Monday, October 20, 2014

Friends and Frenemies, Part 2

In college, I called one of my friends in tears because I had to get my wisdom teeth taken out the next day. She showed up the next day to take me to my appointment, even though I didn't ask her to. She stayed there the whole time, and then she took me out for smoothies.

Another friend was upset because I couldn't hang out with her that often, due to the fact that I had three jobs and worked seven days a week. She lived rent-free with her parents and didn't even have to pay for groceries while she went to graduate school.

Guess which person I'm still friends with?

I read an article recently (sorry, I can't remember the author) about how important it is to "show up" for your friends. What the author meant was that it's important to be there for your friends, not just for birthdays and weddings, but also when they need you. It really hit home for me, especially because of everything I've been going through lately. The suffering I've experienced because of my neurological disorder made me realize who my true friends are and who my frenemies are.

I have trouble holding on to friends. I used to blame myself entirely for this, because I'm a workaholic and I think and talk about work 90% of the time. (The rest of the time I think about food.) It doesn't help that I'm an introvert and prefer to do most things on my own. (My idea of hell is being forced to party with the cast of Jersey Shore every night.) Most of my friends couldn't understand that my workday didn't end at five o'clock like theirs did, and I didn't get weekends or summers off, not if I wanted to have money for food and rent.

I canceled outings with friends on more than one occasion due to my work schedule, even though I didn't want to. And one by one, most of them walked out of my life and stopped returning my calls. One of them remained in my life because we worked together, but she pointedly ignored me; I often had to repeat myself two or three times before she finally answered.

I am partly to blame for the loss of those friendships. I am a workaholic, and I always will be. That's something that's not going to change, especially because of the nature of my work and the fact that I have a Type A personality. But what I finally realized is that the people who walked out were partly to blame too.

I thought of the friend who didn't have time for me on my birthday, but threw a huge birthday party for one of her friends (I wasn't invited.). There was the friend who went on and on about his personal life, but said he was sick of hearing about my work. There were the people who made fun of me for being a teetotaler; they insisted on hanging out at bars (FYI: inviting a teetotaler to a bar is like inviting a vegetarian to a steakhouse) but never wanted to come with me to any of my favorite museums on free admission days or plays that sold cheap tickets. There was the friend who always said she was too busy to hang out with me, but had plenty of time for her other friends.

Remembering these things lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. For so long I'd castigated myself for devoting myself to my work instead of my friends. I thought that there had to be something wrong with me because I couldn't make lasting connections with them. I thought that if I had been a better and more interesting person, they'd still want to spend time with me. And in many ways, I think that's at least partly true. But on the other hand, if they had been better, more considerate people, we still would have been friends.

There are the people who say that they're for you, and then there are the people who will show up for you when you're feeling lost, sad, or scared. The people in the second group are the ones whose friendships I value, and they're the people that I strive to be like. The people in the first group are the reason that I think Facebook should have a "frenemies" list or a "people who I always fake smile with".

What about you? How do you deal with it when your friends don't show up for you? How do you show up for them?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Friday Night at the ER

It started with a whooshing sound in my right ear. It sounded like my heartbeat or like what you would hear during a sonogram. I heard it constantly, even when I was trying to sleep (which is why I hardly slept for weeks). When I sat next to other grad students at lectures, I was convinced that they could hear it, though they gave no signs that they did.

I went to the general practitioner that I normally go to. "It's just ear wax," he said. He cleaned out my ears, which was very painful. "The sound will go away in a few hours." It didn't.

He referred me to an ear doctor, who said that my eustachian tubes were stuffed up due to a minor cold I'd had. She made incisions in my ears to clear up the tubes (a procedure that was also very painful), and then my ears were in pain for several days afterwards. She said the sound would go away in a few weeks. It didn't.

Then my vision became impaired. It became a strain to watch TV, even if I was just sitting across the room. It was difficult sometimes to see everything outside without squinting. I thought it was the sunlight and that I needed to wear sunglasses. But one night I was walking around outside and I realized that the lights were blurry even then.

I also had headaches every day. I realized that it was time to see another doctor. This time I went to an optometrist at Lenscrafters for an eye exam. "This is what your eyes looked like last year," she said, showing me the pictures. "This is what your eyes look like now. You need to see a specialist right away."

That same day I went to a specialist who wasn't covered by my insurance. He charged me two hundred dollars for a ten minute consultation. He said that I needed to go to the emergency room right away, because there was something seriously wrong with my eyes. That was when I got scared.

That day I spent more than ten hours in the emergency room. I went there at 2:30 in the afternoon and didn't come out until almost one in the morning. I didn't get to eat lunch OR dinner. A kind nurse felt sorry for me and offered me some graham crackers and juice, but the doctors wouldn't let me have any; they said I had to keep my stomach empty in case I had to undergo more procedures and take more medication.

There was a lot of waiting (and freaking out, on my part) at the ER. I was freaking out because at first I couldn't get a straight answer from the many doctors that I talked to on what was wrong with me. They did another eye exam. Then they did an MRI, because at first they thought I had a brain tumor. For the MRI, they put my body in a noisy machine, where I wasn't allowed to move for an hour. I lay there the whole time, terrified.

It turns out I don't have a brain tumor, but I do have a neurological disorder. I'd rather not say what it is, but I will say that it is the cause of the whooshing sound in my ear, the impaired vision, and the headaches. It's also not a psychological problem; it's physical. The doctors did a spinal tap, meaning they put a large needle in my spine and drained fluid out of me; it was very painful (I now think of September 2014 as the Month of Painful Medical Procedures).

They prescribed me some medication, which comes with several side effects. One side effect is that my feet feel like they're falling asleep all the time. Another side effect is that soda is tasteless to me now (which SUCKS, because I love Coke). Another side effect is that it makes me tired all the time, which means I can't get a lot of work done (did I mention I have to make a huge presentation to my department next month, and my job applications are due soon)?

I left a message for one friend that I had to go to the hospital. This "friend" never responded. I left another message for another friend, who didn't respond until several days later because she was "busy" with her other friends. I managed to text a third friend, who disappeared for a long time in the middle of our conversation and then immediately changed the subject of my health to something else. With friends like these, who needs enemies? I won't be calling them again. Ever.

I even Tweeted about what was happening to me. No one Tweeted a response. Celebrities can Tweet one word, like "Uh" or "What" and get a hundred responses from fans. I Tweeted about being in the ER and being sick, and no one asked if I was okay.

My father said that I brought my neurological disorder on myself and that I am to blame  because I am so neurotic (which contradicts everything the doctors said. They said that my disorder is very rare and happens to otherwise young, healthy women.). He said I must have worked myself up into a frenzy and that's why there's something wrong with my brain now. He argued with the ER doctors over the phone and forbade me from getting a spinal tap because of the risks involved. I told him that I am a thirty-three year old adult and that my decisions are MINE, not his.

My mother was very upset with me too, and she called several times to let me know how angry she was at me. The only people who showed me any compassion were two of my professors, who I had to tell because I wasn't able to meet all of their deadlines due to the fact that I was seeing more than a dozen doctors and was in and out of the hospital for more than a month.

Right now I'm feeling sad, scared, alone, and lost. The doctors are optimistic that the medication will work. BUT if it doesn't, I may need brain surgery. If THAT doesn't work, I may go permanently blind. If I wasn't neurotic BEFORE...

What about you? Have you ever dealt with something like this? How did you deal with it?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dear Search Committee

Dear Search Committee:
    I'm writing to apply for a teaching job at your school in College Town, USA. Even though I've lived in Chicago for several years, I grew up in a small town. So it wouldn't bother me at ALL to move back to a town where people refer to Wal-Mart as "the mall."

While my grad school classmates were winning academic awards, publishing articles in scholarly journals that no one but other scholars read, and presenting their research at conferences that no one but other scholars cared about, I was taking orders from twenty-two-year-old retail supervisors on power trips.

I was shelving books and climbing over people who stretched out on the floor of the store while they read, scattered books all over the place, and never bought anything. At least fifty times a day I resisted the urge to bitch slap people who complained that The Economist wasn't where it was supposed to be or that I wasn't ringing up their purchases quickly enough. I was folding clothes and selling store credit cards to customers who didn't really need them, all so that I could get nothing more than minimum wage and a high-five from my supervisors. I was selling overpriced souvenirs to tourists who would say stuff like, "Wow! Is it this loud in the city ALL the time?"

Working in retail is an exercise in patience; you could say the same thing about teaching. Therefore, I'm much more likely to keep my cool when my students take out their cell phones for the twentieth time during class, rather than pry them out of their hands and fling the phones out the window.

My students will DEFINITELY learn about grammar. I correct people's grammar all the time for FREE, and no, I don't know why I'm not invited to more parties either.

I've taught students at schools all over the city. That means that I know how to teach students at all different levels, AND I know how to respond to all their excuses about why they didn't do the homework or why they missed the last seven classes in a row.

I'm a better teacher than I am a scholar, even though I know that's a MAJOR faux pas in academia. I just never understood why an academic lecture or discussion in an English department sounded more like a discussion that political science majors or economics majors would have. I'm pretty sure that when William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Ernest Hemingway sat down to write, they weren't necessarily obsessing over the political/economic/racial significance of their themes (though I know that some writers did). They just wanted to write good stories that people would read and enjoy, not stories that people would over-analyze in articles and dissertations with hundreds of footnotes.

I know that my lack of scholarly credentials means that I will probably never get a tenure-track job at a prestigious university. I think that's almost as unfair as the fact that university administrators get six-figure salaries, while untenured faculty members don't earn enough money to buy food.

I gave up almost everything else in my life in order to become a professor. I worked harder and suffered more than I ever thought I would.  I wish that mattered in academia, but it doesn't, at least not as much as all those scholarly articles and conference presentations.

Anyway, I hope against hope that I'll hear from you, especially because I REALLY don't want to go back to working in retail.

Neurotic Workaholic

I'm going on the academic job market this year, which is why I haven't been blogging as much lately. That letter is what I wish I could write, but of course, I'm not allowed to say anything like that to search committees. It's the truth, though.

What about you? What do you wish you could say to your employers, prospective or current?

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Wish I Was Brave Enough...

1. To point and shriek "SHAME!" at the guy who served me cold pizza but offered to personally reheat the pizza slice of the girl behind me, who happened to be ten years younger and twenty pounds thinner than I am.

2. To tell my ex-crush how hurt and angry I felt when I showed up for what I thought was a date, only to find out he'd invited several of his friends to join us and then to sit there and listen to him tell me all about the woman he had a crush on (needless to say, it wasn't me).

3. To go up and talk to one of the cute guys at the gym where I work out, none of whom ever look at me, except the time I tripped over my shoelaces and fell face-down on an exercise mat.

4. To tell my relatives that there's nothing wrong with me just because I'm not a wife, a mother, or a "real" doctor.

5. To wear a swimsuit without keeping myself covered up with a towel or five feet of water the entire time.

6. To show my writing to more people.

7. To tell "friends" how I don't want to keep hearing about how much fun they have with their other friends, especially because they never invite me to join them.

8. To tell the other grad students who brag about fellowships, publications, and conference presentations that even though I haven't accomplished as much in academia as they have, they probably wouldn't last a day working at any of the retail jobs that I had.

9. To lock the classroom door so that the students who think it's okay to waltz in thirty (or forty) minutes late will learn to show up on time from now on.

10. To tell students' parents who complain about my rules or try to bully me into changing their kids' grades that it's time that they AND their kids GREW UP.

11. To tell the students who never taught a day in their lives yet claim that they can do my job better than I can that I wish I could be there when they try to treat their bosses with the same blatant disrespect.

12. To tell the people who hurt me that what they did WAS wrong, even though they show absolutely no remorse or act like they never did anything wrong at all.

Here's Sara Bareilles' song "Brave", which made me think of all the things that I wish I was brave enough to say out loud:

What about you? What do you wish you were brave enough to do?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Single and Thirtyish

When you're single, female, and thirtyish....

1. You will often get phone calls from relatives who ask, "When are you getting married?"

2. You will also get phone calls from relatives who say, "Did you know that [insert the name of your childhood nemesis here, and yes, I had more than one] is already married and has three kids?"

3. Other people may say to you, "Don't you WANT to have children? You don't have much time left."

4. Friends who are in relationships will give you birthday/Christmas gifts that are either baskets filled with bath products (I must admit I like those) or scented candles. If I lit all the candles that married friends have given me, my apartment would immediately catch fire.

5. MANY thirtyish guys will reject you for twentysomething (or teenage) girls and believe that their personalities are the only reasons that those girls want them.

6. You start to think about all the guys you went out with and wonder if you made the wrong choice: "Even though he flirted with the waitress/left me with the check every time/criticized my job/was ten years older and three times balder than he said he was in his profile, maybe I SHOULD have given him another chance."

7. When a hostess at a restaurant asks you, "Is anyone joining you today?" you may or may not feel tempted to say, "No, my boyfriend couldn't make it. His name is Ryan Gosling and he's very busy."

8. Some friends and relatives will make jokes about you being an old maid. You will make jokes about throwing sharp objects at them.

9. Your friends who are in relationships will not be able to spend as much time with you (or will disappear altogether and only hang out with other couples). When you do see them, they will refer to themselves as "we," show you pictures of their significant others, and tell you all the romantic things that their significant others did for them. You will tell them about how you elbowed some creep on the train because he tried to grab your boob.

10. People will try to set you up with thirtyish guys, who they claim are "perfect" for you but who would make you claw your way out with your bare hands if you were trapped in an elevator with them.

11. Your married friends probably spent less than ten bucks on a scented candle for you. You will spend hundreds (or more) of dollars on presents for their engagements, weddings, baby showers, baptisms, housewarming parties, etc., etc.

12. Although thirtyish guys apparently have no qualms about going after girls who are too young for them, you are unwilling to date twentysomething guys who call you "Ma'am" (or in my case, Professor).

13. You can travel or live wherever you want, without having to appease in-laws, significant others, or children.

14. You can check out cute guys in public without feeling guilty.

15. You can watch episodes of Sex and the City and say, "Yes! That's exactly how I feel about being single, minus all the one-night stands and expensive shoes!" What's more, you can watch as many episodes as you want without being mocked or without having to forfeit the show for episodes of a wrestling match, a football game, or a cartoon featuring animated characters whose eyes are larger than their faces (seriously, some of those computer animated characters freak me OUT).

16. You don't have to have any conversations about "the relationship."

17. You can eat ice cream for dinner and not have to share it with anyone.

What about you? What do you think are some of the pros (or cons) of being married (or single)?

Side note: All jokes aside, I think that anyone who promises himself or herself to one person for the rest of their life is making a wonderful, sacred commitment, and it's one that I hope to make someday.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Heart New York

I spent last week in New York City. I loved every minute of it, even though I accidentally got knocked over by naked people wearing body paint in Times Square, had to pay the price of three hot dogs for ONE hot dog, and may or may not have ended up in Coney Island when I was trying to go to the Upper East Side.

I spent four nights there, and I did and saw as many things as I could. The highlight of the week was watching Julia Stiles and James Wirt perform in the excellent off-Broadway play Phoenix. Along with other fans, I waited by the stage door after the show and got their autographs. I kicked myself for being too shy to ask to get my picture taken with Julia, whose work I've admired for fifteen years, ever since I saw her in 10 Things I Hate about You. But I watched her perform live and I got her autograph, so two out of three isn't bad. (She was very nice and gracious to everyone, and gave an autograph to everyone who asked, even the people with several DVDs.)

I spent more than two hours walking around Central Park, though that was partly because it took me more than an hour to figure out how to get OUT of Central Park.

I ate a peanut butter sundae at Serendipity Cafe and didn't feel too guilty eating it, seeing as how I spent hours every day walking around, muttering, "Where AM I?"

I took pictures from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

I bought a black Dean & DeLuca T-shirt and felt just like Felicity from the TV show, minus the beautiful hair and cute boyfriends.

I ate lasagna and gelato in Little Italy and beef chow fun in Chinatown. My hotel was in Chinatown, and in the morning I'd buy a fruit smoothie, go to the park nearby, and watch people do Tai Chi.

I watched people playing chess in Washington Square Park and thought of that scene in When Harry Met Sally where they said goodbye by the Washington arch.

I visited the New York Public Library and the bookstores the Strand, Shakespeare & Co., and Housing Works, and I bought a couple books.

I wrote in a cafe in Greenwich Village (which was my favorite neighborhood), and I window shopped in Soho and on Fifth Avenue.

I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was much bigger than my favorite museum in Chicago, the Art Institute.

I got up early every morning and only came back to my hotel room to shower and sleep. I spent all day walking around and marveling at how much bigger, louder, more crowded, and more colorful everything was in New York than in Chicago. I envied the people who lived there, and I thought of how cool it would be to teach, write, and live in New York City. (I'll probably end up in some small college town, though.)

The best part of the vacation was that for the first time in a long time, I felt happy and relaxed. I'd be standing in a subway car or walking around the East Village or eating dinner in Little Italy, and I'd find myself smiling.

It felt so good to escape my work, my anxieties about my work, my music-blasting, magazine-stealing, let's party like our parents pay our rent because they DO neighbors, the e-mails from students (and their parents) complaining about their grades, the phone calls from relatives asking why I'm not married yet, and my usual days that consisted of work, coffee, exercise, and kicking people who cut in front of me in line. In Chicago I often feel old. In New York I felt ten years younger, like I used to feel when I first moved to Chicago and walked around with the same awe and fascination. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

When my plane landed in O'Hare Airport, I found an e-mail regarding a presentation that I have to make in front of my entire department (where my work will be torn apart by graduate students AND professors), another e-mail regarding a bill that's due, and an e-mail from one of my professors regarding my dissertation. I also found out some deadbeat loser somehow used my phone number, and I started getting daily phone calls from aggressive bill collectors (I had to spend an hour on the phone to get THAT straightened out). The weight dropped back down on my shoulders, and I felt old, tired, and stressed out again.

But at least I still have my memory of that wonderful week in New York, and I've already resolved to visit that city again someday soon. I'm not going to wait another thirteen years before I travel again, and I realized that everyone needs a vacation, even a neurotic workaholic like me.

What about you? What are some of the best parts of the vacations that you've taken? Do you ever wish you could just escape all the everyday problems in your life?