Monday, May 18, 2015

Politically Incorrect

Recently, an African American professor named Saida Grundy was hired to teach at Boston University. She got in trouble for writing the following things on Twitter about white people: "Why is white America so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?”

 “Every [Martin Luther King Jr.] week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. And every year [I] find it nearly impossible.”

 “...in other words, deal with your white sh*t [sic], white people. Slavery is a *YALL* thing.”

On Twitter several people wrote #IStandwithSaida in support of her "message," claiming that she wasn't being racist; she was only "stating the truth."

I for one do NOT stand with Saida. I think what she said was incredibly racist. She's also misinformed, because even Africans owned slaves, though admittedly they did not all treat them in the same way that American slave owners treated their slaves.

Boston University criticized her comments, but they did not fire or discipline her in any way. Saida Grundy later "apologized" for her statements, though it sounded less like an apology and more like an attempt to rationalize her vitriol. This bothered me, especially because I know that if I said those things, they wouldn't even consider hiring me for a full-time lecturer position.

Later, a white male professor at Duke got in trouble for saying the following things: 

He said that Asians “didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard” after experiencing discrimination in this country.

He also said, “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white."

Do I agree with what Professor Jerry Hough said? NO. But what bothers me is that the people who were so quick to defend Saida Grundy are now attacking Jerry Hough and calling for him to be fired.

Both professors made generalizations about race, implying/assuming that their statements applied to ALL the people from those groups. They're both wrong. I also think that the same people who were upholding the importance of freedom of speech in their defense of Saida Grundy are hypocrites for attacking Jerry Hough for exercising his right to freedom of speech.

The primary reason I never revealed my name or my face on this blog is because I don't want to get in trouble for what I write. I don't think I've ever written anything that controversial or offensive on this blog, but we are living in an era where everyone is hyper-alert about what's "politically correct" and what's not, and people get offended by almost everything. Teachers cannot even discipline their students anymore without getting verbally attacked by the students' parents or fired by their employers.

As a teacher, I have been falsely accused of racism. A student sent me several nasty e-mails, accusing me of racism, because I only included one book by an African American author on the syllabus for the literature class he was enrolled in. He tried to get me fired by badmouthing me all over the department, though the other professors took my side. I didn't include more African American authors because I also included books by other minorities; there wasn't time to include more. But that student was convinced I was a racist, and he said he felt "victimized" as a result. I refused to back down to him.

Another student informed me that I was racist for including one of Mark Twain's books on my curriculum, due to his use of the n-word. I don't condone the use of that word, but I think there is a lot more to his work than that. Not to mention that student failed to notice or understand Twain's critiques of racism and discrimination in his books. I refused to back down to that student, too.

I understand that it's important to be careful about what I say, especially because I am a teacher. Teachers are held to a different standard, and we can't say or do whatever we want without worrying about how it will affect our reputations or even our jobs.

It bothers me that some people have become so hyper-sensitive about what's politically correct and what's not that they will bully me, scream at me, threaten me, or try to get me fired if I say or do one thing that they don't like. I am NOT and have never been a racist. I do not have a problem with people from other races. I have a problem with people using race as an excuse to attack others.

What about you? What do you think about political correctness? Have you ever been falsely accused of being politically incorrect?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Beyond My Control

Every few weeks, I meet with my doctors to continue my medical treatment for my neurological disorder. I have to meet with more than one doctor, due to the fact that I am suffering from various symptoms. Every time I go, I feel scared.

Whenever I visit the clinics and the hospital, I feel very small. I see blind people wearing sunglasses and walking with canes, and I see others being led by Seeing Eye dogs. There are patients being pushed in wheelchairs, which always gives me a flashback to the night I spent in the emergency room, and orderlies pushed me around the hospital in a wheelchair to get me from one unit to the next. At the hospital, I catch glimpses of people lying in bed, hooked up to machines.

I feel sorry for them, and I wish that I could heal all of them. However, a small, selfish part of me hates seeing them, because I can't help thinking, Am I going to end up like them? Is that my future? 

Since September, I have been to more doctors and undergone more medical procedures than I can count. At first, I got worse, and the neurologist who was treating me increased my medication. She told me that if the medication didn't work, I would have to get brain surgery. If that didn't help, I would go permanently blind.

I've always hated that medication. It made me feel tired all the time, and I lost weight because I barely had the energy to finish a sandwich. It also made me sick on a regular basis. I hated that I was dependent on that medication and on my doctors. One of the things about being a Type A personality is that I am a control freak. The fact that my health is beyond my control frightens me.

When I go in for my treatment, I try to focus on getting better. I try not to think about how my life (and my work) will change completely if I get even worse. The problem with a neurological disorder is that if something goes really wrong, that's it. It's not like I can get a brain transplant.

I try not to think about going blind, but I can't help that either. If I went blind, I wouldn't be able to see Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline, or Grant Park anymore. I wouldn't be able to just go into a bookstore and browse, unless they had books available in Braille. I wouldn't even be able to see the words on my computer or in my journal, which would change my writing process.

I also try not to think about the anger I still feel at my parents for blaming me for getting sick, even though my doctors said they were wrong. I say nothing to my parents about the fact that they haven't asked about my health in months.

I do think about how grateful I am to all of you, for leaving positive, encouraging comments on my blog when I wrote about my diagnosis. I am grateful to those of you who sent me nice e-mails to let me know that you supported me. When I went to the emergency room the first time, I felt so alone, lost, and scared. Reading what you all wrote made me feel better, and it helped me cope with the anger I felt at all the people in my life who weren't there for me.

My doctors say that I am finally getting better, though I still have to stay on the medication (a reduced dosage, at least) and come in for regular medical treatment. They say that what I have is chronic and can't be cured; it could always come back, and then I really might go blind the next time. That's why it's imperative that I find a full-time job with good health insurance that would cover more medical treatment.

I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I hope that I will continue to get better. Thank you to all of you who have been so kind to me. I really appreciate it.

What about you? Have you ever felt like something was beyond your control? How did you deal with it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Uncertain Future

This year I have applied for full-time teaching jobs at eighty schools all over the country. So far, I have been rejected by thirty of them.

It's discouraging, to say the least, to open my mail and find yet another rejection letter. It also makes me scared about what's going to happen in the future. I have just enough money to pay my basic expenses through August. But what will I do after that?

I started working when I was sixteen, as a cashier in a grocery store in the small Midwestern town I grew up in, where I routinely had to tell customers to put shirts on so they wouldn't be made to leave the store (and I tried not to stare at their farmer tans as I told them). I've had a variety of jobs, everything from stuffing envelopes, to resisting the urge to strangle rude customers with the clothes I was trying to sell them, to breaking up fights among troubled high school students, to resisting the urge to fling undergraduates' cell phones out the window.

I've never been unemployed, though I have been underemployed, underpaid, and overworked. When I couldn't find a full-time teaching job after I got a master's degree, I started working as a part-time adjunct instructor at various schools. Adjunct work is difficult because the pay is low; there is no health insurance or benefits; you're hired on an as-needed basis, so you could have a full course load one term and no classes the next. That's why I also worked in retail, and I took on a part-time job for a website.

Despite the fact that I'm a workaholic, I never liked working multiple jobs. I was tired all the time. I was screamed at and disrespected by some of my students, my customers, and my supervisors. I accepted it because I had few other options, though I often cried privately when it got to be too much. The harder I worked, the more my personality hardened: I went from being cheerful, friendly, and optimistic to stressed, antisocial, and cynical.

Now I'm close to finishing my dissertation, and I'll be defending it in about a month. If it doesn't get approved, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away. If it does get approved, I'll finally have my PhD. But the question is, what happens next?

I've applied to large research universities, small four-year colleges, and community colleges. I've applied to posh boarding schools, because they occasionally hire PhDs. I've even applied for tutoring jobs at university writing centers, even though they pay tens of thousands dollars less than teaching jobs do. But with the exception of one school, who was interested in hiring me until they found someone with more impressive credentials, I have no other job leads.

It bothers me that even though I am a good teacher with hundreds of positive evaluations from my students, someone with a longer list of academic publications and awards is much more likely to get the job. What most of these search committees are looking for is someone who has excelled as a scholar, while his or her teaching record is much less important. I think it should be the other way around, but I'm in the minority on that issue.

The chair of the English department at my school told the PhD candidates that it was normal not to find a tenure-track position within the first year and that the search could take at least two more years. Even after that, we still might not find one. But in the meantime, I still have bills to pay, and I can't even get a job as an untenured, full-time lecturer at a community college in the Middle of Nowhere, USA.

It's depressing and scary to think that I could be rejected by fifty more schools. After I get my PhD, it'll (hopefully) be easier to find a job. But in the meantime, I may have to go back to work in retail (if I do, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away), continue working as an adjunct, and increase the hours at my website job.

Even if I worked three jobs again, I wouldn't necessarily have enough money to live on. As an experienced salesgirl, I would get paid more. But I would get fewer hours, because it's cheaper for the employers to give hours to the ones with less experience. Adjuncts make little more (or in some cases, less) than retail workers. For example, I was once offered a teaching job that would have paid less than a hundred dollars a week (before taxes). I could get health insurance as a salesgirl (but not as an adjunct instructor), but it's very basic insurance, which wouldn't cover the specialized treatment I need for my neurological disorder.

But I will do what I have to do. I will NOT ask my parents for money, for reasons that are better left unwritten. I've heard of other untenured faculty who had to live on food stamps, but hopefully I won't have to do that. I may, however, have to sign up for Medicaid.

Right now I'm still waiting to hear back from those other schools that haven't rejected me. A lot of them just posted their ads in March and April and won't start reviewing applications until May, so I won't hear anything until June at the earliest. The uncertainty is the worst. I just want to know, one way or another, what's going to happen, so that I can figure out where to go from there.

What about you? Have you ever had difficulty finding a job in your desired field?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cell Phone Addicts

Do you remember when cell phones were these huge devices that only made phone calls and were meant to just be used for emergencies? Do you remember when cell phones were considered luxuries and only rich people who had names like Thaddeus Waltham Jameson III, Esq. owned them? Can we go back to those days please?

Once I went to a movie where some teenage girl answered her cell phone during the movie. She deliberately put the call on speaker phone, and when the person who called her asked, "So what are you doing right now?" she answered, "Nothing much," and proceeded to talk loudly until everyone in the audience groaned collectively and acted like they were going to unleash their wrath and their popcorn upon her head. She finally walked out of the theater, continuing to chat with her friend on the phone.

When I study in coffee shops, I often notice people sitting nearby, who are on dates or hanging out with their friends. I can't help wondering if those people would be happier sitting at home alone with their true loves, specifically their cell phones, because they usually spend 95% of the time texting/Tweeting/taking selfies than actually talking to the people in front of them. I always think that if I were to grab the food they're eating and then lie across their table eating the food while talking about how lame it is to be obsessed with electronic devices, they wouldn't even look up from their phones.

I have a particular acquaintance who will text me and then disappear for hours during the middle of our conversation. Then he will come back hours later and start texting me again, without apology or explanation for the long absence. This person does this every time we text each other. The last time he did it, I asked him why he stopped texting for so long. But I made the mistake of texting my question to him, and he did not respond until A DAY LATER.

When this person does that, it makes me think that maybe he's multi-tasking or texting other friends while texting me. But the fact that I always have to wait hours for a response makes me feel like my conversation (and my feelings) do not matter at all.

When I was doing the online dating thing, guys rarely called. They preferred texting, because apparently it was less nerve-wracking for them. I don't expect long love letters like women in the past received from their suitors, but it would be nice to get something more than a text that says, "Hey what's up?" or a text that has nothing but winking emojis in it. (It's like, really? I'm 34, not 14.) I once dated a guy who spent more time texting (I suspected he was texting other women during our date) than he did actually looking at me. It was like, "Perhaps you should order a drink for your cell phone, too?"

I admit that I freaked out when my cell phone was stolen recently. Even though I don't know how to use more than half the apps on it, I do use it for e-mail, phone calls, Twitter, and the Internet. Still, if I'm with friends, I always focus on THEM, not my phone. I miss the days when I could walk around outside, go to a cafe, or ride the bus without looking around to see almost everyone glued to their phones. I don't think it's just about the desire to be constantly connected anymore. I think it's about the desire to be constantly entertained. But when people focus so much on their devices, they end up missing out on the real world around them, and I think that's wrong and kind of sad.

What about you? What are some of your pet peeves regarding your cell phones and the people who are addicted to them?

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Think Karma Is Broken

Recently, I was walking past a doctor's office when I found a debit card on the ground. For a moment, visions of paid bills and Prada bags danced through my head. But I didn't use the card, of course. I made sure that the bank listed on the card was alerted that the card had been found. After all, if I had tried to use the card, it could have gotten traced back to me. Then there would have been visions of me in a prison jumpsuit dancing through my head, only they wouldn't just be visions; they'd be reality.

Once I found a Kindle. This was before I had the money to buy my own e-reader. I could have kept it, and it wouldn't necessarily have gotten traced back to me. But the owner of the Kindle had put his name and e-mail address on the back, probably so that if he ever lost it, the e-reader could be returned to him. So I contacted him, and he was grateful to get it back. And I felt good that I had done the right thing.

The other day I was studying in a coffee shop, and I accidentally left my cell phone on the sink in the bathroom. When I realized my mistake and went back to get it less than half an hour later, my phone was gone. The baristas said no one turned it in.

I was at the coffee shop that day because I had a coupon for a free cup of coffee. Ironically, that free cup ended up costing me more than a hundred dollars, because I had to pay for a replacement phone (fortunately, I had insurance on my old phone, so I didn't have to pay full price), a memory card, and a new case. I spent more than an hour at the phone store, learning about how to remotely wipe the data from my old phone so the thief couldn't access it, lock my new phone, and back up the data on my new phone. I foolishly did not back up most of the data on my old one, so I lost all the pictures I'd taken, including the ones from my trip to New York.)

I also had to keep running down to the mailboxes of my building to check for the delivery of my new phone, because my loser neighbors have a bad habit of not only stealing my magazines (I actually had to cancel all my subscriptions) but also my packages. I once put up a note asking for the return of my mail, and the losers put up their own note mocking me for their theft and saying they would do it again if they found more of my mail (the postal workers keep putting the wrong mail in the mailboxes. I tried to file more than one complaint about it, and the post office retaliated by giving my number to one of those workers, who called me to scream at me and blame ME for getting the wrong mail, as if it was my fault she kept doing a bad job). Fortunately, I got to my new phone before those leeches did, so they couldn't steal it.

The theft of my cell phone really pissed me off. I always try to do the right thing (though admittedly I don't always succeed). I don't keep things that don't belong to me. The one exception is when I find coins on the ground, because who's going to run back and search for a quarter or a couple of pennies, right?

But unfortunately, some people aren't honest. Some people are selfish thieves and just immoral. This isn't the first time I've gotten robbed, because this is Chicago, after all. I've gotten mugged and pickpocketed on more than one occasion, which is why I never carry a lot of cash or major credit cards with me. Once I accidentally left my coin purse in a bathroom at one of the schools where I teach. I went back less than five minutes later, to find the purse still there but all the coins missing. And I don't think it's a coincidence that not long after some of my mail went missing, someone tried to open up a bunch of credit cards with my information; fortunately, my credit card company stopped them and alerted me to what was going on.

It's times like those that make me wonder why I even bother trying to be considerate and honest. I know it's the right thing to do, but it doesn't always pay off. Even when I try to help people, it occasionally ends up backfiring.

For example, once I saw an old woman struggling with a shopping bag as she went down the stairs of an El station. The bag split open, and all the things inside fell out. Other people walked by, some of them trampling over her things without a second glance. I said, "Here, let me help you with that," and I tried to pick up what she had dropped. She screamed at me to keep my hands off her stuff and accused me of trying to steal it. I quickly backed away and let the old witch take care of it herself.

In spite of creeps like that, I will continue to try to do the right thing. If I find something valuable again, I won't keep it; I'll make sure it gets returned. I have enough Catholic guilt in me to motivate me, after all. But it still discourages me and makes me mad that no matter how nice I try to be to people, I still end up getting screwed again and again. It bothers me that some of the worst people in the world end up rich, successful, and getting everything else that they want, like karma isn't real after all. It's not like I help people with the expectation of being repaid every time, but it would be nice if people would show me the same consideration and at the very least return my possessions. But maybe that's expecting too much.

What about you? Have you ever gotten robbed? Have you ever tried to help someone, only for your efforts to end up backfiring? How do you deal with people like that?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Go Fund Yourself

Recently I read an article about a guy who started a gofundme campaign so that he could buy a plane ticket to Florida, where his girlfriend had gone on spring break. He was worried that she would cheat on him during the trip. He even got upset that a swimsuit picture she'd posted online got 200 "likes." (Jealous and insecure, your table is ready.) His campaign was successful; he took the trip to Florida, and his girlfriend didn't think he was possessive AT ALL.

I also read that almost a million dollars has been donated to a gofundme campaign for the owners of Memories Pizza in Indiana, who suffered a huge backlash after one of the proprietors said that he "chose" to be heterosexual and that he believed others "chose" to be homosexual. The owners also said that while they would still serve pizza to gay people, they would not cater a gay wedding.

Who would serve pizza at a wedding? (The only people who would like that are probably the people who don't think it's necessary to wear a shirt when they get married, like the ones I saw on a reality show recently.) I think the owners said that to make it clear that they supported that "religious freedom" act. I thought about the kind, funny, and good people I've met in Chicago, who are gay. None would choose to be homosexual, because why choose an identity that motivates other people to discriminate against you, beat you, or renounce you? While people have a right to practice their own religions, I don't think they should be given thousands of dollars for discriminating against other people who are different from them.

I wrote a blog post about Karyn Bosnak, who asked for money on the Internet (before gofundme even existed) in order to pay her $20,000 credit card bill. Many people responded with money and gifts. At the time I thought it was cool. Countless gofundme campaigns later, I'm not so sure.

I like the idea of strangers helping each other. There are legitimate campaigns out there. For example, I donated a small sum to a campaign for a homeless man who did not want to be separated from his dog, because the dog was all he had left. Both the man and the dog no longer have to live on the streets, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

I've heard of other campaigns where people ask for money for lifesaving surgeries, or they ask for help when they are struggling to support their families. It's great when people show compassion for each other.

I hoped to travel this summer, either to make a second trip to New York or to travel someplace else I've never been, like Boston or Seattle. I need a new laptop, because my current one keeps breaking down. I'd like to move out of my 300-square foot apartment, with its cracked walls and constantly non-functioning shower and fridge. My neighbors leave beer cans in the elevator and steal my magazines, and one especially loud neighbor is either an amateur porn star who streams videos from her apartment or just really loves her boyfriend.

But this year, my health problems (which I'll write more about later) were very costly. Even though my insurance paid for most of my treatment, I was still on the hook for more than a thousand dollars. My student insurance will end once I complete my PhD (which will hopefully be this summer), but I still need health insurance for ongoing treatment. I also owe thousands of dollars in student loans. I have barely enough money to get me through this summer. After that, if I don't find a full-time job, I'll be screwed.

Will I start a gofundme campaign for myself? No. I hated that I even had to sign up for student loans. I worked full-time for as long as I could. I think that some people give gofundme campaigns a bad name, like the guy who started one in order to go to a comic book convention, students who want money to enroll in study abroad programs, and a couple who wanted a vow renewal ceremony.

I think that people should continue helping each other, but everyone has their limit. What about you? Have you ever donated to a gofundme campaign? What do you think of these campaigns?