The Douglass Family

I become convinced, the more I study Tennessee history, that there’s some underlying structure that I’m just not aware of, because I’m not from here and the names that mean something to me are the names that end up in history books. They are, however, not always the most important names to understanding the shape of history.

Take Colonel Edward Douglass, who died in Cage’s Bend, up near Gallatin, in 1795. He had a ton of children: John Douglass, William Douglass, Edward Douglass, Elmore Douglass, Elizabeth Douglass, Ezekiel Douglass, Sarah Douglass, James Douglass, and Reuben Douglass.

Edward’s son, Elmore, married Eliza Allen.

James’s daughter, Louisa, married George Allen, Eliza’s brother.

Reuben Douglass’s daughter, Evelina, was married to William Franklin, Isaac Franklin’s brother.

Reuben Douglass’s granddaughter, Henrietta Watkins (her mom was Sophia Douglass) married Albert Franklin, another brother of Isaac Franklin.

Eliza Allen and Adelicia Acklen would both have been down in that bend at the same time. They were married into intermarried families. How could they not have known each other?




Another Old Person Rant

My phone physically works. It’s not broken in the sense of broken in reality. The screen is fine. The body is fine. It is in one piece.

But 50% of the time, if not more, it won’t let me answer calls. It’s pretty regularly failing to connect with wi-fi.

It’s got some programming issue. My guess is that it’s too old to keep up with the newest iteration of the operating system.

And I find that really irritating. They lose interest in keeping my phone relevant and that makes it “broken” in a way that means I need a new phone.

It’s going to suck if cars get to this point–“oh, sorry, we just don’t fix cars that are five years old.”

In Which I Make You Work for Me

I’m still thinking about King Kong.

I read this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which he talks about a “heritage of rape.”

The this article by Charles Pierce about how a lot of white people think they now face the same kinds of discrimination, at the same levels, that minorities used to face.

Then this blog post by Bethany Liston meditating on how it’s fucked up for women to act like, when men do stuff around the house, they’re “helping” the women out, as if housework is women’s work and men doing it is a special treat for women.

I’m starting to believe that the truth at the core of the funhouse mirror of America is that we believe that anyone who can dominate another deserves the labor (all sorts of labor) of the dominated person. Of course, it’s hard work to dominate someone. You have to keep it up all the time.

Unless you can get the dominated person to believe that their proper, natural role is to be dominated. This is what America wants from racism, classism, and sexism–for the dominated to understand that what’s happening to them is natural. That’s the work those -isms are supposed to be doing.

And it works. Women internalize the idea that it’s their job to keep their house clean. Black people internalize the idea that violence is some problem their community intrinsically has. And so on. Sometimes you don’t even notice the ways you’ve internalized this bullshit, mistake the funhouse mirror for truth.

I don’t want to sound like I’m downplaying the terribleness of racism, sexism, and classism. I just want to be clear that they are more funhouse mirrors. In our case, a great tragedy for us as a country is that they’re the funhouse mirrors that sit closest to the truth, that obscure the truth most thoroughly, so they are reflected in the most surfaces, spread the farthest in ugly, damaging ways.

But the truth at the core is the seducing power of theft–I can take what I want.

And there are very few people immune from the charm of the idea of being a thief.

What can you take from another person without them stopping you? How ostentatiously can you display what you’ve stolen from them and still have the support of your peers? How can you keep what you’ve stolen in the face of a crowd of angry victims? Are you powerful enough to pass down the fruits of your stolen labor? Can you teach your children to steal? Can you convince them that their theft is natural?

There is no other real question in America other than “Can I take what I want from you? Am I powerful enough to keep it without getting in trouble?”

Every sick fuck thing we do to each other culturally has this question at its heart. Every sick fuck thing we do to each other is that so many of us perceive answering no to either of these questions as being some kind of insult we can’t live with.

King Kong

King Kong has been sitting in the back of my mind for a few days. I don’t know why. But I’ve been thinking how King Kong is probably, if someone wants to try to understand the fucked up way America works about race, the perfect movie.

King Kong is racist as shit. The big black ape who wants to possess the beautiful white woman as his own, even though he doesn’t really know what to do with her or, if he did, it would destroy her to have it happen. His abduction of her is a sexual abduction.

So, there you have the deepest white American fear–these animals are coming for our women and they’re dangerous and powerful and scary. Fortunately, we can outsmart and outgun them.

But from the minute audiences started watching King Kong, they started sympathizing with Kong. His death felt like an unjust tragedy. Clearly, it’s supposed to feel like a victory–We’ve defeated the monster and rescued the damsel. But, as evidenced by the fact that they rushed a Son of Kong into theaters also in ’33, people didn’t want Kong dead. They wanted to see more of him.

That, right there, is fucking America. That’s the bitter twist at the heart of minstrelsy, too. The racial stereotype designed to reinforce white America’s worst beliefs about the talents and abilities of black Americans leaves white Americans screaming for more.

The argument we make to ourselves that justifies our treatment of black people ends up encouraging sympathy for black people in some abstract way. But, as complicated as that is, it’s also too easy. Because it’s not sympathy for black people, but sympathy for black people as we imagine them. Which is why our sympathy, throughout American history, doesn’t necessarily result in improvements for black people.

There’s a special effect here, at the heart of American culture, a trick of light and sound, a series of mirrors reflecting back to us a misshapen view of reality. We act as if those misshapes are real. Sometimes our acting on them has devastating consequences. Sometimes they have unexpected good consequences.

You can’t predict how things are going to come through the fun house.

But it’s important to acknowledge that the fun house is there, I think.

A Sign

Sometimes you write a book about a house hidden behind a red gate with a no trespassing sign on it and one day you go out to walk the dog, the same walk you always go on, and you notice this:

ashland 2

How It’s Going

I took these pictures last night and then forgot to put them up here!


This is what it looks like when you have a row on the hook. If you look at the left edge, you can see how I’m working this new round into the old round.


And this is what it looks like as a row comes off the hook. It’s okay if the sight of my plump, round fingers gives you fantasies about gently touching them with your tongue. Just don’t share those fantasies with me and don’t attempt to live them out while I’m crocheting, Quentin Tarantino. Christ.


Seriously, you guys thought his foot fetish was bad. It’s all going to be women with pleasantly fat fingers doing crafts from here on out. Um, yes, anyway, this is what the back looks like.


And this is what the front looks like. I bought 18 skeins of yarn and I have ten left, so I’m that far into it. Like half done I guess?


Because my hobby is fretting, I know how to dwell on bad shit. If you’ve read here any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that.

I’d like to also learn how to dwell on good shit. The same way I can recall stupid ass crap I did fifteen years ago and paralyze myself with burning shame, I want to be able to recall how it felt when everyone sang me happy birthday at the book launch of The Wolf’s Bane or how good it felt to see the excited faces of the people at the Halloween reading.

In related news, the Butcher and I are rewatching The X-Files, trying to cram nine seasons in before the new mini-series. I don’t know if we’re going to make it.

I was a big fan at the time, though, in saying that, now seeing what fan culture is like, I get that it’s not true. I watched it religiously until I didn’t and then I never, like, bought the DVDs or anything.

So, it’s fun watching shows I haven’t seen in twenty years and seeing what I remember and what I don’t. There’s a LOT I don’t. And what I find the most interesting is that, when watching certain episodes, I’ll find myself panicked upon seeing the villain. So, I KNOW I must have watched that episode and had the piss scared out of me by it, scared enough that just seeing the villain again makes me have a physical response.

But then I won’t remember anything about the particulars of the episode.

I mean, they must be in there some place, because, damn, I can see how The X-Files influences a lot of my writing. But the particulars of an episode are mostly crammed too far back in my mind for me to recall them.

But the bad guys? Even though I haven’t consciously thought about them in years either, the memories of them must sit in a more accessible part of my brain.

My uncle believed that your mind was like a room full of filing cabinets. Everything you ever experienced was in there someplace, though you couldn’t always find it.

I find myself, sometimes, having things come up unbidden. Like, the other day, I was in traffic and I had this strong memory of sitting at my computer in grad school.

I’m not sure why my brain threw that back up at me, but I do find that memories are like the coal fields of Illinois. If you drive south, the coal is at first, very near the surface, and easy enough to get at, and then it plunges way down under you, still there, but not really accessible, and then, when you get far enough south again, it comes back to the surface.

You can map where it sits near the surface up north–Coal City, Carbon Hill, Diamond, Coal Valley–and then again, when it reemerges down south–Carbondale–and you know it’s down there in the middle.

As must be my good things. I just need to figure out how to get them nearer to the surface for when I need them.


Sadie used to say “no.” If she was done walking, she’d just plop down and make moving her your problem. If she didn’t want her nails cut, she’d just put her mouth over your hand and wait for you to figure it out.

Sonnyboy doesn’t say “no” to things. It’s just not in his disposition.

Except when it comes to these eardrops. No, he does not like them. No, he will not come into the bathroom to get them. Okay, they weren’t that bad, but no, he will not let me wipe in his ears with this Kleenex…oh, wait. That feels good.

No to drops! Yes to deep ear scratches with tissue paper! And just like that, he’s my happy dog again.


We took the dog to the vet this morning because he woke me up with his head shaking, constant head shaking. Ugh. And I looked in his ear and it was bright, bright red.

The vet said it’s not infected, but it is unnaturally full of crap. He’s got a little yeast in there, but the vet says that’s likely from the crap, not the cause of the crap.

Then there’s the fact that we’ve had him on a diet since March and he’s gained ten more pounds.

Apparently, the vet says, that when your thyroid goes wonky, it causes all kinds of issues in dogs–ear problems, eye problems, skin problems, weight gain.

So, we’re checking the dog for thyroid problems.

But what I thought was most remarkable is that the vet didn’t fat shame the dog at all. He just treated his weight like a symptom and looked at it in concert with his other symptoms.

I guess maybe there will be time for fat shaming if the tests come back negative. But I was like “Man, I wish I’d had a series of doctors’ appointments like this in my 20s when I was gaining weight.” I mean, it kind of blew my mind that the doctor didn’t insinuate we were lying about how much we fed him.

So, yeah, vets. Dogs. Etc.


When I was feeling bummed and discombobulated last week, S. took me to lunch and told me to go write.

I have been, very slowly, working on a story since then. It’s so gross! Not in a bad way, just in a yuck way. And I keep thinking, “you cannot submit a story like this!” but then I keep also thinking “Just write it and send it to S. and, if she laughs and shudders, then that’s what you need to know.”

But it’s taking me a little bit to get through it, to understand what’s changing in the characters.

Too Close to Home

My favorite thing about TANIS this week was how they dealt with the discomfort of reading history for vast conspiracies. It’s one thing to say that Charlemagne was looking for Tanis. It’s another thing to suggest that Kurt Cobain was killed over it.

But where’s the line? I find it really curious that I saw nothing wrong with giving Jack Parsons over to fiction, but I was uncomfortable with L. Ron Hubbard being used in that way, even though they’re contemporaries and, if anyone would love becoming a legend, I imagine it’s Hubbard.

I can’t say why Hubbard seemed for me “too soon.” But I thought this week’s episode, in which Nick is really uncomfortable with a conspiracy theorist who crosses his “too soon” line, did a good job of making clear that the show isn’t unwittingly pressing these buttons.

Poopeaters Anonymous

Someone in this house, who had been cooped up by the rain all day yesterday, went gallivanting around on our walk, eating all the poop he could find, which, for some reason, seemed to be a never-ending buffet. Like, did every animal in the neighborhood just come to our walking path to poop this morning?!

We came in the house and I fed everyone and I went into the other room to eat my own breakfast and the Butcher came into the kitchen and found another piece of poop by Sonnyboy’s bowl.


He brought some poop in the house to have for a snack later.

Crochet Question

I’m nowhere, I mean, nowhere near done on the Tunisian crochet afghan (though, wow, is it really calming and nice to do while watching tv or listening to podcasts), but I’ve been thinking of how cool/funny it would be to make a granny square afghan–like an old-school different color every row, traditional–granny square afghan with big bulky yarn and a huge hook, so that the squares are comically large.

But I can’t find any examples online of anyone else doing this, which makes me worried that there’s some unforeseen reason to not do this. Some terrible problem that can’t be overcome.

Do any of you know of one?

I suppose it’s also possible no one has pictures of this because it’s super easy and nothing special. But I’d still like to see one.

Oh, wait! I found this. Okay, so it can be done and I think would amuse me.

Back to the Boobs

I went in for my second annual mammogram today. I has to go over to Vanderbilt because my insurance is a dumpster fire. This is nothing against Vanderbilt. I really liked how things went today.

But, seeing as how this was the year follow-up after my surgery, I would have preferred to go to the place that did my surgery and thus would have my films and charts and such.

Instead, only half the shit Vanderbilt needed ended up over there, even though I checked at my appointment and called to make sure everything had been sent.

So, instead of finding out today that everything looks good, I have a kind of half-knowledge. The doctor said he didn’t see anything in there he’d be worried about if this were my first mammogram. However, knowing that this is my second, he really wished he had the first one to compare to.

When he gets those, he’ll be able to give me a better all-clear.

Here’s the thing, though. I’d like to think, based on my mom and grandma, that I’m not quite halfway through my life. But I’m close.

I don’t want to be on my death bed wishing I’d really tried to get a novel published.

Adverbial Compression

One of my podcasts is Writing Excuses, which I like and find really thought-provoking, but, in general, haven’t found to be writing changing for me. It’s nice to think about the craft of writing for a few minutes with people who have thought a lot about the craft of writing, though, so I look forward to it.

Until this week’s episode, which has blown my mind. They’ve been talking about revision for a couple of weeks–so you can see why I’ve been paying close attention.

And this week, they were talking about adverbs. Adverbs have a bad reputation among writers and yet, when you’re writing, my god, if she says, “I love you” softly, is it really so bad that she says it softly?

But this week, one of the Writing Excuses people introduced this idea of “adverbial compression.” He looks for adverbs in his work and finds that they are often places where he’d be better off writing more.

So, take my example above.

I might write “‘I love you,’ she said, softly.”

But dude is arguing that your writing is stronger if you cut the softly and add some shit that lets the reader know she’s saying it softly. You can see how that works thusly:

“She pressed her face into the pillow, so that he could not hear what she was saying, if he was even awake, and she said, ‘I love you.'”


“She grabbed him by the chest hair, pulled his ear close to her lips, and said, ‘I love you.'”

My mind is blown. Not just because it’s a great way to add more descriptive interactions between your characters, but because, wow, yes, here’s a good explanation for why you might not want to use adverbs and what you might do in those spots instead.

Gawker is Not Alone

Over at Medium:

In August 2014, Jezebel published “We Have a Rape Gif Problem and Gawker Media Won’t Do Anything About It.” I remember when it appeared because I thought it was exciting to work at a company where people were directly questioning authority on their own site — rather than waiting for another outlet to pick up the story — while also recognizing how fucked up it was that they’d had to resort to this. “In refusing to address the problem,” the post read, “Gawker’s leadership is prioritizing theoretical anonymous tipsters over a very real and immediate threat to the mental health of Jezebel’s staff and readers.” When I spoke to several Jezebel staff writers about their decision to publish it, the same narratives came up over and over.

“It took me four years to build up a callus where I didn’t care anymore and I was able to not read how much people hated me. That was so awful psychologically. It’s way worse for women and it’s way worse when you’re writing about women’s issues and it’s way worse when you’re forced to look at graphic images of sexual assault,” former Jezebel senior writer Tracie Morrissey told me about the rape gifs that were littering Jezebel’s comment section. “No one did anything about the rape gif issue until we wrote a public story and called them out for it.”

Update on Learning New Things

tunisian front

I love the texture of this so much. If I look too closely, I can still see how I kind of fucked up the early corners, but I think this stitch and this yarn is very forgiving of mistakes. It’s said to be a mixture of crocheting and knitting, but that’s only in technique, I think. This isn’t a texture I’m used to getting with either.

tunisian back

On the back, if you don’t look at it too carefully, I think it’s easy to mistake this for knitting. But it looks very different up close. Also, weirdly, this side is really soft. I think the puffy loops must be the reason.

Little Sister Death

I read William Gay’s Little Sister Death. It’s not a book I’d recommend to non-writers. It’s not a complete book. It’s not even a complete manuscript. Weirdly, there’s nothing in the book to let you know that it’s a partial, rough draft, so I’m sure if you buy the book thinking that you’re going to get Gay’s take on the Bell Witch, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

It’s this incomplete draft and his essay on the Bell Witch which, I think, first appeared in the Oxford American.

If you are a writer, though, I highly, highly recommend this book. Who ever gets to see what a genius is like at this early stage in a book’s life? Here you see him toying with what characters might be important, what conceits he might want to employ–toward the middle of the book, the house itself starts to sleep and awake, but then it stops and I’d be so curious to know if he thought that was working (I did) or if he would have cut that from the final version–what kinds of imagery and symbolism might be important. It’s also fun to watch him clearly toying around with things that horror writers did that he liked. It’s amazing to see how strong and beautiful his prose already is, that early in the process.

It’s a real gift.

I’m bummed we’re never going to get to see his final version.

I’m also bummed because his article on the Bell Witch is good and has a lot of information that would seem to be substantiatable. The Saturday Evening Post wrote a story about the Bell Witch in 1849. Betsy Bell sued them over it. Local papers regularly covered the story as it was happening and shortly after. I got into the archives of the Post. I couldn’t find a story in 1849. I ran a search through the Post through the whole 19th century. Nothing. I ran searches through all of Proquest’s historical newspapers. Nothing.

I could have missed things.

But I have to tell you, I think that story didn’t exist until Ingram’s book in the 1880s.

Young Men

When you point out that most community-devastating violence is perpetrated by young men, it’s mostly ignored. We want to talk about what a “dangerous” religion Islam is or how violent white supremacists are or how devastating street gangs are or how nutty the loner who complains about not being able to get a hot girlfriend on the internet is.

But here we are, with another fundamentally inexplicable tragedy.

And I’m just going to say it. We, as a world, don’t know what to do with or for young men. We live in a series of pyramid schemes. Either it’s straight up capitalism where many of the resources end up in the hands of very few which leaves very few resources for most of the rest of us. Or religious structures where power ends up in the hands of a very few and so on. Or political structures or whatever. Etc. Etc.

But it’s a pyramid scheme. You have more people in the structure than can ever get all the benefits of that structure. But, in order to keep people participating, you have to make it seem like everyone in the in-group can get those benefits, if they follow the rules and do what they’re asked.

There are always young men. Every year we keep making more. All our various pyramid schemes can’t fit them all in. Our pyramid schemes have made promises to them the schemes can never fulfill.

The pyramid schemes need violent young men.

That’s the terrible, terrible truth. The truth I can’t bear but is what it is. This state of things is what the world wants and has arranged itself to need.

The schemes need violent young men to drive people to invest in them because they claim to provide order and security and meaning in this chaotic world. The schemes need violent young men to punish the people who don’t invest in the schemes. And the schemes need violent young men because the schemes need a way to get young men out of the way. The schemes need young men dead or in prison or locked in battle. Out of the way.

Because, if young men stick around and refuse to violently impose the schemes, if they, in fact, refuse to participate in the schemes, the pyramids can’t stand. And then all the old powerful farts lose their power.

And we can’t have that.

Nashville and Race

On our walk this morning, I was thinking that there’s something really screwed up about the fact that there are people alive in this city who know who bombed Looby’s house. They have never come forward. We are more likely to live in a city that has forgotten who Looby is and what he did for us than we are to live in a city that knows who tried to kill him.

To my way of thinking, this is a good measure of whether we have racial justice in this city. Are we still choosing to protect the white people who tried to kill black Nashvillians? I’m not even talking about prosecuting anyone. I’m just talking about being wholly honest about what happened.

Every day, we choose this. People know. They choose not to say.

The Sound of Things

Yesterday morning, they played this song on the radio:

They were trying to argue that it was a kind of proto-rap, which is not really an argument I find that interesting. But I do think that the song has something in common with rap. Not just the rapid-fire delivery but with the joy taken in the sound of words, the playfulness with the very noise of language. These names of places are just fun to say.

I also like this song, because it reminds me that a lot of Johnny Cash songs have a kind of scary humor to them that may not always be immediately obvious. In this one, it’s only when you listen carefully, when you hear him say “I’m a killer” that you start to be very nervous for the guy who picked him up going to Winnemucca.

There is a tradition of kind of “talking” singing songs. Like, you can hear it in “Hot Rod Lincoln,” which, in my head, is a kind of brother to “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

But, clearly, this is about the noise the instruments can make and the story and the sounds of words is less paramount.

I was kind of thinking that this song, by Nathaniel Rateliff, has that same kind of joy in the sounds of words. Who knows what he’s saying? Who even cares? It just sounds like something.

How Things Go

You all remember that my story “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” got accepted by Fantasy & Science Fiction a while back. Yesterday, I got the edits on the story. I have a dream that, if I had a good editor, I learn a shit-ton about writing. This experience did nothing to dissuade me. The kinds of changes they proposed did a lot to really tighten up my prose.

But, yeah, so the interesting thing is that, even at this point, since it’s a print magazine, there’s a whole other round of checking of page proofs that is going to happen later. And it’s still not clear which issue it’s going to be in.

Now, keeping in mind that I’m speaking from my experience, but this is different than how online magazines work. First, I had a contract and got paid for my story way back when they accepted it. Then many months went by and now I’ve received the copyediting. There will be some point at which I see page proofs. And I’ll eventually learn which issue it’ll appear in. Then it will come out, probably sometime next year.

The online magazines I’ve worked with have accepted me pretty quickly, but not sent me a contract until much closer to publication. So, it’s like contract, payment, copyediting, published, kind of all in a bunch and the waiting time is between when you hear that the story is accepted and the flurry of activity that happens right before publication.

I’m sure there will be other ways other places work, too. But it just goes to show that Publishing is not a thing, but a bunch of related things that kind of all have steps in common, but are also really different. Doing it once doesn’t really teach you much about how it might go again.

In related news, I laughed so hard reading through the story, which made me happy. I think it’s a good one. But, as I was telling the Butcher, it’s the kind of story that pretty much does a bunch of stuff stories aren’t “supposed” to do.


Work is very stressful right now. I’ve been trying to deal by…I don’t know. Going for walks. Thinking calming thoughts. Conquering worlds on video games. Crocheting.

But I just can’t get calm.

I had a dream that I knew a woman who married a creek and they had crawdads as children and she said to me, “You can’t love 47,000 children equally.”

And I woke up in a kind of feeling of horror and like I’d just realized something profound. But what? I’m not sure.

Still, man, you don’t want to be the chick with crawdads pouring out of your cooter. I assume crawdads must be an egg thing, right? Like you’d just go out in the yard, drop a bunch of eggs, and leave them to hatch or not on their own.

Or maybe in the creek?

I definitely would have to learn more about the early life of crawdads before I married a creek.