You Are Not Alone (Even If You Are Spending Christmas Alone With Your Cats)

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I’m using the caption on this photograph of Alice B. Toklas to say that this is the full version of the post I accidentally posted this morning because I didn’t realize that my iPhone app had eaten over half of it. And …. scene.

I’ve seen so many posts this morning and this week and on so many different social media sites — Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr and even Yik Yak, for God’s sake — about people spending Christmas alone with their cats and feeling very, very, terribly lonely, and it made me feel — well, awful. Because I know, and in deep and excruciating ways, how that feels.

Social media can, I think, be a very good thing. Social media sites can provide the one place where we all feel comfort, feel like we’re a part of something and that that something is full of people who love us. It can also — and perhaps more often — be a place where we travel to feel part of a something full of people who love us and, a few clicks later, feel completely and utterly and spine-chillingly alone.

And so I started to wonder, this Christmas morning, what would happen if instead of making each other feel very alone, or instead of looking at what other people have and thinking about how we don’t have that and feeling very, very alone, we made social media a place where we take very good care of ourselves and each other?

So this is my message to the people who feel very alone with their cats this Christmas, from the person who herself used to and, let’s be honest, still sometimes feels very alone with her cats:

Look at you.

No, seriously, look at you.

You are amazing.

Look at all of the things you have accomplished and all of the good you have done. Look at all of the smart things you have said and the funny things you have said, and look at all of the times you have made people think with the smart things you have said and all of the times you have made people laugh with all of the funny things you have said. And look at all of the stupid things you have said, too, and all of the times you have laughed and learned and learned to laugh from them, because that — the laughing and the learning and the learning to laugh — is very, very important.

You are very important.  Just look at yourself.

Have you made mistakes? Hell yes, you’ve made mistakes. We all have. I’ve worn Chucks with a suit and broken hearts and done terrible things when my own heart was broken, and I’ve spilled wine and cried and laughed, sometimes all at once, in embarrassing and inappropriate places, and I’ve fallen face-flat, and literally, in the middle of a lecture on Gilgamesh in a class I was teaching, and I’ve walked down hallways with toilet paper stuck to my shoes and with chalk dust stuck to my pants and with dry-erase marker stuck to my face and one time I even started singing “People” very loudly in a German brew house at one in the morning. Have I made mistakes?  Hell yes, I’ve made mistakes.  But I’ve laughed and learned and learned to laugh from them. And so have you. And my mistakes make me me, and your mistakes make you you. They make the beauty in you.

And you are beautiful.  Look at you.

No, stop it. You are. You are beautiful, inside and outside. I know what you’re thinking. I know you are thinking, if only I were thinner and prettier and not so strange, and if I didn’t say so many strange things or read so many strange books, I wouldn’t be alone and I would be happy.

I know that you are thinking all of those things because I have thought all of those things, and sometimes I still do, but they are not good things to think because they are not true things to think.

First of all: whoever made lonely a synonym of alone?  And whoever said that you couldn’t be happy and alone? Because whoever was wrong.

Secondly, think about it: who and what would you be if you were all of those things? Hungry. And sad and unhappy because you would be acting like someone who is not you, and resentful of the person who’d be with you only when you were those things, and who wants to be with someone like that anyway?

Trust me.  You are beautiful.  Inside and outside and anyside and everyside, you are beautiful.

And so you’re alone with your cats.  So what?  Look at your cats.  Your cats are awesome, and wouldn’t you rather be alone with your cats than with that person we talked about above, that person who wouldn’t be with the person you really are, who’d demand a version of you who isn’t you?

Here is a story about being alone with cats: this week, I broke down in the worst kind of way, in the fetal-position-on-the-carpet kind of way, and I ugly cried in an ugly way and it was ugly.  And then my cats appeared out of absolutely nowhere, and even though they basically hate everything that has anything to do with each other, they appeared together and they both did the hey-cheer-up purring thing together.  And it worked.  I cheered up enough to get off of the carpet and stop ugly-crying and crying, period, and then I talked to a person about it all and I felt better, and my cats are the ones who got me there.

And just look at the kind of things that can happen when you are alone with your cats on Christmas:

CAT CHRISTMAS HAT NO

CAT CHRISTMAS HAT NO

CAT CHRISTMAS HAT MAYBE NOW BUT LATER IN YOUR SLEEP YOU WILL DIE

CAT CHRISTMAS HAT MAYBE NOW BUT IN YOUR SLEEP YOU WILL DIE

CAT CHRISTMAS ANTLER NO

CAT CHRISTMAS ANTLER NO

SHINY CAT CHRISTMAS TREE SNACKS

SHINY CAT CHRISTMAS TREE SNACKS

Look at yourself.

Look at your cats.

See?

You are amazing.

So this Christmas day, and New Year’s Day, and every single other kind of day, I hope that you will be able to find your happy and your merry and know that you are amazing and beautiful and awesome, inside and outside and everyside and anyside.  I promise.  You can tell yourself I said that.  And you know what?  That means you’re never alone.

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Because of the House We Have Built for Our Language

I’m struggling in the land of constantly-dropping Internets, which is really difficult because there are so many pictures of cats on the Internets right now, and so many of those photographs involve cats in Christmas trees and engaged in epic battles with Christmas ornaments and I can’t even write about this anymore because I’ll weep.  I’ve got some posts on the back-burner but until I can get them to you, here’s the deets on a poem to tide you over:

Here is some moss and also some sun because it is gray here and I figured we could all need it.

Here is some moss and also some sun because it is gray here and I figured we could all need it.

The newest issue of Segue is out, and there are some things from me waiting there for you.  There’s the title poem from my currently-manuscripting-collection-in-progress, “Because of the House We Have Built for Our Language.”  There’s a recording of me reading said poem with a head cold, between cough drops.  There’s also a little bit of thinking about poetry and language and OuLiPo and Spanish moss and the time I got in a lot of trouble for telling my mother that “god” spelled backwards is “dog.”  And there are all of the other poems and short stories and essays who are excellent company for my words.  You can find the issue here, and my page here, and I thank you in advance for the visit.

Keeping Things Whole

In a field I am the absence of field.

In a field
I am the absence
of field.

I still love this book as much as I did when I was an Emily not an Emma.

I still love this book as much as I did when I was an Emily not an Emma.

I first fell in love with Mark Strand’s work in eighth grade, when our teacher assigned The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry and I devoured every single page.  Mark Strand’s work made me stop and sit and think for a spell, and that spell never ended.  The pages that carry his words have been so worn and worried and wondered over that they’ve almost fallen out of the book, and his work defines skill and restraint.  From him, one learns the importance of quiet and the fact that silence can speak more loudly than any word.  One learns the power of standing back and looking and thinking.  One learns the power of the un-worded parts of the page. Strand passed away on November 29th, and I wanted to post this poem of his, which has meant so much to me.

(but WordPress is awful and won’t put in the stanza breaks so you can see them here)

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Advent Calendar Activism

This morning marked the beginning of the Delirious Hem Advent Calendar, co-curated by the incredible Jessica Smith and the incredible Susana Gardner, who are as magical as a duo of poetry-powered pegasi (pegasuses?  I’m going with pegasi).  This year, the poems are in response to a call for poems about the rape culture so terrifyingly prevalent on college campuses.  I’m proud to say that my poem appeared today because I am proud beyond proud to be part of this important — as in, vitally important and necessary — project.  Before I offer the link, I want to offer some reading material to show just how and why this is important, vital, and necessary.

Smith and Gardner conceived this year’s project after this Rolling Stone article about rape at UVA shattered the structures of silence that institutions and the people who build them have raised around the subject of rape and sexual assault.  But it’s also part of an extended conversation about how rape culture extends into and continues under a terrifying silence in other communities, most notably in alt lit — it terrifies me to think that so many communities centered around language, around giving voice to our lives, are also centered around silence and threats against language that speaks openly about rape and sexual assault.  On Delirious Hem, you’ll find a series of links to articles about rape culture in alt lit, which are terrifying and chilling.

You can find my poem here, and I hope you’ll return to Delirious Hem for all twenty-five voices speaking out against violence.