Sunday, June 26, 2022

Who Will Be There

This past winter, I was talking to a guy, who I shall refer to as Disturbing Fetish Guy, on Bumble who said, "Is that really you in your profile pictures?"

"Yes," I said. 

"I'm just asking because I've been catfished before," Disturbing Fetish Guy said.

"I'm not a catfish," I said.

"But you look really young," he insisted. "How old are those pictures?"

I've been told by many people that I look young for my age. I went to the movies recently, and the cashier asked to see my ID because I bought a ticket to watch an R-rated movie (Everything Everywhere All the Time - awesome movie! I love Michelle Yeoh!). Apparently, although I am forty-one years old, I still look like a teenager. Or maybe it was my Mickey Mouse T-shirt. 

"Well, people often say that I look young," I said. "But they're all pictures from the past two years."

"You do realize that I'm eight years younger than you, right?" I didn't like how he made a point of mentioning that, as if I'd done something wrong. If he'd matched with someone eight years younger, I doubt he would have said, "You do realize I'm eight years older than you, right?"

"Yeah, it says so in your profile." 

Then Disturbing Fetish Guy asked me what my racial identity was (he belongs to a different race). I told him, and he said, "YES! My friends and I all want to date women of your race. You're like the Holy Grail of dating." 

I didn't even fully register what he meant at first, but eventually, I thought to myself, "Annnd we're done here." I don't like anyone who tries to fetishize my racial identity. I put my profile on Bumble on "Snooze", which means that you can make your profile invisible to everyone else on the site. It also means you can't see anyone else's profiles until you deactivate the Snooze option, but at least you can take a break for as long as you want without deleting your profile.

When I first joined an online dating site, I was still in my twenties. I felt excited, nervous and hopeful that I would meet someone special. Seven online dating memberships and countless bad dates later, I don't feel hopeful anymore. 

I thought I was finally ready to date again, which is why I set up a coffee date with a guy last fall, who then stood me up at the last minute and didn't even explain or apologize. 

Ever since I turned forty, I've become a lot less tolerant of other people's b.s., like the guy who wrote this in his profile: "Respectfully, if you're vaccinated I don't want it. The nano particles from within it transfer person to person. Your DNA/bloodline is forever changed. Welcome to the new life of a cyborg." (I WISH I made that up, but I seriously did see that in someone's profile.)

I am vaccinated. I got the booster shot too. If I am a cyborg, does this mean I now have superhuman strength? Does it mean that I can pick up people who cut in front of me in line at Starbucks and toss them out the door? Because that would be awesome. (Whenever people cut in front of me, I revert back into my Chicago persona and start yelling scary nothings in their ear until they move back.)

I put my profile on Snooze not just because of Disturbing Fetish guy but because I'm just sick of it: online dating, the weird stuff that people put in their profiles, the awkward/bad/boring first dates, the unrequited crushes, etc., etc.

I spent the last few months binge-watching House on the Peacock app, where you can watch certain shows for free. I was able to watch literally every episode of the series for free on that app while I was working out. In one episode, called "One Day, One Room," a patient played by Katheryn Winnick tells Dr. House, "I'm going to base this moment on whom I'm stuck in a room with. That's what life is. It's a series of rooms, and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our lives are." 

Another thing I noticed about the show was who stayed with the patient in the hospital room while they were receiving treatment. Sometimes it would be family members. Other times it would be the patient's friend, and in one episode, it was the patient's dominatrix. It made me wonder who would be in the room with me when I go into end-stage renal failure and end up in the hospital.

I have to get tested every six months to ensure that my kidneys are still stable. I was tested recently, and the results showed that my kidney function has declined since last December. I am still at least a few years away from the end-stage, but I know that eventually, I will be hooked up to dialysis machines three times a week, for hours at a time, until I get a kidney. 

I think that the right person for me would be someone who would be "in the room" and willing to be there for me at my worst moment, and who wouldn't judge me for it. I recently binge-watched the TV series Girls (they have the complete series on DVD at the public library in College Town). I watched it and thought, Was I as self-absorbed and annoying as these characters when I was twenty-four? 

Nevertheless, it was a very good show, and my favorite scene in the show is the one (FYI: Adam is cursing a lot at the beginning of this scene) where Adam literally runs across the city to be with Hannah when he finds out she's having a nervous breakdown. (Side note: do you notice that in romantic movies and TV shows, the guy often starts running when he wants to be with his love interest? Harry did it in When Harry Met Sally, for example.) 

I thought that scene from Girls was really romantic and moving because it showed how much Adam loved Hannah, and how he was willing to be there for her at her worst moment.

There were other patients on House, M.D. who didn't have anyone in the hospital room with them, and that showed a lot about what their lives were like too. It made me wonder if I would be one of those people who would end up alone in a hospital room. I definitely wouldn't want my parents there. They would just make it worse. They always do. I still haven't told my mother that I'm sick. My father knows, but he recently told me that he doesn't want to hear about my health anymore; he thinks I talk about it too much, and he doubled down in an email he sent, where he berated me for how I'm dealing with this disease. 

My parents have been unhappily married for more than forty years. When you grow up witnessing how much your parents hate each other, it tends to warp your ideas about love and marriage. I think that's a major reason why the idea of remaining unmarried for the rest of my life does not scare me as much as the idea of being married to the wrong person just so I won't have to be alone. I think if you marry the wrong person, you will still be alone in a sense. Being with the wrong person makes you feel like you can't fully relate to them or like they won't be there for you when you need them to be. My parents were wrong for each other from the beginning, but they will never get divorced because they're both too stubborn and proud to do so. 

My mother said to me on my birthday a few years ago, "But aren't you ashamed to be an old maid?" 

"No, I'm not," I said. I wanted to say, I think you should be ashamed for asking me that question, especially on my birthday.

I try to picture myself with someone in the future, and I can't. I've been alone for so long that I've gotten used to it, and I even prefer it sometimes. As I've stated before, being single comes with a certain kind of freedom. 

Now that I'm in my forties, most of the single men my age who live in College Town (and there aren't that many of them) are divorced with children, and many of them don't want to date me because I'm too "old" for them. In movies where middle-aged women date younger men, the men are often very romantic and sensitive; they genuinely want relationships with those women, like in the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back. But in real life, or at least in my life, younger men just want to hook up, like the thirty-year-old guy on Bumble who asked me what my bra size was and the twenty-nine-year-old guy who immediately asked what my address was and whether he could come over within two minutes of our first (and only) conversation. 

Also, now that I'm in my forties, I somehow feel less anxious about being in a relationship. For me, the "happy ending" was never really about a guy. For a long time, it was about my work because I'm a workaholic. Now it's about living my life on my terms for as long as I can. It's about getting a kidney sooner rather than later so that I don't have to be on dialysis for too long. It's about making the most of the time that I have now, while I still have it. And I think that's nothing to be ashamed of.

And I suppose it's just as well that I'm single, considering the idiotic and horrifying decision made by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. But I could go on for several posts about that. I'm still full of fury and fear about it.

What about you? Do you have a favorite romantic story or movie? (One of my favorites is While You Were Sleeping, partly because it's set in Chicago and also because I love Sandra Bullock.) 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The New Rules of Teaching

 1. If you're teaching online, do not make your students turn on their cameras during classes that are taught on Zoom. They may feel self-conscious about their living situation, so do not damage their self-esteem by requiring them to show their faces during class. Never mind the fact that they can use backgrounds provided by Zoom to hide their living situation. And yes, it's true that you don't know if they're actually paying attention in class or if they've logged on and then gone back to bed or are sending flirty emojis to their "bae" on Snapchat, but we should really not make their situation even more difficult than it already is.

2. If a student says they have the virus, do not require them to show proof, like a positive Covid test or a doctor's note. Why would they lie about why they have to miss class? Yes, students have falsely claimed that their grandparents/friends/hamster died in order to avoid attending class for years but we're in the middle of a PANDEMIC. So they would NEVER lie about this.

3. If students do miss class because they caught the virus, it's your responsibility to get them caught up by meeting with them outside of class. Yes, that takes extra time, and yes, you may need to drink your weight in coffee in order to stay awake for all those extra appointments. And no, you won't get paid extra. But the satisfaction of being there for your students should be payment enough.

4. All faculty should volunteer to help their students move into their dorms at the beginning of the semester. Yes, it's manual labor, and no, you won't get paid. But we'll all be showing the students and their parents that the faculty are there to make them feel welcome. And by "we", we are referring to the faculty, not ourselves, the administrators. You can't expect the administrators to do all that sweaty work in ninety degree weather! Do you know how much our designer clothes cost? Well, I guess not, since most faculty's salaries prevent you from shopping anywhere but places like Target or Walmart. But still!

5. Be lenient about late work. In fact, you should strongly consider eliminating the late work policy altogether. It is unfair to expect the students to turn in their work on time when they're already going through such a difficult time because of the pandemic. It's important to show compassion to them, even if it means that it will take them six weeks to complete a five-page paper. 

6. Be lenient about absences. The students are going through SO MUCH right now, so it may be too difficult for them to attend a class that they (or their parents) are paying thousands of dollars for. It isn't fair to penalize them for missing class when they may be suffering from depression, the virus, family problems, or maybe they just don't feel like coming to class. And THAT'S OK. They should not be required to do more than they can handle. 

I've neglected blogging (and writing in general, unless it's for work) for months now mainly because of the rules above (and no, I'm not exaggerating; they sent out emails pressuring us to help the students move into their dorms, which I refused to do). One of my students missed more than a month's worth of classes, and my program director and the dean says I have to let the student come back to class and not penalize them for their absences because they had a medical reason for missing class. They also said that I should meet with the student as many times as they need outside of class in order to get them caught up and extend a bunch of deadlines for them. The student said that they hope to get "at least an A- or B+" in my class. 

A few months ago, I told my program director that certain students kept turning in blank documents and then would email me several days after the deadline of an assignment, claiming that it was a "mistake" and wanting to turn in the correct assignment late without any penalty. The director told me to let them and when I balked at this, they accused me of being too harsh and lacking empathy for the students.

I understand that the students really are going through a hard time. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but especially teenagers, who had to miss out on things like school dances, their senior trip, and in-person classes. But at the same time it's incredibly frustrating and stressful to be forced to bend over backwards and do all this extra work for students who aren't even doing the bare minimum, like show up to class or turn  in their work on time (or at all). The teachers are also going through a hard time, but we don't get any leniency. We're just basically told to suck it up and keep working.

I want to say, "I'm going through a hard time too! I've been to the hospital dozens of times in the past year! I've already paid hundreds of dollars for prescription meds and medical bills, and I owe hundreds more! In a few years, I will be hooked up to dialysis machines three times a week until I get a kidney, and if I don't get one, I will be hooked up to those machines for the rest of my life! But I don't get to skip any of my classes. I don't get to turn in my work whenever the hell I want."

I also think that it isn't harsh to require students to show up and meet deadlines. If they don't learn this now, they will become the bad employees that annoy everyone else in the workplace, the ones who constantly call out "sick", show up late, and don't do their work, thus forcing everyone else to do their work for them. 

I keep hearing stories of teachers who've grown fed up and left the profession altogether. I've thought about it too. When I taught in Small Town, it was frustrating sometimes, but not to the extent that the job in College Town is. Even before the pandemic, I was struck by the entitlement and unrealistic demands (e.g., "Professor, are you available to meet with me on Saturday?" or "I don't think I should be penalized for missing class because my boyfriend just broke up with me, so I think you should take that into consideration" or "I know that the paper is due tomorrow, but I forgot to work on it. Could you just email me what the paper is about and how to write it?") of so many of the students in College Town. Not all of them are like this, but too many of them are. 

"Are you feeling stressed?" the dermatologist asked me when he examined my face, which has been covered with a scaly, peeling rash for months now (this is why I'm actually grateful that I could wear a face mask to cover it up). "I think you have perioral dermatitis, and it's triggered by stress."

I became so stressed out that I sought out short-term counseling, which is provided to faculty for free by the college. I told the counselor that I considered leaving College Town for another teaching job. "Well, you have to think about whether you're running away or running towards something," the counselor said. "If you're running away, you're hiding or avoiding problems. And it's quite possible that you'll face the same problems with students and administrators at the next college. But if you're running towards something, it means you're moving towards something that you know will make your life better."

And what he said struck a chord with me. Now, I have to figure out what will make my life better. I also learned to silence my phone so that I wouldn't keep hearing the notifications every time I received an email from my students. One day I got up early to write, and my phone went off not once but more than twenty times in that one day because of emails from my students asking questions about things that they would know the answer to if they'd bothered to listen in class or read the syllabus. And this is something that literally happens on a regular basis. It got to the point that I wanted to smash the phone and shriek, "MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!"

What about you? How has the pandemic affected you or your work?

Sunday, October 3, 2021

As Deana Carter Would Say, "Did I Shave My Legs for This?"

Last weekend, I "matched" with a guy on Bumble who seemed nice enough. He was cute, although I had doubts about messaging him since at thirty-one, he was nine years younger than me. But on the other hand, I had already matched with four other guys, and I never got to meet any of them in person. They either did not respond to my messages, or they responded briefly once or twice and then disappeared. 

This guy actually seemed interested in getting to know me, and we talked online for more than an hour. I suggested that we meet the next day for coffee. He lived about an hour and a half away from College Town, so I offered to drive out there to meet him, and he agreed. 

On the day of our date, I woke up early and put on makeup, did my hair, and tried to find an outfit that didn't make me look like a nun or spinster librarian from the 1930s. Note to self: start buying clothes in colors OTHER than black, and stop buttoning your blouses all the way up to your neck. But on the other hand, I really am happiest in rooms filled with books, and I just want everyone to be quiet all the time, so maybe I really AM like a spinster librarian from the 1930s.

I drove out to his town, feeling nervous, scared, but excited too. This was to be my first date since the Model, and it felt like I was taking a positive step in moving on with my life. I used the GPS on my phone to direct me to the coffee shop where we agreed to meet. I state this to indicate that I periodically checked my phone as I was driving (though I was careful to keep an eye on the road and did not text and drive).

This is important to know because it wasn't until I literally pulled into the parking lot of the coffee shop, about twenty minutes before the date, when I received a message from that guy: "Something came up. I can't make it." That was it. No apology, no explanation.

I was listening to country music on my car radio at that moment, and I suddenly thought of that Deana Carter song, "Did I Shave My Legs for This?" I felt deflated, disappointed, and foolish. 

I wrote back, asking him what happened. No answer. I wrote that I wished he had told me he couldn't make it before I drove an hour and a half to meet him. Still no answer.

I kept thinking that maybe there was a rational explanation for why he couldn't be there. Maybe he had gotten sick. Maybe one of his relatives was in the hospital. Maybe he was married and his wife had found out he was messaging other women and subsequently threw his phone (and possibly him) out the window. 

When we were talking the day before, he asked me if I'd ever been catfished. I said that there were many men on Bumble who stole pictures from models' Instagram accounts or from online advertisements and stated that I thought it was pathetic that they did that. He said women had tried to catfish him too. But as I sat there in the parking lot, realizing that I'd just been stood up, I wondered if he had been a catfish. Maybe he wasn't who he said he was. Maybe he had used fake pictures too. Maybe he panicked and realized that he wouldn't be able to keep up the lies in person, and that's why he cancelled. Or maybe he never had any intention of meeting me in person, and he only made the date because it boosted his ego. 

I never found out the reason. I drove back to College Town, but I waited to see if he would message me with an apology or explanation. He didn't. Finally, several hours later, I blocked and unmatched him on Bumble, but not before messaging him to say that it wasn't okay for him to blow me off at the last minute and that he should have told me if he changed his mind or wasn't ready before I wasted a three-hour round trip and half a tank of gas. 

The whole situation made me feel sad, but also angry. It's one thing if there really was an emergency that prevented him from showing up, but the least he could have done was apologize and explain what happened. He didn't even do that and chose to ignore my messages instead. And it also bothered me that I wasted all that time getting ready and driving out there for nothing, especially since I had a lot of work to do that I could have finished instead. 

If he really was a catfish, then he really is pathetic. Sometimes, when I come across pictures in a dating profile that look like a professional photographer took them, I use Reverse Image Search to see if I can find those pictures elsewhere. Almost every single time, it shows that the pictures have been stolen from someone else. I don't understand why people catfish other people on dating sites. Maybe it's so they can get money or naked pictures from other people. Or maybe they're just selfish jerks who enjoy deceiving and manipulating everyone else.

It made me wonder if I should even bother trying to date anyone anymore. I'm in my forties and still trying to make a connection with someone, and even after seven online dating memberships and several other attempts to find my "match", I still ended up alone every time. 

Also, Bumble has not been sending me any good profiles lately. One guy wrote in his profile that "my personal hell is a conversation with a liberal". Also, for some reason, Bumble keeps sending me pictures of men dressed in full drag, complete with makeup, wigs, and dresses, who state in their profiles that they are straight men who like to dress as women and hope to find love on Bumble. If they want to dress up as women, that's their prerogative, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I don't think it's wrong for me to not want to date someone who looks better in makeup and a dress than I do. 

However, there is one silver lining in all of this. I had refrained from dating for a long time because I felt scared to put myself out there again. The fact that I drove all that way to meet this guy is proof that I really can do this. Unlike that loser, I do have the courage to date in person, and that's something. 

What about you? Have you ever been stood up? Did your date ever explain why? 

Monday, August 16, 2021


"Um, I think it's time we talked about highlights," my twenty-five-year-old hairstylist said brightly as she looked down at the white roots in my hair. 

"You're going to need bifocals soon," my thirtysomething opthalmologist said. "It's fine. My mom wears them too."

"Oh, you're looking for anti-aging products?" the teenage Ulta salesgirl asked. "They're right over here, and we're having a sale on the anti-wrinkle cream right now, you know."

Two years ago, I met two young women in their early twenties at a Meetup event for a board gaming group that I used to belong to. The women had recently moved to College Town and had enrolled in a graduate program at the college where I teach. We hung out a few times, and they invited me to a bar with their other grad student friends.

I remember how the bartender carded everyone, including me, which surprised me, because the last time I got carded, MySpace was still popular and no one could watch videos of people eating Tide Pods on their cell phones yet. The young women I met and their friends were nice, but I remember sitting there and thinking, I feel so OLD. I literally was the oldest person in their group at age thirty-eight because the rest were in their early twenties. I didn't understand half the things they were talking about and I felt tempted to ask them who this Billy Eyelash guy was that they liked so much. (Apparently, the correct name is Billie Eilish, and she's female.)

One of the young women made a date with some guy she literally just started messaging on Tinder, and they made plans to meet up that night. I remember checking the time and thinking, It's 11 P.M. How is she not tired yet? How are none of them tired yet? I should be in bed right now, looking online for coupons for anti-wrinkle cream. 

I never saw any of them again after that because those two women who were initially so eager to befriend me ghosted me once they made more friends and got boyfriends. One of them took two weeks to respond to my text, only to say that she couldn't hang out like we originally planned but that she would let me know when she was free. That was two years ago, and I haven't heard from her since. 

Being ghosted by them hurt my feelings, but at the same time, I wasn't sure I could take any more late nights at bars or the feeling like I was closer in age to everyone else's parents than I was to them. 

It's not the first time I felt old. There were the other times I mentioned above, and yes, I did take my hairstylist's suggestion to start coloring my hair to cover up the white hair. I get it colored every few months. It's expensive, but I'm not ready to surrender to white hair yet. Not to mention even my job makes me feel old, considering that I teach students who are literally decades younger than me and talk about things I don't understand. For example, I still don't fully understand what Snapchat OR TikTok is. I also realized that most of the freshmen I'll be teaching this year were born the year I graduated from college.

I've heard older people who say things like, "I'm sixty years young," and that's a positive attitude to have if you truly believe in it. I've often been told that I look a lot younger than I actually am. But the truth is, I don't feel young anymore. And I don't actually want to be young again, at least not most of the time, not unless I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now. When I was in my twenties, I was still uncertain about my future and what I wanted to do. Now that I'm in my forties, I have a better sense of what I want to do and how to get there. 

I wrote a post recently about giving up on dating. But after I wrote it, I started thinking that maybe I was too hasty and should try online dating at least one more time. So, I signed up for a free membership with Bumble, which I've used in the past. 

Bumble allows you to specify the age range you are looking for. I indicated that I was looking for guys in their thirties and forties. But because I kept swiping left on 99% of the profiles I saw, Bumble started showing me profiles of guys in their late twenties and fifties. The ones in their fifties stated things like, "I've got two kids and three grandkids," and I thought, Oh wow. Am I old enough to date a grandfather now? Does this mean I should start wearing cardigans and handing out butterscotch candy to kids? 

I swiped left on 99% of the profiles for several reasons. For one, many of the middle-aged guys were clearly lying about their ages, or they put their oldest pictures at the front of the profiles (so that those would be the ones that were shown first to prospective dates), so that when you scrolled down, their pictures showed them aging by twenty years. Others were lying about their looks and stole Instagram influencers' pictures for their profiles, and I know this for a fact because I actually follow several of those influencers on Instagram. (And I should add that I only follow those male influencers for their exercise and dieting tips. It has nothing to do with the fact that they often post videos of themselves lifting weights with their shirts off.)

Another reason was that some guys wrote things like, "My wife and I are looking for a special friend"; "The world would be a better place without people who wear masks"; "Liberal ladies swipe left"; "Trump 2024!" and "I hate it when women are drop dead gorgeous on the outside and drop dead garbage on the inside." Um, I feel like referring to women as garbage in your dating profile is not the way to go if you want to get other women to date you.

There are a lot of guys on there claiming to be pilots, which made me think of that Sex and the City episode where Miranda falsely claimed to be a flight attendant in order to get a date. 

I actually "matched" with a twenty-eight-year-old guy. (When you swipe left on someone's profile, it means you're not interested. When you swipe right and the other person also swipes right on your profile, you "match".) I was on the fence about messaging him (on Bumble, women have to make the first move) because he was more than a decade younger than me. I thought, Am I too old to date men in their twenties now that I'm forty? But men date younger women all the time! Why can't I do it too?

I did actually send him a brief message, but he deleted his profile soon after. You could have just unmatched me, I thought. It's not like I would have brought butterscotch candy to the date. 

I also swiped left on a lot of guys that I wasn't even a little bit attracted to. They don't have to look like those hot Instagram influencers, of course, especially because I do not look like an influencer either. But there has to be some physical attraction. I've tried dating guys that I wasn't attracted to before because I thought if I got to know them better that eventually I would become attracted to them. That never happened, though, especially because their personalities did not make up for the lack of physical chemistry, like the guy who spent twenty minutes explaining to me how the government was trying to control us through our cell phones. It got their hopes up for nothing, and it left me dreading dates with them and feeling like I wasted my time and theirs. Looks are not the only thing that matter, and they aren't the most important thing. But they do matter.

And ever since I turned forty, I started thinking more about how I spent my teen years, twenties, and thirties doing so many things that I didn't want to do, only because I felt like I should or because I wanted other people to like me. When I tried Bumble again this last time, my heart wasn't in it, and I thought about how much I didn't want to go on yet another awkward first date. Now that I'm in my forties, I've realized that if I don't have to do something, and I don't want to do it, then I'm not going to do it. And that includes hanging out with twentysomethings who make me feel old and toss me aside once they find "cooler" friends, and it also means I don't have to date guys I'm not attracted to just so that I don't have to be alone.

Now that I'm in my forties, I'm going to focus my middle age doing more things that I want to do. I also think I'm going to delete my Bumble membership soon, especially because one of the profiles I saw stated, "I love basketball, beer, and boobs!"

When I saw it, I thought, Annnd, I'm out. 


What about you? Do you ever wish you were younger? How do you feel about getting older? What is your opinion of May-December dating? 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021


I did something that I, a neurotic workaholic, thought I would never do.

No, I didn't take a vacation. First of all, the pandemic is still a problem, especially in America, because there are far too many people who think that the virus is a "hoax" and literally throw tantrums over being required to wear masks and refuse to get vaccinated. To all of you people who are not American, we Americans want you to know that not all of us are like them. Like you, many of us shake our heads at those tantrum-throwing, conspiracy theory-believing, vaccine-rejecting jerks. We also wish that we could take our masks and shove them up their---

Never mind. 

I quit my second job. Ever since my early twenties, I've always had multiple jobs. For several years in my twenties, I worked in retail at night and on the weekends, and I taught at various colleges in Chicago during the day. I also went to graduate school full-time. It got to the point where I could never relax because I always kept thinking of all the work I had to do. 

After I earned my PhD, I thought I would finally be able to live off one income, but I had thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Two cross-country moves in two years (due to the fact that I accepted an offer to teach at a college in Small Town after I finished graduate school, and then two years later, I accepted another offer to teach at a different college in College Town) also caused me to accumulate thousands of dollars in credit card debt. After years of using public transportation in Chicago, where a guy on the El once got mad that I ignored his advances so he picked his nose and wiped his finger on my coat, and a woman on the bus told me that I was going to hell because I refused to convert to her religion where she said she was the queen goddess of all the forest animals, I had to buy a car after I moved to Small Town. So that meant years of car payments. 

That's why, for the past six years since graduate school, I've continued working two jobs: a part-time job for a website, and a full-time teaching job at a college. This summer, I finally paid off my car (I would have paid it off a year ago, if I hadn't accidentally totaled my first car in a flash flood), and I am also close to paying off one of my credit cards. I realized that I could possibly afford to quit my second job because the money I no longer have to pay towards those two debts is close to what I earn from my website job. 

I was on the fence at first about quitting. I kept thinking about my medical bills that I've accumulated because of all my trips to the hospital to receive treatment for polycystic kidney disease, which I was diagnosed with last winter. When I was first told that I would need a kidney transplant sometime in the near future, my first thought was, Oh God. How will I be able to take time off from work? I CAN'T!

My first thought SHOULD'VE been this: I'm running out of time. As a matter of fact, it was my second thought. There I was, crying in my nephrologist's office, after he told me that in just a few years I will have to go on dialysis if I don't get a new kidney right away and that the wait list for a kidney is typically 5-7 years. But there is no guarantee that I will even get a kidney, which means I might not survive that long. And I just kept thinking, I'm running out of time. 

I spent all these years working two, sometimes three jobs at the same time, because I had to. I couldn't afford to live off just one income because my monthly stipend as a teaching assistant wasn't enough to cover the high cost of living in Chicago. I could have taken out more student loans throughout graduate school like most of my classmates did, but I didn't want to complete my graduate degree with a six-figure debt when I knew that that would put me in debt for the rest of my life. I did take out two small loans towards the end of graduate school, though, when it became clear that I could no longer work three jobs at the same time.

But that day in my nephrologist's office, I thought of all the things I had sacrificed because of my work. I had worked away my youth, and I had ended up in many doctors' offices and in the hospital more than once because of stress-related health problems, the stress caused mainly by the strain of working multiple jobs. 

I also thought about all the things that I still want to do: travel around the world, write books, and make a name for myself as a creative writer and a scholar. I actually haven't even left the country in twenty years, not since I was a twenty-year-old college student, when I studied in Spain for one summer. I spent two months in a town that shall remain nameless, taking Spanish classes. I shared an apartment with three American sorority sisters from California. They lined up at the telephone every night so they could call their boyfriends and kept inviting their friends who were backpacking through Europe to stay at the apartment, so that the entire summer I had four or five roommates, rather than three. 

While my roommates spent most of their free time talking to their boyfriends or going clubbing and bar-hopping with the other American tourists, I traveled to other towns. I walked around the town I lived in and sampled local foods. I went to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I watched flamenco dancers perform in Madrid. I went to Pamplona during the running of the bulls, where a bunch of drunk men kept calling out to me and grabbing at me. I literally had to fight off one particularly aggressive guy and I tried to threaten him by saying I had a knife. Except I used the Spanish word for "butter knife", which made him jeer at me and ask if I was going to make him breakfast.

I spent a weekend in Barcelona, where I rode a double-decker bus around the city and got off the bus whenever I spotted something that looked interesting. I went into tapas bars and was unable to understand most of the menu, so I pointed to dishes that looked interesting and tried them. More often than not they were delicious.

One thing I noted about Spaniards was how relaxed they were. They took a siesta in the middle of the day, where most of the shops and businesses shut down for two or three hours so that people could go home and rest or take long lunches. It's something that would never fly in America, where people typically eat a hurried lunch at their desks at work or skip lunch altogether so that they can get more work done. 

It seemed to me like many of the Spaniards I met viewed work simply as a means to an end, rather than as the center of their lives. Maybe that's why they seemed so much happier and more relaxed.

As a young, twenty-year-old woman, I immersed myself in Spanish culture, and I vowed that once I finished school, I would travel around the world and immerse myself in more cultures.

Except I didn't. I immersed myself in my work instead. And then, twenty years later, when my doctors gave me my diagnosis, I thought about all the things I'd missed out on, and how I was running out of time to live the life I wanted to live. When I was younger, I thought I had all the time in the world. But now I'm a middle-aged woman, and I know that my time is running out.

I've always hated my second job. I've had it since graduate school because it enabled me to escape retail. It paid a few bucks more per hour than retail did, and it meant that I could work from home on my couch rather than be on my feet for nine-hour shifts. When I first started working for this company, which legally prevents me from naming it online, I was paid eleven dollars per hour. When I earned my PhD, they gave me a "raise" to twelve dollars per hour. I've worked for this company for thirteen years, the longest I've ever stayed with any employer, and during that entire time, I only ever received that one-dollar raise (apparently to my employer, a doctorate is only worth one dollar). They got away with it because I was technically a "subcontractor".

"They employ a lot of academics," one of my colleagues said. "And they know how desperate untenured faculty and graduate students are for work and money, so they use it to their advantage to exploit them." 

The only way I could have been paid more was to apply for a promotion to a supervisor, but that would have only meant about fifteen dollars an hour. And the supervisors I dealt with were totally annoying, nit-picking every single aspect of my work, even though I received praise from many other people for the quality of that same work.

I still have two other credit cards that I have to pay off, and by quitting my second job, it meant it would take me longer to pay off those debts. And of course, there were my student loans. Not to mention the medical treatment I've been receiving has led to hundreds of dollars in medical bills because my insurance does not completely cover everything. I had to use my stimulus checks to cover those bills, but there will be more bills in the near future. I worried about that and thought that maybe I should just stick it out at my second job for at least one more year. 

"You have to make changes to your life," my doctors told me. "The best way to protect yourself now is to lower your blood pressure. That means exercising regularly, eating a low-sodium diet, and reducing stress in your life. If you do that you might be able to put off the kidney transplant for at least a few years."

I have been working out 5-6 times a week, and I've become a semi-vegetarian; I only eat meat a couple times a month now, and I've been eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. Working multiple jobs has been a major source of stress for me since I was in my twenties. I realized that if I budgeted carefully and lived more frugally, I could still pay off my remaining credit card debt in two years. If it wasn't for my diagnosis, I would have stayed at my second job. But I was worried about raising my blood pressure again; even though I take two different blood pressure medications and carefully monitor my BP every day, every now and then my blood pressure still goes up, usually when I get an email from a student who blew off several weeks' worth of classes but asks me to "make an exception" and still give them "at least a B."

My health is more important than the paltry income that I get from this second job. By quitting my second job, I'll get to have at least one day off a week, rather than work seven days a week for months at a time, which is what I've been doing since my twenties. I'll have more time to write and pursue publication. I actually drafted two novels and a memoir over the last ten years. But my many work responsibilities kept me from spending more time on the pursuit of publication. I did try submitting short stories and essays to literary magazines, and I have the rejection letters to prove it. But I did not try as hard to get my longer manuscripts published. I was scared of the risk of putting my writing out there because there was always the chance that all those years of writing would lead to nothing. 

But if there's one thing I've learned from being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it's that life is too short. And sometimes it's worth it to take a risk, especially if it means that it could lead to the life that you want to live, rather than be stuck in a life that you hate. 

What about you? Do you work multiple jobs? Have you ever quit a job in the past, and was it hard for you to make the decision to leave? 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

It's a Living

I used to love it.

When I first started teaching, my hand shook as I wrote on the chalkboard. I used to write out everything I was going to say in class beforehand, and then I practiced saying it in front of the mirror. 

I was still in my twenties back then. I taught my first class when I was a student in the master's program. I paid my graduate school tuition by working as a teaching assistant in the M.A. program through the Ph.D.; I taught almost every semester in exchange for a tuition waiver and a small monthly stipend. The stipend was not enough to live on, which is why I took on extra jobs by teaching part-time at other colleges and also by resisting the urge to bitch-slap rude customers who threw tantrums about expired coupons at my retail jobs (I wish those rude customers a lifetime of being stuck in long lines behind customers who acted exactly like they did).

"You'll never make it as a teacher," my mother told me. "You don't have the personality for it. All your students will dislike you." She pressured me to pursue a career in the lucrative field that the majority of my relatives worked in. She was furious when I defied her and majored in English instead of the major she tried to force me into. It was the first real decision I ever made, and to this day, she loves to emphasize how much my sibling earns in that lucrative field. When I answered her inquiry about how much I earn as a teacher, she said, "That's it? That's not enough. I told you so. You chose this career, and look how you ended up."

I wanted to prove her wrong, which is one of the reasons I worked so hard in graduate school. My former therapist told me that the children of abusive parents often become overachievers with Type A personalities. They want their parents' approval, which is constantly withheld from them because their parents make them feel bad about themselves instead. "She'll never approve of what you do," my therapist said. "Then she would have to admit that she was wrong about you." 

I didn't want the career my parents wanted for me. I remember seeing a professor at my college who always had an extra bounce in his step when he walked to class. He was cheerful when he taught because he truly enjoyed his job. He wasn't like so many other workers I'd observed at the internships I did before I committed to graduate school, the ones who dreaded Mondays and were only in a good mood on Fridays.

When I first started teaching, I thought it would be like an inspirational teacher movie, where the students are disrespectful at first, but eventually they warm up to the teacher because of the latter's inspirational teaching methods. In the movie Dead Poets Society, the students jump up on their desks and recite poetry as their teacher walks out of the classroom for the last time. In the movie Stand and Deliver, the students go from struggling in school to receiving high scores on their AP calculus test, including one student who didn't even know what calculus was before taking the teacher's class. 

I thought that I could be like the English teachers who inspired me, the ones who encouraged my love of reading and writing and introduced me to new authors. I actually only ever took one class on college teaching before I started teaching because college teachers do not have the same intensive training for teaching as high school and grade school teachers do. The focus is supposed to be on their research, not their teaching, which is why there are many college professors who are brilliant scholars but terrible teachers. 

I wanted to be the exception. I wanted to be like the college professors I'd had who were both good scholars AND good teachers. And for a long time, I was truly passionate about teaching. Many of my students wrote in their evaluations, "She's really enthusiastic. She seems really happy when she's teaching." And I was. I always felt a rush when I stood at the front of the classroom or even when I walked into class each day. I refused to give up on my graduate studies, despite all the problems I had with my dissertation and my advisor, partly because I didn't want to give up teaching, the job that I loved. 

But over the years, I started to love it less and less. It didn't happen overnight. It was gradual, the accumulation of many things that kept happening over the years.

There was the student who refused to sit down during their appointment and literally loomed over me and screamed in my face for several minutes because they earned a B. 

There was the student who berated me for telling another student not to nap in my class. "You're hurting his self-esteem," the student said. 

There was the student who argued about every single grade she received in my class, and she insisted, "You're wrong! I should have gotten an A." When I finally told her that I wasn't going to debate her grades with her anymore and that she couldn't talk to me like that, she literally threw a tantrum in my office, stomping her feet, and screaming and crying in front of my colleagues I shared an office with and their students. I managed to calm the student down, but inside I was seething. She was allowed to explode, but as the teacher I never could because I had to be the mature adult. 

There was the student who stopped showing up to class for more than two months, ignored my emails, and then when they received an F, sent me one of the nastiest emails I'd ever received, full of insults and obscenities.

There were the students who sat in the back every day, didn't look up from their cell phones during the entire class session, would simply say, "I don't know. I didn't do the reading," when I asked them a question, and then go back to turning themselves into cats on Snapchat or whatever the hell they did on those phones. These were the same students who often skipped class and showed up late, turned in their work late or not at all, and then blamed ME when they didn't get the good grades they thought they deserved. "If I get a bad grade, it's YOUR fault because you're a bad teacher," more than one of them told me to my face.

I didn't tolerate that crap, though. I told the students to put their phones away and docked them class participation points if they kept taking their phones out. I sternly and firmly told the students who accused me of being a bad teacher that their mistakes and poor work ethic caused them to earn low grades, and that I would not tolerate such blatant disrespect from them ever again. Every semester, I grew tougher and less tolerant of b.s. because there was always at least one or two disrespectful students like that. 

"All it takes is one nasty student," one of my colleagues told me. "The rest of the class can be good, hard-working students, but that one nasty student is often enough to poison your memory of the class."

I didn't even entirely blame the students for their bad behavior. I blamed the parents who raised them, the ones who used to slam into each other in mosh pits at concerts thirty years ago and became helicopter or snowplow parents who sent me angry emails, insulting or guilting me when I dared to penalize their precious children for breaking my rules. One mother sent me an email that stated, "It's not my son's fault that he kept showing up late. It's my fault because I didn't wake him up in time." The class was at noon. The student was nineteen. 

I blamed some of the other teachers and administrators who enabled them, like one of my former bosses, who would not let me defend myself to the student who sent me that nasty email. Instead, my boss told me to apologize to the student for upsetting them, but at least I didn't have to change the student's grade. 

Not all the students were like this, thank God. Some students came into my office with detailed notes or outlines of the papers they were working on because they were willing to work hard and wanted to learn. Other students excitedly told me about how they started reading other books by the authors I'd introduced them to in my literature classes, and they said that they didn't even like to read before they took my class. Several students shyly confided in me during my office hours about their hopes for the future, such as the student who wanted to become a filmmaker and showed me her YouTube channel but was being pressured by her mother to become an accountant. The students like them motivated me to keep teaching.

But in recent years, I find myself dreading Mondays. Burnout is common among teachers. I read somewhere that a significant percentage of teachers don't even last five years. Many teachers suffer from mental health problems, and the low pay obviously doesn't make up for it. 

I've been teaching for more than a dozen years. I didn't quit. But there have been times where I've wanted to. It's gotten to the point where sometimes I just want to throw down the chalk and scream, "JUST FIGURE IT OUT!" when students ask me the same questions again and again because they weren't listening the first time I told them.

One of my students told me at the end of this past semester that I was her favorite teacher and that she liked that I was different from the other teachers. What she said made my day, and it helped soften the blow inflicted by another student, who wrote in his evaluation, "We all make fun of her in the group chat." I couldn't help feeling awful about that because I'd worked so hard to make the online classes good for the students during the pandemic, and that student's vicious insult made me feel like I'd done everything wrong. My colleagues assured me that most likely only a few of the students made fun of me, and that that particular student was probably retaliating because he was getting a low grade in my class. 

I don't regret not pursuing the career my parents wanted for me. But sometimes, I can't help thinking what my life would have been like if I had chosen something other than teaching. Over the years, I lost my passion for teaching.

I went from being an enthusiastic, naive young teacher in my twenties who wanted to inspire students to love writing and literature to a burned out, disillusioned teacher in my forties who just wants to inspire students to put down their freaking cell phones during class. I no longer love my job. I haven't loved it in years. But I haven't quit, partly because I don't know what else to do, and partly because I especially need the health insurance now that I have a life-threatening disease for which there is no cure. Also, I obviously still need to get paid, so that I'll have money for the necessities, like food, rent, and Taylor Swift albums. 

The comedian Drew Carey once said, "Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say that? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."

In the 90s movie Office Space, the main character, played by Ron Livingston, also hates his job. His love interest, played by Jennifer Aniston, tells him at the end of the movie that a lot of people don't like their jobs, but that it was okay, as long as they found other ways to be happy.

I think she was right. I believed that I could only have a good life if I truly loved my job. But now I know that it's okay if I don't because there is more to life than work (and as a workaholic, it took me a long time to realize that). As long as I don't take out my frustrations with the job on my students, and as long as I continue to do a good job, I can keep teaching, at least for now. And I do have other things in my life that make me happy, like good books, writing, and the hope that some day, those entitled students who disrespected me will one day have children who will be exactly like they were at that age because then they'll get a taste of their own medicine. I know that's petty of me, but blame it on the hundreds of students who were like that and who overshadowed the students who weren't. But what gives me satisfaction is that despite those students' horrible treatment of me, I didn't let it stop me. I kept teaching, and I actually became a better teacher as a result. And that's something, even if my students aren't jumping up on their desks to recite poetry for me.

What about you? Have you ever felt burned out at your job?