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.

“Back in black / I hit the sack / I been too long / I’m glad to be back.”

Hey.

Are you still here?

Okay.  I hope so.  And I’m glad if you are.

When I first sat down to write this, I thought, I am going to write about how all of a sudden we are halfway through 2013 and I didn’t even realize it.  And then I realized that I’d been writing “7” for the month for, like, oh, thirty-one days now.  And then I mathed and realized that half of twelve is six, not seven, which means we are over halfway through 2013 and I didn’t even realize it.

Needless to say, I haven’t been blogging.  Or, I guess, I’ve been trying to blog, but I haven’t been able to put much of my energy into a post.  For a while I told myself, Self, you are totally experimenting.  You’re just micro-blogging.  You’re a revolution and that revolution is CUTTING EDGE.  Then I remembered that I am not a revolution, nor am I particularly cutting-edge at anything, and that illusion lay shattered, like the shards in the Delicate Vase Aisle at Hobby Lobby after being visited by a mob of grammar school kids who have just eaten too many M&Ms.

Like I mentioned in my revolutionary and cutting-edge micro-blogging entries, there have been Circumstances, and these were the kinds of Circumstances that require most-and-I-mean-most, if not all, of one’s energies.  These were the kinds of Circumstances that require a re-routing of one’s life and how one lives it, the kinds of Circumstances that — very, very literally — stop one in one’s tracks and require one to Think.  A lot.  And then to Adjust.

That is all very vague, you are probably thinking.  Why are we talking in such vague terms and using David Foster Wallace capital letters to try to make up for it, you are probably also thinking.  Those are both perfectly legitimate things to be thinking, and I guess the thing is that I have, after Thinking and then a lot more Thinking and then Adjusting, come to the place where I am ready to say that there have been Circumstances but not to talk about what they were/are.  I mean, I have been writing about Circumstances, sure, but in the Let’s Put This In Creative Nonfiction Form So I Can Go As Slowly And Carefully As I Need To And Then Use A Couple Of Metaphors About Christmas Lights To Help Me Out Kind Of Way, not the Very Public As In Immediately Very Public Blogging Kind Of Way.

And that’s the strange and spectacular thing about writing, I think, and, really, reading — there’s something terrifying about the blank page, and that’s the thing we tend to talk about.  But there’s also something amazing and transformative and meditative about the blank page, and then about the way one puts words onto it.  The blank page gives a person the space — and the safety — that they need to think things through.  And I mean really think things through.  When I write poetry, I’m often prisming off of my personal experience, but in very extreme and sometimes even absurd ways.  I’m taking myself to the edges of language and seeing what’s there.  I’m taking each situation to its extreme, and then every angle of each situation, to see how it looks.  I’m turning it over and over again in my mind, and with each turn it becomes something new.  I’m speaking about things in a way I can’t speak about them with everyday language, which also means that I’m speaking about things I can’t speak about in everyday language.  That’s because everyday language belongs to everyday life, and there are things that I just can’t spend a lot of everyday time with.  There are things that will shut you down, will stop you from moving inside of everyday life, where there are things that have to keep moving.  There are groceries to buy and student papers to grade and cats to feed.

The everyday world keeps moving, and one must move with it.  Everyday life must be lived.  And so, in these Circumstances, I’ve been grateful for that blank page.  I’ve been grateful for the moments of respite it provides, for the sacramental space it creates, for the place where I can take a break from moving and just be still for a while with my words and the realities they represent, so that I can keep moving, keep doing, keep living.

The Photobiography of Alice B. Toklas

People of the Internets, here’s the thing. Or, rather, here are the things. Whichever. So.

1. Circumstances persist.
2. Therefore, my hiatus also persists.
3. One great wish persists through circumstances and hiatus, and that is to have famous cats.
4. Therefore and thusly, I thought I’d take a brief break from my break to make a brief but incredibly important update.
About my cats.  Because this is the Internet, after all.

This is a story about Alice B. Toklas, and this story about Alice B. Toklas begins when Alice B. Toklas decided that she was tired of me petting her because I always, somehow, am doing it wrong.  She pushed my arm away to let me know just how wrongly I was doing it.

This is a story about Alice B. Toklas, and this story about Alice B. Toklas begins when Alice B. Toklas decided that she was tired of me petting her because I always, somehow, am doing it wrong. She pushed my arm away to let me know just how wrongly I was doing it.

However, she soon ran into a problem.

She decided to stay there, pushing my arm away, just in case I got any more ideas about doing anything else wrong. However, she soon ran into a problem.

A sleepy, sleepy problem.

A sleepy, sleepy problem.

And then she fell asleep, sitting up, pushing my arms away, snoring, and singing.

And then she fell asleep, sitting up, pushing my arms away, snoring, and singing.

Meanwhile, Gertrude Stein rolled around on the carpet in a fury of smouldering rage.

Meanwhile, Gertrude Stein rolled around on the carpet in a fury of planet-vaporizing rage.

The End.

Now we should all go read some of the leaked lyrics from Yeezus because, people, Kanye West raps about croissants like he means it.

 

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.

It’s that time again, folks.

Needless to say, I haven’t been blogging.

I haven’t been blogging because EverythingIsHappeningAndAllAtOnceHolyGodAlmightyKnows.  There’s been life stuff and writing stuff and teaching stuff and job stuff and personal stuff and health stuff and angry feline companion stuff and just — well, stuff.  There is, in fact, so much stuff I can’t even really think of words to express all of the stuff, so I thought I would instead offer a visual that represents how the end of a semester, especially spring semester, always seems to feel.

Slide1

That?  That’s it.  That’s pretty much basically exactly IT.

The good thing is that there will hopefully soon also be this —

I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE YELLED AT A GIRL LIKE THIS.

— because really, at this point in my life, I’m at peace with the fact that I will never be able to recuperate after a long, hard haul through an academic year and all of its attendant stuff without Tyra Banks yelling through the television screen that her mama yells at her like that because she loves her.