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.