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?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Neurotic Workaholic Takes a Vacation

It's Sunday night. By this time tomorrow I'll be in New York City, on the first vacation that I've ever taken on my own.

I'm excited about seeing New York for the first time. I've only ever seen glimpses of it in movies like When Harry Met Sally and TV shows like Law and Order and Sex and the City. And I've read about it in books, of course. So I'm curious to see what the "real" New York is like.

I bought a New York guidebook with fold-out maps for each neighborhood. I made a list in my journal of the places I'd like to visit and the things I'd like to do. I want to eat a hot dog in Central Park, and I want to eat ice cream in the Serendipity cafe. My hotel is in Chinatown, where I'm going to have dim sum. I already bought a ticket online to visit the Empire State Building. I tried to buy a ticket to the Statue of Liberty, but those tickets sold out very quickly. I also bought an inexpensive ticket to see one of my favorite actresses, Julia Stiles, perform in a play called Phoenix.

My flight arrives in New York on Monday afternoon. I go back to Chicago on Friday. I'll drop off my things at my hotel and immediately go back out and walk around Chinatown. Then I'll go to Times Square so that I can see it all lit up at night. I plan to wake up early every day and explore as many neighborhoods as I can. And of course, I'll be careful; all these years in Chicago taught me how to play it safe.

The thing I'm most nervous about, though, is actually letting myself relax on vacation. Like I said, I've never taken a vacation on my own before, though I always wanted to travel. I spent the last decade working two or three jobs at the same time and the majority of that decade in grad school. Relaxing was not an option for me. I couldn't even watch a TV show without doing something productive at the same time, like folding laundry, dusting furniture, or responding to students' e-mails.

I almost cancelled my trip to New York because I kept thinking of all the things I have to do right now. I'm supposed to be revising chapters of my dissertation. I'm going on the job market this year, and several of my professors were kind enough to agree to write recommendation letters for me. But they want me to show them my application letter, a chapter from my dissertation, and a summary of the dissertation as a whole, as well as my curriculum vitae. I have to send them all that stuff very soon, which means that this week in New York will put me about a week behind in my work.

But for once in my life, I'm going to put my work on the back burner. I put work first for so many years, and I turned into a neurotic workaholic as a result. Maybe this week, I'll actually be able to sleep without thinking of all the things I didn't get done that day or that I need to do the next day.

Relaxing isn't difficult for a lot of people, but it is for me because it felt like I wasn't allowed to relax for so long. When I worked in retail, the managers would get mad at us if they saw us stand around and do nothing for more than a minute at a time (though the managers felt free to stand around and chat with each other or their friends for as long as they wanted). So I grew accustomed to a steady work pace and rarely slowed down.

It made me edgy when I wasn't doing anything. I never even liked sleeping late, because it felt like I was wasting time on sleep that I could spend on my work.

This vacation won't change me from a neurotic workaholic into a laid-back slacker, and I wouldn't want it to anyway. But for this week at least, it'll be a relief to NOT be a neurotic workaholic.

What about you? Is it difficult for you to take time off or to relax? Do you feel guilty when you take a vacation? If so, how do you deal with it?

Side note: I'm not bringing my laptop to New York, so if you leave a comment on my blog this week I won't be able to answer it until I get back this upcoming weekend. But I will answer it; I promise. And I'll comment on your blogs when I get back too.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Feel Old (and Young)

1. I feel old when I realize that a ten year old knows more about all the apps on a smartphone than I do (especially because I keep accidentally taking pictures of myself with my phone).

2. I feel young when I give up my seat on the train for an elderly woman, and I think about what it'll be like when I'm her age and people give up their seats (I hope) for me.

3. I feel old when I can't understand half of what my students say. For example, it took me a long time to figure out that "totes" meant "totally", "cray-cray" meant "crazy", and IDGAF meant "I don't give a (well, you get the idea)."

4. I feel young when I see the older professors on campus and listen to them talk about their decades of teaching experience.

5. I feel old when I listen to the undergrads talk about their plans for the future, because they haven't yet considered all the roadblocks that life is going to throw in their way.

6. I feel young when I see elderly people walk slowly on the sidewalk, and I feel grateful (though I also feel guilty for feeling grateful) that my legs are still strong enough to get me from one place to another with ease.

7. I feel old when I see children running and shrieking on the playground. They run because they're playing games and having fun. I run in order to burn calories.

8. I feel young when I think about how many years it'll be before I can retire. I used to think I NEVER wanted to retire, but too many frustrating experiences in academia made me rethink that.

9. I feel old when I see people in their twenties hanging out in bars, and I think, "While they're sleeping until noon tomorrow, I'll already have been up for five hours and gotten all my dailies done, like laundry."

10. I feel young when I listen to pop music and sing along and dance to it.

11. I feel old when I look in the mirror and see the lines under my eyes and the white hairs on my head, and I run (counting calories all the way) to the drugstore to buy anti-aging cream.

12. I feel young when I reread my favorite books from my childhood and remember all the reasons that I loved (and still love) them.

13. I feel old when I look at online dating profiles and realize that I'm about ten years too old for all the arrogant, middle-aged creeps who only want twenty-two year old girls, reject all the women who aren't in their twenties, and refuse to accept the fact that THEY'RE getting older (even though most of the girls don't want them BECAUSE those guys are so much older).

What about you? When do you feel old (or young)?