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.
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,
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
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.
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.
Now we should all go read some of the leaked lyrics from Yeezus because, people, Kanye West raps about croissants like he means it.
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!
Dear Mr. Coffee,
I have, yet again, felt the terror of your hatred and disdain.
At this point, it’s all too clear: we have grown apart, and so have our wants and needs.
It’s over, Mr. Coffee. I wish you the best. And no, we cannot be friends.
Good luck with your future endeavors at the Humane Society Thrift Shop.