Tuesday, November 26, 2013


1. I'm thankful that I have a roof over my head and that I can pay the rent on my own apartment. I'm also thankful that even though I have to share a building with my neighbors, I don't have to share my studio with them. This is important because at least one of them threw up in the laundry room and left the vomit there.

2. I'm thankful that I don't have to cook Thanksgiving dinner for anyone, because then they would have to see me accidentally set my clothes on fire (which is what happened the last time I tried to cook something). Then they would have to eat burnt pizza, because somehow I still manage to burn frozen pizza almost every time.

3. I'm thankful for writing and the blank pages of my journal, which I can fill with short stories, ideas for novels, and statements like, "I had another dream where I was working the whole time. I think I really am incapable of relaxing, even in my sleep."

4. I'm thankful that even after teaching hundreds of students over the course of several years, teaching is something that I still love to do. It is one of the few things that I can do with confidence. I admit that I've tripped and fallen flat on my face in front of my students on more than one occasion, but I popped back up and kept teaching with confidence (and a sore face).

5. I'm thankful that Twitter has given me a new outlet; it's fun to Tweet whenever I want. And I like reading other people's humorous and interesting Tweets. It makes the commute more bearable, which is good because then I'm much less likely to start throwing things at the people who blast their music on their headphones.

6. I'm thankful that I live in Chicago, a city that I've loved ever since I moved here. I also love that it's basically a requirement to eat deep-dish pizza here, because what kind of Chicagoan would you be if you didn't like the pizza? (And I'm still mad at Jon Stewart for insulting my city's pizza. I'd throw a pizza at his face, but then I wouldn't get to eat the pizza.)

7. I'm thankful for good books and the authors who write them. I wish I could meet more of these authors and do that Wayne and Garth thing where I throw myself at their feet and yell, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!"

What about you? What are you grateful for?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Give up or Keep Writing

I haven't been able to write fiction that much lately, partly because I've been immersed in my other book: my dissertation, which might as well be titled The Book That Will Help Cure Insomnia or I Can Over-Analyze That Book in Five Footnotes.

I did write drafts for two novels. I say "drafts" because neither of them have been fully revised yet. I know how I'm going to revise the first one, but I've been struggling with the second one on the few occasions I have had time to work on it. I've started to wonder if I should just scrap that entire manuscript and focus on the first one, and then start another story later.

It's hard for me to just walk away from that second manuscript, though. I really like the characters, and there are several pages that I'm proud of. A part of me thinks that if I give up on the story now, I'll go into withdrawal, like the time I tried to give up coffee but only made it a few days before I ran with open arms to the nearest Starbucks and practically shrieked, "I don't care what kind of coffee you give me. Just give me the BIGGEST ONE with the MOST CAFFEINE!" (I wish I could say I am making that up. Giving up caffeine would be like saying that I'm going to retire early, and just the thought of not working AT ALL made me throw up in my mouth a little. What would I DO if I retired? RELAX? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

Even though I do like several parts of this story, there are other parts that don't feel right or ring true. I could just take out the parts that don't work, or maybe I really could throw out the manuscript altogether. I also considered keeping at least some of the characters and putting them in a new story that I've been thinking about for a while now.

Maybe one reason I'm struggling with what to do is because even though I've left some stories unfinished in the past, it's hard to give up on this one. I've been working on it for a long time. I don't like the idea of quitting, partly because I'm a workaholic. On the other hand, I have quit jobs before, like my job at the Tourist Trap. But that was partly because if I worked there a day longer I just might have ended up hurling souvenirs at people. It's easy to quit a job that you hate. It's not so easy to give up on something that's important to you.

But I know that even if I do give up on this manuscript, that doesn't mean I'm giving up on writing altogether. If I tried to do that, I really WOULD go into withdrawal, and then the baristas at Starbucks would freak out and run away screaming at the sight of me.

What about you? Have you ever stopped working on a manuscript? What makes you decide whether to keep working on it or move on to another story?

Monday, November 11, 2013

What I'd Like to Say to Chicago Commuters

1. If you're going to throw up, please aim in the OTHER direction.

2. No, your purse does NOT need its own seat. So move it before I sit on YOU. 

3. The "No Smoking" signs on the train and the subway platforms really do mean that you shouldn't smoke. It does NOT mean you should stand right beside the sign and light up.

4. I get that you love your death metal music. I prefer Miley, Britney, and Ke$ha, but I know that not everyone likes them. That's why I don't BLAST my music at a volume so loud that it would make Chicago commuters want to tackle me. So could you please turn it down?

5. Just because I happen to glance in your direction for a millisecond, that does not mean I am inviting you to come over and hit on me/convert me to your cult/expose yourself to me.

6. During rush hour, the trains are often late and end up becoming even more crowded with commuters. I know that you don't want to have to wait for the next train, because who knows when (or if) it'll show up? But if you see a train that's so crowded that people are literally spilling out of it, the logical thing to do is to just wait for the next train, rather than squeeze yourself onto it and then scream at people to move back.

7. If you want to see a bunch of Chicago commuters EXPLODE at the same time, scream at them for not making room for you when the train is so crowded that it's impossible for them to move, let alone make room for you.

8. It's okay if you want to talk on your cell phone, as long as you're quiet about it. But do realize we can hear everything you say, including all the details of your latest breakup/what's going on in your family/why you hate your job (and your boss just might be on the train at the same time).

9. A lot of people cut in front of each other in order to get on the train first. That's something that will never change. But I do wish that people would stop shoving each other in order to get on the train first, because otherwise a certain neurotic workaholic just might end up pulling people's hair in response.

10. It's important and necessary to floss. It's NOT necessary to floss when you're sitting right next to me on the train.

I have to take buses and trains to get to school, the Loop, Grant Park, the lake, and my favorite neighborhoods, like Chinatown, Boystown, Wicker Park, and Greektown. I also have to do a lot of walking just to get to the grocery store, my favorite coffee shop, the bookstore, and basically any place that sells candy (because I really am that addicted to sugar), just like the other locals. I spend hours commuting every week, and it can be very tiring and stressful. I usually read a book or listen to music to pass the time, but sometimes even Taylor Swift and Katy Perry aren't enough to make the commute more bearable. It's one of the things you just have to deal with when you're a city dweller, I guess.

But on the other hand, being a Chicago commuter makes me feel like a true local who can travel confidently (usually) from one end of the city to the other. I look around at the other commuters and I feel like I'm part of a community, even if the community members occasionally yell and shove each other just to get a seat. Although the tiny Midwestern town where I grew up will always be home, at the same time I never truly felt like I belonged there. I always felt out of place, which is one of the reasons I became a loner and started reading and writing so much; books (including my own stories) gave me the chance to escape.

But Chicago really does feel like home, and I feel like I really do belong here. I've always figured that my time here had an expiration date, because once I do finish graduate school, I'll have to go wherever the jobs are. That means I might end up living in a small town again, and that's okay. But Chicago will always be home to me.

What about you? What is it about your hometown that makes you feel like you belong, or is there another place that you feel more at home in?

Monday, November 4, 2013

See the World

Every time I take a flight, I think of the best ways to deal with people who steal my seat on the plane and then refuse to move: 1) Move to another seat; 2) Head-butt them; 3) Smear airplane food all over their clothes; 4) Make them listen to my Nothing but Britney and Nothing but Taylor Swift playlists.

The last time I took a flight was a few weeks ago, and just as I feared, some jerk insisted on taking my seat because she couldn't bear being apart from her boyfriend for a few hours. I should have put my foot down and made her move, because I paid extra money to reserve my seat in advance. That was MY seat, and she had no right to take it. And the thing is, these losers steal my seat and then refuse to move almost EVERY TIME I TAKE A FLIGHT.

Instead, I ended up sitting in a seat nearby, which turned out to be broken because I couldn't adjust it. I spent half the flight dry heaving into a barf bag, partly because I got airsick, and partly because I was sick of the couple sitting beside me who looked like they were sucking each other's lips off.

When I was at the airport, I tried to buy a box of Band-Aids because I accidentally cut my finger opening a candy bar. (Maybe I should start eating fruit more often?) But one small box of Band-Aids cost more than six dollars! After the flight I had, I was ready to start head-butting people. But I didn't.

I think what was really bothering me was the fact that I had to take a week off from school in order to go to my parents' home in another state and take care of their dogs while my parents went on a trip. They travel frequently, and almost every time they do, I go to their home to take care of the dogs.

I love Neurotic Jr. and Jane Dog very much, even though Jane Dog threw up on my jeans once. I don't want them to be put in a kennel, because I know they would be very frightened and unhappy. I wish I could have them with me all the time, but my building doesn't allow dogs. (I think they should throw out the people who scatter trash all over the hallway and pass out in front of my door and let the dogs live in the building instead. The dogs would be much less trouble and less likely to get drunk on a regular basis.)

But it's a huge hassle to keep taking time off from work. Taking care of two dogs also takes up a lot of time, so much so that I was barely able to work on my dissertation while I was there. It also bothered me that I've hardly done any traveling at all in more than a decade.

I went to New Orleans last year, but that wasn't my choice; it was for a relative's wedding. I went to Kentucky to review AP English literature exams, but that was for work. While other people in their twenties went on road trips or backpacked through Europe, I was shelving books at a bookstore, folding clothes at a clothing store, teaching undergrads and grading papers, tutoring, teaching high school students, and doing work for my website job. I was determined to be independent by earning my own money.

I used to envy the customers at the bookstore who bought maps and guides to other cities or countries. I bought travel narratives by people like Alice Steinbach, who wrote two wonderful books about what it was like to be a single woman traveling on her own. I dreamed about the places that I wanted to visit someday, if only I had the time and money: New York City. Boston. Seattle. London. Rome. Tokyo. Madrid. And so on and so on.

I have some money saved up that's separate from my emergency fund. I've finally decided that sometime this year (maybe during the summer) I'm going to take a weekend trip to New York City, because I've always wanted to go there. (I'd like to stay longer, but I can only afford to go there for a few days.) I'm going to be the typical tourist: big shorts, I Heart New York T-shirt, camera, maps, and all. Even though I am and always will be a workaholic with an aversion to vacations (I use school vacations to catch up on work and clean my apartment), I still think I should start traveling more and see the world. I think I've earned that right.

What about you? Do you do a lot of traveling? If you do, where have you gone? If you haven't, where do you think you'd like to go?