Watseka Weighs on Me, Pt. 2

They’ve changed their layouts over at Ancestry.com and so, even though I’ve looked at the information on the Roff and Vennum families a million times, this is the very first time I noticed that Mary (the spirit who possessed) Roff’s brothers Frank (b. 1859) and Charles (b. 1861)* were the same ages as Mary Lurancy (the girl who was possessed) Vennum’s brothers Henry (b. 1859) and Elmber (b. 1861). I knew one boy from each family was the same age, but I hadn’t realized there were two.

This pretty much exponentially ups the chances that the families knew each other (even if the parents were not lying when they said they didn’t know each other). I’m also trying to quickly pin down a hunch and so I’ve written the church secretary at the Watseka United Methodist Church and asked her to check the roles to see if the Roffs and Vennums attended and I’ve threatened to stop in on Thursday to help look, if need be.

In my book, the Watseka Wonder is an elaborate hoax, something the children did to try to bring Mrs. Roff some piece of mind after the loss of her young daughter. It happened in 1878, which is just as the Spiritualist movement is starting to lose steam and peter out into elaborate cons. Eh, not that it’s unfair to interpret the early women sleep-preachers of the Spiritualist movement as con artists as well, if you so choose, but I think you have to acknowledge, in those cases, that they were also conning themselves. They believed as deeply or more in what was happening to them than their audiences.

The women whose male partners nailed them into sacks on stage? More obviously a side-show con.

And I know I’ve said it before, but I’m still struck by what those scholars pointed out–that at the start of the Spiritualist movement in the early 1800s, you had lone women traveling to speaking in public with authority, a sight so strange people would come from all over to see it with their own eyes, and by the end, in the late 1800s, you had men nailing women into sacks on a stage.

But I guess the thing that strikes me is how long it took this stuff to permeate. Both the Watseka Wonder (1878) and the Bell Witch (supposedly 1817, but not written about until 1887) are talked about like they’re these early verifiable possessions, unique in their own ways. But really, they work as stories–and I’d argue worked as stories at the time–because of how thoroughly Spiritualism and Spiritualist ideas had permeated. These stories are actually a part of a supernatural tradition in our country, not early signs of new-age nonsense to come.

 

 

*It’s a little known but easily verifiable fact that every Midwestern family in the 1800s was required by intense social pressure to have sons named either Frank or Charles or both. No, not really, but damn it seems like it.

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Watseka Weighs on Me

I’m actually getting very excited to go to Watseka. I hope to go by the Roff house–though I couldn’t work out a tour, I think it’s okay since my characters never actually go in, the Vennum house, the town museum, and the cemetery. I don’t have goals for the trip. I kind of just want to see what comes up as I’m there, but I am hoping to get a better sense of how big Watseka was at the time (obviously small) and how many schools were in the county. My theory of the Wonder depends on the youngest Roff boy going to school with the oldest Vennum boy, but even though they’re the same age in a small town in a sparsely populated county, that’s no guarantee.

Not that it matters at the end of the day. Fictional Watseka doesn’t have to be plausibly real Watseka. But I like to have my fiction tied tight to reality in spots, so that when I ask my readers to leap with me into a world where people turn into birds or struggle not to turn into dogs, they get the thrill of imagining that it’s not impossible that it’s this world I mean.

I have been having major, major book anxiety. Dreams where the contents of the novel cause me to have to go into hiding and I have to stay with bloggers I’ve never met in real life. Or that the book sucks so terribly people snicker about it and teach it in MFA programs as an example of all the things not to do.

I’m just going to admit that this is the thing that is hardest for me about making the switch from how I was raised to being an adult. If you tell me what you want from me, what you want me to do, if it’s within my skill set, I can do it and, after a short time, do it very well. And, after a slightly longer time, I will have ideas about how to innovate and expand what we’re doing. But I really thrive in situations where there are, at least at first, clear expectations of me and a lot of structure.

I write well. I might not be the best writer on the planet, but I write well. I write engaging things people enjoy reading. So, writing a book is completely within my skill set. It’s something I can do and I have no doubt that, even if this novel is not the greatest thing ever, as I get used to the form, I can write some really interesting, entertaining things.

What is difficult for me, so difficult that I’m having nightmares about it, is that I have this overwhelming need to know if I’m doing it “right” and to want to make adjustments now, before it matters, if I’m not. That there’s no objective standard that says “A book MUST start this way and go through these ten steps and then end with one of these three endings” is very, very difficult for me. A City of Ghosts was weird to a lot of people in its structure, I know. But I knew that it is like Invisible Cities, a book I adore. So, if I worried about how short the stories were or whether they made a whole piece, I knew I was ripping off… er… paying homage to Calvino. Even if no one else got it, I knew it.

But this novel is much different. There’s not exactly some existing structure I’m borrowing. I’m just trying to tell this entertaining tale as best I can. And the question that keeps me up at night–“Is this right? Am I doing it right?”–isn’t even a question that matters. I should be worried about whether I’ve tried my hardest to tell the story I want to tell as best I can. But I know I’ve done that.

It’s the “I want to do exactly what you want me to do exactly how or better than you want me to do it” impulse I just can’t shake. And it’s eating at me.

Boyd Taylor Park is Scary

The dog is convinced the storms are going to be bad. The cats aren’t that worried. NM’s plants are slowly coming along. Everyone but one bunch is above ground. I reviewed Boyd Taylor Park today and the creek that runs through the park comes out of culverts that are clogged with garbage. The park is nice, but, after seeing that, I was unsurprised to see no one in it. Plus, I think you have to trespass to get into the park.

One Wonders Who Thaddeus Russell’s Editor Is

Sarcastro sent me this link to a Reason interview with Thaddeus Russell and I will say up front that I found it incredibly thought-provoking, but, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time with historians and some historians hang out here and the more I think about this interview, the more I’m curious about his bibliography. I know a lot of scholars who work on women’s history and histories of marginalized people–the subjects of Russell’s A Renegade History of the United States–and the biggest obstacle they have is that there’s just not a whole lot of primary sources and what there is is no usually first-person accounts from the people you want to know about.

For instance, say you wanted to write a book about 18th century prostitutes who worked the taverns in Philadelphia. Probably most of these women were illiterate, so there’s little chance of diaries or letters surviving. You might, maybe, find an occasional newspaper article about them in which one of them is quoted. But your best chance for hearing directly from an 18th century tavern prostitute would be court records, if she made her way into the legal system at some point.

Otherwise, your sources are going to be ministers talking about their sinful nature, politicians talking about them as examples of why we have to clean up the streets, etc. And sure, you can make educated guesses, but in order to make educated guesses, you have to look at a lot of these sources and calibrate for their biases.

I’m unclear from the interview whether Russell gets this. I mean, how, for instance, does one argue that there were ways in which slaves had it better than slave owners without adjusting for the fact that, of course, slave-owners are going to think that and yet slave-owners were not chucking the big house and the politically-motivated marriage and the money to go work in the fields and have that “better” life? If there were things about being a slave that were truly enviable, those things would have been (and were) co-opted–see barbecue and good music.

But here’s the part that made me long to be sitting in a room of professional historians while Russell said this to them:

reason: At one point you argue that it was fairly rare for slaveholders to sexually assault the women they owned or oversaw. The main part of that argument was all these texts in which they were admonished not to do so. But when I see so many admonitions not to do something, I start to suspect it’s something that did happen a lot—that that’s why people felt the need to keep proscribing it.

Russell: There’s absolutely no denying that it happened. And likewise there’s no denying at all that slaves were whipped. I put the evidence in for exactly how often they were whipped. But the major point I was making is certainly not that white slaveowners and overseers were nice guys and they avoided raping the women under their charge because they were benevolent. It’s because they had good reasons not to, and because slaves had much more power in that relationship than we were led to believe. If you rape a woman who takes care of your children, have you now increased the chances that she will poison your child? Yes, you have.

Just from a “Have you seen black people before? Have you listened to you black colleagues talking about paper-bag tests?” perspective this is an amazing claim–that white slave owners didn’t rape their slaves that often. Well, shoot, if not, there must have been a handful of really demented and busy motherfuckers traveling from plantation to plantation. But, okay, fine. White people, me included, have weird blind-spots about what it means to be black in America.

But this idea that, of course, there would be repercussions for the rapist from the rape victim is so… I mean… it’s amazing how naive this is. Seriously, there are women who are raped right this second by their abusive husbands or boyfriends and those men’s children (some of whom are collective-her step-children) remain perfectly unharmed by her.

Don’t get me wrong. Slavery was fucked up and it fucked people up to have to live as slaves. And no doubt there were women who planned and dreamed and fantasized about killing their owners’ kids. But a plantation is just a tiny oppressive regime. And there are plenty of oppressive regimes in the world today. You can look at many of them and see that women who are raped by people with power over them, even if those women have access to those people’s children, rarely kill their children.

I’m not saying that it’s not possible to break a person that way. It is. But to act like it’s common enough to dissuade men from raping women?

It’s as if Russell doesn’t actually understand how the marginalized people he’s writing about coped.

It’s very strange.

I have to think that room full of historians would just start laughing as he got to this part of his argument.

I mean, it would be an improvement of sorts to live in a world where women who are raped believe they deserve revenge, instead of believing that it’s just one more part of the life of a woman, something you have to learn to deal with and cope with and move on as best you can. Sure, let’s shoot for a world in which rape victims believe they deserve justice, but that road goes through “revenge”*

_________

*I don’t think rape-victims necessarily have to get to a point where they want revenge, as if revenge is some natural pre-cursor to justice. I don’t think that’s so. I think that, in the steps from “this is just something that happens that I hate” to “This is wrong and I will not accept it as something that just happens” there is a moment where people consider whether revenge is an appropriate step. I think most people consider it and decide “No, I’m going to try to get some kind of justice instead.”

But I do think that the ability to consider revenge signals something about a person finally being able to face that what happened to her wasn’t acceptable.

Saying Doesn’t Make It So

The Shariah Law law supporters rushed out to assure everyone that it wouldn’t interfere with anyone’s religious practices, but is “is modeled after a federal law that bans funding for terrorist groups.” Interesting. I’m sure America would be quite interested to learn if our terrorism laws were written by a guy who thinks it’s unfortunate that women and black people are allowed to vote.

I think there are probably some people in Tennessee who will wonder why Ketron is putting forth a piece of legislation written by a guy who thinks it’s unfortunate that women and black people are allowed to vote.

If some legislators spent half as much time on the internet researching the people who submit bills to them as they do researching their anti-Muslim conspiracies, our state would be better off.

RIGHT BY HER ROOTS is Right On

So, I poured through Right By Her Roots. I mean, I drank it up. I would have stayed up all night just to finish it, if I’d been anywhere in the second half of the book last night. But instead, while the Butcher was working on his car, I spent the afternoon reading.

Like I said, I know Jewly Hight and like the shit out of her, so I am biased. But my enthusiasm for this book goes beyond that. This book is amazing. It’s nothing like Barry Mazor’s Meeting Jimmie Rodgers except that both books approach music in ways that seem both like something you’ve never read before AND something you’re surprised isn’t already ubiquitous. I’m pretty convinced that these two books represent some kind of next step in how people write about music. Unless there are more books out there that I’m just drawing a blank on. I already said my piece on Mazor, so I won’t rehash it.

As for Hight’s book, she’s looking at eight artists–Lucinda Williams, Julie Miller, Victoria Williams, Michelle Shocked, Mary Gauthier, Ruthie Foster, Elizabeth Cook, and Abigail Washburn–and their catalogs. And through interviewing them and really carefully listening to their lyrical and musical approaches to their subject matter, trying to really grapple with and understand the aesthetic values at the center of their work.

But the thing that Hight does so well is that she really gets that the line between aesthetic transcendence and spiritual transcendence isn’t very clear and that any time musicians talk about “soul,” there is an obvious spiritual metaphor being invoked. And she is able to really get these artists talking about these things in ways you can’t help but feel they wouldn’t be comfortable with with another writer or that another writer wouldn’t quite know how to really get what they were saying (either because the other writer would be too quick to shove them out of the “Yea, Jesus’ mold or too quick to shove them in).

But Hight, over and over, gives the impression that she’s really grappling with what these artists are saying to her and working at understanding it in a larger aesthetic and spiritual context. And yet, it’s not a religious book, in the ways I think of a religious book being. Well, except that I can totally see how it’s a piece of religious scholarship. Hight’s time at Vanderbilt is apparent.

But this is also what I love about this book. Hight took this material and her background knowledge of both music and religion (and clogging, in a nice touch) and brings it all together in a way that reads how I wish every university press book read–not like she’s writing for the 50 other people in the country who are already mining the same material as her, but like she’s writing for everyone who likes to think and talk smartly about a subject they feel passionately about.

I honestly don’t think there will be a better book written about Americana music this year. And I dare say it will be hard for there to be a better book about Americana music written this decade.

I am curious to see if reviewers make hay out of the fact that she’s a woman writing exclusively about women artists. And I will say that this is a weird read in that regard. It’s very easy to say “Why can’t we just talk about female artists like they’re artists?” but to see someone do it? Yes, it’s awesome, but damn it’s strange. There’s little talk of spouses (unless said spouse is also the artist’s musical collaborator). There’s no talk of children. Except to mention a physical condition that affects the artists musically, Hight makes no mention of how they look.

You don’t realize how often talk of family and body creep into discussions of female artists, even in subtle ways, until it’s absent. Even if you’re not really into these artists, if you write about music, it would behoove you to study how Hight pulls that off.

I wasn’t familiar with everyone in the book. I’ve never heard of Ruthie Foster (though I’m searching her out now) and I’m not sure I know who Elizabeth Cook is, though her name sounds familiar. But that hardly matters. The chapters on Foster and Cook were just as interesting as the chapters on people I know. Since Hight isn’t writing some typical “for the fans” piece, but is actually trying to get at a certain way these artists tick, even if you’re not familiar with their music, it’s deeply, deeply interesting to hear what they have to say and what Hight’s take on what they’re doing is.

Plus, Hight’s does an excellent job of describing their music so I felt like I had a good idea of what they sounded like, even with not being familiar with them.

And get this! They’re doing a book-release… no, not party… a book-release version of Music City Roots. With the fucking Doobie Brothers. People, now I want to get a book published just so the Doobie Brothers can show up to my book-release whatever. I mean, let’s be honest. With the book industry being how it is, it’ll probably be a book-release trip to McDonald’s for whoever can fit in my car, a number made infinitely smaller if I have to drive the Doobie Brothers.

I’m bummed I’m going to be in Illinois, but I am hoping I get their early enough that I can stream it.

Dad is “Doing Something Wrong”

Not only did I forget to tell you about the hawk that circled so close to us yesterday morning that I teased the dog it was looking to pick her up and fly away with her, I forgot to tell you about the conversation I had with my dad.

So, my dad called to firm up arrangements for my trip. Well, okay, to coordinate to make sure that Mrs. Wigglebottom was as spoiled as possible. And he was telling me that he had to go to the doctor yesterday morning to get some blood drawn because the doctor was giving him grief that his weight had gone down after his surgery and then gone back up not as high as pre-surgery, but to a point and then leveled off there and my dad said that he was going to the gym five days a week and has since shortly after his heart surgery, which anyone who’s had to listen to all the gossip about the men at the gym can attest is true. Good god, it’s so cute. I don’t know if my dad has ever had a gang of guys he saw regularly before in a non-professional setting. He doesn’t drink so he’s never had “the guys down at the bar.” And he doesn’t really socialize without my mom.

So, it’s very cute to watch him navigate the guys at the gym.

Anyway, so of course the doctor is like “You go to the gym five days a week and you’ve gained weight?” And I don’t know what my dad weighs, but I’m going to guess that, from his lowest point, he’s put back on 40 or 50 pounds. So, anyone familiar with my dad’s life–two or three hours a day at the gym, going from three meat meals a day to two and those meats becoming chicken or fish (with the occasional bacon treat)–might be concerned that he’s still fat. (I am not concerned that he’s still fat basically because his weight has been remarkably stable over the course of his life and I don’t find it surprising that, even with good eating and exercise, he’s still fat, just not as fat as he was, because that seems to be how his body is.).

So, the doctor wants to check to make sure that his thyroid is not fucked up. And I said, “Did you tell him that you have a daughter with an endocrine disorder?”

“What?”

No, I know. Don’t even get me started. I am half tempted to just start shitting myself whenever he’s around so that he can be reminded that there is something wrong with me and that I’m not just making it up as an excuse. I guess he thinks those pills I take are for show. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t expect my parents to sit around and think “Oh, poor Betsy, with something wrong with her.” I sure as hell don’t.

But, wouldn’t you think that when your doctor is concerned about your inability to lose weight, your mind might flash to other people in your family, like, oh, the people in your family who inherited genes from you, who are on a side of the family full of fat women with reproductive issues, and you might say “Oh! Doctor, you should know. My daughter has an endocrine disorder her doctor told her is inherited. Now, I know men obviously can’t have PCOS, but is it possible I, fat man from a family of fat people, might have a related endocrine disorder?”

But no! It has slipped his mind that his daughter has an endocrine disorder. Shall we lay bets that it slipped his mind that his father had diabetes?

Instead, he says “Well, I’m sure it’s something I’m not doing right.”

Recounting this, my mind is boggled. But listening to it, my heart just broke for him. He completely changed his diet. He exercises two to three hours a day five days a week. And, if he’s still fat, it’s because because he can’t get with the program, in his mind.

You know, you hope by the time you’re sixty-six, you’ve settled in to who you are. I’d hate to think that, in my dad’s mind, he thinks who he is is kind of a failure because he’s fat.

In Which I Say Something Nice about Bredesen

Karl Dean is, of course, running again for mayor. His Facebook campaign ad reads, “How did Karl Dean overcome a 1,000-year flood and an historic recession?” I think we have to guess by “an historic,” that he did it by using his superpower of turning British. Which is a weird superpower. You put “u”s in places and drink tea and say “an historic.” I’m not sure how it helped overcome the flood, but who’d have thought getting bit by a radioactive spider would do so much for Peter Parker?

But here’s the other thing. Because of the Green Vest of Comfort, I remember Bredesen being everywhere during and after the flood. Maybe that’s an inaccurate memory, but that was my impression “Oh, there’s the Governor, with his Green Vest of Comfort.” Yes, I laughed about it, but I remembered it. I don’t recall Dean doing things during the flood. I mean, obviously, he did. But “overcome” the flood? Dude, people are still living in mold-filled hellholes. Other people aren’t yet back in their houses.

“Overcome” is optimistic.

And don’t even get me started on the recession crap. Is that behind us?

Anyway, Dean should get him a green vest. And perhaps actually overcome the flood before bragging about it.

Yes, I know, he’s going to win re-election. And fine. He’s done a fine job as a mayor in his own way. But dude definitely hasn’t done anything to be all cocky about.

Exciting Book Things

I just received Jewly Hight’s Right by Her Roots in the mail! I know Jewly some and she’s very lovely and down to earth, but I am completely fan-girl excited about this book anyway. Which just goes to show something.

Weirdly enough, I also think I’m back on track with the novel. I had hoped to have everything second-drafted except for the Watseka material before I went to Watseka and here it is mere days before I head north and everything is second-drafted except for the Watseka material. I am up almost 10,000 words, just over 61,000 now.

Last night I was working on the part where the Satanists fuck up Hannah’s sacrifice (Did I tell you that there are Satanists? Lord, I am kind of tickled to hear different people’s ideas of what the book is about, just based on the half-assed ways I’ve been describing it. But yes, there are Satanists. They fuck up. They go to jail. The Devil loses a finger. And Hannah learns the hard way that people are not lying when they warn you against fucking around with the Devil.) and so the gist of this section is that, in order for the Devil’s daughter to go live with her aunt, some living person has to go to Hell to take her place. Hannah.  So, the Devil is blessing or cursing or whatever the Devil does his daughter and Hannah, because of her Midwestern boobs, is able to steal said blessing.

Long story short, obviously.

Anyway, for being a book full of genuinely religious people, there’s no Bible quoting in it. But I thought, if ever there was a moment, when you are face to face with the Devil and you have just, hopefully, fucked him over, this is the moment when you’re going to throw a good gotcha Bible verse in his face, right?

So, I’m trying to think of a time in the Bible when a gal outsmarts someone evil or does something kind of the same or steals a blessing… Oh, right? So, I’m flipping through Genesis and there’s Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing with the help of his Ma, Rebbecca, and, when Jacob’s all “I don’t know. What if Dad figures out it’s me and curses me,” Rebbecca says “Let the curse fall on me.”

Which is exactly right on the one hand. Except that no curse comes. They do fool Isaac. And Rebbecca, though she does all this shit, is not the focus of the story at all. She makes the story possible but isn’t central to it (though, please understand, I mean from the perspective of how this story was taught to me as a Protestant woman at the end of the 20th century, which does not reflect how the people who told the story may have understood it).

Which made it perfect again.

So, that pleases me. I think that’s just right.

My plan is to, you know, go to Watseka, see if I want to say something more or different about it once I’ve been there (though it occurs to me that I’ve been to Watseka plenty. I just didn’t have a reason to give a shit.) and get that part fixed up. Then I want to give it a good read-through to make sure it’s as good as what I can see.

Then I’m going to ask some folks to read it, hoping that their feedback–what makes sense to them, what doesn’t, what comes too late, what comes too soon, what’s boring, what’s weird–will help me give it it’s final shape.

And then I’m going to try to find an agent.

Which means I’ve been working on pitches in my head–“It’s the story of a Methodist minister’s daughter who is slowly turning into a flock of birds. And there’s a threesome with the Devil. And a discussion of the merits of “Am I Human?” both Danzig’s version and Will Oldham’s. And some people are maybe turning into dogs. And a woman is possessed by the spirit of a woman who never was actually possessed herself. It’s kind of about what happens when Midwesterners move south and stop going to church.”

As you can see, it needs some work.

Things that Make Me Go “Hmm.”

1. Hmm, “Rented.”

1a. Is it just me or did something awesome happen at Metropulse over the past year?

1b. There is no 1b, but you shouldn’t have a 1a standing alone.

2. I do wonder about this, myself, regularly. I think the answer is “Nowhere, yet.”

3. So, let me get this straight. Teachers are required to read all email that comes to their school account, correct? Or does it work differently in some school systems. As it stands, Maggart seems to have hit upon an awesome political strategy–send emails to people at accounts where they simply cannot refuse to read your email. I love how the meme is all “teachers’ unions are an abuse of power” and this meme is propagated by people like Maggart who abuse their power.

4. How small is Nashville’s non-profit community again?

5. From S. George’s article in the Scene this week:

“Increasingly, it’s common for people who want to move into [state] legislative leadership to raise money and then distribute a lot of that money to other candidates in their party and help them get elected as a vehicle for building ties to those members, and to show that they will be an effective leader,” Oppenheimer says. Indeed, between July 1 and Oct. 23 of last year, CAS-PAC — Casada’s political action committee — distributed $170,000 to various Republican candidates.

It has me wondering. Under the guise of “protecting” them, the new Republicans have been kept off of committees and subcommittees, the serving-on of which represents the start of the path to leadership. How much would it suck to get elected to the Legislature only to find that the people in your own party don’t trust you?

Two Complaints and One Good Thing

1. I used to love rain and thunderstorms and now? Thanks, Nashville Flood–they have me a little freaked out. And by a little, I mean, the heater kicked on this morning and I sprang from my bed convinced it was a tornado. The good news is that we have a slight “wet weather conveyance” out between our house and the neighbor’s and we hadn’t really had a chance to see if the willow was placed right where we needed it. But it is! The willow is right next to, but not in, the impromptu stream of water! Dad wants to take out the two dying Rose of Sharons over there and put in another willow this spring. I might be convinced. Ha, so I guess that’s a complaint that ended on a good note.

2. The Butcher’s job and fast food. Lord almighty. I know as a fat person it’s my job to eat fast food like it’s going out of style, but, really, I don’t eat it that often. And I especially don’t eat McDonald’s. Just can’t do it. It tears me up. But I’m having to pick the Butcher up at work this week and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are his late nights. And last night, late was 8 p.m. Now, on the one hand, I am not complaining. Bring on the overtime, oh Fortune that kept him without work for a year. On the other hand, I sat in the parking lot for two hours. And every time I thought, “I should just go get something to eat. He’ll text me when he’s done.” I saw a couple of people trickle out of the building and I didn’t want to leave right as he was getting out.

So, finally, he comes out. And I am starving, since I eat lunch at 11 a.m., so I’m like “I can see the McDonald’s, we’re going there.” Okay, first of all, the thing I’m continually struck by is that McDonald’s is cheap. For four cents over ten dollars, we both got burgers (the Butcher got two Big Macs), fries, and drinks. I spend ten dollars on lunch for myself. Second, when you’re hungry that shit tastes great! I mean, I could tell my bun was stale, but whew, I ate that Quarter Pounder like a fucking chef had brought it to me. It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. I don’t think that’s unintentional, you know? I’m completely seeing how people end up going to McDonald’s every day.

Except that we didn’t get halfway up Briley before I thought, “I have done something very wrong to my stomach.” And this morning? I still feel like I put something not-food in my belly and am asking my body to try to process it.

Yuck.

3. The car repair place across from Whiskey Kitchen is lovely! And they fixed my brakes right up. And they amused the hell out of me. Thanks to everyone who recommended them.

Three Political Thoughts

1. I think the death penalty is wrong and immoral, but I have no qualms, none at all, about Shawna Forde’s death by state. She’s my exception.

2. The fact that there’s even a “I read some conspiracy-theory stuff about your religion and then made up my own stuff about your religion and am now going to outlaw the stuff I and the other conspiracy theorists made up” law being proposed is so embarrassing.

3. Until today, I didn’t really have an opinion of Karl Dean. He seems like a fine mayor with a couple of notable exceptions. But this? “‘Maybe the crit­ics don’t share my pas­sion about the poverty pro­gram,’ he said.” Really? Is our mayor in junior high? So, people who have questions about how it is he’s deciding to hire people without opening up the positions to see if there are other qualified candidates or who have questions about how putting a person in a part time job knowing full well they’ll work full time so that they can collect benefits just don’t share his passion about poverty?

Nice. Real nice.

My new opinion of the mayor is that he’s smarmy.

Reading and Rereading

I think I told y’all that my brothers aren’t big readers. In fact, I don’t think the Butcher had ever read a book before he moved in with me. But then he got a copy of The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test and he started into it. And one day, after a month or two, I noticed that his bookmark was earlier in the book than it had been. And then, one day, I caught him as he was coming to the end of the book. He got to the last page, finished, and then–and I am not even exaggerating–turned right to the first page and began reading again.

“What are you doing?!”

“Reading my book.”

“Yeah, but you finished it.”

“For like the fourth time.”

“You’ve read it four times in a loop?!”

“I’m still enjoying it.”

I have loved some books in my day, and I have known a lot of people who love books, but I have never ever other than my brother, met anyone who just kept reading and reading the same book as long as it remained pleasurable to him.

For years, I thought it was weird.

But what a crucial skill this is for writing a book! To be able to go over and over and over the same material and tease out all pleasure from it.

I don’t know. Lately it strikes me that I’m having to learn what was intuitive to him.

An Excerpt About the Devil

Lord it has sucked around here lately, I know. But here’s a little of what I’ve been working on instead. I’ll set the scene. Hannah has just acquired the Devil’s baby from the police in Greenwood, Mississippi, and stopped at the Walmart in Grenada to pick up some things. She meets the Devil in the Baby aisle:

****************

“Hell is no place for a baby,” he walked on as if it was a matter of fact, but I noticed that he clenched the side of the cart as he said it. “I want her to have a different life. Who I am now is not who she has to be.”

I didn’t know what to say. Like I said, I wasn’t really brought up with a concept of the Devil as a tangible actual being. According to our family, and thus religious, upbringing, he was simply the personification of the force of Evil and not someone you would run into in Walmart.

But what’s one more weird thing, right?

I  just hadn’t been prepared for a grieving demon.

“But you’re the boss,” I said. “Couldn’t you keep her safe?”

“That’s the thing,” he explained. “You’re never the boss. Not completely. No matter how powerful you are, there’s always someone looking for a chance. And that someone, even if you don’t know who he is yet, has power over you. Once you realize someone out there is watching, you start to change your behavior, you start to imagine what they might do to you, what you might do that gives them an opening.

“Half of their hardest work is done for them by you, once you start to imagine them out there, plotting against you.

“And if she stayed? How could I not teach her to do the same? What kind of life would that be?”

“One wonders,” I said. By this time, we were deep in the grocery aisles, rolling past brightly colored boxes of things you eat only when you’re a child or stoned, which was slightly different than the aisle of brightly colored packages of things you eat only when you’re a child, stoned, or stressed. “This is pretty selfless of you,” I pointed out the obvious. He was cooing over the baby now.

“It’s the chance I give all my kids,” he shrugged.

“You do this all the time?” I said, starting to get annoyed.

He grinned slyly at me and said, “Condoms feel funny.”

Dems Have to Roll Over Before They Can Learn to Crawl Before They Can Learn to Walk

So, y’all remember that Brad Parish invited me to help moderate the debate between the three candidates for TNDP chair? Other than that, I’ve had no contact with him, but I found him, while working with him on the debate, to be very thoughtful and very concerned about how to improve the Tennessee Democratic Party. I remember coming away from the experience feeling like “Yeah, hey, this is nice. We have a wide swath of Democrats and we all have some fundamental agreements.”

Believe me, feeling like Tennessee Democrats had “fundamental agreements” was so new to me that it took me a while to get over it.

Anyway, here’s the thing–“What are we doing with our money?” is not an unreasonable or an uncalled for question. And to hear that Chip Forrester won’t answer that question?

Frame it however you want–that Parish is too “micro-managing,” that it’s an insult to be asked, whatever–at the end of the day a member of the Executive Committee asked “What are we doing with our money?” and the Chair of the Party refuses to say.

Knowing this, why would any Democrat in the state give money to the TNDP?

Here’s the thing. The Republicans aren’t sucking. They’ve held off, so far, on most of their egregious nonsense from years past. The stuff that would upset people who don’t pay close attention to politics? Well, hell, they managed to get G.A. Hardaway to co-sponsor it so they’ve got bi-partisan cover. And we’re not seeing the typical abortion nonsense. And some Republicans are trying to salvage collective bargaining.

Are they doing some stupid stuff? Yes. But it’s the kind of stupid stuff only people who follow politics are going to care about.

The average Tennessean is going to feel like they’re doing fine.

If Democrats are a disorganized in-fighting mess with money problems, the only way we’ll ever be able to win again is if Harwell is leading the Republicans in Satanic orgies in the Capitol and someone gets pictures.

Even if Democrats get our act together, we’re probably only going to be able to win again in the Satanic-orgy scenario, honestly.

But there’s a world of difference between “definitely not” and “probably not.” “Probably not” allows us to recruit non-suicidal candidates, allows us to raise funds, allows us to actually be politically viable.

But we don’t have our act together.

Jeff is My Problem with Evolution

I know, one who makes fun of young-earthers should probably keep her own mouth shut about problems she has with evolution, but I have them anyway in exactly the area of Jeff.

So, Jeff shows up and comforts Jo’s Grandpa at the end of his life. And, as Jo points out, there’s a scientific explanation–that “the brain in extremis contorts reality into one final rationalization to make it all better at the end.” But why would our brains do this? It’s not like you can get out of death. Everyone dies.So, while I see the benefit to the individual, I don’t see why this is a coping mechanism our brains would evolve to develop. Yes, it may make facing death easier, but you can’t not face death. And, once you’re dead, you can’t pass on your genes, so it’s not as if you can really select for a good death as a trait you want to pass on to your offspring. By the time anyone knows you’re capable of it, it’s too late.

So, why waste the energy?

And how would comforting deaths even evolve? Are we talking mate selection based on great-grandparents? “I have three cows, six rocks, and your son can graze on my sons’ land until my death. Oh, and did I mention my grandmother eased into death?” “Well, then Bob, I’m happy to give you my daughter to marry your son.”

Or older “Ogg, I will mate with a woman of the Uglok clan for their deaths are always calm and unscary!”

Although, now that I give it some thought, I can see how it’s selected for–child deaths. If you think of just how many children used to die before their 18th birthdays, and how many women whose children died were still in their childbearing years, now I can see how this is indeed selected for. Women whose children died horrible, scary deaths would work to lessen their chances of continuing to reproduce. In places and times when childhood mortality is so great, who could bear bringing a child into the world knowing how great the chance is that the child will suffer and die horribly?

But, if the child’s brain kicks in to comfort itself and the child’s parents with stories of supernatural beings who care and are there with them, then it makes the prospect of having more children, even if some of them may not live, more palatable.

Well, this is depressing.

And the truth is that I honestly don’t care if someone like Jeff is just in your brain. Everything is just in your brain at the end of the day. If it makes the tragedies of life easier, and doesn’t hurt other people, I have no problem with it.

Public Workers

I just have a couple of thoughts about the ongoing discussions about the unionization of public workers. One, I see folks saying “But why shouldn’t we taxpayers have a say in what they make?” Um, no. There is no “we-taxpayers” that does not also include “them-public workers.” When I see people setting up their point as “we-taxpayers” v. “them-public workers,” I automatically assume that whatever they’re about to say next is not well-considered.

Two, while it’s lovely to assume that people go into some jobs not because they want to get rich, but because they want to help humanity, I invite you to consider all the posts I’ve written about ministers and their families and all the ones I’ve linked to over the years and ask yourself whether we should begin or continue to import those same kinds of problematic dynamics into the secular world.

And three, while strong public sector unions could not probably have stopped the invention of the $60,000 a year unlisted part-time city job, don’t you think an administration that had to bargain with a large group of people who also might want $60,000 a year part-time jobs, since they apparently exist and get handed out, might make a mayor a little more wary of inventing and handing out said $60,000 a year jobs? Unions aren’t just a pain in the ass to Republican politicians.

That Was Fast

The weekend went so fast! And I just realized that I’ll be in Illinois next week, not the week after, which is how I’ve been playing it in my head. I’ve got to get my brakes looked at this week, then. And we’ve got to figure out something with the Butcher’s car. And my plan for how far along I’d be in revisions before I went to Illinois is completely fucked.

And there’s been no progress on the quilt, at all. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Lord. I have been keeping Beth’s admonition that there will be rainy days in mind or else the quilt situation is just depressing.

But I’m feeling kind of giddy about getting to go for a long drive. But stressed about the things that have to come together to make it happen.

Of Books and Boobs

I think I’ve fixed the opening of the book. I wrote it, completely ditched that and wrote a different thing. Ditched that and wrote a third. But this finally feels to me like it opens in a way that sets up the themes of the book immediately. So, that’s good. One thing I’m concerned about is that it flashes back a lot and I’m not sure I’m very adept at bringing the reader from the past back to the book’s present. I really like my book, but I’m not sure I’ve got the talent to pull it off.

Dr. J. sent me this link. I do think there’s something really strange about our culture’s response to nudity. I was talking to the Professor yesterday about that post over at Jezebel (and fuck even trying to find it. Since the redesign, I can’t work the site.) about how men and women experience looking at naked and nearly naked men and women and how the women, upon viewing the naked women, were all “I’m fat,” “I’m ugly.” But the straight men were all “She’s hot.” Both genders perceive naked women as being somehow for men. Anyway, I was reminded of that when reading this article because I think it does make people uncomfortable when a boob is not doing that. That book cover isn’t about titillating anyone. It’s about suggesting the themes of the book. And that seems to make people uncomfortable, especially, at least anecdotally, women. I wonder if it’s because we tend to get invested, even without meaning to, in that comparison. But when a boob is just out there–not hypersexualized, not selling something–we don’t quite know how to do the comparison. I wonder if there’s some anxiety about a boob not obviously for male consumption meaning, oh, maybe people who see me reading that book will somehow think that boob is for me.

I don’t know. But it’s interesting.

I never did get around to weeding this weekend but I saw everyone I wanted to see and I got some seeds started. Lowe’s didn’t have my usual Burpee seed starters, but they had some other ones and I might end up liking them better. We’ll see. It’s going to depend a little on how easy it is to keep everything properly watered, which you just could not fuck up with the Burpee system.

This morning, I saw the Scientology kids either setting up or tearing down their tent right kitty-corner from Swett’s. I don’t know if they thought they’d get people on their way to church or what, but it was strange. I find the presence of Scientologists in Nashville to be weird in general. While I don’t doubt that they might be able to recruit from the rock scene, it’s hard for me to imagine any Country star who would ever risk being associated with them, for fear of alienating that star’s fans. While there’s not an explicit expectation of Christianity, there’s an implicit one and “rejecting” Jesus for thetans? That’s got to be about as bad as being openly gay or being the Dixie Chicks.

And it’s expensive to be a Scientologist, at least, the article in the New Yorker made it seem so. So, why recruit in poor parts of town?

Well, like I said, it’s weird. But, in my dreams, there’s a Maury Davis/Scientology battle to the death for the souls and wallets of the easily duped. I don’t even know who I would root for.

Just Checking In

I believe writing here every day is good discipline for writing elsewhere, so I’m just popping in to say that the smell has been dealt with, though, now that the smell has been dealt with, I feel like there may be a minor, underlying smell in the living room, here. But I think that’s just the Butcher’s fast food remnants in the garbage.

The main smell turned out to be a mixture of cat puke on the stove, tuna fish, and some nameless something that was wedged under the strainer in the sink.

Mmm, aren’t we all glad I shared?

Blah blah blah Anxiety

If the Butcher can’t get his car fixed, I can’t go to Illinois.  And, if I can’t go to Illinois, that’s going to throw a kink in some things. Also, I feel bad about the dog being home all day, even though I know she’s sleeping and fine. And I have a bunch of people I want to see this weekend and I really feel like I should be doing some stuff at least in the side bed where the bluebells are, because they’re already above ground. And the quilt. Ugh, the quilt. And I need to get some seeds started inside. And I wonder if I should buy my haybales now so that they can get good and wet or if I should wait until April. Probably wait, right?

Ugh.

Brakes

Help me, Nashville internet. I drive a Toyota I bought from Beaman. For obvious reasons, it will be a cold day in Hell before I give them any more of my money. I need brakes. Preferably in the Vandy area. Any recommendations?