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?