Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Maybe Peter Pan Had it Right

Sometimes certain students complain about the work they have to do in class. They'll say stuff like, "Why do we have to learn how to write papers? It's not like we're going to spend THAT much time writing after we graduate," or "Why do we have to read this? This is so BORING!" or "Why do the authors keep going on and on about stuff like the class hierarchy and gender roles? Why can't they write about stuff that actually matters?"

The mature adult in me responds by saying, "This stuff DOES matter. If you'll just stop and listen, I'll show you why," and "Believe me, you WILL spend time writing after you graduate, no matter what job you have," and "It's not so boring if you look at it from this perspective. Let me explain how..."

The kid in me wants to say, "You know what's boring? Hearing the same complaints every day," and "You're right. Let's just end class early so that I can drown my sorrows in M&Ms and Coca-Cola," or "You know what matters to me right now? The question of what breakup song Taylor Swift is going to write about her latest ex-boyfriend." (I wish I could say I was kidding about that one. I'm totally going to download that song.)

When I see the pastry section at Whole Foods, the mature adult in me thinks, Don't look at it don't look at it don't look at it or you WILL buy something delicious. Then you will cry silently to yourself as you spend hours at the gym burning it off while trying not to glare at the skinny girls in sports bras and tight pants who can run much faster than you can, which is good, because they better START running if they complain to you about how fat they think they are.

The kid in me thinks, Yum! Cupcakes, cookies, and croissants! I must buy something, and the more chocolate it has on it, the better. 

On the rare occasions I have extra free time, the adult in me usually thinks, Okay, I'm going to use this free time to catch up on the articles I need to read for my dissertation, and then I'm going to work on my lesson plans for next week. Either that or I'm going to clean out my apartment, so that I'll stop feeling like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comic strips, the one who always walked around in a cloud of dust and dirt. 

The kid in me thinks, Yay! Free day! I want to go to the Art Institute and see which people actually understand what the paintings mean and which ones are just pretending to understand them by stroking their chins and looking really serious! Or maybe I'll go to the movies, eat as much popcorn as I want, and "accidentally" step on the feet of people who talk on their cell phones during the movie. If that isn't enough to make them be quiet, I'll borrow the salt shaker from the concession stand and spill it in their sodas and also their hair.

I've been thinking about Peter Pan, the boy who went to Never Never Land because he never wanted to grow up. I've also thought about Wendy, the girl who went with him, but then chose to come home, grow up, and move on to the next stage of her life. It made me wonder which option I would choose, if I was in that situation.

Sometimes it's tempting to be like Peter Pan. Then I could go back to a time in my life when I believed that anything was possible and when I wasn't weighed down by so much work, stress, and responsibilities. Ever since I entered my thirties I've started feeling older. Sometimes I miss that youthful optimism I once had, when I still believed in happy endings.

I know that I'm not the only one. American culture values youth. So many people get plastic surgery because they want to look younger (though of course that's not the only reason, but it's definitely one of the most popular ones). Older people who have more qualifications and experience nevertheless find themselves in competition with younger people for jobs. Some people are afraid that their partners will leave them for someone younger, and in some cases, their fears end up coming true.

But even though I have regrets over those younger years that I'll never get to experience again, at the same time I would rather be an adult than go back to being a kid again. Being an adult means that I get to live my life on my terms rather than someone else's. Being an adult means that I'm more of a realist than a "cock-eyed optimist", which means that it's easier for me to figure out what the right decision is (though that doesn't always mean it's easier to MAKE that decision). Kids are innocent and naive because most of them haven't gone through all the experiences that "harden" them yet. But I think that those experiences can make you stronger, too, no matter how difficult they are.

What about you? Do you ever wish that you could stay young forever, or do you ever wish that you could be a kid again?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reeling in a Catfish

Right now a lot of people are talking about the Notre Dame football player, Manti Te'o, who was apparently the victim of a hoax. According to the story, he had a "girlfriend" that he was involved with for more than two or three years. But then he found out that she died, and he shared his story with the press; everyone felt sorry for him, and he got a lot of publicity.

But then it came out that the girlfriend never existed. What's more, he never met her. Apparently some guy tricked Te'o into thinking that he was e-mailing and talking on the telephone to a beautiful woman that he'd never seen in person.

At first I was skeptical. I wondered whether the football player just made up this whole story to get attention for himself (if he really wanted publicity, he should have just auditioned to be the next Bachelor or dated one of the Kardashians. Then everyone would be talking about him, though not in a good way.). Not to mention that Te'o now admits that he made up stories about how he did meet her in person, though he never did. But now I can't help wondering if he really was the victim of a hoax.

I also couldn't help wondering how anyone could communicate with someone for that long without meeting her in person. There's actually a show on MTV called Catfish, that originated from a film about a guy who was also fooled into thinking that the online friend he'd communicated with didn't exist. According to Wikipedia (which as everyone knows is a totally reliable source), a "catfish" is a person who creates fake profiles in order to get attention (and in some cases, "love") from other people. I think that people who deceive others like that must be very lonely...and also very manipulative and selfish.

I've been writing to several of you fellow bloggers ever since I started blogging, even though I've never met any of you. And I do feel like bloggers can make good connections with each other in that way. But it's one thing to develop an online friendship; I think it's something else altogether to develop an online romantic relationship. My question is this: is it possible to have a romantic relationship with someone you've never met?

I'd have to say no. Like I said in my last post, I believe that the best way to find out if you truly have chemistry with someone is to meet him in person. When I did the online dating thing, most of the guys that I met arranged to meet in person after the third or fourth e-mail.

There was one guy who I did spend several months communicating with. He always had an excuse for why we couldn't meet in person. Finally we set up a date, but he didn't show up (he had another lame excuse for that). Was I mad? Let's just say I reacted in the same way that I would if Starbucks suddenly shut down, or if I found out that the Kardashians had moved into my building. (Oh, dear God! The horror!) Maybe I shouldn't have given him another chance, but I did. When we did meet in person, he turned out to be about ten years older and thirty pounds heavier than he looked in his profile pictures. I hoped that his personality would make up for it. It didn't. The date was so bad that when we took a walk by the lake, I contemplated jumping into it and swimming away from him. (I thought if I just ran away he might catch up with me.)

There was another guy that I've mentioned before. He sent me ten or twelve e-mails over the course of a month. Every time I brought up the idea of meeting in person, he came up with another excuse for why he couldn't. After a while, he stopped e-mailing me, and he didn't respond to my e-mail. It made me wonder why he pulled a disappearing act. Was he not who he said he was? Was he in a relationship with someone else? Was he one of those self-centered guys who enjoy getting attention from women on online dating sites and leading them on, but chicken out (or change their minds, when really in all likelihood they may have just been "browsing") when it's time to meet them in person? Was there any way that I could find out where he lived, so that I could order fifty boxes of tampons and have them sent to him, or perhaps send a messenger over there to throw his laptop out the window?

I don't think that you can fall in love with someone you've never met. It's like obsessive fans who claim to be in love with Ryan Gosling or Robert Pattinson (though I do think Ryan is cute). They have this idea in their heads of what that person is like (and an idea that the movie star will fall in love with them at first sight), an idea which may not match up at all with reality. Not to mention you can present yourself as being a completely different person online. (Side note: Don't worry, I haven't done that. I really am a neurotic workaholic, and I really do obsess over everything. I also believe that going on vacation would freak me out even more than I would freak out if Starbucks shut down.)

I think it's important to meet the person you're interested in. When you communicate with other people online, you can figure out what you want to say beforehand. You can go back and revise what you've written. But offline, there is no delete button. You could still pretend to be someone you're not when you meet in person, but even body language can be very revealing.

So if Te'o really is the victim of a hoax, then I feel a little sorry for him. But I also think that he should have insisted on meeting the girl in person sooner, rather than carry on a "relationship" for years. He claims he tried to meet her, but the "girl" made up excuses or kept canceling the dates. Those excuses and cancellations should have been red flags to him, and it shouldn't have taken him so long to find out the truth. (I admit that it took me a while to figure out that those two guys weren't necessarily who they said they were, but it didn't take me years to figure it out. I also didn't consider myself as being in a relationship with them just because we'd been communicating online.)

What do you think? Do you think that it's possible to fall in love with someone you've never met? What do you think of people who spend months and months communicating with someone online and over the phone without ever meeting them in person? I've heard them say that it's still a relationship, and that they are in love and have a deep connection with each other. Do you think it's possible to have a relationship that way? (Side note: It's not the same thing as couples who have long-distance relationships, because at least they have already met and spent time together in person.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Is There an App for Shy People?

There's a guy at my gym who often works out at the same times that I do. I must confess that I sometimes spend more time working out on the nights that he's there at the gym; who knew that guy-watching could turn into an athletic activity?

I've never had the nerve to go up and speak to him. I couldn't say, "You know, you look a lot like the guy from the Carly Rae Jepsen video, so 'Call me Maybe'?" And then it DEFINITELY would not be cool to start singing the lyrics to that song. (Side note: He really does look like that guy from the video. Check out the video if you haven't already, and see for yourself.)

Also, if I tried to flirt with him, it would come out wrong. I'd probably say something like, "I've seen you around. You look really good in your...um, you run really fast."

Of course, I could go with "Hi." But when it comes to guys that I'm attracted to, it's very difficult for me to speak to them without feeling nervous. It was much easier to approach guys I was interested in through e-mails, which is why I joined online dating sites in the first place. Sending a cute guy an e-mail to say hi is one thing; going up to him in person for the first time is something else altogether. (Of course, I'm not one of those people who spends months e-mailing people on sites and claims to be "in love" without actually meeting them in person; I believe that the best way to figure out if you have chemistry with someone is to meet and talk with him in person, sooner rather than later.)

Unfortunately, the cute guy at the gym has never spoken to me. And if there's one thing I've learned about guys as good-looking as that one, it's that if they see women they're attracted to, nine times out of ten they're not shy about approaching them.

I can talk to attractive guys with girlfriends, because once I find out a guy is taken I lose interest. And when I worked in retail, I was able to talk to cute male coworkers and customers. But that was mainly because when I talked to them, I wasn't really thinking, Hmm, he's cute. I wonder if he's single. Instead, I was thinking, I hate this job. I wonder if people can see past my fake smile right now and tell that I want to start throwing guitars and yelling like guys in a heavy metal video. Except instead of yelling about how mad I am at society/my ex/the fact that people in the corporate workplace expect guys to cut their long hair, I'd yell about how I really DON'T want the customers to have a nice day, I want to tell them to...oh, WHATEVER.

I wasn't always so shy. When I was in high school, I had more confidence in myself and in the belief that I could actually have something real with someone I liked. I managed to muster up enough courage to invite six different guys to various dances.

Four of them said no. One of them in particular was a boy that I really liked. When he rejected me, that self-confidence and youthful optimism I once had were replaced with pessimism and the fear of being rejected again. After that it wasn't so hard to talk to guys, because I stopped believing that anything romantic could happen for me.

I withdrew into my work. It was easier for me to concentrate on my work than it was on my dating life (or lack thereof). As a result, I unintentionally put off an "unapproachable vibe", as one of my male friends told me. I didn't venture back out into the dating scene until I was in my twenties.

I still plan to join an online dating site...soon. One thing that's holding me back is the fact that I really need to get my dissertation prospectus approved, which is taking up most of my time. Another thing that's holding me back is that I also have to focus on losing weight, because I went up one dress size (which I know isn't that much, but it still makes me feel self-conscious) since the last time my profile pictures were taken. And there's also the fact that what turned me off of online dating the last time I tried it was the loser who unsuccessfully tried to convince me that three wasn't a crowd.

But eventually, I'll try again. They make cell phone apps for pretty much everything these days. I wish they made an app that gave shy people the courage to talk to attractive strangers. (And yes, I know I sound like the lion from The Wizard of Oz who wished he had courage.) And of course, the app would also allow me to run a quick and discreet background check on the guys beforehand, just in case they turn out to be the kind of guys you'd see in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Because then I wouldn't be tempted to sing "Call Me Maybe"; I'd scream "Stay Away from Me DEFINITELY" before I ran away.

What about you? If you're single, do you ever feel shy about approaching people that you are interested in? How do you deal with it? If you're in a relationship, were you ever comfortable enough to make the first move back when you were single?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I Resolve...

To stop letting my jealousy and insecurity keep me from writing. 

Grad school is very competitive, especially for people working on their Ph.D.s in English. We all know that there are way too many people with graduate degrees and not enough teaching jobs, so we have to put in 110% in order to survive in academia. Sometimes it makes me feel like it's "every academic for himself/herself", only instead of battling it out with swords in a duel we're debating each other with critical theories and academic jargon in a conference room.

Since all the grad students pick different areas of literature, poetry, rhetoric, or creative writing to focus on, we are not all necessarily competing for the same jobs. But before each academic presentation or lecture, the speaker is usually introduced by someone else who lists that speaker's accomplishments. It makes me feel jealous and insecure because I can't help thinking about how short my list would be if I was the one being introduced.

I feel self-conscious whenever people ask me, "So, how far along are you on your dissertation?" after they've just finished making it sound like their dissertation is so good that even people who aren't scholars will want to read it. It also makes me want to invite that person out to lunch and sneeze on his or her fork when he or she isn't looking.

Because of that jealousy and insecurity, it makes me feel even more pressured and nervous when I sit down to work on my dissertation. This past year in particular was difficult for me, and I became so discouraged that I often let my jealousy of others and my insecurity keep me from writing. I shouldn't have done that.

I do not resolve to never feel jealous or insecure again. These feelings are natural, and they're part of what makes me human. Instead, I know that I should use those feelings to motivate me to work hard, so that hopefully one day I'll have something to brag about. And in a way, I can't blame the other academics for wanting to talk about their success. They earned it.

I think it's similar to what fiction writers go through too. It's natural for us to feel jealous of writers who get book deals, movie deals, big-name agents or publishers, etc. But what's key is that we can't let our jealousy keep us from working on our own writing. I think that it's okay to envy someone else's success, as long as we focus more on our own work and success than on others'.

Here's a nice video I found about Natalie Goldberg's views on NaNoWriMo and how it's important to "keep showing up" to write. Her words made me feel better and reminded me that I need to keep showing up too.

I resolve to cook and eat healthier foods. If the cast of Jersey Shore can cook, then I should be able to learn how to cook too. Normally I eat in the school cafeteria when I'm on campus, but even though some of the food tastes okay, other times I start thinking that maybe all those jokes about cafeteria food making people vomit are actually based on the truth. I also buy meals that are already prepared at the grocery store, like those roasted chickens or stuff from the salad bar or deli. But that's expensive, and I can't afford to keep doing that.

So I've already looked up a few recipes online and am going to try them. I might end up setting my clothes on fire like the last time I tried cooking, or maybe I'll take a bite and immediately spit it out like the previous three times I tried to cook something. But practice makes perfect, right? Or at least practice will make the food edible. And cooking healthier foods will save me money and calories.

I do not resolve to stop eating junk food altogether. I love chocolate. I also love Coke so much that I actually had a dream about driving off into the sunset in a Coca-Cola delivery truck. But I'm not addicted to soda. I mean, I've only had that dream once...a day. But still.

Every time I eat junk food (and I do try to eat it in moderation), I go to the gym afterwards to make up for it. And the regular exercise is good for me too.

That's why I think that vices and flaws can be good things, because they can motivate us to change our habits or improve our lives as a whole. I do make New Year's resolutions every year, but I try to be realistic about the kinds of resolutions I make, so that I'll be more likely to keep them. For example, I can't make resolutions like, "I resolve that I will never fantasize again about the cast of Riverdance dancing on my students' cell phones so that the students will FINALLY stop texting during class," or "I resolve to stop thinking of insults I'd like to say to people I don't like (though I never actually say them), such as "You do realize that when you make yourself sound more important than everyone else, you sound like every reality show cast member on VH1 and Bravo, right? And do you really want people to think you're like one of the Real Housewives or Bret Michaels?" I don't bother making those kinds of resolutions, because I'd never keep them.

What about you? What are some of your vices or flaws? What kinds of resolutions did you make, if any?

Side note: Sorry that I haven't commented on some of your blogs lately. I'm still having that problem I had before, on posts that require commenters to leave their e-mail addresses in addition to their screennames and the option of leaving a link to their blogs/websites. In the past when I left a comment, the link went to my blog, like it's supposed to. But now it links to my e-mail account, which means that anyone who clicks on it can access my e-mail. So I haven't been leaving comments on those posts that require e-mail addresses; I'm just going to have to figure out how to resolve that in the meantime. But I am reading your blogs, I promise!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Right Title

One thing that's always been hard for me when it comes to writing is coming up with the right titles for the stories that I work on. I guess The Greatest Story Ever probably wouldn't be the best title. This is a Work of Genius wouldn't work either. No Applause, Just Buy My Book might not be the title of a best-seller either.

I have to admit that when I'm in a bookstore, sometimes I do judge books by their cover. There have been several books that I picked up just because the cover looked pretty or the title looked interesting. One of my favorite books, The Smart One and the Pretty One, by Claire LaZebnik, caught my eye specifically because of the title.

I think that titles are important because they're typically the first thing that the reader looks at. The best ones are the ones that tell the reader something significant about the book. The Scarlet Letter, for example, is a good title. Dimmesdale Feels Guilty and Spends Several Pages Obsessing Over It until You Want to Take Him By the Shoulders and Say, "Snap Out of It! Just BE A MAN!" would not be a good title.

I've taken several one-night writing classes at StoryStudio, and during one of the classes, I asked the teacher how to figure out what the right title for a story should be. She said that editors and agents often came up with their own ideas for titles. She also said that writers could take a specific object, symbol, or line from their stories and use that as the title. I liked that idea.

I haven't written a memoir, but I'd like to write one someday. I already have a lot of material from my blog and my journals. But maybe I'll wait until I've achieved my goal of world domination. Or maybe I'll wait until I become President and make it a law that people with names like Snooki aren't allowed to get book deals unless they actually WRITE their books.

I have thought about what the title of my memoir will be. I read somewhere that the most successful memoirs are typically the ones that have specific themes, like Bitter is the New Black, by Jen Lancaster, which was about how she lost her six-figure salary corporate job and how she struggled with unemployment, until she was "reborn" as a writer. Candyfreak, by Steve Almond, is about the author's obsession with candy, and how he even interviewed several people who made and sold candy.

My memoir would definitely revolve around work, of course, because my life revolves around work. So maybe Obsessions of a Workaholic would be a good title.

Here are a few other titles I thought of:

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Men

Surviving Grad School, One Footnote at a Time

Why Teaching Made My Hair Turn White

101 Ways To Drive Your Neighbors MAD 

 Give Peace (and Pop Music) a Chance

The Coolest People are the Most Neurotic Ones

Why Take a Vacation When I Can WORK?

Exercise (and All the Cute Guys with Big Muscles at the Gym) Is Good for the Soul

How to (Not) Get A's in College (The first chapter would have this title: Cell Phones are the Devil's Toys)

How Writing Saved My Life

What about you? Have you ever thought of writing a memoir? If you already have, what was it about? If you haven't yet, what would you write if you did? What would your title be?

Happy New Year, everyone!

(Side note: Is anyone else having problems leaving comments on posts that require e-mail addresses? The last three times I left a comment on a post that required the commenters to include their e-mail addresses, the link to my comment ended up linking to my e-mail! Fortunately, I contacted the bloggers and they were able to remove the link. But I was just wondering if anyone else was having this problem, because now I'm afraid to leave comments on posts that require my e-mail address.)