Happiness

I have a theory that, as we age, we distill down to our essence. So, if you’re a miserable person who just fakes being okay, as you get older, you’ll be less willing or able to fake being okay and your misery will come out.

One of the main reasons I’ve been trying so hard to get my shit together is that I want to be happy at my core. I want, when life has knocked all the extraneous shit off me, for me to be someone I can live with. Want to live with.

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The Kids are All Right

Last week, K and I went to this fundraiser for a local arts group that helps kids develop their poetry skills. One of the things that delights me about Nashville is that it has a somewhat vibrant poetry scene.

The kids were fantastic. Their poems were so beautiful and thoughtful. And they had them memorized! And here was the coolest part: when someone got nervous and forgot a bit or stumbled, everyone would snap for them, to fill the silence with supportive noise.

Is this the thing that beatniks were doing when they snapped? The thing that became a joke? Because it was beautiful. I loved it. And I felt sorry and mad that I had only encountered it as a joke that made fun of poetry audiences.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone is good. But I do believe that most people’s badness is small and surmountable until life breaks them. And once you’re broken, it’s hard to know how people will put themselves back together. (I’m slowly making my way through the Dollop episodes on Trump and Jesus Christ…)

I want so much for these kids to get a chance to fulfill this potential and to not be crushed and broken.

I think another hard thing for me about all this stuff coming out now is that you see how the whole system–every system, our whole society–functions through crushing and breaking and discarding people. You are not supposed to be okay. This doesn’t work if you’re okay.

It’s disgusting. And yet, I don’t see how to disengage from it. You can pull back. A lot of people certainly have. But it’s a comforting fiction to believe you can get out of it. That you can be safe from it. That you’re not replicating it.

 

Another Fancy Baby Blanket

This one isn’t done, but it’s coming along.

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This yarn just makes everything look super fantastic. I feel a little awkward about it because it makes everything look super complicated and like I’m super talented, but if you look closely, you can see that the most complicated thing in here so far is the front post work. Everything else is really straightforward stitch work and the most complicated part is just keeping the count right.

I also got my first look at the layout for the chapbook. It’s very exciting.

I think I’m boring, but I mean that in a good way. I spent my weekend doing exactly what I wanted and I feel happy and rested and ready for my week. I feel very lucky.

I still think either the pattern is wrong about how to do those slip-stitch rounds or the picture on the pattern is wrong, but I did the first one how it said to, so I did the second one how it said to.

Opt Out

A thing I have long known is that the abuse of women is ubiquitous (the attempted abuse of everyone is ubiquitous, but that’s a matter for another post). But seeing it on social media day in and day out is wearing me down.

I keep thinking of how “you have no other choice” is used against women and how so many women have opted out of things because of that. You have to tolerate some level of violence from your 19th century husband, so some women just didn’t marry, settled into being spinster aunts. You have to expect you’re going to have to sleep with people to get roles, so some women just went home from Hollywood. And on and on.

Generations of women who tried to withdraw from the bullshit as much as they could.

Maybe I’ve done that, too. I don’t know.

And I think about all that talent, all that potential. It’s like we live in a world split in two between realized dreams and dashed dreams. And the realized dreams aren’t better. They’re just the dreams that didn’t get sacrificed.

I think a lot about how we still have human sacrifice, we’ve just made it more invisible. Instead of killing a person wholly and outright for our benefit, we just kill little parts of them and convince ourselves they deserve it.

People are right to be mad. I am mad. But I’m also feeling overwhelmed and sometimes like I’m drowning in it.

Lost Hook

My plan was to spend a nice evening working on my squares for this afghan and I finished one up and started to work on the next and then, for some reason I don’t remember, I had to get up from the couch. So, I set the square on the arm of the couch and the hook slid out and down and…

I swear, I thought I heard it hit the floor. But I pulled the couch halfway across the living room and I moved the side table and it was not there. I went through the cushions of the couch on the off chance… I don’t know… that it had slid the other way and somehow made that noise?

But it’s just utterly vanished. I even went through the garbage can.

I then left out a small glass of triple sec in case the hook went missing due to shenanigans, but it wasn’t returned, so I guess it wasn’t anything cool and supernatural that caused it to disappear. I’m super bummed. I’m only five squares away from being done with this afghan and I can’t move forward until I get a new hook.

But I did go to the doctor yesterday and everything is fine. She tried to lay the groundwork for me accepting that I may need to be on the sertraline from here on out, but I’m not worried about it. I mean, it’s helped. A lot. If my brain just needs it, fine. Need away, brain. I don’t feel like there’s something wrong with helping what can be helped.

And I have weird thoughts, you know? Like part of me is convinced that I lost my hook–and thus couldn’t do the relaxing thing I like to do in the evenings–because I told my parents I’m not coming up there for Thanksgiving. Like I’m being punished for disappointing them. That’s not a sane thought.

Anyway, I’m going to check and see if I have another hook that size in my secret stash of crochet stuff.

Too Many Projects

I’ve been making this baby blanket:

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And when my skeins get too low to make a whole round, I’ve been working on this other baby blanket for my other coworker:

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It’s a free pattern I got off Red Heart, but it’s using that fancy Dutch yarn. The pattern calls for a round of slip stitches at one point, but worked only in the front loop of the stitch. I thought this was weird, because, if you look at the image of the afghan included with the pattern, those slip stitches lay flat, which has to mean that they’re worked in both loops.

I did what the pattern called for, rather than what I knew made sense and, I have to say, it’s weird, but I like it. It frames that inner part nicely.

Anyway, I ran completely out of yarn, so I couldn’t work on either afghan until my new order came in. So, I started work on my next grown-up afghan, which looks like a space ship. Or maybe like the top of a carousel.

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From looking at other examples online, I think the colored bands are supposed to have a slightly woven effect, which I feel like is also happening here. I don’t know if that will be true once it’s washed or not, though.

And I even got a little fiction written. Which made me feel better about the state of the world, even if I’m kind of looking like some kind of yarn hoarder at the moment.

Deer are Big Up Close

This morning, when we got back from our walk, there was a deer in the back yard. Sonnyboy took off after it. It tried to just go to the other side of the yard and stand real still, but the dog was having none of it and chased the deer through three back yards and then–surprise–came back when I called him!

All that time we spent chasing bunnies and then coming back paid off!

But that deer came right by me! And it was so big. I mean, obviously, they’re big. But there’s a difference between seeing one across the field from you or even in front of your car and having one bound by you, not ten feet away.

I briefly fretted over whether it was cruel to let the dog chase the deer, but then I decided a. he’s never going to catch it; b. it’s not good to have the deer so close to the house because coyotes will follow. So, it’s probably good to give it the opportunity to rethink whether coming into the near backyard is a good idea.

The dog was all smiles afterward. And it made me happy to see him so happy.

Nephew Mind Blown

Last night, I ate a S’more and while I was holding my nephew. I got some marshmallow on my finger and then, like any good aunt, I stuck it in his mouth instead of licking it off myself.

I think I broke him. Not in a bad way. But I don’t think it had occurred to him before that that things could taste radically different. He just sat there, completely still, eyes wide.

How is this real life? I just don’t know.

Roy Moore

Roy Moore is and has been a disgusting terrible theocrat. I remain unsurprised by him.

I cannot imagine being the daughter or the sister or the wife of the men who are standing around Alabama today excusing him.

When you find out your father is okay with a thirty-something man “trying to date” a teenager, don’t you wonder if your friends were ever safe with your father? Don’t you wonder if you really were?

My heart aches for the people of Alabama today, not the folks arguing that, since Joseph did it to Mary, it’s fine for Roy to do it. But for the people who should be able to feel safe in their own home, able to trust the men in their lives to not harm them or excuse harm that befalls them, who have to know today that the people they love are not safe.

Ghost Dog, Revisited

I’m sad to report that I think the ghost dog in the back yard is a living cat. Which, since my first rule of “Is it haunted?” is “Have you completely ruled out a cat?”, shouldn’t surprise me, but I still was disappointed.

I didn’t get a good look at the cat today, since the dog was chasing it, but it appears to be orange.

 

Toxic Fandom

Yesterday, I was talking to a writer who had done something incredibly unpopular with the fans of his work and it got me thinking about the sense of ownership some fans have of the thing they are fans of and the right they think they have to dictate what happens to/in it.

And I was thinking about how, like, 80% of having fans is super awesome. You make a thing. Someone you don’t know feels this intense connection to the thing and they are deeply engaged with it. It’s really, really neat. And I don’t think anyone wants that part to go away.

But then there’s some small percentage of stuff that is just like “what the fuck is this nonsense?!” Like when people threaten to kill authors for not putting two characters together, or finding out where they live and coming by the house in the middle of the night or… I mean, we all know what it looks like.

But I realized, this is kind of what I mean when I talk about the fucked up relationship some people have to women. Toxic fandom happens because the audience member believes that the fact that the art has caught her attention means that the creator of the art owes her for that attention. That the artist now has an obligation to please the audience.

And isn’t this part of being a woman? The woman causes her “audience” to pay attention to her and thus she owes them.

I could see it as a thing before, but I couldn’t really make sense of it, because it didn’t seem to have any other cultural antecedents. But of course it does. Hmm.

Family Portrait

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These are the six squares I have done so far for the baby blanket I’m working on. Only the upper right one has been even remotely blocked, which is why its inner part look so much better than the others. But they will all look that nice in the end. I’m really pleased with how this is going.

I might try a front-facing seam on this afghan just because I’m curious to try one and I think that, with this afghan, what’s one more decorative element?

I’m glad I have something beautiful I can make while the world goes to shit. Returns to shit.Whatever the fuck is happening here.

Well, It Happened

My ex-sister-in-law finally shat the bed hard enough that she may not be able to wiggle out of consequences for her terribleness.

I thought I’d feel more pleasure in it. I’ve been waiting a long time for her actions to catch up with her.

But the sheriff in the county has a Facebook page where he posts arrests and under his post about this were comments from other people who’ve been through the wringer with her. And it just made me so sick and sad. My first thought was “Why didn’t someone do something about her earlier so that there wouldn’t be this trail of people affected by her?”

But the amount of people who have tried to do something for her and about her is enormous. People have tried to intervene in her life from the moment it was obvious something was wrong when she was very young. They tried repeatedly. They keep trying.

Nothing worked.

And there’s no good outcome here. Regardless of how this turns out, she has kids who needed her to be better than this. And she wasn’t. And the repercussions of that are going to echo down for their whole lives.

That really sucks. And I’m really sorry she doesn’t get that and is, I think, incapable of getting that.

Smile

You guys, my nephew smiled at me. A real smile. Quite a few times. I got a little choked up over it.

I want to go hang out with him today and let him smile at me a million more times, but we both have shit to do.

And, also, while I held him, he babbled in my ear, just being a noisy little pumpkin.

How is this life? How is he a thing in the world?

I tried to get a picture of him smiling, but he was not cooperating. You can kind of see the start of one here.

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Crochet Advice

So, I’ve never crocheted with cotton before, at least not that I can recall. This baby blanket is a cotton/acrylic mix.

On the one hand, if I block it, it will look nice when I give it to the parents.

On the other hand, will they have to block it every time they wash it to get it to look right?

The label says I can just toss it in the dryer, so I’m tempted to just… um… toss it in the dryer and see what comes of it.

Not that I’m anywhere near that far, but I’m also very much enjoying fretting about this project.

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Crochet Stuff

It’s all I can do to not stay home from work and make this baby blanket. It’s just so satisfying. It’s hard but not so hard that it’s frustrating. Each round makes the motifs more beautiful and interesting to look at. And I’m genuinely excited to see how it turns out.

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I have a bunch of kids’ stuff I need to do, but my next adult project is an afghan for the black dog’s family. I have been floundering around trying to find the perfect pattern for them. I want something cool and special and beautiful, but I’ve been dissatisfied. I chucked the yarn I had for the project and bought new yarn. I had a pattern picked out but I kept searching through patterns at lunch, so I knew I wasn’t happy, even if I’d talked myself into believing I was.

The size of the squares these motifs are, if you use worsted weight yarn, is 12 inches across. So I could make the same twenty block afghan I’m making as a baby blanket at adult size. I had settled on that and was feeling pretty good about it. After all, these are fun and my yarn is good, so why not?

But then I found it–the afghan I want to make them. And it’s fucking amazing.

So, I’m happy.

Ghost Dog

So, my yard is a normal width, but it’s very deep. In my mind, my back yard is divided into three-ish sections. The actual back yard, which goes to the back of the shed, the way back yard, which goes from the shed to the creek, and then the way, way back yard which goes from the creek to the pasture/field.

This morning, it was very dark when I walked the dog and as soon as he got out of range of the garage light, I lost sight of him. But I could hear him for a little bit at the neighbor’s. I stood there for a bit, waiting for him to decide there wasn’t anything good to eat in the yard, and then I called for him. He didn’t come. I got frustrated and started walking toward where I was sure the dog was. He then came running up from behind me, seemingly confused about where I was going.

So, we head together into the way back yard and he leaps over the tree, which is still there, yes, god, no no one has showed up to cut it up yet, but hopefully soon. And I follow him over and then he goes across the creek to sniff some smells and to poop.

Now, here’s the thing. It’s fall, so it’s very loud in my yard. Even if you can’t see someone, you can hear them because everything crunches. So, the dog is crunching around in the way back yard and I can hear him coming closer to me so I’m telling him what a good boy he is and asking him if he’s ready to go for a walk and I hear him come right up to the bridge, but as dark as it is, I can see the other side of the bridge and there’s no dog there. Not one I can see anyway.

And just as I’m standing there wondering if I can truly be seeing nothing or if maybe I, I don’t know, imagined hearing the rustling of the leaves and underbrush, Sonnyboy comes walking the exact same way, making the exact same noise, except, since I see him, it’s clear that I should have seen the first dog as soon as I heard him.

And, also, if there was another animal out there, it was close enough to Sonnyboy that he would have chased it.

I don’t think it’s Sadie, both because I feel very certain she is genuinely gone, for reasons that are mostly boring and woo to go into, and because she would have come across the bridge to see me. She loved me.

But I know there are at least two other dogs buried in the way back yard–Tip and Smokey. And I wonder if one of them heard me talking about a good boy and was like “Hey, I’m a good boy. That must be me!” but then was like “Oh, you’re not someone I know” when he got to the bridge?

I’m going to rationalize this into being something ordinary. I know me. I know how I work.

But I’m telling it to you as it happened to me. It wasn’t at all scary. It was just weird.

The Stairs

Yesterday the elevator was being serviced, so I used the stairs. I did not have a panic attack. I did not need anyone to hold my hand.

I can’t really describe to you how it makes me feel, to have lost the ability to do something and then, maybe (I’m going to take the stairs again today) regained it.

Also, because his collar is too big for him, the dog slipped off his tether last night. Moments later, I found him at the back door. And it made me so happy. Because I really want him to understand that, if something happens, he should come back here.

I ordered some new yarn for an upcoming afghan and the place I ordered it from had to send me part of the order from their UK warehouse. It arrived before the US part, so I went to talk to Angela at the Whites Creek Post Office about it and she had my yarn! The package had been damaged so she made me take pictures and then open it to see if anything was missing.

It contained three extra skeins of yarn. So… that was weird and nice. Oh, my package tore open and someone stuffed more yarn into it?

I’m loving this pattern I’m learning for the baby blanket so much, I have pretty much decided that I’m going to just use it for the big blanket, too. I mean, why go to the trouble of learning how to use two different hooks on the same square if you don’t do it at least twice?

Okay, We Couldn’t Do Nothing Spooky

I have two spooky things, one is not very good, but I like it. The other is very good, but I don’t like it. They both kind of deal with the same thing. One deals with Hell and the other deals with Andrew Jackson, so consider yourself fairly warned about the upsettingness of both pieces.

The Devil’s Dilemma

I went to Hell to see the Devil and to ask him if he’d heard the new David Rawlings album. We talk music pretty regularly. The Devil’s a big fan.

It’s pretty easy to get to Hell. Harder to get back.

Anyway, I get down there. I knock on the door and the little imp who answered said, “The Devil’s not here.” Behind the imp, in the main hallway, I saw huge towers of bottled water, stacked in pallets. Another imp was driving a forklift, moving more water into the hallway.

I must have had a weird look on my face, because the imp in the doorway said, “Oh, that’s all for Puerto Rico.”

“Aw, damn,” I said. “Poisonous.” Because, obviously, if the Devil sends you bottled water, it’s going to be bad, right?

“No, no,” the imp said. “It’s just normal water. We’ve been sending as much as we can get along with other supplies to the island. That’s where the Dark Lord is now, helping.”

“Helping,” I asked “or ‘helping?’” I made air quotes with my fingers.

“Go see for yourself.”

The imp stepped aside and let me in. He led me down a long hall full of doors and when we got to a bright blue one, he opened it and indicated I should go through. I did and there I was, deep in the tropical forest, exhausted people before me trying to clear enormous trees from the washed out roadway.

“Hold on, Juan!” The Devil shouted. An old man, with a battered straw hat who had been struggling with a large limb turned to the voice. I did, too.

There was the Devil, lean and handsome, shirtless, but in impossibly clean linen pants, lifting a whole tree by himself, and tossing it out of the way. He brushed his hands together and headed towards Juan. As he passed by me, he winked and grinned slyly.

I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Poor Juan. No good came come from having the Devil’s attention.

But that slick old Devil just walked over to the old man, grabbed another part of the sprawling limb, and together they dragged it out of the road.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I pitched in. If any of the people clearing the road were surprised by my sudden appearance, they were too exhausted to show it. Gracias. That’s all I heard from them repeatedly. Gracias.

All day, until it was too dark to see what we were doing, the Devil worked hard, side-by-side with the people in the road, clearing debris. No sick joke, no unanticipated dark turn, no last-minute disaster to heap on misery. Just good, hard work standing shoulder to shoulder with people who needed the help.

Did they know he was the Devil?

I don’t know. They said ‘gracias’ to him, too.

He took me to a late dinner in Las Vegas and afterward, we went to a nearby hospital. He fluffed pillows and held scared people’s hands. He didn’t say “It’s going to be okay” or “God has a plan” or “Things happen for a reason.” He just listened and was sad and scared with them and they, in turn, I think were a little less sad and scared.

Later, when we lay tangled in the sheets of some impossibly white hotel room, high above the Strip, I asked him, “Okay, what the fuck is going on here?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, but with that hint of playful slyness in his voice that makes it hard for me to concentrate on what I want to say to him.

“You’re being super awesome. Kind, generous, helpful.”

“Good in bed.”

“Come on!” I made a half-hearted attempt to move his delightfully scratchy face away from the small of my neck. “What’s the trick?”

“No trick,” he insisted. “I’m on vacation. Being evil is my job, but I was born an angel. When I want to relax and get my head out of my work, I go out and get back to my roots.”

“Come on!” I said again, “The Devil can’t be good.”

“Oh, I can be all kinds of things,” he growled in my ear. And he was.

The next morning at breakfast, he said, “I’d like to show you something.”

“Okay.”

We went back to the hospital, this time to a different wing. We were in a rehab unit and a man learning to walk on his prosthetic leg was taking his first, tentative steps. It wasn’t inspiring, like you see in the movies. It was crushing. He was sweating and shaking. Tears were running down his face. He clung to the handrails like a landlubber in his first ocean storm. Two orderlies waited, ready to grab him if he fell. And he did fall. Repeatedly.

The look on his face was utter anguish. We stood watching for forty-five minutes. He never got the hang of it.

His therapist said, “That was a great first attempt.” I think she meant it.

And that man looked at her kind of hating her and kind of hating himself and I knew, if he saw any other way, he would have taken it, because this way had in it a lot more suffering. But it was also utterly obvious he would be back.

“He has a shaky hope,” The Devil said to me. “And uncertain faith that this all will be worth it. That the doctors can do for him what they say they can do. He believes he could walk again.”

“Will he?” It was hard to believe that he would after seeing him struggle so.

“I don’t know.” The Devil paused and then seemed to decide he would tell me something maybe he hadn’t intended to before now, “That’s why I love it. I don’t know what he’ll be physically capable of. I don’t know what he’ll be able to put himself through mentally. I don’t know if his suffering is pointless or not. It’s delicious.”

Delicious? Ugh, that was a word I didn’t want to think too closely about.

“Now, come home with me. I want to show you something there.”

We walked down a hall in the hospital, turned a corner and we were in Hell. We walked to the end of this hallway, past countless doors behind which I heard unending screams of anguish. Finally, we came to a door that the Devil opened. Inside there was a man hanging by his wrists from the ceiling. A demon took a hot poker out of a nearby fire, stuck the red metal to the man’s bare skin, where it hissed and popped and smoked. The skin stuck to the poker and the demon began to pull the skin off, in long, terrible strips.

“This man kept his son locked in a trunk at the foot of his bed. When the authorities found the boy, he was so twisted from growing up in this box that he couldn’t stand. He flinched when anyone tried to touch him. He screamed and couldn’t stop if he saw a dog. He couldn’t speak, so the authorities had no idea what had happened between him and dogs, but they also couldn’t bear to ask the father. It was worse than just that, of course, but I can see you’re already repulsed.” The Devil gave the man a slight shove, so he began to swing. He screamed, of course.

The Devil went on. “This is a man who clearly belongs in Hell. It’s very straightforward. He tortured his son from his son’s earliest days until he was finally caught and he did it because he liked it, because it made him feel good to have so much unfettered power over a small, helpless thing. But look at his face.”

It was hard to look at. Parts of his cheeks had already been stripped away and he was bleeding profusely. Mixed with his blood were endless tears. He was suffering. All I could think is that no one deserves this, but being in that room with him, every time I felt compelled to go help him, I saw a flash of the suffering his son had endured—being forced to eat his own vomit, being beaten with a broom stick, and on and on.

The Devil rested a supportive hand on my shoulder, “Do you see any shock? Any surprise?” he asked.

And no, the man was suffering, terribly. The look on his face was one of utter agony. But he seemed resigned to it.

“Every night, he’s healed, so every day his tortures are fresh,” the Devil said. “But there’s only a brief time in anyone’s tenure in Hell when they’re in disbelief that this is happening to them. Those scrumptious days where the magnitude of what they’re facing becomes real are so few, so short. We’ve had this one for a long time. We’ve tried a lot on him. We tried erasing his memories so that each day was a fresh Hell, but one of the most satisfying parts is when a person realizes he or she is in Hell because of a long series of decisions they made. Memory is important. So, if we erased his memories so he wouldn’t remember the torture, we put the burden on his tormentor to remember the horrific details of his many sins and recount them back to him.” The Devil led me out of the room. I was relieved to go.

“And that’s hardly fair,” the Devil said. “Why should the guy just doing his job bear the burden of the sinner?”

“I guess you could just erase that demon’s memories, too,” I said. I was feeling slightly queasy, which the Devil must have realized. Out of nowhere, he handed me some toast with jam.

“We thought of that,” he said, “But then, either its supervisor would have to remember all the details so it could be briefed every day on why it was doing this and what it needed to tell the sinner, which seems like the same problem, but one level removed, or we were completely abandoning the best part—where the sinner has hope and then loses it.”

“So, instead, you go fuck things up on Earth only to help fix them, so that you have a never-ending supply of dashed hopes to enjoy?”

“What? No. Oh, sweetheart.” There’s something awful about the Devil calling you sweetheart. Being pitied by evil is disconcerting, at best. “You still don’t get it.”

“The political situation. The hurricanes. The earthquakes. The people lying dead in the streets.”

“That’s why I like you humans so much. You did that. You did that all yourselves. I told you. I’ve been on vacation.”

“For how long?” I asked.

“Hmm, well, let’s see. I was still full-time in the Garden. I was taking like three days off a week by the time Job came around. And I think I was already completely out of the office by the time I ran into Jesus in the wilderness. Even by then, humans were doing a fine job on their own and barely needed me. So, you know, thousands of years, give or take a few.”

We walked down a hall I hadn’t seen before. We came to a normal looking, wooden house door.

“Here’s for you,” he said and I instinctively stepped back. What imp awaited me inside? What sins had I committed or been complicit in bad enough to bring me here? Did my friendship with The Devil, such as it was, count for nothing?

He opened the door. And there was my kitchen, and my dining room beyond. I stepped through the doorway and I was back in my house, as if I had just come in from the garage.

I stumbled to the couch and I grabbed the remote for the TV, hoping to put something in my brain beside what I had seen over the last couple of days. But I couldn’t bring myself to hit the on button. So, I sat there, wondering, is this Hell, too?

A few days later, I decided that, if I was going to be a denizen of Hell, I should go exploring. After all, my hobby is going to look at things, so, okay, let’s go look at Hell.

It was terrible. I mean, I guess that goes without saying. “Hell” is the word we use to mean something as bad as it can get. So, I don’t even know what to say about it. Hell is a Hell-like world of hellacious hellishness? It’s hard to do anything more than gesture to the outlier. There’s nothing as bad to compare it to.

Just floor after floor of human suffering. People being lowered into fiery pits. People having their fingers ripped off and fed to them. People having their eyes carved out with teeny-tiny citrus spoons. And at first, I was like “Lord, I can’t bear to see this.” But later, I was like, “Okay, then, someone at least has to see this and say what’s happening.”

So, on I went, looking and looking and looking.

Then I came to the room with the elephant in it. A demon stood on a tall ladder with a hose, spraying a narrow, but strong stream of lava at the elephant, who was pressed up against the far wall, screaming in fear.

“What the fuck?!” I burst into the room and threw myself against the ladder. The demon fell to the ground. Hot lava spewed everywhere until the hose shut itself off.

“Hey, fuck you,” the demon said. “I’m just doing my job. This elephant got drunk and trampled twenty people to death.”

“Who gave the elephant alcohol?!” I shook my head. “No, no. Who fucking cares? You can’t torture an elephant for being an elephant.”

“Killing is wrong. This elephant is a murderer. Murderers go to Hell to suffer through eternity.”

It was so dumb I couldn’t stand it.

“Water drowns tons of people,” I argued. “You have a room full of water… what? Being polluted?”

The demon took me by the hand and we walked down yet another hall together. The elephant followed. We came to a laboratory, filled with demons in protective gear, their cloven hooves shoved into safety booties. They each leaned over petri dishes, sharp pins in their rubber-gloved hands.

“This is the polio wing.” The demon gestured to the lab. “Each instance of the polio virus that murdered someone comes down here to be tortured for eternity.”

“A virus?” I was confused, to put it mildly. “Can a virus even suffer?”

The demon shrugged. “Heck if I know. I’m not convinced old Gertie here knows why she’s suffering and elephants are smart. It’s not our jobs to worry about whether the punishment works. It’s just our jobs to punish.”

“That must suck,” I said, because this demon didn’t particularly strike me as a sadist.

“Well, Betsy, it’s Hell. It’s not supposed to be fun.”

“Okay, no.” I said. “No, this is ridiculous. You both come with me.” I took the demon by one hand and rested my other hand gently on the elephant’s shoulder. I led them down seemingly-endless hallways, up near-infinite staircases, and back to my house, out north of Nashville. The demon and I went and got some hay and made up a comfortable spot for the elephant in the garage.

“There’s an elephant sanctuary south of here,” I said. “I’ll call them in the morning and see if they’ll take her in.”

“She’s dead,” the demon said.

“Then she’ll be easy to house,” I said. God damn it. Things were going to make sense. I was going to put some things in order. Set a few, tiny things right. “She is done suffering.” Then I looked at the demon, deep into its large, black eyes. “You, too.”

I took it into the bathroom and helped it climb into the tub. It was tentative.

“Is this going to burn?” It asked, as I lathered up a washcloth.

“Nope,” I said.

“Will you make the water ice cold?”

“Nope.” I just gently scrubbed it while it sat in a huddle in the warm bath water. Layers came off—blood, dirt, soot, pieces of meat the origins of which I didn’t even want to remotely begin to imagine. I pulled flaking layers of old horn off, leaving shiny slick obsidian sticking from its head. I scrubbed its hooves with a fingernail brush until they also shined black. When it was utterly clean, I let the water down the drain.

“No! No!” It said. “Will I be sucked down with it?”

“Nope,” I said. I turned the shower on and rinsed the demon off one last time. I found the fluffiest towels I had and wrapped it in them. It rested its head on my shoulder. Before it was dry, it was asleep. I picked it up, carried it into the guest room, and put it to bed.

Then I went out to the elephant with a bucket of warm water and I washed her down as best as I could. I offered her some trail mix. The ancient tip of her trunk curled around each individual peanut, poked at every raisin. She liked the M&Ms the best. Is chocolate bad for an elephant? I don’t know. I don’t suppose, with her being dead it matters.

When it was clear she was asleep, I went out into the back yard and cried so loudly it startled the crows.

In the morning, I was possessed. I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me, seeing as I took a demon home, but I was indeed startled to wake up crawling across my ceiling, scuttling like a bug.

I called The Devil.

“Yes?”

“Um, so, yeah, I felt bad about an elephant so I stole a demon and now it’s in me and I need you to get it out.”

“Betsy.”

“I don’t need a lecture. Just come help me.”

“I run Hell. I don’t help people escape Hell’s torments.”

“You’re on vacation. Doing nice things for people.”

“Touché.”

Twenty minutes later, The Devil was in my bedroom, staring up at me on the ceiling, stroking his chin as he tried to decide what to do.

“Leonard—“ he started.

“Come on!” I refused to believe Leonard was a demon’s name. You telling me Lenny Briscoe from Law & Order shared a name with a demon? Leonard. It sounds like the demon in charge of loan sharks.

“Look it up on Wikipedia,” he said. “There’s one named Amy, too.”

“You ran out of scary cool names like Azazel?”

“Azazel is about as cool a name as Walter.”

“Walteres can be scary.”

The Devil rolled his eyes at this. He’d never gotten into Breaking Bad.

“Okay, fine. Leonard. Can you please remove Leonard from me?”

“Are you sure? You look pretty badass with three horns.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Leonard, come on out.” When you figure how gravity works, as soon as The Devil spoke, I had to be falling back toward my bed, but I swear, it felt like the demon was pulling itself out of me and pushing me away from it. I hit the mattress, hard. But I was fine.

“Boss, I was inside her,” Leonard complained.

“Who hasn’t been there?” The Devil said.

“Hey!”

“What? I’m glad about it. I’m just stating a fact.” The Devil had a way of making this corny, terrible shit sound charming. He claimed he learned it from Dean Martin, but that could have also been terrible, corny shit. I don’t know.

“Sorry, Boss,” Leonard said. “I’ll get the elephant and get back to work.”

“No!” I yelled. Not the elephant. Not the torture.

The Devil put his hand on my shoulder and kept me from lunging after the demon. The demon seemed deeply pleased at how upset I was.

And, after giving me one last wicked grin, the demon disappeared. Poof. I knew the elephant was gone, too.

The Devil pulled me closer to him, put his mouth right up to my ear.

“The elephant’s not real.” He whispered. “Don’t worry.”

“What? I fucking hate this shit. It’s upsetting and confusing.”

“Let me show you something.” Oh, great. Again. But off we went, through Hell, up and down corridors, past screams and cries of anguish, stepping over rivers of blood and piss and shit. Finally, we came to a nondescript door that had, weirdly enough, a smaller door in it.

“Open it,” he said. I reached down to open the tiny door. He stopped me. “No, the whole door.”

I opened it. I couldn’t see anything. There was this warm, blinding light. But I smelled my grandma’s kitchen. I heard the murmurings of far off conversations among family members who’d been dead for years. The sounds and smells of my happiest moments.

“The door is never locked.” The Devil said. “Anyone here can get there at any time.”

“Then, my god, why don’t you? Are you embarrassed? Is this a pride thing?”

“I give the denizens of Hell what they expect—to suffer and to inflict suffering. When I don’t have enough to suffer, I dream up sufferers for my minions to torture. This, then, for them, is a kind of Heaven. They are doing the hard, necessary work they believe Goodness won’t or can’t do.”

“But there are some real people here.” I said.

“Oh, yes, but many fewer than you’d think.” This wasn’t true as I’d long been something of a universalist, figuring either everyone was in Hell, and rightly so, or no one was.

“Dude, right there… right there.” I put my arm through the doorway and into Paradise. My hand felt like it had been clasped by a new love. “It’s just right there.”

“I have to run Hell,” he said.

“Or what? No one will be miserable? We’re all miserable sacks of shit. You said yourself we’re fine at doing evil without you. Empty Hell. We’ll still be bad.”

But he just turned and walked away. I shut the door and stood in the dark for a long time. So much misery. It felt a little suffocating. I slumped down to the floor and put my head in my hands. After a minute, I felt the tiny knob of the second, smaller door to Paradise poking in my back. I scooted over and opened it.

This time it smelled like a summer evening, right before rain. And I heard a voice, a low warm voice, saying, “I miss you, Luc. Come on home.”

But here’s the thing, Dear Reader, that haunts me to this day. Was that Heaven beyond that door or just the thing The Devil needed to hear to give him hope that his suffering would one day end? Is he King of Hell or its only prisoner?

 

 

My Boyfriend, Andrew Jackson

I met Andrew Jackson in the basement of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. I was lost and stumbling around in the dark, trying to find my way back to the elevator. He was standing in front of a box that contained his papers, just standing there, eyes shut, hand on the box. I didn’t recognize him at first and the immediate thought I had was “Oh, hey, weird. It’s Del McCoury.” Followed by, “Come on, Betsy, why would a bluegrass musician be standing in the semi-dark basement of the TSLA on a Saturday?”

“Sorry,” I stammered. “I’m lost. I’m not supposed to be here, I know, but I got off on the wrong floor and I got turned around.”

He slowly turned toward me and I recognized him immediately—the tall shock of silver hair, the narrow face, the way he held himself like a precarious stack of books.

“That’s all right, ma’am,” he smiled. “I’m not supposed to be here either, but I haven’t tried the gate to the place I want to be and I prefer to avoid the place I don’t.”

“Are you a ghost?” What other question was there?

“Not really,” he said. “I have a body.”

He did.

There was a divot, still, on his forehead from where a British officer had whapped him with a sword when he was a young teenager. And the scars from where he had been shot. When I put my ear to his chest while he was sleeping, I could hear the rattle of some bullet against bone when he breathed and the beating of his heart, like an eternal drum-beat to war.

What he liked best was to lay on me, each sharp, fragile boney corner of his body resting on a soft, warm part of me. He slept well those nights. And I didn’t mind it. I liked to see him happy.

Other nights he screamed in his sleep or sobbed or he didn’t sleep at all. He paced around my room, jumping at every passing car, muttering under his breath. I told him that there are veterans’ support groups now, people he could talk to who would understand. I even volunteered to drive him. But he insisted it was too different now.

At first, I was embarrassed to take him places. I was afraid, you know, based on his reputation that he’d be ugly and racist or loud and sexist or that he’d shoot someone. But even now, he was still trying to be a good Christian, whatever that might mean for a man with sins as grave as his. We went out and he was quiet and charming. He held my hand. He said “sir” and “ma’am.”

Only one time did I see him get angry. We were having dinner at a bar and some drunk asshole stumbled over to me and said, “Fatty, I can’t believe you’re eating in public. It’s disgusting.” Well, he didn’t even get the whole last word out. After the “eating in public” bit he put his hand on the President to steady himself and Andrew Jackson snapped like a rat trap. One second he was in his chair. The next the drunk was on the floor and Jackson was punching and punching and punching and I don’t think he would have stopped until the dude was dead if the bouncers hadn’t pulled him off.

“If I see you again, sir,” he hissed at the broken pile of man on the floor at my feet, “it will be for the last time.”

I cried the whole way home and Andrew Jackson fumed.

Later, in the dark, he said, “I would have liked to have made him sorrier.”

Over back is Whites Creek Pike. I didn’t think about that when I brought him home from the library. But one morning, he said he was going to take the dog around the block and at most, it should have taken him an hour to walk the perimeter of the old farm my subdivision sits on. And he wasn’t one to dawdle. I put my coat on over my pajamas and my feet in untied shoes. I stumbled into the winter morning the sun not quite up yet, flurries dancing past me.

“Andrew,” I called, staggering through the back yard, the air freezing my legs. I got up to the road and hollered for him again. He wasn’t there. When I came over the hill I saw him, just standing, down below at the intersection, the dog already so bored he was laying on the sidewalk behind him. I started to call again when I saw what he was looking at. Across from the school, the houses that line the creek were gone. Instead, there was an open field and a camp in it. A thousand people or more, maybe more, were just waking up. Horses snorted, their breaths making clouds in the cold air. Men half dressed in old military uniforms came out of their tents, scratching their bellies, wandering off to pee or splash water from the creek on their faces.

I walked up next to Andrew Jackson. He was transfixed. I didn’t know how to read the look on his face and, looking back, I’m afraid I wanted so much to see regret there that I willed myself to see it. I can’t honestly say if he was sorry, at all.

If anyone in the group noticed us, they didn’t show it. The women stoked small fires and made breakfast. Children cried. Already people were in bad shape and it was still so far to Oklahoma.

“These people die,” he said. I started to say, ‘not all of them,’ but that wasn’t true. By now, they were all dead. “Hmm.”

That night, when he settled in on top of me, he looked into my eyes and asked, “What are you thinking about? Those people at the creek?”

“No,” I lied. “I was thinking about your mother searching for you and your brother during the war and finally finding you, sickly prisoners of the British. I was thinking about you walking behind her and her up on the horse, trying to keep your brother upright and alive. I was thinking about her having to choose one son to try to save and leaving one son to luck or fate or whatever. I was thinking about her watching your brother die and her knowing she invested too much energy in saving the wrong son. I wonder how she lived with that. I wonder what it did to you to live through it. Andrew, I was just wondering if you’ve ever done anything in your whole life that wasn’t done to you. And I wonder, I can’t help but wonder, if it ever helped.”

“I don’t understand,” he whispered, but the quiver in his voice told me he might.

“Was there any time you shot someone that made you feel better about being shot?” I ran my fingers through his long, soft, silvery hair. “Did anything you’ve done ever bring you peace?”

He didn’t answer me, which was probably for the best. I’m not sure I could have lived with any answer he would have given.

Even now, sometimes, I wake up sure I feel the weight of him on me and it makes me sad and relieved in equal measure to find myself alone.

Dog Weather

This is apparently perfect dog weather. Sonnyboy bounded around the yard, played in the creek, sniffed secret sniffs, chased a shadow, came when he was called, and leaped twice over a giant log. Now he’s napping like a champ.

I’ve been doing my October thing. I was worried with the medication that I wouldn’t be able to. I mean, I feel like this year has been a slow rewiring of my brain in ways I’m not sure about yet. I don’t know how my creativity’s going to play out.

So, it’s going, but it’s going differently. It feels more abstract. The lessons are harder to put into words. It’s just different.

But I’m different, so I think it’s okay.

Bah

I spent yesterday being a grown up–cleaning up cat piss, cleaning the bathroom, cleaning the kitchen, turning in another draft of my big story, getting a thing lined up here for Halloween, some other crap that I can’t remember now. So, I rewarded myself by starting this baby blanket, which I’ve been a tiny bit afraid may be too tough for me. It involves… sport weight yarn!!!! And you have to use TWO DIFFERENT SIZED HOOKS!!!

I’m doing all my same rounds at once. So, since it’s going to be 20 squares, I did twenty first rounds and two second rounds. The first second round was super tricky, but I think I have the hang of it.

And this yarn! Egads.

Purple Afghan

I love how it turned out.

I also love that it looks almost as nice on the back as it does on the front. Trust me, too, when I tell you that, in real life, it has a really lovely “old sweater” comfy vibe.

Yesterday, the animals met the baby. It then took the orange cat some time, but this morning, as I was getting dressed, he came into my room, meowed loudly so I would look at him, and then he peed right by my closet. On purpose.

So, I fucking guess he figured out what happened to the Butcher and why.

But before that, he seemed mildly curious about the baby, so it wasn’t a total disaster.

But this dog. Oh, this dog. First of all, when you come to my house, normally, you have to be greeted by one million loud barks and jumps and maybe you even need a dog on your lap.

But the second he saw the baby, he went quiet. He still greeted everyone and leaned on everyone who sat on the couch, but he didn’t bark. He sniffed the baby so gently and then licked his hand. And then, later, on, licked his head. And he didn’t bug my sister-in-law while she held the baby.

And when I held the baby so the baby could reach over and pet him, the baby drooled on him and that was fine. I’m not 100% sure if he, at two months old, can really grab things on purpose yet but he sure likes finding new things in his hands from time to time.

I think Sonnyboy really got that this was a puppy. Or as close as we weird things can come to making a puppy. And, in typical Sonnyboy fashion, he was open to it. Okay, there’s a baby now. Let’s fix its hair and not make a lot of noise and give it some room.

I said this on Twitter, but I mean it all the time. I think Sonnyboy is a great dog and I am so glad to know him. But from the start, he should have been a family dog. I know he doesn’t feel cheated. I know he’s delighted to have a home and a couch to sleep on and a wide group of people who love him. And also, for some reason, lots of chicken biscuits to eat on our walks (seriously, people. If you’re not going to eat all your chicken, don’t buy it.). He’s happy to be out of whatever stupid situation caused him to need to be rescued. But he would have been a great family dog.

And who ever left him tied to a tree in rural Smith County cheated him out of that. And I don’t think I’ll ever forgive that. This is a dog who should have been raised up from puppydom with a child. And he might not know he’s been cheated, but I see it.

IMG_3017

Okay, I’ve Changed My Mind

I really love how this is looking.

IMG_2989

I have all the vertical rows connected, but only that top horizontal row. I like the little hint of green at the corners.

I had a dream last night that I had gotten a chance to interview “Mrs. May” about the JCC bombing and I went to this ritzy old folks home that, in my dream, I had been to before for some reason and thought I knew well, but I couldn’t find her apartment, 167. So, I was late and finally I found a front desk to ask and they sent me across this courtyard. But there wasn’t anything on the other side of the courtyard.

Then a flash of something caught my eye and I realized that there were, in fact, these mirrored buildings in front of me, that looked invisible because the trees around them were reflected in them.

So I found her building and I went to knock on her door and again, there was nothing in front of me. At which point, I realized “Oh, I’m dreaming. This is a dream. So, just roll with it.” I reached forward and my hand hit something. I knocked. And her door opened and it was just a normal small apartment inside. At which point, I thought, “Okay, so this isn’t a dream, because this is real. I must just be stressed from being late and lost and disoriented because I’ve been so tired this week.”

Y’all, I realized I was dreaming and then I talked myself out of it.

Anyway, she told me what she knew about the bombing, which wasn’t anything more than I did. But she did keep telling me to talk to… someone… she had a nickname for her, which I can’t now for the life of me remember. A black woman who, I got the feeling, had been Mrs. May’s housekeeper. She also repeatedly said the real name of this woman, but whenever she said it, it sounded like she was mumbling.

So, I was really glad that I was recording everything on my phone, so I could get back here and try to make that name out.

Then she proceeded to tell me how “they”–a bunch of people from The Temple, I think–had just been together at a dinner the night before talking about the bombing and who they thought did it and that nice reporter was there from the paper.

At which point, I was like, “Motherfucker, I will be so pissed if someone from the Tennessean is also working on this.”

Then she showed me a paper. I thought it was going to be the paper, today’s edition, with the story of all these old people sitting around talking about the bombing.

But it was from 1975.

Y’all, it wasn’t until I was out on my walk with Sonnyboy this morning that I thought to wonder if “Mrs. May” was really dead.

Anyway, so, that was weird. And I did check Newspapers.com. No story matching my story from that year.

Purple Afghan

I’m a little worried it’s not quite as gorgeous as I’d planned on. And I wanted the little pops of green to be, perhaps, not so little, but a thing the photo doesn’t do justice to is just how comfy a vibe the thing gives off in person. I hope that continues to be the case when I get it all put together. It feels more like a huge flat sweater than an afghan so far. In person, looking at this afghan fills you with an overwhelming desire to touch it and put it on your body somehow.

And that same jade green is also going to be the border, so it won’t be completely lost on the front and it does give the back some nice visual interest when it might otherwise be very bland.