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?

Monday, February 2, 2015

(Not) The Marrying Kind

Recently I read an article that said, "If you care about your happiness, you should avoid marrying a neurotic person."

The author, Drake Baer, wrote, "Neurotic people are more likely to detect threats in their environments, which can lead to mood swings and obsessive thinking about what could go wrong. They have been found to be more easily distracted, less self confident, and to have lower salaries than their more emotionally stable peers."

Almost everything he wrote describes me, because this entire blog is proof of the fact that I obsess over almost everything; (hence my screenname, Neurotic Workaholic, and my blog title, "Obsessions of a Workaholic"). I've come up with some other reasons why I fit Drake Baer's description of neuroticism to a T:

1. One of my guy friends told me that I put off an "unapproachable vibe." When I'm out in public, I discreetly grip my keys in a certain way, so that if any guy tries to attack me I can use the keys as a weapon and stab him in the eye and/or the crotch. After years of being harassed, groped, followed down the street, and in one terrifying case, nearly abducted by random creeps in Chicago (I screamed and fought back, which apparently scared off the abductor), I've cultivated a "back the hell off or I will CUT you vibe."

2. Most of the guys I've dated thought it was weird that with the exception of the hello/goodbye kiss, I didn't like to kiss in public (especially if his version of kissing meant "I'm going to touch your tonsils with my tongue" or I didn't like the guy, in which case I was all "back the hell off or I will CUT you"). I've never even been comfortable with holding hands or letting the guy put his arm around me in public. I've never liked public displays of affection, because I think that there is a time and a place for everything, and so basically anywhere that has people in it who are not too drunk to notice IS NOT THE TIME NOR THE PLACE.

The last time a guy held my hand, I spent 50% of the time thinking about how long I had to hold his hand before I could wipe off my sweaty hand on my pants without looking rude, and wondering if I could ask him to wipe off the sweat on his hand, and maybe put some hand sanitizer on as well, because I also spent the other 50% of the time on our date thinking of the germs on his hand that could potentially infect me with the flu because he coughed two hours before. (If there was any doubt in your minds that I am completely neurotic, I'd say this paragraph pretty much proves it.)

3. Since I don't even like to hold hands in public, I would definitely not be charmed by a public proposal, where the guy gets down on one knee in front of a restaurant full of other customers, or in a park filled with a singing/dancing flash mob that he organized. Then I'd just be all, "Are you asking me to marry you, or are you asking me to make you famous on Youtube?" I also think that public proposals put way too much pressure on the person to say yes.

Note: If you are married and your spouse proposed to you in public, I hope you don't think that I am saying that public proposals are unromantic or wrong, because I'm NOT; I'm saying that if I ever did get engaged, that's not how I would want it. As an introvert, I'd prefer to have that moment be something that's just between me and the man I love, not me, the man I love, and dozens of people who are filming us and will post the video on Youtube.

4. Recently, over the past few months, I became closer to a guy I liked, who I did not describe on this blog for various reasons. He was much more laid-back than I am. I eventually realized that he needs to be with someone who actually means it when she says, "I'm fine," and I need someone who understands when I'm not fine and will listen patiently, say the right things, and talk me out of stress eating peanut M&Ms (and of course, I would do the same for him).

5. If I ever got married, my parents would want to throw a huge church wedding and invite all their friends, including the friends who keep asking why I'm in my thirties and still single, and especially the friends who think I'm a lesbian because I'm in my thirties and still single. Planning a wedding is stressful enough, but planning that kind of wedding with two Type A personalities like my parents (two guesses where I got my personality from) just might push me over the edge.

I've attended weddings that cost six figures. If I had that much money, I would use it to buy a home or start a college fund for my future children, not blow it all on a party that lasts one freakin' day or one weekend. My "dream wedding" would go one of two ways: either I'd get married in City Hall and then go out for a nice lunch with my husband and some close friends (like Carrie and Mr. Big did in Sex and the City) or I'd get married in a community garden and have a small reception in a nice restaurant, like Miranda and Steve did on SATC.

Although I am a big fan of Sex and the City, I am not Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, or Miranda. I'm the female George Costanza, because I wear glasses and I'm usually pissed off at somebody. Basically, if you marry someone as neurotic as I am, be prepared to marry the entire cast of Seinfeld. That means that the majority of your conversations (til' death do you part) will be like the obsessive, nitpicky conversations that George, Jerry, Kramer, and Elaine had in the coffee shop every day. It's one thing if you are also neurotic, but it could be very stressful or hard for you to understand or relate to your partner if you are not also overly self-conscious and over-analytical. However, although I have those "George is getting upset!" tantrums on a regular basis, I know that I am capable of making someone feel happy and loved.

I don't know if I'll ever get married, and there is a part of me that thinks that my neurotic personality and workaholic nature will decrease my chances. I also know that it is important to make compromises and address my own flaws in order to make a relationship with someone work, though I don't think I'll ever be able to completely change who I am (and I wouldn't want to anyway).

I've also started to realize that there are worse things in life than being single, such as marrying the wrong person just so I can have kids, won't be alone, or can finally prove to my parents and their friends that I am not in fact a lesbian ("not that there's anything wrong with that!" as Jerry would say)

I will also add that some of the best writers I've ever read and some of the guys I thought were the most attractive were also the most obsessive, neurotic people I've ever encountered. Actually, my ideal husband would have Jerry Seinfeld's personality (and Chris Hemsworth's looks and Channing Tatum's dancing ability, if I'm going to be completely honest).

What do you think? What kinds of personality traits do you think are important for a happy, loving relationship, and what kinds of personality traits do you think could make a relationship fall apart?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Things I've Learned from Academia

1. How many academics does it take to screw in a light bulb? Zero. They'll spend the entire time over-analyzing the political/sociological/philosophical/literary significance of the light bulb, or they'll question whether the light bulb is perhaps symbolic of something else, like the oppression of [insert the name of any oppressed group here].

2. You'll know you've "made" it as an academic not only if you get tenure but also if you get your own office with a fancy nameplate attached to the door, rather than an note card taped to the door that lists your name and office hours, along with the note cards of the other instructors that you have to share the office with. If you get your own office, never again will you have to deal with other instructors who say stuff like, "Well,  need this desk from 2-5 today to meet with students," and "But need this desk to grade fifty papers, unless of course you want to disappoint fifty undergrads and grade them for me?"

3. Administrators do things like make budget cuts that negatively affect the professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants who would have to spend several years toiling away in the classroom to match the six-figure salary that several administrators get for one year's worth of work.

4. Your skills as a teacher, years of teaching experience, and hundreds of positive evaluations from the undergrads you've taught will never mean half as much to search committees or tenure committees as the scholarly books and articles that you are expected to write and that really only matter to other scholars.

5. If you pursue a graduate degree with any kind of liberal arts major, you may or may not end up with a five or six-figure student loan debt, years of experience as a retail salesperson/waiter/babysitter, and your own students who will earn thousands of dollars more than you long before you ever finish graduate school.

6. If you decide to pursue a career as an academic, then be prepared to have people constantly tell you that you work too hard/you look tired/you might want to cut down on your coffee intake at some point, because it's not normal for your face to twitch involuntarily like that.

7. In graduate school, many people form long-lasting friendships because they can relate to each other's experiences. Others will form long-lasting rivalries, where discussions will focus not on topics like "Who wore it best?" but "Who over-analyzed that poem/novel/critical theory best?" Fellow scholars will have discussions that revolve around their work, saying stuff like, "I presented my work at this conference, and everyone loved it so much that they gave me a standing ovation," or "My article was just published in that academic journal, and the editors loved it so much that they took a picture of themselves giving me a standing ovation and sent it to me. Want to see it?"

8. You will spend years writing a dissertation that should be at least 250-300 pages, depending on your program's requirements. The dissertation is basically a book that, if you are a department favorite and an intellectual superstar, could actually be published, but most dissertations will collect dust in the stacks of university libraries. It should have hundreds of footnotes and will probably only be read in its entirety by the five or six people on your committee, and by zero people outside of academia. You could ask family and friends to read the whole thing for you, but expect for them to suddenly have serious work commitments/illnesses that prevent them from reading footnotes/to move to places where it is illegal to read dissertations.

9. You will deal with professors who are kind and encouraging, other professors who will be quick to find fault with every single detail in your work, to the point that you will run with your arms outstretched to the nearest cafe so that you can drink your weight in coffee and stay awake long enough to write something that they won't find fault with, and other professors who won't have time for your work at all because they're too busy over-analyzing the political/sociological/philosophical/literary significance of things like light bulbs.

These are just some of the things that I've learned from my years of working in academia. What are some of the things that you've learned from your work environment?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Back to the 90s

If there's one fictional invention that I wish was real, it would have to be the time machine. The closest I can get to having one is by listening to certain songs from when I was growing up, because there are certain songs where all it takes is hearing one line or one chord; I'll close my eyes and I'll remember very clearly a certain person or event that I associate with that song, and I'll remember what it was like to be the age that I was when that song was popular.

For example, the Proclaimers' song (released in 1988, but it didn't become famous in the U.S. until 1993, when it was featured on the soundtrack for the film Benny and Joon) makes me feel like I'm twelve years old again every time I hear the song. Here's the video for it:

It makes me feel like I'm twelve again because in the summer of 1993, I went to camp, where I met a boy and got to go on my first "date." We went to one of the dances together that were hosted by the camp and which all the preteen campers fussed over, precisely because we were all obsessed over whether or not we were going to get dates. (Looking back on it now, it almost makes me feel like I was in a storyline for a YA novel.) That song by the Proclaimers was the most popular song at camp, and they must have played it several times during the dance.

The thing about THAT date, however, is that the boy I went to the dance with literally hid in a corner of the room where the dance was held for the first HOUR. Why? He was embarrassed because he was one of the only kids who was wearing dress pants instead of jeans. I didn't care about the clothes, especially because I don't think I was wearing jeans either; I think I wore some kind of dress instead. I just wanted to dance, but it was kind of hard to dance with a twelve-year-old boy when he's throwing a tantrum in a corner and his friends are trying to coax him out. When he finally emerged from the corner, his "dancing" made me think, "Hmm. Maybe I should follow in my Catholic school teachers' footsteps and become a nun."

Girl band TLC's single, "Creep," was a popular song in 1994 (when I was thirteen), and the band was one of my favorites when I was in high school. Their clothes remind me of the baggy outfits that were popular in the nineties, long before "jeggings" (I CURSE whoever invented those, and if I ever find the person or people who invented them, I'm going to chase them down, make them eat a doughnut and then force them to try to fit into just one pair of jeggings, hahahahaha!!!) was even a word.

My mother once glanced at the TV when I was watching the music video for the song (remember when MTV still played music videos, instead of reality shows about teen moms who spend a LOT more money on boob jobs, boyfriends, and bail money than on their own children? But I digress.). She saw the women of TLC and asked me, "Why can't YOU be thin like them?"

This was when I was about five foot one and 120 pounds.  By the time I graduated from high school four years later, I had gained a significant amount of weight, and I still cringe when I look at my graduation pictures. I've spent the last twenty years struggling with my weight, which has gone up and down, and I WISH I was still 120 pounds. That's why, by the time I was in my twenties, I finally joined a gym, cut WAY down on my sugar and salt intake, drank more water (and less soda), and tried to learn how to cook. I say tried because my cooking is so bad that the judges on Top Chef would probably just ban me from the kitchen altogether or perhaps weep with fury at my ineptitude.

The Backstreet Boys was my favorite boy band during the late 90s boy band craze. My favorite BSB song was "As Long as You Love Me," which was released in 1997, when I was sixteen. I liked boy bands like them because they were cute and their music was fun to dance to. I also liked them because their music was a refuge that I could escape to, if only temporarily: I could escape from the boys in real life, who ignored me unless they were making fun of me or unless they needed help with their homework (Word of advice to high school bullies: if you want the class nerd/brain to help you with your homework, then don't be mean to them, or at least don't be surprised by the kind of "help" you get as a result. But I digress.)

When I listened to the boy bands, I could also escape from the girls who talked on and on about the high school formal dances, most of which I didn't get to go to, since I usually didn't have a date, not even for prom junior or senior year. It was difficult to look at my friends' prom pictures, listen to them go on and on about what their boyfriends gave them for Valentine's Day, and be excluded from the double dates that they went on (I was excluded because I didn't have a boyfriend).

Every once in a while, a part of me regrets that I missed out on that part of the high school experience. But looking back on it now, I realize that while I may have not had the typical high school experiences, there was something about who I was (and who I still am) that was different from most of the other girls who did get to experience those things. I wanted a different life than the one that they wanted, though there wasn't anything wrong with what they wanted; I just wanted something different, because I was different.

I could go on, but there's not enough room in this blog post for all the songs that take me back in time. What about you? Which songs bring up memories for you from your childhood or teen years?