Tuesday, August 31, 2010

These walls are too thin

When I first moved to Chicago from a small town, I thought about how amazing it would be to live in a big city where everyone didn't know everyone else's business. The idea of starting over in a new place and meeting new people I hadn't known since I was five thrilled me.

But I soon came to learn that just because you don't know everyone, you still come to learn a lot about their business just by living in close vicinity to them. In the building where I live now, I know that the guy who lives next door to me apparently microwaves everything he eats and drinks because I hear the "beep-beep-beep" of his microwave at least six times a day.

The two girls who live on the other side of me are chain smokers, and their smoke seeps into my apartment on a regular basis. They also get a lot of late-night visitors, because their buzzer sometimes wakes me up at 1 A.M. Apparently at least one of their boyfriends thinks it's okay to lean on the buzzer for several seconds at a time, and if they don't answer right away he'll start yelling at them from the street.

Although we're supposed to put the trash that doesn't fit in the trash chute in the dumpster downstairs, the guy who lives down the hall is strong enough to go running every day but can't be bothered to take a three minute walk to the dumpster, so he leaves his beer bottles and large trash bags in the tiny room with the trash chute.

The girl who lives above me once tried to unlock the door to my apartment, because she thought it was her apartment. (I thought someone was breaking in, so of course I had the bright idea to open the door to see what was going on.) She also watches TV or listens to the radio about seven hours a day, and I used to be able to hear every lyric that was sung (by both her and the musicians) and every piece of dialogue from her TV shows. I say used to because after my polite request to her that she turn the volume down didn't work, I finally complained to the super. Now I just hear the muffled sound of her TV and radio for three hours a day, except when her boyfriend comes over, in which case they turn on the volume really loud to mask what they're doing. And unfortunately, sometimes the volume of the TV isn't loud enough to mask what they're doing, if you catch my drift.

I'm sure that my neighbors know plenty about my annoying habits, too. I have the musical tastes of a 13-year old girl (though it's been many years since I was 13), because at least six of the songs on my Top 25 Most Played list on my iPod are from Britney Spears' albums. I usually listen to the music on my headphones so as not to disturb my neighbors, but the chain smokers next door can probably hear me singing along to the songs anyway. I think they might be scared of me, anyway, not just because of my love of Britney's music but because I got so frustrated with all the smoke coming from their apartment and from the people smoking in the doorway outside that I started yelling, "I HATE SMOKE! I CAN'T BREATHE I CAN'T BREATHE I CAN'T BREATHE!" And of course, I made sure to yell it through the wall so they could hear me.

I also know that at least three or four of the girls on my floor get drunk on a regular basis, because they stumble in after one A.M. several nights a week, fall on the floor, laugh about it really loudly in the hallway, and then open the doors to their apartments, where they proceed to fall down in there as well.

I also know all about one of my neighbors' marriage, because I was in the laundry room with her once. She proceeded to tell me all the details of her divorce within five minutes of meeting me, following me up the stairs as I dropped socks in my attempt to get away from her.

But you know what I don't know about my neighbors? Their names.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm Not Buying It

When I worked in retail, the managers taught us not to take no for an answer (at least not at first) when selling items to customers. We were taught how to get customers who may have only walked in the store intending to browse to buy at least three or four items. We were also required to get as many customers to sign up for the store credit card as possible.

Yes, it can be annoying to have several cashiers a day asking you if you want the store credit card. But keep in mind that they don't have a choice about it; it's just their job. Most of the customers I dealt with would usually just say politely, "no thanks", and that would be it. Several customers, however, would get mad at me, and act as if I tried to steal their lunch or something. One customer stood by the cash register even after I'd rung up his order and kept interrupting my conversations with other customers. He told them, "She's LYING. Don't listen to her. That credit card is a waste of money and she's just EVIL for trying to get you to sign up for it."

Another customer got really angry when I asked him if he wanted to sign up for the card. He started yelling and said, "No, I do NOT want the card. I do NOT need my credit score lowered because of it, and I do NOT want my life to be RUINED because you made me sign up for something I don't need." And I was just like, "Don't blame me. I just work here."

So I try to be patient with cashiers and sales people when they try out their sales pitch on me. But sometimes it does get to be a little too much.

Almost every time I go to my neighborhood bank to make a deposit or withdrawal, one of the bankers will ambush me while I'm standing in line and have me sit down with him at his desk. The whole transaction would take less than a minute with a teller, but it always takes much longer when I have to sit with a banker.

Here's an example:

Banker: Hi, welcome! Are you making a withdrawal or a deposit today?

Me: A withdrawal. I just need to get a roll of quarters and...

Banker: Oh, I can help you with that! Why don't we step over to my desk over here.

Me: I'm actually in a hurry. I could just wait for the teller.

Banker: Oh, no, it won't take any time at all!

Me: Okay.

Banker: Now, have you signed up for our spend as much money as possible and we will reward you with a free pen plan?

Me: No, they asked me about that the last time I was here, and I really don't need it.

Banker: Oh, but it's a great plan. Think about how much money you'll save.

Me: No, thank you. I really just need my quarters.

Banker: Of course, of course. Have you heard about our valued customers plan? In exchange for your life savings and your soul, you'll get free airline miles. But they can only be used for three days a year, and you can only go to the South Pole. I've heard it's very nice this time of year.

Me: Really, I don't need any new features on my account. If I could just get my...

Banker: How about our Platinum Account plan? If you sign up for it today, you'll earn a 10% interest on your savings and all you have to do is get 50 of your closest friends to sign up for checking accounts with us. And of course, you also will have to promise never to close your account with us or we will be forced to hunt you down.

Me: Um....

What I really want to say is this: No, I DON'T want ANYTHING else on my account! I'm tired of getting a sales pitch every time I come here, and I must have said no to you people at least fifty times already! JUST GIVE ME MY MONEY!

But I can't say it. Because, you know, yelling and demanding money in a bank might make me sound like a bank robber.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Miss the 90s

I came of age in the nineties, and there are several things that I miss about it. I miss the fact that I could turn on the TV and watch actual sitcoms instead of a bunch of reality shows about spoiled housewives getting into catfights in fancy restaurants or people making fools of themselves for fifteen minutes of fame.

Back then, I think that the only reality shows that were really popular were the Real World and Road Rules, and that was when those shows were actually worth watching. Do you remember when the kids on the Real World were picked because they actually had jobs and had accomplished things, like the musicians, the playwright, the AIDS activist, and the comic book artists? Now the only requirement for cast members is that they look like models and make New Year's resolutions like, "This year I will stop making out with random strangers in bars" and "This year I will not get arrested for being criminally annoying" (I didn't even realize that was a crime until I read about Snooki of Jersey Shore fame), and "This year I will stop taking off my clothes in public".

I also miss the days when everyone wasn't permanently attached to their cell phones or laptops, and we actually could go through a whole day without using either. The Internet was only just beginning to be popular. I didn't actually start using e-mail until my junior or senior year of high school, and I actually thought that e-mail was just a lame fad that would go out of style fairly quickly, like clear Pepsi and Pauly Shore.

When I taught high school students, I once asked a group of them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Most of them said they wanted to be rich and famous. One student showed me rap lyrics that he had written and said that he wanted to be the next Jay-Z. Another student said he wanted to be like Donald Trump. Interestingly, none of them said they wanted to be teachers.

I'd grown fond of these students, partly because they didn't throw hissy fits over their grades and they didn't insist on calling me by my first name, unlike some of my college students. And I wanted their dreams to come true, even though I knew that the odds were stacked against them. They were still young enough to believe that they could have and be anything they wanted.

I think that's what I miss most about the nineties, which is when I came of age as a teenager. I don't miss high school, which I think of as four years of cliques, cruel gossip, and a sense of feeling lost. When I was in high school, I thought that once I finally escaped, I'd figure out what it was I wanted to do with my life. I thought that by the time I was thirty, I'd be an official adult and on a clear path to where it was I was supposed to be. (On the other hand, back in high school I also had crushes on Lance Bass from N'Sync and Ricky Martin, both of whom turned out to be gay, so a lot of what I thought back then turned out to be wrong.)

But then I started college. And I soon came to learn that I couldn't be anything I wanted to be. Unlike what I'd been told in high school, it wasn't enough just to get good grades and work hard. I found out that it was harder than I thought it would be to get a job as a lawyer, or an editor, or a professor. And many of my college classmates came to the same realization; at least half of the people I knew ended up changing their majors.

I pursued my dream of becoming a professor, and it came with a lot of good experiences. But it also meant giving up on a lot of things, and it also means that at age twenty-nine, I'm still in grad school, still working minimum-wage jobs, and still feeling lost. I miss that belief I had back in the nineties, when I thought anything was possible. Back then I didn't think of all the reasons why my dreams couldn't come true.

And now when I listen to my students talk about what they hope their futures will be like, part of me is tempted to let them know what it will really be like. But I don't say anything. I don't want them to lose that hope.

What about you? Is there anything you miss from the 90s? Aside from the boy bands, I mean.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inside Jokes in Academia

Today I went to a conference for English teachers. I didn't really want to go, but my department said it was mandatory, which is the academics' way of saying, "You have to do it or you will get whapped in the head with a giant eraser."

The conference consisted of several workshops and lectures, with such fascinating topics like "The History of the Comma," "The Sins of Syntax," and "Why the 5-Paragraph Form is the Devil's Work".

I was tired and grumpy about being there, so I was really only half-listening to the discussions. While everyone was eagerly asking questions and taking notes, I was concentrating on sleeping with my eyes open.

The speakers made several jokes, most of which I didn't get but which everyone else thought were hilarious. It felt like the time I went to a Star Trek movie and sat stone-faced while all the Trekkies laughed at the inside jokes.

I felt a little hypocritical, because I often scold my students for not paying attention during class, but I wasn't paying much attention to what was going on. Here are a few samples of what I got out of it:

Speaker: And so according to Professor Blah Blah, the discourse of the blah blah blah....

Audience: Hahahahahaha!

Me: I wonder if it actually is possible to die of boredom.

Speaker: Blah blah blah and he thought he was supposed to use a semicolon, but he was actually supposed to use a comma!

Audience: Hahahahahaha!

Me: Oh, to be a fly on the wall of this room. Then I could fly on out of here.

Speaker: Blah blah pedagogy blah blah the art of writing research papers is truly blah blah blah.

Audience member: When I taught at another school, everyone blah blah and it was all MY idea and blah blah and all my students LOVED it and blah blah blah.

Me: That is the SEVENTH time that person has spoken up this HOUR. I know you're in love with the sound of your voice, dude, but COME ON.

Going to conferences is part of the academic package. But although I definitely recognize the value of learning from experienced teachers, I can honestly say that I've learned the most about teaching from my students. Being in the classroom with them taught me what works and what doesn't. I think it's a little like learning how to speak a foreign language. It's one thing to learn from a textbook and lectures; it's another thing altogether to live in the country where the language is spoken.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Day, Another Excuse

Okay, tomorrow's going to be the day that I FINALLY buckle down and start working on my dissertation! Then when my dissertation committee asks me about my progress, I won't have to lie! I'm not going to waste another summer day sleeping in, watching crime dramas, and making excuses about not working.

6:30 A.M. Wake up. Decide that it is too early to be awake since have been waking up at least an hour later every other day, and don't want to screw up body clock. Then I might get sick or something and won't be able to work and we can't have that, can we?

6:31 A.M. Go back to sleep.

7:45 A.M. Wake up to the sound of drivers leaning on their horns in the street outside my bedroom window. Consider yelling out the window at them like I used to, but decide not to. Congratulate self for not yelling at anyone in public for almost a week now. Except for at the mean lady who tried to cut in front of me when I was trying to get on the bus. Yeah, you want a piece of me, lady? Didn't think so. Hmmph.

8:30 A.M. Go to nearby coffeehouse to have breakfast and work on manuscript. Can't help noticing a 250-pound guy standing outside, dressed in a miniskirt. His dog, for some reason, is also wearing a skirt. Think that guys who wear skirts should shave their legs, like girls do.

9:30 A.M. Feeling happy because I just wrote several pages. Writing is always a good way to start the day. Good feeling ends when step outside and see a shirtless guy with a hairy chest AND and an even hairier back jogging by. Now THERE'S someone who needs a shave! Go home to surf the web to find information on whether it's possible to erase scary images from brain because I NEVER WANT TO GO OUTSIDE AGAIN.

9:45 A.M. Okay, now I'm really going to start working on my dissertation. I pick a book from the stack beside my desk. Feel guilty because spent more time reading chick lit this summer than critical theory. But it's research for when I write my own chick lit novels, right? Right. Start reading critical theory.

10:30 A.M. I have NO idea what I just read.

10:45 A.M. I need a break. Read Odd News, which is my favorite section of Yahoo! news, and has such insightful, educational stories about topics like the prison inmate who ate another inmate's glasses and the restaurant chef who was fined for licking two toads while he was working.

11:00 A.M. Feel guilty because not working. Go back to reading.

11:30 A.M. I STILL have no idea what I just read.

11:30-11:35 A.M. Berate myself for not understanding this stuff and for spending the past several years of grad school pretending to know what I'm doing but actually knowing nothing. Everyone else in my class is presenting research at conferences, publishing articles, and have probably spent all summer working on their dissertations. They'll probably all laugh at me when they find out I spent more time watching Law and Order than I did studying.

11:35-11:40 A.M. Think of witty comebacks and insults to throw in the faces of smug grad students.

11:45 A.M. Decide to make lunch. I'm not going to buy takeout today; I'm actually going to cook! Yes. I'm an adult and I should be cooking.

12:15 A.M. And now my lunch is on fire. AAHHH!

12:30 P.M. Buy hamburger and fries at a nearby restaurant. Break my no-yelling-at-strangers-in-public rule when a mean girl my age literally shoved me out of the way when she was refilling her soda. But congratulate self for not throwing drink at her.

12:31 P.M. But I WILL next time, lady.

1:00 P.M. Sit down again to work on dissertation. Decide to work on mansucript instead and type out the pages I wrote in my journal this morning.

2:00-2:15 P.M. Fantasize about going on the Today show to promote my book, and then turning to the camera to all the people watching, including every guy who ever rejected me and every grad student who acted all smug at me and say, "So how do you like me NOW, huh, LOSERS? PPBBBPTH!"

2:15 P.M. Feel tired. Decide that I can't work on my dissertation until I take a nap, because I don't want to write anything incoherent and end up embarrassing myself.

4:00 P.M. Wake up and watch Law and Order. Sam Waterston never gets old. Even though, technically, he is getting older. But whatever.

5:00 P.M. Contemplate going back to work, but decide to work out instead. Convince myself that it's okay because exercising is good for the body. Bring along library book so can study while exercising.

5:30 P.M. Only read two pages because got distracted by cute guys with muscles lifting weights. I should really only come here when the gym is less distracting...I mean, less crowded.

7:30 P.M. Go home and put frozen dinner in the microwave. At least I can't ruin that.

7:35 P.M. And now my dinner is on fire. AAAHHH!

7:45 P.M. Eat peanut butter sandwich and Froot Loops.

8:00 P.M. I can't go back to work now. CSI is on!

10:00 P.M. Read other people's blogs. May not be relevant to my graduate work, but it's educational nonetheless.

10:30 P.M. Attempt to go back to work on dissertation. Feeling too tired. Decide to try again tomorrow.

I do actually feel guilty, because I didn't spend nearly as much time doing graduate work this summer as I should have. I was busy, though, because I had two jobs and I spent a couple weeks taking care of my parents' dogs. But compared to the school year, I actually had more free time this summer, and I spent a lot of it doing stuff that I wanted to do rather than stuff I was supposed to do.

And I think that's why I didn't get a lot of graduate work done. During the school year I'm working two jobs and attending graduate school, so I'm always on the go. I'm lucky if I get more than five hours of sleep a night, and I'm always stressed out and overworked. And this is my one chance to relax before I have to go back to grad school. So maybe I don't feel THAT guilty.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Unconstructive Criticism

One of the things about teaching college students is that I am subject to teacher/course evaluations after each course is completed. I only read the evaluations; I don't read the awful Rate Your Professor websites. Those websites are run by college students who obviously have no idea what it is like to be teachers. Even though I do believe in free speech, at the same time I don't appreciate having my reputation trashed on the Internet. (I've heard that the websites get a lot of new comments after final grades are posted. Coincidence?)

I've been getting a lot more positive evaluations since I first started teaching, and I've gotten some constructive criticism too. It helps to know if the students would prefer to use more outside articles in class, or if they found the group work to be helpful. It's good to know if they want to spend more time learning how to review their peers' papers.

On the other hand, a lot of the time I get nasty comments from disgruntled students; they typically read something like this:

She is a BAD PROFESSOR because she only cares about stupid stuff like citing sources and thesis statements. It's not like I'm ever going to write another paper after this class. I'm going to be a ROCK STAR and I don't even need this class.

She's too condescending because she wouldn't change my grade. She gave me a D which I DID NOT DESERVE. It's not MY fault if I turned in the paper late. I have other homework and I can't be expected to turn in everything on time.

She is too young to be teaching college. I know WAY MORE than she does, because I took AP English and I got a B in it. (Yeah, that's the same as getting a master's degree and a Ph.D. in English.)

She is MEAN. She got mad at me for sleeping in class. I don't feel I should be disciplined for that, especially since I did show up for class every day. (You mean you slept through class every day.)

She gave me bad grades because I didn't profreed. Why should I care about grammer anyway? I wont need it when I become riche.

She kept calling on students who she should have given up on. She ignored students like me, and that's not fair because I am always right. (This was from a student who got mad if I didn't call on him for every question, and would actually interrupt other students when they tried to answer questions.)

She was never available for office hours. (This was from a student who didn't show up for an appointment because she said she forgot about it, and she got mad because I wasn't willing to wait an additional three hours for a more convenient time for her to stop by.)

Reading evaluations like these drive me up the wall, especially because my department supervisors read them. At some schools (though not the ones where I teach, at least I don't think), how many classes you get (if any) depends largely on student evaluations.

I admit that it does sting to read the nasty evaluations, because no one likes to read mean things about themselves. For me, the most important things are making sure my students learn what they're supposed to learn, and making sure that they respect my role as the teacher. Making sure they like me is less important, though it's not like I'm unfair or cruel to any of them.

I've actually had more than one student say to me, "You shouldn't be so strict with us. Our tuition pays for your salary." Really? So does that make you my boss? Maybe I should give you an A right now, even if you did show up late every day, spent more time texting than taking notes, and didn't even bother to bring the textbook to class most of the time. It's not like you're in class to LEARN, right?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blogger's Block

My eharmony membership expires next week. I'm not going to renew it.

On the one hand, I do like the way that eharmony works better than the two other dating sites I've tried. But I had more success finding dates on okcupid, and that site is free.

On the other hand, two more guys pulled the disappearing act on me after we got to the third phase of Guided Communication. That's TWELVE guys total. WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING TO ME? Do they not like what I write in the open-ended questions? I can't imagine why; I haven't written anything offensive or lame. It makes me angry that these jerks seem to get some kind of ego boost for giving girls like me false hope.

I did get to go on two dates, but neither of those guys was worth the money that I spent on this membership. I could have used the money to pay some bills. I could have used it for a one-year membership to the Art Institute. I could have gone to several movies; I haven't seen any movies in months. I could have bought ten new books.

I think I'm going to take a break from online dating, at least for now. I hate the stress it puts on me, and I don't think dating should be stressful, do you? I think that the stress is one reason I have blogger's block; I haven't been able to think of any good blog posts lately. I just feel frustrated.

To top that off, one of the classes I was supposed to teach just got cancelled due to low student enrollment. That's a loss of a significant source of income, and I cut my hours at my website job because I thought I was going to teach that class (and I don't know if I'll get those hours back). And of course, I found out about the cancellation just weeks before school starts, so it is too late to find another teaching job. This is yet another reason why I hate being an adjunct.

Although I disliked the book Eat, Pray, Love (I thought the author was a little selfish), I like the idea of taking time off to travel around the world. I've always wanted to do that, especially since I haven't been anywhere since college. I wish that I had the time and the money to see all the places that I've only read about, and try new foods and meet new people.

But since I can't do that, I think of writing as an escape. When I write, I'm able to go somewhere else and get to know new people, and forget about everything else.

That's why every time I feel angry about everything that's wrong with my life, I go to a coffeehouse, order a cup of coffee and a cookie, and write in my journal. Even though I have blogger's block, somehow I've gotten a lot of fiction writing done. I finally finished a draft of my first novel, and I've completed more than thirty pages of my second novel. And that is something.

I'm off to go drown my sorrows in caffeine. Hopefully my next blog post will be more lighthearted, but I didn't really feel lighthearted today.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

You Can't Read This in Public

If I had a million dollars, one of the first things I'd get is a home gym. Well, maybe I'd buy a house first so that I'd have room for a gym.

I like working out because I always feel like I'm doing something productive. Going to the gym is all about being healthy, of course. It has NOTHING to do with the good-looking guys in muscle shirts.

On the other hand, going to a gym has its drawbacks because of all the weird/annoying people. One of the things about being neurotic is that I am easily irritated, but on the other hand it's not always my fault if people make me want to kick them.

There's this one guy who often works out at the same time that I do, and he always makes a point of wiping down a machine with a towel after I use it. It doesn't matter to him if I JUST wiped down the machine with a clean towel; he'll clean it again and then look at me pointedly while he's doing it. Hey, buddy? Look at me again like that and I'll have no choice but to sneeze all over you.

There are TVs in the cardio room, and even though we all wear headphones I can always hear this one guy arguing loudly with the TV. Occasionally he'll even yell at the TV. It's like, if you don't like what's on Fox News, that's your prerogative, but you don't need to broadcast it to the entire room. And also? I'd just like to tell that guy that it's not really necessary to flex after he's done with the elliptical, because it's really hard to find you attractive when I had to listen to you yell for the last half hour.

In the locker room, some women are often really chatty. This wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't such a prude. I'm just trying very hard to focus on just getting dressed and not look at anyone who stands there without any clothes on for several minutes while she talks with her friends. Hey, lady? It's really hard to work out after being BLINDED in the locker room. And I'd be happy to make small talk with you, as long as you wait until after I am fully dressed before you start talking to me, because I'm just trying not to flash you right now, okay?

I also take dance classes every week, which are fun because they're a good way to burn calories and learn some new moves. On the other hand, the classes are always really crowded, and people often dance a little too close and then give me a look when I bump into them.  WHATEVER, ladies. I think it was your fault, so move over or I'll dance all over your feet. The classes are generally made up of women, but there are always a few guys there who show up to check out the girls or to check out the other guys.

There's one guy who recently started coming to one of my dance classes who moves like a contestant on So You Think You Can't Dance. I mean, I know we're all beginners here, but the audition for Riverdance is that way, mmm-kay? This guy apparently loves to show off his dance moves, because he's just a wee bit too enthusiastic when he's dancing. He always adds an extra high kick or pirouette to whatever dance routine we're doing.

When I work out on the elliptical or the exercise bike, I usually like to bring a magazine to read. But the thing about women's magazines is that they often have what I call - ahem - in the bedroom articles. Cosmopolitan is all about those articles. I often feel embarrassed to read it in public, because every time I turn a page, eeps! A half-naked person in a compromising position with another half-naked person! I turn another page, and ahhh! Another article, and this time it's got illustrations along with "tips"! I try to just read the articles on money or fashion, but they apparently only make up a third of the magazine, so I always turn the pages carefully in case someone sees me reading them. There's nothing wrong with these magazines, of course; I just happen to be easily embarrassed.