Maybe It’s Not That Bad: Project X

I finished the second to the last section this evening. I’m glad I talked to one of my beta readers in person about this because she said some things to my face that she didn’t write to me that ended up breaking wide open my understanding of the problem with the section. So, that was nice.

I’m feeling… not like a failure, but I don’t know, like things aren’t coalescing. Like I’m all fart, no turd, as they say.

I really want to be a turd, though.

So… that’s a weird metaphor, but I guess I’ll stick with it.

Some Thoughts on the Red-Headed Kid

I’m fascinated by him right now. Watching him navigate a world he’s going to get to live in for the next sixty, seventy years. I mean, things could get in the way of that, but they’re unknown things. The whole “dead by thirty” thing is no longer absolutely true. It’s weird, you know, to think that Mrs. Wigglebottom will, of course, be dead by 2018. She doesn’t have five more years in her. And that weighs on me so much, wanting to be sure to do right by her in her last years.

But I don’t think I ever really accepted that the Red-Headed Kid wasn’t going to make it that long. At least, when he first told us he didn’t have that long, thirty seemed so far off for him. We’ve known him for a long time. It seemed like almost half his life away. But it’s a quick half–that sprint between 15 and 30.

Anyway, so here it is for him–a life that goes beyond that.

And it’s so intriguing to see how that’s changing his life. In some ways, not much. As long as I’ve known him, he’s either worked in a grocery store or at Hollywood Video and he works at a grocery store. He’s always been a heavy metal nerd and he’s still a heavy metal nerd.

But he hugged my mom at Christmas and came over to play Apples to Apples with our family. He’s just subtly becoming more gregarious. And he’s always been really funny, but he used to be funny in this way where you almost hated to laugh, because he might think you were laughing AT him, even though he was obviously being intentionally funny. And now, now his stories are all funny with him.

I guess it’s the same as the question this morning. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The Red-Headed Kid seems to plan on spending it savoring it.

It’s kind of wild to me, too, how little anger he has. I mean, dude had repeated surgeries–had fucking heart surgery–and had to have a pace maker. And it’s just epilepsy. His heart is fine.

And he treats it like everything else, just something weird. A mistake. Yes, one he bore the brunt of, but a mistake.

Something that happens. And so let’s see what happens next.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Junior Seau did have CTE, as he must have suspected when he shot himself in the heart, leaving his brain behind to answer for his loved ones that inviolate “why?”

Football is, for me, like wrestling. Something I used to love that I’ve had to turn away from. It used to be that the questions were “Is it real?” “Are they cheating?” “Is he on steroids?”

And now the question is “Am I watching a man kill himself, maybe without even realizing it, for my amusement?”

More and more, I cannot deny that the answer to that question is “yes.”

It’s not just that. Honestly. If you’re an adult and you want to do something dangerous that might kill you, that’s your business. Sky-dive away. Climb that mountain. Whatever.

No, what really bugs me about it is that CTE robs people of their lives, of their families, of the people they recognize themselves to be.

I don’t mind–though perhaps I should–if you want to risk your life. But I cannot forget how much I enjoyed watching Chris Benoit risk his wife’s and son’s lives. Even though no one knew that was what was at risk when he launched himself from the top rope like a fireplug in a minor victory over gravity. I read he became very religious toward the end of his life and his whole family was so relieved, because they knew he’d been through some dark times recently, and maybe this was a sign he was finding his way out from it.

Except that apparently newfound religiosity is a symptom of CTE damage. His family just didn’t know how to recognize it for what it was–a danger sign. What they should have been able to read as a good sign was the opposite.

It even robs you of your religion.

And I should find that entertaining?

On weekends, I regularly drive by a field full of kids playing football. They’re so small and their helmets so big that they look like mushrooms out there. To which one of them would you say “I hope you kill your own child.”? “I hope you become a stranger to your own spouse.”? “I hope you shoot yourself in the heart so that science can have your head.”?

Vising and Revising Were on a Boat: Project X

It’s weird that “vising” isn’t really a word, right? I’m up to my chest in revisions. Yes, I already revised, based on shit I saw. And then my beta readers got back to me and they both said very similar things and when they didn’t say similar things, they said different things about the same things.

It’s funny. The part I thought needed the most work seems to need the most straight-forward work. Add a couple of things and… ta da.

I’m not sure how the next parts are going to go. I’m kind of stressed about it.

Plus, holy shit, did I tell you guys what I’m doing next week? No? Well, I’m completely unprepared. So, I’m a little wanting to throw up about that. We can talk more about it when I’m feeling better about it.

Next week.

FUUUUUuuuuuuck.

“Is there anything soft left of you?”

I had a dream. I don’t remember what it was exactly, except for that in it, I was walking backwards across a field to try to get to two men who were having a conversation without startling them.

And that was the question the older one asked of the younger one: Is there anything soft left of you?

It woke me up. I felt like I had eavesdropped by accident on a question the Universe had for someone else.

Dreams are strange. Over the holidays I kept having this dream that I was introducing people to a very casual acquaintance of mine (I like him, but don’t really know him and our lives intersect maybe once every 18 months.) as “my old husband.” Not, “ex-husband.” “Old husband.” Like we’d been married in some other life.

When I was in college, I knew a guy I always felt I’d known already. Getting to know him, I experienced it all the time as “Oh, I forgot you did that.”

I don’t know. Brains are weird. They do their own things, make their own connections. I don’t think I really believe in reincarnation, but sometimes I wonder.

So, who knows? Maybe once someone asked that of me–is there anything soft left of you?–and now all there is is softness and yielding and giving way.

There’s a Person in Nashville I Want to Meet

Somewhere in Nashville is a person who has very similar tastes in literature to me. Every single time I read about a new book–like if a website announces, “We are the first to bring you news that this book exists, right this second!!!!” and I run to the library website to check it out, there is always a person ahead of me. Always.

Who is this person? Not only must he or she like the same kinds of things as me, he or she must read the same websites I do, learn about things a millisecond ahead of me.

I think that, if I ever do manage to be the first person to get a new book, I will feel a sense of triumph initially, but then I will worry about whether the person in town who reads slightly faster or types slightly more accurately than me is sick or dead.

Meanwhile, I wonder about that person and wish we could talk about the books we both like to read. Except that they just finished Jagannath and I have not yet started it.

Things in the World

1. Oh, Army Corps of Engineers! Things like this are why everyone comes to roll their eyes at you eventually.

Seven months after Franklin’s dam on the Harpeth River was demolished, making the river free-flowing for the first time in 49 years, inspectors at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believe several new dams should be added along the river’s route.

Seven whole months of free-flowing water?! My god! Thank goodness you’re working out a way to put a stop to that!

2. You know people live differently than you when a scam like this would even work.

Over a seven-week period, Steven Goldmann is accused of having conned a local real estate company, a fashion designer, a vintage guitar shop, a limousine company, at least one hotel, a furniture store, an audiovisual company, a helicopter rental business and a Hooters waitress out of tens of thousands of dollars.

I’m not saying I couldn’t be scammed. A good con artist is a good con artist. I’m merely saying that I had no idea you could pay by check for all these things. My hardware store won’t accept a check and a helicopter rental business will?

3. As usual, Tennessee State legislators don’t want to get shot at their workplace at the same time they write laws to make it easier for you to get shot at yours. If more guns everywhere is the answer, why can’t people carry into the legislative plaza? Why do they get more security of the sort they deny the rest of us?

Two Things

1. Yet another reason I love Tony’s Foodland: The cashier today was as tickled as I was that I got to meet the dude who started Purity Dairy and she totally understood why I fan-girled out and couldn’t talk to him.

2. NM made–hands down–the most delicious collard greens I have ever eaten. Took collard greens from “ugh, no thanks” to “if I distract everyone at the table, could I eat these all?” for me. Amazing. Involved raisins and pine nuts. So good.

Oh, I Completely Forgot to Tell You about OUTRAGE AT THE STATE MUSEUM!!!!

People. The Tennessee State Museum has a portrait of Sam Houston that makes him look kind of… I don’t know… I look at it, and I find myself with a funny grin on my face. If Sam Houston asked me for coffee, I would not say no. If he wanted to hold my hand and stroll slowly through the museum with me whispering to me all kinds of gossip about his old compatriots, I would wear my good bra!

What the fuck?

I have no taste in history boyfriends.

The Thing about Project X

So, my goal for today was to sit down with a printed out version and a pen and make my first pass through it. I’m still a little foggy-headed, so I think I’ll go through it again when I’m feeling better, but I am really, really happy with it. I’m a little concerned that I might want more descriptions of the city itself, considering how much psychic space the city takes up in the story. But that’s the only thing that nags at me a little.

Otherwise, I’m really pleased with how distinct each of the voices in each of the stories is, how different their approach to their mutual circumstances are.

I would happily read a book like this and finish it and feel that I had spent some time doing something interesting.

And I guess that’s all I can hope for.

I haven’t started on the index yet. Maybe that will happen in the next pass.

But no matter what, I’m really happy at this point.

Things I Have Watched

Red Riding Hood–I couldn’t get through it. Lord it was terrible. It had all the pieces of a great movie, but it seemed not to understand the fundamental power of the myth itself. It’s like, if this movie were a light fixture, the movie makers wired together all the wrong colored wires. I mean, you can have whoever you want be the wolf, but if you don’t understand the power of a girl in her new red cloak approaching someone in bed, trying to tell if they mean her harm or not–if you don’t get that core metaphor–your story just is not going to work. Needless to say, the movie was so busy trying to be some Twilight knock-off that it missed its own core.

Trollhunter–I loved this movie. I imagine I would have loved it more if I were Norwegian and got all the references and recognized the actors. (From Wikipedia, it seems comparable to if Christopher Guest made a fantasy movie.) But even with my limited frame of reference, I found it great. I really love stories that seem like they just shift from reality only a tiny bit. It’s not that there’s some OTHER world where there are trolls, but here’s this beautiful place we love and know, these ordinary sights we’ve seen so often, these legends we’ve heard since we were babies, and here’s a way into them you never noticed before. When they literally drove by a road they’d never noticed before, I was all in. And the trolls are beautiful.

Some National Geographic show about a lampshade that turned out to not be one of the Nazi human lampshades–I have a lot of really mixed feelings about this. And I feel like there’s a kind of wall you hit when you’re talking about something like the Holocaust, where you just have to acknowledge that whatever you say is pretty much immediately swallowed up in a great unspeakableness. But what sticks with me about this show is that it was terrible for the journalist when he thought that he had human remains that obligated him to try to figure out how to recognize and acknowledge them. And that it was terrible for him when he learned it was just a cow. Because as terrible as the first thing was, he was, in his way, bearing witness to this terrible thing. And the second thing rendered all his actions kind of futile.

I was also struck by the footage of the Germans being brought by the Allied forces into Buchenwald to have to face what had been done there. The guy they were interviewing while the footage was being shown was refuting the Germans’ contention that they didn’t know. He said “bullshit, of course they knew,” though that’s not an exact quote. And yet, I think both things are true. The townspeople all had these happy looks on their faces, as if they were just going for a stroll, and then, as they’re confronted by piles of bodies and these horrible trophies and angry troops, they become grief-stricken. They claim they did not know what was going on.

And, absolutely, that’s unbelievable. But I’m struck by the idea that there’s something important about human nature in evidence here. Because I also don’t think that they’re exactly lying when they said they didn’t know. They did too know what was going on. Living close enough to the camp that they could stroll to it? The women in their dress shoes? It doesn’t just strain credulity–it breaks it–to say they didn’t know. But they didn’t know what they would make of it, how they would understand it in the long run.

I mean, if the Nazis had won and those had been Axis troops marching the townspeople into the camp and showing them what they’d done, do we really believe that the majority of people would have been weeping and screaming? That they would have been so distraught? No. The exact same exercise, in the context of victory, would have been a celebration. Perhaps of a grim, but necessary thing. But a celebration.

It seems that there are at least, then, two levels of knowing. The knowing of the thing itself. Did the Germans know what was going on? Yes, of course. Did they know how they were going to live with it? No, of course not.

It suggests to me some scary things about how mobs work. How the actions of a group can carry a person along by pushing back the day of that second knowing or recontextualizing that second knowing into something the mob can live with, something that doesn’t have to trouble the person swept up in it. A mob doesn’t really have a mechanism for self-reflection, for pausing to contemplate what its done. That’s individual work that mob activity actively prevents.

But this also seems to me to argue for the importance of witness. Obviously, the presence of the Allied witnesses, and the presence of the prisoners who lived, and thus who knew–these people outside the mob–changed the group dynamic.

Mobs frighten me. And yet, we do a lot of things in large groups with all these large group dynamics in play. We are pack animals in many ways.

I don’t know. When I was in college, I watched parts of Shoah for a class and there’s a moment when the documentarian hunts down this old Nazi and is surreptitiously filming him and the old Nazi looks just like my grandpa. I mean, exactly. Not that there are that many ways for fat old bald German-ish men to look, and who knows what the resemblance would have been like had the Nazi been filmed with a higher quality camera? Still, in what it is, they look alike.

And that has always stuck with me–that this man, who looks so much like my grandfather is, of course, someone’s grandfather. A grandfather did these things. I’d like to believe that I’m the kind of person who said, “I see what you’re doing and it’s wrong.” And I do think that I am that type of person. But I’m also the type of person who would have walked to that camp, laughing with my friends, until the dawning horror of what I had accepted as ordinary became too obvious to deny.

I don’t know if you know which of your selves you might resolve into until you’re faced with those circumstances.

But I also think there’s another lesson in here–when the townspeople were brought into that camp and confronted with the knowledge that they had been a part of this terrible thing, after the tears came the denial. We didn’t know.

Which to me suggests that the resolution of self–the ability to bring yourself into focus and know yourself for who you truly are–is fleeting. It’s not some light that comes on in a room and stays on. It’s a flashlight with dying batteries. You catch a glimpse. You lose sight. You catch another glimpse. And sometimes, you shut your eyes to what you’ve seen for a second in the dark, because, otherwise, how could you go on?

Inconvenience

One of the things I realized this Christmas is that I have a tremendous amount of luxury in my life now. Not just the luxury of a roof over my head, but the luxury of time to write, the luxury of sick days when I’m feeling like shit.

But the biggest luxury I have is that I am safe in my own home. Which is not to say that someone couldn’t break in and take things. But that’s still an invasion. What I mean is that, right now, the Butcher has some friends I don’t like. But if he called me up and said “Hey, I’m running late from work and so-and-so is already at the house, so don’t be surprised when you get home,” the only thing I’d think is “Oh, god, what am I going to talk about with that person until the Butcher gets here?” There’s not a single person the Butcher or I would have over at the house that I would think would be likely to steal from me or fuck my shit up for fun.

I no longer hide cash in my own home. If the Butcher is going to the store and I need him to buy me something, I leave $10 by his car keys and trust that the $10 will be there (or on the floor near there) when he looks for his keys. I don’t decline to buy the niftiest thing because I’m afraid I’ll lose it or it will get broken or destroyed.

I’ve arranged my life so that any asshole that would steal from me or break my stuff has to do so either by invading my home or betraying me.

And I hadn’t even realized I was doing it until this Christmas. And yet, I’ve clearly been changing my life in this way since I left my parents’ home.

The Professor asked me if I felt guilty, if that’s part of why this holiday has shaken me. And the truth is that I do feel guilty. Not because I have all this and my brother and sister-in-law and my nephews have so little. I feel terrible for my nephews, but my brother and sister-in-law are sleeping in beds they made. I have friends who I look at and I wonder how their lives are there and my life is here. But I don’t have that wonder about my family. I feel guilty because I am not going to help them. I’m not going to start talking to my sister-in-law again. I’m not sending my brother money. I’m not insisting anyone move in with me so that I can ensure they have a roof over their heads.

And I think that makes me a terrible person. But it makes me a terrible person who feels safe in her own home.

God, just the fact that I don’t have to play “Guess which bullshit is closest to the truth” on a regular basis is such a luxury. And there’s no way–simply none–once the wallet starts opening, to avoid that game. Let alone having folks here.

I choose doing what I know makes me happy over doing what might help my family. Mostly because I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t help. I think it would just be two branches of the family throwing their money away instead of one.

But man, it rubs me wrong. If there’s even a slight chance, you should take it, right?

And yet, they teach lifeguards how to keep from being dragged down by the people they’re trying to rescue.

I just hear this voice in my head saying “Oh, it’s so inconvenient for you, is it?” But being safe in your own home isn’t a convenience. Not having to take charge of the lives of other adults isn’t a matter of convenience.

I know I’m making the right decision, but it sits uneasily with me.

Still Sick

But at least I’ve moved on from the “watching the clock until I can take the next dose of cold medicine” portion of the cold. I really hate cold medicine. It helps, but I react to it poorly. Last night, for instance, I kept seeing a cat in my peripheral vision where there was no cat.

So, that was weird.

I’m feeling better today but still not great.