Thursday, October 28, 2010

Holding my tongue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: (nothing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Surviving Grad School

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

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

But what I really want to say is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Keeping Secrets

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Inventor

There are a lot of cool inventions out there. The iPod, for example, while totally expensive, is a great resource for a commuter like me. When I'm walking around on the street, I can turn it on and drown out the sounds of horns honking, people yelling at each other, and the guy who wears a sandwich board with his "predictions" printed on it and walks around with a megaphone claiming that the world is going to end and that the aliens are trying to communicate with us through our debit cards.

I've never really tried to invent anything on my own, though I do have a few ideas. For example, while I can understand the need for car alarms, I've found that they come with several problems. People in the city don't typically have driveways; they either park their cars in the street or in parking garages. So if their car alarm goes off, they could be blocks away and not hear it.

Many of them have installed the kind of alarm that emits several different-sounding alarms, aka How to Annoy Strangers without Even Trying, so the sound goes something like this: "WOOOOEEEEWOOOEEEWOOO.....BAMBAMBAMBAM...BEEEPBEEEPBEEEP....WOOOOEEEWOOOOEEEWOOO...." The alarms can go on for several minutes or hours, to the point that people like me who are subjected to listening to it are banging on the windows of their apartments and screaming, "Enough with the madness already!"

That's why I think that the car alarm should be modified, so that if your alarm goes off, your keychain starts lighting up (or have they invented that already?). Better yet, they should somehow find a way to put a tiny fist inside of the key chain, so that when the alarm goes off and the person fails to turn it off right away, the fist will come out of the chain, magically grow into a giant fist, and knock him out.

I've complained in more than one post about how some of my neighbors love their music SO MUCH that they believe that the entire building should listen to it. So they blast their music at top volume for hours, no matter what time of day it is. I think that there should somehow be a volume limit to music players, so that if the volume gets too high the volume will automatically be lowered, and then the song will switch from the death metal that my neighbors love so much to Kenny G, and will be incapable of being switched back. Or turned off.

Several of my neighbors are also incredibly lazy and leave their trash lying around in the hallway rather than put it in the garbage chute or the dumpster outside; some of them don't even bother to bag their junk. (And that is why I have a bug problem in my apartment, and I'm trying to figure out a way to gather up all the bugs and set them loose in my neighbors' apartments.)

So I wish there was some way that if they tried to leave their trash on the floor again, the trash would somehow get stuck to their clothes, and it would be impossible to remove, and that even if they tried to take off their clothes, their skin would suddenly be covered with tattoos that say "Loser Neighbor" and "This is what laziness looks like". Or maybe the trash could somehow come to life and chase them down the hallway, out of the apartment building, across the city, and into Lake Michigan.

I saw an episode of Felicity a few years ago where the professor locked students out of the classroom if they showed up late. I can't do that, partly because I'd probably get in trouble but mainly because there aren't any locks on the classroom doors.

But when students show up twenty, thirty, or even forty minutes late, despite my warnings about their grades being lowered, I start wishing for some kind of invisible force field that would spring up in the classroom doorway, so that if they tried to get in the room they would be blocked from doing so. And then they would get sucked into a parallel dimension where the only way to find their way back would be by doing all the assignments they haven't completed or turned in on time in my class, which means they'd be stuck in that parallel dimension forever.

The question, though, is how to invent all of these things. But don't worry. I'm working on it.

By the way, Allie Howell gave me the Blog with Substance award a couple months ago, but I never thanked her! Sorry about that Allie! But thank you so much for the award! And check out her blog, You're only as tall as your heart will let you be.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Since I'm turning thirty in a few months, I've been thinking a lot about how much has changed since I was a teenager. I'm not really one of those people who wishes she could turn back time, because then I'd have to live through my teen years and twenties all over again. For example, I don't really want to be sixteen again, because back then I had this haircut that made me look like I'd been electrocuted and I thought wearing plaid flannel shirts matched with a giant peace sign necklace every day was stylish.

I didn't go to my high school reunion. I lost touch with everyone from high school (except for one close friend) before I was even done with college. If I were to go to a reunion now, I'd probably confront every person who made fun of the way I looked or how I was always reading or who put me down because I wasn't  "popular"; I'd probably say, "It is NOT good to see you again! In my dreams, you are trapped in the Jersey Shore house with only Snooki and the Situation for company."

But on the other hand, there are things that I did in the past that I wish I'd done differently. If I could go back and change things, who knows what my life would be like now?

For example, when I think of this guy I went on a date with in college, if I could go back in time I wouldn't have agreed to go out with him. I would run in the opposite direction, screaming, "Run for your lives! The guy has fish lips and he will aim them at you if you smile at him! Don't look him in the eye because that's how he GETS you!"

In college, I did an internship at a company that had a job opening I could have applied for. I often think about what would have happened if I had taken that job instead of going to graduate school. I might have told that younger version of myself, "Sure, you could pursue teaching and have some good experiences. On the other hand, if you take this job, you won't feel guilty about getting more than five hours of sleep a night, you won't have to wait until your late thirties before you get a job where you get benefits and earn enough money to live on, and the sight of textbooks won't make you break out in hives.

'You also won't have nightmares about undergrads chasing you across campus, shouting, 'Please, could you just look over my paper ONE more time?' while you flee from them screaming with your hands in the air and the veteran professors standing to the side, shaking their heads and saying, 'It's pointless to resist. Just give in now. It's easier this way. That's what we all did, and look at us, we're fine, other than the fact that we all speak in a monotone and never blink.'"

Once I started my Ph.D., I had to keep working one or two additional jobs in addition to my responsibilities as a teaching assistant and my graduate work, just so I could support myself. But the problem was that I was spending so much time on teaching that I didn't have enough time for my graduate work. Unlike when I was in the M.A. program and in college, now it's a struggle just to keep up, let alone excel in school.

If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself, "Stop spending more time on teaching than on your graduate work. Ignore the constant e-mails from students who write stuff like 'Why haven't you e-mailed me back? I e-mailed you three minutes ago and I haven't gotten a response yet and I am FREAKING OUT because I don't know how to write my thesis statement and I think it's your responsibility to stay by your computer at all times in case I e-mail you.' Otherwise, if you don't spend enough time on your graduate work, you're going to get e-mails from your professors that say stuff like, 'This is your paper? Seriously?'"

If I could go back to those dates where the guys would smile and say, "I'll call you," I would say, "No, you won't. And thank you for that."

When I first moved to Chicago, I attended festivals, went to museums, and watched plays that sold cheap tickets. I went to free concerts in Grant Park, browsed in bookstores, and explored neighborhoods that looked interesting. But now I haven't been to a movie in months (not that I can afford to buy a ticket anyway) and my life mainly consists of teaching, studying, and sleeping. Occasionally I make time to write fiction and the occasional blog entry, but that's it.

I would tell myself, "Yes, graduate school is important, and you have to spend a lot of time studying. But don't spend so much time working that you flinch when you come into contact with sunlight, as if you're some kind of vampire or something. Don't work so hard that you start having nightmares about grading papers every night. Don't fill up your schedule to the point that looking at a list of everything you have to do every day makes you want to curl up into the fetal position and start whispering to yourself. Let yourself do something fun, and I mean FUN, not just watch an episode of the latest crime drama, which will make you start worrying that any random person could be a serial killer, to the point that you start eyeballing every person on the street who looks weird and to whom you will say, "Not TODAY, psycho! Not TODAY!"

But I can't go back in time. I guess all I can do is learn from my mistakes and move on.

What about you? Do you ever wish for a "do-over"?

The amazing Theresa Milstein gave me this award; check out her blog, the Substitute Teacher's Saga! You'll love it! Thank you Theresa!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

That's Not My Name

When I first started my blog, I debated using my real name. Why wouldn't I want people to know that I was the one writing this blog? Why wouldn't I want to receive credit if I wrote something good?

On the other hand, I kept thinking about what would happen if I wrote something that someone didn't like, especially if that someone was someone I knew. I also thought that there was always the possibility that I might get some obsessed fan, and that that person might track me down and profess his or her psychotic devotion by leaving stuffed animals that were blindfolded at my front door or write the words "I know what you wrote last summer" on my windows.

I ultimately decided that it would be better to stay anonymous. One reason I don't have a MySpace or Facebook page is because I've heard of teachers who lost their jobs because of what they posted on those social networking sites. But then again, I doubt that there'd be anything incriminating on my page if I had one. It's not like I have any provocative pictures of myself where I'm under the influence or anything. I don't drink alcohol or do drugs, and I always keep myself covered up, thank you. I do have pictures of myself from college where I was doing readings from the Bible at Mass. I was very wild back then.

I also decided not to tell most of the people in my life about my blog. I thought that if people I knew were reading it, I might be pressured to write what they wanted to hear, not what I was actually feeling. By staying (mostly) anonymous, I can write what I want and not worry what anyone else will say. On the other hand, I've included several details about my life on this blog, so it wouldn't necessarily be too hard for anyone to figure out it was me.

College students are very Internet-savvy, and one fear I have is that my students might read this blog. I don't discuss my personal life with them, because I want them to see me as just their teacher and not someone who will throw fruit at any customer who cuts in front of her in line at the grocery store.

I think it'd be cool to have a video blog, or vlog, but then people would know who I am. I could  wear a mask, but then people might think I'm an alien or a criminal. And I think I'd feel too self-conscious about how I look. But I guess I shouldn't feel too self-conscious. After all, I look a lot like this woman:

Just kidding. That's Kate Hudson. No, really, I look like this woman:

Tee hee. No, I don't look anything like her either. That's Natalie Portman. But people do often mistake me for a supermodel. Then again, these are the same people who also believe that vampires walk among us and will one day rule the world. (What? According to a lot of people, it's already happened.)

And I'm not really single, either. No, this is what my husband looks like:

Yeah, he wears a suit all the time, because he works for the FBI and specializes in cases where people are found guilty of watching The Real Housewives or talking on their cell phones in movie theaters. He says stuff like, "Freeze! Now put down the cell phone and back away from it slowly."

Psych! That's the British actor JJ Feild. And I'm not really married to him. Not yet, anyway. Tee hee.

What I can say is that what I write about my life in this blog is true. I didn't start out with any particular theme or message in mind. I just wanted to write about what I was feeling and thinking, and I wanted to describe everything that I thought was interesting (or annoying or weird).

If and when I do publish a book, I'll use my real name. Maybe eventually I'll put my real name on this blog. But for now, it's just going to be "Neurotic Workaholic". And as anyone who's read this blog can tell, I definitely am a neurotic workaholic anyway. But if someone were to spill the beans on who I am, let me just say that I have stuffed animals of my own and I'm not afraid to use them.

What about you? What are your thoughts on writing anonymously?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Neurotic Pedestrian

Dear Chicago drivers,
  I know we haven't always gotten along well in the past. Back when I lived near a busy intersection, I developed the bad habit of yelling at many of you when you drove too fast or came this close to running me over; I must admit that more than once I screamed, "It's called yielding, LOSER!" 

But I'm not like that anymore. I've learned that I can't control the way other people drive, but I can control my own behavior. So I've learned to be extra careful when crossing the street, especially when there's a lot of traffic.

But I still thought I'd send this letter out and ask you to do a few things, not just for me, but for all pedestrians out there. I think that if you were to do these things, the streets would be a much safer (and happier) place. And then you wouldn't have to worry about neurotic pedestrians like me screaming and throwing things at you, you know?

First of all, if your doors are vibrating, then YOUR MUSIC'S TOO LOUD. I like listening to music when I drive, too, but let's keep it to a reasonable volume, okay? It's really not necessary for you to play your music so loud that you start an earthquake or something.

Is it really necessary to lean on your horn? I know it can be frustrating to get stuck in traffic. But pressing your horn for several minutes at a time is not the solution. Especially because someone may or may not run up to your car, reach through the window, rip out your car horn, and hit you in the kneecaps with it.

I know that you enjoy texting your friends thirty-six times an hour, but could you please not do it when you're driving? Whenever I come close to getting hit by a car, nine times out of ten the driver is on his or her cell phone. And it's really not good to be distracted when you're driving. I mean, I hate to sound like a public service announcement, but it's safer just to focus on the task at hand.

Especially because I have a cell phone too. And I may just wait until you're pulled up to a red light, take your picture, and then send it in along with an application for you to be on the next season of Jersey Shore. Or maybe I'll post it on the Internet in such a way so that it looks like you're about to marry Minnie Mouse. And then I just might make copies of those pictures and put them up on billboards as a warning to all other drivers on their cell phones. FYI? Photoshop can work wonders.

And also? The "walk" sign means that it's okay for pedestrians to cross the street. It does not mean that you should keep honking and yelling at people like me to move faster. It does NOT mean it's okay for you to start driving faster and run over anyone who might be in your way. If you do that, I just might jump onto your car, climb inside, and make you come with me to a Jonas Brothers concert. And then I might take your car and leave you there.

When you pull up to a stop sign or a red light, please don't pull up so far that your car is covering the crosswalk. Then it means that people crossing the street have to walk around your car and into oncoming traffic. If you do that, I may start banging on your window and calling you a name that rhymes with "rum bass".

You might accuse me of being jealous that you have a car to drive and I have been riding trains and buses for years. And in a way, I am jealous. After all, you always get to sit down when you're traveling, you can choose the volume for how low loud the music will be played, and you don't have to sit across from a woman who spends the first several minutes smiling and winking at you and then, for no reason at all, starts glaring at you and making stabbing motions with her hand. You don't have to pretend that you don't hear the guy who's running up and down the aisles screaming about how the government is watching us and eventually we're all going to be turned into robots.

But even though I would like to have my own car to drive around in, at the same time I've accepted the fact that for now, I'm stuck riding the train and the bus. And that's okay. And I promise that I will only cross the street when the walk sign is flashing, and not when the cars have already started moving, unlike so many other geniuses walking around out there. I promise to be careful when I'm walking around, and I promise to stay out of the drivers' way. But please, next time you go out on the road, have some consideration for the pedestrians, okay? I'd appreciate it.


The Neurotic Pedestrian