Quick Doctor Trip

My trip to the doctor was so fast. I got called back before my appointment time and, whoosh, got through everything.

Anyway, except for all the things that are ongoingly wrong with me, I’m in great shape.

So, that’s good. I got my flu shot, too, so hopefully, I will be well all winter.

It’s the New Style

Oh, I meant to tell you guys that I saw the damnedest thing the week before last. Twice, I was sitting at a red light behind someone and they just… went. The light was red. It was still red when I rolled up to the intersection and it didn’t seem like the cross lights had turned yellow or anything.

Just that they got tired of waiting.

I hope that doesn’t become a trend. What a mess.

Argh! I am So Done with You, Cold!

I am at the tail end, where it’s just snot and mild discomfort, but it’s so annoying. I have to go to the doctor today anyway, and they’re all like “You have to fast.” Oh, great. I will be so loopy it won’t even be funny by the time I get over there.

But these are the things required by having a body, so I do them.


Chapter 1 Draft 1 is Done

It clocks in at almost 9,000 words. It centers around a wrestling match and it gets a little strange towards the end. I’m going to have to write some more before I know if it’s an indication that the book is about to go a little strange or what. I’m getting ready to start the second chapter, which is about an old woman who can also turn into a flock of birds.

It’s hard to write a compelling wrestling match, but I think I’ve done okay.

I have to tell you, I really like writing in this long way. It’s hard and I’m not sure if I’m very good at it, but it’s so different from the lengths I’m used to–blog posts, microscopically short stories–that it is kind of fun to try it out, to stretch in that way.

A Brief Bit of Clarification

I’m not taking Woods’s place. I don’t want to take Woods’ place and I can’t take Woods’ place.

My role has always been armchair analyst and that’s not going to change. If it seems like I’ve stepped up over at Pith, that’s only temporary until they figure out what they’re doing, because I’m a sentimental fool who cares about Pith as an institution and wants to see it remain.

But anyway, that was more than I intended to say. I’m flattered anyone would even suggest I was stepping in to take over Woods’s mantle, but let’s be real. I can’t do what he did so well. Sitting at the Statehouse is his job.

Making snarky comments about politicians is my hobby.

There’s a world of difference between the two.

In Which I Save University Press Publishing and Thus the World!

I have a feeling I may have already blogged about my plan for saving the University Press, but I’m in no mood to go look for it. In short, these are the issues facing University Presses–their main customer, libraries, would prefer to not pay for books or, barring that, to pay much less for books than they’re paying now. Universities don’t want to wholly subsidize a department that makes a product people should, ostensibly, want to buy. Terror reigns supreme. Presses come to believe they should all switch to subscription services, which, for some reason, the people who don’t want to pay for their crap now suddenly will want to pay for.  See this month’s Journal of Electronic Publishing.

Meanwhile, in New York City, trade houses are switching to a blockbuster model. Give them big hits and give them to them now! But say you aren’t a writer who writes big hit novels. What becomes of you?

You go work at at M.F.A. program teaching others how to write. This Slate article, while sort of unfair, gets at the boom of M.F.A. programs over the last little bit.

There were 79 degree-granting programs in creative writing in 1975; today, there are 854! This explosion has created a huge source of financial support for working writers, not just in the form of lecture fees, adjunctships, and temporary appointments—though these abound—but honest-to-goodness jobs: decently paid, relatively secure compared to other industries, and often even tenured. It would be fascinating to know the numbers—what percentage of the total income of American fiction writers comes from the university, and what percentage from publishing contracts—but it’s safe to say that the university now rivals, if it hasn’t surpassed, New York as the economic center of the literary fiction world. This situation—of two complementary economic systems of roughly matched strength—is a new one for American fiction. As the mass readership of literary fiction has peaked and subsided, and the march of technology sends the New York publishing world into spasms of perpetual anxiety, if not its much-advertised death throes, the MFA program has picked up the financial slack and then some, offering steady payment to more fiction writers than, perhaps, have ever been paid before. [emphasis mine]

Well, well, well, this is something isn’t it? Who has more experience publishing people who don’t need to live off of royalties than University Presses?

Here’s what I propose. The University Press becomes a part of the M.F.A. program. There are already schools that offer an M.A. in publishing, but I’m talking about the University Press, in addition to publishing the scholarly stuff they’ve always published, taking on a role of teaching. Let the University say to M.F.A. students and faculty, “Hey, we’re not going to stop you from publishing your novel with Random House. Good luck to you, if you can. But, if you can’t, we guarantee our University Press will publish your book.” And then University Presses put their students to work publishing their peers’ books–give graphic designers over in the art school the opportunity to design books and jackets, get some folks working towards their Marketing degrees some hands-on experience marketing books, get some of those nerdy English majors copyediting, with the University Press staff overseeing them.

Make having a University Press not just a matter of prestige for a university but an asset that goes towards the core mission of the university–educating students.

And some of those students are going to have some ideas about the challenges facing all university press books–how to reach the electronic marketplace, how to directly reach consumers, etc.

The benefits would really go both ways.

I Think I Have the Second-Best Mashed Potatoes in Nashville

Sure, I, like the Farmhouse at Fontanel and Star Cafe, cannot compete with Southern Bred, but Southern Bred did not leave a small mashed potato patty in my fridge for me to eat just now.


The secret? A shit-ton of real butter. It’s okay. It’s just once a year (unless I do it again at Christmas and I just might!).

Anyway, we all went over to the Farmhouse for breakfast and the Butcher and I are on the same page about it, I think, which is “Thank god we can do this instead of Waffle House.” We had been looking for a reliable breakfast spot to hit on the day our out-of-town guests leave town and I think we’ve found it.

I know the Governor thinks we could all be better Democrats by going to Waffle House. I say only a person who doesn’t regularly try to cram four or five fat people in a booth at Waffle House thinks going there is good for anything.

I finally finished Taves’ Fits, Trances, & Visions. It was a good way to spend a still-sickly Sunday afternoon. But I’ll admit, once William James got involved, I kind of lost interest. I felt okay about it, though, because I think Taves did, too. Ha. Seriously, though, I am of the opinion everything from James to the end is probably perfectly fine. It’s just that the rest of the book blew my mind, repeatedly, so the more contemporary stuff was a bit of a let-down.

But even still, she talks for a few pages about Frederic Myers’ theory of personality and about how he thought that much of our personality, our sense of self, was based on chains of memories that we consider important and that it’s entirely possible to develop other personalities about other chains of memories. I’m kind of enjoying rolling that around in my mind some.

I’m tired of being sick, but being sick does not care!

Because What Says ‘Christmas’ Better than a Blow-Up Penguin?

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, my Dad decided to decorate my house for Christmas–with lights and a blow-up penguin that rises out of an igloo, which is on some kind of timer so that it inflates and lights up at night, but which is so poorly lit it must appear to my neighbors like a giant white boob on top of which a nipple stands erect every so often. The Butcher thinks I see boobs in everything, but in this case, I think I’m right.

This visit has been weird. I think it’s been harder on the Butcher, since I’ve been sick, but, bless my dad’s heart, he has this way of turning everything into a test you cannot help but fail, which just proves that you don’t love him. Like, for instance, I have been sick, obviously, which meant that I could either cook things very slowly, which I had to do on Thanksgiving day, or I could not cook at all, which means someone else was going to have to step up and do it. Which he did this morning.

Which then meant that he couldn’t even come visit us without there being a long list of things we had failed to do–one of which being that he had to cook, when it was his vacation. And, apparently, I am not as good as my mom, because my mom likes to do things and not just lay around all the time.

Yes, apparently my being sick was not actually about being sick, it was about me refusing to be fun.

People, what can you even say in the face of that?

The older I get, the more I’m glad I don’t have kids of my own. It’s weird, I know that sounds kind of sour-grapish, like of course I am now glad I don’t have kids of my own since no one would ever have kids with a loser like me, blah blah blah. But really, I’m glad to not be teaching this dance to another generation.

When I was a kid, a lifetime ago, I made a couple of half-assed attempts at killing myself. Very half-assed. But in the middle of each one was just this overwhelming desire to not feel anything any more, to be able to endure the nonsense without having to feel it.

It’s weird that him running over my flowers this summer finally broke the thing I needed broken back then. But so it has.

If this shit upsets me, I can’t feel it any more. Which is both nice and probably not good. I’m expecting a rash or a tumor out of this, now.


My uncle has really fucked things up between him and my dead cousin’s kids (my dead cousin is the son of another uncle). The daughter has a kid or two my uncle refers to–in front of his friends, to his friends–by a cutesy racially derogatory term. Unsurprisingly, word of this has gotten back to her and now neither she nor her brother are speaking to my uncle.

This, in my family, is cause for some measure of disbelief, because, apparently, there’s just some level of emotional abuse one must be willing to put up with for the sake of the family. Yes, a person can go too far, of course, but the line which constitutes “too far” is always something pulled by some other family member. Never the one in question.

The one under discussion may be “that way,” but we all have to understand that he’s “that way” and still participate in his life for the sake of the family.

Anyone who would chose not to participate for the sake of the family is considered to be not a very good Phillips.

Which is true.

They are indeed failing at being miserable sons-of-bitches.

And yet, I cannot help but suspect that they are happier for it.

My mom would like to get together with my dead cousin’s brother and his wife the next time they’re in Michigan. “But how do you do that without getting Uncle B. involved?” she asks me.

“Are you kidding?” I say, too sick to not be blunt. “You make arrangements and go see them.”

The thing that scares me, that scares me the worst about my family and has scared me since I was old enough to know to be afraid of it, is that they are constantly cringing. Sometimes really and sometimes just figuratively. But they are constantly cringing.

They make the shape the abuse gives them. They bend, even just in anticipation of a wind that has not yet come.

Or to stick with the dance metaphor, they are already moving backwards in the proper pattern.

How can they not help but find partners that know those dances comfortable? The shape fits.

I am terrified of ending up with someone like my dad.

Or worse, someone like my mom, so that I become the fist, the wind, the monster.

Still Sick

The main drawback to being sick?

Apparently my parents decorated the front of my house complete with some kind of inflatable penguin.

Um… I’m almost glad I can’t get off the couch to verify.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re about an hour and a half away from dinner. Everything is done or just needs to be put in the oven, except the potatoes. My brother and I are sick and the Butcher claims he’s not sick but he’s acting like it.


Because everyone is feeling crappy, which in our family means that we are getting along.

Right now, they are bagging on Bret Favre. Ha.

Mysterious Old Jefferson

The Butcher and I went out to look for Old Jefferson, now that we know where it was, and let me tell you, it’s kind of weird. The whole area is marked like every three feet “No tresspassing,” “Do not enter.” and there’s really nothing to enter. You’d have to do it on foot if you were going to do it, which we were not.

So, that’s that. It’s too bad it’s not a park.

I have a cold, but I’m hoping a good night’s sleep will take care of it.

Mt. Olive, Clarksville

Mrs. Wigglebottom and I went to Mt. Olive Cemetery in Clarksville. Mrs. Wigglebottom had to stay in the car because the neighbors’ Doberman was out and unhappy about our arrival.  It was beautiful and they’re doing great work to preserve it. It’s weird, though–the trees. Right? You know those folks were buried in pine boxes. And the trees grow right out of them. Literally, the people of the cemetery stand in it.

It makes me want to remember to be buried under a tree when I am old enough to go.

Advice, Gardeners of Tennessee?

So, as long-time readers know, I have been kind of mulling over this whole “heirloom apple” thing. I love the idea of giving space to old strains of apples to help preserve them. And we have the space.

The Butcher and I talked about this some at lunch and he’s thinking they’d be an interesting addition to the other side of the creek, since we don’t really do anything with that space and it’s sunny.

So, I think this year, I’m going to buy a couple of trees for Christmas. I’d like them to be ones known to have grown in Tennessee back in the day and that hold up as well for eating as baking. I could order them online, but I’m happy to give my money to someone local if someone local sells heirloom apple seedlings. Does anyone know?

New Book Things

So, I was telling the Butcher about my new book, which is about a minister’s daughter who turns into a flock of birds. And I was explaining to him about how I want to end it–with the flock of birds pooping on a Methodist congregation. Now, I have mentioned that I’m considering ending the book this way to a number of people, some of whom have been offended and some of whom have found it funny.

The Butcher is the first minister’s kid I have mentioned it to and it barely registered for him as a big deal. OF COURSE the minister’s kid would poop all over the congregation if she got the chance. Duh. Where is the drama in that?

What he was more interested in is whether she could transform just a part of herself. Like say she at a baseball game, deep in the stands, when suddenly she had to poop. Could she make her hand turn into a bird, let that fly off and take care of business, and then come back? I had no good answer for him.

He asked how she became able to turn into birds and I said I didn’t know. There’s another woman in the story who can do it, but the story she was told about why it’s a skill she has is a lie. And the Butcher said that it seems to him that it should be that one day, a flock of birds decided to become a woman.

Whew, I like that. I don’t know how I’ll use it, but I’m stealing it.

Grief is a Funny Thing

I was sweeping my bedroom when I found an enormous, I’m talking embarrassingly large, wad of cat hair under the bed. And I was sweeping it into the dust pan, getting ready to dump it into the garbage, when I realized–this is the last of Stella. The last of her I will ever touch.

And it made me so sad. I took it outside and let it blow away.

Bah, life and love and crap, you suck.


Things I Think When Walking Into Jersey Mike’s

So, when I’m walking into Jersey Mike’s in my Tiny Cat Pants t-shirt and my overalls, having not showered since some time yesterday and a man in his business clothes I don’t know says “I like your blog,” my very first thought is “Oh my god, I hope he can’t smell me,” and my second thought is, “I hope I’m not supposed to recognize that person, because I do not.”

Why I’m Not Worried About the Butcher Taking Over the World Any Time Soon

Last night he gave me a list of things that have to be done today:

1. Grocery shopping

2. House cleaning, including massive bathroom scrubbing

3. Garage cleaning

And so I dutifully rolled out of bed and got up and started my day at a normal time. Guess who is still in there snoring away? I guess maybe he isn’t planning on mopping or dusting? Otherwise, it seems like we would be getting started already.

My Dog Turns Back to Smile at Me

This morning, we went to Bells Bend Park and walked down to the river. We walked through a baby forest, trees just pushing above the scrub that has accumulated in the six months since the trees have been planted. The river was moving today and the last of the frogs were croaking in the low spots along the path. A few crickets still hopped off the path in front of us as we walked by.

Mrs. Wigglebottom was not that impressed by the river, since she could not get down and into it. She does not like to just look at things. She likes to smell them, and she probably smelled the river the moment we got out of the car.

On our way back, she turned back and the corners of her mouth were turned up, her tongue hanging out, her ears up, as if to say, this is our life, can you believe it?

Palin and HarperCollins v. Gawker

I don’t like Sarah Palin. I come from small towns and I recognize her as the kind of person whose radar you’d just want to stay off of. That being said, it seems like there’s this effort to… I don’t know… we need a word for this… but cause a kind of wave of sentiment against her that makes whatever happens to her okay. Do you know what I mean?

And I kind of get the impetus behind it, even, like if we make it okay to say and do every terrible thing we can get away with, maybe folks who we know have actual dirt on the Palins will come forward and spill it!

But I don’t like it.

Anyway, so Gawker posted pages from Palin’s book and Palin tweeted something like “Isn’t that illegal?” and everyone laughed. I even saw one tweet that was retweeted that said this was why she should never be allowed to be president, as if she’s just so stupid that she doesn’t realize posting pages of one’s book without permission on a website is okay.

But it is illegal.

She’s not wrong.

See, this is the thing I think people don’t get about Palin–yes, she’s pseudo-folksy in an annoying way that is obviously an affectation, yes, she is completely uninterested in the world in ways I find appalling, and yes, the idea of her being president scares the shit out of me.

But she is NOT stupid. And there are a lot of people who have mistaken her incuriousity for stupidity.

And there are a lot of people who think that, because we don’t like her, whatever we try to do to her is okay.

But just taking pages out of her book and posting them on your website, as Gawker has done? I have no idea how they thought this was going to pass some fair-use smell test. They were using the passages for commercial purposes–to draw eyes to their site and thus their ads. They had plucked out what they thought would be juicy parts of interest to people who now won’t bother to buy the book–thus hurting the potential market. They didn’t provide any real comment on the page after page they posted, so it doesn’t constitute “illustration or clarification of the author’s observations” and they didn’t summarize “an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report.”

I’m not a copyright attorney, but I play “How can we do what we need to do without infringing on others’ copyrights?” at work all the time and I swim in the “non-commercial” end of the pool, where we take a little firmer stand on fair use than other parts of the publishing world and this seems ludicrous to me.

I can’t imagine how it seemed even remotely plausible to someone in a commercial venture.

And even if they thought they could pull a fast one on poor old “stupid” Sarah Palin, I have no idea how they thought they were going not have to face HarperCollins in the court room.

But What If I Were a Know-It-All Witch? Hmm.

Mary came over to my house a while ago for what I thought was the second time, but turns out it was the first. That’s one thing I like about this house–it always feels to me like people have already been here.

Anyway, I was showing her around and she asked, “Are you a witch?”

And I didn’t answer her because… I don’t know… what do you say to that?

But today, man, today I had a moment or two I felt like I had totally slipped off the path and into the wild, the kind of moment where a woman doesn’t answer the question of whether she’s a witch not because she doesn’t know how to answer it, but because it’s not a question you do answer.

I am really, really enjoying the Taves book. I promise, I’m over half-way done, so you’re about done with hearing about it. But I just feel like someone has plopped down in front of me and explained how all the things I enjoy fit together.

And man, do I feel like the Bell Witch story now, more than ever, is not an anomaly, but fits in quite well with all the rest of these types of phenomenon, once you’re aware that these phenomenon are there. Same with the Watseka Wonder. And reading this book, it makes sense that the Bell Witch would be a kind of exterior phenomenon (with Betsy Bell acting as the medium in the 1850s meaning of the word) with the Watseka Wonder being a more interior phenomenon and with Lurancy Vennum acting as a medium in the 1870s sense of the word.

Which is actually interesting–medium means the actual medium through which the spirits can manifest. It makes sense, but I didn’t know that. And it used to be that a medium didn’t need to have any more psychic powers than the power to attract spirits. She could then travel with a clairvoyant whose job it was to interpret the noises of the spirits. But then, by the latter half of the 1800s, those two roles had been combined into one.

It’s funny, when I was in grad school, I went to church once with one of my roommates and they spoke in tongues, which I had never seen before, and then someone else would interpret. And I thought that was the weirdest thing ever. But my roommate had a Biblical explanation for it (which, of course, I did not buy, but listened to respectfully), but now! Now I see too, how that set-up has one parent in the… what we might call “Trance History of America.”

That’s what delights me. Things like that.

Live-blogging a Mystery

So, here’s the deal. It’s not a very exciting deal, but it is amusing to me. Last night the Butcher comes in and says “Oh, the light is off.” Now, I didn’t think anything of it. Who even knows what fucking light is off, right? He’s in the kitchen. I’m half asleep in the living room. And I do my best to shirk my duties as the responsible problem-solver of our duo.

But this morning, I go to have breakfast and I see he means the motherfucking light in the fridge.

Because, apparently, he is missing the part of his common sense that says “Oh, if there’s no light in the fridge, there might not be any electricity in our motherfucking fridge” and so… yes… the fridge is not on.

It’s a new fridge.

Well, as new as we’ve owned the house.

So, my guess is that the whole fuse is out. That seems to me more likely than “fridge mysteriously dies.” Especially since the Butcher was out in the back yard last night, which necessitates flipping the fuse to the shed.

I’m just saying, someone was in the fuse box. And that same someone noticed there’s no light in the fridge.

So, the live-blogging part is that I’m about to go check the fuse box and I will tell you what I find.

Eh, what can I say? It’s my first day of vacation. The thrills are small around here.

Update!!! Yeah, of course, it was the fuse. I flipped it. The fridge is working again. I also went in and sang this dramatic song to the Butcher vaguely along the tune of “Bridge over Troubled Waters.”

When your fridge light doesn’t come on

And there is water all around

It’s not the lightbulb that’s burned out

It is the fu-uu-use and you need to go flip it.

He tried to pawn it off on me like it was my responsibility because he told me the light was out, but I was all “You had like 18 beautiful women over here last night! If you marry one of them and move to her house, you’re going to have to know basic things like “When your fridge light is out, first check to make sure the whole fridge is still working.”

My Lump is Just a Lump!

I just got back from the endocrinologist. I made him feel my lump and he said it felt like just a lump to him, a… something. Nothing to worry about.

So, whew.

My rash has, of course, become less itchy on the ride home.