Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Summer Full of Writing

This summer, I have several things on my to-do list: do academic research and hopefully draft a scholarly article by the end of the summer, continue completing work for my website job, and resist the urge to hang a large banner that says "SHUT UP" off the small balcony outside my apartment as a "subtle" hint to my loud, inconsiderate, and obnoxious neighbors that hang out in the yard below.

I saved money from my tax refund this year, and it was just enough to buy me a round-trip ticket to New York City and make reservations at a small hotel in Chinatown for a few days in July. I went to New York City four years ago, and I loved it so much that I've always wanted to go back. I want to watch another play, visit Central Park, and yell at rude people in public. (No one blinks an eye if you yell at strangers in large cities like New York and Chicago because everyone yells there. In college towns like the one I currently live in, on the other hand, there are plenty of rude people but people think it's weird to yell at them, which is why I often have to scream into my pillow and listen to grunge music from the nineties when I come home.)

Another thing I plan to do throughout the summer is write. During the school year, I didn't get to do half as much writing as I would have liked. Instead, I spent more time writing lesson plans, comments on students' papers, and e-mails that said stuff like, "It's not okay to wear your headphones and listen to music during my lectures, or any other part of class, even if your claim that you can read lips really is true."

I already submitted a story to a short story contest hosted by Creative Nonfiction magazine. The theme of the contest was "Home". Last year, I took a one-day writing workshop at the Porch, a writer's collective in Nashville, and "home" was one of the instructor's writing prompts for us. I jotted down memories of my life in Chicago, and even after the workshop, I kept adding more to the story, until I ended up with dozens of pages. I cut and revised the story to adhere to the contest's 4,000 word limit, and I submitted it.

It felt good to put my writing out there again. Even if I don't win the contest, it's okay. Just putting it out there makes me feel like a real writer. Also, if I don't win the contest, I can send it out to other literary magazines. I bought a copy of Poets and Writers magazine, and I also did some online research; I made a list of a bunch of literary magazines that publish creative nonfiction.

Even though I still want to publish fiction, I am also interested in writing creative nonfiction. Many of the books in my bookcase are memoirs, and I especially admire writers like Jen Lancaster, Dave Barry, and David Sedaris. I like how they often write about ordinary things in totally neurotic, funny, and entertaining ways. Jen Lancaster, for example, can make a trip to Target sound hilarious. And that kind of writing style is something I've tried to follow in my own writing. I wish I had the imagination and ability to write stories about extraordinary things, like Margaret Atwood did in The Handmaid's Tale, but I'd rather write about everyday life in a more realistic (and also neurotic) way instead.

I went to a coffee shop last week and wrote out a rough draft of a new nonfiction piece about what it was like when my so-called best friend cut me out of their life several years ago. It was something I'd written about before in my journal because the loss had affected me deeply, so when I sat down to write it out in the form of a story, the words came easily to me and I was able to draft the entire story in one sitting. I plan on revising the story and sending it out to another literary magazine; I might try a new one called True Story. I also have ideas for other stories, including ones about teaching.

One thing that sucks is that most literary magazines refuse to publish anything that's already been posted on a blog like this one because they consider it "previously published", even though I'm lucky if more than a few dozen people actually read my blog every week. It's too bad because there's a lot of stuff that I could have used as material for stories. But that's why I've also continued working on my memoir (which will be a full-length book rather than a short story) about online dating because I don't think there are any rules about using revised versions of blog posts for a book. After all, the writers Julie Powell and Jen Lancaster started out as bloggers, and they turned their blogs into books.

It's been a long, challenging year, and after everything I've been through this year, it will be good to devote my summer to writing things that I want to write, not things that I get paid to write.

What about you? What are your plans for the summer?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Teachers Who No One Dared to Disrespect

When I was in high school, I had a teacher that everyone was afraid of. We had to wear school uniforms, and we had to tuck our shirts in as part of the dress code. The other teachers joked that when this particular teacher walked down the hall, all of the students frantically tucked in their shirts so that she wouldn't yell at them.

When we were in her class, all the students sat up straight and were quiet unless she called on us. No one ever talked back to her, no one challenged any of the grades she gave out, and no one disrespected her. They didn't dare.

When I was in college, I took an American literature class taught by a professor who was very kind and intelligent but didn't always call out students on their bad behavior. Once, he offered to host a study session for the class in preparation for the final. A student said that the session time was inconvenient to her and said something like, "I'm not going to drag my ass to campus for something like that." He was trying to help us, and she was a rude jerk to him. Although I respected him, I wish that he had stood up to her, and I wish I had stood up for him.

I always wanted to be a teacher like the one I had in high school. When I first started teaching, I was still in my twenties and knew very little about how to interact with students. College teachers don't get the same training that grade school and high school teachers do, partly because search committees at colleges care more about job candidates' scholarly accomplishments than their abilities as a teacher (which is sad and unfair, but it's true). I only ever took one class, "How to Teach Freshman Composition", and that was it. I had to figure out everything else for myself.

And that was why I ended up letting far too many students walk all over me during my first year, like the one who threatened to get me fired because I called her out on her bad behavior, or the one who screamed at me for almost twenty minutes for giving him a B (male instructors who were concerned by his aggressive hostility had to intervene on my behalf), or the one who falsely accused me of racism in an e-mail  that she circulated to multiple people in my department, including faculty who had no authority over my job, but she wanted to smear my professional reputation to as many people as possible.

I did not call out these students on their nastiness and blatant disrespect towards me (although I will say that I didn't change the grade of that student who screamed at me, even though it was clear that he was trying to bully me into giving him an A). I should have, but I was too scared of losing my job and did not yet realize that I was the one in charge of my classes, and therefore these students did not have the right to treat me like crap.

Every year, there are always at least one or two disrespectful students, like the one who claimed that he knew more about teaching literature than I did, even though he'd never taught anyone, or the one who literally reprimanded me for not responding to his e-mail in less than two hours. There are also the ones who ignore the fact that I have a Ph.D. and have earned the title of "Doctor", and insist on calling me "Ms." or by my first name instead. (I can't help wondering if that's partly because I'm a woman; the male professors don't face this problem nearly as often.) But each year, I grew stronger, and I pushed back against them, refusing to back down to them.

Recently, a student in one of my classes demanded a grade that they didn't earn, for work that they didn't do. This student was extremely disrespectful towards me and harassed me throughout the semester about their grades. Although the college administrators and my boss agreed with me that this student's behavior was unacceptable and that the student really didn't earn the grade that they were demanding for themselves, they still gave in to their tantrum and let them have their way.

The unfairness of it all angered me. The student doesn't get a grade that they think they deserve, throws a tantrum about it, and I'm the one that has to let them get away with it? I spoke to a professor once who said that disrespectful students like that kid can ruin a class that's full of other students who are hard-working, well-behaved, and respectful. And it's true. It's students like this person that make me question whether teaching really is my vocation.

Sometimes I think that if I had been more like that teacher that everyone was scared of back in high school, this disrespectful and hostile kid would never have dared to lash out at me. Other times, I think that it just reflects what many colleges have become: "safe spaces" that let kids with a strong sense of entitlement and the unwillingness to respect authority have their way, again and again, even if it's to the detriment of their own education.

It reminded me of an incident that happened when I was teaching in Small Town. A student in one of my classes stopped showing up for more than a month, stopped turning in his assignments, and ignored my e-mails. When I refused to give him a passing grade, he sent the nastiest e-mail I've ever received from a student, where he said I was the worst professor he'd ever had and THAT was why he stopped showing up. Although my bosses agreed that this student was immature, they wouldn't let me defend myself and told me to APOLOGIZE to the student for the fact that he was going to be penalized.

I know that as the professor, I have to be the adult in this situation. I can't tell the students exactly what I think of them because then I would get in trouble and lose my job. But it's hard to keep my cool when yet another student disrespects me, and on the inside I'm basically feeling this:


What about you? Do you ever have to deal with disrespectful people at your job? Did you ever have an intimidating teacher back when you were in school?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Now That I'm 37...

1. I think it might be time to stop dating guys in their twenties (the Model was in his twenties, and after things ended with him, all I was left with were a broken heart, empty pints of ice cream, and lingerie that I had to hide when my parents came to visit). When I did online dating the last time, some of the worst guys I was "matched" with were in their twenties, like all the guys who wanted me to invite them over to my apartment after we'd only been talking for five minutes, or the guy who specified in his profile that his girlfriend could only wear her hair in a ponytail once or twice a week (That would just make me show up for the date with my hair in a ponytail).

2. I need to learn how to say "no" more often. That is, "No, you can't have a two-day extension on your paper just because you have a lot of other homework to do," or "No, it's not okay for you to be rude to me, Retail Salesperson, just because you hate your job and are married to Satan," or "No, I will NOT send you nudes, Creepy Guy on Tinder!"

3. I think it might be time to start dating more guys in their thirties, except the problem is that while a lot of the guys in their twenties, at least the ones that I was matched with on Tinder and Bumble, are mainly just interested in sex (although to be fair, Tinder is a well-known hookup site), most of the guys in their thirties (at least the ones around here) either want significantly younger women (which would make me "too old" for them, even if I'm the same age as them), or they want to "settle down" and find stepmothers for their multiple children. I've never really been the maternal type. I don't even know what to say to children. I think the last time I talked to a friend's five year old, I said something like, "You're so lucky that you get to take naps at school."

4. It's time for me to manage my time more effectively so that I can have more time to do the things I want to do, like write, travel, and spend time with friends. I never thought I'd say that I should spend less time at work, but when I look back on my twenties and thirties, I regret how much time I spent working and all the things that I sacrificed or missed out on.

5. I need to choose my friends more carefully. I spent too many years with "friends" who blew me off at the last minute, expected me to spend hours listening to their problems but criticized me for talking about mine, or claimed they "weren't hungry" and then asked if they could "share" my dessert (do you want to lose a hand? Then NO!).

I turned thirty-seven a few weeks ago. In addition to stocking up on anti-aging cream and Googling "How much is Botox?", it made me think of how I want my life to be different from now on, and so I have to make it different. I think that doing the things above will make my life easier, and maybe I'll even be a little happier, too.

What about you? As you get older, what kinds of things have you started doing differently?

Side note: I haven't blogged in several weeks because of blogger's block, too many papers to grade, and e-mails from students who think that homework is for quitters.