Monthly Archives: July 2014
Life is a Lot Like this Train
On my way to work this morning, I was stopped by the train by Ft. Negley. And then the train stopped. And I thought, yep, this is how things work. They move slowly. They stop. They move slowly again. Eventually, they’re gone.
And then I laughed, because that’s like, so not profound. Like, if ever they’re looking for a really mediocre thinker, to showcase why, say, Buddha or Sun Tzu still get quoted, I will be their contrasting point.
This week has just been… ugh… But also nice. So, my emotions are confused.
Things I Learned Yesterday, Though One I’ve Been Working on a While
1. If you have a dog who’s used to taking orders from a person with a low-pitched voice and you are a person with a not-so-low-pitched voice, you may find yourself calling the dog’s name repeatedly to no effect. Pro-tip: A whistle sounds badass and worth listening to when it comes from anyone. (Also, if you’re whistling at my dog, he will regularly look at you in awe, like he’s delighted and proud to know someone who can do something so awesome. It’ll make you feel like you have a nifty superpower.)
2. The new kitty loves to jump over the dog. I don’t know if this is a new thing, but I’m guessing yes, since the dog and I were both the same amount of baffled by it. He’s laying there in the middle of the floor and she’s all boing, boing, boing.
3. I was having a kind of emotional day yesterday. I went to pick the Butcher up and this song came on the radio and I was like, “Oh, god, Kings of Leon. Not them again.” And then I listened to the chorus and I laughed so hard that I wasn’t sure I could safely continue driving.
“Areas of Concern”
Whew, I already hate that fucking phrase and I just heard it once, five minutes ago. So, yesterday, the technician told me that they were most likely going to call me back in because it’s my first mammogram and they don’t have anything to compare how my boobs look now except to each other. It’s very easy to be nonchalant about that until they call and are all “You have some ‘areas of concern’ we’d like to get a closer look at.”
It just lands with a thud. And then you schedule the appointment, text your brother, and wonder if you should text your mom. And then you realize you started this post fifteen minutes ago, but somewhere between this paragraph and the last you went somewhere else. When you got back, your face was wet.
I went over to St. Thomas to have my boobs squished, which meant there was plenty of Jesus and calming hymns playing in the waiting room (so, word to the wise–if you find that stuff appalling, don’t go there). But that thin veneer of “A man is always watching you, and loving you, but watching. Jesus is always watching and caring deeply about everything you do.” could not mitigate the fact that getting your boobs squished at St. Thomas is an experience utterly devoid of men. There were no men in the elevator with me, no men in the waiting room. Two hilarious older women checked me in, a woman gently squished the shit out of my boob.
It felt really powerful. Not the mammogram, but the feeling like I’m in a place where my body is utterly known and familiar and ordinary.
I had this thought as I was walking back to the dressing room, that our society is set up in many ways to prevent women from regularly having these kinds of experiences of women of all ages caring for you.
But here was the weirdest part. At lunch, they called to pre-register me and the woman asked if the emergency contact person was still my brother, and then she paused, and said “Bartholomew” and then she laughed. I said, “Yes, but you can call him ‘Bart’,” and she went “‘Bart?’ That’s worse!” and laughed some more. Then she said. “Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry.” And she wasn’t being an ass or anything. I think “Bartholomew” just genuinely struck her as a funny name. But she works at St. Thomas–Jesus’ friend–and she’s surrounded by images of Jesus and His mom. Of all the places in town where the name “Bartholomew” shouldn’t strike someone as weird, you’d think a Catholic hospital would be it. Yes, Bartholomew, like Jesus’ other friend. He also is a saint.
There’s an Episcopal church in town called St. Bartholomew’s.
Dates, Upcoming Dates
September 13 is the Proto-Pulp show in East Nashville. We’re going to try very hard to have copies of the children’s book. Did I try the name out on you? I had been leaning toward “Granny’s Ghosts,” but that was stupid, so we settled on “Tom, Under the Tree.” If the book isn’t there, there will at least be some art.
September 26-28 is the Midsouth Book Fair in Memphis. They’re telling me to bring fifty copies of A City of Ghosts and to have some in the trunk of my car if they burn through those. Holy shit. If I sell fifty copies of A City of Ghosts in Memphis, I will fall over.
October, perhaps pre-sales of Project X? We’ll see. My fingers are crossed.
And, also, in October, I’m going to have print copies of “Allendale” which you should buy because weird things have been done to it.
I am excited about stuff I can’t yet discuss. But it’s fun to talk to someone and hear good ideas and just feel like “Yep, things are happening.”
Today is my boob squish. I’m nervous but curious. They told me not to use any lotion on my boobs and I was just like “Who lotions their boobs? To what end?!” and then I remembered that, as far as most of this stuff goes, I have no idea how normal people treat their bodies. I don’t feel like touching me is like touching an elephant, either. But who knows? Maybe I am secretly dry and cracked and just haven’t bothered to notice.
A Lot, A Lot alot allott alllloootttt
On Friday, S. emailed me to ask me what I’d been up to and I sent her back a bullet-point list, which I then reread and said, “Oh, this explains a lot about my current state of mind.”
A lot has to happen in August, much of which is beyond my control.
But damn, I’m excited about it!
So, they have it on HBO right now and the description calls it a mockumentary, which meant that I spent the first twenty minutes waiting for it to be funny. Happily, it was weird and creepy, so even though it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, I kept watching. And wow. I don’t say this lightly. I think this is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever seen/read. At least among the most satisfying. It’s not a typical horror movie. There’s no brutal murders (on-screen or off). There’s no inexplicable malevolent forces of evil. There’s not even anything that jumps out at you. It’s just a whole movie’s worth of dread and horror.
It is filmed like a documentary, which means that there’s a lot of reminiscing about what happened, and a lot of pretending like these events would have been so well-known to you, but here’s the real story. This leads to this wonderful moment about a third of the way into the film, when a handful of really creep things have happened and you’ve convinced yourself that it’s okay, because they’ve–in real life–just done it with mirrors and trick camera work, when they “reveal” in the movie that they’ve just done it with mirrors and trick camera work. I can’t tell you how delicious this moment is, when you feel like you’ve drifted off into a “not real, but close to real” realm so there’s some distance, some ability to sit back and just enjoy, and the film makers reground you hard in the real world.
I was telling the Butcher, too, that it’s a little like watching a Penn & Teller act as a horror movie. They show you how they did everything. I still found the last frame of the film to be fucking terrifying.
I don’t know how this didn’t make a bigger splash when it was released. I mean, yes, it’s a low-budget Australian ghost story, but it’s so well-done. I was really hoping I could talk the Butcher into rewatching it last night, but he didn’t seem that game. But he eventually conceded I had been right about Trollhunters, so I think I can get him on-board with this eventually.
Edited to add: I ran across this, by the guy responsible for making it look the way it does. It makes me want to watch it again.
It’s Like an Eye Test for Your Heart
I don’t have an equal number of squares of each kind done yet, but this will give you an idea of the three options I’m thinking of. I’m torn, but I’m curious what you guys think:
This is the Most Perfect Ghost Story Ever
I don’t say this lightly. I am still in awe.
Is This the Best Thing in Nashville?
Last night, I had dinner with K. and B. over at the Mad Platter and for dessert, I had the Elvis… the Velvet Elvis?… the Black Elvis?…. Well, there’s only one Elvis dessert, so that one. They slice it thin and it has some kind of pretzel bottom crust and then a kind of brownie/torte/cake/pudding layer of chocolate and then a peanut butter mousse layer, and it’s just soaking in this blueberry sauce, so that it tastes really sophisticated and like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It may be the most perfect dessert I’ve ever eaten.
When I got home, the dog was carrying around my squares. In his mouth! Not gnawing on them or anything. Just carrying them gently around the living room. And then he apparently hid two in the couch. He apparently has just come to love the squares and wants some for himself. I don’t see how this doesn’t end with him attempting to eat the squares, but it’s annoying and cute in the meantime. I was hoping that this could lead to me teaching him to pick up the squares when I drop them and hand them back to me, but that doesn’t yet appear to be the case. When I’m done with the afghan, I may make him up a square in the left-over bits and we can work on teaching him to retrieve something that doesn’t cause me to have to cry if he ruins it.
Also, I think there’s been some forward movement on Project X. Please keep your fingers crossed extra hard for me.
First Correct Use of “First Annual” in History?
I was telling the Professor that I go next week to get my boobs squished for science. It’s my first annual mammogram. (Is there any word that sounds older than “mammogram”? “Ma’am”–woman older than you. “O” starts the word “old.” “Gram,” a pet name for a grandmother. You don’t even have to know what a mammogram is to know it’s for old women.) And then I thought–It is my first annual mammogram. I know many people get annoyed by “First Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest,” but I think “first annual mammogram” is right. It’s like the exception that proves you should normally use inaugural.
Oh, speaking of things that go with “inaugural,” I’m working on my October thing and I was telling the Butcher about it and I was like “And then a buzzard with the head of Abraham Lincoln shows up” and he was like “seen it.”
How is this possible?
Is there anything in pop culture the Butcher hasn’t already encountered?
Trees and Leaves and Cows are the Color
I have to buy a new purse because some asshole peed on my current one. Which bums me out because I really love my current purse. And bums me out because I’m not in charge of the litter boxes. If they’re not clean to your specifications, please, share your displeasure with the Butcher.
I’m busy as fuck, but I feel like it means I’m less interesting here on the old blog.
Sorry about that, folks.
A Couple of Things
1. I’ve decided to become a religious demagogue. Please join me in my first public display of religious self-aggrandizement.
2. I think this photo is a fake, but a fake from back in the day. I’ve seen other instances of this where the background image is one plate and then the people are another plate (or plates) and the photographer overlaps the plates to make a composite figure. Clue one, the people don’t seem to quite be sitting in the background the way you’d expect. Clue two, some of those guys repeat.
It’s a Big Pine Forest, With Room for Lots of Sleeping People
You guys, I spent a lot of last night listening to different versions of “In the Pines/Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and I feel a little like my mind is blown. This is the best thing. Not best song. But I am completely enamored by the song’s ability to completely transform meanings just based on what gets left out or added. In some versions, the singer is a man whose woman is being unfaithful in the pines and he’s heartbroken and calling her on it. In other versions, she appears to be a woman who has to prostitute herself because her husband has died in a train accident and the singer is just someone observing her plight. But in other versions, it’s the woman who loses her head in the train accident and her body has never been found and it is her loved one who is desperately asking her to reveal the location of her body.
I want to write a story like that. I’m not sure how or what it will look like, but, oh, damn, that’s some good shit.
Today is Good
Some days, mere minutes after wishing you’d ever heard the version of “In the Pines” where a dude gets decapitated, you learn that the most recent prominent version is that version:
I sent out everything I needed to send out. I processed my feelings on the Nashville book–paralyzing fear that I have no business doing this and I’m going to miss out on people who should be in the book because I don’t know enough coupled with it being really hard to write about people who are really sick fucks, but not acknowledged as such. Not that it’s easy to write about sick fucks in general, but there’s something easier about a sick fuck everyone agrees is a sick fuck.
I had a beer Saturday night (Tennessee Brew Works–hit them up for deliciousness), so I spent most of yesterday feeling like shit, which sucked because I had a lot to do. I just need to accept that my drinking days are over, but it’s so stupid. One beer and I’m hung-over? WTF?
And I feel pretty sure I don’t have enough white yarn to finish the afghan, which is a little frustrating, since I got so much! Anyway, I’m trying to decide if I want to do some kind of rainbow-ish effect–to give the afghan diagonal stripes–or if I just want to go with a random pattern to the colors. I’m still probably a couple of weeks away from needing to decide, though.
Taste the Rainbow
Here’s what each of the squares in my afghan will look like. I’m really pleased. I love this yarn so much. I know I say that. I wish I could get a picture that would capture just how beautiful it is, the way the plies wrap around each other is just about the most pleasing thing to look at. I can’t decide why. I like my cheap-o acrylic yarn, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about wool that just feels more magical.
I am completely drained from yesterday. My meeting with the artist went great. I worry that I don’t seem excited enough, when really, I’m just kind of overwhelmed that this is even happening at all. Like my needle is buried in “excited.” I can’t really seem more excited, even though I’m really thrilled. When she starts putting the prints together, I’m going to go get to see her studio! And she’s going to make sure that there are crows tucked in the book. We’re hoping to have books ready for the Proto-pulp show in September, but, if not, we’ll at least have some prototypes to show people. And, holy shit, you guys, of course I want you to buy my book, but if she sells the art separately, some of you are going to fall over for the spread that’s poor Tom, just a skeleton entwined with the roots of a tree.
The reading went very well. I think the other guy who was there and I were both kind of on the same page, that we were there to support Sara and to make her day go well. And I think she felt that it did go well and that she was well-loved and I feel like that’s also about all you can ask of a book signing. I did laugh, though, as I was coming home because all of Sara’s people are people I think C. and his wife would really enjoy and I’m was like “maybe my job here is just to try to figure out how to make these people run into each other.” I mean, we had an awesome argument over Hamlet. I can’t remember what about, but people toasted at some points and slammed their fists on the table emphatically at others and what more do you want in a fight about Hamlet?
I said the truth about how I felt about Project X as true and straight-forwardly as I know how to be. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I have now done everything I know how to do.
Now I need to come up with a grocery list.
The Butcher is grouchy. It started before our parents got here, but it continues. And I’m grouchy, too. Tomorrow, I need to get my oil changed, which means getting up before the birds or being there all morning. Then I have to go meet with the artist for the children’s book and see what’s going on with that. Then I have to run to the store and get things for the 3-6 thing (but seriously, stop on by any time during that time and eat some of the cookies I’m bringing). Then dinner with folks from said event. And then home I hope.
Some things in my fiction-writer life have just been dragging on so long that I think I’ve lost the ability to feel excited about them anymore.
But you keep on keeping on. What else is there to do?
Franklin and Armfield
I keep hoping that I will hit some end to the depravity of these guys, but there is none. One of the critics I read says that, to truly understand slavery in the U.S., you have to come to grips with how it functioned as a sexual… he uses the term fetish, which I don’t quite like because it reminds me too much of Freud’s “everyone’s worried about castration!” nonsense and “compulsion” makes it sound like these men just couldn’t help themselves. But, you know, I’m thinking some about the research they’ve done on rapists these days and how the rapists will often–especially if you don’t call it “rape” in the interviews–brag about how that’s the kind of sex they like to have, that resistance and tears or frightened silence is what they want in a “partner” (“partner” is such a crappy term in this context, but roll with me). And that’s true for Franklin and Armfield and the men they were selling their “fancy ladies” to. They liked sex where the other person involved could not say no, was frightened, where her humiliation was an important component.
So, let’s say that slavery was, in part, in important ways, a sexual preference of white men. It was linked to how power was distributed in this country at the time (and in ways now) with the person with the most power being able to prove it through his ability to dominate others. The more people he could dominate, the more powerful he was. Sexual domination was just awesome proof of his power. That helps illustrate the threat inherent in white women partnering with black men. If the white women were raping their slaves (which certainly happened), white women were being powerful in a way that was supposed to be reserved for men. If black men had sex (consensual or not) with white women, they were displaying power that was reserved for whites.
Not all white men, and even not all white slave owners, raped their slaves. But in order to be seen as men in their society, in order to display the right kind of power and status as befitting men of their station, they had to be open to the possibility. It was an essential component of slave ownership.
I have two thoughts reading this stuff. Maybe three. One is that everything that was so terrible about the Harpes or the Mystic Clan was also perpetrated by slave traders. Franklin joked about hiding the dead bodies of his sick slaves in the ravines around Natchez. He even got in trouble with the city because of the stench. He raped women and destroyed families. But Franklin’s money is why we have Belmont University. Armfield was even more directly involved with the founding of the University of the South. So, two, how do you reckon with that?
Maybe there isn’t a way. Maybe we just all wander around in the wreckage of countless previous tragedies. But it seems like we have an obligation to know that’s what we’re doing and to remember the cost of what we have. I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is right, too, that also what slavery is is a kind of warfare. We recognize our veterans, even the Confederates, and find ways of talking about and acknowledging their sacrifices and the hardships they endured. But we haven’t developed, as a country, that skill for the people upon whose lives our country is built.
Third, I’m starting to appreciate Andrew Jackson in ways that disturb me. Yes, he was a genocidal madman. But at least he was forthright about what it would take to live the kinds of lives white people wanted to live in this country, as opposed to the strategy of being outraged by, say, the Mystic Clan but completely cool with slave traders. The other thing I find interesting is that a man of Jackson’s status didn’t marry for love. You married a woman who could give you children. If you were a man and hadn’t been married before, you didn’t marry someone who had been. It’s simply not how well-to-do people did (of course, it happened, but it wasn’t conventional). I think part of why people dogged him so much about the bigamy was because you didn’t come straight out in public and say “Ha ha, you like your wife.” But, of course, there wouldn’t have been the bigamy problem if he hadn’t been eager to marry her. If it had been arranged more like a business transaction, he would have known or made sure about the divorce.
The other, other thing I’m intrigued about is that Jackson stole that Creek kid and gave him to Rachel to raise. Which is pretty much what happened to the Brown kids, but in reverse. They were divvied up as battle spoils and passed out to women who needed children. We draw firm lines between “Nashville” and “the Indians,” but a lot of people living in and around Nashville had extensive dealings with the locals–families killed by them, and importantly, time spent with them as hostages. It’s silly to assume that we could live with people so intimately and not be changed by our encounters. And here’s Jackson, giving a child to a woman who needed one.
Everything you think is a clean line of demarcation is blurry. It all leaks through.
My Role as the Thing That is Judged
I love this piece by Rebecca Traister so much. This part, especially, hit me in the gut:
But at its heart, it was a story about how women are assessed: by disciplinary committees, police departments, their friends, the public, and by the people they identify as their assailants. It was about how female availability and consent and intoxication are appraised based on how women look, dance, dress, and act, even when those appraisals are at odds with medical evidence, eyewitness accounts, inconsistent stories from accused parties, and certainly with the woman’s own interpretation of her experience or intentions.
This comfort with group assessment of femininity in turn reminds me of the ease with which women’s choices regarding their bodies, futures, health, sex, and family life are up for public evaluation. Women are labeled as good or bad, as moral or immoral, by major religions and “closely held corporations,” whose rights to allow those estimations to dictate their corporate obligations are upheld over the rights of the women themselves by high courts.
More and more, I can’t escape the feeling that I am public property, that I am always up for assessment, that power in our society is granted to the people who sit in judgement and, while some people’s “natural” role is that of judge, a whole lot of other people have figured out that they can make a way in this world by working themselves into positions where they prove their ability to judge, and thus given some power.
Don’t get me wrong. I think discernment is an appropriate skill to develop. Discernment can save a person a lot of heartache. But sitting in judgment, as a mode of entertaining oneself? That concerns me.
One Thing I Hadn’t Anticipated
The research for the Nashville book is, in parts, soul-crushingly sad. I stumbled across a mention of Isaac Franklin, Adelicia Acklen’s first husband, in a book and I mean, I’m not even to him yet. I’m still back in 1792. But I’m trying to make sure that my portrayal of black life in Nashville is as fully informed as I can make it.
And Franklin. Jesus Christ. No wonder every black person who heard of him hated him.
I don’t know. You start to get a feeling that the whole story of the gentility of the antebellum South was not only a PR move, but an attempt to tell Southern white people a story about their fathers you could live with and still sit at Sunday dinners with them. The Civil War functions as a way to have a devastating break without having to have it with the people who deserve it. Otherwise, you’d have to look at your grandfather and ask, “How could you do this?” and your father and ask “How could you have wanted to do this?” and then you’d have to vomit on them, burn the family house down, and leave, never to return.
Isaac Franklin was a well-respected man. Not in spite of the fact that he invited his friends out to his auctions so that they could all joke around about raping the women they were about to buy, about raping the women they knew were the daughters of their colleagues, as if that were part of the thrill of it, but because he did those things. Because he had so much power that he could openly state that he was going to let these men rape the daughters you sold into slavery and you, because of your complicity in the system–because of the sale in the first place–laughed along. That’s an evil with tendrils.
I Leave for Five Seconds and the Dog Starts Writing a Book about Nashville
Things are moving, but they feel like they’re moving so slow. Project X? No matter what I’ve been told, I believe it to be in limbo. I’m disappointed. The children’s book may or may not happen, just depending on timing. I’m more optimistic about that, but prepared for it not to happen. I’ve only got one short story out on submission. I’ve got to get back on that horse. I need to send Sue out to more agents. I need some time to read for the Nashville book. And the afghan is still coming along. And I need to do a final draft to submit for that anthology. Plus the October stuff. The thing on Saturday I’m doing to support Sara Harvey, who’s been a good writer friend to me over the years. I’ll be reading some, but mostly, I’m there to make her feel like the launch of her new book is special. I hope anyway.
If there is an emotional constipation, that’s how I feel about my writing.