Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Missed (Dis) Connections

When I was looking for part-time work on Craigslist a few years ago, I couldn't help noticing the "Missed Connections" ads in the personals section. If you've never heard of it, it's a series of personal ads where people will post messages to strangers who caught their attention, in the hopes that those people will read those ads and respond to them. There's something sweet and hopeful about it, even if the chances are a million to one that the person will actually respond.

(I found the ad above from collegehumor.com, but the ones below are mine. :)

On the other hand, sometimes the ads are weird and a little creepy; occasionally you might see an ad that reads something like this:

Girl on the 56 bus:
You were the beautiful girl in a blue dress on the 56 bus heading south. I was the guy in dark sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt, silently stalking you from a few seats away. If you ever want someone to follow you around and watch every move you make with binoculars, I'm your man.

What do you think of those ads? If you were/are single, would you ever try placing one? I don't think I'd ever place a "missed connection" ad, just because it's doubtful that whoever I almost "connected" with will ever read it, and it's possible that my friendly neighborhood sociopath might respond to it. But on the other hand, there are a few random people who I've come across that I wouldn't mind seeing again, if only so that I could say the following things to them:

Red line train:
There was a whole crowd of us waiting to get on the train during rush hour. You were the woman standing behind me who kept jabbing at my back with your purse because you were trying to push me out of the way. I hope to see you again soon, because then I can introduce your purse to my flame thrower.

I was standing in line at Jewel-Osco, waiting to pay for my groceries. You were the guy buying steak and potatoes, and you cut in front of me at the last minute, then refused to move even after I told you that I was first. I hope you respond to this ad, so that I can go to your house, take away the groceries you bought, feed them to my pet alligator, and dare you to stick your hand in its mouth to get them back. Try eating the food NOW, tough guy!

Starbucks cafe, South Loop:
I was sitting by the window, writing in a notebook. You were sitting across the room, talking on your cell phone for half an hour at top volume, after yelling at the barista for getting your order wrong. And then you started laughing when the barista was driven to tears. Maybe you'll read this and we could meet in person, so that you can tell me all about the time you sold your soul for more cell phone minutes.

University library:
I was the graduate student doing research at a table stacked with books. You were at the table next to mine, listening to death metal music on your headphones, also at top volume (perhaps you're related to the cell phone guy, who may also be related to Satan?). I wondered how you were able to concentrate on your work with that music pounding in your ears, because I definitely couldn't concentrate on mine. I tried moving to another table across the room, but I could still hear your music. I hope to see you one day, and I hope to see that your ears have fallen off.

Downtown restaurant:
You were a cute guy in your early thirties sitting at a table not far from mine, reading a book by one of my favorite authors as you ate your lunch. You caught my eye and smiled. I got flustered that you were looking at me and I promptly spit out Coke through my nose, started choking on my French fries, and knocked over the contents of my purse onto the floor, which subsequently made the waiter trip and spill the food he was carrying onto a family of four who was at the next table. Sorry about that. If there ever is a next time, I'll say hi.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Life Is Not a Romantic Comedy

If it were, random guys would not pull up next to me in their cars when I'm walking around, and they would not say, "Hey baby, why don't you come ride with us?" To which, of course, the only natural response is to say, "Get away from me or I'll go Jackie Chan on your face." I mean, seriously? Why would any guy think any girl would get into a car full of strangers? What do I look like, a hooker? What gave it away, the stack of college textbooks I was carrying or my sweatpants? Guys in romantic comedies are usually much more eloquent and prone to making long speeches about love while music plays in the background.

If it were, I would not be doing laundry on Friday nights, only to be confronted by drunk neighbors laughing at me, who look at me in the laundry room on their way up to their apartments or on their way out and say, "Looks like you've been having a fun Friday night! Ha ha!" To which, of course, the only natural response is to throw laundry detergent at them, preferably in the direction of their open mouths, so that they'll hopefully swallow some of the detergent and fall to the floor, gasping and gagging while I laugh and say, "How do you like me now? Ha HA!" (FYI: I don't actually want to poison my neighbors. I just want to, you know, make them throw up a little.)

If it were, I would not have to go on one awkward/bad/makes me want to run away screaming date after another. Have you ever noticed that when you see couples in public, you can tell which ones have been together for a while and which ones are on their first date? The ones on the first date are usually nervous and ask each other a bunch of questions as if they're on an interview, and there isn't that same sense of ease and closeness that you see with couples who have been together for longer.

But when I think back over all the dates I've been on just this past year, images from Saw II and Halloween start going through my head, because the level of terror and pain from those dates is more or less the same. I haven't felt that same sense of ease or closeness with any of the guys I went out with this year.

Whenever I watch TV shows or romantic comedies about people in their twenties or early thirties, they always portray dating as if it's one nonstop party. The only people that ever date on those shows, apparently, are good looking and physically fit even though they spend more time sitting around with their friends than working out at the gym. They have perfect first kisses and good chemistry within the first five minutes of the first date, it seems, and a few scenes later they're moving in together and calling each other cute pet names that make single people like me want to throw laundry detergent at them.

They also have plenty of time to date, and apparently only have to work about three hours a week at their jobs. And even at their jobs it's like one big meet market with other good-looking people and cute co-workers who have secret crushes on them, like the cute friend who's always been there for them and doesn't emerge as being "the one" until the big ending.

I, on the other hand, work on a college campus where 95% of the people I meet (the undergrads ) are out of the question as far as dating is concerned and where the only guys who are available think that it's cool to wear sweater vests and bow ties to bars and spend endless hours discussing the reasons why their dissertations are so awesome.

In romantic comedies, there's usually at least one running scene, where the guy or the girl suddenly realizes his or her love for the other person and goes running through the streets to find that person and make the big declaration. (And do you also notice how in those running scenes, there's always a big traffic jam or gay parade like in The Wedding Planner to slow them down? I'm just saying.) But in my life, the only running that occurs is when I'm running in the opposite direction from a guy who looks like one of the criminals on America's Most Wanted List.

What they hardly ever seem to show in romantic comedies is how difficult dating can be. Every time you put yourself out there, you're taking a risk. You could meet someone you like, but you could also meet someone you can't stand. You could fall for someone who has about as much interest in you as the stars of True Blood have about keeping mum on their relationships (I mean, seriously, is there anything the public doesn't know about Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer's love life? They are just WAY too open about what goes on behind closed doors.).

You could spend a lot of time waiting by the phone for someone who's never going to call. You could spend hours on a date with someone who thinks that his ex-girlfriend is an appropriate topic of conversation to focus on. You could go on a date with someone who looks like Beavis from Beavis and Butthead (and laughs like him too), and then spend the remainder of the date thinking of believable excuses to end the date early, such as you think you may have suddenly become infected with leprosy.

Yes, dating can lead to true love. But what happens if it doesn't? What if, twenty years from now, I'm still single? Am I going to have to keep going on bad first dates for the rest of my life? What if I never get my happy ending?

And yes, I know it's not like you can't have a happy ending if you're single. Of course you can. But eventually, I would like to get married, and maybe even have a family. And I don't think it's so bad to want that. I don't expect my life to be a romantic comedy, and I know that guys in real life don't measure up to movie heroes; I'm okay with that, because it's not like I'm anything like the leading women in those movies. But on the other hand, I do want my life to change. I'm just trying to figure out how to make that happen.

I'm thinking about trying online dating again, but this time with a different site. I haven't decided which one, though. But I might have to wait for a while. Ever since one of the classes I was supposed to teach got cancelled, I haven't exactly been able to be a big spender. I still have some bills to pay off, so it may be at least a couple months before I can afford to sign up for another membership.

I'm a little reluctant to try again, because I'm wondering how many dating sites I'm going to have to try before I finally meet someone. But even though the whole dating game can sometimes be about as much fun as getting my wisdom teeth pulled out, at the same time I'm thinking that maybe it'll be worth it this time around. Maybe I'll actually meet a guy who's worth knowing. And maybe Paris Hilton will get into Harvard Medical School.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things to Do Before I Turn 40

As anyone reading this blog knows, I love making lists. But one list that I've never made is one of those Things to Do Before I Turn... lists. No offense against anyone who has made one, because, on the one hand, it's good to set goals for yourself and to write down what your dreams are. But on the other hand, I think it's putting too much pressure on yourself. When I get older and look over my list, I don't want to start weeping and think, "Oh, no, I never DID find the cure for hiccups! I'm a FAILURE!"

But I'm going to turn thirty next year, which makes me feel old. And if you really want to feel old, try teaching on a college campus where you're surrounded by young people. It makes me want to go out and inject myself with Botox right now. Well, not really. I'd probably flinch right as they were doing it and then they'd zap my face wrong, and then I'd probably end up looking really stunned for the rest of my life.

I figure that since it's only a few months before I turn thirty, I should probably give myself more time and make a Things to Do Before I Turn 40 list instead; that way I have at least ten years. And if you read over my list below, I think you'll see that I can TOTALLY get this done in ten years. Maybe even less than that.

1. Write and publish a novel.

2. Have my neighbors sent off to the Point of No Return, aka a place for all the annoying people. Make them listen to nothing but Justin Bieber songs all day, until they're falling to their knees, sobbing, "Make it STOP!Make it STOP!" Meanwhile, I'll be cackling maniacally and saying, "What's that? Did you say you wanted MORE Justin Bieber songs? Okay! Hahahahaha!"

3. See a Shakespeare play in London.

4. Buy Silly String so that the next time some loser guys drive up beside me when I'm walking down the street and try to get me into their car, I can spray them with Silly String, and then throw the cans at them and dent their foreheads.

5. Finish my Ph.D.

6. Get the politicians and the other lawmakers to see the creation of shows like The Real World and The Bachelor as a crime, so that the people who came up with those shows (as well as the people who star on them) will all be arrested. Then we will never have to be subjected to drunken hookups or spoiled rich kids fighting on TV ever again.

7. Live in a city outside of Chicago, or even outside of Illinois, because I've lived in the Midwest my whole life and want to find out what life is like in other parts of the world.

8. Steal the shoes of every person who tries to cut in front of me in line, and then throw them out on the street and say, "Try cutting in front of someone without your shoes! Ha!" And then somehow find a way to also steal their pants.

9. Find a guy I can just be with, so that I never have to go on a bad first date ever again.

10. Track down every person who was ever mean to me in high school, look them in the eye, and say, "PBBBBBPTHH!"

11. Get a good teaching job that pays enough so that I don't have to work one or two other jobs and so I can actually do something besides work and sleep.

12. Get the weird, loud people who hang out at the coffeehouse by my apartment every single day banned from the coffeehouse permanently so that I never have to listen to their high-pitched arguments again. Then have them sent off to a place where the only thing to do is watch taped performances of Riverdance.

13. Take a cooking class so that I'll never come close to burning my apartment down when I cook again.

14. Attach alarm clocks to all of my students' faces so that they will show up on time for class.

15. Become fluent in a foreign language, and visit the country where that language is spoken.

16. Take away the cell phones from all the people who talk incessantly and loudly on them in public. Then point and laugh at them when they suddenly realize that they no longer know what their purpose in life is.

17. Adopt a dog from an animal shelter.

18. Find a way to program cell phones so that any guy who thinks it's okay to wait several weeks after the first date to call me will somehow get zapped by the cell phone. That way all of his hair will fall out, including his eyebrows.

19. Have a one-on-one conversation about writing with one of my favorite authors, like Amy Tan, Jen Lancaster, Dave Barry, or Steve Almond. Or better yet, have a conversation about writing with all of them together. (Can you imagine what that conversation would be like?)

20. Hypnotize my students into becoming terrified of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, so that they will never try to update their pages or send text messages during my classes again, and will subsequently run away screaming from every laptop and cell phone they see.

What about you? Do you have any goals you'd like to accomplish before you reach a certain age?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

That's MY line!

As a writing teacher, I'm trained to be extra vigilant for plagiarism. Most of the time, students are usually just guilty of "accidental plagiarism", meaning they didn't cite the source correctly or they tried to paraphrase a statement but still used some of the same words. I'm usually very patient with them; what I tell them is something like this:

Me: I've got MY EYE on you, PEOPLE! Nothing gets past me! If I catch any of you plagiarizing, I'll make you write ten extra research papers and I'll put B-minuses on all of them! That's right, I said it! Take THAT! Now drop and give me fifty thesis statements!

Not too long ago, I read a piece of writing by a writer whose writing I admire. But in this particular piece, the writer used a passage that I recognized from someone else's work. The writer, however, did not indicate exactly who the lines came from, and several people have praised this person for the writing. I have to admit; it bothered me.

It wasn't a big deal. It was just a brief passage. But still. Maybe I should have sent him a letter saying, "I'm ON to you, MISTER!" Or maybe I should have photographed a picture of a notebook with several pens sticking out of it, and sent it to the writer with a message saying something like, "This notebook could be YOU."

I have heard of other more egregious cases of people "borrowing" other people's work. There was the 19-year old Harvard student, Kaavya Viswanathan, who was busted for lifting entire passages from the works of several authors, like Megan McCafferty, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Salman Rushdie. She got a book deal and a movie deal before she was caught; both deals, were, of course, later cancelled when the truth came out.

In one of the articles I read about her, she claimed that she had photographic memory and had read those authors' books so many times that they had just become ingrained in her head; when she started writing, those authors' words became her words. But I thought this was problematic, because if she had photographic memory, wouldn't she remember that those words didn't belong to her?

I still have a lot to learn about writing (and blogging). But whatever I write down is MINE. And maybe it's not Pulitzer-worthy, and maybe some reader's immediate reaction to my writing might be, "You insult me with your mediocrity! I SPIT on your story!" But even if the stuff I write isn't good enough to be published (at least not yet), at least it's coming from my own mind and my imagination. And that is something.

What are your thoughts on "borrowing" other people's writing? If you were in a position to say something to the writer, would you?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What Would You Do?

If you opened the door to your apartment and found one of your neighbors passed out in front of it, what would you do? Would you
a) Step over her and tell people that she's your human doormat.
b) Take her picture and post it on a website with the caption "This is why you should drink in moderation".
c) Help her get into her apartment.

What I did: c. But then what would you do if the girl refuses to stay in her apartment and keeps running back to yours? Would you
a) Not answer your door and decide to leave your apartment through the window from now on.
b) Tell her, "I don't even know you, darn it! Leave me alone!"
c) Help her get into her apartment a second, third, and then a fourth time.

What I did: c. But then what would you do if the girl starts crying about her boyfriend, and she says he won't call her back? Would you
a) Advise her to join a convent because at least then she'll stop drinking and passing out in front of her neighbors' apartments.
b) Throw a box of Kleenex at her and hope she won't go all "Hallmark moment" on you.
c) Call her boyfriend and ask him politely to come over.

What I did: c. But then what would you do if the girl's boyfriend refuses to come over? Would you
a) Tell the boyfriend you will sell everything in her apartment for M&Ms if he doesn't come over
b) Tell the boyfriend that you will leave his girlfriend (who has passed out again) in the middle of traffic
c) Tell the boyfriend that you really need him to come over, because darn it, you don't even know her

What I did: c. But then what would you do if, sometime later, you open your door to find a mattress blocking the exit? (It was left not by the drunk girl, but by some loser on your floor who is too lazy to go to the dumpster.) Would you
a) Start stabbing your way through the mattress with your cereal spoon to get out
b) Leave the mattress in front of your neighbors' door and threaten to attack them with your spoon if they do this again
c) Call the super for help.

What I did: c.

What would you do if people in your neighborhood decided to organize outdoor concerts for several bands, and you were subjected to LOUD music for several hours a day for several days while the concerts lasted?
a) Throw rotten vegetables at them and yell, "You SUCK!"
b) Approach the bands and offer to be their backup dancer, and then proceed to demonstrate the three dance moves you know.
c) Complain to the police, and, upon learning that they can't do anything because the Bands with No Talent have permits, start grinding your teeth so hard you end up cracking one of them.

What I did: c. My dentist fixed my cracked tooth but made me start wearing a bite guard, which, when I looked in the mirror, made me think that I should audition for the remake of Revenge of the Nerds.

What I did next: scour the apartment listings for a new place to live, preferably a building with no other people in it.

Side note: I recently was given the Blog with Substance Award by the awesome blogger Geophrie; check out his blog, The Far Too Important Blog! Thanks Geophrie! You rock!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Losing Followers

A few weeks ago, I discovered that I had lost a follower on my blog. My reaction was very calm, very low-key. It went something like this:

Me: Oh, DEAR GOD! NOOOOO!! The HUMANITY of it all! Why did I lose a follower? What did I do wrong? (Gasp gasp gasp) I've lost the will to blog! It's too late for me, but SAVE YOURSELVES!

Even though I only lost one follower, it did bum me out for a little while. It's always a nice ego boost when I get a new follower. I'm grateful for the fact that there's at least a handful of nice people out there who are willing to read what I'm writing. So I was caught off guard when I found out that someone decided to stop reading my blog. Was it because I wasn't following that person's blog? Was it because I wasn't posting as often? Did that person find one of my posts offensive? Was he or she offended by my belief that Britney Spears deserves a Grammy? (FYI: She does.)

I know that losing a follower isn't the worst thing in the world. But it does sting a little. For just a moment, it made me question whether my blog was good enough, whether I as a writer was good enough. It also made me wonder if I should be blogging about more "interesting" topics, like maybe instead of writing about my neighbors or guys who take their pants off on the train, I should write more posts about online dating, especially since those usually seemed to get the most comments.

But ultimately, losing a follower wasn't enough to make me stop blogging. For me, blogging is a good way to motivate me to write regularly; I've definitely made a lot more progress in my fiction-writing since I started writing. And even though I do write with an audience in mind, at the end of the day I'm going to blog about whatever's on my mind that day, and hopefully someone out there will want to read it. If I keep thinking about pleasing an audience when I write, I'd probably never write anything.

I think it's like writing fiction. I was always taught that you're supposed to write about what's important to you, rather than write about what's popular or what's trendy. And even if it's not what everyone else is writing about, there's always the possibility that you can connect with someone through your writing who feels the same way that you do. And that, to me, is part of what's rewarding about writing. It's always been one of the good parts about reading, to read something by a good writer and get that thrill of recognition, to think, "That's exactly what I feel!" Another good thing is helping people see things in a different light, so that even if they didn't see things your way before, they came to understand it better once they read your writing.

So even though it isn't fun to lose readers, at the same time it'd be even worse if I gave up writing altogether just because some people don't want to read my stuff anymore. I can't even imagine what my life would be like if I stopped writing, because being a writer is the one thing I've always been sure of.

What about you? Have you ever lost a follower? How did it make you feel?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Things Students Say, Or, How To Make Your Teacher Explode

1. I know I'm an hour late, but I won't be counted as absent, right?

2. Why should I take my headphones out? My iPod's not even on.

3. I have to keep my Twitter page up during class. My followers need me.

4. Since I registered late, I feel I should have an extension on all the assignments.

5. Do I really need to buy the book for this class?

6. My tuition pays for your salary, so that makes me your boss.

7. Can't we just watch movies in class every day? It's pretty much the same as reading the books.

8. I think I should get an A because I stayed awake during class every day. And it was not easy.

9. I think we should be allowed to text people during class because it's not like we're making any noise.

10. I think you were being too hard on John when you told him he couldn't read comic books during class. That's not good for his self-esteem.

11. When you make us come to class every day, you're violating our constitutional rights.

12. It's not like I plagiarized the whole book.

13. Why should it matter if I turn the work in on time as long as I do it?

14. I have to leave class forty-five minutes early today. Hello? Tonight's the season premiere of Gossip Girl and I want to be home in time for it. But I won't be counted as absent since I stayed for the first five minutes of class, right?

15. I don't deserve this grade. You must have made a mistake.

16. Sorry I missed the last five classes. Can you just send me an e-mail and tell me what I missed?

17. Can you write a letter of recommendation for me? It's due tomorrow so can you have it done by tonight?

18. This is so unfair! Why do we even have to do all this reading in English class anyway?

19. Why can't I use my friend Jane as a source for my research paper? She's totally an expert on pop culture. She's seen, like, every episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

20. Can't you just tell me what to write so that I'll get an A?

I really don't think it's a coincidence that my hair started turning white the first year I started teaching.