Old? Outta Here. New? Come On In.

A little while ago, someone asked me what my year had been like.  I said, “It was the worst year of my life, but it was pretty good.”

And that’s about right.  2013 was, if not the worst year of my life, the most difficult year of my life.  I faced my greatest fears, my hardest decisions; I found myself in unimaginable circumstances.  At the same time, though, I did face my greatest fear.  I did make my hardest decisions.  And I did make it through all of the circumstances that 2013 brought my way – and I survived.

Though this year was unimaginably difficult, I made it, with the help of friends and family.  And I’m a far better person for it, and far better at appreciating my friends and family – and the smallest, most routine, everyday things.  That’s why I can say this was a pretty good year – and really, I should say it was a really good year.  I faced my greatest fears, but I also faced my greatest dreams, with the publication of my first full-length book.  I made my hardest decisions, but I had friends and family there to help, and I was a stronger person for it.  I found myself in unimaginable circumstances, but sometimes they were unimaginably good circumstances – from having the honor of teaching brilliant, hard-working students to reaching some of my biggest writing-related goals.

I usually do a wrap-up entry at the end/beginning of every year, but I’m finding it difficult to approach 2013 in any of my usual ways.  A list of achievements seems like the wrong way to go about things, because the year wasn’t really about those achievements – and the same thing goes for the defeats, or just the negative things that happened.  I thought about some kind of itemized list, but that didn’t seem right, either – this was the kind of year that went beyond the number of Cipro tablets I took or the number of hospitals I visited or the number of words I wrote.  Then I thought that I’d write a little bit about what I learned this year, and that seemed just about right – if there’s one thing I learned this year, it’s that learning is the most important thing.

Gather Ye Rosebuds Every Day: Listen.  I’m a poet.  I’m moody and angsty.  Most of my clothes are black and I wear a lot of scarves.  Obviously, I’m not one who typically goes for happy-happy-positivity supposedly-life-changing things.  That being said, I totally started doing this happy-happy-positivity thing this year and it was life-changing.  Every day, no matter how moody and angsty and black and scarved the day was, I made myself write down three positive things.  Sometimes they were very small positive things, like “managed to eat mashed potatoes,” “didn’t get stopped at that one red light,” and “realized sweater was on backwards before class.”  But I learned that even the smallest positives mattered, and I learned how easy it is to turn my attention away from the bad and towards the good.

Learn How To Do New Things: This year was the year that I got serious about crochet, and though this basically makes me a grandmother, it was still a great thing for me.  I’m not the most co-ordinated person in the world, so it took me a while to figure out what the instructions and crochet maps (no, seriously – there are these weird little MAPS that show you how to make things with yarn and a hook — I’m not making this up) were telling me to do.  But I kept working until I figured it out, and I learned how to solve problems and that even if I have to undo all of my stitches, I still learned something.

Learn New Ways of Doing Things:  I spent a lot of this year in bed, either because I was told to stay there or because I was nasty sick.  Sometimes I had my laptop or a notebook by my bed.  Sometimes I didn’t.  I learned to write on different surfaces – paper, iPhone, Kindle, receipts, my own hand — and in different ways – jotting down notes, typing, writing it all out long-hand.  That probably sounds like it isn’t a big thing, but it was major for me.  I have a lot of trouble with fine motor skills some days, and this helped me to figure out ways around that.  It also introduced new possibilities into my writing – in fact, Kindle’s predictive text feature helped me to write the poem that became my second full-length collection.

Sometimes Rest Is The Most Important Thing To Do, And Also Quiet Is Very Important: I’m usually doing something all of the time I’m awake, from writing to Swiffering to crocheting to grading, and this year, I learned that sometimes resting is every bit as important as – if not more important than – doing.  Some ideas need incubation, and some things need a lot of still and quiet time.

No Is Sometimes A Better Answer Than Yes: I realized this year that I’m kind of bad at saying no, or at least not saying yes.  I try to do everything all of the time for everyone forever, and a lot of times, I just run myself into the ground and sometimes, I make a mess.  I realized that saying no to doing all of the things means that I do a better job with some of the things.

Never Underestimate The Power Of Beyoncé: She sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker.

Be A Little Kinder Than You Need To Be: I know, I know.  That’s a total cliché.  It is such a total cliché that it was actually painful to type.  My scarf tried to stop it.  But it’s true, and especially true of the Internet: as the year progressed, the online world seemed to become an angrier and angrier place to me.  Then I realized that I was the biggest part of that problem, because I kept looking at things that made me angry and reacting in an angry way.  I realized that if I just shut down the computer, I felt better.  So much better that I started limiting my time online and stopped responding angrily.  I started asking myself how I would feel if I was the other person in the situation.  And I realized that this life thing is very difficult, and we are all doing our best with it.  We are all, all the time, fighting so very much that the last thing we (I’m saying “we” but including – actually, mostly meaning – “I” here) need to do is fight each other, especially over something as small as a Facebook post.  Kindness is the only thing we owe each other.

And that seemed right – so right that I’ll end this entry with that thought, and with the hope that it’ll carry me through 2014.

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Crafting for Spinsters (And Their Cats): The Tea Tin Cactus Planter

This is the second installment in a series I like to call Crafting for Spinsters (and Their Cats).  The first installment is here, if you’re interested.  As an addendum to that installment, may I mention that the combination of super glue and sealant hasn’t exploded.  Yet.  You’re welcome.

If you’re anything like me, you spend most of your time mocking Urban Outfitters for being the purveyors of ridiculously priced faux-artisanal goods for poseur way-too-into-mustaches-and-I-can’t-even-tell-if-it’s-ironic-anymore hipsters.  And, if you’re anything like me, you spend the rest of your time giving Urban Outfitters half of your paycheck.  This also means that you are constantly checking your e-mail for announcements about sales on ridiculously priced faux-artisanal goods, because, as the saying goes, it’s totally okay if it’s on sale.  I’m pretty sure Abraham Lincoln said that.  Anyway, if you are this kind of person, you have probably seen this:

Don't be fooled: this isn't a photograph of any of my dorm rooms from the 1990s.  You can tell by the absence of Tori Amos posters and multiple copies of Sylvia Plath's Ariel.

Don’t be fooled: this isn’t a photograph of any of my dorm rooms from the 1990s. You can tell by the absence of Tori Amos posters and multiple copies of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel.

That’s right, y’all: succulents are hot.  Also, fifty-dollar skull candles and Mason jar sippy-cups are apparently important parts of gardening with succulents.  Let’s just keep that as a note right now.

Pretty soon after I obsessively studied this important missive from Urban Outfitters and pretended to be totally annoyed by it, this pin showed up on Pinterest (which I also am obsessively devoted to because you never know when you’re going to need to make it look like a tiny, obnoxious elf destroyed your house):

Oh, that's right.  Links.  This is from this.

Oh, that’s right. Links. This is from this.

 

And I was like, Let’s do this.

Here are the supplies you will need for this craft project.  It is very important to wear knock-off Crocs because they imply that you are very, very serious about getting sh*t DONE, so serious that you are not planning to leave the house until said sh*t is DONE, thus the shoes you can’t leave your house in.  That way, if anyone comes by and is like, Hey, Emma, why haven’t you left the house in the past seven years or whatever?  Then you can be like, Hey, Judgey McJudgerson, I’ve been up in here getting sh*t DONE, and you know how you can tell? I’m wearing getting sh*t DONE shoes.  Peace.

Here are the supplies you will need for this craft project. It is very important to wear knock-off Crocs because they imply that you are very, very serious about getting sh*t DONE, so serious that you are not planning to leave the house until said sh*t is DONE, thus the shoes you can’t leave your house in. That way, if anyone comes by and is like, Hey, Emma, why haven’t you left the house in the past seven years or whatever? Then you can be like, Hey, Judgey McJudgerson, I’ve been up in here getting sh*t DONE, and you know how you can tell? I’m wearing getting sh*t DONE shoes. Peace.

First, take the Jasmine tea tin you luckily haven’t thrown out since your ex-boyfriend brought it over to your apartment years ago because he apparently thought you were that kind of people.  Which was really nice, you know, so you were like, Awww, thank you, even though secretly you were like, What the hell?  All I drink is Diet Coke, Folger’s Simply Smooth, and the occasional wine cooler.  IT’S AS IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL.

First, take the Jasmine tea tin you luckily haven’t thrown out since your ex-boyfriend brought it over to your apartment years ago because he apparently thought you were that kind of people. Which was really nice, you know, so you were like, Awww, thank you, even though secretly you were like, What the hell? All I drink is Diet Coke, Folger’s Simply Smooth, and the occasional wine cooler. IT’S AS IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL.

If you look at the bottom of the tea tin, you’ll see your distorted self staring hauntingly back at you as if it doesn’t know you at all, which is a really good metaphor for the end of a relationship, when you think about it.  So you should think about it.  But not too long, unless you have an occasional wine cooler on hand.

If you look at the bottom of the tea tin, you’ll see your distorted self staring hauntingly back at you as if it doesn’t know you at all, which is a really good metaphor for the end of a relationship, when you think about it. So you should think about it. But not too long, unless you have an occasional wine cooler on hand.

It’s important that your tea tin provide proper drainage for all of the times that you forget that you watered your cactus, like, two hours ago and water it again, so that your cactus doesn’t rot from the inside and then just sort of sadly collapse, like your dream of being a weather girl.  Take a rusty screw you have lying around and a hammer and use them to poke holes in the bottom of the tea tin.*  You can use the tea tin’s lid as a dish to catch any excess water, and you should feel extremely proud of this moment of efficiency. *Actually you probably shouldn’t do this at all, because this might actually be dangerous.  But, then again, if you’ve had a tetanus shot recently, you don’t want to waste it, right?

It’s important that your tea tin provide proper drainage for all of the times that you forget that you watered your cactus, like, two hours ago and water it again, so that your cactus doesn’t rot from the inside and then just sort of sadly collapse, like your dream of being a weather girl. Take a rusty screw you have lying around and a hammer and use them to poke holes in the bottom of the tea tin.* You can use the tea tin’s lid as a dish to catch any excess water, and you should feel extremely proud of this moment of efficiency.
*Actually you probably shouldn’t do this at all, because this might actually be dangerous. But, then again, if you’ve had a tetanus shot recently, you don’t want to waste it, right?

 

Look at this.  Isn’t it cute?  It’s a cactus with a brighter, trendier cactus grafted on the top (according to Urban Outfitters, neon is, like, so hot right now) (for lame hipsters).  And it turns out that now, cacti come in these little plastic pots with handles on them, like tiny and fashionable safety accessories.  You should probably try to figure that out before you gingerly pick it up from the bottom and everyone at Wal-Mart is like, What is wrong with you? (Not that you bought this cactus at Wal-Mart, because that would be lame.)

Look at this. Isn’t it cute? It’s a cactus with a brighter, trendier cactus grafted on the top (according to Urban Outfitters, neon is, like, so hot right now) (for lame hipsters). And it turns out that now, cacti come in these little plastic pots with handles on them, like tiny and fashionable safety accessories. You should probably try to figure that out before you gingerly pick it up from the bottom and everyone at Wal-Mart is like, What is wrong with you? (Not that you bought this cactus at Wal-Mart, because that would be lame.)

Now it’s time to panic a little that the cactus won’t actually fit inside of the tea tin.  After that, it’s time to think about how you really should have thought of that before.  Then, it’s time to decide that you are going to make the cactus fit into the tea tin, no matter what, which means it’s time to panic a little about how you are going to get the cactus inside of the tea tin without lacerating your hands so badly that you look like one of the illustrations of lepers that seemed to be on every page of your catechism book when you went to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School.  So you are going to need gloves, and those gloves need to be cute, which is the most important part of this step.   That may seem deceptively unimportant, but, I can assure you, that is pure deception.  You need to get some cute gardening gloves because there is nothing more important, in any situation, than accessories.  Coco Chanel once said that "It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure," but I like to think about accessories a little more concretely.  Accessories are absolutely necessary, because, if paired with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt, no one will be able to tell that you’re wearing your pajamas.  Coco Chanel said that, too.

Now it’s time to panic a little that the cactus won’t actually fit inside of the tea tin. After that, it’s time to think about how you really should have thought of that before. Then, it’s time to decide that you are going to make the cactus fit into the tea tin, no matter what, which means it’s time to panic a little about how you are going to get the cactus inside of the tea tin without lacerating your hands so badly that you look like one of the illustrations of lepers that seemed to be on every page of your catechism book when you went to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School. So you are going to need gloves, and those gloves need to be cute, which is the most important part of this step.
That may seem deceptively unimportant, but, I can assure you, that is pure deception. You need to get some cute gardening gloves because there is nothing more important, in any situation, than accessories. Coco Chanel once said that “It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” but I like to think about accessories a little more concretely. Accessories are absolutely necessary, because, if paired with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt, no one will be able to tell that you’re wearing your pajamas. Coco Chanel said that, too.

This last step may be the most important.  Remember, social media was invented so that you can show other people that you’re better than them, or at least that you’re stable enough to do crafts, even if you’ve worn your pajamas with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt for three months straight.  Therefore, it is essential to photograph your craft and show it to as many people on the Internet as possible.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  Oh, that’s right.  NONE.  There is NO POINT.  Find the one surface in your house that doesn’t look like it’s part of a still from Grey Gardens and set your craft up there.  You’ll need to arrange a little vignette by placing other objects near the craft.  Make sure that they’re kind of vintage-y and used in witty and unexpected ways, like this milk glass hand-me-down filled with colored pencils, or a Mason jar sippy-cup filled with wine coolers.

This last step may be the most important. Remember, social media was invented so that you can show other people that you’re better than them, or at least that you’re stable enough to do crafts, even if you’ve worn your pajamas with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt for three months straight. Therefore, it is essential to photograph your craft and show it to as many people on the Internet as possible. Otherwise, what’s the point? Oh, that’s right. NONE. There is NO POINT. Find the one surface in your house that doesn’t look like it’s part of a still from Grey Gardens and set your craft up there. You’ll need to arrange a little vignette by placing other objects near the craft. Make sure that they’re kind of vintage-y and used in witty and unexpected ways, like this milk glass hand-me-down filled with colored pencils, or a Mason jar sippy-cup filled with wine coolers. Add a moody Instagram filter and a caption that implies that everything is totally fine and organized inside of your house and your mind, hit post, and then refresh every five minutes while watching Bridezillas so you can judge people.

 

 

Houses are jerks.

This blog has been on hiatus.  I’m sorry.  There have been circumstances.

I’ll be back from hiatus very, very soon, but in the meantime, here’s a poem of mine published in B O D Y.  The poem is about houses and how they know way too much about the people who live inside of them.  I’m really happy to have this poem published because it’s one of those gifts, one of those poems that feels like it comes out of no where, a poem that’s completely unplanned but alters the course of your work.  That’s absolutely true of this poem.  Though it was the first poem in what would become a lengthy series, which then became the backbone of the manuscript I’m putting together, I have no idea where it came from.

Really.

See? See what I mean here?  This house?  Totally a secret-blabbing jerk.

See? See what I mean here? This house? Totally a secret-blabbing jerk.

I mean, I really have no idea where this poem came from.  It just appeared.  I suppose that my mind has been working on it for quite some time.  I’ve always been fascinated with houses — I’m not sure how anyone who’s driven around at night and accidentally looked into an accidentally-still-standing-with-the-lights-on-and-without-the-blinds-drawn window isn’t fascinated with houses.  They seem like such solid, impenetrable structures by day — they seem trustworthy, willing and able to keep all of your secrets — and then, by night — no way.  Leave a single one of them without the blinds drawn, and that house is telling everyone what you’re doing inside.  This is a problem, obviously, because I think it’s pretty obvious that we as a species began building and living inside of houses so we could walk around at night in extra-extra large t-shirts, knock-around-shorts, and knee socks, singing songs with lyrics

Gertrude Stein appears not to have the same anxieties about houses, possibly because she'd just be embarrassed by me.

Gertrude Stein appears not to have the same anxieties about houses, possibly because she’d just be embarrassed by me.

altered to feature your cats’ names and hobbies, eating frosting out of cans and watching Snapped marathons (all of that is completely hypothetical, of course.  Completely, totally, absolutely hypothetical.  I mean, who would do any of that?  Certainly completely, totally, and absolutely not me).

It’s possible that my mind has been rock-tumbling these ideas around for a while, without my knowledge, and polished them into a poem.  Much as I’ll never know the source of most of my ideas and decisions, I’ll never really know.  All I know is that I was in the middle of a Grind and wondering if I’d actually be able to finish the month, and then the poem appeared to answer my wondering.  It was a pleasant surprise, and I’m happy to have received it — and happier still that the good people at B O D Y liked it and wanted to share it.

(While you’re at B O D Y, by the way, you should check out fellow Grinders Ross White and Matthew Olzmann, two incredibly talented and all-around awesome poets whose work has inspired me and then inspired me again.)

When Life Throws Lemons At Your Face, Smash Those Bastards Up And Make A Cocktail

This is a photograph of the massive mess I made in my home office.

This is a photograph of the massive mess I made in my home office.

Needless to say, I haven’t been blogging.

To say that a lot has been going on would be an understatement.  Lately, life has been — well, it’s basically like Life started throwing lemons at me, and then I was like, Awesome!  Lemons!  Hey, thanks, Life, and I made a ton of lemonade, which is delicious and, incidentally, prevents kidney stones.  Two birds, one citrus fruit.  But then Life was like, Oh hell no, and started lobbing grapefruit at me, and I was like, WTF Life? Grapefruit are never delicious, except with mounds of sugar or vodka, both of which would ruin my low-carb diet, and besides, even the OED doesn’t know the plural of the word “grapefruit,” so how I am even supposed to talk about this?  And then Life gave me this creepy Joker-esque grin and lobbed two grapefruit(s) directly at my face.

Thanks a lot, Life.

And so I have turned to what I always turn to in times like these: organizational projects that

This is a photograph of Gertrude Stein in the middle of freaking LOVING the massive mess in my home office, which is probably the first symptom of super-angry cat rabies.

This is a photograph of Gertrude Stein in the middle of freaking LOVING the massive mess in my home office, which is probably the first symptom of super-angry cat rabies.

are so obsessive that they probably show up somewhere in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, so I tend to not talk about them until they’re finished and people will say things like You are so organized! Good for you! instead of Hey, Emma, would you like to go get a cup of coffee and have a conversation, perhaps about how nice it would be to hang out for a while in a calming, white, padded room where someone comes in three times a day with a Dixie cup of pills?  

Now that my projects are nearly finished, I feel better about blogging and talking about them, though I admit that a padded room would probably be a

good idea because let’s face it, I’m really clumsy and walls are hard.  I separated the books I need for teaching from the books I need for home reading (and listen, there are a lot of both.  I’m pretty sure everyone in the world who works for a moving company regularly wakes up screaming after a nightmare about my books) and took them to my office, and organized the rest according to the spectrum (which I’m pretty sure shows up on page 46 of the DSM-IV).*  I built a cabinet for my sewing supplies and filed my fat quarters according to color (DSM-IV, page 72).  I developed a color-coded filing system in a series of binders, complete with plastic sleeves to hold spare items that can’t be hole-punched, like pattern pieces and receipts and all ten thousand of my cats’ rabies shot collars, which I’m pretty sure just gave both of my cats super-angry cases of rabies (for color-coding and plastic

This is an after photograph. Some of my fat quarters are now out of place. This makes me nervous.

This is an after photograph. Some of my fat quarters are now out of place. This makes me nervous.

sleeves, see DSM-IV page 52; for paranoia about super-angry cat rabies, see

page 12).

The organizational projects have helped a lot: not only am I now able to actually find that handout about Dean Young’s lecture on surrealism and quickly locate the perfect red calico to complete my current hexie quilt stripe**, I actually feel like I have some control over at least some part of my life.  Obsessive, hole-punched, color-coded, magnificent control.

As a writer and a teacher, I admit that I look for metaphors in everything, and hole-punching and color-coding is no exception.  It all goes back to the lemons, really.  Here’s the thing about Life: it’s going to lob lemons at your forehead, and grapefruit(s) and ugli fruit(s) and kumquats and tangelos and whatever else Life can find in its produce aisle.  The only thing you can do is put concealer over your bruises, pick up the

This is a photograph of actual lemons I actually made to make actual lemonade, FOR CONTEXT.

This is a photograph of actual lemons I actually made to make actual lemonade, FOR CONTEXT.

citrus fruit(s) fallen and themselves bruised by your feet, and make one helluva citrus punch.  And that’s going to be messy — you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves, get out the knives and the juicer, and pulverize a bunch of lemons.  But when you’re done, you’ll have a beautiful pitcher of a refreshing citrus cocktail — and sometimes, when Life seems unfaceble and no action seems possible, sitting back and sipping on a cool citrus beverage is the best action you can take.

Especially if you add mounds of sugar and vodka.

*NOTE: I have no actual knowledge about the DSM-IV, so if you do and you’re thinking to yourself Hmm, page 46 is actually the page about women who watch too much Dateline and think Britney Spears is a feminist icon, sort of like a contemporary version of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, that’s totally just a coincidence.

** NOTE THE SECOND: I also probably have no actual knowledge about actual quilting or actual quilting terminology, so this might not at all be what this is called.  For information about actual quilting and/or actual quilting terminology, I suggest that you refer to this book, WHICH ACTUALLY EXISTS:

No, seriously. THIS BOOK EXISTS. And you can BUY IT.  NOTE: there are still two days until Valentine's Day.  YOU'RE WELCOME.

No, seriously. THIS BOOK EXISTS. And you can BUY IT. NOTE: there are still two days until Valentine’s Day. YOU’RE WELCOME.