I had been calling the Ben & Sue project Remind Me of the Dreaming Dead, and then I decided I didn’t think that was quite right. So, then I was toying around with calling it My Dead Confederates which I also didn’t quite like. Most recently, I had settled on The Stories the Living Tell the Dead and the Dead Tell the Living, which is huge and kind of doesn’t suggest a novel or time travel.

Now I’m thinking of either Now and Then or Nashville, Now and Then.


It’s Like I’m on Vacation

Today I laughed with the Butcher, read No Regrets, Coyote which is magnificent, if confusing. Fair warning, there’s an adorable kitten and a charming hobo and one of them does not make it through the book alive.

Then I rewrote some of the Ben & Sue thing and reread and edited my contribution to an October full of witches.

My feelings about October continue to be “Woo!” They’re not all great. But there are some really, really good ones in there. And the ones that don’t quite work still charm me in their own ways.

I’m feeling kind of frustrated with the Ben & Sue project. I feel like it started here: _ and I’ve raised it to here: — but I want it to be here: ~ and I’m not sure what to do to get it up there. I guess, if I’m following the example of the Mortal Instrument books, I need to go put some more smells in. I think I may read through it one more time, incorporate those edits, and give it to nm to look at and see what she thinks.

I also don’t have a good title.

But I’m feeling like I had an awesomely productive day in which I did nothing but things that are fun for me.

The Butcher

The Butcher and I went to Two Boots Pizza for lunch. It’s not set up for how Nashville eats lunch, but if you want someplace where you can eat by yourself, this is the place for you.

We were just shooting the shit, which was nice, and I realized that one of the things I most missed while he was gone was feeling like I had someone who was right there, on my side, in any fight.

Not that I have many fights.

But both my brothers, in their own ways, have my back.

I’m lucky about that.

Of vs. Like

On K.’s recommendation, I’m reading the first Mortal Instruments book, which has sucked me in, in spite of my predisposition to view it as stupid. It’s very entertaining. I’m a little disturbed by all the slapping the main gal does and some of the teenage angst is something I think would have appealed to me as a teenager, but kind of doesn’t now.

But one thing the author does that drives me bonker is that things “smell of” all over the place. “This blanket smells of elderberries, rabbit stew, and loneliness.” Or “he smelled of blood, sweat, and iron ore.”

Here’s the thing. I think there’s a difference between “like” and “of.” If I write “he smelled of lilacs” it’s because I want you to imagine that he’s just come from the lilac bush. But if I write, “he smelled like dirt” I want you to imagine that he had some earthy scent that was kind of similar to the smell of dirt. You smell of something you’ve recently been in contact with. You smell like something that is a metaphor for how you smell.

And yet, I think the author uses “smelled of” to mean both things. So, I don’t know if a character literally smelled like monkey poop–meaning it’s an indication he’s just been near a monkey–or if he just kind of has a weird, unpleasant odor.

Slight Work Griping

We got an email yesterday about two different guys who had flashed groups of women who were walking around campus in broad daylight from campus police.

At the end of the email, it had “risk reduction techniques.”

Those techniques were to not travel anywhere alone, to not travel in dark, isolated spaces, to avail yourself of campus police when walking to and from your car, to feel free to avoid sketchy people, and to trust your instincts. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but not much.

As you can see, none of these “risk reduction techniques” would have prevented these women from being flashed.

So, they’re a superstition, no better than “don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.” Just some shit women are supposed to do that isn’t directly applicable to the situations we encounter trouble in that assume we have some control over who does us wrong.

I’m especially loving the idea that we’re all supposed to call for an escort to and from our cars. All of us? Just how many police officers do we have?

One Last Thought About Miley

I agree with Alyssa here:

But for young white women whose early careers were carefully controlled by large corporations like Disney, there are some remarkable similarities about their dalliances with bisexuality and ratchet culture, which has its own crossovers with gay male culture. Eager to shake off the squeaky-clean images they believe are holding them back creatively, and often the management and creative collaborators and managers, including their parents, who they believe are standing in between them and creative freedom, these young women light out for unclaimed territory, rebellion the only compass they’ve packed for the journey.

The urges for artistic independence and self-actualization are admirable ones. But when those impulses are combined with a disinclination to take advice, bred by years in systems that have better track records of making profits than producing mentally healthy or creatively recognized artists, the result can be work that’s both artistically bankrupt and does cultural harm in many directions.

The VMAs have sparked entirely legitimate critiques of Cyrus as a cultural appropriator who doesn’t have to carry the weight of any of the tropes she flirts with.

But I also want to address an additional thing I’ve seen where moms are writing about Miley’s performance as if she did something wrong because of her young fans. And I just want to say this. To me, this is similar to the Two-and-a-Half Men issue, where parents make decisions for kids for most of their careers, the kids decide that they don’t want the type of career that’s been laid out for them, and the public acts like the kid has “changed his/her mind” in some unfair way. All the people who had come to count on the kid are being let down by the young adult who can make his/her own decisions.

When you or your children watch a child performing–whether it’s on TV or on stage–and that child is making a lot of money, it is very often impossible for the child to actually consent to be there. Contracts have been signed. Parents are brought in to keep the child on-goal when necessary and shuffled off when they seem to be sticking up too much for what is best for the kid. And the money kids make is often the only source of income in families where it’s all too common for parents to decide to be their kids’ managers.

On top of that, Disney and Nickelodeon very carefully craft the images of their underage stars.

When your kids were watching Hannah Montana, they were watching a persona crafted by Disney. Miley wasn’t “deciding” to be someone your kids looked up to. The idea that, once the contracts were signed and the checks started coming, she, as a child, could really decide much of anything about how she was presented to your children is laughable.

But it’s gross that you think she now owes something to your children, because they enjoyed being entertained by her cultivated persona.

Being pissed at someone because they’re not still the person they were contractually obligated to be when they were a child is really, really weird.

And as much as it troubles you about Cyrus, perhaps it should trouble you about what you and your kids are contributing to when you dump money and ratings onto these child stars.

Slow Dog

The dog walks so slowly in the morning. I try to mosey at her speed, for her sake, but it makes me laugh. It’s not the opposite of exercise, but I swear, it kind of feels like it. When we used to walk, my heartrate would go up. I would come home feeling sweaty and like we’d done something.

Now we walk the same distance and I feel relaxed, like we’ve just done some mild stretching. Other than just getting to spend some time together and enjoy the morning, I’m not sure it does any good.

I am Too Old for the VMAs!

I was kind of tickled to discover that I only knew a handful of the people on the VMAs last night. I was a little confused by the One Direction kids, 2/5s of whom seem to have hairdos that look like someone put a frazzled cat on their heads. And then I realized, I am the age where I see young people and I think “They need a hairbrush!”

I was wondering when that shit would start!

It kind of delighted me.

I wasn’t outraged by the Miley Cyrus performance. I mean, you can’t stay that skinny forever, so, hell, if you’ve got it and you’ve got the personality that lets you, go ahead and flaunt it. I didn’t really feel like she was trying to offend me as much as she was just trying to offend people who would be offended by it–mostly her dad. She’s clearly high as a kite, having a great time, and trying to embarrass her parents. Most of us just don’t get to do that on a world-wide stage when we’re 20.

Which is not to let her off the hook for her racist shit. Just thinking that she can probably get over it.


Beth sent me a picture of the witch’s grave in her hometown cemetery. Someone has written on the side the name “Lodema.” I tried to find what I could about her, but I pretty much failed. Only one woman with the name “Lodema” has lived in Beth’s home county, as far as I can tell (though it could be hidden in a middle name) and she’s not buried there.

But in doing my research, I did learn that Mississippi also has a strong Bell Witch tradition–that the witch followed Betsy Bell to Mississippi and tormented her there–and that the destruction of Yazoo City was predicted, supposedly, by a witch. I also came across stuff about the Witch Dance on the Natchez Trace, but I already knew about that.

Which is all to say that Mississippi has some solid witchcraft legends, so Lodema, whether a real person or just a story attached to a grave, fits right at home there.

Sick House

The Butcher has Hand, Foot, and Mouth, which is a virus that causes a painful rash where the name states. Normally little kids get it, but sometimes adults get it and then spend the weekend moping around on the couch because they’re miserable and they’ve already watched all the documentaries about happiness on Netflix.

So, it’s weird. And it means I’ve had to cook him dinner, feed him, and take his dishes to the kitchen. And do the dishes. And the grocery shopping.

Basically, it’s like when he was gone, but with more rashes.


Holy shit! We watched this movie, Woochi, this morning and it was fantastic. I just couldn’t believe it. It starts out strange and beautiful and then just remains so. And I don’t know if it’s the fact that, since there’s already a lot of wirework, I, as a viewer, was willing to accept a level of corniness or if they just did a great job with the CGI, but a lot of the plot hinges on there being a scary rat and rabbit and, by god, they are scary.

I kept asking the Butcher how he learned about this movie, but he said it was just a crapshoot that he picked it.

The Truth of the Johnson Seance

This Daily Times article from January 17th, 1907 is remarkable. Not just about Ed Johnson–though that is interesting–but because it gives such good insight into how a spiritualist seance ran.

So, the medium was Raymond Harkins, who seemed to be well-known in Chattanooga for having seances. Interestingly, he had help from Bob Pease, a police officer who also appears to have done some mediumship. They had a music box that played to start things off and the two mediums “talk in the mysterious language supposed to be effectual in reaching ears that are not ears.”

Now, normally, then, Harkins’ familiar spirit, Dr. Baker, who had some kind of distinctive voice everyone recognized, would show up and guide the session. But, in this case, Baker doesn’t show up. Instead, after Harkins moans and groans and says he’s feeling the pain he feels when “the spirits ‘draw’ on him,” the spirit trumpet flies around the room and knocks against the light fixtures and the radiator and then against the people sitting around the table.

And then a police officer shows up wanting to talk to Judge Shepherd and then Johnson shows up and says his piece to Judge Shepherd. And just as they’re getting ready to ask him for more details that would confirm it was him and confirm the crime, Baker shows up and drives the “black spirit” away and then he, too, leaves.

And the seance is considered some kind of failure. The headline is “Night Off for Spirits.”

As I Suspected

Contempt of Court is completely wrong about the details of the seance. I have the Daily Times article and it’s clear that Curriden and Phillips completely misunderstood what was going on there.

The Camaro was with me on 20th, and we met up with the Corvette on Charlotte and they lined up at the stoplight. So, I took their picture.

The Camaro was with me on 20th, and we met up with the Corvette on Charlotte and they lined up at the stoplight. So, I took their picture.


I just cannot shake this summer’s grand funk. I’ve hung out with friends. I’ve sat at home alone reading. I’ve been on trips. I’ve not been on trips. I listened to music I was excited about. I sat around in silence. I wrote some things I’m pleased with. I’m revising some things I’m pleased with.

I sit on the couch making jokes with the Butcher. I sit in coffee shops with S.

And I just can’t find anything that soothes my soul.

I was saying last night on Twitter that I envy the authors who write the grand, flaming, fuck-yous to editors. Let me be clear. This is never a good practice. There’s not a single instance in which your angry letter is going to get anyone to reconsider publishing you.

But man, how awesome it must be to have that kind of confidence–to know your shit is amazing and anyone who doesn’t see it is an idiot.

I get rejected and I immediately assume that I suck as a writer and everyone who says otherwise is just being kind. Which is its own kind of insulting problematic script, don’t get me wrong. But I think it must be nice to feel so sure of yourself that, when things don’t go your way, you know it’s the other person who’s being a fool.

Beef and Noodles Dreams

The Butcher made beef and noodles for dinner, which were delicious, even though I burned myself on them three times–doing the noodles for him, spilling my dinner on my lap, and then touching the bottom of the pot while putting the noodles away. So, that wasn’t fun. But then I had the best sleep I’ve had in ages.

But I had this really vivid dream that Mayor Dean turned downtown Nashville into a historical reenactment place, like Colonial Williamsburg, and we were all required to work there, but I didn’t have money for costumes, so I decided to open a historical brothel, figuring we could all be naked. But I couldn’t find a landlord who would rent to us or, if they did, who wouldn’t harass my girls.

So, I rented a cart, piled all my girls in it, and went around town trying to find new places while the tourists cheered us.

I woke up in a panic because I had no way to pay for the rented cart.

Slow Jolene

I saw Coble talking about this on Facebook, so I listened to it and it is surprisingly fantastic–Dolly’s version of “Jolene” slowed down from 45 rpm to 33 1/3. The Butcher and I were listening to it and wondering when someone is going to steal the background and stick it on something else, because it’s got such a lovely groove.

But I tell you, the slow version accentuates something in Parton’s technique that has always viscerally bothered me. Not like bothered me in a I hate it way, but bothered me in a it troubles me. You can really hear how she sometimes mangles her “s”s. And the way she mangles them is the way someone whose mouth hurts mangles them. It’s not a speech quirk. It’s the sound of injury. And it might not be in her case, but that’s what it sounds like and it bugs me.

It took me a long time to realize that I was hearing that though. But it’s one of the things that made “Jolene” such a tough song for me. In my version, the singer has recently had the shit beat out of her by her man. I thought that was in the song, but it’s not in the lyrics. I’d just heard that noise and stuck it in there.

Anyway, I don’t really have a point, just that.

And The Ed Johnson Seance Continues

So, I went and grabbed Contempt of Court out of the library to see what Curriden and Phillips had written about the seance. I’m going to quote it at length from pages 289-290:

One evening, after several hours of working on the case, a group of the lawyers st around a law office drinking whiskey. Many drinks into the night, the attorneys decided to conduct a comedy. Witch Lewis Shepherd leading the way, they gathered around a table, dimmed the lanterns, lit a few candles, and announced they were conducting a seance. The whole thing was designed to poke fun at Ed Johnson and his claim of innocence.

With an audience that included a newspaper reporter, several local residents, and a handful of visitors from West Virginia, the lawyers sat around a table, held hands, closed their eyes, and began chanting. Within a few minutes, the people in the room heard a whisper.

“I want to speak with Judge Shepherd,” the voice supposedly said. Those present claimed the voice was that of a well-known policeman who had died several months ago.

“I know everybody in the room except three,” said the whisper. But before the voice could say anything more, another, stronger voice chimed in. This second alleged spirit also wanted to talk to the lawyer.

“I am Ed Johnson,” said the man’s voice. “I want to talk to the Judge [Shepherd], too. I want to tell you all that I was guilty, and they hanged the right man.”

A few seconds later, the whispering spirit of the police officer supposedly interrupted, denouncing Johnson’s spirit and commanding him to depart.


“Fly you away!”

“Get you back, you evil spirit, whence you came. How dare you?”

“I repeat to you, Skiddoo!”

And with that, witnesses said, the spirit of Ed Johnson disappeared into the night and his voice was never heard from again. Everyone in the room received quite a laugh from the skit. Shepherd would later contend that the entire episode was unplanned and unstaged. But then again, Shepherd was a known prankster who would never be handicapped by the truth.

The reviews I’ve read of Contempt of Court point to an obvious problem–in order to make the book readable, they render events into understandable prose and reconstruct scenes in order to give historical facts a narrative.

And here we are. There are red flags in this account That’s not what a seance would have looked like in 1907. They would have been held in pitch black. There would have been a medium. In fact, the Nashville American story says there was a medium. I haven’t seen the Chattanooga Times story yet, but let me just say that this rendition of the seance leaves me with more questions.

My concern is that it seemed so obvious to Curriden and Phillips that a seance was stupid and self-evidently fake that they could only guess that this strange event was a joke.

And yet, the least likely people to joke about seances at that time would have been rich white people–they’re the people who took seances most deadly seriously during the Spiritualist movement.

Curriden and Phillips conclude their discussion of the incident thusly:

This very attitude was the primary reason Parden said he would never return to Chattanooga. That Lewis Shepherd, a lawyer whom Parden respected and loved, would participate in such inappropriate shenanigans greatly disappointed him. The even demonstrated how even liberal-minded people like Shepherd would do certain things and act in different ways to remain politically and socially popular in a racially prejudice community.

Nothing in the notes says there they got this information–that Parden thought the seance was somehow emblematic of Chattanooga’s problems and that Shepherd’s participation disappointed him. I have no way of judging whether that’s an accurate interpretation. If the seance was a joke–and maybe the Chattanooga Times story will make it clear that it was–then it was a slap in the face for Shepherd to participate. But if it wasn’t a joke, I fail to see why it would be inappropriate for Shepherd to participate. And, in fact, if it wasn’t a joke and, considering that Shepherd worked hard to get Johnson some kind of justice, it’s not hard to see how the seance could have been a way to ease Shepherd’s guilt at failing.