Sunday, December 18, 2016

Facebook's Version, or Why I Bought a Selfie Stick

I recently did something that I vowed that I would never do. I joined Facebook.

When Facebook first came out, I was already in my mid-twenties and working three jobs by then, so I had neither the time or the interest to join the site. Maybe if I had been a few years younger and enjoyed taking dozens of pictures of myself, posing with a pout and tight clothes in front of my bathroom mirror, I would have joined.

Side note: I'd love to friend all of you on Facebook, but I prefer not to reveal my real identity on this blog. Also, I like having a secret online alter ego, kind of like Batman except without the cool car and the superhuman strength (unless you count obsessiveness as a super power, in which case I AM Batman).

Also, based on what I've heard, it always seemed like there was a lot of Facebook drama, with people saying stuff like, "Why does your relationship status still say 'single'? Do you not care about me at all?" or "They're still mad at me because I unfriended them, but it's like, I don't want to know what they're having for lunch every day! That's what Instagram is for!"

But I finally decided to join because most of my friends in Small Town are on it, and they often organize parties and other get-togethers through Facebook. The only way I would find out about any of these events was if they invited me or if I texted them to find out which bar we were meeting at. I always felt like I was out of the loop.

Speaking of feeling out of the loop, one of the first things I saw on Facebook was New Girl's page. She'd posted pictures of the big Christmas party she hosted recently, and tagged several of my friends, who were invited. I know that it's her party, and she has the right to invite or exclude whoever she wants. But I must admit that it did hurt to see pictures of practically everyone in our social circle at the party and to know that she deliberately excluded me. (See what I mean? Drama.) That's why I didn't even try to "friend" her online. I already tried that offline and it didn't end so well.

Seeing those pictures made me feel like I was the high school wallflower all over again. I can't say anything about it to Small Town Guy, though, because although they're not dating, they are close friends and his picture was all over her page.

Speaking of high school, I sent friend requests to a couple of old high school friends. It was interesting to find out what they'd been up to since graduation. But then several other people from high school sent me friend requests. I realized too late that my profile would show up on those other people's Facebook pages, as well as the "people you may know" list.

Although I accepted their requests, one of the other reasons I didn't join this site before was because I didn't want anyone I went to school with to see me, at least not until I was thinner, more successful, and married to an Abercrombie and Fitch model.

When I looked at my old friends and classmates' pages, I was struck by how "grownup" everyone looked. True, it had been more than seventeen years since we'd seen each other (God, that makes me feel old.). But it was more than that. They posted what I think of as the Facebook version of their lives, with their beautiful wedding portraits and pictures of their smiling children. Their updates included posts about parenting, breastfeeding, and the best place to buy a mattress.

While all those other people were traveling around the world, getting married, and having children, I was working, attending graduate school, and yelling at my loud neighbors (the last time I asked them to keep it down was at 2 A.M. on a Wednesday night. They said, "Oh, are you sleeping right now?" And I was all, "YES! Why aren't YOU?")

That's partly I have few recent pictures of myself. The other reason is I don't like the way I look in pictures. My lack of pictures made me feel inadequate, like I had less to show for my life than theirs. I know that's not true, because I've accomplished and experienced a lot of things too. It's just that I spent more time documenting these things through writing than through pictures, and I have a stack of journals and blog posts to prove it. That's why I like Twitter and blogging better, because there's no pressure to post pictures; the point is to express yourself through words.

I bought a selfie stick, though I was embarrassed to ask the people at the store if they sold any. I had trouble using it; I kept accidentally taking pictures of the side of my face or forehead, and my arm got tired holding it up. I only managed to get one decent picture of myself. Then I discovered the "filter" option, and I ended up looking like a cast member for The Real Housewives. How do Millennials do this all the time?

What about you? What do you think of Facebook? If you're on the site, did you ever deal with any drama with friend requests or Facebook posts?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Friends with Money

Recently, I was at a bar with some friends when a couple of them started teasing me about how much soda I drink. I told one of them (who I shall refer to in this blog as Guy Friend) that I've actually been drinking a lot less soda lately, which is true. One reason is that I'm trying to lose weight. Another reason is that when I drink too much soda the walls start moving.

But Guy Friend didn't believe me. Neither did my other friend, who said that he pictured me with an IV full of soda. I didn't say anything about the fact that most of the time, the majority of these friends only want to go to bars and drink beer. I figure, if they want to drink all that alcohol, it's their prerogative, their money, and their livers.

But I don't like bars, and I don't like alcohol either. I go anyway, because I enjoy these people's company, and I just want to be their friend. I usually just buy a soda, because it's cheaper, comes with free refills, and is less likely to cause me to slap myself in the face (which is what happened the one time I drank a cocktail several months ago).

I also don't like being made fun of. At one point, I started arguing with them, and I raised my voice (though I didn't yell). The others looked uncomfortable, so I left early. Later, I texted Guy Friend and I told him how much it bothered me when he said that he and the other friends had been talking about how "concerned" they were about me. They were "concerned" because I mentioned that I ate cookies for dinner one night; they thought I ate too much junk food. What they didn't know was that I ate cookies that night because I had no other food in my apartment; I wasn't getting paid until the next day and did not have enough money to buy more food; I was hungry, so I ate the cookies. I did not appreciate their "concern," or the fact that they talked about me behind my back.

I explained that to Guy Friend, and he apologized. A couple weeks later, he gave me a DVD as an "I'm sorry" gift, and I did appreciate that. But then that same night, when we were at another bar, I mentioned that I had to leave early in order to go home and finish work for my website job. I asked them if they knew where the waitress was so that I could pay for my soda. Small Town Guy said that he would pay for my bill and that I didn't have to repay him, though ultimately, Guy Friend paid it.

When I thought about it later, I realized that I felt uncomfortable with either of them (or anyone else) paying my tab. It would have been one thing if it was my birthday, because then it would be a gift. But on any other day, I DON'T let my friends pay my tab, because that's like asking them for money, which is something that I have never done and will never do.

I've worked multiple jobs since I was twenty-two, because I am determined to stand on my own two feet. When I finally had to take out a loan during my last two years of grad school, it was only because I was desperate to finish my dissertation and started having panic attacks from working so hard at all those jobs. But I was angry at myself for not being able to pay for everything on my own, especially because it meant being in debt for the next 15-20 years.

I didn't say anything to Small Town Guy that night, because we were all celebrating a big promotion he got at work. But what I wanted to say was, "I may not be as rich or as successful as you are, but I don't need your charity." I also wished that it hadn't happened in front of New Girl (aka Cruella de Vil) who also has a much more prestigious job than I do, which I suspect is one of the reasons she has never been friendly to me. I don't even try to talk to her anymore at social events, and she ignores me too. (Side note: She's having a big Christmas party soon and invited everyone except me. When I found out, I felt tempted to buy a bunch of toilet paper and TP her house the day of the party.)

I texted Small Town Guy and told him that I didn't need him to pay my tab in the future, because I worked hard and could pay for my own stuff. He never answered. I put a few bucks in an envelope and went to Guy Friend's office during my lunch break, dropping the money off with the secretary. He didn't say anything about it either.

I know it wasn't a big deal to any of them, but it was to me. I felt embarrassed. I know they thought they were just doing me a favor, and I shouldn't have let them pay my tab in the first place. I should have just given them the money to give to the waitress. But I don't think they would understand. They got to hang out at the bar for as long as they wanted and buy as many drinks as they wanted, while I had to go home and work late for my second job, so that I could afford to buy something other than cookies.

What about you? Have you ever felt self-conscious about money or around rich friends?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Socializing in Your 20s vs. Your 30s

20-something friend: The club opens at nine-thirty, but no one cool shows up until ten-thirty. So let's get there by eleven.

30-something friend: I need to be home by nine-thirty, because the babysitter can only stay until then.

20-something friend: Let's do something fun this weekend! Let's go to that new club/bar/skydiving place!

30-something friend: Let's do something fun this weekend! How about instead of board games, we have a themed potluck dinner?

20-something friend: Oh my God, my boyfriend/girlfriend just did the cutest thing for me! He/she filled up my apartment with flowers/took me out to an expensive restaurant/wrote "I love you" in skywriting with a plane that he/she flew on his/her own!

30-something friend: Oh my God, my spouse just did the sweetest thing for me! He/she did the dishes/folded the laundry/mowed the lawn!

20-something friend: My boyfriend/girlfriend is so adorable. (pulls out phone and shows at least half a dozen pictures of significant other in adorable poses, like the two of them drinking a milkshake with two straws in the same glass.)

30-something friend: My kids are so adorable! (pulls out phone and shows at least a dozen pictures of children in adorable poses, like one where the children have ice cream all over their faces).

20-something friend: I've been at this job for a few months, and I HATE it. Maybe I should go to grad school or take a break, especially because I'm sure my band will make it big sooner rather than later.

30-something friend: I've been at this job for years, and I HATE it. But I can't take a break right now, because I need to take care of my family.

20-something friend: I want an outfit that says, "Come hither, but only if you're the type of person that will text back right away."

30-something friend: I want an outfit that says, "I look ten years younger than I actually am, especially because this 'age-defying' face cream isn't working."

I missed out on a lot of socializing in my twenties, because I was almost always working. I truly regret that, because I feel like I sacrificed my youth and missed out on a lot of fun. But on the rare occasions that I did go out, a few of my friends actually were like that (though we never went skydiving. I don't even like riding the elevator). And after spending the last several years teaching students in their early twenties and hearing them chat with each other, I know for a fact that people in their twenties DO act like that.

Now that I'm in my thirties, my friends are almost exactly like the ones I just described above. Although I usually prefer a quieter life, I must admit that there are a few occasions where I wish I could be in my twenties again and go out dancing until 3 A.M., without having to worry about getting up early for work in the morning. (I could do that now, but my 30-something friends probably wouldn't want to come along, because they'd need to get home early to pay the babysitter, take care of their kids, and maybe take pictures of them with ice cream on their faces.)

What about you? How has socializing changed for you as you got older?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Coping Mechanisms

Lately I've resorted to using coping mechanisms, because working seven days a week (with no days off) at a full-time job and a part-time job, in addition to applying for teaching jobs for next year and trying to make time for academic research has been very stressful. Since my situation will not get easier any time soon, I've relied on some of the following techniques:

1. Listening to (and occasionally singing along with) my favorite songs: As an English teacher, I almost always have a stack of papers to grade. When you read dozens of essays on the same topic, it can make you fall asleep sitting up. That's why I keep YouTube and iTunes open on my computer, so that I can play my favorite songs while I'm working.

For some reason, it often makes me feel better when I sing along to the radio when I'm driving. Sometimes I get carried away, though; recently, during a rare traffic jam on one of Small Town's few main streets, I was singing along to "Vogue" by Madonna, complete with the "Vogue" hand gestures she did in her music video. I heard some people laughing in the car beside me, and I turned my head to see a group of my students watching me. "Hey, Professor!" they called out. If it wasn't for the fact that I would have caused an accident, I would have slunk down in my seat until they drove past. I waved back and said, "Hi kids! I'm just, uh, listening to Madonna for research purposes." (What? I was caught off guard.) That's the thing about living in a small town: you're much more likely to run into (and embarrass yourself in front of) people you know on a regular basis.

2. Making time to write: Although I can't write every day, at least three or four times a week I sit down to work on one of my manuscripts before I do work for my teaching job or my website job. It helps to write something other than, "Your thesis statement is too vague," or "Your citations are incorrect," or "Although you clearly have valid reasons for being mad at your roommate, you should not discuss them in your research paper." Knowing that I get to write fiction makes it a lot easier to sit down at my desk in the first place, and even if I don't get to write for as long as I'd like, it makes me feel good to know that I got some writing down.

3. Reading a good book before bed: I spend hours every day reading stuff for work, but for at least fifteen or twenty minutes before I go to sleep I try to relax by reading a novel or a memoir. I just finished reading the actress Isabel Gillies' memoir, Happens Every Day, where she describes following her professor husband to Ohio (and her description of life in academia is spot-on) as well as the breakdown of her marriage when he fell in love with another woman. Her writing made me feel like I was walking along the streets of Oberlin, Ohio with her, and the emotion she conveyed made me so angry at her selfish, condescending, and unfaithful ex-husband.

She also did something that is similar to the work of other authors I've admired (like Dave Barry, Jen Lancaster, David Sedaris, Natalie Goldberg, etc.): she described ordinary life in a way that was extraordinary. That is, she described simple things like going to the farmer's market and taking care of her kids in a way that made it sound interesting and heartfelt. That's the kind of thing that I try to do in my own writing.

Reading good books like that help me feel less annoyed about constantly being stuck behind cars going less than twenty miles an hour in both lanes, spending extra hours grading late papers, and people who take five minutes to order one cup of coffee (which is never a good idea when they're standing in front of a sleep-deprived, neurotic workaholic who may or may not end up cursing them in three different languages).

4. Socializing with friends: The new friends I've made in Small Town have made me realize that there should be more to life than work. Recently, I had my usual stack of work to do, but I decided to set it aside for one night so that I could go out for dinner with my friends. Even though it meant I had to work extra hours the next day, it was worth it because I had good food, good conversation, and good friends to share them with.

What about you? What kinds of coping mechanisms do you rely on when you get stressed out?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


When I first moved to Small Town, I didn't know anyone there or even anyone who lived in that entire state. That's why I was very grateful to Small Town Guy, who introduced me to his circle of friends. They have all been very kind and welcoming to me. We regularly go out for dinner together, or we hang out at a bar in town. Whenever it's someone's birthday, we either throw a party for that person at someone's house or take them out to dinner.

Recently, a person new to Small Town joined the group. I'll refer to her as New Girl. She is attractive, successful, and only a few years younger than me. I thought it would be nice if we became friends. 

But every single time I've tried to talk to her, she moved to talk to someone else within minutes or even seconds. For example, last weekend I attended a party at someone's house. New Girl was there, and I sat down beside her and struck up a conversation. I barely said three sentences to her before she quickly got up and stood next to someone else on the other side of the room.

I don't expect her or anyone else to spend the entire time talking to me, or even half the time, and it's not like I follow her around all the time, because I don't. Still, it would be nice to have a conversation that lasts more than a couple minutes (or in this case, more than thirty seconds). I wondered if maybe I had done something to offend her. It's not like I told her about how I can name any Britney Spears song in five notes or less. I didn't tell her about all the times that I deliberately sneezed and/or coughed on people who cut in front of me. I didn't tell her about how I wish I could put Kick Me signs on the backs of Trump supporters. 

Instead, I was friendly and polite to her, and I asked her questions about herself. But she acted like she didn't want to talk to me. New Girl does not, however, act like this with anyone else in the group, at least not from what I can tell. She is also very friendly to Small Town Guy. 

I arrived at the party after they did, so I can't be sure, but I am fairly certain that they came to the party together. Maybe he just gave her a ride, or maybe she came as his date; either way, I found myself clenching my fists under the table. I haven't harbored any feelings for Small Town Guy in a long time. I've accepted the fact that he and I will always just be friends.

It's not like I listen to Adele's songs in my spare time, weeping, "Her lyrics just speak to me!" Instead, I listen to country songs like this one (hey, I live in the South now, and I'm about three "y'alls" away from driving a pickup truck):

Months ago, when I first developed feelings for him, somehow I knew it wouldn't end the way I wanted it to. I thought that was just my low self-esteem talking, but maybe it was my heart's way of telling me that he wasn't the one.

Still, the idea of him with someone else, especially someone like her, stung a little.

From now on, I will not snub New Girl (the way it feels like she's snubbed me) or be mean to her. Maybe I'm wrong about her. Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive. But on the other hand, I won't go out of my way to talk to her anymore. If she's not interested in talking to me or being friends with me, that's her prerogative. But at the same time, being around her reminded me of being around some of the girls from high school. That night at the party, I felt like the wallflower I was back then, when my classmates voted me "Most Likely to Become a Nun."

What about you? Have you ever dealt with someone that all of your friends liked but whom you were unsure about? Have you ever dealt with someone who snubbed you? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On the Road Again

Whenever university administrators talk about the need for making budget cuts, I can't help thinking of their six-figure salaries and how they have more than enough money for food, nice clothes, and country club memberships where they can get together with their rich friends and talk about how hard life is.

At the school where I teach, there's talk of budget cuts. Although I am a full-time faculty member, my untenured status means that I might not have a job next year. When I first came here, they told me my contract could be renewed for up to three years, and that many people stayed longer. But now they're advising me to apply for jobs elsewhere, just in case, which makes me angry; I could have stayed where I was before and saved thousands of dollars.

I'm applying for everything that I'm remotely qualified for: postdoctoral fellowships, lecturer positions, and tenure-track jobs. I doubt I'll get a tenure-track job, though, due to the fact that I don't have enough publications. I've been trying to work on my research, but my two jobs are why I've been working more than fifty hours a week with no days off. I was so stressed out that the other night I had nightmares about being attacked by raccoons (WTF?) and being crushed by stacks of students' papers while having a bunch of red pens thrown at me.

I think that I can afford to be a little more choosy about where to work, despite my lack of academic publications. I have my PhD now, as well as recommendation letters from my bosses, teaching experience at both rural and urban colleges, and positive evaluations from students.

The question is where I'll end up next. I'm hoping for a place that's bigger than Small Town and a job at a school with a more selective admission rate. I saw ads for a few schools located in towns where the entire population was made up of less than two thousand people, and I immediately thought, "NEXT!"

It's okay if I end up in another college town, as long as I don't have to drive too far to get to the nearest big city. But I must admit that all those years in a big city have ruined me for small town life. Sometimes I feel claustrophobic in Small Town, to the point where I feel like shrieking, "I have to get OUT of here!" Other days I find myself wishing that I had a little bit of vodka in my coffee mug when I'm at work (and I don't even drink alcohol!).

My ideal teaching situation would be at a medium-sized Catholic liberal arts college in a big city or medium-sized town, where the majority of the students are respectful, disciplined, hard-working, and turn in all their work on time. Then I wouldn't have any more nightmares about red pens. I'd like to teach more literature classes than freshman composition classes. I'd like to teach English majors. I've mainly been teaching students who are only in my classes because of their General Education requirements and would rather be getting root canals while watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians than learning how to write thesis statements.

I'd also like a job with better benefits than the ones I get now; although I have dental insurance, I currently can't afford the copay for a dentist appointment. (I also have nightmares about my teeth falling out and me teaching while looking like a jack-o-lantern). I'd like a salary that allows me to quit my second job, so that maybe I could have at least one day off a week. Maybe then, I would be less of a neurotic workaholic, and I could finally let myself relax for the first time in more than a decade.

My biggest fear is that I'll end up in the middle of nowhere, teaching at a school whose students spend more time partying than studying, with coeds who are "offended" by pronouns (apparently that's a thing now. Insert eye-roll here).

What about you? What does your ideal day job (other than writing) look like?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lost Writing

Up until recently, I hadn't written any fiction in months, due to the demands of my full-time job and part-time job. I missed writing, even more than the time that I tried going without caffeine for months and kept having to resist the urge to chase after Coca-Cola trucks with my arms outstretched.

When I finally sat down to work on one of my long-neglected manuscripts, I realized that I couldn't find one of my notebooks. Whenever I write the first draft of a story, I always write it longhand in a notebook and then type it on my laptop when I'm revising it. It had been so long since I'd written anything that I couldn't even remember where I'd put the notebook, which held several weeks' worth of writing and was the only copy.

I reacted the same way that Marion Crane did in that shower scene in Psycho, or the way that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian probably react when the cameras turn away from them. I frantically tore apart my apartment looking for it, and I worried that maybe I'd left it behind in a coffee shop a long time ago. I'd accidentally left my journal in a cafe a few years ago; when I went back to get it, the baristas returned it to me, but exchanged knowing looks and giggles. 

Finally, I found it in the back of my small filing cabinet, underneath a stack of students' papers and printouts of scholarly articles for my research. If this were a movie, that would have been the moment when a choir would have sung "Hallelujah."

When I finally sat down to write, it felt like coming home. I felt soothed as I wrote, in a way that I hadn't felt in a long time. It was good to be in the company of my characters again and to step back into the world I created. They say that home is where your heart is, and my heart is in my writing, in a way that it isn't in the comments I write on students' papers or my notes for my academic research (but that may be because the latter often makes me react the same way that Marion Crane did when Norman Bates confronted her). 

I'll never be the kind of person who writes every day, because that just isn't possible with my work schedule. I have to work more hours at my part-time job this year, due to the costs associated with my car troubles and my increased rent. I also have to save money for the next time I move, which might be at the end of the school year. Since I'd like to leave Small Town eventually and move on to another school, I have to apply for teaching jobs for next year (most of the deadlines are in the early fall), which is very time-consuming. So is my academic research, which might as well be placed in the category "Things That Make You Go ZZZZZZ". 

But recently I found out that one of my former students self-published a book that she'd written. I did a Google search of some of my former grad school classmates, and I saw their impressive list of publications in fiction and creative nonfiction, as well as the awards they'd won for their writing. When I go to bookstores, I marvel at all the writers who somehow made the time to write regularly and put their work out there. 

It made me feel guilty that all I have are unfinished manuscripts that I started years ago and a stack of rejection letters. But at the same time, those things motivated me to start writing again, especially so I can regain that peaceful, soothing feeling that I get whenever I put things down on paper. 

What about you? Have you ever lost writing before? How did you deal with it? Have you ever had to take a hiatus from writing before?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Back to School

When I was a kid and saw the back-to-school commercials, I looked forward to buying new notebooks and pens.

Now that I'm an adult and a teacher, when I see those commercials, I buy antacids and aspirin.

I also buy coffee, because I know I won't get much sleep until Thanksgiving break.

For the first time in years, I actually let myself relax during these past couple summer months. I still had to do work for my website job, but it was a relief to be free from grading papers, teaching, and e-mails from students that said stuff like, "Is there a movie version of the book? I was just wondering."

Since I had a car, I was able to leave Small Town for the first time in months (I hadn't left the town at all since January, except for a brief trip to Chicago during spring break, because I was so busy with my full-time job and part-time job.). I drove to some of the big cities nearby to go sight-seeing, try new restaurants, and browse in independent boutiques that I hadn't been to. It felt good to have days that were truly mine, without worrying about a stack of work waiting for me at home.

I've been dreading the first day of school. It's not that I'm unwilling to work. I am a workaholic after all, and if I go too long without working I start getting antsy and trying to climb the walls, shrieking, "I just can't LIVE like this!"

But last year was incredibly stressful, and there were times when I didn't even like teaching anymore. No teacher that I know loves teaching all the time, but it got to the point where I felt so frustrated that I actually contemplated giving up the career I'd devoted my life to for so many years and trying something less stressful, like bullfighting.

The school where I currently teach is a good school, and I've grown fond of many of the students. The faculty has been very kind and welcoming to me, for the most part. But there are several things about the department's rules and methods that I don't agree with, though that would've been true of any department. Although I'm a full-time faculty member, I'm also untenured, so I have no voting power in the decisions that are made, which is why I haven't expressed my true feelings about how things are done here.

It's also frustrating to have to keep saying over and over, "It's not okay to miss so many classes," or "No, you can't turn in your work several weeks after the deadline," or "For the love of God, PUT DOWN that cell phone!"

I've had to say those things at other schools where I've taught, but last year it just got to the point where I'd look in the mirror and see that my hair was turning white again; my face looked tired, sad, and exasperated.

There's also the fact that after spending all those years in a big city, small town life has been difficult to adjust to. I've made some good friends here, and I socialize with them regularly. But I'd like to be able to live somewhere that doesn't require me to spend hours driving just to shop somewhere OTHER than Walmart or a place where most businesses and restaurants in town don't close by 9 P.M. or earlier. I'd also like to be able to walk into a place that doesn't make me want to wring my hands and shriek, "Can we listen to something other than banjo music, PLEASE? The HUMANITY of it all!"

That's why this year I will work harder on my academic research, because I'll never be able to find a better job if I don't publish more articles that hardly anyone but other professors and scholars read (but I digress). I'll also actively pursue job leads at other schools, and hopefully by the end of the school year, I'll find a place that is a better fit for me.

What about you? How has your summer been? Have you ever felt burned out or frustrated with your job or living situation?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Worst Day

I haven't blogged in a while because I've been dealing with a lot of problems, one of which included calling 911 for help.

One day I decided to get takeout after several days of my own cooking. It was raining hard when I went out, but I'd driven through thunderstorms before and thought it would be okay. I was wrong.

When I drove out onto the main road, it quickly became flooded, to the point that it was like driving through a river. I tried to pull into a parking lot, but all of a sudden my car stalled. Then my car started filling up with water. I tried to open a door, but even more water rushed in.

Meanwhile, the car kept weaving back and forth in the water. I was afraid that other cars might hit it. I kept thinking of those movies where the main character is trapped in some kind of container and the water keeps rising. I got so scared that I called 911 for help. A cop showed up a few minutes later, and she and another guy literally had to pull me out the window and help me across the street.

Once the water levels decreased, a tow truck driver brought my car to the dealership. I had to call my insurance company, who sent an adjuster out to look at the car. He said that the car was totaled and I would have to get a new one.

I spoke to my mother on the phone several times, and she kept berating me. She said that this was karma for the fact that I was a bad person.

My father was not as angry, but now he tries to micromanage my driving. For example, I have to drive out to their state (a nearly ten hour round trip) for the second time this summer to take care of their dogs while they travel. He keeps calling to tell me when and where I should drive, even though the last time I followed his instructions, the trip took two hours longer than it should have.

He said that I didn't have a right to be upset over driving there again. My father claimed that the fact that I have had to go to their state several times a year to take care of their dogs, give up my school breaks, take unpaid time off from my jobs (and lose a lot of money in the process) was nothing compared to the sacrifices that he and my mother made over the years.

A few days after I got a new car (the same kind, only a newer model), I was backing out of a parking space at the bank and accidentally hit a car that was driving out. (If I was in a cartoon, that would have been the moment I took out a sledgehammer and hit myself over the head with it.) The other driver was nice about it (but let's see how nice she is if and when she files an insurance claim), but she ended up with a small dent in her door and I got a small scratch on my bumper.

To make matters worse, someone apparently took pictures and a video of me being pulled out of my car window during the flood. They not only posted it on Facebook but it ended up in the local paper, so that random people in Small Town keep asking me, "Was that you?"

I have, however, learned several things from this. One is to always check the forecast and make sure there are no flash flood warnings. Two is to always be careful in parking lots and when driving in general. And three is to accept the fact that although they did help me with the down payment for my new car (which I appreciate, and which I will repay), I cannot rely on my parents for emotional support. They reacted the same way when I was hospitalized two years ago: they berated me, blamed me (my doctors said it wasn't my fault), and tried to micromanage my treatment (if I'd followed their advice and not my doctors', I would have needed brain surgery and possibly gone blind).

I am an adult and will not allow them to control me, though that doesn't stop them from trying. My mother keeps reminding me about how the Bible says that children should honor their parents. But I think that I deserve respect too, and I refuse to bow down to either of them.

What about you? Have you ever gotten in a car accident or had to call 911?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How to Get Over a Crush

1. Drive around singing along to Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts," and all of Adele's songs.

2. Watch the endings of Lifetime movies about unrequited love, which often end with a deranged woman in a wedding dress waving a knife/gun around. Then you can think to yourself, Well, I would never do THAT. Poison would be much more effective and less likely to be traced back to me. 

3. Donate food to an animal shelter, where you will tell the cats, "You will all be mine someday."

4. Text your friends, "I'm FINE," while wiping chocolate off your cell phone.

5. Join an online dating site, where you will end up blocking messages from men who are old enough to be your grandfather but claim to be in their forties.

6. Write a story about a fictionalized version of yourself who dates a fictionalized version of your crush, except she dumps him in the end, leaving him sobbing while she rides off into the sunset with George Clooney's identical twin brother.

7. Eat ice cream and resist the urge to fling it at the beautiful woman that has captured your crush's attention.

8. Work out at the gym, where you will wish you could block (or at the very least drop-kick) guys who are old enough to be your grandfather but claim to be in their forties.

9. Google "snappy comebacks for people who want to know why I'm not married yet," or better yet, write your own, stuff like, "Oh, but I AM getting married. My fiance's name is Henry, but he prefers to be called the Dark King of Evil."

10. Act like everything's normal when you're around your crush, while resisting the urge to text him the lyrics to Adele's song "Hello."

What about you? What kinds of things have you done to get over a crush? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

If I Ever Have Children

1. I won't try to set them up on dates with people who look exactly like my spouse and then fail to understand why that's fifty shades of creepy.

2. And they become overweight, I'll show them how to cook healthy food and go for bike rides with them, not constantly berate them for being fat and point out all the young people their age who are so much thinner.

3. And one of them is a daughter who comes home from her first school dance in tears, I'll comfort her with ice cream and stories about my own unrequited crushes. I won't tell her, "No wonder no one wanted to dance with you."

4. I will encourage them to pursue careers that they are passionate about, not pressure them to pursue the career that I want for them and then become smug when they struggle to succeed in their chosen careers.

5. I won't criticize their hair, their clothes, or the way they walk, so that they'll never feel the urge to go on Jerry Springer's show just so they can yell at me.

6. I won't insult them for being unmarried. I'll tell them about how I was single too, and how at the very least it gave me something to write about.

7. I'll welcome them home with homemade cookies and questions about the good things in their lives, not complaints about how they don't visit more often.

8. I'll encourage them to become independent, not become furious when they make decisions without consulting me first and then constantly try to make them feel guilty as a result.

9. I will protect them if my spouse berates them, not blame them for provoking my spouse or accuse them of being the ones with bad personalities.

10. I will never allow my mother or father to treat my children the way they treat me.

I've never been a mother, so I have no experience or any real idea of how difficult it is to raise children. So it's easy to say that I won't be like my parents.

If I ever do have children, I will do everything in my power to treat them better than the way I am treated. Many other people my age have traveled all over the world. I've barely gone anywhere, except for a trip to New York that I kept secret because my parents would not have approved. I have even had to take a leave of absence from my jobs and give up vacation time on more than one occasion so that I can take care of my parents' dogs while they travel.

This summer, I have to give up two weeks of my vacation so that my mother can take two separate vacations. A couple years ago I had to give up my spring break so that she could travel. Next week I have to visit my parents (which I am dreading so much that I literally broke out in hives); if I don't go, they will show up at my apartment, which would be even worse. They don't care that I want to take my own vacation or have other things to do.

One reason I'm so neurotic and obsessive is because of how I was raised. I took a personality test in high school, and my teacher said that my innate personality was actually easygoing and laid-back. But he said because of my upbringing, I grew up to become a Type A personality instead. He said this soon after he met my mother.

What about you? If you don't have children, what kind of parent would you want to be? If you do have children, did you ever make any resolutions about parenting before they were born?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What I Wish I Knew When I Was Eighteen

1. If your college roommate tells you that she doesn't smoke, what she really means is, "My friends and I will make the dorm room smell like an ashtray."

2. It's okay to say no if friends ask if they can "share" your dessert. It's not okay to stab their hands with your fork and/or bite them if they reach for your food.

3. You don't have to do everything your parents tell you to do, and it's good (and important) to make your own decisions, no matter what they say.

4. Take notes every time you go to class, and don't lend your notes to people who are always absent.

5. Dating is not like a Hollywood romantic comedy, and Prince Charming does not exist.

6. Dating is more like an improv show where a lot of people don't know what they're doing. It's likely that you and your "costar" won't have chemistry, which will make it less entertaining and more "If I pretend to throw up, that might get me out of this earlier."

7. If "friends" tell you all about the fun they have with other friends but don't have time for you, stop listening to them and stop calling them.

8. If you decide to major in English, also major or minor in something "lucrative," so that you won't ever have to say something like, "Would you like to sign up for our store credit card?" or "I'm sorry, but you have to put your shoes (and your shirt) back on if you want to shop here."

9. When you start teaching, don't let your students walk all over you, and don't let them get away with their "excuses."

10. Eat less fast food, and cook your own food more often.

11. It's okay to prefer museums and bookstores over parties and bars, even if it means you'll go to those places on your own.

12. If your friends ignore you every time they're in romantic relationships, don't be there for them when the relationships end.

13. It's good to work hard, but it's not good to let your life revolve around work.

What about you? What do you wish you had known when you were eighteen?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Gap Year

When I heard that Malia Obama was planning to take a gap year before she went to college, I thought, More Millennials should be like her.

I've taught college students for a long time now. Unfortunately, some of them are not ready for college. To high school graduates, here are some signs that you're not ready for college yet:

1. You think that punctuality and attendance should be optional.

2. You spend more time staring at your cell phone than at your textbooks.

3. You keep your headphones on during class and then, when your teacher tells you to take them out, you say, "Why? Is the volume bothering anyone?"

4. You let your parents complain to your teacher about your grades or about the fact that you were penalized for breaking one (or more) of your teacher's rules.

5. You snore in class on a regular basis.

6. You say, "Hemingway/Shakespeare/Austen is so boring," after spending two hours "liking" posts and Tweets that say stuff like "Party like it's Friday" or "I love [insert pop icon's name here]!".

7. You think you're entitled to an A just because you showed up to class, which is the bare minimum.

8. You think it's okay to be absent for several weeks and then get upset when your teacher lowers your grade.

9. You spend the whole class time talking to your friends and then complain that you don't understand the material.

10. You say, "My printer/computer/roommate ate my homework," multiple times.

When students go to college before they're ready, they're more likely to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and unhappy. They struggle in their classes, and it's difficult for them to understand that their professors can't (and won't) help them with every single thing. Several of them get low grades, get suspended, or drop out of school altogether.

That's why I think some (though not all) students should take a gap year first. I don't think they should travel through Europe and expect their parents to pay for everything. They shouldn't sleep till noon all day and party all night.

Instead, they should get jobs, which may help them realize how important it is to work hard and continue their education. They should do volunteer work, so that they'll understand how important it is to help people. They should do research on the kinds of careers that they want to pursue, so that they won't graduate without any idea of what to do with their degree. They should take a couple classes at community colleges, in order to see what college life (and professors' expectations) is like before they commit to it full-time.

I think if they did that, they would be more likely to do well in college. Then professors like me would be less likely to end every workday by putting our hands to our faces and screaming like Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone.

What about you? Did you take a gap year before you went to college? If you didn't, what would you have done if you had taken a gap year?

Monday, May 23, 2016

How to Be a Good Neighbor

1. Don't play electric guitar at 1:30 in the morning with your loser friends who are also playing electric guitar. This actually happened last night, to the point that I charged out of my apartment in my pajamas and asked them to keep it down. They responded by playing even LOUDER, which made me really wish that I could reenact that shower scene from Psycho.

2. Don't let your friends double-park their cars so that they're blocking your neighbors' cars. When I confronted my neighbors about doing this, they said, "We have guests. You have a driver's license; you figure it out." I responded by getting into my car and threatening to mow down their cars like I was at a monster truck rally, until they finally moved them.

3. Don't leave your trash on other people's patios. My neighbors keep doing this to me, so I picked up their trash and dropped it back on their patios, though I really wanted to use it to spell out the words "MOVE AWAY".

4. Lower your voice when you're outside with your friends. I've woken up at 2 A.M. multiple times, which is why I Googled "how to make people think their homes are haunted".

5. Don't park in your neighbors' spaces. I have told my loser neighbors not once, not twice, but TEN TIMES this past year to stay out of my space. If I let them park there, it's like I'm paying for their parking, which I'm not willing to do.

6. Don't leave your cigarette butts all over the parking lot. I want to use the cigarettes to spell out the words "YOUR HOME PLANET WANTS YOU BACK" in their parking spaces.

Do I sound a little high-strung right now? Maybe it's because I don't like being woken up at 1:30 in the morning by the sound of electric guitar and bad singing.

I think my neighbors' arrogant and inconsiderate behavior is partly due to the fact that the majority of them do not have jobs, so they don't understand that people who do work don't get to sleep until noon and stay up all night. Many of them are from different countries, and their governments and wealthy families provide free tuition and monthly stipends (of thousands of dollars). One of them has wrecked his car not once but twice and is now driving around a brand new $40,000 car (which he promptly dented in the third week). I've even seen maids going into their apartments, because God forbid they should learn to clean up for themselves.

Am I a little jealous? Maybe. I'm working two jobs just so I can pay my rent and debts and buy groceries, while they lounge around all day. They also have no respect for women, which would explain why they've been so nasty and disrespectful towards me. I finally went to my landlord today and told them that I would call the police (I found the local police number and put it on my phone) if those jerks played music that late again. For once, my landlord backed me up and said that I had every right to do so.

The only reason I don't just move is because I'm on a one-year lease; I'm within walking distance of campus; the rent is cheap; the apartment (aside from my loser neighbors) is nicer than any that I've ever lived in; I can't afford another move right now.

What about you? Have you ever had inconsiderate or rude neighbors? How did you deal with them?

By the way, sorry I've been MIA lately. My computer is broken, so I apologize if I can't get back to everyone right away. I have to use the computers at school until mine is fixed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

You Can't Go Home Again...Or Can You?

Reasons to Leave Small Town:

1. When I first moved here, my employers hired me on a one-year contract, but they said that the position was renewable for up to three years. Now they're telling me that due to a new policy set by Human Resources, they may only be able to renew my contract for one more year.

2. Too many students told me, "I have to leave class twenty (or forty) minutes early today. Can you just tell me what I'm going to miss?"

3. I found out that there's a job opening for a more secure position at a school in the Chicago area.

4. Too many students gave excuses for not having their papers ready, like "I forgot," or "My WiFi wasn't working...again," or "My computer ate my homework."

5. This year, I taught literature and freshman composition classes. But next year, my employers said that they need me to just to teach writing, due to enrollment and staffing issues. At the Chicago school, I'd get to teach more literature classes.

6. I've heard more than one person say to me, "Don't tell me you're a liberal," as if I'd just admitted to being a bank robber, a serial killer, or a One Direction fan.

7. I've taught at that Chicago school before, and I remember that the students were very disciplined. None of them ever came in late or missed too many classes, and most of them turned in their work on time.

8. I'd really like to walk into a store or a cafe without hearing banjo music.

9. When (not if) Small Town Guy gets a new girlfriend, I'd rather not stick around and listen to them say things like, "We're moving in together!" or "We went shopping for rings today." Then I might say, "I'm thinking of adopting some cats."

10. I miss Chicago. I went there for a few days to visit, and some lady threw a cup of what may or may not have been urine at me and screamed, "Get a job (insert expletive here)!" A guy on the El hit on me on the train. When I ignored him, he got mad, picked his nose, and wiped it on my coat. But I was so happy to be back in the city that I loved that all I thought was, "Ah, Chicago. It's good to be home."

Reasons to Stay in Small Town:

1. I can't really afford to move again. The move to Small Town cost thousands of dollars, and I am still paying off some of the debts. I'd have to borrow money from my parents, and I'd rather listen to banjo music and excuses from my students than another lecture from my parents about money.

2. In Chicago most of my friends had already moved on to other cities or states. The ones that were still there lived in the suburbs and were busy with spouses and children. So I was alone a lot, which made me become even more of a workaholic. In Small Town, I've made several nice friends who I socialize with regularly. Being with them made me realize that there should be more to life than work.

3. The faculty at this school have been very kind, supportive, and welcoming to me.

4. I like living in a larger apartment that costs hundreds of dollars less than my tiny studio in Chicago, and I like having my own washer and dryer, which is something I've never had before.

I really thought I'd never live in Chicago again. But when this job opportunity came up, I decided to apply for it and see what happens. Chances are, I won't get the job, and I'll be in Small Town for another year. But if I do get that job, it will be hard to leave my new friends behind. I can't stay just for them, though.

What about you? Have you ever been torn between two places when it came to deciding where to live or work?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

You Know You're in the Friend Zone When...

1. You're a woman and the guy you like addresses you as "bro," "man," or "dude." (On the other hand, if you're unromantic like me, if the guy you liked addressed you as "the most beautiful woman who ever lived," you just might respond by throwing up.)

2. He reaches out to you, not to hold your hand, but to high-five you.

3. You compliment him on his appearance and he immediately changes the subject to something less flirtatious, like the national debt.

4. You mention that you're considering online dating, and rather than act jealous, he says he might join the same online dating site too.

5. He says that you remind him of his sister/mother/grandmother.

6. He talks about other women that he's interested in, while you resist the urge to run home and lie face-down on your bed while listening to angry girl singers from the nineties.

Unfortunately, it seems like as far as Small Town Guy is concerned, I am firmly in the Friend Zone. To most guys I've liked, I've always been the "funny" friend, the "smart" friend, or the "friend who thinks coffee is one of the food groups." I'm never "the one they can't stop thinking about." It's disappointing, but it's not like I can try and change their minds. You don't get to choose who you fall for.

With this guy, I tried not to get my hopes up too much, because even at the beginning of our friendship I had the feeling that it was not going to turn out the way I wanted it to. When you're still single at thirty-five, you tend to be more pessimistic than you might have been at fifteen.

Sometimes, the possibility that I'll be alone for the rest of my life is depressing. On the one hand, it makes things easier as far as my work is concerned. If I find a good job at another school somewhere across the country, I can just pack up and move.

But on the other hand, I do want to get married and have children, and now that I'm getting older, it feels like that fantasy is becoming more and more unattainable.

There is one silver lining in this whole situation. Like I mentioned before, Small Town Guy has been kind enough to include me in his circle of friends, who have all been very nice to me. Recently, they all took me out for dinner and drinks to celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday. Several of them brought gifts for me, which I hadn't been expecting. It made me feel glad that I moved here, met them, and finally stopped working long enough to let these friendships develop.

What about you? Have you ever been in the friend zone?

In honor of the theme of this today's post, here's Danielle Bradbery's song, "Friend Zone." (Yes, it's country. Blame it on the fact that apparently 90% of the restaurants and stores in this Small Town play nothing but country music, and CMT is their favorite channel, other than Fox News.)

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Life Without Writing

If I stopped writing...

1. I'd be much more likely to say what I really think of people to their faces, rather than just write it down, which means I'd probably get head-butted a lot more often.

2. I'd start posting pictures of my lunch or my outfits on Instagram, because everyone knows that those pictures are so fascinating (it's like, can we have MORE selfies, please?).

3. The fictional characters I already created would probably haunt my dreams and say stuff like, "You owe us endings to our stories. If you don't write one for us, we will give you nightmares filled with the things that freak you out the most, including clowns, knives, and one of the Kardashians as President (in that case, posting selfies would become mandatory, and anyone who broke that law would have to buy and read all 448 pages of Kim Kardashian's book of selfies)."

4. I'd stop going to book signings, because I'd feel jealous of the writers who never stopped pursuing their dreams like I did.

5. I'd read less, which would mean I'd have more time to "like" Instagram posts by reality show celebrities and read articles about their Twitter feuds, which would cause my brain cells to die, one by one.

6. I'd look at my journal longingly, similar to the way I look at cupcakes in a bakery or the muscular gay men dancing on floats in Chicago's Pride Parade.

7. I'd always feel like something was missing from my life.

8. I wouldn't communicate with all of you nice people in the blogosphere, who have been very kind and supportive to me through the years.

9. I wouldn't feel that same sense of pleasure I feel when I sit down to write, or when the story heads in a different direction that I wasn't expecting.

For a while now I've actually contemplated giving up writing. This past year has been really busy, what with my full-time job and my part-time job, which is why I haven't blogged as much in the past several months. To be honest, other than journal entries, blog posts, and Tweets, I haven't written anything (other than stuff for work) in months. It made me wonder if maybe I'd lost my writer's "mojo," and it also made me doubt that I had it at all.

I even thought about giving up my blog and my Twitter page. Some people get fifty responses (or hundreds) on their blog posts, whereas I'm lucky if a more than a few dozen actually read my blog posts one at a time, even though I've been blogging for six years now. I have more Twitter followers than blog followers, but more often than not, the people who follow my blog immediately send me DMs asking me to check out or promote their album/book/film/GoFundMe page, which tells me why they're really following me (I never respond to their DMs, nor do I do what they ask).

But if I gave up writing, then I truly would be a workaholic, one hundred percent. I've finally realized that there has to be more to life than work, and writing fiction and creative nonfiction is the one thing that doesn't feel like work to me. Even when it does, it's still something that I want to do, not something that I have to do to pay the bills.

So for now, I'm not giving up writing, though I do have to accept that I may have to wait until summer to spend more time on it. I gave up or lost almost everything else that mattered because of my work. I'm not willing to let my work destroy the one thing I have left.

What about you? Have you ever felt tempted to give up writing?

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Gift That Keeps On Giving Me Heartburn

Now that I'm making friends and socializing more in Small Town, it's nice to interact with people and say something other than "Get OUT of my parking space, FREAK SHOW!" (to my neighbors) or "Put your cell phones DOWN!" (to my students).

One thing about socializing, though, is that it can be expensive. Recently I was invited to a birthday party at the only fancy restaurant in Small Town. The birthday girl said that we didn't have to get her anything, but I knew that several other people would bring gifts. I didn't want to be the only person who showed up without a birthday gift. Not to mention I didn't have enough money for a meal at a fancy restaurant, especially considering how most of my meals consist of pasta, peanut butter sandwiches, or toast and scrambled eggs.

Due to the debt I accumulated from my move to Small Town, as well as student loans, car payments, rent, and other expenses, I just don't have enough money for an active social life sometimes. I know that you can't put a price on friendship, but you can put a price on gifts for those friends, like gifts for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, housewarming parties, etc., etc.

I don't tell this to Small Town Guy and his friends, because they've all been so nice and welcoming to me. But they all make a lot more money than I do, so I think it might be harder for them to relate to the fact that I can't afford a ticket to a play in the nearby big city that they want to go to, or a shopping spree at a mall in one of the other big cities (the closest thing that Small Town has to a mall is Walmart).

I could try giving them homemade gifts. But although I've gotten a little better at cooking, it's still difficult for me to bake anything without cringing immediately after I taste it. I can't sew or knit without accidentally poking myself (usually in the eye) with the needle.

It reminds me of that episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie Bradshaw had to spend a bunch of money on gifts for her married friends, but lamented over the fact that single people like her rarely received gifts for their own special occasions (the fact that they were single apparently meant they had fewer occasions to celebrate).

But here are a few of MY ideas for special occasions that single people like me would like presents for (I know it'll never happen, but still, it'd be nice):

A gift for all the times my mother tells me about all the women younger than me who are already married with children, and then she calls me a spinster or an old maid (one of the times she did this was when she called me on my thirtieth birthday).

A gift for all the bad dates I've been on, like the one with the guy who waited a month to call me after our first (and only) date, and then he got mad and insulted me when I made it clear that I was no longer interested.

A gift for all the hours I spent poring over online dating profiles, only to dismiss more than half of them because the guys my age made it clear in their profiles that they only wanted to date women who were at least ten (or fifteen) years younger.

A gift for all the messages on online dating sites that I received from guys who were twenty (or thirty, or, in one case, forty) years older than me.

A gift for all the times I had to tell my parents' friends that yes, I'm still single; no, I don't have a boyfriend right now; NO, I'm not a lesbian. (I WISH I was making that last one up.)

A gift for the time I sat next to a couple in a coffee shop who kept making out and calling each other cutesy names, and I resisted the urge to eat the croissants they were neglecting and/or throw those croissants at them.

It would be nice if single people got their own special day to celebrate being single, similar to how couples have Valentine's Day and anniversaries to celebrate their relationships. But we're not supposed to celebrate our single status; we're supposed to keep looking for love, or else be accused of being old maids or lesbians (as if there's something wrong with being either, which there isn't).

Oh, well. Either way, I am grateful to the people who have extended their offers of friendship to me, even if I have to occasionally decline their invitations to hang out. It's just too bad that I can't give a peanut butter sandwich as a gift.

What about you? Are there any occasions in your life that you wish you could get presents for? How do you deal with the costs of socializing?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Socially Awkward

I will never be referred to as a "social butterfly." I'm much more likely to be described as an obsessive neurotic workaholic who will suddenly come down with an incurable case of I-don't-want-to-go-so-BACK-OFF whenever someone invites me to a party.

I am grateful to the people I've met for making an effort to include me in their social circle. I've done more socializing in the past few weeks than I did in the previous months, when I was still getting settled in Small Town. It has been a pleasure to get to know some nice people and spend time with them.

But on the other hand, I've always been an introvert and a loner, and I don't like to socialize THAT often. For example, one thing that Small Town Guy and his friends like to do on a regular basis is go out for drinks to a local bar. Since I'm a teetotaler, I like bars as much as I like trying on swimsuits within earshot of girls who are a size zero and complain that they look "fat". (I have a head-butting reflex for girls like that.)

But I go and drink soda at the bar with them, because I've finally realized that it's not good to let my life revolve around work all the time. Sometimes I feel shy and nervous around that many people; big social situations like that have always made me feel anxious and prone to saying things that make me want to slap my face so that I'll stop talking.

I've declined more than one social invitation, partly because I can't afford to go out as often as the others do, and partly because most of the time, I'd rather go off and do my own thing. Although I enjoy their company, sometimes my mind wanders when I'm with them.

I find myself thinking about the books I'm reading, and all of a sudden I'm not at a bar or out to dinner with the others. I'm sitting on the fire escape of a Brooklyn tenement with Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or I'm writing in a Paris cafe with Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, or I'm camping out in Taos, New Mexico with the main characters in Natalie Goldberg's Banana Rose.

Other times I think about my own writing, which I've sadly been neglecting due to my full-time job and part-time job. I think about which guy my main character should end up with, and I think of scenes that I want to rewrite or take out altogether. It makes me wish I could take out my journal and jot a few notes down, but then the others would either think I'm rude or want me to read my writing out loud to them, which is about as appealing as wearing a swimsuit in front of them.

When I was younger, I tried to be more social. On the rare occasions I wasn't at one of my three (or four) jobs,  I went to bars, clubs, or parties with my friends. But more often than not, I'd make up an excuse and leave early, because I felt uncomfortable or bored. Once I went to a party where I only knew one other person. All the guests spent the whole time gossiping about people that I didn't know, so finally I stood up and announced that I was going home. One of them said, "Oh, I hope we weren't boring you with all of our talk!"

I replied, "Actually, you totally were. See ya!" (I also have a thing about being a little too direct sometimes.)

I remember going to a nightclub with some friends, where they danced, drank, and flirted. All I could think was how much I'd rather be watching one of my favorite crime dramas or browsing in a bookstore. I felt that as someone in her twenties, I should enjoy myself in situations like that, as so many other twentysomethings did. But I never really did.

Now that I'm older, I do try to adapt to social situations more often. But I still feel awkward and out of place sometimes, and I feel bad for being so antisocial. I think it's something that just comes with the territory of being an introvert, and it's not something I'll ever be able to change.

What about you? Do you consider yourself to be an extrovert or an introvert?

Monday, February 15, 2016

What It's Like to Have a Crush...When You're a Neurotic Workaholic Like Me

1. You spend more time on your physical appearance, because you want to avoid what happened the first time you ran into him: you neither brushed your hair nor your teeth that day. You start wearing makeup, even though you always hated wearing it, and you style your hair and choose outfits more carefully. Then you look in the mirror and think, "Wow, I look good!" And that makes you feel good.

2. The day you are supposed to go out for dinner with him and his friends, a ginormous zit will suddenly appear on your nose or your chin. When you sit next to him at dinner, you feel as if your zit is growing larger by the second, to the point that it might jump off your face and attack Small Town Guy or his friends.

3. You do something you rarely did for anyone else before: you give up time that you normally spend working in order to hang out with him and his friends, who socialize regularly.

4. When you come home from hanging out with him and his friends, the stack of work on your desk will make other zits pop out on your face in response.

5. You find yourself thinking more about him than about your work. You like that he's been kind enough to include you in his circle of friends, which really helps after moving to a town where you did not know anyone.

6. You find yourself obsessing over small things, like the time you texted him and he didn't text you back. When he apologizes a couple days later for forgetting to text you because he was busy with work, you resist the urge to say, "That's okay. It's not like I was waiting by the phone, picking out the names of my future cats."

7. You start to feel hope again, which is something that you haven't felt for anyone since your Grad School Crush last year, who liked you back but also liked playing with your heart as if it was a yo-yo.

8. After all the bad dates and failed relationships, you half-convince yourself that there is no reason to feel hopeful. Small Town Guy hasn't asked you out; he's just friendly to newcomers like you. You think, If it was going to happen for me, it would've happened by now. A great guy like him could have his pick of any other woman in town, like a thinner, more attractive woman whose mind is not like an eternal Seinfeld marathon. 

9. You think that maybe eventually, your life won't revolve around work and that maybe it could be about much more than that.

10. You also think that if by some miracle Small Town Guy ever feels the same way about you, it could interfere with your professional goals. He is established in his career in this town, but you plan to eventually move on to a more secure teaching position at another school who knows where. Your work has always been the most important thing to you, and you're not sure you'd be willing to give up everything you've worked for (and everything you're still working for), even for someone like him.

What about you? When you had a crush on someone, what were the positive/negative aspects for you?

Monday, February 1, 2016

There's No Place Like Home

Spring break at the school where I teach is still more than a month away, but I've already started planning what to do during my time off. I think I might be able to afford a few days off to travel, and I've been thinking of making a brief trip back to Chicago.

I've grown (somewhat) accustomed to living in Small Town now. There are only a couple coffee shops in town, but I've already picked out my favorite cafe and often go there to write. When I feel particularly claustrophobic, I drive to one of the larger towns or cities to go shopping or try a new restaurant. Despite my usual "leave me alone unless you have food, in which case just give me the food and THEN leave" attitude, I have started socializing more with people my age who live here.

But I'd like to visit Chicago again, even just for a few days, especially because I may never live there again. The job I have in Small Town is not a tenure-track position, which means that eventually I will have to move on to another school, either in this state or maybe in some other town halfway across the country (such is the life of the untenured college teacher).

There are some things about Chicago that I miss a lot, and some things that I'm happy to be free of:

I miss the Chicago-style stuffed pizza, and the way that Chicagoans often insisted that their favorite pizza place was the best and would even get into arguments with each other about it.

I don't miss the prices at many Chicago restaurants, which apparently have the motto, "Why make things affordable when we can overcharge you weaklings who cannot resist our food? HAHAHAHAHA!"

I miss walking around Greektown, where old men sat on chairs outside the restaurants and called out to each other in Greek. I also miss the fact that I could walk down almost any street in Chicago and hear at least four or five different languages being spoken.

I don't miss random creeps who called out to me when I was walking down almost any street in Chicago, because apparently they go by the following motto: If I yell out as many offensive things as possible and/or try to grope women that I think are attractive, surely ONE of them will want to hook up with me, and I have NO IDEA why this hasn't worked yet.

I miss the neighborhood festivals, like the Chinese New Year's festival in Chinatown, where I used to watch the dragon dancers, the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park, where I ate toasted ravioli and other delicious food from local restaurants, or Northalsted Market Days in Boystown, where I looked wistfully at all the good-looking, muscular guys dancing in colorful briefs and think, "And they're all gay, darn it!"

I don't miss the crowds at those festivals (or any popular event or place in the city), where there was sometimes the risk that I might get robbed/knocked down/thrown up on (and yes, all three things happened to me at some point or other during some of these festivals).

I miss riding the CTA trains and buses, because I dislike driving in Small Town; I dislike parking, and I dislike all the drivers who apparently don't know how to drive or park.

I don't miss the weird, annoying, or scary people on the CTA trains and buses, like the guy who took off his pants just because I glanced in his direction, or the people who would delay the trains by holding the doors open for their friends, or the people whose solution to crowded trains and buses would be to make them even MORE crowded by squeezing themselves onboard.

I miss riding rented bikes by the lake, window shopping on Michigan Avenue, and the free admissions' days at the museums.

I don't miss the aggressive bicyclists by the lake, the protestors who yelled at anyone who didn't protest with them on Michigan Avenue (and there are a LOT of them in Chicago right now), and the mob of tourists at the museums who walked so slowly (because they were appreciating the scenery) that I always had to mutter to myself, "Don't yell at the tourists don't yell at the tourists don't -"

On the other hand, part of me is thinking that maybe I should just save my money and not go to Chicago at all, or maybe I should go somewhere else for my spring break (I am considering a road trip to explore more of the surrounding area this summer).

What about you? What do you like best/least about your hometown, or what would you miss most about it?

Monday, January 25, 2016

All Grown Up

If you looked up the word "controlling" in the dictionary, you'd find full-page pictures of my parents.

A few nights ago, I went to the gym, which has a policy against the use of cell phones. That's why I often leave my phone in my locker or in my car. I engaged in a longer workout than usual, because I was lifting weights in addition to my cardio exercises.

It takes longer to lift weights, because some muscleheads at the gym (there are jerks like this at every gym) hog all the machines. They use several machines at the same time, meaning they'll work in reps, alternating among the different machines. If you dare to sit down at one of the machines in between one of their reps, they'll be on you in a heartbeat, insisting that they're "still using" it, even though they're also using three others. If you ever see a story about a woman in a small Southern town who got kicked out of her gym for "accidentally" dropping barbells on obnoxious lunkheads, that just might describe me someday.

Anyway, when I got back to my car, I found not one, not two, but more than half a dozen missed calls and irate messages from my parents. I was worried at first that something was wrong, like maybe one of them was in the hospital or one of their dogs had gotten hurt. But once I called them and they started yelling at me, I soon realized that they were worried that something was wrong with me.

Why, you might ask? Because I didn't answer my phone at 9:30 at night.

Although I am thirty-four years old, have a full-time job (and a part-time job), have three degrees, and have not lived with my parents since I was eighteen years old, they still act like I don't know what the hell I'm doing with anything, so they believe that they still call the shots on my life.

My mother and father actually called the police in Small Town twice, because they wanted the cops to go to my apartment and make sure I was okay. The police declined to do so, and they told my mother (I kid you not), "Ma'am, I'm sure she's all right. She's probably at Walmart or the gym, because those are pretty much the only places that are open right now." (They were right, seeing as how I was at the gym.)

I was (and still am) angry that they called the police just because they couldn't reach me for more than an hour. They think that I shouldn't go out at all at night, because "it's not safe."  If I can survive Chicago, I can survive in a small town.

I live in an apartment building full of students, including some of my own students. What if they had seen the cops show up at my door? This is a small town, and everyone knows how quickly gossip travels in a small town. Even if I tried to clear things up later with the truth, some people might still hold on to their false speculations.

I could just see my face plastered all over the local evening news, and the news anchor saying something like, "A local college teacher was questioned by police and will most likely NEVER TEACH AGAIN! In other news, there are no news! And now, on to the weather!" I'm still relatively new here, and I'm anxious to make a good impression on my employers, especially because I want them to renew my contract. I can't have gossip about the cops showing up at my door spreading all over the school where I teach. I mean, seriously!

My parents have always been controlling, but ever since I turned eighteen, I started standing up to them more and more. I first rebelled by choosing a major and career that I wanted, not the ones they wanted for me. To this day, if I dare to talk about a problem I'm facing as a teacher, my mother will say, "Well, you chose that career, so..."

I didn't back down to my parents when they got mad at me this time, either. I told them that they couldn't expect me to be at their beck and call, and that I had a right to go out whenever I wanted.  I know that they truly believe that they were just looking out for me. But why are they so worried now, yet they didn't show me any sympathy when I was in the EMERGENCY ROOM last year, and acted like it was my fault that I suffered from serious health problems (which I still haven't fully recovered from)?

I'm all grown up now. I'm not going to follow their "rules" for my life. After all, what are they going to do if I refuse to obey them? Ground me and make me go to bed early without any dessert?

But one thing I'm still learning to accept is that they will never change. I heard or read somewhere that the only thing that I can change about people like them is the way I respond to them. So it's one thing if they keep trying to control my life every chance they get. That doesn't mean I have to let them. And I never will.

What about you? Have you ever struggled for control over your life, your work, or something else?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bad First Impressions

When I'm not working, there isn't a lot for me to do at night in Small Town, other than try not to cringe and scream, "SHUT UP, KNOW-NOTHINGS!" at the people on Fox News, which is always showing on the majority of the TVs at my gym, or go to Walmart and see how many Confederate flags, mullets, and/or pickup trucks I can spot in one visit (last count was twenty-seven).

That's why I was glad when a guy I met invited me to go out for drinks with him and his friends. It wasn't a date, just a friendly invitation. One thing about the people in Small Town is that they're generally pretty friendly (though I still get stared at suspiciously from time to time by random people, who can tell that I'm an outsider) and are always inviting me out to socialize with them. Coming from a big city, where strangers are more likely to rob you, attack you, or chase you down the street for no reason, this was very unsettling to me. (Even a simple "good morning" from some stranger on the street is still enough for me to grab my pepper spray or my keys, just in case.)

I have to admit, though, that even though it wasn't a date, I wouldn't have minded if it was. I won't say how I met this guy, just in case he comes across this blog and recognizes himself, but I will say I didn't meet him online. I've only socialized with him a couple times before with other people, never alone, but I know him well enough to know that I like him. I like the fact that he's attractive, smart, and just a little bit nerdy without being creepy.

Of course, whenever I'm around a guy I'm attracted to, one of two things will happen: 1) I clam up and act like I'm indifferent to him, or 2) I do or say something completely stupid, which will usually make him cringe inwardly and suddenly lose my phone number.

Unfortunately, when I went out with this guy and his friends, the second thing happened, despite the fact that I drank soda, not alcohol. If I drink alcohol I will: 1) fall into a crowd of people ; 2) start talking extremely loudly and stupidly; or 3) start singing and encourage other people to sing with me (all of this has happened).

We were talking about online dating at one point, and then all of a sudden it was like my brain floated out of my body, leaving my mouth unrestrained.

My mouth: And then my mother called me and said that I'm 34 and my biological clock is ticking, and...
My brain: Oh, my God! Stop talking stop talking stop talking!

My mouth: On the other hand, I would like to have at least one or two kids, hopefully soon, and...
My brain:  What are you doing? You might as well tattoo the word "IDIOT" on your forehead!

My mouth: I would like to get married someday, but I'm not sure if I could stay faithful to someone for the rest of my life, because...

I've been on enough dates to know that you NEVER talk about marriage or babies on the first date, because that's enough to make any guy run in the opposite direction. And the thing is, this wasn't even a date, like I said. But I was nervous, shy, and I hadn't been on a date in months, and unfortunately my brain could not get my hand to slap myself in the face to stop myself from talking.

I'm worried that I've totally ruined any chance I might have had with this guy, especially because it's been a few days and I haven't heard from him. But I will get to socialize with him and his friends, who, despite my babbling, invited me to hang out with them again soon. Hopefully I'll make a better impression the next time, though I'm not sure if it'll be enough to make up for what I said before.

What about you? Have you ever made a bad first impression on someone? Were you able to overcome it, and if so, how? 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I Wish Karma Was Real

A few weeks ago, I was driving along the highway when I caught sight of a large dog walking in the grass by the road.

I stopped my car by the side of the road and approached the dog slowly. Fortunately, it didn't growl at me or try to bite me. Instead, it seemed timid and frightened. I couldn't just leave the dog there, because I knew that the image of it wandering alone by the highway would haunt me forever. It made me think of last year, when I saw an already-injured bird die after it was run over by a car. I screamed when it happened, and then I cried because I didn't save it. I had to make up for that now.

I managed to coax the dog into the backseat of my car. The dog smelled so bad that I had to open my windows, even though it was cold. She (I think it was a girl) was wet and muddy, and a small, selfish part of me lamented over the fact that my brand-new, sparkling clean car seats were now dirty. It seemed like the dog had been outside for days. I stopped by a convenience store and bought a cup of water and a bag of chips for the dog. Judging by the way the dog gobbled down almost all the chips, it seemed like she hadn't eaten for a few days either.

The dog didn't have a collar or any tags, and there were no houses near the place where I found her. It made me think that some evil monster had dumped the dog by the highway.

I wanted to take the dog home with me, but my building doesn't allow dogs. It doesn't seem fair that my neighbors, who scatter cigarette butts and trash all over the parking lot and wake me up at 2 A.M. with their parties, are allowed to live there, but dogs are not.

I took the dog to an animal shelter nearby. They were very nice and assured me that they would take good care of her. I asked if she would be euthanized eventually, but they said they hadn't had to euthanize any of the animals in more than a year (the nearest no-kill shelter was more than an hour away; the dog was getting antsy in my backseat, and I wasn't even sure if they would take her). I was sorry to say good-bye to the dog, but I left hoping and praying that she would find a good home.

The whole situation made me feel sad and angry. I felt sad that I couldn't adopt the dog myself. I felt angry at the scum that abandoned her. I also felt angry at all the drivers that had passed the dog (she was very large, so it would have been impossible to miss her) without stopping.

It made me wish that karma was real and that eventually whoever left that beautiful dog by the side of the road would get what he or she deserved. But sometimes I wonder if karma is real. Not long after I helped that dog, I came down with the flu, which meant I spent almost half of my Christmas vacation in bed. I had all these plans for my time off, too. (That's also partly why I haven't blogged in a month.)

It made me think of how I tried to help people before. Once I helped push an old man in his wheelchair across the street, but then he got mad at me because I wouldn't stay and "socialize" with him. I used to bring doughnuts to a homeless person, until he got mad and demanded that I bring him sandwiches instead. I offered to help an old woman struggling to go down the stairs with her cane, but she screamed at me and threatened to hit me with the cane.

I don't wish bad things on any of those people, but situations like those make me wonder if being a good person is worth it. It's not like I hope to get something out of helping people (although a "thank you" would be nice once in a while), but sometimes it seems like good things only happen to the most selfish and inconsiderate people in the world (like one person who shall remain nameless, but whose name rhymes with "chump".)

What about you? Do you think karma is real? Did your attempt to help someone else ever backfire?