Things oh things

  1. It smells so bad outside, but the dog and I went for our walk anyway and at the far end of our walk was a young dead skunk who’d been hit by a car. I have nothing against skunks, so it was a little bit of a bummer to see one dead. But I was super impressed with the radius of stink left in its wake.
  2. It looks like I’m writing a piece about the Napiers for the Scene for Black History Month. The black Nashville Napiers are descended from a white guy who was one of many Napiers who owned a furnace and was in the metal smelting business. He never married–the white guy. As far as the census shows, he was usually the only white guy even living on his plantation. Sometimes there was a young white guy, too, possibly a nephew, I’d guess. But otherwise, just him, like a king surrounded by serfs all tied to him and his land.
  3. So, Napier was, on the surface, a bachelor. Montgomery Bell was, too, I think. He came to mind because of the furnace connection. And Isaac Franklin nearly was. Nowadays, if someone’s a bachelor, the possibility that he’s gay suggests itself. But in those days, it seems like a lot of gay guys just went ahead and got married. Marrying for love wasn’t the only reason people got married. You didn’t have to like your spouse. Family pressure and all that. Getting married was the easiest path. So, I feel like staying single was some other marker back then. It meant something else, but I’m not sure what. Other than that you probably were fucking your slaves. But you could do that and be married.


The main problem with ever writing a comprehensive (or hell just an adequate) history of early Nashville is that there’s so much information you need that you don’t know you need until you stumble across it.

Like, for instance, we know that De Charleville was an earlier French fur trapper and that Demonbreun kind of inherited his spot. But scholars of fur trading and Native American history know that De Charleville was embedded in with the Shawnee.

So…the Shawnee had to have some settlement here.

(Speaking of settlements, as I was looking at the Brown narrative more closely, I noticed that he said that when he was kidnapped, Running Water Town had only existed for two years–that’s why the cane was still so thick in the area. Running Water Town is considered a major and important Chickamauga village. If Brown’s right, considering that he was captured in 1788 and then guided the Nickajack expedition that wiped Running Water Town off the face of the planet in 1794, that town existed for less than a decade. But no one questions whether Running Water Town was a permanent settlement. So, is it just that we don’t know the names of what camps might have been here? Is that why we don’t count them? What would have made a camp less permanent than Running Water Town? During the winter, folks moved out of Running Water Town and lived in Crow Town. I guess I just don’t understand how we’re differentiating between a camp and a town. A camp would seem less permanent but we know people returned to the same camps year after year. So… I don’t know. I still suspect this is a smoke screen behind which we claim no Native Americans lived here.)

Or take the fact that Ramsey (who provides the framework for Brown’s account) says that Brown’s mom was freed with help from the Durant woman whose husband was a French trader, who helped Brown’s mom get in McGillivray, the head Creek dude.

I had been thinking that this must be Elizabeth Durard (nee either Bennett or Hensley) because who the fuck else could it be?

Oh, well, again, historians of the fur trade and Native American life know this. It’s Sophia Durant–McGilliray’s sister. Her husband was a French trader–some say from South Carolina, but the kinds of financial settlements he got from the U.S. government show that he was 1/2 Creek, so, not an Irishman who came in through Charleston.

But let that sink in. There were French fur traders embedded with the Creek.

Some sources do say that Joseph Durard was a “half-breed.” I had discounted them. I’m now moving that back into “hmm” territory. I still think it’s much more likely that Joseph Durard is Joseph Deraque, who was in Indiana with Demonbreun. But I can’t discount the fact that Joseph was able to easily travel through Creek territory with Richard Finnelson. Did he have family there?

The Snow Reveals

So, I found my septic tank. It was the one grassy spot in an otherwise snow-covered landscape. This morning, the dog and I tried to go for a walk (we’ve been desperate), but it was not really possible, due to the snow and the brittle layer of crunchier snow atop it. Every step was like, “I’m on top of the snow! Crunch. I’ve sunk to my shins in the snow!”

But I also noticed that the snow around the shed was already melted as was a line from the shed to the driveway. So, now I’m wondering if the plumbing in the shed is still hooked up. Neither the Butcher nor I ever remember trying the sink in the shed to see if it still works. We just assumed it was hooked up to the old well and would not.

The Grateful Dead Afghan

My next afghan is for a friend who likes going to concerts and being a hippie and shit. Well, and shitting. I mean, not shit. Let’s not talk about shit. She like’s stuff that has to do with The Grateful Dead. So, I thought I’d make her an afghan that reminded me of the Grateful Dead. We shall see how it goes. It’s still Lion Brand Amazing Yarn, in the Strawberry Fields, Arcadia, and Wildflowers colorways. I’m hoping this square, which contains a swirl, will have a kind of organic, quasi-tie-dyed feel.

Here’s what a “square” looks like:


And the they’re supposed to be fit together, four small “squares” into a larger more square “square.”


I have my doubts, but we shall see. Also, please ignore all the dog hair. It’s been a long, strange weekend. Sometimes the light’s all shining on me. Other times I can barely see, you know, for all the dog hair.

I Have Lost Track of the Days

I’m a sucker for the conceit of the person trapped alone for such a long period of time that they start to go mad. One of the things I love, too, about that conceit is when it’s really only been like four hours. Ha ha, four hours. How bad can it be?

I sent the Butcher up to his girlfriend’s before the storm, figuring he would have more fun being trapped with her and I would use my time to read and write, which are my fun things.

I have done no reading or writing. Today I woke up with no sense of what time it was or what day it might be. I had a dream a bunch of Nazis had taken over a shopping mall/airport I was at (as a part of some larger invasion) and here we were at the end of the siege where they were finally getting around to killing the people who had been compliant the whole time. I was among them. I kept finding open doors and leaving the mall, but for reasons I can’t explain, I kept going back into the mall to see if it really was as bad as I remembered it being. It always was. I couldn’t find any of the people I had come with. I didn’t know if that meant they’d been killed already or if my dalliances at escaping were why I’d lost track of them.

I woke up feeling unsettled, like something true about myself that I don’t want to know had bubbled to the surface.

I’m still snowed in. It’s only been a day.

What Does Success as a Writer Feel Like?

So, as you know, because you read Tiny Cat Pants, obviously, this weekend, I went and found Shackle Island. “Found” in the sense of “I didn’t know where it was and now I do” not in “this treasure had been lost and Betsy recovered it.” I wrote about my investigation for Pith. The editor of the Scene wrote to tell me that it had 75,000 readers from Facebook alone.

I don’t know how many people look at Pith a day without coming through Facebook, but I do know that a bunch of people also shared it on Twitter.

I don’t really know how to feel about this. I mean, I feel good about it, obviously. But the kind of writer I aspire to be is a fiction writer. I want to make up and write awesome stories that people love. That, for me, is what success looks like–people regard me as someone who makes up stories they love.

But I don’t want to be a dumbass who is looking for success in one corner and doesn’t see it sitting in plain sight in the other. After all, nothing fictional I write is going to ever have 75,000 readers, most likely.

So, realistically, I should feel like this week is some great milestone in my writing career, some pinnacle I may never achieve again. But I don’t. I feel like today is Wednesday. I feel a little proud. I wonder if I should write more history stuff for Pith. But I don’t feel like today is unique in some way.

It’s nice, though, don’t get me wrong. And I don’t want to take it for granted.

But I also am going to laugh a little because, Shackle Island, really? That’s what the world was waiting to hear from me about?

Trigger Warnings

We were talking about this over on Facebook, but I wanted to talk some about it here, too. I like trigger warnings. I loathe the demand for trigger warnings.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “Brace yourselves!” in any situation in which you can reasonably guess someone might like to know he or she should brace themselves. We don’t pick on people for needing handrails to climb steps or make fun of places that put out signs warning you when the floor is wet.

I just can’t and will never see anything wrong with giving people a head’s up about what the content of something is. I mean, no one laughs at people who look at a movie poster and say “Ugh, yuck, I can’t handle horror.” We see that it’s good to know what kind of movie it is so that they can avoid it, so why is it so funny and annoying if professors put content notes on their syllabi? I don’t and will never get it. It seems like a nice courtesy.

But I’ve been around on the internet a long time and I’ve seen the ugly fights that feminists have among themselves. I’ve seen the same old provocateurs reappear over and over. My friend lost her job to an internet shit-storm that could not be stopped, even after the original shitter realized he had shit in the wrong direction. I have seen the ways that people work themselves up into a righteous belief that the asshole thing they’re doing is justified, is deserved.

And that aspect of trigger warnings pisses me off.

Every internet shit storm I have ever seen stir up goes like this: Someone does something or says something. Someone else says, “How dare you? That was so stupid because…” (At this point, though it’s a fight, everything’s fine. But the atmospheric conditions are ripe.) Then someone (maybe the someone else, maybe one of the someone else’s backers) says, “You should have known that was stupid.” And then a group comes to think that, since you knew it was stupid and you did it anyway, you were the aggressor and, as the aggressor, you must be dealt with. (Even now there’s still the potential for it to be okay.) Then the crowd becomes convinced that you should have known they would find it offensive. And then the shit-storm is on.

The fuel of the shit-storm is when the crowd becomes outraged that you did not anticipate its reaction.

Once that dynamic is in play, the monster is loose. You are in trouble because you couldn’t guess ahead of time what some strangers wanted from you. And you will continue to be in trouble because there’s no way to guess what they want from you, what would appease them.

Like I said on Facebook, this is the thought-process of an abuser, the idea that everyone around you should be anticipating your needs and meeting them. And, in that regard, it’s the thought-process of an abused person to believe that you are to blame for the shit-storm in some way because you didn’t.

And I have seen trigger warnings used as a measure of whether the content creator (what a terrible term) has properly anticipated the needs of strangers. I have seen the absence of trigger warnings or a missed trigger warning used as a reason to bring down the shit-storm (like, if a story says, “Trigger warning: rape, incest, child abuse” someone angry because it doesn’t also say “child rape” as if you couldn’t have discerned that from the other trigger warnings).

I will never be okay with this use of trigger warnings. I don’t think anyone is obliged to provide them. I don’t think it’s wrong not to provide them.

I think a lot of people in our culture feel best (safest, most secure) when they are in control of others. I think they go to great lengths to put themselves (or to try to) in control of others because it’s soothing to them–either being in control or punishing others for not letting themselves be controlled.

I find that dynamic really troubling. I don’t think trigger warnings are to blame for it, of course, but I think the rise of the internet shit-storm is a result of it, for sure.

We Will Not Save Ourselves

I read this, about Louisiana’s true coastline, a while back and found it interesting and depressing. I was reminded of it again when I read this, about how Florida is drowning, this morning.

I was struck by the idea in the article about Florida that, if we can just hang on, someone will fix this problem in a few decades. In a state where they’re not even allowed to use the term “climate change,” they’re assuming someone will still study the unspoken problem, find a solution to it, and implement it in a place that doesn’t even want to admit what’s happening.

We will leave people to lose everything, possibly drown, rather than be honest about the scope of the problem.

I don’t know. Obviously, I’m not a science person. But it’s hard for me to imagine how an engineer could design a solution to a problem when some part of the problem is unknowable. “Design a levee that will hold water back.” “How much water?” “We won’t tell you.” “How much needs to be protected?” “Not that much (but really, a lot, but not an a lot we’re willing to admit).” “Where should it go?” “On the coast.” “Okay, then, where is the coast? Is it where firm ground is? Is it the first bit of land beyond high tide?” “The coast is where the map says the coast is.” “But that’s under water.” “Yeah, we want that back.” “With a levee?” “Oh, good, we’re all on the same page.”

We just can’t get done what we need to get done if we can’t be honest about what we need.

I mean, I was looking at that map of Louisiana and laughing ruefully at how much the Butcher and I love speculating about what would happen if the Mississippi changed its main channel and flowed down the Atchafalaya. But that is water already. If the river won’t go down to the Gulf that way, the Gulf will come up to the river.

Anyway, I wish I lived on a hill.

What Changes a Life

I had a weird, but really interesting morning yesterday. I spent it with a guy who told me about how he’d changed his life after a DMT trip.

Apparently, taking this trip made him realize that he hated himself and that a lot of the destructive or unproductive things he was doing with himself were because of this self-hatred and he realized that this self-hatred was stupid because we are just a small part of a large and mysterious universe. A tiny speck.

So, he got his shit together. He went to counseling. He started a vigorous and interesting religious study that’s now very meaningful to him. He’s made peace with himself.

It’s not the kind of conversation you think you’re going to have with a stranger on an ordinary day, but I feel really honored to have had it.

I told him how I always experience Two Boots as a weird, mystical place. Not in a grand “woo woo” way, but just in a mundane, but nicely strange way–people dancing or singing along to the music, interesting conversations being held, that kind of thing. So, we went there for lunch and a woman at another table was eating her pizza and wearing a huge gold crown.

“See?” I asked. “I told you so.”

Coyote Song?

This morning, the dog and I were coming back across the back yards when we heard a dog bark, a dog bark I didn’t recognize, but I certainly don’t know all the dogs farther north. But the dog barked a couple of times and then there was silence and then we heard this: a long howl, “Aw0000000,” and over the long howl, a sound like this “Ah woo, Ah woo” pause, “Ah woo, ah woo.”

And I felt this electricity go through my body because I couldn’t quite tell what was making the noise–though I think it must have been coyotes because it made the dog and the cat nervous–but I recognized the “Ah woo, ah woo” part.

But how? I don’t know coyote songs. I certainly don’t have knowledge of some canon of greatest hits of coyote songs.

But it was the same sounds Sid Hemphill makes at the beginning of “Devil’s Dream.” And it made me wonder if Sid Hemphill heard coyotes out in the fields in the early morning, too. Had coyotes made their way into Mississippi by then? I mean, I know he’s playing an actual song and I know a hand-hewn flute only sounds like itself. I know it’s just a coincidence.

But it’s the kind of coincidence that makes me so lucky to experience it.

By the Name of Polly Anne

I think so much about this song, all the time. It’s not just the way that women’s suffering and death gets turned into art that gets enjoyed (and by me, too, I’m not letting myself off the hook) with no regard for the women at the center of it. It’s the idea of someone going and getting these women. If I think about it too much, it makes me cry, the idea that there is someone who recognizes that something bad has happened and who goes and gets them. Even though they’re dead. This getter doesn’t let them get lost.

I think a lot about who would go get those girls. Who could see a folk song for what it is, know what it means to have your tragic loss made into someone else’s campfire sing-along. Who is strong enough to go song by song–Delia, the Knoxville Girl, the Wexford Girl, that girl behind you not being able to “forget the day I shot that bad bitch down?” She had a name, you know, that bad bitch, in earlier versions–Sadie. The girl in the willow garden. So very many of them.

I think it’s Polly, who picked up John Henry’s hammer after he died and drove steel like a man. Who else could be up for the job?

I had this idea while I was sick of a cult developing around Polly, who would greet each other when they were doing their cultish deeds with “By the name of Polly Anne.” Maybe they all wear tiny sledgehammer pendants and that’s how they recognize each other.

But I didn’t know what to do with the idea. Or at least, I don’t yet.


I’ve been trying to decide why this song works so well and I think this morning I finally figured it out. The words and the drum part are doing something interesting. The drum is pretty straight forward. But Vile alternates which kinds of sounds he’ll sing on the beat. If you ignore all the other syllables in the song, the syllables that hit on the beat are iambs.

I’m pretty sure, anyway.

Water, Water, Everywhere

The main thing that has allowed me to feel like a human being again is drinking a ton of water. A ton.

But man, it means I have to go to the bathroom ever fifteen minutes, it seems like. How can there be any illness left in me? How has it not all been flushed out in the ounce after ounce after ounce of extra water coursing through my digestive system?

The Giant Granny Square Afghan

It turned out even better than I hoped. Something about the large scale of it makes it really look more like a piece of art than a useful afghan, but it also appears to be very sturdy and I can attest to its comfy warmth. I also think I really lucked out on the colors. I’m not exactly sure why they all work together so well, but they do. I think it may be because of how green that blue is, so you end up with two colors that compliment the red.

The Dog’s Physics Problem

This morning, the dog found a soggy rawhide outside and brought it in with him. Then, when it was time to eat his medicine–which involves a lot of peanut butter–he was stuck! He had an awesome rawhide in his mouth, but there, in my hand, was a yummy treat.

What can he do?


I mean, yes, eventually he just puts down the rawhide, but every time something like this happens–where he wants to put two things in the same space, where, obviously, two things won’t fit–it make me laugh.

The Curse of Jacob Tracy

I’m reading it and enjoying the hell out of it. I’m also having fun trying to decide if I should recommend it to nm–“It’s about a guy in St. Louis back in the 1880s who can see ghosts and battle demons!” or if she would hate it.

But I’m side-eyeing St. Martin’s, the publisher, because they did this book a little wrong with its layout–very cramped margins, almost uncomfortably long lines, chapters not page-broken, but just run inline. I know how fast I read and I know I should be on page 210 or so and I’m on page 174.

It’s a good story, but this is the first book in a long time I’ve read where I thought, “You know, this might be easier to read on a Kindle.”

Bah, Sick Again

I’m sick again. It’s a bummer.

I keep meaning to write something about how I’m unhappy and unsettled by how we talk about the Indian situation when white people got here. For people who supposedly didn’t live here, they sure were around a lot.