Monday, May 31, 2010


In many of the how-to-write fiction/nonfiction books that I love to read, one writing prompt  that a lot of them seem to agree on is the idea of eavesdropping on other people's conversations. So lately I've been trying it out; rather than listening to my iPod all the time as I walk around, I listen to bits and pieces of other people's conversations. (It's not always by choice, though, since some people talk really loudly and apparently are not self-conscious of the fact that other people--like nosy writers--can hear them.)

Later I write down what I hear, because who knows? Some of those bits and pieces could be put together for an interesting story.

Here are a few examples of some of the things that I've heard, as well as what my mental reactions to them were:

Outside my bedroom window at 2 A.M., an angry girl is talking on her cell phone, screaming and crying:

Angry cell phone girl: Just tell me, WHY? WHY? How could you do that to me?
Me: I dunno, but could you take your whys down the street so I can go back to sleep?

On the train, a guy sitting behind me is talking on his cell phone, upset because he is low on cash and is afraid he will get evicted. So he calls everyone in his family for help:

Broke guy: Mom, I don't WANT to ask Dad for help. You know how he can be. But what am I gonna do? The landlady says I only have five days....okay...yeah, but he's such a JERK....okay, FINE. I'll call him.

Broke guy then calls up his father: "Dad? What are you doing?" He then proceeds to detail his money problems to his father, who promises to wire him cash for food. A few minutes later Broke Guy ends the call and then says, "DRUNK."
Me: I guess he won't be buying him a Father's Day gift this year.

On the street, two guys are walking right behind me:
Guy #1: My only problem with her is that she never showers. Even when she gets out of drag she only washes off her makeup!
Guy #2: Maybe she showers when you're sleeping.
Guy #1: No, she totally doesn't!
Me: Must walk faster so they don't hear me giggle. Must walk faster so they don't hear me giggle.

On a subway platform, two young subway performers, who are each carrying guitar cases, are flirting:

Male subway performer: I could spend hours listening to Mariah Carey.
Me: Yeah, right.
MSP: She's so much better than people like Britney Spears.
Me: Do not criticize the Britney!
Female subway performer: (smiles) Haha. Anyway, it was nice talking to you, but I have to go...
Me: Are you going to ask her for her phone number? Because I think she's interested in you.
MSP: Well, I hope to see you later.
FSP (walking away): I'll be performing later!

The conversation between the two subway performers got me thinking. Did they ever meet again? Did the male subway performer wait all day, hoping that the girl he liked would show up again? Did he start composing a song about her in the hopes that she would hear it?

And just like that, I started getting an idea for a story...

What about you? Do you ever eavesdrop on other people's conversations, and then become inspired to write a story? It's one of the reasons I love Chicago; there's always something interesting to write about.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I'm Older Than I Look

"How old are you?"

"I'm too old to have a quarterlife crisis and too young to have a midlife crisis."

"I'm too old to audition for the cast of The Real World but I could audition for the cast of The Real Housewives." (FYI: I would never audition for either cast, because watching either show makes me want to bitch-slap almost every member of each cast. The Real World just isn't as good now as it was in the 90s.)

I turned 29 last month. This blog was a birthday present to myself.

I wasn't going to reveal how old I was at first. Ever since I started teaching college students at the age of twenty-three, I've felt self-conscious about my age. Many people want to look and be perceived as younger. I want to be perceived as older.

I've always looked young for my age. (The one exception is that I do have a few white hairs, which appeared the first semester I started teaching. Coincidence?) Probably when I get older, I'll view that as a good thing, because it means I won't have to get plastic surgery until later. Although I'm kind of afraid that if I do try to get work done on any part of my body, I might wake up during surgery and start flailing around in panic while the surgeons are still working on me.

My age has been an issue for me as a college instructor because sometimes I worry that my students don't take me as seriously as they do their older professors. Many of my students automatically assume that it's okay to address me by my first name, yet they'll typically address their older professors by their surnames. I had one student who was more than twenty years older than me; he wouldn't even address me by my first name. He'd just say, "Instructor! I have a question."

I've also had a few students who openly challenged me because of my age. I didn't reveal how old I was, but they guessed it on their own. They didn't like that I wasn't that much older than them (or in some cases, that I was a lot younger than them) and that I had authority over them in terms of their grades and what kinds of homework assignments to give them.

The first time I was humiliated in class by one of these students, I nearly broke down. I wanted to cry but I didn't. But everyone in the class could tell that I was close to tears. After class ended, I went back to the adjuncts' office and burst into tears because I was so overwhelmed. I felt like I'd lost control over my class; even if I hadn't revealed my age to them, I felt like that student had proved that I was too young for this job. I was consoled by one of the veteran instructors, who had been teaching college students and high school students for decades. He encouraged me to not let it get to me and to keep teaching.

Five years and more than thirty classes later, I'm definitely a lot tougher than I was when I first started teaching. And I feel older, too, because now that I've been on the other side of the desk as a teacher rather than as a student, my whole perspective of school has changed. Now I have to be the "adult" and not let anyone try to undermine my authority. I have to stay in control and enforce the rules without being a dictator. And in many ways, I have learned to do that successfully. But I still have a lot to learn. That's one of the things I like about teaching; it's an ongoing learning process.

I've also felt self-conscious about my age because when I was an undergrad, I thought I'd be done with school by the age of 29. I thought I'd have a full-time job and that I'd be financially secure.

Other people my age are married or are in relationships, raising families, making thousands of dollars more than I am, and buying houses and cars. I've spent most of my twenties pursuing a master's degree and now a Ph.D., teaching college students and high school students, and working a bunch of part-time jobs to support myself because I learned the hard way that untenured instructors and teaching assistants are woefully underpaid. I pay rent on an apartment and take the train and bus to work.

But in many ways I don't regret the professional choices that I've made. I never would have had all the experiences I've had if I hadn't decided to become a teacher. I never would have met all of the good students who inspire me to keep teaching, and I never would have had a chance to learn from the challenging students on what I can do better or differently. I never would have met all the professors who inspired me to follow their examples and become a scholar and a mentor.

Besides, I think that at least a third of the people currently following/reading this blog already know how old I am. If you look at my sidebar on this blog, you'll see that I'm a member of 20 Something Bloggers, which is this awesome online community of bloggers in their twenties. And even though I still won't reveal my age to my students, I might as well reveal it here. Besides, even if you aren't a member of 20sb, you might have guessed how old I am by my references to Britney Spears (who rocks, by the way, and nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise).

By the way, I created a separate e-mail account for this blog, so even though I definitely love getting comments from people, you can also e-mail me at Although if anyone e-mails me anything dirty/offensive/scary, I will create a separate page on this blog for those e-mails and title it "People Who Freak Me Out."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Read Between the Adjectives

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've decided to try online dating again. I am in the process of setting up my profile on a new site. I won't say which one it is, except to say that it rhymes with weharmony, as in "we will bombard your inbox with 75 e-mails in two weeks (I am not exaggerating the number)" and "we will not tell you which profiles are active; we'll just let you pay a bunch of money first before you realize that at least a third of the matches we send you are inactive hahahahahahaha SUCKER".

This site is definitely pricier than the other ones, but I already tried a free dating site last year, aka I also tried the less expensive Match(Me with a bunch of stalkers who will repeatedly e-mail me even after I ignored their first wink and e-mail until my blocked users list is longer than my potential matches list).com.

From my experience with the other two sites, people generally get matched with each other by keywords in their profile. We're supposed to use a bunch of adjectives to describe ourselves, which is hard because I try to avoid too many adjectives in my own writing. For example, one of the things I always liked about Sandra Cisneros, one of my favorite authors, was that rather than using a bunch of adjectives, she uses all these great similes and metaphors that make what she's describing that much more vivid.

So here goes:
My friends would describe me as:

Hard-working (It's highly likely that I will cancel dates if I have too much work to do. Or if there's a Law and Order marathon.)

Respectful (I sometimes yell at strangers in public if they touch me inappropriately/blast their music too loud/try to run over me with their car; it's called a WALK sign, not a honk-curse-barrel-through-pedestrians sign, jerks, so SLOW DOWN or I WILL yell at you)

Creative (If the date isn't going well or you aren't who you said you were, I will think of 35 excuses to end the date early.)

Ambitious (My ambition is to become a professor, so if I find a tenure-track job at a great school in College Town, USA and you aren't willing to relocate, I will probably dump you.)

I've been matched with a bunch of "ambitious" guys, and as far as the guys are concerned, that could mean anything:

My ambition is to stop using my parents like an ATM by the time I'm 40.

My ambition is to eat 100 jellybeans in one minute.

My ambition is to go one month without showering.

I'm thinking that complete honesty probably isn't the best policy. I don't lie in my profile, but sometimes I'm tempted to write about how neurotic I truly am just to see what kind of response I get. I'm also thinking that "Neurotic Workaholic" may be a funny blogging pseudonym, but probably won't get me as many laughs if I put that as my online dating screenname. I could also try "Little Miss Freaks-Out-a-Lot" but I doubt that will work. So for this site I'm just using my first name.

What do you think of online dating profiles? Even if you've never tried online dating, do you think it's possible to get a good sense of who a person is (and figure out whether or not you want to e-mail that person) by reading his/her profile? My opinion is that you can actually find out a lot about a person by what he writes (and doesn't write).

Check out this funny video about online dating; it "translates" the things that guys put in their profiles: .

I'm off to buy a thesaurus. What's another word for "judgmental pessimist"?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Other People's Writing

In my first blog post, I wrote about a fiction writing class that I took in college. Everyone (including me) praised this one student's story, and it really was pretty good. But a few months later, I read a book by a popular author, and one of the scenes in that book was very similar to that student's story. A few of the details had been changed, but there were way too many similarities for it to be a coincidence.

In college I read an issue of the school literary magazine and found a short story with a passage in it that was very similar to a passage from a famous book that had been published several decades ago; it actually had the same phrasing.

I know that as writers it's natural to be influenced by other writers. But where do you draw the line between being influenced by someone else and admiring that person's work to actually using that person's writing?

Last Saturday I participated in an online discussion forum. The main question in the forum was, "When life gives you lemons, what do you do?" I posted this response: "Re-gift them to someone else."

But then someone else posted a reply to my response, saying that she thought it was funny and that she was going to use it as her blog slogan. I know that she didn't mean any harm. I know that she just liked the line and wanted to use it in her blog; it was a compliment, right?

The truth is, it bothered me. It's one thing if she was going to post my line and attribute the quote to me; it's another thing if other people think that she came up with it. I imagined myself huddled over my laptop and clutching my notebooks, snapping my teeth at anyone who dared to come near me as I snarled, "These are MY words! Mine! And if I can't entertain people with my writing, NO ONE can! Bwah-hahahahaha!"

So I sent a note to that person who wanted to use my line as her blog slogan. I was polite about it; I just said that I wanted to use the line in my blog. And she was very nice and gracious about it. She said that since I came up with the line that I had the right to it. So it wasn't anything too dramatic. And I'm sure she didn't mean anything bad by wanting to use my line in the first place.

I've been checking out other blogs, and I've noticed that a few people posted short messages on their blogs; they make statements that all the writing on their blogs is theirs and other people must get permission before using it. I've thought about posting a similar message on my blog, but I don't want people to think that I think they're going to take my writing. At the same time, though, I am protective of my writing, even if I haven't been published yet. My writing and my ideas come from my mind, my imagination, and I don't think it's a bad thing to want credit for the stuff that I come up with.

If someone actually did take my writing, I'm not sure what I'd do. Maybe I could send out a curse that would give that person writer's block for the rest of his/her life, or better yet, maybe I'd curse that person to write nothing but cliches. Or I could make a little writer voodoo doll and stick pens in it, but I don't think that would work.

On the other hand, maybe I'm not thinking about this in the right way, if there is a right way of thinking about it. I think I accidentally swallowed a small piece of the aluminum foil that I heated some frozen pizza on yesterday, so I feel like it might have affected my brain.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thank You for Not Singing in My Ear

I'm standing on the platform waiting for the train, but it hasn't shown up yet. At least three trains going in the opposite direction show up within minutes of each other. By the time my train finally does show up, the platform is completely full. The train operator advises people to make way for the passengers leaving the train, but some people ignore the advice and push and shove their way inside. Yes, that's the right thing to do. Don't wait ten seconds to let other people get off the train before you board it, because OF COURSE the operator is going to suddenly make the train go ZOOM and you'll be clinging to the half-open doors because you didn't get on the train quickly enough. And then you'll be stuck clinging to those doors for dear life while you scream "AAAHHHH!!!" while the other passengers sit blithely in their seats and ignore you, all because you didn't shove a pregnant woman out of the way or cut in front of someone else in order to get onto the train first.

I step onto the train and look around for an empty seat. I see a woman sitting on the aisle seat, and apparently her bookbag needs its own window seat. I ask her politely, "Can I sit there?" She pretends not to to hear me and looks straight ahead until I ask her again and point to the seat beside her. She rolls her eyes at me and takes her bag off the seat. She moves her legs to the side but doesn't bother to stand up so that I can get into the seat. I am tempted to let my purse "accidentally" hit her in the face, but I don't.

The train moves along quietly for a while, and everyone looks tired and grim because it's 8 A.M. and they're headed to work. Everyone except for one guy sitting behind me, who has opened his laptop and decided he is too cool for headphones. He turns up the volume on his computer and starts blasting a pop song that I don't recognize. He has to make sure that we all love it as much as he does, so he starts singing along. But he only knows one line, and sings "Na na na" when the band sings the other lines that he doesn't know.

"I just want to feel you up," he sings. "Na na na na na. I just want to feel you up, woo hoo, oh yeah. Na na na na na na."

This time I roll my eyes and glare in his direction, but the singing guy is oblivious. He starts singing louder as the next song on his computer comes on. And again, he apparently only knows one line, so he treats us to another rendition of "Na na na na na na." Yes, keep singing. In fact, why don't we all sing along? Why don't we all just join hands and sing so loudly that we drown out Singing Guy? No? Guess we're stuck, then.

The woman sitting next to me leaves the train two stops later, and a guy in a business suit takes her place. I'm trying to concentrate on my book, when I feel the guy's leg brush against mine. I move my body away so that we're not touching each other, but his leg keeps bumping into mine. And then his head starts drooping forward, almost like he's trying to look down my blouse. What the hell? Get AWAY from me, you perv. I start to say this out loud to him, but when I look at him I realize that his head is drooping because he's fallen asleep. His head is about two inches away from my shoulder. Would it be rude to wake him up? It's a wonder that he's able to sleep through Singing Guy's off-key sing-a-long.

I look over at a guy sitting across the aisle and notice that he's eating pancakes out of a fast food container. When he's had his fill, he shoves the open container with the half-eaten pancakes under the seat in front of him. Yes. It isn't enough that the train already reeks of urine and body odor; let's just let the food go bad instead of throwing it away. That just makes me want to go out and eat pancakes too. Mmm.

A woman in the back of the train starts screaming. A few of us glance over at her, but most people keep their eyes averted because they don't want to get involved. Is she hurt? What happened?

Apparently nothing. She's staring up at the list of train stops and keeps screaming as she points to each one. "Aaahh! Aaah! Aaah!"

At the next stop, the train operator warns passengers not to hold the automatic doors open. Of course, a group of kids running down the stairs towards the platform yell out, "Hold the door!" Two of them get to the train first and hold the door open for the rest of their laughing friends, who dance a little in front of the train before getting on. Yes, it's SO MUCH FUN to watch you damage the door by holding it open like that. We all want to be delayed because of you. Look around at all the sour faces. We're just THRILLED that you're doing that.

Sure enough, by the next stop the train doesn't start moving again once all the passengers have gotten on, because the jerks who held open the door really did damage it; now it keeps opening and closing. The operator actually has to leave his station and go down the train to fix it, and everyone groans when they hear the disembodied voice announce that the train is being delayed because of technical difficulties. I feel sorry for the operator, whose voice is getting more and more irritated over the loudspeaker as he reminds people not to hold the door open.

I try to ignore everything that's going on around me, and I concentrate on my book instead. And it works a little too well. The story pulls me in so completely that at the end of the chapter I look out the window in confusion. Why am I seeing signs  in Chinese? Oh, NO! I'm in Chinatown! The train passed my stop several pages ago!

I blame the Singing Guy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Secret Writing Life

Most people in my life don't know that I want to be a writer. Only three close friends know that I keep a blog; I haven't told my parents about it, or my students. I haven't told any of the other graduate students in my program about it. Although there are several people who are studying creative writing in my graduate program, I am not one of them.

I don't tell a lot of people about my blog, because if a lot of people I know are reading it, I'd feel pressured to write in a way that wouldn't offend them. I also probably wouldn't write about how I unintentionally embarrass myself on a regular basis, because I want people to think that I'm in control of my life and not the type of person who would literally walk into a newspaper dispenser and bruise her leg because she was distracted by an extra large chocolate chip cookie that someone nearby was eating. (That did happen recently. That cookie looked REALLY good.)

I don't tell people about the stories I'm working on, because then they'll ask to read them, or they'll ask if I've published anything. And I don't want people in my life to know about my writing until I actually do publish something; I feel like even if they don't like my stories, at least I'll have that validation from being published and the knowledge that maybe there is someone out there reading what I have to say and actually liking it.

Last night I went to a one-night writing workshop at StoryStudio, which is one of my favorite places in Chicago. StoryStudio Chicago is a wonderful place that offers great writing classes on several topics, like memoirs, short stories, novels, and how to market your writing. I've also attended two of their Write-A-Thons, where I paid $12 for the privilege of spending the day writing at StoryStudio. I could've written at home for free, but I loved writing in the company of other writers (and all the great food and drinks were perks too) for hours; both times I went to the Write-A-Thons I ended up getting several pages of writing done.

Once I save up enough money, I'm going to take one of their writing workshops, which usually run for a few weeks or a couple months, depending on what the topic is. In the meantime, I satisfy myself with their one-night workshops, which usually cost $40 or $35 each (members get a $5 discount). The one-night workshops were what first attracted me to StoryStudio, because I'd done a Google search for cool writing classes. Before I discovered StoryStudio, I was afraid that if I signed up for a class that I didn't like, I'd just end up thinking of all the other things I could have spent my money on. But I have loved all the classes I've taken at StoryStudio: Just Get Me Started (which was a night of writing prompts and exercises to get us in the writing mood), Quickies (flash fiction), and Life Writing.

The class I took last night was called "Digging into Character" and taught by Stephanie Kuehnert, who's published the YA novels Ballads of Suburbia and I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. I almost didn't go to the class, even though I had already paid for it. I was having a rough week, and it was only Tuesday. I was stressed out about teaching and writing my dissertation; I had this bad headache that wouldn't go away; there were several unexpected (but necessary) expenses this month that I had to create a budget for. But the biggest reason was that I was a little scared about going to the class.

Even though I've been working on my novel for a while now, I haven't showed it to anyone. I do want people to read it, but only after it's revised and polished. What if people in the class didn't like my characters? What if they got bored during my descriptions of my characters, or pretended to like them, only to make fun of them once I was out of earshot? What if the teacher tore apart my ideas, causing me to flee from the classroom, never to return to StoryStudio again? What if this thing I had been working on all these months really wasn't as good as I thought it might be, and I had just been wasting my time?

Despite my reservations, I went to the class. I knew that we'd be writing short character sketches, and I figured that I could get some help for developing some of the characters in my first novel. Like all the other classes I've taken at StoryStudio, I loved it. Stephanie told us about her writing process, and how she creates note cards for each character with little tidbits of information about each person. She also had us make lists of certain unique characteristics that defined our characters, like what their greatest fears and motivations were, and what their most significant relationships were like. It was good to hear about the things that other people came up with.

She also had us each write a scene that included a "defining moment" for a particular character that would let the reader know something about what was at stake for that character. She had us close our notebooks for a moment and picture the scene in our minds; she told us to focus on specific objects, gestures, sounds, and smells in that scene. I did what she told us to do, and in my mind I could actually see and hear what was going on; I got to step into this world that I'd created.

Then we each read excerpts of our scenes to the class, and I almost didn't want to. But even though I was nervous, I wanted to introduce two of my most important characters to the class. I kept my eyes on my notebook as I read so that I wouldn't have to see anyone's reaction, but when I looked up I saw Stephanie's encouraging smile and heard her praise my scene. And it made me feel good, and it made me realize at that moment that my headache was gone. And I kept listening to the instructor teach us about writing, and I listened to the other students read from their own writing. I wasn't watching the clock or thinking about all the other work that was waiting for me at home. For once I was just living in the moment and feeling happy about what I was doing.

And I'm glad that I finally let two of my characters out into the world and let other people know them. I do want people to know my characters eventually, after all, and it made me realize that my characters don't necessarily have to be perfect before I let other people "meet" them. Going to writing classes like the ones at StoryStudio and being around other writers always inspire me to keep writing, even if publication is still years away; that's if publication ever happens at all for me. But in the meantime, I'm going to keep writing. And I'm definitely going back to StoryStudio in the future.

When I got out of the class my mother called, wanting to know why my cell phone had been turned off. I told her that I went to a reading, which was at least half-true. But eventually, when I'm ready, I will tell the other people I know about my secret writing life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Nonflirt

In high school, I was voted Most Likely to Become a Nun. (Side note: I was also voted Worst Driver, which was totally unfair because I was one of the only ones of those yahoos who never got so much as a speeding ticket in high school. Ok, technically I did park in the no-parking zone once, but that was on my first day as a licensed driver! And besides, I didn't even get into my first fender-bender until AFTER I graduated! Sheesh.)

Even in high school I was a total workaholic. In the mornings, while most of the other students sat in front of their lockers flirting or gossiping, I'd be buried in my books, reviewing my notes or double-checking my homework to make sure I did it right. Back then I was so focused on getting into a good college and getting out of my small town, which I loved because it was home, but which I still wanted to leave for someplace different and more exciting.

An old friend from high school once told me that I was a "nonflirt". Years later, a guy friend told me that I gave off an unapproachable/disinterested vibe, and he's gay; I figured that if a gay guy could tell I was a nonflirt, then straight guys would probably be able to tell too.

Here's the thing: I hate flirting. I don't condemn anyone who does flirt, because if it works for them, why not? But I'm not very good at it, and I have tried it a few times and failed miserably at it. I don't even like it when guys flirt with me, especially when they're obvious about it. And it gets even worse when the flirting turns into full-on harassment.

I spent three years living in a neighborhood that I hated because I used to get harassed by random guys on the street almost every day. Once I was trying to go into the grocery store, and some guy blocked my way and started yelling at me, babbling about what he wanted to do to me. And I thought, Man, I'm just here to buy Froot Loops, ok?

A few months ago I was waiting for a train and a guy came up to me, staring admiringly at my shoes. "Wow, those are great shoes," he said. "Where'd you get them?"

I didn't answer at first, because with some people in Chicago, if you respond to them, they may or may not talk your ear off for the next half hour. Finally I told him where I bought my shoes, and he just kept saying "Wow" and complimenting me on my footwear. I thought that he a) may have had a weird foot fetish, especially since he spent more time staring at my shoes than at my face; b) was genuinely interested in women's footwear because he had his own special collection at home; c) was just trying to make conversation. Either way, his attempts to talk were lost on me. It made me think of this other guy who once complimented me on my shoes; he was a guy that my parents once tried to set me up with, only he turned out to be gay.

When I worked as a bookseller, there was this coworker who kept hitting on me, despite the fact that I made it clear that I wasn't interested in him. Once I was ringing up a customer's purchase and Creepy Coworker came up behind me and literally whispered in my ear, saying, "Boo." He's lucky I didn't knock him over the head with a stack of books. I would have, too, but there were too many witnesses around. He also kept saying stuff like, "I'll only help you with that if you smile for me." I mean, really? I HATE when guys tell me to smile. It's like, if I don't WANT to smile, I'm not GOING to smile. It's one of my biggest pet peeves, right up there along with people who tell me to relax. Hello? I'm a neurotic workaholic; even when I sleep I dream about work.

I was browsing in a bookstore a few months ago, and this one guy came up to me and asked me to recommend a book. I said that I didn't work there, and I looked pointedly at the booksellers standing nearby. But he wouldn't leave me alone, so finally I went into my former bookseller mode and showed him the bestsellers. I also pointed him towards the sci-fi section (guys like sci-fi, right? I dunno; I was just trying to avoid my impulse to knock him over the head with a stack of books). And then I quickly walked off before he could ask for my phone number.

You know what I do like? When guys talk to me without trying to put on an act or without using cheesy pick-up lines. When they talk to me like a potential friend, because I think it really is true that the best relationships can start from friendships. When they have a sense of humor and can make me laugh without trying too hard. And it's nice because with those types of guys, especially if you like them, you don't even have to flirt because you get a thrill just by being near them, and it isn't that hard to tell if they feel the same way, even if they're not flirting.

What about you? Any funny flirtation stories? Or do you get turned off by flirting as much as I do?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Back to the Dating Board

If I try online dating again, maybe I could be in a commercial and challenge one of those blissful couples to a literary trivia contest. (Hah! I would totally beat them.)

If I try online dating again, maybe I'll meet someone I could actually be with.

Or maybe I'll spend hours reading through profiles where people praise themselves in 500 words or less, read e-mails from guys whose word choice freaks me out, and then go on a series of bad dates that will subsequently make me swear off dating altogether and adopt a bunch of cats.

Except then I might die, because I'm allergic to cats. (Nothing against all you cat lovers out there, it's just that in addition to being allergic to cats, I'm also terrified of them. They can sense it too, because I've been scratched by almost every single one I've ever come across. Maybe they sense that I'm more of a dog person. Or maybe they truly are diabolical creatures who are plotting to claw me to death when their owners aren't looking.)

Last year I tried online dating for the first time. I wasn't even looking for my future boyfriend at that point; I just wanted to meet new people and go on dates. And I figured that if anything more were to happen (i.e., a relationship that would allow me to become one half of one of those happy couples), then great. If not, at the very least it'd be a good learning experience.

I ended up going on dates with several guys. I won't go into too much detail on what the dates were like, but let's just say that when I finally deleted my profile, I was relieved. After about six months of online dating, I decided to take a break so that I could study for my preliminary exam because the whole dating scene was just too time-consuming. And it felt good to be focused on my work again, because at least as a teacher and as a graduate student I never had to worry about getting an e-mail from some guy whose profile had the word "sex" on it at least fifteen times and contained a picture revealing nothing but his bare chest (and not even his face, either).

I don't regret doing online dating, because in a way I did get what I wanted; I did get to meet new guys and go on dates. But I think the worst part of online dating was the e-mails I'd get from creeps. The guys I did go out with weren't so weird (at least not in their e-mails), but it got to the point where I wasn't even excited anymore to get an e-mail from a new guy; I'd just brace myself before opening it because I knew I probably wouldn't be pleased with what I read. 

Several guys sent e-mails that only contained one line, which included their phone number. My strategy was generally to exchange at least three or four e-mails with a guy before we set up a date, so that we could at least write to each other for a couple weeks and find out more about each other before deciding to meet in person. It wasn't like we wrote long letters to each other, but I figured it was good to at least find out a little bit more about the guy before the actual date.

But some guys were way too eager to meet right away. One guy sent an e-mail with no information about himself other than his phone number (and his profile didn't have much info in it either, another red flag). When I didn't respond to his invitation to call him, he sent another e-mail a few hours later that read: OR STAY SINGLE FOREVER.

I mean, really? Whenever I think of e-mails like that it makes me reluctant to try online dating again. If any of you tried online dating, did you ever get bad e-mails like that, or am I just cursed?  I know that not all guys are like that. And one of the guys I met actually did win me over with his words, though unfortunately, he turned out to be better at writing interesting e-mails than making conversation in person. Even though I passed my prelims, my work schedule is still as busy as ever (it always is). But I figure I should give online dating at least one more try; this time I'll try a different site.

And then maybe I could challenge one of those couples from those online dating commercials to an arm-wrestling competition. I probably wouldn't win, but maybe I could distract them by reciting the slogans from the commercials.

Check out this hilarious video from College Humor; it's called "Web Site Story" and is a parody of West Side Story. It pokes fun at online dating and it also jokes about how everyone is online all the time.
Youtube won't let me embed the video in this post, but here's the link: Web Site Story.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Step Away from the Door!

In my first years as a teacher, at least once a semester there would be a full-time, more experienced professor who would come into one of my classes and observe the way that I taught my class. He or she would take notes on what happened during the class, and then we'd talk about the things I did well and the things I still needed to work on. I felt kind of nervous at first in front of the other teachers, but once they gave me their advice, it was worth it.

One professor said that I had to be more strict with my students about making sure that they did not start packing up their things too early. He said that it always bothered him when students did that in his class; that is, ten or fifteen minutes before the class ended students would start putting their books away and noisily zipping up their bags, even though he was still teaching. I didn't even really notice that the students did that, but once I did, I realized that there were some students in almost all of my classes, no matter which school I taught at, who did the same thing.

When students start packing up like that when I'm still teaching the class, it basically makes me think that they've stopped listening, because in their minds the class is over. Or at the very least they're half-listening. It's irritating because not only is it distracting, it's also disrespectful. Not all the students do it; most students will sit quietly and patiently until I actually dismiss them. But when it's happened with a select few students in past semesters, I've called them on it and told them to wait until I actually dismiss the class before they put their things away.

Why are they in such a hurry? Maybe they're worried that they won't be able to get to their next class on time. Maybe they have to be at their jobs and will get in trouble with their bosses if they're late. Or maybe, in their minds, as they're closing their notebooks and fussing with their bookbags, they're thinking this:

Impatient student: Run for your lives! She's trying to EDUCATE us!
Fellow impatient students: AAAAHHHHH! Must resist! Must resist! The door is only a few feet away! Think she'll notice if we sneak out early?

(FYI: I WILL notice, and I WILL get mad. Students have snuck out early before, and they ALWAYS get in trouble with me when they show up for the next class.)

What REALLY bothers me is when students will literally stand up and start walking out the door when I'm still talking and I haven't even dismissed the class yet. I'll say, "I'm not done talking yet! Class is NOT over! Sit down!" And inwardly I'm boiling, because I shouldn't even have to say that. It's like there's this stampede towards the door, and students are practically running to get back to their dorm rooms/apartments so that they can catch the latest episode of Jersey Shore/The Hills/Pretty Wild or play Guitar Hero or update their Facebook page for the thirteenth time that day and give huge sighs of relief, thinking, "Whew! At least no one's trying to educate us here!"

I don't have any illusions about the classes I teach; I know that most students take them because they're required to, not because they want to. But as I tell the undergrads, doing their school work is their job. Even if they don't get paid for it, a lot of what they get out of college is what they put into it. And if they're not willing to sit through the full class period, then they're going to miss out on a lot. And I have little patience for the e-mails I will inevitably get later on from students asking about stuff that I covered in the last ten minutes of class when some people were in such a hurry to leave.

I'm going to be teaching during the summer session, and I'm thinking about standing in front of the exit towards the end of class. That way no one can walk out early. There aren't any locks on the doors, and anyway if I were to lock the door it'd feel too much like the setting of a prison movie or something. But I'm definitely not going to tolerate anyone packing up or leaving too early.

I told my students this semester that I'm treating them like adults, because I'm holding them accountable for their actions. Maybe when they're older, they'll understand.

Jeez. Now I sound like my parents. Maybe watching the Jersey Shore will make me feel better.

Then again, definitely not.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Embarrassing Gym Behavior

They say that joining a gym is a good way to meet new people. Unfortunately, it's hard to make friends at the gym if a lot of those people think you're weird.

I have a knack for embarrassing myself in public. At my old gym, I went to an aerobics class and I accidentally broke the light switch. At the end of the class, everyone tossed their mats in a pile by the door. When I tossed my mat it accidentally hit the light switch nearby, causing all the lights in the room to go off and pieces of the light switch to fall to the floor. I picked up the pieces and handed them to the instructor in the now-dim room, saying, "Um...sorry, I think I broke the light or something." (He was nice about it, though.) Hmm, I guess I shouldn't have let myself get distracted by the cute guys in the class as I was putting my mat away.

One thing I'm never sure about is the whole thing about wiping the exercise machine clean with a towel after you're done using it. My new gym has a container of those sanitizer wipes, but are you just supposed to use them on your hands or can you use them on the machines? I saw other people using them to clean the machines, so I tried that too; then the machine ended up being all wet so I had to get a clean towel to wipe it off.

The problem is, when I come back to my machine to clean it off with a sanitizing wipe or a clean towel, sometimes I can't remember which machine I was using. There are so many ellipticals in a row and they all look exactly the same, of course, and I suddenly can't remember where I was working out. Then I often end up cleaning the wrong one. How do I know I cleaned the wrong one? Because the person who was exercising near me will give me a weird look as if he or she is wondering why I'm cleaning a machine that I didn't even use, as if I'm the female version of Adrian Monk or something. And I'll say, "Oops! Wrong machine, hehe..." Then I'll move over to the other side, suddenly remembering where I was before. And the person staring at me will raise his or her eyebrows and quickly look away.

Also, there are a few women at my gym who may or may not have thought that I was trying to break into their lockers at some point or another. I swear I wasn't. I broke my glasses two years ago, so I rely on my contacts; this can create problems for me, however. When I take off my contacts, I can hardly see anything, and then when I go back to my locker all the numbers and the padlocks look the same. I sometimes find myself trying to open a locker that's not mine. And then of course the person who actually is using that locker will show up at that moment and look at me like I'm trying to steal her clothes or run off with her Blackberry or something, and I'll say, "Sorry! I took off my contacts and I can't see." And she'll raise her eyebrows and look away, or maybe she's discreetly calling the police; it's hard to tell without my contacts on.

My gym wardrobe leaves a lot to be desired as well. There are women who wear designer tank tops and tight pants; they're the ones that make the guys lifting weights look up and almost drop whatever it is they're showing off with at that moment. I am not one of those women. I did finally buy a gym outfit that actually fits, but the top is hot pink and now when I wear it I look like a highlighter with legs.

I could try just jogging around the neighborhood, like I've seen other people do. But I have a hard enough time not bumping into people and knocking them over when I'm just walking around (it has actually happened a few times, but I do help them get back up), so I guess I'll have to stick with the gym. And you know, working out at the gym can actually be relaxing.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Music to (Not) Write to

I listen to the type of music that most people cringe at and mock me for. To give you an example, at least six of the Top 25 Most Played Songs on my iPod are by Britney Spears. I've liked her music ever since she first became popular more than ten years ago. Even when she went through her weird phase and people devoted entire television shows and magazines to bashing her, I remained one of her loyal fans and enjoyed her music anyway.

I like music that's fun, upbeat, and good to dance to. (I try not to dance when I'm walking around outside, though, because that might look weird. And I might accidentally knock someone into the street if I were to start flailing my arms around.) So what if some of the pop musicians I like aren't nominated for Grammys or get stellar reviews from Rolling Stone? As long as I like the music I'm listening to, that's what matters to me.

Years ago, when the boy bands were popular, I was totally obsessed with them, and I took a lot of ribbing for that too (which, actually, kind of hurt my feelings). One of my biggest regrets is that I never got to see N'Sync perform live in concert, though I did go to a Backstreet Boys concert once with a friend. Many of the fans were younger than us. My friend and I sat near this 12-year old girl and her mom; the mom kept covering her daughter's eyes every time one of the guys took off his shirt. As a result, the girl didn't see about a third of the concert. I enjoyed the music and the dancing, but I didn't get why people had to scream THE ENTIRE TIME. How could they hear the guys sing if they were screaming at them through the whole song? It's not like Nick Carter was going to look at any individual fan and say, "Ah, yes, you who screamed loudest for me, you must come away with me."

I finally started to outgrow the boy bands and the other male teen idols when I heard a story about a fan who paid over a thousand dollars for a piece of toast that a member of N'Sync had bitten into. And I thought, Wow. Now THAT'S obsessive. I mean, I get that she's devoted, and at least she got free tickets as well, but if I had a thousand dollars, I'd rather spend it on a trip to somewhere cool. Or maybe I'd just buy candy.

But even though I've stopped listening to the boy bands and expanded my musical tastes to stuff other than pop music, I still like listening to the likes of Britney and Taylor Swift. I've found, though, that it gets to be too distracting to listen to them when I'm writing. I'll be working on one of my stories and listening to "Piece of Me", and then I'll start thinking about how people started liking Britney again once she divorced Kevin Federline. Or I'll listen to Taylor's "You Belong with Me" and feel the urge to watch the music video on Youtube, and then I'll start watching her other videos. And then I feel hypocritical for getting mad at a few of my former students for being able to name all the American Idol finalists but not all the main characters in the some of the stories we studied.

Do any of you listen to music while you write? (Or do you think it's better to leave the music off while you write?) If you do, I'm open to any good recommendations. And by good, I mean the kind that involves synchronized dancing in music videos. Just kidding. Well, not really.

Seriously, how could anyone think these guys weren't cute? I mean, talented?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Subway performers

Although I have started bringing my journal more often during my daily commute so that I can work on my manuscripts, I still bring my iPod so that I can listen to it when I can't write. I like listening to one of my playlists when I'm walking to the train or the bus stop, when I'm switching trains, or when I'm standing on the platform to wait for a train to show up.

(Side note: I know that everyone on the blogosphere refers to the unfinished manuscript as WIP, as in work-in-progress, and I've done it too a few times in my responses to other bloggers. No offense to anyone, though, but WIP always makes me think of that 80s' song by Devo that I never liked, the one titled "Whip It". Except instead of a guy whipping some woman's clothes off like in the music video, now whenever I see WIP I think of a bunch of writers whapping each other's manuscripts with pens or laptops. Side question: Why do I think these things? I have no idea.)

More often than not a subway performer will be singing or playing an instrument nearby, with a small box or an open instrument case for people to put dollar bills and change into it. Many of the subway performers I've heard are not very good, but they are very loud. Some will play or sing along to a CD player, so that the sound on the stereo is louder than their voices or their instruments. It's difficult to ignore them, because not only will some of them use microphones but they'll also blast their music through speakers, so that the sound fills up the subway tunnel. I try to turn the volume up on my iPod so that I can drown them out, but it's impossible; it's irritating because listening to music is supposed to be relaxing but I feel anything but relaxed when listening to them. And of course, more often than not, the day that I'm stuck listening to a really bad, really loud subway performer is the same day that the train is running late, so that I end up having to wait twenty minutes instead of five or ten for the train to show up.

Some of the musicians are weird; they'll talk into the microphone as if they're having conversations with people who aren't there. One guy kept pretending to be talking on the phone (though he wasn't actually carrying one); he'd say something like, "Hello? I can't talk right now, I'm trying to sing my song."

But every once in a while I'll hear music being played or sung that makes me stop and turn. It makes everyone stop and turn. And we'll turn to see whose rich, clear voice is filling up the subway tunnel, and we'll want to know if the person singing is really singing or just singing along really softly to the radio (which some people, incidentally, do, and they still expect to get money for that). And the person really will be singing beautifully, and it's a relief to hear that person after all the time spent trying to ignore the bad singers who sing off-key or screech into the microphone or yell at people who listen but don't give them money. The person who sings beautifully keeps singing, even when the noise of arriving or departing trains drowns him or her out. And for the most part, people stay quiet, listening to that person, and some of us will even venture forth to drop change into the performer's box.

There's an elderly Asian woman who performs at one of the Red Line stops; I used to think she was playing the violin or the cello but when I looked closer at her instrument I realized I was wrong. I never figured out what instrument it was that she was playing; all I know is that the way she plays it calms me. When I drop money into her little box she always looks up at me with tired eyes and a smile.

I look at the rats running around on the tracks below, and the trash scattered on the ground because people can't be bothered to actually use a trash can even though there's always one nearby, for Pete's sake, and I try not to inhale the smell of cigarettes from someone smoking near a No Smoking sign. And I think that performer's music is the one thing that's beautiful in that place. She's been performing on the Red Line for years.

And I wish I could thank that musician and the few others like her for giving me a few minutes of peace each day through their music, because it almost makes up for all the other times the loud, obnoxious musicians  make whatever stressful workday I'm going through even worse.

Talented or not, I think that subway performers have guts; they spend hours performing in subway tunnels every day, and many people do ignore them; most of the time people aren't applauding or praising them when they finish their songs. But they keep performing anyway. They keep trying.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jealous? Maybe. Inspired? Definitely!

I've only been blogging since the beginning of April, but I've wanted to start a blog long before that. One reason I didn't was because most of this year was spent studying for my preliminary exam, which is a research project and oral exam the Ph.D. students have to complete. The exam basically determines whether or not they'll be allowed to continue with the program and move on to writing their dissertations.

Another reason was because I was afraid that if my students read it and found something they didn't like, they'd report me to the universities where I teach. A select few feel free to criticize me on (I only checked those rate your professor sites once years ago out of curiosity, and I found three bad reviews of me and two good ones. Since they wrote anonymously, I couldn't figure out who wrote the good reviews, but I recognized the negative critics.). But it's different if I were to do something like that because as the instructor, I'm supposed to be the "adult".

But what finally gave me the courage to start my own blog was because my friend maybeimamazed (aka Unprofessional Critic, aka Unpro) started a blog about pop culture last year, and had developed a following both on her blog and her Twitter page. Not only that, but she was taking several writing classes, completing novels and sending them out to agents, participating in writing groups, and writing for other websites. I have to admit, I was jealous that she had the courage to get her work out there and put so much effort into her writing.

But it's not like I was THAT jealous. I mean, it's not like I was the Jealous Friend in one of those TV movies, who appears to be nice and supportive of the TV heroine but is secretly plotting her demise and/or planning to usurp her identity. It's not like the ending of one of those movies, where I'd be waving around my manuscript while the heroine would be watching me in terror as I yelled, "The readers always liked YOU best!" Meanwhile, the Handsome Hero or the Concerned Friend would come rushing through the door at the last minute and knock me out cold, and then turn to embrace the heroine and carry her away, only to find that I'm not out cold after all; I'm getting back up to attack again, only to be knocked out cold for good the second time around.

But I was impressed, too. I have been writing stories since my third-grade teacher showed my class how, but I've mostly let my writing pile up in notebooks and only shared it with other people on a few rare occasions. I kept putting off sending my work out to short story contests and lit mags, because I told myself that my work wasn't good enough yet and that I wasn't ready yet. But seeing everything that Unpro accomplished with her writing made me want to start my own blog. And once I did, I got totally sucked into the blogosphere and all the fascinating blogs of other people sharing stories of their writing process. A lot of people were already sending out queries and had been published (like Talli Roland, whose book The Hating Game is coming out in 2011); it was interesting to read about what other people were going through and to read their encouragement of each other.

So now that I've read more and more of these blogs, especially the ones of you nice people following mine and leaving comments, it's inspired me to finally revise the stories I have stored away in my journals and computers. I printed out the guidelines for two short story contests and one online lit mag (they all have different deadlines) and taped them to the wall above my desk to motivate myself to write for them. Even if I don't win, and even if it's years before I ever get published, the point is that I finally feel like I'm writing for real, if that makes any sense.

And besides, I want to be carried off by the Handsome Hero. Or at least have Concerned Friends (and by that, I mean the reading public) read my stories too.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shop talk

I attended the department's annual party last week. Even though I've always had to share an office with people no matter where I teach, and even though we always chat about our students and our research, I only socialize with them sporadically. Partly it's because I always have a million things to do. Partly it's because I don't actually "work" with the other instructors; I work with my students. And I don't socialize with my students. Once a group from one of my classes invited me to go out drinking with them, but I said no.

Although the people in my graduate program took most of the same seminars together and are more or less in the same academic boat, at times I feel like graduate school is a little like my grade school, where several cliques formed in the first grade and more or less stayed intact through the senior year of high school. And I've never been good with cliques, neither in grade school nor grad school. Most of the grad students are friendly and nice to me, but I doubt I'll become one of the "insiders" anytime soon.

It's not like I've never hung out with the other grad students; I have gone out with them every now and then. But it's difficult for us to find time to hang out because in academia it's not only acceptable to be a workaholic; it's also expected that you will be one. When I was completing my master's degree, I met a girl who said she wanted to be a professor because professors only had to work a few hours a week and had the rest of the time off, including weekends and summers. And I thought, Have you never MET a professor?

But this year, even though I had a million things to do (as usual), I decided to go to the party, which was at a bar. At first I felt shy and hung towards the back, but then I mustered the courage to "circulate," and chatted with the people standing in small groups around the room. I talked with grad students, lecturers, and professors I already knew, but I also introduced myself to several people I didn't know but had seen around campus.

There were one or two people that I introduced myself to or tried to talk to, but they would just smile, say hi, and then turn away from me to go back to their conversations with  other people; I stood there for a couple minutes before quietly walking away. Huh. I guess this means we won't be AFF(Academic Friends Forever). I guess this means we won't be trading copies of Judith Butler's books and telling inside jokes about Foucault. I guess this means we won't camp out together to wait in line to get Doctorow's autograph. FINE, then.

However, most of the people I talked to at the party were really nice, and I wished I'd spent more time getting to know them earlier. Most of the conversations centered around work, and I admit that I was also guilty about talking about my work a little too much. What can I say? I pretty much see everything in terms of work; a good day for me is if I get a lot of work done.

After a couple hours, however, all of the shop talk started to get a little too much, even for me. I would've been happy to talk about non-academic stuff, like my favorite TV shows. But there are a couple people who always say, "Oh, I don't even have time to watch TV. I'm too busy working on..." (Oh, well. If they can't recognize the brilliance of Sam Waterston or Hugh Laurie, then that's their loss.)

There are a couple other people who claim not to be workaholics, and they'll say stuff like, "Oh, I haven't even thought about that project yet," which almost makes me feel embarrassed about spending so much time on my work.                                                     

I say "almost" because even though I do obsess over my work, and even though certain aspects of being a professor-in-training drive me up the wall sometimes (like the grade complaint e-mails from students; having to work extra jobs since an academic stipend is not enough to live on;  the hundreds of pages of critical theory that often send me running to the dictionary in order to understand what I'm reading, only to find that the definitions are even more confusing than the words I'm looking up, which make me wring my hands in despair because I can't always understand the dense phrasing that they use, and then I think about how much easier it is just to read fiction without fifty citations per paragraph...), at the end of the day I still want to be a professor.  And I don't think I should feel bad just because I'm passionate about my work and am willing to work a bunch of part-time jobs to support myself while I pursue my career goals. I actually fantasize about being like those scholars in those documentaries about literary classics, where they talk excitedly about their research on authors and critics who have been dead for hundreds of years.

Being a professor is second on my list of what I've always wanted to be. (Being a writer is number one.)  I'd also like to be a CIA agent, but I'm thinking it probably won't be as much fun as Sidney Bristow made it look. I'd probably end up getting my cover blown within the first week or something.

Getting a tenure-track position is about as difficult as landing a spot in Oprah's book club, but most people hope for it anyway. Me, as long as I get to keep teaching, learning, writing, and actually earn a living where I won't have to work a zillion jobs in order to feed my M&Ms and Frappuccinos habit, I'll be happy.

Still, though, I left the party just in time to get to the gym for my evening dance class. It was a nice switch to go from talking about work to giggling over dance moves with other people in the class.