Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle is the kind of short story collection that both inspires you to stop reading every fifteen pages to try your own hand at writing and to feel like you might as well never try to write again.

I can see why folks thought I should read it. She covers a lot of the same ground I do in the ghost stories, but, ha, you know, in really literary ways.

I did decide after seeing that she got permission for two lines of lyrics of a song from the 30s to cut the snippet of lyric I had to “Sweet Leilani.” The characters are still singing it. You just don’t get any hint of the words.

Peele’s stories are unrelentingly depressing, but in a way that makes you kind of stand back in awe of how right-on they feel. I mean, lord, this is a collection in which the death of a dog somehow feels beautiful and hopeful.

I read a bunch of reviews this morning and I will say this–this is not the kind of book you can count on reviews about, at all. Even the best of them don’t really get at what’s going on in the book. They make the stories seem too small and too ordinary and too pat.

It’s a quick read. I got the first of two things I wanted to get done on my book done and I still had time to read the whole thing last night. It’s a good one.

I Waste My Time In Ways that Make Me Feel Like I’m Working

I have slowly realized I’m going to need a head-shot for the book. This causes me as much, if not more, anxiety than needing a head-shot for the fucking City Paper. I need like they have in Harry Potter, pictures of me that move. Or, crap, can’t I just use the cool shot of my hands that Megan took? Hell, it’s even got a boob in there. What more do people want?!

On a side note. Do you think of the whole hill as Love Circle or do you call it Love Hill with Love Circle just being at the top?

Anyway, so I keep meaning to work on the supporting materials–press release, author questions, etc.–at least as much as I can get done at this stage.

But instead, I was imagining what songs would need to go on the A City of Ghosts soundtrack, because, of course, it needs a soundtrack.

Here’s some I’m thinking:

(Her voice is even more lovely live than it is on the single. And then she goes into “Season of the Witch!” An awesome version of “Season of the Witch.” I want that on my soundtrack, too.)

Did I tell y’all there’s a Lefty Frizzell ghost story?

This song ends up being central to one of the stories for this year.

Edited to add: Shit, I forgot this song!

Edited again to add: Okay, here’s a lovely version with no tap dancing.

I Have an ISBN!

Yes, I did about type “I have an ISBN number” and then I went to the atm machine.

It’s supposed to be 100 here today. And yet, I cannot sit around the office in my underwear, which seems like a gross injustice. I get jealous of people who have “dry heat.” We have “Similar to hanging out in the crotchal area of a just finished marathoner” heat. You sweat, but there’s no place for it to go. The air is already saturated.

It’s too hot to even think.

Belated True Blood

I watched with the Butcher again. I can’t tell if he likes watching with me or if I annoy him, because I always have to clap and squeal. I’m still thinking it would be cool if Tara ended up being the actual version of that con artist woman from the first season.

And I think Kenya is the center of sanity for the show.

I Kind of Wish I Had a Henge and Other Random Things

–They have found a wood henge at Stonehenge, which, for the record, is the second wood henge at Stonehenge I know about. There could be more! People of Great Britain, I wish you many, many more henges.

These pictures look extraordinary. The language of the surrounding material is a little “Oh my god, how weird,” for my tastes.

The Joiners! Who are having a baby. And moved away. That’s sad. Still, “Glorious, Glorious” is on my my favorite songs, ever, and I will make you all love it, by shear force of will and the power of my henge, my secret henge imbued with magical properties specifically designed to make you like that song. In retrospect, if I was going to time travel and enslave Bronze age northern Europeans and make them build me a henge imbued with magical powers, I should have gone a little grander than “Make everyone like this song” but I was drunk. You know how drunken plans go. And it’s too late now.

Agents publishing on Kindle. You had to wonder how long this was going to take, considering how much work agents do to get a manuscript ready. I don’t want to see publishing fail, but some of these changes are kind of inevitable. I believe we’ll see more of these boutique presses, either centered around agents or centered around small groups of authors. We still need the expertise of publishers, but a lot of publishers made it very difficult, internally, for that expertise to express itself anyway, so it makes sense that people are finding their ways around it.

Exciting, Terrifying Progress on the Book Front!

I met up with the copy editor last night at Allium, which, as a digression, I must tell you has the most thoughtful handicapped stall I’ve ever seen. It was either designed by someone who has a disability or someone who knows someone who has a disability, because it was very, very well done. Instead of being an actual stall, it is its own separate area. There’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair next to the toilet and the toilet is near the side walls so the railings aren’t just decorative. And there’s more than enough room, if you need someone to assist you in the bathroom, for your assistant to help you without you both feeling like you’ve been crammed into a soup can.

The only drawback I saw was that the sinks out in the main area didn’t seem particularly friendly to someone who might be coming at them from a low angle, but it occurs to me that I just looked at the stall from the doorway and there may have been a sink in there behind the door. Still, even if it wasn’t perfect, it was done so much better than what you normally see that it really struck me.

Anyway, it was funny because I had a copy of the manuscript that I had marked up while in Georgia and the copy editor had a copy of the manuscript she had marked up. Now, I’m a bad enough copy editor in general, and even worse on my own stuff, but holy shit, am I glad someone trained and talented was willing to look over it, because she found a bunch of stuff on every page! I mean, minor things like I use commas like some people use salt (and some major things, too) while I had just a very few marks.

And she checked my French and Spanish!

It’s going to make my book so much better.

I have to say, it’s probably good for people who do what I do to be on the other side of the table every once in a while, because there have been so many times in my life when I’ve been all “Why is this author acting in this bizarro way?”

And now I see how awkward it is, especially when you’re the least bit fucked up, to have someone be that focused and helpfully engaged with what you’re doing. I almost needed her to throw in a “but no one will ever love you” every once in a while just to give me something familiar to hang on.

And, really, the people who have been so generous with their time about this. I don’t know. You can’t walk around chasing them through town throwing petals in front of them as they walk so that everyone knows how awesome they are, but believe me, I want to. I want to give them all the money I have and then some. I want to cry and hang on them and make a complete fool of myself.

But I’m trying to accept help gracefully.

It’s a hard lesson for me to learn, but it is insulting to people I care deeply about if I believe they are only helping me because they feel sorry for me  because I suck so much. No, they do this amazing and generous stuff for me because they care about me and are my friends. Just like I will do for them in my turn, because I think they kick butt.

Ha, this has been a digression.

But I felt good about it. We asked the bartender to weigh in on a matter of fact and a matter of opinion.

And it was cool.

The other thing I did was I went to Kinko’s and had them print out the two ghost pictures I love and one of the tarot card pictures my guest took the other night and I framed them. Right now, they’re on the bookshelves, but I’m going to have the Butcher make me some holes so I can hang them on the wall.

I Make a Confession

The beginning of “Iron Man” scares the crap out of me. I can’t listen to it. I can listen once the familiar guitar part starts, but the first thirty seconds?

Gives me the willies every damn time I hear it. It came on the radio just now and I had to about have a car accident trying to change it before the voice came in all “I… am… Iron Man.”

If You Don’t Like It, Leave

This keeps coming up, this idea that if progressives don’t like how things are going in Tennessee, we should just leave and go elsewhere. (See here for an example.)

As a small-town girl myself, I find this interesting because I know that’s how it works. Rather than dealing with folks who crop up who are different than you, you just run them off. Run off your gay kids, run off your smarty-pantses, run off the non-whites, run off the non-Christians. Just run ’em all off. (Step two is to make up religious reasons why they had to go, to try to keep those who are left behind, who miss them, in line.)

Then you can live a little lie about how your town or state is just like you say it is, because there’s no one to challenge it.

But, really, this move only works in a good economy. It only works, when it works, because people can afford to move.

Otherwise, even if folks want to leave, they can’t.

Not that I want to leave. Shoot, I love this place, even with all its silliness. I just bought a house.

But I’m just saying, no one’s fooled. We all see this for the temper-tantrum it is, designed to keep power in the hands of the same old people.

My second favorite thing I’ve noticed is this newfound tendency to insist that Mike McWherter has nuanced positions we just can’t know because we are too stupid to get them. I used to dog on Republicans for insisting that Tennessee Democrats think they’re smarter than everyone. I mean, shoot, of course that feels too close to an indictment of me.

But then, damn, you see this kind of nonsense, where folks are chastised for taking what McWherter says at face value, as if what we really need is just someone who can properly interpret the complexity of what he’s saying.

When I read Cynic’s post over at Ta-Nehisi Coates’s place this morning, it reminded me of that.

In each case, the controversy requires an esoteric reading. The great preponderance of the evidence is dismissed as concealing what the enlightened few are able to recognize as the hidden truth. Small deviations, instead of being ignored as insignificant exceptions, become freighted with greater meaning than the norm. And these arguments are immune from rebuttal. Any action, any words that would seem to contradict the esoteric reading can be dismissed as cover. Anyone unable to see the hidden meanings that are so readily apparent to believers can safely be ignored, because they refuse to see the truth.

I mean, doesn’t that seem like what’s happening? That we’re being told McWherter’s words have some meaning not obvious to us because we’re too stupid? But that we should just trust that everything’s fine, take the word of the people who can correctly interpret him?

That, in the end, ends up being what disturbs me about the “like it or leave” position. So far, it’s advocated by people who mean “it” to mean “the fact that we’re insisting on complete bullshit.” At some level, it’s not a disagreement on policy. We’re having a basic disagreement over whether some Democrats think other Democrats should just shut up and take whatever bullshit is dished out.

That’s not a political disagreement.

That’s a basic disagreement about reality.

Seriously. I’m supposed to leave the state because I refuse to accept people who are doing dumbass shit are secretly smarter than me?

Ha, has their ever been a more patronizing proposition? I must either not worry my pretty little head about things or I must leave?

Yeah, good luck with that.

Oh, I Forgot to Tell You The Funniest Thing!

So, of course, on Sunday, we had to spend all day listening to church crap in the van. Now, I will sing some hymns, don’t get me wrong. Those hymns could be all “We are marching to Betsy’s, horrible, horrible Betsy’s, marching onward to Be-eh-eh-ty’s, a pitchfork wielding mob!” and I would totally sing along even while I was running away in terror. So, I was more than content to listen to a succession of small Alabaman congregations with their own radio shows singing all about Jesus.


But my dad wanted to hear some preaching.

So, we find some preaching on the radio and this preacher is going to preach on… oh, I forget. Some verse all about how you have to turn your back on everyone you love and go and immediately follow Jesus.

And he starts his sermon, after reading the scripture, with a story, as preachers often do.

This was a story about a Latin American dictator who needed a heart transplant. Long story short, his subjects were all “Yes, Fuhrer.” this and “Yes, Fuhrer” that. And it started with just me, giggling every time the minister would talk about this Latin American crowd shouting “Yes, Fuhrer,” and then my mom got to giggling. And once my mom starts giggling, it’s very hard for me to behave. So, I say, “Gosh, Dad, just where is this Latin American country where the people all speak German?”

And my dad is all “Betsy, when will you learn that pastors are notorious for just making shit up in their sermons?”

Then he changed the station back to hymns.

I’m Not Completely Abandoning Hope

But it’s been a week and a half. I don’t think the tiny cat is coming back. If she’s dead, I hope she did not suffer. If she’s not, I hope someone has taken her in.

I had a cat who taught herself to pee in the toilet.

I don’t think I’ll ever see her likes again.

I really hope she comes home.

I keep thinking, well, maybe if we didn’t let them out, but you know, she sprinted out the door last Saturday. Even if we didn’t let her be an outside cat when she wanted to be, she still could have made the same break for it and still been just as gone.

It’s the trade-off. You know the first time you open the door and let them out that they might not come back. But they’re so much happier when they can come and go when they want. And, lately, she rarely wanted to go.

So, I don’t know. Cats slip in and out of your life. It sucks.

But I’m hoping she slips back here one more time.

Call on the Archaeologists!

They’re talking about moving Fort Nashborough. And, in such discussions, they say:

It’s unknown if the current location is historically accurate. The original fort may have been 50 yards closer to where the courthouse is currently located. The historic records are not clear, said Owens.

But it sure seems like archaeologists could help give a good guess. Plus, it would be helpful if we could know any creeks that used to be downtown. We’d need a sense of where they were getting their fresh water from. It makes sense that the fort would have been closer to where the courthouse is, if only because the courthouse is on much higher ground than Fort Nashborough. But it seems like we could unleash a horde of archaeologists to dig along the river and help us better know. Those people had to shit somewhere and that has to leave a trail.

Find the outhouse, find the fort!

Why, yes, I am available to make slogans for archaeology t-shirts, why do you ask?

In This Way, I am Like a Dog

I am excited to get in the shower here in a second and go to work. Not because there’s anything especially exciting about work today, but because I want my routine back.

Ha, speaking of dogs, did I tell you Mrs. Wigglebottom got stuck outside the other day? She came out to help us film the book trailer and we forgot about her. So we all went to dinner and we came back and she came out of the garage with this total “Whew, I’m glad you guys are back!” look on her face. Shoot, I felt bad about that.

And then, she’s been very cuddly since I got back from Georgia.

Until yesterday afternoon, when she decided I was boring and she got up from where I was scratching her butt while contemplating my flowers and went in the garage and barked until the Butcher came and let her in.

My butt scratches are boring!

Well, and when the breeze wasn’t blowing out back, it was a billion degrees out.

Day Successfully Squandered

I didn’t even get to the bank! I did go review a park–Tom Joy Park, which must have been named on Opposite Day. And I took a nap in the hammock. And i waited for my sunflowers to bloom. I am still waiting.

The woman who’s helping me copyedit has come up with some great ideas to smooth things over. And she’s recommending an author’s note, to just kind of make sure that everyone who reads it knows what they’re getting into. I should have worked on that some today, but I was busy mulling it over.

The Butcher got the bookshelves in. They look nice. No books on them yet, so the orange cat is trying out different shelves like a kid at summer camp.

No sign of the tiny cat yet. It’s not the longest she’s been gone, but it’s been a while since she’s been gone this long.

I’m still not sure what to say about my trip to Georgia, if anything.

I guess what I want to say is this. I believe that we all go through periods where we’re lucky or unlucky and there’s not much you can do to avoid those times. Like storms, they just happen. But you can cultivate good luck for yourself and your people, which will hopefully make navigating the unlucky times easier.

But part of being lucky, I think, is learning to act. That’s been the hardest part for me, since that’s not how we do, but it’s how it goes. You learn to be forthright and an active force in your own life in an honorable way or you keep dealing with the consequences of not doing so.

I know this is a religious belief, but it keeps playing out in my own life so profoundly that, to me, it feels like truth.

Which, okay, fine.

But I see my family so unhappy, so profoundly unhappy because of the ways they try so hard to passively accept everything that is happening to them, for fear of bringing on abuse by standing up and it breaks me. I just feel so bad for them.

And there’s nothing I can do. Which, in a way, is a great relief. But I feel like I no longer have a common vocabulary to talk to them about this. For them, it’s all about relying on God to work things out in his own time, in his own way. For me, it’s hard for me to see how they aren’t making a demand of God–that he act so that they don’t have to–that might not be a part of the bargain.

My brother was complaining about how I never visited him and I just said to him that he doesn’t have his own place and I’m too old to crash on the couch of a woman I don’t even know.

Anyway, the Thanksgiving I spent with those folks, a dad chased his son around with a two-by-four. It was the most horrific thing I’d ever seen in person, but they all laughed like it was ordinary.

That dad died today.

My brother cried for him.

R. Neal is Right, I Just Don’t Care

R. Neal says:

Sure, he’s said some things that don’t sit well with progressives. Just like Harold Ford Jr. But our advice to Democrats is to put away the knives and get behind our guy. Unless you want a less qualified, less accomplished Bob Corker clone running the state.

And I want to say, for the sake of honesty, that this is true.

It’s not a big enough threat to change my mind about voting for McWherter. The Democratic strategy this silly season, instead of even tossing an occasional bone to the progressives, has been to make it as clear as possible that the progressives can go fuck ourselves. And not just the progressives. It’s not like immigrant communities or science teachers are well-known progressive constituencies. Our Muslim community is not a bastion of progressive beliefs.

So, it’s not just progressives Democrats have asked to suck it with McWherter.

There are a lot of people in this state who need the Democrats to stand up (and I would hope stand up proudly) for them and the Democrats, McWherter especially, has signaled that our problems are not his problem.


Then his problems aren’t mine.

I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who did consider the alternative and vote for him. Each person has to make the choice he or she thinks is best for him or her.

But everyone has some place beyond which they can’t follow a politician, just because he has a D behind his name.

For me, we are at that place. If McWherter had spent a quarter of the time he’s spent hanging out with folks who are like him hanging out with people who are not like him–listening to gay people or immigrants or Muslims or science teachers or people from Memphis or hell, people who aren’t working–if he showed any interest in the experiences of people who are different than him, instead of constantly signaling that he’s the candidate (along with the other three) of people just like him, I might feel differently.

Pictures from Georgia and Home

Well, I Lived

It was both better than I could have imagined and worse. I don’t honestly know what more to say about it. I will say that one of the grandchildren of the Klan member is fucking a damn good looking Mexican dude.

Oh, and my mom advised me to check my bed for metal spikes. Apparently this is a problem she has? Ha.

Anyway, all the rest of my stories are sad and I don’t care to tell them.

And now we’re home. I don’t see any sign of the tiny cat. It’s been a week.


Really not feeling anything on the internet today. I’m trying to finish up Elizabeth Spelman’s Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, which I would not recommend purchasing, but is worth checking out from your library. I’ve just finished a part on apologies, which I am mulling over, hard, about how there is a way in which apologizing puts the onus back on the wronged person and, often, allows the greater society to feel like things have been righted, and that you are a butt-hole if you don’t accept the apology.

She also has a really interesting moment where she talks about how people who’ve been in prison in our country for, say, two years, are seen by our broader society as being tainted by the experience or made, by that experience, to be, using her theme, beyond repair. But how we love, love, love these triumphant stories in which someone was in a concentration camp for, say, two years and emerges again whole and triumphant (even if it takes some years for this to be so). And how, in fact, the broader culture almost doesn’t trust or sees as tragedy (or comedy, I guess in some cases) when neither circumstances are true.

I’m not really doing her argument justice, but I think one of the things that she’s trying to get at is actually something I deeply agree with–we try very hard to cram lives into tidy narratives. We are, at heart, story-tellers. It’s not an inherently bad impulse. Hell, I love to tell stories myself.

But it always requires you to hold onto the realization that your telling a story, a version of the truth, or else it moves from storytelling into lying.

I don’t know. I’ve just been mulling it over. Considering that I’m in the middle of acting on a compulsion I feel in myself that I don’t wholly understand to trap myself with people who could not make it clearer that they don’t even really like me this weekend, it may resonate more strongly for me than it would for others.

In other words, I suspect it might be a stupid book, but I’m thinking hard about it.

I am Still in Awe

So, my feet don’t want to work any more and I had way too much sun and I still don’t feel comfortable talking about work here, but I still have to say this: I ended up behind the “Employees Only” barrier at Hatch Show Print. And I could have wept for joy. I saw two employees mulling over whether they liked what was happening on their test run of a poster for Paul McCartney.

I saw tall walls full of type and print blocks and way back there were stairs that seemed barely weighty enough to even land on the ground.

Well, fuck it. Between this paragraph and the last, my dad came in and I was telling him about my awesome afternoon and I was trying to tell him how sore I was from standing in crappy dress shoes all afternoon and he said “I am you father. It’s not the shoes.” Really? There’s an out of shape you can be that just affects your feet? And that’s more plausible than you wore the wrong shoes?

And then he went in and proclaimed that there was mold on the toilet. Which I just cleaned last weekend, so that must be some hella mold. Yes, mold the color of dirty cat footprints.

Seriously, I have been awake an hour and I am already, apparently, a dirty, fat, liar.

It just fucking pisses me off.

And he’s trying to get the Butcher a boat. Which I can only assume means the trip to Arizona was worse than I heard. Because I should get a motherfucking pony for this shit this morning. Seriously, it’s like his default is ridiculously mean and undermining.