I Finished It

I am so bummed to be done. I’m glad the Butcher took the dog to the park, both so I had the time to finish Life on the Mississippi and so there was no one home to annoy when I laughed out loud a number of times.

My favorite part is when he is preparing you for reading “The Undying Head” and describes it thusly, “‘The Undying Head’ is a rather long tale, but it makes up in weird conceits, fairy-tale prodigies, variety of incident, and energy of movement, for what it lacks in brevity.” Weird conceits, fairy-tale prodigies, variety of incident, and energy of movement are my favorite things in a story.

But my second favorite part is where the Indian maiden–and I think to really get how funny this is you have to understand that you literally cannot take five steps in the Midwest without encountering a spot where an Indian maiden supposedly committed suicide. Honestly, the suicide rate of ancient Indian maidens is such in Midwestern lore that it’s a wonder there were any Indians left there when our great-grandparents emerged out of the earth, wholly formed. Possibly this is why no Illinoisan asks where the Illini went. Obviously, the maidens all committed suicide and the men died of broken hearts and old age. Possibly this is also why Michiganders are so surprised when one of the local tribes wants to put up a casino. “Oh, you’re still here? Really? But I thought…”–anyway, the Indian maiden is distraught about having to marry a guy other than the one she loves so she goes up to the top of the highest rock, casts herself down and lands on her parents, killing them, and thus, after she recovers from the fall, goes on to marry her beloved.

Twain says, “there is a startling kind of dramatic surprise about it which I was not looking for. It is a distinct improvement upon the threadbare form of Indian legend. There are fifty Lover’s Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped, but this is the only jump in the lot that turned out in the right and satisfactory way.”

I am not embarrassed to admit that I howled when I read that. And then he goes on to complain about a blanket. Well, about a story about a blanket.

Honestly writers in the United States. What are we aiming for when we sit down to write that Twain hasn’t already hit?

I think this is my favorite book, ever. Ever, ever. I love it so much.

Medium Rare?

I sometimes catch The Dead Files on the Travel Channel. I don’t really like it. But I watch it anyway, because the stories are right up my alley. The premise is that this cop and this medium go around investigating people’s troubled haunted houses, but that the cop and the medium don’t compare notes until after the investigation is done. This is supposed to show you how good the medium is, based on how close she comes to the evidence the cop discovers.

Last night they had a case down in Key West where a guy had been tarred and feathered by the Klan for having a mixed-race girlfriend and he then shot and killed the leader of the Klan in retaliation and then was lynched by the Klan. His girlfriend then put a voodoo curse on all of the Klan and the police officers involved and they all died mysterious, gruesome deaths.

You can see why I like the stories.

Two things bugged me. One is that the medium was all like “I sense there was a gang of all same raced people wearing weird, funny hats, somehow part of a larger organization a long time ago” but she never came up with the Klan. Was she born yesterday? I mean, even if she’d said something like “they were either in the Klan or a group like it” it would have been a bet-hedging I could have accepted. But any adult who can say “a bunch of same-raced people” “gang” and “funny hats” and not come up with “Klan”? I don’t believe it.

The other is that the medium had this kind of “oh, she shouldn’t have been doing that” look on her face both about the chick laying voodoo curses and the chick who owned the house who was a reiki practitioner who helped dying cancer kids, because, I guess, both things can “open a door to the other side.” And I guess, unless you’re someone who’s taken on the special mantle of “medium,” you should never open a door to the other side.

I call bullshit. On so many levels.

One, someone who is as an accomplished a voodoo practitioner as you’d have to be to lay a curse that kills multiple people doesn’t need your concern trolling about the dangers of opening a door to the other side. To me, it smacks almost of religious bigotry. Would you talk smack about the dangers of praying the rosary because it puts Catholics in touch with mysterious powers they barely comprehend? Not on national television, because you’d look like an ignorant asshole, judging the religious practices and the spiritual capability of someone based on that religion.

They do this crap on Ghost Adventures all the time–everything that’s not straight-up recognizable bland Christianity is treated like it’s Satanic. Travel Channel, two shows makes it start to look like a habit.

But second, I don’t for a second buy that doing healing energy work on dying children (which, regardless of whether we think it’s valid or not, I think we can all say comes from a place of intense well-meaning) is opening yourself up to negative energy in your own home that you otherwise might not have attracted. What a shitty thing to say.

If mediumship and interactions with “the other side” are real, they are incredibly common. Just at the level of “have you ever felt like a dead person was present and interacting with you and/or the environment you were in.” Not necessarily “I see dead people” but just “do you sometimes think you can tell the soul of a dead person is hanging around?” For as long as there have been human beings, we have tended our dead, venerated our ancestors, and accounted in some way for the feeling that the dead are with us (even if that accounting is that “no, there’s no such thing as ghosts, that’s a jinn or your imagination or whatever.”).

Just as some members of your family are more people-persons than others, I don’t think it’d be weird if other members of your family were more dead-people-persons. Which is not to say that any member of your family couldn’t, you know, go out and make a friend.

But something about the vibe of this medium just seems repeatedly to be “these idiots have done something stupid to open themselves up to stuff they have no business being open to, because that’s my business.”

It’s like saying no one can paint there own room because there are such a thing as house painters.

There are lots of reasons, in a lot of religious and philosophical traditions, about why you might not want to mess around with the dead or whatever else is lingering.

But frankly, “you don’t know what you’re doing” just isn’t a good enough one.

How do you learn what to do if you never start out a fool?