Dr. Parnassus blah blah blah

We watched that Dr. Parnassus movie which started out so intriguingly and then kind of petered out into nonsense. Beautiful nonsense, but still nonsense. I was trying to decide if it would have been better had Ledger lived, but the truth is that it called for such a weird change of Tony’s character from scamp to evil-doer that I don’t think so. How could anyone make that work?

Still, I can’t stop thinking about it. It was so beautiful and just the right kind of strange.

A Little More on the Ghost of Ed Johnson

1. I need to find a way to search the Chattanooga Times archives to see if it also has the story. There’s just an appreciable difference between such a story being reported in Nashville only and in Nashville and Chattanooga.

2. U.S. v. Shipp was heard in Chattanooga. Rather than hauling everyone to Washington, they held the trial at the Customs House and the dude who heard it wrote up notes and sent them back to the Supreme Court to deliberate on. Look at this website, with the chronology:

December 24, 1906
In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Holmes, the Court announces that it has jurisdiction to try the 26 defendants.

February 12, 1907
James Maher, deputy clerk of the Supreme Court, begins taking evidence in the United States Custom House in Chattanooga in the trial of Shipp and the other defendants.  Testimony from 31 government witnesses concerning the lynching continues for five days, then the trial is recessed until June.

According to ProQuest, the seance was held either January 15 or 16 (the story says “the night before” but the dateline is unclear whether the day the story ran was the 16th or the 17th). This fills in a hole, timeline wise, and suggests that the seance was for the “benefit” of the people of Chattanooga–to convince them that the lynching had been deserved and that the national shitstorm that was about to descend on the city was because of justified actions. I think it also suggests something VERY interesting. It suggests that Ed Johnson was believed. That his last words, when he proclaimed his innocence, made some white people uncertain about this being the correct course of action.

This is an important turn of events–though god, poor fucking Johnson–because the way white supremacy worked in the Jim Crow South was that the word of black people didn’t count. We even see this at Johnson’s trial–he says he was someplace else, he has a ton of witnesses that say he was someplace else–and it isn’t enough to save him from a guilty verdict. Black people’s testimony literally wasn’t enough to clear someone’s name.

But Johnson’s profession of innocence at his lynching must have had some weight within the white community in a way that the white establishment found threatening. After his death, his word that he didn’t do it carried such weight that it had to be counteracted. They’d already killed Johnson and that hadn’t shut him up. So, I think, they had to commandeer his soul in order to give the white doubters the voice they’d believe. But this still shows you the shift–Johnson’s voice now carried weight in white society. It wasn’t enough for the courts and the lynchers to say that he was a liar, the lynchers’ lawyers needed him to say it.

Still, I’m left with this lingering question of whether the lynchers’ lawyers needed it for themselves as well.

In other words, does the ghost show up in order to scare the doubts about this white supremacist social order away?

Awesome Things I Learned at the TSLA Today

1. If the Allens had weekly seances, they weren’t talked about in the papers while the Allens were alive.

2. But when Ben Allen’s cousins contested his will, they did so on the grounds that his belief in spiritualism throughout his life showed he wasn’t in his right mind, ever, and any will he made shouldn’t count for shit. They lost and Sue inherited everything. Which probably goes to show that you shouldn’t fuck with a woman whose brothers-in-law were lawyers.

3. Ben died, it seems, because he had stomach troubles AND because he became so despondent over the death of one of his friends that he lost his mind.

4. In 1873, the Republican Banner sent a reporter to a seance who had, due to some kind of childhood episode (folks, I don’t know. The past is a strange place), the ability to see in the dark and he completely just debunked mediumship–here’s how it’s done, here’s what the medium is doing, etc.–but it did nothing, seemingly, to quell Nashvillians’ love of seances.

5. The Memphis Ledger also ran a story about a kid who had lit a match during a seance and revealed the medium up and doing shit. Here’s the best part. They explained this away by saying that the spirit took on so much of the medium’s essence that often they were indistinguishable. Conveniently.

6  Professor Gilman and his wife did have a couple of incredibly high profile seances at their house–145 North Cherry. Judging by the Sanborn map, 145 North Cherry is now under Commerce Street, which was an alley when the Gilmans lived there. (Cherry being 4th). More interesting is this tidbit from the Nashville history blog–“The site of 146 and 148 was previously occupied by the Church of Rev. Mr. Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson who was said to have been a brilliant orator, and a man of much personal magnetism, was a Campbellite (that is and obsolete word now but it used to be Campbellite, and as this sketch is largely about old names and old people I take the liberty to use it in this connection) but he became a convert to Spiritism or Spiritualism, and most of his flock went with him into the new faith. The church was totally destroyed by fire early one morning, about the year 1857.” This, as far as I can tell, is under the Batman building.

7. This is perhaps the most mindblowing thing–and I can’t decide how to read it–in 1907 (so after people had been pretty regularly debunking seances) the lawyers for the lynchers of Ed Johnson and the lawyer for Shipp (yes, Shipp of United States v. Shipp, though I suppose that was obvious once we were talking about Ed Johnson) and the former Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, Judge Snodgrass, had a seance in which the “ghost” of “Johnson” “admitted” to raping the woman he was lynched for raping. Someone–Bridgett?–help me understand this. Was this some kind of racist theater–oh, the black Chattanoogans are all upset about the lynching and we know how superstitious black people are. Let’s fake a seance, fake an admission of guilt, and that will calm them right down, since they’ll see justice was done? Or was this some kind of bizarre theater for the benefit of the court systems–Look, yes, these men are on trial for lynching a dude, but he says he was guilty of the crime and the Sheriff looks like he’s about to be in huge hot water with the U.S. Supreme Court, but maybe they’ll totally buy the testimony of a ghost? Or is this some kind of effort to appease the consciences of the lawyers? Like, did they know the tide of white public sentiment was turning against lynching, so they had to come up with some justification for themselves about why they were on the side of the lynchers that let them believe they were still good people? Who, exactly, needed to hear from “Johnson” here?

And Then There Was Yesterday Evening…

Every once in a while, I stumble across mentions of A City of Ghosts that I just don’t even know what to do with. Someone saying something about how she loved this turn of phrase or someone else talking about how the only thing she wants to do is dip back into it. And it makes me feel so, not even proud, something bigger than proud. I feel so humbled and amazed. I mean, I expected people I knew to buy it and I hoped people I didn’t know would buy it, but to hear people talking about it like they love it–and not for my benefit–just makes me feel like the luckiest person ever. It makes me feel like I made something bigger than me, that can go on without me.

Anyway, I got home and made dinner for the Redheaded Kid and the Butcher. My lawn was mowed and my kitchen was cleaned. The Butcher tried to act like he’d done it, but I think we all know the truth! The Red-Headed Kid is our brownie! And we were all watching TV and the Red-Headed Kid was like “God damn it, Betsy. Your house is so full of ghosts that, if you sit still for longer than five seconds, you freeze to death.” Then he pulled a blanket around him.

“It’s not that cold in here,” I said.

“Because the spirits like you.”

I think I’ve finally become the creepy person I always hoped I would be.


Is anticipation the best feeling? I can’t remember if we’ve talked about this, but I say, “yes.” It’s delicious and terrible and I love it.

My secret dream is to write a scary ghost story. I mean, yes, once you’ve read Jackson, it’s like why try? But part of it is that she does it so well in a way that is so beautiful that I can’t help but want to try myself. So, I’ve been mulling over all the things that make ghost stories not scary to me. And I think that one of the things is that you have to manage anticipation. People have to both want and not want to know what happens next.

I’m rereading the Ben & Sue thing now. I’m not completely happy with Moll’s voice–my narrator. It’s obviously better to have a first-person narrator, but I’m not sure she sounds right or consistent. And I think I may need to put back in a thing I cut.

But otherwise, I’m feeling good about it. Except that I’m nervous it hits too close to home in some ways, that I’m shitting in my own bed, so to speak. But what can you do? The story is the story.

Diet Dr. Pepper, Why Have You Foresaken Me?

You are in the fridge at home. I am here at work. My lunch bag is full of all the other crap that’s supposed to be in there.

But you, beloved, are absent.

I wrote this song for you:

WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhy, God, why?

I think you can pretty much figure out the tune.

Edited to add: So, I went downstairs and got a regular Dr Pepper, which, like I told my co-worker, is like getting tickets for Led Zeppelin and it’s the motherfucking singer from Whitesnake.

How is This Weather Possible?

It’s all I can do to go into work. The walk this morning with the dog was perfect. Cool and green, with a sweet slight breeze. You know how Wallace Stevens says “It was evening all afternoon?” In some ways it’s been autumn all summer long.

I feel a little guilty about how relieved I am that the Butcher is home. Like I’m putting my happiness above his unhappiness. But I am relieved.

Old Hag

Yes, I am jealous a little of the Butcher’s ability to remember lots of things. And of his ability to tell how a movie or tv show will end five minutes from the beginning.

But never have I been as jealous as I am upon learning that the Old Hag regularly rides him.

How is this something you fail to mention to your sister who loves creepy things until today?

Anyway, he was napping at a friend’s house, waiting for the air conditioner repair man to show up when he realized someone was in the room with him. He attempted to get up and show the “repair man” where he needed to go, but he could not, because he was paralyzed.


Valerie June

It’s everything I hoped it would be. Except that I somehow have it on my iPod twice, so it plays each song like an echo when it’s over. Which is not ideal when trying to think about it as a whole.

But it makes me feel like when you are floating in a lake and it’s wonderful and then the fish start nibbling on your leg hair.

Not that that’s ever happened to me.

I’m just saying, I heard the fish in Percy Priest might do that.

The Thing about The Thing

I know I’ve said before that, when I moved to North Carolina, I regularly heard black people making cracks about Strom Thurmond’s black daughter. It came up fairly frequently, in all kinds of situations. It was an open secret. I thought it was an open secret among all Carolinians, North and South, because the knowledge was so wide-spread and so openly discussed.

And yet, finally the “secret” got out and a ton of white people were stunned. Some white people I knew in North Carolina, who I think must have been present for some of the jokes I heard, were stunned.

This was my first direct observation that people of color could say things outloud to white people’s faces, repeatedly, over a long period of time and it just not be heard as a real thing.

Watching the discussion going on about Schwyzer in the feminist blogosphere has been a second, harder lesson in the same thing. I know even I thought he was creepy (I looked back here to see if I’d written any posts on him back in the day, and the few I have are filled with me feeling like there was something fucked up about his line of reasoning, even as I was continually giving him the benefit of the doubt–like maybe he just didn’t know better.) I failed until the infamous Feministe thread to connect my feelings of unease to him willfully doing things wrong.

People had long before that put two and two together and were sharing as much information as they could collect about him with each other in order to try to protect themselves from him. Who he was and how he behaved was an open secret. Open in the sense that these folks were doing whatever they could to share the information they had with whomever would listen. Secret in the sense that, because of racism, they didn’t have enough cultural authority within Feminism to have their knowledge taken as legitimate.

I’m not blaming others. I’m saying–this is how it worked for me. I knew something was not right and it still took seeing it spelled out the however many hundredth time for it to finally click that the “something” was known and widely available for the knowing. Because I am not socialized to accept the testimony of people of color as legitimate.

It’s racism. It’s not the kind that’s evil intent in your heart, which we all recognize as bad. But it is what it is. Whose knowledge you respect as legitimate and who gets the benefit of the “maybe s/he just doesn’t know any better” or “you know s/he’s not well” is deeply ingrained and changing it is lifelong work.

And if, in a situation where you have the direct observations and testimony of women of color who aren’t self-admitted attempted murderers who intentionally target women to try to publicly ruin them and the word of a self-admitted murderer who intentionally targets women to try to publicly ruin them, if you’re looking for ways to sympathize and understand the dude, you need to do more of that work.

The Witches are Drafted!!!


That’s a relief. Now to let that sit for a bit.

I can’t really decide if the story I have that’s in the batter’s box is ready for prime time. I’m going to sit on it for a while, too.

I think that leaves only Ben & Sue on my writing to-do list at the moment.

Woo! Again.

Summer Spent Wheel-Spinning

I’m feeling a little like I spent my summer spinning my wheels AND that I got a lot accomplished. I guess that’s how it works sometimes. You can’t make yarn without spinning your wheels, right?

So, here are my goals:

1. Finish up a rough draft of the Witches.

2. Polish up a story to throw in the “shopping around” mix to replace “It Came from the Sunny Side of the Mountain,” which is going in the Witches mix.

3. Get back into Ben & Sue.

The Witches

I only have one more story left! I tried to incorporate as many different types of witches as I possibly could–Wiccan-y witches, Devil-deal-making witches, witches who just perform magic of some sort, folklore witches, a Goddess of witches, and I even think I have an interesting take on The Bell Witch.

No idea what I’m going to do for that last story, though. Not yet, anyway.

I will say this–writing this many stories this quickly is a great exercise in just churning stuff out. And there are quite a few that I feel really good about–like wow, that is something. Maybe not a perfect something, but a something.

Do Dogs Get Pissed?

I’ve seen dogs get mad. Obviously, they get aggressive. And I’ve seen dogs not like a particular person.

But I’ve never seen a dog behave like Mrs. Wigglebottom is behaving. Hell, I’ve never seen Mrs. Wigglebottom behave how Mrs. Wigglebottom is behaving. If you’ve been over, you know that you arrive, there’s much barking and bottom wiggling and attempts to sit on your lap and to get all of the butt scratches you have to give.

But when the Butcher returned home, Mrs. Wigglebottom got up off the couch and went and got in my closet. No barking, no wiggling. And, like right now, since she’s sure the Butcher is asleep, she’s in there sleeping on the floor where she can keep an eye on him, but when he stirs, she rushes into my room so that, I guess, he doesn’t see that she cares?

I don’t know how to understand this, since it would seem to take a level of emotional sophistication both that I didn’t know dogs had and that I’ve never seen her exhibit. Because it’s like she has two contradictory emotions. She seems glad he’s home–in secret, where he can’t see it–and completely unbothered by his reappearance, less than impressed, even.

Fentress County Witches

I stumbled upon the stories of Old Man Stout (he has a lot of different first names depending on the story) and Marsha Millsaps, both of Fentress County who were accused of being witches. There seems to be a widespread belief that Stout was actually charged with witchcraft and seemed to fail (or pass, I guess) many of the tests for witchcraft, but was only saved because the judge and prosecutor refused to take up the case. He then, supposedly, sued his accusers. A short time later Millsaps was accused by “A Wizzard” (gosh, I wonder if he’s in the census) of being a witch and fucking dogs. She sued for defamation and won.

Check this Friday Five Out

I am so excited about this Valerie June album that I’m now at the point where I’m afraid it just cannot live up to the anticipation I have for it. And yet, in a summer of no money, this is the one thing I’ve scrimped and saved to have money for.

And now, she’s over at Engine 145 giving them five songs that inspired her while she was working on the album and I’m even more stoked.

On a side note, can we talk about Jessie Mae Hemphill just a second? If someone were to describe to you what a Hemphill song sounded like, I doubt you’d want to listen to it. A woman, with a kind of unpleasant voice sings these slow droning songs that seem to never end. And yet, I can’t stop listening to her. I feel almost like I’m listening to an aural drug–like she really wants to shift her listeners into a certain psychic space by just the power of her voice. I find that compelling. What I find unsettling is that I’m not sure what she wants us to find when we get over there, to the space the music moves you to. It sounds like it could be the kind of place you should bring a knife to.

New Kitty is So Weird


Sorry this is so blurry, but it’s hard to catch her at some of her weirdness. Here she is sitting in a puddle. Yes, in the shallow end, but she’s just sitting away in the puddle. One of my friends, on Twitter, says this is pretty typical behavior for a Maine Coon. Except that she’s so tiny. I mean, she’s smaller than the tiny cat was. Ask anyone who’s ever petted her. But she looks like a Maine Coon in many other respects–the furry toes, the rectangle body, the raccoon-like tail, the vocalizations.

I like to think that someone has a Bonsai Maine Coon breeding program here in town and she’s just an escapee.

October Thoughts

I just finished a story that is so terrible that it makes me wonder if I ought to put some kind of warning on some of the stories. It was an interesting story to write because I think, subconsciously, I must have known how it would have to go, but I was writing along to the very end going “Hmm, I wonder how I can resolve this in a way that ties everything together and makes sense.” And then I got this shiver all down my body, because I suddenly knew how it had to end and it was so terrible. And even when I finished it, my first thought was to reread it and try to figure out who was most to blame for not stopping this terrible thing.

And then I realized–I am to blame. I wrote it that way. And it just felt so powerful to know I could write something that pissed me off and made me afraid.

But a major part of the problem is that, when you’re writing about witches, you’re often writing about terrible things happening to people, because who else gets blamed for that nonsense?

Anyway, I don’t suppose it’s sadder or more terrible than things that happened in the ghost stories, but it struck me as something I might not want to read again on purpose.

The End of This Nonsense


I was trying to get both the cat and the dog into the frame, but failed. but the thing on my lap is also resting on the dog’s head. This is how we have to do it these days. Everyone must be right on top of me, because I might someday leave and not come back.

Did I tell you that, when we got home from my parents’, the dog ran to every room to see if she could find the Butcher and, when she realized he wasn’t there, she went back outside and tried to get back in the car?

I’m the paltry second prize. But a second prize they’re willing to fight over.

The Butcher is coming home, though. So, that should make these guys happy. I’m happy, too. And sad for him. I’m glad he was brave enough to try for something he wanted and I’m sorry it didn’t turn out how he hoped.