A Secret You Don’t Know How to Hear

Franklin Lodg

When it was built, this was the tallest building west of the Appalachians. It’s the Masonic Lodge down in Franklin.

I really enjoy history. I think I even enjoy learning about the bad parts. But when I look at this building, I see a statement of fact I don’t know how to understand. This is the past saying something I don’t know how to hear.

I find that frightening, a little bit.

I don’t know what I want to say about this exactly, except that, I feel like, if you stared at it long enough, you would know something about American history you maybe didn’t want to know.

That building, each brick crafted by hand by people who couldn’t decline the work. Sent up a death-fall distance into the air to stack those bricks so that men could meet in secret and pretend they knew the mysteries of the world and then so that men could meet and send the Chickasaw on their death march.

I always feel weird about defending Andrew Jackson, but I have come to respect that Jackson knew what it would take to get the country white America wanted and that he didn’t gloss over or coddle or reconfigure or whatever that it took enslaving people and committing genocide. I also find myself respecting that he was willing to stand here in this building and be the enemy of the Chickasaw people to their faces.

There’s a kind of bluntness in Jackson’s person and actions that is alarming and unfamiliar. But I find myself growing more to respect that he did openly and let the chips fall where they may instead of, as we do now, doing it secretly and pretending it’s fine.

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Full Tuesday

I left my house at 9:30 yesterday morning and did not walk back in my house until 9:30 yesterday night. I pissed and moaned with a dear friend who somehow always knows how to turn a good complaining session into a good laughing session. I got a hair cut. I had sushi. I picked up some yarn for a hat I didn’t realize a little boy was serious about me making. I picked up some boots for my mom. I answered in a preliminary fashion a nagging question I’ve had about the Ewing family here in town, and then I hung out with some other friends all evening. When I got home, I submitted my two more stories to the SFWA and now I wait to see if they’ll approve my upgrade.

I don’t know how quickly I’m going to finish this afghan if I have to stop to keep making hats. But I will gladly do so!

Anyway, here’s what I learned about the Ewings. So, near me, on Buena Vista Pike (pronounced Bew-na, because that’s how we roll), there’s a huge really old brick house. Judging by the chimneys, pre-1830. Everyone refers to this as the Alex Ewing house.

But the Alex Ewing cemetery, when it existed, which it doesn’t really seem to now, was at the corner of Knight and Ewing. Two things are peculiar about this. 1. Why is all this stuff by the old cemetery named Ewing Drive, Ewing Lane, Ewingwood, Ewingdale, Ewing Creek and nothing named Ewing by the Ewing House? 2. White people would have made black people go that far to their cemeteries, but white people were either buried within eye of the house or they were buried at church. There’s nothing to indicate that there was a church at the corner of Ewing and Knight. So, why did the white people bury their dead so far from the house?

Well, I was searching the internet and the Ewing family has an answer for this, one that I think is the truth. The Ewing house was there near the cemetery. And the house now known as the Ewing house was actually that wildman Stump’s second house, right next door to his log cabin.

But, as is obvious from early Nashville records, the Ewings were constantly bailing Stump out of financial trouble and, at some point, the nice house became the Ewings’ house. I don’t know if later Ewings lived there. Maybe. It’s really, really lovely and why not?

But Alex Ewing never lived there. He lived where you’d expect to find him–near his cemetery.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

I looked over my copyedits and signed my contract with Apex yesterday for “The Four Gardens of Fate.” It’ll be out soon, then, is my understanding. Unless something goes horribly wrong, look for it in February.

Since I had to approve the copyedits, I had to reread it and, yep, I think it’s a good one.

But, still, a very different timetable from F&SF, and, frankly, from my last go round with Apex. I mention this only to point out that there’s no one publishing process. Everything is its own thing, different every time.

Oh, holy shit! I just realized, now that I have both contracts, I can become a full member of the SFWA.

So, ha ha ha, that’s another thing about publishing. All this (imagine my hand sweeping grandly over all the stories here, all the stories elsewhere, A City of Ghosts, The Wolf’s Bane, two trunked novels, one novel I’ve just started shopping, and so on) and I just have three pro sales.

I can’t tell if that should be depressing or if this is what a trajectory looks like.

This Week

This week, I need to start querying agents about Ashland, maybe reread Ashland, read a couple of books, hang out with friends, submit a short story, and do some laundry.

I’m ahead of schedule in that I submitted the short story and read one of the books (Slade House which I liked, but was not the kind of book I hoped it was and seemed to be all story and no grief, which is a weird thing for a ghost story.)

Also, I was reading through the Goodreads reviews and one reviewer was complaining about the massive infodump in the book. And I realized, I must not fucking understand what an infodump is, in that case, or why it’s the mark of bad writing. Because the one time the bad guys really seemed to come alive for me and to be remotely interesting was when we got their backstory and, in a book set in an alley and a house–where you’re supposed to have that kind of claustrophobia because there’s nowhere else to go–how are you supposed to get the story of the lives of the characters before they got to the house if not for one of the characters telling you?

I’m probably a little sensitive because, if what Mitchell did is infodumping, then 90% of Ashland is infodumping. But I refuse to accept that this is infodumping.

To me, infodumping is when you either dump a lot of useless information on the reader just to prove that you’ve thought through the mechanics of how your world works or when you dump details that ought to unfold naturally in your story. You either don’t trust that the reader trusts you or you don’t trust that the reader can figure things out on her own.

But, if you’re in a situation where a character wants another character to know these things or if you’re in a situation where the character is discovering these things, then you must pass on a lot of information through the telling of it.

It’s just another storytelling strategy.

And now I’ve gotten off track and must get on to the parts of my to-do list that stress me out.

Sumner County

And after all that, I forgot to tell you guys how my trip to Sumner County went. It was excellent. I have a few pictures.

Did I tell you I made a map? I made a map. I hope that link works.

The locations aren’t exact, exact, but they’ll give you a good idea of where things are. I relied heavily on the 1878 map of Sumner County at the LOC and a lot on where various books approximated things.

 

 

We Are Who We Are

I’m feeling less grouchy this morning, but man, that’s a rough day. Too much sugar, too much stress, too much of people’s expectations that I’m going to cheerfully make a bunch of food and stand around in the kitchen and wait to meet their demands.

But mostly, in my family, it’s about working so hard to find presents for people only to get to hear all the ways the presents have slightly disappointed them.

Or to hear how they will have to hide the presents, because, if someone were to ask them for said present, of course they would give it to them.

Yeah, no shit.

My parents even told one of their friends, who I don’t know, and who I’ve never met, that they would get her one of my afghans. Their plan is to just root through my closet and give her one of my “extra” ones.

The only two afghans I can think of in my closet right now (and I have zero desire to go look) are the afghan I made my grandma that she died in and a wool afghan that the Butcher stuck in the dryer and I can’t figure out if there’s a way to salvage it, but, since I hand-dyed it, I hate to throw it out. Neither of which I will give away.

If there’s some other afghan in there, at one level, fine. I might even be a tiny bit impressed and flattered that they think something I do might be a treat for someone else.

But holy shit.

Who does this? I genuinely don’t think that my parents know how to understand me as a person in my own right. Because I’m a woman and because I’m not married, I’m this defective support system that might be put to use whenever they want.

Anyway, my dad liked his afghan. Both because he genuinely liked it and because I think he knew if he hadn’t, I would have motherfucking quit this family.

But he never tells you what he wants for any holiday and then he loves to sulk when you don’t end up getting him something he likes and he always makes this big production out of how your failure to get him something he likes proves that you don’t really care about him, because you’re not paying attention to him.

So, as you can imagine, it makes buying presents for him suck. It becomes this terrible, fraught thing where your goal is to get him something he likes and his goal is to prove to himself and you that you don’t really love him.

He’s been halfway talking about getting a ukulele for a couple of years. Mom and I found a cheap, but okay, one for him, figuring that, when he hated it, it wouldn’t sting that bad because it was just $30.

But Jesus Christ! He liked it at first! But then, after he got it tuned and strummed it a little, he announced that he refused to play it because he couldn’t get a clear sound on it because the neck was so small and we should have known to get him a bigger one. And he had this look on his face… like I can’t even explain it. Like he was pleased and relieved to find that the present he, for a second, enjoyed, really sucked. And I wanted to beat him to death with the turkey.

It took every ounce of myself to just tell him he could exchange it then for one he liked.

But, you know, it made his day. He got exactly what he wanted.

So, I guess that’s good.

 

Silent, Holy, Blah Blah blah

I stayed up so late last night finishing the afghan I was making for my dad for Christmas. I’m tired and grouchy and so tired. I hate this holiday. I truly do.

Storms

I just need the storms tomorrow to hold off as long as possible so that I can get up to Sumner county and see what there is to see.

Please, please, please.

Also, no tornadoes.

The Weight

Talking about religion is tedious and boring. Religious experience is like a vivid dream. To you, if you have it, it can shake you to the core. Hearing about someone else’s religious experiences? As dull as hearing about someone’s dreams.

Also, maybe this isn’t that weird. Maybe I did know about this before and just don’t remember that I knew.

All that being said, I’m going to say something about religion.

Every October, I take nine evenings and set aside some time to hang out with my ancestors and see what kinds of visions my subconscious might dredge up.

This October, I had a vision that I was in a room with a loom, but the loom was set up very strangely. It hanged down and, as the weaver worked it, she moved the done cloth up at the top. She unrolled more thread to work on somehow from these big stone or clay weights that hanged down beneath the work.

I couldn’t make sense of it, exactly, how the weights worked, how the loom itself could possibly make sense. I drew a picture of it and it still made no sense to me, so I put it out of my mind, figured it was symbolic, allegorical.

Until today.

Those are the weights, set up exactly how I saw. That’s the loom, but it makes sense, because it’s not relying on someone who doesn’t understand what she’s seeing to make sense of it.

This is a style of weaving I don’t think I knew existed before October. I don’t remember knowing it anyway. If I did know it, how did I not know it in a way that made more sense to me?

But I saw it.

And today, I saw it.

I’m shaken. I’m not sure what it means, if anything. But I’m shaken.

I Will Make this Gumbo for My Parents

My whole goal for Christmas week is to get my presents wrapped and to make this new gumbo for my parents. It’s pretty much like regular gumbo except that you don’t do a roux and, instead, use potatoes as a thickener and substitute for rice.

Well, my god, I figured, once you’ve done away with the most nerve-wracking part of gumbo…once you’ve exposed yourself as willing to call something without that roux gumbo… why limit yourself to potatoes?

I swapped in sweet potatoes, which, dear readers were FANTASTIC. Especially if you can’t do shrimp for whatever reason, the sweet potatoes add that delicious sweetness that balances all the spiciness.

Also, rather than dicing the chicken, this recipe just has you lay the chicken over top, simmer the whole thing for an hour, and then fish out the chicken and shred it. It’s so much easier to shred cooked chicken than to cut raw chicken that I about jumped for joy.

My only trick will be making the gumbo bland enough for my Midwestern parents.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Yesterday, we went to a four-year-old’s birthday party. It was rough. I mean, of course, it was awesome, but she had a bit of a melt-down after the presents, and that was rough.

But it was interesting to see how it worked, because I doubt we as adults are much different. There is some top end to joy. There’s only so much and then the needle is buried. Worse, when good things keep happening, because there’s no more room for happiness, you start to teeter over into “what the hell is happening?!”

There’s a little bit of terror in getting everything you want.

I hadn’t really realized that before. I got the terror in getting what you want and finding out it’s not what you needed. Or finding out that it doesn’t lead to happiness or all the things you might guess.

But what I saw yesterday is that getting what you want is like swinging out over an abyss. It’s awesome when you’re sure you’re going to swing back to solid ground, but it starts to get a little scary when you don’t hit the far arc of the feeling when you expect to.

Practice

This morning, there were… I don’t know… a lot… maybe fifty crows circling slowly overhead. It was early for crows. Since the time change, we don’t see or hear them until the very end of our walk, just as the first edge of the sun peeks over the rim of the earth. But today, while the sky was still mostly dark, they were up, making big, slow loops.

A couple of crows were cawing at almost exactly the same time, almost in unison, but not quite.

They kept coming over our heads and then swinging out over the field and then back over our heads. Slowly, with the not-quite-together cawing.

I had the distinct feeling I was watching some kind of training, or perhaps, inadvertently, participating in it.

Here’s a thing–a woman and a dog. Here’s how you get a good look at it. Here’s how you follow it. Here’s how you alert others to it. Here’s how a whole swarm of you might maneuver. Here’s the orders the crow-in-charge is going to holler. You, bark those orders with me.

I think the dog and I were an object lesson at crow school.

Franklin Stuff

I’m gearing up for two trips to Sumner County. The first one I’m taking next week, to have my awesome history buff friend drive me around while I look at graves and try to suss out which houses are still standing.

The second I’m taking in January when a historian who’s working on a book on Isaac Franklin comes up here to see what there is to see.

I’ve been thinking about the kinds of things I want to impress upon him, what I think are the most important overview things he might need to know about Isaac Franklin and his family.

One, which is small, is that Isaac Franklin’s mom was a Lauderdale. One of her brothers is who Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is named after. The other brother, who has counties named after him, died at the Battle of New Orleans, yes, under Jackson.

Two, which is also small, is that, back in the day, when there were a ton of ferries, the Hermitage was roughly halfway between Gallatin and Nashville.

Three is that the Cages and the Douglasses were in-laws before they came to Sumner County. So, the Cages and the Douglasses were the same family and then, when they got here and lived next to the Franklins, the Franklins substantially intermarried into that extended family.

What this means then, is that, if you look at a map of Sumner County and you find where Saundersville Road now turns sharply to the north and you draw a line at that point from the river up to Long Hollow Pike, then you come east to where 386 intersects 109 and come south to the river, you have the rough boundaries of the land controlled by this family/families in the late 1700s/early 1800s (and beyond that, too). By my rough estimate, 30 square miles, almost 20,000 acres. Pretty much everything between Gallatin and Hendersonville.

Four, and most interesting to me, but maybe not that historically important, is that it seems like all houses in this clan that the kids could get to, the kids were welcome at.  All adults seemed to some greater or lesser degree to oversee the well-being of all the children in the Bend.

It makes Franklin’s desire to turn Fairvue into a school a little touching to me to know that. He wanted his house to continue, after his death, to be a place open and welcoming and useful to (male, white) children.

It also makes me wonder more about Franklin remaining unmarried for so long. I wonder if a woman he loved, someone he grew up with, sits in his family tree married to someone else.

Here

I haven’t really loved this house. I’ve loved the yard and I’ve loved the fireplace, but there’s not a lot about a ’50s ranch that is endearing to me.

Today, for reasons I can’t talk about in public, I was home doing laundry and the way the light came into the garage and the sound the washing machine made as it chugged to a halt, well, it just seemed like the most beautiful moment I’d ever witnessed.

And I realized that I love this place.

Which, ha ha, probably means it will now fall down on me.

Square Miles to Acres

What we know is that Eliza Allen’s father owned 800 acres three miles south of Gallatin on a bluff. Locals tell us that the house was off of what is now Steam Plant Road.

I just now measured. If they owned 800 acres, they owned most of Odom’s Bend.

I also have been thinking about the fact that, when the Franklin family slaves were emancipated, they all went over to Peach Valley Road to live. I’m starting to suspect–if Isaac Franklin indeed had 1000 acres and he grew enough food on that rocky land to supply the Louisiana farms, which means he must have had plenty of bottom land–that the Franklin family slaves didn’t “go” anywhere. I think they just settled where the field cabins had been.

Walk Around

The dog and I went for our first walk since sometime last week, the last moment I was pretending like I wasn’t really sick. I’m still sick, though it’s much better.

I have a belief that there comes a point in any cold when you need to get up and get moving around. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s my superstition that, at first, you need a lot of rest so that you body can focus on fighting whatever it is, but then, as you start to feel better, you need to start doing normal things to kind of bring systems back online and get them working again so that they can knock out whatever in your cold is left.

It was a slow walk, then, since I’m still not breathing 100%, but the dog seems happy with it.

Last night he figured out how to sit on the Butcher’s lap, which made me very happy. He had been noticeably thinking about something all evening and we were all–well, not the Butcher, who ended up with a hundred and twenty pound dog in his lap–pleased when his thoughts coalesced into action in the world.

Pop Culture Coma

Since we were both sick, we spent a lot of time watching TV this weekend. I tried to watch a “documentary” about how Courtney killed Kurt, but it had this really soothing rain sound it used to signify when we were in Seattle and damn if I didn’t fall asleep through it. I was, however, left with the opinion that, in spite of the “documentary”‘s claims, Courtney did not kill Kurt.

It’s based on one simple fact that comes up over and over again in everything ever written or filmed having to do with grunge. No one likes Courtney Love. So, if she had killed Kurt, why would a conspiracy to keep her from being charged work? People protect powerful people and people they like. Courtney Love wasn’t either of those things.

Second, we watched Jessica Jones. It could have benefited from only being ten episodes long, as a couple of the later episodes were a lot of nothing. But it was pretty good. I had been afraid to watch it, afraid it would hit too close to home, but, for whatever reason, it didn’t.

One thing I was glad they did a really good job of portraying, a thing I remember viscerally, is the way in which you’re to blame for the man’s behavior. Everything happens because you wouldn’t do what he wanted. Not just his reasoning, but the reasoning of so many people you know. Why don’t you just appease him?

And then I loved the way, after all the pressure to appease, when you do appease him, that’s taken as proof of your complicity, of your secret wanting of all of this.

The truth being that, as long as he’s focused on you, a lot of people around you will find ways to believe that you’re the one out of line. And, like they show on Jessica Jones, sometimes you will be. And yet, somehow, his out-of-line-ness is never up for the same kind of discussion. If anything, it’s seen as an equal and appropriate reaction to your craziness.

The impossibility of getting people to see what’s going on. I liked that.

We’re also still watching The X-Files. Last night, we hit one of my favorite episodes, “The Field Where I Died.” I remember watching that in college and being wrecked over it. Crying, reading Robert Browning, thinking it was so fucking brilliant.

It was so stupid. It broke my heart! I was so excited to resee it and, man, it fucking… where was all the magic?

I know things change and we are not the people we were twenty years ago, but man, I felt really estranged from my self from two decades ago.

Upswing

I thought, “I’ll get up and walk the dog!” But I got up and put some pants on and am now resting on the couch. I do feel better, though, just not as better as my ambitions would have.

I want to do some laundry, but we’ll have to see if I’m up for it.

I did get word on my Apex story. It appears it will appear in the February issue. I like it. It’s a little gruesome, though, at the end.

I’m excited to see what you guys think of it.

I also wrote a story while hopped up on cold medicine. I’ll have to look at it once my brain clears and decide if it’s something I can do something with or not.

But first, maybe, a nap.

What Day is It Even?

This, I think, is what the gnarled root of an ancient, dead tree must feel like.

Or what it is to be one of those bus-sized globs of Wet Wipes and kitchen fat that clog up the sewer drains.

I am a sharp pain up the left side of my face, watering, burning eyes, and an occasional sneeze that sounds like a wet earthquake.

This is an improvement.

I’m trying to be hopeful.

Sick

The headache and the sneezing have now congealed into a sore throat and nausea. I’m trying hard to kick it today, because I HAVE to be in the office the rest of the week.

The Butcher went to the store for me first thing this morning and bought me some cough drops. I know it’s just psychosomatic, but I swear, the second I put one in my mouth and tasted that cherry/medicine flavor, I immediately felt a little better.

My Accent

One thing about being edited is that you start to really get a feel for not just your writing quirks–there is no sentence I will not stick “and” in front of–but also the ways your language marks where you’re from, the language in which you were raised.

I regularly write “I’ll be over in a half an hour.” I’m pretty sure I say that, too, unless I get self-conscious about it. I’m not sure it’s always audible–that “a” between “in” and “half.” Saying it outloud to myself right now, I kind of feel like you might not hear it, because the “a” could almost be because of the shape of my mouth going from “nnn” to “ha.” But I always mean it to be there, even if you don’t hear it there.

I still go “over to,” though this is a harder usage to explain. But I think “over to” usually connotes “I didn’t really have a task or reason to be there. Like “I went to Walmart” means “I had some things I needed from Walmart and thus went there.” “I was over to the Walmart” or “I went over to the Walmart” usually just means I was farting around at Walmart, burning some time.

I’ve lost it some living down here, but there are a series of places that, in my Midwestern accent, have a “the” in front of them if you mean a specific place.  If someone says “Jewel has hamburger on sale,” you can lay money on the fact that they acquired that information by reading the paper and all Jewels throughout the area are having a hamburger sale.

But, if someone says “The Jewel has hamburger on sale,” they mean “The Jewel I shop at has hamburger on sale.” They probably saw it for sale there.

And backwards and towards. Though I’ve become really self-conscious about it and it makes me mad that I’m self-conscious about it. That’s how I know those words. Why should I be embarrassed?

I’m also lately fascinated by how satisfying “Bugsy Siegel” sounds. I think it’s because of the palindromic satisfaction of the vowel sounds–uh ee ee uh. I don’t think “Bugsy Green” is going to be as well remembered. How many ordinary people remember the name “Meyer Lansky,” Siegel’s running buddy? And I think it’s because the name just isn’t that satisfying to remember.

Charlie Birger fought the Klan and won, and even has a folk song about him, but who remembers him? He should have been Glenn Birger, and had that palindromic satisfaction.

Giant Granny Square

When you decide you want to make a giant granny square afghan, it’s pretty hard to sit around finishing the Tunisian crochet afghan without wondering, “But how hilariously awesome is the giant granny square afghan going to be?”

Readers, it’s going to be this awesome:

IMG_1744

Just dwell on that. It’s one square. It covers my whole lap. It is hilariously awesome.

But no more until I’m done with the current afghan.

The Workshop

I went to my workshop this morning and it was amazing. I kind of just want to sit here in the quiet and think about it.

Alice Randall, who led the workshop was amazing and the people in the workshop were really thoughtful and lovely. I’m definitely feeling like I have some good ideas what to watch out for on my next (last?) pass over the manuscript.

But one thing that doesn’t have to do with race–the subject of the workshop–that Randall talked a lot about is how she would have some idea about each of her characters, like maybe she’d want one to just give people a bad feeling, like he was creepy like a bug, even though, maybe at that part in the story, he’s not doing anything wrong, and she gives those characters a motif. Like guy who makes you feel like he’s a creepy bug gets a bug motif. All the words she uses to describe him carry through that motif, even if it’s just making sure that, instead of him wearing “blue” he wears some kind of blue that you get from bug shells.

She said that, even if a reader doesn’t consciously know the derivation of a word, if they’re well-read enough, they’ll pick up on it subconsciously.

I love this so much, but I have to tell you, it feels like writing at a skill-level I’m not sure I have yet. Still, I kind of want to try it.