I Love My Library Card

I feel a little like you do when you go out and buy that first pack of cigarettes after you’ve given up quitting. Like, you know this could be bad… is going to be bad… goes nowhere that doesn’t end up with you up until three in the morning, trying to find a place that’s open where you can get more. But there’s the crinkle of the cellophane and the smell, that smell of dry leaves, hitting your nose. You can already imagine the feel of it in your hands. You’re not thinking about the cluttered up house, the cost, the unseemliness, the sneaking out at lunch to do it–the downsides you know so well.

No, at that moment, it’s just the wonderful “yes.”

Cake

I was a little concerned about the two-cake situation, but the Butcher and the Red-headed Kid sat down last night each with a bowl full of a huge piece from both cakes and a large mound of ice cream. Each of them had tiny mountains of chocolaty goodness in their laps.

The Red-headed Kid was remarking about how, with his luck, this cake would probably kill him. We still talk a lot about death with the Red-headed Kid–me because I’m morbid as hell and him because he’s still getting used to the idea that he might not die before he’s 30. But we both decided that “Killed by delicious cake” would be an epitaph we would be proud to have on our headstones.

I am envious of their ability to eat that much cake in one sitting. It looked, from the other end of the couch, marvelously decadent.

Shoot, Let’s All Make Friends with Ron Ramsey

See, “rules” are for people Ron Ramsey doesn’t know or like. But, if he does know or like you–well, hot dog, you get pay raises when no one else does.

My favorite part is how he’s all “but we fired people, so that makes it okay.”

Yep, it’s a great day for Tennessee when you’re firing people so you can afford to give your friends raises. I bet those fired Tennesseans are feeling awesome about our state now.

Ramsey loves to position himself as the folksy down-to-earth good-ole-boy who understands Tennessee better than those Republicans who went to fancy colleges.

Shit like this proves he’s just as out of touch with what real suffering in this state looks like as the Republicans he so openly disdains.

Governor Baby Strikes Again

Jesus Christ, this is going to be a long eight years, if Haslam doesn’t learn to put on his big kid pants and actually fucking lead. Yes, eight. Please, let’s just be honest about the state of the Democrats, who spent the weekend learning about messaging, because apparently they slept through the 90s.

Hell, you know, it would explain so much if, indeed, they had actually slept through the 90s. Maybe someone should check and make sure they know Kurt Cobain died.

Anyway, please, Dems, find someone who can win against this jackass. Hint: this person’s name will not be “Mike McWherter.”

So, yes, Haslam, who we elected as a state because we wanted someone like Bredesen, a man who, if he were a LOLgovernor (I’m just assuming that there are LOLgovernors, but, if not, I will totally invent them) would have a caption reading “Serious Business Governor is Serious and Up to Serious Business,” and, instead, got what would happen if someone scraped together all of Bredesen’s belly-button lint and gave it life–a weird, fun-house mirror Bredesen, smaller, flimsier, and more easily pushed around.

I mean, fucker signed HB600 into law, which means he was pushed around by Glen Casada. Lord almighty, that’s like being pushed around by Gargamel. Is this man not supposed to have business acumen from Pilot and Saks 5th Avenue? Is not an important part of business acumen being able to out-manipulate your kniving underlings?

Get this shit: “spokesman Dave Smith:

‘Through the legislative process, he expressed concerns about the state telling local governments what to do, but he also had concerns about local governments telling businesses what to do, especially the potential burden on small businesses. Ultimately, he felt the Metro ordinance went farther than federal law in regulating business policies.'”

Oh, I just bet that the Governor is going to be vetoing tons of legislation based on whether it goes farther than federal law allows… oh, wait, I totally don’t believe that at all. And, truly, I would love to hear how fucking over transgender people by not allowing them to legally change gender relieves any potential burden on small businesses.

Honestly, if Mayor Dean said “Eh, fuck it. We’re sticking with this policy anyway,” I would not only vote for him, I would give money to his campaign, and encourage each and every one of you to vote for him, too.

If there’s one thing Haslam has proven this session, it’s that he won’t stand up against people. Dean should go ahead and play chicken with him. See what happens. The law doesn’t include any provisions for what happens if a city refuses to abide by it. And anyone who sues the city over it is going to have to get up in court and discuss on the record why it’s so important for them to be able to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Considering that folks like Beaman held their meetings in secret and the Chamber backtracked once the national spotlight got too bright, I have my doubts about whether anyone would be willing to sue and go on record as having a discriminatory policy.

So, I say, Dean, play chicken with that cowardly fuck.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure what to do about the “fuck over the transgender” portion of the bill. That problem doesn’t get solved by causing a crisis for the Haslam administration. It’s just a nasty little piece of hate thrown in there because Casada and Beavers could. But there’s been some maneuvering that makes me suspicious they don’t think that will hold up to a court challenge. We need to keep our eye on that.

Joe Hill’s HORNS

Well, we all spent the day on the couch. Those of us flexible enough to lick our own junk did that in between bouts of napping. The rest of us–sadly, me–gulped down Joe Hill’s Horns. I was a little worried, both because I wasn’t that in love with Heart-shaped Box and because, after my little tree freak-out, I was nervous about reading his take on the Devil.

The book is exquisite.  I actually whooped when I finished it, because it was so well-done. You know how some writers set up their books like delightful Rube-Goldberg machines, where each event and character seems to be carefully put into place to do something, everything is mentioned precisely because it’s going to be set into motion when the flip is switched? And then you spend the last part of the book in sheer delight as everything slides right into place?

This book does that.

So, the plot is pretty straight-forward. A guy who is the prime suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend wakes up one morning to discover he’s growing Devil horns. Then, over the course of the book, we find out what really happened to his girlfriend and who really did it and how he seeks his revenge. What happens to the girlfriend is not made explicit, so if you get freaked out by that kind of stuff, know that Hill leaves it to your imagination and doesn’t indulge in torture porn.

But, like I said, it’s very well done. And the bad guy ends up being very creepy, and very easy to imagine as a real-life person.

And there’s a lovely sermon the guy growing Devil horns gives his congregation of snakes. I think he covers some of the same theological ground my novel–bless its heart–does, which seems right to me. Of course it’s a big, old question–if we’re suffering and God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he stop it? Couple that with the “What’s God’s deal with women?” question and you have a lot of things that drive a lot of people theologically. I wasn’t surprised to read in the acknowledgements that Hill’s sister is a minister, I’ll say that.

Anyway, it’s cool. I’m glad I read it. And I have Chuck Palahniuk’s upcoming book on my list of things to read, just to see how he deals with Old Scratch.

Ghost Trees

Aside from a weekend full of family members I hadn’t seen… well, since my grandma’s birthday, but before that, for years, I also read Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which is exquisite. I liked Heart Shaped Box fine, but I didn’t love it. I thought the first half was wonderful, but once ghosts are following you around and trying to kill you, that’s just a little too Jason Voorhees for me. I don’t find it creepy, even if it’s jolting, and I prefer creepy.

But 20th Century Ghosts is nicely creepy.

And here’s the part I found most spooky. There’s a story in the book called “Dead-Wood.” It starts, “It has been argued that even trees may appear as ghosts.”

You can hear someone read it to you here, though I’d listen quickly before someone makes him take it down for copyright violation.

This is the first time I’ve ever read this story, this very weekend.

And yet, you know I wrote this a year ago.

Birthday Cake

I got this bug up my butt on the way home this afternoon that I wanted a birthday cake. I tried just coming home and ignoring it, but I realized I was out of cereal and so, if I was going to be at the store anyway… well, might as well get the fixings for a cake.

And so I did.

And I found myself overcome with homesickness for my mom, as I was watching the batter spin through the beaters. It made me happy to make the cake, but I kept tearing up anyway. It felt like a good gift to myself in a way that’s hard for me to articulate, just the right amount of nostalgia and longing.

And I’ll get to have cake for breakfast on my birthday, which is exactly how it should be.

Tall Things in My Garden

I knew putting the hollyhocks against the shed was going to be perfect. First one is blooming today. Also, the foxgloves are up and happy.

I Don’t Like Things

I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was in 5th grade. I tried, every summer, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it (I suspect, in retrospect, this has a physical cause). Then, finally, I did. And I liked the freedom it gave me, but I never really liked it. I was always afraid I was going to fall. And, once I got my driver’s license, I don’t think I rode a bike again.

But I’m thinking of one summer, before I actually got it, when we were out on the driveway and I don’t remember anyone pushing me into practicing. Like neither of my parents were forcing me to ride my bike, but I remember one of them being behind me as I was on training wheels and I remember crying and them saying “You’re doing it, look, you’re doing it,” but I was crying too had to care. All I wanted was to get off that motherfucking bike and never get back on.

This is a metaphor for my morning.

One Thing I Like about the Greater Disappointment

I wrote about how there’s not going to be a Rapture tomorrow for Pith. One thing that I do appreciate about this Disappointment is the shout-out to the original. In 1844, they all thought the end of the world was October 22nd and this time, after the Rapture tomorrow, the world will end on October 22nd. It kind of vindicates Miller, if it happens.

Of course, it’s not happening. But, like I said at Pith, of all the fucked-up things people get stuck on, this, to me, is one of the most understandable. It’s hard to look around at the terrible things happening in the world, the horrible suffering on such wide scale, and how we’ve developed so many gruesome ways to kill each other and think that this can be sustainable. Not just sustainable, but it’s hard to believe that Someone isn’t going to step in and say “Enough.”

Yes, I think there’s a huge strain of “And wait until you discover that God always did love me best!” going on, too. But I think that fundamental impulse to believe the world is going to end is just an understandable response to how difficult and complicated the world is.

It’s why, I think, you have to throw yourself in with happiness, when you can. Happiness is really revolutionary, and not in the “Take down governments” way, but in the “make some room in this old world for a spot where your soul cannot utterly be crushed.”

I don’t know. I find the world a depressing place, but I sing anyway, you know. Have dinner with my friends. Write things that amuse me. Not because I think those are the things you should do, but because that’s the way I make it bearable for me.

Which, yes, typed out, sounds depressing, but I feel it as a sacred commitment. Find beauty, be happy. Make it as hard as possible for this world to break you. Go down with a fight.

Self-Publishing; I Could Be Wrong

You know, we’ve had an ongoing self-publishing experiment for a while now–blogs. And I think it’s pretty uniformly understood that they heyday of the independent blogger is ending, if not ended. People are transitioning to Facebook or to group blogs or to book writing or whatever. The blog–the central thing–has become just one more tab on the website or a note on Facebook or you’re just one more person on a portal.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s wrong to look to music publishing to try to find some guidance about book publishing. But the more I think about it, the more I think we should also not overlook the lessons of blogging. Here is/was a bunch of content, free for the picking, that was going to transform and replace regular media.

And… well… kind of but not really.

I think we’d do wise to keep that in mind.

Not that I don’t think publishing is going to change rapidly. Of course it is. But it’s a bridge through fog, you know? We can’t say from here what’s over there.

Anyway, I read this.

That Uncommon Common Knowledge

Hmm.

Suddenly, it’s common knowledge that women journalists and IMF staffers took care not to be alone with him.

Funny how that works, isn’t it? Lower status women can know things, but if it doesn’t sink in to people with power, it remains unknown. The scary dude women don’t want to be alone with and warn each other away from is a grand seducer to his friends.

The Girl in the Burlap Sack

It’s funny the things that stick with you from reading. Ever since I read about girls who talk to dead people getting put in sacks and nailed to the stage floor at the decline of the Spiritualist century, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. About the itch of the burlap, about the fear if you didn’t trust the person who was nailing you down. Are you a con artist? Do you believe you can do what you are about to do?

I keep having this thought of a young gal, whose partner has turned no good, and the nails are coming closer and closer every night, between fingers, between her legs, through her hair. So, she knows she has to escape.

But how do you get out of the nailed-down sack?

This morning, I was thinking about that on my walk when I realized, my cousin J. is a magician. I don’t know how many escapes he’s done, if any. But he’d certainly know how they were done. So, I sent him the premise–how do you get a girl nailed into a sack out of the sack and off stage so that the audience and the dude who put her in the sack don’t see it?

And we’re going to talk it through tonight.

Beauty and the Beast

Is there really any archetype more damaging to women than that of Beauty and the Beast? Oh, sure, it’s not that great for you to sit around and wait for your prince to come, but you can do things while you wait, even if it’s just nap, and, if he doesn’t show up, you can get on to other things.

But to believe that the behavior of a man can be changed if you just love him enough?

I don’t know. There’s something heartbreaking about the end to this Daily Beast story:

But she made it clear what she had liked about him; he wasn’t a wasp, or some facsimile of a Kennedy. “Everyone assumed that I was supposed to marry someone like a John Kerry, some preppy that had gone to Harvard or Yale. I didn’t want to marry those boys. I did not like them. I had been around them my whole life. I interrupted the story line. I wanted out of that suffocation.”

But he was who he was, you know? It’s not like Schwarzenegger has ever not been a gropey, womaninzing mess of a man in his personal life, which is not to let him off the hook. He is an asshole. But he was an asshole before they married. And, yes, love is blind.

But I worry we teach girls we can change the people we love, transform them from monster into price, instead of facing squarely that the person in front of you, for all his or her faults and good points, is always going to be that person.

Comcast Customer Service that Works for Me

I had decided that the way to get over my anxiety about finding an agent would be to send out some query letters last night. But then the internet went down, so I watched NCIS and hung out with the Butcher and the Red-headed Kid. I admit, I haven’t been watching as much NCIS as a person might, but I had somehow gotten it in my head that Ray was a little kid, so much of that episode was confusing.

However, here’s what I wanted to say. After I’d restarted my modem and still didn’t have an internet connection, I called Comcast and their little computerized voice recognized my phone number and asked me if I was having tv or internet problems and when I pressed “2” for internet problems, she was all “Yeah, we know. We think we’ll have it fixed by 11:30.”

I did not even have to talk to a human being. But I felt like someone knew something was wrong and was fixing it.

I’m kind of wondering if Comcast isn’t overlooking a business opportunity. Think of the comments at Pith. What if they could call an 800 number and get an soothing womanly voice who was like “Are you calling to complain about Betsy? Press one if you just hate her. Press two if you think she’s stupid. Press three if you think she’s a liar. Press four if you think she’s be a much better writer if only she took your coaching to heart.”

“You’ve pressed 4. Press one if you encountered the ‘You’re not the boss of me’ glitch. Press two if you’ve encountered the ‘Met with hostility’ glitch. Press three if you were just ignored.”

And then it could say something reassuring like “We are aware of Betsy and working on a solution. It will take a hundred years.”

That would be nice.

Sandwich Angst

Here’s a matter I think we need to discuss–extraneous crap on sandwiches. Now, this extraneous crap is usually mayonnaise. Of course, mayonnaise on a sandwich is not always extraneous. Sometimes, it’s very tasty and brings a sandwich together. But other times, you can just tell that some fast food exec was like “Um, we can’t have nothing on this sandwich. Put some mayo on there!” And, inevitably, they will place the mayo right on top of the iceberg lettuce, which is inevitably wet, which causes the mayo to lose viscosity (or maybe gain viscosity… become more liquid anyway) and shoot right out the back of your sandwich, using the lettuce as a slide down which it gains momentum.

People of earth, if all your mayo is doing is sliding off your sandwich onto the clothing of the sandwich eater, you don’t need it on the sandwich.

But this is not a rant against the over-mayo-fication of our culture. Or at least not solely.

This is a rant about how my mom, still, insists on ruining perfectly good peanut butter and jelly sandwiches through the addition of butter. It’s peanutbutter, Mom. Why would I need another layer of butter beneath it? And how does she even get the jelly to spread once she’s lubed up the bread?

And why, more importantly, does she continue to guilt us into letting her make us sandwiches so that she can “feel useful,” even though she is already incredibly and awesomely useful merely by being alive? And why, after almost four decades, does she still put butter on my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

But most importantly, you may ask, why am I ranting about my mom, who’s busy with her life up in Illinois?

Fucking mayo dripping out of my sandwich onto me at lunch.

Just had me thinking about bullshit sandwich practices.

Maybe we could just make a law that food vendors may not put mayo and lettuce right next to each other on sandwiches.

I don’t know. I need to call Thelma Harper about this, I think. I wonder if you have to wear a stylish hat just to speak with her? Maybe I should just stick with Gary Moore. I think I’d have an easier time getting together a stylish mustache than finding an appropriate hat that would fit my giant head.

Beans and Eggplants

My adventure in having a tiny vegetable garden is being aided by the weather. The only things that look happy in my garden this morning are the beans and eggplants, which have suddenly really taken off after languishing since being planted. The tomatoes refuse to die, but they refuse to flourish.

The okra has been too wet and too cold and is kind of brown spotty. And the cucumbers are like “bleh.”

I see no sign of the basil.

We saw a turkey again on our walk.

They’ve actually posted a speed limit on Lloyd–30 mph. Now they just need to get a cop to sit out there, just beyond the curve and ticket the shit out of people. In your car, 30 feels way too slow. But believe me, when you’re out there walking with your dog, you’d like for people to be going under 50.

And we tried to go to Taste of N’awlins for lunch on Saturday and they’re closed. Honestly, I’m confused why the area between Clarskville and Nashville hasn’t taken off like the other spurs out of town.  It’s a beautiful area, not too far from downtown, but still, there’s just not a whole lot of density, even though it’s between two major Tennessee cities.

On the one hand, I don’t mind. I like the semi-rural feel of it. On the other hand, I’m bummed we can’t support a good Cajun restaurant.

The Freak-Out

Oh, lord, people. This afternoon, I had an anxiety… not attack… but fit, I guess, about the manuscript. About how it sucks, about how I can’t send it out, about how, if I do send it out, I am a fraud because I have nothing lined up next. How they’ll like it, but they won’t like me.  And on and on.

It’s fine. I’ve talked myself down.

But lord almighty, I’m starting to understand why writers drink.

I mean, I applied for college. I applied for grad school (two years in a row!). I’ve applied for jobs. I’ve sent my little boat of awesomeness out into the world before. But damn.

I need to get my shit in order and just start submitting. If I don’t, I’m going to break out in worse hives.

This afternoon, I had myself convinced I have hookworms. Then I looked up hookworms on the internet and decided that I don’t.

Ha ha ha. I can always tell when I’m especially anxious, my posts get all disjointed.

But I did buy betsyphillips.net. (Someone owns betsyphillips.com.) So, I guess some practical part of me thinks I may need it.

And I do have this weird itchy spot on my arm that is shaped like a question mark. Now that I’m convinced it’s not a hookworm, the reason I’m convinced that it’s some kind of contact dermatitus is that I’m developing a mirror image rash across the elbow from it, which would suggest that I got into something, folded my arm up and it got in both spots.

Or that it’s a sign from the Universe. ?

?

? is my message from the Universe? God damn it, that’s just like the Universe to be so ambiguous. And itchy.

Running Through the Checklist

I’m glad this woman brought this guy to court, but I’m afraid these dogs are still going to be a danger to the neighborhood if the resolution is to lock them in a stronger cage.

You know my predictive checklist for if a dog is dangerous:

–Is it larger than 25 lbs?

–Is it an intact male?

–Is it kept outside unsupervised for lengthy periods of time?

–Is it running loose outside?

–Is it unsupervised?

–If supervised, does the owner have control over it?

–Does it have adequate housing?

–Have the dog’s owners made some effort to present it as possibly dangerous–scary name, scary collar, thick chain, etc.?

Now, let me be clear. There are dogs who meet every criteria on this list, who aren’t dangerous, but, if you’re wondering, “Is that dog safe?” the answers to these questions are going to serve you better than the answer to “Is it a pitbull?” will.

And look how the dogs in this story fit. Larger than 25 lbs? Yep. Intact male? I don’t know, but I’ve asked someone familiar with the case. Were the dogs kept outside unsupervised for lengthy periods of time? Sure sounds like it, since they were being fed outside and the resolution of this case involves making them a sturdier enclosure. Running loose? Sadly, yes. Unsupervised? Doesn’t sound like it this time, but the previous attack does. Does the owner have control over it? Nope. Adequate housing? I meant this in terms of “Does the dog have appropriate shelter?” not “Is it restrained well enough?” since I think it’s self-evident that, if your dogs can get out of any place they’re enclosed in, they shouldn’t be enclosed in that space and left unsupervised. And we can’t tell from this story if they had adequate shelter. Presented as possibly dangerous? One dog’s name was “Trouble.” So, yeah, kind of.

That’s four of eight criteria those dogs definitely met with two we don’t know (‘adequate shelter’ and ‘intact male’), and one criteria they kind of met (name).

I think another guide is this: if the owners seem afraid of the dogs–and keeping dogs of breeds that are notorious couch potatoes locked in pens out back would be an indication they’re afraid of the dogs–there’s good reason for the neighbors to be afraid of the dogs.

Yep, Okay, It’s Good

It’s hard for me, as a Midwesterner and a woman, to talk frankly about the stuff I do and whether it’s good. And so I feel like, when I’ve been talking about the book, I’m always couching it in these “well, I don’t know if it’s any good, but I like it” terms.

But, yeah, so I spent last night fixing my punctuation issues and I got up early this morning and read through it in one pass. It took me four and a half hours, but I wanted to gulp it down to make sure it felt right. I had some concerns about adding the stories the Devil tells, but they really do add, I think, some heft to that section, so that it’s not so much me relying on the reader’s understanding of the Devil’s evilness but the Devil demonstrating it. He has the right weight now.

And I really like how the ending is, now that I’ve moved some of the memory stuff to the middle. I was worried the rape scene was too graphic, but I think it works really well.

I finished it and I thought, “Yeah, I like it. I’d have no qualms about recommending it on Tiny Cat Pants.”

Sure, it’s nerve-wracking to say that, since the next step is rejection after rejection.

But yeah, man, today I’m feeling like it’s good.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, that’s seven huge revisions and 70,308 words, counting the acknowledgements. It’s readable in four and a half hours, but I hope, when it comes time, that you enjoy lingering over it for longer than that.

I’m going to make sure I have a clean copy, that I know which agents I want to start with, and that my pitch is interesting.

And then I’ll get started on this next part.

But I want to enjoy this for a little bit first.

How It Goes

Oh, Lord, people. You know how, in Word, if you need to have a single quotation mark next to a regular quotation mark–say I have a sentence that says

Jill said, “John said, ‘You suck a bag of dicks.'”

–you have a good chance of one of those last punctuation marks facing the wrong way? Well, I had this brilliant idea to fix it. I would search for “‘ and replace it with ” ‘ and ‘” and replace it with ‘ ” and then I’d search and replace in the opposite direction and voila! Curly quotes all in the right direction.

No.

To put it mildly.

Now, instead of having an occasional wrong directed single or regular quotation mark, they are all randomly fucked. So, I’m having to just fix them by hand.

And the best fun? (And by “best fun” I totally mean the worst fun ever!)

Word has decided that any two words it recognizes on either side of an apostrophe, like if I wrote douche’bag? It’s not going to underline that as being fucked in some way. And yet, I’m afraid to do a general search and replace and just add a space after every ‘ because then I’ll fuck all of my genuine contractions.

Grr.

But otherwise, it’s going fine.