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the definite article

Back when I first met Myron I told him I had a blogish thing. Or maybe I said that I "wrote online" to be cagey and secret because it was still a thing to be awkward about, not because I was writing about him. (Most of the people who read that blogish thing saw my post about my wedding and said "uh, you were seeing someone?" because they had no idea.) He was cool about it. He read a bunch of blogs himself. He asked what I wrote about and I said it was limited because I didn't like writing about my students, even obliquely, and I didn't like being too personal. I know I tried to get across that I used it to process things or write about events and the way I felt about them beyond "that was good"/"that was bad" and he said "so basically you're writing The Personal Essay" and you could hear the initial caps in that phrase, so there they are as I write this down now, those caps. And for someone with an English degree, who probably should have some familiarity with The Personal Essay as a format, I was very unsure if he was right or not, so I probably changed the subject to something like pie or the cows that went past my patio door.

It's the "The" that got me then, and that gets me now when I think about this; no one would ever say "So you are writing The Novel" or "You are writing The Screenplay" or "You should write The Free Verse instead of The Villanelle because your rhymes are tired/wired/inspired/mired". I do not have an argument when I open up a blank document to write things down here; I have no point to prove. Your average Kimperative post does not have a mission. To say that I am writing personal essays here feels arrogant, even ludicrous. When I look at how The Blog as a vehicle for expression changed even in the past five years, I can tell you what else I'm not doing. I'm not writing The Family Life Chronicle, because my husband and in-laws don't write blogs and that's them saying that their lives are their own business. I'm not writing the Styled Enviable Life Catalog because my house is a wreck right now, it's pretty unstyled and average looking even when it's not wrecked, and because I think that stuff is boring. I'm not writing The Sponsored Post to get a kickback on something I think you might buy because I told you to or to improve some brand's SEO. I'm not writing you The Life Advice Encouragement Piece, because you shouldn't take life advice from someone who doesn't have their shit together, who doesn't know you, who doesn't love you, or who acts like success is a matter of reading The Life Advice Encouragement Piece and then sharing it on Facebook, or who is trying to make a career for themselves in the Life Advice Encouragement Piece department. Take life advice from your grandma and if she is gone, think about what she would tell you with all the love she had in her heart for you, and do that, and if your grandma was a jerk then think about what you would tell someone you love, and then do that. (Uh oh, that actually does look like advice, doesn't it?) Anyway, you can see what I mean, I think. Once you put that definite article on something, it becomes a format that other people are using too, and you either fit that format or you don't.

(I might start writing The Book Review again, but if I do, they won't have affiliate-type links, just like my old ones didn't. Let me know what you think about that, seriously, because they have a lot in common with The Sponsored Post, which I dislike. I understand that some people have problems with bloggers writing positive book reviews when there aren't any negative reviews in their body of work, but I'm sorry, this is not a job and I can't finish books I don't like any more and I'm not going to give bandwidth to a book I think is shitty just so people think my positive reviews aren't biased. There's just no time for that in my life.)

Sometimes I write The Recipe. Mostly I just think you should read Roxane Gay and Albert Burneko for The Recipe. They think about cooking the way I do, because your brain still works while you cook and you think about a thousand other things in the process. Albert's are flow charts in paragraph form, with options embedded for almost every step instead of rules. Roxane is writing The Personal Essay while she does The Recipe, because the universe speaks through her and I'm not even exaggerating. These two are the opposite of everything that sucks about food blogs. 

snow-covered beach and lake, the first time I had reason to use the polarizing filter to bring out the blue in the sky. 

What happens is that I don't write here for a while and it is because I do not know how to tell you what I've thought, or I think I do and I hear its purposelessness and its lack of clincher sentence and I think "no", or because I have stared at other paragraphs and slaughtered them like that better-than-Jax-Teller dude on Vikings, or because I do not want to take a photo to go with a post, or because I should be spending my time writing other things, or because I have not read your blog in two months and maybe you are taking offense. It is maybe because I fucked off and went on a ride with my photo group up to a lake and wound up in snow up to my crotch. I held my camera high above my head to protect it from snow and that meant I could not walk, so I looked like a sea lion in my parka trying to bounce my way out of three feet of snow and it was ridiculous and embarrassing and fun. It is maybe because things got fucked up and they are not my stories to tell, but those fucked up things are the only things I can think about and I am simmering in fucked up until I am fork-tender. It is also maybe because it is not important for me to write here when I have a deadline and some pages to submit this month. 

I took those pages this weekend and I demolished them and rewrote them in first person. This is a lousy thing to do when you have promised to send them to someone who is patiently waiting for them and has better things to do than read your work. Whether this makes sense in the end is for some future version of me to answer. For right now, I only know the sound of the words in my head was different; something was more right. I have spent years writing sentences with "I" as the subject. Maybe I have broken my third person. Maybe this is not such a bad thing; maybe my third person is a relic or flawed in some way. Maybe it's just wrong for these pages. (I have crises of conscience about which point of view to use. This is another reason I will not write you The Life Advice Encouragement Piece.) 

I am writing The Overlong Overconjunctionated Sentence, over and over again. I am writing The Weekend Update Email. I am writing The Partial, in First Person. I am writing The Squealing Fan Mail in response to The Thank-You Email. I am writing The Shopping List and The Birthday Card and The Gchat Extended Metaphor. And I guess I am writing The Personal Essay, maybe? Does it matter if I am or if I'm not, if it's on a reputable website with an editor and ads and professional writers, if you like it or if it's too long or boring? I hit up Google 'cause Bing sucks and I typed in "the personal essay" without Myron's caps but with his definite article, and I saw a result that said "A short work of autobiographical nonfiction characterized by a sense of intimacy and a conversational manner." This is intimate, to me, to show you my brain and how it works with all these damned conjunctions, one piece snaking off after another without a breath, and because I have a degree of familiarity with more than half of the people who will read it. This is conversational, even though there is no room for you to say anything until it's all done; this is what it sounds like to talk to me. It's not the first time I thought he was full of crap about something and he wound up right. 

a tiny weather system

This was not supposed to happen. I was not supposed to write six times in January and then not at all in February. This is not how you bring back a habit or find joy in it. It's what happened, though. The opposite of inspiration is not expiration, not really. And yet I can see it this way--air going into me, air flowing out like a tiny current picking up dried leaves and blowing hair into lip gloss.

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Those are the five notebooks on my dining room table, to the right of my computer, waiting their turn. One of them, I admit, is just an agenda, but I need to deal with it as much as I need to deal with the stuff in the other four. Their pages are packed full of my scrawl: ideas, lists, embryonic blog posts, calls to action. 

I have not been good with action lately. For three weeks, our house has pulsed quietly with worry. It can't shake this vibration off even when Myron's at work. We watch livestreams from Ukraine, reload The Interpreter over and over. (I can't read Ukrainian, so I'm stuck with English versions of things; Myron reads both Ukrainian and Russian so he summarizes other sources for me.) I go to Twitter not to read my own timeline but Kateryna Kruk's. I try to read other things but return again and again to this. Ukraine is not my homeland, but Myron is my heart and my heart is aching.

Saturday I was supposed to go with my photo group to a small town an hour north of here for a festival. A few days beforehand, the trip was canceled because it was just too cold. This is a thing. Too cold for Winnipeggers, the heartiest of Canadians and the most impatient with weather-whining! The people I know have stopped talking about how cold it is, how drastically far below average, how punishingly windy. We said everything there was to say way back in December, and we can't even brag about withstanding it anymore. 

I switch back and forth between held breath and thousand-yard stare, those sudden moments when weather stops and even a dog won't howl and the sky is a wrong color. I sleep soundly but dreamlessly. I immerse myself in books and the wise words of people who have finished what I've started. I drink tea like it's the cure. I feel the care of my friends like warm hands on the back of my neck. It's March, it's March, I tell myself. The great gray beast February is three days gone. It spit out my bones, but not much more. I'm trying to figure out if I'm supposed to scrape together what's left of me or if I have a spare soul left in a box I haven't yet unpacked.

saudade

This is long. I'm sorry, but there is so much to say. I'll skip adding a photo because I know it will just make things feel longer.

I had a different post in mind to write this week, but Monday took me by surprise.

And then it was like any other death, and when I clicked "save entry" for the last time there, I dissolved into cold water.


OpenDiary is where I cut my teeth writing for strangers. There were more adults there than on Diaryland, and a more entrenched community by the time I started writing there in 2000. It was in the site TOS that personally identifying information was never to be used on the site, so we all stuck to our pseudonyms with almost fetishistic fervor, each one encased in square brackets. And because of this--because of the anonymity the whole community held sacred--we let go. We wrote things we would never have told our families, our friends, anyone. They were not blogs, these accounts. (Blog. What a word. So harsh, so public. And LiveJournal! So big and flashy and full of teenagers.) They were us, transformed into words, with some of the ugliest, clumsiest web design you would ever find anywhere.

Maybe you have to understand what it was like for me at the time. I was teaching on the reservation. My brother had recently died and I had nuked my relationship to head west. I needed to do harder work than I had been doing. The students worked hard for me in exchange. When they lit up, I was able to as well. That was healing, and so was driving for an hour into a part of the world where there was absolutely nothing around but sky, earth, rock, and stray cows looking for something to eat. I needed to figure out what meaning there was in a world where teenage boys died in car crashes, and I learned that lesson over and over again because there I was, in a place where I met teenage boys and they drew motorcycle logos on their test papers and they died and they left empty chairs in my classroom.

We all brought our own "what it was like for me at that time." Few people bothered to create personae, which is not to say we didn't all have different writing voices. But there was no need to be fake or fabulous. We were safe in our dullness and trainwreckness and rawness and happiness, and our friendships were real. It was something that kept us coming back even when we had nothing to write about, because OD was where our friends were. At the same time, many of us kept our presence there completely hidden from people in our real lives. This made it awkward when we had to admit to husbands or mothers or non-wired friends that we were meeting someone from our "online writer's group" for lunch. There was nothing like reaching the point where you would breach anonymity to look another diarist in the face, eat a meal, ride a fucking Jet Boat, anything you could, to be with someone who knew you to that extent.

I started my first writing prompt project there. I called it "the third floor" after the place where I used to spend my time in college, sitting on the floor in the hallway, scribbling away. Two prompts every week, a rush of writing afterward, just another fun thing to do, another reason to spend more time on OD. I can say this now, looking back--it didn't feel wrong to spend that much time on the internet when we were, with every entry, sending out genuine tendrils of connection with each other. Those tendrils caught me and kept me tethered once my mother was gone. Diarists sent me CDs filled with music to keep me company in the days afterward. They talked about the loss of their own mothers. I tried to give back when I read about the tragedies and incalculable losses and pains of their lives. The exhaustion, frustration, and mundane pointlessness of parenting, all of which they took on gladly. And the glee, man, the fucking joy of simply writing down what had mattered that day, of dumping out a brainful of bother before bedtime.

By the time Heather and I started writing publicly together in 2010, I had already begun to withdraw from OD. People I loved had moved on; ten years had passed since I started writing online. I wanted to attach my own name to what I wrote. I wanted to limit myself to topics that weren't so personal and build in some kind of distance. By this point OD had already suffered a major hacking and long-term outages, and I wanted to be responsible for my own backups and my own layout. I wanted to take the risk of failing better, or at least bigger. I kept my account but rarely wrote. When I would come back with an update, the feedback was generous, instantaneous, and validating. A friend said "Sometimes, I can't breathe when I read you." I don't write things on kimperative that are designed to suffocate you. But in the back of my mind, I was always sure that I could.

Now the site is going to shut down. This is not a surprise. It barely clung to life the past few years and outages and failures were routine. I certainly considered myself Over OD for a long while. It's one thing to leave of your own volition, and another altogether to be told that someday (when? *shrug* TIIC won't say), before two weeks pass, it will all be gone. 

And yet I'm okay that it's ending. OD taught me how to write as much as any workshop did. It taught me how much negative shit I could say about your boyfriend without crossing a line. It taught me, above all else, what it is to be human, and that means coming to terms with what you can keep and what you can't and being grateful down to your marrow for your enviable blessings. My time there was a blessing I never could have understood until I walked away from it. I downloaded all my entries and then wrote one more, which I ended like this:

I am writing this today and not downloading it, because I like that it will get swallowed up and will vanish along with so much else. I like that OD will become a black hole. I like being forced to let go of things; it's good for me. Otherwise my life is like that (maybe apocryphal?) DFW quote, everything I've ever let go of has claw marks on it. Without fail, I was always the one making those three dumb running lurches after something that was already gone. People, diaries, buses that came earlier than they should have. There is always mood music for those lurches. They are my favorite parts of everything.

list 4: things I unpacked that I love, vol. 1

I have been here almost a year, and there are still a number of boxes that have not been unpacked yet. This is plain old embarrassing. I did a good enough job packing that the things I needed would be available right away, but other things--things that could safely stay in boxes for a year--well, they stayed. We still have yet to build a replacement wall of books for the basement, and books are probably about 75% of what's still boxed up. The rest of it? It's getting unboxed, slowly but surely. Since one of my goals for 2014 is to finally unpack all the things, there will be a few of these TIUTIL lists throughout the year when I come across the lovely things that I forgot I had. Don't you believe all those minimalists who say "If it stays in a box for a year and you don't need it, you never will, so throw it away." Some of those things are waiting for the right time, and they were worth the packing, the boxing, the freight charges, and the waiting before they saw the light again. 

(Note: Mindy Kaling used to run this blog called Things I Bought that I Love here and later here. In my head, I use this structure all the time: Things I Cooked that I Love, Things I Read that I Love, and so on. In fact, now that I think of it, most blogs are basically Things I Thought that I Love. Anyway, that's where the name comes from, for me.)

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1. My box of GOOD candles. I packed these fuckers like I dug them up out of a sarcophagus and was sending them to a museum instead of an old house in the North End. Then they wound up somehow in the stack of still-packed boxes. I opened up so many searching for them. I tried sniffing every available box in "my" section, and only found my Lesser Candles. This box? Myron SWORE it was just a box of teenage romances. HOW WRONG HE WAS. The other night, we went downstairs looking for a particular box of books and it crossed my mind that the Good Candles were still down there somewhere. Lo, my people, they were found and cheers of joy were shouted. Pictured are a few: Sleeping Under the Stars by Lollia, Agadir by Tocca, Yuzu by Bluewick, Napa Valley Harvest by Illuminations (now Illume), and Amber Dusk by Lumière Candle Co. (sadly defunct). I could not resist lighting the Yuzu. You probably would not have, either, so that's okay. There's only one link in that series because the rest of the candles aren't made anymore. I should burn them or else I think I qualify as a hoarder.

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2. Grammy and Charlie. One of my cousins (both of whom are talented artists) made this, though I can't say for sure which one. There is a series of these composites with my (holy cow gorgeous) Grammy and various famous people from long ago. During the move it got a few water splotches so I've requested the files and hopefully I can print them out. In the meantime, I have that smile to look at and sometimes I can't believe there's still snow on the ground outside when she's around to heat things up. 

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3. Three photo albums. (There's actually a fourth, too, but without initials.) My mother kept a vast library of photo albums when I was growing up but until a few years ago, I had genuine photo apathy and did not care about taking any pictures at all. And yet, somehow I wound up with a few hundred printed photos. I want to cull them and keep the best in these albums, and then I want to start printing some of my favorites that I've taken since I went digital. I'm never going to have an entire shelf full of albums--I have a hard drive for this--but getting rid of the hundreds of pics that aren't worth keeping will be a good project. I cannot even tell you how many scone pics there are in my files right now, because it would require math and greek letters, but I know there are more scone pics than there were ACTUAL EATEN SCONES. I know that when the albums are filled and the rest of the extra pictures are tossed, I am going to feel a huge amount of stress lift away.

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4. This Pendleton blanket. It's spread out on my guest bed in that pic, but mostly it lives on my bed because it's 100% wool and warm as my Grammy's smoldering eyes. With winter the way it is, I would be lost without it. It was waiting patiently in its box, wrapped up in dry-cleaner plastic, and one of the only good things about remaining catless is that this blanket is not covered in cat hair. It's a limited edition blanket that was made for the school where I taught in New Mexico, and it is seriously gorgeous. Everything on the blanket has a meaning and it is profoundly important to me.

52 lists is a thing I stole without shame from hula seventy.