Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas: Kids vs. Adults

1. When I was a kid, I spent hours building snow forts and having snowball fights with other kids in my neighborhood.

2. Now that I'm an adult, I spend hours standing in line and shopping for Christmas gifts, while steering clear of the other adults who are apparently willing to FIGHT TO THE DEATH for the newest electronic gadget or the last Elsa doll. Lest you think I'm exaggerating, I've seen many adults get into screaming matches or bare their teeth at each other, with wild looks in their eyes, as they race to get to the merchandise first. (I mean, really? Frozen was just a movie. I know it's easy for me to say since I don't have children and don't have to deal with them if I don't get them the presents that they want. I know that their kids might be disappointed if they don't get the Frozen toys they wanted, but maybe it's time that people should just "let it go." Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

3. When I was a kid, I sang along to the theme songs of TV movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman.

4. Now that I'm an adult, I roll my eyes and change the channel when those same TV movies preempt the episode of CSI or Law and Order: SVU that I wanted to watch.

5. When I was a kid, we ate homemade Christmas cookies that other kids brought for the rest of the class to share.

6. Now that I'm an adult, I can't bake anything without burning it, so I buy Christmas cookies that vendors claim is just as good as homemade cookies in order to rationalize charging too much money for them.

7. When I was a kid, I hated the Christmas Day outfits that my mother made me wear, because they were usually uncomfortable, itchy, or clothes that she liked, not clothes that I liked.

8. Now that I'm an adult, I pay for and pick out my own Christmas Day outfits, which is why my mother will usually look at them and say, "Oh. Is that what you're wearing today?"

9. When I was a kid, I could hardly wait until Christmas morning, so that I could open my presents.

10. Now that I'm an adult, I can hardly wait until Christmas break is over, so that I can go back to work.

What about you? Was Christmas more fun for you when you were a kid, or is it more fun for you now that you're an adult?

Monday, December 15, 2014

All I Want for Christmas

1. Is for my parents to stop insisting that only they know where I should work and live and to recognize the fact that I have the right to decide where I will work and live, because as a thirty-three-year-old adult, I no longer need their permission to do anything anymore. (But on the other hand, if I keep waiting for them to recognize that fact, not only will I wait forever, it'll be like I'm still waiting for their permission.)

2. Is for my neighbors to stop waking me up at 2 A.M. with "WHOOOO!! Who needs sleep when we can PAR-TAY? HAHAHAHA!", to which I shriek from my window, "When the zombie apocalypse happens, I'm going to send the zombies after YOU!"

3. Is to receive at least one offer letter by the end of this school year from a good college with students who will be willing to put their cell phones down long enough to learn how to read, appreciate, and write about fine literature.

4. Is for my parents to stop telling me that I'm an old maid and a spinster (and yes, they have called me both) because I'm in my thirties, unmarried, and childless, and for them to stop acting as if that's a crime and a tragedy.

5. Is to successfully defend my dissertation this spring and also be able to resist the temptation to yell at all the other grad students, "I am finally free of ALL of you! YAAAAYYYY!!!" and to also resist the temptation to set off firecrackers and dance across campus after saying that.

6. Is to FINALLY complete my Ph.D. this spring and find one teaching job with a salary that pays enough to cover all my expenses and leaves me with some money left over to put in a savings account, so that I never have to work two or three jobs again.

7. Is to be able to walk into any store or cafe without wanting to scream, "ENOUGH with the Christmas carols! Isn't it bad enough that we all have to deal with long lines, crowded stores, and customers who will elbow us in the face to get the last product being featured in the holiday sale?"

8. Is to meet a nice guy by next Christmas who actually makes an effort to show me that he cares about me, not another guy who just isn't that into me and takes several hours to text back "k".

9. Is to eat Christmas cookies without cursing myself on the treadmill afterwards.

10. Is for all the people who are alone, poor, or hungry on Christmas to find the help that they need from kind friends or generous strangers, not like the heartless monster I saw recently who yelled at a homeless man who was standing on a street corner and begging for spare change. She told him to "get a job" and that he should be ashamed of himself. I stepped between that bitch (pardon my language) and that homeless man, glared at that woman (who apparently is the spawn of Satan), and gave that guy some money while telling him to ignore jerks like that. (The heartless monster, by the way, said nothing more after I stepped in. Apparently she has the nerve to berate a homeless person but not someone whose economic status is not that much different from hers. As I stated on Twitter, I hope that people like her get a giant box of karma for Christmas.) I wished I could have done more to help him.

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

When Revenge Is Bitter, Not Sweet

One of the worst dates I ever went on was with a very good-looking personal trainer. We went out for dinner, and we'd barely been talking for a more than few minutes before he said, "I just remembered that I have to be somewhere else tonight." He claimed that he had to go to some other event at a club that same night, but he didn't ask me to go with him. The date ended about an hour later, at 8 P.M. on a Friday night. I've had coffee dates that lasted longer than that.

After I watched him take off like the Road Runner, leaving a cloud of dust behind, I realized that I'd had the date that is every dater's nightmare: the kind where you show up and your date immediately decides, "No. NEVER going to happen." And you're left to fall face-first into a tub of ice cream.

When I was in junior high, I went to a school dance and asked a boy that I had a crush on to dance with me. He said no, and when people later asked why he'd turned me down, he said something derogatory about me (though not to my face). He went to a different high school, but he resurfaced a couple years later when he started dating my best friend.

He tried to destroy my friendship with my best friend, because he convinced her that the only reason I hated him was because he'd rejected me at that junior high dance. What neither of them was willing to believe was that I hated him because he was manipulative, deceitful, and a snob. He was rude to me and to my other friends, who also disliked him.

I recently read an article about a girl who got revenge against a a guy who used to be mean to her in junior high. Apparently she was kind of "awkward-looking" in junior high, and he and his friends used to bully her. Years later, they reconnected on Facebook, and she had become more attractive, so he asked her out.

Her idea of "revenge" against her former bully was to agree to go on a date with him, but she later stood him up. He waited for her at the restaurant where they agreed to meet, but she got a waitress to give him this note:

The girl, Louisa Manning, wrote this:

"Hey, so sorry I can't join you tonight. Remember year 8, when I was fat and you made fun of my weight? No? I do - I spent the following three years eating less than an apple a day so I've decided to skip dinner. Remember the monobrow you mocked? The hairy legs you were disgusted by?

Remember how every day for three years you and your friends called me Manbeast? No, perhaps you don't or you wouldn't have seen how I look eight years after and deemed me f**** enough to treat me like a human being. I thought I'd send you this as a reminder. Next time you think of me, picture that girl in this photo because that's the one who stood you up."

Her note made me think of those two jerks in particular who rejected me. I haven't seen either of those creeps in years, but I admit that if I ever did see them again, I'd feel a sense of satisfaction at making them see what big tools they both were. Of course, in that fantasy, I'd look a lot like Sofia Vergara (aka Gloria on Modern Family) and they'd both be kicking themselves for being mean to me. I don't harbor any romantic feelings for either of them, of course, but it'd still be nice to get back at them.

But unlike every person who was ever mean to me, Louisa Manning's former bully apologized to her. He wrote her a note saying that he wasn't the same person that he used to be and that he was sorry for how he treated her in the past.

On the one hand, I can understand this girl's desire for revenge. I remember very well what it was like to be bullied. I was bullied from first grade until I graduated from high school. As we all know, kids can be very cruel, especially if another kid is "different" in any way. And when you're a teenager in particular, all you want to do is fit in, and it's very painful if some people are determined to prevent you from ever doing that.

But on the other hand, I think what Louisa did to that guy was also cruel, thoughtless, and humiliating. She should have just been up front with him when he first asked her out. Instead she led him on and got his hopes up, only to crush them in the end. In my opinion, the former victim became a bully herself, and I don't think that's right.

Do I have any choice words for the people who used to bully me, like the classmates who spread the false rumor that I was a lesbian because I never dated in high school? Yes, I DO have some choice words for them, most of which are four-letter words. Do I wish I could reenact a scene from any Jackie Chan movie if I got the chance to confront one of the boys or girls who used to knock books out of my hands, throw balls at my face in gym class, call me names, and make fun of my hair, clothes, and shoes?  I would like to fight them Jackie Chan-style, so that they would cower in fear and never hurt anyone ever again. 

But would I do what Louisa Manning did? NO. In my opinion, she lowered herself to the level of her former bullies, and she became one of them, at least for one night. I think that she should have just moved on with her life, rather than treat that guy the same way that he used to treat her. 

What do you think? Do you think what she did was right, or can you relate to her? (And like I said, I do relate to her on some level, and I won't condemn you, of course, if you agree with her.) What would you do if you had the chance to confront a former bully?

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Wish I Was Samantha

Many female fans of the TV show Sex and the City often identify themselves with at least one of the four main characters: Carrie Bradshaw, Samantha Jones, Charlotte York, and Miranda Hobbes. If I had to pick one of the characters that I identify with the most, I'd say that it was Carrie Bradshaw, even though my legs don't look like hers (but God, I wish they did). I also hate shoe shopping, partly because I think that I am the female incarnation of Bigfoot and always fall down whenever I try to wear heels (and when I fall, I usually grab onto whoever's nearest me and drag them down with me). But Carrie was so neurotic and obsessive about everything, and I can definitely relate to that.

If there is one character I WISH I was like, though, it would definitely be Samantha Jones. I don't envy her one-night stands, partly because all those years of Catholic school made me feel like I should go to Confession or say the rosary after I watch an episode of the show. 

I also don't envy her wardrobe, although she always looked fantastic. But I would never have the nerve to wear such revealing clothing. As far as fashion goes, I am basically the female incarnation of Mr. Rogers (though I definitely don't want anyone to be MY neighbor, because my neighbors have always been magazine-stealing, throw-up-in-the-elevator-and-leave-it-there, hard-partying, loud jerks who apparently never work or sleep), partly because I wear a lot of sweaters. I'm always paranoid that I'm going to show too much skin, especially when I'm teaching, and that I'll end up being one low-cut blouse away from being a character in a bad Lifetime movie (to quote Joseph Conrad, "The horror! The horror!"). 

But I DO envy her confidence. One thing I noticed about Samantha was the way she walked into a room with her head held high, her shoulders back, and a confident smile on her face, as if she didn't care what other people thought of her. I remember one scene where she went to a bar by herself and walked in as if she owned the place. I would never have the nerve to go to a bar on my own. On the rare occasion I do go to a bar to meet a friend or a date, I walk in quietly, my head down, hoping that no one will stare at me because I'm convinced that my hair/outfit/makeup looks wrong.

Samantha was always able to strike up a conversation with any handsome guy in the room. I, on the other hand, am only able to talk comfortably to guys if I have no interest in them whatsoever or if they happen to be making my coffee at Starbucks (but that's only because I'm usually more interested in the coffee). 

She wasn't afraid to stand up for herself to people who judged her, excluded her, or mistreated her. I, on the other hand, write down witty comebacks that I wish I had the courage to say in person and create fictionalized versions of my real-life adversaries for my stories. 

I've always been an introvert, ever since I was a little girl. It's different when I'm teaching. That's the one place where I DO feel confident, because I actually know what I'm doing. But there's still an invisible line between the students and me; when I interact with them, it's obviously not the same as interacting with peers, friends, dates, or people who annoy me so much that I feel like karma is laughing at me every time they pop up. 

Samantha thrived as a publicist and at bars and parties. A life like that would be terrifying to me, because I've always felt uncomfortable at bars AND parties. (Incidentally, I thought I wanted to be a publicist when I was in college, but two internships in public relations made me think otherwise.)

But one good thing about being an introvert is that it made me more observant of other people and my surroundings. Since I'm often too shy to talk to people I don't know or am attracted to, it's made me less likely to get distracted and more likely to remember what I've seen and experienced, so that I can write about it later. I'm not saying that extroverts can't be observant too, because they can. And they can also be good writers, of course.

But for me, being an introvert inspired me to create and write about literary alter egos who were more brave and extroverted than I was. 

I must admit that sometimes, I still wish I could be like Samantha Jones, if only for a little while. (But I would never have broken up with Smith Jerrod, because have you SEEN what he looked like?) 

What about you? Do you identify with any fictional characters in particular? 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Saving Face

I was supposed to give a major presentation to the entire English Department at my school recently. I cancelled it. I am trying to think of things to say to all the grad students, lecturers, and professors who will want to know why I am the only Ph.D. candidate who cancelled her presentation (all the candidates are required to make individual presentations). Here are some of the things I might say:

Grad School Nemesis #1: Why didn't you do your presentation? Where were you that day?
Me: I don't know. Why don't you ask your boyfriend?

Grad School Nemesis #2: Why did you cancel your presentation? I know you were nervous, but that's really not an excuse to cancel something like this.
Me: I'm not nervous at all. I just earned a black belt in karate. Allow me to demonstrate some of my moves on you.

Professor who once referred to my work as a "disappointment": You do realize how important these presentations are, right?
Me: Are they as important as the days when Garrett gives out free popcorn?

I didn't want to cancel this presentation. I felt nervous, scared, and stressed out about it, as everyone else did when they presented their work. But I was anxious to prove that I WASN'T a mediocre scholar. For years, I've been told that my academic work was not good enough, which made me feel like I was not good enough.

I always envied and resented the other grad students for their academic accomplishments, especially because some (though not all) made me feel bad about my lack of awards, fellowships, and publications. I remember confiding in one classmate about how awful I felt after our professor and the entire class tore apart my paper. She responded, "Well, the professor really liked my paper. You should see all the great comments she wrote on it."

I was an A student from the first grade through the master's program. Everyone always told me that I was smart. But once I enrolled in the Ph.D. program, I didn't feel smart anymore. I just felt tired, stressed, and stupid.

Since this is supposed to be my last year in the program, this presentation was my last chance to prove to the entire department that my work really is good enough and that I really am smart. In academia, reputation is very important, especially when you are networking.

But I had to cancel it. Ever since my doctor increased my medication, the side effects have gotten worse. It affected my appetite, and I lost nearly ten pounds. I still feel tired all the time, and I get sick on a regular basis. One of the other side effects is that it makes my feet feel like they're falling asleep, and I often wake up in pain in the middle of the night. I'm not able to exercise as much as I used to. I still hear that whooshing sound in my ear. I'll ask my doctor to reduce my medication, but I'm scared that she'll tell me that a) I'm still not getting better; b) I'm getting worse; c) I'll have to stay on this medication indefinitely; d) I'll have to get surgery.

I have managed to get some work done. For example, I've applied to teach at more than two dozen schools around the country. I still have my website job, which I need to pay for these medical bills (my insurance doesn't cover all of them). And of course, I still have to work on my dissertation. So even though I don't have a lot of energy, I can't stay in bed all day.

As a workaholic, I always kept working, even if I got a cold or felt tired. But this is different.  I don't feel like I can tell the other people about what I'm going through. My dissertation committee knows, and they understood when I told them I had to cancel my presentation. But I don't know what to say to the other graduate students, and I don't think they'd understand anyway. Even though I am very sick, I don't look sick or act sick. If any of them tries to criticize me or question me too much about why I cancelled, I just might scream at them.

What about you? Have you ever had to cancel something that was important to you? How do you answer questions about private issues like health problems when you don't want everyone to know?

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Next Move

I wish I could participate in NaNoWriMo, but instead I'm working on my job applications. The application process in academia takes months. I've applied to more than a dozen schools so far, but I'll be lucky if I get one interview this year. The professors told the graduate students that the job search for tenure-track positions can take years.

And some people never find a tenure-track position. I seriously fear that I will be one of those people. But I will NOT go back to working in retail, because instead of telling people to "have a nice day," I'll say, "Have a nice hell! Hahahahahaha!" before the retail supervisors drag me away and punish me by making me fold a never-ending stack of sweaters and constantly criticizing "my folding skills."

Most of the schools I am applying to are not in Chicago; they're not even in Illinois. So far, I've applied to schools in California, New York, Indiana, Maryland, and Florida, among others. The thing about my field is that I can't pick and choose where to live and work. Instead, I have to go wherever the work is. That means that eventually, I'm probably going to have to leave Chicago, sooner rather than later.

My parents want me to live near them. They offered to help me get an apartment and a car. I told them no. I think it is better if I live on my own. Besides, I do NOT want to take money from my parents. I spent years grinding my teeth at nasty customers who threw hissy fits over the fact that I wasn't ringing up their purchases fast enough. Two people (who I think of as Satan's spawn) demanded that I refold their clothes three times (and kept insulting me) before they were finally satisfied and let me put the clothes in their shopping bag. It took all the strength that I had not to fling the clothes at them or to chase after them with a clothes hanger (though not in the Joan Crawford Mommy Dearest sense).

I spent years working as an adjunct faculty member at various colleges around the city, where the word "adjunct" basically means "those whom we do not have to pay a living wage, HAHAHAHA, now let's go and enjoy our country club memberships and houses in the suburbs, DAH-LING" (But I digress.) I dealt with way too many undergrads who waltzed into class forty minutes late, missed half a dozen (or more) classes in a row, turned in their assignments late (or not at all) and then blamed ME when they didn't get As. (If my life was a cartoon, that would have been the moment where my face would have turned into an erupting volcano.)

I put up with all of that and worked multiple jobs for the majority of my twenties and well into my thirties, specifically so that I would not have to ask my parents for money. Even all those jobs were not enough, to the point that I finally had to break down and accept the fact that even I couldn't keep working seven days a week (because it got to the point where I was so stressed that I kept shrieking at drivers who apparently think that if they stop staring at their phones, even long enough to keep their eyes on the road, they will burst into flames).

So for my last two years in graduate school, I went against my earlier conviction of never accumulating any student debt and took out a couple small loans. I'll have a sizable debt when I complete my degree, but at least it still won't be half as big as the debt that my fellow graduate students have, since they took out loans every year or relied on family members and did not work additional jobs like I did.

Financial independence is important to me, because it allows me to live my life on my own terms rather than someone else's. My parents have been talking to several of their friends who work in academia. My father even contacted a few faculty members at a couple schools in the state where he and my mother live and told them that I was looking for a job, which is why I received some bemused but kind e-mails from those faculty members who explained that I should send a formal application to their search committees. I was so embarrassed, and I told my father never to do that again (though he insists he knows more about this than I do, even though he's never worked in academia). He may have meant well, but his attempt to take charge of the situation only served to reflect badly on me and made me look like I didn't know anything about the application process.

I'd like to find a job in an interesting big city or a nice college town that's close enough to a big city that I could visit at least once a month or even every other month. I hope that wherever I do live has some good restaurants  (partly because everything I touch in the kitchen turns into fire, and I mean that literally, because I keep burning everything) and cafes that I can write in. It'd be good if there was at least one bookstore with a decent selection of books, as well as a well-stocked public library. It would also be nice to live near a Catholic church, since I am Catholic and I still attend Mass. I want to live some place safe, where I don't have to worry about creeps who try to grope me or think that following me down the street or yelling lewd things at me is going to make me run into their arms (instead, it makes me run in the opposite direction or throw things at them). I want to live in a place where I won't be made to feel like a freak just because I'm different, because I was treated like a freak for the first eighteen years of my life in the small town that I grew up in. If I could find a school in a town that fits most of that criteria, I think I could be happy (and of course, as long as the school was a good school with disciplined, polite, and hard-working students).

What about you? If you could pick and choose where you got to live and work (or if you already have), what kinds of factors would affect your decision?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Crying in Public

Last week I was waiting at a bus stop after I left the hospital (I had another doctor's appointment). I saw a small bird on the street, and it was hardly moving, but I knew it was alive. I thought maybe its wing was broken, but I couldn't be sure. I stood there, watching the bird, not sure of whether I should go out and try to help it or what I could do to help it. Suddenly, to my horror, a car drove over the bird and killed it.

I screamed. Several people heard me scream and kept walking, their eyes averted from my face. One guy who had also seen the bird die tried to comfort me, but I couldn't help it; I just started crying.

I read somewhere that one of the things about living in a big city is that you can cry in public and no one will notice. I've found that that's true. I cried the whole bus ride home, and no one looked at me.

I hated myself for not saving that bird, for not running out to the road, scooping it up in my jacket, and bringing it to a vet or an animal hospital. If I had just done that, that poor bird might still be alive. That bird looked so small, and it must have felt so scared, lost, and alone out there on the road. I kept thinking of what I had seen, and I couldn't stop crying.

I wasn't just crying about the bird. I cried because the doctor told me she was "concerned" about what she saw after she examined me, and she significantly increased my medication (which means the painful and uncomfortable side effects have only gotten worse since then). I cried because that meant I wasn't getting better, and I wasn't sure if I was ever going to get better.

I cried because I was scared. I want this medication to work and to cure me, so that I don't have to get surgery. I don't want to get surgery, and I don't want to go permanently blind if the surgery doesn't work. And I only have student health insurance, which I don't think would cover the entire surgery anyway. I'm having enough trouble trying to get referrals from my primary doctor so that my insurance company will cover all these doctors' visits and medical procedures. The insurance company is trying to make it so that I have to pay for everything myself. I don't have the money to pay for everything, and I don't think it's fair that I should be denied surgery and go blind just because my insurance company is full of jerks.

I cried because of all the work I have to do. I have to give a huge presentation to the entire English department in less than three weeks, and I'm not ready. I haven't had time to work on it. I've been undergoing all these painful medical procedures, struggling to stay awake due to the drowsiness caused by the medication, and spending hours waiting in doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals (they won't let me use my laptop in there). I also haven't had enough time to send out all my job applications and missed an important deadline for a school that I really wanted to work for.

I cried because I'm supposed to get a fellow graduate student to make an introduction for me at my presentation. I've been to the other grad students' presentations, and they usually get their friends to write introductions that are filled with praise for their work. I asked several people to do my introduction, and they all said no. I rarely socialize with the other grad students, because I don't like going to the bar that they all hang out in (I don't like bars, period. In hell there is no "closing time" at bars.). And it's not like any of them invite me most of the time, anyway. Anyway, I can't even drink alcohol or soda due to the medication I'm on, so I don't really feel like drinking a glass of water and watching everyone else get drunk. I'm dreading getting up in front of the entire department and having no one do my introduction (even my own advisor was unwilling to do it), which will make it painfully obvious that I am an outcast.

I cried because I was angry. I'm angry at the people who refused to do my introduction for me. I'm angry at the people who claim to be my friends and that I can talk to them, but they won't even return my calls or my texts, even though they know what I'm going through right now. I'm angry that even if I send out all my applications right now, my chances of getting hired are slim to none because the fact that I'm a good teacher means nothing compared to the fact that I am an average scholar.

Most of all, I'm angry that even though I don't look sick or act sick (though I'm thankful that I don't look or act sick), I really AM sick. I don't deserve any of this. No one does. I don't know why this is happening to me. I've always been relatively healthy, and I always feel frightened every time I go into the hospital. (This is why I'm glad that I never went to medical school. I doubt my patients would have been okay with the fact that their doctor was more terrified than they were.)

I thought I would be able to go off the medication soon and that it would work. I thought I would get better. But I'm not getting better, and it just makes me furious at the whole world.

I'm sorry that this post is pretty depressing. I try not to write about such dark topics, but sometimes writing about what I'm going through helps me deal with it, if only a little bit. But I'll try to write about something less depressing next time.

What about you? How do you deal with it when you feel mad at the whole world? Also, do you know what you're supposed to do when you find an injured bird?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Friends and Frenemies, Part 2

In college, I called one of my friends in tears because I had to get my wisdom teeth taken out the next day. She showed up the next day to take me to my appointment, even though I didn't ask her to. She stayed there the whole time, and then she took me out for smoothies.

Another friend was upset because I couldn't hang out with her that often, due to the fact that I had three jobs and worked seven days a week. She lived rent-free with her parents and didn't even have to pay for groceries while she went to graduate school.

Guess which person I'm still friends with?

I read an article recently (sorry, I can't remember the author) about how important it is to "show up" for your friends. What the author meant was that it's important to be there for your friends, not just for birthdays and weddings, but also when they need you. It really hit home for me, especially because of everything I've been going through lately. The suffering I've experienced because of my neurological disorder made me realize who my true friends are and who my frenemies are.

I have trouble holding on to friends. I used to blame myself entirely for this, because I'm a workaholic and I think and talk about work 90% of the time. (The rest of the time I think about food.) It doesn't help that I'm an introvert and prefer to do most things on my own. (My idea of hell is being forced to party with the cast of Jersey Shore every night.) Most of my friends couldn't understand that my workday didn't end at five o'clock like theirs did, and I didn't get weekends or summers off, not if I wanted to have money for food and rent.

I canceled outings with friends on more than one occasion due to my work schedule, even though I didn't want to. And one by one, most of them walked out of my life and stopped returning my calls. One of them remained in my life because we worked together, but she pointedly ignored me; I often had to repeat myself two or three times before she finally answered.

I am partly to blame for the loss of those friendships. I am a workaholic, and I always will be. That's something that's not going to change, especially because of the nature of my work and the fact that I have a Type A personality. But what I finally realized is that the people who walked out were partly to blame too.

I thought of the friend who didn't have time for me on my birthday, but threw a huge birthday party for one of her friends (I wasn't invited.). There was the friend who went on and on about his personal life, but said he was sick of hearing about my work. There were the people who made fun of me for being a teetotaler; they insisted on hanging out at bars (FYI: inviting a teetotaler to a bar is like inviting a vegetarian to a steakhouse) but never wanted to come with me to any of my favorite museums on free admission days or plays that sold cheap tickets. There was the friend who always said she was too busy to hang out with me, but had plenty of time for her other friends.

Remembering these things lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. For so long I'd castigated myself for devoting myself to my work instead of my friends. I thought that there had to be something wrong with me because I couldn't make lasting connections with them. I thought that if I had been a better and more interesting person, they'd still want to spend time with me. And in many ways, I think that's at least partly true. But on the other hand, if they had been better, more considerate people, we still would have been friends.

There are the people who say that they're for you, and then there are the people who will show up for you when you're feeling lost, sad, or scared. The people in the second group are the ones whose friendships I value, and they're the people that I strive to be like. The people in the first group are the reason that I think Facebook should have a "frenemies" list or a "people who I always fake smile with".

What about you? How do you deal with it when your friends don't show up for you? How do you show up for them?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Friday Night at the ER

It started with a whooshing sound in my right ear. It sounded like my heartbeat or like what you would hear during a sonogram. I heard it constantly, even when I was trying to sleep (which is why I hardly slept for weeks). When I sat next to other grad students at lectures, I was convinced that they could hear it, though they gave no signs that they did.

I went to the general practitioner that I normally go to. "It's just ear wax," he said. He cleaned out my ears, which was very painful. "The sound will go away in a few hours." It didn't.

He referred me to an ear doctor, who said that my eustachian tubes were stuffed up due to a minor cold I'd had. She made incisions in my ears to clear up the tubes (a procedure that was also very painful), and then my ears were in pain for several days afterwards. She said the sound would go away in a few weeks. It didn't.

Then my vision became impaired. It became a strain to watch TV, even if I was just sitting across the room. It was difficult sometimes to see everything outside without squinting. I thought it was the sunlight and that I needed to wear sunglasses. But one night I was walking around outside and I realized that the lights were blurry even then.

I also had headaches every day. I realized that it was time to see another doctor. This time I went to an optometrist at Lenscrafters for an eye exam. "This is what your eyes looked like last year," she said, showing me the pictures. "This is what your eyes look like now. You need to see a specialist right away."

That same day I went to a specialist who wasn't covered by my insurance. He charged me two hundred dollars for a ten minute consultation. He said that I needed to go to the emergency room right away, because there was something seriously wrong with my eyes. That was when I got scared.

That day I spent more than ten hours in the emergency room. I went there at 2:30 in the afternoon and didn't come out until almost one in the morning. I didn't get to eat lunch OR dinner. A kind nurse felt sorry for me and offered me some graham crackers and juice, but the doctors wouldn't let me have any; they said I had to keep my stomach empty in case I had to undergo more procedures and take more medication.

There was a lot of waiting (and freaking out, on my part) at the ER. I was freaking out because at first I couldn't get a straight answer from the many doctors that I talked to on what was wrong with me. They did another eye exam. Then they did an MRI, because at first they thought I had a brain tumor. For the MRI, they put my body in a noisy machine, where I wasn't allowed to move for an hour. I lay there the whole time, terrified.

It turns out I don't have a brain tumor, but I do have a neurological disorder. I'd rather not say what it is, but I will say that it is the cause of the whooshing sound in my ear, the impaired vision, and the headaches. It's also not a psychological problem; it's physical. The doctors did a spinal tap, meaning they put a large needle in my spine and drained fluid out of me; it was very painful (I now think of September 2014 as the Month of Painful Medical Procedures).

They prescribed me some medication, which comes with several side effects. One side effect is that my feet feel like they're falling asleep all the time. Another side effect is that soda is tasteless to me now (which SUCKS, because I love Coke). Another side effect is that it makes me tired all the time, which means I can't get a lot of work done (did I mention I have to make a huge presentation to my department next month, and my job applications are due soon)?

I left a message for one friend that I had to go to the hospital. This "friend" never responded. I left another message for another friend, who didn't respond until several days later because she was "busy" with her other friends. I managed to text a third friend, who disappeared for a long time in the middle of our conversation and then immediately changed the subject of my health to something else. With friends like these, who needs enemies? I won't be calling them again. Ever.

I even Tweeted about what was happening to me. No one Tweeted a response. Celebrities can Tweet one word, like "Uh" or "What" and get a hundred responses from fans. I Tweeted about being in the ER and being sick, and no one asked if I was okay.

My father said that I brought my neurological disorder on myself and that I am to blame  because I am so neurotic (which contradicts everything the doctors said. They said that my disorder is very rare and happens to otherwise young, healthy women.). He said I must have worked myself up into a frenzy and that's why there's something wrong with my brain now. He argued with the ER doctors over the phone and forbade me from getting a spinal tap because of the risks involved. I told him that I am a thirty-three year old adult and that my decisions are MINE, not his.

My mother was very upset with me too, and she called several times to let me know how angry she was at me. The only people who showed me any compassion were two of my professors, who I had to tell because I wasn't able to meet all of their deadlines due to the fact that I was seeing more than a dozen doctors and was in and out of the hospital for more than a month.

Right now I'm feeling sad, scared, alone, and lost. The doctors are optimistic that the medication will work. BUT if it doesn't, I may need brain surgery. If THAT doesn't work, I may go permanently blind. If I wasn't neurotic BEFORE...

What about you? Have you ever dealt with something like this? How did you deal with it?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dear Search Committee

Dear Search Committee:
    I'm writing to apply for a teaching job at your school in College Town, USA. Even though I've lived in Chicago for several years, I grew up in a small town. So it wouldn't bother me at ALL to move back to a town where people refer to Wal-Mart as "the mall."

While my grad school classmates were winning academic awards, publishing articles in scholarly journals that no one but other scholars read, and presenting their research at conferences that no one but other scholars cared about, I was taking orders from twenty-two-year-old retail supervisors on power trips.

I was shelving books and climbing over people who stretched out on the floor of the store while they read, scattered books all over the place, and never bought anything. At least fifty times a day I resisted the urge to bitch slap people who complained that The Economist wasn't where it was supposed to be or that I wasn't ringing up their purchases quickly enough. I was folding clothes and selling store credit cards to customers who didn't really need them, all so that I could get nothing more than minimum wage and a high-five from my supervisors. I was selling overpriced souvenirs to tourists who would say stuff like, "Wow! Is it this loud in the city ALL the time?"

Working in retail is an exercise in patience; you could say the same thing about teaching. Therefore, I'm much more likely to keep my cool when my students take out their cell phones for the twentieth time during class, rather than pry them out of their hands and fling the phones out the window.

My students will DEFINITELY learn about grammar. I correct people's grammar all the time for FREE, and no, I don't know why I'm not invited to more parties either.

I've taught students at schools all over the city. That means that I know how to teach students at all different levels, AND I know how to respond to all their excuses about why they didn't do the homework or why they missed the last seven classes in a row.

I'm a better teacher than I am a scholar, even though I know that's a MAJOR faux pas in academia. I just never understood why an academic lecture or discussion in an English department sounded more like a discussion that political science majors or economics majors would have. I'm pretty sure that when William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Ernest Hemingway sat down to write, they weren't necessarily obsessing over the political/economic/racial significance of their themes (though I know that some writers did). They just wanted to write good stories that people would read and enjoy, not stories that people would over-analyze in articles and dissertations with hundreds of footnotes.

I know that my lack of scholarly credentials means that I will probably never get a tenure-track job at a prestigious university. I think that's almost as unfair as the fact that university administrators get six-figure salaries, while untenured faculty members don't earn enough money to buy food.

I gave up almost everything else in my life in order to become a professor. I worked harder and suffered more than I ever thought I would.  I wish that mattered in academia, but it doesn't, at least not as much as all those scholarly articles and conference presentations.

Anyway, I hope against hope that I'll hear from you, especially because I REALLY don't want to go back to working in retail.

Neurotic Workaholic

I'm going on the academic job market this year, which is why I haven't been blogging as much lately. That letter is what I wish I could write, but of course, I'm not allowed to say anything like that to search committees. It's the truth, though.

What about you? What do you wish you could say to your employers, prospective or current?

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Wish I Was Brave Enough...

1. To point and shriek "SHAME!" at the guy who served me cold pizza but offered to personally reheat the pizza slice of the girl behind me, who happened to be ten years younger and twenty pounds thinner than I am.

2. To tell my ex-crush how hurt and angry I felt when I showed up for what I thought was a date, only to find out he'd invited several of his friends to join us and then to sit there and listen to him tell me all about the woman he had a crush on (needless to say, it wasn't me).

3. To go up and talk to one of the cute guys at the gym where I work out, none of whom ever look at me, except the time I tripped over my shoelaces and fell face-down on an exercise mat.

4. To tell my relatives that there's nothing wrong with me just because I'm not a wife, a mother, or a "real" doctor.

5. To wear a swimsuit without keeping myself covered up with a towel or five feet of water the entire time.

6. To show my writing to more people.

7. To tell "friends" how I don't want to keep hearing about how much fun they have with their other friends, especially because they never invite me to join them.

8. To tell the other grad students who brag about fellowships, publications, and conference presentations that even though I haven't accomplished as much in academia as they have, they probably wouldn't last a day working at any of the retail jobs that I had.

9. To lock the classroom door so that the students who think it's okay to waltz in thirty (or forty) minutes late will learn to show up on time from now on.

10. To tell students' parents who complain about my rules or try to bully me into changing their kids' grades that it's time that they AND their kids GREW UP.

11. To tell the students who never taught a day in their lives yet claim that they can do my job better than I can that I wish I could be there when they try to treat their bosses with the same blatant disrespect.

12. To tell the people who hurt me that what they did WAS wrong, even though they show absolutely no remorse or act like they never did anything wrong at all.

Here's Sara Bareilles' song "Brave", which made me think of all the things that I wish I was brave enough to say out loud:

What about you? What do you wish you were brave enough to do?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Single and Thirtyish

When you're single, female, and thirtyish....

1. You will often get phone calls from relatives who ask, "When are you getting married?"

2. You will also get phone calls from relatives who say, "Did you know that [insert the name of your childhood nemesis here, and yes, I had more than one] is already married and has three kids?"

3. Other people may say to you, "Don't you WANT to have children? You don't have much time left."

4. Friends who are in relationships will give you birthday/Christmas gifts that are either baskets filled with bath products (I must admit I like those) or scented candles. If I lit all the candles that married friends have given me, my apartment would immediately catch fire.

5. MANY thirtyish guys will reject you for twentysomething (or teenage) girls and believe that their personalities are the only reasons that those girls want them.

6. You start to think about all the guys you went out with and wonder if you made the wrong choice: "Even though he flirted with the waitress/left me with the check every time/criticized my job/was ten years older and three times balder than he said he was in his profile, maybe I SHOULD have given him another chance."

7. When a hostess at a restaurant asks you, "Is anyone joining you today?" you may or may not feel tempted to say, "No, my boyfriend couldn't make it. His name is Ryan Gosling and he's very busy."

8. Some friends and relatives will make jokes about you being an old maid. You will make jokes about throwing sharp objects at them.

9. Your friends who are in relationships will not be able to spend as much time with you (or will disappear altogether and only hang out with other couples). When you do see them, they will refer to themselves as "we," show you pictures of their significant others, and tell you all the romantic things that their significant others did for them. You will tell them about how you elbowed some creep on the train because he tried to grab your boob.

10. People will try to set you up with thirtyish guys, who they claim are "perfect" for you but who would make you claw your way out with your bare hands if you were trapped in an elevator with them.

11. Your married friends probably spent less than ten bucks on a scented candle for you. You will spend hundreds (or more) of dollars on presents for their engagements, weddings, baby showers, baptisms, housewarming parties, etc., etc.

12. Although thirtyish guys apparently have no qualms about going after girls who are too young for them, you are unwilling to date twentysomething guys who call you "Ma'am" (or in my case, Professor).

13. You can travel or live wherever you want, without having to appease in-laws, significant others, or children.

14. You can check out cute guys in public without feeling guilty.

15. You can watch episodes of Sex and the City and say, "Yes! That's exactly how I feel about being single, minus all the one-night stands and expensive shoes!" What's more, you can watch as many episodes as you want without being mocked or without having to forfeit the show for episodes of a wrestling match, a football game, or a cartoon featuring animated characters whose eyes are larger than their faces (seriously, some of those computer animated characters freak me OUT).

16. You don't have to have any conversations about "the relationship."

17. You can eat ice cream for dinner and not have to share it with anyone.

What about you? What do you think are some of the pros (or cons) of being married (or single)?

Side note: All jokes aside, I think that anyone who promises himself or herself to one person for the rest of their life is making a wonderful, sacred commitment, and it's one that I hope to make someday.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Heart New York

I spent last week in New York City. I loved every minute of it, even though I accidentally got knocked over by naked people wearing body paint in Times Square, had to pay the price of three hot dogs for ONE hot dog, and may or may not have ended up in Coney Island when I was trying to go to the Upper East Side.

I spent four nights there, and I did and saw as many things as I could. The highlight of the week was watching Julia Stiles and James Wirt perform in the excellent off-Broadway play Phoenix. Along with other fans, I waited by the stage door after the show and got their autographs. I kicked myself for being too shy to ask to get my picture taken with Julia, whose work I've admired for fifteen years, ever since I saw her in 10 Things I Hate about You. But I watched her perform live and I got her autograph, so two out of three isn't bad. (She was very nice and gracious to everyone, and gave an autograph to everyone who asked, even the people with several DVDs.)

I spent more than two hours walking around Central Park, though that was partly because it took me more than an hour to figure out how to get OUT of Central Park.

I ate a peanut butter sundae at Serendipity Cafe and didn't feel too guilty eating it, seeing as how I spent hours every day walking around, muttering, "Where AM I?"

I took pictures from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

I bought a black Dean & DeLuca T-shirt and felt just like Felicity from the TV show, minus the beautiful hair and cute boyfriends.

I ate lasagna and gelato in Little Italy and beef chow fun in Chinatown. My hotel was in Chinatown, and in the morning I'd buy a fruit smoothie, go to the park nearby, and watch people do Tai Chi.

I watched people playing chess in Washington Square Park and thought of that scene in When Harry Met Sally where they said goodbye by the Washington arch.

I visited the New York Public Library and the bookstores the Strand, Shakespeare & Co., and Housing Works, and I bought a couple books.

I wrote in a cafe in Greenwich Village (which was my favorite neighborhood), and I window shopped in Soho and on Fifth Avenue.

I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was much bigger than my favorite museum in Chicago, the Art Institute.

I got up early every morning and only came back to my hotel room to shower and sleep. I spent all day walking around and marveling at how much bigger, louder, more crowded, and more colorful everything was in New York than in Chicago. I envied the people who lived there, and I thought of how cool it would be to teach, write, and live in New York City. (I'll probably end up in some small college town, though.)

The best part of the vacation was that for the first time in a long time, I felt happy and relaxed. I'd be standing in a subway car or walking around the East Village or eating dinner in Little Italy, and I'd find myself smiling.

It felt so good to escape my work, my anxieties about my work, my music-blasting, magazine-stealing, let's party like our parents pay our rent because they DO neighbors, the e-mails from students (and their parents) complaining about their grades, the phone calls from relatives asking why I'm not married yet, and my usual days that consisted of work, coffee, exercise, and kicking people who cut in front of me in line. In Chicago I often feel old. In New York I felt ten years younger, like I used to feel when I first moved to Chicago and walked around with the same awe and fascination. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

When my plane landed in O'Hare Airport, I found an e-mail regarding a presentation that I have to make in front of my entire department (where my work will be torn apart by graduate students AND professors), another e-mail regarding a bill that's due, and an e-mail from one of my professors regarding my dissertation. I also found out some deadbeat loser somehow used my phone number, and I started getting daily phone calls from aggressive bill collectors (I had to spend an hour on the phone to get THAT straightened out). The weight dropped back down on my shoulders, and I felt old, tired, and stressed out again.

But at least I still have my memory of that wonderful week in New York, and I've already resolved to visit that city again someday soon. I'm not going to wait another thirteen years before I travel again, and I realized that everyone needs a vacation, even a neurotic workaholic like me.

What about you? What are some of the best parts of the vacations that you've taken? Do you ever wish you could just escape all the everyday problems in your life?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Neurotic Workaholic Takes a Vacation

It's Sunday night. By this time tomorrow I'll be in New York City, on the first vacation that I've ever taken on my own.

I'm excited about seeing New York for the first time. I've only ever seen glimpses of it in movies like When Harry Met Sally and TV shows like Law and Order and Sex and the City. And I've read about it in books, of course. So I'm curious to see what the "real" New York is like.

I bought a New York guidebook with fold-out maps for each neighborhood. I made a list in my journal of the places I'd like to visit and the things I'd like to do. I want to eat a hot dog in Central Park, and I want to eat ice cream in the Serendipity cafe. My hotel is in Chinatown, where I'm going to have dim sum. I already bought a ticket online to visit the Empire State Building. I tried to buy a ticket to the Statue of Liberty, but those tickets sold out very quickly. I also bought an inexpensive ticket to see one of my favorite actresses, Julia Stiles, perform in a play called Phoenix.

My flight arrives in New York on Monday afternoon. I go back to Chicago on Friday. I'll drop off my things at my hotel and immediately go back out and walk around Chinatown. Then I'll go to Times Square so that I can see it all lit up at night. I plan to wake up early every day and explore as many neighborhoods as I can. And of course, I'll be careful; all these years in Chicago taught me how to play it safe.

The thing I'm most nervous about, though, is actually letting myself relax on vacation. Like I said, I've never taken a vacation on my own before, though I always wanted to travel. I spent the last decade working two or three jobs at the same time and the majority of that decade in grad school. Relaxing was not an option for me. I couldn't even watch a TV show without doing something productive at the same time, like folding laundry, dusting furniture, or responding to students' e-mails.

I almost cancelled my trip to New York because I kept thinking of all the things I have to do right now. I'm supposed to be revising chapters of my dissertation. I'm going on the job market this year, and several of my professors were kind enough to agree to write recommendation letters for me. But they want me to show them my application letter, a chapter from my dissertation, and a summary of the dissertation as a whole, as well as my curriculum vitae. I have to send them all that stuff very soon, which means that this week in New York will put me about a week behind in my work.

But for once in my life, I'm going to put my work on the back burner. I put work first for so many years, and I turned into a neurotic workaholic as a result. Maybe this week, I'll actually be able to sleep without thinking of all the things I didn't get done that day or that I need to do the next day.

Relaxing isn't difficult for a lot of people, but it is for me because it felt like I wasn't allowed to relax for so long. When I worked in retail, the managers would get mad at us if they saw us stand around and do nothing for more than a minute at a time (though the managers felt free to stand around and chat with each other or their friends for as long as they wanted). So I grew accustomed to a steady work pace and rarely slowed down.

It made me edgy when I wasn't doing anything. I never even liked sleeping late, because it felt like I was wasting time on sleep that I could spend on my work.

This vacation won't change me from a neurotic workaholic into a laid-back slacker, and I wouldn't want it to anyway. But for this week at least, it'll be a relief to NOT be a neurotic workaholic.

What about you? Is it difficult for you to take time off or to relax? Do you feel guilty when you take a vacation? If so, how do you deal with it?

Side note: I'm not bringing my laptop to New York, so if you leave a comment on my blog this week I won't be able to answer it until I get back this upcoming weekend. But I will answer it; I promise. And I'll comment on your blogs when I get back too.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Feel Old (and Young)

1. I feel old when I realize that a ten year old knows more about all the apps on a smartphone than I do (especially because I keep accidentally taking pictures of myself with my phone).

2. I feel young when I give up my seat on the train for an elderly woman, and I think about what it'll be like when I'm her age and people give up their seats (I hope) for me.

3. I feel old when I can't understand half of what my students say. For example, it took me a long time to figure out that "totes" meant "totally", "cray-cray" meant "crazy", and IDGAF meant "I don't give a (well, you get the idea)."

4. I feel young when I see the older professors on campus and listen to them talk about their decades of teaching experience.

5. I feel old when I listen to the undergrads talk about their plans for the future, because they haven't yet considered all the roadblocks that life is going to throw in their way.

6. I feel young when I see elderly people walk slowly on the sidewalk, and I feel grateful (though I also feel guilty for feeling grateful) that my legs are still strong enough to get me from one place to another with ease.

7. I feel old when I see children running and shrieking on the playground. They run because they're playing games and having fun. I run in order to burn calories.

8. I feel young when I think about how many years it'll be before I can retire. I used to think I NEVER wanted to retire, but too many frustrating experiences in academia made me rethink that.

9. I feel old when I see people in their twenties hanging out in bars, and I think, "While they're sleeping until noon tomorrow, I'll already have been up for five hours and gotten all my dailies done, like laundry."

10. I feel young when I listen to pop music and sing along and dance to it.

11. I feel old when I look in the mirror and see the lines under my eyes and the white hairs on my head, and I run (counting calories all the way) to the drugstore to buy anti-aging cream.

12. I feel young when I reread my favorite books from my childhood and remember all the reasons that I loved (and still love) them.

13. I feel old when I look at online dating profiles and realize that I'm about ten years too old for all the arrogant, middle-aged creeps who only want twenty-two year old girls, reject all the women who aren't in their twenties, and refuse to accept the fact that THEY'RE getting older (even though most of the girls don't want them BECAUSE those guys are so much older).

What about you? When do you feel old (or young)?

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Dilemma

At most graduate schools, the PhD candidates are given funding each year. Usually they get a research assistantship or a teaching assistantship, which provides them with free tuition and a small monthly stipend. The funding does not last indefinitely; usually grad students only get funding within a specific time frame.

My funding ran out this past year. I was supposed to finish my PhD this year. Several classmates received offers from prestigious colleges or post-doctoral fellowships. I felt envious of them and ashamed that it was going to take me an extra year to finish my dissertation. 

My department generously offered to extend my funding for one more year, but that meant that I would have to teach again. I had already applied for a loan, which would provide me with just enough money to live on so that I could spend the year working on my dissertation and applying for teaching jobs. 

I was tempted to accept the teaching assistantship instead. After all, it was a very expensive decision. If I took the assistantship, I wouldn't have to take that loan and that meant several years I would NOT be in debt. But on the other hand, it meant that it would be like every other year: I would be spending most of my time teaching and struggling to make time for my graduate work. Not to mention I usually worked a second or even a third job in order to avoid credit card debt and loans, unlike most of my classmates (which is why they finished earlier). Either way, it was a decision that would affect me for the next decade at least (in terms of paying off student debt, that is). 

I pictured myself grading dozens of papers every week. I imagined my professors shaking their head with disapproval and disappointment over my dissertation, which they had done before. I thought of the students who missed six classes in a row, turned in all their assignments late, and then threw temper tantrums when they didn't get A's. I remembered the e-mails I'd received from students who were irate that I didn't immediately respond (which made ME irate).

Recently I taught a particularly difficult class. Every time I finished explaining something to the students, at least one or two hands would shoot up and the students would ask me to repeat everything I just said; it was clear they weren't listening. Other students showed up late multiple times for appointments and then expected me to set aside even more time outside of my office hours. Several people gave vague excuses about "family emergencies" and expected me to make exceptions for them on almost every single assignment. It made me want to scream and scream and scream, and it made me realize that I needed a break from teaching. 

So I turned down the assistantship and took the loan instead. It was a very difficult decision, but for the first time in years I am putting my graduate work first. This is my last chance to redeem myself as a graduate student, and I don't want to ruin it. I HAVE to finish my dissertation this year; I've taken too long already. All these years in graduate school made me feel like I was in limbo; everyone else around me was moving on, getting married, having babies, and climbing the corporate ladder, while I was still a student. I just want to move on with my life and figure out what to do next.

This will be the first year in a long time that I won't be teaching. I'll still have my website job, but I'll spend most of my time at home or at the library, writing my dissertation. I feel sad that I won't be teaching, but to be honest I feel a little relieved, too. It's not just because of that one difficult class. It's because too many of my classes have been like that (though not all of them have been like that, and there have been some genuinely good and bright students). 

What about you? What would you have done if you were in my situation? That is, would you have taken the loan, or would you have taken the teaching assistantship? 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fed Up

Me: You're thirty minutes late for your appointment.

Student: Oh...sorry. But you're here for the whole afternoon anyway, right?

Me: For this paper, I want you to develop an argument about violence in video games and other media and how they affect young people.

Student #1: What do you want us to write about?

Me: As I just said, you have to write about violence in the media and how it affects young people. I want you to do research for this essay.

Student #2: So do we have to do research for this essay?

Me: (Don't start screaming. Don't start screaming. Don't start screaming.) That's what I said.

Me: What do you need help with?

Student: I don't know. Can you just revise the essay for me?

Me: NO.

Student's mother: You have no right to lower my son's grade just because he missed class a couple times.

Me: Yes I do, especially because he missed seven classes in a row.

Student's mother: It was my fault, because I didn't remind him to go to class. (I swear I'm not making that one up.)

Me: (Do you still cut up his meat for him too?) I still have to lower his grade.

Student's mother: Do not punish my son just because of your policies. I pay the tuition, so I have a say in how this class should be taught.


Student: I have to miss the next four classes to go to a family reunion in another state. But if you think school is more important than family, I'll sacrifice time with my family to come to class.

Me: Don't try to give me a guilt trip or make me be the bad guy just for requiring you to do the bare minimum, which is to show up. And disregard the smoke coming out of my ears right now.

I really do love teaching. I've learned more from my students than I have from anyone else. I love that every class is different, because of how they respond to the material. I love it when their faces light up and they have that "aha" moment, when they finally understand what I've been teaching them. I love picking out books for them to study.

I DON'T love when students keep asking questions about things seconds after I just talked about them, so that I have to keep repeating myself. That tells me that they weren't paying attention.

I DON'T love the nasty e-mails I get from undergraduates' parents, who try to bully me into changing their kids' grades. (I never back down to any of them.)

I DON'T love the fact that my students claim that they can't afford to buy the textbooks for the class, but they have enough money for iPads, laptops, and iPhones.

I DON'T love the fact that no matter how many times I tell students to stop texting and updating their Facebook pages during class, they pull out their phones again during the very next class.

I DON'T love it when undergrads e-mail me to complain about their grades, pressure me to change them, and threaten to get me fired if I don't give them A's. (I never back down to any of them.)

I DON'T love it when students blame me for their bad grades, even if they're the ones who kept missing class, turning in work late (or not at all), or turning in first drafts instead of final ones.

Some days I think that I want to be a teacher for the rest of my working years. Other days I think of spending the next thirty years teaching, and I suddenly feel very tired, frustrated, and wistful for the kind of career that wouldn't have made my hair start turning white when I was still in my twenties.

I stay patient with these kids (even the ones who scream at me for giving them grades they actually earned), but sometimes it's tough to hold my temper. Sometimes I want to scream, too. But if I did, I'd be the one in trouble. I really don't think it's fair how students often get away with bad behavior in class, such as treating their teachers with disrespect, and teachers have little power to stop them.

What about you? Do you ever get fed up with your work or the people you work with? How do you deal with it?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Best (and Worst) Things about Summer in Chicago

1. I don't have to put on four layers of clothes before I go outside.

2. I just wish that I hadn't eaten all that chocolate last winter so that I would feel more comfortable about walking around without four layers of clothes on.

3. I can go for a bike ride by the lake.

4. When I go bike riding, I have to deal with all the aggressive, nasty, and territorial cyclists on the bike path who yell, "On your left," "Incoming," and "GET OUTTA THE WAY, DAMMIT!"

5. The good-looking, muscular guys in tank tops.

6. The fact that most of the good-looking, muscular guys only have eyes for the skinny girls in short shorts.

7. Neighborhood festivals, like Halsted Market Days, Chinatown Summer Festival, and the Taste of Chicago.

8. People at the festivals who spill beer on you, which leaves you with no choice but to sneeze on their food.

9. Old movies that are shown on huge screens in the park, where people can set up beach towels, bring snacks, and watch the movies for free.

10. The jerks who set up huge lawn chairs right in front of the people sitting on beach towels, which leaves the latter with no choice but to throw popcorn at them.

11. The blue sky, sunlight, and a cool breeze that make you want to spend the whole day outside.

12. Sunburn, sweat, and bug bites from spending the whole day outside.

13. The view of the Chicago River and the skyscrapers in the Loop, which makes you realize how beautiful the city is.

14. The tourists who crowd the sidewalk, walk very slowly, and make you look forward to winter, when it'll be too cold for anyone to be on the sidewalk.

What about you? What are some of your favorite things (or pet peeves) about summer in your hometown?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Romantic Comedies vs. Real Life

Recently I read an article on titled "14 Lies That Rom-Coms Tell You", and it included "lies" like "every eligible bachelor in the world is a well-paid architect" and "your best friend exists for the sole purpose of listening to you complain about your problems". Although I love romantic comedies, I agreed with a lot of what that article said. In fact, it made me come up with a list of my own.

1. Skinny girls do not eat entire pints of ice cream while listening to sad music and still stay skinny. The skinny girls I know drink Diet Coke and complain about being fat, while I resist the urge to throw a mirror at them.

2. It's NOT cool to steal your best friend's boyfriend. I've never had a crush on any of my friends' boyfriends, but even if I did, I wouldn't try to steal any of them. I am currently plotting revenge (so far I'm trying to figure out how I can get a skunk to spray my neighbors or how to make them move to Antarctica) against my neighbors for stealing my magazines. When I find something that doesn't belong to me, like a wallet or a cell phone, I give it back. So I wouldn't go several steps further and steal someone's boyfriend.

3. It's also NOT cool to break up someone's wedding. I've lost count of how many scenes I've watched where the romantic lead crashed someone's wedding, declared his or her love for the bride or groom in front of everyone, and then sprinted off with the object of his or her affection. In the movies it's romantic. In real life it's selfish, cruel, and humiliating. I think that if the person I loved was going to marry someone else, I'd accept it rather than destroy his relationship and ruin his wedding. If someone tried to do that to ME, I'd send a skunk after her or possibly all the paparazzi who think "morals" are for cowards. In the movies, being "in love" supposedly justifies these kinds of actions, but I don't think that being in love gives anyone a free pass to hurt someone else.

4. 99% of the time, your cute male friends are not secretly in love with you. In my situation, my cute male friends were either taken, gay, or secretly in love with the skinny girls who drank Diet Coke and complained about being fat.

5. It's actually necessary to spend more than 5% of your time working. In several of the movies I watched, young women either spent most of their time at work flirting with cute coworkers or obsessing over cute coworkers. Other women didn't think it was necessary to go to work every day (or at all). When I'm at work, I don't obsess over cute guys; I obsess over grammatical errors, students who don't look up from their iPads during class, and the fact that basketball players earn more money playing one game than I earn in a year.

6. People don't usually kiss in the rain, at least not here in Chicago, because they'll a) get wet; b) get knocked down by impatient Chicago commuters (one of whom may or may not be me); c) get heckled by drunk Cubs fans who will also record them on their cell phones.

7. In romantic comedies guys make grand gestures like fill girls' apartments with flowers, take them for moonlit canoe rides, or serenade them outside their window. In real life, most of the guys I've dated think that "grand gestures" usually involve texting.

I still love romantic comedies. For me, they're an "escape" and a modern-day version of fairy tales. But I know that fairy tales aren't real, and it's not okay to imitate all the behavior in the movies. The problem with movies and fairy tales is that they often create unrealistic expectations of romance and people in general. These types of stories are still told because people still want to "escape", and some of them still hope that what happens in those stories will happen for them.

What about you? What are some "lies" that you've seen in romantic comedies or other types of movies?

Monday, June 30, 2014

New York, Here I Come!

In less than two months I'm going to do what, to me, used to be the unthinkable: take a vacation. I used to think that I'd rather be trapped in an elevator with Justin Bieber and Honey Boo Boo's entire family than go on a vacation. Even when I watch TV, I can't relax; I just keep thinking about all the work that I still have to do. I didn't think I'd be able to deal with several days off, because I rarely take even just one day off.

The last time I did any real traveling was when I participated in a study abroad program in Spain; that was thirteen years ago, when I was twenty. Most of my classmates slept or sunbathed all day and then went barhopping at night with American tourists. I walked up and down the streets of the city I lived in, ate tapas at Spanish bars, visited Barcelona and Bilbao, went to museums, talked to Spaniards (who were amused by my clumsy attempts at Spanish), almost converted to a new religion before I finally realized what they were talking about (I'm not making that up), and wrote down everything I saw and experienced in my journal. I resolved that when I got older, I'd continue traveling and see the world.

I didn't. Instead I got my master's degree and started teaching high school students, half of whom cursed me out or started fights in class; the other half showed me poems and rap lyrics they wrote and confided in me about their problems with other students and their families.

I went on to teach college students during the day, where I had to deal with students who acted like Kim Kardashian had just been elected president when I gave them B's. I worked in a bookstore and a clothing store at night. I had the money to travel, but I didn't have the time.

I traveled to Kentucky to review AP literature exams. I traveled to New Orleans and St. Louis for weddings. I went to my parents' home in another state twice a year; lately I've had to go there more often to help them with personal issues, and I even had to give up my spring break one year for them. But I haven't gone anywhere that was just for me. 

Now I'm in my thirties and I think back to that twenty-year-old girl I used to be, the one who didn't work all the time and was eager to soak up as much of life as she could. I stopped being that person several years and several jobs ago. I think that working two or three jobs, seven days a week, for so long drained me and turned me into a neurotic workaholic.

Last year when I was going to my parents' house to take care of their dogs so that they could go on a vacation, I thought about how unfair it was that I never got to go on my own vacations. And then I thought, what's stopping me now? I have the money and I have the time. So why not go?

I chose New York because I've read so many books and seen so many TV shows and movies that are set in New York. I also heard that you don't need a car to get around the city, which is good because I usually don't stop shrieking until I take my hands off the steering wheel.

So I finally booked a trip to New York for the end of August. I reserved a room for four nights in Chinatown, partly because it's on my list of places I want to see. I also want to see Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and that Serendipity cafe from that John Cusack movie. I want to eat New York style pizza (though I still think Chicago-style pizza is the best), buy an "I Heart New York" T-shirt and be the stereotypical New York tourist. I also kind of want to dance on that giant keyboard in Fao Schwartz like Tom Hanks did in Big. I'm not bringing any work with me, and yet somehow I think I'll be able to relax. I can't wait.

What about you? What's your dream vacation?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Prom Night

I didn't go to prom in high school. I was significantly overweight (which is why I go to the gym so often now), and most of the guys didn't talk to me that much unless they needed help with their homework or they were making fun of me.

I could have gone to prom with one of my guy friends, which is what I did for a few of the other school dances. But I always thought that if I did go to prom, it should be with someone I really liked and who felt the same way about me. There was something romantic about prom (maybe it was because of all the cheesy prom scenes from high school movies that I'd watched), and it didn't feel right to me to go with someone that I didn't have romantic feelings for. I'm not criticizing anyone who did attend prom with a friend, though, because I'm sure that can be fun too.

On prom night, I went to Dairy Queen and watched movies at home. I didn't tell my friends how much it bothered me to have to look at all their prom pictures when we were back in school; they were oblivious to how much it hurt me.

I've been thinking about it lately because even though the school year is now over, I still remember all the articles I've read about high school students who invited celebrities to their proms.

I don't know if anyone else has heard of it, but I guarantee you that the next time there's a homecoming dance or a prom, there will be more news articles about even more teenagers who want movie stars, musicians, and athletes to escort them. It reminds me of when I was in high school and I had a crush on Lance Bass, who was in the boy band N'Sync; he later turned out to be gay. I also had a crush on Ricky Martin, who also turned out to be gay. (My gaydar wasn't very good back then.)

Those articles bother me. I can understand the appeal of going with a celebrity to prom. Everyone has had a crush on a celebrity at some point. They often seem larger than life, and many of us (myself included) tend to create this imaginary image of them that often contrasts with who they really are.

But I think that many of those teenagers invite celebrities not just because they have crushes on them but because they want to be the center of attention. They want news articles to be written about them; they want to be on TV; they want all eyes to be on them on prom night.

I think it is nice when famous people accept those students' invitations. Contrary to many of those students' hopes, none of those invitations resulted in romantic relationships. But it is nice of those celebrities to take the time for their fans. I don't think it's nice when teenagers promote their invitations on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube and go "viral", which makes the celebrities feel pressured to say yes.

I think it'd be even nicer if those teenagers invited "the shy kid" or "the class nerd" to prom instead. I remember what it was like to be a nerd in high school, and I know how much it would have meant to me if I had been invited to go to prom.

But instead these teenagers make it clear that their expectations are set very high, as if they feel entitled to go out with Grammy winners or Olympic medalists. And I don't think that's right. I'm not saying that celebrities are better than regular people; they're not. But I don't think they should be pressured to go out with these kids, especially since it seems like those kids want celebrity dates not necessarily because of the celebrities themselves but because of what they get out of them.

What do you think of this new trend? If you could have gone out with a celebrity, who would it be? If you did go to prom, what was it like?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When It's Hard to Be Polite

Today I went to a cafe to write. I like writing in cafes, partly because of the good food and coffee, and partly because I like the atmosphere. It's also because if I have to listen to my wannabe musician neighbor play the same chord for hours at a time, I just might plaster his door with One Direction posters for all our other neighbors to see.

While I was writing, I noticed an old man with a cane hovering over my table. It made me uncomfortable, but I kept writing. Then a barista loudly asked if anyone would be willing to share or give up their table for the old man. Two men sitting nearby offered to share their table; they were very friendly and nice about it. But the old man just stood there; he was adamant about getting his own table. The barista kept loudly asking for someone to give up their table again and again. Finally I reluctantly said that he could have my table.

I told the barista and the manager that I had a right to sit there and I didn't appreciate being pressured to give up my table. Don't get me wrong; I know he couldn't sit at one of the high stools near the window. When I'm on the bus or train, I always give up my seat to elderly passengers. I try to help older people in other ways. Once I helped an old woman carry her groceries in the pouring rain. There's another elderly homeless woman who hangs out at a cafe near my apartment, so sometimes I put a few bucks on a gift card and give it to her so that she can buy food and coffee.

So it's not like I'm completely indifferent to the elderly. But I think if I buy something at a cafe, I have the right to sit down. I would never do what that old man did; that is, I would never stand over someone's table and insist that someone else give up their seat. In fact, I went to that cafe because the first one I went to was too crowded.

The manager and barista defended the customer, saying he was a regular. I'm a cafe regular too; I drink so much coffee that sometimes I start running around like Speedy Gonzalez. I don't think that regulars have the right to demand their own tables; I never do that at the other cafes I frequent. The whole situation made me angry.

I try to be nice to people, whether it's opening a door for someone with their hands full or helping someone in a wheelchair cross the street. I don't expect people to go out of their way for me, but it bothers me when people are rude, like the driver who screamed at me when I crossed the street (the sign said walk, so I thought it was okay) and then drove up beside me and kept screaming. It bothered me when some kid was running down the sidewalk so fast that he knocked me into the street, in the face of oncoming traffic. Instead of apologizing or helping me get back up, he and his friends pointed and laughed at me lying there in the street.

It bothers me when jerks shove me out of the way to get on the bus first, or when my neighbor refuses to be quiet at 3 A.M. (I asked) and then acts like I'm the one with the problem because apparently he's a vampire who doesn't sleep at night.

I try not to let it bother me, but it's hard to be polite when I encounter rudeness almost every day. I know that I should be mature and grownup, even when others are not. But sometimes I want to respond to their rudeness by giving them a taste of their own medicine. I don't, though.

What about you? How do you deal with it when people are rude to you?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I Like Twitter, But...

1. I don't like the jerks who use offensive, derogatory terms (like the C-word) to refer to women and think that they're funny. Reading their Tweets makes me wish I could tell a professional wrestler that those losers flirted with his girlfriend.

2. I don't like the people who follow and then immediately unfollow when I don't follow back or retweet them. That tells me that they're not interested in reading my Tweets; they just want more followers. I'd like more followers too, but for me, Twitter is about writing and reading interesting Tweets.

3. I don't like the photos that make me think that people are advertising some kind of semi-nudist colony. The phrase "less is more" does not apply to clothing, at least not in my opinion. I don't think the fact that I don't want to see people pose with hardly any clothes on makes me a prude, unless the person posing is Channing Tatum.

4. I don't like the Tweets that have nothing but links in them; occasionally I'll include a link, but not in every single Tweet. Links always make me wary. I'm afraid they'll come with a virus or somehow find a way to access my webcam and then will be able to tape videos of me throwing M&Ms at my TV every time the Duggars or the Sister Wives come on (am I the only one who finds them really annoying and conceited?).

5. I don't like it when some people post thirty retweets in a row (I'm not exaggerating). I retweet a lot of people, but I still include my own Tweets. Like I said, part of the point of Twitter is writing interesting Tweets.

6. I don't like reading the same inspirational quotes again and again, though I will admit to a few "reruns" of my own. If those people can't figure out what to Tweet, they should just take a break from Tweeting; that's what I do.

7. I followed several of those Twitter feeds that have inspirational quotes at first, but sometimes it's hard to be inspired by them after a day that included getting screamed at by drivers who get mad because their all-important texting sessions were interrupted by pedestrians and having my dissertation criticized (again!) by my advisor.

I really do like Twitter, and I'd like to keep Tweeting for now. But sometimes it does get on my nerves, which is when I know it's time to log off.

What about you? Is there anything that bugs you about Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other social networking sites?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I Don't Know What to Write

I haven't blogged or Tweeted much lately because I haven't really had anything to write about. Partly it's because I've been preoccupied with teaching. Although I love teaching, it still infuriates me that some students don't think it's necessary to come to class every day, turn in their work on time, or look up from their cell phones during class. It bothers me even more when I get nasty e-mails from students who demand to know why they didn't get A's (even when they didn't do the bare minimum) and then try to pressure me to give them grades they didn't earn. Sometimes I focus so much on stuff like this that it makes me forget about everything else.

I've also been so wrapped up in my dissertation that I haven't had time to do things that I normally like to do: visit museums, exercise, read books without footnotes in them, write fiction in cafes, and write down witty one-liners about people who annoy me, like the girls at the gym who apparently never got the memo that underwear is not the new gym shorts.

Getting my PhD is important to me, but sometimes I wish I never went to grad school. I spent so much time working and studying that now, when I look back on my twenties, I feel like I didn't really let myself enjoy them. I lost more than one friend, who couldn't understand that my workday didn't end at five o'clock or why I had to work long hours on the weekend. The last time I traveled overseas was thirteen years ago, when I was twenty. I hardly went anywhere, except from Point A (school) to Point B (home) to Point C (my other part-time jobs) to Point Starbucks.

I sometimes think that if I had never gone to grad school and worked a 9-5 job instead, maybe I could have had a life. A life that doesn't revolve around work. A life that doesn't require me to work two or three jobs just to pay the bills and buy groceries. A life where comma splices don't make smoke come out of my ears.

I accomplished my goal, which was to become a teacher. I taught at different schools around the city; I became a good teacher; I learned more from my students than I did from anyone else. But teaching and grad school took up so much of my time that I sacrificed almost everything else that mattered to me.

Thinking about all of these things made me so stressed out that when I sat down in front of my computer, I couldn't think of what to write. I missed writing, but all my regrets and problems formed a block in my head that was almost impossible to break down.

Now that summer is coming up, I'll finally have more time to write (although I'll still be teaching and working on my dissertation). I finally realized that I have to make time to write regularly, especially because then I'll be much less likely to start sobbing over incorrect punctuation.

I also realized that I need to take a vacation, because I really have been working too hard. I've been debating on whether or not I should take a short trip to New York (I'd like to stay longer, but I can't afford more than a few days). It's expensive, and I should save my money, especially because my graduate funding is running out. I have a separate savings account for that trip, but I feel guilty about spending it. But I also don't want to wake up one day in my forties and feel like I never let myself enjoy my thirties.

What about you? Have you suffered from writer's block lately? How did you deal with it? Do you ever have regrets about experiences that you missed out on?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Breaking Up With Friends

After I graduated from college, a girl I had been friends with for four years stopped returning my phone calls. I later found out from a mutual friend that she moved to New York. I was hurt that she didn't want to be my friend anymore, but I accepted it and didn't try to contact her again.

Last year, I befriended a young woman my age who lived in my neighborhood. We were friends until she got a boyfriend. Then all of a sudden she was no longer able to hang out, because she was always spending time with him. I still see her from time to time, and she likes to talk on and on about how well things are going with her boyfriend. She never mentions how she ignored my e-mailed invitations to hang out or how she dropped me the minute she found someone.

It's often awkward and painful when friendships end, especially when you're the one who gets dropped as a friend. I usually don't get an explanation for why the relationship ended, and I don't ask for one; I am afraid that I'll either get a list of excuses or a list of reasons why that person doesn't like me anymore. I figure it's better to just take the hint and move on.

It's even more difficult when you're the one who wants to end the friendship. That's a problem that I'm dealing with right now. I was friends with this girl for years. But now it feels like we don't have much in common anymore. I don't approve of some of the choices she made, and it's hard for me to listen to her talk about them. I tried to give her constructive criticism once or twice, but she didn't listen.

She is also similar to many people in my life who don't understand that my day doesn't end at five P.M., and I'm not free every weekend. Many people believe that college teachers have it easy: we only have to teach a few times a week, and we have the rest of the day free and summers off. They don't know that untenured college teachers often have to work through the summer, because we don't earn enough during the school year to live on. I may just spend a few hours in the classroom, but I still have appointments with students, e-mails to respond to, lesson plans to make, papers to grade, and department meetings to attend. Not to mention I have my website job and my dissertation to work on.

This person has always expected me to spend more time with her than I'm able to, even when I explained that I had to work. I finally realized that I didn't enjoy her company anymore; it felt like we were having the same conversation over and over again. I could no longer tolerate certain things about her that had bothered me for years.

I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I didn't come right out and say why I no longer wanted to be friends. I just stopped calling. I didn't call her for months, but then she started calling and e-mailing me. I told her that I couldn't hang out anymore because I was busy with work and school, which was true. But she kept insisting that I set aside time for her. I finally told her that one reason I didn't want to hang out was because of certain things she kept doing, though I tried to be tactful about it.

For a while she stopped calling. But now, months later, she's e-mailing me again, and it infuriates me that she won't leave me alone. When former friends stopped returning my messages, it didn't take me that long to get the hint. I didn't keep contacting them, as this person has done.

When you break up with someone you've been dating, only in the worst scenarios does that person keep contacting you. And at least when you exit a romantic relationship, you can tell that person that you just don't feel that way anymore, or that you want to see other people. But I don't know the best way to break up with a friend. I feel like I can't say, "I just don't enjoy your company anymore."

I haven't returned any of her messages. I'm afraid that if I do I'll blow up at her and tell her what I think of her, once and for all. And even then I'm afraid that she still won't get it and will keep pressuring me to be her friend. But I don't WANT to, and I don't appreciate being made to feel like I HAVE to. You'd think after two years she'd have gotten the message.

Have you ever been in this situation? Have you ever ended a friendship before? How do you deal with it when people want to be your friend, but the feeling isn't mutual?