Friday, December 24, 2010

Leaving Chicago

I'm thinking about leaving Chicago.

When I first moved here, I thought I wanted to live here forever. I loved the museums, the shopping, the theatre, the food, and the lake. I loved being able to walk down the street and hear at least five different languages being spoken. I loved seeing all the people on the sidewalks and the streets as they headed for their different destinations.

I still love all of those things. But now that I've spent more years than I care to count living here, I've found that I don't love telling random strangers, "No thank you, I'd really rather NOT convert to your religion where people can become aliens once they give up their earthly possessions." I don't love yelling, "For Pete's sake, TURN IT DOWN! I do NOT want to hear Justin Bieber at 3 A.M.!" I don't love pushing my way through crowds, so focused on getting to where I need to go, that I barely look up anymore and I hardly notice the seasons changing.

When I enrolled in graduate school, I knew that I probably wouldn't be living in Chicago permanently. The thing about academia is that there are many, many more Ph.D.s than jobs, so you have to be willing to move wherever the jobs are. That means that you could end up at some Ivy League research university in Boston, or a small liberal arts college in Tulsa.

I just want to teach at a good school where I don't have to remind students twenty times a week that class time is not nap time. I also would like to teach at a school where I'd get to teach more than one type of class and still have time left over to do research and write academic books and articles. I also want to earn enough money so that I only have to work one job, instead of two or three. The prospect of living in a college town rather than a big city doesn't bother me, because I didn't grow up in a big city anyway.

Technically, I'm supposed to stay in Chicago until I finish my dissertation. That makes it easier to meet with my dissertation committee to discuss my progress, and I get free tuition and a stipend for teaching undergrads. But I can't keep working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I've been working two or three jobs for several years now, and I'm burned out. I want to be able to help my family with the money I earn.

The prospect of moving somewhere else, especially to a place that I've never been to before, is kind of scary. What if I end up living in an apartment with a roommate who starts dressing like me and copies my haircut? And then what if my puppy mysteriously disappears and my roommate attacks my boyfriend with a stiletto heel and -- wait. That's the plot to Single White Female.

So I've started looking around for teaching jobs that are available for people with my qualifications. It's quite possible that I'll still be here in Chicago a year from now, especially if I don't find anything. And it's okay if I don't, since most of the good jobs are for people who have already completed their dissertations. But it's also possible that a year from now I'll be in a completely different place, starting a new phase in my life.

Check out this video by the Plain White T's. I like it not just because it includes cute anecdotes of how couples met, but also because it's set in Chicago in the winter. (So many movies and TV shows that are set in Chicago take place during the summer. I guess that makes sense production wise, but summer only lasts, like, five seconds here.) I like to think that the song (and the video) is a love song to Chicago, too.

Side note: Check out No Way, Cupid, a cool new blog written by fellow bloggers Rock and Doris. They write about relationships, online dating, and life in Chicago.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Toughest Job of All

The other day I was eating lunch at Potbelly's Sandwiches after a long morning of last-minute Christmas shopping (although to be honest, I was actually just starting my shopping that day). As I ate my sandwich, I looked around and realized that I was one of the only single people in the restaurant. I was surrounded by families with small children, and young couples with strollers.

There was a family with several children sitting at the table across from me. I didn't mean to eavesdrop on their conversation, but I couldn't help it; they were talking loudly enough for everyone to hear.

"Mom! Josh drank my soda!"

"That's because she spit in mine!"

"Paul! Are you going to think about someone besides yourself and help me with these kids?"

"Kelly, no, I said NO! Do NOT eat that! That was on the floor! Oh my...TAKE THAT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH RIGHT NOW!"

"Haha, she's going to be poisoned!"

"You're getting it all over your shirt...oh, for heaven's sake, now you're getting it all over MY shirt!"

As I watched them, I didn't feel annoyed by the fact that they were distracting me from eating. I didn't feel relieved that I don't have children. Instead, for the first time, I thought about what it would be like to have children of my own.

I admire anyone who is a parent, because I think that being a parent has to be the toughest job in the world. You don't get paid; you never retire; you're on the clock 24/7. Being President or Oprah's assistant would probably tie for second as far as tough jobs go.

But on the other hand, I do like the idea of having a daughter or son (or maybe both) who shares my DNA and maybe even grows up to look a little like me (except my nose would look better on them). I'm not sure what kind of parent I would be though. All I know is that I would love them, protect them, and teach them everything I know.

To be honest, I never really wanted to have children before. When I was a teenager, I always thought I'd want to have a family when I got older. But in the meantime, I focused on my work. I wanted to be a professor and a writer more than I wanted to be a mother.

The only time I remotely considered having children was when I thought about being an egg donor; the problem with that was that there was always the possibility that in eighteen years a young man or woman would knock on my front door. He or she would keep twitching from all the caffeine he or she would always be drinking, and he or she would point a finger at me and shriek, "It's your fault I'm like this!"

But other than that I don't usually feel that urge to become a mother. I see babies being pushed in strollers, and occasionally one of them will smile up at me in that wonderful way that babies do; I always smile back. Maybe I'm thinking about this now because I'm pushing thirty and the clock is ticking. Maybe it's because I'm still single while so many other people my age already have families. Maybe it's because deep down, I feel guilty because there are other things I want to do instead.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Blame Game

Dear Professor,
  I just wanted you to know that if I don't get at least a B in this class, my parents won't pay for my tuition anymore. I really don't want to have to drop out of school and flip burgers for the rest of my life just because of your class. I just thought you should know about my situation.

Dear Professor,
  I hope that my grade won't be lowered just because I was absent for three weeks. I think my absences shouldn't count against my grade because I always had a good excuse for not being in class. It's not my fault if my alarm clock doesn't work. And besides, as long as I get the homework done, does it really matter if I'm in class?

Dear Professor,
  I'm writing to let you know that I'm going to report you to the department chair if you don't raise my grade. You weren't always clear in your instructions to the class, so that's why I didn't do very well in my assignments.

Dear Professor,
  I don't think you calculated my grade correctly. It really shouldn't be that low. I didn't buy the textbook for this class, but I got most of the information from Wikipedia. That's pretty much the same, isn't it?

Dear Professor,
  Did I get a C because I was sleeping in class? I wasn't really sleeping. I was just concentrating with my eyes closed.

At the end of the term, I always get a handful of "grade complaint" e-mails from students who are so SHOCKED because they didn't get the stellar grades they felt they were entitled to. (What really bugs me is when they say, "You didn't give me the grade I deserved." Hearing that makes me want to go out and steal someone's snowman.)

I always write detailed feedback on their assignments, and I talk to students regularly about their progress in my classes. That way, there are no surprises at the end of the semester. Nevertheless, I still get grade complaint e-mails from students who are always convinced that I did something wrong. What bothers me is they don't take responsibility for their own work (or lack thereof).

When I was in college, I got a D on a major math test. Although I excelled in my English classes, I was so bad at math that the sight of a calculator was enough to make me run away screaming. I went to my math professor for help and set up extra appointments to go over stuff in class that I was struggling with. I also got help from math tutors, and I spent hours on my homework. By the end of the semester, I ended up with a B as my final grade.

And fortunately, I do have some students who are like this. They try hard, and they ask me, "What can I do to raise my grade?" and not "I think you made a mistake with my grade." (But I do hear that statement a lot.) When students ask me the first question, it shows that they're taking responsibility for themselves and that they're taking the initiative to work hard and earn good grades. And that is something.

I'd like to say that I never played the blame game. But I have, and sometimes I still do. For example, I've been feeling upset lately because I haven't made as much progress on my dissertation as I should have by now. It would be easier to place the blame on anyone else but myself.

"It's not my fault I didn't finish a draft of my dissertation. The department puts a lot of pressure on the graduate students to accomplish a lot of things in a limited amount of time."

"I couldn't work on my draft. I had to go to the gym every other day, and it's important to work on my health. Going to the gym had NOTHING to do with all the cute guys who work out there. I barely even notice them."

"How could I do research when I had appointments with students, papers to grade and classes to teach? I can't just ignore my students, because how are they supposed to learn if I don't teach them? Not to mention I don't want to end up on one of those rate your professor websites. Again."

"Since I don't earn enough to live on as an instructor, I had all these extra projects to complete for my website job. What, am I just supposed to tell my employer no? I do that and I lose that extra paycheck."

"I can't help it if I didn't get as much work done as I could have. I've been working on a very intricate plot to rule the world, and I should be able to carry it out within the next two years or so. I've been busy."

It would be very easy to blame anyone or anything but myself. And sometimes things really were beyond my control. But one thing I've learned about growing up is that I have to accept responsibility for my mistakes and not blame them on someone else. Like I wrote in an earlier post, I can't make excuses, and I can't keep blaming other people. How else will I learn from my mistakes, so that I can get it right the next time around?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Missing Snowman

I recently read an article about a woman in the UK who called the police because she claimed that someone stole her snowman (I kid you not). According to the article, the woman thought her call was justified because she used "1-pound coins for the eyes and teaspoons for the arms". And all I could think was, Really?

Maybe it wasn't theft. Maybe someone had some kind of vendetta against snowmen and went on a rampage the night before, destroying every snowman in sight, screaming, "You think you're so COOL!"

Or maybe one of the other snowmen came to life, like in that Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin brings a snowman to life. It turns evil and creates other evil snowmen, and then they all go after Calvin and Hobbes until the snowmen are defeated when Calvin sprays them with water and turns them to ice. So maybe there was a whole army of evil snowmen who destroyed the good snowman like the one that woman called the police about. Maybe the good snowman didn't want to join in their crusade to take Frosty down once and for all and they attacked him and...

ANYWAY, it's not like there aren't any people in the U.S. who call the police for stupid reasons. I've read news articles about people who called 911 from McDonald's because they were upset over the fact that there were no more chicken McNuggets. And again I must ask, Really?

911 operators and police officers have extremely stressful jobs. Yes, their job is to protect and help people. But I think that some people are so self-centered that they expect the police to just come running every time there's an "emergency". And as that article I read pointed out, the problem with that is that it takes the police's time and attention away from genuine emergencies. Here are a few examples of how I imagine some of those 911 calls might go:

911 Operator: 911, what's your emergency?
Bridezilla: There's another bride out there who is planning to wear the same dress as mine to HER wedding! I want her arrested! Better yet, I want her to be sentenced to wear one of those poufy bridesmaid dresses so that everyone will laugh at her and then no one will upstage me on MY day!
911 Operator: Um, that's not really...
Bridezilla: Arrest her RIGHT NOW! Or I will throw all the wedding cakes I rejected at you!

Operator: 911, what's your emergency?
Customer: This stupid cashier won't let me use my coupon. Yes, I know it's expired, but so what? I WANT my DVD box set of The Gossip Girl and I want it now! And I think that that cashier should be forced to watch every single episode of this show just so she'll see why this show is so realistic! I mean, this show just speaks to everyone. I know that not everyone cheats on their boyfriend with their boyfriend's best friend while also having secret affairs with their best friends' boyfriends, but it's still so REAL.
Operator: I'm sorry, but the police can't really help you with that.
Customer: I want to talk to your manager! Just as soon as I finish yelling at this cashier's manager!

Operator: 911, what's your emergency?
Cheapskate: I want to report a team of thieves over at this cafe.
Operator: Is there a robbery in progress?
Cheapskate: There most certainly is. They have a tip jar!
Operator: What?
Cheapskate: Did you not hear me? They are expecting customers to give them tips! I just spent four dollars on this cup of coffee, and they expect me to give them spare change. The nerve of these people! I think tip jars should be banned everywhere. It's not like people can't live on minimum wage.
Operator: Well, actually...
Cheapskate: By the way, I'm not getting charged for this call, am I? (I actually did hear a story about a woman who wrote to the Jimmy John's sandwich company to complain about the tip jars, and they ended up taking the tip jars away. Can you believe that? It's like, if you don't want to leave a tip, don't leave a tip. But it's nice if you do leave one. But either way, don't punish the people who are just trying to earn a living.)

I think you can get arrested or at least fined for making 911 calls for non-emergencies. But I respect the people who work in this field, because they do a lot to help people. And they also must have an incredible amount of patience to deal with all the annoying people who call for dumb reasons, because if it were me I would disconnect their phone service or just send the police to arrest them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tummy Rubs and the Bichon Blitz

My parents have two dogs, one of which is a Bolognese (which is a smaller version of the Bichon). In order to protect their privacy, I will refer to the Bolognese as Neurotic Jr. and the other dog as Jane Dog in this blog.

As dogs, they have a fairly easy life, partly because they can sleep whenever they want and they get treats just for being cute. But they have their own ways of dealing with stress if it does come up. For example, Jane Dog is extremely clingy. Whenever I visit my parents, she follows me around everywhere. When I come back after going out, she immediately rolls over onto her back, demanding a tummy rub. When she does get it, she gets this look of pure bliss on her face, as if she's saying, "Ahhhh....."

Neurotic Jr., on the other hand, hates baths. After I bathe her, she goes berserk every time. She does something called the Bichon blitz, where she tears around the room, rolls around on the carpet, and runs up and down the stairs in a fury, as if she's saying, "I can't believe you BATHED me! How UNDIGNIFIED!" Then she crawls under a chair and glares at me for the next hour, as if she's saying, "I wouldn't turn your back if I were you."

Here's a video of a dog doing the Bichon blitz. It's not a video of Neurotic Jr. I found it on Youtube. (The dog's name is Ditka.)

I, on the other hand, am not a dog and therefore do not enjoy tummy rubs. I don't even like hugs because I could get the flu from those. I have done some version of the Bichon blitz, though. It usually happens after I've done a bunch of work and downed several cups of caffeine. But I have my own ways of relieving stress.

One way is by going to my favorite place to write: the coffeehouse. I also like going to the gym, where I have a student discount. It's a worthy investment because I can burn calories, build muscle, and blow off steam. It's also a good place to check out muscular guys with cute ... um ... shorts. (I fell off an elliptical machine the other day because I was looking at one of the hot guys. I did get his attention, just not in the way I wanted.)

At the gym I can get my mind off my problems, at least temporarily. And the endorphins make me feel better too. There's a pool at my gym, but I haven't tried it yet. One reason is because I'm not a very good swimmer; I really only know how to doggy paddle. I even kind of pant a little when I try to doggy paddle from one end of the pool to another, and it's not very attractive. I can't really do the butterfly stroke that people do when they swim laps.

Besides, I'm afraid that if I do show up at the pool in my swimsuit, all the guys will take one look at me, start pointing and laugh. Then they'll all fall into the pool, one by one, just like the women did in that birth control commercial. But then one of the guys might still be laughing and end up choking on pool water, and I'll have to pull him out of the pool.

I'll try to revive him with the CPR skills I learned in a first aid class, but I took the class ten years ago and I really only remember how to do the Heimlich maneuver. And anyway, we only practiced on dummies, not people. So I'm afraid that the guy will suddenly come to, see my mouth aimed at his face and he'll jerk away and scream, "Get AWAY from me, weird girl!" And then all the other guys will come to his rescue and throw me into the pool, and I'll have to doggy paddle my way out. So I haven't tried the pool yet, because you never know. It could happen.

I usually go to the aerobics classes, and I also work out on the cardio machines, like the elliptical, the treadmill, and the exercise bikes. The last time I was on one of the machines, there was this guy exercising beside me. He kept banging on the sides of the machine with his hands, and I thought at first that he was listening to music and was pretending to play the drums or something. But then I realized that he was staring up at one of the TVs on the walls and was apparently watching "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". So I'm not sure why he kept flailing his hands around like that. I do know that one of his hands suddenly shot out and slapped me in the arm.

He didn't even apologize for hitting me. I glared at him and was all ready to say, "Oh, you WANT a piece of me? Get ready to rumble, JERK!" But he was too absorbed in Rudolph's antics to notice. Loser.

Even though I have a history of embarrassing myself at the gym, I still work out at least four or five times a week. It's a good escape from everything else that is going on in my life, and I don't have to feel like I'm wasting my time when I exercise.

What do you do to relieve stress?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What I Want to Read

It's only natural that writers love to read. After all, if you don't enjoy reading books, then why bother writing them in the first place? I have to admit, though, that I don't love reading some of the scholarly books I have to read for my dissertation research; there are several dents in my walls from where I threw the books at them. I think there should be some kind of Grad Student Dictionary, so that it would be easier to figure out exactly what academic writers are saying. A lot of them make up their own words, as if they're using some kind of language that only know-it-alls can understand.

When I'm not studying, I like reading chick lit. I only watch crime dramas on TV, so it's kind of nice to read stories that aren't about soccer moms who are actually serial killers or lawyers arguing about whether a defendant can be found not guilty by reason of watching too many reality shows.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things that I would like to read about that I don't often find in chick lit. I like reading stories that I can relate to. Maybe I'm being self-centered, but I like reading about main characters who are like me (but who are possibly less neurotic and obsessive, because then there'd just be several pages of description of them drinking coffee, ranting about their neighbors, and yelling at inconsiderate drivers).

For example, I wish there were more books about the grad school experience. One of my favorite authors does write about academia; Jhumpa Lahiri's stories often include charactes who are professors or grad students. Lahiri isn't a chick lit author, but the world she describes is familiar to me.

But there aren't a lot of chick lit books about grad students. Many of the female protagonists work in publishing or journalism, though they often have secret aspirations of writing fiction. I did find one book where the main character went to grad school, but she and her friends spent more time going to bars every night than they did in the library.

I will admit that there is a lot of drinking in graduate school, but I don't usually participate in any of it because it never ends well for me. Once I came out of a bar and tripped and fell into a crowd of people. Another time my face turned red and I started talking really excitedly about everything, because at that moment, EVERYTHING was exciting.

Besides, alcohol costs money that I don't have. As I've mentioned before, university departments apparently believe that grad students don't need enough money to live on, which is why they give them tiny stipends if the students are lucky. They apparently think that we can just live on our love for learning, when really we're tearing our hair out every thirty seconds and shrieking, "Not ANOTHER footnote!"

I wish I could read books about grad students who are as burned out as I am, and who spend years struggling just to keep up while their classmates go on to excel in their classes, publish articles in academic journals, and win fellowships. (And of course, we less successful classmates get to hear all about it.)

Another thing I like about Jhumpa Lahiri is that she writes a lot about loneliness. In her book of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, I think she only used the word "lonely" once or twice. But she was still able to clearly illustrate how lonely her characters were, just by giving small clues about their lifestyles.

In most of the chick lit books I've read, the main characters always seem to have a lot of friends who are always there to provide advice and a sympathetic ear; they often seem to be a lot more well-adjusted than the main characters. I do have friends, but we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like because of our work schedules and personal responsibilities.

I watched the first two or three seasons of Gilmore Girls , which I think were the best ones; the plots didn't always center on who was in a love triangle each week like they did in the later seasons. I liked the fact that the main character, Rory Gilmore, was a loner. She had a boyfriend and a best friend, and she was close to her mother. But she spent a lot of her time alone, reading, and it wasn't portrayed as being the worst thing in the world. She was independent, and I liked that. I wish there were more characters like her in fiction, because I think there are a lot of people like her in real life.

I'd also like to read a chick lit book where for once the female protagonist ends up with the Unsuitable Suitor rather than the Cute Guy Friend who was there all along, or the Competitive Coworker who the protagonist hated at first until they made out in the supply closet, or the Bossy Know-It-All who constantly criticizes the protagonist because apparently she always does the wrong thing (the only Bossy Know-it-All that I actually liked was Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen's Emma, though I'm not sure what the brilliant Ms. Austen would think of having her work classified as chick lit).

More often than not, the Unsuitable Suitor is more fun and interesting just because he provokes the protagonist and makes her step outside of her comfort zone. Usually he isn't given any redeeming qualities, which is why he's Unsuitable, but there has to be some reason the narrator falls for him, right?

There should also be more books about teaching. Most of the books that I've found about teaching were memoirs, where the teacher writes about how the students were difficult at first but then they grew to really care about each other. Then they never gave her any problems ever again because the teacher came up with original ways to educate them. They all lived happily ever after and formed glee clubs where they broke out into song just at the sight of each other. (Oh wait. That's actually a TV show. But nobody's a sociopath on that show - I don't think - so I never watch it. I did try once or twice, but it didn't really hold my interest.)

I'd like to read about people who like teaching but get frustrated with it on a regular basis, to the point where they're tearing out their hair and shrieking, "Not ANOTHER lame excuse!" I'd like to read stories about college instructors who don't love reading fifty papers about the same topic every week or teaching the same class every year. I'd like to know what keeps them going and how they keep from losing control when things don't get any easier.

Thinking about what I want to read inspires me to include those types of things in my own stories. I usually follow the old rule that says you should "write what you know", and this is what I know.

What do you look for when you're deciding which books to read?

Erica and Christy were nice enough to give me the Versatile Blogger Award; thanks ladies! I love awards.
Check out their awesome blog here.

According to the rules for this award, you're supposed to list seven things about yourself, but I actually already did something similar to that when I received the Honest Scrap award from Lilly; you can check out that post here. And I stand by what I wrote in that post, including the part about how Britney Spears deserves more recognition and awards just because she's so awesome.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

All I Want for Christmas Is a Personal Assistant

Even though I mocked celebrities in my last blog post for being rich enough to have personal assistants who have their own assistants, I must admit that I wouldn't mind having a personal assistant. I've been pretty stressed out since school started, because I often have to spend more time on my teaching responsibilities than I do on my graduate work.

One reason is that several of my students apparently believe that I never sleep and that I live in my office, which would explain why they e-mail me several times a week and get upset if I don't respond right away. It would also explain why some of them set up multiple appointments to discuss the same paper and then proceed to either not show up or show up twenty minutes late (and then they request more appointments). As a result, I have fallen behind on my dissertation, which makes me feel like I'm going to be in graduate school FOREVER.

So it would be nice to have a personal assistant. It would definitely help to have someone take care of the things that I never have enough time to do, like pick up my dry cleaning, vacuum my apartment, do my grocery shopping, and get rid of the spiders that invade my apartment every time I open my windows because it's like ninety degrees in here and the landlord claims my screens can't be fixed so that I'm screaming "EEEEEEK" at least seventy percent of the time.

Maybe if I had a personal assistant, I wouldn't have to spend so much of my free time "working", i.e., doing household chores and running errands. And then I wouldn't have so much trouble falling asleep at night, because my mind often keeps me awake even though my body is exhausted; I can't relax because I keep thinking of all the stuff that I still need to get done.

On the other hand, maybe it would be better to have a bodyguard instead of a personal assistant. He'd be really big and strong and have a tough-sounding name, like Thor. Then Thor could protect me from strangers on the train when I commute and when I go out at night. He could also make my morning commute a lot less irritating.

For example, during the morning rush hour, the trains are always packed with people who don't get off the train until after MY stop. Even though it is clear that the train is already too crowded, there are always people at the next stop who insist on shoving their way onto the train and yelling at the rest of us to move. Then I end up with my face pressed against someone's shoulder (and can I just say that there are too many people who don't shower on a regular basis?) or I end up elbowing people's faces (although I must admit that sometimes that's intentional if they refuse to let me sit down because it's more important for their bags to have their own seat).

If I had a bodyguard, he could stand by the doors with his arms crossed and then give the death stare to the people who think that a crowded train should be even MORE crowded; he'd glare at them and say, "I don't THINK so." And then they'd back away slowly and decide to walk to work from now on.

There are a few other things that I would like for Christmas. I hate talking on the phone and I hate texting even more, which is why I haven't updated my cell phone in several years. On the other hand, it would be nice to have a Blackberry or a Smartphone. Then, when my students start texting in class, I could send them video messages that say stuff like, "HEY! I'm WATCHING you! PAY ATTENTION!" Or maybe Thor could raise his giant hand and say "STOP!" And then they'd quickly put their phones away and never text again.

You know what else would be cool? A personal chef. Then I wouldn't have to shop in the frozen foods section anymore, and I wouldn't have to worry about setting my clothes on fire. I'd probably be able to eat healthier foods too, and as a result I'd lose weight and feel better. And maybe my personal chef could taste foods that he or she doesn't make for me, just to make sure that the food isn't poisonous or just plain icky. Besides, Thor needs to eat, too.

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

One of my favorite bloggers, Talli Roland, has a new book out on Kindle, titled The Hating Game. Go to and check it out! (The paperback version comes out in March 2011.) Congratulations, Talli!

Side note: Even though I rarely go to movies, there is one movie that I'm definitely going to watch in 2011. Check out this trailer for Jane Eyre, which is also one of my favorite books. Doesn't it make you wish it was coming out right now?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gossip, Breakup Songs, and Tiaras

One of my guilty pleasures is I often read the news about celebrities to find out who broke up with whom this week, and who thinks that being famous means you don't have to pay taxes. I say it's a "guilty" pleasure since most of the articles are mainly just gossip; did you ever notice how most of the articles about celebrities don't actually include quotes from the celebrities themselves? Instead the articles include information from people who are supposedly "sources close to the star", which could mean anyone from the star's best friend to his or her hair stylist to some guy who stood fifty feet away from the celebrity once.

Ever since Prince William got engaged to Kate Middleton, their relationship has been all over the news. Every day there's a different headline on and other gossip websites and magazines about their engagement and their upcoming wedding, because apparently William and Kate are the first couple EVER to get married. And I just have one question to ask:

                                   WHY DO WE CARE?

I must admit that I did have a crush on Prince William when I was sixteen. But then again I also thought that Skittles should be counted as one of the four food groups, and I thought that The Real World actually was real, and I wanted to be just like one of the cast members when I grew up. Now I kind of just want to challenge them to a duel and then when they show up to fight me I'll use a magic wand to zap them onto the Jerry Springer show and have one of the guests fight them and then I'll laugh maniacally as chairs are thrown and...

Wait. What was I talking about?

Anyway, I also admit that I am a little envious of Kate Middleton. Not because of William, because I'm not a starry-eyed sixteen year old girl with a crush anymore, obviously. I'm envious because the money that will be spent on her wedding dress would probably be enough to pay for a lifetime supply of Frappuccinos, or possibly enough to buy my own personal Starbucks, complete with a full staff of baristas ready to keep me caffeinated all the time. And that would rock.

I do have to wonder why Americans care so much about the Royal Family. No offense against the Royal Family, and definitely no offense against anyone reading this who lives in England. But seriously, why do we care? It's not like the prince's wedding impacts us in any way. It's not like we're going to be invited to the wedding. It's not like we will EVER meet the happy couple. We don't even have royalty in this country, despite the fact that certain politicians walk around as if they should be wearing tiaras and we should all be bowing down to them in adoration. So why should we care?

Maybe it's because Kate and William's story is like a fairy tale with paparazzi. And people like fairy tales and want to believe that they could actually come true.

I read the celebrity magazines not because I actually care about the celebrities, but because the magazines themselves are an escape. People magazine, for example, is the exact opposite of the "scholarly" books I have to read every day, as well as the students' papers that I have to grade. I don't have to analyze the articles I'm reading; I can just read them for fun.

I'd like to say that I'm mature and that I never judge the celebrities for their mistakes. But I do have to roll my eyes and shake my head when I hear about another famous person getting arrested while in the company of a porn star, or a musician getting married for the tenth time, or a young starlet flashing a late night talk show host. And besides, I judge EVERYONE.

Do you notice that the magazines rarely include articles about "real" people? When they do, the articles are about people who have committed crimes. What's also interesting is that I rarely find any articles about writers on

But sometimes the articles, particularly the headlines, get to me, because they often don't reveal anything about the famous people that I didn't already know. (And, sadly, I already know too much.) Here are just a few examples: (And these are actual headlines, and by actual, I mean I just made them up. But you just might see them in the next issue of People.)

Kate Chooses Nail Polish Color for Wedding: Tie-dye Is In!

Donald Trump Gets Cavity, Fires Dentist

Ashton Kutcher: How Twitter Saved My Marriage

"It's My Turn!": Prince Harry Announces Engagement to Snooki

Poll: What Kind of Wedding Cake Should William and Kate Get?

Jessica Simpson Shows off New Mohawk

The Top 10 Reasons Why Brangelina WILL NEVER GO AWAY

Contest or Conspiracy? Bristol Palin and Dancing with the Stars

Gwyneth Paltrow Uses Dictionary to Find Baby Names

I do feel sorry for celebrities, because they can't go anywhere without being photographed. Every move they make is overanalyzed and criticized by people who know nothing about what their lives are really like. People complain about the aggressiveness of the paparrazi, but the paparazzi wouldn't even exist if people weren't reading their magazines or checking out the latest photo of Britney Spears buying lunch. But then again, I don't feel THAT sorry for them, because they're good looking and so rich that their personal assistants have assistants. (Again, I must ask, WHY?)

I think that as William and Kate's wedding draws nearer, every third article will be about it. I guess the simplest solution would be to just stop reading And I will. As soon as I finish the latest article about Jake Gyllenhaal and Taylor Swift. They just had coffee together, which obviously means they'll get engaged and then break up; Taylor will write a song about Jake titled "You Done Me Wrong", and then they'll reconcile, move in together and adopt dogs that they will name after their costars. And it will all probably happen within the next week. Maybe I should use my magic wand...

What do you think of the celebrity magazines? Do you read them? Why do you think people are so fascinated by famous people?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Calm before the Chaos

I hate shopping. Maybe it's because I spent several years working in retail. Now I find myself automatically picking up clothes and folding them or greeting customers whenever I go into stores. Maybe it's because all those years in retail has made me loathe cash registers so much that whenever I see one I want to attack it with a clothes hanger.

Or maybe it's because I'm kind of intimidated by sales people. It's weird because I used to be one, and so I know it's their job to tell customers about new sales and encourage them to buy stuff they don't really need. But it makes me nervous if the salesperson follows me around the store, stands outside the dressing room to chat with me about accessories, and gives me coupons for sales where I can get 3% off on a particular item as long as I buy it within the next five minutes. (I also feel guilty because I used to do the exact same things when I worked in retail.)

I'm also incredibly indecisive, and I'm afraid that if I linger too long in the store the employees will think I'm shoplifting. And then I'll get arrested; the TV stations will do a news story that says something like "Ph.D. candidate turned THIEF"; my students will say, "Why should we do the homework when YOU didn't even pay for that Hello Kitty purse?"; then I'll never be crowned Miss America because of my record and I won't get to cry and throw roses at people when I win.

Usually I just want to get out of there as soon as possible, so I usually just buy the first thing that the salesperson shows me. That's why I have incredibly uncomfortable shoes that make me weep a little when I put them on (though of course they feel okay when I try them on in the store; it's when I go out into the street that the shoes magically become painful and unreturnable), outfits that would probably land me on an episode of What Not to Wear, and an assortment of beauty products, half of which I don't know how to use and am afraid that if I put them on wrong my face will break out and then I'll never be crowned Miss America.

The only stores I'm comfortable going into are bookstores. The sellers leave me alone and I can be around books, which make me happy. But other than that I don't go shopping very often, which is just as well seeing as how I currently have about enough money to do my Christmas shopping at a vending machine. (I hope my parents will like the Cheetos I'm giving them. What? Technically it could be a stocking stuffer.)

That's why I don't understand why anyone would want to go shopping on Black Friday, let alone at 4 A.M. when a lot of the stores open. (I feel sorry for the people who have to work that day.) But no offense if you are going shopping that day; I just don't think I could do it. (It was bad enough having to WORK in a store on Black Friday.) I know that there are a lot of good sales on that day, though I imagine some of the customers' conversations going something like this:

Customer #1: Do we really need a life-size statue of Oprah that glows in the dark? I'm not sure our kids will want that for Christmas. It - I mean she - might scare them.
Customer #2: That's not the point! It's 50% off! Get it before someone else does!

Customer #3: Oh my gosh! I didn't even REALIZE they sold giant whoopee cushions here! What a GREAT idea!
Customer #4: And check it out! If we buy six whoopee cushions today, we can get a free roll of singing toilet paper! (The toilet paper is an actual product; I saw it on a website. I wonder what it sings?)

Customer #5: Look! If we get five of the same sweaters in different colors, we'll save three dollars!
Customer #6: I knew it was a good idea to camp outside the mall all night! And people said it wouldn't be worth it.

I've also learned that it's never a good idea to go shopping downtown on the weekends, especially not during the holiday season, because that's when the tourists come out. They walk incredibly slowly, because they're so busy tilting their heads back and remarking on how tall the buildings are or pointing at the cars and remarking on how everyone is so FAST and beeps their horns real LOUD and gosh they sure aren't like that in our hometown! And I'm just trying to get into the holiday spirit and NOT knock any tourists over, but it's just so DIFFICULT sometimes.

One year I tried going to Michigan Avenue on a Saturday in December, and I found myself identifying with Ebenezer Scrooge before the ghosts visited him. Bah, humbug! Let's see those Christmas ghosts try to navigate the crowds at Water Tower Place for three hours (two of which will be spent just on the escalators) during the holiday season and then see what kind of advice they give Scrooge.

So on Black Friday I'm staying home. Instead of shopping, I'm going to work on my dissertation. What? You didn't think I was going to take the weekend OFF, did you?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lessons Learned

I've decided that probably sometime in the early spring, I'm going to try online dating again. "Why not now?" you might ask. One reason is that this time of the school year is especially busy, so that I often wake up with my hands moving in the air because I've been dreaming about grading papers (even in my dreams I'm working). Also, I'm pretty broke right now, so I need to save up some money first; hopefully I'll have enough by February or early March.

Another reason is that I'd rather not get lumps of coal in my Christmas stocking this year because Santa found out about the revenge spells I cast on bad dates where I danced around a fire chanting guys' names and calling upon the forces of nature to keep them single forever and...well. Maybe it's best if I didn't finish that sentence.

I'm thinking of trying or Either way, it will be the fourth online dating site I've tried. I already tried,, and eharmony with varying rates of success. I did go on dates with guys I met on all three sites, but I'd like to try something different this time.

I also tried speed dating, but I like online dating better because you get more than three minutes to get to know someone. (On the other hand, sometimes three minutes is all you need to know that you NEVER want to see this person again, not even if you were the last two people left on Earth, in which case you would have to relocate to another planet and see if any aliens are available.)

I did recently discover that eharmony kept my profile up on the site months after my account expired, which would explain why I was still getting e-mails from random guys who requested communication. I sent an angry e-mail to eharmony to demand that they take my profile down, but they said they kept it up in case I wanted to renew my membership; that way, I wouldn't have to retake the 45-minute questionnaire. But I thought that was misleading, because who knows how many other profiles are up on that site of people whose accounts already expired? They finally agreed to make sure that no one could see my profile anymore. But still. (Maybe I should go dance around a fire again.)

I didn't find the right guy on the other sites. But I don't regret all the dates I went on, even though on some of those dates I made up excuses about why I had to leave early, such as how I was going on a top-secret government mission the next day that prevented me from using the phone or e-mail so the guy could NEVER CALL ME AGAIN, drank extra caffeine so that I wouldn't fall asleep even though my date was that boring, or thought within the first three minutes, "Yeah. This is NEVER going to happen. I wonder if that girl over there would be willing to switch dates with me."

I don't regret the dates because I learned something from all of them. I learned what I'm looking for in a guy, and I learned about how I want to be treated. For one thing, I want a guy who calls when he says he will, and doesn't lead me on or play games. I want someone who isn't condescending and won't put me down just because I don't make as much money as he does or just because I'm not interested in all the same things that he is. I want someone who listens when I talk, makes me laugh, and doesn't go on and on about the same topic for hours. I want someone who isn't going to flirt with other girls when he's still on a date with me. I want someone who doesn't think it's okay to wait more than a month before calling me after the first date.

I also learned about how to treat guys with respect even if I occasionally had the urge to spit ice cubes from my drinks at their faces so that they'd shut up. (I didn't actually spit ice cubes at them. And that is progress.) I learned that it's important to give everyone a chance, but that you don't have to go on a second date if you really don't want to; you don't have to settle for less than what you're looking for just so you won't be alone.

I've also learned that even if I never meet a guy and end up being single for the rest of my life, at least I can say that I tried. It's like with writing. Even if you never get published, you still accomplished something just by writing regularly and sending your work out. And anyway, how do you expect anyone to read your work if you don't put it out there? By a similar token, I probably won't meet anyone unless I put myself out there.

Check out this Second City sketch comedy special titled "Dates of Future Past", starring a younger Steve Carell and Sherry Bilsing (who I think was one of the producers on Friends). It's a good example of how sometimes it's worth it to make mistakes because you can still gain something from them in the end.

What about you? When you look back on the mistakes that you've made, can you think of anything that you learned or gained from them?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Paths (I Wish) I Could Have Taken

I've been feeling really burned out on teaching and graduate work lately, and by lately, I mean the past several years. In my heart I still want to be a professor, but sometimes I think about what my life could have been like if I'd become something different.

When I was a kid, I thought I could do anything and be anyone. I didn't think about all the reasons I couldn't. I just had these dreams and believed that I could make them come true someday. I have to admit that one of my childhood fantasies was to be Cinderella:

But I wouldn't dance in glass slippers, because that would, you know, hurt. And I'd want a Prince Charming who was just a little bit smarter too. I mean, I wouldn't want a guy who'd set out to find me and decide he's going to marry the girl who has the same shoe size as me. No. I'd want a Prince Charming who'd decide he's going to marry the girl who has the same face as me. (Unless, of course, I really do have an evil doppelganger out there who is plotting to take over my life. I'm pretty sure I saw her buying french fries the other day and I swear she was WATCHING me...) But I digress.

Now that I'm older, I don't want to be Cinderella anymore, but there are other things that I might have liked to do instead. For example, I became a workaholic at age five. One of my favorite pastimes as a kid was cleaning and organizing my room. (I think the "nerd" gene must have multiplied in me or something.) So I think it would have been cool to become a doctor, because the nature of the medical profession would pretty much require that I be a workaholic anyway.

And I admire doctors for their dedication to helping people and saving lives. I think that anyone who goes through the long, arduous process of becoming a doctor must really be passionate about the medical field and making a difference.

I'd be known as the doctor who developed the cure for hiccups, or the doctor who proved that you really CAN lose weight by eating pizza and not exercising. The only thing is I'm terrified of blood. I can't even watch horror movies without covering my eyes and shrieking, "AAAAAHHHH! Is it over? Is it -- AHHHH!! Why do more people keep going into the basement if none of them ever come back up? And OH NO! They're opening the door and AHHHHH!!! Where'd that guy get a chainsaw?"

It also would have been cool to be a dancer. I've watched professional dancers who moved with complete and utter joy on their faces, as if the only place they ever wanted to be was on stage.

The only thing is I'm not very graceful. I'd probably mess up one of the dance moves and then bump into one of the other dancers, and start some kind of dancing domino effect. And then the shrieking would probably start up again. And maybe the other dancers would get so frustrated that they'd toss me off the stage, and I'd fall into the laps of people in the audience, get up, and then fall again. Only this time I'd land on members of the orchestra and possibly break their instruments, and then people would REALLY start shrieking, and....

Yeah. I don't think I could maintain the level of concentration required to be a dancer. Not for that long, anyway.

I've also had this fantasy of playing in a rock band. I like the idea of putting my stories to music and performing them for people and watching them dance to my songs. I think it'd be fun to perform with other members of the band and let the music just fill me up.

But I have no musical talent whatsoever. Dogs howl when I start singing. And I can play a couple instruments, yet the only songs I can play without messing up are "Chopsticks" and "Hot Cross Buns". And those aren't exactly dance tunes.

The one dream I've had that's never changed (and probably never will) is to be a writer. Even if I never get published, I'm still going to keep writing, because I can't imagine a life without writing. It's the one goal in my life that I've never questioned. When I write, in a way I can live out my dreams because I can become any person I want to be, go wherever I want to go, and meet new and interesting people. I can create this whole other life for myself where I don't have the urge to yell at anyone in public because they were rude or inconsiderate, where I can find a way to address the problems that come up without feeling so lost and scared sometimes, and where I can just be happy.

How about you? When you think about the path that you're on right now, is there any path that you sometimes wish you could have taken instead?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Respect My Dry Cleaner

I've been going to the same dry cleaner ever since I moved into my neighborhood. Even though her rates are a little more expensive than the other dry cleaners' in the area, she always gets my clothes cleaned properly and doesn't leave them scattered around in stacks or piles. And even though I secretly believe that the amount of money I've spent on dry cleaning bills would probably be enough to buy new cars for my dry cleaner and every member of her extended family, nevertheless I keep going back to her because I respect her work ethic.

Even though she opens her business every day at seven A.M., I've seen her still working hours after her business has already closed. I'll see her carefully ironing someone's pants, or I'll see her head bent over her sewing machine as she mends someone's dress. I feel sorry for her that she has to work so hard. But I also respect the fact that she takes pride in her work, and is willing to put in as much time as possible. I think that that's why her business has succeeded in an economy where several businesses, including other dry cleaners, have shut down.

Contrast her with this guy I used to see at the library all the time when I was an undergrad. He would bring stacks of books with him, but I rarely saw him open any of them. Instead, he and his friends would talk about everything BUT school, and talked loudly as if they were making sure that everyone could hear about how awesome their lives were. Right. Bragging about how many coeds you tried (and failed) to grind dance with and about how you passed out after downing too many tequila shots and throwing up in the street makes you a REAL rock star. (Then again, maybe it does.)

I'd also see him looking around the room several times, because he was always looking for girls to flirt with. He never flirted with me, probably because he saw me shooting my "Be quiet or I will GET you" glare at him. What amazed me was that I once saw him holding an MCAT book. I always wondered if his lack of a work ethic prevented him from getting into med school. Or maybe he did somehow become a doctor, and then spent most nights talking with his fellow doctors about how he passed out after trying (and failing) to grind dance with female colleagues, drinking too many shots and throwing up in the street. Or maybe he would chat up his female patients and say something like this:

Lazy doctor: So, are you doing anything tonight?
Female patient: You mean before or AFTER the heart transplant you're supposed to perform on me?

That guy also makes me think of this other guy who was a member of this gym that I used to belong to. I saw him at the gym quite often, but I never saw him exercise. He would sit on one of the stationary bikes and then watch one of the TVs up on the wall, but he wouldn't actually pedal the bike. He'd just sit there, for up to an hour or more. I always wondered why he bothered to pay for a gym membership when he could just sit at home and watch TV. (And I also wondered how he always managed to smell like he'd been exercising for 13 hours straight when I never actually saw him exercise.) By not doing anything, he wasn't actually accomplishing anything, like building endurance, gaining strength and muscles, or losing weight. He was just wasting time.

These people made me think about the difference between the people who actually get work done and achieve things, and the ones who don't even try. It relates to writing because not only do you have to show up to write, you also have to actually write something. You can say that you want to write a book, but that's not the same thing as actually writing it.

It sounds obvious, but I must confess that sometimes I'll sit down at my computer to work on my novel and I'll end up watching Youtube videos of The Office bloopers or home movies of people's puppies instead. It's very easy to procrastinate, because it's so much easier not to write. But if I just sit at my desk every day without writing, then I'll never be a writer. And then I might as well not sit down at my desk at all.

If I'm not going to put in the effort to write, I could do other things, like start a letter-writing campaign to Bravo to stop making more Real Housewives spinoffs .(Seriously, are they going to have one with housewives from EVERY city in the U.S.? By showing all those episodes of rich "ladies" fighting with each other and spreading nasty gossip, are the show's producers trying to make the audience meaner? Or is acting like Satan's mistress the "in" thing to do now?)

Or I could train for a marathon so that I'd finally be able to run fast enough that I could laugh over my shoulder at all the people running behind me. I'd say, "Ha ha! Eat my dust, LOSERS! Why don't you run more SLOWLY, because you'll never beat me! Hahahaha!" And then, of course, at that moment I'd trip over a fire hydrant or something and fall flat on my face, and all the other runners would simply laugh and trample over me and sing songs about karma.

I read somewhere that writing isn't always productive, because you can write for hours and still not come up with a draft that you're satisfied with. But that great draft isn't necessarily going to be completed in one sitting. It could take several days, weeks, or months of writing before it gets done. The point is that you have to be willing to put in the time AND the effort to do it.

I'm not saying we should put in fifteen-hour days. But I think that if my dry cleaner did become a writer, she'd have a much better chance of succeeding than that Casanova wannabe (who had all the charm of a contestant on a reality dating show) from the library or the guy who'd rather watch TV than exercise (despite the fact that he could do both at the same time). It isn't just about talent. What's that phrase by Thomas Edison? "Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration." (Or is it 2% and 98%?) And I think he's right.

How do you motivate yourself to keep writing, even when it becomes challenging to produce something good? How do you keep yourself at your desk when you'd rather be doing something else (or nothing)?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Filling in the Blanks

Every semester, the question I am most likely to hear at least 237 times is "Can you just tell me what to write so that I can get an A?"

I'm always tempted to respond, "Do you want me to cut up your meat for you too?" or "Did you not hear me say no the first five times you asked me that? Be gone!"

Questions like that irritate me as much as statements like "You made a mistake with my grade. I know I stopped showing up to class for a month, but I deserve AT LEAST a B" and "Why should we care about this? When will we EVER use this?" and "I need to leave forty minutes early, but I won't be counted as absent, right?" (I am not making these statements up.)

Meanwhile, I'm thinking that maybe I should leave the classroom right now, because otherwise my evil alter ego will take over and I'll turn into Professor Screams-A-Lot.

On the one hand, I can understand why students are so focused on getting A's. Undergrads are under an incredible amount of pressure. If they don't maintain good GPAs, they could lose scholarships or financial aid. They need those A's to get internships and to get into grad school.

I could tell them exactly what to write. I could also pull a rabbit out of my textbook so that they'll stop falling asleep in my classes.

When students pressure me to "fix" their drafts, they're missing the point of writing. It's one thing for me to guide them through the process and show them how to write thesis statements, do research, and present both sides of the argument. But if they expect me to line-edit their papers and fix all their mistakes, then all that's left for them to do is fill in the blanks. It's like Mad Libs. The story is already written; all people have to do is put in a few words or phrases.

No writer would say to an agent or an editor, "Can you just tell me exactly what to write so that I can get published?" The agent and the editor would just throw the book at them. Literally.

It's fine and often necessary to get feedback from other people. They can help you see your writing from different perspectives. They can provide encouragement and constructive criticism. But they can't write the story for you, because ultimately, it's your story.

It's not just about getting an A or getting published. Writing is about freeing all those ideas and secrets you've kept locked up in your head and your heart. It's about rewriting, so that you can learn from your mistakes. It's about telling the world how you feel. But if you try to get other people to write the story for you, then it's not your story anymore.

That's why it bothers me so much when some of my students seem to care more about the grade then the writing. They end up not learning anything from the writing process. They don't get to tell their stories.

When you share your writing with other people, what kinds of questions do you ask them? What kind of feedback do you hope to get?

By the way, Guinevere is hosting a cool contest on her blog, This is Not My Day Job; all you have to do to enter is be a follower and leave a comment on her blog. You could win a great art print with a writing theme! For more info check out her blog. The deadline to enter is November 19.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When Did "Friend" Become a Verb?

Recently, the awesome KarenG of the blog Coming Down the Mountain: From Reclusive Writer to Published Author, wrote a post about her decision to leave Facebook.

I've been thinking about joining Facebook. It's not so I can reconnect with old friends or meet new people. I want to join Facebook for the coupons.

A lot of restaurants offer coupons to people through this site. But if you don't have an account, you can't get coupons. That's not fair! That's Facebook discrimination!

I'm also reluctant to put pictures of myself online. I'm not very photogenic. In almost every picture it looks like one of my eyes is winking and the other eye is opened extra wide, so it looks like I got a giant eye transplant. I also imagine people viewing my picture and asking themselves, "Why did she get plastic surgery to make her nose look bigger?" (On a side note, my pictures on my online dating profiles are probably why I only seemed to attract losers.)

If they have a "friend" list, why can't they have an "enemy" list too? I'd "enemy" several people with messages like, "Neurotic Workaholic wants to enemy you. And by 'enemy' she wants to make you cry yourself to sleep every night." (If they had an anti-social networking site, I'd probably sign up for it.) I'd also have a "Writers who rock" list, and possibly a "Guys I want to make out with" list.

And seeing as how I'm such a positive person, I'd have a "dislikes" list in addition to my "likes" list. It would say, "Neurotic Workaholic dislikes people who make excuses, people who blow cigarrette smoke in her face and make her go 'HAAACCCKKK', summers in Chicago because that's when the tourists come out and OH DEAR GOD it's going to be Christmas season soon and THEY WILL RETURN HELP HELP HELP, and decaf coffee, because what's the point of drinking coffee if you don't get wired enough to run around with your arms in the air while you babble a mile a minute?"

And I'd probably just lie on my Facebook updates too. I'd write something like, "Today I had lunch with the Mayor. He gave two thumbs up to my moving sidewalk idea so that I don't have to walk as much." Or "Nora Ephron wants to make a film version of my book and I haven't even written it yet." Or "Today I bought all the property on Michigan Avenue. It's hard to have so much money." That way, if anyone from high school did see my page, they'd think I was successful.

That's also why I didn't go to my high school reunion. I don't want to go back until I can arrive in a helicopter, like the class geek (played by the brilliant Alan Cumming) did in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.

But I'm not going to get a Facebook page anytime soon. I'd probably just get really addicted to it. (You may not have noticed, but I tend to be obsessive. About everything.) I started watching Jersey Shore one day and now I've seen every episode of Season 2. (Shut up.) My IQ has gone down at least fifty points, and my soul cries a little every time the show comes on. And yet I can't help watching. They're so stupid it's funny. And I'm not being mean. Just listen to them talk for five minutes. So it's probably better if I don't join Facebook for now. But I still want those coupons.

What's your opinion of Facebook? Why do you have/not have a page?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dancing in the Street

One thing I've noticed when I go to work in the morning is how glum people look. They look like they're about to get their cavities filled at the dentist's office, or like they just finished watching a Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon. No one talks to each other; they're just focused on getting to their destination.

Once a random guy passed me on the street and said, "Good morning!" I didn't respond but looked at him suspiciously. I thought, What's HIS problem?

Sometimes, though, I get the urge to dance along to the music I listen to on my iPod as I'm walking around outside. It reminds me of when I was a kid, and I used to skip along the sidewalk just because I felt like it. Do you ever feel that way? When you hear a Lady Gaga song, don't you also feel the urge to put on oddly shaped clothes and just start dancing? Because I do.

But I don't. There are a few people who dance along to the music on their iPods, but other people usually avert their gaze and cross the street to avoid them. But I think that people would be even just a little bit happier if they could just dance in the street when they felt like it.

Check out this scene from one of my favorite movies, 500 Days of Summer. I love this movie not just because of the great acting, but because the writing's even better. I believe that the love story is most people's favorite story, and I like this movie's story because it portrays love without all the cliches.

In this scene, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is dancing on his way to work, and everyone else starts dancing too. Okay, maybe he's dancing because he just got lucky (wink, wink), but still.

There are other things that I feel like doing, but I don't do. I do what I'm supposed to do instead. And yet I think it would make me feel better if I actually did them.

For example, there's this group of people who hang out at my favorite coffeehouse. They are there for hours every day. They treat the coffeehouse like it's their own living room, because they have no consideration for the other customers. They yell greetings to their friends entering the cafe; they raise their voices and argue with each other on a regular basis, and they take up several tables even if there are only a few of them there. I don't expect a coffeehouse to be quiet, but I would like to be able to sit and relax without feeling the urge to fling my coffee in their direction.

It wouldn't be such a big deal if this coffeehouse wasn't within walking distance to my apartment, so I have to go further away just to buy a cup of coffee. (And I can't make it at home, because I like iced coffee and I don't have a blender. Or ice. Or a coffee maker, for that matter.) I contacted management about these people; the manager gave me a coupon for a free drink and said he'd talk to the people in charge. But I still see them there.

Sometimes, I wish I could walk over to them, slam my hands down on their table, and yell, "SHUT UP! You are NOT the only ones here!" And then maybe I'd knock over their drinks or spit in them or something. But I don't.

I work every day, even on weekends. Even if I don't have to teach that day, I still have my graduate work to do, plus my job for a website. But occasionally, I feel the urge to play hooky and do something else. I think about going to a movie (I only see about two or three movies a year), so that I could enjoy the luxury of an empty theater in the middle of the day. I think about going to Shedd Aquarium and making fish faces at the fish to see if they'll recognize me as one of them. I think about spending the whole day writing. I think about letting myself stop so that I could just breathe, so that I could think about something besides work for once. But I don't.

What do you wish that you could do? If you don't do it, then what holds you back?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to Lose Followers and Alienate People

1. Write a post titled "The Top 100 Reasons Why I Am Better Than You".

2. Write a post titled "The Top 100 Reasons Why You Suck for Not Following Me."

3. Plagiarize entire passages and/or posts from other bloggers' writing, and "justify" it by saying, "They stole from me! I just didn't get the chance to write down MY ideas yet, so they must have read my mind or something. But I'm ON to them!"

4. Write reviews of shows like Jersey Shore and Rock of Love and explain why the cast members are our nation's "future".

5. Reveal all the secrets that were told to you in confidence by your friends and family, and say that they have no right to be mad at you because you are simply answering your calling as an "artist". And, if they never told you any secrets because they know that your mouth is the size of Soldier Field and you will blab everything to anyone with ears, then make stuff up, as long as it makes you look good.

6. Make sure that all your posts are about how great your life is, how everyone loves you, how you NEVER have ANY problems with writing EVER, how all the agents and publishers are beating down your door RIGHT NOW just because you're so awesome. That way, anyone reading your posts will roll their eyes and then run to find a place to throw up.

7. Host blog contests where the first prize is the pen you used when you wrote your first novel.

8. Write guest posts for other bloggers, and make sure that the titles of your guest posts say something like, "And here's why you should be reading my blog instead".

9. Instead of making people fill out that word verification box in order to leave a comment on your blog, make them sign over the rights to their first published novel, or make them guess what number between one and 1,546,287 that you're thinking of, or make them give up their blogs so that your blog won't have any competition.

10. Respond to everyone who leaves comments on your posts, and write them messages that say stuff like, "Yes, I know that I'm amazing, but the question is, do your friends know?"

11. Recognize your fellow bloggers by giving them awards with names like "Almost as Cool as Me" and "I GUESS his blog is ok".

12. Don't follow too many blogs, because it takes up too much time that otherwise would be spent admiring your reflection in the mirror, practicing your acceptance speech for the Pulitzer Prize, and writing ANOTHER 100 reasons why you are better than everyone else.

Feel free to add to this list....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Holding my tongue

I think that one advantage that kids have over adults is that they typically feel freer to say exactly what they're thinking. For example, you usually don't hear adults say stuff like, "You're mean! I hate you!" or "You look like the monster hiding under my bed!" or "Your voice is so weird that even Alvin and the Chipmunks would laugh at you!"

But most adults aren't like that. We don't always say what we think, because we don't want to hurt other people's feelings. Or maybe it's because we're afraid of what others will think of us. Once we say it out loud, we can't take it back.

Here are a few examples of things that I was thinking over the past few days and wished I could have said out loud, but I didn't.

To the guy who sat next to me on the train:
Me: Wow, it's really crowded today. Everyone on the train is squished together. I'm just going to move over to this other seat.

What I wanted to say: Looks like someone needs to trim his nosehairs. And by the way? Unless you want to get slapped with your own hand, you'll stop pressing your leg against mine.

To the neighbor who left three loads of laundry in three dryers for more than two hours after the loads were completed, thus preventing me from using any of them.
Me: I was wondering whose laundry that was. I've been waiting for a while to use the dryers, and I really need to get my own laundry done.

What I wanted to say: Do you want your laundry to be thrown out on the front lawn? Because it will happen if you do this again.

To the barista taking my drink order at Starbucks:
Me: I'll take a Frappuccino and a doughnut, please.

What I wanted to say: I really want two doughnuts, but I'm afraid that you and the customers will be silently judging me for eating too much. And then I'll never be able to come back to this Starbucks again and I'll start having nightmares of people throwing doughnuts at me.

To the female acquaintance showing me her new outfit:
Me: What a nice shirt! I think it looks great.

What I wanted to say: Richard Simmons called. He wants his shirt back.

To the cute guy standing behind me in line at the grocery store:
Me: (nothing)

What I wanted to say: I really wish I wasn't holding a copy of Cosmopolitan right now. You didn't, uh, read the headlines on it, did you? Because I'm just buying this for the, uh, fashion tips. I wish there was a way to discreetly turn to the article in here on how to talk to cute guys without making them think I have "issues".

To the guy talking to his friends as I was walking by:
Guy: And there are all these people doing Satan's bidding right here on Earth! (I swear I'm not making that line up.)

Me: (nothing)

What I wanted to say: Does watching the Jersey Shore count as doing Satan's bidding? Because if that's the case, then I'm definitely going to hell.

What about you? Is there anything that you wish you could say out loud?

The amazing writer and blogger Lisa Maliga's new book, Notes from Nadir, is now out on Kindle! Be sure to check it out. I've included's description of her book below:

Notes from Nadir is Lisa Maliga's fictionalized tale of discovering that the past is never quite through with you -- even if you think it is. She's a determined writer who leaves her Midwestern home to become a Hollywood screenwriter. After years of working a series of temp jobs and almost making it in Los Angeles, financial troubles force her return to the flyover country she's renamed Nadir.

Lisa moves in with her ailing Mom, tries to find work, meets her relatives, and attempts to adapt to a much smaller city filled with memories of her younger, more hopeful self.

If noon is Zenith then Nadir is 6:30. And it was 6:29 and counting down. Way down.

For more information on Lisa's book and how to access it through Kindle, check out her blog.

Also check out Theresa Milstein's Halloween Haunting, where you'll get the chance to win a free book, read new blogs, and get new followers!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Surviving Grad School

I have had more than one student who confided in me about his or her goal of going to graduate school. A few of them have said, "I want to be a professor. Do you have any advice you could give me?"

I try to be as honest as possible without totally crushing their dreams with an emotional sledgehammer. I tell them that the number of people with Ph.D.'s far outnumber the tenure-track and full-time teaching positions that are available. I say that you could spend years working on your degree without any guarantee of a steady job. I say that you can learn a lot in graduate school and gain some interesting experiences, but that graduate school is much more like a job.

But what I really want to say is this:

RUN AWAY! Put down those graduate school brochures and run away as fast as you can! Unless you want to prematurely age, lose the ability to sleep, and have nightmares about Judith Butler and Edward Said threatening to ban you forever from the Academic Hall of Fame because you don't include twenty footnotes per paragraph in your own writing, RUN AWAY AND DON'T LOOK BACK!

Have you ever made a decision that made you question whether it was the right one? Have you ever felt like you've gone so far that it's too late to go back, even though you sometimes wish you could? I have had valuable experiences that I never would have had if I hadn't gone to graduate school. I got to learn from really great professors who inspired me. I worked with several great undergrads who changed my perspective of teaching. I developed new research interests in fields that I used to know nothing about.

But graduate school can be one of the most mind-numbing experiences you will ever have. You may think I'm exaggerating, but you'll think again the next time you see a graduate student. You'll be able to recognize one by the bloodshot eyes, haggard appearance, and the way he or she clings to your ankles, sobbing, "Don't look at me! Oh, what have I become? I used to be human, but now I can only talk in theoretical terms! I constantly correct other people's grammar to the point that they want to jab dictionaries down my throat, and I keep asking myself, 'What would Derrida do?'"

But no matter what I say, there will always be people who persist in their dream of going to grad school anyway. So for those people, I have these words of advice:

1. Don't go to grad school for the wrong reasons. I think that some people go to grad school because they want to put off the "real world" for a few years. They figure they can go to grad school and prolong the college experience for a while, at least until they figure out what their next step is. But here's the thing:

Grad school is NOTHING like the college experience. And you won't be able to avoid the real world, because it is very much a part of the real world. There is no partying. There are get-togethers, but they're not really parties so much as academic showdowns where the main form of entertainment is a game that I like to call "I'm smarter than you are so you should just drop out now, you philistine, you!"

Even during their free time, grad students talk about their work. They talk about the research papers they're working on, their professors, and how they've had to grade so many papers that the sight of a comma splice now makes them cry.

If you do pursue an advanced degree, you should do it because it's what you really want to do and because you know that it will help you in your future career. It's also hard to transfer or drop out of a grad program; it's kind of like trying to leave the Mafia. Even if you leave, you will be permanently marked by the experience, usually in the form of a scholar's name that has been branded onto your skull.

2. Learn to live on a limited income. Grad school is not cheap. If you're lucky, you can get a research assistantship or a teaching assistantship, which usually means that you'll get a tuition waiver and a stipend. A stipend is something that looks like a paycheck but will usually only be enough to buy you pencils to stab yourself with, and maybe a new notebook. You'll probably have to take out a loan to get textbooks.

Even with the waiver and the stipend, it isn't enough to live on. I thought I could just get a second teaching job or a weekend retail job, and I'd be able to make ends meet. And I did...just barely. But I ended up being forced to sacrifice a lot of time that should have been devoted to my graduate work.

I'd be exhausted every night and fall asleep at six P.M., wake up at 10 P.M., and then decide I was too tired to eat dinner; then I'd go back to sleep for the rest of the night. Or I'd try to go to sleep but end up being so tense that I couldn't relax, so that I ended up watching a lot of sunrises. I used to look out the window at the sun rising, and say to myself, "That is beautiful. Now if only I could keep my head from exploding."

No matter how hard I worked, I barely earned enough money to pay the bills, while my friends and former classmates were taking vacations and buying houses. I wore the same clothes and shoes over and over again, and didn't buy new ones unless there were holes in them that were beyond repair. I dreamed of the day when I'd be able to go to Starbucks without carefully calculating what I could afford to buy and how it would affect my budget; I'm still dreaming.

3. Be prepared to work independently, and be prepared to work hard. There is no one holding your hand. You may be lucky enough to get some sympathetic professors who will guide you, but professors are busy and can't always be available to help you (like some of my students expect me to be).

I have lost more than one friend because I spent so much time on my work. I've forgotten birthdays, cancelled outings, and turned down dinner invitations. Even when I went out with friends, I was thinking about all the work I had to do.

It's not enough for me to just have teaching experience and get good grades; it's already expected that I have those things. I'm also supposed to distinguish myself in grad school by coming up with ideas that other people haven't thought of before. But most of the time, I'm just trying to stay afloat.

When I think back of the years that I spent working on my master's degree, and then later on my doctorate, I think of many nights spent huddled over my desk with my laptop open and stacks of books in front of me, while I listened to groups of people my age walk by outside, laughing and joking as they went out to the bars and restaurants. And I kept working, because that was what I was supposed to. I've managed to survive grad school (so far), but I've had to give up a lot. Hopefully, one day it'll eventually pay off.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Keeping Secrets

Have you ever heard of PostSecret? This guy named Frank Warren started a blog where people sent him postcards that they designed themselves with messages that revealed their secrets.

I've never sent in a postcard of my own, though I have thought about it. I do reveal a lot about my life in this blog, but there are several things that I never talk about. It does raise the question of what you're comfortable revealing about yourself to other people, and how much is too much. And there's also the fear of being judged, as if people will laugh at you and say, "I NEVER think anything like that! FREAK!"

But I do have a few secrets. Hopefully you won't think less of me once you know what they are.

Sometimes I wish that all undergrads would get abducted by aliens so that I'd never have to teach again. (No offense to the readers of my blog who are college students.)


I'm scared that I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life.


When I worked in retail, I wanted to tell all of the rude customers, "GET OUT! Do NOT come again!"

I've been in grad school for years. And I still have no idea what I'm doing.

I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life as a college professor. But there are some days where I hate teaching.


I never had the urge to yell at anyone in public until I moved to Chicago.

I think that going to bars is about as much fun as getting my wisdom teeth pulled without anesthesia.

 I wish I could drive out into the open road and never come back.

So those are just a few of my secrets (though some of them might be too long to put on a postcard). I have other secrets, of course, but I'll only reveal them if I'm under oath. Or if I was given a lifetime supply of free Frappuccinos and M&Ms.

What about you? Have you ever thought about sending a postcard to PostSecret? Do you worry that someone you know might recognize your secret?