That Was The Week That Was: Week Thirteen

Woah — I just realized that not only is this the thirteenth week, it also contained Friday the thirteenth.  That explains a lot.

This week’s photos are candy- and cute-animal-themed, so I figure I should get to them as quickly as possible …

Day 98: My friend has these chickens, and they are absolutely amazing. I really want chickens now, perhaps even more than a goat.

Day 99: Do I really need to caption this? The Cadbury Cream Egg: nature's perfect food.

 

Day 100: This is a photograph of the sweetest present I've gotten in a long time. Anyone who's taken a class with me knows that I'm completely and totally obsessed with Lia Purpura's essay, "Sugar Eggs." Lauren, one of my students from Georgetown College, sent me this gorgeous sugar egg in the mail, which was the nicest thing ever -- and I definitely looked in it for a long time and thought about Purpura. It was a good night.

Day 101: Anyone who's ever been in one of my classes probably also knows that I have a bizarre sock collection, but is too polite to say anything about it. This pair? One of my favorites. I mean, really: they're SOCK MONKEYS printed on SOCKS. It doesn't get more meta than that.

Day 102: I'm trying to stick to my resolution and send out submissions, like the one pictured. Thank God for the Grind and NaPoWriMo -- now, I actually have some poems to send out. I hope. Even though I'm biting my nails to shreds over them.

Day 103: Eeyore. It's a running joke in my family that, from time to time, I kind of embody the spirit of Eeyore -- so much so that when my father went on a business trip to The Magic Kingdom, he bought me this Eeyore figurine, who currently lives on my desk on campus. I was feeling particularly Eeyore-ish today and decided that this was the perfect photo of the day. Now if only I could find some thistles to eat ... Oh, and my tail ...

Day 104: Usually, I'm home all day on Fridays. This Friday, however, was a major exception: I had a meeting, then I had errands to run, then I actually had a Social Activity With My Friends. When I came home, I found Alice sitting on the table and looking at my manuscript with an expression of great scorn. I can only imagine that she spent the day reading it and finding it lacking in everything except sucking.

Day 105: I think that if we as a society are making cat toys like this, there's still some hope for humanity.

That Was The Week That Was: Week Eight (And A Bit More)

You may note that this blog entry is late.  You may be very right about that.  But, dear Denizens of the Blogosphere, I can explain!  For lo, last week, ten thousand writers registered for the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference descended upon the great city of Chicago (which is great in all ways but especially in the fact that it is full of signs celebrating that most wondrous of wonders, the Shamrock Shake) in a flurry of scarves, clad in black turtlenecks and saddle shoes and clutching their ten thousand Moleskines against their chests.

Here’s the thing: all day, people have been asking me how my AWP experience went.  My answer was always somewhere between “The most wondrous experience of wondrousness ever” and “The most terrible experience of terror ever,” and really “I’m about to go hide in my office with my Official Paul Simon Post-AWP Playlist* for a while” was probably the right answer.

Here’s the other thing: the AWP Conference is a conference about words.  It’s about narrative and expression.  It’s about finding the language to give some kind of structure to that most sublimely structureless of events: human experience.  But there’s really no language to describe what it’s like to be in a building with thousands of other people who do what you do, who fear what you fear and love what you love and hate and love themselves for all of it.  There’s no language to describe what it’s like to see people you’ve loved and lost, so many of them, over the years, and to face them again or not face them, to hug them and cry and to have them become for you the people they’ve become.  To become to them the person you’ve become.  There’s no language to describe it, and it would be unfair to try.

So here are some pictures.

Day 56: After some pre-AWP excavations, I found this notebook from college. I used to decorate them inside and out with elaborate collages and then cover them with clear packing tape.

Day 57: My cats are completely obsessed with my friend Sarah. Any time she comes over, she sits in this chair, and after she leaves, there's a Serious Feline Fight for said chair. Whoever wins sits in the chair FOR HOURS and does -- well, this.

Day 58: So, here's the thing: Emma Bolden is a Night Writer. She's always been a Night Writer, even before she realized that sounded a lot like Knight Rider, which was her favorite show next to Dynasty and The Letter People when she was four. Lately, however, I've developed this morning routine where I sit for a minute and write a poem while drinking my coffee. I think that because my brain isn't properly caffeinated, it doesn't get as angry at everything I write.

Day 59: Packing, for me, means picking out the most ridiculous jewelry possible.

Day 60: And so it begins. Here's the view from my hotel window of cabs dropping off writers, writers, and then some more writers.

Day 61: Let me tell you, this was one of my proudest moments. Here's the incredible Lauren Martin, one of my students from Georgetown, reading a poem. AT AWP. I definitely put on waterproof mascara that morning, and I definitely needed it.

Day 62: The best thing about AWP might be the off-site events, because they usually happen in like The Coolest Places Ever, including, apparently, apartments with these post-industrial skylights. Off-site readings? You are winning.

Day 63: So, this is Saturday, which is the day that I failed at AWP but won at life. Why did I win at life? I went to an AQUARIUM. With FISH IN IT. And I didn't cry, vomit, or die. Yet, at least. Here are two little girls at the jellyfish exhibit. They were too precious not to photograph.

Day 64: So apparently the Atlanta airport is full of art now? I loved these pictures and chose this one as my photo of the day because it perfectly expresses how one feels when traveling home from the AWP Conference.

Day 65: And now I am obsessed with jellyfish and they are all I think about and write about and draw in the margins of my notes during meetings.

 

* In case you’re wondering, said Official Paul Simon Post-AWP Playlist basically consists of “America,” “American Tune,” “Kathy’s Song,” and “Keep the Customer Satisfied” on repeat between repeats of “The Only Living Boy in New York,” which is more like it.

The First Day of Christmas: January, 2011

January 2011

I chose this photograph for January because it’s symbolic, for me, of how much I loved my students at Georgetown College.  In the fall of 2010, I taught my second Creative Nonfiction Workshop at Georgetown.  We wrote a collaborative lyric essay as a class, and, as a gift, I hand-bound small chapbooks of that essay for every student.  It’s still one of my prized possessions: a beautiful example of what can happen when a class is willing to take risks together.

“I’ve seen the bridge and the bridge is long / And they built it high and they built it strong”

You know how sometimes in sitcoms a character will be really, really busy — like, they’ll have a lot of things to do at once and a lot of places they’re supposed to be at the same time — and this is depicted in a montage of bumbling clips shown in fast-motion with fast, tinny music in the background?  And always, hilarity and hi-jinks ensue?

That is very much how my life has felt this semester, which explains, if not excuses, the lack of blogging.  It’s been a semester in which my plate is piled high.  I’ve been teaching seven classes, all told — at Georgetown, three Composition II classes, my Forms of Poetry class, an independent study, and an honor’s thesis; at the Carnegie Center, a memoir class.  I’ve also been working on finishing up my final issue as poetry editor of the Georgetown Review (the issue is at the printer’s, though I hesitate to say it is finished so as to avoid all manner of jinxing), as well as judging contests and sending out submissions of my own.  In addition to all of this, I spent the beginning of the semester in the frantic throes of the job market, and I’m overwhelmingly grateful to be able to say that I’ve spent this part of the semester building a bridge between my current and future lives.

See? It's a bridge! A bridge!

Okay, okay.  So the bridge metaphor is pretty lame, and the bridge-metaphor-bolstered-by-a-photograph-of-an-actual-bridge-serving-as-a-metaphorical-bridge is motivational-poster-level-lame.  Forgive me.  I must protest that the bridge above is, at least, significant, as I took this photograph on Tybee Island, which is less than an hour and a half from my future life.

In May, I’ll move to Statesboro, Georgia, to join the faculty of Georgia Southern University’s Department of Writing and Linguistics as an assistant professor.  I’ve known this for a while, but am still in a bit of shock about it — which is why I’m only now blog-announcing this, weeks after it appeared on the Academic Jobs Wiki.  My visit to GSU was an incredible experience — it was, in fact, one of the few times I’ve felt, well, home.  I’m thrilled to be joining such a dynamic group of writers and such engaged, excited students.  I still find myself, occasionally, in the midst of some mundane activity, like driving or shopping for kale or cooking said kale, suddenly thinking, Hey, I really did get that job, and holding my breath with gratitude and a giddy, thrilled excitement, and, at the same time, greatly humbled.

This isn’t to say that leaving Georgetown is going to be easy — and here’s where that bridge metaphor comes into play — far from it.  My emotions at the moment are, probably, similar to those of any other visiting faculty member: though I knew from the start that I would have to leave, it doesn’t make the leaving any easier.  In my three years at Georgetown, I’ve learned more than I could ever teach.  I consider every second I’ve spent with the students here to be a gift, and I mean that in the least cliche, least saccharine, and most honest way possible.  Because of my students, I’ve become not just a better teacher, but a better person.  I’ve had students whose insights amazed me, students whose willingness to take risks encouraged me to take risks, students whose talent stunned me, students whose dedication inspired me, students who were willing to hold on and fight and take their work to the next level, and who showed me that tenacity is most of the battle.  I’m honored to have had every student I’ve had here, and I can’t wait to start my life in Statesboro, carrying with me what I know from them.

In which Emma makes a last-minute — but hopefully awesome — decision.

It’s the last day of October, which means several things.

  1. I have the word “RENT” written on my left hand in big, bold letters.
  2. It is Halloween, which is my favorite holiday, and would be my favorite day of the year if Daylight Savings Time did not exist.  Since DST does exist, and since this means that there is a day of the year when I am given an extra hour of sleep, Halloween is my second favorite day of the year — and a pretty close second at that.
  3. Tomorrow is the first day of November.

#3 may not seem like the kind of thing that would force one into a major decision, but it is, as November is NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month.  I admit to being actively and almost unspeakably terrified of NaNoWriMo.  I did attempt it a few years ago, but quit after a week or so.

I’m not sure why, exactly, I’m so terrified — I think it has to do with the fact that I know I’m tricking myself into producing a lot of writing very, very quickly, and I know that a lot of the writing may be No Good At All.  In fact, much of the writing — if not the entire novel — might be unusable.  I might spend a month toiling on something I’ll never look at again.  And then there’s the pressure of writing every day, and the fact that my schedule will have to change — and drastically — to accommodate that much writing.

This year, though, all of the above reasons started to look a lot more like excuses than the logical reasons they seemed to be last year.  Especially that last one — I’ve started to think to myself, well, is that a bad thing?  I shift my schedule to accommodate exercise, social events, student projects, book reviews, grading, television programs — why not writing?  Isn’t that what I do?

I guess the thing I’ve realized lately is that it isn’t that I’m too busy, it’s that I tell myself I’m too busy.  I mean, it is certainly true that I am busy, and have so much on my plate that it’s more like a giant serving platter at this point.  Or rather the table on which said platter sits.  But I change and shift and arrange and re-arrange to let all kinds of other things into my life, but tend to keep writing out.  I tell myself I’m too busy.  Too tired.  I tell myself I have other priorities.  But what I should tell myself, really, is that writing is my number one priority.  I’m no good to my students if I’m not in practice myself.

It all goes back to fear, when I think about it: fear of writing something that won’t be anywhere near good, fear of writing something unpublishable, fear of flailing around in the dark and struggling with empty space and the words that need to enter it.  Fear of failing.

What I’ve forgotten, I think, is the pure joy of it.  The enjoyment of it.  The having nothing and suddenly having something, and something that you made.  The pure joyous enjoyment of making.  It’s like when I was little and got a new package of Play-Doh: I sat for hours and hours, shaping and re-shaping animals, people, houses, trees, zoos and street scenes.  After a while, I smashed every one of them flat with my palm — but the fact that nothing was saved, nothing was permanent, didn’t make the act of making any less enjoyable.

I’m a very lucky writer, because I have very smart and talented students, and those students never fail to remind me of what’s important.  This evening, we got together to plan the collaborative novel they’ll be working on this month.  I stood at the blackboard taking notes, bearing witness to their excitement, to the wonder of standing in a space where there was nothing, and something appears.  Scribble after scribble, word after word covered the blackboard, and in twenty or so minutes, we’d gone from having the idea to write a novel to having a plan for a novel.  Magic.

This summer, I started a long-prose-project-I’m-still-too-freaked-out-to-call-a-novel.  My characters have, since the beginning of the semester, been sitting in the same room at the same spot of the penultimate third section-I’m-calling-a-section-because-it-sounds-less-frightening-than-a-chapter.  I have used every excuse I can think of to avoid getting them out of that room: work, job search, job applications, exercise, Real Housewives, dusting and dusting again.  I think it’s time that I follow my students’ examples and throw the fear and the excuses away, and face the messy magic of making.