Radio Free Gertrude

Here's my call-in radio show call-in station.  Please note my fourth cup of coffee.  Please also note that telephone.  Children, that's called a "land line."  It's an ancient artifact from the days in which people didn't need everything to be confusing and realized it was totally gross to have your phone with you in the restroom.

Here’s my call-in radio show call-in station. Please note my fourth cup of coffee. Please also note that telephone. Children, that’s called a “land line.” It’s an ancient artifact from the days in which people didn’t need everything to be so terribly confusing and realized it was totally gross to have your phone with you in the restroom.

So, on Friday, I called in as a guest on Katrina Murphy’s excellent radio show, Questions That Bother Me So.  I must thank Katrina for what was, all in all, a totally awesometacular experience (I’m thinking at some point that the archives will pop up here, so keep an eye out) (keep an eye out — that’s a really, really weird thing to say, isn’t it? I mean, if your eye was out, you wouldn’t really be able to see, would you?) (that’s not a tangent, as it keeps with the theme — I mean, if any questions bothers you so, it should probably be that one).

I have to admit that I love talk radio, especially live talk radio.  There’s something about the cadence of the human voice, the magic of language happening in real-time, that’s absolutely captivating.  That is, it is as a listener — while there is a fascination with how you are the human whose voice is cadencing over the Interwebs and the air, and it’s your language that’s happening in real-time, I have to admit that, as a participant, I was a little terrified.

This could be due to the fact that I prepared for my on-air appearance by drinking five cups of coffee and attempting to lure my overly vocal feline companions into other rooms by plying them with treats.  Or it could be due to the fact that I spent all morning obsessively repeating to myself the following mantra: for God’s sake don’t say um and don’t say like, for God’s sake, please.  Or perhaps I was nervous because I was wearing owl pajamas and Muk-Luks, as I often do, because I am a grown woman, which of course I knew no one could actually see, but perhaps they could just sense it.

This is what I suppose Alice B. Toklas was doing when I was talking, when she wasn't creeping out the neighbors or eating a table or something.

This is what I suppose Alice B. Toklas was doing when I was talking, when she wasn’t creeping out the neighbors or eating a stack of firewood or something.

Thankfully, I was in very good hands, and Katrina calmed my nerves immediately.  Gertrude Stein, who’s part Siamese and really loves to talk about that, did make her way into the living room, but somehow managed not to meow and to only bite me once.  Alice B. Toklas, thankfully, held to her belief that watching whatever the neighbors are doing and chewing on cardboard boxes is way more interesting than anything I’m up to.  And I found myself letting go of my fear and just having a great time talking to someone — which is also, I think, why I love talk radio so much: it’s like eavesdropping, at its best, on a really juicy conversation.

Gertrude Stein decided to help me with the poem I needed to read.

Gertrude Stein decided to help me with the poem I needed to read.

I think that part of my nervousness, too, has to do with the fact that in conversation, I’m not very focused.  That’s because everything is interesting.  Seriously.  I could talk for three hours about the Statesboro formal wear store, Frills and Fancies, on the corner of Main, Main, Main, and Main, and then for six more hours about how, in Statesboro, there’s a corner of Main, Main, Main, and Main.  Every single detail — from the revolving mannequin in a feathered prom dress to the fact that their Hunger Games-themed prom window display seemed to be made Hunger Games-themed only by the edition of an old-fashioned big screen TV — is interesting to me.  That’s largely why, I think, I was drawn to writing in the first place: in writing, every such detail has a place.  It has a weight and a significance and it works with other details to build an entirely new world.  And I think, too, this lack of focus is why I was drawn in particular to poetry: it’s a form that, by its very nature, demands focus.  It’s a way I learned to sift through the details I collect every day and weigh their significance.  It’s how I learned to learn from them, and how I learned to focus enough to find the words to show other people what I’ve learned.

And if I end up with a collection titled Frills and Fancies, well, now you know why.

Gertrude and I.  Sigh.

Gertrude and I. Sigh.

That Was The Week That Was: Week Forty-Eight

I’m about to do something terribly annoying.
So, since we’re already like a week or almost into 2013, I figure that it’s probably about time that I post the last set of photos-of-a-day for 2012.  That’s what this post is for.  Then I figured I’d spend way too much time over-analyzing everything and write a post about why I started taking a photo a day and what the experience has been like and/or meant to me, kind of like a what did you do over your summer vacation thing except with more unnecessarily large words and quotes from depressing poems.  Then I realized it’ll probably take forever for me to finish that so I decided that I wouldn’t do that in this post and instead wait to post about that later.  So that’s what the next few blog posts will be.  Then I figured it’d all culminate in me talking about why I’ve decided not to continue posting my photo-a-day sets every week this year, which I just spoiled in this entry, so when it happens, please pretend to be surprised.

All of that would probably have been pretty epic had I just gone ahead and done it and not written about doing it.

Damn it.

Here are some pictures and stuff.

Day 360: My mother insists that these toys are not frightening.  In related news, my mother has no concept of fear.

Day 360: My mother insists that these toys are not frightening. In related news, my mother has no concept of fear.

Day 361: This is a photograph of the crazy tornado sky Christmas day.

Day 361: This is a photograph of the crazy tornado sky Christmas day.

Day 362: Quilting is officially my new favorite hobby. I'm officially a grandmother.  Soon, I'm going to follow my grandmothers' other hobbies, such as eating burnt popcorn, clipping depressing articles about peoples' interests from newspapers, and guilt.

Day 362: Quilting is officially my new favorite hobby. I’m officially a grandmother. Soon, I’m going to follow my grandmothers’ other hobbies, such as eating burnt popcorn, clipping depressing articles about peoples’ interests from newspapers, and guilt.

Day 363: Target had a clearance sale, which meant it was time for the Annual Teacher Clothes Stocking Up Celebration. My closet is now cardigan central.

Day 363: Target had a clearance sale, which meant it was time for the Annual Teacher Clothes Stocking Up Celebration. My closet is now cardigan central.

Day 364: Listen. Lately, I've heard a lot of people say a lot of really crappy stuff about the South, and, I mean, I get it. I mean, I've lived here most of my life and all. I get it. But I mean seriously, people, give it a rest. And try our bar-b-que, because if you can resist our bar-b-que, there is little hope for you. (And if you're a vegetarian/vegan, don't worry -- there are veggie BBQ options, and they are also delicious).

Day 364: Listen. Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people say a lot of really crappy stuff about the South, and, I mean, I get it. I mean, I’ve lived here most of my life and all. I get it. But I mean seriously, people, give it a rest. And try our bar-b-que, because if you can resist our bar-b-que, there is little hope for you or your soul. (And if you’re a vegetarian/vegan, don’t worry — there are veggie BBQ options, and they are also delicious).

Day 365: WORDLE ALL THE MEMES!!! It's like my Creative Writing and the Web class exploded all over the Birmingham News.

Day 365: WORDLE ALL THE MEMES!!! It’s like my Creative Writing and the Web class exploded all over The Birmingham News.

Day 366: Yes, that's right, there's a WHOLE EXTRA DAY THIS YEAR. So I painted my nails all fancy and wore fancy sunglasses. See ya, 2012, and in the always-eloquent words of the always-eloquent NeNe Leakes, don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.

Day 366: Yes, that’s right, there’s a WHOLE EXTRA DAY THIS YEAR. So I painted my nails all fancy and wore fancy sunglasses. See ya, 2012, and in the always-eloquent words of the always-eloquent NeNe Leakes, don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.

2012: The Year of Living Transparently (Part Two)

PREFACE: This is the second part of my two-part year-end wrap-up.  The first part is here.  The first part also begins with a preface, which explains why there needs to be two parts to this.  I’m not sure this preface was necessary, so in order to make this necessary I feel the need to give you some important information.  So here’s some important information: you shouldn’t let your cats play with pony-tail holders because your cats could go for, oh, like ten years playing with pony-tail holders carefully and responsibly, and then BAM, they look at the pony-tail holder and think, wait, I’ve been playing with this carefully and responsibly for like ten years and now I see that this is clearly FOOD.  Things will go downhill from there.  You’re welcome.

This year, I learned that living transparently online doesn’t necessarily mean publicly posting your private grocery list.  I learned that the very act of making your private grocery list public means making it not-private, and therefore means creating an artifice to explain what the list means to yourself, and creating a self to explain.

I’m now going to drop that metaphor in the hopes of actually (maybe) making (at least a little) sense here: living transparently doesn’t mean putting your private self online so much as it means creating a cohesive narrative of yourself.  Which is, I now realize, really what I did this year: when I said I wanted to live transparently, what I really meant was that I wanted to create a cohesive persona who appeared to be living transparently.  I wanted to act out the narrative of transparency online.  I worked to live more fully online, to synchronize my selves on different social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, this blog.

As the year went on, I realized that I’d done an okay job synchronizing these selves and a sort-of-okay job representing – or, rather, re-presenting – myself online.  I also realized that doing a sort-of-okay job at this was probably best.  As the year went on, I also realized that private documents and pieces of documentation, from private photographs to journals to random notes scrawled in the margins of books, never meant to be seen by anyone else if only because they wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else, and couldn’t – became more important to me.  I realized that having both sets of selves, or rather records of selves, was important, because I could see the discrepancy between them.

When I look at the public records of my self and my story in 2012, I see one story.  When I look at the private records, I see a very different story – if only because I don’t see a story, I just see a wash of colors and images and events which definitely had impact, though that exact impact isn’t yet clear. When I look at the public records, I see a self who’s made events into meanings.  When I look at the private records, I see myself looking at parts of the year and thinking woah, what was that mess, and I see myself not looking at parts of the year and thinking you know, I should probably pay more attention to the fact that that happened and maybe figure out why it happened and how to prevent it from happening in the future rather than just watching this America’s Next Top Model marathon while eating miniature Snickers and looking at the models and thinking, ha, I can eat miniature Snickers

When I look back at 2012, I see a year of great griefs and great joys, of great losses and great gains – and I see that I may not know yet which is which, that my greatest losses may have been my greatest gains, my greatest griefs the harbingers of my greatest joys.  I see a year marred by illness, by intense physical pain, but I also see a year filled with Dickinson’s formal feeling, that strange meditative stillness that sometimes only physical suffering can bring.  I see a woman who’s learned from that stillness.  I see a woman who’s fought that stillness.  I see a woman who has learned the worst that people can do and I see a woman who never, ever seems to learn that people will so often do their worst.  I see a woman who’s been touched beyond touched while watching the lengths to which people will go to do good, to offer others a kindness, a woman who’s learned that even the smallest kindness can make the grandest difference.  I see a woman who’s been shocked at the lengths to which people will go to hurt others and do wrong, and I see a woman who’s learned that what’s really shocking is the lengths to which people will go to hide or justify their actions, and I see a woman who’s learned to include herself in that sentence.  I see a woman who’s willing to fight for her happiness and I see a woman who’s finally learned that sometimes the only way to happiness is to quit fighting.  And finally, I see a woman who’s different from her Tweeted comments on Bravo’s late-evening programming or her Facebook status updates about her cat licking a window.  She’s different than her scribbled marginalia and less-than-half-legible journal entries.  She’s different than the lectures she gave on memes and My Little Pony, different than the poems she wrote about jellyfish and houses and melancholy and love and loss and how sometimes that loss is the only thing she can accurately call a blessing.  She’s different because she is all of these things, and she is none of these things.

If there is one thing that living transparently – or trying to, at least, though I failed, and though now the task seems one that’s impossible, one that has to fail — has taught me, it’s that a person both is and is not the sum of their parts.  A person – every person – is too beautifully, terribly, terrifyingly, wonderfully complex to be presented or re-presented fully in any of their works – but we will always continue, and we will continue to try, and if there’s a better reason to look forward to another new year, I don’t know what it could be.

2012: The Year of Living Transparently (PART ONE)

PREFACE: So, I decided to write a year-end wrap-up, as usual.  So, I started writing.  And then I kept on writing.  And then I kept on writing again.  And then I was like, woah.  That’s a lot of writing.  So, because it’s a lot of writing, and because I am in an undisclosed location where the Internet is, like, terrible, and the couch is comfortable and there are a lot of channels on the television and at least one of them must be showing some kind of low-quality reality television marathon, I’ll probably post this in two parts.  Here’s the first part.  Also, here is the part where I wish you, dear reader, and all of yours, a happy and healthy New Year — because happy and healthy?  That’s what’s important.  Screw the rest.

I didn’t realize I was starting an experiment when I started out.  I just knew that I wanted to see, in 2012, what would happen if I tried living my life more transparently.  The Internet — with its social landscape and its capacity to grant every one who comes in contact with it the capacity to change who they are —  is one of my academic interests (yes, I just typed that, because I AM A PROFESSOR and all) and I wanted to see what would happen if I lived my life more openly online, more transparently, more fully.  I wanted to see what would happen if I put more of Me onto the Web; the one thing I never expected was to find a very different Emma preserved in cyberspace, living a 2012 that seems so completely different from my real 2012 that it seems like Cyberspace Emma is a complete stranger to IRL Emma (with some shared traits and interests, including extreme stubbornness, a tendency to make jokes that aren’t really funny to anyone other than IRL Emma and Cyberspace Emma, and interests in cats and sloths).

Here’s what I think happened: every time I begin to teach creative nonfiction (stay with me here), we always talk about different types of nonfiction and what can be classified as “creative.”  There comes the moment when someone raises their hand and says “what about a diary” and I say “what about a diary” back, which is probably really annoying, but it’s also an important question.  The students always work through the answer: a diary isn’t really creative nonfiction because it isn’t really art, in the traditional sense of the word, meaning that there isn’t a lot of artifice involved  — unless, of course, you are me between the ages of 12 and 32 and decide periodically to rip pages from and/or burn and/or get Sharpie-happy with your diaries.

Which is probably beside the point.

Anyway.

What I mean by this is that a diary is a text written by yourself, for yourself, and so it doesn’t have the same kind of artificial structures necessary in a text written for someone else to read and understand. I mean, sure, you do make a story out of your life in a diary – that’s kind of the point of having a diary, I most-of-the-time think – but it’s a story for you, for your understanding, and not for someone else to understand.

Let me explain it this way: if I gave you my grocery list, you’d probably see “cat stuff” and “Coke” and “crackers” on it.  You might return with Party Mix, Coke, and Saltines.  I might (okay, WOULD) be livid with fury because clearly I meant cat litter (since Party Mix makes my cats vom), Schweppes Ginger Ale (because I am from Alabama and that is a Coke too), and those weird water crackers that don’t really taste like anything but that I love nonetheless.

Why? The grocery list was written just for me.  It didn’t have the kind of artifice (like, for example, a definition of crackers as those weird water crackers that don’t really taste like anything but that I love nonetheless, probably because the packaging makes them look impressive and fancy).  It involves the construction of some kind of narrative, one that explains and develops a certain kind of character with certain goals and wants and needs – and that character is you.  In other words, you have to make yourself into a character to make the narrative clear — which is very much what happened when I tried to live transparently online.

That Was The Week That Was: Week Thirty-Nine

Dear Denizens of the Blogosphere, I’m going to be honest: this week has been the most intense week of my life and like EVER.

Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration.  I mean, it wasn’t as intense as that time I slipped on ice and woke up who knows how many minutes and/or hours and/or days later in a pool of melted ice or blood.  It wasn’t as intense as the day I listened to Born to Die three times in a row, or, really, any day I’ve listened to Boys for Pele more than three times in a row.  And it definitely wasn’t as intense as the week I discovered how many varieties of trail mix there were at the Bi Lo down the street.

Nonetheless, it was pretty intense.  I looked inside a bee hive.  I ate a red velvet funnel cake.  I graded infinity papers and discovered I still had infinity papers to grade.  I wrote a poem about shoes on my iPhone.  I fulfilled the dreams of four-year-old Emily Bolden by teaching My Little Pony.  I gave one of the theory-heavy lectures I’ve ever given, and I gave that lecture about My Little Pony.  I drew confusing and illegible things on the dry erase board.  I made photocopies of a poster featuring a swamp monster for The Burning Swamp Reading Series, which kicks off with our first-ever reading tomorrow night.  I got a fish and let it live in my house and I’m still alive and so is it.  I won a giant unicorn at a bowling game.  I got matching airbrushed t-shirts with my BFF, which has been my goal since I knew what airbrushing and t-shirts were.  I remembered how much I love Laura Jensen’s Bad Boats.  And, perhaps most importantly, I actually remembered to put my recycling out so it can get picked up tomorrow morning.

See? INTENSE.

Here’s the photographic proof.

Day 292: PEOPLE, IT’S MALLOWCREME PUMPKIN SEASON. I need say no more.

Day 293: Deciding whether to purchase or run from this was one of my most major existential crises to date.

Day 294: Alice, examining my haul from the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. Please note that while she showed great interest in this unicorn and its magic, she didn’t notice that there is now a fish living in her house. As you might have already guessed, Gertrude Stein did notice, and she has registered many complaints.

Day 295: That’s right, people. That’s a fish. A real fish. As in a fish that’s alive and stuff. And that fish is living in my house. As in the house where I also live. Her name is Esther Williams and she hates the hiding house I bought her, even though it compliments her fins so nicely. Hmph.

Day 296: This is a picture of Alice continuing to not realize there’s a fish in her house and instead metaphorically showing how she is lost in the world by clutching to the rug for dear life.

Day 297: Sometimes we need reminders of what’s most important to us, and sometimes said reminders need to come in the form of two-finger rings, with which we’ve been obsessed since we first saw Lana Del Rey sporting one.

Day 298: When in the course of writerly events it becomes necessary to co-found a reading series, it sometimes also becomes necessary to purchase tiny stuffed swamp monsters for the kick-off reading in said co-founded reading series.