Sunday, September 30, 2018

How Cardi B Gave Me a Wake-up Call

I joined Instagram a couple months ago, and one of the people I follow is the rapper Cardi B. She posted a video on her Instagram page where she said something that struck a chord with me. This is an edited, censored version of what she said:

"Why do you go to the pages of people that you don't like? People don't post when they're doing bad. They ain't never gonna post their problems. So why would you want to see them do good? Why? So you can get more tight with them? Eff that! I'd rather just not see the b--h!"

For weeks after I found out that the Model had used me to cheat on his girlfriend, I kept looking at their Instagram pages, even though it pained me to do so each time. He never posted any pictures of her on his page, but in his Instagram Story (which is a series of pictures or short videos that people can post, which disappear 24 hours later), he posted a brief video clip of himself at a festival...with her. They were with friends, and he didn't identify her as his girlfriend. But anyone could tell that she was, from the way that she beamed at him, so happy and in love. He had a smirk on his face, and I hated him so much at that moment that I wanted to slap the smugness right off him.

She posted less frequently on her page, but when she did, she included more pictures of them together, such as the ones of them celebrating his birthday in Chicago, or the ones of them at a friend's wedding, where she included a caption that boasted about what a good-looking couple they were. It hurt more to look at her page than his because she represented everything I would never have: a life with him. Several of her friends commented on her posts, congratulating her on her relationship, and her responses made it clear that she was pretty smug too, basking in their admiration of how great her life and boyfriend were. It all made me hate her almost as much as I hated him.

But when I saw that video that Cardi B posted on her Instagram page, somehow her words woke me up and shook me out of the heartbroken stupor I'd been trapped in for far too long. What she said made sense: why should I keep looking at the pictures of two people I hated and see more evidence of how happy they were? It didn't do anything but make me feel more alone and unhappy, and I didn't want to keep wallowing in my anger and bitterness. Not to mention, as Cardi B pointed out, people typically only post the best parts of their lives on social media, not the problems. Obviously, the Model and his girlfriend's relationship isn't as perfect as the Girlfriend makes it out to be. If it was, he wouldn't have wanted to be with me that night, nor would he have made plans to meet up with me again when he came back to College Town. Cardi B helped me realize that I was never going to feel better about the whole situation if I kept looking at their Instagram pictures. It was time to move on with my life.

Since I know that he works out at my gym in the morning when he comes back to College Town, I've changed my routine so that I only work out at night; thus far, I've managed to avoid seeing him. But since College Town is not that much bigger than Small Town and I know that he occasionally comes back to see his family and friends, I'm still afraid that I might run into him, or worse, that I might run into him AND her. I'm afraid that if I see him again, I might a) punch him in the face, or b) tell him exactly what I think of him and THEN punch him in the face. If I confronted him, he would either get defensive and act like I was the one with the problem, or, narcissist that he is, he would feel a sense of satisfaction to know that he affected me this much. I'm afraid that if I saw her with him, I would blurt out the truth about what he had done to her and me.

It's gotten easier not to think about him or to dwell on how much he hurt me, but unfortunately, he still pops up in my mind every now and then. I don't like watching romantic comedies anymore because whenever I see two people kissing, it reminds me of how I felt when he kissed me and how soft his lips were. I was going through my closet one day, trying to decide what to wear to work, and I found an outfit that I'd worn once that he loved and said I looked beautiful in. (Needless to say, I didn't wear it that day, and I tucked it away so I wouldn't have to see it again.) A friend of mine posted pictures of herself on vacation with her new boyfriend, and it turns out that they went to the same resort in Mexico that the Model and his girlfriend went to. Even just the pictures of palm trees that are omnipresent in people's social media posts right now make me cringe because they remind me of the palm trees in the Girlfriend's pictures of the vacation she took with the Model to Mexico, just two weeks after he spent the night with me.

I tried watching an episode of Criminal Minds while I worked out on the elliptical machine at the gym one night, and the sociopath in that episode had the same name as the Model. I came across an online article about a guy who reached out on social media to find a girl he'd met; all he knew was her name, and several women who shared her name responded. Her name was the same as the Model's girlfriend. I picked up an old manuscript of a story I hadn't worked on in years, and the name of the guy who my main character has unrequited feelings for has the same name as the Model.

It's easier not to think about him when I'm working. When I'm teaching, I'm not thinking about him or his girlfriend. I'm thinking things like, Why is that kid sleeping right now? If I can't take a nap during class, neither can he, darn it! or Why is that girl on Snapchat right now? Does she think I can't see her posing with cat ears? or They should really sell helmets that let you drink coffee while you're wearing the helmet, like they do with beer. I would totally wear one of those coffee helmets while I'm teaching. 

That's why I've found solace through my work, and that's why I've allowed my workaholic nature to control my life and my mindset once again. In addition to the time I spent in New York City, my work has provided me with something else to think about, and it has helped me free myself of my self-destructive addiction to the Model. And I will add that despite all the reminders of him, thinking about him now doesn't make me burst into tears the way it did last summer. My heart has hardened enough towards him that when I think of him now, I wonder how I could have been so foolish as to spend months pining for a narcissistic sociopath who treated me like dirt. I know the answer to that question, but that's for another post.

That same day I saw Cardi B's video, I stopped looking at the Model's Instagram page, as well as his girlfriend's. It's been a long time since I've looked at either one, and I've felt better ever since. Any time I feel tempted to peek at his page again, I watch Cardi B's video instead to remind myself why I shouldn't.

What about you? Do you ever feel tempted to look at the social media posts of people you dislike or who hurt you in the past? Do you think it's true that many people on social media only post the best versions of their lives and edit everything that detracts from that version?

P.S. Thank you, Cardi B, for bringing me to my senses, and thanks to all of you blogger friends for your supportive comments on my posts where I obsessed over the Model.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Truth Be Told

Recently, a former friend of mine published a memoir that included recollections of the small town we grew up in. There were several aspects of it that made me bristle and say, "Hey! That's not how I remember it!"

For example, Former Friend claimed that at our Catholic high school, there was only one single-session sex ed class a year, and it was taught by our gym teacher. But although it is true that they didn't really teach us much about "safe sex," what I also remember is that our religion teachers taught sex ed. I remember that sex ed occurred a lot more often than once a year, probably because they were afraid that we hormonal teenagers would be "corrupted" by the sin of premarital sex. (Little did they know that a lot of the students' minds had already been corrupted. If they had known, I can totally imagine the religion teachers shaking their heads sorrowfully while saying that we were going to go to hell unless we repented and the priests throwing holy water at us or something.)

(Side note: Although I am still a practicing Catholic and believe in many of its core principles, such as the Golden Rule of treating other people with kindness and compassion, there are several other things about the Church that I strongly disagree with.)

I don't remember our gym teacher teaching us sex ed, although he may have taught it to Former Friend and their classmates (Former Friend was in a different grade). I do remember that when the gym teacher taught us how to lift weights, he stood over us and yelled, "You're WEAK! Is that all you can benchpress, WEAKLING?" I also remember wishing I could say, "Who are you calling a weakling? Take THAT!" And then I'd karate kick him in the face.

Former Friend's memoir made me think about what might happen if I ever publish my work-in-progress, a book-length memoir titled Obsessions of a Workaholic. Since it's not a novel, I can't say, "It's fiction, and it's not based on you, of course," if someone from my life were to read it and get upset by my depiction of him or her. Everything that I've described in this blog really did happen, but I've had to alter the descriptions of some of the situations and/or people in order to protect their identities and my own.

That makes me wonder how much "altering" I'll need to do in my book. Since teaching has been such an important part of my life, naturally there are several chapters about my work as a teacher. But I have to be very careful about what I write, especially when it comes to the students.

Many of my students are good students who work hard, are polite and respectful to me and their classmates, and are dedicated to earning good grades and learning as much as they can while they are in college. Some of them have truly inspired me because of the writing they produced in my class or because of what they confided in me about their dreams for the future, which made me hope that all of their dreams would come true.

But as any teacher can relate, every year there is always a small, select group of students who are the complete opposite: the ones who are hostile and disrespectful, or the ones who believe they "deserve" A's just for showing up to class. These students are why my hair started turning white the first year I started teaching, and they are also why I always keep a bottle of Tylenol in my office at school.

Since I'm still working on the first draft, I've been writing down all the details that I can remember, everything from the student who confided in me about what it was like to be a transgender teenager in a community that believes people like them are mentally ill, to the student whose verbal attacks almost drove me to tears in front of one of the first classes I ever taught, causing several of the other students to feel sorry for me and apologize to me for that student's behavior after class was over.

I recently read a book titled Waiter's Rant, written by Steve Dublanica, who wrote about his experiences as a waiter at a fancy restaurant that the rich and famous dined at. His book was based on his blog, where he initially wrote under the pseudonym the Waiter. Once he revealed his true identity, he admitted that he'd never be able to get another restaurant job because of what he wrote. Fortunately for him, his book became a New York Times best-seller and he didn't have to wait tables anymore after it was published.

But the difference between him and me is that he didn't want to be a waiter until he retired, whereas I know that I want to spend my life as a writer AND a teacher. The problem is, if I write the whole truth and nothing but the truth about my former students, especially the ones who gave me the most problems, I could lose my job. Teachers are held to a different standard. Academia is a small world, and it's not just competitive, it's cutthroat because there are way too many people with PhDs and not enough jobs. I am a college professor, but I am untenured, which means that I don't have the job security that tenured professors have. If I lost my job, there would literally be hundreds of people lined up who would be more than happy to take my place.

This generation of students in particular is the one known for their "microaggressions" and demands for "trigger warnings" in their curriculum. Most of the students I've come across over the years are not like them, but there are nevertheless a few others I've read about in the news (as well as ones I've encountered in my own classes) who claimed that they were "offended" by things that their teachers said or wrote and then launched campaigns to destroy those teachers' careers and reputations, driving them out of their schools, and in some cases, out of education altogether. Sometimes, the teachers really did say offensive things, but in other cases, they didn't, but were nevertheless interpreted as such. Either way, I don't think that any of them deserved to be the target of hateful harassment campaigns.

Although I've achieved several of my academic and professional goals, I still have other goals. And I'm afraid that if this memoir did get published, I could lose everything I've worked for and everything I'm still working for if I revealed too many details about certain students.

I thought that if this book does get published, I could use my pseudonym: Neurotic Workaholic. But if and when I do become a published writer, I'd like to see my real name printed on my story, and if and when that happens, I'll reveal it on this blog. That's the thing about this blog: I can be more candid here because almost no one in my offline life knows that I'm the one writing this blog. It's different when it's a published book or short story.

For now, I've decided to follow Anne Lamott's advice about writing the "bad" first draft by including everything that I can remember, and I'll go back and edit it once I finish the first draft. I also try to remember what I've learned from other creative nonfiction writers I've read and heard speak: that what you write in creative nonfiction doesn't necessarily have to be 100% factual, as long as the core of what you're saying is true. David Sedaris, after all, is a creative nonfiction writer, but even he "embellishes" the truth about what happened. Dave Barry's hilarious columns are funny partly because he exaggerates a lot of things.

I think that one possible solution is that rather than describe the problem behavior of specific students, I could describe the problem behavior of a range of students, like the ones who sit in the back of the classroom, listen to music on their phones (even after I tell them to take off their headphones, they'll protest by saying, "But the music isn't even that loud!" And then I make a mental note to take some Tylenol right after class), and tune me out for weeks until they get their grades back. Then they blame ME when they don't get A's, and I also make a mental note to get my hair dyed to cover the white hair that is literally sprouting from my head at that moment. That might be less controversial than describing specific students.

What about you? Do you write creative nonfiction? If you do, how do you write about the "problematic" people you've encountered in your life? What do you think of memoirists who "embroider" the truth, as the writer Ruth Reichl admitted doing in her memoirs? (I love her books, regardless.)

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Ever since I got back from New York, I've been writing almost every day. Although I know that a lot of people prefer to work on one story at a time (and I can totally understand why since they can get it done faster), my workaholic nature has caused me to "multi-task" when it comes to my writing. That is, I'm currently working on three different stories: a novel that I drafted years ago but never revised, a creative nonfiction piece about teaching that I plan to submit to literary magazines that publish creative nonfiction, and a book-length creative nonfiction story: Obsessions of a Workaholic. I thought about just focusing on one of the stories, but I've been so excited about getting the words down on paper that I'm afraid I'll lose or forget them somehow if I put it off.

I've found that it's easier to write regularly when I incorporate it into my regular routine, like I did with exercise. Most days, I'd rather listen to Kylie Jenner talk about her lip fillers for an hour than spend that same hour working out, but because I'm now so used to working out at least 4-5 times a week, I feel worse if I don't go. And it's paid off, too, because I lost twenty pounds this summer. Although I still have more weight that I want to lose, the fact that I exceeded my weight-loss goal this summer has me dancing like this:
By a similar token, by making a point of working on my writing at least 4-5 days a week, even just for half an hour a day, it's gotten much easier to motivate myself to sit at my desk or go to a coffee shop and write, instead of lie on my bed and watch YouTube videos on my phone.

It's easier for me to write out my first drafts in longhand in notebooks at coffee shops (the baristas like me because I always tip them, and I do that so that they won't mind if I occupy one of their tables for an hour or two) or in my office at school.

Then when I write the second draft, I type it out onto my laptop at home and start making changes at that point. But if I try to write out the first draft on my laptop, my mind wanders and I start Googling random things, like "what does it mean when Millennials say 'That's so lit'? Is that a drug reference?" Or I start watching YouTube music videos of bands from the '90s, like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and then of course I start Googling "whatever happened to the OTHER members of Nirvana?" which leads to too much wasted time on Wikipedia.

I've also joined writing groups: one for my creative writing, which is a Meetup group that meets at a coffee shop near my apartment every week, and one for my scholarly writing (in academia, the prevailing attitude towards scholarly writing is "publish or perish"), which has monthly meetings on campus at the college where I teach.

Since Creative Nonfiction is one of the literary magazines I plan to submit to (actually, I already submitted a story about my life in Small Town to them earlier this summer, which probably won't get published, but it felt good just to put my writing out there), I paid $22 for a package that included an issue of their magazine, several issues of their "mini-magazine", True Story, and an anthology of stories that have been published in their magazines. They say that you should read the magazines that you want to write for, so that you get a better sense of what they're looking for. The package also included cool writer's swag, like a tote bag, a pen, and a small notebook.

Thus, I've managed to be very productive in the last weeks of summer, and after all the emotional turmoil I went through earlier this summer, it feels good to have a renewed sense of energy and focus on my work again. I've especially enjoyed working on my memoir, Obsessions of a Workaholic. All these years that I spent blogging about my life as a workaholic, I didn't realize that I was in a sense writing the first draft of this book. When I originally started blogging, I was just doing it for fun and so I could take a break from the scholarly writing that I'd been immersed in during grad school. But I've realized that there is a lot of stuff from this blog that I could use for the book, and I've also been fleshing it out and reorganizing it into a more linear narrative. It will take months to finish that book, but once I finally do, I will go back to work on another memoir: one about my experiences as a member of seven different online dating sites over the course of a decade. Even though it will be tough to make time for writing during the school year, I try to remember what I heard a successful writer say once: that even if you only write one page a day, in a year's time you'll have more than enough pages for a book.

What about you? How's your writing going, and what are you working on? What's your writing process like?