Solomon Napier

I found out more about him. More than I think anyone left knows.

He got married in Cincinnati to an Ariel Mitchell, whose family had come from Virginia. He then went to war. He was a private in the 100th infantry, Company E.

He fought here in Nashville. He battled up John Overton’s hill, through his peach orchard.

You can give a boy five hundred dollars and a new family. He will not forget the mother he left here, enslaved.

The Overtons knew the Napiers. Well. They mingled money. They bought a horse together.

Solomon Napier was armed within sight of Traveller’s Rest. Within sight of his father/uncle’s friends. Killing the kinds of men who stole his mother from him.

He lived through the War. He had three daughters that I could find.

In 1870, he lived in Arkansas with his family. He was a farmer. It was a good time to be a black man in Arkansas. By 1875, though, it wasn’t.

His widow and his children are in Minneapolis with her people by 1880.

I find no record of what happened to him. No grave with his name on it.

It could just be shoddy record-keeping, one last indignity, one last effort to erase a person from history.

But you lose a man, a black man who fought for the Union, in Arkansas in the middle of the ’70s with no trace, you start to think you’re looking at the last faint echoes of something really, really bad.

A Review!

Yes, you can read a review of a story you can’t read until next week (unless you’re an Apex subscriber).

I’m very happy with it.

Yesterday my co-worker told me she’s listened to the audio version four times in her car and ended up sitting in the car when she arrived at her destination so that she could sit with the ending.

That also made me feel really awesome.

She also wondered where I learned the divination system in the story. Not the card reading, obviously, but that specific take on it. And i got to tell her that I made it up! She said it seemed very real and plausible.

But the best part, both in the review and in talking her her, is that neither seem to have noticed the tense change. And I was happy when I listened to the podcast to note that I also didn’t think it sounded clunky or weird.

I don’t consider myself a very proficient technician when it comes to writing. But I felt like the story needed a little something when I finished it, something to raise the stakes for the reader in a way they might not be able to put their fingers on. And since I had the four gardens of fate–a grouping of four–in the story, that gave me the idea for the tense change.

So, I guess, for me, that’s a bright red line the whole workings of the story hangs on: past, present, future, ambiguous future (which I’m sure there’s a technical term for, I just don’t know it) and each section needs to work in its own tense.

But for the reader, I need that seem to lay flat and not stand out. Just do the structural work of shaping the story unobtrusively.

I wasn’t sure if that would work or if it would get in the way of people being able to read the story. But so far, no one seems to even have noticed!

So, hurray!

Mr. Splitfoot

I read Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot last night. It was pretty amazing. I finished it and I was just like “wow.”

But man, did I really feel like every review or promotional material I read about the book beforehand really kind of missed the mark. I mean, I picked up the book because so many people had said it was great.

But it’s not a story about a woman who talks to the dead. Or at least, not how it was presented in the promotional material. It’s a book about mothers and sisters and aunts. It’s about losing things and trying to find them again. It’s about the kinds of love that aren’t romantic.

It’s really lovely. It’s just not really what I thought I’d been told it was going to be.

The Insult Honor

One thing I wish I’d done a more elegant job of hammering home here is the way Nashville continues to use “honoring” J.C. Napier as a chance to insult him.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more civically engaged Nashvillian of more national prominence who didn’t hold a state or national elected position. Prominent banker, prominent lawyer, name on our money during his time at the Treasury, educational reformer, friends with really prominent and important thinkers.

There are things that happen for men like that in town–they get parks named after them, they get buildings named after them; they get schools named after them. All of which Napier got, but, in usual Nashville fashion when it came to him, in the shittiest way possible. A man who helped fund a huge park gets half a block. A man who owned a downtown building gets public housing. A man who remade Nashville schools faces having his name taken off a Nashville school building.

We so begrudgingly did what we do for men of his stature, in the smallest, miserliest way possible.

Anyway, I know the MOC now says they never planned on taking Napier’s name off the school. So, that’s good. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

In other news, on this week’s episode of Hello From the Magic Tavern, Chunt the talking badger (who’s a shape-shifter) invents a new game “Cats or Doctors” which involves them having to figure out what a penis sounds like. They all came up with kind of either farty noises or whacking off noises. It was pretty hilarious. Don’t know why I thought of that just now, but it’s worth checking the episode out.

Country Radio

At least one country station in rural Tennessee is playing Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away,” which I think has to be a result of there still being some local programming people AND his appearance with Chris Stapleton.

I also heard this song as I was driving the backroads of Tennessee and I was like, “Damn, this is going to be stuck in my head.” I’m a sucker for a good sing-along song. I did kind of wonder if someone this young, when she mentions Hank, means Sr. or Jr. Then I wondered where she was hearing either of them on the radio. But anyway, I like this song and I’m sad to learn that it’s getting caught up in the whole “But is it country?” debate. This is a good song. If it’s not country, who’s going to play it?

Panic Attack

You guys, I had a panic attack so bad today I thought I would die. I can’t shake it. I got home okay, but only because a stranger helped me. I don’t even know how to talk about it.

It’s not just the panic attack, out of nowhere on an otherwise lovely day. It’s the way I feel like, for my own safety and the safety of other people, I have to stop doing things I enjoy.

It makes me so sad.

The Veil

I watched The Veil last night on Netflix and it’s kind of terrible, but terrible in a way I really enjoy. Like, you go the whole movie not quite sure if it’s working, some not-good-storytelling stuff happens, and then some really fine story-telling stuff happens and you think, man, if they stick the ending, this movie is going to be amazing.

But, if you paused the movie, say to go to the bathroom right when you had that thought, while you were peeing, you might ponder “What would a stuck ending look like?” And when you realize you can’t come up with one that quite satisfies you, you realize it’s not a good enough movie for the movie makers to have come up with one either.

And, ultimately, than ends up being true.

So, I guess, spoiler alert from here on out.

The movie is basically Jim Morrison/Jim Jones meets The Wicker Man. Except The Veil starts from a position of disgusting you with its occultists and then moves you into a position of kind of sympathizing with them. Except… except I’m not sure everyone working on the movie got that. So, the ending trades a lot on the occultists really being evil instead of just really zealous. And that’s a shame. I think a more unsettling ending would have been if it had just stuck with more ambiguity.

Like maybe if the occultists did everything they did but, instead of killing the daughter of the FBI agent, they let her in on their immortality (and the fact that they killed all her friends to achieve this form of it), she’s then left to know the truth but not be able to do anything about it, because who would believe her?

Then her guilt would parallel her father’s–he came to the cult and it resulted in everyone’s deaths. She came to the compound and it resulted in everyone’s deaths.

I would have liked to have seen them restart their cult.

Killing her just seemed like a kind of weird cop-out and not nearly as horrifying as the revelation of why the occultists died.

Thomas Jane played the head occultist and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, he wrote most of his own lines, to make the character an occultist, not a fundamentalist preacher. Perhaps they should have also given him a go at writing the ending.

But, y’all, he is fantastic. Every time he’s on screen, you wish you were watching just the movie about him. His character, I thought, was a perfect mixture of creepy and really compelling. I mean, watching him on screen, I realized I would be very susceptible to a cult with a guy like that trying to do the things he was trying to do–especially if he was having the kinds of success he was having–at the head.

Which was interesting because I’ve never really understood how people get caught up in cults. I mean, I understand it intellectually, but I haven’t before had the understanding that comes from “Oh, yes, I see how I could get caught up in this.”

Anyway, I think it’s a not-great movie, but it’s totally worth watching for being partially great and Thomas Jane’s character being a revelation.

Please

As you guys know, I am deeply in love with The Black Tapes podcast and its close cousin, Tanis. This week on TBT, Strand, the grouchy, brilliant skeptic whose whole purpose in life, it seems, is to poop on all of the supernatural fun of the show (but who keeps the mysterious, unexplained black tapes in the first place), has returned from some kind of manly breakdown, a scruffy mess in need of help from Alex, our plucky protagonist, in the search for his wife.

He begs her. “Please.”

He says that word, “Please,” in such a way that I’m swooning a little, like some Victorian in a too-tight corset, just thinking about it.

So, a lot of people, people who enjoy TBT, give it some shit for the not-stellar voice acting. I disagree in that I think it’s a deliberate style choice, which either does it for you or doesn’t. I don’t think it’s poor acting. I have lots of reasons for this belief and I’m right.

But my main reason is that there is something going on between Strand and Alex. Well, no, it’s over, whatever there was. That’s obvious both in the text of the show (in that he hangs up on her and then vanishes) and in the way he says that “please,” the way you beg an ex-lover for something, the way you use that quiet voice, that desperate voice, the one that says “Remember how vulnerable we were in private? I am that vulnerable now and I need you.”

But there was something going on between them. I think it started when they went on a trip together and we heard it in the way he asked her if she was going to leave the recorder running.  And we’ve heard it in the way she calls him “Richard” when she’s annoyed with him, like she can’t believe their physical intimacy didn’t buy her a level of trust with him or make him take her more seriously.

i don’t think there’s anything in the context of the show–no words spoken–that confirms the affair. I’ve listened to the whole thing twice now.

The affair, to the extent it does or doesn’t exist, is a story being told in the ways those actors say ordinary words in what passes for mundane conversations.

That’s a remarkable piece of artistry.

Hmms, a Series of Hmms

  1. I see people already saying that they’re not going to read the issue of Apex I’m in because of their distaste for one of the other authors. So, that sucks for me.
  2. I have pieced together my first big square in the Grateful Dead afghan to see how it looks, so that I feel motivated to continue to make so many little squares. It’s awesome.
  3. I think you could probably tell something about how my writing is going by how my crocheting is going, but I did have a breakthrough on the Napier piece and I think I have a good draft.
  4. I’d like to have a great draft, but I can’t get the person who could give me access to the Napier papers to call or email me back.
  5. I have a fear, which I hope is unjustified, but I don’t know, that the reason this person isn’t letting me see the Napier papers is because she can’t find them. I’m going to continue to believe that, even if that’s true, they’re still there, just lost and not gone lost.
  6. I guess the thing about 1. that makes me feel most icky is that I think it’s absolutely right that, if you don’t like someone because of their atrocious behavior, you’re not obligated to read their stories or support their art or to support the places that would give them an outlet. I think the readers are doing the right thing. I also think that I don’t want editors making decisions about stories based on authors’ reputations. I want them to publish the stories they like (though, obviously, personal feelings do shape what we like), regardless of who writes them, because I don’t want editors to turn into the police of whether we all have the right kinds of politics. So, I guess that what’s happening is exactly right. But man, you know, I didn’t get to choose what issue my story was going in. I didn’t have any say in who else was going to be in the issue. And I worked really hard on that story. I want it to rise or fall based on whether people like the story, whether I have succeeded or failed. And that’s not going to happen and it bums me out.

It’s a Good Thing I’m Having Some Success

I’m really struggling with this Napier piece, in part because I hadn’t really realized before I got started how much of J.C. Napier’s personal philosophy was driven by the whole “it’s not race, it’s class” with an underlying “so, let me be upper class with you, ritzy white people, so that I can rightfully be better than low class whites and blacks.”

Well, yuck.

It’s also, though, still obvious that Napier did a lot of good and important things for the city and the nation.

I’m just having a hard time balancing my personal distaste for the family’s snobbiness with my belief that the city should know and remember them in the same way we know the Brileys and other political families.

The Dark Things We Won’t Admit

As I’ve been thinking about Elias Napier, I’ve had a really hard time with the fact that he kept his grandchildren enslaved. I don’t know why, out of everything I’ve read, that’s just the place I can’t get to, but that’s the place I can’t get to. Your own grandchildren.

I thought a lot about that this weekend.

I think one of the things that makes it hard to understand slavery is that we start from a position of slavery being evil and then the humps we have to overcome are things like “How could these people who I love do this evil thing?” and then we get stuck with these untrue but heartfelt beliefs that it wasn’t really that bad or that our slave-owning ancestors were the good ones or that they just didn’t know better. And all of those things are, sadly, demonstrably untrue.

Here’s the truth, though: slavery was awesome for the enslavers. That’s why it persisted, even flourished. That’s why men who didn’t own slaves fought for the right to own slaves.

Once we admit that owning people was awesome, we can start being honest about all the corrupting ways it was. All the labor around the house you didn’t have to do. All the labor on the farm you didn’t have to do. All the “sex” (what we would call rape) you could have or watch others having.

I mean, just think about all the darker impulses we have. Say you have a fourteen year old at your house who refuses to do the dishes. You may feel an impulse to beat the shit out of her, but you do not, because it’s wrong. But let’s be honest, in the moment, it would feel good to smack her around. Later, yes, you might feel terrible. But in the moment?

Now think of all the people who watch sports and, when the athletes express displeasure, complain because “They knew what they were getting into” or “look at how much money they make” as if there’s some level of recompense that makes watching someone’s bodily destruction your right.

Is the pleasure of the slaver really that foreign to us?

Your enslaved child will never grow up and move away. No matter how old he or she gets, they have to follow your guidance. Your enslaved grandchildren can never be too busy for you. Your enslaved family has to love you (or fake it so well you can ignore that it’s fake) in ways your free family doesn’t.

We’re supposed to understand Elias as generous or good for freeing his family at his death, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the value they had for him was so private, so personal, that he could not believe they retained that value after his death. Setting them free in a way kept them his and his alone. No one else could have them like he did.

Things oh things

  1. It smells so bad outside, but the dog and I went for our walk anyway and at the far end of our walk was a young dead skunk who’d been hit by a car. I have nothing against skunks, so it was a little bit of a bummer to see one dead. But I was super impressed with the radius of stink left in its wake.
  2. It looks like I’m writing a piece about the Napiers for the Scene for Black History Month. The black Nashville Napiers are descended from a white guy who was one of many Napiers who owned a furnace and was in the metal smelting business. He never married–the white guy. As far as the census shows, he was usually the only white guy even living on his plantation. Sometimes there was a young white guy, too, possibly a nephew, I’d guess. But otherwise, just him, like a king surrounded by serfs all tied to him and his land.
  3. So, Napier was, on the surface, a bachelor. Montgomery Bell was, too, I think. He came to mind because of the furnace connection. And Isaac Franklin nearly was. Nowadays, if someone’s a bachelor, the possibility that he’s gay suggests itself. But in those days, it seems like a lot of gay guys just went ahead and got married. Marrying for love wasn’t the only reason people got married. You didn’t have to like your spouse. Family pressure and all that. Getting married was the easiest path. So, I feel like staying single was some other marker back then. It meant something else, but I’m not sure what. Other than that you probably were fucking your slaves. But you could do that and be married.

Discoveries

The main problem with ever writing a comprehensive (or hell just an adequate) history of early Nashville is that there’s so much information you need that you don’t know you need until you stumble across it.

Like, for instance, we know that De Charleville was an earlier French fur trapper and that Demonbreun kind of inherited his spot. But scholars of fur trading and Native American history know that De Charleville was embedded in with the Shawnee.

So…the Shawnee had to have some settlement here.

(Speaking of settlements, as I was looking at the Brown narrative more closely, I noticed that he said that when he was kidnapped, Running Water Town had only existed for two years–that’s why the cane was still so thick in the area. Running Water Town is considered a major and important Chickamauga village. If Brown’s right, considering that he was captured in 1788 and then guided the Nickajack expedition that wiped Running Water Town off the face of the planet in 1794, that town existed for less than a decade. But no one questions whether Running Water Town was a permanent settlement. So, is it just that we don’t know the names of what camps might have been here? Is that why we don’t count them? What would have made a camp less permanent than Running Water Town? During the winter, folks moved out of Running Water Town and lived in Crow Town. I guess I just don’t understand how we’re differentiating between a camp and a town. A camp would seem less permanent but we know people returned to the same camps year after year. So… I don’t know. I still suspect this is a smoke screen behind which we claim no Native Americans lived here.)

Or take the fact that Ramsey (who provides the framework for Brown’s account) says that Brown’s mom was freed with help from the Durant woman whose husband was a French trader, who helped Brown’s mom get in McGillivray, the head Creek dude.

I had been thinking that this must be Elizabeth Durard (nee either Bennett or Hensley) because who the fuck else could it be?

Oh, well, again, historians of the fur trade and Native American life know this. It’s Sophia Durant–McGilliray’s sister. Her husband was a French trader–some say from South Carolina, but the kinds of financial settlements he got from the U.S. government show that he was 1/2 Creek, so, not an Irishman who came in through Charleston.

But let that sink in. There were French fur traders embedded with the Creek.

Some sources do say that Joseph Durard was a “half-breed.” I had discounted them. I’m now moving that back into “hmm” territory. I still think it’s much more likely that Joseph Durard is Joseph Deraque, who was in Indiana with Demonbreun. But I can’t discount the fact that Joseph was able to easily travel through Creek territory with Richard Finnelson. Did he have family there?

The Snow Reveals

So, I found my septic tank. It was the one grassy spot in an otherwise snow-covered landscape. This morning, the dog and I tried to go for a walk (we’ve been desperate), but it was not really possible, due to the snow and the brittle layer of crunchier snow atop it. Every step was like, “I’m on top of the snow! Crunch. I’ve sunk to my shins in the snow!”

But I also noticed that the snow around the shed was already melted as was a line from the shed to the driveway. So, now I’m wondering if the plumbing in the shed is still hooked up. Neither the Butcher nor I ever remember trying the sink in the shed to see if it still works. We just assumed it was hooked up to the old well and would not.

The Grateful Dead Afghan

My next afghan is for a friend who likes going to concerts and being a hippie and shit. Well, and shitting. I mean, not shit. Let’s not talk about shit. She like’s stuff that has to do with The Grateful Dead. So, I thought I’d make her an afghan that reminded me of the Grateful Dead. We shall see how it goes. It’s still Lion Brand Amazing Yarn, in the Strawberry Fields, Arcadia, and Wildflowers colorways. I’m hoping this square, which contains a swirl, will have a kind of organic, quasi-tie-dyed feel.

Here’s what a “square” looks like:

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And the they’re supposed to be fit together, four small “squares” into a larger more square “square.”

IMG_1908

I have my doubts, but we shall see. Also, please ignore all the dog hair. It’s been a long, strange weekend. Sometimes the light’s all shining on me. Other times I can barely see, you know, for all the dog hair.

I Have Lost Track of the Days

I’m a sucker for the conceit of the person trapped alone for such a long period of time that they start to go mad. One of the things I love, too, about that conceit is when it’s really only been like four hours. Ha ha, four hours. How bad can it be?

I sent the Butcher up to his girlfriend’s before the storm, figuring he would have more fun being trapped with her and I would use my time to read and write, which are my fun things.

I have done no reading or writing. Today I woke up with no sense of what time it was or what day it might be. I had a dream a bunch of Nazis had taken over a shopping mall/airport I was at (as a part of some larger invasion) and here we were at the end of the siege where they were finally getting around to killing the people who had been compliant the whole time. I was among them. I kept finding open doors and leaving the mall, but for reasons I can’t explain, I kept going back into the mall to see if it really was as bad as I remembered it being. It always was. I couldn’t find any of the people I had come with. I didn’t know if that meant they’d been killed already or if my dalliances at escaping were why I’d lost track of them.

I woke up feeling unsettled, like something true about myself that I don’t want to know had bubbled to the surface.

I’m still snowed in. It’s only been a day.

What Does Success as a Writer Feel Like?

So, as you know, because you read Tiny Cat Pants, obviously, this weekend, I went and found Shackle Island. “Found” in the sense of “I didn’t know where it was and now I do” not in “this treasure had been lost and Betsy recovered it.” I wrote about my investigation for Pith. The editor of the Scene wrote to tell me that it had 75,000 readers from Facebook alone.

I don’t know how many people look at Pith a day without coming through Facebook, but I do know that a bunch of people also shared it on Twitter.

I don’t really know how to feel about this. I mean, I feel good about it, obviously. But the kind of writer I aspire to be is a fiction writer. I want to make up and write awesome stories that people love. That, for me, is what success looks like–people regard me as someone who makes up stories they love.

But I don’t want to be a dumbass who is looking for success in one corner and doesn’t see it sitting in plain sight in the other. After all, nothing fictional I write is going to ever have 75,000 readers, most likely.

So, realistically, I should feel like this week is some great milestone in my writing career, some pinnacle I may never achieve again. But I don’t. I feel like today is Wednesday. I feel a little proud. I wonder if I should write more history stuff for Pith. But I don’t feel like today is unique in some way.

It’s nice, though, don’t get me wrong. And I don’t want to take it for granted.

But I also am going to laugh a little because, Shackle Island, really? That’s what the world was waiting to hear from me about?