Topping the Top Ten (Part One)

So, I keep getting tagged to do these top-ten things on The Book of Face, and I haven’t gotten to any of them yet.  That’s because this semester has been a vortex of insanity and I haven’t gotten to a lot of things yet, including removing the polish I put on my toe nails this summer and purchasing actual groceries.  Now that the semester is over and all of its accessories (third-year review materials, grades, manuscripts, FLEX receipts, book orders, vet visits, stationary purchases, bill payments, tiny Post-Its with even tinier To Do lists) have found their homes, I can finally return to the rest of my life and to very important things, like taking photographs of my cats and figuring out why everyone is so very mad at everyone else on The Real Housewives of Atlanta.*  And, of course, Facebook memes.

I was going to post these on Facebook, but then remembered that the statute of limitations has pretty much run out on them.  Also, I remembered that I have this blog, mostly because one of the tiny Post-Its’ tinier To Do list featured these two items:

  1. HEY DON’T FORGET THAT YOU HAVE A BLOG
  2. YOU SHOULD PROBABLY START WRITING ON THAT BLOG AGAIN YOU KNOW

First:

Top Ten Random Things About Myself

This very terrifying illustration of very sad children is the best possible preface for this list.

This very terrifying illustration of very sad children is the best possible preface for this list.

  1. When I was very little, I wanted to be an astronomer.  But not an astronaut, since that would involve actually going into space and space seemed really creepy.
  2. I somehow got my hands on a grown-up astronomy book when I was very little, and said book totally confirmed that space is really creepy.  Said book also introduced me to the concept of a black hole.  This was so not a positive moment in my childhood development.
  3. The thing that made the above-mentioned moment so not positive is that I somehow came to the conclusion that black holes could be anywhere.  I mean, anywhere.  I mean, like, in the very hallway of my very home anywhere.
  4. Once I came to this conclusion, I came to the next obvious and logical conclusion, which really just seemed like an actual fact, it was so obvious and logical: THERE WERE VERY CLEARLY BLACK HOLES IN THE VERY HALLWAY OF MY VERY HOME.
  5. I spent the next month or so running down the hallway at top speed EverySingleTime, because apparently this was the most obvious and logical way to escape black holes.
  6. I also had this book of Grimm’s fairy tales that were, like, the actual fairy tales, meaning the versions in which people are maimed and broken and bleeding or, worse, the victims of bizarre psychological torture.  I was both too terrified to read it and compelled to constantly read it, over and over, as if one of the witches in the illustrations had cast upon me some really messed up spell.  The illustrations in this book all looked like this:

    WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ILLUSTRATOR AND PUBLISHER? How is this appropriate for anyone, much less a child?

    WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ILLUSTRATOR AND PUBLISHER? How is this appropriate for anyone, much less a child?

  7. I soon realized it was totally possible for me to be under the influence of some really messed up spell because it also occurred to me that if evil strangers could come for your firstborn and birds could peck out your eyes, there was no reason to doubt that
    1.  the witch in the book was obviously real
    2.  the witch in the book, who was now obviously real, had the power to cast some really messed up spells, and
    3. the witch in the book was now obviously real and obviously, at any and every moment, prepared to cast some really messed up real spells.
  8. The same logic that led me to realize there were very clearly black holes in the very hallway of my very home also led me to realize that the witch was outside of my very home, waiting.  Specifically, she was outside of the window to my very bedroom in my very home.  Waiting.  With very bad intentions.
  9. The same logic that led me to realize that I could escape the black holes by running down the hallway at top speed EverySingleTime also led me to realize that I could escape the witch by never, ever sleeping in a position that faced the window, EverySingleNight.  And if I turned during the night to face the window and woke up that way, it was basically like every scene in Apocalypse Now, where it’s very creepily clear that something really terrible is about to happen, and even if it doesn’t happen, the panic is enough.  And I knew exactly what my personal Kurtz looked like:

    photo 4

    I mean SERIOUSLY. Seriously? SERIOUSLY.

  10. I still can’t fall asleep if I’m facing a window.

* That last thing isn’t really so much a thing, as I already know the reason why everyone is so very mad at everyone else on all regional varieties of The Real Housewives, and that reason is: no.  As in, there is no reason.  So the last thing is more like a Zen koan, like an unanswerable question meant to occupy the mind while the body rests and meditates.

Tonight. Atlanta. Kavarna. True Story. BOOM.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that the outside world and I don’t often get along, so I am not often out in it.  But tonight?  Tonight, outside world, it is ON.  I’ll be participating in Show and Tell, which was my favorite class in grammar school, and reading an essay about an awkward date and my feet at the True Story! Reading Series.  It’s at Kavarna Bar and Coffeeshop in Atlanta (well, the Decatur part of Atlanta), Georgia.  It starts at 8 and Charles McNair and Benjamin Carr are reading too, which is very exciting but also makes me feel the need to breathe into a brown paper sack.  But in, like, an awesome way.

The folks at True Story! posted an excerpt from one of my essays as an incentive.  I figured I’d double that incentive and post the next bit of the essay here.  This isn’t the essay I’m reading tonight, but it IS the story of the most traumatic moment of my grammar school life that didn’t involve gym class.  It also tells the story of why I didn’t get to go to the Young Author’s Conference in 1988, which was totally a big deal.  Also, I should let the Internet know that all of the people involved in this situation ended up totally okay.  No one’s brain actually fell out, and Christopher beat me in the egg race at Field Day every year after this.  Enjoy.

            In that second I imagined what would happen: he’d thud to the floor and look up, startled, and regret with the force of ten thousand Acts of Contrition the great and torturous pain he’d caused me for months.  I imagined that he’d look at me as if for the first time, admiring my bravery and also my ability to be bad, really bad, as bad as he and Edric and even Johnathan Damiani were at their very worst, and stand up and kiss me the way he and every other boy on the junior varsity pee-wee football team, according to rumor, kissed Jennifer Williams when no one was looking.

It started the way it was supposed to start: Christopher’s knees bent. Christopher fell.  His eyes rolled upwards and then, for a second, leftwards at me.  Then his body thudded to the floor.  And then there was another thud.  And then I realized: he had hit his head against the corner of the desk behind him.

There was motion. Miss Hanks blurred into a run from her desk to our desks, then picked up Christopher’s head.  Christopher’s eyes rolled around like he was dying.  Jennifer ran for paper towels.  Miss Hanks yelled “what the hell were you thinking” and the whole class gasped.  No one knew what was worse: Christopher dying or Miss Hanks saying hell and not meaning the place in which we could spend all of eternity suffering.  She pulled Christopher to stand and said that none of us, not a single one of us, were allowed to move or speak or anything while she was gone, and then there was the space on the floor where Miss Hanks and Christopher and his rolling eyes had been.  And then I saw it: blood.  Three small circles of blood, and inside of one of those circles, two small brown specks.  They were from his brain.  They had to be pieces of his brain.

“Home Is So Sad.”

I’ve found myself, as of late, sort of wandering around town in various levels of being totally disheveled and/or confused about everything, then saying to people, “I’m sorry, I just moved.”  It’s something I’ve said for the past few weeks and something I will probably keep saying for the next few, well, years.  Because, let’s face it, moving is both the best and the worst.  It’s a chance at starting fresh in a new place, one that isn’t packed to the crown molding with memories.  But it also means living in a totally new place, and one that’s unfamiliar, all the way to the crown molding.  Every inch of every corner is a surprise.  And, if you happen to live in a college town, as I do, the surprises aren’t always exactly pleasant.  As in, Surprise!  You can’t use your kitchen cabinets because they smell like the grim specter of death!  Surprise, you can’t use your bathroom cabinet either because DOUBLE SURPRISE, BLACK MOLD!  Surprise, these walls are constructed entirely of asbestos and the bubonic plague!  And so forth.

This isn't my mailman, but it is the post office.  So.

This isn’t my mailman, but it is the post office. So.

There are a lot of things I miss about my old place: the usable cabinets, the absence of the grim specter of death, the screened porch, the frat

boys shooting arrows at a tree outside of my screened porch.  But if there’s one thing I miss more than anything else, it’s my mailman.

How do you even know your mailman? you’re probably thinking.  Well, remember that college town part?  I mean, small college town.  Which means a lack of certain amenities, such as actual grocery stores or Targets.  You know, things that are necessary for basic survival.  Which also means, of course, that I’ve been forced to spend quite a bit of time shopping online.  You know, for basic survival.  It was necessary.  

And so, I got to know my mailman.  He was always kind and never judged and agreed that yes, one can never have enough shoes.  He realized

that I tended to write on my back porch in the summer and so he brought me my packages there.  One day, he caught me crying after a Very Bad Telephone Conversation and he asked how I was.  He said he didn’t know what was going on, but he could promise that it’d get better — and he came by to ask how I was the next day.  When I broke my foot, he asked how I was and even sometimes brought my non-package-style mail to me, if it looked important.  He asked about my cats, who eventually even stopped running away and acted like completely insane beasts when he knocked.  When I had surgery, he told my mother that he’d been worried because no one had answered the door for a while.  He asked how I was every time she answered the door.  He always smiled, he always said hello, and he was always incredibly kind.

This is how things are going with my new mailman so far.  Sigh.

This is how things are going with my new mailman so far. Sigh.

They were all small things, just very small things, but they made a very big difference in my life, and at a time in my life when I felt very lost.  And maybe, in the end, it’s the small things that matter — because, when you think of it, a life of such small kindnesses is a very big thing.

The jury’s still out on my new mailman.  He seems very nice and he always smiles.  Still, I can’t help but miss my old mailman — and I can’t help but wish I would’ve thanked him more often for all of the kind things he probably didn’t even realize he was doing — which makes him all the more deserving of thanks.

The Accidental Professor

When I was a little kid and we went to the beach, I always had this strange and terrifying and utterly disorienting moment where I’d think to myself this is our first day at the beach; we have four more days at the beach, and then this vacation is over.  That sentence, I now realize, doesn’t look strange and terrifying and utterly disorienting at all; the only difficult thing about it, at first glance, is knowing where to put the punctuation.  But

This is a gratuitous photograph of a beach inserted to give my blog entry more visual interest.

This is a gratuitous photograph of a beach inserted to give my blog entry more visual interest.

when I thought it, I was completely overwhelmed with the realization that time passes, and that time in fact was passing, and in a few days the hotel room and the breakfast place downstairs with all of its impossibly tiny jars of jam and the ocean outside and the sand would pass beneath my feet, and everything would be over.*

That’s the same feeling I always had at the end of every semester of school.  This is my first day of exams; I have four more days of exams, and then they are over.  All year, time had been passing, and soon my gray locker and bulky typewriter and Trapper Keeper and goddawful erasable pens would pass beneath my feet, and I’d be another year older.**  This feeling would be even more strange and terrifying and utterly disorienting than the beach feeling, as it also meant I was one year closer to having to figure out what the hell, exactly, I planned to do with my life.  Thankfully, I was able to answer more school! for a long time — long enough for me to at least find, my second year of graduate school, a term that describes this feeling: mono no aware, the Japanese aesthetic idea of things having the feeling of time passing.  I’ve read a lot of different translations/interpretations of this concept, and most of them seem to fall in one of two camps: either mono no aware describes an image that represents the passage of time, like falling cherry blossoms or autumn leaves or a rotting Halloween pumpkin, or it describes the very feeling of the beach and the end of the semester, when one can literally feel that time is passing around, above, and beneath them.

I wonder, sometimes, if this is why I chose to teach at the college level: I was able to answer the question of what are you going to do after school with more school! and then FOREVER SCHOOL! 

Even as I type that, I know it’s wrong.  It’s wrong because I never really chose to teach.  It just happened.  I wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to be able to have things like running water and electricity, so I knew I had to find some way to make money.  I started noticing that most writers also taught, and so I thought to myself, ok.  That’s what we’re going to do, self.

When I fell into that decision — I can’t say I made it — I didn’t even particularly know what professors did.  I remember being pulverized by this realization during one of the very first conversations I had in graduate school, a loose sketch of which appears below:

Emma Bolden: Hi, I’m Emma Bolden, and I’m a new TA.
Someone, I Can’t Really Remember Who: Hi, Emma Bolden the new TA.  Welcome to your first college-level teaching job, where you will be teaching Comp.
Emma Bolden: What’s Comp?S,ICRRW: Ha ha ha ha. (Pause.)  Oh, you’re serious.  (S,ICRRW explains Comp to Emma Bolden).
Emma Bolden: Ha ha ha ha ha.  (Pause.)  Oh, you’re serious. Please excuse me. (Emma Bolden heads to the nearest bathroom to cry, then drives herself home with mascara still all over her face to tell her mother she’s terrified and thinks she won’t be able to do this ANY OF THIS.)

Though I do still have my I-won’t-be-able-to-do-this-ANY-OF-THIS moments, I finally feel more comfortable in the classroom because I finally remembered what my best teachers did: they talked.  They listened.  Most importantly, they learned.  I learned the most from professors who were learning along with me, reading and reaching to understand, who were willing to think in front of us, alongside us, with us.  And I learned that perhaps the even-more-most-important thing is to learn from my students, who have, in all honesty, every single day, taught me more than I could ever teach them.

Mono no aware in action. Or, well, lack of action.

Mono no aware in action. Or, well, lack of action.

At the end of every semester, I walk out of the classroom after picking up their portfolios.  I turn off the lights and turn to look at the empty tables, the empty desks, the windows looking out into the world we’ve all just re-entered.  And while I do still feel a tinge of that mono no aware moment, I also feel firmly rooted, as if I’m being held to the ground by my students and their words, which wait for me in the paper-clipped pages of their portfolios.  And then it hits me: a semester’s end isn’t an ending.  It’s a beginning, and the one we’ve all been working towards all semester long.  It’s the beginning of each student’s life outside the walls of the classroom, the beginning of each student walking into the world and taking their words with them, the beginning of their words in that world.  Suddenly, I’m happy about what we’re all leaving behind, because it means we’re all taking with us what we need to take with us, the knowledge and hunger and language, to make our own beginnings in the outside world.

Suddenly, being a professor feels like the happiest accident I’ve ever had.

*It’s entirely possible that my mother and/or father are reading this at the moment and thinking to themselves Oh and So that’s what all of that was about.  It’s also possible that he and/or she is rolling his and/or her eyes.  I’d therefore like to take this moment to say I know, guys, I know.  Also, I apologize for that time I spat out my bubblegum while floating in a swim-sweater in a crowded hot tub.  Also for sneaking into that crowded hot tub to float around in my swim-sweater in the first place.  Also for all of my childhood.  Thank you.

**Actually literally, since my birthday coincides with the end of the school year.

Things 20/20 Has Made Me Fear

(An Incomplete List)

  • Automatic door locks
  • Rivers

    This is the most accurate depiction of John Stossel's view of the world that I could imagine.

    This is the most accurate depiction of John Stossel’s view of the world that I could imagine.

  • Bridges
  • Automatic windows
  • The human jaw
  • Social Security
  • People who try to scam old people
  • Old people who try to scam people
  • People who smile too much
  • People who don’t smile enough
  • People who wear too many sweaters
  • Bees
  • Bee stings
  • Bee pollen as a nutritional supplement
  • Nutritional supplements
  • National parks
  • The outdoors
  • Automatic garage openers
  • Cars with computers in them
  • Planes with computers in them
  • Computers
  • Exorcisms
  • Weather radios
  • Movie theaters
  • Move theater popcorn
  • Movie theater patrons
  • Gorillas
  • Movies about gorillas
  • Cats
  • John Stossel