Friday, December 16, 2011

My Christmas Gift to Myself

I just started my Christmas shopping this week, because I've been writing my dissertation, teaching, grading papers, meeting with my professors and students, working extra hours for my website job, and watching Law and Order reruns. I only go shopping on weekdays; it's easier and less crowded during the week rather than the weekend, when most of the tourists come out. That way, I'm much less likely to start head-butting any tourists that get in my way.

This year, I've decided to give a small gift to myself, because I've been going through some difficult situations lately. Not to sound too materialistic or anything, but I think that a Christmas gift might make me feel better.

I've been thinking about all the things that are on my Christmas wish list. Here are a few examples:

The guys from The Big Bang Theory would move in next door. I think they'd be fun to hang out with, and they'd always be up for eating takeout with me. They could also probably fix my laptop for me, like one of them did for Penny, the girl next door. Since they're all so smart, they could probably build a new computer for me.

A handsome, respectful, and kind guy (perhaps one who looks like Josh Kloss, the guy from the Katy Perry video) who says stuff like, "I hate it when girls are too thin. More chocolate?"

Free coffee for a year. Or better yet, my own personal Starbucks cafe, and only the people who don't camp out with their laptops while nursing one cup of coffee for four hours will be allowed to hang out there. And there won't be any rude guys trying to steal my table by putting their laptops on it after I get up for two seconds to grab a napkin. And there will always be enough glazed doughnuts, because whenever Starbucks runs out of them, I'm tempted to bite the hand of the person who takes the last doughnut, as well as the hands of the guys who try to take my table (I don't, though. But if I was a vampire, I would.)

But since I can't have any of these things, I decided to give myself one thing that I can have: time to write. I haven't worked on my novel in weeks, partly because of the difficult situations going on in my life, and partly because I've had so much work to do. Writing has always been very soothing and therapeutic for me, and it's the one thing that always makes me happy. So I think that one reason I've been so stressed out lately is because I haven't had time to write.

I went to a coffeehouse and wrote more than a thousand words, and I felt better than I had in a long time. It felt good to do something that was just for me,  and it only cost a few bucks.

What about you? What's on your Christmas wish list?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Greatest Fears

We all have our greatest fears. We're afraid of dying and losing our family and friends. There's also the fear of walking by ourselves on the street at night because of all the bad things that could happen. There's the fear of war, illness, unemployment, etc. There's also the fear that when the aliens come to Earth, they'll spend a couple of hours watching reality shows and say, "Well, if this is what humans are like, then never mind," before climbing into their spaceship and flying away, and then they'll never make me their queen. 

We also have our personal fears, many of which we hide from other people. Fear can be a good thing, because it can motivate us to protect ourselves and take action so that what we're afraid of won't happen. But it can also cause us to avoid anything that's risky, and it can make us put limitations on our lives and ourselves.

1. I'm afraid that I will never get married and have a family, and I'll never know what it's like to find happiness with someone I'm meant to be with. I'm afraid that I'm not meant to be with anyone.

2. I'm afraid that living in Chicago for so long has turned me into an angry, cynical person, the kind of person who says, "HEY! Turn down your TV or I WILL play Britney Spears' music all night! I have ALL of her albums, you know!" and "If you try to push me out of the way one more time, you'll be wearing my coffee on your shirt!" I'm afraid that that small-town girl that I used to be, the one who used to be thrilled by all the wonderful things that Chicago has to offer, is gone forever.

3. I'm afraid that even though I've spent years in graduate school, I won't get a full-time teaching position at a good school because I haven't accomplished as much as my classmates have. I hate the idea of failing to accomplish my goals even after I've done all this work and made all these sacrifices.

4. I'm afraid of cats, because they all seem to go into ATTACK mode whenever I'm around them.

5. I'm afraid that I'll never publish any of my stories, and I'm afraid that even if I did that no one would like them.

6. I'm afraid of clowns, especially Ronald McDonald. His big red mouth always makes me think of the way that Little Red Riding Hood says to the disguised wolf, "Why Grandmother, what big teeth you have!" Only in this case, it would be, "Why Ronald McDonald, what a big mouth you have!" And he'd say, "The better to scare the hell out of you with, my dear." And then he would give this big, scary smile right before he started chasing me and I would throw french fries at him.

7.  I'm afraid that online dating has made me lose hope that I'll ever find the right guy, because of all the profiles that say stuff like "I don't believe in monogamy" and "I love boobs".

8. I'm afraid that all the students who challenge my authority, blame me for their bad grades and refuse to take responsibility for their own work, text and Tweet during class even after I told them to stop, and keep asking me to "edit" their papers for them will make me overlook all the good students who make teaching worthwhile.

9. I'm afraid that I'll be struggling to support myself for the rest of my life, and I'll have to keep working minimum-wage jobs that don't even pay enough money to buy new shoes that I have to stand all day in. I'm also afraid that working all of these awful jobs will make me yell at a customer one day; I'll probably say something like, "Do you get extra points in hell every time you act like that?"

10. I'm afraid that I'll never have the courage to be truly honest with the people in my life and tell them the secrets that I've kept from them.

What about you? What are you afraid of? How do you deal with your fear?

Friday, November 25, 2011

On (Not) Staying Young

Okay. So am I the only one who is on Twilight overload and wants to stand up and yell, "Death to all vampires!" before breaking out the wooden stakes or burning torches or whatever it is that will make all the Breaking Dawn commercials stop airing every five minutes?

I didn't read the Twilight books, and I only watched one of the movies. I didn't like it. It just seemed too melodramatic to me, and I kept cringing whenever Edward said anything that was supposedly romantic. I kept thinking, Real guys aren't like that.

And maybe it's because I haven't watched the other movies, but is it just me or does Edward not have any flaws (except for the whole undead thing)? It bothers me when characters are too perfect. There are some things about guys that bug me, like how they act like they won the game when their favorite teams win, or when they do that chest-bumping thing with each other when they get excited. But on the other hand, I wouldn't want to date a guy who was perfect. Then I'd feel like I wasn't good enough, because I am definitely far from perfect. And I think that our flaws are part of what makes us interesting.

But I'm not trying to criticize or judge anyone who does like Twilight. We like what we like, right? And I will admit that I thought David Boreanaz was cute as Angel; somehow he seemed more "human" than Edward does. (But that's just my opinion.) And believe me, it's not like I'm immune to that whole romantic melodrama either. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with boy bands. I actually believed that the guys meant every word that they sang, and I liked to pretend that they were singing for me. But then I grew up. And when I was watching Twilight, it kind of seemed like a really long boy band music video. Except there was no synchronized dancing.

I've never really gotten caught up in the whole vampire craze. I don't see what's so attractive about some guy who is really pale, hundreds of years older than me, and murmurs sweet nothings in a girl's ear right before he makes that hissing sound and sinks his teeth into her neck. Not sexy.

I read somewhere that some women like vampires because they're the alpha males: strong, powerful, and handsome. I think I'd just feel nervous around a vampire all the time, because even though he may promise to love me forever (literally), there's also that whole drinking blood and instinct to kill thing.

Or maybe people like vampires because they get to stay young forever. I think that women in particular are under a lot of pressure to look young. Why else would plastic surgeons be making so much money?

I suppose I'm lucky because I've always looked young for my age. When I worked at the Tourist Trap last summer, most of my coworkers were in their late teens or early twenties. They were all surprised when I said that I was thirty; they said that I looked like I was their age. Maybe it's because I don't wear makeup or nice clothes (I can't afford it). Or maybe it's because I eat Froot Loops and listen to Miley Cyrus.

I've been doing the online dating thing off and on for two and a half years now, and I've joined four dating sites during that time. One thing I've learned from all of those sites is that the men (old and young) typically prefer to date younger women. The guys in their twenties usually don't want to date anyone over the age of thirty; the guys in their thirties are willing to date women who are ten or fifteen years younger than them, but not two years older.

I was watching an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker, and there was a fifty-eight year old client who was looking for love. He said he only wanted to date women who were in their twenties; he also said that he might be willing to date someone who was in her thirties, as long as she was fit and gorgeous, even though he was far from gorgeous. He said it was because he wanted to have children. Right. I'm sure that was the only reason.

And of course, women do it too. There are plenty of cougars out there. If they want to date someone who's young enough to be their son, that's their prerogative, I guess. But teaching twenty-year-old guys on a daily basis has pretty much eliminated any possibility that I will ever be a cougar, partly because I've seen several of them throw tantrums (complete with stomping their feet and screaming) when they don't get A's.

There are some things I miss about being young. When I was a kid, Christmas was a lot more fun because I believed in Santa and I got to play in the snow. Now that I'm older, I usually just associate Christmas with last-minute shopping and navigating the crowds on Michigan Avenue while muttering, "Don't kick the tourists. Don't kick the tourists. Don't kick the tourists," because they take up all the space on the sidewalk and move too slowly.

Growing older is scary, though. It scares me that someday I won't have as much energy to go to the gym four or five times a week. I can't imagine looking in the mirror and seeing a bunch of wrinkles in my face. (My hair's already started turning white, though.)

But if I was given the choice, I wouldn't want to stay young forever. Just imagine what that would be like. You'd have to watch all the people you love grow old and die. Would you want to go to high school again and again? I wouldn't. High school was full of parties that I was never invited to and cliques who acted like being popular and having a boyfriend were the only things that mattered. Grad school is also full of cliques and parties that I'm not invited to. The difference is, now I'm old enough to know that there are other things that matter more.

I also wouldn't want to be in my twenties again just so guys would want to date me. If I'm going to be with someone, I'd want to know it's because he likes me, not because he likes the fact that I'm young. (But I have to say, it does really bother me that a lot of guys in their thirties and forties would probably think I was too "old".)

I wouldn't want to be a teenager again because I wouldn't be as independent as I am now. I like living in my own apartment, paying my own rent and bills, and doing what I want to do.

So I'd have to say no if a vampire offered to make me young forever. (Or maybe I'd just run away while waving a wooden stake at him and screaming, "Get back! Get back!") I'm not really big on werewolves, either, because I don't like it when men have too much facial hair. (I think they should shave their legs too. It's only fair! If women have to do it, they should too! Or maybe I'm just weird like that.) On the other hand, I will admit that I don't mind it too much when Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off.

I think that growing older means accepting that things can't stay the same forever. It means taking responsibility for your actions instead of playing the blame game. It's about going through experiences that change you and make you see the world and other people differently. It's about taking care of yourself instead of expecting someone (like a good-looking vampire) to swoop in, rescue you, and solve all your problems for you. It's about growing up.

What about you? If you could stay young forever (though not necessarily as a vampire), or if you could go back to a certain age, would you?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Happy (Alternate) Ending

In the story that I'm working on right now, there is a love triangle. When I was writing the first draft, I wrote several different alternate endings to see which one worked best: one ending where the girl ends up with "the right guy", one ending in which the girl chooses "the wrong guy", one where she ends up alone, and one where she decides, "To hell with men," and goes off to become a crime-fighting superhero, seeking out the guys who say insincerely, "I'll call you," as her first targets.

When it comes to writing, I've always been a pantser. (I have to say, though, "pantser" makes me think of those people who pull other people's pants down as a joke. But I don't actually do that. I've wanted to do that, though, particularly to the people who cut in front of me in line.) I like the idea of not knowing how the story's going to end, because then I get to be surprised.

It's made me think about what it would be like if we could write (or rewrite) our ending in our own lives, so to speak. What if we could actually go back in time and change unhappy/dissatisfying/annoying/weird endings to certain experiences? Would our lives be different as a result? Would we be different?

I know they say that you have to learn from your mistakes, so sometimes it's worth it to not get the happy ending that you were hoping for. For example, I've learned that some people don't love boy bands as much as I used to, so they probably wouldn't want to hear about how I can name that boy band in three notes or how I jumped up and down and screamed like a banshee along with all the other teenage girls when I saw the Backstreet Boys perform live.

But there are some endings in my life that I wish I could rewrite. Here are a few examples:

In my happy ending, none of my students would bring their papers to my office and expect me to tell them exactly what to "fix" and what to write so that they'll get A's (FYI: that's exactly how they phrase it). They would come up with their own ideas and learn that writing is not about filling in the blanks.

The undergrads would actually want to spend more time reading novels by authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Ernest Hemingway instead of Facebook postings by their friends and Tweets by reality show stars who are famous for spending their parents' money or throwing tantrums in public.

My students would never blame me when they get bad grades. They'd never say it was because I wasn't a good teacher or because I graded them too harshly. They'd  say stuff like, "Hey! I guess I really should go to class every day!" or "Wow, I never thought that sleeping in class would make me miss out on important information. I guess I shouldn't do that anymore!" or "I'm sorry that I told you that I know more about literature than you do. I was wrong. To make up for it, I'll clean out your office and do your grocery shopping for you!" or "Cell phones are the devil's toys! I will never use my cell phone ever again!"

All the guys who said they would call but never did finally would call. They'd say stuff like, "I'm sorry I thought I was hot enough to get a model. It turns out that I'm not. None of those Victoria's Secret girls ever called me back! Now I know how you felt when I didn't call you! Will you give me another chance?"

Then I would say, "NO! Kiss this, losers!" And then I'd hang up on them. And if this was a really happy ending, they'd go on dates with beautiful women who spend the whole time flirting with waiters and reciting long monologues about their lives without letting them get a word in, so that the guys really would know exactly how I felt when I dated them.

The guys I've met on online dating sites who pull disappearing acts would be effectively "punished" by being forced to read through all the creepy e-mails that guys have sent me, such as the guy who wrote, "I'll show you my naked pictures if you show me yours" (guess how quickly I blocked him). Then maybe they would stop acting like jerks and realize that they shouldn't get women's hopes up by pretending to be nice guys who are actually interested in them.

In my happy ending, I'd know just what to say to all the people who act condescendingly towards me because I don't make as much money as they do or haven't accomplished as much as they have. I'd say, "So what if you think you're better than me? You're the only person in the world who does!"  Then I'd rip open my shirt, revealing my crime-fighting superhero costume, and I'd leave them in the dust as I flew away.

My department would make sure that all the graduate students have enough money to live on, so that I don't have to work a zillion low-paying, part-time jobs and have a lot less time to study than the students who are supported by loans or spouses with full-time jobs. Then when I go to stores, I wouldn't automatically start reshelving books or folding clothes before I think to myself, "Wait! I don't actually work here."

 When I have to work yet another retail job, my employers would say, "You know what? The customer is not always right!" Then when (not if) customers are rude to me, I'd get to make them do my job for a week, so that by the end of the week they'll have pulled all of their hair out and I'll find them lying on the floor of the store, curled up in the fetal position.

In my happy ending, no one would nag or criticize me for being the way that I am, because they would think that being an obsessive, neurotic workaholic is cool.

What about you? If you could rewrite the ending to something that happened to you, would you? What does your happy ending look like?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Rudeness of Strangers

About a month ago I moved into a studio apartment in order to save money on rent. After living in a one-bedroom apartment for several years, living in a studio took some getting used to. My refrigerator is so small that I can't fit a frozen pizza into the freezer unless I wedge it in there diagonally. Apparently the rental company doesn't believe that it's necessary for the tenants to keep enough food in their apartment, or maybe the company thinks that we should eat fast food all the time. Also, sometimes I feel like I'm living in the middle of a really bad episode of The Real World, because my neighbors like to party and get drunk a lot.

When I was moving out of my old apartment, I hired a moving company to help me move. I'd gone to the alderman's office a couple days before to get signs telling drivers not to park by the side of the street, so that the movers would have enough room to park their truck. But apparently several drivers in Chicago seem to think that those "No Parking" signs actually mean "Yes! PLEASE park here!" or "It's perfectly okay to ignore the sign and irritate the hell out of other people!" or "Take up as much room as you like! It's not like anyone's trying to MOVE OUT or anything!"

I had a feeling that people would try to park in the designated area, since they did that the last time I moved to a new apartment. So before the movers showed up, I parked myself by the side of the street and scared off drivers who tried to park there.

I'm not lying when I say that I started jumping up and down and shrieking incoherently anytime anyone tried to park by the side of the street. I looked and sounded like Homer Simpson when someone steals his doughnuts, or perhaps a cavewoman who hadn't had her coffee yet. Only instead of waving a club around I kept waving a Dustbuster threateningly at the drivers, because I'd been cleaning my apartment. I don't know why I thought the Dustbuster would scare them. I think I might have been sending out a message that said something like, "Park here and I'll whap you over the head with my Dustbuster!" or "Park here and I'll vacuum the carpet in your car for you!"

The movers were in the process of moving my furniture to their truck when a woman who looked like she was a few years younger than me suddenly walked into my apartment. The door was open in order to let the movers come and go. I'd never met or seen her before, but she asked if my movers could take her mattress to her apartment, which was a few blocks away.

I was reluctant to say yes, to say the least. The moving company was not cheap, and they were going to charge me an additional twenty-five dollars if the movers went even just fifteen minutes beyond the designated time frame. But the girl kept insisting, so like a fool, I said yes.

The woman and her boyfriend were really rude, though. I said, "Next time you guys should hire your own moving company." The boyfriend acted like I was a jerk for being upset, because he said, "Well, there won't be a next time, because we'll never see you again."

They could tell I didn't want them to use the truck, though, so they said that they'd changed their minds about the mattress. But then I felt bad about being so territorial, so I said the movers would still move the mattress for them; the movers had said it would be okay anyway.

I went back inside for a few minutes, and when I came out their mattress was still in the truck. The woman and her boyfriend, however, were gone. I asked the movers where they went, and they didn't know. I didn't know their names or their phone numbers, so I had no way of reaching them.

Apparently, the losers had dumped their mattress on me and expected me to figure out how to dispose of it. Perhaps they saw me coming back out and whispered to each other, "She's coming! Make a run for it!" before running off gleefully to tell a certain guy dressed in red that they'd succeeded in making someone mad again.

And can I just say that this was the second time one of my neighbors dumped a mattress on me? The first time was when I opened my door to find a mattress blocking my door; one of my neighbors hadn't bothered to throw it out properly so they just left it there.

It was at that point that I wanted to start jumping up and down and shriek incoherently again. I asked my building's super about the couple, and she said they didn't even live in the building. They were picking up the mattress from a former tenant. She gave me the tenant's phone number.

I called the tenant and left a message, but she didn't call me back. I called her again, and she hung up on me! Then she turned off her phone so I couldn't reach her. Apparently she must have thought that not having a conscience was what all the cool kids did. At this point, I was so angry that I wanted to go on some kind of Dustbuster rampage. The movers were really nice, though. They found a way to dispose of the mattress after they helped me move into my new apartment. I gave each of them a good tip and bottled water for being so helpful.

Things didn't improve when I got to my new studio. Even though I'd spent the entire day before cleaning out my old apartment so that I could get my security deposit back, apparently the tenant who'd been living in the studio before me thought that "cleaning" meant "leave rotting food all over the kitchen floor". I called my building's super to tell him that the toilet wasn't flushing properly and the shower kept dripping. He was irritated that I'd called him on a Saturday afternoon. He said that since it wasn't an "emergency", I should just leave a note for him and he'd get to it sometime the following week.

It's days like those that make me lose a little bit of faith in people. It bothers me that people like that can get away with treating other people badly. Occasionally I'll see something that gives me hope, like a guy I saw the other day who helped someone in a wheelchair cross the street, or the good people on Animal Cops who rescue abused animals. But sometimes I just want to start shrieking like a cavewoman again.

How do you deal with rude people?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Note to Self

1. If you run out of milk in the morning, remember that Coke is not a good substitute. If you drink too much soda before 8 A.M., you may end up trying to climb the walls of your classroom. And then your students will really think you're weird.

2. Do not stay up late watching reruns of crime dramas. If you do, you may end up blurting out lines from the episodes during class. Then your students may or may not become alarmed when you suddenly start yelling, "'Facebook made me do it' is not a suitable defense!" and "Put your hands in the air! You're under arrest!"

3. Get all of your students' cell phone numbers. That way, when they start texting in class (five minutes AFTER you told them to put their phones AWAY), you can send them messages that say stuff like, "HEY! All eyes on ME!" or "If you want to see your iPod again, you'll do what I say."

4. When the students ask why they're watching a movie in class, tell them that the film provides context for what they're studying, or that watching the film version will help them better understand the novel that they're reading. Don't tell them it's because you accidentally left your lesson plan at home and the only thing in your bookbag is a notebook filled with doodles of smashed cell phones.

5. When the undergrads start packing up their bags and getting up to leave BEFORE you've dismissed the class, resist the urge to give them an extra assignment: read Snooki's novel and watch a Jersey Shore marathon of Seasons 1-4. (On the other hand, they may or may not become too terrified to ever disrespect you again if you make them do this assignment. Or they might just start fist-pumping in class.)

6. Since several people don't bother to bring their books to class on a regular basis (yet always remember to bring their cell phones, iPods, and snacks), make them spend the whole hour writing "I will stop making my teacher freak out" at least one hundred times in their notebooks.

7. During your office hours, let your classes know that you're available to meet with them. But keep your office door closed. That way, if any of your fellow instructors happen to walk by, they won't know that you're not grading papers or making lesson plans; you're (gasp!) reading books without footnotes in them.

8. When your department says that all the instructors have to attend ANOTHER mandatory workshop on teaching, even though you started teaching at that school before your hair started turning white, resist the urge to blurt out what you're really thinking during the workshop. That is, don't say stuff like, "It's because of these workshops that I've started having nightmares about thesis statements," and "You can take away my favorite textbooks, but you'll never take my FREEDOM!"

9. When some of the undergrads e-mail you to complain about their grades, don't say, "You know what else isn't fair? The fact that I'm going to have to wait at least one or two more years before Britney releases another album. But you don't see me complaining about it, do you?"

10. When your students keep asking you to set up extra appointments outside of your office hours, which means that you have to come to campus on your days off, make time to help them. But learn to say no when it's necessary. Don't fidget during the meetings and say, "I'm missing Law and Order right now," or "I think my grandmother just got sick. Would you excuse me?" and then run away before anyone can stop you.

What kinds of notes do you make to yourself when you're at work or when you're going about your dailies? What's a typical workday like for you?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why I Write

In my small Midwestern hometown, there were two things that people talked about a lot: football and farming. But for me, almost every sport was dodgeball, because I always ended up getting hit by the ball, even when I was watching the game. In an attempt to fit in, I joined the track team. They put me in the relay race first, but I kept accidentally tripping the other girls, including the runners on my own team. It was like watching a stack of human dominoes fall over. The coach finally had me running the half mile, so that I would be by myself and thus decrease the likelihood of knocking anyone over. But I came in last in almost every race, except for one race where I came in second to last.

When I wrote, I didn't have to worry about people making fun of the fact that I couldn't run very fast, except when I was running away from the ball. I didn't have to worry about being picked last for the team. None of my main characters in my stories are athletes.

When I was younger, I wanted to believe that the fantasy worlds that writers created were real. I wanted to believe that the people in fairy tales really existed, and that there was such a thing as a happy ending. I wanted to believe that there was something else out there, something more for me.

When I wrote, I could escape to a different world that was all my own, away from the kids who made fun of me or ignored me at school, away from their parents who made comments to my parents about how I was so shy and quiet and read too much, away from the town that was my home but where I never really fit in. I could create my own world with my own characters, and I could write my own happy ending. In my world, I always had the last word.

In high school, the guys teased me, ignored me, or asked me for help with their homework. When everyone else went to prom, I went to Dairy Queen. I pretended that it didn't hurt me when my friends told me all about prom night and showed me pictures of themselves with their dates. I wrote down everything that I felt and everything that I didn't have the courage to say to everyone else.

I grew older, and I started writing chick lit. I used my own failed attempts at finding love as the basis for my stories. I wrote about the bad dates and the guys who didn't call. I wrote about wanting to punch the TV whenever one of those online dating commercials that featured happy couples came on. I wrote about the guy who posted a picture of himself French-kissing a giraffe (I wish I was making that up) in his online dating profile, the guy who wrote that he believed he was a cat in a former life, and the guy who wrote that he was looking for "an exceptionally beautiful woman with a morally relaxed attitude towards dating". In real life, these guys were just weird...or disturbing. But writing about them made the whole experience of online dating funny and more interesting.

After I got my master's degree, I started teaching at different schools around the city and working in retail at night and on the weekends. It left little time for a social life. But at least once or twice a week I would go to a coffeehouse and write for an hour or two. It was something that was just for me, and it was a relief to write fiction after spending hours grading papers or making lesson plans. I wrote about how overwhelmed and exhausted I felt about working seven days a week, and I wrote about how I felt like my twenties were passing me by. Those trips to the coffeehouse gave me something to look forward to, and my writing kept my work from completely taking over my life.

If I had never become a writer, or if I had stopped writing years ago, my life would be completely different. I would be completely different. It would always feel like something was missing from my life. That's why I can't stop writing. I don't want to stop.

What about you? Why do you write? What motivates you to keep writing?

Side note: Check out Theresa Milstein's blog, Theresa's Tales of Teaching Tribulations and Typing Teen Texts! She is hosting a Halloween Haunting; this contest gives people the opportunity to promote their own blogs and check out other people's blogs. The prize is a free book!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thanks, But No Thanks

Recently I read a letter in the advice column "Dear Amy"; the letter was written by a man who had lost more than 100 pounds and had joined an online dating site. He said that he'd gotten several messages from ladies who were overweight. He wrote, "My profile is very specific about my eating and exercise habits. I always answer any response I get, and I am always polite and try and let these women know that I am not interested in dating a large woman. I have lived that lifestyle and do not want to go back to it."

The guy was apparently surprised that he received "a lot of hateful and abusive responses". It made me wonder what was in his profile. Did he write something like, "Unless you go jogging every day and think celery sticks are fattening, don't write to me"? Or maybe he wrote, "I spend a lot of time lifting weights and admiring my muscular physique in the mirror." His letter made me think of one of the reasons that turned me off. Several of the guys on that site actually specified in their profile that they didn't want to date anyone who was fat. One guy wrote, "I hope you're not the type of girl who wheezes when she climbs the stairs." I mean, really?

The guy who wrote that letter says that he doesn't want to date "a large woman" because he doesn't want to go back to "that lifestyle", which made me wonder if he was afraid that the woman would say something like, "If you don't eat that pizza, you can forget about getting a kiss good night!"

I think it was less about a fear of "that lifestyle" and more about his belief that his new figure and his winning personality would win over supermodels.

He thought he was being polite by writing rejection letters, but "Dear Amy" set him straight. She quoted Bela Gandhi, a dating coach, who said, "'No response' is the right thing to do when you're not interested — it's the polite way of saying, 'No thanks!'"

I have to agree with her, especially because I just got a similar message from some guy on okcupid. I'd sent him an e-mail yesterday, and he wrote back to say, "I don't think we're a match." He didn't say why, though he did answer the questions I'd asked in my message to him. (Whenever I e-mail a guy for the first time, I say a little bit about myself and I ask a couple of questions, so that he'll have something to respond to.) I don't see why he bothered to answer the questions. It wouldn't matter if he had said that he was president of the M&M corporation; the point was that he wasn't interested.

I've never gotten a "rejection e-mail" from a guy before. If a guy doesn't answer my message, I just assume that he's not interested. If a guy e-mails me and I'm not interested in writing back, I don't respond either. I also block him from e-mailing again, because some guys repeatedly message me; apparently they think that acting like stalkers is attractive.

On the other hand, there have been a few times when I've been tempted to write my own rejection e-mails. Here are some examples:

Thanks for writing! I have to say, though, that I don't think we're compatible. I'm really not interested in being a "female playmate" for you and your wife.

I just got your message. I couldn't help noticing that you wrote that you said you only liked "most" of my profile, which made me wonder about the parts that you didn't like. Was it because I wrote that I like to read in my spare time, and you wrote that you'd rather just see the film versions of books?

I totally understand that your children, your ex-wife, and your friends are very important to you. However, you really didn't need to include a list of all of these people in your profile with the note that "they will always be more important to me than you." I just kind of assumed that they would be.

I was just wondering if you had any pictures of your face that you could send me. In your profile, the only pictures of you featured nothing but your bare chest.

I noticed that you didn't write anything in your profile. You did post several pictures of yourself with various women sitting on your lap, though.

You seem like a really nice guy, and I'd be interested in meeting you. As soon as you get a job and move out of your parents' basement, give me a call.

Of course, I don't actually write any messages like this. Nobody likes to get rejected, and I think that sending a "rejection e-mail" is just pouring salt on the wound. When I first saw the message from that guy in my inbox, I thought, "Yay! He wrote back! Maybe this could lead to something good." And then when I read the rejection I thought, "Oh. He doesn't want to meet me. Must go inhale some ice cream now."

I did, however, write one rejection e-mail. I got a message from some guy, and we started IMing each other. The conversation quickly got creepy, however. He asked me if I'd ever be willing to hook up with him and another guy, but he said that "it would be all about you." I said NO. He wrote back, "Just admit you're boring. It'll save you time and not waste others."

I probably shouldn't have responded, but I did. I wrote him an e-mail that said, "I'm not boring. I just don't sleep with losers." And then I blocked that jerk from messaging me.

It's incidents like these that have made me think it's time to take another break from online dating, at least for a while.

What do you think? Do you think that people on online dating sites should write back to say that they're not interested, or should they not write back at all?

Monday, October 17, 2011

What Makes Me Happy

1. Writing. When I write, I don't feel lonely because my characters have become real to me. I get to step into their world and eavesdrop on their conversations. In their world, I don't feel angry, stressed, or tired. I just feel happy because I'm doing what I've always wanted to do.

2. The possibility of finding a way to program the televisions of all my neighbors who think it is okay to blast their TVs at top volume so that their televisions won't blast anymore and will play nothing but Beavis and Butthead (why oh WHY are they bringing that show back?). Then it will be all Beavis and Butthead, all the time.

3. That "a-ha!" moment students get when they finally understand what I've been teaching them, which makes me think that all my efforts are finally paying off and maybe they'll finally start reading something other than reality stars' Tweets.

4. The possibility of finding a way to hack into the profiles of all the guys who pulled disappearing acts on me, and writing stuff like, "I love watching romantic comedies and totally won't mind if you make me watch them with you," and "Who doesn't want to shop for shoes?"

5. Sitting by Lake Michigan and watching the water move, which always makes me feel peaceful in a way that the rest of the city does not.

6. Writing in coffeehouses. Even though I prefer to work in silence when I am at the library or at home (because really, I don't want to hear my neighbor yell out, "I rule! Yeah!" every time he and his girlfriend "get together"), I don't mind the music, the sounds of the baristas making coffee, or the chatter of the other patrons. Maybe all that coffee and chocolate temporarily dulls my senses so that I'm less likely to shriek, "For the love of God, SHUT UP!" I've gotten some of my best writing done at cafes.

7. The possibility that my school will say it is okay for teachers to wrestle their students' cell phones away from them and fling the phones out the window, so that the students will yell, "My cell phone! NOOOOO!!!"

8. Reading a really good book, the kind that I finish in two or three days because I can't put it down. Reading good writing also makes me feel less lonely, because occasionally I'll read a line that makes me realize that I'm not the only one who feels that way. And then it feels like I've made a connection with the writer, even if I've never met him or her.

9. The possibility of finding a way to get ahold of all the iPods and iPhones of the people who think it is okay to blast their music through their earphones, so that everyone else on the train can hear it, and programming the iPods and iPhones so that they won't blast anymore and will play nothing but Rebecca Black's "Friday", over and over again.

10. The idea of finally finishing graduate school, which consumed my life for the better part of my twenties and now is threatening to take over my thirties, and finding a full-time teaching job at a good school in a different state. Then I can finally earn a good living without having to work three jobs and begin living the rest of my life.

What about you? What makes you happy?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Online Dating, Part 2

If I cancel my online dating membership...

1. I won't get any more messages that say stuff like "I'm going to be in Chicago for a couple days and I'm looking to kill a few hours. Interested?"

2. I won't see any more naked/half-naked pictures that guys post in their profiles, which make me think that people should keep themselves covered up as much as possible, so that other people are less likely to throw up all over their computers.

3. I won't read profiles where the guys list all the reasons that girls shouldn't contact them, such as "If you're not willing to spend every weekend watching sports with my friends and me, don't e-mail me," and "If you expect me to be anything like Jacob or Edward, don't e-mail me."

4. I won't read profiles that say stuff like, "I know my profile says drugs often but I just smoke weed."

5. I won't read any more profiles that make me shriek, "Doesn't anyone use the spell check anymore?"

6. I won't have to keep spending so much money on dates, because I feel bad about making the guy pay for everything. Then I'll have more money for important expenses, like rent, groceries, and Starbucks.

7. I won't have to go to movies that guys would actually be willing to see, movies where I spend the majority of the time covering my eyes and whispering, "Has the guy stopped bleeding yet?"

8. I won't keep waiting by the phone for guys who just aren't that into me.

If I don't cancel my membership...
1. I might meet someone whose company I enjoy and who makes me happy.

So far the only guys I've gone on dates with through okcupid the second time around are the guy who creeped me out a little and the British guy. The British guy texted me back two days after I sent him a text. I'd suggested that we go out a third time, and he said yes. But then I never heard from him again. I'm not sure what happened that made him change his mind, but I wish that he hadn't texted me back at all and gotten my hopes up for nothing.

Four more guys on okcupid pulled disappearing acts after the first or second e-mail. When I calculate how many disappearing acts I've dealt with on okcupid the first and second time around, as well as on eharmony and chemistry, I come up with about thirty disappearing acts. And that makes me feel tired. (And angry.) Another guy took four days to respond to my first e-mail, and more than a week to respond to my second one. (I haven't decided whether or not to write back, because it bothers me that it took him so long to respond.)

Part of me thinks that I should keep up with online dating, at least for a while longer, because who knows? Something good could happen. But I've been doing the online dating thing off and on for two years, and I'm tired. I'm tired of reading through profiles, sending and reading e-mails, and dealing with disappearing acts from losers who apparently get some kind of sick ego boost from leading on lonely single women. I'm starting to think that maybe the single life isn't so bad after all. But a part of me is afraid to give up hope.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Two Dates and He's Out

Recently I went out with another guy that I met on okcupid. This guy had just recently moved here from London. I must confess that one of the reasons I e-mailed him was because he was from England; I've always liked British accents, which I guess makes me a little shallow.

But I will add that a guy with an expensive sports car doesn't impress me very much. I get motion sickness on the swings, so I'm pretty sure that a ride in a sports car would end with me throwing up all over my date. A guy with a large bank account? Meh. If I cared that much about money, I wouldn't have become an English teacher, because I'm never going to get rich with this job. There are some perfectly nice rich guys, but there are other guys who let their wealth go to their heads. Just look at Donald Trump; his wealth not only went to his head but also to his hair.

But a guy with a great smile AND a British accent? Yes, please!

We went out for coffee and then dinner about a week and a half ago. It was honestly one of the best first dates I've had in a long time. He's a grad student like me (though he's in a different field), and we had a lot in common. There weren't any awkward pauses in our conversation, and I didn't feel nervous around him. We talked for hours. I barely checked my watch, unlike one of the dates I went on two years ago, where I checked my watch approximately twenty-three times.

We texted each other back and forth for the following week, and then this past Friday we went out for pizza. I probably shouldn't have suggested that we go to Giordanos, because I love the stuffed pizza there and I could've eaten a lot more than I did on the date. But I suggested that he take home the leftovers, even though in my mind I kept thinking, "Step away from the pizza! Mine!"

Then we went to a show at iO, which used to be called ImprovOlympic, in Wrigleyville. Before the show started and during intermission, there was this guy who kept chatting up my date. Then when he went to get a drink, the guy he was sitting with came back to his seat and also started chatting up my date. I guess they were intrigued by his accent, because they both asked him about England and told him about fun places to go to in Chicago. They saw me sitting there but kept talking to him (without talking to me).

At first I thought it might just be that Midwestern friendliness that makes a lot of people (especially people in Illinois) start up conversations with strangers. I myself do it sometimes. But on the other hand, I couldn't help thinking, Hey! Get your own date, MISTER! Not to mention Wrigleyville is right next to Boystown, so it's possible that that friendliness might actually have been flirtatiousness.

Watching the show (which was hilarious) made me think that dating is a lot like improvisation. There's no script, and it often feels like you're making it up as you go along. You have to read your partner's body language, and you're put on the spot to figure out the right things to do or say to keep your date interested.

At the end of the date, I was disappointed that he didn't kiss me, especially because he didn't kiss me on the first date either.  I did say in a recent post that I prefer to take things slow when it comes to dating, and that is true. But I think that a kiss at the end of a second date is okay, especially if it's from someone I really like. (If a guy I don't like tries to kiss me, on the other hand, I either make up some lie about how I think I might be coming down with mono or I quickly turn my face to the side when he leans in.)

We said goodbye at the train station in Wrigleyville because we were taking different trains. And Wrigleyville on a Friday night isn't exactly the most romantic place to be, especially when there are random guys running up and down the streets yelling, "WHOOO! Go Cubs! I am going to get SO DRUNK tonight!" There are other guys who think that the grass in front of apartment buildings is a reasonable substitute for a bathroom.

I suppose I could have made the first move, but I already e-mailed him first on okcupid, and I was the one who suggested that we meet in person for the first date. I was also the one who suggested that we go out a second time. Besides, I'm not very good at making the first move when it comes to kissing; I'm always afraid that my aim will be off and I'll end up kissing his ear or his shoulder.

He texted me the next day, but it was only one text message in response to a text that I sent him. I didn't say anything about a third date this time, because I was hoping that he would bring it up. He didn't. So yesterday I texted him to invite him to a movie next week. He never answered.

I suppose I should have seen the signs. He deleted his account on okcupid soon after our first date. I asked him why and he said that online dating was too annoying and took up a lot of time. I also thought I might have turned him off when I told him about the time I pushed a drunk frat guy off the train when the train stopped at one of the stations. I did it because the guy wouldn't stop harassing my friends and me, and he was scaring them. Besides, I'm sure Sir Drinks-A-Lot found his way back on the train at some point.

I thought that maybe my date just wanted to be friends, and that's why he didn't kiss me or ask me out again. But I don't think I could just be friends with someone I really like, because what if he were to start dating another girl and he wanted me to meet her? I might try to rip out all of her hair, starting with her eyebrows.

So I'm not going to try and contact him again. It's too bad. I really did like him a lot, better than most of the other guys I've met online. I guess it's back to okcupid, though I'm a little reluctant to try again; I recently got a message from some guy who told me about how hot he was.

What do you think about making the first move on dates? Do you think it's possible to be friends with someone that you have a crush on?

Friday, September 23, 2011

What's the Magic Word?

During rush hour yesterday, I was standing in line to put my fare card into the slot in order to get through the turnstile and board the train. Some woman walked past the line and stepped in front of all the people standing there in order to put her card in the slot. She caught the incoming train. I didn't. If she hadn't cut in front of me, I would have. Instead, I ended up waiting for a train that was several minutes late and ended up on a very crowded train with nothing to hold onto. As a result, every time the train jerked forward I practically landed face-first at someone's feet or accidentally threw my arms around another person's waist. (Doing that gives some people the wrong idea, which really isn't a good way to start the morning.)

Side note: What is it about a crowded train that makes people waiting on the platform want to make it even more crowded? Do they think that shoving their way inside and yelling at people to move back will magically create more space? Or do they like causing everyone else to get their faces smushed against other people's shoulders and backpacks?

Recently, a woman nearly ran me over with her car as I was trying to cross the street (I had the right of way). She didn't apologize, look at me, or slow down.

I was walking on the sidewalk and a guy walking in the opposite direction bumped into me, nearly knocking me into the street. His girlfriend called out, "Don't fall!" and they both laughed.

I told a fellow instructor that I used to work with how hard it was to find decent-paying adjunct jobs in the city. She then proceeded to tell me how one school that we had both taught at had offered her an extra class and was going to pay her significantly more than they had paid me.

Now that school's starting up again, I've been getting e-mails from students that ask questions like, "Do I really need to buy the books for class? How much reading are we going to do in a literature class?" and "I think I'm going to be missing at least three weeks of class. That's not going to hurt my grade, is it?" and "Can you tell me what all the assignments are now and how to do them, so that I can work ahead?" and "You're not going to make us show up on time every day, right? Because I have other things to do."

I've answered all the e-mails promptly, and the number of thank yous I've received aren't equal to half the number of e-mails, requests for appointments, and requests for recommendation letters that I've received.

I was raised to always say stuff like please, thank you, excuse me, and I'm sorry. One of the nuns at my Catholic grade school told us it was important to do at least one good deed a day, and I believed her. (On the other hand, I also used to believe the nuns when they said that thunder meant the angels were bowling.) So I do things like leave tips for baristas, open doors for people, and give up my seat on the train to others who need it more. I was also taught to give thank you gifts and cards to people who helped me, like the professors who wrote my recommendation letters, my hairstylist who made my hair stop looking like I'd stuck my finger in an electrical outlet, and the building engineers who always repaired broken things in my apartment almost as soon as I asked them to.

I don't expect cards or gifts when I help other people.

But it does bother me when people forget their manners, not just with me but with other people. I can't help wanting to say something (though sometimes I lack the courage to actually speak up) if I see a customer being rude to a cashier, or if I see a bunch of drivers honking their horns at people in wheelchairs crossing the street.

On the other hand, when I do see people who go out of their way to be kind and courteous, it always makes me feel better. This morning I saw a young woman give up her seat on the train so that an elderly couple could sit together. Recently I saw another woman giving food she'd bought at a restaurant to a homeless person. And occasionally, when I cross the street and a car brakes in front of me just in time, the driver will hold up his or her hand in order to apologize. People like that make me think that there are still good, considerate people out there. And that gives me hope.

What do you think? Do you think that manners and other rules for behavior are outdated? Or does it bother you when people disobey or disregard those rules?

Monday, September 19, 2011

What's in Your Closet?

I'm moving in two weeks, and I haven't started packing yet.

It's too bad I can't clone myself so that I can make my clone do all the work for me. And possibly arm-wrestle the people who put their cell phone conversations and iTunes playlists on speakerphone in public.

I have gotten rid of a lot of stuff. I gave away several bags of clothes (the ones without holes in them) to the Salvation Army, because I'd had some of the clothes for years. I guess tie-dyed shirts and overalls aren't going to come back in style anytime soon.

I also sold some of my books to a used bookstore. They took my Shakespeare anthology, but apparently no one else wants to read N'Sync's autobiography (don't ask me why I have two copies), which is about all five of the members but is less than a hundred pages. And no one wants to read scholarly nonfiction books with highlighted passages and my notes in the margins that say stuff like, "I can't TAKE this anymore! Footnotes are the work of the devil!"

I've been going through my other belongings and trying to figure out what to keep and what to throw away, because I'm moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio. I thought about selling some of my furniture, but my ten-year-old desk is chipped in several places from where I banged my hands (and occasionally, my head) down in frustration. One of the chairs in my kitchen broke when the friend of a friend sat on it, though both friends claimed that the chair was already broken (right). I can't get rid of my two bookcases, because there are already too many stacks of books on the floor.

I have pots and pans that I haven't used since the last time I set off my smoke detector and nearly set my clothes on fire. Normal thirty-year-olds are able to follow recipes and cook food that people can eat without immediately spitting it out, but I just can't seem to get it right.

I still have my poster of Orlando Bloom as Legolas from The Lord of the Rings, even though I didn't like him as much after I saw his performance in Troy. (After I saw his portrayal of Paris, I couldn't help thinking, Jeez. What a girl. But then again, I've always been Team Hector.)

I also still have the first gift I ever received from a boy, a small stuffed lizard that he gave me after he took me to a high school dance. I'm not throwing that out. I'm also not throwing out all the pictures of old friends from high school and college, even though I haven't seen most of them in years. Whenever I want to remember what it was like to be sixteen or twenty-one, I look at those pictures.

I started writing regularly in journals when I was in the fourth grade. I still have all those journals. I'm not throwing those out either, partly because I don't want to let go of what I wrote. I also have this fear that someone's going to go through the garbage, find my journals, and post copies of them on the Internet under the heading "What Not to Write".

My small DVD collection is mostly made up of romantic comedies, partly because I can't watch horror movies without covering my eyes and shrieking, "Why would you go into the woods when you know that an ax-wielding serial killer is in there, you fool?" It's also because even though I know that guys in real life aren't like the leading men in romantic comedies (and I'm no leading lady, especially because I hate shopping for shoes and I can't put on makeup without looking like I was blindfolded when I put it on), the movies still give me hope that I could have my own happy ending someday.

What about you? What do some of your possessions say about you? Which ones would you throw out, and which ones would you keep?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Creep Factor

I went on a coffee date with a guy I met on okcupid a couple days ago. We'd been messaging each other for about a week, and compared to a lot of the guys on okcupid, he seemed nice and normal. No half-naked pictures of him flexing in his profile. No references to a gun collection. No lines about how he's tired of the bar scene that were contradicted by several pictures of him in bars. Nothing in his profile about how women over the age of thirty should just be grateful.

There was nothing like that in his profile or his messages. We didn't actually have a lot in common. But I figure that even if I were to meet a guy who also happened to be a Type-A workaholic who turns into the human equivalent of King Kong when people annoy him, I probably wouldn't want to date him. I tend to be attracted to guys who are different from me - laid-back, outgoing, athletic, and down-to-earth.

During the date, he started texting once or twice. I felt tempted to say, "HEY! All eyes on ME, buddy!" But I figured that would be un-ladylike, so I didn't.

We talked a lot about our work, because it didn't seem like we had a lot of common interests. Then again, lately my interests include watching episodes of Jersey Shore, figuring out how many cups of coffee I can drink before I get really wired, and trying to find a polite way to tell my neighbors that the hallway in our building does not equal trash can. Or spittoon.

A couple of hours after the date, he called me. We talked about the possibility of going out again sometime soon. I told him that I had to work all day the next day, but I said that I would call him the day after that.

The next day, he texted me to let me know that he was thinking of me. And that's when I got creeped out.

In my opinion, that kind of text message is the kind of message I'd expect to get after a fourth or fifth date, not the first date. The first date (especially the first date with someone you meet online) is more of an introduction than anything else. You're still just getting to know each other. I've never been on one of those romantic first dates that I never wanted to end because I just found my soul mate, and do you hear the birds singing? Because I think they're singing for me.

Yeah. Never had a date like that. Or anything like those dates in one of those commercials. During first dates I usually just feel awkward and nervous. I try to keep myself from blurting out anything stupid, like "Do you know that your teeth stick out a little, like vampire fangs?"

I also tend to be pretty reserved in the romance department. For me, I need to take things slow, one step at a time, one date at a time. Once I went on a first date with a guy who started holding my hand and putting his arm around me about halfway through the date. All I could think of at the time was, Get OFF me! But I thought that might be un-ladylike too. (There was never a second date with that guy.)

After the guy from okcupid texted me to let me know that he was thinking of me, I sent him a terse message to let him know that I couldn't talk; I was working. It was true, because I was working on a project for my website job and I was on a deadline.

The next day I called and left him a message and apologized for not being able to talk. I said that I was really busy, but maybe we could get together for lunch sometime soon. But I think he must have thought I was no longer interested in him, because he didn't call me back.

A part of me felt relieved. But another part of me felt disappointed, too. Now even guys who do like me don't want a second date. I feel like I should have given him more of a chance, but deep down there was a part of me that just wasn't feeling the same things that he was feeling.

But he was a genuinely nice guy who liked me, and I pushed him away. I'm wondering if I should try calling him again, or if I should just let this one go.

What do you think? What would you do if you were in my situation? How would you react if someone sent you a text message like that after the first date?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Fifth Time Around

I've decided to try online dating again. This is my fifth round of online dating. I tried okcupid and two years ago, and then last year I was a member of eharmony. This past winter I joined Not that I'm keeping count or anything. It's not like I'm BITTER that I'm still trying or anything.

I put off online dating for the past few months because something was holding me back. For one thing, I couldn't understand why so many guys would sign up for online dating memberships if they weren't going to write anything about themselves in their profiles. I also didn't want to get e-mails that said stuff like "Nice boobs" and "You look a lot like my mom" again.

I also was just enjoying being single. It was nice to not be checking my e-mail several times a day, and when I did check it, it was nice to read my messages without cringing. I liked being on my own and doing what I wanted to do.

But I do want to get married and have a family someday, and that's not going to happen if I keep hiding myself away or if I don't make an effort.

So I'm giving okcupid another try. Mainly it's because okcupid is free; I'm pretty broke and I can't afford to sign up for a paid membership right now. Okcupid is not as conservative as eharmony and chemistry; on the latter sites, you're more likely to find people who are looking for serious relationships. There are people like that on okcupid too, but you're also likely to find people who are looking for something "casual" (cough, cough).

Eharmony and chemistry actually don't take up as much time as okcupid, because they pick the matches for you based on their questionnaire; therefore, you only see the people that the website thinks you're compatible with. In other words, they choose the matches for you and send you about half a dozen profiles to review every day. On okcupid, on the other hand, there are people who are matched with you based on how you responded to the personality questionnaire, but you can look at everybody's profiles.

Still, I went ahead and filled out okcupid's questionnaire. It reminded me of one of those magazine quizzes, where you know which answers will get you the higher score, even though those might not be the answers you'd choose if you were being honest. Here are a few examples of the questions as well as the answers I would have given if I was being 100% honest.

How much can intelligence turn you on?
If he starts laughing like Beavis or Butthead, I'm out of there.

If you don't do anything at all for an entire day, how does that make you feel?
Are you kidding? That would be MADNESS, I tell you! Have you not MET me before?

If you had to name your greatest motivation in life thus far, what would it be?
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of chocolate.

Do you generally smile at little kids who cross your path?
Yes. Unless they're sneezing, coughing, or holding something slimy and wriggling, in which case I run in the opposite direction.

How often are you open with your feelings?
I wish I could be very open with my feelings, particularly with the people who try to cut in front of me in line, the people who say, "Excuse you," and the people who have never heard of breath mints.

Is it a requirement that you communicate with your significant other every single day?
No, especially because he might catch me during one of my rants against the 587 people that I am currently annoyed with, and then he might run in the opposite direction.

I've been on okcupid for about a week so far. I've been exchanging e-mails with two guys who seem nice enough (technically there were four, but two of them pulled disappearing acts, which wasn't very nice. A POX on both of them, I say!). I have a date with one of them coming up soon. Maybe I'll have better luck this time.

On the other hand, I just got a "wink" from some guy who didn't write anything in his profile; several guys who are "seeing someone" have viewed my profile, and there are too many guys who post pictures of themselves wearing nothing but their underwear. Not to be a prude or anything (even though I totally am), but I just figure that there's a time and a place for everything. And I think that an online dating profile is one place where you should keep your pants on, you know?

Okcupid allows members to create their own questions for other members to answer. If you could create your own question for this dating website, what would it be?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tourists Say the Darndest Things

I want to swim in the lake, but I'm afraid that the sharks might get me.

Let's go check out the Marilyn Monroe statue. I'm going to look up her dress and see if she's wearing any underwear.

What do you think is IN these Chicago-style hot dogs?

The walk signal is flashing. I'm sure the cars will stop for us.

I didn't think it'd be this hot in July. I thought Chicago was supposed to be cold all the time.

If you wear a Cubs shirt, then everyone will think you're a local.

Why does everyone look so mad all the time?

What I'd like to say to tourists:

If your shorts were any shorter, you'd be mooning people right now.

You do realize that when you and your entire family walk really slowly, stop every five seconds, and block the sidewalk like that, you are basically giving impatient Chicago locals permission to knock you over, right?

It's perfectly fine to ask bus drivers for directions. It is NOT fine to prevent other passengers from getting on the bus while you block the entrance and harass the bus driver into telling you how to get to every single place on your itinerary.

It is also NOT okay to pay the bus fare for you and all thirteen of your relatives with coins. By the way? The reason all the commuters look so angry right now is that they are about two seconds away from a MUTINY.

If you're going to sneeze all over people, could you at least aim away from my direction?

When I first moved to Chicago, I was like the tourists. I took pictures of everything and wrote about what I saw and experienced in my journal. After growing up in a small town, I was in awe of city life and the idea that I could walk down the street without running into at least half a dozen people that I knew.

I took in as much of the city as I could. I went to museums, concerts, plays, neighborhood festivals, and movie screenings in Grant Park. I spent hours sitting by the lake and watching the water move. When I went out, I was observant of everything that I saw and heard, because I didn't want to miss a thing.

But now after several years of living here, I feel like I've lost that perspective of Chicago that I had when I was like one of the wide-eyed tourists. Now I just look at the city in terms of where I need to go, as in from Point A to Point B to Point C. I've become so wrapped up in work and school that I don't have the time or money to experience the city in the way that I used to, and I miss it.

On the other hand, I think that living in the city for this long gives me the right to act like a snob and mock the tourists.

What about you? How do you feel about your hometown? Can you imagine living anywhere else?

And because I'm feeling nostalgic, here's an oldie but goodie by Frank Sinatra. Technically, Chicago's not my hometown, but in a way it is because I feel more at home here than I did anywhere else.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beware of Misanthrope

My lease doesn't end for another month, but the rental company that manages my building has already started showing my apartment to prospective tenants almost every day, all day. This means that random strangers have been coming in and out of my apartment, making me paranoid that they're going to run off with my laptop, or worse, my stash of M&Ms.

I know that it's important for the rental company to show the apartment to other people. After all, I don't own the apartment; I just pay rent on it. They need to make sure that every apartment is being rented, and the best way to do that is to let people see what the place looks like.

If I had a normal 9-5 job, it wouldn't matter. I wouldn't even be at home when the people stop by. But because I am a broke grad student, I spend a lot of time at home. And I am fiercely protective of my privacy, mainly because I don't want people to see me weeping over my laptop or tearing my hair out over a stack of textbooks. I also don't want people to see all the Coke bottles and empty coffee cups scattered on the floor and on my desk.

I also like to take naps in the afternoon, but now I feel like I can't sleep until six-thirty P.M. when the tenants stop showing up (and by then it's too late to take a nap). I was able to get the building engineer to call me beforehand if anyone is planning to stop by. That's a good thing, because I can be very cranky when someone wakes me up in the middle of a nap. Then all hell breaks loose and people start screaming, "Oh no, they've woken up the beast! RUN!"

For the most part the prospective tenants usually just stop by with the realtors for a few minutes. But occasionally I find myself watching them warily while I pretend to work at my laptop.

Prospective tenant: So is this a quiet building?
Me: Usually. Most of the people who live here are young professionals. Everyone's pretty nice. Except when they're coming home drunk at two A.M., stealing other people's packages, and throwing their cigarette butts all over the front yard.

I decided to hire a moving company, because I don't have a truck to transport all of my furniture. I could have rented a U-haul, but I don't really trust myself to drive it. I actually don't even know how to parallel park, because I grew up in a small town where it wasn't really necessary to know how to do it. I also think it's because I accidentally ran over a can of disinfectant that had been left on the curb during one of my driving lessons; the can flew up and exploded all over the window. I think my driver's ed teacher figured that teaching me how to do anything else after that was a lost cause.

I'm moving to a building that's only a couple blocks away, but the moving company has all these fees. There's the base fee, the even though this may only take one hour we're going to charge you for three hours because that's how we roll fee, and the we're carrying all this heavy stuff for you so be THANKFUL fee. (There's also the tip to consider.)

My current rental company also manages the building that I'll be moving into, but they are still charging me fees. I had to pay the first month's rent, along with a nonrefundable $300 move-in fee. I can't help wondering what the move-in fee is for, seeing as how they're not actually helping me move in. Maybe it's to protect the building against any possible damage that might result from the moving process. One year two new tenants at my current building were in the process of moving in when they crashed their furniture into the front door (which is made of glass), causing it to shatter into a bunch of tiny pieces. One of the tenants scratched his head and said, "I think I broke it." They didn't bother to apologize, clean up, or even tell the building engineer what they'd done. Maybe they thought no one would notice.

All this hassle of moving (and I haven't even started packing yet) has made me remember why I chose to stay in an apartment I disliked for so long. But I can't think about it for too long, because I have to hide the Coke bottles and coffee cups. And also my M&Ms.

Monday, August 22, 2011

If I Hadn't Gone to Grad School...

1. I wouldn't feel embarrassed about going out in public because I can't afford to replace most of my clothes and shoes that have holes in them. Then I wouldn't have to tell people, "Didn't you hear? The ripped jeans look is back. The mohawk is coming back too. You should totally get one."

2. I'd be able to write fiction without feeling guilty about using up time that could have been spent on my graduate work instead.

3. Maybe my hair wouldn't have started turning white when I was still in my twenties. And then maybe I wouldn't have learned that dyeing one's hair should probably be left to the professionals, especially when one is too impatient to read all the instructions beforehand.

4. People wouldn't make comments like, "When are you going to grow up and get a job?" and "You've been in school forever! You're a professional student!" and "I know all these people who earned their graduate degrees in just one or two years. You should work harder so that you can finish sooner."

5. I'd have more money for the essentials, like rent, groceries, and Britney Spears' albums.

6. I wouldn't feel so lost and scared sometimes, because graduate school is extremely difficult. I've never felt like I belonged there.

7. I could have gone into politics instead and made it illegal for people to talk on their cell phones at the movies, in church, and on long train rides. The penalty would be to make their cell phones malfunction every time they entered a public space, so that they would lose the will to annoy people.

8. I could have accepted one of the job offers outside of academia that I had when I graduated from college. I could have started earning a real salary with health insurance and benefits, and I could have had just one job instead of two or three. Maybe I could have had a job that actually ended when I left the office each day, rather than have to face a stack of papers to grade and several books to read every night after a long day of teaching and office hours.

9. I wouldn't have wasted all that time poring over the dictionary before I finally realized that many scholars make up multi-syllable words to make themselves sound, to explain their ideas and theories.

10. I would never have taught any of the undergraduates and high school students who taught me more about life, myself, and what I'm capable of than I ever could have learned anywhere else.

Being in graduate school means making a lot of sacrifices, many of which I never expected to make when I was younger. I didn't think that I'd still be a student at age thirty. I didn't think I'd have to stay at home most nights while my friends went out, because I didn't have enough money to join them and I had too much studying to do anyway. I didn't think I'd have to work two or three jobs and still earn thousands of dollars less than most people my age. I didn't think that there'd be way too many Ph.D.'s I'll have to compete against when I start looking for a full-time teaching job. I didn't think that there's always the possibility that I might not get what I've spent years working for.

I've wanted to drop out of graduate school a thousand and one times. But I haven't given up yet, because I feel like I'd be giving up a lot more than just my degree if I did. Teaching is the one job I've ever had that I actually liked and was good at. I feel more at home in a college classroom than I would have felt in an office, a hospital, a bank, a law firm, the stage, etc., etc.

What about you? When you think of a choice you've made, whether it was a career that you decided to pursue, a place that you chose to live in, or a person that you chose to spend your life with, did you ever think of what would have happened if you hadn't made that choice?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

City Dweller Seeks Annoyance-Free Apartment

I've spent the past several years living in a one-bedroom apartment that I never really liked very much, just because it would be such a hassle to move to a new place. Several of my neighbors love TV so much that they want to share their love of TV with everyone else by cranking the volume up to the highest level. Other neighbors smoke inside and outside the building. Their favorite spot to hang out is directly below my window (I live on the second floor), so that whenever I open my window I am forced to inhale their smoke. I often find myself gasping for air and saying bitterly, "Someday I WILL get my revenge!!"

I also don't like the fact that pretty much every single thing that could have broken down in my place has broken down. If I could live without running water and a refrigerator, I would, but I just don't want to.

So I've been looking for a new apartment to rent, because I've finally faced the fact that I can't afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment anymore. If I lived in the suburbs, it'd be easier to find a less expensive, bigger place to rent. But I'd have to have a car if I lived in the suburbs, and I'm a very nervous driver. I'd probably spend the whole time shrieking, "INCOMING! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!" every time I passed another car or drove too close to the curb.

I went to one of those places that helps city dwellers like me find apartments. I didn't have to pay the realtor, because apparently he gets a commission every time a new renter signs a lease. Last week he took me around to look at several different apartments. As we were looking around, there were several things that I probably should have said out loud, but I kept them to myself because I didn't want the nice realtor to think that I was weird. (I do that a lot.)

Realtor: And as you can see, the laundry room is right on the same floor as your apartment, which would be very convenient.
Me: Uh-huh. Why does it smell like someone peed in the hallway? DID someone pee out here?

Realtor: Now, this is the typical size of a studio apartment.
Me: It's kind of small. It's also the typical size of a walk-in closet.
Realtor: Well, you could probably fit all your things in here if you rearranged some stuff.
Me: Or if I sold all my furniture.

Realtor: This building has a lot of great amenities for the tenants, including an exercise room, rooftop access, and an on-site maintenance crew.
Me: I'll just be happy if I don't find any spiders on my dinner plate, laundry left in the machines for four hours at a time, and drunk people lying prone in front of my apartment. (These are three reasons why I want to leave my current building.)

Realtor: The carpet's kind of dirty, but they'll definitely clean that before you move in.
Me: Does that look like the outline of someone's body on the carpet to you? Does the current tenant lie on the floor a lot, or was this part of a crime scene?

The realtor did help me find a studio that wasn't too small, but there's definitely a lot less space than my one-bedroom. I'm sure there'll be an adjustment period, because I've lived in a one-bedroom apartment for several years. But at the same time, I'll be saving hundreds of dollars in rent each month by moving to a studio.

One thing I don't like about my new apartment is that it is directly facing two other apartments. Their windows are so close to mine that  whoever is living in there could climb into my apartment and steal everything I own. (Other than my laptop and TV, I don't really have much of anything that would be worth stealing, unless you count my old Ricky Martin CDs.)

Since I will have this up close and way too personal view of my neighbors' apartments, I just hope that none of them walk around naked. I also hope that they don't stare into my apartment because they mistakenly think that I'm going to walk around naked. (NEVER going to happen!) I'm such a prude that if I could take a shower with my clothes on, I would. (And at least then I'd save money on laundry.)

I kind of wish I was able to just live a simpler lifestyle, like the one Kate Earl does in her music video. Her song "Melody" is on my writing playlist. I like the way her little "home" is set up in the video, especially the paper cranes hanging from the tree. But I don't think I could live in a tent like that, mainly because there wouldn't be enough room for all my books.

When you move (or when you did move in the past) to a new place, what kinds of things do you look for? What kinds of things would be deal breakers for you?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stop and Sniff the Fire Hydrant

For a few weeks this summer I was dog-sitting for my parents. They own two dogs, a Bolognese that I refer to in this blog as Neurotic Jr. and a Shetland Sheepdog (a sheltie) that I refer to as Jane Dog. My parents live in a different state, but they let me keep the dogs for a while and I managed to work out a deal with the landlord so that the dogs could stay with me. A close relative kept the dogs company when I had to work.

I thought that taking care of the dogs might give me some new writing material, like those inspirational dog vs. owner stories, where the dog is difficult to live with at first but ends up inspiring the owner to write inspirational stories about dogs. I thought that it might give me a new perspective on writing, because dogs like to stop, sniff, and examine everything; I thought that maybe people should try doing that too (except for the sniffing other dogs' butts part). But it didn't quite work out that way.

I took them to a small dog park on a regular basis. Even though several dog owners in Chicago live in apartment buildings, the people who own/manage those buildings freak out if the dogs venture near the small patches of grass in front of the buildings. The people will put up small fences around the grass. Or they'll put up signs that say stuff like "Keep dogs off grass" or "No Dogs allowed" (along with a picture of a dog with a big X over it) or "Please curb your dog" or "Don't even THINK about letting your dog defile the grass because otherwise I WILL come after you...and your little dog too!"

Neurotic Jr. is incredibly spoiled, because my parents treat her like a small child and refuse to discipline her. That may be why she insisted on being carried for most of the time during our "walks."

Me: Come on, Neurotic Jr.! Carrying you would defeat the purpose of the walk!
Neurotic Jr: (blinks at me and refuses to move)
Me: Oh, for Pete's sake!  Fine, I'll carry you!
Woman passing by: Oh, she's so cute! But why are you carrying her?
Me: I think she likes the view from up here. Or maybe I'm just a chump.

Jane Dog loves to bark at everything, which is the nature of shelties. Whenever a garbage truck, motorcycle, or bird passed by, her reaction was: "ArfarfarfarfarfARF!"

She also had this embarrassing habit of sniffing other people who passed by, so that sometimes a person would say, "Hey!" And I'd laugh sheepishly and say, "Oh, sorry! My dog didn't mean to stick her nose up your skirt (or shorts if it was a guy, because Jane Dog likes to sniff everyone). I guess she just likes you."

Of course, Neurotic Jr. would always throw one of her tantrums and Jane Dog would always go off into a barking fit in front of a person with the Perfect Dog, as in the kind of canine that is so well-behaved that it views barking as something that only "common" dogs do. The owner would wow the other owners with all sorts of tricks that Perfect Dog could do, like fetching a ball, rolling over and playing dead, and other things to show off its intelligence, like break dancing.

If you think I'm exaggerating about the break dancing, here's a video of a dog doing the merengue. Neurotic Jr. and Jane Dog would never consent to letting me put either of them in a skirt. Jane Dog would find some way to pull it off and then bark at it to make it go away. Neurotic Jr. would become hysterical and run all over the place, being sure to leave paw prints everywhere, if I came near her with one of those little doggie outfits.

When Neurotic Jr. refused to move and looked up at me as if to say, "You didn't really think I'd walk this time, did you? Have I taught you nothing?" and Jane Dog nearly broke free from her leash because she was barking her head off at a bench, Perfect Dog's owner would look at me and say, "That's quite the pair you have there!"

"Um, yeah," I'd say.

Perfect Dog would come running up at that moment and drop the ball in front of his owner's feet, panting, and he always looked like he was laughing at my dogs, as if to say, "Hahahahaha, you WISH you were as obedient as me, LOSERS!"

Neurotic Jr. would growl at him as if to say, "You want a piece of me? Why don't you come over here and I'll play fetch with your tail."

"I trained mine when he was still a puppy," Perfect Dog's owner would say. "Maybe you should look into obedience school."

"Uh-huh," I'd respond, even though what I was really thinking was, "WhatEVER, dude. Maybe you should look into getting a new personality. And get one for your dog, too."

But even though Neurotic Jr. and Jane Dog have their quirks, I love them anyway because really, who can resist adorable, huggable dogs who are always happy to see you? I wish I could keep them all the time, but my apartment is too small for two dogs. Plus my arms would get really tired from carrying Neurotic Jr. all the time.

What about you? Do you have pets? If you are a pet owner, do you ever find yourself incorporating animals into your stories? What do you think of those inspirational pet memoirs?

Side note: I would have included pictures of Neurotic Jr. and Jane Dog on the blog, but like me, they prefer to remain anonymous. But I think they'd be more willing to sit still for pictures and let me post the photos on my blog if they got more doggie treats and tummy rubs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

It's Not Me, It's You

I finally gave notice at my retail job, and I no longer have to work there anymore.

When I gave my two weeks' notice, I simply wrote a note indicating that I was leaving and when my last day would be. There was so much more that I could have said about why I was quitting sooner rather than later, but I didn't because I might need my retail employers for a job reference later on. And it's not like I could have said, "This job SUCKED and sometimes I hated it so much that I thought you SUCKED, but can I still list you as a reference?"

Giving notice to your employer is a little like breaking up with a significant other. You can't be brutally honest about why you're leaving, because you don't want to come off sounding like a jerk. (Side note: But there has been more than one occasion where I've wanted to say to a guy, "I never want to see you again because you're always bragging about the fancy electronic gadgets that you buy, but you expect me to pay for dinner or drinks every time we go out," or "I don't want to go out with you because your hair kind of makes me think of Dennis the Menace.")

But if I could have been honest about why I was leaving that job, here's what I would have said:

1. You make me sick. My retail job this summer stressed me out so much that I kept scratching at my arms because it felt like bugs were crawling up and down my skin. I ended up with small scabs all over my arms, which still haven't completely healed. Because it's T-shirt weather, I feel self-conscious exposing my arms in public, because I feel like people are going to take one look at my skin and gasp, "What happened to YOU?"

2. My life doesn't revolve around you. Even though this was supposedly a part-time job, it took up a lot more time than I thought it would. At my other retail jobs, I usually only worked three or four days a week. At this one, I worked five days a week, sometimes more.

It took almost an hour to commute to the Tourist Trap and an hour to get home, not to mention taking public transportation every day with a bunch of sweaty people who apparently don't believe that deodorant is necessary didn't do anything to help my nerves. Even though we were scheduled to leave at a certain time, if we were working the closing shift we were made to stay until the store looked perfect. That meant that I had to work late, anywhere from a half hour to more than an hour past my shift every time. The managers would keep coming up with more stuff for us to do, and even after we completed our tasks, they'd walk around the store and point out places that we missed.

      I'd get home from work too tired to do anything but fall asleep watching TV. I hardly got any work done on my dissertation, and I missed more than one deadline on my website job. I didn't get to blog as much, and I was only able to write fiction sporadically. I didn't get to spend much time with my friends, because what I was earning was barely enough to pay for groceries, let alone a night out. I always promised myself that I would never become one of those girlfriends whose entire life revolves around her boyfriend, but it had gotten to the point where it felt like my whole summer revolved around this job.

3. Being with you makes me miserable. As I've mentioned before, I've spent years working in retail, first as a bookseller, then as a clothing store employee. I never really liked it very much, because the work is boring and repetitive; it's tiring to stand for several hours a day, and the pay is extremely low. But I didn't hate working at the bookstore or the clothing store nearly as much as I hated working at the Tourist Trap.

     The tourists weren't really the problem. I mean, it wasn't fun navigating crowds of tourists every day, but for the most part they were actually nicer than a lot of the customers I'd encountered at the bookstore and Expensive Clothing Store. Even though the high Chicago sales tax (9.75%) often shocked them, they were a lot less likely to throw tantrums over the prices of the products we sold. When I worked at Expensive Clothing Store, customers would often blame me for the high prices of the clothes, and I'd be all, "Don't blame me! I just work here." (I didn't actually say that, though.) They'd get back at me by making me run all over the store to find clothes in different sizes or colors; then they'd try all of them on, leave the fitting rooms in a mess for me to clean up, and they wouldn't buy anything.

When I worked at the bookstore, one customer literally started stamping his feet like a caveman and bellowing insults at all the sellers because we wouldn't give him cash for his gift card. Other customers would get mad at me because I wasn't ringing up their orders fast enough; they'd say, "I have really important things to do today. Can you speed this up? Or do I need to talk to a manager?" I always felt tempted to say, Exactly what important things are you planning to do? Are you talking about all the money you're going to burn through, which you think makes you entitled to treat underpaid cashiers and salespeople like crap? That sounds REALLY important.

But at the Tourist Trap, the customers were usually just happy to be in Chicago and would chat about all the places they'd been to or the interesting things that they'd seen. So it wasn't them that bothered me.

What bothered me was having to work late every night. It was one manager telling me to do one thing, and then another manager telling me to do something else at the same time; then both managers would get mad at me because I didn't get all the work done fast enough. It was certain (though not all) coworkers who would stand around and do nothing, leaving other coworkers like me to pick up the slack. It was knowing that with all the money the store raked in every day, my employers could more than afford to pay us even just a little bit more (which would have made a big difference), but they chose not to while pressuring us to sell as many "add-ons" and make as much money for the store as possible. It was the fact that even though I was working two jobs (plus a couple hours a week tutoring the daughter of one of my parents' friends), I still couldn't afford to pay for all of my expenses without the help of a credit card.

Being at that job made me extremely unhappy, more unhappy than I've ever been at any other job. I've decided that I never want to be that miserable at a job again, because it can (and did) have negative effects on other parts of my life. All that misery just wasn't worth the paycheck, even though I did need that paycheck. Next summer, I hope to find something better, though preferably not in retail. I usually take a break from teaching during the summer, but I'm more than willing to teach next year. And hopefully, once I complete my degree and find a full-time teaching job, I'll never have to work part-time jobs that make me think, So this is what hell must be like, ever again.

But it wasn't necessary for me to tell my employers at the Tourist Trap why I was really leaving. Tourist season in Chicago is mainly during the summer, because it gets so cold in the winter that even locals will usually break down at one point and cry, "I've become a human popsicle! AAAHHHHH!!!!"

So the Tourist Trap doesn't need as many workers once summer ends, and I probably would have gotten laid off anyway. School will be starting soon, so I am going to take the time that I have left to enjoy a well-deserved and much-needed vacation. Although by "vacation" I mean clean out my apartment, work on my dissertation, revise my syllabi for the classes that I'll be teaching, pick up extra hours at my website job, exercise at the gym, find an apartment with cheaper rent, etc., etc. If I were to take the kind of vacation where I just laid around all day, I'd probably start imagining bugs on my skin and start scratching at my arms again. I am a workaholic, after all.

What about you? Have you ever quit a job that you didn't like? If you could say something to an employer or a significant other that you left behind, what would it be?