Monday, June 27, 2011

Rainbow Bracelets and Guys in Shorts

As a workaholic, I'm a big fan of to-do lists. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose to be able to cross something off my list, and that list enables me to get a lot of stuff done. Without a list of things to do, I'm more than likely going to waste time (and if there's one thing a workaholic hates, it's wasting time instead of getting things done or working) and veg out in front of the TV and watch Law and Order reruns. (I heart you, Sam Waterston!)

Without a to-do list I'll spend hours surfing the Internet, watching funny YouTube videos and reading weird news stories, like the controversy about the guy who was kicked off a flight because he refused to pull up his baggy pants, but a guy on a different flight who wore no pants at all except for a pair of women's underwear was allowed on board. (Side note: That story made me wonder if he normally walks around with just women's underwear on. Like, does he go to work or the grocery store dressed like that? He looked pretty pleased with himself in the picture that was taken of him, so I'm thinking that he probably did it just to see if he could get away with it. Or maybe he really does go out in women's underwear on a regular basis.)

I don't make a to-do list every day; usually I'll allow myself some flexibility by making at least one list per week. That way, I'll have several days to get everything done. Below are some of the things on my to-do list from this past week:

1. Go to the grocery store before 10 A.M. in order to avoid accidentally slamming my shopping cart into someone else's and to avoid standing in lines behind people who sigh really loudly and make passive-aggressive remarks about people who cut in front of them (though I must admit that sometimes I'll sigh and make remarks too, or, if I've already had coffee that morning, I'll say, "HEY! The back of the line is over THERE, MISTER! Yeah, I'm talking to YOU!")

What I did: I went to the grocery store before 10 A.M. I tried to avert my eyes and not look judgmental when I saw someone trying unsuccessfully to climb over the barricade to the liquor aisle (in Illinois it's illegal to sell alcohol before noon).

2. Figure out more ways to save/earn money, since I recently realized after getting paid from my retail job that my earnings from that job don't actually cover half my bills like I thought they would (I miscalculated my earnings, mainly because of the taxes); they barely cover a third of my expenses.

What I did: I picked up an extra shift at my retail job, and I worked extra hours at my website job too. I went online and searched through my grocery store's weekly ads to find coupons and managed to clip a few, though unfortunately I didn't have as much luck as the folks on Extreme Couponing do in finding coupons. (It's just as well, because I don't have room in my apartment for fifty extra pounds of meat or a dozen extra bottles of laundry detergent. I suppose I would if I took out my furniture, but I don't think that it would be very comfortable to sleep on several boxes of frozen dinners or a bunch of milk jugs.)

I thought of other possible ideas for saving money. Idea #1: Shave all my hair off so that I don't have to spend money on haircuts or hair products anymore. On the other hand, since it's summer I'd probably have to spend money on sunscreen so that my head doesn't get sunburned. I have a round face, so if I did get sunburned my head would end up looking like one of those talking M&Ms or a giant red gumball with eyes.

3. Go to the only place in Chicago where it is almost guaranteed that I won't get hit on by guys: Boystown, to attend either the Pride Parade or the Pride Festival.

What I didn't do: Go to the Pride Festival. When I first moved to Chicago, I went to as many festivals as I could like any other wide-eyed tourist who had not yet realized that most festivals sold the same overpriced food, drinks, and souvenirs. Also, the thing about hanging out at an outdoor festival for too long is that you're often left with no choice but to use one of the Port-a-Potties. And in my opinion, using one of those is like eating off of someone else's dirty dinner plate or blowing your nose with a used Kleenex. I did go to the Pride Festival last year, though, and I had a nice time; I also got a free rainbow bracelet  and a free magnet with a picture of a male underwear model on it.

What I did: attend the Pride Parade. I saw Governor Quinn, along with several other politicians, waving at the people watching on the sidelines. I waved back. I saw drag queens dancing in colorful costumes. I saw a bunch of women on motorcycles riding around, including one woman riding a motorbike with an inflatable woman sitting behind her. I saw a guy wearing a coconut shell bra and a hula skirt playing the trombone. I saw a bunch of people yell out, "WOOOO!!" every time another float or a group of dancers/politicians/activists passed by. (And eventually, I started WOOO-ing too.)

I saw several good-looking guys in tight shorts dancing to songs by Ke$ha and Lady Gaga.  Side note: I couldn't help secretly wishing that there was at least one event each year where good-looking, muscular, straight guys felt comfortable enough to walk around in tight shorts (though preferably not women's underwear. I'm not judging any guy who does wear it; it's just that I'd rather not walk behind any guy on the street wearing nothing but a pair of women's underwear, you know?) with their shirts off like a lot of the good-looking, muscular, gay guys do at the Pride Parade.

It was one of those rare days in Chicago where the weather was beautiful and mild. It was also one of those rare days where I didn't feel tired, stressed out, or easily irritated by anything and everything. Instead, I felt happy to be watching the parade, happy to be living in Chicago, a city that still thrills and surprises me even though I've lived here for years, happy to be outside, happy to be around other people who were cheering and waving for the beaded necklaces that the people in the parade were throwing to them. But most of all, I felt happy because I didn't have to work.

What about you? What do you think of to-do lists? If you have one, then what's on your list?

Side note: Michelle Davidson Argyle, who is a novelist and writes the blog The Innocent Flower (her blog on writing was one of the first blogs I started following when I first started blogging, because it's filled with interesting stories about her experiences as a writer and great advice on writing and self-publishing), is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release of her novella Cinders. In honor of her celebration, she's hosting a giveaway where you can win an autographed copy of her book and an autographed bookmark. Stop by her blog to check it out!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing Space

I've been having difficulty lately finding a good place to write. Even though I usually prefer peace and quiet when I work (blame it on the fact that I grew up in a small town, which was always quiet, except when people were playing sports or gossiping about each other), I don't mind the noisy atmosphere of cafes. (You'd think that after living in Chicago for several years I'd be more tolerant of noise by now. You'd think, right?)

What does bother me, however are the Wi-Fi freeloaders. I mentioned them in my last post; they're the people who camp out for hours with their laptops and don't buy anything (they're even more annoying than the people with laptops who nurse one cup of coffee for hours). Even though they can get free Wi-Fi at the public library (where they're obviously not expected to buy anything), they think it makes more sense to take up extra tables and prevent paying customers at cafes from sitting down.

Freeloader #1: Did you see that guy's hair? I'm totally going to tweet about him.
Freeloader #2: Too late. I already did.
Freeloader #1: What? I can't believe you did that! I wanted to tweet about it!
Freeloader #2: You're just jealous because I have more followers than you.
What I wish I could have said: Tweet this, freeloaders! (I also wish I could have raised my coffee cup high over my head, so that they'd throw themselves over their laptops, sobbing, "NO! Not our laptops! Take us instead!")

I've tried writing in the library at school, because theoretically it's a quiet place to work. I say "theoretically" because several of the undergrads go there to do anything but study. It's often noisier in there than it is at Wrigley Field on game day, or the bars in Wrigleyville after the game is over.

Undergrad #1: I can't believe the professor assigned us all this homework! I have no time to work on this.
Me: Maybe if you had done something other than sit there and complain for the past two hours, you'd have had time to get it done.
Undergrad #2: Haha, check out what somebody carved on the desk! I didn't even know that was a swear word!
Undergrad #3: Oh, I just got another text message from that girl I told you about.
Me: I know. So does everyone else in this library. If you're going to keep texting, do you think you could at least silence your phone before I silence it for you?
Undergrad #1: Have you seen my study partner? JANE? WHERE ARE YOU? I'M NOT DOING THIS PROJECT ALL BY MYSELF!
Me: Do not start throwing things. Do not start throwing things.

I've also tried writing on the buses and trains, because I spend a lot of time commuting every day. But because it's tourist season I'm often stuck standing. When I do get a seat, I've found that people often sneak peeks at what I'm writing.

Creepy Guy sitting next to me: What are you writing?
Me: Um, I'm just writing in my journal.
Creepy Guy: Can I read it?
Me: No.
Creepy Guy: Since you're writing stuff down anyway, can you at least write down your phone number for me?
Me: No. I have to go far away now.

I've also tried writing in my apartment, but it always feels like it's eighty or ninety degrees in there, even in the winter.

Me: It is so hot in here! I feel like I'm melting! I'm meeellltttinngg!
Guy passing by outside: Sounds like the Wicked Witch of the Midwest is freaking out again.

Since it gets so hot in my apartment, I have to turn on my fan and open my windows. However, due to faulty screens, bugs keep crawling into my apartment.

Me: Oh, dear God, exactly how many legs does that thing have? Get away, Demon Bug, GET AWAY!

So I'm still trying to find a place to write. But I did read this interesting post recently by a former publishing intern; her post made me think that if she can write her novel in a van, I should be able to get my writing done anywhere. That's if I can restrain myself from hurling coffee or library books at loud people.

Here are some pictures of writing spaces that I thought looked cool:

                        (Novelist Will Self's writing space)

                               (Writer Belle Yang's writing room)

What about you? Where do you like to write? Which places do you think are most/least conducive to writing?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Settling for Less

I once went on a date with a guy who went off on a rant about all the reasons he disagreed with the Catholic Church. This was after I told him that I was Catholic. I didn't say, "Well, enjoy hell then, sinner." I did try to defend my religion, but I admit that I didn't respond as well as I could have; I was caught off guard by what he said. But I don't feel like I should have to defend Catholicism, especially not on a date.

I used to know some people my age who went to church every day. A couple of them criticized me because I only went to Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. I didn't feel like I had to defend myself to them either, and I didn't like feeling like I had to.

Side note: I'd like to dedicate Sarah Bareilles' song, "King of Anything" to those holier-than-thou people and that guy. I wish I'd heard that song at the time, so that I could say those lines back to them.

I grew up Catholic and I still practice my religion, but I don't try to pressure anyone to accept my beliefs. I figure everyone has a right to their own beliefs, and as long as we can all find a way to get along in spite of our differences, it's okay.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I did call that guy after the date; in spite of his rant, I thought he seemed like a nice guy. But we didn't go out again. Looking back now, I know that it never would have worked out anyway. I would have been settling for someone whose criticism of my religion made me want to do something very un-Christian to his face just so he would stop talking.

It's easy to make the decision not to "settle" for someone, because we can live without dates and romantic relationships. What we can't live without, however, is money. That means we often have no choice but to settle for jobs that we dislike because we can't support ourselves without the money that comes from those jobs.

Recently I burst into tears in front of my coworkers at my retail job. There wasn't any specific reason why, or maybe it was because of several reasons. I cried because I was so stressed out over having to work almost every day, week after week, because this job was taking up a lot more time than I thought it would. I cried because I was just so tired; I only got to sit down for fifteen minutes during each shift, even if the shift lasted for more than seven or eight hours. I cried because I hadn't had time to do any of the things that were important to me, like write fiction, blog, or work on my dissertation. I cried because I hated this job and I felt trapped.

I could have walked out. I could have gone all Godzilla on the store and knocked all the merchandise off the shelves while growling incoherently and the other customers fled in terror.

But I didn't. I eventually stopped weeping, dried my tears, and went back to work. To make matters worse, a few days later a customer I was helping recognized me. This customer turned out to be one of the popular girls from my high school. She is now married to one of the popular guys, who was with her at the store, along with their young children. She runs her own business now.

I felt embarrassed to be ringing up her purchase, wearing a uniform that was several sizes too big for me, with my hair pointing in several different directions, while she looked very pretty and polished. I didn't tell her about all the things I've done since high school: graduate school, teaching, etc. I felt like I was a sixteen-year-old high school student again on Valentine's Day, when several of the girls were carrying around bouquets of roses that their boyfriends had given them and I was carrying around an armful of books.

I don't know how much longer I can keep working at this job. I haven't had any time off this summer, and even a workaholic like me needs to rest. I'm supposed to turn in a draft of my dissertation to my committee soon, but I haven't been able to work on it in weeks. I come home every day too exhausted to do anything. I got my paycheck recently and it's barely enough to cover half my bills, despite all the hours I worked.

Being so tired and stressed out has also made me feel angry about little things. I feel angry when I go to a coffeehouse and I see freeloaders who are just there for the free Wi-Fi; they don't even bother to buy anything and they hog tables for hours. I feel angry when the bus driver passes my stop even though I'm standing right there, so that I have to go running after it. I feel angry that I applied for a good job that would have allowed me to escape retail, but I was passed over for someone who had about five years less experience than I do. And I don't want to feel so angry, tired, and stressed out all the time.

I still have my website job, and I have a small emergency fund. But to be honest I'm almost tempted to go into credit card debt if that's what it took to escape this job. But I've never quit a paying job before unless I had another job waiting. I've applied for other jobs, but I know that if I got another retail job it'd probably be more of the same thing. It's just that when I think of the rest of the summer being like this, I'm afraid that I might lose it at work again. And I'm not so sure that I'm willing to settle for a job that makes me so unhappy just so I can get paid.

Have you ever quit a job before? Have you ever kept working at a job that you disliked? What would you do if you were in my situation?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

That's Professor Workaholic to You

One thing I like to do every day is read advice columns, like Dear Amy, Dear Abby, and Dear Prudence. In my opinion, the typical advice column could also be called Obsessive Neurotic Central, so it's like I'm reading the stories of "my people".

I read in an advice column once that some people don't like calling professors "Dr.". These people felt that academics didn't have the right to be called "Dr." since they weren't "real" doctors.

I know that a professor and a medical doctor have very different work responsibilities. Professors don't save lives or teach people how to safeguard their health (except of course for the professors who teach med students and also practice medicine). But at the same time, it takes more years to earn a master's degree and a doctorate than it does to earn a medical degree. So when I do finally complete my Ph.D., I can guarantee you that I will identify myself as "Dr." or "Professor", because I believe that I'll have earned that right.

I've been teaching college students for years now, but I don't really consider myself a professor yet; I'm not a full-time faculty member and I'm still working on my Ph.D. I've had several titles, including "adjunct", "instructor", "lecturer", and "teaching assistant", even though I was basically doing the same job under all these titles. But I have my own ideas for what my title could be, though they probably wouldn't catch on since they're too long. I still think they're fairly accurate though.

For example, instead of being an "adjunct", I might call myself one of the following:

The Grader of Papers

The Collector of Excuses from students who don't think it's necessary to come to class or turn in work on time

That Poor Instructor who practically had to arm-wrestle one of her fellow instructors for desk space in the one office that all the adjuncts/teaching assistants share whereas the professors get their own offices that they only use once or twice a week.

The Invisible Woman who never gets to go to most of the department meetings since she has no say in how the department is run

The Ultimate Multi-Tasker who works three jobs and has no time or money for vacations

Having spent years working in retail, I've found that retail employers are fond of job titles too. They use titles like "Team Member", "Sales Associate", "Client Host," and "Brand Ambassador". I think they use these fancy titles as a way to make the employees feel better about their jobs, and perhaps to try and make up for the low wages. But personally, I'd rather just be known as That Chick with the Name Tag as long as I got paid more.

Instead of "Sales Associate," I could also be called:

She Who Operates the Cash Register

The Folder of Clothes

The Maid who picks up after all the customers who believe that tossing the store's items on the floor is perfectly acceptable

Miss Smiley Face who smiles even after a customer tries on seven different outfits, each in at least two sizes and three different colors and then decides not to buy anything

The Bookseller who doesn't actually succeed in getting most people to buy books because they prefer to spend two hours in the store reading for free rather than buy anything

The Patron Saint of Patience, because ANYONE would need an incredible amount of patience to listen to the same CD played over the store's speakers OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN EVERY SINGLE WRETCHED DAY

What do you think of job titles? If you could come up with your own job title, what would you call yourself?

Side note: Stop by Theresa Milstein's blog Substitute Teacher's Saga (and follow her too if you haven't already, because she's a great blogger, writer, and teacher). She's hosting a contest where you can win a free copy of Elana Johnson's YA novel Possession.