Taste the Rainbow

Taste the Rainbow

Here’s what each of the squares in my afghan will look like. I’m really pleased. I love this yarn so much. I know I say that. I wish I could get a picture that would capture just how beautiful it is, the way the plies wrap around each other is just about the most pleasing thing to look at. I can’t decide why. I like my cheap-o acrylic yarn, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about wool that just feels more magical.

I am completely drained from yesterday. My meeting with the artist went great. I worry that I don’t seem excited enough, when really, I’m just kind of overwhelmed that this is even happening at all. Like my needle is buried in “excited.” I can’t really seem more excited, even though I’m really thrilled. When she starts putting the prints together, I’m going to go get to see her studio! And she’s going to make sure that there are crows tucked in the book. We’re hoping to have books ready for the Proto-pulp show in September, but, if not, we’ll at least have some prototypes to show people. And, holy shit, you guys, of course I want you to buy my book, but if she sells the art separately, some of you are going to fall over for the spread that’s poor Tom, just a skeleton entwined with the roots of a tree.

The reading went very well. I think the other guy who was there and I were both kind of on the same page, that we were there to support Sara and to make her day go well. And I think she felt that it did go well and that she was well-loved and I feel like that’s also about all you can ask of a book signing. I did laugh, though, as I was coming home because all of Sara’s people are people I think C. and his wife would really enjoy and I’m was like “maybe my job here is just to try to figure out how to make these people run into each other.” I mean, we had an awesome argument over Hamlet. I can’t remember what about, but people toasted at some points and slammed their fists on the table emphatically at others and what more do you want in a fight about Hamlet?

I said the truth about how I felt about Project X as true and straight-forwardly as I know how to be. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I have now done everything I know how to do.

Now I need to come up with a grocery list.

Franklin and Armfield

I keep hoping that I will hit some end to the depravity of these guys, but there is none. One of the critics I read says that, to truly understand slavery in the U.S., you have to come to grips with how it functioned as a sexual… he uses the term fetish, which I don’t quite like because it reminds me too much of Freud’s “everyone’s worried about castration!” nonsense and “compulsion” makes it sound like these men just couldn’t help themselves. But, you know, I’m thinking some about the research they’ve done on rapists these days and how the rapists will often–especially if you don’t call it “rape” in the interviews–brag about how that’s the kind of sex they like to have, that resistance and tears or frightened silence is what they want in a “partner” (“partner” is such a crappy term in this context, but roll with me). And that’s true for Franklin and Armfield and the men they were selling their “fancy ladies” to. They liked sex where the other person involved could not say no, was frightened, where her humiliation was an important component.

So, let’s say that slavery was, in part, in important ways, a sexual preference of white men. It was linked to how power was distributed in this country at the time (and in ways now) with the person with the most power being able to prove it through his ability to dominate others. The more people he could dominate, the more powerful he was. Sexual domination was just awesome proof of his power. That helps illustrate the threat inherent in white women partnering with black men. If the white women were raping their slaves (which certainly happened), white women were being powerful in a way that was supposed to be reserved for men. If black men had sex (consensual or not) with white women, they were displaying power that was reserved for whites.

Not all white men, and even not all white slave owners, raped their slaves. But in order to be seen as men in their society, in order to display the right kind of power and status as befitting men of their station, they had to be open to the possibility. It was an essential component of slave ownership.

I have two thoughts reading this stuff. Maybe three. One is that everything that was so terrible about the Harpes or the Mystic Clan was also perpetrated by slave traders. Franklin joked about hiding the dead bodies of his sick slaves in the ravines around Natchez. He even got in trouble with the city because of the stench. He raped women and destroyed families. But Franklin’s money is why we have Belmont University. Armfield was even more directly involved with the founding of the University of the South. So, two, how do you reckon with that?

Maybe there isn’t a way. Maybe we just all wander around in the wreckage of countless previous tragedies. But it seems like we have an obligation to know that’s what we’re doing and to remember the cost of what we have. I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is right, too, that also what slavery is is a kind of warfare. We recognize our veterans, even the Confederates, and find ways of talking about and acknowledging their sacrifices and the hardships they endured. But we haven’t developed, as a country, that skill for the people upon whose lives our country is built.

Third, I’m starting to appreciate Andrew Jackson in ways that disturb me. Yes, he was a genocidal madman. But at least he was forthright about what it would take to live the kinds of lives white people wanted to live in this country, as opposed to the strategy of being outraged by, say, the Mystic Clan but completely cool with slave traders. The other thing I find interesting is that a man of Jackson’s status didn’t marry for love. You married a woman who could give you children. If you were a man and hadn’t been married before, you didn’t marry someone who had been. It’s simply not how well-to-do people did (of course, it happened, but it wasn’t conventional). I think part of why people dogged him so much about the bigamy was because you didn’t come straight out in public and say “Ha ha, you like your wife.” But, of course, there wouldn’t have been the bigamy problem if he hadn’t been eager to marry her. If it had been arranged more like a business transaction, he would have known or made sure about the divorce.

The other, other thing I’m intrigued about is that Jackson stole that Creek kid and gave him to Rachel to raise. Which is pretty much what happened to the Brown kids, but in reverse. They were divvied up as battle spoils and passed out to women who needed children. We draw firm lines between “Nashville” and “the Indians,” but a lot of people living in and around Nashville had extensive dealings with the locals–families killed by them, and importantly, time spent with them as hostages. It’s silly to assume that we could live with people so intimately and not be changed by our encounters. And here’s Jackson, giving a child to a woman who needed one.

Everything you think is a clean line of demarcation is blurry. It all leaks through.

Trade is Trade

I’m reading for my Nashville book and the more I read, the more I’m kind of shocked that no one has written a book like this before. I’m also feeling more confident that I can come to have a reasonable hypothesis for why Richard Finnelson changed his mind and decided to warn Nashville about the impending raid. I wish we knew anything about his wife. Because what seems obvious to me now is that we can’t say that Finnelson was Chickamauga. Yes, he was living in Nickajack and wintered in Crowtown. But with his wife and son. Cherokee men lived in their wives’ villages, among their wives’ families. Finnelson’s wife was a Chickamauga. There’s no reason to believe that Finnelson was.

I’m still struggling a little to find my voice, which is funny, considering how much experience I have blathering on in non-fiction form. But making a sustained, multi-pronged argument over pages and pages while still keeping it interesting is a lot more difficult than writing a post or an article.

1788

“By the influence and assistance of the wife of Durant, a French trader, Mrs. Brown contrived to escape to the residence of McGillevray, the Head-man of the Creek nation, who generously ransomed her fro her savage owner.”–The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century by J.G.M. Ramsey, page 516

One of the Demonbreun people asked me about the passage and I’m still mulling it over. Brown and some of her children (her husband and some of the others having been killed) were captured by the mixed Cherokee/Creek group fighting white settlement. She went to the Creeks. Her son went to the Cherokees. More on him in a second. Let’s just ponder this “wife of Durant.”

There was no French guy named Durant other than our friend, Joseph. This took place in 1788, so she wasn’t the wife of Joseph yet. But this has to be Elizabeth, or so the Demonbreuns have convinced me. It does bring up a question of how a lone woman could travel to the Creek nation and have influence. No wonder there are family stories of her being Native American.

Anyway, the Browns.

“‘Price went to Pensacola for goods, and left Richard Findelston and two negro men with Mrs. Glass to take care of his stock. One day, while Findelston was away from home, a large Creek Indian came by and seized Mrs. Glass’s sucking child; the negro dared not interfere, for the Indian would have killed him instantly.”–Joseph Brown, Mrs. Brown’s son, from Ramsey’s book, page 514.

 

I want to connect a dot here, but I’m not sure what dot to connect. Maybe it’s nothing that these two folks, who would come to be so connected to Joseph show up in this story both connected to the Browns.

 

A Wonder I Have about Sam Houston and Eliza Allen

I will never let go of the crotch wound, but I had another thought.

Houston’s mom had to be a bad-ass to survive what his father put the family through (debt-wise) and then her having to move the family to Tennessee after he died. Houston hooked up with the Cherokees at a young age, at a time when Cherokee women still had a lot of power (even though the structure of Cherokee society had been under a great deal of strain, to put it mildly, and Cherokee women did not have the same status they had even thirty years earlier). And we know his most successful marriage was to a woman who was very strong-willed.

We also know that, whatever happened between Sam and Eliza, as much as it pissed her family and town off, she didn’t seem that angry at him over it. So, what would gravely insult the Allens but not Eliza?

Here’s my hypothesis: Bless his heart, Sam did not know this was an arranged marriage and thought Eliza was marrying him because she loved him. When he found out otherwise, he let her go home, effectively ending the marriage. That’s what he found so humiliating about it that he left. Otherwise, why not just make her stay with him? Who at that time would have really given a shit if his wife didn’t immediately love him if the marriage was an alliance of powerful families? I don’t think it dawned on Houston that Eliza felt she had to marry him for her family’s sake. I don’t think he was intimately familiar with women who would demure to their father’s wishes so it didn’t dawn on him that’s what was going on.

This is my guess, anyway.

Changing Plans

Okay, I’ve talked this through with a couple of people whose opinions I respect and I’ve been doing a little preliminary diggings, just to assure myself that there are resources I could use and I think I’m going to do it–to write a history of Nashville. I feel like I need a unifying theme–something that lets me know what to leave in and what to leave out–which I do not have more than wanting to provide a moment for thinking about Nashville history in ways we don’t normally think of Nashville history. Maybe a history of everyone in Nashville who got metaphorically and sometimes literally kicked in the teeth.

I’m not thinking of something comprehensive. I’m really not capable of doing a comprehensive book, nor would I want to. I want to talk about the way we talk about Nashville’s history and the ways we could talk about it, if we just changed our focus. I think I could do that in 80,000-100,000 words.

I feel a little strange, though, about just setting aside the fiction shit long enough to do justice to this. Well, not completely set aside, but no longer let that be most of my extra-curricular writing. But it seems like this is the direction the muses point in and I have to see if I can do it.

If You Try Sometimes, You Just Might Find

Friday, at lunch, we went out for hot chicken and contemplated Elvis. I came up with an idea for October that makes me happy. After work, I went over to the Scene‘s party and saw people I hadn’t seen in a million years. Plus people I see pretty frequently, so that was nice. I had conversations that made me feel better about my writing life in general–”Yes, I know that feeling”–and in particular–”Don’t worry. Just wait it out.” People said nice things about my writing and were happy to see me.

A couple of people asked me about when I was going to write a book about Nashville history, but I just don’t think they understand the scope of the problem–I would like to, but I am utterly unqualified to write the book I think deserves to be written. I don’t know nearly enough about Nashville’s Native American history (and by nearly enough, I mean, I basically know that Native Americans lived here) and to really understand Nashville’s history, you obviously need to understand why the landscape looked the way it did when white people arrived here, which means understanding how people were using the area before white people got here. And I would want to go back all the way. I don’t want any 1,000 year old farms escaping notice.

I understand next to nothing about the history of black Nashville, though at least I’d have some idea how to go about rectifying this to my satisfaction. Still, I’m not sure my satisfaction is good enough. I’m not sure I even know what I don’t know.

The history of Hispanic Nashville has never been written. No one has properly contextualized Nashville’s current Hispanic population with our long relationship with Latin America from our dalliances with becoming a Spanish territory through to us inflicting William Walker on Nicaragua and our pipe dream of creating a vast Southern U.S. white guy-lead slave empire throughout Latin America. A few critics have made the argument that, due to the South’s slave-owning and our dream of conquering Latin America, we’re tied to the Caribbean in ways we don’t usually acknowledge. But looking at how we might  understand Nashville as just a far north outpost of a certain strand of Latin American history would, I think, go a long way to undermining a lot of these “what are they doing here?” narratives.  We see ourselves as historically provincial in order to pretend to be surprised to find ourselves at this place.

But another thing that stops me in my tracks is how to account for Nashville’s gay history? This is a place my shortcomings in knowledge of Nashville’s black history bring me up short. I know that there were gay clubs in Nashville at least as far back as the 50s that were located in areas considered black neighborhoods (though I think at least some of the clubs may have been informally integrated) and Alain Locke spent a year at Fisk in the 20s, I think. But figuring out Nashville’s gay history, especially in a climate where it’s still risky for people to talk about it, let alone to say what their grandparents may have been up to, would be tricky.

So, all this is not to say that I haven’t thought about it. I’ve thought about it extensively. I just don’t think I have the skills to write the kind of book I’d want to write.

And then we went and saw the Dave Rawlings Machine at the Ryman and it was fantastic. I really love the Ryman and I don’t know if it’s just because my butt is getting bigger or because I’ve built up callouses, but they played from just after 8 to just before 11 and I didn’t want to amputate my ass by the end of it. I did end up thinking a lot about how it is that I feel like I know that, when they sing a song like “He Will Set Your Fields on Fire” they aren’t sincere about believing in a God who’s going to burn your life down if you don’t follow him, but when they sing “I Hear Them All” and it bleeds into “This Land is Your Land,” I feel like that’s real. Is it because we’re all singing along sincerely? Or is there something else that signals “this song we just like” vs. “this song we mean”?

Anyway, even the guy behind me going on to his date nonstop with his “insight” into the band couldn’t ruin it for me (though, lord, I did laugh. I mean, everyone in town knows someone who knows someone. Unless his date has only been in town ten minutes, why would she be impressed at that? It doesn’t make you special that you know someone who knows Dave Rawlings. It makes you a Nashville resident.). I was completely smitten. It was lovely.

Dream Afternoon

Taking Sam’s advice, I decided to try to do something audacious on my day off. Through a series of lucky confluences, I ended up getting a guided tour of the state museum’s art collection–both the stuff out on the walls and the stuff behind the scenes–guided, in fact, by the guy who collects the art for the state museum. It was amazing.

And I saw the Wessyngton exhibit, which is everything I could have hoped for. I was glad it wasn’t crowded, because it made me very emotional.

I also fucked up my ankle. But it’s okay, I think. I mean, I don’t think it’s broken or sprained. It just feels like, if you can bruise it throughout the joint, it’s bruised throughout the joint. It hurts to put pressure on it, but again, more like it hurts when you touch a bruise, not like when you’re stepping on a sprain.

Weirdness

The Butcher came straight home from walking the dog, went into his room, and is now blaring Lily Allen. No, wait, he’s just come out with a smile on his face all “Isn’t this great?”

Which, I suppose, but what happened at the park that made this a Lily Allen kind of morning?

On my walk, I saw a dead sparrow. So, you know I’m feeling a little cheated.

The Slant of the Roof

The walk this morning was gorgeous. The weather was cool. A fog rolled out of the hills, but low, and the sky is clear. And I saw that the slant of the roofs on the big houses on Lloyd match the incline of the hills on the other side of Whites Creek. As if someone had thought hard about what kinds of shapes a house in this area should have in order to match the landscape.

The Long and Short Week

I don’t know how, but somehow this week has both gone by too quickly and I’ve not gotten everything I need to get done done and it’s just dragging on. Isn’t it time for dinner? No?

Speaking of dinner, I think we’re going to get pizza from the 312 Pizza Co., because it makes us happy.

Everything Takes a Really Long Time

That’s what they try to tell you about writing. I wrote a story. My first one after turning 40. I think it’s good. It needs some polishing, but it amuses me. I’m mulling over what’s next. I have this thing niggling at the back of my brain, a Midwestern thing. A story with a big sky and bugs thick on your windshield. But I’m not sure yet.

I need, also, to figure out what I’m doing for October. And I need to try to run into a bunch of people to see if I can keep all the various things that are supposed to be in the works moving forward.

Yesterday, there was a blind item on the internet about a back-in-the-day A list country singer and his tv star wife who throw the most spectacular swingers parties in Nashville. This morning, on our way to work, the Butcher and I decided that, if Clint Black made no comment, but “leaked” a cover of him doing John Anderson’s “Swingin’,” he could have all our money.

A Tiny Bit More on Armadillos

Apparently, when white people first encountered armadillos, there was a theory that they were armored rabbits.

Not just because of their ears, but apparently because armadillos have mad jumping skills.

I cannot wait for these guys to start hanging out in my yard where I can observe them more closely.

Creeping Ever Northward

Oh, I forgot to tell you that we saw a huge group of buzzards the other day and when we drove up on them, they were eating an armadillo. Not a half a mile from our house!

I have so many questions, but my main one is this–how do they get across the Mississippi River? I like to believe there’s a good ole boy making his non-legal living acting as a ferryman for migrating armadillos.

Work Things

I spent much of the weekend still feeling puny and reading our upcoming Perry Wallace biography for work. I’m really proud to be working on this book, but man, it’s a hard read. It goes pretty much exactly how you expect it to go, except with Wallace pointing out every step of the way what’s going wrong and why and Vanderbilt turning a blind eye.

I’m wondering if there’s a way to pitch it to Civil Rights classes, if only because it’s really interesting to see a guy on the ground in the late ’60s who’s heard first-hand King and Carmichael trying to take what he finds useful from both approaches and crafting some way that works for him. At least in the history classes I took, it was more set up like an either-or choice. You went Martin or Malcolm. But, of course, living through it, you must have gone both at one point or another. It’s just the human response.

But I came away feeling like I wasn’t sure how Vanderbilt could ever reckon with this history. What would a resolution to “we fucked up” really look like? I admit, I was both glad to see that Vanderbilt has been making amends and feeling like those amends just don’t cut it. And I think that’s the truth of the matter, and I’m not sure there’s any way to reconcile that truth.

A Culture of Gratitude

Whew, yesterday. That was weird. But anyway, over at Facebook, if you scroll down in the comments, you can see a couple of photos from the shoot.

I also got to run into Ranger Doug last night at the Marty Stuart thing and he even remembered me (which was funny, considering that my boss didn’t, for a second, recognize me, because I was wearing lipstick). And we had a really lovely reminiscence for a moment about working together on his book. I got to stand very close to Connie Smith, but I chickened out on saying anything to her. Marty was lovely and very grateful.

One thing I see pretty regularly in town is people trying to honor the connections that got them where they are. And I appreciate that tendency because I feel every day grateful to Charles Wolfe for helping my early career and for no reason, since he didn’t know me from Adam. And to Dr. J.’s parents for taking me in when I first moved to town. And to the Butcher for helping me be able to stay her. And even to Chris Wage who is, in his own way, the catalyst for this movie even happening, I think. I’m not sure how else the producer even knew who the fuck I am.

I am so very lucky.

Which reminds me, I was excited to recently learn that “shlemazel” is a real thing, not just some gibberish in the Laverne and Shirley opening, which seems stupid that I didn’t figure that out before, since obviously they’re not going to give valuable real estate in a theme song to nonsense. But I grew up a very sheltered asshole and I strive to be better. So, here we are. The point being that a shlemazel is a person without luck or who has luck, but only bad luck. And I am tickled and fascinated by the idea of there being this word for this phenomenon.

You could have this problem (or a similar problem, respecting the vast cultural differences) in the Viking era. Since luck or fortune was either a component of the great law that rules the universe or closely tied to it, you both could cultivate a certain amount of good fortune for yourself and just have it–either inherited through a lucky family or just because fate smiled upon you. But that also meant people could just be unlucky, too, through no fault of their own. Just that they and the great flow of the orlog (or ur-law or overarching rule of luck, however you want to understand it) were out of sync.

It’s easy to see it with fresh eyes in a word like “shlemazel” when you know to say “mazel tov” when you want to wish someone well, to wish them good luck. There’s “mazel” in both spots.

But this similar concept of luck is still wrapped intimately into our language in “hap” which, does, indeed, mean luck or fortune. When you’re happy, you are literally in a state of good luck. When something happens, it is because fate is playing out. Happenstance is luck or fortune playing out in ways we don’t know or can’t anticipate. A hapless guy is one without luck.

We’re all the time using words that used to hold profound and meaningful theological ideas about how the world works, that still, I’d say, contain those implications, we just don’t realize it.

But especially speaking of lucky, I ran into Nina Cardona and she offered to take me through Downtown Presbyterian when we can find the time. I cannot wait.

Apparently I Really Didn’t Blog About This

But here’s the deal, shortly after “Frank” came out, an independent film company in California approached me about optioning the film rights to the story. They’re kind of a small DIY outfit and I thought it was cool, so I let them have a “until we ever get it made unless someone else comes along and wants to do something with it” option for a couple hundred bucks. Which, I guess, if it goes on to win an Oscar, will have me kicking myself. I saw an early version of the script and talked some about what Frank might look like and then nothing else ever happened, so I just assumed that it wasn’t going to.

Hence my weird surprise at finally hearing that the movie was filming (which I had assumed wasn’t going to happen) from a guy I know, not because he’s involved in the film, but because he just happened to stumble across it being shot in his landlord’s yard.

So, that’s cool.

And, obviously, I have no idea if they’re shooting the script I saw, but I will say that it really tickled me to see the changes they were going to make for it to be a movie. It’s both really similar to my story and very different. But I’m a big fan of cover songs, too.

The Old Man Has a Sense of Humor

Here is a true story. Today I got a phone call from Dr. J’s dad, who had called to tell me this: he and his wife have recently moved into a new house, a cute little cabin on a bigger farm. And recently they noticed a big crowd of people in their landlord’s front yard. They went over to investigate and it was a movie shoot. Dr. J’s dad struck up a conversation with the producer.

Turns out, they’re filming a movie based on a short story by a Nashville writer.

Oh, who’s the writer?

Me.

It’s “Frank,” or the movie version. Actually happening.

What the fuck? What are the chances that a person who knew me would be living on the set of my movie?

Blue Springs Creek

One thing that sucks about my sunburn is that, even though I’m not uncomfortable anymore, when I go out in the sun, it feels like someone pushing a finger into a bruise.

But I went out yesterday and drove around Blue Springs Creek, which is one of the major tributaries of Sycamore Creek, and also the creek along which Joseph Deraque supposedly died. I also went by the Sycamore Chapel Church of Christ, which one of the Durards at the Demonbreun Society told me is on old Binkley land–that Asa Binkley, whose wife was a Durard–gave it to the church. I think, judging by the headstones, it may have actually been the land of Asa Jr., whose mother was a Durard, but still. I did wonder if Joseph might be in that cemetery, unmarked, hence the reason it became a church yard. There’s also another cemetery down right at the creek, but it’s always padlocked and I don’t quite trust myself to climb into it.

Anyway, I’m sure if he is either place, the headstone is long gone. There are Girards in the churchyard, though.

There are only three Girard families in Tennessee–as far as Find-a-Grave goes. Some over in Memphis (who have a straggler wife in Joelton), some in the Catholic cemetery, who are all related to a bigamist whose real name was Gerard, and the Girards in the Sycamore Chapel Church of Christ Graveyard. One is William Washington Girard, a painter. His father was Joseph.

Are these Girards our Durards, though? I don’t know. Folks on Ancestry seem to think so–that his father, Joseph, was Timothy Durard’s kid.

Anyway, there aren’t that many Durards in Tennessee, either, but a big mess of them appear to be up in the Cedar Hill cemetery, so I need to get around to that.

Story Research Hits a Snag

I’m writing a story about a creek, well about a dance done in 5/4 taught to a man by some dudes he met near a creek that barely exists anymore. Today I went out to photograph said creek. It did not go as well as I hoped, because my goal was to go out on the bridge, reach the camera over the side of the bridge and… take some pictures. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but it was. It seemed fine at first, but the longer I stood there, the dizzier I became and the more unable to get off the damn bridge I found myself.

But I’m glad I went, because I put my creek in the story in slightly the wrong spot.