We’ll see, but I believe that, if you click here, you should get all the installments that have run so far. Probably in reverse order.
Last night, I went over to the East Side Storytelling which was Sara Harvey reading and Bill Davis performing. Sara, though sick, was great, as always. Bill Davis was a hoot and his music was fun and his voice was lovely. He’s got a cool Halloween song, which he played acoustically, but which you can hear in it’s full, silly, wonderful glory here.
The venue is another story. Everyone’s food was not good and they basically abandoned our server to handle thirty people who all sat at once. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad for a server. And there were few people inside. They could have sent another server outside to help keep order.
The weirdest thing, though, is that it smelled like a horse barn. Like horse poop and hay. Which seems like a weird smell for a restaurant.
That place is in a good spot and I know people go there and love it and never have any problems. But every time I go there I end up wishing they could get their acts together so that I could go there more often.
Even in the thick fog, the tear was sharp and easy to make out. I approached it cautiously, calling for Rufus the whole while, hoping he might just reemerge.
Of course, he didn’t.
I stuck my head in the tear in reality and felt the by-now-familiar breeze. I looked down, but I didn’t see any bottom. I honestly didn’t see anything at all. Below was as black and empty as above.
I stepped in anyway. It felt like I imagine stepping through a slightly-electrically charged rain shower would feel, or like walking through static. For a second, I felt I was standing on something. I turned back and saw my own back yard, hazy through the fog but familiar, and then like the cartoon character who realizes too late that solid ground is an illusion, I fell.
Down, through the blackness, down through the never-ending slightly cool breeze, down through silence like the grave. I fell so long that I ceased to be afraid of falling. It was obvious to me at that point where Rufus was—somewhere beneath me, falling as well. Possibly we would just slide down the backside of reality forever, until we starved and death ended our travels.
Hours went by and still I fell. I passed the time wishing I had left a note for Bart, wishing I had told him I loved him, and then reassuring myself that a brother never doubts a sister’s love. I felt sorry for myself that I would never see my niece grow up. I felt deeply ashamed at what I was certainly about to put my parents through.
They would give me a Christian funeral. I hoped my friends would have sense enough to read Whitman in my honor later.
I cried, too, in part, just to give myself a noise to hear. But eventually, I grew tired of the sound of my voice and I fell silently.
That’s when I realized I heard something, a faint whooshing sound. I strained to see if I could hear it better and in front of me, as if someone had turned on a light switch, was Abraham Lincoln, illuminated with his own inner glow.
No, not quite Abraham Lincoln. It was the head of the Great Emancipator, but his body was absent. In its place was the body of a vulture. He regarded me with some interest.
“President Lincoln?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
“Are you falling, too?”
“My dear, I fly on the wings of liberty!” He responded, giving his great wings a slow, majestic flap, which caused him to bob up out of my line of sight for a second.
“Is there firm ground somewhere?”
“Of course, my dear,” he said. I wondered how he put on his hat with wingtips instead of hands.
“Could you fly me to it?”
The great man wrinkled his brow and pondered my question. Then he frowned.
“No,” he said, but mostly to himself. “I don’t think I can handle the burden of another woman.”
“But Mr. Lincoln…” I objected. It was too late. He had already flown off.
Various other presidents came to check me out—Hayes, Garfield, Teddy Roosevelt, Johnson, both Adamses. None of them would help. But then Jefferson came by and who ever knew him to pass up a chance to get his hands on a woman?
“Mr. Jefferson!” I cried out, but even he ignored my plight.
I continued to fall until finally, the scraggliest, most broken buzzard you’ve ever seen made its way over to me. The head on the bare neck of that great bird was a scowling madman with a shock of white hair that was all cowlick.
“Ma’am, I heard you could use some help.”
“Andrew Jackson! Yes, thank God. Please. Help.” Because say what you want about Andrew Jackson, he’s not going to leave a fat woman in distress. He grabbed hold of me with his giant talons and began to carry me off. I cried out in relief. “Why wouldn’t anyone else help me?” I asked.
“Ma’am, I believe they mostly feel that the modern world has become strange and unsympathetic to them. They shy away.”
“But you helped me,” I said.
“To me, the world seems little changed in that regard. I don’t hold it against the current crop.” We flew on. “If you don’t mind me asking, miss, why are you here?”
“I’ve lost my dog.”
He seemed to be relieved that my answer was so simple.
“Big and yellow? Likes to chase rabbits?”
“I can point you in the right direction.”
My mom thinks the Butcher needs counseling. My dad accused him of being on drugs. He accused my dad of being a rape apologist. My mom complained that, since I’ve asked them not to read Tiny Cat Pants, she couldn’t read the October story. My dad scoffed that it was “probably just as bad as everything else she’s written.”
And now I have this twitch in my eye that is rather unpleasant.
But I am relieved to have said tick, because, frankly, I feel fine. All this nonsense and my internal happy-o-meter is set to content. No wire sticking out of my boob? How bad can it be? And I’m starting to feel like maybe it should bother me that things don’t bother me. I mean, that can’t be right or healthy to just be like “Whatever!” about everything.
But here it is! Evidence that some part of my brain, and hence my body, is actually quite stressed out about things. So, normalcy will return.
I can’t say how I knew the dog had gone through the tear. I just knew. The second I saw the patch was off the tear, I knew the dog had gone in there. Worse than that, I knew I’d have to go after him.
I’ve been thinking, on my history weekend, that the answer to why people owned slaves is incredibly obvious. It would be awesome. Yes, it’s got to be soul-corrupting, but, ignoring the moral implications, of course having people to do all the shit you don’t want to–or can’t–do is marvelous. I think even believing that you, because of some intrinsic value, deserve to have these people doing whatever you tell them and they, due to their inherent lack of being as awesome as you, have to do it, is some heady shit. Once you gave yourself permission to go ahead and enjoy the luxury of having slaves, I think it’d be very difficult to give it up.
But another thing I keep thinking about, too, is how much this resonates through into our current discussions of rape culture, how “slave culture” is, perhaps, the original rock in the pond that has sent us the destructive ripple of rape culture.
Because, if you consent to be my slave and I consent to do to you only the things you would allow me to do to you, you’re not really a slave. (Maybe we’d say you’re a non-sexual submissive?) The real pleasure of slavery is the pleasure of rape–I do to you whatever I want and I don’t give a shit how you feel about it. In fact, it’s better for me if you don’t want to do it, if you would say “no,” if you could.
Not all slave-owners, of course. Some must have enjoyed believing that their slaves came around to being willing to submit to those circumstances. That they were “kind.” Seducers, turning a “no” into a “yes.”
But for most, the ones who whipped and kicked and punched and burned, the satisfaction had to be there in the ability to willfully disregard the will of the body they were acting upon.
And, too, it wasn’t just slavery–this is how indentured servants might be treated, or wives, or children, or strangers who insulted you.
Which makes me wonder how you train this out of a people. If we have, for so long, believed that social prestige and status is intrinsically linked to having as few people as possible above you who can act on your body without your permission while we display the ways in which we can act on others’ bodies, why and how do we give that up?
On Saturday, I took the Lipscomb Civil War tour. It was incredible and they gave us a shit-ton of flyers and maps and a book. They could easily get $25 to $30 a head for that and it was free! I learned a ton.
Then that night we went over to the Madison train station and took their living history tour. I basically learned that Jane Addams is literally my old boss and that my dad and mom have hobo stories.
Then yesterday, we went over to Bledsoe’s Station and Mom and I wandered around the inside of the fort, while Dad and the Butcher yelled facts to us from the observation deck. Then we tried to drive over to where the Renfroe massacre had been, but you can’t get that close. It’s weird, though, how close that was to Clarksville but the remnants of the Renfroe party were driven down into Cooperstown (or what is now, anyway) and a bunch more of them killed at what is now Battle Creek (hence the name). Why didn’t they run to Clarksville?
All I can figure is that they must have been being attacked from the north and driven south, intentionally herded away from Clarksville.
But we know that eventually Mrs. Refroe and Black Bobb at the least ended up in Nashville.
At the end of September, Bart decided he was going to go visit some friends. Alone. Without the dog. He was serious about it. For the dog’s own safety, Bart confiscated Rufus’s car keys. I knew a week with just me and the dog was going to be somewhat brutal, since I simply could not walk the dog as long as Bart can walk the dog in the mornings and still function at my job without napping.
But I thought we’d worked out a system. I walked him in the morning for my usual length of time and then I came home and walked him in the evenings until I was exhausted. He pretended to be mollified.
He also spent much of the evenings sleeping right by the back door, so that, should Bart arrive home, he’d be right there to greet him. Sometimes, he even looked askance at me, like maybe I’d done something to run Bart off.
One day it was so ridiculous with Rufus moping around and sighing deeply and looking longingly at the back door like that was the direction salvation was coming from, that I called Bart and let him Facetime with Rufus. But this didn’t actually seem to help. It just made Rufus more convinced that Bart was somewhere without him.
The next morning, I woke up and I knew something wasn’t right. The house felt empty. I tried to remain calm. I went to the bathroom, put on my glasses, and poked my head into each room. The further I got through the house, the surer I was that Rufus wasn’t there.
Now the panic set in. My heart was racing. I felt too hot but with a cold sickness in the pit of my stomach. Damn it, damn it, damn it. I can’t lose another dog. Not yet.
I threw on my overalls and a t-shirt, slipped into my shoes and headed out the back door, which was, yes, god damn it, open. Who taught him how to open doors? Who thought that was a good idea?
It was foggy out and I could see only as far as the shed.
“Rufus!” I called. “RoooOOOOOoooofussssss!” But, in the mist, it didn’t carry. The sound seemed to go no farther than I could see. I kept calling, though, stumbling across the driveway, tripping as I made my way into the yard. I squinted but there was no sign of him.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine what I was going to say to Bart. Fuck me. How could I have been so careless?
The trees loomed out of the mist ahead of me and I had some thought that, maybe, he’d just already gone on our walk. If I could get to the treeline, I could make my way toward Lloyd and see if he was up on the road. I kept calling for him.
The backyard seemed to stretch on forever, though, and I stopped, suddenly afraid I was going to fall into the creek. I stepped back, in a direction I knew was safe, and my footstep made a weird noise—too big, too crunchy.
I looked down.
I was standing on the duct tape patch.
The tear in reality was uncovered.
I read it. I didn’t like it. I think it’s really well-written and well-executed, but I just didn’t like it.
I hate books like that–where you feel like you should be able to enjoy it, because look at how objectively good it is, but you just can’t ever settle into it as enjoyable.
Though, honestly, I don’t know. I feel a little numb myself still, in ways that continue to surprise me. The other night, the Butcher just opened the door and let the dog out without hooking him up, because it was raining and he was convinced the dog would come right back in. And when I went over to check on him, of course, he was gone.
And I turned to the Butcher and said, “that was a dick move.” And then I sat back down. That struck me as odd–that I could recognize that the dog was missing, but I couldn’t give a shit (and believe me, this whole discussion becomes funnier, in context, as the month goes on).
And there’s been lots of good news, too, that I just can’t give a shit about. I mean, I care, just, not that much.
I know I will come back to myself eventually, but it’s taking a while.
The dog has been having a visitor. Mrs. Jordan, who goes to the Jehovah’s Witness Hall around back and who supports Thelma Harper for state senate and who has some pamphlets on breast-feeding she just had to share, has been coming over in the afternoons, knocking on the front door, and waiting for Rufus to let her in. She’s our across-the-street neighbor’s grandmother.
She makes herself a cup of tea—which is how we first discovered we were having a visitor: tea was missing—and sits at the end of the couch, her enormous purse resting on her lap. At some point, after she’s gone through her whole spiel, whatever it’s about on that particular day, Rufus leaps up on the couch next to her, puts his paw on her arm and she places her hand over his paw. She then proceeds to cry.
After a few minutes, the dog will press his head against her head and she’ll pet his neck until she’s soothed.
We don’t know what she cries about. We only know it’s her who’s been drinking our tea because Bart set up a camera to see what was happening here during the day.
“You want me to try to get some sound on this?” Bart asked me, as we watched the video together. “I know some guys who could mic the couch.”
But even watching her feels like an invasion of her privacy, even though she’s sitting in our house, with our dog, as of yet having never met us.
She gets something from Rufus that just feels like it would be cruel to take away from her.
And it’s hard not to imagine ourselves in similar circumstances—in need of kindness and with few options for where to get it.
I need to remember this for my next chapter–the thought I had when I woke up this morning. The kind of history that I’m trying to write for Nashville is, in some parts, a history of holes–where you look at the people we do have information about and try to figure out what that would mean for the person we don’t.
Today at Pith, I talk about Mary Overton–a woman with two prominent husbands, a really significantly historical father, and a prominent family. You look at everything you know about the people you know about and see if you can discern from all that the life of the woman central to all of them.
And, of course, it’s hard. It’s deliberately hard. The people whose histories are so hard to come by–women, minorities–their lives are hard to come by on purpose. Names left out, chances to write their own stories denied.
Anyway. It’s sad and frustrating.
I woke up one night in a flat-out panic, heart racing, breath uncatchable, because it dawned on me that the ghost of Sadie must be what had torn reality out there in the back yard. I threw my overalls on over my pajamas, and stumbled through the dark, across the uneven ground, to the far back yard and the duct-taped patch. I peeled the tape back and put my head in the tear. It was cold and a slight, clammy breeze blew from beneath me.
“Sadie?” I asked. I listened but there was no noise coming from the void. I strained to see what, if anything, might be moving back there, behind the scenes, but it was just darkness and quiet and cold. As far as I could tell, the only thing over there was that slight breeze.
I put the tape back into place.
Over at Pith, I talk about our chances of finding Timothy Demonbreun.
I have a post on the thing I found in Ron Ramsey’s office. I will have a post on our chances of digging up Timothy Demonbreun. And, you guys! I spent all afternoon at Traveller’s Rest, sitting in the office where the old kitchen used to be, talking about history and Overtons and I got to ask if everyone was given an Overton upon their arrival at Nashville and they laughed.
And more importantly, even though I did not get to buy one–Traveller’s Rest has pie birds! In the gift shop.
Plus, I got to introduce Traveller’s Rest to Ben & Sue Allen’s The Thing, which, you may recall, from my incessant babbling about it, has many Overton connections–from Ben’s cousins to the Baxters’ friendship/enemyship with Dickinson.
And the other cool thing–Okay, I’ll just be honest that I learned many cool things–that I learned was that Mrs. Overton’s first husband was Andrew Jackson’s personal physician (a job with real security), hence how she ended up with a kid named Andrew Jackson May.
Plus, plus, I’m going to the TSLA at the end of the month to read to them about the fictional feud they fictionally had with the state museum over The Wolf’s Bane. I am so tickled.
I do feel a little bad for insisting the Butcher walk the dog this morning, because he was being so obnoxious yesterday after a week of very little getting-out-and-walking-around, and now it’s raining.
But pie birds!
I never feel Sadie’s presence in the yard. Never hear her moving around in the house at night. Never feel the weight of her at the foot of the bed.
It’s such a great relief to me. My last fear, when it came to that old dog, was that I would not let her completely go. Even though I know I met Death in Her great hall and handed Sadie’s leash to Her and let them both turn from me and walk away, I have always feared succumbing to the temptation to say “Here, girl,” one last time, just to see if she’d still come.
But it is an emptiness that having another dog doesn’t fill. I’m not haunted by Sadie, but I am sometimes haunted by her absence.
For me, it was half my life ago. In some ways, it still feels like yesterday.
A while back we got a little tear in reality out in the back yard. I noticed it when I was walking Rufus one morning. Back beyond the fire pit, right before the creek, there was just a little spot of nothing about a foot off the ground, maybe six inches wide, and it extended up to about shoulder height. My best guess, judging by the ragged edges of the tear, was that someone was cutting through the back yard and reality got caught on their sleeve somehow and, when they kept going, it went with them.
“Hey, Bart,” I said when we got back to the house. “Did you see that tear in reality out in the back yard?”
“Really?” He got up from the couch and came to look out the kitchen window. “No. I don’t see it.”
“Go out back and look.”
He went out, looked, and came back in.
“Yep, that’s a tear. Weird that it looks fine from the other side.”
“Did you stick your hand in it?”
“Of course,” he said, rolling his eyes at me. “I’m not chicken, unlike you.”
“What did it feel like?”
“A little cold, but in this weather? That feels nice. Nothing strange.”
“What should we do?”
“Fuck if I know.”
So, for a while, we just left it. I’d go out for my morning walk and kind of peek into the hole without getting too close and everything seemed okay. Nothing appeared to be being sucked into it or spewed out of it, which seems to me to be the biggest risks of having a tear in reality in your back yard.
But then, of course, the dumbass cats started clawing at it. Is there a thing in the history of the universe with a rough texture like, say, the frayed edges of a tear in reality that a cat won’t fuck with? So, the tear was getting progressively bigger.
“You’ve got to block that up,” I said to Bart. “The cats are going to get in there and who knows if they’ll be able to get out.”
“Yeah, I’ll get to it,” he said. And he did stack some boxes in front of the tear, which worked for a while, but cardboard vs. the rain and the cats? The barricade wasn’t super-effective after a while.
I took some duct tape to it and that worked, but I swear, sometimes when I walked by, I could see the duct tape blockade moving slowly in and out, as if it were the diaphragm of some large, invisible thing, sleeping out there in the yard.
I started last night. Last year’s was not usual, not… not good, but not what I had hoped for. It turns out that you can’t sit that close to Death for real and then come hang out by the gate again for comfort or wisdom or whatever. They shoo you off, encourage you to remember but not linger.
But, I’ll be honest. A ritual like that can leave you feeling like maybe the magic is over–whatever it was doing for you at one point in your life, now that you’re at another, it can’t do it for you anymore. And the truth is that I do imagine that there will come a day when I might stop, when I might give up on it. I feel that impulse in myself every year, to believe that it’s stupid or means I’m crazy or at least foolish. Even though I think it does important things for me.
This is one of the important things it does–it shows me things about myself that I otherwise cannot see. How I will let go rather than feel foolish, even if the thing I’m letting go of brings me great pleasure. My investment in believing myself to be so fucking smart isn’t always good for me. I am trying to learn to be gracefully foolish. Or even gracelessly. I’m trying to be willing to be shown to know nothing.
And I’m trying to learn to be open. I feel like I spent the first twenty years of my life never being able to say no to things. I spent the next twenty years learning to say no and to not feel bad about it. I’d like to spend the next twenty years learning some balance between the two–to be open to things and people while also not feeling like my own will has no meaning.
Anyway, I was glad to get back at it.
Whew, what a weekend. The Southern Festival of Books will teach you things about relative time you never knew–like how long, oh, so long, the hour of 5-6 on Saturday is and how quickly 12-5 on Sunday passes. They seem like equal amounts of time.
It rained, a great deal, but I still had a wonderful time and got to see a bunch of people and learned a lot.
I am super tired, though. But also, feeling happy.
The dog thinks the world of Bart. He follows my brother everywhere. He bought a Trans-Am just so when Bart went to the store, he could follow him. Or so Bart says. I think it also has to do with the fact that Bart never has sense enough to come home. This way, Bart and Rufus can go places together and when Rufus gets tired or bored, he just hops in his Trans-Am and hits the road.
I’m dying to ride in the Trans-Am, but, as far as I can tell, no people are allowed in it. Not even Bart. Sure, you’ll see the cats in there sometimes and, if Bart doesn’t get up in the morning to walk them, Rufus will sometimes swing by Monty’s house and get him. But never any people.
You can always tell if you see Rufus’s car around town, because he never, ever rolls the windows up and there’s a gross line of drool going all down the side of the car.
He gets pulled over all the time, as you can imagine. I mean, every other day, he just full-on stops in the middle of Briley Parkway to bark at cows. And once, he drove through a farmer’s fence and scared the guy’s goats so bad that they all got up on the roof of his house and, to this day, refuse to come down.
But every time the cops pull Rufus over, it’s always the same thing—he’s driving without a license, but a dog can’t get a license in Tennessee, so what’s he supposed to do? The car’s properly registered and that’s the important thing. He’s got himself about 11,000 hours of community service already, but he got them to let him pick up garbage from the side of the road, so that’s like motherfucking Christmas for him every day. Easy work and they cover lunch.
The only thing I don’t really understand is how he’s paying his lawyer. He doesn’t seem to work. So, I guess the lawyer has taken him on pro bono.
Pro bone-o? A dog’s lawyer?
Come on. It’s a little funny.
It’s raining and it’s the Southern Festival of Books. So, that stinks. Setting up the booth in the rain is going to be kind of unfun. I’m hoping it at least lets up a little.
I have a headache and about a thousand things to do. I had a thousand things to do yesterday, too, and ended up in bed at a quarter to nine. I slept well, though, so that’s fine with me.
Bart knows everyone in town. Not even kidding. One time I was at a purportedly haunted house with a medium of some repute. She was asking “Who are you? What do you want?” and nothing, for like twenty minutes. And then, just as we were about to leave the basement, we heard a voice, clear as day, coming from the far, empty corner.
“Wait one moment, kind madam. You, there, with the curly hair. Are you, perchance, Bartholomew Phillips’s sister?”
I looked around, but there appeared to be no one else who fit the bill.
“Lovely man. We went fishing together some time ago and it was quite enjoyable.”
Later, I asked, “You know a ghost?”
“If you say so. I don’t get into people’s business like you do.”
My car’s battery was dead this morning, so I spent a great deal of it–this morning–at Autozone, where the men all smell like mechanics. You’d think a mechanic would taste sweet, based on the smell, but my experience is that they either just taste dirty or exceptionally clean. The smell lingers even when the dirt is gone. I love honestly dirty fingernails, the way oil or grease or even field dirt, makes tall, narrow Us at the ends of fingers, how it gets into the knuckles of your skin and makes your hands look like a map full of tributaries.
Your body is a map to your life.
Anyway, the dude who smelled like dead leaves and dinosaurs changed my battery and got me on my way.