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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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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Topping the Top Ten (Part 2)

So, a little while ago, I got tagged on a top-ten-books-ever meme.  The instructions were very simple – name the top ten books that have stuck with you, in any order, without thinking about it too long – which means that I was completely incapable of following the instructions.  Instead, I wondered what kind of books – collections of poetry or astronomy textbooks or Our Bodies Ourselves or books that came with finger puppets?  I wondered a while about the phrase “stuck with you” – like, in an I-Remember-Important-Quotes-Down-To-The-Punctuation Way or a This-Overall-Changed-Like-All-My-Life Way or an I-Hate-This-So-Much-I-Threw-It-Against-The-Wall-And-A-Mark-Stayed-There Way, or even a Like-Oatmeal-Sticks-To-Your-Ribs Way?  And why do we say that oatmeal sticks to our ribs in the first place?  Doesn’t oatmeal go into your stomach?  Is oatmeal constructed in such a way as to somehow leak out of your stomach, locate your ribs through some kind of terrifying internal GPS systems, and stick there?  Is my ribcage, at this point, constructed mostly of rolled oats, stuck to my ribs and sort of waving around, like vitamin-rich deep-sea coral?*

Things got complicated.

So I’ve decided to break this up into three categories – poetry, fiction, and nonfiction – and then do the not-thinking part within each of the categories.  And I’m going to do that very quickly, so I don’t start thinking I need to break into sub-categories (hybrid work!  sonnet sequences!  featuring zoo animals as main characters!).

POETRY:

  1. Glass, Irony, and God by Anne Carson
  2. Bad Boats by Laura Jensen
  3. Green Notebook, Winter Road by Jane Cooper
  4. Sad Little Breathing Machine by Matthea Harvey
  5. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (I mean, obvs)
  6. Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions by Maurice Manning
  7. What the Living Do by Marie Howe
  8. The Red Bird by Joyelle McSweeney
  9. Forth a Raven by Christina Davis
  10. V.WaveSon.Nets by Stephanie Strickland

NONFICTION:

  1. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
  2. The Body: An Essay by Jenny Boully
  3. One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina
  4. On Looking by Lia Purpura
  5. An Elemental Thing by Eliot Weinberger
  6. The Narrow Road to the Interior by Kimiko Hahn
  7. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
  8. The Interior Castle by Teresa of Ávila
  9. The Pharmacist’s Mate by Amy Fusselman
  10. The Nearly Born Woman by Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément

FICTION:

  1. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  2. Do The Windows Open? by Julie Hecht
  3. Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle
  4. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
  5. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg
  6. The Hunger Games triology (natch)
  7. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
  8. Oh! by Mary Robison
  9. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  10. Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood

* In case you are wondering, yes, this is kind of how everything happens inside of my head and also why I can go to the store for bread and come out with pudding cups and an African violet.

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.

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