Sunday, June 26, 2022

Who Will Be There

This past winter, I was talking to a guy, who I shall refer to as Disturbing Fetish Guy, on Bumble who said, "Is that really you in your profile pictures?"

"Yes," I said. 

"I'm just asking because I've been catfished before," Disturbing Fetish Guy said.

"I'm not a catfish," I said.

"But you look really young," he insisted. "How old are those pictures?"

I've been told by many people that I look young for my age. I went to the movies recently, and the cashier asked to see my ID because I bought a ticket to watch an R-rated movie (Everything Everywhere All the Time - awesome movie! I love Michelle Yeoh!). Apparently, although I am forty-one years old, I still look like a teenager. Or maybe it was my Mickey Mouse T-shirt. 

"Well, people often say that I look young," I said. "But they're all pictures from the past two years."

"You do realize that I'm eight years younger than you, right?" I didn't like how he made a point of mentioning that, as if I'd done something wrong. If he'd matched with someone eight years younger, I doubt he would have said, "You do realize I'm eight years older than you, right?"

"Yeah, it says so in your profile." 

Then Disturbing Fetish Guy asked me what my racial identity was (he belongs to a different race). I told him, and he said, "YES! My friends and I all want to date women of your race. You're like the Holy Grail of dating." 

I didn't even fully register what he meant at first, but eventually, I thought to myself, "Annnd we're done here." I don't like anyone who tries to fetishize my racial identity. I put my profile on Bumble on "Snooze", which means that you can make your profile invisible to everyone else on the site. It also means you can't see anyone else's profiles until you deactivate the Snooze option, but at least you can take a break for as long as you want without deleting your profile.

When I first joined an online dating site, I was still in my twenties. I felt excited, nervous and hopeful that I would meet someone special. Seven online dating memberships and countless bad dates later, I don't feel hopeful anymore. 

I thought I was finally ready to date again, which is why I set up a coffee date with a guy last fall, who then stood me up at the last minute and didn't even explain or apologize. 

Ever since I turned forty, I've become a lot less tolerant of other people's b.s., like the guy who wrote this in his profile: "Respectfully, if you're vaccinated I don't want it. The nano particles from within it transfer person to person. Your DNA/bloodline is forever changed. Welcome to the new life of a cyborg." (I WISH I made that up, but I seriously did see that in someone's profile.)

I am vaccinated. I got the booster shot too. If I am a cyborg, does this mean I now have superhuman strength? Does it mean that I can pick up people who cut in front of me in line at Starbucks and toss them out the door? Because that would be awesome. (Whenever people cut in front of me, I revert back into my Chicago persona and start yelling scary nothings in their ear until they move back.)

I put my profile on Snooze not just because of Disturbing Fetish guy but because I'm just sick of it: online dating, the weird stuff that people put in their profiles, the awkward/bad/boring first dates, the unrequited crushes, etc., etc.

I spent the last few months binge-watching House on the Peacock app, where you can watch certain shows for free. I was able to watch literally every episode of the series for free on that app while I was working out. In one episode, called "One Day, One Room," a patient played by Katheryn Winnick tells Dr. House, "I'm going to base this moment on whom I'm stuck in a room with. That's what life is. It's a series of rooms, and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our lives are." 

Another thing I noticed about the show was who stayed with the patient in the hospital room while they were receiving treatment. Sometimes it would be family members. Other times it would be the patient's friend, and in one episode, it was the patient's dominatrix. It made me wonder who would be in the room with me when I go into end-stage renal failure and end up in the hospital.

I have to get tested every six months to ensure that my kidneys are still stable. I was tested recently, and the results showed that my kidney function has declined since last December. I am still at least a few years away from the end-stage, but I know that eventually, I will be hooked up to dialysis machines three times a week, for hours at a time, until I get a kidney. 

I think that the right person for me would be someone who would be "in the room" and willing to be there for me at my worst moment, and who wouldn't judge me for it. I recently binge-watched the TV series Girls (they have the complete series on DVD at the public library in College Town). I watched it and thought, Was I as self-absorbed and annoying as these characters when I was twenty-four? 

Nevertheless, it was a very good show, and my favorite scene in the show is the one (FYI: Adam is cursing a lot at the beginning of this scene) where Adam literally runs across the city to be with Hannah when he finds out she's having a nervous breakdown. (Side note: do you notice that in romantic movies and TV shows, the guy often starts running when he wants to be with his love interest? Harry did it in When Harry Met Sally, for example.) 

I thought that scene from Girls was really romantic and moving because it showed how much Adam loved Hannah, and how he was willing to be there for her at her worst moment.

There were other patients on House, M.D. who didn't have anyone in the hospital room with them, and that showed a lot about what their lives were like too. It made me wonder if I would be one of those people who would end up alone in a hospital room. I definitely wouldn't want my parents there. They would just make it worse. They always do. I still haven't told my mother that I'm sick. My father knows, but he recently told me that he doesn't want to hear about my health anymore; he thinks I talk about it too much, and he doubled down in an email he sent, where he berated me for how I'm dealing with this disease. 

My parents have been unhappily married for more than forty years. When you grow up witnessing how much your parents hate each other, it tends to warp your ideas about love and marriage. I think that's a major reason why the idea of remaining unmarried for the rest of my life does not scare me as much as the idea of being married to the wrong person just so I won't have to be alone. I think if you marry the wrong person, you will still be alone in a sense. Being with the wrong person makes you feel like you can't fully relate to them or like they won't be there for you when you need them to be. My parents were wrong for each other from the beginning, but they will never get divorced because they're both too stubborn and proud to do so. 

My mother said to me on my birthday a few years ago, "But aren't you ashamed to be an old maid?" 

"No, I'm not," I said. I wanted to say, I think you should be ashamed for asking me that question, especially on my birthday.

I try to picture myself with someone in the future, and I can't. I've been alone for so long that I've gotten used to it, and I even prefer it sometimes. As I've stated before, being single comes with a certain kind of freedom. 

Now that I'm in my forties, most of the single men my age who live in College Town (and there aren't that many of them) are divorced with children, and many of them don't want to date me because I'm too "old" for them. In movies where middle-aged women date younger men, the men are often very romantic and sensitive; they genuinely want relationships with those women, like in the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back. But in real life, or at least in my life, younger men just want to hook up, like the thirty-year-old guy on Bumble who asked me what my bra size was and the twenty-nine-year-old guy who immediately asked what my address was and whether he could come over within two minutes of our first (and only) conversation. 

Also, now that I'm in my forties, I somehow feel less anxious about being in a relationship. For me, the "happy ending" was never really about a guy. For a long time, it was about my work because I'm a workaholic. Now it's about living my life on my terms for as long as I can. It's about getting a kidney sooner rather than later so that I don't have to be on dialysis for too long. It's about making the most of the time that I have now, while I still have it. And I think that's nothing to be ashamed of.

And I suppose it's just as well that I'm single, considering the idiotic and horrifying decision made by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. But I could go on for several posts about that. I'm still full of fury and fear about it.

What about you? Do you have a favorite romantic story or movie? (One of my favorites is While You Were Sleeping, partly because it's set in Chicago and also because I love Sandra Bullock.) 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The New Rules of Teaching

 1. If you're teaching online, do not make your students turn on their cameras during classes that are taught on Zoom. They may feel self-conscious about their living situation, so do not damage their self-esteem by requiring them to show their faces during class. Never mind the fact that they can use backgrounds provided by Zoom to hide their living situation. And yes, it's true that you don't know if they're actually paying attention in class or if they've logged on and then gone back to bed or are sending flirty emojis to their "bae" on Snapchat, but we should really not make their situation even more difficult than it already is.

2. If a student says they have the virus, do not require them to show proof, like a positive Covid test or a doctor's note. Why would they lie about why they have to miss class? Yes, students have falsely claimed that their grandparents/friends/hamster died in order to avoid attending class for years but we're in the middle of a PANDEMIC. So they would NEVER lie about this.

3. If students do miss class because they caught the virus, it's your responsibility to get them caught up by meeting with them outside of class. Yes, that takes extra time, and yes, you may need to drink your weight in coffee in order to stay awake for all those extra appointments. And no, you won't get paid extra. But the satisfaction of being there for your students should be payment enough.

4. All faculty should volunteer to help their students move into their dorms at the beginning of the semester. Yes, it's manual labor, and no, you won't get paid. But we'll all be showing the students and their parents that the faculty are there to make them feel welcome. And by "we", we are referring to the faculty, not ourselves, the administrators. You can't expect the administrators to do all that sweaty work in ninety degree weather! Do you know how much our designer clothes cost? Well, I guess not, since most faculty's salaries prevent you from shopping anywhere but places like Target or Walmart. But still!

5. Be lenient about late work. In fact, you should strongly consider eliminating the late work policy altogether. It is unfair to expect the students to turn in their work on time when they're already going through such a difficult time because of the pandemic. It's important to show compassion to them, even if it means that it will take them six weeks to complete a five-page paper. 

6. Be lenient about absences. The students are going through SO MUCH right now, so it may be too difficult for them to attend a class that they (or their parents) are paying thousands of dollars for. It isn't fair to penalize them for missing class when they may be suffering from depression, the virus, family problems, or maybe they just don't feel like coming to class. And THAT'S OK. They should not be required to do more than they can handle. 

I've neglected blogging (and writing in general, unless it's for work) for months now mainly because of the rules above (and no, I'm not exaggerating; they sent out emails pressuring us to help the students move into their dorms, which I refused to do). One of my students missed more than a month's worth of classes, and my program director and the dean says I have to let the student come back to class and not penalize them for their absences because they had a medical reason for missing class. They also said that I should meet with the student as many times as they need outside of class in order to get them caught up and extend a bunch of deadlines for them. The student said that they hope to get "at least an A- or B+" in my class. 

A few months ago, I told my program director that certain students kept turning in blank documents and then would email me several days after the deadline of an assignment, claiming that it was a "mistake" and wanting to turn in the correct assignment late without any penalty. The director told me to let them and when I balked at this, they accused me of being too harsh and lacking empathy for the students.

I understand that the students really are going through a hard time. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but especially teenagers, who had to miss out on things like school dances, their senior trip, and in-person classes. But at the same time it's incredibly frustrating and stressful to be forced to bend over backwards and do all this extra work for students who aren't even doing the bare minimum, like show up to class or turn  in their work on time (or at all). The teachers are also going through a hard time, but we don't get any leniency. We're just basically told to suck it up and keep working.

I want to say, "I'm going through a hard time too! I've been to the hospital dozens of times in the past year! I've already paid hundreds of dollars for prescription meds and medical bills, and I owe hundreds more! In a few years, I will be hooked up to dialysis machines three times a week until I get a kidney, and if I don't get one, I will be hooked up to those machines for the rest of my life! But I don't get to skip any of my classes. I don't get to turn in my work whenever the hell I want."

I also think that it isn't harsh to require students to show up and meet deadlines. If they don't learn this now, they will become the bad employees that annoy everyone else in the workplace, the ones who constantly call out "sick", show up late, and don't do their work, thus forcing everyone else to do their work for them. 

I keep hearing stories of teachers who've grown fed up and left the profession altogether. I've thought about it too. When I taught in Small Town, it was frustrating sometimes, but not to the extent that the job in College Town is. Even before the pandemic, I was struck by the entitlement and unrealistic demands (e.g., "Professor, are you available to meet with me on Saturday?" or "I don't think I should be penalized for missing class because my boyfriend just broke up with me, so I think you should take that into consideration" or "I know that the paper is due tomorrow, but I forgot to work on it. Could you just email me what the paper is about and how to write it?") of so many of the students in College Town. Not all of them are like this, but too many of them are. 

"Are you feeling stressed?" the dermatologist asked me when he examined my face, which has been covered with a scaly, peeling rash for months now (this is why I'm actually grateful that I could wear a face mask to cover it up). "I think you have perioral dermatitis, and it's triggered by stress."

I became so stressed out that I sought out short-term counseling, which is provided to faculty for free by the college. I told the counselor that I considered leaving College Town for another teaching job. "Well, you have to think about whether you're running away or running towards something," the counselor said. "If you're running away, you're hiding or avoiding problems. And it's quite possible that you'll face the same problems with students and administrators at the next college. But if you're running towards something, it means you're moving towards something that you know will make your life better."

And what he said struck a chord with me. Now, I have to figure out what will make my life better. I also learned to silence my phone so that I wouldn't keep hearing the notifications every time I received an email from my students. One day I got up early to write, and my phone went off not once but more than twenty times in that one day because of emails from my students asking questions about things that they would know the answer to if they'd bothered to listen in class or read the syllabus. And this is something that literally happens on a regular basis. It got to the point that I wanted to smash the phone and shriek, "MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!"

What about you? How has the pandemic affected you or your work?