Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Friends Without Money

I just took the Financial Fitness Quiz on the Charles Schwab Community Services website and ended up with a score of 59, which puts me in the "Middle of the Road", according to the website.

When you're broke, you think about money a lot. For the past six years I have always worked at least two or three jobs at the same time, mainly because I can't afford to live off what I get paid at just one of those jobs. And I can't work full-time because of graduate school; even before I went into the Ph.D. program, I couldn't get a full-time college teaching job with just an M.A, so I had several part-time adjunct jobs instead.

Normally I earn just enough to pay my rent and other bills and pay for other essentials, like groceries and Britney Spears' albums. But when a big event like a wedding comes up, I don't think, "Hooray for the happy couple!" or "Why aren't I getting married? Do they have such a thing as mail-order husbands?" No. I think, "GREAT. This is going to be expensive."

I think that being a member of a wedding party is a rite of passage for practically every single girl in her twenties. Two years ago, I was asked to be a member of a friend's large wedding party. I hadn't actually been in touch with this friend for several years, though we had grown up together. But our families were friends, so it was expected that I would participate. I was happy for my friend. I was not happy about the money I would have to spend for a dress that I would never wear again, the plane ticket to the wedding, the wedding gift, or a fancy haircut. Because I had to spend so much money for this wedding, I couldn't afford to make a contribution to my Roth IRA fund that year.

But this wedding wasn't about me. It was about the bride and groom. Fortunately, the bride wasn't your typical Bridezilla, with insane expectations about centerpieces or making sure that the other women in the wedding party didn't look better than she did. (Side note: I bet that's why so many bridesmaid dresses are so weird-looking.) The bride was nice and let us pick our own dresses.

The maid of honor and the best man were planning pre-wedding parties, and they sent out e-mails asking other members of the wedding party to suggest places we could go. I asked the maid of honor how much it would cost, and she said, "Oh, not that much! It'll probably be only about $500 or $600." Oh, is that all? No biggie. I don't need to eat this month. I'm sure that my landlord won't mind if I'm short on rent. Maybe if I break out in song and start dancing like the cast of Rent did, I won't have to pay for anything. But then again, I was the only member of the wedding party who was still working minimum-wage jobs while attending graduate school, while everyone else was working white-collar jobs with their own assistants to blow their noses for them.

I tried not to think about the fact that the wedding would cost somewhere in the six-figure range, and how I could live for years on what they were spending for one day. I tried not to be resentful as I trekked all over the city to various bridal shops, trying in vain to find a dress. I made the mistake of shopping for a dress less than five months before the big day. The women who worked in the shop raised their eyebrows and shook their heads at me, saying that I couldn't get a dress less than six months beforehand. I resisted the urge to say, "Well, EXCU-U-USE ME, Snooty Bridal Shop Lady!"

Finally, I found a dress at Kasia's Bridal, a store run by a very nice young woman who helped me find a good dress. I tried in vain to think of other places that I could wear the dress, but I figured I might stand out if I went to the grocery store or taught a class in a floor-length strapless gown.

Before the wedding, the women of the wedding party got ready together. I found out that the bachelor/bachelorette parties had gone ahead as scheduled, and that I had not been included.

The bride was so happy, and I was happy for her. Her life was so different from mine, and represented a path I could have taken, both professionally and personally. But I didn't envy her, even though my bank account was now several hundred dollars emptier. Even though I've wanted to give up on being a college teacher hundreds of times, I know that I would regret it if I did quit. Pursuing a career in academia means paying a LOT of dues and making sacrifices, including the prospect of making a lot of money. But the work itself makes it worth it. Usually.

This experience did make me think a lot about weddings, though. Nothing personal against people who have expensive weddings; I figure if it's your money, you have the right to spend it how you want. But I always thought that a wedding was supposed to be about the marriage and the fact that you were promising yourself to that one person til death do you part, and everything else about the wedding day was just extra. I tried to picture myself having my own six-figure wedding. I couldn't. And it wasn't just because I wouldn't be able to afford it.

Disclaimer: This post is part of the 20SB Blog Carnival: Friends & Money, sponsored by Charles Schwab. Prizes may be awarded to selected posts. The information and opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the views or opinions of Charles Schwab. Details on the event, eligibility, and a complete list of participating bloggers can be found here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Embarrassing Myself

If I had a dollar for every time I embarrassed myself, I would probably have at least 36,237 dollars (but that's just a rough estimate).

One summer in college, I participated in a language-intensive program in Spain (you didn't think I'd go to Europe just for fun, do you? HAH! But it was actually a lot of fun.), and I think that there are several Spaniards who are probably still laughing at me. I was riding the bus one day, and when the bus stopped, I tried to get out through the back door. But it wouldn't open, and I kept banging on it until some kids started yelling to the bus driver, "La puerta, la puerta!" Then several of the passengers giggled at me as I exited the bus, accidentally dropped my Discman, and nearly fell down along with it.

That same summer, I was hanging my laundry on the balcony outside my apartment, since there was no dryer. I ended up accidentally dropping my underwear one flight down, and had to look up the word for underwear in my Spanish dictionary before I could knock on my neighbor's door and ask for it back.

Another time I was on a bus in Chicago, and I was trying to exit the bus while navigating my way around a baby stroller. I bumped into the stroller, causing it to roll down the aisle while everyone else on the bus collectively gasped. Someone said, "She knocked over the baby!" And then the mother called out, "No, it's okay, I've got her!" And she held up the baby, and everyone stopped looking at me like I was a criminal.

I also worked as a campus tour guide in college, and I used to do that thing where I'd walk backwards while talking to the tour group. As a result, on more than one occasion I nearly fell into a trash can.

But one of my most embarrassing moments happened my freshman year in college. Before my first class of the day, I decided to stop by the restroom. It was one of those restrooms that only one person can use at a time, and the lock on the door often got stuck.

And of course, the lock on the door got stuck, and I couldn't get out! This was back before I had a cell phone, so I couldn't call anyone. So I started banging on the door, hoping that some of the students passing by might hear me, and also hoping that they wouldn't hear me so that they wouldn't know what an idiot I was.

There was a vent at the bottom of the door, and I looked through it and could see people's legs passing by. I saw one familiar pair of shoes, and I yelled out, "John! (not his real name) Help!"

He stopped and said my name. "Is that you? Where are you?"

"I'm in the bathroom!" I yelled. "Get me out of here!"

"Hold on," he said. "I'll get the professor."

"No!" I said. "Don't get the professor! Get the janitor!" I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of the professor. I wanted to get an A in the class.

But a few minutes later the professor showed up, along with everyone else in my class. It took them about twenty minutes before they were finally able to unlock the door (with the help of a janitor), and I returned to my class, red-faced. My professor then told the story to several other classes, and somehow several people figured out it was me even though he didn't identify me. Go figure.

When I was younger, I always took embarrassing moments like this one really hard. I thought about how everyone must have viewed me as a dork, and how it would lower their opinion of me. I thought about how I could never be like any of those sophisticated, elegant women in designer clothes I always saw walking around Oak Street. I kept my head down and berated myself for messing up. I thought that once I became an "adult," I'd finally get my act together. But now I'm almost 30, and I still haven't completely figured out how to do that.

But now I see things differently. Even though I still often obsess over what people think about me, at the same time I don't take it too seriously if I make a fool of myself in public. Everyone's had a slip-up at some point, and the fact that I've had a lot more slip-ups than most people isn't that big of a deal. And I figure it's better to have a sense of humor about it and laugh it off, rather than keep my head down and start crying. And at the very least, it could be part of a good story someday.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Free Writing Advice

When I was on okcupid last year, I got an e-mail from a guy that made me want to break things and start primal screaming. The guy wasn't interested in a date with me; he wanted to send me his manuscript so that I could critique it for him, because he saw in my profile that I was an English teacher. But he didn't say anything about paying me. I think he just assumed that I'd be willing to review a stranger's work for free.

I mean, really? Did he really think that that's why I joined a dating site? Sure. I didn't become a member so that I could go on dates. I joined so that I could review manuscripts for comma splices and run-ons and give free writing advice, because it's not like I don't get ENOUGH of that by teaching freshman composition and literature classes. Yes, I just love grading papers SO MUCH that I just want to help everyone! Yay!! I can hardly stop clapping my hands with joy! Who needs a social life when I have grammar to keep me company!

When I worked in retail, several of my coworkers were college students. Whenever they found out that I was an English major/grad student/writing teacher, some of them would say, "Could I e-mail you my paper? Do you think you could tell me what I should do to fix it so that I can get an A?" (Incidentally, this is similar to what many of my own students say; they want me to "edit" their papers and tell them exactly what to write so that they can get A's. Every time one of my students asks me this, they get a big lecture from me on how important it is for them to learn how to write without someone else putting all the words in their heads. Sometimes, I also start primal screaming.)

Does this ever happen to you? When people find out that you write, do they start asking you for help with their own writing? How do you respond?

Often I hear of writers exchanging manuscripts for review, or joining writer's groups so that they can discuss ideas. I think that that's great, and someday I'd like to join a writer's group too, once I'm not working two or three jobs while attending graduate school. I've also reviewed a writer friend's work, and it was cool because I got to read a story that no one else had read before. I've also read some great blogs where writers will give awesome writing advice, and I love that because it gives me motivation for my own writing.

But it's another thing altogether where people will just expect me to give them free writing advice just because I happen to teach writing. I don't mind helping my own students, because obviously, that's my job. And I do like that point when their eyes light up when they finally "get it". Then I get to see the difference in their writing because they applied to it what they learned from me.

But I have to review dozens of papers every week, in addition to all of the other work I have to do. So when I finish my work for the day, the last thing I want to do is look at yet another paper. I always used to hear lawyers complain about people who tried to get them to give free legal advice, and doctors complain about people who tried to get them to give free medical advice. And now I can sympathize with them. Because I think that the people who ask are missing the point, especially when it comes to writing. Part of the writing process is learning how to write, even (and especially) if it includes making mistakes.

And besides, even a workaholic like me needs to relax. But not for too long, of course.

Side note: I got two cool awards this week: the Versatile Blogger award from OfficeGirl, who writes the great blog Tired but Writing, and the Who's Awesome award from KarenG, who writes the wonderful blog Coming Down the Mountain: From Reclusive Writer to Published Author. Thanks again, guys! You made my week! And everyone should definitely check out their blogs.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I WISH I was bringing sexyback

Even though I hate flirting, I have always had this fantasy of walking down the street and being the center of every guy's attention. Lest you call me egotistical, don't lie; ladies, you know you've had that fantasy at least once. It's definitely an ego boost if you catch someone cute (but not creepy) checking you out. And guys, you know you wouldn't mind people checking you out while you strut down the street.

Normally I tend to walk very fast when I walk around. I'm usually in a hurry to get someplace, and it always bugs me when people stand in the middle of the sidewalk to chat with their friends or point out how high the buildings are or even just pause for a millisecond, because then I have to walk into the street to get past them. Or, if I've had enough caffeine, I may or may not just barrel right through.

But before I left Chicago last week, I decided to try doing that "sexy" walk in East Lakeview, which is my favorite neighborhood in Chicago. It's filled with trendy clothing boutiques, cool used bookstores, coffeehouses, and great restaurants. Unfortunately, the rent is pretty high there, so I can't afford to live there. But I can still visit the neighborhood every now and then, right?

(Side note: Do you notice how in movies and music videos, whenever people do that sexy walk down the street, it's always really windy? And then their hair starts flipping over their shoulders, but never in their eyes? And yet no one else on that same street seems to be affected by the wind.)

So I put on my highest shoes, and OWWWWWW! These shoes hurt! They LOOK good, but they don't FEEL good! How come guys don't have to wear these things? I can't do the sexy walk if I'm in pain! Right now I bet the shoemakers are cackling maniacally as they say, "You didn't think you could actually WALK in those things, did you?"

So I put on my slightly high shoes, and ahhh. That's better. I start walking down Belmont Avenue, and so far, so good. I can do that walk I've seen movie stars and musicians do. Sure. How do they do it? Do they swing their hips? But then how do they keep from bumping into people, as I've done twice already? Sorry, people!

I keep walking, and any minute now it's going to happen for me, and....ooh! There's a used copy of Steve Almond's Candyfreak in that bookstore! I've been wanting to read that for months! I go into the used bookstore and buy the book for six dollars. Woohoo! I want to read that book right now!

Wait. What was I doing again? Oh, right.

I start walking again once I leave the store. I see a cute guy glance over at me, and at that moment....AHHH! PBBBPTHHH! PBBBBPTHHH! YUCK! I think a bug just flew in my mouth! AHHHH! I think I just swallowed it!

Oh, JEEZ. Now the guy is looking at me, but it's only because I'm scratching at my tongue in a frantic attempt to get the bug out.

I need a break. I need something to wash out my mouth with. I go into Starbucks and buy a Frappuccino to wash out the taste of what may or may not have been a bug. On second thought, a large cup of caffeine might not be the thing to calm me down, but whatever. At least I don't taste bug anymore.

I leave Starbucks and cross the street. How am I supposed to do this walk if there are so many people on the street? In the movies the streets always seem to clear for the person doing the windy, sexy walk. Let's try this again.

Okay. I'm walking, and AHHHHH! There's a dead rat on the ground! AHHHH!! I start running, and then I run SMACK into a guy walking in the opposite direction. "Sorry," I tell him, all out of breath. "I was running from a...from, um..." A dead rat, I want to add, but then I realize how weird that would sound. He shakes his head and then moves on.

I give up. I'm going back to my fast, impatient, barrel through tourists walk. It's always served me best.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Now You Read Them, Now You Don't

I'm out of town right now, and I won't be back in Chicago until the first week of July. So I can't go out on dates with anyone until I go back. But I still have Internet access, so I'm still able to communicate with potential dates, at least.

When I was on okcupid last year, I met and dated several guys. But there were at least six or seven other guys who I never met in person, because they would disappear after sending me one or two e-mails. I could never figure out why. Did they meet other women that they liked better? Did they change their minds about meeting me? Did they just chicken out about meeting in person?

One guy who disappeared after the first e-mail was really cute; he was a filmmaker and he sent me an e-mail with a link to his MySpace page. What was on it? Information about his newest film, which he wrote and starred in; the film was about a guy who wrote stories about stick figures and orgies. And in the film clips on his page, there was the guy, having orgies with various girls. It wasn't a porno; it was actually being marketed as a romantic comedy. (And of course, I e-mailed him back BEFORE I watched those film clips.) And I just sat there in front of my computer, struck speechless before I quickly turned off the Internet and ran away screaming.

There was also this other guy on okcupid who e-mailed me first. He must have sent me about ten or twelve e-mails, but then he suddenly stopped. I tried e-mailing him, but he never responded. I never found out why. And a year later he's still on the site. In my last e-mails to him, I tried to get him to agree to meet me in person. Meeting in person is the point of online dating, right? Sure, first dates can sometimes be awkward and nervewracking, and at the end of some of them you may or may not feel the urge to dunk your face in a big bowl of chocolate and seriously consider moving to Antarctica. But if you do end up meeting someone you like, it's worth it.

But I could never get this guy to agree on a time and place to meet. He kept saying, "Oh, we'll meet up eventually. In the meantime we can just chat online." Did he have a girlfriend, or a wife? Was he perhaps a gigolo, and was afraid that his rich "girlfriend" would stop buying him designer clothes and fancy cars if he went out on a date with me? Was he just not ready to meet in person? And if that was the case, why didn't he just say so?

On eharmony, you go through three phases of communication: Get to know each other (which is a short multiple choice "quiz"), Must Haves and Can't Stands, and Learn more about each other (which is a series of "open-ended" questions). Then the fourth phase is when you send each other regular e-mails. Eharmony also has a "Close Match" option, where you can choose to block communication with someone. What sucks, though, is that it'll show up on your own page if someone chooses to block you.

When a guy suddenly broke off communication with me on okcupid, I thought maybe it was because I wrote something he didn't like in one of my e-mails. But on eharmony, at least six guys have stopped communicating with me before we even got to the third or fourth phase. What am I doing wrong? Is it because on the "Get to Know Each Other" quiz, I put down that I'd rather see a popular new movie than go to a sporting event on a Saturday night? I'd go to a game with a guy, except I wouldn't be much company because I'd be too busy silently adding to my list of why I hate sports. (Reason #78: Fans with beer breath) But I didn't write that in my answers, though.

I got to the third phase of communication with one guy, and then all of a sudden he chose the "Close Match" option. Was it because he saw that I'd updated my profile? I did that was because I hadn't heard from him in more than three days, and he'd always responded fairly quickly before. Did he get mad because he thought I was communicating with other guys?

I will admit that I've communicated with more than one guy at the same time.  I might as well increase my chances of meeting someone, and it's okay as long as I'm not in an exclusive relationship with anyone. And it wouldn't bother me if the guy was communicating with other women, because again, we're not even in an exclusive relationship at that point.

I wonder if my age (29) has something to do with it. It seems that a lot of the guys prefer younger women; when I was on I got many e-mails from guys in their 40s and 50s. Do they think that because I'm almost 30 that I'm going to show up for the first date in a wedding dress? Please. I wouldn't do anything like that until AT LEAST the fifth date.

Or is it because I wrote "Maybe" in the "Wants Kids" section? A lot of the guys near my age wrote "Yes" in the "Wants Kids" section. It's not like I'm totally opposed to being a mom. I admire anyone who is a parent. When I was 19 I didn't want to become one, but I figured it was because I was still a teenager and that I'd figure it out when I got older. But now, ten years later, I'm still not sure I want to have children.

I admit I do that "awwww" thing when I see a cute baby. But the truth is, little kids make me nervous. Somehow I feel like when I'm around them that they're WATCHING me (cue scary music: DA DA DUNNNH), kind of like those evil kids watched the adults in that movie Village of the Damned (and yes, I know kids aren't evil; I'm just paranoid). I didn't even baby-sit when I was a teenager; I was afraid that I might accidentally drop something on the kid or that I might drop the kid and then the parents would sue me or get me sent to prison and then I'd never become President. But if I do become pregnant someday, then of course I'll do everything possible to be a great parent. But right now, I want to do other things. (And yes, I know that my biological clock is ticking.)

But it's still frustrating when a guy ends communication with no explanation. If we had actually gone on a date already, I'd just think he wasn't that into me. But if we haven't even met yet, then what gives? And what's the rent like in Antarctica?

Nothing personal against little kids, but wouldn't YOU get just a little freaked out after watching a movie like this one?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Printers Row Lit Fest

Last Saturday I went to the Printers Row Lit Fest for the first time, which is this great festival that's held every June. It's like writer heaven because there are booksignings and discussions, authors' panels on writing, poetry slams, etc., etc.

I went because I got a free ticket to hear one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, speak at the Harold Washington Public Library. I love going to authors' events; I go to as many of them as I can. I always end up acting like a groupie every time I approach one of my favorite authors for an autograph; either I become shy and speechless or I start gushing. But who cares if I embarrass myself in front of the authors! I should think they'd be FLATTERED if I trip over several people in my eagerness to get my picture taken with them. (Side note: I wasn't pushing anyone out of the way when I tripped; I was just, er, hopping up and down because I was so excited and I couldn't keep my balance.)

Pritzker Auditorium, where Anne was speaking, was packed, but I managed to get a good seat near the front. There were at least three people who introduced her, or rather, each person introduced the next person, until they finally got to Anne. Does anyone notice how this is a common thing at events like this? Or maybe I was just impatient to hear one of my favorite authors give her speech.

And she was wonderful. She was very calm and relaxed, probably because she's done stuff like this hundreds of times. I, on the other hand, would probably bring a bunch of note cards with me, which I would subsequently either lose or mix up and then start saying different parts of my speech at the wrong times; then I'd probably turn bright red and run screaming off the stage or start all over or just FREAK OUT altogether, or...

She teased some of the audience members who came in late. She said, "Oh, come on in, you can sit in the front, right next to all the other late people." She talked about her son, Sam, who is now almost 21 and has a 10-month old son and lives in San Francisco. She talked about her new book, Imperfect Birds, and how she came up with the idea to continue the story of the character Rosie, who had appeared in two of her other novels.

As she talked, it made me realize how writers who give speeches like this one don't typically impress their audiences with music, complicated tricks, dance moves, or film clips. All they have are their words. And that's more than enough, as long as their words engage their audience and leave them with something new and interesting to think about. And Anne was able to do that throughout her entire speech and the Q&A.

While I enjoyed her answers to people's questions, I couldn't help noticing how almost every person who asked a question felt the need to COMPLIMENT her first. Like, "You've done such a good job with..." and "I've always enjoyed..." In a way it makes sense that they would do that; they wouldn't say something like, "I liked all of your books EXCEPT the one where..." or "GET OUT! We thought that Oprah was going to be here!" But at other events I've been too, the audience members weren't always so effusive in their praise of the author. I kept thinking about my days as an undergrad, when some students in my classes would always compliment the professors before asking them anything, as if they thought it would increase their chances of getting an A. But Anne didn't seem to mind; she was very good-natured about it.

Afterwards, I stood in line to get her autograph and my picture taken with her. When I went up to her, I wanted to tell her how much her writing meant to me. I wanted to say that Bird by Bird was a book that I had read and reread. I almost wanted to be like one of those audience members who kept complimenting her, and maybe even go a step further and offer to pick up her dry cleaning or vacuum her house, just to show how much I appreciated her work and wanted to do something for her in return. But I didn't. I usually hold myself back from doing at least half of the things I want to do, because I'm trying not to make people uncomfortable with spontaneous outburts (at least, not as much).

Does that ever happen to you? When you meet authors that you admire, do you suddenly feel shy about what you want to say to them, or do you tell them how much their work means to you? I'm sure they'd love to hear it, and I have managed to say it before. One of the greatest moments of my life was when I told Amy Tan how much it meant to me to meet her in person, and she gave me this big smile and said, "Why, thank you!" And I was so thrilled that she actually acknowledged me.

I walked around Printers Row after that, and found a bunch of vendors selling books and collectors' editions. And as I made my way through the crowds, examining book covers and flipping through the pages, I felt a quiet happiness that I hadn't felt in a long time. For just a little while, I was able to escape from my reality, and just be around books and the people who love them. I used to go to festivals like the Printers Row Lit Fest all the time, but lately I've been so caught up with work and school that I haven't had time. But that day made me realize how important it is to take time out for the other things in my life that are important to me and make me happy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Should've Been a Quiet Lunch

I don't eat out very often. One reason is because I can't afford to, even though I do have a wish list of restaurants I'd like to try. Another reason is because it's easier and faster just to get one of those ready-made meals at the supermarket after a long workday. But a major reason is because more often than not, there are annoying people at many of the restaurants I go to. (Side note: Yes, I am easily annoyed. But I also admit that at times, I too can be annoying. But I try not to be annoying in public places, at least.)

Do you ever encounter people who have an adverse effect on your restaurant meal? It doesn't matter whether you're at a four-star restaurant or McDonald's; all it takes is just one person to ruin the whole atmosphere and experience for everyone.

Yesterday I decided to go to Panera for lunch. I was happy because I had just come back from the Borders on Michigan Avenue, and I'd bought Jen Lancaster's My Fair Lazy for 63 cents! I had a 40% off coupon and a gift card, so it was a pretty rockin' deal to get a hardcover by my favorite author for less than a dollar.

Even though I love the food at Panera, I don't go very often; every time I go there are some people there who make me lose my appetite.

When I placed my order, the cashier asked, "Would you like to add a cookie to your meal for just 99 cents?"

"Sure," I said. "I'll have a chocolate chip cookie."

The cashier looked down at the basket of cookies in front of the register, and said, "Aw, there aren't any chocolate chip cookies left, are there?"

"No, but there are some over there," I said, pointing at the pastry case where there was a stack of cookies on a plate.

He didn't move from the cash register, though the plate was less than five steps away. "Yeah, but it's easier just to get a wrapped cookie." Right. It's SO HARD to step over to the plate, put a cookie into a bag, and hand it to me. He called over to one of the other cashiers, who tossed a wrapped cookie in his direction, even though I really wanted one of the cookies that were already out. They're crunchier. I like crunchy.

Once I got my food, I looked around hopefully for one of the smaller, comfortable booths. But they were otherwise occupied by the people with laptops who finished their small beverages an hour ago but clung firmly to their tables and ignored the people with full trays of food in their hands. So I sat at a table in the center of the restaurant. It just happened to be within eavesdropping distance of a guy yelling into his cell phone. As I've written before, it's hard to avoid eavesdropping on people's cell phone conversations, especially when they talk really loudly.

"Can't you do SOMETHING for me?" he yelled at the poor customer service rep on the phone. "I only used that stupid lawn mower THREE TIMES and it broke down! I need a lawn mower for this summer!" And I need a lawn mower for your FACE, I thought. "I can't believe you're telling me I'm out of luck. I mean, I don't think a lawn mower should BREAK DOWN like that when I only used it a couple times! Can't you talk to your manager for me?"

Can't you shut up? I tried to focus on my sandwich and my book, but Lawn Mower Guy kept yelling. His voice carried over every other conversation in the restaurant. I fet sorry for the person he was berating . Lawn Mower Guy literally yelled for fifteen minutes straight, until he finally ended the call.

But he didn't stop there. No. He started cursing and saying "lawn mower" over and over again while he looked around, as if he expected the rest of us to commiserate with him. Oh yes, we all feel so sorry for you. And I totally want to talk to you about your broken lawn mower. That's just the WORST THING EVER to happen to someone. The kind of guy who would yell at a customer service rep for that long with complete disregard for other people eating lunch is totally my dream guy! I might as well cancel my online dating membership right now!

Lawn Mower Guy finally left, but I cringed when I saw a familiar person walk in. I see her almost every time I come to this Panera, and she freaks me out every time. She always wears this ball gown that's more appropriate for a night at the theater than an afternoon meal at a cafe. But that's not why she's weird. She's weird because she wanders around the restaurant and examines each person's table and meal with this glazed look in her eyes.

This time she walked around the restaurant and oh, JEEZ! It looked like she was SNIFFING each person's food! I concentrated on my book, hoping that she'd skip my table, but she didn't. She leaned forward and inhaled.

I didn't look up, but I thought, Get your nose away from my food! She finally sat down at her usual spot by the window, but kept looking around while everyone else avoided her gaze.


At least the food was good.

Monday, June 14, 2010

You Know There Won't Be a Second Date When...

1. Your date flirts with the waitress. Twice.

2. You end up talking about the weather for at least a third of the date.

3. You or your date starts talking about an ex.

4. You order anything garlic-flavored or onion-flavored for dinner, even though you know you forgot your mints at home.

5. You keep thinking about the reruns you're missing.

6. You and your date spend more time looking at other people than each other.

7. You check your watch at least fifteen times.

8. One hour into the date, you already know that you won't be waiting by the phone for your date to call.

9. Your date spends 85% of  the evening talking about sports, which you have 0% interest in.

10.You visit the restroom in the restaurant and immediately look for a window that you can escape out of.

11. You think up imaginary blog titles about your date, such as "How I Almost Fell Asleep While Talking" and "Maybe I SHOULD Just Stay Single".

Not all of these things happened on my dates with two different guys last week (though some of them did). I did say I wouldn't reveal a lot of details about either date, but, well, I changed my mind. It's not like I'm giving away ALL the details about either date, and anyway, writing about a select few things that happened is therapeutic in some sense, I think. And I will say that these things have happened on previous dates I've been on.

One thing I've learned from dating is that it gives me a better sense of what I want and what I don't want. I want a guy I never have to talk about the weather with. And as far as those two guys from last week go, they were nice, but...

And that's the thing. If you think, they were nice, BUT... then you know that you don't want a second date. But I'm not sorry I went out with either guy. I figure that at the very least it's a good learning experience, and not, you know, an excuse to buy ten pints of ice cream and sweats in three different colors.

Friday, June 11, 2010

How They Met

The novel that I'm writing is a chick lit novel, and one of the things I struggled with at first was the scene where the two main characters meet. I wanted it to be funny, honest, and original, so that the following scenes where the characters formed a connection with each other would be suprising rather than expected and all laid out by the first page.

What about you? In the stories you're writing, did you also struggle with "how they met" scenes? Or did your characters already know each other before they formed connections?

I once met a guy who told me that he met his wife at the Chicago Summer Dance Festival, where people learn new moves and dance to live music in Grant Park every week. He said that at one point the announcer told the crowd to turn around and dance with whoever they were facing. This guy did, and he came face to face with a beautiful woman. They fell in love the first time they danced together.

I met another guy who said he met his girlfriend at a train stop. They waited for the same train at the same time every morning, and they kept noticing each other. Eventually they got up enough courage to talk to each other, and now they've been together for years.

I also know of (though I don't them personally) two people who met through their blogs; they kept blogs on the site and made videos of themselves. Apparently they found each other's blogs, left messages for each other, and then they finally met in person and fell for each other. The guy ended up moving to Boston, where the girl lived, in order to be with her. Then they started documenting their relationship through their blogs.

I always thought I'd meet that special someone the way so many other people did, at a party, through friends, or even by accident. It's not like I had unrealistic expectations about meeting someone. I didn't think I'd lock eyes with some guy on a crowded street, and that we'd then run towards each other with our arms outstretched, as music played out of nowhere and everything suddenly happened in slow motion. Not only is that unrealistic, it's also totally lame.

Before I even considered online dating, I thought the whole concept was weird. The idea of going through profiles as if I was combing through a catalog (of men) seemed surreal to me. And I couldn't imagine writing to perfect strangers, let alone dating any of them. What if the guy turned out to be an ex-con? Or what if he was a lot younger/older/weirder-looking than he appeared to be?

But now a lot more people are doing online dating. And it's not viewed in the same way as it was when it first came on the scene. And many people are succeeding at it; they're meeting great people, going on dates, falling in love, and getting married. And now that I've tried online dating, I actually like the idea of writing to someone before the first date. It's often easier to break the ice that way.

Even if I don't meet someone I could be with, I'm still willing to give online dating another shot, at least for now. Hopefully I won't regret it. Hopefully I won't feel the urge to give up dating altogether or smash my laptop into tiny pieces so that I never have to look at another profile again. Hopefully, I'll meet someone I like.

I have another date tonight, this time with a different guy. (What? I know I just went on a date with someone else on Tuesday, but I'm going out of town next week and then I won't get to date at all until I come back! I figure I should meet the guys sooner rather than later, especially because they might meet Heidi Klum's double before they meet me, and then all would be lost as far as I'm concerned.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Women Do It Too

In last Wednesday's post, I poked fun at the impressions guys try to make in the photos they post on their online dating profiles. But the thing is, women (including myself) also try to give off certain impressions in the photos they post on their profiles.

I had a difficult time choosing the photos for my profile. As I was going through pictures of myself, it made me realize how much work has defined my twenties; most of my recent pictures are of myself in work situations. I do have pictures of myself with my friends, of course. But we rarely take pictures together anymore, unless it's someone's birthday or some other special event.

When I go to bars with the other graduate students, we don't use our fancy cell phones to take pictures of each other with drinks in our hands as we laugh and dance in a carefree sort of away. We're lucky if we can even afford cell phones. And even at bars we're talking about our work. If anyone were to take pictures of us at that moment, we'd probably all look really stressed, worried, or tired.

So here are a few examples of some of the pictures I found. They definitely made me remember what I was really thinking when the pictures were taken.

Picture of me holding my cousin's baby:
The impression I might give to guys: Look how maternal I am! I will be a great mother someday.
What I was really thinking: Don't drop the baby don't drop the baby don't drop the baby....WHY DOES THIS KID KEEP STARING AT ME?

Picture of me with my coworkers at my old job at the Expensive Clothing Store:
The impression I might give to guys: Check out the stylish outfit that I got with my employee's discount! I look like I could be on the cover of the Expensive Clothing Catalog, no?
What I was really thinking: I wish I could just wear jeans and a T-shirt to work.

Picture of me teaching a group of high school students:
The impression I might give to guys: As a teacher, I inspire my students.
What I was really thinking: If I catch those kids pushing each other out of their chairs ONE MORE TIME....

Picture of me as a member of a friend's wedding party:
The impression I might give to guys: Look at how good I look in formal wear! And I wasn't bitter that I wasn't the one getting married that day! Really!
What I was really thinking: I can't BELIEVE I had to spend so much money on a dress that I will never wear again! And these shoes are so uncomfortable!  And my hair feels so unnatural in this French twist! I feel like I'm going to fall over from the weight of all these bobby pins.

Picture of me at a bar last April that a waitress took of me, because she said it might end up on the bar's website:
The impression I might give to guys: I love going to bars. This is my idea of a fun Friday night!
What I was really thinking: I can't believe I let myself get talked into coming here. I can't believe I let that waitress take my picture. I'm having a bad breakout today! I look like Rudolph the zit-nosed reindeer!

Picture of me at the StoryStudio class I took last month, listening to the instructor Stephanie Kuehnert:
The impression I might give to guys: I am dedicated to the craft of writing.
What I was really thinking: Stephanie is such a cool writer and teacher. She's even cooler than the person who invented peanut M&Ms. Mmm, M&Ms. Those would taste good right now. Would anyone notice if I ate a couple from the stash in my bag?

Because I spend so much time working, I don't have a lot of pictures of myself "out on the town" in fancy dresses or miniskirts. Besides, I don't even like wearing dresses or miniskirts. Because it's so windy in Chicago for so many months of the year, I'm always afraid that the dress is going to fly up and I'm going to have a Marilyn Monroe moment, only it wouldn't be sexy so much as embarrassing.

Unlike some of the guys' profiles I've seen, the women on and (last year, when I did online dating for the first time, I checked out a few of the women's profiles to see how other women described themselves, so that I could maybe learn from their examples) don't have any shirtless photos. But some of them did do that "look at my chest" pose, where they stood with their chests sticking out. I don't have any pictures like that either.

This past Memorial Day, I went with a friend to Michigan Avenue. I had the idea to take some pictures of myself that I could put on my profile, but of course it was the one day that whole weekend where it was raining on and off the whole day. So in the pictures that my friend took of me, I not only looked like a tourist posing in front of Water Tower Place Mall, but I was also squinting through the rain while I huddled under an umbrella.

"Why don't you put up some pictures of yourself from a trip that you took back in college?" my friend suggested. But I disagreed with this idea. It's been seven years since I was an undergrad, and it's better to post more recent pictures.

So I ended up choosing pictures that I was less than satisfied with but figured that they were better than nothing. I'm not sure what kind of impression they'll give to guys. They apparently gave a good impression to one guy on eharmony, because I went on a date with him last night. What was it like? Wouldn't you like to know....:)

The truth is, although I'm considering writing some stuff about some of the dates I've been on/will go on in the future, I'd rather not go into detail about them. There's nothing wrong with people who do describe their dates in detail on their blogs, especially because it can not only make for interesting reading but it can also be a good way for those people to express how they feel about their dates. But all I will say about the date I went on yesterday is that it was nice. And that's all I'm willing to say about it at this point.

For one thing, if I really do end up liking any guy I meet on eharmony, I'd be afraid of jinxing it if I were to talk about it. And on the other hand, as I stated on a discussion forum for 20something bloggers, if I write  details in this blog about the dates I went on in the past but didn't like so much, some of the guys I've gone out with might read the blog and get mad at me. Or worse, they might ask me out again.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lookee! My first award!

As I mentioned before, I am a member of 20 Something Bloggers, as are several of the wonderful people reading/following this blog. And a fellow blogger that I "met" through 20sb just gave me my first award! Woohoo!

Lilly, who writes the blog A Pre-Life Crisis, gave me this award:

Thanks Lilly! Her blog is really cool and a lot of fun to read. If you haven't read it yet, go check it out right now. Or you can click on the award on my sidebar and it will lead you to her page.

According to Lilly, the rules for this award are that I have to list 10 facts that aren't common knowledge and pass it on to other bloggers. So here are my 10 facts, which some people may question the veracity of but which I firmly believe are true. And since I BELIEVE they're true, they ARE true! So there.

1. Every time there's a Cubs game in 85-degree weather and the fans crowd the train to maximum capacity, the air-conditioning on the train will inevitably break down.

2. If you act like you're talking to yourself on the train, the scary people will be much less likely to harass you. (You will also get to have your own seat all to yourself, no matter how crowded the train is.)

3. On the day that a major paper is due, at least half a dozen undergrads in each class will have "emergencies" that prevent them from turning in their work on time.

4. If the professor is more than five minutes late to class, the students will take that as an excuse to leave. (aka the 5-minute rule)

5. But if a student is more than thirty minutes late to class, the professor will take that as an excuse to stop the lecture right and then and there. She will then start beating her fists (the professor's, not the student's) against the wall and spouting off poems with tragic themes, the kind of poems where someone is driven to madness.

6. You can always tell who the Chicago tourists are because they look up every time the train rumbles by and comment on how much noise it makes. The locals, on the other hand, will just go about their business, because the noise has become part of their landscape.

7.  Britney Spears' music deserves more recognition and awards. (Besides, her music's fun to work out to! Seriously, you should listen to it! It's really not that bad! Really! AND STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES AT MY POST! YOU THINK I CAN'T SEE YOU DOING IT BUT I KNOW YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT NOW!)

8. If you walk too slowly on a busy Chicago street, or, even worse, if you stop for even just a few seconds, you have a 99% chance of getting knocked over by impatient Chicago commuters who are in a hurry to get to the nearest Starbucks for their third daily dose of caffeine and their thirty-third dose of Wi-Fi.

9. Illinois is not pronounced "Illi-NOISE", and if you say it that way the locals will throw corncobs at you. Or at least they'll want to.

10. Chocolate is not one of the four food groups. But it should be.

So now, I am giving this award to the following awesome bloggers:

Talli  @ Talli Roland
Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist
Lisa @ Notes from Nadir
Hannah @  Musings of a Palindrome
Margaret @ The Crymes Syndicate

So thanks again, Lilly, for the awesome award! And to those bloggers I'm giving the award to, you don't HAVE to list ten facts. You can just do five or three or none at all. Or you can just put up the award on your blog. Or not. It's not like it'll offend me if you don't accept the award. It's not like I'll OBSESS over it. I'm not obsessive at all...

(Side note: I just realized I have more exclamation points and caps in this post than usual. I think it's because I just had my third daily dose of caffeine--oops, I mean my first; I mean, what day is it anyway? Methinks the caffeine is getting to me...)

And don't tell me to cut down on the caffeine. Or else I'll throw a corncob at you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reading Under the Influence

This past Wednesday night I attended an event called "Reading Under the Influence". It's a monthly reading series where a select group of writers read excerpts from their published stories as well as passages from famous novels. The catch is that before doing the reading they have to drink a shot. Seeing as how I rarely drink alcohol, I'm fairly certain that if I were ever to do that, I'd end up passing out or throwing up in front of the audience before I finished reading. The shots don't have to be alcoholic, but you don't want to look like a sissy and not drink.

Damn. I just realized I sounded like the "peer pressure" bully in a just-say-no video.

The writers also make up their own trivia questions, and audience members call out the answers. If they win, they get a free book.

I'd wanted to attend this event for a long time, but I'd always had too much work to do. I actually still had a lot of work waiting for me at home, but I decided to take a break and go anyway. I felt nervous about going to a bar by myself, but I knew that my friends probably wouldn't be available to go out on a Wednesday night anyway. And besides, as I mentioned before, outside the blogosphere I keep my writing life a secret.

I got to the bar a little after seven, and the back room where the reading was held was already packed. I asked the bartender for a Coke (again, I rarely drink, and I've stopped trying to pretend that I actually like the taste of alcohol). The bartender asked, "Is Pepsi okay?" I thought, NO! Pepsi NOT okay! Want Coke! Only Coke! But out loud I said, "Sure!" He handed me the drink and said, "On the house!" Good thing I didn't go off into my why-Coke-tastes-better rant.

At first I stood there awkwardly by myself, since everyone else sat on bar stools or at little tables or stood around the room in pairs and groups. At almost every Chicago bar I've ever been to, people rarely go up to perfect strangers and just talk to them. Most of the time people just stand around and drink while checking each other out in a not-so-discreet manner.

But after pretending to look occupied by sending text messages to everyone in my cell phone address book, everyone from my friends to people I hadn't seen in months (I probably would've texted my dentist too, if his office was still open), I thought that this whole standing around without talking to anyone thing was stupid.

So I went up to two girls who looked like they were close to my age. They were sharing a table that had a third bar stool that was empty, and I asked if I could take it. They were very nice. We ended up chatting and it turned out that one of the girls and I had gone to the same school but at different times. And I was glad that I hadn't just stood in a corner by myself for the whole night.

When the reading started, I realized that when I wrote down the info for the reading series, I'd failed to note the theme of the stories for that evening: Sluts.

My first reaction to hearing the theme was this: Ummmmm....

My Catholic reserve kicked in and I squirmed uncomfortably at first when people started reading excerpts from erotic fiction, but then again I might have been squirming from all the Coke I'd been drinking.

But once I loosened up (but only a little, because I am neurotic after all; I think I'm incapable of loosening up completely), I started enjoying the experience of being read to. It's something that I still miss from grade school, when my teachers would read to us after lunch. But they never read us erotic fiction, because I'm fairly certain they would've gotten arrested for that.

Anyway, after one of the readings, a woman said, "Whew! Now let's go smoke a cigarette!" My favorite reading was by a guy who read a story he'd written about a guy's casual hookup with a girl at a party. I liked it because the narrator of his story was obviously so neurotic and obsessive because he kept thinking too much about what he was experiencing. I also liked how the writer referred to the lead female character as a "sex She-Ra." It's too bad that writer is engaged; I developed a little crush on him just because his writing was so funny and honest.

Gina Frangello read from her book, which was titled Slut Lullabies. The title particularly intrigued me, especially because I often have trouble coming up with engaging titles for my own stories.

I also admired those writers for having the courage to stand up in front of a roomful of strangers and read their work, especially when some of those audience members were visibly distracted by the hockey game that was playing on the TVs. The game was muted, but a few of the audience members' reactions to it were not. I heard a few people cheer softly, "Go Blackhawks!" and one girl actually raised her arm when one of the players scored a goal, right in front of the writer who was reading. I must admit that even I got distracted at one point, not by the game but by a commercial starring Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head; at one point during the commercial Mrs. Potato Head's lips fell off her face and went rolling down a mountain. I tried not to giggle and concentrated on the reading instead.

A month ago I would have been unwilling to read any of my stuff to a roomful of people. But now that I've been blogging and sharing my writing with anyone who wants to read it online, I have a little more courage to do so.

The trivia Q&A was also interesting. One of the writers asked this question: "What was the name of the girl that Dawson of Dawson's Creek lost his virginity to?"

One of the audience members called out, "Your mom!"

Everyone laughed, and the writer said, "Well, actually it's my sister's name."

Another writer asked trivia questions about Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, and I actually knew all the answers. I tried yelling them out, but two other girls were louder than I was and they got credit for their answers. What made me mad was that at least one of them called out her answers AFTER I called out mine, and all I could think was, CHEATER! THIEF! SO UNFAIR!

A nice guy standing beside me told me, "You have to yell really loudly." He even pointed towards me when the writer asked, "Ok, who was calling out answers in the back?" But the other two girls were waving their arms and claiming credit for their answers, so one of them won the book. I kept thinking of that scene from Mean Girls, where Lindsay Lohan's character imagines tackling Rachel McAdams' character to the floor, because Rachel's character stole the guy that Lindsay's character liked. My competitive nature returned in full force, to the point that I imagined reenacting that scene right then and there while shouting, "Ok, bring it ON, CHEATER!" I was so distracted by this idea that I forgot to thank Nice Guy for trying to help me. Oh, well.

By the time I left the bar, it was pouring down rain, and I'd forgotten my umbrella. But I didn't stay inside until the rain cleared up. No. That would've made sense. Instead I made my way through the rain with great difficulty, so that by the time I got on the bus to go home I was completely soaked and looked like I'd participated in a wet T-shirt contest (good thing I was dressed in dark clothes, and good thing Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild notoriety wasn't there), which, come to think of it, seemed to fit in with the theme for that night's reading series.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Picture Says a Little Too Much

I've been an active member of eharmony for about a couple weeks now, and despite my judgmental nature, I'm trying to be open-minded about it.

I do read through each person's profile, because as I mentioned in my last post on online dating, you can tell a lot about a person by what he writes and doesn't write. I like the profiles where the guys write funny and original stuff, especially because so many of the other profiles sound exactly the same. I swear, at least fifty of the matches so far have listed their grandparents as the people who influenced them most. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and it's nice if they really do have good relationships with their grandparents. BUT I often hear some people say how they never hear from their grandkids. So I have to wonder if the guys who claim their grandparents influenced them most used to be the same types of undergrads who used the "sick grandparent" excuse every time their professors chided them for missing class or every time a paper was due in order to get out of turning it in on time. But I digress.

Anyway, I have to admit that the guys' pictures are important, too. If a guy doesn't have his picture up yet, or even worse, has a "request picture" caption on it, then I'm not going to respond if he tries to communicate with me. (Yes, I know that some people can set up a profile without putting up a picture, especially if they haven't paid yet. But I'm talking about guys who are already paying members.) Looks aren't everything, but they do matter to some extent. On the other hand, I've met guys who I thought were attractive at first but then turned into Mr. Hyde after their real (awful) personalities began to emerge. And there are other guys who became even more attractive the more time I spent with them, because they were so nice and so much fun to be around.

(Side note: You might call me a hypocrite because I don't have a picture of my face up on this blog. But there's a DIFFERENCE between not putting my picture on a blog and not putting one up on a dating site, so PBBBBBPTHHH!!!)

Either way, no matter what a guy looks like in his picture, I've been noticing a pattern in the types of pictures that guys put up. On eharmony you can include captions under each of your photos to indicate when and where the picture was taken. But I think that there's a difference between what the picture looks like, what the caption says, what he wants me to think, and what I think he's actually saying.

Here are a few examples:

Guy cradling a baby in his arms:
Guy's caption: Me with my nephew.
What he wants me to think: Look at how good I am with children! I will be a great father someday.
What he could actually be saying: I have no idea who this kid is. I just picked him up because I didn't have a puppy available.

Guy with his arms around two girls who are either hugging him/kissing him on the cheek:
Guy's caption:  Me with my friends, don't worry!
What he could actually be saying: Look how desirable and popular I am. The ladies can't get enough of me.
What I want to say to him: At least crop your ex-girlfriend/female harem out of the picture before you post it.

Guy holding up a glass of champagne in a toast with several of his other guy friends:
Guy's caption: Me and the guys at a friend's wedding.
What he could actually be saying: Look how good I look in a tux! And look how many friends I have!
What I want to say to him: Hmmm, your friends are really cute. Are they on this site too? If we ever meet in person, could you, like, introduce me to one of them?

Guy with his shirt off, flexing his muscles:
Guy's caption: Guess the workouts have been paying off!
What he could actually be saying: Look at my big muscles!
What I want to say to him: Nice. (Or, put your shirt back on! I've suddenly lost the will to see anything!)

Guy posing at the top of a mountain/jumping out of a plane/riding a motorcycle:
Guy's caption: I've always been adventurous.
What he could actually be saying: I'm posing in front of a cardboard cutout.
What I want to say to him: Maybe next time you should take your sunglasses off/not have the picture taken from fifty feet away (it's called a zoom lens, people)/not have the helmet completely cover your face, because I can't see what you look like. (Interestingly enough, a lot of the outdoorsy/adventurous pictures are taken from far away, so in many of the pictures the guy provides, it's hard to see what he actually looks like.)

Guy's driver's license photo (it actually had the words "Driver's license" printed on it)
Guy's caption: (None)
What he could actually be saying: I think that a picture where I'm frowning and look like I'm posing for a mug shot will be very attractive to women.
What I want to say to him: You have GOT to be kidding me.

But on the other hand, the pictures of myself that I have up so far aren't as great as I'd like them to be. But that's for another post. And right now I'm doing the "Guided Communication" thing with one guy, so who knows what could happen...although if I end up with no dates at all, I'll have embarrassed myself in front of a whole blogosphere of people. But then again I publicly embarrass myself on a regular basis, so it's not like it's anything out of the ordinary.