Tuesday, December 15, 2015

All I Want for Christmas

1. Is to have the money to hire someone to clean my apartment, preferably someone who looks like Joe Manganiello and who flexes his muscles and bends over a lot when he cleans.

2. Is to get through one visit to my parents' house without my mother criticizing my looks/my clothes/my job/the fact that I'm still single.

3. Is to be able to eat a piece of cheesecake or pizza without cursing myself for it on the scale the next day.

4. Is to get through one visit to my parents' house without my father trying to control where I drive my car/how I should do my job/where I should live and work next.

5. Is to pay off my student loans before my students are old enough to retire.

6.  Is for students to spend more time reading books than whatever is on their cell phones.

7. Is for Donald Trump to SHUT UP and GO AWAY.

8. Is for my double-parking, space-stealing, loud-partying, chain-smoking, mooching off their parents neighbors to be forced to live with Voldemort, Donald Trump, and Mama June.

9. Is a life where I only have to work one job instead of two or three.

10. Is to have more time to write.

What about you? What do you want for Christmas?

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Workaholic's Regrets

Although I finally earned my Ph.D., I didn't get to go to my graduation. I didn't have the time or the money to make the trip, just so I could walk across the stage and accept my diploma. I really wanted to go, because I spent years working for that Ph.D. I think I deserved to be honored for it, even just for a moment. Missing out on my graduation made me think of other things I've missed out on.

When I was in my twenties, other people my age went on cross-country road trips and backpacked across Europe. I shelved books, folded clothes and resisted the urge to bitch-slap rude customers at least fifty times a day.

Other young people dated and fell in love, opening their hearts to people. I dated a soldier who told me I was beautiful. I didn't believe him. When he called me, I was irritated that he interrupted me while I was working. He stopped calling. I dated a graduate student who was quiet and kind and genuinely wanted to get to know me. But when I was with him, all I could think about was my work. He stopped calling, too. Every time a guy tried to get close to me, something inside of me froze up and I pushed him away, immersing myself in my work like it was some kind of barrier.

My friends and acquaintances climbed the corporate ladder, got promoted, and became richer. I worked as an adjunct instructor, earning less than janitors. I was on my feet for nine hour shifts at stores, resisting the urge to throw hangers or books at twenty-two-year-old supervisors on power trips. No matter how hard I worked, I was still barely able to support myself.

Friends couldn't understand why my workday didn't end at five P.M. like theirs did, or why I spent most weekends working. I didn't have the time or the money to go barhopping with them. Most of them stopped calling too, except when they wanted to tell me about their loving relationships, children, and successful careers (while asking me very few questions about my own life).

Long after my college classmates walked the stage at graduation, I was studying for my master's degree and then my Ph.D. I took seminars where professors told the entire class that my work was not good enough. I pored over books in the library until I fell asleep, where other students' snoring woke me up. I resisted the urge to scream, "Studying is not SOCIALIZING, people!" at all the loud undergraduates in the so-called quiet study areas.

People my age carried briefcases or diaper bags, while I carried a book bag. They went out for lunch or ate with their coworkers in their fancy office buildings. I ate alone in school cafeterias.

I moved far away from home to teach at a new school. Although I'd worked multiple jobs before, I am working longer hours here, at a full-time job and a part-time job. To my dismay, a third of my full-time salary goes to taxes and benefits, which is why I have a part-time job.

I teach larger classes with more students. My days pretty much have gone like this: teach, meet with students, grade papers, watch TV at home, yell curse words in foreign languages at my neighbors, and sleep. I have little time for anything else. That's why I haven't written any fiction and I've hardly blogged over the past few months, despite my earlier resolve to write more.

I looked in the mirror one day and saw the lines in my face, the gray in my hair, and the weariness in my eyes. I realized that I'd given up or lost everything for my work: my friends, boyfriends, my youth, alternative careers, a city that I loved, and now, my writing. I have become a true workaholic. And I hate it.

I look back on my life and regret that I spent so much time working, even though in most instances, I didn't really have a choice. I did accomplish several of my goals: I earned my master's degree and my Ph.D; I've taught at multiple colleges; I've taught high school; I became self-supporting; I became a good teacher. But I didn't think it would mean losing everything else that mattered to me.

I'll always be a workaholic to some extent. But I finally realized that there has to be more to life than work. Otherwise you'll be the kind of person who dreams that she's working even when she's asleep, or the kind of person who becomes so tired and stressed out that she makes voodoo dolls and pokes them ominously whenever her annoying, inconsiderate neighbors look at her.

What about you? Do you consider yourself to be a workaholic? Do you have regrets over certain things that you gave up or lost?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Teachers Have Rights Too

Recently, students at the University of Missouri in Columbia forced the school's president to resign. Several of the football players refused to play until he resigned. One student, Jonathan Butler, went on a hunger strike. Several other students, as well as a professor, Melissa Click, were overly aggressive with a reporter and literally pushed him away, claiming their right to a "safe, private" space.

They were (and still are) protesting because of several racist incidents on campus, including black students being called racial slurs by white students and a swastika made out of feces (though I should think that's more offensive to Jewish students than black students).

Jonathan Butler received a lot of praise from people for going on a hunger strike. It made me think of all the people in the world who are literally starving right now and who don't get to choose to be hungry. I doubt that they would praise Butler for what he did. I certainly don't.

Now students at other universities are protesting, and at Columbia University some undergrads reported feeling intimidated and pressured into protesting. Students at other schools are demanding to be excused from classes so that they can participate in protests. It reminded me of a "movement" at  Oberlin College a while ago. Students who were skipping classes in order to go to protests against police brutality wanted to be exempt from failing grades and demanded nothing less than a C for their final grades, regardless of what they earned. (The school refused.)

All of it makes me angry. I can understand their anger at feeling discriminated against, excluded, and treated unfairly. But I do NOT agree with their actions. On the one hand, NO ONE should call anyone racial slurs or leave swastikas for them to find. But on the other hand, it's gotten to a point where everyone's "offended" by everything these days. For example, once a student accused me of being racist towards minorities because I didn't call on him every time during class. He disregarded the fact that I called on him MOST times he raised his hand, but I wanted to give other students a chance to talk in class.

It makes me feel like professors and university administrators have to tiptoe around students' feelings all the time, because if we don't we'll be forced out of our jobs. Yes, racism is a problem at many schools, but that doesn't mean that students should be able to force people to quit. It doesn't give them a right to prevent reporters from doing their jobs (it's ironic and hypocritical that those Mizzou students demanded the right to free speech but prevented that reporter from exercising HIS right to free speech). It also shouldn't mean that professors have to give them a free pass from doing their work and giving them grades they didn't earn. I have never done that, and I WILL never do that. I'd rather give up my entire career than do it.

Honestly, I don't think that making university presidents or professors resign is going to solve the problem. I think they'd make a much bigger difference by tutoring students at inner city schools, volunteering at soup kitchens, or building affordable housing for the homeless.

Yes, students have the right to speak out against racism and discrimination, and they should. But they don't have the right to tell me how to do my job, or to accuse me of being a racist if I do something they don't like or they disagree with. I have rights too, and I refuse to back down to anyone, just because he or she was "offended." I read more than one article where the authors also disagree with some of these students, because they claim that the students are restricting or prohibiting any free speech that they think is offensive. (I'm sure the ACLU would have a problem with that.)

If I and all the other professors gave in every time, we'd be sending the students the wrong message. Can you imagine what their future bosses will say if they demand promotions they haven't earned or blow off work so they can go "fight for the cause"? I think that if they want to "fight," they have to be prepared to take risks and make sacrifices, not expect everyone else to cater to them.

What about you? Did you ever participate in any protests when you were in college? What do you think of the protesters' belief that they have the right to make school officials quit and that they should be exempt from classes and failing grades?

Side note: By the way, I decided not to change my URL after all; sorry about the confusion! I just figured it would be too complicated to try to change it to a different URL, since then I'd have to contact everyone about it. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Road Rage

I hate driving.

In Chicago, I didn't have to drive. I could take the El or the bus, or I could walk to my destination. Many of the places we needed, like the bank, the grocery store, the dry cleaner, coffee shops, and restaurants, were within walking distance.

In this small town I've moved to, I hardly ever see anyone walking around, except for the students walking around the campus of the school where I teach. It's necessary to own a car here, which is why I will spend the next four or five years making car payments. I wanted to buy a cheaper, used car, but my parents insisted that I buy a new one. Since they were loaning me the money for a down payment, and since I got tired of arguing with them, I did. My mother demanded that I get the color and make that she wanted, even though technically it is my car.

One bonus is that since this is a small town, I can usually get through two weeks of driving on one tank of gas. I must admit that it is nice to only have to make one trip to the grocery store, rather than two or three trips like in Chicago, where I could only buy as much as I could carry in my reusable bags or small shopping cart.

I'm also saving up for a summer road trip to some place I haven't been to before, even though my parents say that they want to come along to "chaperone" (did I mention I'm thirty-four years old?). But there is NO way they're coming with me. I'm looking forward to a trip where it's just me, my car, and the open road in front of me.

But in this town, I often get stuck behind drivers who apparently drive by the following mottos: "I'm going to drive this ol' pickup truck as slowly as possible so that everyone can admire my fine, giant Confederate flag" or "If I cut off as many people as possible, I WIN!" or "I'm sure no one will mind if I delay traffic so that I can stop and spit out my window."

In my apartment complex, all the tenants are assigned parking spaces, though the assignments are completely disregarded by the majority of my neighbors, who apparently park by the following mottos: "Some people color outside of the lines. I park outside of the lines," and "Who cares if this space isn't mine? First come, first served, sucker!" It's easy for my loser neighbors to steal my spot, since most of them don't seem to work for a living and are home more often than I am.

I never let them get away with it, though. I've told them repeatedly to get their cars out of my parking space. I resist the urge to key the words "I HATE YOU" into the fancy cars that their parents bought for them.

Public transportation in Chicago is not cheap, but it's still a lot cheaper than owning a car. I have to make monthly car payments, as well as pay for gas, car maintenance, insurance, and cleaning. Due to all of those expenses, I haven't had a haircut in more than three months; my shoes have holes in them, and I'm down to one pair of jeans and two pairs of dress pants.

When I walked around Chicago, I burned more calories in one day than I do in a week's worth of walking around Small Town. When I was walking or riding the bus or train, I could usually take the time to observe the people around me, enjoy the music I was listening to on my iPod, and appreciate other sights, like the view of the Chicago River from one of the downtown bridges, the street performers, and the high-rise buildings that reflected the sunlight. When I'm driving, I'm usually focused on getting from Point A to Point B without getting into an accident.

I think the biggest reason I hate driving is because it reinforces the fact that my life is here now (at least for the next year or two), and that I might never live in Chicago again. I know this move was necessary, especially because I need this job. But sometimes, when I'm telling my loser neighbors for the eighth time to get their car out of my space or I'm trying not to flip off the driver who just cut me off, I wish that I was on a crowded El full of chattering tourists, rowdy Cubs fans, and random people shrieking about politics/religion/the upcoming alien invasion.

What about you? How do you feel about driving or commuting in general? Have you ever taken a road trip?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Recently, I accidentally e-mailed all of my current students with my online screenname instead of my real name. The reason is because I had tried to sign up for Google Plus with my screenname, except it kept my screenname in my account once I e-mailed my students. Once I realized what I'd done, I screamed so loudly that the mirrors in my apartment almost cracked.

Most people in my "offline" life do not know that I have a blog or a Twitter page, even though I've been blogging and Tweeting for years. Most people don't even know that I want to be a writer. They think I'm just this over-caffeinated English teacher who freaks out over grammatical errors and students who think it's okay to show up to class forty-five minutes late and still expect to be counted as present (insert head exploding here).

Some teachers blog about the misbehavior of their students, like students who don't turn in their work on time or the ones who keep their headphones on during class. Then the parents who raised the "everybody gets a trophy" generation come out in full force to bring the teacher down, because God forbid anyone should point out that their kids have EVER done anything wrong.

I'm lucky to have a full-time teaching job, even though it's in a small town where country music is played everywhere, to the point that I want to find a banjo and smash it over the loudspeakers. But I'm not a tenured professor, so my job security is far from certain. I've been hired on a year-to-year contract, which means that I'm still not sure whether they'll renew my contract for next year and I won't find out for months (that's why I'm applying to other schools in the meantime).

Since I'm still applying for other jobs, I know that search committees may Google me, though several of them will never admit to this. They won't necessarily find anything bad, like pictures of me getting drunk, since if anyone tried to make me drink alcohol I'd immediately spit it out. They might find reviews of my teaching on one of those awful Rate Your Professor sites, where there are positive reviews of me but also negative ones that say stuff like, "She's so unfair. She makes us show up to class every day."

If I put my real name or pictures of my face on my blog, those search committees (as well as the school that currently employs me) might not appreciate my posts about teaching. I never named any of the schools that employed me, and I never named any of the students either. But I did describe some of their bad behavior, like the volatile student who screamed at me for twenty minutes because I dared to give him a B, or the disrespectful student who almost drove me to tears in front of my class several years ago.

When I realized that I'd sent my screenname to my students, I was worried that they might Google it out of curiosity, since it is an unusual name. Then they would find my blog and my Twitter page. They'd read what I wrote about them, and they'd read about my personal life. It was one of my biggest nightmares. All it takes is one disgruntled student upset about his or her grade to find my blog or my Twitter page and send it to my bosses.

I debated deleting both accounts altogether. I also e-mailed several of you in a panic, asking for advice. You were all kind enough to respond promptly, and I appreciate your feedback. Ultimately, I decided to make both of my accounts private and (mostly) stay offline for a couple of weeks. That's why I haven't been blogging lately, and that's why you may not have been able to find my blog the last couple of weeks. I wanted to play it safe.

I couldn't bring myself to delete my blog. That's five years worth of writing, and I couldn't give it up. I gave up or lost almost everything else because of teaching: almost all my friends, romantic relationships, my twenties, and the city I loved. I couldn't deal with the idea of giving up my writing too.

So for now, I'll keep the blog and the Twitter page up. I'll still write about teaching, but I'll be more cautious now. Fortunately, none of my students said anything about my screenname. Hopefully, no one ever says anything.

What about you? Do you keep your blog or Twitter page a secret? Would you have deleted your accounts, if you were in my situation?

P.S. I might be taking a risk by stating this on my blog, but I couldn't e-mail everyone this since not everyone has their e-mail address listed. I'm going to change my URL to weirdworkaholic.blogspot.com starting next week. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What I'd Like to Say to My Students

I don't like waking up this early either. But if I can't go back to sleep during class, then neither can YOU.

You don't become invisible when you take a nap during class. I CAN SEE YOU, so WAKE UP.

Your followers on Instagram and Twitter will understand if you don't post anything for a whole hour. In fact, I'm willing to bet THEY WON'T CARE, so put your phone away.

It is not my job to give you an A. It is your job to earn one.

If you want to be treated like an adult, then don't let your parents e-mail me to complain about your grades.

You do realize that your fancy cell phones come with clocks, right? So why do you keep showing up to class a half hour late?

I think it's great that you enjoy your friends' company. I don't think it's great that you feel the need to text them seventy-five times an hour.

If you want to see my head explode, then say, "I know I missed a month of class, but I think I should have gotten at least a B."

Sometimes it seems like what I tell you doesn't even go in one ear and out the other, because you refuse to take out your headphones.

I know that you're shy and afraid of sounding foolish in front of your classmates and me. But it's better to say the wrong thing than to sit there for the entire class every day and never say anything. At least the people who speak up are trying.

If you're going to claim that you have a "family emergency" and can't come to class, then don't stick around on campus afterwards, where I can easily see you hanging out with your friends.

You complain that authors like Mary Shelley, Maxine Hong Kingston, and William Shakespeare are boring, but I really don't see how your friends' Instagram posts about what they had for lunch are much more interesting.

If you're not going to do the reading, pay attention in class, answer any of my questions, turn in the work on time (or at all), or show up on time (or at all), then why are you in this class?

Threatening to get me fired, e-mailing complaints to the chair of my department, screaming at me in my office, or stomping out during the middle of class are NOT going to get me to change your grades (and yes, all of these things have happened).

When your writing improves, when you talk about the characters in the stories that we're studying as if they're real people, or when you tell me that you read other works by the authors just because you liked them so much, you make my day.

Last year, when I declined a teaching job and took out a student loan in order to finish my dissertation, I didn't miss teaching. I enjoyed being free from eight A.M. classes, grade complaints from students (and their parents), and e-mails from students who wrote stuff like, "Sorry I missed the last eight classes. Can you just e-mail me what I missed?"

I still love teaching, but there are still parts of it that drive me up the wall. I can't help thinking that I wouldn't be such a neurotic workaholic if I had chosen another career. But I've been so focused on getting my Ph.D. and becoming a college professor that I've lost sight of almost everything else. I can't even imagine what else I'd do (other than write, though I'd still need a day job), and I'm still not willing to give up everything I've worked for.

At the same time, I REALLY wish I could put this post on my syllabus, because the more frustrated I feel, the more nostalgic I get for the one year when I didn't have to teach.

What about you? Do you ever feel burned out or frustrated at your job? Have you ever had second thoughts about your chosen career? If you could say something to college students from this generation, what would you say? 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Conversations with Writers

When I go to book signings, I'm usually too shy to talk to the authors and ask them questions about their books, even though I want to. But if I could speak to them one on one, it'd be different.

If I could sit and talk with Dave Barry, I'd tell him that he was the first humor writer I ever read. His work inspired me to try to write stuff that made people laugh so hard their drinks came out of their noses.

If I could sit and talk with Ruth Reichl, I'd ask her how the people like her ex-husband and former friends felt about the ways she portrayed them in her memoirs. I'd ask for advice on how to portray people who hurt me without provoking them to yell, "It's ON now!" before chasing me down the street while hurling my book at my head.

If I could sit and talk with Beverly Cleary, I'd tell her how I read and reread her Ramona Quimby books when I was a little girl, and how I once got in trouble with my teacher for signing my name followed by "Age 8," like Ramona did.

If I could sit and talk with Jen Lancaster, I'd talk with her about the most annoying people in Chicago, like the neighbors who blast their music so loud in the middle of the night that I want to post fake eviction notices on their doors the next morning.

If I could sit and talk with Amy Tan, I'd tell her that one of the greatest moments in my life was when I told her how excited I was to meet her at a book signing, and she leaned back and said, "Thank you!" before smiling at me. I'd tell her that her descriptions of daughters' difficult relationships with their mothers made me feel less alone, because it always seemed to me that everyone else's relationships with their mothers were so much better.

If I could sit and talk with Stephen King, I'd tell him that I made the mistake of watching the film version of his book Children of the Corn on a farm surrounded by cornfields. I was so terrified that I kept looking around at the fields and shrieking, "The evil children are coming out of the fields! I can see them! AAAAAHHHH!" And then I'd ask him if his writing ever scares him.

If I could sit and talk with Jhumpa Lahiri, I'd say that I love the way she describes loneliness (even though she rarely uses the word "lonely") without any of the usual cliches. She does it in a way that many people, including me, can recognize the same signs in our own lives, like in her story "This Blessed House," with her description of the man who only used the top fork and knife in his silverware drawer.

If I could sit and talk with Judy Blume, I'd tell her that I had to hide her young adult books from my mother, due to the depictions of puberty and sex. My mother wouldn't even let me watch the movie My Girl, because she thought the one-second kiss between Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky would inspire me to get pregnant before junior high.

If I could sit and talk with Emily Gould, I'd tell her that she writes like a true New Yorker, and how much I envy her for living in New York. I live in a small Southern town where everyone apparently goes to bed by 9 P.M. and people drive around with large Confederate flags flying from their pickup trucks.

Most of all, if I could sit and talk with all of these writers, I'd sit back and listen to them talk about writing and books, and I'd feel happy just to be with them. 

What about you? If you could sit and talk with a writer that you admire, what would you say?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Making Time to Write

When I first moved to Small Town, Tennessee, I thought I would have more time to write. In Chicago, I was distracted not just by my work but also by bike rides along the lakefront, free admission days at the museums, cheap tickets to plays, and neighborhood festivals.

In Small Town, on the other hand, there isn't much to do, unless you enjoy hanging out at Wal-Mart or watching sports. Many of my students are athletes, and on game days it seems like the whole town turns out to watch them play. I have about as much interest in sports as the Kardashians and the Duggars do in staying away from the cameras.

However, as I stated in my previous post, there is the pressure to accept at least a few of the social invitations that have been extended to me, which takes up a lot of time that I'd rather spend writing. There's also the fact that the classes I'm teaching are significantly larger than the ones I taught at other schools, which means I have to spend more time grading papers and answering e-mails from students who ask questions like, "Is it really necessary to buy the books for this class? Couldn't I just watch the film versions?" (I'm not making that up) or "Sorry I was absent for the last six classes. Did I miss anything?" (I wish I was making that up)

So unfortunately, I find myself with even less time to write than I did before. I still feel the urge to work on my manuscripts, which have been neglected for months due to my completion of my dissertation and my move to Tennessee. Every time I look at my unopened journal or glance at the files marked "Novel" in my computer, I feel tempted to drop everything else I'm working on and write. Grading papers and answering e-mails make me wish I was doing something more interesting, like pulling out every hair in my head. Writing fiction and creative nonfiction makes me happy.

I've read about other writers who make time to write by writing during their lunch breaks or by getting up early. Others give up activities like constant Facebook updates or television. So I've decided that I need to follow their example, or I'll never finish my manuscripts, let alone get the chance to publish them.

So I've realized that there are some things I need to limit, like my Law and Order marathons or my long drives to bigger cities when I feel claustrophobic in Small Town. I also need to discipline myself to stop checking my e-mail or watching YouTube videos every time I sit down at my computer.

I always felt contemptuous of writers like E.L. James, who published novels even though their writing was not very good. But they're still ahead of me, because they made the time to write, in spite of everything else that was going on in their lives. (On the other hand, I hope no one will think I'm mean if I say that I'd rather be unpublished for the rest of my life or be trapped in an elevator with the Kardashians AND the Duggars for an hour than write like E.L. James.)

What about you? How do you make time to write? That is, what kinds of things do you sacrifice or limit your time on, in order to have the time to write?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Me Time

In Chicago, people sat next to each other on buses and trains for hours and barely looked at each other. I'd go to my favorite coffee shop or bookstore and see other regulars there, but we never talked to each other. City dwellers usually try to avoid looking at or speaking to strangers, because they never know if those strangers are just regular people or people who would whap them in the head and run off with their wallets.

In Small Town, Tennessee, although I can't go anywhere without being stared at and gossiped about, the townspeople are generally friendly and strike up conversations with me, which startled me when it first started happening (I was all, "Why are they talking to me? Are they going to rob me? Because that's what happened the last time I got robbed.") Several of my colleagues have invited me to lunch, parties, or to barbecues.

Here's the thing, though. While I appreciate their invitations and have said yes to a few of them, what I often feel tempted to say is, "Sorry, I can't! Maybe next time...or NEVER."

In my version of hell, I would have to go to parties every day and make conversation with a bunch of people. When I was a kid, I liked going to parties, because we got to play games, eat cupcakes, and bring home goody bags. Now that I'm an adult, all people usually do at parties is drink alcohol, talk about the new diet they're on, and go home feeling obligated to reciprocate the social invitation.

I have a heavy course load this term, and I'm teaching more students at one time than I've ever taught before. As an English teacher, that means a lot of papers to grade, which means I might get so stressed that I end up writing, "All work and no play makes me a neurotic workaholic" or "redrum" over and over again.

I still have my website job, which, due to the car I had to buy (there is no public transportation in Small Town), my credit card debt that I accumulated when I moved here, and my student loan debt, I can't afford to give up. So that means I'm working too many hours every week. It's still the beginning of the school year, and I've been so tired that I end up falling asleep by ten P.M. (though I have to slap myself awake to finish my work) almost every night.

That means that when I have time off, I'd like to spend it doing what I want to do, like exploring Tennessee. Once I save up enough money, I'd like to visit Graceland and Dollywood. There is no mall in Small Town, so I'd like to drive to one of the bigger cities and go shopping. I'd also like to stay in town and write in a coffee shop, and I want to read more books without footnotes in them.

I've always been an introvert, and while I don't want to be alone all the time, I don't enjoy socializing every weekend, or even every other weekend. I prefer to do things on my own, because then I can do things on my terms. On the rare occasions I do go to a party, I spend the whole time counting the minutes until I can make up an excuse and leave "fashionably" early.

I don't want to be rude to my colleagues, which is why I've said yes to a few of their invitations. And I know that it is a good opportunity to network as well. But if I say yes more often, I'll end up resenting them and blurting out things like how I disagree with several of their teaching methods, the English department's policies and how I think it's extremely unfair to give us low salaries, heavy course loads and also require us to make time for endless meetings and committees. Or I might just blurt out, "Why does everyone in Small Town keep staring at me? Is it because they think I'm an alien, or are all of YOU the aliens?"

What about you? Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert, and how do you deal with social invitations that you feel pressured to accept (but don't actually want to say yes to)?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Culture Shock

Whenever I tell people that I moved to Small Town, Tennessee from Chicago, they say, "Well! That must be a big change for you! Do you like it here?"

That's not an easy question to answer. On the one hand, it is nice to walk around without random guys yelling lewd things at me or trying to grope me, like they did on the streets of Chicago. Here in Small Town one day, some guys driving a pickup truck pulled up next to me when I was waiting to cross the street and yelled, "God bless you!" And I thought, WTF?

Here are some things I've observed about Small Town so far:

The drivers in this town might as well refer to themselves as "Tailgating is my middle name."

Only the devil's children go out after nine P.M. (which is why everything closes by then, except the bars) or drive faster than 25 mph in the left lane.

Several people in this town want to shake hands with Donald Trump (I try not to scream in terror or run in the opposite direction when they tell me this).

"Hon," "honey," "ma'am," and "y'all" are Southerners' favorite words (because everyone has a Southern accent).

Many of the girls at the school where I teach wear pearls and skirts to class, and several of the boys drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag license plates.

Several of the students have gun collections and enjoy hunting or fishing.

Apparently even the younger people in this town think they'll live longer if they walk (and drive) as slowly as possible.

I've started swearing a lot more (with the windows rolled up in my car so no one can hear me) ever since I moved here.

The only way to cook meat is to fry it or barbecue it.

Many people have wide front porches with rocking chairs and porch swings, which makes it easier for them to sit outside and wave to newcomers like me while gossiping about them.

Spitting in public isn't rude. It's just common sense.

People in this town also apparently have the motto, "Why give a straightforward answer to a question, when I can take ten minutes to answer it?"

In Chicago, people are all, "Don't look at me don't look at me don't look at me BACK OFF!" But here in Small Town, I can't go anywhere without people staring at me and making comments under their breath, because it's pretty clear that I'm not from here.

This place is pretty much the opposite of Chicago. I can't help wondering when or if this place will ever feel like home, especially since I still miss Chicago terribly.

What about you? Have you ever felt like an outsider in a place that you visited or lived in, or have you ever experienced culture shock?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I Got Scammed

I have now officially moved to Small Town, Tennessee. Of course, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. The stress of this move has turned even more of my hair white, to the point that I fear I'm going to end up looking like an older, female version of Albert Einstein.

Since I had less than a month to move to Small Town, I had to hire a moving company in a hurry. I called almost every interstate moving company in Chicago. Several of them refused to do my move, since they said it was too small. Others said they weren't willing to do an interstate move to a small town. A few were willing to do it, for the paltry sum of $2,300-$4,000.

The cheapest one I could find turned out to be the Worst. Movers. Ever. Later, when I Googled "moving scams," I read about red flags that people should watch out for. Of course, this company had all the red flags.

For one, the sales rep claimed that they could give me a low price because they didn't do an estimate in person. Even though I gave him an itemized inventory, the movers ended up charging me hundreds of dollars more on moving day, because they claimed that my belongings took up more space than expected in their truck.

The sales rep also claimed that it would only take one or two weeks for them to deliver my things. Later, I found out that it could take up to three weeks. Fortunately, the delivery driver called me a week after I moved to Small Town, telling me that he would come by the next morning.

He didn't. He didn't come by the day after that, either. Neither he nor the dispatcher returned my calls (I called them thirty times EACH and left more than a dozen messages). I finally did reach the dispatcher at one point, who yelled at me and said that he didn't know where the driver was. The driver only returned my call after I threatened to call the police and file charges against him for theft.

I started to worry that I would never get my belongings back. Most of them weren't expensive, like my fifteen-year-old TV that still had a VCR. But I couldn't help worrying about the items that had sentimental value, like the small stuffed animal I've kept since I was fourteen, because it was the first gift I ever received from a boy I liked. There were also my high school yearbooks, which had signatures from my friends and classmates. I also fretted about the loss of all my books, especially the ones that were autographed by authors like Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, Studs Terkel, B.J. Novak, and Jen Lancaster.

Most of all, I FREAKED OUT about the possibility of losing more than twenty-five years' worth of journals, everything from the ones that had entries written in crayon to the more recent ones that included handwritten copies of my manuscripts (some of which I hadn't copied into my computer yet). Losing my writing was as frightening to me as a musician losing his or her instruments and songs or the Kardashians losing their audience (or their mirrors).

When the movers finally arrived several days late, some of my belongings were missing. A chunk of my table had been broken off. My drying rack for my laundry was broken as well, and so was one of my bookcases. The other bookcase had been taken apart, and the movers refused to put it back together (even though they were supposed to, according to my contract). All of my boxes were wet and damaged. The movers left fairly quickly, maybe because I kept waving a screwdriver around and shrieking about the cops.

I tried to call the company, but they either told me to file a claim online (though I doubt I'll ever get any money back) or hung up on me repeatedly (which they had done before). I plan to file a claim, as well as a federal complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. I will also post negative reviews of the company all over the Internet, including the Better Business Bureau (which gave this company an F-rating). I've learned my lesson, and the next time I move, I'll do my research. 

But at least I have my writing back. That's something.

What about you? If you faced the prospect of losing all of your belongings, what would you miss most?

Monday, August 3, 2015

No Money, Mo Problems

Last week I visited Small Town, Tennessee to find an apartment and meet my new bosses. Based on what I've observed of Small Town so far, the people there really like fried food, country music, and Jesus. Their favorite word is "ma'am," as in "Yes, ma'am," "No, ma'am," and "Would you like that fried, ma'am?"

Based on the people I talked to, Southerners are polite and friendly, and not only take five minutes to answer every single question but also think it's necessary to tell you their entire life story, even if all you said was, "Is there a Starbucks nearby?"

In Chicago, there's a Starbucks on practically every corner. But the people in Small Town apparently don't like coffee as much as fried food, which makes me wonder where they get all their energy. Maybe it's from listening to all that country music.

I was able to rent an apartment that's more than twice the size of my studio in Chicago for more than a hundred dollars less. But nevertheless, I am going to be thousands of dollars in debt due to this move to Tennessee. And this was AFTER I finally paid off all my credit card debt. (Not to mention I already owe thousands of dollars in student loans.)

I have to pay for movers to transport my furniture, and all the moving companies I called apparently have this motto: We overcharge because WE CAN. I could have had the Salvation Army pick up my unwanted furniture, like my fifteen-year-old lumpy mattress and box spring, for free if I had called them a month in advance. But since I only found out I got this job two weeks ago, I now have to spend hundreds of dollars on 1-800-Got-Junk to recycle/get rid of my furniture.

I am required to attend orientation for new employees. The Human Resources department told me they didn't have specific dates set up yet when I called them a week and a half ago. Of course, after I signed my lease, I learned that the orientation would be held three days before my move-in date. So now I have to spend hundreds of dollars on a rental car and a hotel room (I can't change my move-in date), since my parents aren't coming to Tennessee until a few days later. If I don't attend orientation, I won't be able to access any of my benefits (like health insurance) until October.

My parents are loaning me money for the down payment on a car (which is why they're coming to Tennessee for a few days to "help" me move. They're more likely to "help" me have a panic attack, seeing as how when I visited them during Christmas break, I ground my teeth so hard that one of them broke). I will repay them, and I will also be responsible for monthly car payments, car insurance, and gas.

I've also had to spend money on boxes, masking tape, and bubble wrap, and I have to set aside money to tip the movers. (Question: Do I tip the movers when they come to my apartment in Chicago, or after they deliver it in Tennessee? Or do I tip them both times?)

Since I'm getting rid of my old mattress and my broken desk, I have to buy new ones, which will also cost hundreds of dollars. I might not be able to buy those right away, which means I'll be sleeping on the couch for a while and using my desk in my office at school (and I use the word "office" loosely, since it's currently being used as a storeroom and I was informed that they would "probably get around" to cleaning it out by the time school starts).

Since I am a visiting, untenured faculty member, I get absolutely no financial assistance for my moving expenses from my new school. They also think that moving to a new state is "easy-peasy," which is why they want my syllabi for the classes I'll be teaching ASAP.

I know that I should be grateful that I have a job. I am, especially since it was so hard to find one. But I can't help resenting the fact that I've already had to spend a large percentage of my annual salary for this move, and I haven't even gotten paid yet. I thought I could finally quit my website job, but I'll have to work extra hours instead, and excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

What about you? Have you ever had financial problems or difficulties with the moving process? How did you deal with them?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Difficult Dilemma

I finally found a job, though it's not at the local school that I was hoping for. I'm going to teach full-time at a school in Small Town, Tennessee. Based on the online research I've done so far, the town is a lot like my Midwestern hometown, which I spent eighteen years wanting to escape from.

I wanted to stay in Chicago for at least one more year and teach at one of the local colleges. I also planned to spend more time on my academic research and try to get at least one article published and make one presentation at an academic conference.

But recently a school down South called and offered me a job that I had applied for a while ago. I applied to teach at schools all over the country and was rejected by most of them. Apparently, hundreds of positive evaluations from my students and several years of teaching experience do not matter nearly as much as published articles that might as well be titled "How to Make Yourself Sound Like a Pompous Know-It-All in 500 Words Or Less." But I digress.

I had to make a decision about the job right away, because the fall term is starting next month. I wanted to hold out for the local school, but they couldn't give me an answer yet. So what was I supposed to do: accept a job in an unfamiliar town halfway across the country or hold out for a job that I wanted but might not even get?

My professors were unanimous in their advice. "Go to Tennessee," they said. "It's time for you to move on. Teaching there for a year or two will show other schools that you have experience teaching at urban schools and rural ones and that you're willing to move. This will make it easier for you to get another job."

My parents, of course, were thrilled. They've been pressuring me to leave Chicago for years. They know that I love it here, but that doesn't matter because it's not the place that they want me to live in. Small Town, Tennessee is within driving distance of their home (though not in the same state), which means that they can see me more often. One phone call from them is enough to stress me out for the rest of the day, so I'm not happy at the prospect of moving closer to them.

They've also informed me that they will come with me to Small Town to "help" me move, which means dictating what kind of car I should get, what kind of furniture I should buy (even though I'm paying for this), which stores I should go to, etc., etc. I told them that I can handle it myself, but they're coming anyway. But I will NOT let them control all (or ANY) of the decisions I make.

I took a walk down Michigan Avenue recently. There was a guy marching up and down the sidewalk carrying a sign that said, "REPENT SINNERS" and yelling that everyone was going to hell. I nearly bumped into someone playing a ukulele and singing "Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga. Another guy looked at my chest and said, "Hi, boobies."

Sirens blared, horns honked, and people called out to each other across the street in several different languages. I looked at everything and thought, This is home. This is the one place in the world that I've always loved. This is where I want to be. 

But I don't have a choice. I owe thousands of dollars in student loans. I only have enough money to pay my rent through August. I knew that I would have to leave Chicago eventually, because with a Ph.D. in English, I have to go where the work is. I just didn't think I would have to leave so soon.

What about you? Have you ever made a difficult choice regarding your employment? Have you ever made a cross-country move?

Side note: I might not be able to respond to everyone's comments until later this week, due to issues with moving, but I promise I'll respond!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fake Reviews

When I first started teaching, I found out that there were a few "rate your professor" websites, and I was on them. I found a few good reviews that were written about me, where students praised me for my patience with them; some of the positive reviews indicated that the students planned to take another class with me.

I noticed one weird trend. On one of the websites, students could also rate their professors' looks with a chili pepper, to indicate that they thought their professors were "hot." I, alas, did not get any chili peppers. Maybe if I bothered to wear makeup or brush my hair most mornings (I usually go for the mad scientist look), I would have gotten at least one chili pepper.

There were, however, several bad reviews that were written about me. That's to be expected, because there are many bad reviews about a lot of professors on those sites. Undergrads who are disgruntled about not getting the grades they wanted can write the nastiest stuff they can come up with (and many of them do) and post it online for everyone to see.

The problem was that some of the stuff that was written about me wasn't true. One student falsely claimed that I was never available for office hours. Other students lied that I graded their papers unfairly and played favorites with certain students.

At the end of each term, the students fill out course evaluations about the classes I teach and about my teaching, which are read by my bosses. I keep their comments in mind and make changes to my syllabus or teaching style. Almost all my reviews from the past several years have been positive.

The online reviews, however, are another story. In both cases, the evaluations are anonymous, but I guess students feel freer to be more candid online. It bothers me that students can post incredibly hostile insults about me that aren't even true, and I can't do anything about it.

The moderators of the sites are undergraduates (or former undergrads) who claim that they're "helping" students decide which professors to avoid and which ones they should take classes with. I think they're helping students who are upset over their grades (or anything else) slander their professors. I also think those moderators know NOTHING about teaching, and they wouldn't survive a week on the other side of the desk.

Several of the schools that I applied to for teaching jobs requested copies of my course evaluations, which I sent. But I heard that some search committees also look at those websites, which worried me.

For a moment, I was tempted to post a few more positive reviews about myself. The thing about those sites is that I can pretend to be a student and post whatever I want. I could have written stuff like, "She's the best teacher EVER! People walk into her classrooms saying, "Please, teach me."

But I didn't. Once, a cashier forgot to charge me for an item that I bought. I brought the item back and paid for it, surprising the cashier. If I can't even lie about a two dollar purchase, there's no way I can lie about my work. I hope that the positive evaluations I sent speak for themselves, and that I won't end up having some kind of breakdown where I reenact the end of every Lifetime movie and start shrieking, "If I can't have this job, NO ONE CAN!" while the members of the search committee run in terror.

I have heard, though, of authors who posted fake positive reviews of their work on Amazon and other websites in attempts to get people to buy their books. I can't help wondering what makes them think that's okay, and if anyone has ever been fooled by those reviews.

What about you? What do you think of those rate your professor websites? Have you ever heard of authors who posted fake reviews?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Back into the Writing Groove

When I was finishing my dissertation, I gave up writing almost everything else, including the novels and short stories I was working on. I didn't blog as often as before. Even when I went to coffeehouses, I didn't write in my journal like I used to; I immersed myself in cups of coffee and heavy library books.

Now that I'm finally done with my dissertation (insert joyful music from gospel choir here), it's hard to get back into the writing groove, which is one of the reasons I haven't been blogging as much. I go to coffeehouses to write, and instead find myself checking Twitter several times an hour, where I see Tweets like #CancelYourEngagementZayn, which was trending on Twitter yesterday (apparently some One Direction fans are irate that one of the members is engaged and think that acting like obsessive stalkers will make him break off his engagement and marry one of them, which would only happen on the bizarro planet that they live on). Other times I see Tweets from people ranting about whatever it is they're "offended" by at the moment (Tweets like that make me want to leave Twitter altogether).

Instead of writing, I often find myself making paper airplanes that I try very hard not to throw at the guys who blast videos from their cell phones. Or I roll my eyes at the hipsters with their ginormous headphones.

At home, I sit down at my laptop to write, and instead I check my e-mail to find yet another rejection letter from yet another school. It's been disheartening to be rejected by so many schools, though I know that for every one full-time, untenured faculty position available, there are at least a hundred (or two hundred) applicants vying for it. I feel discouraged, because I spent too many years in grad school. I lost almost everything else that mattered (my twenties, most of my friends, potential boyfriends), and now I feel like it was all for nothing.

There is one school here in Illinois that said they MIGHT hire me, but only if the budget allows it; they can't let me know anything for sure until the end of the month. In the meantime, instead of writing, I've been applying for part-time faculty jobs (the low pay worries me, because then I won't be able to pay my rent AND my minimum student loan payment each month). I've also been considering jobs in retail again (insert primal screaming here) if I can't find any adjunct jobs.

When my professors turned to me after I successfully defended my dissertation and said, "Congratulations, Doctor!" I didn't even feel relieved as I thought I would. I felt worried because I didn't have a job lined up yet.

So needless to say, I've been preoccupied. If I knew what was going to happen this fall, I could relax. But since I don't yet, I can't stop worrying.

At the same time, I still want to write. But it's been so long since I've worked on my fiction and creative nonfiction that it's hard to get back to writing it.

What about you? Have you ever taken a long break from writing? What kinds of things did you do to get back into the writing groove?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ten Questions for a Dating Coach

Recently I was waiting for my coffee at Starbucks and I looked up at the bulletin board, where there was a flyer for a dating coach. On the one hand, I rolled my eyes at the idea of a dating coach. I think that when I go on a date, I should go as myself, not as someone who's "coached" into being the type of person who guys want to go out with.

On the other hand, I thought of all the articles I'd read in women's magazines with titles like, "How to Get a Second Date," or "How to Make Him Want You," or "If He's Not Texting Back, That Means He Likes You." (Okay, I made up that last one, but there ARE articles out there like that.)

People go to coaches or teachers to learn a lot of things. For example, people hire personal trainers to help them lose weight or strengthen their muscles. Athletes hire coaches to help them develop their skills and win competitions or games. My students come to me for help with writing or over-analyzing authors. So why not go to a dating coach, who could tell people what they're doing wrong (or right) when it comes to dating? At the very least it might help to have some support.

I Googled the name of that dating coach. This person's services cost almost a hundred dollars for a one-hour session! Obviously, I can't afford a dating coach, though I probably could if I gave up my coffee habit. (But then I'd end up flipping off a LOT more people than I already do, so I should probably not give up coffee any time soon.)

I did, however, think of some questions that I would ask a dating coach, if I could afford one.

1. How do I get a second date?

2. If he says, "I'll call you," does that mean, "I'm going to delete your number from my phone IMMEDIATELY" every time?

3. When guys don't put pictures in their online dating profiles (and there are a LOT of them), does that mean that a) they're self-conscious about their looks; b) they don't want their girlfriends/wives to know they're online; c) they're in the Witness Protection Program?

4. Would the phrase "I work for the IRS, and I'm going to audit you if you turn out to be a jerk" be a good headline for my online dating profile?

5. When guys write stuff like, "I don't want to date any heavy girls," or "If you weigh more than 135 pounds, don't e-mail me until you lose weight," (I'm not making those up, but I wish I was), is it okay to e-mail them pictures of Victoria's Secret models with the message, "These are the women you will spend years pining for but who will never settle for you"?

6. Why do I only attract the guys who criticize me for not dressing up enough for dates, wait several weeks after our first date to call me, or try to touch me so many times that I have no choice but to "accidentally" trip them?

7. Since everyone is emotionally and physically attached to their cell phones these days, why do some guys take hours to text back?

8. Would the phrase "My biological clock is ticking louder and louder" be a good headline for my online dating profile?

9. What are some good places to meet guys my age who don't reject all the women in their thirties for women in their twenties (or teens)?

10. At what point do you give up on a client and buy him or her a lifetime supply of ice cream?

Maybe the problem isn't just the guys I've gone out with. Maybe it's me. After all, the one common denominator in all those relationships is me. Maybe a dating coach could give me some valuable insight. But right now, of course, hiring a dating coach is not an option for me. I haven't even thought about dating anyone in months, since I've been focused on my dissertation and the job search. I have resolved, though, that once I've secured a good, full-time teaching job, I'll put myself out there again.

What about you? If you could ask a dating coach a question, what would it be? What do you think of people like dating coaches and matchmakers?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Did It! Now What?

I haven't blogged lately because I've been preoccupied with my dissertation defense. I'm happy to say that I successfully defended my dissertation! I will now get my Ph.D., and I am FINALLY done with graduate school! When my committee told me that I passed, I wished I had a hat that I could fling joyfully into the air like Mary Tyler Moore did. I also resisted the urge to run gleefully down the hall, yelling, "I'm FREE!!! Footnotes, be gone! WHEEEE!!!!"

The completion of my dissertation is definitely a relief. It's consumed my life for too long. I sacrificed several fun things that I could have done, like watch Lisa Loeb perform here in Chicago, spend time with my friends, and work on my fiction writing. I worked so hard that I was about five footnotes away from writing the words "REDRUM" and "All work and no play makes Neurotic Workaholic a dull girl" over and over again in my dissertation.

Now I have to focus on finding a job. I've received more rejection e-mails, as well as a couple leads. I could have taken a full-time teaching job at a small school in the South that paid the same salary that the janitors at my school make. I did some research on the small town that the school was located in, and I admit that the caffeine addicted city snob that I am cringed at the idea of living in a town with only one coffee shop (and it wasn't even Starbucks).

I just had an interview with another school in a different state that requires a heavy teaching load (more than most of the other schools I've applied to); it also requires full-time professors to work as advisors. But the salary is very low compared to the amount of work that they expect teachers to do.

The salary that this school is offering is only about a thousand dollars more than the salary offered by another school that I'm interested in, which offers a lighter teaching load and doesn't require professors to work as advisors. I'm still waiting to hear back from that other school, but I'm thinking about withdrawing my application from that school that I did the interview with.

I'm not the type of person who demands or expects a high salary. I just want to earn enough money to live on, with some money left over to pay off my student loans and put in my savings account.

If I took the job with that school, I'd be overworked and underpaid, just like I've been for the past several years. When I work too hard, I get so stressed out that I start screaming at inconsiderate drivers that cut me off and I stand by the tables of WiFi freeloaders in cafes and hold my coffee cup threateningly over their laptops.

I always thought that once I completed my PhD, I'd finally have a chance to breathe. Maybe I could finally find a full-time job that pays enough so I don't have to work a second job (or a third). I'm worried, though, that if this school offers me that job and I turn it down, it may be the only opportunity I have this year for full-time work. And then I'd end up working three part-time jobs again anyway.

Have you ever "settled" for a job that you didn't really want? What are deal breakers for you when it comes to jobs?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Country Mouse and City Mouse

I am still applying for full-time teaching jobs with no luck; I've even contemplated getting my old job back at Expensive Clothing Store, where I would get paid slightly more than the minimum wage to say, "Thank you! Come again!" when I really want to say, "I bet when you sold your soul, Satan flinched and offered a refund."

One of the benefits to being single is that I can apply for jobs pretty much anywhere, since I don't have to worry about how a move to a different city or state would affect my spouse or kids. I'd like to stay in Chicago, but I'd also like to wake up looking like Sofia Vergara tomorrow. Unfortunately, the chances of either situation happening are highly unlikely. The former is especially difficult to achieve, due to the draconian budget cuts that the governor is implementing, which have severely and negatively affected the schools in Illinois.

I've applied for jobs all over the country, everywhere from New York City to tiny towns in West Virginia with only a thousand local residents. I'd prefer to live in a big city, rather than a small town that is similar to the small town that I spent eighteen years wanting to escape from. But most colleges are in smaller or medium-sized towns.

Small town life isn't all bad. I do miss the peace and quiet, and how, when I was a child, I used to lie on the grass next to my dog and hear nothing but birds chirping and my dog barking at passers-by. In the city, I lie on my bed and hear sirens blaring, horns honking, and my neighbors yelling, "Chug! Chug! Chug!" as they gulp down their umpteenth beer.

I don't miss the fact that in a small town, everyone not only knew each other, they knew everyone else's business. So if you made any big or small decision in that town, everyone would know within days (or hours), and they'd be sure to throw in their two cents. I like the anonymity of Chicago, where I can walk down the street and not run into an old acquaintance who wants to rehash one of the many times I publicly embarrassed myself at school.

I miss the sight of farmland and wide open spaces, unlike Chicago, where everyone is always bumping into each other or pushing each other to make space for themselves. I remember crossing the street in my hometown and waving to drivers I recognized, whereas in Chicago drivers are much more likely to honk and scream at me for not moving fast enough. I respond by screaming, "I'll move faster...in HELL!"

I don't miss the fact that in my hometown, it seemed like everyone was expected to be the same. If you were even a little bit different, you were a freak, and everyone treated you like a freak. And that was my life for eighteen years, because I was different. I'm not saying that all small towns are like that, because they're not; I'm sure that other towns are more accepting. But one thing I like about Chicago is that there are a lot of people who are much "freakier" than I am, and here, they're viewed as "cool". I don't have to hide who I am here, and I've always felt more comfortable here than I ever did in my hometown.

It makes me sad when I think about leaving Chicago and all the things I'll miss (which is another post in itself). But I always knew that my time here came with an expiration date. The thing about the academic job market is that you can't afford to be choosy. You have to go where the work is. So if I end up in a town even smaller than the one I grew up in, so be it, as long as I get to teach at a good school. But as my rejection letters pile up, I am starting to lose hope that I'll find anything.

Also, I really don't want to go back to working in retail, because I think that a few days at my old store just might end with several customers running out of the store, shrieking, while I chase after them with a mannequin.

What about you? Do you prefer city life or life in a small town?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Politically Incorrect

Recently, an African American professor named Saida Grundy was hired to teach at Boston University. She got in trouble for writing the following things on Twitter about white people: "Why is white America so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?”

 “Every [Martin Luther King Jr.] week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. And every year [I] find it nearly impossible.”

 “...in other words, deal with your white sh*t [sic], white people. Slavery is a *YALL* thing.”

On Twitter several people wrote #IStandwithSaida in support of her "message," claiming that she wasn't being racist; she was only "stating the truth."

I for one do NOT stand with Saida. I think what she said was incredibly racist. She's also misinformed, because even Africans owned slaves, though admittedly they did not all treat them in the same way that American slave owners treated their slaves.

Boston University criticized her comments, but they did not fire or discipline her in any way. Saida Grundy later "apologized" for her statements, though it sounded less like an apology and more like an attempt to rationalize her vitriol. This bothered me, especially because I know that if I said those things, they wouldn't even consider hiring me for a full-time lecturer position.

Later, a white male professor at Duke got in trouble for saying the following things: 

He said that Asians “didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard” after experiencing discrimination in this country.

He also said, “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white."

Do I agree with what Professor Jerry Hough said? NO. But what bothers me is that the people who were so quick to defend Saida Grundy are now attacking Jerry Hough and calling for him to be fired.

Both professors made generalizations about race, implying/assuming that their statements applied to ALL the people from those groups. They're both wrong. I also think that the same people who were upholding the importance of freedom of speech in their defense of Saida Grundy are hypocrites for attacking Jerry Hough for exercising his right to freedom of speech.

The primary reason I never revealed my name or my face on this blog is because I don't want to get in trouble for what I write. I don't think I've ever written anything that controversial or offensive on this blog, but we are living in an era where everyone is hyper-alert about what's "politically correct" and what's not, and people get offended by almost everything. Teachers cannot even discipline their students anymore without getting verbally attacked by the students' parents or fired by their employers.

As a teacher, I have been falsely accused of racism. A student sent me several nasty e-mails, accusing me of racism, because I only included one book by an African American author on the syllabus for the literature class he was enrolled in. He tried to get me fired by badmouthing me all over the department, though the other professors took my side. I didn't include more African American authors because I also included books by other minorities; there wasn't time to include more. But that student was convinced I was a racist, and he said he felt "victimized" as a result. I refused to back down to him.

Another student informed me that I was racist for including one of Mark Twain's books on my curriculum, due to his use of the n-word. I don't condone the use of that word, but I think there is a lot more to his work than that. Not to mention that student failed to notice or understand Twain's critiques of racism and discrimination in his books. I refused to back down to that student, too.

I understand that it's important to be careful about what I say, especially because I am a teacher. Teachers are held to a different standard, and we can't say or do whatever we want without worrying about how it will affect our reputations or even our jobs.

It bothers me that some people have become so hyper-sensitive about what's politically correct and what's not that they will bully me, scream at me, threaten me, or try to get me fired if I say or do one thing that they don't like. I am NOT and have never been a racist. I do not have a problem with people from other races. I have a problem with people using race as an excuse to attack others.

What about you? What do you think about political correctness? Have you ever been falsely accused of being politically incorrect?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Beyond My Control

Every few weeks, I meet with my doctors to continue my medical treatment for my neurological disorder. I have to meet with more than one doctor, due to the fact that I am suffering from various symptoms. Every time I go, I feel scared.

Whenever I visit the clinics and the hospital, I feel very small. I see blind people wearing sunglasses and walking with canes, and I see others being led by Seeing Eye dogs. There are patients being pushed in wheelchairs, which always gives me a flashback to the night I spent in the emergency room, and orderlies pushed me around the hospital in a wheelchair to get me from one unit to the next. At the hospital, I catch glimpses of people lying in bed, hooked up to machines.

I feel sorry for them, and I wish that I could heal all of them. However, a small, selfish part of me hates seeing them, because I can't help thinking, Am I going to end up like them? Is that my future? 

Since September, I have been to more doctors and undergone more medical procedures than I can count. At first, I got worse, and the neurologist who was treating me increased my medication. She told me that if the medication didn't work, I would have to get brain surgery. If that didn't help, I would go permanently blind.

I've always hated that medication. It made me feel tired all the time, and I lost weight because I barely had the energy to finish a sandwich. It also made me sick on a regular basis. I hated that I was dependent on that medication and on my doctors. One of the things about being a Type A personality is that I am a control freak. The fact that my health is beyond my control frightens me.

When I go in for my treatment, I try to focus on getting better. I try not to think about how my life (and my work) will change completely if I get even worse. The problem with a neurological disorder is that if something goes really wrong, that's it. It's not like I can get a brain transplant.

I try not to think about going blind, but I can't help that either. If I went blind, I wouldn't be able to see Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline, or Grant Park anymore. I wouldn't be able to just go into a bookstore and browse, unless they had books available in Braille. I wouldn't even be able to see the words on my computer or in my journal, which would change my writing process.

I also try not to think about the anger I still feel at my parents for blaming me for getting sick, even though my doctors said they were wrong. I say nothing to my parents about the fact that they haven't asked about my health in months.

I do think about how grateful I am to all of you, for leaving positive, encouraging comments on my blog when I wrote about my diagnosis. I am grateful to those of you who sent me nice e-mails to let me know that you supported me. When I went to the emergency room the first time, I felt so alone, lost, and scared. Reading what you all wrote made me feel better, and it helped me cope with the anger I felt at all the people in my life who weren't there for me.

My doctors say that I am finally getting better, though I still have to stay on the medication (a reduced dosage, at least) and come in for regular medical treatment. They say that what I have is chronic and can't be cured; it could always come back, and then I really might go blind the next time. That's why it's imperative that I find a full-time job with good health insurance that would cover more medical treatment.

I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I hope that I will continue to get better. Thank you to all of you who have been so kind to me. I really appreciate it.

What about you? Have you ever felt like something was beyond your control? How did you deal with it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Uncertain Future

This year I have applied for full-time teaching jobs at eighty schools all over the country. So far, I have been rejected by thirty of them.

It's discouraging, to say the least, to open my mail and find yet another rejection letter. It also makes me scared about what's going to happen in the future. I have just enough money to pay my basic expenses through August. But what will I do after that?

I started working when I was sixteen, as a cashier in a grocery store in the small Midwestern town I grew up in, where I routinely had to tell customers to put shirts on so they wouldn't be made to leave the store (and I tried not to stare at their farmer tans as I told them). I've had a variety of jobs, everything from stuffing envelopes, to resisting the urge to strangle rude customers with the clothes I was trying to sell them, to breaking up fights among troubled high school students, to resisting the urge to fling undergraduates' cell phones out the window.

I've never been unemployed, though I have been underemployed, underpaid, and overworked. When I couldn't find a full-time teaching job after I got a master's degree, I started working as a part-time adjunct instructor at various schools. Adjunct work is difficult because the pay is low; there is no health insurance or benefits; you're hired on an as-needed basis, so you could have a full course load one term and no classes the next. That's why I also worked in retail, and I took on a part-time job for a website.

Despite the fact that I'm a workaholic, I never liked working multiple jobs. I was tired all the time. I was screamed at and disrespected by some of my students, my customers, and my supervisors. I accepted it because I had few other options, though I often cried privately when it got to be too much. The harder I worked, the more my personality hardened: I went from being cheerful, friendly, and optimistic to stressed, antisocial, and cynical.

Now I'm close to finishing my dissertation, and I'll be defending it in about a month. If it doesn't get approved, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away. If it does get approved, I'll finally have my PhD. But the question is, what happens next?

I've applied to large research universities, small four-year colleges, and community colleges. I've applied to posh boarding schools, because they occasionally hire PhDs. I've even applied for tutoring jobs at university writing centers, even though they pay tens of thousands dollars less than teaching jobs do. But with the exception of one school, who was interested in hiring me until they found someone with more impressive credentials, I have no other job leads.

It bothers me that even though I am a good teacher with hundreds of positive evaluations from my students, someone with a longer list of academic publications and awards is much more likely to get the job. What most of these search committees are looking for is someone who has excelled as a scholar, while his or her teaching record is much less important. I think it should be the other way around, but I'm in the minority on that issue.

The chair of the English department at my school told the PhD candidates that it was normal not to find a tenure-track position within the first year and that the search could take at least two more years. Even after that, we still might not find one. But in the meantime, I still have bills to pay, and I can't even get a job as an untenured, full-time lecturer at a community college in the Middle of Nowhere, USA.

It's depressing and scary to think that I could be rejected by fifty more schools. After I get my PhD, it'll (hopefully) be easier to find a job. But in the meantime, I may have to go back to work in retail (if I do, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away), continue working as an adjunct, and increase the hours at my website job.

Even if I worked three jobs again, I wouldn't necessarily have enough money to live on. As an experienced salesgirl, I would get paid more. But I would get fewer hours, because it's cheaper for the employers to give hours to the ones with less experience. Adjuncts make little more (or in some cases, less) than retail workers. For example, I was once offered a teaching job that would have paid less than a hundred dollars a week (before taxes). I could get health insurance as a salesgirl (but not as an adjunct instructor), but it's very basic insurance, which wouldn't cover the specialized treatment I need for my neurological disorder.

But I will do what I have to do. I will NOT ask my parents for money, for reasons that are better left unwritten. I've heard of other untenured faculty who had to live on food stamps, but hopefully I won't have to do that. I may, however, have to sign up for Medicaid.

Right now I'm still waiting to hear back from those other schools that haven't rejected me. A lot of them just posted their ads in March and April and won't start reviewing applications until May, so I won't hear anything until June at the earliest. The uncertainty is the worst. I just want to know, one way or another, what's going to happen, so that I can figure out where to go from there.

What about you? Have you ever had difficulty finding a job in your desired field?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cell Phone Addicts

Do you remember when cell phones were these huge devices that only made phone calls and were meant to just be used for emergencies? Do you remember when cell phones were considered luxuries and only rich people who had names like Thaddeus Waltham Jameson III, Esq. owned them? Can we go back to those days please?

Once I went to a movie where some teenage girl answered her cell phone during the movie. She deliberately put the call on speaker phone, and when the person who called her asked, "So what are you doing right now?" she answered, "Nothing much," and proceeded to talk loudly until everyone in the audience groaned collectively and acted like they were going to unleash their wrath and their popcorn upon her head. She finally walked out of the theater, continuing to chat with her friend on the phone.

When I study in coffee shops, I often notice people sitting nearby, who are on dates or hanging out with their friends. I can't help wondering if those people would be happier sitting at home alone with their true loves, specifically their cell phones, because they usually spend 95% of the time texting/Tweeting/taking selfies than actually talking to the people in front of them. I always think that if I were to grab the food they're eating and then lie across their table eating the food while talking about how lame it is to be obsessed with electronic devices, they wouldn't even look up from their phones.

I have a particular acquaintance who will text me and then disappear for hours during the middle of our conversation. Then he will come back hours later and start texting me again, without apology or explanation for the long absence. This person does this every time we text each other. The last time he did it, I asked him why he stopped texting for so long. But I made the mistake of texting my question to him, and he did not respond until A DAY LATER.

When this person does that, it makes me think that maybe he's multi-tasking or texting other friends while texting me. But the fact that I always have to wait hours for a response makes me feel like my conversation (and my feelings) do not matter at all.

When I was doing the online dating thing, guys rarely called. They preferred texting, because apparently it was less nerve-wracking for them. I don't expect long love letters like women in the past received from their suitors, but it would be nice to get something more than a text that says, "Hey what's up?" or a text that has nothing but winking emojis in it. (It's like, really? I'm 34, not 14.) I once dated a guy who spent more time texting (I suspected he was texting other women during our date) than he did actually looking at me. It was like, "Perhaps you should order a drink for your cell phone, too?"

I admit that I freaked out when my cell phone was stolen recently. Even though I don't know how to use more than half the apps on it, I do use it for e-mail, phone calls, Twitter, and the Internet. Still, if I'm with friends, I always focus on THEM, not my phone. I miss the days when I could walk around outside, go to a cafe, or ride the bus without looking around to see almost everyone glued to their phones. I don't think it's just about the desire to be constantly connected anymore. I think it's about the desire to be constantly entertained. But when people focus so much on their devices, they end up missing out on the real world around them, and I think that's wrong and kind of sad.

What about you? What are some of your pet peeves regarding your cell phones and the people who are addicted to them?

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Think Karma Is Broken

Recently, I was walking past a doctor's office when I found a debit card on the ground. For a moment, visions of paid bills and Prada bags danced through my head. But I didn't use the card, of course. I made sure that the bank listed on the card was alerted that the card had been found. After all, if I had tried to use the card, it could have gotten traced back to me. Then there would have been visions of me in a prison jumpsuit dancing through my head, only they wouldn't just be visions; they'd be reality.

Once I found a Kindle. This was before I had the money to buy my own e-reader. I could have kept it, and it wouldn't necessarily have gotten traced back to me. But the owner of the Kindle had put his name and e-mail address on the back, probably so that if he ever lost it, the e-reader could be returned to him. So I contacted him, and he was grateful to get it back. And I felt good that I had done the right thing.

The other day I was studying in a coffee shop, and I accidentally left my cell phone on the sink in the bathroom. When I realized my mistake and went back to get it less than half an hour later, my phone was gone. The baristas said no one turned it in.

I was at the coffee shop that day because I had a coupon for a free cup of coffee. Ironically, that free cup ended up costing me more than a hundred dollars, because I had to pay for a replacement phone (fortunately, I had insurance on my old phone, so I didn't have to pay full price), a memory card, and a new case. I spent more than an hour at the phone store, learning about how to remotely wipe the data from my old phone so the thief couldn't access it, lock my new phone, and back up the data on my new phone. I foolishly did not back up most of the data on my old one, so I lost all the pictures I'd taken, including the ones from my trip to New York.)

I also had to keep running down to the mailboxes of my building to check for the delivery of my new phone, because my loser neighbors have a bad habit of not only stealing my magazines (I actually had to cancel all my subscriptions) but also my packages. I once put up a note asking for the return of my mail, and the losers put up their own note mocking me for their theft and saying they would do it again if they found more of my mail (the postal workers keep putting the wrong mail in the mailboxes. I tried to file more than one complaint about it, and the post office retaliated by giving my number to one of those workers, who called me to scream at me and blame ME for getting the wrong mail, as if it was my fault she kept doing a bad job). Fortunately, I got to my new phone before those leeches did, so they couldn't steal it.

The theft of my cell phone really pissed me off. I always try to do the right thing (though admittedly I don't always succeed). I don't keep things that don't belong to me. The one exception is when I find coins on the ground, because who's going to run back and search for a quarter or a couple of pennies, right?

But unfortunately, some people aren't honest. Some people are selfish thieves and just immoral. This isn't the first time I've gotten robbed, because this is Chicago, after all. I've gotten mugged and pickpocketed on more than one occasion, which is why I never carry a lot of cash or major credit cards with me. Once I accidentally left my coin purse in a bathroom at one of the schools where I teach. I went back less than five minutes later, to find the purse still there but all the coins missing. And I don't think it's a coincidence that not long after some of my mail went missing, someone tried to open up a bunch of credit cards with my information; fortunately, my credit card company stopped them and alerted me to what was going on.

It's times like those that make me wonder why I even bother trying to be considerate and honest. I know it's the right thing to do, but it doesn't always pay off. Even when I try to help people, it occasionally ends up backfiring.

For example, once I saw an old woman struggling with a shopping bag as she went down the stairs of an El station. The bag split open, and all the things inside fell out. Other people walked by, some of them trampling over her things without a second glance. I said, "Here, let me help you with that," and I tried to pick up what she had dropped. She screamed at me to keep my hands off her stuff and accused me of trying to steal it. I quickly backed away and let the old witch take care of it herself.

In spite of creeps like that, I will continue to try to do the right thing. If I find something valuable again, I won't keep it; I'll make sure it gets returned. I have enough Catholic guilt in me to motivate me, after all. But it still discourages me and makes me mad that no matter how nice I try to be to people, I still end up getting screwed again and again. It bothers me that some of the worst people in the world end up rich, successful, and getting everything else that they want, like karma isn't real after all. It's not like I help people with the expectation of being repaid every time, but it would be nice if people would show me the same consideration and at the very least return my possessions. But maybe that's expecting too much.

What about you? Have you ever gotten robbed? Have you ever tried to help someone, only for your efforts to end up backfiring? How do you deal with people like that?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Go Fund Yourself

Recently I read an article about a guy who started a gofundme campaign so that he could buy a plane ticket to Florida, where his girlfriend had gone on spring break. He was worried that she would cheat on him during the trip. He even got upset that a swimsuit picture she'd posted online got 200 "likes." (Jealous and insecure, your table is ready.) His campaign was successful; he took the trip to Florida, and his girlfriend didn't think he was possessive AT ALL.

I also read that almost a million dollars has been donated to a gofundme campaign for the owners of Memories Pizza in Indiana, who suffered a huge backlash after one of the proprietors said that he "chose" to be heterosexual and that he believed others "chose" to be homosexual. The owners also said that while they would still serve pizza to gay people, they would not cater a gay wedding.

Who would serve pizza at a wedding? (The only people who would like that are probably the people who don't think it's necessary to wear a shirt when they get married, like the ones I saw on a reality show recently.) I think the owners said that to make it clear that they supported that "religious freedom" act. I thought about the kind, funny, and good people I've met in Chicago, who are gay. None would choose to be homosexual, because why choose an identity that motivates other people to discriminate against you, beat you, or renounce you? While people have a right to practice their own religions, I don't think they should be given thousands of dollars for discriminating against other people who are different from them.

I wrote a blog post about Karyn Bosnak, who asked for money on the Internet (before gofundme even existed) in order to pay her $20,000 credit card bill. Many people responded with money and gifts. At the time I thought it was cool. Countless gofundme campaigns later, I'm not so sure.

I like the idea of strangers helping each other. There are legitimate campaigns out there. For example, I donated a small sum to a campaign for a homeless man who did not want to be separated from his dog, because the dog was all he had left. Both the man and the dog no longer have to live on the streets, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

I've heard of other campaigns where people ask for money for lifesaving surgeries, or they ask for help when they are struggling to support their families. It's great when people show compassion for each other.

I hoped to travel this summer, either to make a second trip to New York or to travel someplace else I've never been, like Boston or Seattle. I need a new laptop, because my current one keeps breaking down. I'd like to move out of my 300-square foot apartment, with its cracked walls and constantly non-functioning shower and fridge. My neighbors leave beer cans in the elevator and steal my magazines, and one especially loud neighbor is either an amateur porn star who streams videos from her apartment or just really loves her boyfriend.

But this year, my health problems (which I'll write more about later) were very costly. Even though my insurance paid for most of my treatment, I was still on the hook for more than a thousand dollars. My student insurance will end once I complete my PhD (which will hopefully be this summer), but I still need health insurance for ongoing treatment. I also owe thousands of dollars in student loans. I have barely enough money to get me through this summer. After that, if I don't find a full-time job, I'll be screwed.

Will I start a gofundme campaign for myself? No. I hated that I even had to sign up for student loans. I worked full-time for as long as I could. I think that some people give gofundme campaigns a bad name, like the guy who started one in order to go to a comic book convention, students who want money to enroll in study abroad programs, and a couple who wanted a vow renewal ceremony.

I think that people should continue helping each other, but everyone has their limit. What about you? Have you ever donated to a gofundme campaign? What do you think of these campaigns?

Monday, March 30, 2015

My Thirties Are Showing

1. In 1995, when My So-Called Life was still on the air, I was a year younger than the show's main character, Angela Chase. I, like, totally related to her teenage angst and her crush on Jordan Catalano.

In 2015, I am now closer in age to Angela's mother, and I think that Angela was a little too self-centered and spoiled. I also think Jordan Catalano needed a haircut.

2. I do not think guys in their early to mid-twenties are attractive, because they make me feel old.

3. I have no idea what Snapchat or Yik Yak is. I also don't understand why Instagram is interesting, because I really don't care what other people are having for lunch.

4. Listening to twenty-two-year olds talk about their weekend plans makes me think I would need to drink several energy drinks just to be able to stay up as late as they do.

5. My students stare blankly at me when I make pop cultural references to the nineties, because most of them were born at the end of that decade.

6. I started browsing online and in stores for beauty products that will make me look younger, because my face has wrinkles, probably from all the times I scowled at younger people who got on my nerves.

7. I can't even understand half of what younger people say, text, or Tweet these days. It's like they have their own language, using abbreviations like "OMG" and "ILY" and words like "totes" and "bae." I looked up the definition for "bae", and I found out that it means "Before Anyone Else." It's supposed to refer to your significant other. But "bae" is also the Danish word for "poop." (I don't think most younger people are aware of that.)

8. I didn't grow up using a cell phone like young people today do. So when students send me irate e-mails demanding to know why I haven't responded to their other e-mails, which they sent two or three hours before, I tell them it's because I don't check my phone 237 times an hour like they do.

9. I've always hated posing for pictures, which is one of the reasons I don't post any pictures of myself on my blog. So I don't get the obsession with taking selfies. It's like, "Hey, I'm out to dinner with my friends! I'm going to take a selfie," or "Hey, I'm shopping for new clothes! I'm going to take a selfie," or "Hey, I'm standing outside a café where people are being held hostage! I hope I look good in my selfie."

(I swear I'm not making the last one up. I heard about a situation where people were held hostage in a café, and while law enforcement officers were trying to rescue them, random civilians were standing nearby, posing for selfies. Could they be more insensitive and despicable? I wish I could have whapped their cell phones out of their hands with those selfie sticks that people are buying these days.)

10. Forty no longer seems old to me, since my thirty-fourth birthday is this Wednesday, which means my fortieth birthday is just six years away. I do, however, still hear the Jaws theme song whenever I think about turning forty.

What about you? When do you feel like your age is showing, or are there ever times where you don't understand the latest trend?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hello Is Not an Invitation

Almost every time I talk to my mother on the phone, she wants to know, "Do you have a boyfriend yet?" When I tell her no, she often reminds me that I am getting older; I am an old maid; her friends' daughters (many of whom are younger than me) are now married with children.

I never told her about He-Who-I-Shall-Not-Name-Without-Spitting-on-The-Ground-and-Cursing. I haven't told her about most of the other guys I've dated, who are the reasons that chastity belts should make a comeback.

Recently, there was a controversy over a video that was made of a woman walking around and that featured all the men calling out to her. A lot of people criticized the video, because some of the men were "only" saying hello and therefore the woman should feel flattered, not upset. In all the years I've lived in Chicago, guys have tried to come on to me in public on a regular basis. It doesn't make me feel flattered, attractive or special. It makes me feel wary, annoyed, and scared.

Last week, I was walking home from the train station when I saw a guy walking towards me. I tried to step out of his way, but he blocked my path and jumped at me, arms outstretched, as he yelled something nonsensical at me. I stepped away again and he kept lunging at me, before walking off and saying, "Dumb bitch." I yelled after him something that rhymes with "Buck shoe." Maybe I shouldn't have, but I was angry that he thought it was okay to attack a stranger who hadn't even done anything to him.

One day I was on my way to a bookstore and a guy said, "Hello." I made the mistake of saying hello back, and he took that as an invitation to follow me down the street. When I ignored him, he started screaming at me and calling me a racist. (FYI: I am NOT a racist. I ignored him not because his ethnicity was different but because he was way too aggressive, which turned me off.)

That's happened to me before. When I reject or ignore creeps like that, they accuse me of being a racist, an idiot, a lesbian, a bitch, etc. It infuriates me that jerks think it's okay to harass women and then insult them when the women try to walk away. How would they feel if women did that to them? These losers just don't understand how scary and intimidating it can be when you're a woman walking alone, no matter what time of day it is, when you are well aware of what can happen (especially in a city like Chicago, which unfortunately is well-known for its violence).

I've seen women do it too, though to a lesser extent. Once I saw a woman trying to strike up a conversation with a guy who was at least fifteen years younger than her. He was polite but clearly not interested, and she clearly didn't get it. He finally told her that he just wanted to be left alone, and she walked away.

Sometimes, the guys aren't creepy so much as just clueless. I was studying in a coffee shop and one of the old men who are omnipresent in coffee shops (they're usually playing chess, reading the paper, or chatting with baristas) struck up a conversation with me. He invited me to have dinner with him sometime, and I politely declined, though I wanted to say, "If you weren't old enough to be my grandfather, I might say yes. But you are, so NO!"

I don't tell my parents about this. They'd just see it as more evidence of why I need to leave Chicago, because they want me to live in the same city as them, where they can control where I live, where I work, and even what kinds of groceries I should buy. I'd rather stay in a city that I chose, even if it means dealing with creeps on a regular basis.

I'm not saying it's never okay for men to approach women. It's just that there's a time and a place for everything. And if a woman makes it clear that she's not interested, then the guy should BACK OFF and not insult her.

The last guy I liked, who liked me back, wasn't someone I met online. He was someone who struck up a conversation with me one day, and we just kept talking. Unlike all those other guys I mentioned, he wasn't violent, insulting, creepy, or old enough to be my father (or grandfather). He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He didn't show his true colors until much later. 

What about you? Do you ever get harassed or approached by guys who think that hello or even just eye contact is an invitation? How do you deal with it?