Listen, Hobby Lobby. You know how I feel about you. But you have GOT to stop trying to make the Thanksgiving Tree a thing. I mean, at this point, it’s just embarrassing.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
People of the Interwebs:
It’s April fourth. I live in south Georgia. Like, coastal south Georgia. And it’s cold. It’s cold and awful and rainy and generally so terrible weather-wise that Gertrude Stein has been inspired to spend all day and night singing her “Cold and Awful and Rainy and Generally So Terrible
Weather” aria, which is the saddest song in Gertrude Stein’s entire repertoire, besides the “You Didn’t Set You Alarm and I Realize You Want to Sleep In But Hey, Treats?” aria.
However, it’s April. It’s National Poetry Month, and if poetry celebrates anything, it’s anything that’s cold and awful. Therefore, I’m making the best of the weather and looking for the best in today — and one of the best things is this announcement: I’m going to be on the radio tomorrow.
No, really. Someone is actually going to let me talk on the radio without the FCC present.
That someone is the wonderful and talented and generally amazing Katrina Murphy, who’s invited me to join her on her wonderful and talent-filled and generally amazing radio show, Questions That Bother Me So. The show will stream live tomorrow from 1:00 – 3:00 Eastern time (I think — Eastern time, right? Like the one that the East coast is on? Time zones are confusing and I can’t think about them too much because I start thinking about how time is just a construct and then I get confused). You can listen along here (go to “shows,” then “Questions That Bother Me So”), and I’ll be live-Tweeting the experience from my Twitter feed. There will also be a chat room. It’s going to be totally meta. Topics to be discussed may or may not include poetry, National Poetry Month, Maleficae, witches, witch trials, witch burnings, writing poetry about witch trials and burnings, cats, velociraptors, sloths, and more poetry. It’s going to be awesome. The last time I was on the radio, I had pink eye and a kidney stone, and I still managed not to drop an F-bomb, which was a major triumph, as you know if you’ve ever had a kidney stone or, like, been in a room with me. This time, I probably also have a kidney stone, but hey, no pink eye. Let the F-bombless awesome commence.
And there are other exciting things afoot, so please keep your eyes on this small section of the Intertubes. In the meantime, here are some pictures of how I tried to make the best out of this gray and cold and awful day.
* Bonus points to anyone who catches the reference in this post’s title!
(An Incomplete List)
- Automatic door locks
- 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
- 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
- Weather radios
- Movie theaters
- Move theater popcorn
- Movie theater patrons
- Movies about gorillas
- John Stossel