Hello, Migraine, My Old Friend

I have a migraine. If I hold very still, it only hurts at my eye. I have been sad all day for no reason, but now I see it was just this migraine working its way up from wherever migraine live when they’re not trying to destroy you.

I got my hair cut today and the woman who cut my hair kept touching me. This happens to me…well, not a lot because I don’t go to church, so I’m not around women who are a lot older than me in big numbers anymore, but women older than me like to touch me.

Argh, I’m already regretting starting this post, but I’m just going to say it anyway. I think it’s because I’m so fat. It’s not bad touching or condescending. I don’t experience it as negative. Just weird, because they seem unable to help themselves, like how you might reach out and touch a bunny because you want to feel how soft it is. But my theory is that a lot of women, especially older women, came up in an era when, if you could lose weight, you did and, if you couldn’t lose weight, you at least tried to signal that you were trying by not being so fat.

And I think they’re often aesthetically curious about me, that they find something about my soft shape attractive, even if it’s utterly foreign to them.

I’m never fully at ease in these moments because I’m always a little afraid that they’ll turn on me in some way when they realize that they’re attracted to something they’ve been so long afraid of being. That’s not a safe spot to sit in. And I don’t want to have to explain my body, the things it’s been through, the things wrong with it, as if I must constantly be apologetic to be safe. I’m ready for it. But that’s never happened, so I try not to flinch or shy away from it.

Which, let me be clear, is not to say that anyone else has any obligation to let strangers touch them, nor do I feel like I couldn’t tell them to stop.

But I’m always so curious about it, because, in general, nothing in our culture makes me feel like strangers should find me aesthetically pleasing. And it’s always gone the same way, where the woman will touch me and enjoy it and I see in her fact that it’s the feeling of enjoyment that made her realize that she even touched me in the first place. And then she reaches again. I suppose because I didn’t say “no” or flinch from the first touch.

But I didn’t say “no” or flinch from the first touch, because I’m always waiting to see if there’s going to be a second. And there always is. They’ve always liked touching me.

And that makes me feel like I know a secret, even if I don’t know exactly what that secret means.

The Emptiness of a Song

There’s a certain kind of emptiness you can hear in some songs. I was thinking about that on my walk with the dog this morning. It’s one of the things that I viscerally dislike about the Velvet Underground.

It’s one of the aesthetic things that’s hard to talk about. But there’s something about the sound of the room I don’t like. It’s empty in a way I can’t stand. There’s a kind of hollowness in it. A kind of sharp hollowness.

I associate it with New York, but that may be unfair. Except you can hear that same kind of hollowness in this song.

So, I’m not alone, I don’t think, in associating that kind of space in the song with New York.

Last night, I had to talk myself out of buying the Chess Records box set, but as I was listening to the previews of the songs, I realized, interestingly enough a lot of those old Chicago blues also have a kind of hollowness to them, but one that I experience as warm and pleasant.

And it made me wonder if it might indeed be a known quality of either the recording studios they were using or how they set the band up in them or even how the track was mixed.

I’m not sure if this even makes sense and I certainly don’t hear it in all songs, but sometimes there’s a kind of sharpness to the space around the music that I really dislike and sometimes there’s a warmth in that space that I do like. But I’m not sure what it is that I’m experiencing or where in the mix it’s located.

But it does make me wonder one thing. Is this why I’m all in for The Doors? Yes, I intellectually get why they’re terrible. I don’t care. I love them. Every ponderous, belabored over-poetic, too full of their own genius part of them.

All their songs have that warm room feel.

To Delight the Eye

This is the rose I planted last year in the front where the hydrangeas that moved to the side used to be. The blossoms are so tiny and yet perfect. I can’t stand it.

new rose

It’s been raining all week on and off, but in a concerning turn of events, the ground is still hard enough for the dog and me to walk. Aprils are usually too muddy for much good walking. Not so this April. But anyway, while coming back through the yard, I noticed this. In the middle of the yard. It looks like the Butcher hit it with the lawn mower once, but is that not an iris?

I thought irises only propagated from their rhizome. And yet, here’s this iris, far from all the other irises in the neighborhood, appearing here for the first time in the years we’ve lived here.

How is it here? How are any of us here, really?

volunteer iris

Dennis Hastert

I’ve got nothing, really. I just keep thinking about his victim, brother to his protege. The gaping maw you must have in place of a soul that lets you hurt and hurt and hurt and have it never affect you.

The sky is big. It stretches in a big curve away from you and the land is so flat, so thin. How many things happened to us all under that sky stretching away? I feel like so much of my Illinois childhood is, in retrospect, young people trying to show that something was going off the rails for them, while adults turned and turned and turned away, finding it easier to see anything else.

No wonder the sky recoils from that place, really.

Story Just for Me

I’m so happy with how “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” went and how much people like it (and will hopefully like it some more when it comes out) that I thought it might be fun to write another thing based on people in my life.

I started this story about a pastor who befriends an alien.

I’m going to finish it. And then I’ll have to change it pretty substantially if I ever want to try to publish it. Because it has ended up being sad and uncomfortable.

Whenever I saw writers talking about writing stories “just for them,” I used to roll my eyes. But, I get it now. Sometimes you write something because you have to.

It doesn’t mean anything has to happen with it after that.

Wheels

IMG_0109

I’ve got my afghan yarn back in so I’m making these wheels again. I need fifty-six. I have twenty six. So, it feels like it’s going well. I just really hope I’m not secretly fucking up these wheels, too, but I keep counting to make sure I have sixteen spokes, and there are, so that’s what it should be.

I remain a big fan of this yarn for its soft, squishiness and its weirdness.

I woke up early to purchase “Lemonade” so I can listen to it at work and marvel to be living in a time of geniuses.

I read the credits on the song she did with Jack White. It samples Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” so they get writing credit on the song. I noticed that Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe did not. It makes me wonder if this is one of the songs that Zeppelin ripped off and never had to make right on. I know Willie Dixon eventually got them to own up to what they’d done–and by that, I mean, get some money out of them for the use of his intellectual property, but I don’t know if other folks were able to.

The fact that Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe don’t get writer’s credits on the Beyonce song does worry me about that.

But I love the “gal I love, stole her from a friend, joker got lucky, stole her back again” aspect of Beyonce getting Jack White’s help to steal a song that Led Zeppelin stole.

But I do keep thinking of Willie Dixon, whose influence is so heavy on rock music, and who I think is utterly forgotten except by music nerds. Is justice come in the fact that most people who listen to Beyonce’s album aren’t going to know who the fuck Led Zeppelin was? My kind of music nerdery can’t accept that. I want people who love Beyonce to get the thrill of hearing Zeppelin for the first time and then getting the thrill of hearing Dixon or Minnie or Robert Johnson.

I want them to have that lightning shaped epiphany of seeing how art travels through time.

In Which I Say an Unkind Thing

I know “better” is subjective, but all day yesterday, I kept seeing people refer to some exchange where someone asks Eric Clapton what it’s like to be the world’s best guitarist and Clapton supposedly answers that he doesn’t know, why don’t people ask Prince?

And I get that people are floundering for some way to pay Prince a compliment and we don’t have good ways of talking about people who are extremely talented at whatever instrument they put their minds to. In terms of that kind of ability, there’s Prince and Barbara Mandrell and…um…yeah. That’s all I can think of.

But come on! Who are these people calling Eric Clapton the best guitarist in the world in the first place? It’s not like it’s 1. Prince, 2. Eric Clapton. And not that Eric Clapton sucks. He doesn’t suck. He’s quite good. But let’s be reasonable.

If you think Eric Clapton is the best there is, you’ve not listened around enough.

Poetry Sucks!

Last night, Sara and I went out to Oz to the Poetry Sucks event. It was awesome. I continue to wish I had a word for how I feel about Rita Bullwinkel’s writing, where I want to both force her work into the hands of everyone I know AND I burn with jealousy, because who would read me once they’ve read her? If you ever seem me walking through the streets of Nashville in an incandescent yellow flame, you can be sure it’s rage about something the legislature has done.

But, if you see me burning in an incandescent white/blue flame, it’s just my jealousy over Bullwinkel’s talent. Where is her book contract? How is she not famous? How is she not Nashville’s Kelly Link? I don’t understand why she’s not exploded over the nation yet.

Ciona Rouse was amazing. I’d like to see her read again.

But I was most surprised by Todd Dills, who I’ve known on and off, but not well, for a few years, but who I’ve never seen read. He utterly transforms. It’s like watching a man possessed. His facial expressions are different, his voice booms in a way it normally doesn’t. You feel like you have been moved physically, like three inches to the left.

It was amazing.

And then Chet announced we’re doing another one in August and he pointed everyone at me. So, hey, I guess we’re doing another Poetry Sucks! in August and I’ll be reading at it.

More details as I know them. I will probably read from my F&SF piece which is a blasphemy full of derogations, so that will be fun.

Woo

I’m getting to do something so exciting (to me, anyway) and I can’t wait to tell you about it. But it’s a secret.

Oh, it is a secret! Involving a cabin that’s bigger on the inside.

Who Else Could Take Over?

This day. Christ. This day.

So stupid.

The Butcher is supposed to clean the kitchen in exchange for me cooking our meals.

Today he was pissed at me because he found maggots in the recycling. But it’s not my job to clean the kitchen. I felt like fighting with him about it, but I just let him rant and then he cleaned it up.

I know it’s just the nature of this moment, but I am tired of being frazzled and over-extended and on. But I don’t see a chance to get a break from that until July, if I’m lucky.

I feel like I should be more grossed out, but I can’t bother to care.

Not Everything is a Metaphor

It’s long bugged me that the Wikipedia entry on “Black Betty” claims the song is about everything but what it is at face value. It’s a gun! It’s a hearse! It’s a whip! It’s a liquor bottle.

Here’s my guess, though. I think “Hammer Ring” was a well-known work song.

And then I think something happened, a real thing, to a woman named Betty and, when the men wanted to sing about it, they adapted and adopted “Hammer Ring” to serve their needs. Whatever those guys told the Lomaxes about it, that’s on the Lomaxes for believing it. The subversive, transgressive truth, I think, is in the lyrics.

Let’s go with James “Iron Head” Baker’s version:

 


And let’s give the lyrics a try:

Oh, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Oh Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Well, I come [unintelligable, maybe cross the channel?] Bam-a-lam

Well, I’m going to Texarkana. Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, what’s your number? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, what’s your number? Bam-a-lam

Well, one hundred and fifty, Bam-a-lam

Damn hundred and fifty, Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty had a baby, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty had a baby, Bam-a-lam

And the damn thing’s crazy, Bam-a-lam

Damn thing’s crazy, Bam-a-lam

Now she put his head in gravy [?] Bam-a-lam

Now she put his head in gravy Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Now the baby had blue eyes, Bam-a-lam

Now the baby had blue eyes, Bam-a-lam

Well, it must have been the Captain’s, Bam-a-lam

Well, it must have been the Captain’s, Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

 

There are some weird things. Like when she dips the kid’s head in gravy? Is that a way of saying she put some kind of poultice on him or maybe a plaster?

But I think the important thing here is that this is obviously not symbolic. The prisoners who sang this work song were singing about a white guard who had a child with a black woman, quite possibly through rape. If her number being 150 is supposed to tell us she’s a prisoner, then it’s a flat-out rape.

Now, obviously, black prisoners couldn’t tell white people that they were teasing their white guards about wanting to fuck black women. But shame on musicologists for striving to find any explanation other than the obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Funerals

Last night, I arranged to go to Jim’s funeral with a couple of friends. This morning, I found myself at Jim’s funeral, but I realized, I hadn’t come with those friends and I didn’t actually know how I’d gotten to the church. I had the thought that I should pinch myself and see if I was dreaming and I pinched myself and I didn’t feel anything, so I knew that I was dreaming, but I couldn’t wake out of it.

Then, I was at the funeral with my friends and this was right so, for a long time, I accepted that it was real. But I thought, again, that I should touch my arm and make sure I could feel it, but, of course, I couldn’t. Dreaming again.

Finally, I was at Jim’s funeral, next to my friends. Everyone was crying and laughing as the occasion called for. I touched my arm. It was real.

I’ve never had dreams that vivid before. I would not have guessed the first one was a dream had my friends been there. I would not have guessed the second was a dream if the first hadn’t happened.

I think I had to subconsciously steel myself to go. I had to practice it in my head a few times so that I could make it through okay.

Anyway, I love you guys. Always know that.

Music in Fiction

I got to meet Ed Tarkington last night! He was just like you’d hope he’d be. We talked for a minute about writing about music in fiction and I told him how much I admire his ability to get at what music does for a person, or, at least, what it meant to people my age when we were younger, the way it created a kind of private space for us to make sense of ourselves.

I tried to talk him into the new Ray LaMontaigne album, which, though I am not a big Ray LaMontaigne fan, I am massively in love with. It is an album, I think, meant to invoke the private relationship between a listener and an album.

And I told him about the Metallica time-travel story and it tickled me because, yes, anyone our age immediately sees the rightness of trying to bring young Metallica into a situation where they can fight old Metallica.

Which means I have doubly broken my own superstition.

Oh well, these are weird days. You lose someone everyone loves, the  world feels shakey, like it’s not clear if the connections will hold without that one, awesome knot.

Writer Superstitions

I have this superstition that I shouldn’t talk about any short story I’m working on except in the most generic of ways unless I know what’s going to happen to it.

So, if I’ve sold a story and I know it’s going to be published, I’ll talk about it a little more concretely than I will if I’ve just written a story.

I had been blathering on about my Metallica time-travel story because I thought the premise was actually hilariously dumb and, if anything came of it, it would be that I posted it here in October. So, no harm, no foul. I knew what was going to happen to it, it was fine to talk about it.

But I actually think it might be pretty good. Oops. Maybe I should try to sell it first, before assuming it’s an October story.

It got me thinking–how do you decide which stories are good enough to shop? Obviously, everything you write is not going to be great. I probably spend too much of my life organizing things like a wrestling card, but it’s a useful system for me.

You have a roster of ideas. Down at the bottom of your card are ideas too new to be any good yet and old ideas you’re not ready to let go of. Sometimes interesting things can happen if you slam those new ideas and those old ideas together. Then you have your mid-card–ideas you know are pretty good, stories that are fairly solid. Maybe, with some work, they could become superstars, maybe they’re not. Hard to tell sometimes.

Occasionally, you just have a headliner right off the bat. Both stories I sold that are running this year, I knew when they were done that they were something–“The Four Gardens of Fate,” which Apex recently published (they were the first place I submitted it), and “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?”, which is going to be in F&SF in July (which I submitted to four places). And don’t get me wrong. It sucks to be rejected, but some stories you just know in your gut are getting rejected because you haven’t quite found the right editor.

But I look now and I see that I only submitted “It Came from the Sunny Side of the Mountain” to three places before I gave up and decided to use it as an October story. And why? This is what I’m getting at. I had a feeling “It Came from the Sunny Side of the Mountain” was a strong mid-carder. I wasn’t sure it was a headliner. But I knew “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” was good. So, sticking with it was easier.

I’ve written two stories this year (not counting the stuff I’ve been half-assing for October). One, until I looked just now, I could not remember for the life of me what it was about. Ugh. Probably a mid-carder then. And then the other is this stupid Metallica story, which, maybe, I underestimated.

Mind Like a Goldfish

This morning, as we were coming back from our walk, the Butcher came home. The dog got so excited he was jumping and tugging and barking, so I let him go. He went racing, full speed, towards the man he loves.

Then, there was New Kitty at the back of the shed. So, Sonnyboy stopped at the shed, hung out with New Kitty for a few minutes and then, when the Butcher shouted “Hey,” to me, the dog was all excited again! His boy was home! Oh wow!

He ran toward the Butcher. Again. Like he had just realized the Butcher was home.

It made me laugh really hard.

Like, bless his heart, he wanted to be excited the whole length of the back yard, but he can’t keep something in his brain that long.

Fannish Boy

I have a rough draft of my time-traveling Metallica story. It still needs some tweaking, but it makes me happy. It ended up not being so much about the band, but about fans of the band and what we want from artists with long careers and such.

I was telling the Redheaded Boy about it and I realized, though he’s younger than the fans in my story, he is exactly the kind of person I was writing about. He knew every iteration of the band. He has opinions on when and how they’re doing their best work. He is vague acquaintances of Dave Mustaine and told me Mustaine has the presence of an old lion.

I think I’m going to need to read this story to the Redheaded Kid to make sure I have the fannish stuff right. And I am, I find, a little nervous about that.

Hidden

I hid from the world this weekend. Not in a good way. I’m pissed at my parents and the Butcher’s all “they are who they’ve always been,” and I said, “yeah, I know.” And I wonder if, then, I’ve always been pissed at them?

It’s depressing to think about.

Jim

Jim Ridley, my editor at the Scene, died yesterday. I am devastated. He was only 50. I was blogging at the Scene shortly before he became editor and…god damn… I will write a post tomorrow. I’ve known his wife and worked with her for a million years. They have young kids.

WTF?

Everything you read about Jim was true. He literally was the nicest, most patient person, almost unnaturally so. He felt big feelings. He was open to enjoyment.

He left everyone who knew him better off for knowing him. That’s an amazing legacy. Everybody has someone who thinks they’re a son-of-a-bitch, but I never heard of such a person who thought that of Jim.

It’s just stupid. The idea that there should be a guy like this in the world in the first place and then that he should die so young.

I hate that stupid “Who’s going to fill their shoes?” song, but it’s been running through my head ever since he went in the hospital because, really, who is?

And that’s the other sad truth. Nobody. Guys like Jim are unique. They make a certain splash in a certain way and when they’re gone, that splash is gone. Someone might come up at some point and make another splash but Jim’s will still be missing. The world will feel a little diminished because of that from here on out.

And that sucks.

I Hate Every Crocheted Thing

The picots and the picot join were a terrible joke. And I thought, well, I’ll just work on the centers and try to get a feel for how much yarn I’ll need for the whole thing and I fucked up every center I made. And they all have to be redone. It’s not a fuck-up with an easy fix.

I was so mad at myself I thought I might switch squares all together and do the flower instead, but holy shit, that’s also a terrible design. It’s hard to explain what the problem is without visuals, but it’s an elaborate flower, so it’s heavy, and it grows heavier on each round. Each round is attached to the next round with only eight stitches. So, ignoring the heavy petals of the flower for a second, your underlying structure is a series of progressively larger arcs. When you add the petals, the whole thing strives to take a loose, shaggy pyramid shape.

I believe all this would be fine if, beneath it all, there was a normal square you were anchoring the flower to–so that the eight stitches each round tied the flower together and attached it to a solid back. It’d still be heavy as fuck, but that solid backing would help hold everything together and where it belongs.

But no! The back of the flower is open and, when you get to the rounds you do that make it a square, they’re just those two or three outer rounds. The sample one I started looks really cool, but it was obvious, even before finishing it, that the structure looks fine flat (and thus the square looks fine in picture), but it was going to be a weird, saggy mess in an afghan–too much weight on not enough structure.

I then did a hexagon I thought would look cool, but it looked like a butt.

So, all that wasted yarn later, I’m back to the picot squares, but without the picots.

I have a whopping two done, which is how many I had mostly completely yesterday.

But I do think I have an idea for how to finish the story I’m working on, so I still believe you should have a hobby that lets your mind work on your writing problems.

My hobby is just an asshole at the moment.

The Picot Afghan

I have started on an afghan with picots, which are little bumps that I think I am not making correctly. And I’m pissed because this is the second square I’ve made out of this book where the last row’s directions are fucked the fuck up.

The one square, I could figure out because I understood the pattern of the rows beneath and so I quickly realized that two numbers had been transposed.

But this last row is just wrong. The second to the last row calls for you to start at a corner and go around the square. Obviously, you then finish at that corner. The last row starts out with you making eight stitches to the corner. Motherfucker, I’m at the corner. I need to make eight stitches to the first picot. Except, whoops, I need to make nine, it turns out after I get halfway done with the last round and realize something is very wrong.

Everything else about the square is really lovely and I’m really liking it. But I’m already nervous about this picot situation–because you join as you go at the picots–and knowing that my first join-as-you-go afghan is going to be based on a faulty last row is causing me a lot of anger.

My new plan is to do a couple of sample squares and do the join and see how it goes. If it seems fucked up in any way, I’m taking off the picot edging and I’ll just do some kind of lacy join between the squares that doesn’t require me to figure out how the pattern is fucked.

But it’s irritating. And knowing how screwy some of these squares have been is, frankly, why I ended up not going with the flower–because I worried it would be fucked up and that I wouldn’t have the skill or familiarity with the motif to figure out how.

So, let me tell you. If you’re going to spend the money on any kind of crochet pattern book, just make sure it also comes with diagrams. At first, you’ll be like “Ugh, diagrams! I hate them and they make no sense.” But when you’re floundering in the pattern it’s sure helpful to have something to refer to. And it should have been a tip-off to me that not enough care was given with these patterns since the book contains no diagrams.

In other afghan related news, I’m using this weird yarn. S. wanted something that could go in the wash and in the dryer, so I picked out this 50/50 acrylic/nylon. But it’s not twisted together, it’s braided. You can’t really tell when it’s worked up, except it’s kind of boingy in a way twisted yarn isn’t, and it’s got a drape more like cotton than acrylic.

It seems like it will be quite pleasant to wrap around you, once I get this last round situation figured out.

Longing

Ever since I can remember, I would have bouts of longing. Not for anything I could name. Or the names I gave the longing and then satiated in the way those names might demand never did seem to do the trick.

I need a drink. I need to get laid. I need to round this bend and find…something…that is not a corn field or a stand of trees or more open road.

Something is missing. Something I didn’t know I ever had has been lost and I want it back.

Less is More

There’s this moment, if you’ve ever had the unhappy opportunity to sit through Taking Lives, when Angelina Jolie is wearing a robe and it slips open to reveal her upper thigh. I could probably find fifty pictures of Angelina Jolie wearing less than that on the internet in the time it’s taken you to read this paragraph.

But it’s still a moment I find really charged and erotic in ways it’s hard for me to completely understand.

I was reminded of that when we were watching Spy and there’s this moment at the end when Jason Statham takes his arm out from under a sheet and again, it’s just his arm and it’s not like you don’t see his arm in every movie. But *pow*.

I’d like to understand more about what’s going on there. It seems probably like more a poet’s concern than a story-writer’s concern, but it’s still fascinating to me. Are there certain things–a flash of thigh a well-crafted shoulder–certain words, even–though I don’t know what those would be–that short-cut straight to the brain and set off an “Oh, my, wow” response without needing more than just those fleeting glimpses?