I did something yesterday I have been trying to do for over a decade. I made a plan for how to do it, how to really do it, about four or five years ago, I think. And I stuck to it and I didn’t take vacations and I didn’t visit people and I didn’t go out as much as I wanted. And now it’s done. Fuck you, Citibank. I hope the hackers take you out first.
I don’t feel relieved though. Which I thought I would. Mostly, I feel kind of numb and sad. I did not grow up that poor. But I made more money at 28 than my dad did when I was 18. I’m making more money now than I think my parents ever did combined. I made a lot of financial decisions that, I’m sure, from the outside, looked dumb as rocks. I had no ability, no knowledge, no wisdom from mentors to make better decisions. They were literally the best decisions I could make with the knowledge I had. I don’t beat myself up over it.
This, though, makes me cry. I feel like it’s the second cry you have over a bad car accident. The first cry is all fear and gratitude. And the second cry is when you realize how precarious things were, when you see that it was just as likely that you didn’t make it.
Here we are at 66,000 words. I have come from one weird, ridiculous things and something happens that leads into a tragic, ridiculous thing. I have been struggling with the “something happens” part.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a pain in my toe. See, some idiot dog stepped on my toe and now my toenail is slowly breaking off. Like, way down to the quick. And I guess, as it’s separating, one part of it is poking into the side of my toe in an unpleasant manner. So, I wake up to this new, annoying pain. And I’m walking myself through the logic of how I came to wake up in the middle of the night.
And, like a lightbulb coming on, I am illuminated. The “something happens” has to not just be a brief stop on the train to someplace else. It needs to escalate the tension and the action and show us something about the characters. Which, duh, I know is obvious.
But there is something really helpful about stepping back, when you can’t figure out how to make something work, and just asking yourself, “What would make this worse?”
I watched this video last night and I felt, suddenly, that I knew why George Jones drank. Not all the reasons why. Obviously, a lot of that stuff is genetic and a lot of it is private. But, if you don’t care for country music, just mute it and watch him. I feel like I’m watching a man surfing a wave too large for him or a man on a tightrope over the Grand Canyon. You can learn something about want, about bone-deep want, that men will never tell you about by watching his face–how he wants her, how he’s got such a charge out of wanting her, how it threatens to overwhelm him. This woman makes him feel… what… something, something so private and powerful that it feels like we’re witnessing something we shouldn’t be privy to just by watching them sing.
It can’t be easy to be that open to those kinds of deep emotions. It must feel like a kind of madness. A wonderful kind of madness when you have someone like Tammy, like they were at their best, to be in it with. But when you don’t? When it’s just you and that conduit inside you and the big empty sky?
I haven’t said much about the afghan, but it’s coming along. I’m doing it seven squares across, nine squares down. I have four sets of seven done. This weekend, when I finished up my third set, I said to myself, wow, the afghan is 1/3 done. And last night, when I finished up the fourth set, I thought, in three-and-a-half squares, I’ll be halfway done. So, it feels like it’s going quickly. Kind of, anyway.
You’ll be proud to know that I’m tucking my ends as I go, so there won’t be the usual moaning about all the ends I have to tuck at the end of all these squares. I can’t wait to see how it comes together. But the corners are so weird that I’m kind of wondering if I should block the squares before putting them together. And that makes me kind of want to gouge out my eyes. But it is a wool blend. It would take to blocking very well. Still, man, you know I’d rather wait until the end, when I have the seams to help pull everything into the right shape and size.
It was surprisingly good. You can’t think about it too much or the thought of turning everyone into “gentlemen” when the gentlemen are behaving so atrociously is disturbing and a group of white guys (and girls) taking down the black dude and the woman with prosthetic legs is a troubling dynamic.
But I had to laugh, because, within my lifetime, butt sex has gone from something you did not talk about and, if that’s the kind of porn you watched, you were considered some kind of hardcore pervert, to something that’s cheeky fun for spies.
The other day, M. was talking about how many of my stories have difficult families at their core. This is true. And maybe more autobiographical than I care to be.
But working on Ashland has me thinking of just how often I send my characters off to have sex with terrible people. The sex is fine. The people are wicked and immoral and, you know, often The Devil. I feel like my real life sex life is the regular mashings of two (or more) awkward but nice people’s bodies together in ways that make gross noises you don’t really notice at the time. I did once or twice fail to seduce a hot libertarian, which is almost like bedding a wicked person (KIDDING, COBLE, KIDDING!), and I don’t normally have fantasies of, like, reanimating Stalin or anything.
But I guess that I think very evil people make room for the people in their sphere of influence to be just a little more evil than they normally would be and sex creates opportunities for people to let their guards down and for them to let want overwhelm good sense. It provides opportunity for otherwise good characters to do terrible shit and make really gross mistakes.
My nephews were here this weekend and my youngest nephew must be a good foot taller than than he was the last time I saw him. It was so nice. They are funny and fun to hang out with and my god, my oldest nephew has become a beautiful guitarist.
But it made me laugh that the one song my dad, my brother, and my nephew can all play is “Light My Fire,” which they play as some kind of cross between the original and Jose Feliciano’s version. And my nephew knows a ton of old Metallica, which also pleased me.
And the Butcher was pleased because my nephew knew a guitar tuning app which meant that the guitar that his girlfriend’s boy had set the pegs all flat on got put right. And my dad was pleased because he tuned it by ear while my nephew was futzing with the phone and my dad was only slightly off on one string. “My A is always true,” he explained.
Today is the day when I write something that I think “Yep, no. This is too much.” But I’m trying to be brave and leave it in, at least during this draft.
On this manuscript, I’ve been writing about 1,500 words at a sitting, which I was having about three days a week. Yesterday, I got 4,000 words down and today I got another 2,000.
Are they any good? Who knows?
Did anyone fuck a ghost? No.
Do I have mixed feelings about that? Yes.
It’s harder, though not at all impossible, to find houses the same age as Ashland would be, if Ashland were a real place, but the new Brentwood park has one. The house isn’t open to the public, but I creeped around outside.
I’ve really been struggling this July to not be in a funk. But yesterday, I had lunch with nm, talked to the Professor for three hours! and then I’m taking today and tomorrow off to read and write and crochet and listen to podcasts. And early vote. And maybe tour a house or something.
I need to clear my head and just get out of my feelings for a bit.
I can return to the tripping jaguar afghan. I really love it. It might be a little muted for the room it’s going in, but it’s wool, so it’s a winter afghan. I think people are allowed to curl up under something warm and dark during the winter.
I finished a very rough outline of the end of Ashland, which was helpful in that I realized I had in my head the wrong person doing the incredibly stupid thing. I also realized I kind of have a vestigial husband and I either need to bring him into the action or cut him loose. Also, I definitely have a kid who needs to go. Not be murdered or anything. Just, his parents need to be childless. And I have a couple of other kids who probably need to be a little younger. Plus, probably some neighbors need to be nosier.
But all that can be fixed.
The dog and I had a really nice walk this morning. The orange cat joined us coming and going, though he was smart enough to stay out of the road. Every time the cat walks with us, I think, isn’t it weird that cats, so vicious, so ruthless, were never used as animals of war? And then the cat, for no reason, decides to walk between my legs and almost trips me and I see why they were excluded from the armed forces.
The thing about writing a first draft is that, even if you think you know what you’re writing and where it’s going, you can still be startled by how the story surprises you. And you can know those surprises may mean reworking things earlier.
I have an ending envisioned for Ashland. It is deliciously terrible. But I need my narrator to do something so vile and stupid that I about can’t believe that anyone would do it.
So, I’m curious if I can narratively make the argument that of course she would. You just have to try, you know? If it doesn’t work, I’ll work something else out. That’s what first drafts are for.
My mom has told me, at great length, the exact same story about her mom’s getting lost at the grocery store–the grocery store she drives herself to for her preferred chocolate–and my aunt’s wanting to either get her a live-in nurse or put her in a home and my other aunt’s belief that my grandmother can decide for herself.
There’s a certain amount of humor, dark humor, in listening to someone terrified her mother has lost her mind telling you that in almost the exact same words twice not four days apart. But I listened and nodded and supported my mom in the same way twice, because I don’t think my mom is losing her mind. I think she’s having to realize something very terrible–that, here, at the end of her mom’s long life, she and her sisters are going to have to do something to/with her that she’s going to hate so much there might not be any coming back from it. She does not want to go into a home. She does not want a nurse. Her house flooded earlier this summer and it’s been a nightmare of that and, for some reason, moths, and my mom and one aunt had to fight her to get the basement cleaned up and she won’t do the things she needs to do to stop the moth infestation even though the bug guy told her that there’s only so much he can do if she won’t make some fundamental changes. She won’t do the physical therapy she’s supposed to be doing. She’s got a urinary tract infection. She won’t treat it.
I also think she’s depressed. No, the big D. I think she has Depression. Which, who the fuck wouldn’t, if you’re in your mid-90s and you know you’re losing your mind? But she denies that to her doctor as well.
If you’ve read along here for any length of time, you know that my family is not good at… I don’t know quite how to get at it… If something bad is happening to you, I think we have a tendency to blame you for it and to assume that the way to help you is to let you help yourself or ask for help. You tell us what to do and we’ll maybe do it, but, if you can’t ask or you don’t know, tough shit, we’re mad at you for making us uncomfortable.
That’s not entirely fair. We have a lot of good qualities on top of that. But I’m just trying to make clear that my grandma needs my family to do something they are really not in practice of doing. She needs them to see that she can’t make decisions for herself anymore and she needs them to act.
I have not, since I was a small child, experienced them as people who can act in someone’s best interest without being asked for help. And yet, I think my mom is trying to come to grips with the fact that she can’t ask, that she won’t ask.
My mom and dad are being called upon to finally do what they have never done, what they have always failed to do. I’m frightened for them. I hope they don’t fail her.
And my poor grandma.
My time writing at Pith has led me basically to one conclusion–white people view ourselves as the rightful ruling class of America and we lie a great deal to each other in order to instill and reinforce that belief and those lies are incredibly damaging to white people. We laugh and point at people who elongate their necks with rings in such a way that their shoulders are permanently deformed; we’re fascinated by people who bind their feet in ways that permanently break and deform them; but we do not much look at how the ways our parents and grandparents raised us binds and deforms our souls.
Any attempts to point out how we’ve been misshapen by those lies is met by a lot of anger. Our parents love us! As if the parents who subject kids in other cultures to odd and permanent manipulations of their bodies don’t love their children and have good reasons to do what they do.
And now, it seems to me, we’re in this weird position where, in order to prove fidelity and love to our ancestors, a lot of us seem to think that we must insist on everyone accepting a demonstrably false version of history. In other words, in order for me to properly love my ancestor, I need you to accept that he was a good slave owner and the Confederate flag was a symbol of rebellion and somehow also great patriotism. If you do not accept that, I mourn as if my love for my family is being irreparably broken.
It’s weird and it’s no good for us. The work was hard and it sucked and nobody wanted to do it. Our ancestors lived during a time when you could boss around anyone you could dominate–your wife, your kids, your slaves, sometimes your neighbors, etc. We’re still trying to clean up the societal mess that way of living leaves in its wake. But the fact is that, if there was hard work that you couldn’t do alone, it makes sense in their context to buy someone and dominate the hell of of them so they do it instead.
It’s not good.
But it’s also funny to me that we live in such a Christian country that views humanity as fallen and this world as wicked and yet, even with that belief supposedly underpinning the philosophical base of this country, we won’t accept it about our own ancestors.
You guys, I slept so well, so deeply, so late that I felt like a teenager. The cats strutted around the house meowing loudly, as if they’ve missed having a reason to sing out.
It is glorious!
But I kind of miss that timid, skittish dude.
Also, here’s something weird I just realized. After all the drama of last weekend, our crazy neighbor never did bring over the cucumbers. Was it all a ploy to have a plausible reason to look in my garage? And for what?
Unless he was looking for his pet possum?
–C & M have their afghan.
–T and her family stopped by, so they have their afghan and their copy of The Wolf’s Bane.
–I’m out of yarn on the Tripping Jaguar afghan, so that’s at a stand-still until my order comes in. I’m tucking ends. Woo. Luckily, since it’s self-striping yarn, each square only has two ends to tuck.
–I found a possum in the black dog’s dog food yesterday. That was startling. And today the black dog has gone home. The cats have not yet returned to the house, but I imagine that will happen soon. That was a long time. Not that I didn’t enjoy having him, but, whew, dude is high-strung. And likes to pace through the house at 4:30 in the morning.
–According to this here blog, on July 4th, I had 30,000 words of Ashland. Today I have just 200 shy of 48,000. So, I guess that’s going well. Ha ha ha. I’m leaning toward the Legend of Nathan Bedford Forrest story arc–here is a monster; here are some other bad guys; let’s unleash our monster upon them; oops, um, did we really unleash a monster? No, no, he’s not a monster. He’s a hero. Though I’m leaning toward the “Oops, did we really unleash a monster? Doot do doo. No, no, of course we’re not monsters as well.” We’ll see.
–Yesterday morning, that Dawes song came on the radio and I just sobbed the whole time it played.
–I saw a screenshot of the New York Times this morning that has the verdict in the Colorado theater mass shooting, a story about the ongoing investigation of the Charleston shooting, and then, of course, breaking news about the Chattanooga shooting. And somewhere, I guess, a guy sits in his room planning the next shooting. Round we go.
–We have these shootings so often that I feel kind of emotionally fried. But it broke my heart in a new way to watch on Twitter the people who knew these guys–the victims and the shooter–struggling with trying to understand how yesterday morning, these were just some guys they knew and liked and today they are gone and transmuted into symbols that prove something to someone somewhere who never knew them in the first place.
–I’m still having an ongoing, difficult conversation with my cousin and still feeling like I am utterly failing at it. I guess I get that we were told we had one kind of family and we, in fact, have another kind. But, I also guess that I feel like we aren’t going to ever actually be the kind of family we were told we had, so it makes me sad, to some extent, that we can’t be the kind of family we wanted so desperately to pretend like we were. But I’m also kind of relieved that most of us aren’t pretending anymore. And I don’t know if we can build a new kind of family or if people even want to.
It took me a long time to be okay with that, to decide that what would be the best way to love this mess of a family, is to have no expectations and to just take whatever good thing whoever can manage to do when they can.
I mean, maybe I’m not completely okay with that. But it’s what brings me peace and lets me stop being constantly hurt and confused.
But, what works for one doesn’t, I suppose, work for another.
I’m going to regret not going for a walk this morning, but I was trying to sleep in a little. It didn’t really work. I’m at the point in my draft when I think it sucks and isn’t working, which is a normal point in a first draft, but I was up late trying to write to a place where I felt like I had firm ground again.
I’ve been kind of bummed lately. It’s hot. Things are stressful at work. I just can’t find my groove. And it was really nice this morning, which makes it even stupider not to have walked. Mostly, it’s just an existential kind of bummed. I’ve been fixating on how many novels writer say they have that weren’t good enough to get published. Five, seven, ten, just sitting on computers, not good enough.
I don’t know if I have it in me to write five or ten shit novels.
That’s the toughest thing about it. There’s no one path. Everyone flounders. Could I flounder that long? I don’t know.
I think Alyssa Rosenberg makes a good case that Go Set a Watchman could have been a good book, if it had been developmentally edited, and that, even as it is now, it does some important things.
But I’m unsurprised to see that the reviews coming out now are all about how not good the book is. Which, duh, how could it not be not good? It’s a draft.
And I find it shady as hell that Harper Lee is too deaf to ask about shit, but not too deaf that we shouldn’t take the word of the people who talked to her that she’s cool with everything.
I’m not reading it. I have a pile of good books I haven’t gotten to yet, many written by people who handed them to me so I feel confident that they’re cool with the books’ publication. So, that’s where I’m putting my eyes, assuming I get some spare moments to read.
It’s hot out, even in the mornings when I walk. AT&T is letting the back meadow grow tall and I have to make my way through a border of Queen Anne’s Lace to get to short grass. There’s a warm wind, which I find oppressive and depressing. But, once in a while, coming out of the woods is a cool breeze that hints at the coming fall. Even now, on the hottest day of the year, there’s that hint.
I’m having unsettling neighbor drama. He came over on Thursday to see if I wanted cucumbers and I said, “Yeah, I guess” and then he was all “No, you can’t have these. They’re crap.” Um, okay. You came to my house and offered me cucumbers. And then he said he’d bring some by later and I was thinking that this exchange was already so weird that I didn’t want to have to interact with him again anytime soon, so I told him that we were going to be in and out all weekend, but someone (read: the Butcher) would be home on Sunday.
Cut to Saturday morning when I was having a laugh because the black dog heard the orange cat meowing in the garage, but could not locate him, because the cat was up on the shelf. But all was cool. The cat was way out of harm’s reach of the dog. The dog was supervised by me. The garage door was shut.
Then, from in the house, I hear my phone buzz. I have a text. I go in the house, I see it’s the Butcher, I text him back. Importantly: I have left the door between the garage and the house open so that I can keep an ear on the dog. And then I realize I hear the black dog barking like mad–outside. I rush into the back yard and there’s the neighbor, swinging his cane at the dog who is barking like a madman at him, standing firm, hackles up. I start screaming, “Put your cane down, he won’t bite. He won’t bite.”
Dude’s all “I thought you guys weren’t going to be home and I heard a dog in your garage and I was just checking to see if a stray had gotten in there. I didn’t recognize this dog.”
All of this is bullshit. I said we’d be in and out. He did not hear the dog in the garage, because part of what was so funny about the dog and the cat was that the dog was making these really quiet “yip” noises to seemingly try to encourage the cat to make a noise in response. When your house is on the opposite side of my house from the garage, it’s utter bullshit that you heard a dog in my garage, even a barking dog, but especially not one making hysterical yip noises.
He let that dog out of my garage and then, if I had not come out back, he would have beat it with his cane.
There are a million reasons why a dog might be in my garage–maybe I’ve found a stray and I put it in the garage for animal control to pick up. Maybe a dog is sick and I need to run out and I’d rather have it barfing and shitting on hoseable concrete than my hardwoods.
It doesn’t matter. I don’t know why I’m justifying why a dog I have temporary custody of is in my closed garage. I didn’t do anything wrong. That creepy jackass was coming in my garage and he got busted by the black dog.
Why the fuck was he trying to creep around my garage?
And then he kept going on about how he didn’t know we were dog sitting.
What the fuck?
He’s not our landlord. This is literally the third and fourth time I’ve ever talked to him, because I found the first two times so fucking weird.
The black dog seemed untraumatized, but I’m still upset about it.
I’ve been just social butterflying around this weekend, having great conversations, getting my oil changed, discussing with children whether God is afraid of us. Child’s answer was along the lines of talking about the Flood and saying “Yes.” Which I found kind of profound and disturbing.
I wrote a hard part of Ashland this weekend and I’m feeling both proud and a little frightened. Which I guess is a good thing for a horror novel?
I think I have distilled my Harper Lee opinions down to the following: as readers, all we can do that is respectful of Lee’s agency, is believe that she does, indeed, want the book published and we can thus decide to read it or not based on whether it sounds like a good book (though I’ll note that none of the reviews I’ve read so far have actually said if the book is any good, which I find strange).
But my gut, as someone in the publishing industry, is that there’s a reason that Harper Collins is publishing a rough draft with a light copyedit–Lee isn’t up to the tasks an author has to perform during the publication process. My suspicion is that, if Lee were to try to perform those duties, it would be obvious to too wide a circle at Harper Collins that she wasn’t up for it and suspicions that she’s being exploited would move in people’s minds more firmly into fact.
I wish that Harper Collins had either issued WATCHMAN in some kind of critical edition–where the text was left as-is, but an expert of some sort provided contextualization and footnoting and other things–in other words, treated the manuscript like a kind of historical artifact OR that they’d put the book through the publishing process–genuinely editing it and providing the author the opportunity to shape it into a draft she felt proud of that suited the marketplace now.
I find the middle path they’ve chosen to be, at the least, disrespectful of WATCHMAN and Lee as an author and I will not be surprised if/when it comes out that Lee was not fully able to consent to the publication.
But, like I said, we can only go by what we’ve been told is Lee’s position. If it turns out we were lied to, we’ve not somehow betrayed Lee by reading the book.
I feel like this is the kind of afghan you would find while exploring in a remote jungle and stumbling across an ancient terraced pyramid. You drink something bitter. You throw up. You start to trip.. You wrap yourself in this afghan, but it’s not clear to you if the afghan is part of the vision or if it is the only real thing left in the Universe. A jaguar is also tripping. His vision is of a never-ending Grateful Dead concert where you meet William Shakespeare and he offers to tell you the secrets of life. You agree and he leans in and whispers something that, when you wake, has slipped out of your head. You still have the afghan.