Caboose

I now dare you to try not to think about what a weird word “caboose” is. The OED says it’s a Dutch word, and they make a compelling argument, but that “oose” sound always reminds me of the places my brother’s lived–“Tallapoosa” “Chattanooga” etc.–which are all Indian words.

 

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Making Plans

In the work realm, which is going to drift back off blog here shortly, there’s both a lot to be done and a lot of time to do it in, which is really weird. I will probably feel freaked out more the closer we get to the start of April, but right now, I’m just wishing I had a large wall calendar, which I can get procured for me today, I imagine. And some colored pencils that really erase. I wonder if those exist?

In the writing realm, my goals for this little bit are modest. I have two stories that I’m shopping–“Sarah Clark,” which was once accepted into an anthology and then the publisher went belly-up (so it’s never seen the light of day, but someone else once liked it), and “The Letters that Laurel Sent Maggie about that Thing in the Woods” which got rejected last year from someone who had it most the year, and the feedback I got from them suggests to me that, if it strikes your fancy, it really strikes your fancy, and, if it doesn’t, you still think it’s a good story, you just can’t put your finger on why it doesn’t do it for you. So, I’m going to try to find someone for whom it really does it.

I’m waiting to hear back from a Moll & Sue beta reader, so that’s just simmering there on the back burner, nothing I can do about it at the moment. Project X is doing whatever it’s doing and the children’s story is chugging along.

And I am going to start working on a story for an atypical outlet! I’m still in the mulling-over stage on that one but, if I can talk the Butcher into going Super Bowling all Sunday afternoon, I might have time to start to see what shape it might take.

Holy shit, honestly. For as shitty and unproductive as last year seemed to live through it, I’m glad I kept working, because it means I have a lot of little fires to tend now.

Lately, all my characters run around singing “Wild Hog in the Woods,” because I find it creepy as fuck.

It sound like this, when it is sounding particularly English:

And like this once we get a hold of it:

Various Things That Probably Deserve a Whole Post

1. I was really glad to read this, because, again, it hits on a lot of my concerns. I know ‘honor’ is a loaded term, but I still want a social justice movement that prioritizes acting honorably–not nice, exactly, but not making yourself a weapon and then pretending like being a weapon carries no personal cost. This part, especially–“We must, by all means, judge and use that judgement to decide what needs to be changed and how; we must, then, put our shoulders behind it, stand tall and speak truth to power. But few of us are equipped to punish justly, and too many of us are all too eager to try.”

2. And I miss Lauren being more present on the internet for things like this thoughtful post–“But leaving the online feminist community, and the heaviness of that loss, weighed on me for some years. I guess it’s like grieving a toxic family. Eventually all the positive things you’re getting out of the relationship are over-shadowed by the emotional beat downs every Thanksgiving.” Deciding to do work that sustains you, even when it’s difficult, is something that I wrestle with. I’m glad to have never been a big, important feminist blogger, for that reason. But I wonder, a lot, if the ways I’m spending my time online sustain me. This place does. Twitter kind of does and doesn’t. I’m trimming the list of who I follow, even if it means unfollowing people whose work I really admire, just because I can’t have a stream of constant outrage running that close to me. Even though I believe the correct response to the world is a stream of constant outrage. I just can’t be open to it and be healthy. Which, yeah, raises questions about other online work. I don’t know. I’m not making decisions yet.

3. I really love these portraits of Polish witches.

4. You should read this about the name of Washington’s team.

5. And then this about why the Republicans involved matter.

The Importance of Silliness

I had dinner with a couple of friends this weekend and one of them is working on a novel and we’ve been talking about it, because I really love both to talk about writing and to hear other people talk about writing. I spend a lot of time talking about my process here because I gorge myself on other people’s process posts.

See, the thing is that I’m used to being the “good student.” You tell me what you want me to do and I will fucking nail it or die trying. But my whole adult life has been a struggle to figure out how best to be good at the things I want to do when there is no set way of doing things–when you have to figure out what you want to do, how you’re going to try to do it, and how you’ll recalibrate if it doesn’t work how you want it. Basically, trying to move from a paradigm were failure means it’s over to one where failure is just how you learn what doesn’t work.

So, I like seeing what works for other people. I like thinking about what works for me. (For instance, I subscribe to Duotrope* and right now my strategy is to submit a.) to markets that are on their top 100 of pickiest markets and/or b.) markets I like or am curious about. I don’t know why, but being rejected by hard markets somehow sucks less.)

Wow, so, this was a long prelude to my point. But here we go. My friend’s novel has a kind of silly premise. But the points he’s making, the ways he’s drawing up his characters and setting them loose in the world is really, really thought provoking. (What I mean by silly is more like “In a world where vampires are real, a cheerleader will save us!” and not “It’s a comedy novel.”) So, you know a couple of years ago, I went to that awesome panel at the Southern Festival of Books which was a funny horror writer and a comedy writer who writes about horrible things, and it made me really aware of how comedy and horror are close siblings, and, in fact, how you almost need one in order to have the other.

And now this conversation has me thinking about the ways that a strain of silliness makes room for seriousness. And it makes me wonder if the presence of the fanciful (maybe that’s a better word than silly) acts as a kind of signal to the reader that we’re in a story, so that the serious stuff has room to work behind our defenses. I mean, not many of us–let’s be honest–want to real all about class struggles in Britain and how they affect children, but we care that Hermione’s parents are muggles and we don’t want her to feel like she doesn’t belong at Hogwarts.

It’s not like it’s a clear allegory. And I think allegories eventually feel thin (sorry, Narnia). But you see what I mean about letting the serious slip past your defenses?

 

 

*Did we talk about this, now that it’s $50 a year? Which means, in years I don’t sell anything or sell only one thing, but for less than that, they’re making more money from my writing than I am? And how I have mixed feelings about this? And how it’s made me decide that, bless many other hearts, Duotrope is the only writing-related expense in my life? I mean, I plan on recalculating this. Don’t get me wrong. If there were some way for me to do Clarion, well, I’m not a fool. Of course I’d jump on it, even though it’s much more money than my writing earns and even may earn after that. But at this stage in my “career,” I just don’t want to pay someone else so that I can be a writer.

Cold is Weird

Today was not colder than Tuesday morning, at least according to my iPhone, but cold is weird. Tuesday’s walk ended when I came in the house and had breakfast. It went off without a hitch. Today’s cold made my ankle ache. It made my ears want to die. And, even though I’ve been back for a half an hour, I can’t get warm. I feel like my fat is frozen, so my skin is cold from both the outside and the inside. I’m shivering like a fun woman’s sex toy. My legs ache.  This, my friends, is bone cold.

And yet, like I said, Tuesday was technically colder. So, that’s weird. Is it somehow slightly more humid, thus giving the cold more stuff in the air to put a chill in and thus put a chill in me? Less humid so that cold puts its icy lips against my skin and just sucks the moisture and thus the heat right out of me?

And the ground in the back yard! It’s weird as fuck. There’s a while section around the tree where the trailer used to be that seems like it’s just turned to marbles. You don’t dare step there because you will slide. So, yes, to go for a walk, you have to navigate the part of my yard that’s all torn up from people moving a camper in and out, then the weird dry lake of mud marbles, then the uneven terrain from the moles and then there’s a brief flat spot before you hit the AT&T yard, which is more uneven terrain, because you’re basically walking on top of a frozen bog.

When I walk, I wish I were a shallow geologist or maybe a hydroengineer who specialized in ground water, because I’d love to understand what the fuck is happening to the dirt around here.

Don’t Know What It Means

I wasn’t a very happy teenager. I don’t know when I started being unhappy, probably seventh grade, but then it stuck with me, that unhappiness, down a long dark way and then, back out again, but still with me. I don’t know when I finally wasn’t just operating at a baseline of unhappiness, but eventually it happened.

The times, then, that I was happy felt like deep breaths of fresh air. Like the thing that would have to sustain me when I went back into the dark.

We watched that Wonderstone movie… Burt Wonderstone…. ? Obviously, it wasn’t that great (though not that bad). It suffers even moreso than a lot of movies from “boy meets girl, they fall in love, even though it makes no sense.” But Jim Carrey plays this Cris Angel-type magician who looks like some kind of evil Kurt Cobain.

And it’s hard for me to describe how much that portrayal both pissed me off and had me in awe. It’s like, somehow, in that one performance, Jim Carrey is exactly the kind of Nirvana fan Cobain hated, the guy who likes all their pretty songs and he likes to sing along, but he don’t know what it means. But man, fuck those dudes.

I can’t help, though, wondering sometimes if I was those dudes. Sometimes you need a song before you’re the kind of person the song was intended for. You need the song to work on you, even if you don’t know it yet.

I remember hearing Nirvana for the first time and feeling like it was a transmission from an alien place where I might be understood, if I could get there, if only understood by myself.

I don’t really have a point. I just thought Carrey’s performance was brilliant and uncomfortable.

An Office of One’s Own

I’m still trying to settle on the problem of how to write here at home when the Butcher is here. And I’m thinking of actually setting up the den like a den. Using it as an office. Which would mean cleaning it out somewhat and putting the drums away. But would also mean, I think, moving the desk so that I could look out the window.

I need to be making a list of thing that need to be done at work, too, when it comes to moving offices. One thing I like about how my office is set up now is that I don’t feel like being at my computer means having my back to the world. But it then means, when people come to talk to me, I have to look at them around my computer. I’d like to find some way to both have my computer facing out and be able to meet with people without barriers between us.

It’s weird to think about how I want to inhabit a space. Mostly, I just let the Butcher figure out how things in a room need to go and settle in to whatever he’s figured out. I guess I could do that for the offices, too. Ha ha.

Dropping Duck Dynasty

I don’t have a big point to make about this other than “ha ha,” but I do have a small point to make. I think the mistake A&E and, in fact, the Robertsons have made here is to believe that there is but one type of conservative Christianity and it aligns with the one practiced by the Robertsons. See, the thing is that, as popular as the prosperity gospel is, it is, among folks who look demographically identical, also as unpopular. It’s a deep split in Christianity–can a rich person be a good Christian? Or, if you were a good Christian, would you have been giving so much away along the way that you would, in fact, not be able to be rich?

As a conservative Christian asked me, “Why should I listen to a rich guy’s opinion about what God thinks of homosexuals, since he’s not listening to Jesus about money?” And this is someone I think agrees with Phil Robertson about gay people.

So, it’s weird. It’s like the old “Preach, preach, now you’re just meddling” joke got short-circuited and people who should have been primed to shout “preach” at the first “gay people are wrong” remark all instead were like “who’s this hypocrite to speak for us?”

I mean, I think people like me turned away. But we weren’t that big a part of the demographic who watched the show. What should frighten people who think they’re marketing to conservative Christians is that that’s the market Duck Dynasty is losing. That indicates they don’t know that demographic as well as they think they do.

Nerves

So, I’m nervous about the new job–excited and terrified. I just don’t want to fuck things up for our authors. I think I have a good handle on the job, but I’m going to be so slow at it for a while. And I don’t want to make decisions about things like whether I have time for Pith until I have a good idea about how much time things are actually going to take.

And I’ve never been someone’s direct supervisor before, and now I’ll be two people’s. And again, I want to be a good boss. I think my boss has been really awesome and generous about making sure I’ve gotten opportunities and learned things and I just want to be like that myself.

Stories

One of my favorite things about Nashville is how easy it is to get someone to tell you a story. You just give them a little push and off they go, telling you something interesting. Yesterday, I had to go to the store because I forgot chicken broth and I was telling the guy who was checking me about about how I never can remember the difference between chicken broth and chicken stock and I always send the Butcher to the store for the wrong thing. And he told me about a guy they had in the other day who was buying four gallons of milk and five boxes of Jello among other things and the checker caught a glimpse of his list and realized that the guy’s wife had numbered her list–“F. gallon of milk. 5. Jello”–but dude was reading the numbers as an amount. and they could not talk him out of his mistake.

So, I know this guy who shares the last name with a minor character on True Detectives. It’s a pretty distinctive Louisiana name, so every time it comes up on the show, I have this moment where I’m like “Now, how would she be related to K.?” So, I asked him whether he’s watching the show and if it’s weird to have someone with his name on it. And he said that there was only one original guy with that name, so, even if he couldn’t understand why her family has been living that far below Lafayette, she must be one of them, because everyone with that name goes back to that one guy.

I love this so much. I mean, I love the ways fact and fiction can blur (in fun ways, not in distressing ways) and I love a kind of largesse that says “everyone, real and imaginary, with our name is ours.”

But I think it’s a similar thing–this idea that you have to be prepared to meet narrative with narrative, that people are telling stories and you best be ready to tell one right back.

My family is good at story-telling in some ways. I mean, we can tell a mean story, even a demonstrably untrue one, with the best of them. But we have trouble inhabiting a space it’s so easy to fall into down here–where everyone is kind of bullshitting (I mean, four gallons of milk? Really? I don’t know.) for the sake of amusing each other

Sometimes, when I meet new people, I think that I talk too much. I don’t know how to be quiet with you until I know you. But it’s also that I enjoy telling stories and I have this impulse that, if I tell you a great one, maybe you’ll turn around and tell me one even better.

Hit By a Metaphorical Bus

I woke up in the middle of the night not last night but the night before to a round of sneezing, which, let me tell you, is not awesome in a CPAP mask. Then I got up for the day, and it was obvious that I had some kind of cold. Even though, when I went to bed, I felt utterly fine. I spent all day in a kind of weird stupor and then went to bed about eight. I got up at a quarter to seven. I feel better. But I feel like… ugh… like I’ve just been majorly sick for days. So, that’s really weird. Since the whole thing was just a day, at most.

So, that was a waste of a day. Which, coupled with the fact that I spent Saturday goofing off, means not much got done around here. By me, anyway. The Butcher found someone to come and get the camper and now our back yard is camper free. I have mixed feelings. I’m glad to see it go, but, that means our family is really done camping. My parents are going to stay indoors on vacations now. There’s no joining them on long terrible adventures.

It’s weird how life can sometimes feel like just days stacked on weeks of doing the same or similar shit over and over again and yet, somehow, even quietly, things change dramatically.

“No one has ever loved me as much as this dog, who’s only known me for a month, loves me.”–The Butcher

The Other Mason’s Restaurant

Not this one, but the one in the Lowe’s hotel. My co-worker has been talking all week about their Kopecky chicken sandwich and, on Friday, we decided we were going to have it. Well, we get there and it’s not on the menu. But the chef is there so he’s just going to whoop it up for us. And he did!

And then he came out and talked to us!

It was so weird and awesome. I mean, it’s not like you can’t talk to the cook at the Goodlettesville Mason’s, but you can see right in the kitchen there. Anyway, the Lowe’s Mason’s. He told us where our meat had come from and some of his thinking behind this spicy chicken dish he serves at the bar and it was just really, really cool.

So, even thought they’re very different dining experiences and only one features prominently in a ghost story I wrote, I can now recommend both restaurants named “Mason’s” in the area.

Bah

My Andrew Jackson thing is not coming together how I’d like.

But I wrote about hostage-taking for Pith. I fully expect, since Ramsey appears to be saying that he’s holding out on medicaid expansion because fuck hospitals, this will become a bigger story. It’s fucking evil. Genuine political disagreements I get. Holding hostages because your feelings are hurt? We’re a state, not the fucking mob.

Dad

It’s my dad’s birthday. He’s 69. It just feels so old. I don’t know. I have, as you know, a lot of mixed feelings about my dad. I’m sometimes jealous of people who just easily adore their dads. I do adore my dad, but it’s not always easy. He just needs so much–which drives me nuts and makes me feel terrible that, whatever the hell he needs, I both can’t always figure it out or give it to him, just for my own well-being.

Like his weird issue lately with wanting me to write about “real” things and how I’d have more success as a writer if I’d write about said “real” things.

On so many levels, just no. And yet, I’m pushing 40 and I still feel this strong urge to write things my dad approves of. I have to catch myself, and remind myself that, really, what I write isn’t his business and trying to steer my career on his part is, at best, bothersome and, at worst, well, what it is.

I feel lucky, in many ways, to have the dad I’ve had. But I’m struggling to learn that gratitude doesn’t mean that I then do whatever he wants. It’s a hard lesson.

Still, I hope we both live long enough to learn to be at ease with each other in ways we aren’t yet.

In Weird, Nice News

At least ten people seem to have gotten A City of Ghosts for Christmas this year. That’s really nice. I’m glad to see that still chugging along at its own speed.

It may not be for everybody, but the people who like it seem to really like it.

Just Talking to Talk

I remain nervous, though not as stressed. I’ve got to find a little money to pull together for the Proto Pulp show, though I guess it can wait a few weeks. I have to bring my own tent. I don’t have a tent. But that’ll work out, too, I suppose.

The baby blanket I’m working on is coming together slowly.

The Butcher found a xbox version of Civilization, so I have to play that in my off-time until I have burnt myself out on it. It’s just the way it is.

I’m just fried. I’d like to sleep for a million years, now that my dreams are not so upsetting.

The World Keeps Turning

–I’d hoped to get a new computer this month, but the car and the plumbing killed that dream. And now my “r” isn’t quit working. Oh, wait, now it is working again. I shall take to complaining about everything on the internet!

I wrote a thing I like for Pith.

–I got to talk to the Professor last night. One thing about friends that’s hard to articulate is now nice it is to know that you can say all your worst things to them, articulate all your biggest doubts and ways you just can’t be the kind of person you wish you were, and to know that they will judge you fairly and tell you when you do need to pull your shit together and when you need to cut yourself some slack.

–Last night I dreamed that I was at a Gillian Welch concert and all these old country stars kept joining her onstage to sing hymns they didn’t know. In some cases, it seemed like they’d just forgotten portions of the hymns, but in other cases, it seems like they weren’t at all familiar with them but were just trying to fake it.

–After our last hilarious toilet paper disaster–in which the Butcher bought a huge thing of toilet paper, but each roll seemed to only have like ten sheets on it–he has gone the extreme other direction. The rolls are so big they barely fit on our holder. You can put one on, but you can’t then get any toilet paper off it, because it can’t spin. I laughed so hard last night, trying to imagine what actual use these rolls would be. I guess only for papering particularly tall trees.

–My level of stress has decreased considerably. But I still have days to wait before the situation is settled and then decisions to make based on how it gets settled.

Dreams

I didn’t have a very restful sleep. I dreamed really long, vivid interconnected dreams. In the first one, I was in the middle of some 70s-style raping serial-killing small town, trapped in a house with raping serial-killers and, though I had not yet been raped or serial killed, I was next in line after they were done raping and serial-killing Santa. I managed to escape, which is when I discovered that everyone in town was a part of the raping, serial-killing cult, as they all chased me down alleys and over chain-link fences and through yards.

And, somehow, the not being caught yet, but knowing I was inevitably going to be caught was worse than being caught. And yet, I couldn’t stop running. And then I realized it was a dream, so all I had to do was wake up and escape it. So, I woke up (only not) only to discover that I was in some home of my parents that I had never myself lived in and I was late for a job interview, but all the clothes I had that were appropriate were from when I was in high school and they all were sparkly. And I didn’t have the same piercings that I have in real life, so I couldn’t figure out what earrings to wear, which is how I realized I was still, in fact, dreaming. When I thought “These aren’t the ways my ears are pierced in real life.”

Anyway, one way or another, this should be the resolution of this particular batch of things, today. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Nerves

God, if I’m struggling to write anything today, I can’t imagine how tomorrow’s going to be. On the other hand, at the rate I’m going, I’m going to have a digestive system as clean as someone right before a colonoscopy.

Ha, lord. Come for the boring shit, stay for the gross stuff.

Not an Excuse, But…

So, I have a friend, or, I guess, you can work with a dude for a year and drink with him regularly and now he’s not a friend, but just some guy you used to know in the course of a “full disclosure.” Saying he’s only someone I used to work with seems, to me, in my case, disingenuous. I liked the shit out of him and have cheered for him at various stages in his career. On the other hand, when he came through town last and saw his “friends from the Scene,” I wasn’t among the people he tried to get together with, though he apologized later, which is how I found out he’d been in town at all. So, that’s, I guess, the accurate assessment of our friendship. We kind of keep track of each other and I’ve been excited to see where his career might go.

So, here’s also the thing. He fucked up. Badly. And now a person is dead.

But, here is also the thing. As much as I read his story and imagined with growing horror what he was doing and what that would mean if he were writing about someone I knew–what if this were my friend V. instead of just some stranger?–I read his story and imagined with growing horror whether I would have written that story that way. And the thing that I keep coming back to is this: I’m not sure. Maybe not in this particular case. Maybe, if the circumstances were that I found out that a person I was investigating for a story about golf clubs was transgender and really, really didn’t want that to come out, I might back off. Maybe I might be smart enough to ask around about how best to handle the situation. Especially if I knew she’d tried to commit suicide before.

But I write about Scott DesJarlais regularly, about what a fucking tool he is. And I know he was suicidal at one point (I mean, say what you want and claim you knew the gun was empty, but sitting around with the barrel in your mouth does not make you non-suicidal) and I know he didn’t want the fact that he’d pressured his girlfriend into having an abortion to come out and I jumped right on the dog pile.

It’s supposed to be better because he chose to be a public person and he’s a vile jackass, but is it? I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure because I think a lot of writing–in my case, a lot of blogging–is pretty formulaic. I think, in fact, people’s own narratives about themselves are pretty formulaic (hence why Tarot cards work). And the whole “scrappy reporter sticks it to the rich and powerful” is a pretty strong narrative. It’s at the heart of the phrase I’ve seen bandied about against my friend–Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. I feel fairly certain that this was the strong, simply narrative at the heart of the urge to uncover this woman’s fraud (let me be clear: about her education and credentials). How dare you, rich and powerful person, try to pull one over on the public?

But it’s at the point that the simple narrative falls short that I feel uncertain. If you discover that your framework for the story is the wrong one–that this isn’t a powerful person fucking over the unwitting–how certain are you that the other simple shorthand ways you have for explaining the situation are workable, not outdated, not so bloody fucking violent? I’ve known my friend a long time and we’ve had a lot of discussions about writing and justice and sticking it to The Man. And it would have never occurred to me that, sitting in his writerly toolkit, unused but waiting in case he needed it, was “trans women are unstable frauds.”

So, I kind of don’t know how to process that. And, frankly, obviously, that’s not just a narrative he had on hand, ready to snap it into place when the story he was telling became strange to him, but one his editors also saw and thought seemed plausible and fine.

I feel kind of disjointed and incoherent about this. But I’ll just say this. A lot of the discussion of this story is about how my friend is some obvious villain. But I am certain that, if anyone reading this had sat down and had a beer with him before this happened, you’d find a guy you liked, a guy you thought was on your side.

And I get why everyone is all “Oh, not me! I would never…” But I just don’t believe it. And, in part, I don’t believe it because I would have believed my friend when he said something similar (and, in fact, as people have pointed out, he pretty much did when talking about the Kellers).

I feel like saying “Oh, not me! I would never…” is a lie. For me, anyway. I feel pretty certain I’d never write about a trans woman this way or go around outing her to her acquaintances. But I’m not certain I’d never fuck someone over in my writing as badly as my friend fucked over this woman. I’m especially not certain because I know I think there are a lot of people who deserve to be raked over the coals. I mean, who cares if fucking DesJarlais has some nights of discomfort?

I don’t know. I don’t really have a point. A woman is dead. And my friend seems to obviously have contributed to that death. And everyone else seems so angry and certain that this is beyond what a decent person would do. And yet, I know my friend and I’d call him a decent person. So, that certainty scares me.