Smile Baggage

A few days ago I had a chip in my left front tooth repaired, and I keep going to mirrors and smiling at them. The dental assistant did a really great job. It’s really hard to tell that there was a chip for 15+ years.

But I’ll probably be back to hating my smile again in a day or two, after the novelty has worn off. That’s neither here nor there… I’ve never liked to smile. Part of that stems from my lifelong discomfort with my teeth (Grandma, rest her soul, would inspect and comment on them every time we visited), but another reason I’ve never been a grinner comes from the fact that I am not a cheerful person, by and large. Most of the time, I’m neutral… happy is too strong a word for my usual mood, and I don’t like to go about aimlessly smiling (I do enough of that at work). But even as a kid, the constant pressure to smile and “be happy” all the time irked me. At school, they wouldn’t stop taking yearbook photos until everyone was smiling. The worst of it was when I was graduating… it was 87 degrees, somebody had already passed out, and because our caps and gowns were very light-colored, the tall people were getting blinded… but it was emphasized that the session would not end until everyone grinned (I thought of Sean Connery circa 1963 and bared my teeth. It was the last photo.)

The W.C. Fields quote, “just start every day out with a smile and get it over with,” sums up my feelings beautifully.

Especially when, as a woman, a lot of people tell me to smile… that I’ll get wrinkles if I don’t… I’ll look prettier if I smile… the usual litany of garbage. I know I’m quite ornamental, but there’s more to me than that. Besides…  some days there are other things to think about. Or just the fact that I’m up, about and civil is a victory. I don’t need unsolicited editorials. This was especially true in graduate school, when I was often physically sick and/or anxious or depressed.

Speaking of which… I don’t know how common this particular pressure to smile is, and whether it’s segregated by gender (although I suspect it’s more aimed at females), but in college I once received a lecture about how it was important to smile because not smiling at someone might be the final straw that pushes them to self-harm or suicide. It’s possible, of course, but that whole lecture never sat well with me. It was a lot of pressure, and it seemed too broad, considering that the fuss was about a very specific dorm issue (that I wasn’t even aware of).  But it still comes down to not smiling for yourself, but smiling aimlessly for the benefit of the rest of the world.

It’s heavy emotional labor, acting happy for the benefit of everybody else. It’s tiring. And there’s just not always time for it. There’s courtesy and respect, and there’s being a Stepford. Or a Smylex victim (

And on that note, I’ll leave you. Because the Joker is always a tough act to follow (and live). Unless you’re Batman, and if you’re Batman, no one will tell you smile without fear of losing teeth. Just noting.


How Not to Write a Term Paper

I may be a little late in the game for this, but hopefully it will be helpful for some.

Lately I’ve been grading a lot of upper-class, undergraduate term papers, and for the most part, they’ve been uninspiring.  That being said, very few were bad, but the bulk had way too many mechanical and grammatical problems for me to give the A’s and high B’s I’d love to see the students get.

Here’s a few helpful hints, and they’re not all negative.

1. There is no “I” in “term paper.”

A lot of the students put lots of I’s all throughout the paper.  Don’t do that.  The instructor knows your topic– you don’t need to remind them that you’re writing about the Ebola panic.  We already know that.  And unless your topic specifically calls for your opinion, leave yourself out of it, unless an anecdote helps you argue your point, but even then do so with extreme prejudice.  In a blog, I can refer to myself as much as I want.  In academic writing, the researcher only appears as a name on the byline.

2. Perdue Owl is your best friend.

A lot of papers were ruined by their inability to cite their sources properly.  My department has a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism.  If a source is cited incorrectly, most professors won’t write the students up, but they will still lose major points for the error.  If you’re unsure of how to cite a source, start by checking this handy tool (  It got me through undergrad college and still helps me today.

3. Use your professor.  Nicely.

If you can’t find what you need on Owl, or wherever you’re looking, go to your professor or another professional.  They can point you in the right direction, and are often lonely during their office hours.  Plus, it looks better for you when they’re deciding whether to bump up that 89.6 to a 90 at the end of the semester.  Just saying.  But for God’s sake, be polite.  Don’t storm out in a huff in the middle of your meeting.  No, I didn’t do it.

4. Do not hog your paper!

Let someone else read it before you turn it in.  It can be a lifesaver, especially if you have a professor who considers typos to be a form of disrespect.  Or if, like me, your spelling skills atrophied after 8th grade.  Ask a parent, a roommate, a tutor… anyone.  As long as they don’t write your paper for you, do this.

5. Read aloud.

This is also a good way to catch typos and keep yourself on track.  It can be lengthy, but it saves you some embarrassment.  (Oxford-recommended method).

6. Use concentration aids.

For some people it’s peppermint.  For me, it’s Wagner.  I think it’s a time thing.  When I have a long Wagner CD going, I’m reluctant to stop work.  Do a little experimenting.


Good luck!


The 5 Things to Hate About College… Aren’t What You Think Part 2

End of intermission.  Part 2 (still in the style of

3. Stereotypes (part 2)

As a woman, I am inclined to think that female college students get the shorter end of the stereotype stick, but if any guys out there have managed to stick with the article this long, feel free to refute that.  Debate and coffee at dawn? (I’m kidding.)

But, I see it everywhere.  My younger brother loves the movie The Incredible Hulk, and while I like it too, there is one scene (it might be only a special feature) which illustrates the college-girl stereotype perfectly.  Having gotten a job incognito as a pizza delivery boy, Dr. Banner has to deliver pizza to a female dorm.  The scantily-clad students try to get off without paying him for the pizza.  When he reminds them of the price of the delivery, they yell “Pervert!” take the pizza, and slam the door in his face.

Then of course, there’s dear old Animal House and the great scene with Bluto (John Belushi again) peeping at the girls having a topless pillow fight and a mostly naked Mandy (Mary Louise Weller) cheering herself up in the next room after a disappointing date.  Great fun, but about as accurate as an upside-down map.

Sorry to spoil the fantasy, but at least in my dorm, we don’t run around in our birthday suits, or Victoria’s Secret lingerie all the time.  No topless pillow fights, either.  And we’re not rabid, bitches in heat, waiting for a whiff of testosterone in our oppressive, all-female environment.  So hop in the shower, stick your head in the freezer, read the epistles of St. Paul, whatever will cool you down.

Fact is, we’re all too busy trying to keep up with our school’s demanding academic policy to get involved in those shenanigans.  If your GPA dips below a certain point, all your scholarships get yanked, and since you can almost buy a new car for the cost of each year, we ain’t gonna let that happen.  Oh, all right.  Statistics show that 83% of all people of both genders “cheer themselves up,” and the other 17% are lying.

2. Homophobia

In a way, this could be “Stereotypes (Part 3).”  Scoring about a  3 on the Kinsey Scale myself, I hate homophobia anyway, but—oh, the Kinsey Scale is basically a scientific measurement of one’s sexual orientation.  If you’re at 0, then you’re straight as an arrow.  The number six is gay as a daffodil, and at 3 is… gee, we don’t have any cute similes.  Anyway, if you’re still confused (and I’m not) check it out online or in a gender studies book.  But finish my article first, please.

Since my college is all women, a lot of people assume we’re all lesbians.  Again, sorry to spoil the fantasy, but no.  My two roommates were both 0’s (purely in the Alfred Kinsey sense of the number… otherwise they’re great gals), but I know people at school who answer to every other number, and yes, 6 is included.

My two dear roommates (I’ll call them Thing 1 and Thing 2), on the other hand, who are “members only” in my words, have caught more flak from the larger, homophobic community about attending a single-sex school than I have, and I’m mostly out of the closet as a bisexual. (There, I’ve said the B-word!)  Anyway, Thing 1 told me about when she went home for a break, a friend of her family, also visiting, asked her if she planned to get married after college.  Thing 1 said yes.  Then Old Nosey, as we’ll call the old lady who asked the question followed it up with, “To a man, right?”

Thing 2 has a similar story. Honestly, people… don’t you realize how dangerous it is to assume?  And can you keep your abnormally large noses in your own bedrooms, while you’re at it? Oh, what am I saying?  We’re Americans, and we’re physiologically incapable of minding our own business, as our post-WWII military activity has shown us.  President Coolidge got it all wrong when he famously said, “The business of the American people is business.”  What Smiley (yes, that was one of his nicknames) should have said was, “The business of the American people is someone else’s business.”  Or in somebody else’s business.  Ahem.

1. High School

Chances are good that you hate high school as much as I did: four years of the quasi-academic gulag.  Maybe we weren’t forced to labor in the mines, day in and day out, but it felt just as soul-crunching.  No matter what we did, our behavior was “intolerable”; we were “ungrateful,” “lazy,” and on top of that, ugly and our mothers dressed us funny.  Okay, maybe not the last bit, but you get where I’m coming from, right?  High school was a fucking nightmare.  I’d rather take my chances with Freddy Krueger.

And the nightmare was made worse because every jeremiad made by teacher or principal that didn’t end with the threat of juvie “where it ain’t no picnic,” closed something like this; “We’re toughening you up for college.  When you get to college, your professors won’t care if you’re alive or dead, and for the rest of your lives you’ll wish you were back here.”

That’s a lie!  Even in my large state grad school, the professors (for the most part– every barrel has the odd apple) do care about their students, don’t want them to fail, and express concern when something is visibly wrong.  The head of the department asked me what was wrong when I was shuffling to a meeting, visibly ill one day.  Back at my undergraduate college a professor I never had a class with made a point of having lunch with me when I was, apparently obviously blue.

And the college workload is… variable.  Class to class, professor to professor.  I won’t attempt to generalize the scare-tactics high schools use about the amount of homework and projects you’ll do in college.  You might have to fill out a worksheet once a week, and you might have to do 16 hours of extra lab work, besides what the prof has already assigned.  I’ve done both for the same guy in different classes.

Personally, I think my old high school was just looking for a way to keep up pliable until graduation.  Or I could be unnecessarily bitter about the whole experience.  Either way, it makes “Another Brick in the Wall” that much more watchable when you come across something to hate about the educational experience (


The 5 Things to Hate About College… Aren’t What you Think Part 1

I love me a good article.  They’re one of my favorite methods of procrastination, as a matter of fact.  But I’ve never written for them.  Here’s something in their style, though.

At my hated old high school, they loved drilling into us how much we would hate college and wish forever that we were back at the gulag (my word not theirs).  Fat chance in anyone’s book, I should say, but I will give them this much– there are plenty of things not to like about college.  But not necessarily the things they try to make you scared of.

One of my favorite undergraduate instructors once said “never put a disclaimer on your work,” and I’m so sorry, Professor, but I think here I must.

As an alum of one of the few single-sex colleges left in the United States, I might not be what you’d call an “average” college-student.  But the hell with that.  At my college (I won’t say where), we have classes, a dining hall, a Physical Activities Center, clubs, a whacky mascot, and too-high tuition.  What’s the difference?

Let me start, and then we’ll all go and have tea and biscuits.

5. People Expect You To Get Fat

Stop me if you’ve heard this… “One can never be too rich or too thin.”  In this all too fat-conscious country, the Wallis Simpson’s words take on new meaning.  Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week… we’re bombarded with a similar message, which roughly goes into the following translation; “YOU’RE TOO FAT!!!”

Always a Yahoo! Story, on the news, in the papers… the Black Plague’s got nothing on the Obesity Epidemic, media-wise.  And of course, right behind the Obesity Epidemic stories is the dreaded Freshman Fifteen.  A healthy Joe College moves into his first dorm, lives off of horrible cafeteria food, three meals a day, supplementing it with Ramen noodles, fast food, Domino’s, Oreo’s, and bang!  He gains fifteen pounds, and joins the ranks of those stricken by the epidemic.

Now, I am plus-sized.  I admit that more freely than a lot of things.    But my doctor has never said the two dreaded words, “lose weight,” so get the fuck off my case.  Every time I go home for a break, and I’m not the only one… my two roommates have complained about this, too, everyone checks me (or them) out.  It’s true.  First the eyes go to my thighs, then up’ard, and up’ard, until they finally get to my face.

They say, “You look good.”

Yes, I haven’t visibly gained weight.  Actually, I’ve lost it.  Back when I was an undergrad, I owed it to the campus’ geography, insane meal plan, and one semester’s insane internship that had me missing dinner on average 3 nights a week.  Now it’s mostly due to the fact that I’m living on a grad student’s stipend and student loans.  But that’s a horse of a different color– different expectations and pre-revolutionary French choreography.  It’s just the undergrad level for now.

4. The Stereotypes (Part 1)

Okay, let’s face it.  We all fucking hate stereotypes, ethnic, gender, or otherwise.  Black women aren’t sassy bitches; Japanese people don’t take pictures and bow all the time, and college students are not drunken slags.  Sure, some people everywhere fit some stereotype, but take it as a general rule of thumb— stereotypes are 99% pure bullshit!

Now, I like the frat-house classic Animal House.  Who doesn’t crack up at seeing John Belushi’s eyebrow-tricks, or when the horse has a heart-attack in the dean’s office?  Okay, my dad, but he doesn’t count.  He was in college thirty-odd years ago; we’re not talking about him.

My point is, though, everywhere you go… people expect college students to be trouble.  I’ve had staff at the public library follow me and assure each other that the college would take responsibility for me (um, what?).  Other friends have had similar experiences in shops, and one potential employer told my roommate to her face that she didn’t hire students from our college.  And then there was the harassment the uniformed ROTC students put up with on Election Day junior year.

Really, people.  We just want an education, and some fun after the grim Haitian novels, quadratic formulas, and sheep’s brains.  Try treating us like humans, not ticking time bombs.

End of Part 1.  Intermission.


Survive Finals

It’s that time of year again… not Christmas time, but time for final exams.  It’s the bane of every student’s existence– the time when those pent-up emotions come out, when nightmares transform female professors into sinister cardinals, when little things that bug you suddenly become worthy of a full-fledged rant (daffodils, bleah!), and the time when certain substances are in (coffee, chocolate and peppermint), while others go totally out the window (alcohol, certain medicines)….  Let’s face it, we’re already inundated with advice on how to get through this stressful time, but I’ll add my voice, too.

1. If you get a cold, skip the cold meds.  Believe me when I tell you.  Two years ago I let my roommate talk me into taking her non-drowsy Dayquil for my cold a mere hour before my history final.  I barely remember taking the exam.

2. Sleep.  Seriously.  Your brain needs it.  All-nighters are bad for you.  If you really must work through the night, try to at least get at least 4 hours of sleep.  Your system will thank you.

3. Eat.  You’ll get sick if you don’t.  You’ll perform better on your tests if you do.  It goes hand-in-hand with sleep.  The brain is part of the body, and you need to take care of both.

4. Don’t over-study.  If your brain feels like it’s going to explode and you can’t read another word– you probably can’t.  Take a walk.  Eat a piece of chocolate.  Have a nap.  Do something else for at least 20 minutes then try again.  Or try another subject.

5. Bring snacks (if allowed).  The only thing I liked about standardized tests (not the GRE) was that we were liberally plied with chocolate, mints, and gum.  I’m still fuzzy on whether it’s a placebo or not, but whatever it is, it really works.

This won’t get a number, but I find that music helps me, whether I’m studying, writing a paper, or thinking “buggerall, I’m cracking up.”  Here’s my playlist for the latter (