Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Quitting

I did something that I, a neurotic workaholic, thought I would never do.

No, I didn't take a vacation. First of all, the pandemic is still a problem, especially in America, because there are far too many people who think that the virus is a "hoax" and literally throw tantrums over being required to wear masks and refuse to get vaccinated. To all of you people who are not American, we Americans want you to know that not all of us are like them. Like you, many of us shake our heads at those tantrum-throwing, conspiracy theory-believing, vaccine-rejecting jerks. We also wish that we could take our masks and shove them up their---

Never mind. 

I quit my second job. Ever since my early twenties, I've always had multiple jobs. For several years in my twenties, I worked in retail at night and on the weekends, and I taught at various colleges in Chicago during the day. I also went to graduate school full-time. It got to the point where I could never relax because I always kept thinking of all the work I had to do. 

After I earned my PhD, I thought I would finally be able to live off one income, but I had thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Two cross-country moves in two years (due to the fact that I accepted an offer to teach at a college in Small Town after I finished graduate school, and then two years later, I accepted another offer to teach at a different college in College Town) also caused me to accumulate thousands of dollars in credit card debt. After years of using public transportation in Chicago, where a guy on the El once got mad that I ignored his advances so he picked his nose and wiped his finger on my coat, and a woman on the bus told me that I was going to hell because I refused to convert to her religion where she said she was the queen goddess of all the forest animals, I had to buy a car after I moved to Small Town. So that meant years of car payments. 

That's why, for the past six years since graduate school, I've continued working two jobs: a part-time job for a website, and a full-time teaching job at a college. This summer, I finally paid off my car (I would have paid it off a year ago, if I hadn't accidentally totaled my first car in a flash flood), and I am also close to paying off one of my credit cards. I realized that I could possibly afford to quit my second job because the money I no longer have to pay towards those two debts is close to what I earn from my website job. 

I was on the fence at first about quitting. I kept thinking about my medical bills that I've accumulated because of all my trips to the hospital to receive treatment for polycystic kidney disease, which I was diagnosed with last winter. When I was first told that I would need a kidney transplant sometime in the near future, my first thought was, Oh God. How will I be able to take time off from work? I CAN'T!

My first thought SHOULD'VE been this: I'm running out of time. As a matter of fact, it was my second thought. There I was, crying in my nephrologist's office, after he told me that in just a few years I will have to go on dialysis if I don't get a new kidney right away and that the wait list for a kidney is typically 5-7 years. But there is no guarantee that I will even get a kidney, which means I might not survive that long. And I just kept thinking, I'm running out of time. 

I spent all these years working two, sometimes three jobs at the same time, because I had to. I couldn't afford to live off just one income because my monthly stipend as a teaching assistant wasn't enough to cover the high cost of living in Chicago. I could have taken out more student loans throughout graduate school like most of my classmates did, but I didn't want to complete my graduate degree with a six-figure debt when I knew that that would put me in debt for the rest of my life. I did take out two small loans towards the end of graduate school, though, when it became clear that I could no longer work three jobs at the same time.

But that day in my nephrologist's office, I thought of all the things I had sacrificed because of my work. I had worked away my youth, and I had ended up in many doctors' offices and in the hospital more than once because of stress-related health problems, the stress caused mainly by the strain of working multiple jobs. 

I also thought about all the things that I still want to do: travel around the world, write books, and make a name for myself as a creative writer and a scholar. I actually haven't even left the country in twenty years, not since I was a twenty-year-old college student, when I studied in Spain for one summer. I spent two months in a town that shall remain nameless, taking Spanish classes. I shared an apartment with three American sorority sisters from California. They lined up at the telephone every night so they could call their boyfriends and kept inviting their friends who were backpacking through Europe to stay at the apartment, so that the entire summer I had four or five roommates, rather than three. 

While my roommates spent most of their free time talking to their boyfriends or going clubbing and bar-hopping with the other American tourists, I traveled to other towns. I walked around the town I lived in and sampled local foods. I went to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I watched flamenco dancers perform in Madrid. I went to Pamplona during the running of the bulls, where a bunch of drunk men kept calling out to me and grabbing at me. I literally had to fight off one particularly aggressive guy and I tried to threaten him by saying I had a knife. Except I used the Spanish word for "butter knife", which made him jeer at me and ask if I was going to make him breakfast.

I spent a weekend in Barcelona, where I rode a double-decker bus around the city and got off the bus whenever I spotted something that looked interesting. I went into tapas bars and was unable to understand most of the menu, so I pointed to dishes that looked interesting and tried them. More often than not they were delicious.

One thing I noted about Spaniards was how relaxed they were. They took a siesta in the middle of the day, where most of the shops and businesses shut down for two or three hours so that people could go home and rest or take long lunches. It's something that would never fly in America, where people typically eat a hurried lunch at their desks at work or skip lunch altogether so that they can get more work done. 

It seemed to me like many of the Spaniards I met viewed work simply as a means to an end, rather than as the center of their lives. Maybe that's why they seemed so much happier and more relaxed.

As a young, twenty-year-old woman, I immersed myself in Spanish culture, and I vowed that once I finished school, I would travel around the world and immerse myself in more cultures.

Except I didn't. I immersed myself in my work instead. And then, twenty years later, when my doctors gave me my diagnosis, I thought about all the things I'd missed out on, and how I was running out of time to live the life I wanted to live. When I was younger, I thought I had all the time in the world. But now I'm a middle-aged woman, and I know that my time is running out.

I've always hated my second job. I've had it since graduate school because it enabled me to escape retail. It paid a few bucks more per hour than retail did, and it meant that I could work from home on my couch rather than be on my feet for nine-hour shifts. When I first started working for this company, which legally prevents me from naming it online, I was paid eleven dollars per hour. When I earned my PhD, they gave me a "raise" to twelve dollars per hour. I've worked for this company for thirteen years, the longest I've ever stayed with any employer, and during that entire time, I only ever received that one-dollar raise (apparently to my employer, a doctorate is only worth one dollar). They got away with it because I was technically a "subcontractor".

"They employ a lot of academics," one of my colleagues said. "And they know how desperate untenured faculty and graduate students are for work and money, so they use it to their advantage to exploit them." 

The only way I could have been paid more was to apply for a promotion to a supervisor, but that would have only meant about fifteen dollars an hour. And the supervisors I dealt with were totally annoying, nit-picking every single aspect of my work, even though I received praise from many other people for the quality of that same work.

I still have two other credit cards that I have to pay off, and by quitting my second job, it meant it would take me longer to pay off those debts. And of course, there were my student loans. Not to mention the medical treatment I've been receiving has led to hundreds of dollars in medical bills because my insurance does not completely cover everything. I had to use my stimulus checks to cover those bills, but there will be more bills in the near future. I worried about that and thought that maybe I should just stick it out at my second job for at least one more year. 

"You have to make changes to your life," my doctors told me. "The best way to protect yourself now is to lower your blood pressure. That means exercising regularly, eating a low-sodium diet, and reducing stress in your life. If you do that you might be able to put off the kidney transplant for at least a few years."

I have been working out 5-6 times a week, and I've become a semi-vegetarian; I only eat meat a couple times a month now, and I've been eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. Working multiple jobs has been a major source of stress for me since I was in my twenties. I realized that if I budgeted carefully and lived more frugally, I could still pay off my remaining credit card debt in two years. If it wasn't for my diagnosis, I would have stayed at my second job. But I was worried about raising my blood pressure again; even though I take two different blood pressure medications and carefully monitor my BP every day, every now and then my blood pressure still goes up, usually when I get an email from a student who blew off several weeks' worth of classes but asks me to "make an exception" and still give them "at least a B."

My health is more important than the paltry income that I get from this second job. By quitting my second job, I'll get to have at least one day off a week, rather than work seven days a week for months at a time, which is what I've been doing since my twenties. I'll have more time to write and pursue publication. I actually drafted two novels and a memoir over the last ten years. But my many work responsibilities kept me from spending more time on the pursuit of publication. I did try submitting short stories and essays to literary magazines, and I have the rejection letters to prove it. But I did not try as hard to get my longer manuscripts published. I was scared of the risk of putting my writing out there because there was always the chance that all those years of writing would lead to nothing. 

But if there's one thing I've learned from being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it's that life is too short. And sometimes it's worth it to take a risk, especially if it means that it could lead to the life that you want to live, rather than be stuck in a life that you hate. 

What about you? Do you work multiple jobs? Have you ever quit a job in the past, and was it hard for you to make the decision to leave? 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

It's a Living

I used to love it.

When I first started teaching, my hand shook as I wrote on the chalkboard. I used to write out everything I was going to say in class beforehand, and then I practiced saying it in front of the mirror. 

I was still in my twenties back then. I taught my first class when I was a student in the master's program. I paid my graduate school tuition by working as a teaching assistant in the M.A. program through the Ph.D.; I taught almost every semester in exchange for a tuition waiver and a small monthly stipend. The stipend was not enough to live on, which is why I took on extra jobs by teaching part-time at other colleges and also by resisting the urge to bitch-slap rude customers who threw tantrums about expired coupons at my retail jobs (I wish those rude customers a lifetime of being stuck in long lines behind customers who acted exactly like they did).

"You'll never make it as a teacher," my mother told me. "You don't have the personality for it. All your students will dislike you." She pressured me to pursue a career in the lucrative field that the majority of my relatives worked in. She was furious when I defied her and majored in English instead of the major she tried to force me into. It was the first real decision I ever made, and to this day, she loves to emphasize how much my sibling earns in that lucrative field. When I answered her inquiry about how much I earn as a teacher, she said, "That's it? That's not enough. I told you so. You chose this career, and look how you ended up."

I wanted to prove her wrong, which is one of the reasons I worked so hard in graduate school. My former therapist told me that the children of abusive parents often become overachievers with Type A personalities. They want their parents' approval, which is constantly withheld from them because their parents make them feel bad about themselves instead. "She'll never approve of what you do," my therapist said. "Then she would have to admit that she was wrong about you." 

I didn't want the career my parents wanted for me. I remember seeing a professor at my college who always had an extra bounce in his step when he walked to class. He was cheerful when he taught because he truly enjoyed his job. He wasn't like so many other workers I'd observed at the internships I did before I committed to graduate school, the ones who dreaded Mondays and were only in a good mood on Fridays.

When I first started teaching, I thought it would be like an inspirational teacher movie, where the students are disrespectful at first, but eventually they warm up to the teacher because of the latter's inspirational teaching methods. In the movie Dead Poets Society, the students jump up on their desks and recite poetry as their teacher walks out of the classroom for the last time. In the movie Stand and Deliver, the students go from struggling in school to receiving high scores on their AP calculus test, including one student who didn't even know what calculus was before taking the teacher's class. 

I thought that I could be like the English teachers who inspired me, the ones who encouraged my love of reading and writing and introduced me to new authors. I actually only ever took one class on college teaching before I started teaching because college teachers do not have the same intensive training for teaching as high school and grade school teachers do. The focus is supposed to be on their research, not their teaching, which is why there are many college professors who are brilliant scholars but terrible teachers. 

I wanted to be the exception. I wanted to be like the college professors I'd had who were both good scholars AND good teachers. And for a long time, I was truly passionate about teaching. Many of my students wrote in their evaluations, "She's really enthusiastic. She seems really happy when she's teaching." And I was. I always felt a rush when I stood at the front of the classroom or even when I walked into class each day. I refused to give up on my graduate studies, despite all the problems I had with my dissertation and my advisor, partly because I didn't want to give up teaching, the job that I loved. 

But over the years, I started to love it less and less. It didn't happen overnight. It was gradual, the accumulation of many things that kept happening over the years.

There was the student who refused to sit down during their appointment and literally loomed over me and screamed in my face for several minutes because they earned a B. 

There was the student who berated me for telling another student not to nap in my class. "You're hurting his self-esteem," the student said. 

There was the student who argued about every single grade she received in my class, and she insisted, "You're wrong! I should have gotten an A." When I finally told her that I wasn't going to debate her grades with her anymore and that she couldn't talk to me like that, she literally threw a tantrum in my office, stomping her feet, and screaming and crying in front of my colleagues I shared an office with and their students. I managed to calm the student down, but inside I was seething. She was allowed to explode, but as the teacher I never could because I had to be the mature adult. 

There was the student who stopped showing up to class for more than two months, ignored my emails, and then when they received an F, sent me one of the nastiest emails I'd ever received, full of insults and obscenities.

There were the students who sat in the back every day, didn't look up from their cell phones during the entire class session, would simply say, "I don't know. I didn't do the reading," when I asked them a question, and then go back to turning themselves into cats on Snapchat or whatever the hell they did on those phones. These were the same students who often skipped class and showed up late, turned in their work late or not at all, and then blamed ME when they didn't get the good grades they thought they deserved. "If I get a bad grade, it's YOUR fault because you're a bad teacher," more than one of them told me to my face.

I didn't tolerate that crap, though. I told the students to put their phones away and docked them class participation points if they kept taking their phones out. I sternly and firmly told the students who accused me of being a bad teacher that their mistakes and poor work ethic caused them to earn low grades, and that I would not tolerate such blatant disrespect from them ever again. Every semester, I grew tougher and less tolerant of b.s. because there was always at least one or two disrespectful students like that. 

"All it takes is one nasty student," one of my colleagues told me. "The rest of the class can be good, hard-working students, but that one nasty student is often enough to poison your memory of the class."

I didn't even entirely blame the students for their bad behavior. I blamed the parents who raised them, the ones who used to slam into each other in mosh pits at concerts thirty years ago and became helicopter or snowplow parents who sent me angry emails, insulting or guilting me when I dared to penalize their precious children for breaking my rules. One mother sent me an email that stated, "It's not my son's fault that he kept showing up late. It's my fault because I didn't wake him up in time." The class was at noon. The student was nineteen. 

I blamed some of the other teachers and administrators who enabled them, like one of my former bosses, who would not let me defend myself to the student who sent me that nasty email. Instead, my boss told me to apologize to the student for upsetting them, but at least I didn't have to change the student's grade. 

Not all the students were like this, thank God. Some students came into my office with detailed notes or outlines of the papers they were working on because they were willing to work hard and wanted to learn. Other students excitedly told me about how they started reading other books by the authors I'd introduced them to in my literature classes, and they said that they didn't even like to read before they took my class. Several students shyly confided in me during my office hours about their hopes for the future, such as the student who wanted to become a filmmaker and showed me her YouTube channel but was being pressured by her mother to become an accountant. The students like them motivated me to keep teaching.

But in recent years, I find myself dreading Mondays. Burnout is common among teachers. I read somewhere that a significant percentage of teachers don't even last five years. Many teachers suffer from mental health problems, and the low pay obviously doesn't make up for it. 

I've been teaching for more than a dozen years. I didn't quit. But there have been times where I've wanted to. It's gotten to the point where sometimes I just want to throw down the chalk and scream, "JUST FIGURE IT OUT!" when students ask me the same questions again and again because they weren't listening the first time I told them.

One of my students told me at the end of this past semester that I was her favorite teacher and that she liked that I was different from the other teachers. What she said made my day, and it helped soften the blow inflicted by another student, who wrote in his evaluation, "We all make fun of her in the group chat." I couldn't help feeling awful about that because I'd worked so hard to make the online classes good for the students during the pandemic, and that student's vicious insult made me feel like I'd done everything wrong. My colleagues assured me that most likely only a few of the students made fun of me, and that that particular student was probably retaliating because he was getting a low grade in my class. 

I don't regret not pursuing the career my parents wanted for me. But sometimes, I can't help thinking what my life would have been like if I had chosen something other than teaching. Over the years, I lost my passion for teaching.

I went from being an enthusiastic, naive young teacher in my twenties who wanted to inspire students to love writing and literature to a burned out, disillusioned teacher in my forties who just wants to inspire students to put down their freaking cell phones during class. I no longer love my job. I haven't loved it in years. But I haven't quit, partly because I don't know what else to do, and partly because I especially need the health insurance now that I have a life-threatening disease for which there is no cure. Also, I obviously still need to get paid, so that I'll have money for the necessities, like food, rent, and Taylor Swift albums. 

The comedian Drew Carey once said, "Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say that? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."

In the 90s movie Office Space, the main character, played by Ron Livingston, also hates his job. His love interest, played by Jennifer Aniston, tells him at the end of the movie that a lot of people don't like their jobs, but that it was okay, as long as they found other ways to be happy.

I think she was right. I believed that I could only have a good life if I truly loved my job. But now I know that it's okay if I don't because there is more to life than work (and as a workaholic, it took me a long time to realize that). As long as I don't take out my frustrations with the job on my students, and as long as I continue to do a good job, I can keep teaching, at least for now. And I do have other things in my life that make me happy, like good books, writing, and the hope that some day, those entitled students who disrespected me will one day have children who will be exactly like they were at that age because then they'll get a taste of their own medicine. I know that's petty of me, but blame it on the hundreds of students who were like that and who overshadowed the students who weren't. But what gives me satisfaction is that despite those students' horrible treatment of me, I didn't let it stop me. I kept teaching, and I actually became a better teacher as a result. And that's something, even if my students aren't jumping up on their desks to recite poetry for me.

What about you? Have you ever felt burned out at your job? 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Setting Fire to the Dating Board

Before the Model and Small Town Guy, there was the Grad Student, who I shared an office with back when I was a teaching assistant in graduate school. We shared our office with a territorial control freak who banned us from the office whenever he had appointments with other students but refused to leave when either of us had appointments. I wish the control freak nothing but the worst, including a lifetime of loud neighbors, entitled students, and colleagues who ask "just one more question" at the end of every faculty meeting.

Unlike most of the guys I've had crushes on, the Grad Student actually liked me back. We became friends after I confided in him about my struggles with my dissertation, and we hung out several times. He told me that he liked that I sometimes bought Starbucks gift cards for homeless people so they wouldn't get kicked out of cafes. He said that his ideal woman had my best qualities.

But on the night that I was in the emergency room because I got diagnosed with a neurological disorder, I tried to call him. I was scared and I wanted to talk to someone who wasn't a nurse, a doctor, or an orderly. But he said he couldn't talk. He was at a bar with his friends. 

He didn't call me to check on me until several days later. He said that I called him at a bad time. I said that I was going through a bad time and I only wanted to talk to him for a couple minutes. I didn't expect him to drop everything for me every time I needed him, but I also didn't think he would blow me off when I was in the emergency room because he was getting drunk with his friends. I'll always be there for you, he had told me before all of this happened. 

We both successfully defended our dissertations and earned our PhDs at the same time. He left for a tenure-track position at a small liberal arts college in another state, whereas I was offered a visiting faculty position at a college in Small Town. He didn't even say goodbye. 

The pandemic gave me a good excuse not to date anyone last year. But now, things are opening back up again. I thought about doing online dating again, probably on Bumble, but I'm reluctant to do so, for several reasons:

1. I'm afraid that the Model will be on Bumble again, like he was two years ago when I reconnected with him. I don't think I have the willpower yet to say no to him, and I do not want to go down that road again. Even if I got to be with him again, he'd still go running back to his girlfriend like he did last time, and I'd end up worse off than I was before. 

2. There are way too many guys on both Bumble and Tinder who are using fake pictures. One guy used Channing Tatum's pictures but claimed that his name was "Adam" and that he worked in marketing. I don't understand why there are so many "catfish" out there. Do they think that once they meet the women in person, they will be automatically forgiven because of their "great" personalities? Or do they have no intention of meeting in person because all they are hoping to get out of this are pictures of women's boobs? 

3. Now that I'm 40, I'm considered "undateable" by many guys my age, who are pursuing women my students' age (late teens and early twenties). When I was on match.com and okcupid, guys specified their age range for dates as 18-28, even when the guys were in their late thirties. I teach young women who are in the age range that these guys want, and they think that anyone over the age of 25 is old. 

4. Most of the 30-something or 40-something guys around here who are willing to date women my age are divorced with kids, and some of them are still married but claim that they're "separated" (Sure, pal. I'd believe that if you hadn't accidentally or perhaps just stupidly included your wedding picture in your dating profile). I dated a single dad that I met on Tinder; he said he had a preteen daughter and that he hoped to find someone who would be a good "mother figure" to her, before telling me that he thought she would like me a lot. (I remember thinking, Whoa, slow down! I don't even know your last name yet!)

5. I've literally tried almost everything to meet someone. I joined a youth group at my church when I was in my twenties, where I had a crush on a great guy who fell for someone else in the group. I went to a speed-dating party. I joined not one but seven online dating sites, some of them more than once. I dated more guys than I care to count, and I failed to make a real connection with all of them. I became friends with Small Town Guy and fell for him, and then I watched him fall in love with someone else. I met several guys through a Meetup group here in College Town that met at a bar every week to play board games, but they were more focused on playing board games than socializing. 

I know that there are good men out there. One of my colleagues married late in life, to a man who works at the college where we teach. One day, she texted him and remarked that she forgot to bring her favorite dessert in her lunch. Without being asked, her husband went to one of the dining halls on campus, bought the dessert, and dropped it off at her desk as a surprise while she was teaching. Small gestures like that gave me faith that not all men are like the ones I dated. 

But I didn't think that making a real connection with someone would be this hard, especially since it came so easily to so many other people. I know someone who literally took a walk and met her future husband (she went hiking and met her husband in a park, where he worked as a park ranger). 

I always thought that by the time I was 40, I would have met someone special by now. "You'll meet Mr. Right someday, when you least expect it," people always said. But I never did. 

After the Model broke my heart, I briefly went to therapy, though with a different therapist since my former one still lives in Chicago. I couldn't afford to continue, but the therapist said something that struck a chord with me: "I think that your difficulty letting him go has something to do with the way your mother treated you."

I was surprised because I'd barely mentioned my mother during the therapy sessions. But then afterwards, I remembered the time I came home from my first school dance in tears because no one asked me to dance. The next day, my mother got mad at me for something, and she said, "No wonder no one wants to dance with you." 

When I was a kid, I was different from the other kids because I wasn't good at cheerleading or sports. I was always reading, and I kept to myself. In grade school, the other kids made fun of me. They knocked me to the ground and threw balls at me extra hard at recess (we weren't playing dodgeball). They called me names and laughed when I cried. "It's because you have a bad personality," my mother and father said. "There's something wrong with you." They later said the same thing when they talked about the fact that I was the only one of their friends' grown children who was still unmarried. 

For a long time, I believed that my parents were right. I thought that the fact that I stayed home on prom night (and on the nights of most school dances) and didn't go on my first real date until I was in my twenties meant that I was unattractive. I'd look in the mirror and think, No wonder no one wants to dance with you. 

So, I became a workaholic instead. I focused on earning three degrees, including a bachelor's, a master's, and a PhD. I became a good teacher and taught dozens of classes in writing and literature. I kept my nose to the grindstone for so long that one day I looked up and I was thirty-six, and my youth was long behind me. I didn't get to enjoy being young, I thought. And there was the Model, with his irresistible grin, holding his hand out to me. He was the kind of guy I'd always been attracted to but who never even noticed me, and yet he did. It was flattering, especially after all those years of loneliness and rejection. I knew he was wrong for me, but then again, the guy who on paper was perfect for me (Small Town Guy) didn't want me. So, I went against my instincts and said yes to the Model, and well, if you've been reading my blog for a while, you know how that turned out. When he broke my heart, my mother's cruel words echoed in my head all over again.

The first time I read the definition for an "introvert", I felt a sense of relief. It made me think that maybe there wasn't something wrong with me because there were other people out there who were like me, people who disliked parties and preferred to be on their own most of the time. 

Fans of the TV show Sex and the City often compare themselves to the four main cast members: Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. But I think that I'm actually more like Mr. Big. When Carrie asked him what he wanted, he replied, "Exactly what we have. You have your own place. I have mine. We're together when we want to be, and we're apart when we want to be." 

That, to me, sounds ideal. I prefer to live alone, where I don't have to quarrel with anyone over whose turn it is to do the dishes or clean the bathroom. I prefer to have full control over my finances rather than share an account with someone, so that my partner won't say something like, "You spent how much on Taylor Swift concert tickets?" 

I also don't want to devote every weekend to whomever I'm dating. I don't want to spend every night with him. I don't want to spend hours on the phone with him every day. 

When I was applying for teaching positions at various colleges, I liked that I could apply wherever I wanted without having to worry about how it would affect someone else. I liked that if I got a job offer, I had the freedom to just pack up my things and go, rather than turn it down because my partner didn't want to move. 

I also like that if I want to travel somewhere on vacation, I don't have to go visit in-laws or go somewhere that I have no interest in. I have the freedom to go where I want to go.

After I got diagnosed with a life-threatening disease for which there is no cure, it made me realize that I want to spend the time I have left focusing on what makes me happy. Dating did not make me happy. I did it because I didn't want to be alone and I thought that my "happy ending" included true love, as is shown in so many movies, TV shows, and books. But I've started to think that my destiny is not tied to anyone else and that maybe there is a reason I kept striking out. Maybe on some level, I didn't want to be in a relationship with anyone, but I was in denial about that because it went against the "happy ending" so many people wanted. Maybe true love is not in the cards for me. That makes me feel sad because although I do prefer being alone a lot of the time, I don't want to be alone all the time for the rest of my life. But at the same time, maybe it means that there's something else meant for me, something that could make me happy. 

On the one hand, I don't want to remain celibate and live like a nun for the rest of my life. This is surprising to many guys my age, who are looking for relationships and someone to settle down with, whereas I just want to have fun (does that make me like Samantha? I don't think I want to have that much fun.) But on the other hand, I don't think I want to do online dating again anytime soon. I'm pretty burned out on dating altogether. I don't want to spend more hours poring over guys' dating profiles. I don't want to make boring small talk on first dates. I don't want to get my heart broken again.

Maybe I could still find someone special by chance, like other people over the age of 40 have done. But I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, I want to focus on the other things in my life that are important to me: getting published as a scholar and as a creative nonfiction writer, achieving more success in my career, maintaining my health, paying off my debts, and traveling around the world. I could still have a full, happy life, even if it's a life where I am alone. 

What about you? Do you believe in soul mates or the idea of a romantic destiny? What does your "happy ending" look like?

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Scammers

Last fall, I found out that the Model and his girlfriend perpetrated a con that lasted for months, fooling literally millions of people. 

The Model stopped texting me not long after I finally confronted him about the fact that he never came to see me after he moved back to the Midwest, despite his promises that he would. I didn't try to contact him either. I had finally decided to wash my hands of him and his b.s. for good. However, a few weeks after we stopped talking, a tabloid headline caught my eye.

I have to admit that despite the fact that I am an English professor who reads and teaches writing and classic literature, I often read tabloids for the celebrity gossip and salacious stories. The British tabloids are particularly interesting because they often have the weirdest stories. I read one story about a woman who came home from the hospital after giving birth, only to find out that the father of her children had run off with her mother. Apparently, they'd been having an affair throughout her pregnancy, and both her boyfriend and her mother were unrepentant, insisting that they'd done nothing wrong because they'd fallen in love, as if that justified their betrayal. It's like, wow, these are the days of their lives.

Anyway, I was reading one of those tabloids when to my surprise, I found a picture of the Model, along with a separate picture of a female influencer. I can't give away too many details about who she is because then it will become clear who the Model is; I've always been careful not to reveal too many identifying details on my blog in order to protect my anonymity, and the Model is open about where he's from, which is College Town (the town I live in). But the article accompanying the pictures proclaimed that the Model and this influencer were in a relationship and were madly in love. 

I checked his Instagram page to see if it was true, and he had already proclaimed on his own page that he was in a relationship with her. Their posts were full of their adoration for each other. What was puzzling, however, is that the Model kept posting pictures of himself in his other girlfriend's apartment (the same girlfriend he'd been on-again, off-again with for years at that point) while he was professing his love for the influencer. I didn't understand. If he was madly in love with this influencer, why would his old girlfriend continue to let him stay at her apartment? He did mention that they'd been in an open relationship, but in the article I read, he stated that he was committed only to the influencer. 

So, I checked out his old girlfriend's Instagram page. They were still following each other on Instagram, but she'd deleted almost all the pictures of them together. She didn't delete all of them, just the ones where his face showed up in the first frame. The few pictures that remained were hidden behind a series of other pictures. Either they really had broken up, or she was hiding evidence of their relationship.

Some of that female influencer's followers accused the Model of using the influencer for her fame because she was more famous than he was; like me, they suspected that this "relationship" was fake. But the Model and the influencer kept defending their relationship, and he gave interviews insisting that he really did love her, even though they had not been "dating" very long. 

I couldn't figure out what was going on, but I also figured that it wasn't my business and set the tabloids aside. If I wasn't reading them, I wouldn't have to see any more articles about this "showmance."

But then a few weeks later, he was trending on social media because he was accused of cheating on the influencer by some anonymous woman who claimed to be a college student who had had a one-night stand with him. In another tabloid article, there was a picture of him in bed with the woman, except she'd hidden most of her face from the picture. But I was startled to realize that the woman was his old girlfriend (and she is not a college student). I recognized the headboard in the picture as hers; I knew it couldn't be his because his headboard was different from hers (and obviously, I've seen the headboard on his bed in person) and he'd photographed himself in her bed on more than one occasion. 

It made me realize that he and his girlfriend staged that picture, and then they leaked it to the media to stir up more drama in his "relationship" with the influencer and get his name back in the headlines. 

This is crazy, I thought. But I just kept reminding myself that it wasn't my business, and I tried to ignore the tabloids again. But I made the mistake of reading them a few months later because I was reading articles about Britney Spears (I've loved her music for more than twenty years, and I felt sorry for her when everyone made fun of her during her nervous breakdown, although now everyone is claiming that they feel sorry for her too. Yeah, right, because apparently they all forgot about all the times they viciously mocked her back in the 2000s.) And that's how I found more headlines about the Model.

Apparently, he and the influencer "broke up", and he moved on to another influencer, who was in talks for her own reality show. He told interviewers that he hoped to get on TV with her so he could show off their love. But when the plans for her show fell through, he quickly dumped her, and a week later, he posted a picture of his girlfriend at the beach without revealing her face (he photographed her from behind), referring to her as his girlfriend. She posted several pictures of yet another luxury resort he took her to, bragging about the umpteenth luxury vacation they had taken together, though she didn't mention his name or post any pictures of him.

That second influencer, however, reportedly had a nervous breakdown after the Model tossed her aside, and she disappeared from social media for a long time. I didn't know her, but I felt sorry for her, and I felt sorry for the first influencer too. 

It's possible that both of those influencers were in on the scam, and that maybe they were just trying to elevate their fame, though they didn't give any interviews to the tabloids, unlike him. But even so, that didn't make the Model or his girlfriend look any better. They took advantage of these women's loneliness so that they could profit from it. The Model did it for fifteen minutes of fame and the opportunity to get on TV, and his girlfriend did it to please him, and to get a fistful of cash and yet another luxury vacation that she did not have to pay for. 

I felt angry that they got away with scamming literally millions of people, including the media (especially the media!). His followers egged him on, praising him for being so "loving" to those women. I was so tempted to expose the lies of the Model and his partner in crime to everyone. I had thought of warning both of those influencers and sending them a DM that said, "He's using you. He has another girlfriend." I thought of contacting the tabloids and giving them a "tip" about what the Model and his girlfriend had done; I actually know a celebrity blogger through a friend, and I thought of messaging the blogger first. I actually sat down at my computer to send them all those messages to expose the truth.

But all of a sudden, I thought about Miss Havisham, a character from Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations (if you haven't read the novel, there are spoilers ahead). She is notable because she is jilted on her wedding day, and she continues to wear her wedding dress every day for years. She refuses to throw out her uneaten wedding cake, so it collects dust and cobwebs over the years. She sets all of the clocks in her house so that they are literally stopped at the exact minute that she found out that her groom had jilted her. It's symbolic of how her life stopped after her heart was broken.

Miss Havisham is consumed with anger and a desire for revenge, so she raises her adoptive daughter Estella to be cold towards men. When Estella breaks the protagonist's heart, Miss Havisham is initially delighted; since she was unable to seek vengeance against her former groom, she used Pip as a substitute. But she eventually realizes that her vengeance does not succeed in making her feel better, especially because an innocent person (Pip) got hurt; furthermore, she is still as empty and lonely as she was before.

I told my literature students that Miss Havisham is a cautionary tale. Dickens demonstrated what happens when you not only suffer from unrequited love but refuse to move on with your life. 

When I was tempted to expose the lies that the Model and his girlfriend had told the whole world, I realized that if I did, I would be like Miss Havisham. I mean, what if those two female influencers were not in on the scam and truly believed that the Model really had cared for them? If I exposed the Model and his girlfriend, those women would only get hurt even more, and they would be publicly humiliated as being fooled by those two selfish, deceitful scammers. Also, despite his facade on Instagram as a good guy, the Model can be truly vicious and vindictive when he wants to be. He would strike back by telling everyone about how I was just a jealous ex who was trying to get back at him. And in a way, he'd be right. 

I did not want to be like Miss Havisham. I did not want to spend the rest of my life pining for someone who didn't give a damn about me. I did not want to go out of my way to hurt other people, even if they deserved it. 

For two years, I felt guilty about hooking up with the Model two weeks before he took his girlfriend on a romantic vacation (although I hadn't found out about her until after I spent the night with him) because I didn't know that they were in an open relationship at the time. When I found her Instagram page after becoming suspicious of him and doing some digging online, I thought that based on her pictures she seemed like a good person. But now I know that she is not a good person at all. A good person does not help her boyfriend lie to the whole world. A good person does not help her boyfriend scam other women into thinking that he cares about them. She knew all along that he didn't mean a word that he said about those women, but she didn't care if they got hurt. She didn't care that he was lying to the whole world because she was lying too. She was just as mean as he was.

If I exposed them, there was the danger of sinking to their level and ending up like them. I don't want to be like the Model or his girlfriend. I mean, if being with him means that I have to scam millions of people like she did, then it's just as well that I'm not with him.

If I exposed them, it would be proof that I was refusing to move on with my life. I did not want to suffer and stew in my misery for decades like Miss Havisham did. I wanted a life where I was free of my anger towards the Model and the pain he caused me. It made me think of a scene from a memoir written by the advice columnist Amy Dickinson, where she was sitting with her first husband. She loved him and wanted him to stay, but he was in love with someone else. She realized that by trying to hold on to him, she was only hurting herself in the process. Save yourself, she thought.

Her words echoed in my mind as I sat in front of my computer. I didn't expose the Model or his girlfriend. Instead, I closed my laptop, and I did something that would make members of Generation Z gasp and clutch their cell phones: I walked out the door without my cell phone so that I wouldn't be tempted to look at it, especially not the social media pages of the Model and his girlfriend. Leave them be, I thought. Save yourself. 

I took a walk in the local park. It was a beautiful day outside, and unseasonably warm. I looked around and thought, There is so much more to life than him. It was part of the mindset I'd developed since I was diagnosed with an incurable, life-threatening disease. Life is too short to waste on jerks who aren't worth my time. 

What about you? If someone you knew had conned people, would you expose them, even if there was a risk that they could strike back at you? 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

A Life-changing Diagnosis

 Last winter, I went to the doctor for a regular check-up. I ended up in the emergency room that same day. 

When the nurse took my blood pressure, she said it was too high. The doctor took it again to make sure, and she said it was dangerously high. She said that I had to go the ER right away or I might have a stroke. 

I ended up staying in the emergency room for more than ten hours. At first, they put me on a gurney and hooked me up to an IV and an EKG. They gave me blood pressure medication and took my blood pressure every fifteen minutes because they were trying to get it back down. The blood pressure cuff hurt because it kept squeezing my arm. The gurney was left in the hallway so I had to just sit there while nurses and doctors bustled about. 

After a couple hours, they finally put me into a room where several other patients were, but our beds were separated by curtains. I heard an old lady across the room who kept complaining about her bowel movements, and she literally kept yelling, "POOP! POOP! POOP!" over and over again. One of the nurses' cell phones had the Batman theme song as its ringtone, and it kept going off again and again, to the point that if I wasn't still hooked up to the IV and EKG I would have jumped out of bed and thrown the cell phone down the hall, shrieking, "MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!"

I was scared. I didn't know what was happening. It made me think of the time I ended up in the emergency room six years ago, when I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder and I almost went blind. I have recovered from that, but I suffered from permanent hearing loss in my right ear as a result. I can hear a little bit out of that ear, but I mainly rely on my left one now. I can't watch TV without subtitles (why does everyone on TV sound like they're WHISPERING these days?), and I often ask my students to repeat themselves when I'm teaching. 

The doctor and nurses couldn't tell me what was wrong with me, but they told me to go to another doctor the next day. After more than ten hours, one of the nurses told me, "OK! You can go home now!" 

I stood up, but I felt really dizzy and disoriented after lying down that whole time. The nurse looked concerned and asked me, "Are you OK?" 

"Oh, I'm fine. I'm fiiinnne," I mumbled, before I literally passed out on top of her. It was like that scene in the movie Elf, where Will Ferrell fainted on top of a shrieking elf. 

Then the nurse helped me up and said, "Uh, I'm going to put you back in bed for a while." She gave me some graham crackers and apple juice because I hadn't eaten since breakfast. After another hour, I finally got to go home, and fortunately, I didn't faint on top of any other nurses.

Since then, I have been back to the hospital fifteen times. I've had an echocardiogram, a renal artery duplex, and a kidney ultrasound. I have to go back to the hospital several times this summer. I am currently being treated by a team of doctors at the local hospital in College Town, including a cardiologist, a nephrologist, and a primary care provider. 

It turns out that I have polycystic kidney disease, which I inherited from my mother. She had a kidney transplant when she was in her late forties. My nephrologist said that I will most likely need a kidney transplant by the time I'm in my late forties or early fifties (I'm 40 now). But the wait list for a kidney is at least 5-7 years, sometimes more. My kidney function is already low, but when it gets dangerously low, I will have to be on dialysis for years while I wait for a kidney. If I don't get one, I could die before I turn sixty.

I also have to stay on medication for the rest of my life. I am currently taking two different medications to control my blood pressure, and I have to monitor it by taking my blood pressure with a digital monitor twice a day (which is why my arm is perpetually sore now). One of the medications made me cough incessantly, to the point that I kept having to buy cough drops. I couldn't drink cough syrup because it didn't work well with my blood pressure medication. 

The doctor finally took me off the one that made me cough and prescribed a different one, which fortunately does not make me cough. The medication I'm taking causes birth defects, meaning if I get pregnant, my baby will be born with birth defects or it will be born dead. So, I will never be a mother. I don't have the money to hire a surrogate, and no adoption agency is going to give a kid to someone who may die before the age of sixty without a new kidney. I wasn't planning to become a mother, but I sometimes think about what it would be like to have a child. It makes me sad when I see parents leading their small children by the hand because I know that that is a path in life that has now been closed off to me forever. 

The nephrologist recommended Jynarque (have any of you ever heard of this, and if so, do you know anyone who's taken it?) to protect my kidneys. But it can cause liver damage, so I'm like, NO!

I lost my temper with my doctors and nurses because they kept insisting that I come back to the hospital for more treatment or yet another medical procedure. I couldn't afford to take time off from work because of the mounting medical bills (which I had to use my stimulus checks to pay), so I had to stay up late every night to get my work done. The doctor even prescribed me a new blood pressure medication that cost more than sixty dollars for a 30-day prescription, which I couldn't afford, and he only backed down after I proved to him that it kept making my blood pressure shoot way up after several weeks of taking it. I hate my nephrologist because he's been a jerk about this whole thing, but there are only two other nephrologists in College Town, so I don't have a lot of options.

I made the mistake of telling my father about this, and he has not been helpful at all. The other day we got into an argument over the phone because he told me not once but six times not to get so worked up about my health. Then he called back and told me six more times. I should have known better than to think that he would be there for me.

I still haven't told my mother. She screamed at me over the phone and blamed me for my health problems when I ended up in the emergency room six years ago (so did my father), and she always makes everything about herself. She will call to cry, rant and rave every day if I tell her. So, despite pressure from my father, I've refused to tell her unless I get worse.

I just feel really angry, sad, and scared. I've tried to be a good person my entire life, and yet I feel like I'm being punished somehow. Other people like the Model and his girlfriend literally scammed the entire country (which is another post in itself, and I will write about that later), and they not only got away with it but got everything they want. But I never did anything like that, and I'm the one who ended up in the hospital. It's scary because now I know how I will die. I will most likely die of kidney failure. Even if I get a transplant, the new kidney won't last forever. I will most likely not live a long life because of this disease.

I confided in one of my friends about my fear of not living a long life, and they said, "Well, if this is God's plan, you just have to live out the time that you have left." That did not make me feel better; it made me angry. I haven't been very religious in a long time, and I don't want to believe that God's plan is for me to have a short life. 

I don't want someone else's kidney. I don't want to have surgery. I don't want to go on dialysis. I don't want to keep going back to the hospital again and again for the rest of my life. I don't want to die. But none of that is up to me. All I can do now, according to my doctors, is maintain my health so that I can hopefully put off the transplant. I've been exercising 5-6 times a week, and I rarely drink soda anymore. If I buy coffee I get decaf. I rarely eat fast food, except for the sandwiches at Starbucks because they're a lot healthier than burgers at Wendy's or McDonald's. I've lost ten pounds, and my blood pressure has gone down. So I still have hope. Maybe I'll be one of the select few who doesn't have to get a kidney transplant. 

Sorry about the depressing post. This whole situation is partly why I haven't blogged in a long time. 

But this whole situation has made me have a different outlook on life, and it's made me more determined to make some changes. I'm going to write about those too, so stay tuned.