I woke up at 5 and couldn’t fall back asleep and I started thinking about Nicole Cliffe.
Last night I went to Nicole’s talk with Rebecca Mead about Rebecca’s new book. It was one of two times I’ve seen Nicole in the flesh in my life, but I feel like I’ve known her intimately for years, due to the miracle of blogs, specifically the miracle that was Nicole’s first Tumblr, Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews, and then later the miracles that are the Hairpin and The Toast. Through her writing, I’ve become aware of Nicole’s feelings about many different types of literature, but I’ve also learned as much about Nicole’s life — her husband, her horses, her daughter, her dog (RIP) — as I know about … well, I don’t know that much about that many other people!
I think part of it is Nicole’s generosity — this sounds sarcastic, but it’s earnest — with the insights she gleans from everyday life, and how seamlessly she incorporates that kind of knowledge with her “book learning,” the knowledge she’s gleaned from reading TEN HUNDRED KABILLION BOOKS, all of which she remembers in great detail, because she is a fucking genius. She’s also a great writer, and her sentences stick in your head. I always remember her opinion, even when I totally disagree with her (which I do, about books, kind of a lot!) I can’t tell you how often a Nicole-ism has flitted through my head completely unbidden. This makes her sound like the Fergie of literature, but it’s a good thing. Anyway, I knew she was a great writer, but what I didn’t know until last night was how well she commands a room, with utter confidence and articulate grace, and how great she is at asking an author questions about her work. It’s hard to strike a balance between putting the person at ease, “fangirling all over them” (this was something Nicole accused herself of last night), and eliciting interesting and genuine responses that might add to a reader’s appreciation for a book. I have been to a LOT of “in conversation with” events in my life and this one was different. It had a different energy. It was a breath of fresh (Utah-y?) air.
Lying awake (still, somehow) I started thinking about the irony in the subtitle of Nicole’s first tumblr, “the graveyard of personal literary ambition.” Or maybe it’s not quite irony, maybe it’s Alany, whatever, I didn’t get a ton of sleep. But it’s clear that this was the beginning of an incredibly ambitious project for Nicole, and that if Nicole wanted to she could live in New York and do what she she effortlessly, brilliantly did last night all the time. Instead she lives in Utah and skis a lot and rides horses and has a baby and — she would say this too, in these exact words! — a rich husband. She doesn’t have to pay someone the GDP of a small nation to take care of her daughter while she works at a job she semi-hates so that she can afford to keep a foothold in this, The Greatest City In The World. I was clearly going down a weird insomniac thought spiral here. I thought about taking out my phone and scrolling through Instagram til I got sleepy again, which obviously does not work.
And then I remembered something Nicole once wrote, one of her trademark memorable Nicole-isms. Years ago, she wrote (I can’t find this on the Internet! Nicole, do you know where it is? I googled up some AMAZING stuff while searching for it) that her New Year’s Resolution was, if she woke up in the middle of the night and had to pee, she would get up and pee right away, not lie there half-asleep in the hopes that the pee would somehow reabsorb into her body.
Nicole is wise. I got up, peed, and fell back asleep.