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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. 

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. 

list 3: if x, then y--disaster edition

Beneath those washcloths: MORE POLISH, staying wet until I could clean it off.

Beneath those washcloths: MORE POLISH, staying wet until I could clean it off.

  1. If you lose hold of your nailpolish box and drop it, and a bottle of it cracks at the neck, flinging fumey stickiness all over your bedroom carpet, then it's probably safe to assume it would not be a nice, clear topcoat bottle but instead, that last bottle of lime green Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear (shade name: IVY LEAGUE I am not kidding.) 
  2. If I make a huge mess, and this is a thing that happens often enough that I'm afraid I'll never grow out of it, then the next thing I do is search ["jolie kerr" + "fill-in-stain-disaster-here"]. This will almost always take you to a Jezebel page, and I'm not direct linking to them right now because fuck'em. Jolie Kerr will not steer you wrong when it comes to cleaning up things and her book is coming out in February. Here is what worked on that Ivy League: not a DAMN thing but straight acetone. It did not bleach or melt the carpet, and the polish came up. Slowly. Over two days worth of dabbing spot by spot.

  3. If you ever have to spend two days with your face a few inches from an acetone-soaked carpet, then you are going to have to open your fucking windows, even if it is January in Winnipeg and it is -15C/5F outside. There is no getting around it. When the wind blows snow into your room you will be nicely stoned and you will think it looks pretty. At some point, try to remember to put away all the extra cotton balls and pointy q-tips and emery boards and stuff, because all that additional visual clutter is NOT HELPING DAMN IT. (Take a picture first, though, especially if you need to guiltiily report your mess to the only person who (a) has legendary sensitivity to fumes (b) has to sleep in the same house you have turned into an acetone fume zone.)

  4. If you have already polished your nails in bright blood red, then you should probably remove it before you start this cleanup process or risk adding even more stains to the carpet. 

  5. If you promise not to take this anecdotal Number 5 as advice, then I will tell you that the smallest bits of polish--the ones that managed to dry anyway, no matter how wet I tried to keep them--were the bits that cleaned up easiest. The color stayed on the surface of the carpet, and the acetone dissolved it much more effectively. 

  6. If you think that common sense would take over and that I would cease storing my nail polish in the bedroom, then you think much better of me than I deserve because that shit is still right in my nightstand daring me to drop it again.

     


52 lists is a hula seventy thing and I cannot believe I have done three in a row. GO ME.

a hole in the cold: #FortnightofFlash

The Garlic Corner does not bother with one of the endemic names local shawarma joints use—Shawarma King, Shawarma Prince, Shawarma Palace. We are here for the garlic and the chicken and pita are just vehicles to get it into our mouths. On the chair beside him is Myron’s weekend bag. From here, we walk a few blocks to Rideau, through the mall and to the bridge, where we split up. He stands four lanes away from me, in black leather amid a rainbow of nylon coats. He waves sometimes. Mostly we watch each other. It’s unseasonably pleasant; no gloves, no scarves. The warm wind blows my hair into tangles and his bus comes before mine. It’s over.

When my own bus comes I get a prized empty seat near the front. Two stops later, a man in his fifties gets on and sits with the young woman behind me. He asks her about her coursework, her major, says that he’s “workin’ casual” for Canada Post but did his degree in geography. She has that kind of voice that repels inflection but she keeps going with the conversation, and the two of them prattle through every lurching stop of the bus until I can’t bear it any longer. I head to the back of the bus, find an empty seat, and lean my head against the cool window. Everyone back here is silent, earphones in, head bent down to device, eyes closed. I am with my people. I watch the clock. By now he has his boarding pass. By now he is through security. By now he is sitting in a chair attached to four other chairs and is opening the copy of Cloud Atlas that bewitched me in New Mexico.

I get off the bus in front of the antique store and am almost knocked over by the wind. I walk into it in the dark along the highway. I detect a drop of rain, another, another. No wind this strong should be truly dry; exertion like this calls for sweat. I lean forward with each step but the wind corrects my posture. I try to remember the names of winds I know: mistral, simoom, sirocco, sundowner. The skies open and the rain comes down and I think of all the things we did today that put me where I am right now instead of dry at home fifteen minutes earlier. And I think about what it is to be jean-soaked and coat-soaked in the middle of a warm November instead of shin-deep in snow, and I think like an English major about cloudbursts and baptisms and timing and my empty house. Maybe I can write again, turn this into something. And look! I did.


More about the Fortnight of Flash can be found here. I can’t hack month-long projects right now, but you know I love a good fortnight.

brimstone and phosphorus

When my littlest brother was in nursery school, he came home with this book about death called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. I read it. Freddie rustles in the breezes and offers shade for picnicking old people and then October comes with the cold and wind, and everyone changes color. A kindly leaf tells Freddie that everybody dies, and at the end, even though Freddie said he was absolutely not going to die, wheeeeeeee Freddie falls and it’s as orgasmic as that saying about skidding into your grave at full throttle shouting What a Ride!

My tree has gone Freddie, all yellow and autumn-smelling and on its way to its annual nakedness. It’s a big tree, lots of leaves. Lots of raking. Next year I may not even have a tree at all to clean up after. The little girl in me who learned wrong lessons about death too early does not like autumn or falling leaves or anything that speaks of endings. The rest of me tries to talk some sense into that little girl and to be the kindly leaf. Life is change. You’re alive, still. You change, and everything changes around you. You are not the center of the storm. You are made of it and every time you breathe you stir things up some more.

I have been quiet in a lot of ways since spring, mostly because to talk of the minutiae of this life (the packing, the loneliness, the damn shoulder) feels one-note to me, and though I fail a lot, I try not to be one-note. I myself am sick of what I have to say. I wish, instead of bagging up all these leaves in environmentally sound paper leaf bags for the city to haul away, I could be piling their dry husks into an old metal barrel and tickety-boom setting them on fire. This is what I need right now, a good hot blaze instead of a slow decay.

The good news: I swear I smell it, just a hint. Mixed in with the clean chill of the air and the musty fallen leaves, overpowering the parade of pumpkin-spiced this and pumpkin-spiced that, and in concert with geese flying south: sulfur and phosphorus, a freshly struck match. Maybe it’s some kind of anticipatory hallucination, maybe it’s hope or a memory, and maybe it’s someone down the street with more balls than I have. It gives me nerve. It smells better than I can tell you.