A Bitterness in My Heart

The thing they don’t really get into in the story of the Prodigal Son is that the son who stayed behind is only temporarily pissed at the son who left. Eventually, he comes to realize that his dad is a jerk and he’s a chump and that his brother probably had good reasons for running off.

The Prodigal Son is not the problem in that family.

I try, very hard, to not think about the stupidity of my family and how it makes my life harder, because it really, really upsets me. But I also sometimes feel a great conspiracy between the Universe and my family against me, so that, just after I get a phone call about how my parents bought my brother a new washing machine (after everything else), I’m sitting on the side of the road with my hazards on so that people know to watch out for the Butcher, who is looking for a bolt on the side of the road so that he can replace his battery so that he can move his van to someplace safe so that he can put in a new alternator, all bought with money much depleted after a trip to my folks to help them with chores around the house.

After the ceiling fiasco, I vowed never to be in a position to need money from my parents again and, knock on wood, I have not been. (And again, thanks to everyone who made that possible.)

But I can’t let it go. The healthy thing would be to say “Well, it’s their money, their fucked up relationship to our brother, their problem. If it makes them happy or doesn’t or whatever, not my business.” Even just typing it here, I feel better seeing it out loud. We are all adults and what they do is their business and not a reflection on me and my life. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.

But I don’t feel it in my heart.

In my heart, I feel like they choose, every day, to make sure my brother’s way is as easy as they can make it and they think I should find my own way. And then their feelings are hurt when my way isn’t what they thought I should do. And so, here we are.

I’m pissed. They’re hurt. The world goes round.

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Singing in the Shower?

The thing about the orange cat is that he often approaches living with us as if he is an anthropologist from an advanced culture sent back to make sure this flock of morons doesn’t kill itself. After Sadie died, he began going on walks with me in the morning, as if he thought I was too stupid to find my way back unaccompanied. Before Sadie died, when she would be standing in the yard, having forgotten why she went out there or where she might go if she didn’t want to be there any more, he would go out and herd her back inside. If the Butcher is not here, he sits in the Butcher’s spot on the couch, not sure why so much couch sitting is necessary, but determined to make sure the ritual is kept up, even in the Butcher’s absence.

Last night, he went into the TV cabinet, proceeded to sing loudly in a way I’ve never heard him do before, and then emerge. And, all I could think is that, sometimes, we go into the smallest place we’ll fit, close the door, sing loudly, and then emerge. So, I think he was trying it to see if it would do anything for him.

I didn’t notice any appreciable difference.

One More Ugly Confession about Ashland

Rereading the October stories made it clear that the writing in Ashland sucks. Like, you would not read my stories and read this book and think that I’d written the book after I’d written the stories. So, this means that, after I get all the bones and joints of the story how I want it, hinges opening how they should, I’ve still got to fix that.

So, the big goals stand:

  1. Finish Draft 4.
  2. Do a version of the beginning that starts in the present day.
  3. See how I like it.
  4. Possibly do a draft that accounts for the new beginning.
  5. Improve the writing of the whole thing.

And I need to rework the television crew earlier in. But I had an idea that might work that goes along with my slim-down efforts–i.e. there can’t be that many camera guys in the world. So, if I have one group of camera guys with the ghost hunters and the television crew has a camera guy, might not that one of the camera men be the same person?

This Weekend

Many of my plans fell through. Much rewriting got done. I had breakfast with a friend that went clear past lunch, we were both laughing and solving all of the world’s problems. I’m making an afghan for my grad school friend who’s in Australia kind of having a rough go of things. Yes, I’m going to send her an afghan in the middle of her summer. Oops.

It’s just one of my regular diagonal granny square ones. I really like those.

I was going to tell you all a little bit about how the writing is going from a practical stand-point. I’m still retyping. I have a file called Ashland 3 open on the left side of my screen and a file called Ashland 4 open on the right. Ashland 3 was an exact copy of Ashland 2, my first massive revision. Ashland 4 started out blank. Following along Ashland 3, I either typed whole new things that had to fix what was wrong with the story into Ashland 4 or typed what was there or made minor corrections.

Sometimes I go out and walk the dog and I’m struck by an idea–like, for instance, what my bad guy responds to is not people who know him well, since most of the people who know him well come to loathe him, but people who love the house. That’s the thing that puts you in a semi-protected bubble from him. But I’m not anywhere near fixing that scene in Ashland 4. So, I go ahead and skip to that part in Ashland 3 and fix it there so that it is right, or closer to right, when 4 finally gets to that point.

I’m liking the shape of this version a lot. It’s very slimmed down. The two things about the shape of it that I still feel uncertain about, which still require major mulling over are one small and one large. The small thing is that, at the end, a TV crew is present. We’ve never been introduced to them before. It makes sense that they would show up at the end of the book, but it violates my belief that, in a working horror novel, nothing new is added in the last quarter of the book. I’m still not sure how to work them in earlier, probably deeply in the background, but they need to be there. Since my house doesn’t have a TV, this is a problem. My house does have a radio, though.

I’ll have to think about it.

The other thing is that I’ve now read a lot of haunted house stories and a convention of the genre is the slow descent into batshit stuff. At the moment, this is how Ashland works. But I’m not sure it’s the right way for it to work. I don’t want to change it yet. I want to get the mechanics of the whole story working right. But it’s hanging out there–I may not yet have the beginning right. Like the first quarter of the book. That’s daunting.

Spooky Saturdays

Okay, I have a plan for October. Not as awesome as previous Octobers, but, in my defense, I was farting around and trying to write a novel. So, here at Tiny Cat Pants, we’ll be having Spooky Saturdays. Five previously unpublished, spooky, though not horror, stories. Fun for the whole family, if yours is the kind of family who says “fuck” a lot and has trouble with the police.

So, every Saturday, six o’clock in the evenings my time, throughout the month.

German

I know I’ve told you how shocked I was to learn that my German ancestors didn’t all come over in the late 1800s. My mom’s great-grandfather, a Fisser/Fisher, came over then and married a Swedish gal who also came over then. My dad was assigned to some of the earliest churches he was assigned to because, in the 70s/80s, there was a big push to get everyone Social Security cards, so elderly people had to have some proof of birth. A lot of times, in these old farming communities, the proof of birth these elderly people had was their baptismal records. My dad doesn’t speak German, but he could read enough of it to translate the records, hence his gigs.

My Grandpa Phillips, the story goes, was the first person in our family who only spoke English. Considering his birth date–right before World War I–it makes sense that he’d not have been taught German. But, folks, I assumed, if his mother–born Ina Mae Hiestand–was bilingual, then she was probably the daughter or grand-daughter of immigrants. No, those stubborn bastards had been in this country since before it was a country. They just never gave up their German ways. “German ways” in this case being extreme grouchiness and a love of sweets.

Oh, lord, I’m not having some kind of writing crisis this week! I’m reclaiming my roots!

Anyway we’re descended from the brother of the guy who built this house up in Kentucky. There’s as many generations between the guy who built that house and Germany as there is between me and that guy.

In the Times today there’s an opinion piece about how we should all reclaim our German roots, which have been all but lost, supposedly. I don’t know. My family hasn’t given up extreme grouchiness or a love of sweets or bratwurst or chicken fried steak or a fondness for Mennonites. But what would it mean for us to embrace our German culture? The one from 1730?

My dad has a friend whose family never did give up speaking German. They spoke it in secret, even after it became so suspicious to do so. When his friend went “back” to Germany, a place his family hadn’t lived, also, in almost four hundred years, he couldn’t understand a damn person. He finally located the place his family was from and he could understand their dialect, but they had a hard time understanding his. They thought he spoke like a weird, very old person.

Even if the anti-German sentiment in the 20th Century hadn’t taken place, we would be nostalgic for a weird, old Germany that contemporary Germans would find strange.

I don’t know. I guess I just find it strange to try to reclaim A German ethnic identity. If you just go by who spoke German, my parents are the same amount of German–each had a German great-grand parent. But it strikes me as absurd to think that Grandpa Fisher and Grandma Phillips would think they shared a common culture. He came directly from Germany. She most decidedly did not.

On the other hand, we did grow up hearing stories of how German prisoners of war at Fort Custer were sent out into the town to work and how some of them disappeared into the community never to be found when the war ended. So, I guess finding fellow German speakers might have been enough for some camaraderie.

But, I don’t know. I still come down on the side of “reclaiming” German roots being something like “making up a stereotype about Germans and then treating that as if that’s how we all should act.” I’m not particularly interested in that.

I will, however, continue to be grouchy, as is the way of my people.

Tan and Purple

They’re putting up a new building on Charlotte and they’re finally putting the outsides on it. It’s this mix of tan and kind of purplish slate bricks. I really like it. Both because Nashville loves the fuck out of tan buildings and it’s nice to see something that spices it up, but also because that stretch is filled with both a lot of tan buildings and a lot of purplish gray buildings.

It’s as if someone looked at the neighborhood they were putting the building in and… made their building fit it!

So, that makes me happy.

Mean Cat

The Red-Headed Kid was sitting here watching 22 Jump Street–I laughed, but was embarrassed for laughing, since it’s really stupid; on the other hand, Channing Tatum’s having a good time being a movie star and it’s hard not to find that endearing–when New Kitty walked in from the other room, came up to the Red-Headed Kid, and bit him.

Not even in a mean way.

Just like “I wonder if you’re edible. No? Okay, well, cool.”

The Red-Headed Kid was not even surprised, which is also a testament to how mean she is.

In Good News

My little cousin posted pictures of her and her brother at her father’s grave, because today is his birthday. So, familial efforts to thwart that were, indeed, thwarted.

So, ha ha ha.

It’s Probably Me

I’m limited my exposure to things that stress me the fuck out, including unfollowing everyone on Facebook who is still trying to argue that poor Texan could have had a bomb and that he was the asshole, not his school.

I’m still just filled with rage every time I get on the internet. I prefer Facebook filled with babies and puppies and how fucking nice your life is. Hell, I’d rather know how your life is sad and hard for you right now. I don’t want to know how afraid you are of children you don’t know and will never meet or how, even though you break the law 90 different ways, you’re on the side of authority when it comes to picking on children.

I hate the idea that writers are writers whether they’re published or not. I cling to that idea like a fucking life raft. I hate when I say it to myself because I feel like I’m letting myself off the hook, that I’m making excuses for not being good enough that I can live with. And yet, I also believe that it’s true.

This is just the stage the book is at. Not the book. The book is in okay shape, I think. Or being shaped into okay shape.

This is the stage I’m in while writing the book. I hate everything. I resent that I work so hard on this and nothing’s going to come of it. I’m pissed that I let these self-defeating thoughts live in my head.

I’m mad that people are mean and stupid. I hate that I am so mean and stupid to myself.

Long Time

Tomorrow, this blog turns 11. I know children younger than my blog. I’m in the middle of a small existential crisis, but I don’t really feel any sense of crisis about the blog. I know why I do this. I get to write. I get to interact with lovely people. I get to organize my thoughts.

Ha ha ha. This is literally the only thing I do that makes any sense to me.

I wrote a thing this weekend for another place. (I’ll holler when it’s up.) I thought it wasn’t very good, but the editor loved it. It was nice to be reminded that, just because I can’t see the forest for the trees sometimes doesn’t mean there isn’t a forest.

Stupid Sunday

I made a tactical mistake scheduling all my chores and deadlined things for Sunday, because I am dragging today. I did get a lot of crocheting done, though, because I had to sit around various waiting areas.

I’m going to Archon in a couple of weeks and I’m excited and nervous.

I’m in a kind of frenzy with the book. It’s weird to be working so hard on something that might come to nothing. It’s weird to even think that it might come to nothing. Writing, in general, is a weird thing.

I’ve got to get something decided for October around here. It will be half-assed, though, folks, I can promise you that.

I think this October is going to be weird, in general, but it’s good to open yourself up to weirdness. Still I’m getting nervous about how booked up I am. First weekend is Archon. Second weekend is SFB. Something’s threatening to happen the 17th.  I’m running out of nine consecutive unbothered nights. I might just have to block off the 22-30 now and refuse all engagements.

“Their Culture”

I think, if parents are begging you to stop something and kids are trying to shoot their way out of their circumstances, then, no, this pedophilia is not “their culture.”

The sad and upsetting part is that, if we allow pedophiles to bring their victims to our bases and we require our troops to look the other way and punish them if they don’t, then it is “our culture.”

But, yes, let’s have more war, always war, continuous war. Remind me again why the Taliban was worse than this?

Characters

Today I finished the shitty Constantine-ripping-off podcast I’ve been power-listening to. There are two kinds of guys I find utterly irresistible–“I am a brilliant, hairy wall” guy and “I am a miserable, but mysterious, fuck.” If Bigfoot started smoking and trying to conjure demons, I would abandon my life to track him down and throw myself at him. I would not be cool enough for Esoteric Bigfoot and that bums me out more than I can tell you, and Esoteric Bigfoot is not even a real thing.

Fuck, now I’m sad.

Oh, right, the poor-man’s John Constantine pod cast. It was terrible. I listened to ever episode with rapt attention. I binged listened to the whole thing until they killed him off. Oh, fuck them, those terrible pod cast writers. But it’s not popular enough for there to be any spoilers about whether he lived through being killed off. So, I had to keep listening.

And he did indeed live. And the ending was so sweet and he told the weird goth girl that she was the only thing he loved and I got all teary.

But I’ve been thinking about it. Why is a cliched character on a terrible pod cast so compelling? I think it’s because he is who he is so vibrantly. The writers might not have known what else they were doing (though it is kind of weird how much better the third season got, as if they all ran away and got MFAs before writing it), but they knew how to write a character who stays true to himself.

I find that really inspiring and compelling.

Ashland

Every part of this book is so wicked and funny to me. I really hope someone decides to publish it. Today I wrote a part where a guy’s wife insists he sell the enslaved girl he fathered, so he takes her down to New Orleans and gets rid of her and my bad guy buys her and brings her back to town just so he can torment the father. It’s so terrible and it makes me laugh so hard.

It ends poorly for the girl, as all tragedies must. So the bad guy sends a condolence letter to the father. Which is also hilarious and terrible.

I’m still liking this whole “just retype the motherfucker” strategy. We’ll see how long I can keep it up for, though. It seems to work well for parts that require massive rewriting. We’ll see how I feel when/if we get to parts that are less in need of ditching whole characters and reworking plot lines and adding in some horrors for my bad guy to have perpetrated.

Memories

This morning I was listening to Keith Richards singing “Good Night Irene” and I swear I remember my Grandpa Phillips singing that when I was a little girl. The gravel in his voice.

But I find it kind of baffling now, to think of my grandfather singing at all.

So, I wonder if that was true, if it really happened.

But, if it didn’t, how did I come to know the song?

Retyping

So, I think I have a good idea of what the revisions of Ashland need to look like. And a good idea about the parts that need to be rewritten. And I’ve decided to give this Joe Hill idea a try. I’m retyping it. I have the old version on the left and the new blank page on the right and I just look over and type what works and type new stuff where I need to.

Here’s the part I think, if I were to guess, Joe Hill likes about it. If you come to a part where you’re like “Ugh, I have to type all that?” you know it needs to go.

I don’t know if I’ll stick with it the whole way through, but for now, it’s kind of blowing my mind about how easily and clearly it shows you what needs to go.

Ankle Sprain

rufus1 rufus 2

I think you can see the lump on Sonnyboy’s left front leg. He seems to have sprained his leg. He’s licking his lips because I gave him his pill in a bunch of peanut butter. He’s supposed to be on bedrest and he might have to go to the vet tomorrow. He was limping last night, but this morning, he seemed much better. I took him for his walk and then I thought I would maybe give him a baby aspirin just to ease any lingering pain. But when he got off the couch to get it, he was limping even worse than he was last night.

I called the vet. They agreed that it was probably a sprain and they prescribed him some medicine. Hopefully, it should ease his pain and reduce swelling.

The thing I admire about this dog–the thing that got us into this mess–is that he’s happy to do whatever you want to do. You want to go for a walk? Okay. You doing something in the kitchen that needs company? Okay. Car ride? Okay. And he doesn’t let his own discomfort get in the way. But it’s also stupid because he ended up in a worse mess than he was in.

But here’s the other thing. The Butcher and I were trying to figure out where he was hurt last night and I know I squeezed that area that is swollen today, because it was wet and I suspected he was licking at something that was bothering him. He didn’t even flinch. Like the automatic response you can’t control? He didn’t do it.

It reminded me of back when he’d just put his eyeball right on my foot. I mean, there has to be some reflex that causes you to pull back when you’ve misplaced your damn eyeball onto a foot! But he never did.

I wonder if he’s missing that reflex?

Cool

There’s a fight/discussion/kerfluffle in the sci-fi/fantasy world about “nerds” vs. “cool kids.” And there are a lot of people rushing to declare their nerdiness and decry any charges of being a “cool kid.” This is dumb for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that we’re not in high school anymore and a bunch of adults still letting the standards of children dictate whether they think they have cultural value and, if so, what kind, is dumb as fuck. Thirteen year olds are fucking idiots. It’s a miserable time and they’re miserable people. Our efforts should be to help them live through it with as much grace as possible, not to empower them to dictate how we feel about our adult lives.

But second, and just as important in many other ways, I want to stick up for cool, because cool is at its core a response to oppression. That most of sci-fi/fantasy doesn’t get this just shows how very white the genre is and how very much a lot of us need to read Donnell Alexander’s “Cool Like Me” and sit with it a long, long time.

Let me repeat, cool is at its core a response to oppression.

Alexander says:

Cool was born when the first plantation nigga figured out how to make animal innards-massa’s garbage, hog maws and chitlins-taste good enough to eat. That inclination to make something out of nothing and then to make that something special articulated itself first in the work chants that slaves sang in the field and then in the hymns that rose out of their churches. It would later reveal itself in the music made from cast-off Civil War marching-band instruments (jazz); physical exercise turned to public spectacle (sports); and street life styling, from pimps’ silky handshakes to the comer crack dealer’s baggy pants. Cool is all about trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. It’s about living on the cusp, on the periphery, diving for scraps. Essential to cool is being outside looking in.

Cool is making something out of nothing and then making it special. If that’s not what a writer aspires to, then fuck that writer.

Alexander rightly identifies “cool” as an idea black people brought to U.S. culture. Misunderstanding “cool” is stupid. Publicly repudiating and rejecting “cool” is a mixture of accepting the definition of cool some pre-teen gave you when you were a pre-teen, which is dumb as fuck, and replicating the same old erasures of black contributions to culture that so many of the very people rejecting being called “cool” claim to be against.

Most of the people who don’t want to be called cool aren’t cool. Not by the fucked-up-child definition they’re using, not in the sense of cool being a response to oppression.

But they could be. Again, back to Alexander:

Humans put cool on a pedestal because life at large is a challenge, and in that challenge we’re trying to cram in as much as we can-as much fine loving, fat eating, dope sleeping, mellow walking, and substantive working as possible. We need spiritual assistance in the matter. That’s where cool comes in. At its core, cool is useful. Cool gave bass to 20th-century American culture, but I think that if the culture had needed more on the high end, cool would have given that, because cool closely resembles the human spirit. It’s about completing the task of living with enough spontaneity to splurge some of it on bystanders, to share with others working through their own travails a little of your bonus life. Cool is about turning desire into deed with a surplus of ease. Some white people are cool in their own varied ways. I married a white girl who was cooler than she ever knew.

Fine loving, fat eating, dope sleeping, mellow walking, and substantive working. Fuck yes. This is it folks. And, no, most of the people who are saying “Well, I’m not one of the cool kid,” aren’t doing these things. But I know at least they aspire to be doing substantive work. So, what’s wrong with being cool? Or aspiring to be cool? Or finding value in being cool?

Cool is a response to oppression that enabled people to survive that oppression. At its worst, which is not very bad, cool is a coopting of the posture that enables survival. Why would we throw that out or turn our backs on it?

I’m not cool, but I damn well strive to complete “the task of living with enough spontaneity to splurge some of it on bystanders, to share with others working through their own travails a little of [my] bonus life.”

That’s why I write. That’s why I write here. That’s why I write at Pith. That’s why I write the stories I write. That’s why I sit down and write novels I can’t sell, or haven’t sold, or whatever. Substantive working. And sharing a little of my bonus life.

If someone called me cool, they’d be wrong, but I’d be honored. Still a nerd, but honored.

It’s Easy to Love an Obedient Dog

This week is very busy and stressful. The dog has been walking like an angel.

I understand the appeal of throwing oneself into a fundamentalist religion. It’s really hard when you look at what life has dealt you and you feel conflicted and you’re not sure what to do. There’s something nice about having someone in authority at times like this say “You can’t do that because you’re a woman” or “You have to do that.”

Then you can either be pissed of and do it anyway (and thus ends your short experiment with fundamentalist religion) or you don’t do it. Either way, the path becomes clear.

But when your ethos is be happy if you can figure out how to, be honorable, if possible, and be good to others when you can, there come crossroads where which street to take is just not clear.

You can, I suppose, guess where I’m standing today.

Orange Cat, Yellow Dog

When the black dog is here, Sonnyboy follows him around outside, peeing where he’s peed, sometimes attempting to get beneath him to prevent him from peeing on anything but Sonnyboy. It’s weird, but who can understand the ways of dogs? It’s also nice because, when you call the black dog, who knows his name and comes when he’s called, the yellow dog follows.

He’s not bright and he kind of prefers someone else to be in charge. No shame in that, Sonnyboy.

Yesterday, he tried to follow the cat around the yard in the same manner. Which shows the limits to the “I’ll let you pee on me, if you just tell me what to do,” approach to life. Because cat pee stinks. I owe the cat one for failing to deliver.

Kevin Gordon

We went to see Kevin Gordon last night. He was, of course, incredible. The drumset was gorgeous. I’m convinced you can tell the difference between the plastic heads and the skin heads. You. Not me. Not just me. Anyone. You can hear something in the skin heads you can’t hear in the plastic. A kind of thickness to the strike.

We were sitting close enough that the bass drum resonated in our rib cages, our chests echoing their native lub-dub, lub-dub and that thump, thump, thump overlapping.

The drummer held his hands the old fashioned way. The jazz way. The way my dad did. That’s called “the right way,” but I wouldn’t say so in public.

Weirdness

Here was another weird thing that happened in Memphis. My hotel’s elevators had glass backs. I did not have a panic attack, even once taking it. I also walked down the stairs at the venue. Literally walked. Not the usual right foot down, left foot next to it, right foot down, left foot next to it.

I know that both things have an enormous psychological component. Fine, I can’t do those things.

But I kind of don’t know what to make of the reprieve. Obviously, something shifted. Am I eating less sugar? Did some hormone fluctuate? Is there some kind of chemical explanation?

And how long will it last? I have a hard time believing that I’m just not wigged out by that stuff anymore. Or that I never will be again.

Back From Memphis

I’m back from Memphis. It was lovely. I ate this delicious tuna taco that blew my mind. I caught up with old friends. I saw surprising people in the bathroom. I read a ghost story and the audience loved it and it felt like magic. I moderated a panel and it was really interesting and gave me a lot to think about on the way home.

Speaking of the drive home, everyone should drive 100 from Nashville to Memphis-ish once in their lives (or the other direction), if only to see what happens when TDOT says “fuck this old road, fuck it so hard. I’m done. No more curves, no more turns, no more taking the landscape into account. You just pave the fuck over whatever is between here and there.” Highway 100 out there in the middle of west Tennessee is as straight as a Midwestern road. I’m sure whole towns got paved over. Hills. People’s pets. They did not care.

If it’s the straightest road in Tennessee for the longest length, I would not be surprised.

I had a lot of time to think out there, on that unnaturally straight road.