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?

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, "Umm...you 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?