writers who only want to write so they can become rich and famous, which makes it clear that they will not only not last long as writers but also that they know nothing about the writing life.

Once I finally finish my dissertation (and once I get it approved, fingers crossed), I'll revise the novels I've written. I'll keep writing and sending out my stories to literary magazines. I'll still keep trying to improve my writing, so that if and when I do get published someday, a writing teacher won't pass out excerpts of my story and tell the students, "This is how you shouldn't write."

What about you? Have you seen/read Fifty Shades of Grey? If you have, what'd you think of it? How do you feel when you read bad writing or watch it play out on movie/TV screens?

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Remember...College

1. I remember when I was in college, I befriended a group of fellow Catholic students, whom I thought of as the "Not only am I holier than thou, but thou art going to hell" group. I enjoyed potluck dinners with them, snowball fights on the quad, and movie nights with them.

They went to Mass at a small church near campus almost every day, and they made me feel as if I was a "bad" Catholic because I only attended church on Sundays and other holy days of obligation. I made it clear to them that I didn't think I would burst into flames just because I didn't want to spend my Saturday nights playing the guitar and singing songs about why God was awesome. As much as I liked them, I grew irritated with their attempts to pressure me to be the kind of Catholics they were.

2. I remember that my friends described me as "independent." I went on my own to watch the movies or concerts that none of them liked. I often went to open mic nights and book signings alone while they hung out in bars, studied at the library, or sat around singing songs about why God was awesome. Whenever I heard about an interesting neighborhood, museum exhibition, or bookstore, I would look up the information and figure out how to get there by myself.

Some of my friends thought it was weird that I was a loner while most of the undergrads didn't even want to be seen eating dinner by themselves, but I enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose exactly where I wanted to go and stay for as long as I wanted.

3. I remember that I often stayed on campus during spring break, while everyone else visited their families or traveled with their friends. I was studying in my room with the door open one day, and one of the only other people on my floor who was also staying on campus passed by and invited me to join her and her friends on an outing to a restaurant and a park near campus.

I accepted, grateful for the invitation and the company. Her friends were very nice and welcoming to me. All went well until we were sitting in a circle in a quiet corner of the park, when one of the friends pulled out a joint and started passing it around. They offered it to me, or rather, they offered it to my quickly retreating back as I made up an excuse and left early, so as to avoid getting high and also avoid the possibility of getting arrested for getting high.

4. I remember that I had a vague idea that I wanted to teach someday, but I was afraid of public speaking. I got over that fear by becoming a campus tour guide. I'd like to say that I perfected the art of walking backwards while talking to large groups of people, but what usually happened was that I would keep hopping up and down, yelling to make myself heard before I eventually backed up into a trash can or a patch of grass.

5. I remember that I toyed with the idea of becoming a journalist, which is why I wrote for the school paper. I remember that the editors (as well as many other students at college) strongly disliked one of the faculty members at the school, so much so that they encouraged us student reporters to interview all the people who also disliked that faculty member in an attempt to dig up dirt on that person. The editors claimed that this was the type of article that would get published in Rolling Stone. I thought it was the type of article that would get published in Us Weekly, and it disgusted me so much that I stopped writing for the paper.

6. I remember that four years of English classes taught me how to over-analyze books and write papers about them, though none of them taught me what I was supposed to DO after graduation. I did internships in public relations, publishing, and the nonprofit sector, which educated me on the proper ways to make copies, make phone calls, and organize filing cabinets.

7. I remember that I wanted to be like my professors, who taught me how to understand and appreciate fine literature and poetry, which opened up my mind in endless ways. But when I told them that I wanted to be a professor, almost all of them warned me about how difficult it would be and how long it would take. I remember I thought that as long as I was good at teaching and liked it, that would be enough.

After spending the better part of my twenties and thirties working in academia, I finally understand what my professors were talking about.

What about you? What do you remember about your college years?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why I'm Not Dating

1. When I work out at the gym, both the muscular guys and the not-so-muscular guys either ignore me altogether or take one look at me and immediately avert their gaze to the girls with bigger boobs, flatter stomachs, and tighter clothes that accentuate their bigger boobs and flatter stomachs.

2. I thought about joining Tinder, since apparently that's the new dating app that everyone keeps talking about these days, and I've already tried, eharmony,, and okcupid. But in order to join Tinder you have to join Facebook, which I never joined.

My parents are on Facebook, and they still don't know that I have a blog/a Twitter page/haven't voted Republican in the last three elections. I can't even set the alarm clock on my cell phone correctly half the time, which is why I keep running around shrieking, "I'm LATE! I'm LATE! There is NOT ENOUGH coffee to wake me up right now!" in the morning. So I doubt I have the patience to figure out how to use those privacy settings that would "parent-proof" my Facebook page.

3. I mentioned in a previous blog post how I recently became closer to a guy that I liked, who liked me back. Like I said before, I had my reasons for not describing in detail what happened with him on this blog. What I will say is that the person I thought he was turned out to be very different from the person that he actually is.

It felt like we were both trying to get each other to change a little too much. It's one thing to address your flaws and change bad habits, but it's another thing altogether to try to change who you are entirely. He and I are just very different. Although I've now accepted that it never would have worked between him and me in the long run, that realization was a letdown, especially because it's been a long time since I let myself feel anything real for anyone. I still want to meet someone special, but there is a part of me that is afraid I'll experience yet another letdown, and I'm already stressed out enough for the following reasons.

4. I've been applying for teaching jobs, and although I will not get an offer for a tenure-track job this year (you have to have gotten a request for an interview at the MLA conference that already took place in January), I am still hopeful that I will land a full-time position as a lecturer at a four-year college or a community college. The thing about the academic job market, especially for an English Ph.D., is that I have to go where the work is. I have no idea if I'm still going to be in Chicago next year or if I'm going to be halfway across the country in some college town. I don't think it's a good idea for me to start something new with some guy when there's the possibility that I might not even be here next year.

5. I took a leave of absence from teaching this year in order to focus on my dissertation and applying for teaching jobs, both of which have taken up a lot more time and a lot more caffeine than I expected. After tearing apart my most recent draft, my advisor told me that I could always defend next year if this year doesn't work out. But I have to finish and defend my dissertation this year, because I won't be able to get any more graduate funding after this year; I'm not willing to take on another student loan. The longer it takes me to earn my doctorate, the more difficult it will be for me to get a tenure-track job (and the reality is that many PhDs never become tenured). I'm ashamed that I'm behind many of my classmates, who finished a year earlier than I did (though their student loan debt is more than twice the size of mine, since they didn't work additional part-time jobs like I did) and already have tenure-track jobs.

I'm anxious to prove to the people who told me that my work isn't good enough (which, as a workaholic, made me feel like I wasn't good enough) that even though I will never be an academic superstar, at the same time I am intelligent and my work and experience do make me worthy of a full-time teaching job at a good college. I've been spending almost all my time holed up in my apartment, at the library, or in coffee shops, writing, reading, and caffeinating myself in order to stay awake long enough to get more writing and reading done.

Basically, I'm in full-on workaholic mode, and I'm so focused on my academic and professional goals that I have little time, energy, or interest in perusing more online dating profiles that say nothing but "If you want to know anything about me, just e-mail me"; to get "winks" from guys who are twenty years older than me; to get e-mails from guys my age that say, "I don't live in Chicago, but I'll be in the city for a couple days pretty soon. Want to meet up?" (That's code for: I'm looking for a one-night stand. Interested? My response to those guys is always a polite "no," but what I'd like to say is "Sure, I'd be happy to meet up with HELL!")

On one of the rare occasions I let myself take a break to spend time with a friend, that particular friend told me, "You know that this is what you have to do to get your PhD." And I do know. But I can't help thinking of how I spent the majority of my twenties (years I'll never get back) earning my master's degree, teaching full-time, working in retail. In addition to the last years of my twenties, I spent almost half my thirties pursuing this PhD. Sometimes I regret that I didn't let myself take a break from working and enjoy my youth more often, and I worry that I'll wake up one day in my forties and realize that I worked my thirties away too. 

What about you? Have you ever had to severely limit your social life in order to focus on other responsibilities, like work, school, or family? How did you deal with the consequences of that decision?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Writing What You Like to Read

Recently, I was at a bookstore, thumbing through a literary magazine (which shall remain nameless), and suddenly slammed it shut, like I'd just been caught reading 50 Shades of Grey during Mass. (I can't help thinking that if I actually did that in church, the rest of the congregation would point at me and shriek, "Get thee gone, Jezebel!")

The reason I stopped reading the story in that magazine was because it described in graphic detail a menage a trois (at least, I hope only three people were involved, and that I wouldn't have eventually stumbled upon an even more graphic description of a full-on orgy). This wasn't an "adult" magazine; this was a reputable literary magazine that many writers, including me, aspire to be published in.

Many editors and writers always say that people who want to be published in those periodicals should read them and familiarize themselves with what those publications are looking for. That's what I was trying to do that day in the bookstore. But although I'm not one of those people who think that everything on TV and in books should be G-rated (seriously, how boring would THAT be?), I do feel uncomfortable when I read some of the stories that are praised and published in those magazines.

I'm not saying that sex should NEVER be written about, especially because many of the chick lit novels that I've read do include love scenes. Some of them, however, go a little too far. For example, I read a scene where a girl's car literally exploded (someone was trying to kill her). Instead of doing something that made sense, like call the cops or the fire department or RUN AWAY SCREAMING, she and the FBI agent who was supposed to protect her went back into her house and...well, you know. And meanwhile I'm shaking my head and thinking, "This is what gets published?"

I've read other stories in other literary magazines that describe events that I don't describe in my own stories, like drug abuse, violence, and suicide. These are all important, real-life issues that should not be swept under the rug. But that doesn't mean that I want to be the one who writes about them.

Although I love reading chick lit, sometimes it's hard for me to relate to the main characters, whose lives often revolve around finding and/or keeping a guy. Although finding true love is important to me too, anyone who's read this blog for a while will know that I'm married to my work. Most of the guys I've dated didn't appreciate coming in second, and I don't blame them. I think that the fact that I can't relate to most chick lit novels is why it's been difficult for me to write one of my own.

One genre I love reading even more than chick lit is humor writing. Dave Barry was the first humor writer I ever read. He could make ordinary things like taking his dog out to go to the bathroom seem like one of the funniest things in the world. Angela Nissel, author of The Broke Diaries, knew how to describe a trip to Wal-mart or the laundry room in a witty, entertaining way.

I've also been reading hilarious memoirs by people like Jim Gaffigan, David Sedaris, Rachel Dratch, Jenny Mollen (though some of her raunchy descriptions made me think that the people at my church would probably hurl holy water at her but she would just stick her tongue out at them and keep writing), Jen Lancaster, and Tina Fey.What they taught me was that being neurotic and obsessive can be good, because I can put those qualities to good use in my writing. Those writers obsess over things that most people take for granted, but they do it in a funny way and they get paid for it.

I just finished reading Amy Poehler's memoir, Yes Please, and she wrote something that struck a chord with me: "Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier."

It made me think about what my own currency is. As far as writing goes, maybe my "currency" could be humor writing too. I haven't given up on the manuscripts of chick lit novels that I've written. But writing about my own life in a witty, funny way has always come much more easily to me, though I know I still have a lot to learn.

Of course, it's much easier for celebrities to publish creative nonfiction, though I don't discredit the talent of writers like the ones I've mentioned (especially because they are all very talented. On the other hand, there are also celebrity "authors" like Snooki, so...) But it got me thinking that maybe I should try to get my own humor writing published too, whether I collect some of the writing I've done on this blog or in my stack of journals and put it in a book, or whether I come up with new pieces and send them out to magazines and websites that publish humor writing (websites and literary magazines won't publish blog posts that have already been posted online, because they're considered "published").

What do you think? Do you write the kinds of stories that you like to read, or do you prefer to explore different genres? What kinds of things do you not like to read about?