Monday, December 15, 2014

All I Want for Christmas

1. Is for my parents to stop insisting that only they know where I should work and live and to recognize the fact that I have the right to decide where I will work and live, because as a thirty-three-year-old adult, I no longer need their permission to do anything anymore. (But on the other hand, if I keep waiting for them to recognize that fact, not only will I wait forever, it'll be like I'm still waiting for their permission.)

2. Is for my neighbors to stop waking me up at 2 A.M. with "WHOOOO!! Who needs sleep when we can PAR-TAY? HAHAHAHA!", to which I shriek from my window, "When the zombie apocalypse happens, I'm going to send the zombies after YOU!"

3. Is to receive at least one offer letter by the end of this school year from a good college with students who will be willing to put their cell phones down long enough to learn how to read, appreciate, and write about fine literature.

4. Is for my parents to stop telling me that I'm an old maid and a spinster (and yes, they have called me both) because I'm in my thirties, unmarried, and childless, and for them to stop acting as if that's a crime and a tragedy.

5. Is to successfully defend my dissertation this spring and also be able to resist the temptation to yell at all the other grad students, "I am finally free of ALL of you! YAAAAYYYY!!!" and to also resist the temptation to set off firecrackers and dance across campus after saying that.

6. Is to FINALLY complete my Ph.D. this spring and find one teaching job with a salary that pays enough to cover all my expenses and leaves me with some money left over to put in a savings account, so that I never have to work two or three jobs again.

7. Is to be able to walk into any store or cafe without wanting to scream, "ENOUGH with the Christmas carols! Isn't it bad enough that we all have to deal with long lines, crowded stores, and customers who will elbow us in the face to get the last product being featured in the holiday sale?"

8. Is to meet a nice guy by next Christmas who actually makes an effort to show me that he cares about me, not another guy who just isn't that into me and takes several hours to text back "k".

9. Is to eat Christmas cookies without cursing myself on the treadmill afterwards.

10. Is for all the people who are alone, poor, or hungry on Christmas to find the help that they need from kind friends or generous strangers, not like the heartless monster I saw recently who yelled at a homeless man who was standing on a street corner and begging for spare change. She told him to "get a job" and that he should be ashamed of himself. I stepped between that bitch (pardon my language) and that homeless man, glared at that woman (who apparently is the spawn of Satan), and gave that guy some money while telling him to ignore jerks like that. (The heartless monster, by the way, said nothing more after I stepped in. Apparently she has the nerve to berate a homeless person but not someone whose economic status is not that much different from hers. As I stated on Twitter, I hope that people like her get a giant box of karma for Christmas.) I wished I could have done more to help him.

What about you? What's on your Christmas wish list?

Monday, December 8, 2014

When Revenge Is Bitter, Not Sweet

One of the worst dates I ever went on was with a very good-looking personal trainer. We went out for dinner, and we'd barely been talking for a more than few minutes before he said, "I just remembered that I have to be somewhere else tonight." He claimed that he had to go to some other event at a club that same night, but he didn't ask me to go with him. The date ended about an hour later, at 8 P.M. on a Friday night. I've had coffee dates that lasted longer than that.

After I watched him take off like the Road Runner, leaving a cloud of dust behind, I realized that I'd had the date that is every dater's nightmare: the kind where you show up and your date immediately decides, "No. NEVER going to happen." And you're left to fall face-first into a tub of ice cream.

When I was in junior high, I went to a school dance and asked a boy that I had a crush on to dance with me. He said no, and when people later asked why he'd turned me down, he said something derogatory about me (though not to my face). He went to a different high school, but he resurfaced a couple years later when he started dating my best friend.

He tried to destroy my friendship with my best friend, because he convinced her that the only reason I hated him was because he'd rejected me at that junior high dance. What neither of them was willing to believe was that I hated him because he was manipulative, deceitful, and a snob. He was rude to me and to my other friends, who also disliked him.

I recently read an article about a girl who got revenge against a a guy who used to be mean to her in junior high. Apparently she was kind of "awkward-looking" in junior high, and he and his friends used to bully her. Years later, they reconnected on Facebook, and she had become more attractive, so he asked her out.

Her idea of "revenge" against her former bully was to agree to go on a date with him, but she later stood him up. He waited for her at the restaurant where they agreed to meet, but she got a waitress to give him this note:

The girl, Louisa Manning, wrote this:

"Hey, so sorry I can't join you tonight. Remember year 8, when I was fat and you made fun of my weight? No? I do - I spent the following three years eating less than an apple a day so I've decided to skip dinner. Remember the monobrow you mocked? The hairy legs you were disgusted by?

Remember how every day for three years you and your friends called me Manbeast? No, perhaps you don't or you wouldn't have seen how I look eight years after and deemed me f**** enough to treat me like a human being. I thought I'd send you this as a reminder. Next time you think of me, picture that girl in this photo because that's the one who stood you up."

Her note made me think of those two jerks in particular who rejected me. I haven't seen either of those creeps in years, but I admit that if I ever did see them again, I'd feel a sense of satisfaction at making them see what big tools they both were. Of course, in that fantasy, I'd look a lot like Sofia Vergara (aka Gloria on Modern Family) and they'd both be kicking themselves for being mean to me. I don't harbor any romantic feelings for either of them, of course, but it'd still be nice to get back at them.

But unlike every person who was ever mean to me, Louisa Manning's former bully apologized to her. He wrote her a note saying that he wasn't the same person that he used to be and that he was sorry for how he treated her in the past.

On the one hand, I can understand this girl's desire for revenge. I remember very well what it was like to be bullied. I was bullied from first grade until I graduated from high school. As we all know, kids can be very cruel, especially if another kid is "different" in any way. And when you're a teenager in particular, all you want to do is fit in, and it's very painful if some people are determined to prevent you from ever doing that.

But on the other hand, I think what Louisa did to that guy was also cruel, thoughtless, and humiliating. She should have just been up front with him when he first asked her out. Instead she led him on and got his hopes up, only to crush them in the end. In my opinion, the former victim became a bully herself, and I don't think that's right.

Do I have any choice words for the people who used to bully me, like the classmates who spread the false rumor that I was a lesbian because I never dated in high school? Yes, I DO have some choice words for them, most of which are four-letter words. Do I wish I could reenact a scene from any Jackie Chan movie if I got the chance to confront one of the boys or girls who used to knock books out of my hands, throw balls at my face in gym class, call me names, and make fun of my hair, clothes, and shoes?  I would like to fight them Jackie Chan-style, so that they would cower in fear and never hurt anyone ever again. 

But would I do what Louisa Manning did? NO. In my opinion, she lowered herself to the level of her former bullies, and she became one of them, at least for one night. I think that she should have just moved on with her life, rather than treat that guy the same way that he used to treat her. 

What do you think? Do you think what she did was right, or can you relate to her? (And like I said, I do relate to her on some level, and I won't condemn you, of course, if you agree with her.) What would you do if you had the chance to confront a former bully?

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Wish I Was Samantha

Many female fans of the TV show Sex and the City often identify themselves with at least one of the four main characters: Carrie Bradshaw, Samantha Jones, Charlotte York, and Miranda Hobbes. If I had to pick one of the characters that I identify with the most, I'd say that it was Carrie Bradshaw, even though my legs don't look like hers (but God, I wish they did). I also hate shoe shopping, partly because I think that I am the female incarnation of Bigfoot and always fall down whenever I try to wear heels (and when I fall, I usually grab onto whoever's nearest me and drag them down with me). But Carrie was so neurotic and obsessive about everything, and I can definitely relate to that.

If there is one character I WISH I was like, though, it would definitely be Samantha Jones. I don't envy her one-night stands, partly because all those years of Catholic school made me feel like I should go to Confession or say the rosary after I watch an episode of the show. 

I also don't envy her wardrobe, although she always looked fantastic. But I would never have the nerve to wear such revealing clothing. As far as fashion goes, I am basically the female incarnation of Mr. Rogers (though I definitely don't want anyone to be MY neighbor, because my neighbors have always been magazine-stealing, throw-up-in-the-elevator-and-leave-it-there, hard-partying, loud jerks who apparently never work or sleep), partly because I wear a lot of sweaters. I'm always paranoid that I'm going to show too much skin, especially when I'm teaching, and that I'll end up being one low-cut blouse away from being a character in a bad Lifetime movie (to quote Joseph Conrad, "The horror! The horror!"). 

But I DO envy her confidence. One thing I noticed about Samantha was the way she walked into a room with her head held high, her shoulders back, and a confident smile on her face, as if she didn't care what other people thought of her. I remember one scene where she went to a bar by herself and walked in as if she owned the place. I would never have the nerve to go to a bar on my own. On the rare occasion I do go to a bar to meet a friend or a date, I walk in quietly, my head down, hoping that no one will stare at me because I'm convinced that my hair/outfit/makeup looks wrong.

Samantha was always able to strike up a conversation with any handsome guy in the room. I, on the other hand, am only able to talk comfortably to guys if I have no interest in them whatsoever or if they happen to be making my coffee at Starbucks (but that's only because I'm usually more interested in the coffee). 

She wasn't afraid to stand up for herself to people who judged her, excluded her, or mistreated her. I, on the other hand, write down witty comebacks that I wish I had the courage to say in person and create fictionalized versions of my real-life adversaries for my stories. 

I've always been an introvert, ever since I was a little girl. It's different when I'm teaching. That's the one place where I DO feel confident, because I actually know what I'm doing. But there's still an invisible line between the students and me; when I interact with them, it's obviously not the same as interacting with peers, friends, dates, or people who annoy me so much that I feel like karma is laughing at me every time they pop up. 

Samantha thrived as a publicist and at bars and parties. A life like that would be terrifying to me, because I've always felt uncomfortable at bars AND parties. (Incidentally, I thought I wanted to be a publicist when I was in college, but two internships in public relations made me think otherwise.)

But one good thing about being an introvert is that it made me more observant of other people and my surroundings. Since I'm often too shy to talk to people I don't know or am attracted to, it's made me less likely to get distracted and more likely to remember what I've seen and experienced, so that I can write about it later. I'm not saying that extroverts can't be observant too, because they can. And they can also be good writers, of course.

But for me, being an introvert inspired me to create and write about literary alter egos who were more brave and extroverted than I was. 

I must admit that sometimes, I still wish I could be like Samantha Jones, if only for a little while. (But I would never have broken up with Smith Jerrod, because have you SEEN what he looked like?) 

What about you? Do you identify with any fictional characters in particular? 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Saving Face

I was supposed to give a major presentation to the entire English Department at my school recently. I cancelled it. I am trying to think of things to say to all the grad students, lecturers, and professors who will want to know why I am the only Ph.D. candidate who cancelled her presentation (all the candidates are required to make individual presentations). Here are some of the things I might say:

Grad School Nemesis #1: Why didn't you do your presentation? Where were you that day?
Me: I don't know. Why don't you ask your boyfriend?

Grad School Nemesis #2: Why did you cancel your presentation? I know you were nervous, but that's really not an excuse to cancel something like this.
Me: I'm not nervous at all. I just earned a black belt in karate. Allow me to demonstrate some of my moves on you.

Professor who once referred to my work as a "disappointment": You do realize how important these presentations are, right?
Me: Are they as important as the days when Garrett gives out free popcorn?

I didn't want to cancel this presentation. I felt nervous, scared, and stressed out about it, as everyone else did when they presented their work. But I was anxious to prove that I WASN'T a mediocre scholar. For years, I've been told that my academic work was not good enough, which made me feel like I was not good enough.

I always envied and resented the other grad students for their academic accomplishments, especially because some (though not all) made me feel bad about my lack of awards, fellowships, and publications. I remember confiding in one classmate about how awful I felt after our professor and the entire class tore apart my paper. She responded, "Well, the professor really liked my paper. You should see all the great comments she wrote on it."

I was an A student from the first grade through the master's program. Everyone always told me that I was smart. But once I enrolled in the Ph.D. program, I didn't feel smart anymore. I just felt tired, stressed, and stupid.

Since this is supposed to be my last year in the program, this presentation was my last chance to prove to the entire department that my work really is good enough and that I really am smart. In academia, reputation is very important, especially when you are networking.

But I had to cancel it. Ever since my doctor increased my medication, the side effects have gotten worse. It affected my appetite, and I lost nearly ten pounds. I still feel tired all the time, and I get sick on a regular basis. One of the other side effects is that it makes my feet feel like they're falling asleep, and I often wake up in pain in the middle of the night. I'm not able to exercise as much as I used to. I still hear that whooshing sound in my ear. I'll ask my doctor to reduce my medication, but I'm scared that she'll tell me that a) I'm still not getting better; b) I'm getting worse; c) I'll have to stay on this medication indefinitely; d) I'll have to get surgery.

I have managed to get some work done. For example, I've applied to teach at more than two dozen schools around the country. I still have my website job, which I need to pay for these medical bills (my insurance doesn't cover all of them). And of course, I still have to work on my dissertation. So even though I don't have a lot of energy, I can't stay in bed all day.

As a workaholic, I always kept working, even if I got a cold or felt tired. But this is different.  I don't feel like I can tell the other people about what I'm going through. My dissertation committee knows, and they understood when I told them I had to cancel my presentation. But I don't know what to say to the other graduate students, and I don't think they'd understand anyway. Even though I am very sick, I don't look sick or act sick. If any of them tries to criticize me or question me too much about why I cancelled, I just might scream at them.

What about you? Have you ever had to cancel something that was important to you? How do you answer questions about private issues like health problems when you don't want everyone to know?

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Next Move

I wish I could participate in NaNoWriMo, but instead I'm working on my job applications. The application process in academia takes months. I've applied to more than a dozen schools so far, but I'll be lucky if I get one interview this year. The professors told the graduate students that the job search for tenure-track positions can take years.

And some people never find a tenure-track position. I seriously fear that I will be one of those people. But I will NOT go back to working in retail, because instead of telling people to "have a nice day," I'll say, "Have a nice day...in hell! Hahahahahaha!" before the retail supervisors drag me away and punish me by making me fold a never-ending stack of sweaters and constantly criticizing "my folding skills."

Most of the schools I am applying to are not in Chicago; they're not even in Illinois. So far, I've applied to schools in California, New York, Indiana, Maryland, and Florida, among others. The thing about my field is that I can't pick and choose where to live and work. Instead, I have to go wherever the work is. That means that eventually, I'm probably going to have to leave Chicago, sooner rather than later.

My parents want me to live near them. They offered to help me get an apartment and a car. I told them no. I think it is better if I live on my own. Besides, I do NOT want to take money from my parents. I spent years grinding my teeth at nasty customers who threw hissy fits over the fact that I wasn't ringing up their purchases fast enough. Two people (who I think of as Satan's spawn) demanded that I refold their clothes three times (and kept insulting me) before they were finally satisfied and let me put the clothes in their shopping bag. It took all the strength that I had not to fling the clothes at them or to chase after them with a clothes hanger (though not in the Joan Crawford Mommy Dearest sense).

I spent years working as an adjunct faculty member at various colleges around the city, where the word "adjunct" basically means "those whom we do not have to pay a living wage, HAHAHAHA, now let's go and enjoy our country club memberships and houses in the suburbs, DAH-LING" (But I digress.) I dealt with way too many undergrads who waltzed into class forty minutes late, missed half a dozen (or more) classes in a row, turned in their assignments late (or not at all) and then blamed ME when they didn't get As. (If my life was a cartoon, that would have been the moment where my face would have turned into an erupting volcano.)

I put up with all of that and worked multiple jobs for the majority of my twenties and well into my thirties, specifically so that I would not have to ask my parents for money. Even all those jobs were not enough, to the point that I finally had to break down and accept the fact that even I couldn't keep working seven days a week (because it got to the point where I was so stressed that I kept shrieking at drivers who apparently think that if they stop staring at their phones, even long enough to keep their eyes on the road, they will burst into flames).

So for my last two years in graduate school, I went against my earlier conviction of never accumulating any student debt and took out a couple small loans. I'll have a sizable debt when I complete my degree, but at least it still won't be half as big as the debt that my fellow graduate students have, since they took out loans every year or relied on family members and did not work additional jobs like I did.

Financial independence is important to me, because it allows me to live my life on my own terms rather than someone else's. My parents have been talking to several of their friends who work in academia. My father even contacted a few faculty members at a couple schools in the state where he and my mother live and told them that I was looking for a job, which is why I received some bemused but kind e-mails from those faculty members who explained that I should send a formal application to their search committees. I was so embarrassed, and I told my father never to do that again (though he insists he knows more about this than I do, even though he's never worked in academia). He may have meant well, but his attempt to take charge of the situation only served to reflect badly on me and made me look like I didn't know anything about the application process.

I'd like to find a job in an interesting big city or a nice college town that's close enough to a big city that I could visit at least once a month or even every other month. I hope that wherever I do live has some good restaurants  (partly because everything I touch in the kitchen turns into fire, and I mean that literally, because I keep burning everything) and cafes that I can write in. It'd be good if there was at least one bookstore with a decent selection of books, as well as a well-stocked public library. It would also be nice to live near a Catholic church, since I am Catholic and I still attend Mass. I want to live some place safe, where I don't have to worry about creeps who try to grope me or think that following me down the street or yelling lewd things at me is going to make me run into their arms (instead, it makes me run in the opposite direction or throw things at them). I want to live in a place where I won't be made to feel like a freak just because I'm different, because I was treated like a freak for the first eighteen years of my life in the small town that I grew up in. If I could find a school in a town that fits most of that criteria, I think I could be happy (and of course, as long as the school was a good school with disciplined, polite, and hard-working students).

What about you? If you could pick and choose where you got to live and work (or if you already have), what kinds of factors would affect your decision?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Crying in Public

Last week I was waiting at a bus stop after I left the hospital (I had another doctor's appointment). I saw a small bird on the street, and it was hardly moving, but I knew it was alive. I thought maybe its wing was broken, but I couldn't be sure. I stood there, watching the bird, not sure of whether I should go out and try to help it or what I could do to help it. Suddenly, to my horror, a car drove over the bird and killed it.

I screamed. Several people heard me scream and kept walking, their eyes averted from my face. One guy who had also seen the bird die tried to comfort me, but I couldn't help it; I just started crying.

I read somewhere that one of the things about living in a big city is that you can cry in public and no one will notice. I've found that that's true. I cried the whole bus ride home, and no one looked at me.

I hated myself for not saving that bird, for not running out to the road, scooping it up in my jacket, and bringing it to a vet or an animal hospital. If I had just done that, that poor bird might still be alive. That bird looked so small, and it must have felt so scared, lost, and alone out there on the road. I kept thinking of what I had seen, and I couldn't stop crying.

I wasn't just crying about the bird. I cried because the doctor told me she was "concerned" about what she saw after she examined me, and she significantly increased my medication (which means the painful and uncomfortable side effects have only gotten worse since then). I cried because that meant I wasn't getting better, and I wasn't sure if I was ever going to get better.

I cried because I was scared. I want this medication to work and to cure me, so that I don't have to get surgery. I don't want to get surgery, and I don't want to go permanently blind if the surgery doesn't work. And I only have student health insurance, which I don't think would cover the entire surgery anyway. I'm having enough trouble trying to get referrals from my primary doctor so that my insurance company will cover all these doctors' visits and medical procedures. The insurance company is trying to make it so that I have to pay for everything myself. I don't have the money to pay for everything, and I don't think it's fair that I should be denied surgery and go blind just because my insurance company is full of jerks.

I cried because of all the work I have to do. I have to give a huge presentation to the entire English department in less than three weeks, and I'm not ready. I haven't had time to work on it. I've been undergoing all these painful medical procedures, struggling to stay awake due to the drowsiness caused by the medication, and spending hours waiting in doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals (they won't let me use my laptop in there). I also haven't had enough time to send out all my job applications and missed an important deadline for a school that I really wanted to work for.

I cried because I'm supposed to get a fellow graduate student to make an introduction for me at my presentation. I've been to the other grad students' presentations, and they usually get their friends to write introductions that are filled with praise for their work. I asked several people to do my introduction, and they all said no. I rarely socialize with the other grad students, because I don't like going to the bar that they all hang out in (I don't like bars, period. In hell there is no "closing time" at bars.). And it's not like any of them invite me most of the time, anyway. Anyway, I can't even drink alcohol or soda due to the medication I'm on, so I don't really feel like drinking a glass of water and watching everyone else get drunk. I'm dreading getting up in front of the entire department and having no one do my introduction (even my own advisor was unwilling to do it), which will make it painfully obvious that I am an outcast.

I cried because I was angry. I'm angry at the people who refused to do my introduction for me. I'm angry at the people who claim to be my friends and that I can talk to them, but they won't even return my calls or my texts, even though they know what I'm going through right now. I'm angry that even if I send out all my applications right now, my chances of getting hired are slim to none because the fact that I'm a good teacher means nothing compared to the fact that I am an average scholar.

Most of all, I'm angry that even though I don't look sick or act sick (though I'm thankful that I don't look or act sick), I really AM sick. I don't deserve any of this. No one does. I don't know why this is happening to me. I've always been relatively healthy, and I always feel frightened every time I go into the hospital. (This is why I'm glad that I never went to medical school. I doubt my patients would have been okay with the fact that their doctor was more terrified than they were.)

I thought I would be able to go off the medication soon and that it would work. I thought I would get better. But I'm not getting better, and it just makes me furious at the whole world.

I'm sorry that this post is pretty depressing. I try not to write about such dark topics, but sometimes writing about what I'm going through helps me deal with it, if only a little bit. But I'll try to write about something less depressing next time.

What about you? How do you deal with it when you feel mad at the whole world? Also, do you know what you're supposed to do when you find an injured bird?