Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,
  I promise that I've been totally good this year, except when I saw my neighbor had left her white laundry in the washing machine for several hours and I held up my red shirt in a threatening manner over the machine and gave her the evil eye when she finally came in to get her laundry.

There's also the time I "accidentally" spilled some of my coffee on the Wi-Fi freeloaders who kept hogging tables for hours at my favorite cafe (apparently, their laptop bags need their own separate tables). But hey! It's not like I spilled the coffee on their heads! That's progress!

What would I like for Christmas? I would like one of those devices that interfere with cell phone signals. That way, I can turn it on whenever my students start paying more attention to their cell phones than to me during class. Then, when they realize that their phones aren't working, they'll look up with bewildered expressions on their faces and say, "Wait. Who am I?"

I would also like for your elves to make a tiny fire extinguisher that I can keep in my purse. That way, I can whip it out and spray it at the cigarettes of the people who blow smoke in my face.

I'd also like the money to hire people who could be a Greek chorus, like the ones in those Greek tragedies that stand off to the side and speak ominously about the characters. I'd get my own Greek chorus to follow my neighbors around, and then I'd get the chorus to make ominous speeches about obnoxious jerks who incur the wrath of the gods by keeping their neighbors up all night with their loud music, drunken parties, and carnal get-togethers (ahem).

I'd also like a new outfit that would make me look good, no matter how many gingerbread men I eat. Hey! You get to eat cookies! Why can't I? And by a new outfit, I don't mean my own Santa suit, because the only one who looks good in that is you. (And I mean that in the best way.)

I'd like for all students, including mine, to show up to class on time every day, complete their work on time, demonstrate their intelligence (and they ARE smart) in their papers by providing their own insight rather than just regurgitate the notes I gave during lectures, and never ever ever complain about their grades or blame me if they don't get A's. Because if you can make THAT happen, I promise I will not only sing "Oh Happy Day" in the streets for everyone to hear, I will stop being such a workaholic. (Well, I'll try, anyway. Okay, maybe I'll let myself take one day off a week. Or at least an afternoon.)

But most of all, Santa, I want the people in Newton, Connecticut to once again feel the happiness and peace that they were robbed of. I know that it will take a long time for them to feel that way, but I hope that eventually, they will feel it. If you can make THAT happen, you don't have to worry about getting me anything else on my list.

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Attention Shoppers

(Here's what I wish I could say to certain people I've observed or encountered when I go Christmas shopping.)

If you keep throwing temper tantrums because the items you wanted are out of stock or if you keep screaming at the salespeople for not working fast enough, Santa won't just put you on his naughty list. He'll put you on his never list.

Eating a candy cane is not the same thing as brushing your teeth.

Scented lotion is not a substitute for soap.

If you not only cut in front of me in line but push me aside and then start talking to the cashier while I'm still talking to the cashier, then I will charge you like a bull.

Salespeople are human beings too. Remember that the next time you get impatient with one of them. They don't want to say the same old sales pitch any more than you want to hear it. They also don't want to have to work throughout the entire holiday season with no break, because the corporate employers who control their stores apparently have the motto: Why rest during Christmas when you can make money? (For US, not for YOURSELF)

If you freak out because Starbucks is out of the Gingerbread Latte, then perhaps it's time for decaf, no?

Thank you for the candles that you gave me as a Christmas gift. Unfortunately I can never light them because I live in a tiny studio apartment, and my smoke detector goes off every time I turn on my gas stove. My neighbors probably either think I am some kind of pyromaniac or just a bad cook.

If you say, "Oh, you don't have to get me anything," do you think that Santa will put coal in my stocking if I get myself something with the money that I would have spent on you?

It's the holiday season again. When I was younger, I used to be so excited for Christmas. This was back when I still believed in Santa Claus, made snow angels and had snowball fights every time there was snow on the ground, ate Christmas cookies, and got up at the crack of dawn so that I could open my presents.

Now that I'm an adult (technically, anyway), I haven't believed in Santa Claus ever since I realized that his handwriting on the gift tags that he left on my presents was exactly the same as my father's handwriting. When there's snow outside, I automatically think, "Great. I just bought these shoes, and now they're going to be ruined." I spend hours at the gym to work off the calories from those Christmas cookies. And I get up at the crack of dawn to shop for presents (and by shop for presents, I mean arm-wrestle fellow shoppers over bargains. This year, I'm going to arm-wrestle AND tickle fellow shoppers in order to get to the bargains first.).

I actually haven't started my Christmas shopping yet. That's because I've been caught up with school and work, as usual. The holiday season brings back bad memories of working in retail during the holidays, when I didn't get to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's like normal people do because I had to work instead. (I feel sorry for the people working in movie theaters on Christmas Day. I know because I used to be one of them too.) And you know how a lot of stores play Christmas songs? Yeah. Imagine listening to the same Christmas songs over and over and over again, day after day after day.

But before you think of me as a neurotic version of Scrooge, I'll admit that there is one thing I like about Christmas: the decorations. I like going downtown and seeing the city all lit up. I like seeing the Christmas displays in the store windows, and I like how other people, who normally rush around from place to place, stop and admire all the decorations with smiles on their faces. I like seeing people bringing Christmas trees home, and I imagine what the trees are going to look like once all the ornaments and lights are on them. And for just that moment, it's like I'm a little girl at Christmas again.

What about you? What do you like/dislike about Christmas? How do you feel about holiday shopping?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Life or Debt

As those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know, my graduate funding will run out at the end of this school year. But it will take me another year (at least) to finish my dissertation. I spoke to the placement director in my department, and this person told me that they may be able to give me a few classes to teach next year. But I've been thinking about what my other options are, because at this point, I'm still not sure what I should do.

I work for a website, but it's only part-time. If I want to have enough money to pay rent, buy groceries, and pay for other essentials, I need at least one other job.

I could go back to work in retail. I've worked at a bookstore, a clothing store, and the souvenir store of a major tourist attraction. It would not be difficult to find another job in retail. I'm actually pretty good at convincing people to buy things (even things they don't need). I'm also good at keeping a friendly expression on my face, even though on the inside I may or may not be thinking, How can I help you? How about I help you find the way to the exit, so that you can shop somewhere else?

But working in retail made me very unhappy. The hours are long, the pay is extremely low, and it's very tiring to stand on your feet for eight hours a day. It's also very tiring to listen to  coworkers who think that if you don't fold a stack of sweaters perfectly, the world will end. Also, when the stores I worked for weren't making any money, I wasn't making any money. Everyone's hours were cut more often than not. Therefore, I could never rely on my earnings as a salesgirl.

I could keep teaching at the school where I'm teaching now, if the department offers me more classes next year. Several other grad students who are still working on their dissertations have also continued to teach at the school. I could also go back to working as an adjunct at one of the other schools where I've taught.

But teaching is very time-consuming. After spending hours teaching, grading papers, making lesson plans, and meeting with students to help them with their work and occasionally tell them that they shouldn't write papers like they write text messages, the last thing I want to do is work on my dissertation. What I want to do instead is sleep for several hours, read a good book that doesn't have five hundred footnotes in it, or take a walk around my neighborhood.

I could become a street performer, but I don't really know what I would do. Despite years of piano lessons, the only thing I can remember how to play is "Chopsticks". I can't sing very well without making people cringe and invest in ear plugs. I can't make balloon animals to sell to tourists, because I'm not very good at blowing up balloons. I always end up popping them by accident, which would scare the tourists and then they'd think that all the locals in Chicago are weird.

I've thought about applying for student loans or grants. The good thing about grants is that you don't have to pay anyone back for the money that you get, and it looks good on your resume. But a lot of people apply for those grants, so they're extremely difficult to get. Since I haven't distinguished myself in graduate school, it will be even more difficult to get one. But I'm still going to try.

I talked to people in the financial aid office at my school about applying for a small loan for next year. I also talked to a financial advisor, who gave me some good advice. I was reluctant to consider student loans at first, because in all the years I've been in graduate school, I've never applied for any loans. I have a tuition waiver and a stipend from my teaching assistantship, and I have always worked additional part-time jobs to pay for everything else. I was also raised with the belief that I should never borrow money if I can earn it on my own.

I have a small amount of credit card debt, but I haven't charged anything else and I pay more than the minimum each month. The thought of adding thousands of dollars to the amount of money I currently owe is daunting. Granted, even if I borrow money next year, I won't owe as much as most of my other classmates. They've been living off of student loans since the beginning, and they now have six figure debts. Their choice was not necessarily a bad one, because they were able to devote themselves to their work and succeed as a result. But it will take them decades to pay off those debts, because even though the cast members of reality shows get paid thousands (or millions) of dollars for living by the slogan "Who Needs a Conscience When You Can Be Famous?", educators are lucky if they earn enough money to live on and have a little bit left over to put in the bank.

But even though I am a workaholic, I don't know if I want to keep working so much next year. It's partly because I spent so much time at my other jobs that I haven't done as well in graduate school as I could have; I didn't have as much time to study. And I regret that, but at the same time I really never wanted to have a six figure debt; I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to pay it.

If I applied for a small loan, I wouldn't have to work next year. I could study all day without interruption. I could finally prove to my professors that my work is good enough, and then I would finally feel like I'm good enough. Maybe I wouldn't be so stressed and tired all the time, and maybe I would have time for the other things that are important to me, like fiction writing.

The thought of being in debt for years is scary. But the thought of failing to finish my dissertation and being forced to leave graduate school is even scarier. Even after everything I've been through, I still want to be a college professor.

What about you? How do you feel about student loans and debt in general? If you were in my situation, what would you do?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stuff My Neighbors Say

Neighbor #1: Don't worry, nobody's even listening to us right now.
Me: Nobody wants to listen to you right now, but that doesn't mean we can't HEAR you. And by the way? It's really not necessary to congratulate yourself every time.

Neighbor #2: And I will always love youuuu..... (This neighbor likes to sing at the top of her lungs, because she thinks she's as good as Whitney Houston was.)
Me: You know what you should take? Voice lessons. Then the teacher will tell you that you should learn how to be a mime instead.

Neighbor #3: Can you believe it's already 2:37 in the morning? I can't believe we're still awake right now!
Me: I can't believe I'm still awake either. Do you know what happens when I am sleep-deprived? Why don't you come over and I'll show you. 

Neighbor #4: Yeah! We're number one! We won the game! WOOOO!!
Me: You're number one on my list of people who I'm going to photograph and whose pictures I will post online under the heading, "When Bad Neighbors Happen to Good People."

Neighbor #5: Just leave it. Someone else will take care of it.
Me: The next time I break a jar of spaghetti sauce, I'm not going to leave the mess all over the hallway like you did. I'm going to take the sauce and smear it all over your door with a note that says, "You don't have a maid. Clean up after yourself."

Neighbor #6: I just LOVE this song! Turn it up!
Me: I like that song too. At least, I liked it the first three times you played it. Twenty-five times later, I don't really like it anymore. Thank you for that. 

Neighbor #7: I can't believe you made out with him! I wanted to make out with him!
Me: How about this? The next time you two go to a bar and encounter an anonymous guy who's remotely attractive, you get to call dibs!

The walls in my building are extremely thin. Any time one of my neighbors sneezes, answers the phone, or fights with their boyfriend or girlfriend, I can hear it. My apartment window looks out over the parking lot; it also faces several other apartments, which is why I have to keep my blinds closed all the time. But even if I can't see my neighbors, I can still hear them.

It's one thing when they have their loud parties or music marathons on the weekends. I try not to start throwing things when the guy living in the apartment above me invites all his friends over and they start cheering every time one of the players in the games that they're watching does something spectacular, like move. But when it's a weeknight and I have to wake up at 5:30 A.M. to get ready to teach my morning classes?  That's something else altogether. I don't blast my Nothing But Taylor Swift playlist at 5:30 in the morning, because I know that everyone's sleeping. So I'd appreciate it if people would show me the same consideration at 1:30 A.M. I'd also appreciate it if I didn't have to listen to their nonstop noise EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT.

I'd expect this kind of behavior if my neighbors were college students. But most of them are in their twenties and thirties. At some point, I would have thought they'd have grown up. But apparently, they haven't. Maybe I'm jealous because they have a lot more free time than I do, and they obviously don't have to work as much (or at all) as I do.

Maybe it's true that you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can't take the small town out of the girl. I was accustomed to peace and quiet when I was growing up, so it was a shock to come here to Chicago, where it's rarely peaceful or quiet. 

Maybe I'm suspicious because a lot of them never seem to sleep at night, which makes me wonder if they're all just a bunch of drunk vampires who like to party all the time.

Maybe I'm just tired because my neighbors are why I haven't been sleeping well lately, and I think they're also why my hair is turning white again.

Or maybe I'm just completely fed up by their selfish, inconsiderate behavior. I've had to live with jerks like them for years, and I hate it.

I am truly grateful for the fact that I have a roof over my head, and I am grateful that I earn money to pay my own rent. But I dream of the day that I'll be able to buy my own house someday, not an apartment or a condo, but a house where I don't have to share space with anyone I don't like. Until then, I'm seriously thinking of turning up my pop music playlists at 5:30 in the morning.

What about you? Do you have rude neighbors? How do you deal with people like them?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Home Is...

The small Midwestern town that I grew up in, even though I couldn't wait to leave it when I was a teenager.

The big Midwestern city that I've lived in for years, even though I don't even notice its beauty half the time because I'm so focused on getting to work, to the gym, to my apartment so that I can add to my list of things that annoy me (#47: People who sing along off-key to pop songs at the top of their lungs in the middle of a busy commuter train. Britney Spears' music should not be desecrated in that way.)

My dream house, which has a big front porch with a swing that I could sit on while reading books outside in the summer.

Not the tiny studio apartment that I currently live in.

The peace and quiet of my hometown, where I could close my eyes and actually hear myself think.

Not the car alarms blaring, horns honking, loud music playing, people yelling, and me shrieking at my window, "For the love of God, it's three A.M.! SHUT UP!"

The wide streets in my hometown that I used to ride my bike on to get to the ice cream shop or the playground.

The dirty subway tunnels that I walk through or the crowded trains that I ride to get to work, where some people practically tackle each other in order to get seats.

The classrooms where I teach, where several of my students have written on their course evaluations that I seem really happy when I'm teaching. And I am.

Not the classrooms and lecture halls where I attend graduate lectures that I usually only understand 10% of, and where I find myself thinking, Being trapped in an elevator for two hours with the Kardashians, their boyfriends, and their ex-husbands would be less painful than this.

The Harold Washington Library, where there are several floors of books. The first time I went there, I thought, In heaven, there are books. 

Not the libraries at the schools where I've taught, because many of the undergrads think that "Quiet Study Area" means "Talk, Socialize, Update Your Facebook Page Twenty Times Per Hour, and Play Music on Your iPhone without Headphones Area".

A guy who I could trust completely and who would make me think that maybe true love isn't something that only happens to other people.

Not any of the guys I've dated, especially not the one who criticized me for not "fixing myself up" enough for the date or the one who made up a lame excuse to leave early less than an hour after the date started, which made me think, I wonder if voodoo dolls really work. Maybe I could buy one and name it after him.

The pages of my journal and the files that hold my manuscripts in my laptop, where I can immerse myself in the worlds that I've created.

Not the tabloids that over-analyze celebrities' lives and invade their privacy or the reality shows that make it seem like you have to be drunk, stupid, or mean in order to be famous.

The books by good authors that inspired me to write in the first place.

They say that home is where your heart is. I think that your heart can be in more than one place. I also think that home is made up of all the places and things that make you happy, and that help you survive all the other places that you can't wait to get away from.

What about you? What is home to you?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Happily Ever After...Or Not

Fellow blogger Talli Roland (who also happens to be a great novelist, which is why you should buy her books) recently wrote a post about happy endings, and how romantic comedies usually have happy endings. She's right. This is particularly true of chick lit, where the main character usually a) ends up with Mr. Right; b) realizes that the Unsuitable Suitor isn't so Unsuitable after all and dumps Mr. Safe-But-Boring for him; c) realizes that the Unsuitable Suitor really is a tool and that Mr. Safe-But-Boring isn't so boring after all; or d) thinks to herself, I don't need a man to be happy. I just need my friends and Ben and Jerry. 

I recently read a chick lit book that I HATED. I bought two books by this author because one of my favorite authors highly recommended this person. Then again, many people highly recommend getting face tattoos and multiple piercings in places that really shouldn't be pierced (because really, who's going to look there unless you take all your clothes off? And you really shouldn't do THAT in public.).

I didn't like the first novel that I bought by this author, mainly because all the characters loved each other. There was almost no conflict in the story, because everyone easily forgave each other. I know that chick lit books aren't always realistic, but COME ON. In real life, most people don't easily forgive each other every time. They yell at each other, cry, and pull each other's hair (or is it just me who does the last one?).

But I bought the second book by this author because I thought that maybe I should give this person's writing another chance. It's kind of like going to a restaurant a second time even though you got food poisoning the last time you ate there.

But this book was no better than the last one I read. The characters all loved each other and easily forgave each other, like the last book. Even worse, the main character's love interest was perfect...too perfect. He had absolutely no flaws. Unless she fell in love with a Stepford Boyfriend, it was hard to believe. I liked the Unsuitable Suitor in this book better, because he was demanding, self-centered, immature...and real.

Granted, I wouldn't necessarily want to date a guy who is like that. But no guy is perfect (and based on the guys that I've dated, I KNOW that for a fact). And I think that people's flaws are what make their relationships interesting. I think that loving someone in spite of his or her flaws and accepting him or her for who they are is a sign that you truly are in love. Not to mention the guy and the main character kept declaring their love for each other (I lost count after the hundredth time, and I'm not exaggerating), and I know that even people in love don't do that ALL The time. It made me want to watch an episode of one of the Real Housewives shows, where none of the people say loving things to each other, except maybe when they're admiring themselves in the mirror.

I recently read Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans, and I found myself sighing with relief as I read it. The main character's love interest was flawed in many ways, but he was likable in other ways as well. I found myself becoming  invested in the characters' lives, and I kept thinking about the story even when I wasn't reading it. When I was waiting for the train yesterday, I thought, Oh, I hope she makes the right decision about that guy, as if the main character was a real person. And in a way, the characters had become real to me, because the story was that engaging. And as a reader, reading a good book like that is my idea of a happy ending.

We all have our own definitions of what a happy ending would be. In the stories I write, I do want my characters to have happy endings, as long as they all make mistakes and bad decisions and drive people crazy with their flaws first, because that's what makes them (and their stories) real.

I also have my own idea of what I'd like my happy ending to be. In fact, I have several ideas. One includes myself as a successful writer, who earns enough money that I don't have to work a day job (actually, in my case, it's day jobs) anymore so that I can write full-time. Another includes myself as a respected professor, where I get to teach students who would rather read fine literature than text messages. And another happy ending includes Ryan Gosling in a tank top, but I won't go into too much detail on that one.

What about you? Do you prefer stories with happy endings? Do you like to write happy endings for your stories? What's your idea of a happy ending?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Procrastinate Because...

Procrastination is one of my worst habits. (Fantasizing about getting back at rude and inconsiderate people by doing things like throwing water balloons at them or making them rename themselves after the cast of the Jersey Shore is another habit of mine. But I'm not giving THAT one up anytime soon.)

I know that I shouldn't put off responsibilities or work that needs to get done. I am able to get my work done, but it's often hard just to get started because I keep procrastinating. Then I'm left with less time to complete my work.

When I have a lot of work to do, I know that I shouldn't watch TV, read chick lit novels, or write down the laws that I would pass if I were President (Law #1: It is now illegal to talk on your cell phones in the movie theater. The other moviegoers are thus justified in eating all your popcorn if you do.). And yet sometimes I can't help myself, and then not only am I left with less time to complete my work, I'm also left with less time to do fun things.

I started thinking about the reasons why I've been procrastinating, especially lately. I read somewhere that if you can understand the reasons behind bad habits, it makes it easier to break them. So here are a few of my reasons:

I'm overwhelmed. I work two jobs and I have a dissertation to write. There are some days when I feel completely overwhelmed by the stack of papers that are waiting to be graded, the lesson plans that still need to be made, the projects that need to be completed for my website job, the students' e-mails that need to be answered, and the research that needs to be done.

When I feel overwhelmed, I don't automatically think, This will be a snap! I'll get this done, and then I'll clean my apartment! Instead I think, I can't do this right now. I'm going back to bed. And then I'm going to figure out a way to clone myself, as long as it's not an evil clone who will turn against me and take over my entire life. 

I'm frustrated. I recently turned in a draft to my dissertation director, and he says it still needs more work before I can show it to the rest of my committee. It frustrates me that my work never seems to be good enough no matter how hard I try, and it makes me question whether I belong in graduate school in the first place. 

When I feel frustrated, my first impulse is not to sit down at my desk and start a new outline for my dissertation. Instead, I'd rather go to the gym and work off my aggression, eat something chocolate-covered, or give up altogether and consider an alternative line of work, like professional break dancer.

I'm burned out. Even though I am a workaholic, even I occasionally get bored and worn out from working so much. Sometimes I just want to do something fun and take a day for myself. I want to stay in bed all day and watch movies, or go shopping and spend money that I usually reserve for books I need for my graduate research (that aren't available in the library) on something I don't really need, like a cute dress or a nice pair of shoes (instead of the loafers I usually wear, which are sensible but also call attention to the fact that I have ginormous feet). Sometimes I don't want to have to respond to yet another e-mail that reads something like this: "I know that I got a C on this paper, but I still feel that I did everything correctly."

I'm afraid.  When I sit down in front of my computer, sometimes I feel so afraid that I'm going to write something that disappoints my professors AGAIN. In the movies people can rely on magic powers or good-looking heroes, which makes it easier for them to confront their fears. But in real life I have only myself and my fear that everything I want will always be out of my reach. 

But in spite of all these things, I know that procrastination is one habit that I definitely need to break. It would be unrealistic to say that I'll never procrastinate again, but I do need to make sure that I procrastinate less frequently. I can't afford to keep wasting time.

What about you? Do you have a problem with procrastination? If you do, why do you do it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just Relax

I've been feeling stressed, anxious, and frustrated lately because of my dissertation. I can't stop beating myself up over the fact that it will take me an extra year to finish, especially because several of my classmates will be finishing this year. It's hard to listen to them talk about the jobs that they've already started to apply for, as well as the articles that they've published and the presentations that they've made at conferences.

It makes me feel like all the hard work that I've done over the past several years doesn't mean much, because I haven't accomplished as much as they have. On the other hand, there are several other classmates who will also be taking an extra year to finish their dissertations.

There has been more than one weekend where I didn't see sunlight at all (I'm like the Academic Vampire who feeds on footnotes) because I spent the whole time cooped up indoors, working.

Now it's fall and I realized that I didn't go to the lake at all this past summer. Every year that I've lived in Chicago, I go out and sit by the lake and watch the water move and think about things, sometimes for hours. It's something that has always calmed me. But because I was so busy working, I didn't go to the lake at all and now it's too cold to sit out there.

So I've been trying to find other ways to relax. (It's not possible for me to completely relax due to the fact that I have a Type A personality; I've even woken up with my hand waving in the air, because I was dreaming about grading papers.) Here are a few that I've considered:

1. Posting a sign that says "LOUD PEOPLE SUCK" on my window for all my neighbors to see, or waking them up at 5 A.M. with a megaphone and yelling, "Attention, all annoying people. If you don't like being woken up this early, then remember this the next time that you let your friends stay over or turn your TV on at top volume until 2 A.M. on a Tuesday. Otherwise, next time I'm going to start SINGING."

Okay. Obviously, I wouldn't do this, because it might not be the best way to relieve stress (though it would be a good way to make enemies). But it would make me feel at least a little better.

2. Go to a yoga class and resolve to make it through the whole class without accidentally falling onto anyone else while we're doing one of those "poses" or silently wondering if my butt looks big in my yoga pants.

3. Watch a TV show that does not include sociopathic serial killers, good-looking crime scene investigators who somehow find it necessary to explain everything they're doing to their colleagues, or twentysomethings who throw temper tantrums and get into bar brawls in order to get attention. (You'd think that if people who get into bar fights as often as some people on TV do, they would learn not to wear short dresses, because then they'd be much less likely to flash people when they start fighting.)

Side note: What show can I watch then? Glee? I tried watching that show, but even though I always liked those old Hollywood musicals, I've never really liked Glee. The people on that show are too darn enthusiastic. When I'm in a bad mood because I had to stand next to someone on the train who has never heard of mouthwash, the last thing I want to watch is a bunch of people who are so happy that they can't stop dancing. And somehow watching lawyers prosecute criminals or cops catch the bad guys makes me feel better, especially because the bad guys in real life often don't get caught or punished.

4. Join an online dating site again earlier than I originally planned, since I was going to put it off for a few months until after my dissertation committee approves a draft of my dissertation. But maybe going on dates will help get my mind off of my work, and it could give me something to look forward to. Maybe I'll even meet someone nice.

Or maybe I'll become even more stressed, anxious, and frustrated by guys who apparently have never heard of the word "discretion" when it comes to writing e-mails to women that they've never met.

5. Writing in coffeehouses, especially early in the morning, because most people aren't up yet and it's still quiet. This is the one "relaxation technique" that works for me. Even though writing is technically "work", it's different because it's something that I do that's just for me, and it's something that I enjoy doing. Even though I'm not published yet, and even though I occasionally envy the successful authors who have already "made it", that doesn't take away the pleasure of writing for me.

What about you? How do you relax?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grad School Dropout

Anyone who's ever gone to grad school, law school, or med school has wanted to drop out at least a thousand and one times. I've been tempted to quit, especially lately, because the stress that comes with (trying to) complete my dissertation and living off of a tiny stipend drives me up the wall sometimes. I turned in another draft to my dissertation director and advisor, and according to them, it still needs a lot of work. (What I need is a roomful of coffee, a time machine, and a private place to scream.)

Every once in a while, I can't help thinking what it would be like if I were to just walk away from grad school and live a "normal" life like everyone else. Maybe I wouldn't be such an obsessive, neurotic workaholic. Maybe I would be "normal" too. 

Sometimes I get so frustrated, sad, and angry that I want to lie on my bed and listen to "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M. or Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album (and maybe make my dissertation committee listen to it). Other times I want to dress all in black (most of my clothes are black anyway, so I'm halfway there) and go to open mic nights where I can read poetry about how academia is draining all the life out of my heart and my soul and I don't even have my one true love to make me feel better because I think that William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway are less irritating than most of the guys I've dated (except I wouldn't want to date Faulkner OR Hemingway).

But I can't drop out of grad school, because...

1. I have learned more from my students than I have from anyone else.

2. I am too much of a prude to work at Hooters or a strip club. (Unless they start letting the employees wear turtlenecks and baggy pants that I would never have to take off.)

3. Seeing as how I started having nightmares that Stephen King's Carrie White went to my school after I watched the movie, I would never be able to work as a doctor and see so much blood on a regular basis without shrieking and curling up into the fetal position.

4. I'd still have the urge to correct people's grammar, except I would no longer be able to say it's part of what I do for a living.

5. I wouldn't be able to read novels without over-analyzing the political/psychological/economic/social/racial significance of every aspect of them.

6. Other than teaching, the only job I am qualified for is retail, because I spent years working in stores. And I really DON'T want to spend the rest of my life saying, "Thank you for shopping here! Have a nice day!" when what I really want to say is, "Karma will GET you! And I'll be laughing maniacally when it does!"

7. The baristas at Starbucks might show up at my door, pleading, "Please come back! We'll give you free biscotti!" because I won't spend as much money on the coffee I need to stay awake and get all my work done.

8. Everything I've been through in the past decade - all the seminars, the teaching jobs, the retail jobs that made me want to SCREAM, the sacrifices I've had to make - will have been for nothing.

9. I'll never be able to walk past a college without feeling envious of every professor who gets to teach there.

10. I might not write as much fiction, because every time I feel angry, frustrated, or stressed, I pour out what I'm feeling into my fiction writing. The stories I write provide an escape from all the papers I have to grade, the grade complaints from students, the research I have to do, the lectures I have to attend, and the professors who keep telling me to revise, revise, revise. When I write, I feel happy, and it makes everything else a little more bearable.

So I think I'm going to stay in graduate school. I'm only a year and a half away (I hope) from finishing the Ph.D. But in the meantime, I think I'm going to find my Alanis Morissette CD and listen to "You Oughta Know" on repeat for a while.

What about you? Do you ever wish you could quit the work that you're doing? What keeps you from walking away?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

(I Wish I Was A) World Traveler

The last time I did any traveling was more than eleven years ago, when I spent a summer in Spain as part of a study abroad program. Several of the other students in the program enjoyed going to bars and clubs and partying with American tourists, but I figured that I could do that at home. So I often went out to explore on my own.

One thing I noticed about a lot of the people in Spain was how relaxed they were. I liked that they took a two hour siesta in the middle of the afternoon. They weren't rushing around constantly, and they weren't glued to their cell phones like the Americans at home were. They took the time to enjoy long lunches with their friends, and they seemed happier.

So that summer, I followed their example. Instead of spending all my time studying, I walked up and down the streets of the city I was living in. I browsed through almost every shop I came across. I went to restaurants and bars during the day; because I couldn't speak a lot of Spanish yet, I would often just point to dishes that were on display or items on the menu. I ended up eating a lot of good food that way. I even traveled to other cities in Spain. I brought my journal everywhere with me, so that I could write down everything I saw and experienced. Maybe it was because I was only twenty, or maybe it was because I was in Europe, but for one summer, it felt wonderful to not be a workaholic.

But ever since then, I haven't really done much traveling. I visit my parents twice a year, for a week or two at a time; they live in a different state. I don't have the time or the money to travel anywhere else. My passport expired a while ago, but I didn't bother to renew it.

Recently, I went to New Orleans for a couple days to attend a relative's wedding. I'd never been there before. Since I had my mornings and afternoons free, I walked up and down Canal Street and around the French Quarter. I watched artists selling their paintings in a small park, and I took pictures of the river. I tried not to stare at the women who were clad only in their underwear, standing in the doorways of peep shows and strip clubs.

I browsed through souvenir shops. (Side note: what is it about being a tourist that makes you more willing to buy overpriced stuff? It's like, "Yes, I WILL buy that magnet for $3.95! What a deal!") I even bought one of those colorful Mardi Gras masks with feathers attached to it, even though the chances of my attending a Mardi Gras party are about as likely as my going to a death metal concert and then heading to a tattoo parlor afterwards. I went to cafes and watched people singing and dancing in the streets. It felt good to be somewhere other than Chicago for once. (I'd post the pictures I took, but I'm a terrible photographer. The pictures kind of look like I drank a bunch of caffeine and then rode a roller coaster for an hour before taking them.)

After the rehearsal dinner, my younger cousins (who are all in their twenties) took me with them to Bourbon Street. As I walked with them and looked at all the bars, the people standing and drinking on balconies watching the people below, the guys lifting up their shirts to get free beads (I thought it was just the girls who did that), and all the people with beers and cocktails in their hands, I kept thinking of that line from Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here." (Nothing against New Orleans, of course, which I liked very much. But can you tell I'm a teetotaler? It doesn't really bother me if other people drink, though, as long as they don't throw up on my shoes.)

Many people spend their twenties traveling all over the country or the world. They take road trips across America or they go backpacking in Europe. I, on the other hand, spent my twenties resisting the urge to staple expired coupons to rude customers' foreheads and telling undergrads, "WHY do you have to come to class? Because I SAID so, darn it!" 

I worked multiple jobs because I had to; it allowed me to support myself while I was in graduate school and while I was teaching. I learned a lot from those jobs. But sometimes I wish I had been able to do more traveling, because I wish I could be that girl I was in Spain all those years ago.

Once I finally finish grad school (which, as I've stated before, is quite similar to the nine circles of Hell), I will do more traveling. Maybe I'll go back to Spain, or maybe I'll go to France and write in cafes like Hemingway did. And for the first time in a long time, I'll let myself relax.

What about you? Have you done a lot of traveling? If so, where have you gone? If not, where would you like to go?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Losing Manuscripts

This morning my computer unexpectedly crashed. I wasn't even using it at the time, but for some reason I couldn't get it to turn back on. Considering how much time I spend on the computer (I'd spend a lot of less time online if it weren't for all those homemade Youtube videos of cute puppies and the clips of Jane Austen movies with good-looking male actors - though of COURSE I only watch those movies because I love Jane Austen's books), my first reaction was to start running around and screaming and hope that my sheer terror would frighten my laptop into working again.

I reacted the same way that the cast of Jersey Shore would react if they were forced to live in a town with no bars, or the way that cell phone addicts would react if they were told that the new version of the iPhone had just sold out before they could buy it.

I took it to a computer repair place that I'd seen on my commute, and they told me that a diagnostic would cost $59, but that the problem was probably my motherboard. If I needed a new motherboard, they said, it would cost anywhere from $200 to $500. Considering the fact that I am a broke grad student and I view a Frappuccino as my biggest splurge every week, I almost started screaming and running around again.

So I took it to Best Buy and had the Geek Squad look at it. Their prices were considerably lower, but one of the Geek Squad guys told me I should buy a new laptop, especially because my old one was more than five years old. It had been breaking down a lot lately, and I was originally planning to replace it in a few months. He said that he'd look over my old laptop and let me know what was wrong in a few days, but I also figured that it might be a better idea to buy a new computer than to spend several hundred dollars on repairs for a laptop I would just be replacing soon enough anyway. (After talking with the technicians at both places, I realized that the cost of repairing my old laptop might have ended up costing more than the cost of buying a new laptop.)

I found a decent one that was cheap. But the purchase still means I'll be eating macaroni and cheese or peanut butter sandwiches for the next few weeks. Or maybe I'll pretend to be an undergrad at the school where I teach and go to one of the meetings for student organizations that are held on campus, because they usually serve free food. Except one of my students might be there and "out" me. And then what would I say? "Er, I'm really not looking to be one of the future lawyers of America, sorry! I'm just here for the free pizza!"

But what REALLY freaked me out was the possibility of losing all my files on my old computer. I'd backed up most of them and e-mailed several files to myself, but there were dozens more files that I'd forgotten to back up. Worst of all, unless the Geek Squad guy can find a way to transfer those files, I'll have lost the final draft of the first novel I finished writing last year, as well as the most recent draft of the second novel that I've been working on this year

I have copies of the first drafts written out longhand in my journals. But it's not the SAME. The possibility of losing all that writing that I'd worked so hard on is almost worse than giving up the money for a new laptop. Even though it will take a while, I can work extra hours at my website job, save some of the money that I earn as a teacher, and earn back the money that I had to spend.

But I can't get back all the writing that I did. I can go back and try to rewrite those drafts based on the original drafts in my journal. But as I was typing out those drafts on my laptop, I came up with new ideas, passages, and pieces of dialogue that I added to my manuscripts. And I can't necessarily remember them all. Why is it I can remember exactly what I wanted to say to that mean lady who cut in front of me in line four years ago and then was nasty and deceitful enough to accuse me of cutting in front of her (I wanted to say, "If Jiminy Cricket was your conscience, you'd try to beat him up, wouldn't you") but I can't remember everything I wrote?

Sighhhh. Maybe the Geek Squad guy will be able to transfer my files to my new computer so that I won't lose all that writing. Or maybe I'll just have to start all over. (But this time, I am DEFINITELY backing everything up.)

What about you? Have you ever lost writing before? What did you do?

Side note: I usually respond to most people's comments on the same day I receive them. But I'll be out of town for a couple days this weekend, so if I don't respond right away, I promise I'll respond as soon as I get back.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How to Deal with Rejection

Several bloggers and other people have been buzzing about the fact that Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, a literary agent in California, was attacked by a writer whose query she'd rejected. He reached through her car window and tried to push her into her steering wheel. But one of her dogs bit him, and the police later caught the guy. (Reason #786 why dogs rule: Dogs have your back.)

I felt sorry for that agent, and I couldn't help thinking how foolish and senseless it was of that "writer" to attack her like that. It was a violent crime. Also, what agent in his or her right mind is going to want to work with someone like that in the future?

Every writer gets rejected. I think it's part of being a writer. You learn from all those rejection letters and unanswered submissions. You learn what works in your writing and what doesn't. It shows you what sells and what doesn't. Rejection is not an excuse to hurt anyone.

Here are other possible ways to deal with rejection:

1. Try writing a book about a werewolf and a vampire who fall in love, except they can't be together because one of them is also in love with a teenage wizard whose name rhymes with "Barry" and the other one makes his lovers sign S&M contracts.

2. Try hypnotizing people through Twitter by sending out Tweets like, "You are getting very sleepy. When you open your eyes, you will go out and buy my book. And you will LOVE my book."

3. Bide your time until you do become a successful, published author by practicing your Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech to the cashier in the supermarket checkout line, the teller at the bank, and your dry cleaner. All the people standing in line behind you will probably applaud...just so you'll stop talking. (Or maybe they'll start throwing things.)

4. Work out your aggression on a punching bag, and tape a picture of the cover of a book that you really hate to the front of it.

5. Send out a manuscript to another agent, and then pick the petals off of a flower while saying, "He (or she) loves my manuscript, he loves it not."

6. Listen to inspirational music while you're writing, like the theme song to Rocky, Queen's "We Are the Champions", or Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time". (What? Am I the only one who finds her music inspirational?)

7. Imitate Scarlett O'Hara by eating turnips in the middle of a field and declaring, "As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be unpublished again."

8. Name all of your characters after the literary agents that you're sending your work to.

9. Resist the urge to look at books by celebrity "authors" and wail, "Why? WHY?" before running out and buying a bunch of ice cream.

10. Pick up a pen or turn on your computer and keep writing.

What about you? As a writer, how do you handle rejection?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To Date or Not to Date

1. If I never date again, I won't have to shave my legs anymore. Then I can take the money that I save on razors and spend them on sweaters and blouses that button all the way up to my chin.

2. If I start dating again, I won't watch happy couples walk off into the sunset at the end of romantic movies and think, "Yeah. Like that would ever happen to me."

3. If I never date again, I won't have to look at any online profiles that feature pictures of shirtless guys posing in front of their bathroom mirrors. You know how they say, "Less is more?" I'd say, "More (clothes) is better."

4. If I start dating again, I might find someone who makes me happy.

5. If I never date again, I won't have to wring my hands over the dozens of profiles of guys in their thirties and forties (and yes, not all of them are like this. But a LOT of them are) who specify that they only want to date women between the ages of 18-25, which makes me feel like I'm over the hill at age 31.

6. If I start dating again, then I might actually meet the right guy this time. Then my dream of getting married and having children someday might actually come true.

7. If I never date again, I won't wait by the phone for guys who pretend to be interested because they like the attention about as much as Kim Kardashian likes the spotlight (and famous boyfriends).

8. If I start dating again, I won't have to tell nosy people, "No, I really don't know why I'm still single."

9. If I never date again, I can spend more time on the other things that make me happy, like writing, teaching, dancing, and exploring interesting neighborhoods in the city.

10. If I start dating again, I might meet a guy who turns out to be worth all the bad dates, the creepy jerks who couldn't understand why I didn't want to date them, and all the time I wasted on the nice guys (who turned out to be not so nice after all). I might meet someone who's different from all the others and makes me think that maybe I could have both work AND love.

I recently read a post on online dating by fellow blogger Tom, who writes the blog My World in Crisis. It made me think about whether I should start dating again. It's been about a year since the last time I tried online dating. I've thought about joining another site, or perhaps one of the sites that I already tried. But right now I really need to focus on making more progress on my dissertation. My graduate funding runs out at the end of this school year, but I won't finish my dissertation until the end of next year. That means that I will be unemployed next year, unless I can find some other way to support myself (teaching, a grant, a small loan, etc.).

Even though I still want to meet someone and fall in love (FINALLY), at the same time I also want to finish my dissertation, complete my Ph.D., and find a good full-time job as a teacher. My work has always been very important to me, and I don't think that I should have to apologize for that (in spite of several people I know who have tried to make me feel like being a workaholic means that something is wrong with me).

That's why I've decided to put off online dating until January at the earliest. I will write more posts on dating in the future, but for now, I need to focus on work and school. It's one thing if I never become a "Mrs.", but I still want to become a "Dr.".

(And I have to admit, I'm kind of relieved about not going back to online dating, at least for now. If you've read any of my earlier posts on dating, you know why.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Life Without Writing

I haven't been blogging or writing fiction lately for several reasons. I've always enjoyed writing in coffeehouses and have developed several good scenes and interesting characters there. But lately, the Wi-Fi freeloaders who never buy anything and hog tables for hours have really bothered me, though I know that I should just ignore them. I guess they bother me because they can apparently afford iPads and iPhones but are too cheap to spend a few bucks on a cup of coffee. Because of them, paying customers like me (and as a broke grad student working two jobs, I work hard to afford that cup of coffee) often don't get a place to sit (and write).

So I tried writing at home. But as many of you know, several of my neighbors are pretty loud. The drunk parties, loud music, and Family Guy reruns at top volume grate on my nerves, and one of my neighbors has apparently taken up singing. That wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that she sounds like Miley Cyrus after she's smoked two packs of cigarettes. 

In spite of all that, I've usually managed to get writing done on a regular basis. But lately I've been feeling stressed out and overwhelmed because of work and school, so those inconsiderate jerks didn't make me feel any better. I think that all that is why I've been fighting writer's block lately. I sit down to write and I don't know what to say. I try to write anyway and nothing rings true. I read over what I wrote and I start worrying that maybe Snooki could have written something better.

It got to the point that I felt so discouraged that I considered giving up writing. After all, what if I wrote all these stories and never got published? Or what if the stories did get published and nobody liked them? Was it even worth it? As stressed out and discouraged as I felt, I knew what the answer was.

Writing is worth it. Even if I never get published and even if I did get published but people wrote terrible reviews about me on Amazon.com, the point is that writing still means something to me, and it's not something that I can live without. It made me think about what my life would be like without writing.

If I stopped writing...

1. I might spend my time on something that I never enjoyed and was never good at, like sports, just so I'd have something to do. And then I'd spend the rest of my life running away from the ball.

2. I might spend more time watching reality TV, and then I might start thinking that it really is reality. For example, I might start thinking, "Wow. I hope that if I ever have a daughter, she'll be just like Honey Boo Boo," or "Maybe I should be more like that dance teacher on Dance Moms who yells all the time," or "Why work when I can get paid to wear tight clothes and pick fights with pretty people?"

3. I'd never be able to deal with the fact that in real life, the bad guys sometimes win. They're the ones who get away with crimes that should have put them in jail, or they betray the people who love them and show no remorse for it. But writing fiction gives me a good outlet to deal with people like that, because I can write stories that end the way I think they should have ended, and the bad guys (or girls) lose.

4. I'd have to let go of all the characters I created who have become real to me and who often surprise me with what they say and what they do.

5. I might lose interest in reading, and then I wouldn't get to travel to different places, meet new people, and see them through the eyes of writers that I admire.

6. I might become less observant of the world around me, and then I'd end up missing out on so much of life and the world.

7. I wouldn't have that hope that my dream actually can come true, and that all this work that I've been doing for years really could lead to something good.

8. I wouldn't experience that sense of satisfaction and joy I feel after writing several pages in one session.

So I have to get back to writing more regularly, even if I don't always feel like doing it. I know that I would regret it forever if I were to give up writing altogether.

What about you? What are the reasons that you can't live without writing?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Writing Classes

For the past few years I've been taking one-night classes at StoryStudio, a great place that offers writing classes. I've also gone to a couple "write-a-thons", where for twelve bucks I can eat snacks and work on my manuscripts in the company of other writers. I'd like to take one of StoryStudio's longer writing workshops, but those cost more money that I don't have.

I've mentioned before that my first experience with a writing class was less than favorable. I took a workshop in college, and one of my classmates accused me of plagiarizing my story in front of the whole class, which I definitely did NOT do. The irony was that another classmate had actually plagiarized her story by copying an entire chapter from a popular novel. (I was apparently the only one who caught it, but unfortunately it was long after the class ended. To this day I wish I could confront that plagiarist for what she did.) I didn't like that class, not only because that other classmate had humiliated me in front of everyone else, but also because several of the other students were unkind in their criticism. The stories I wrote weren't very good, but there's a difference between constructive criticism and brutal honesty. 

But fortunately, it's not like that at all in the StoryStudio classes I've taken. The instructors and the other students have been very encouraging, and I've enjoyed the writing exercises. One of my favorite classes was called "Quickies", where we learned to write flash fiction (very short stories). Another favorite class was taught by a former staff member for The New Yorker, who told us what it was like to work for the magazine and gave us submission tips.

It made me think about other things that I wish writing classes would cover, but I've never had the nerve to voice my suggestions. Here are a few of them.

1. How to deal with your jealousy of other more successful writers in ways that do not include writing their names in the stalls of public bathrooms.

2. How to stop procrastinating so much, because it can drive you to watch episodes of Jersey Shore. The problem with that is that some of your characters may end up talking, looking, partying, and falling down in public like Snooki.

3. Why writing parodies like 50 Shades of Tie-Dye may not be the best idea.

4. Ideas for what to do when you take a break from writing that do not include watching episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians or Mob Wives.

5. Ideas for good songs to write to, because the problem with writing to the music of people like Britney and Lady Gaga is that your characters may end up wearing weird clothes, being married for only fifty-five hours, or breaking out into synchronized dance moves.

6. How to deal with distractions like noisy neighbors in ways that do not include sending them "YOU SUCK" messages on Twitter.

7. How to balance writing and your daily responsibilities, so that you don't end up tripping over piles of dirty laundry or eating candy for dinner.

8. How to write in cafes without whapping Wi-Fi freeloaders in the face with your notebook.

9. Good day jobs for writers that do not make you want to primal scream at the end of each workday.

10. How to deal with writer's block so that you don't feel tempted to give up on writing and audition for a reality show, because then you might become friends with the Kardashians or the Mob Wives.

What about you? Have you ever taken any writing classes? What do you think of writing classes in general?

Here's a funny clip of Ellen DeGeneres reading excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey:


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Concert Wallflower

I went to two concerts this past week. The first one was for a singer-songwriter named Meiko, who I've blogged about before. Meiko's concert was held at Lincoln Hall, which is half bar, half concert hall. Tickets were only fifteen dollars apiece. It was great because I was able to get a seat in the balcony, and I had a perfect view of the stage. During the concert, I felt a little self-conscious, because most of the other people there were with dates or friends, and I was alone. Most people I know don't like my taste in music, ever since I went through my boy band phase when I was a teenager and I can still name that Britney Spears song in three notes.

(Side note: A few days later, I told one person about the concert, and the first question she asked was, "Who'd you go with?" She thought it was weird that I went by myself. But the truth is, I like going to stuff like concerts, museums, and bookstores on my own, because then I can decide where I want to go, how long to stay, and what to do.)

After the concert, I stood in a long line and got Meiko's autograph and my picture taken with her. I was too shy to say much to her, but she was very nice. (I'd post my picture with her on this blog, but then people would know who I am and what I look like. Not to mention I'm not very photogenic. I'm always afraid that people will look at my picture and think, Hmm. Are they doing a remake of the movie Gremlins?)

The second one was held at North Halsted Market Days, which is a summer festival that is held every year in Lakeview, my favorite neighborhood in Chicago. Lakeview is also known as Boystown, and it's the one place in Chicago where guys always look at my face rather than my chest when they talk to me.

When I walked through the festivals, I saw a bunch of muscular, shirtless guys dancing around in tight shorts. I couldn't help thinking of that line from Coleridge's poem, "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink," because all those guys were gay. 

The band Karmin performed in the second concert. It was a lot more crowded than Meiko's concert, probably because Karmin is more well-known and Market Days is a popular festival. I had to stand in a crowd of people the whole time, and during the concert I came up with a few things that I wish I could have said to my fellow concert-goers:

1. Don't smoke during an outdoor concert. Maybe you don't mind getting lung cancer, but I'd like to live long enough to see aliens take over the world, or at least long enough to see all the reality shows get cancelled.
During the concert, several people were smoking. Since it was so crowded, that meant everybody else had to breathe in the cigarette smoke, which is why I thought it was inconsiderate of the smokers to light up. It's like, I like onions, but I'm not going to eat a bunch of onion rings and breathe them on everyone. I felt tempted to pour my can of soda (I was one of the only people not drinking beer) over the cigarettes of the people smoking, but then I got an image of newspaper headlines saying something like: NEUROTIC WORKAHOLIC ATTACKS SMOKERS WITH SODA, CAUSES RIOT. So I figured I shouldn't do it.

2. The singers are not going to go out with you. During the concert, several of the guys kept calling out to the male half of the band, a keyboard player named Nick. The guys kept yelling, "Take your shirt off!" A girl nearby said, "He's straight." (He's also engaged to the female half of the band, a singer/rapper named Amy.) The guys all replied, "It doesn't matter."

It made me think of Meiko's concert, where several of the guys tried to hit on Meiko. When she was talking between songs, one of the guys kept yelling out, "I'll take you out for a beer!" I couldn't help wondering if any of those come-ons ever worked.

3. Don't sit on your friend's shoulders. Whenever I go to a movie, I am often struck by the Big Head Curse, meaning I often get stuck sitting behind someone with an enormous head. Most of the people at the concert were guys, and most of them were taller than me. That would have been okay, except one guy standing in front of me sat on top of his friend's shoulders for half the concert, so that it was difficult for me to see the band. I thought about asking him to get down or pushing him down to the ground if he said no, but then I saw those news headlines again: NEUROTIC WORKAHOLIC GOES ON RAMPAGE, CAUSES RIOT.

During Karmin's concert, several people started dancing around me. I can dance in the classes at my gym, but that's only because we're all doing the same dance moves. But when everyone started dancing at the concert, I felt like I was frozen. I was one of the only people who was just standing there. I wanted to dance, because it looked like fun and I liked the music. And a couple of the gay guys kept trying to dance with me, because they were nice. But I just smiled and stood there. I've never been very good in social situations like that. I always just feel awkward.

I can't help wondering if that awkwardness stems from the fact that I'm shy around people I don't know, or if it's one of the things about being an adult. When I was a kid, I didn't care if anyone heard me singing at the top of my lungs, and if I felt like dancing, I did it. But now that I am an adult, I can't help worrying about how people would look at me and what they would say. I know I shouldn't care, and most of the time I don't. After all, if I did care that much about what people thought, I'd wear makeup and dresses, drink alcohol, and go to bars and clubs instead of bookstores and coffeehouses. But I think that as far as dancing in public goes, I still have to work up the courage. Maybe next time.

What about you? Do you ever feel self-conscious in social situations like that? Do you think that people should abide by certain concert etiquette, and if so, what kinds of rules would you come up with?

And in honor of the musicians, here's the video for Karmin's hit single, "Brokenhearted":

Here's the video for Meiko's new song, "Leave the Lights On".

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Not to Tweet

I have to admit that I have not been watching the Olympics, though I do admire the athletes for their strength, talents, and dedication to their sports. I have been reading several articles about athletes who have gotten in trouble, particularly the ones who were punished for what they wrote on social networking sites. A few athletes have actually been sent home because of offensive, racist Tweets that they posted.

I don't feel too sorry for those people, because they should have known better. Now all that hard work and effort that they put into competing in the Olympics has gone to waste, not to mention they may be remembered for their negative Tweets, not their accomplishments. 

It did make me think about how Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites have gotten people into trouble a lot in recent years. People have lost their jobs or even their relationships because of what they posted online.

I also made up some of my own Tweets that I imagined that the Olympic athletes might post online, if they were going to be really honest:

No applause...just send endorsements.

If there's no "I" in "team", then how come I'm the only one standing up on the podium?

Do you think if my mom started talking about my one-night stands like Ryan Lochte's mom did about his, maybe I'd get a bunch of publicity too?

You WISH you looked this good in a Speedo.

What's up with all these news stories about the athletes hooking up in Olympic Village? And why did no one tell me while I was playing Angry Birds?

Since I'm famous now, does that mean I get to start dating supermodels?

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful...and because I can run faster than you.

Now watch me laugh as I run away.

I'd like to thank my parents, my coach, and all the fans for supporting me, especially the good-looking fans who should call me.

Bronze is NOT the new gold.

Here are also some Tweets that I might put up if I was going to be really honest about my job:

Why is it that the students' cell phones always wake them up when they're in class, but my telling them to "WAKE UP! THIS IS NOT NAPTIME!" rarely does?

Now I understand why so many of my teachers were always so moody.

Once upon a time, people actually survived without texting. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true.

Thinking about doing your homework while you are hanging out with your friends is not the same thing as actually DOING your homework.

I think that teachers should get paid for the workshops on teaching that our department makes us go to, and we should get bonuses for doing those lame "ice breakers".

FYI? Ice breakers do not make those workshops more fun.

You know what would make the day more fun? Letting us go home, so that we can do stuff we want to do, like watch reruns of The Mentalist or play Angry Birds.

But even though I'd like to have a Twitter page, I don't have one because a) it seems like it'd be too time-consuming and b) I'm afraid I might get in trouble if someone took offense (and there's always the chance that that could happen, because in this country of lawsuits, somebody's always offended by something) to what I posted online. But I might still have a Twitter page eventually. I'll just have to be really careful about what I write. 

Don't get me wrong. Freedom of speech is definitely important. But I think that some people have taken that too far. It's one thing to express your opinion. We don't all have to agree with each other. But it's another thing to deliberately use your words to harm (or threaten to harm) other people. I believe that people should be held accountable for their actions and their words.

What do you think? Do you think that people like the Olympians (as well as people like us) should be punished for questionable things that they write online, or not?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If the Shoe Doesn't Fit

Unlike many women, I hate shoe shopping because I hate my big feet. I have this fear that the minute I take off my shoes to try on a new pair, people are going to start screaming, "Run for your lives! Bigfoot is REAL!"

You can get plastic surgery to make your nose smaller. But I don't think you can get plastic surgery to make your feet smaller. Even if you could, I wouldn't get it. Not only would I be afraid that something could go wrong, there's also the fact that a Frappuccino is a big expense for me. So I definitely can't afford plastic surgery anyway. 

Once a helpful saleswoman told me that the reason high heels hurt me so much was because I have flat feet; high heeled shoes are often curved. The few times I have worn heels, I ended up falling down more often than not, so that it looked like I was still learning how to walk (at the age of thirty-one).

Whenever I go to shoe stores, I always see all the pretty shoes that will never fit me. The last time I went shopping, I saw a bunch of large shoes that looked comfortable, so I tried on a pair. Then I caught several guys looking at me strangely and I realized that I was in the men's shoe section. To cover up my embarrassment I lied and said, "Uh, I'm buying these for my boyfriend. Our feet are the same size."

I'm even more insecure about my weight than my feet, which is why I work out at the gym four or five times a week. I was overweight in high school and college, which is one of the reasons I was made fun of and didn't get many dates. There were people who constantly told me how fat and ugly I was, which made me feel even worse. I ate to make myself feel better, but then I looked in the mirror and felt bad all over again.

Yes, it's definitely true that you don't have to be thin to be beautiful. There are plenty of gorgeous people out there who don't look like stick figures. But on the other hand, I think that there are a lot of people like me who want to be in shape. Otherwise, why would programs like Weight Watchers have so many members? Why else are there so many health clubs? 

I first decided to join a gym when I went to the Taste of Chicago (a summertime food festival featuring food from restaurant vendors all over the city. It's my favorite festival, and I go every year.) a few years ago. There was a group of trainers from a popular gym in the city who had set up a table and were demonstrating exercises for people who stopped to watch. There were other trainers who were stopping festival goers and encouraging them to sign up for free trial memberships.

At first I felt tempted to say no, but I felt guilty about the fact that they were all fit and healthy looking, while I was eating a bunch of fried food. So I signed up. And I've been a regular gym rat ever since. I think a part of me is afraid that I'll get fat again.

On the other hand, working out usually makes me feel better. On days when I'm ready to start screaming and throwing things like a guest on the Jerry Springer show, I go to the gym and the endorphins I get from exercising make me feel good. I don't have to feel guilty about taking time off from my work to exercise. Spending an hour or two at the gym makes me feel like I've done something productive, unlike spending an hour or two watching TV.

But no matter how often I work out, I know that I'll probably never look exactly the way I want to. I'm not saying that I want to look like a Victoria's Secret model (though that would be AWESOME, as long as I don't have to walk around in my underwear, which I guess would defeat the purpose of being a Victoria's Secret model). But I want to be able to walk into a store and try on any outfit that I want without worrying if it'll fit. And I want to be able to look in the mirror and like what I see.

What about you? Do you ever feel insecure about the way you look? (And I'm not trying to insult anyone, because you're all lovely, of course. But I think that most people have wanted to change something about themselves at some point.)

Side note: Sorry if some of my old posts show up in your Google Reader; I've been removing most of the pictures from my blog. I hated to remove the pictures, since they were good ones. But Roni Loren, a novelist and fellow blogger, shared her story about how she was sued for posting someone else's pictures on her blog. I thought it was good of her to be honest with everyone and take responsibility for her actions. I also thought it was horrible to see so many people leave nasty, self-righteous comments on her blog (to the point that she had to shut down the comments section on that post); I don't think she deserved to be attacked by mean-spirited jerks like that, especially since she already paid (literally and figuratively) for her mistake.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

People Watching

More than one writing book has said that people watching is a good way to fight writer's block. They advise writers to take a walk around their neighborhood, sit in a cafe and write about the customers, or go to a shopping mall and watch the people go in and out of the stores.

There was a scene in my manuscript that I was stuck on. It just didn't sound right, and I didn't enjoy writing it. I thought about cutting it out altogether, but the scene was important to the story; it was supposed to reveal something important about the main character and her brother. I just couldn't figure out how to make it ring true, so I set aside my manuscript for almost two weeks.

Not writing for that long makes me frustrated and cranky, and it also makes me so bored that I'm almost tempted to watch reruns of The Hills (almost). So I decided to try people watching by taking a walk around my neighborhood.

I opened the door of my apartment, only to see one of my neighbors rush by in his underwear. He was on his way to throw a bag of garbage down the trash chute. I wouldn't have minded if he looked like Channing Tatum, but he looked more like John Goodman before he lost 100 pounds. (Don't get me wrong. I like John Goodman. He's a terrific actor, and he's actually pretty handsome. But I'd rather not see him run around in briefs, you know?) I quickly closed my door and had to rinse my eyes out with water in order to get the image out of my head.

When I finally felt safe enough to leave my apartment again, I took a walk down my street. I saw the same couple I see almost every morning. They were standing outside their building with their arms around each other, kissing. What I find interesting is that they always make a point of looking around between kisses, either because they want to make sure that no one's watching, or they want to make sure that everyone's watching.

I turned a corner and nearly bumped into a woman walking down the street wearing nothing but sneakers, long shorts and a bra. Not a sports bra or a bikini top, but an actual bra. It reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Elaine gives a female acquaintance a bra as a gift, and the woman wears it like a top and walks around outside in it. I saw several guys turn to stare at this woman, but they looked more confused than anything else. They were all, Wait, am I dreaming, or am I still drunk right now? 

It also seemed to me like my neighborhood had been invaded by a bunch of babies. I saw several women and men, some of whom were pushing strollers; others were carrying babies in their arms. The babies looked so cute, with their tiny hands, chubby cheeks, and round heads. It reminded me of how I want to be a mother someday, and I felt tempted to kiss the babies' foreheads. But I would probably get arrested if I went around kissing babies' foreheads, so I didn't do it.

I also saw a little boy walking hand in hand with his mother. She was talking on her cell phone, but he was looking around at everything on the street. I saw him watching the people yelling at each other across the street, the drivers honking their horns, the happy dogs leading their owners, and a barista offering free drink samples at a cafe nearby. His eyes were very wide and he seemed genuinely fascinated by everything. Out of all the people I observed, I thought it would be good to be like him.

After I finished walking around, I went to a cafe and wrote several pages for my manuscript. I felt better than I had in a while. I also came to a few conclusions: 1) A lot of my neighbors are weird. 2) Some of them need to wax their backs. 3) I don't think I'm a prude for saying that people should put their clothes on before they leave their homes. 4) Even though a lot of my neighbors drive me up the wall, they often give me something to write about.

What about you? Does people watching work for you when you're fighting writer's block? Do you find yourself observing people when you walk around your neighborhood, and what kinds of things have you seen/learned?

Friday, July 20, 2012

What I Will (and Won't) Miss

Recently, the writer Nora Ephron died. She wrote the screenplays for movies like When Harry Met Sally and Julie and Julia. She also wrote memoirs, like I Feel Bad about My Neck. I found an old copy of the novel she wrote, Heartburn, in a used bookstore a few weeks ago, and I liked it so much that I've already read it twice. When I found out that she died, I felt sad, and a small, selfish part of me regretted that she wouldn't be writing anymore.

In her book I Remember Nothing, she made two lists: What I Will Miss and What I Won't Miss. I think she made those lists because it was a way of evaluating what was most important to her, and what didn't matter nearly as much. It made me think of what I would put on my own lists (other than the obvious things like loved ones).

What I Will Miss

   Writing fiction (and writing obsessive rants about why rude people should be made to live with Snooki or the cast of any season of The Bachelor for at least ten years)

   TV shows like 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory that make me laugh and that make me think, Finally! Now people are finally starting to see that nerds are cool AND funny! (Is it bad to say that I'll miss TV? Am I supposed to say that I'll miss Shakespeare's plays instead? While I do enjoy watching his plays, reading his plays sometimes makes me feel like Wile E. Coyote right before the anvil drops on him. I feel like a bad English major because I still don't fully get iambic pentameter.)



    Good books that I finish reading in two or three days because they're so engrossing that I can't stop reading them.

    Walking down South Michigan Avenue, with Grant Park on one side and the Loop on the other side. When I stand there and watch all the cars, buses, cabs, and people rushing around, I think, This is my city. This is home.

 What I Won't Miss

    Writer's block (and all the writers who apparently never suffer from writer's block, because they like to brag about how they never run out of ideas and how they finish (and publish) several stories a year. They also chide philistines like me who watch TV.)

    TLC shows about gypsies who get married (and divorced a month later, apparently) at age 16 (or younger) and 34-year-old virgins who live in their parents' basements and collect jars of belly button lint (I WISH I was making that one up. But I'm not, because I just watched Virgin Diaries on TLC. Now I'm kind of afraid to turn on my TV again.)

     The guilt I feel over eating too much chocolate and the subsequent trips to the gym to work off all those calories, where I envy all the women who look like they eat nothing but grapes.

      The excuses I get from students on why they didn't finish their homework, why they keep missing class, and why they really aren't vampires (yet they sleep all day, particularly during class on the occasions when they do show up).

       Bad books that make me shudder at the mediocre writing and all the
 cliches and that make me wish I was watching TLC shows instead.

       Being stuck on the El on the day of a Cubs game with crowds of rowdy Cubs fans who are all apparently hard of hearing because they yell a lot, even if they're standing right next to each other. Those often happen to be the days when it's ninety degrees out and the A/C on the train is broken. On days like that, I think, Maybe I should move to the suburbs. 

We'll miss you Nora...and your writing. 

What about you? What kinds of things will you miss? What kinds of things will you not miss?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Picking Fights with Trolls

Last year, I received a couple of really long, nasty, angry rants from someone who'd read one of my posts about online dating. I think it was from the same person, even though one of the comments was left by an "anonymous" commenter and the other one left his name (though his profile didn't include any links to any blogs).

The commenter was very hostile towards me and towards all women, making comments about how unfair it was that women were in control of the dating scene. He whined about the fact that he'd messaged several women on online dating sites but most of them hadn't responded. He also said that my standards were too high and that I should be more "forgiving" of the flaws that I saw in guys' profiles. He said that the fact that I wasn't willing to overlook those flaws was why I was still single. According to this jerk, I was one of those superficial, self-centered, mean girls who never gave guys a chance.

What bothered me most weren't his insults towards me. It was that he blamed women for the fact that he was single. Yes, there are women on online dating sites who never try to make the first move; they just sit back and wait for the guys to message them first. There are women who judge guys solely by their pictures or who will dismiss guys because they don't make enough money. But I am NOT like that, and for him to claim that I was showed how much of a hypocrite he was; he was judging me in exactly the same way that he accused me of judging other guys. Not to mention there are plenty of superficial guys as well.

I thought about responding to this jerk, who was obviously very unhappy about the fact that he was single and took out his anger on me. It's not just guys who get rejected, so it bugged me that this creep was acting as if only guys were "victims".

I follow several blogs about online dating and the single life, and there's often at least one commenter like that guy who leaves nasty comments on every post. One blogger I followed had to deal with a particularly hostile troll (who was female). This troll left at least six or seven comments on every single post that the blogger wrote, criticizing her for the way that she lived. I think it's one thing to express your opinion, but it's another thing altogether to harass someone and try to force them to accept your perspective. This blogger eventually shut down her blog, and I think it was largely because of that troll's despicable behavior.

There are trolls everywhere. They show up in the comments section of online news articles and Youtube videos. They fall into several categories.

1. The Never Gets Laid Troll: This type of person makes sexist comments or crude jokes about men or women (usually celebrities), because apparently this troll thinks that derogatory jokes are attractive.

2. The Grammar Police Troll: There's always at least one person who's complaining about spelling/grammatical errors. What's ironic is that this person often has grammatical errors in his/her own comments.

3. The Anti-Politicians Troll: I read a lot of online news articles about crime, and on almost every post there's always at least one person who will be quick to blame the president or some other politician for whatever bad thing happened in the article.

4. The Racist Troll: This type of troll offends me to no end. It's people like this one that make me think that there should be limits on freedom of speech.

5. The Wanna Fight Troll: This type of troll insults all the other commenters, so that you'll often see random commenters fighting with each other. It'd be funny if it also weren't kind of sad.

6. The I Beg to Differ Troll: No matter what you write, this person will disagree with you and point out all the reasons that you're wrong. (I also think of this kind of troll as the Know-it-All Troll, or the I-Think-I'm-Smarter-than-Everyone-and-That's-Why-I-Have-No-Friends Troll.)

7. The Spammer Troll: These people leave comments that have nothing to do with the article or post and everything to do with promoting their scams. Spammers often leave comments with links to their "businesses" or websites on my posts, which makes me mad. It's one thing if advertisers e-mail me to ask if I'd be willing to promote their products. But these trolls don't even ask my permission to leave links on my blog. I always delete them.

8. The Anonymous Troll: Not all anonymous commenters are trolls, and not all of them are mean. But I've found that a lot of them do leave nasty comments, because they would never have the courage to say any of those things in real life. That's why I removed the Anonymous option in my comments section.

People often say: don't feed the troll. And I think they're right. I realized that responding to this loser was probably what he was looking for, because he probably wanted me to defend myself so that he could keep attacking me. But I was still tempted to fight back and stand up for myself.

I chose not to respond to his comments, which probably reinforced his belief that all women ignored him and it wasn't his fault at all. Even so, just thinking about mean people like that makes me angry. I have to deal with enough jerks like that in real life; I don't want to have to deal with them online, too.

I don't understand why people become trolls anyway. I think they must be very lonely, angry, bitter people, and they choose to deal with it by attacking strangers online.

Fortunately, most of the other bloggers I've come across are very kind, friendly, and encouraging. The connections I've made through blogging are why I continue to blog.

What about you? What do you think of trolls? Have you ever encountered any on your blog, or have you ever seen any mean comments left on other blogs? How do you think they should be dealt with?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Keeping up with the Joneses

For the most part, I don't really keep up with what's popular. For example, I still haven't watched Hunger Games or any of the Twilight movies (except for the first one). I don't plan to be first in line to watch the movie Magic Mike when it comes out (though I definitely wouldn't mind watching Channing Tatum or Alex Pettyfer dance around with their shirts off. Perhaps they could release a DVD with just the dance scenes and no dialogue? Or is that sexist of me to say that? But seriously, does anyone even CARE what that movie's about?)

I also don't really care about most electronic gadgets (except for my iPod, because I need to be able to listen to Britney and Katy on a regular basis. Stop rolling your eyes.). I don't have an iPad or a Kindle. I've heard stories of people who camp out in line for hours (or even days) before the new iPhone goes on sale. I would only camp out in line if my favorite clothing store was giving out free outfits, or if Conan O'Brien was giving out free tickets to his show (I wasn't able to get tickets to any of his Chicago shows, darn it! The HUMANITY of it all!), or if George Clooney was giving out free kisses.

Last year I finally replaced my old cell phone (which didn't even take pictures or get e-mail) for the first time in five years, and that was only because I got a free BlackBerry upgrade by signing a new contract. I still haven't completely figured out how to use all the features on it, though, which is why Smartphones make me feel stupid.)

Last week I got caught in the rain on my way to a doctor's appointment. It was pouring, so I put my cell phone in my bookbag and carried an umbrella. That was not enough to protect it from the rain, apparently, because my cell phone was damaged and wouldn't even turn on.

I happened to be within walking distance of a store owned by my phone company, so I went there to see if the phone could be fixed. They said that it was beyond repair. They also said that I would have to pay full price for a new phone (several hundred dollars), since my one-year warranty expired and I wasn't eligible for a free upgrade yet. And of course, by that point, the rain had already stopped. If my doctor's appointment had been just an hour later, I wouldn't have gotten caught in the rain, and I would have saved a lot of money as well as my cell phone.

This was my reaction:

Okay, so maybe I'm being a little melodramatic. After all, I am a member of the last generation that didn't grow up using cell phones or the Internet, so I can still remember what life was like before the Digital Age. We all managed to survive just fine.

I almost bought a new iPhone for more than two hundred dollars (the sales rep said he could give me one of the older versions for a cheaper price). I started to see why everyone goes crazy for these phones, because you really can do a lot of things with them.

But I couldn't bring myself to buy it. I am a broke grad student after all, and I can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a new phone. I called my phone company and they were nice enough to make an exception for me and replace my Blackberry with a new one for fifty bucks. I couldn't help wishing that I'd been able to buy that fancier iPhone, though. I also couldn't help feeling envious of the people who can afford to buy the fancy iPhones. Even fifty bucks is a lot of money for me, and it's times like these where I feel frustrated for being a broke thirtysomething when people in their twenties are already earning thousands of dollars more.

I can't help wondering if those people who camp out in line for stuff like the newest version of the iPhone or the iPad are doing it because they really want all the fancy features that those gadgets offer, or if it's about status. I could say that I look down on all those people, but one of the reasons I finally upgraded my basic cell phone to a Smartphone was because I wanted to catch up with everyone else. (I suppose I could go off on some riff about consumerism or capitalism, but I have to write about that kind of stuff all the time for school. I'd rather take a break from it in my blog.)

We like to think that those things don't matter, and to a certain extent, they don't. But there's always at least one thing that we're willing to splurge on. I must admit that I write in a coffeehouse at least once a week, even though I could write at home for free.

What about you? Do you keep up with all the digital trends? What (or who) would you camp out in line for? What would you be willing to splurge on?