Is it a good song? No. Is it a catchy, fun song you’ll be humming all day? Yes.
Is it a good song? No. Is it a catchy, fun song you’ll be humming all day? Yes.
I went down to Tullahoma today to look for the grave of a supposed witch. Even knowing right where I was going and even having my phone yell at me when to make turns, it was still nearly impossible to find. And there were a ton of crows and it was really creepy. I parked, walked in, and even though it was totally empty and my view of the empty cemetery was completely unobstructed, I felt like someone was right behind me a couple of times. I took pictures of what I hope will turn out to be complete emptiness when I felt the most like someone had to be right there.
I found the “witch”‘s grave easily enough and I saw right away that this was a grave where people are still working magic. Someone had left flowers; people had left coins; there’s the kind of minor vandalism you expect from people when there’s something “magic” that they might take with them.
I was thrilled. I have been wanting to see a working grave in Tennessee since I got here. Everything that indicates that we could still have them is here–a long tradition of African American root workers/folk magicians, a long tradition of white granny medicine, the African-American hoodoo obsession with graveyards and graveyard dirt, the white folk tradition of using skulls and bones for medicine, and a tradition of fearsome witches (and fearsome witches never rest easy in the grave). So, it sure seemed like somewhere, someone must be going to the cemetery, calling on some dead person to help work the kind of magic that needs a magic worker on both sides of the veil, and leaving an offering either during or afterwards. Someone’s got to be doing the old school folk magic.
I looked and I looked, but I never did, before today, see it in Tennessee (I saw it in New Orleans at Marie Laveau’s grave, of course).
Just as an aside, it occurs to me that one reason they may be so hard to find is that we don’t have a lot of old time witches and our most famous one–the Bell Witch–well, there’s a huge taboo on revealing where her grave is. How huge a taboo? No one in Adams will tell you where it is–in my experience anyway. And even though the location is now on the internet, no pictures of the grave have surfaced as far as I can tell.
Anyway, here’s what I saw (or didn’t, as the case may be)
I had a lunch meeting at Lucky Belly, whose tuna burger is so good it could make me stray from beef forever. The bun is perfect. The spicing is well done. It’s not overly salty. The pickled onions actually seemed to be adding something interesting to the dish, rather than just being pickled for the sake of having some kind of pickle on the burger.
And I got to have an awesome conversation with a couple of book publicists who are just so nice and interesting. And I got to hear good gossip. I loaded them down with copies of A City of Ghosts, because I haven’t bothered to take the box out of my backseat yet.
And then I had sushi for dinner and the roll I had was so good–crab and avocado and roe–that I wished I’d ordered like five rolls and just ate until I died.
And then I went over to Parnassus to see Nicki Wood talk about her new cookbook (and to gossip with a friend who had good Cragfont ghost stories to tell me). And my god, Nicki was fantastic. Just at ease and funny and deeply insightful about southern cooking and its history. And she has hopes and dreams for southern cooking, which, you know, is just not really how I think about food, so that kind of blew my mind.
But, as an author, I was really glad to get to see her do her thing, because book events aren’t easy and they aren’t something someone at my level gets to do regularly enough to feel like they’re well-practiced at it. So, seeing someone who’s just so fucking boss about it and who is someone I know and like a great deal, well, it just feels kind of aspirational–like if Nicki can do this, it’s something I can learn to do, because it’s really fucking pleasant for her audience and I want my stuff to be pleasant for my audience.
Also, the podium at Parnassus has a crystal ball and I want to someday stand behind that podium and ponder that ball with and in front of a crowd.
Sorry things have been so light here. I’m just working on the Return to Hill House afghan and stealing alone time when I can to work on Ashland. Since my alone time is usually for blogging, well, obviously, blogging’s getting neglected a little.
I’ve started tucking ends on the Return to Hill House afghan and I’m already noticing that the squares lie a lot flatter than they did on the first afghan. Also, I really like how the middle looks. It’s a subtle difference, but the squares have small gaps. The small gap in the middle just goes along with it.
So, here’s what chagrins me. Why would you construct a square in a way that falls apart in the wash if constructing it with a knot at the start looks better and lays better and won’t fall apart (knock on wood)?
I love going over to Two Boots for lunch and just observing people. I’m not sure why it’s the kind of place that makes people relax and be worth observing, but it’s really excellent.
I could really use time off, even if I can’t (yet) afford to go on a real vacation and I’m kind of thinking of taking a week and forcing myself to do a historical home and lunch people-observing every day. I think that would be good for the book. And, I think, if I committed to it and didn’t just say “Ugh, I’m going to sit at home on the couch because I’m lazy” I would enjoy it.
Yesterday, I had a lovely lunch with friends, then I wrote a chapter for Ashland that just went exactly how I wanted it to. No doubting, no stopping to check Twitter, no getting up to clean the bathroom. Just me, that screen, and all the words I wanted to get out.
I also finished all the Return to Hill House squares. Now on to the end-tucking. I’m listening to the audio book of A Head Full of Ghosts as I work on the afghan and it’s terrific. The voice actor they have reading it is just amazing. And I’m definitely picking up on things that I didn’t give enough weight to when reading. I’m especially starting to wonder about the younger daughter’s stomach problems and her sleeping in her clothes.
I just really want Ashland to be good enough to get published. Or eye-catching enough, or something. And I really want to figure out how to make that happen. So, I’m studying.
Today I went out to Cragfont and, let me tell you, that was the best $5 I have spent in a long time. I was the only person there, so the curator, the guy who’s been responsible for the home for the past three and a half decades, showed me the house. Just me. I got a personalized tour.
I really wanted to focus on the house itself. Not that the Winchesters aren’t interesting and, hey, thanks for Memphis, but I wanted to walk around a house just a little older than Ashland would be, if it were a real place. A house like this or the Hermitage is more of the style of Ashland than later homes.
When Cragfont was built, it was the largest home in Middle Tennessee, which, by today’s standard’s is not that large. But it has three rooms downstairs–a front ladies parlor, Winchester’s office, and a large sitting room that takes up the whole other side of the house. It’s also built in a lollypop shape, so there’s a kind of middle entrance hall with stairs going up to the ballroom, then the dining room and then the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen is the smokehouse. Yes, all attached. In the early 1800s.
Which, of course, was my first source of questions. But the construction of the house is ungodly amazing. It’s all limestone. All of it. Every wall and those walls are at least a foot thick, I’d estimate. So, what worry did the Winchesters have of fire? I assume the house was built to withstand Indian attack, even though it was built after relative peace had broken out. I mean it’s clearly intended to be a fortress. And the cook slept above the kitchen, which, to me, is another sign that they didn’t want to risk losing a valuable, skilled slave to attack.
The stars on the building are the outside ends of long metal poles put through the house to hold it together during an earthquake. Much to my delight, these went in after the 1812 earthquake. Because, of course they did.
I also think the rock served to keep the house a steady temperature–like building yourself a giant, above-ground cave.
Also cool is that much of the stuff that’s painted in the house is painted with a buttermilk-based paint. The greens are buttermilk and various plants. The reds are buttermilk and… ready?… goat’s blood. Hell yes, I’m stealing that.
I was really impressed by how much he talked about the slave labor and basically how it made the house possible.
I had heard that Cragfont is ridiculously haunted, but I have to tell you, he’d been having such problems with things falling off the walls and it was so creepy in parts of the house–the front hallway, for instance–and we were in there all alone, so I just didn’t have the guts.
But it was beautiful and awesome and I’m so glad I went.
I would love to get into Fairview, too, even though it’s been substantially remodeled.
It’s going to be so close, whether I have enough yarn. So very close. In an effort to try to ensure that I have enough yarn, I’m working on the last twelve squares simultaneously, so I can use up all the yarn I have very, very little of on the middles. Then the yarn I have very little of on the next row, and so on out to the row where I hopefully have enough yarn to complete the borders. But, man, I don’t know.
I am still kind of an emotional mess over yesterday. Between gay marriage and listening to the President sing Amazing Grace at a funeral, I just felt so happy and sad and proud and all the emotions. Watching all the pictures of people getting married stream by in social media just made me feel so happy and so confused about why anyone would want to shit on this for someone else.
I heard conservatives threatening that this was going to galvanize their side like abortion did and I just think that’s not true and they have to know it. It’s like interracial marriage or marriages between people of two faiths. Some people won’t approve and some people won’t do them, but otherwise, it’s a non-issue.
And this morning I woke to pictures of Bree Newsome climbing the flagpole in Charleston to take down the Confederate flag. And I just felt so proud and honored to get to witness this moment in American history. Yes, it’s corny. Yes, they put it back up. But I don’t care. We are a country that makes a great promise to its people and the world and we mostly, thoroughly fail to deliver on that.
But sometimes, in fits and starts, we start to deliver.
Oh my god! I have Bruce Springsteen-itis!
It’s tough going on Ashland at the moment. Or maybe has been all along. I’m surprised to find myself second-guessing everything and having to remind myself that this is just a rough first draft of a form I have never tried before. But I’m worried my POV character is not very interesting. But then I also kind of feel like, let’s get the blocks of the plot in place and make sure that works, before we worry about fixing things that can be fixed on edit.
I am closer to the end of the Return to Hill House afghan. I have, by my reckoning, thirteen squares left. Because who’s not looking forward to getting an afghan in July?
Also, it’s official, official. F&SF bought my story and announced it.
My feeling this week is that a lot of people in this country had thought they’d managed to stand in front of history as its caretakers, pointing people only to the things the caretakers wanted them to notice, and they called that “honoring the past.” And what they did not know is that a lot of people have been remembering a lot of things the caretakers thought they’d managed to erase.
What you didn’t know is that knee’s been jerking for a hundred and fifty years. Often, at the end of a noose.
And we never forgot. Never, ever.
PC is putting a man who massacred Tennesseans in our state capitol because you don’t want to offend people who like him.
Don’t talk to me about knee-jerk PC reactions.
Sonnyboy tried to convince Sam to leave his wife and just live in the living room of my house, in a big pile of dog hair and happiness for the rest of their lives.
But, before that, we had hot chicken and talked politics and writing and how quickly/slowly things change.
Sometimes I think of how Sonnyboy did not even know how to run when we first got him, especially when he’s running after bunnies. I feel kind of bad about letting him chase them, but I don’t believe he’s ever going to catch one, so I hope they enjoy a good “whooo” first thing in the morning, as their heartbeats pick up and they sprint for the underbrush. And I enjoy watching him go and the way he circles back to me, big smile on his face, tongue lolling out, like “Damn, that was awesome.”
I think about how, when I was little, I’d get a new pair of shoes and I’d zip around the shoe store, convinced that I was running faster than I ever had before. Zip zip zip.
And I know he never had that. Today, when he took off after those rabbits and he ran as fast as I’ve ever seen him run, that was as fast as he’d ever ran. It was a countable number of times he’d ever run in his whole life. I didn’t count, so I don’t know. but less than 100. He’s run less than 100 times in his whole life. And every time he has run, it’s been with us, since we’ve owned him.
The other thing that amazes me, and would have greatly surprised me when we first got him and he was all “eyes? whatever. Who cares about eyes? I just use mine to feel your feet with.” is that he sees those rabbits, fifty yards off, and he looks for them as soon as we get to the AT&T yard.
I don’t know. Maybe one day he will figure out how to catch one and I’ll feel bad about not putting a stop to it.
But right now, I love to watch him do it. I love to see how happy it makes him.
2. I talk about how Nathan Bedford Forrest was always a man and a myth and how the man came to resent not being able to escape the myth. And here we are, still mythologizing him.
3. Coates makes the point that I have been wrestling with for years–that Confederates, actual Confederates, hated the “states-rights” origin story for the Civil War and were pissed that Southerners were rewriting what they did and why to make it more acceptable. Confederates got that their grandchildren were ashamed of them, even as their grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on mask that shame in veneration.
I took today off and got some writing done on Ashland and some squares done on the Return to Hill House afghan and the dishes and laundry and lots of little stuff that had been kind of hanging there, waiting for me to get a chance.
And I heard that one of my favorite poets bought a copy of The Wolf’s Bane, so that’s very cool. And I sold four out of five copies of A City of Ghosts I had at Hypericon. Which was really fun–the con–well, and selling the books. I don’t really know what to say about it other than that it was neat. It’s just weird to think that you’re kind of doing this thing one way and boom here’s this whole crowd of people doing it with each other in this other way.
And, man, I tell you, they feed you! That was a fun surprise.
One thing I keep seeing is this idea that the people in the church should just be armed. Like some NRA dolt blamed the pastor for not having a gun.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad’s friends, the black pastors, and how many of them, now that I look back on it, seemed fully aware that they could die in the practice of their ministry. I don’t think I ever worried about this with my dad. I worried the stress of the job might kill him. I hated what the people in his congregations did to him, often behind his back, but in front of me. But I never thought he was in physical danger. And so, even when terrible things were happening to my dad’s friends, I didn’t take seriously my dad’s fear for them. I didn’t understand then, as a child, that this is a place where people do kill ministers. I thought they were just jumpy because of MLK.
I say this because I want you to get how stone-cold and deeply ignorant I was, even as my dad was trying to wrestle with a truth he never hid from us.
Now, though, I see. I think. At least better than I did.
Here is the thing about arming people in church, as I see it. My dad’s friends were almost always in danger from people in their congregations, sometimes more broadly their communities, but usually it was someone in a predominately white church who resented having a black pastor. Should a pastor arm himself against his own people? Or are we just saying that white people and black people can never be each other’s people? That the only way for black people to be safe is to just always assume white people are the enemy?
How can you be a Christian, let alone a Christian minister, believing that your first duty to your flock is to protect yourself from them? How can you square turning the other cheek with carrying a gun with the intent of using it on any congregant that wishes you harm?
I don’t think you can pray and study with someone for an hour in genuine fellowship and keep one hand on your gun in case things go south. They’re just incompatible. Either you close yourself off to almost everyone in your church and only have genuine fellowship with those few people you intimately trust or you leave yourself open to being vulnerable to those who would harm you.
Christian churches can’t be open and be safe.
But a lot of this advice, to go back to my first point, also, assumes that the threat is always external. That someone from outside wants to do harm to people inside. My dad’s friends didn’t have that experience. The threat was from inside the church. And, if the Church is doing what it says it wants to do–spreading the word of God–then Christians have to be open to fellowship with strangers, who then are brought into the group.
What people are calling for is for Christians to be something other than Christian in order to be safe.
I have my issues with my dad, but I respect that he believes with his whole heart that people can be redeemed and changed by Christ’s love. (I have my grave doubts, myself.) I also respect that he knows that some people aren’t going to be. You sit across from 10 white supremacists and maybe only one changes his ways. I know my dad knows the other nine are still a danger.
I think he still believes it is his obligation to make himself vulnerable to scary people in order to reach them.
Again, he has his drawbacks, but, at least when it comes to racial justice, my dad wants everyone in church to be “us.” That’s what he’s worked for his whole life. That’s what his friends have put their lives on the line for, over and over.
A racist walking into a church and killing nine people can’t ruin American Christianity. American Christians deciding it’s safer to take precautions against “them” rather than trying to be open to folks becoming a part of “us” will.
I can’t begin to tell you how it feels to look at that list of victims and see how many have “Rev.” before their names. I can’t tell you how sad and scared it makes me for my dad’s friends, who somehow have to get up in the pulpit on Sunday, have to open their Bible studies to whoever says he needs it on Wednesdays, knowing that racists have no respect for the sanctity of the church and, in fact, that they’ll target ministers.
My heart is with them.
I don’t have organized thoughts. But I have these thoughts.
1. I always felt it was a great unfairness that my dad was so faithful and gave up so much of what he wanted out of life and it didn’t make things any easier. I know you’re not supposed to tit-for-tat God, but being a minister is a difficult thing and, it’d be nice, to put it mildly, if someone wasn’t throwing knives at you while you were up on the high wire.
2. My dad’s black minister friends went through Hell–yes, the names and the hatred, but people putting their obituaries in the paper or turning the gas on at their churches and then locking them in. And these were always members of their congregations. A church is not a safe place for a minister, especially not from the racism at the heart of our country.
3. Since the Clinton era, we’ve had a series of terrorist attacks in this country that are, to me, obviously linked–Tim McVeigh (and whoever helped him), Eric Rudolph, that guy in Knoxville, this dude and so many more. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s some supreme commander behind the scenes pulling the strings. If there were, I think we’d go after him and get him and declare a final victory on racism. Mission accomplished, so to speak. Then we’d, for years, be killing or arresting “The Number 2″ of our secret domestic terrorism organization. I think what we have, instead, is a bunch of people with similar interests who bump into each other and share information or pass things along on the internet or whatever and who gin each other up to do this kind of shit.
And that’s a lot harder to find and deal with because it means everyone admitting that there are now active, violent movements with actual power in this country. It means admitting that we let people responsible for Oklahoma City go, that some of us sheltered Eric Rudolph for a long, long time, that someone saw this dude’s picture on the news this morning and recognized him and weighed his worth over the worth of those dead Bible studiers and is choosing to protect him.
4. The hate mail I got for the Isaac Franklin piece all, it seemed to me, shared one thing in common: when they read a story about a white guy who stole, raped, and murdered black people, even though that white guy himself understood himself as evil, the “white” told these white readers where to put their sympathies–with Isaac Franklin. And then they felt they had to jump to his defense as not being so bad or misunderstood or whatever. I was doing wrong by not showing him in the best, false, light I could.
We will never keep feeding into and perpetuating the great American sin if we, white people, can’t learn to hear a story where a white person does something horrible to anyone else on this continent and have our sympathies go to the people who are wronged or, if they are wronged to death, to the families of those people, instead of feeling like our duty is to flounder around finding some way to sympathize with the wrongdoer.
Because, for as long as I’ve been alive, dudes like this jackass have had both active supporters and a lot of people willing to gloss over what they’re doing. Most of us will never be in a position to do anything about the evil villains and their supporters. But we can refuse to be among the willing to gloss over. We can stop providing cover.
My eyes are swollen up again! I’m leaking some kind of weird clear liquid from my face. Skin-face not nose and mouth face where you might expect to find liquid. I have weird bumps. Things itch.
I am fucking done with touching things outside. This is the second time in a month. I had to show up for the launch of The Wolf’s Bane looking like a puffy potato and now I have to go to my very first con looking like, again, a puffy potato. With crusties.
2015–the year of writing wonderfulness and face disaster.
What’s this? Oh, just some paperwork I have to fill out today.
I’m acting cool, but believe me, I am freaking out. I am so elated. In my mind, this is one of The Big Boys. I assumed you had to have an agent or a million publishing credits or… I just never really thought this was a possibility and now I’m filling out at W-9. I mean, you guys, they’re a print magazine. And they’re going to run my story.
The event at Belmont was really lovely and fun. I liked sitting in the green room getting to meet all of the artists and, man, musicians can tell some stories–quickly and with humor. I also liked seeing people’s pre-show rituals. A lot of folks got quiet and needed time to gather themselves. Some folks seemed cool going straight from watching in the audience to playing on stage.
When I got back to the green room, I had a million texts of pictures of myself from all my friends in the audience. Which made me smile.
But man, we have so much talent in town. I was glad I went early on, because I think I would have lost my nerve. The whole thing was just one spectacular reader followed by an awesome artist after another.
Anyway, I may have more coherent things to say after I wake up a little, but basically, it was lovely.
And, also, I’ll just say, because the Butcher brought it up, too, Craig Havighurst is some kind of minor god. He just kept things moving and lively and shifted the crowd from one artist to another in a really smooth and lovely manner. It’s one of those things that is a real and complicated skills that, when you see someone who’s got it mastered, you kind of wonder how they even knew they’d be good at it, if they just worked at it. Like, obviously, it’s a needed thing, but when done well, it’s kind of mostly invisible how much work it is.