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?