Topping the Top Ten (Part 3: Merry Edition)

I’ve noticed that most Facebook list memes all seem kind of the same: top ten books, top ten movies, top ten interesting facts, top ten etcetera.  I started wondering: what if we made Facebook list memes a little more interesting?  Which led me, of course, to this list — and it’s holiday-themed, as a bonus.

Top Ten Facebook List Memes I’d Like To See

1. Top Ten Life-Choices Questioned By Relatives During Christmas Dinner (In Ascending Order from Those Shoes to Veganism)

2. Top Ten Most Transcendent Experiences Involving Cake Batter, Raw Cookie Dough, Or Icing on Mix-Master Beaters

3. Top Ten Actors Whose Names Your Mother Can’t Remember Even Though She Knows They Were on That Show with the Blonde Girl Who Sings So Well But Went Through That Weird Phase with the Nose Ring and Such

4. Top Ten Things You Really Wish You Could Pretend You Didn’t Know That Your Mother Actually Knows About Once You Find Her Secret Copy of 50 Shades of Gray

5. Ten Uncomfortable Conversations Beginning With The Phrase “So, I Hear You’re Into ______________ These Days.”

6. Top Ten Most Awkward and Overly Revealing Combinations of Items in Your Grocery Shopping Cart At Like the Only Place Anyone Seems to Shop for Groceries in Your Home Town for Chrissakes

7. Top Ten Most Awkward Grocery Store Interactions That Occurred When You Had an Awkward and Overly Revealing Combination of Items in Your Grocery Shopping Cart At Like the Only Place Anyone Seems to Shop for Groceries in Your Home Town for Chrissakes

8. Top Ten Facebook-Newsfeed-Inspired Mental Breakdowns

9. Top Ten Beverages (Adult Or Non-Adult) Consumed at a Christmas Family Gathering Before You’re Just Going to Stand Over Here, All Right, You’re Just Going Over Here Or Oh, To the Kiddie Table, If Everyone Is Going to Treat You Like a Kid You Might As Well Sit Over Here At the Stupid Kiddie Table.

10. Ten Nicknames You Forgot About That Have the Power to Make You Hulk Out

And, from Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and me, happy holidays to all of you and all of your yours!

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Don’t Be Fooled By The Rocks That I Got.

Y’all, that last entry was all different kinds of vague.  Forgive me.  To make up for it, here are two cat photos.

This is a photo of Alice B. Toklas sleeping, which, besides chewing on logs and scratching down the very walls of houses, is pretty much all that she does.

This is a photo of Alice B. Toklas sleeping, which, besides chewing on logs and scratching down the very walls of houses, is pretty much all that she does.

This is a picture of Gertrude Stein doing ... this.

This is a picture of Gertrude Stein doing … this.

Also, here is the video for “Jenny from the Block,” which is always important, though it is, disappointingly, not a song about geology.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Alice B. Toklas*

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself and my writing, it’s that major breakthroughs and advances — well, they don’t come easy.  Sure, from time to time a breakthrough will come hurdling through the clouds and sky and onto my laptop or notebook page, but I know that I can’t depend upon that.  I also know that these breakthroughs only come hurdling through the clouds and sky and onto my laptop or notebook page if I’m there at my laptop or notebook page.  In other words, I do sometimes have breakthroughs out of the clear blue sky that make everything very much easier,

This is a photograph of the feline Alice B. Toklas, who is the hero of today's story.

This is a photograph of the feline Alice B. Toklas, who is the hero of today’s story.

but said out-of-the-clear-blue-sky everything-easier-making breakthroughs only come from hard work.

And when I say hard work, I mean hard work.  I mean hard, frustrating work.  I mean minutes and hours and days and years of hard, hard, hard frustrating work.  And sometimes it takes a very long time, and always it takes being honest with myself in a way that isn’t exactly comfortable.

It’s a funny thing, being a writer — often, when I finally figure out how to do something and do something well, it’s exactly the point when I know I shouldn’t get comfortable.  If I get comfortable, I do the same thing over and over again, kind of like my treat addict of a cat, Alice B. Toklas — she’s figured out that if she goes in the kitchen and meows and looks up at me in this certain unbelievably pitiful way, she will receive two treats.  But writing isn’t like that, no matter how pitiful the look I give my laptop.  Eventually, the treats stop coming.  Or else the treats do keep coming, but they’re increasingly stale.  Like, moldy stale.  Yes, I’m doing something I figured out how to do, and sometimes even to do well, but I’m not growing.  I’m not moving to the next level.  I’m not taking risks and challenging myself and thinking, really thinking, about what I’m doing.  I’m not engaging with language and the way it’s built.  I’m not doing myself or my work any favors.

And so I keep pushing myself to push myself, even if I don’t get the treats.  And usually, when I’m moving towards a breakthrough, there are no treats anywhere to be found (apparently, I have decided to stay with this metaphor and stretch it beyond its capacity.  Which is, incidentally, one of the things that I do when I’m not pushing myself the way I need to push myself as a writer.  Harumph).  There are just — pardon me, but Anne Lamott’s phrase is too perfect not to borrow — shitty first drafts.  And shitty second and third and fourth drafts.  There are hours of staring at a screen, putting a line in one place and then moving it and then deleting it completely, only to put it exactly where it was the next day.

See?  Frustrating.  Like, beyond.

And that’s the state I was in a while ago, when I realized that I had no idea where Alice B. Toklas was (the feline Alice B. Toklas, of course; it’s pretty clear where the actual Alice B. Toklas is, or was).  This is generally bad news because it could mean that she’s eaten a couch or gotten arrested for spying on my neighbors.  I started walking around the house very slowly and saying Alice very softly, both because I didn’t want to scare her and

This is the ball and the corner in question.  I'm posting a photograph of it mostly to remind myself, in the future, of what kind of ball Alice B. Toklas likes for when Alice B. Toklas eats it or gives it to the cicadas or something and I have to buy more of them.

This is the ball and the corner in question. I’m posting a photograph of it mostly to remind myself, in the future, of what kind of ball Alice B. Toklas likes for when Alice B. Toklas eats it or gives it to the cicadas or something and I have to buy more of them.

because a disappeared cat is a generally terrifying situation.  When I found her, she was in the corner of my bathroom, trying to wedge her let’s-call-it-big-boned-and-just-very-furry body between the toilet and the bathtub.  At first I thought this was just another thing that Alice B. Toklas likes to do, like licking the windows or hiding under things by only putting her head under them and closing her eyes.  Then I started hearing a bell, and I realized that there was a reason for her hiding behind the toilet, besides, you know, hiding behind the toilet: she was trying to get her ball out of the corner, and with the kind of complete and total focus my cats usually only give their food bowls or my feet when they want to bite them.  I decided to help her out and picked up the ball and threw it, expecting her to jump joyfully after it.  Instead, she just looked up at me in great confusion — or, at least, more confusion than usual, which I admit is quite a bit of confusion.  I said what and she just sat there, staring with great confusion until, finally, she walked off in defeat to chew on a sofa or something.

That’s when I realized that it wasn’t the ball itself that Alice B. Toklas wanted; it was the challenge of getting to the ball.  She enjoyed the struggle, the fight.  She loved the work itself — and then the bell went off in my mind.  I realized that’s what I needed to do, too — to let myself relax, to allow myself the shitty first, second, third, fourth, and nth drafts, and to just enjoy playing with language, finding new ways into words.  I may get the ball.  I may not.  In the end, really, I think it’s not about the product but the process — not the solution, but the struggle — and learning to be happy with both.

* That is, the feline Alice B. Toklas, of course.  Everything I learned from the human Alice B. Toklas is only legal in Amsterdam, Washington, and Colorado.

There is no Frigate like Book

There are a few small but appreciable benefits from dealing with Circumstances, and all stem from the fact that Circumstances tend to make one re-evaluate and re-think — and Circumstances often give one the time one needs to re-evaluate and re-think.

That sentence was hella awkward.

In less vague and oddly formal third-person terms, I guess I could say that, every so often, it seems like I go through Circumstances that require me to sit back and think about what I’m doing with and in my life, about what really matters to me and on/with what I need to spend the precious-beyond-precious time I have.  And for me, time and time again, the answer is always the same answer: words.

NOTE: Gertrude Stein does not necessarily share my enthusiasm for all things bookish.

NOTE: Gertrude Stein does not necessarily share my enthusiasm for all things bookish.

I think that most, if not all, writers come to write because they love words, which means they love to read.  Most, if not all, of us have a moment tucked inside of us, a moment when words suddenly became more than words, when words unfurled inside the mind into something as enormous and wonderful and even slightly frightening as Jack’s beanstalk, and with its power to transport.

That’s the frightening part — the power — and also the tremendously beautiful part.  It’s what every writer, I think, is, in the end, chasing: the power to transport herself and someone else, in the same was as she herself has been transported, through words.  When I was a little girl, my father took me to the library every weekend, and I remember walking from shelf to shelf, pulling books off the shelves and opening them into Vs, reading random paragraphs to find which ones I wanted to take home.  I always knew when I found the right one: the shelves vanished, the library vanished, the entire state of Alabama vanished, and I vanished with them.  It was just the words, the world that they made.

The Circumstances through which I’m currently moving and living have given me, wondrously, the quiet time I needed to spend with words — both with my own and with others’.  It’s the kind of quiet time I need, from time to time, to recharge.  I think it’s very easy, especially if you’re a person who’s trying to get published or whose job related to words, to get discouraged, to let the rejections overtake you, to lose faith in your own language.  Or, at least, that’s what happens to me, and it happens far more easily and frequently than I often admit.  It’s also very easy to get so wrapped up in publishing and competition and ego (or lack thereof) to the point where your own words aren’t necessarily your own.  It’s easy to forget the small miracle that happens every time a pen hits a page.  It’s easy to forget that more often than not, the writer isn’t the one in control.  The words are.  A writer’s place isn’t in speaking.  It’s in listening.

Reading — living, for a few hundred pages or so, in another’s world, living and listening and loving through and in their words — is the way I remember this.  It’s the way I return, again and again, to the sense of awe that made me begin writing myself.  I mean this in several senses of the word: amazement, yes, but also fear, and the sense of reverence that comes from wonder and terror.  I mean this in the sense of respect of language itself, of how letters and words and sentences build upon themselves, seemingly of their own volition and power.

Though the Circumstances I’m dealing with this summer aren’t necessarily the most pleasant Circumstances, I’m very grateful for them.  They’ve given me the space I need to sit and be quiet and read.  They’ve given me the space I need to remember: I’m still the girl standing somewhere in the vacuum of vanished space and time, a book an open bird in my hand.  I’m still there, in awe of the words, of the world they make.

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.