Holy Crap. I’ve Been Really Sick

I really haven’t written anything here since Friday?! Damn. In my defense, I was really busy and then, also, really sick.

I am still kind of sick, but the kind of sick where you walk the dog and go to work, which is better than the sick of yesterday, where I watched a movie and then played Civilization on the easiest setting over and over again, just to have something for my brain to do while my body sat very still and tried to get over itself.

I am excited to report that the afghan is all pieced together. I’m just waiting on the rest of the yarn so I can do a border. Which will require math, which I’m a little bummed about, but I will get it!

And I have a longish short-story outlined, so we’ll see how that goes.

I just need to get well enough to do things.

A Woman with a Project

I went to see T.J. Jarrett read poetry last night. God, she’s good. And I came away feeling really inspired by how she thinks about her work and how she struggles with it. It’s good to see artists considering how their minds work.

I think it’s also good for prose writers to read poets. A poet, a good poet anyway, has a relationship with a reader like two people at either end of a jump rope, each also somehow also jumping. Each word must have the necessary weight and efficiency to get both the creator and the reader up in the air. Or maybe the poet is so far from the other end of the jump rope that she can only trust that, since it still goes up and around, someone out of sight jumps for her.

Prose writers get more rope, make nets instead of exercise equipment, but it’s good to see what someone can do with language, metaphor, at its most pared down.

Like a Bobber on the Water

I’m in the middle of an extraordinarily busy time. I’ve basically filled out my calendar, loaded up my car, and am heading from one thing to another to another. Like a bobber out on the water.

There’s the restaurant up in Ashland City, right on the river, and you can sit out on the deck and watch the boats go by. We never go there unless our parents are in town. I’m not sure why. It makes me happy.

Maybe I should schedule some time to go sit on the deck by myself and see what comes of it.


I went to bed with a headache that wasn’t bad enough for me to take anything for it. It seemed like the kind of minor headache that you sleep off. But then I woke up with this piercing pain that ran from my eye to my temple.

I took some medicine, but it hurt so much that I was like “There’s no way anything over the counter could touch this,” but I guess that’s just years of migraine suffering talking? Because literally twenty minutes later, the headache was gone.

I’m weirded out. What is this beastly magic that fixes what it’s supposed to fix on the first go?

Ha ha ha, it also makes me realize what bears migraines are. I’ve certainly had migraines that hurt less than this headache, but they were much, much more persistent.

We watched the first episode of Preacher last night. I liked it okay, though it felt kind of hollow at the core for me. Like, I just didn’t believe the main character was very familiar with church. He’s a preacher now, but the conceit is that he’s also a minister’s kid. I didn’t recognize him as one of the family, I guess.

But the Butcher thought the church scenes were pretty accurate, so it may be just a matter of perception.

The chick from Shield is acting up a storm, though. It’s almost disconcerting to watch how good she is.


I watched the movie, Ink, yesterday, which is kind of the holy grail of independent movies in that you always want to hear about one that is weirder than could get made by a regular studio and yet still really emotionally affecting, and that movie is it.

As it ended and I sat there with tears running down my face, I thought, “Now I know what it’s like to be a shitty dad.”

Now I just have to find some time this week to watch Frame.

No Rest

The Butcher and I drove down to Georgia for our nephew’s graduation open house and then back. It was a long day. I kind of wish we all lived closer.

I’m tired, but I woke up, fully woke up at what I thought must have been seven or eight this morning and I got up and went to the bathroom and came out of the bathroom and was startled by a confused dog standing bleary-eyed in the hall. I looked at the clock and it was early, really early.

But I was awake so what was there to do but take him for a walk?

Well, Here’s the Problem

Last night, we were talking about old boyfriends of mine and the pranks my brothers used to play on them and my dad insisted that the guy who stalked me and tried to rape me and who threatened to kill me and who broke into our house and left “presents” to replace the “inferior” things I liked–like, I liked Grape Crush and he thought I should be drinking some other brand of grape pop and, well, problem solved, I still can’t quite bring myself to drink any kind of grape pop.–and who kidnapped the Butcher and and and and

My dad insisted that he was my boyfriend.

Last night.

My dad insisted this.

I couldn’t even be mad or upset. I’m not mad or upset now, though it’s possible that it’s still worming its way through a lot of callouses.

I was, in fact, kind of…relieved is not the right word. But it was a feeling akin to relief. The feeling that almost everything about my life made sense all of a sudden.

My dad saw this jackass hurting me and me suffering and assumed it was some kind of love. After all, look at his family. That’s what love looks like. My mom once told me that one of the things my aunt can’t forgive her mother for (my grandmother, who is long dead) is that when my uncle–my aunt’s and my father’s brother–was beating his wife at my grandmother’s house, my grandmother refused to call the police and told my aunt to butt out (my aunt was a teenager at the time, which, I assume is why she didn’t call the police. Say what you want about my aunt, she has transformed herself into the kind of woman who is not going to be told what to do ever again.).

The thing that is hard to explain about life, about traumatic life is that things happen to us that make us a certain shape and then we tend to search out other situations that will support that shape. If the shape of you is happy and fulfilled and respected, searching out situations that feel familiar and will keep you in that shape is not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all.

But other times, those shapes hurt you, it hurts to be kept in them. But that’s what you know, so that’s what looks right to you. Even as you might recoil from pain, you subconsciously search out situations that maintain your shape, because that’s what you know.

It’s not all just a victim’s dynamic, though. Abusers groom their victims into the shapes that satisfy the abuser’s shape.

But the thing about these patterns is that they get passed down, maybe in slightly different shapes, but still there. I have, for years, been so pissed and disappointed that my dad could not stand up for me to this huge, fucked up asshole who directly ruined four years of my life and who still, even now, even when I feel like I’ve moved far beyond it, skulks at the edges, a much less frightening phantom, but still there.

But, y’all, he could not recognize what was happening to me as something negative. He saw it as love.

Holy shit.

I don’t know if I can even be mad about that. It’s so fucked up. It’s impossible to understand as anything other than just a complete failure to engage the world as anything other than a fairytale that tells him his own life was normal, okay, and survivable without lasting damage.

I hate it for me, but, I have to tell you, I kind of can’t begrudge him needing that fairytale.

There is No Path

The hardest thing, I’ve decided, about publishing is that there’s no path. A lot of people are trying to do a similar thing, but everyone kind of figures out their own way to do it and the way they did it may or may not be available to the people who come after them.

I read a post today by an agent who was answering a question from a writer. The writer had had pretty good success with her first book at a smaller publisher which then went out of business. But the success had been good enough to put her on the radar of her second, bigger publisher, but bigger publisher didn’t promote her second book and it didn’t do so great.

The writer asked if she was done or if she should query under a pseudonym.

The agent’s advice was basically, yes, she was done and she should find smaller presses because no agent is going to want her. Her only choice, if she wants to stay in the big fish pond, is to write a blockbuster that will force the industry to change their minds about her.

It just has me wondering how long I should query agents on the novel or if there comes some point when I should start looking at small presses. I mean, frankly, I want to write the kinds of things I want to read. I don’t need to write books as my career and I’m not looking to be a full-time writer at this point.

I read a book this weekend, which I’ll leave nameless, which I liked a lot, that came out of a smaller press. I think my novel is that good. Should I send it to that publisher?

How do people decide what kind of press to approach? Am I doing it wrong?

Ha ha ha, lord, that’s the question that just permeates publishing–Am I doing this wrong?


The other day on Twitter we were joking around about the latest mini episode of Tanis where Nic’s friend, Geoff, asks him too many pointed questions about who he might be sleeping with. One dude was like “I think Geoff has a little crush on Nic” and I said something like “Hey, you can’t expect a guy to see twenty women eating a cake and not be curious what the cake tastes like!”

And I’ve been thinking about that since then. I was trying to be funny, but I wonder if there’s something to it. We tend to talk about prohibitions on promiscuity being about some kind of evolutionary need to know that the kids we’re raising are ours. And there’s also some talk about fear of women’s agency and pleasure.

All of those thing sound nice in theory, but I guess I think there are kind of fundamental emotions, like raw, primitive emotions, and then more sophisticated emotions.

No thirteen year old boy who calls a girl a slut is worried that her kids aren’t going to be his kids or that she’s got too much agency and pleasure. I think those responses are too sophisticated for him at that point.

So, what’s the core feeling promiscuity engenders in us? And I think it’s anxiety that, if the person we’re with has a lot of experience, they have a lot of experience by which to judge us: i.e. they will know we suck, whereas, if we’re the only person they have sex with, however bad we are will just have to do.

But I also think there’s a mixture of curiosity and shame at that curiosity. If a lot of people want to sleep with your friend, aren’t you curious about what it’s like to sleep with him? But, with strong taboos still on homosexual experiences, how can you satisfy that curiosity?

Best to not have it raised in the first place.

Argh, This Afghan

I have four skeins of black left. I can finish eight squares with one skein. I have ten squares to finish, thus leaving me two and quite a bit of a third skeins to attach everything. That might get everything sewn together but it’s for sure not going to get everything bordered.

I just cannot correctly purchase yarn for this afghan. And, with my luck, they’ll discontinue the yarn or something before I can get it finished.

On the other hand, look at how nifty it’s looking:

Stupidity on My Part

I think I’m going to have to get a strong light to be able to finish this afghan. I just can’t make out the black stitches once I’ve made them. Maybe this is how people end up crocheting on their porches. The light’s better.

In related news, though, I do love this. I hope the connecting stitch looks as cool as I’m planning.


Fortunately, I don’t normally get a lot of trouble on Twitter. But yesterday, one of my friends was talking about how People has this new initiative to get women to share their dress size so that we can all see that beauty comes in every size or some such nonsense.

The thing that struck me about it, though, is that, because it’s about beauty, the women whose pictures are included, by and large, are striking “beautiful” poses while dressed in “attractive” ways while holding up the number that represents their size (because I guess they all have access to more consistent sizing than the rest of America?)

I rolled my eyes, because, of course, we can’t just have “You’re fine at whatever size you are,” because what’s that sell? We have to establish what a “beautiful” body at that size looks like, so even if you make peace with being a size 16, now you can feel anxious that you’re not the right kind of size 16 because you don’t compare to the chicks People has deemed properly representative. And buy the products necessary to relieve your anxiety. That’s the point.

Pit women against each other, set us up to compare ourselves to each other, and then sell shit based on the anxiety that unwinnable competition produces.

But it also struck me that there can’t be any eating disorder specialist who would endorse putting pictures of women up with some number attached so that other women can see how they stack up or if they need to try harder to get to the “right” number or be extra cautious about not “letting” yourself get to that undesirable number.

So, I tweeted at People something to that effect.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. A dude I don’t know @-ed me and some other dude I don’t know. No message. Just drawing other dude’s attention to the fact that I exist and then other dude began hurling insults (though most insultingly, really stupid insults) at me.

A dude sent another dude after me. The first dude, I assume, was monitoring the replies in the People twitter feed to see who had “wrong” opinions and needed to be dealt with.

Can you imagine?

I don’t want to downplay how creepy this is and I do feel a little weird now having come to the attention of a person like this.

But overall, I find this so ludicrous it’s almost delightful. If society is going to have arbiters of what is and isn’t okay to talk about and who can and can’t participate in those conversations, shouldn’t those arbiters be super awesome? Shouldn’t they show great discernment and judgment?

But no! There’s some dude whose set himself up as arbiter and he monitors the People twitter feed.

I will listen to wisdom from my betters, but the dude who monitors the People twitter feed, as evidenced by the fact that he monitors the People twitter feed, is not better than me.


One thing that is screwy about writing is that you have to learn to hear “no” a lot and you have to keep persisting. (I guess interesting things could be written about this and rape culture, not that I’ve phrased it this way, but I’m not talking about that.)

I think, though, that a lot of under-represented groups in publishing have been socialized for our own safety to pick up on subtle cues about where we don’t belong and where we might be unsafe. A “no” is a stop sign. It means, “holy shit, do not proceed. For your own safety, do not proceed.”

So, I wonder how–especially when it’s really not safe to proceed, when the culture is racist, when the editors treat fat women writers like an impossible anomaly, when it feels like you have to be in New York to get anywhere, etc. etc–you work up the nerve to proceed.

Obviously, some do. But I wonder what kinds of stories we’re missing out on because others are like “Hey, that sign said ‘do not enter.’ Okay, I will not enter.”

The Black Tapes!

It comes back today. I packed my lunch so I can huddle around my phone over lunch and listen to it. I’ve also been enjoying the shit out of this season of Tanis.

But I want to know what Strand has been up to.

I Did Some Stuff!

I sent the Metallica story off someplace. If they don’t want it, I’ll send it someplace else!

I worked a little on my October stories.

I wrestled with this afghan, for which there’s never enough yarn. But I’m loving it. I love how the white circle looks. I like the bright colors. I’m excited about my idea for how to connect the squares in an interesting way. I think I have a neat border to try.

I didn’t, however, do any weeding. I’m just not feeling like gardening and I’m not sure why.

The new kitty brought a rabbit in the house last night and ate it. She must be so fast and patient. And tired of our crappy cat food?

But why doesn’t she use her hunting skills on the mice that get into the kitchen? I don’t understand.

Things to Read

This is a pretty beautiful meditation on story.

Here’s an excerpt of Lindy West’s new book. On Twitter, she said her harassers are now using the photos accompanying the article to argue that she wasn’t fat as a child, but had some kind of body dysmorphia, which is unfortunate, since one of the things she’s talking about is how “fat” and “thin” are moving goal posts. So, way to get/miss the point, dumbasses.

My brother posted a picture on Facebook today of us when we were little kids with my mom, for Mother’s Day. I’m wearing a shirt over my tiny round belly that has a picture of two hogs rubbing snouts and it says “Hogs are beautiful.” This was shortly after or shortly before the first time I heard my dad complain to my mom about how fat I was. The first time I knew I should be embarrassed about my body.

My dad, being fat himself, wanted me to not be fat, in part, because he knew what the world does to fat people, especially fat women. But because my dad thinks fat, even his own, is evidence of some moral failing, and because every doctor I ever met until I was 30 believed I was lying about what I ate (thus again a moral failing) or lying about how hard I was trying to lose weight (moral failing again), no one bothered to check to see if there was anything medically wrong with me. I just, somehow, at eight, became a person in a constant state of disobedience because I couldn’t lose weight and, in fact, gained much more.

But also, at the same time, my dad had a lot of compassion for me, I think, in his own fucked up way and he wanted to give me some tools for how to survive. So, one of them was that, if people were going to call me a pig, I would learn that pigs were awesome.

I don’t remember, though, if anyone but him at that point did call me a pig, though they certainly did later. I must have liked the shirt. In the picture the Butcher posted, I think that’s my birthday. You don’t wear shirts you hate on your birthday. I don’t remember feeling it as an insult anyway.

But when I look at that picture now, I, well, I can’t look at it for very long, the idea that that is a fat girl is just so…like, dang, how little it takes, how the tiniest little deviation and the full weight of so much bullshit comes down on you.

And the idea that we should learn to love the insult so that it loses its sting… god damn, what a terrible thing to teach a person. And clearly, what a terrible thing to have been taught yourself.


This morning, I read the Metallica time-travel story to the Butcher. When I finished, he said, “Yeah, that’s good.” Each word with its own weight.

He did make me change it from “that interloper Robert Trujillo” to “that dude from Suicidal Tendencies Robert Trujillo,” but that was the only thing.

I don’t know why I’m so nervous about sending it out. I know it’s a good one. I guess because I’m in complete violation of all my writing superstitions. But man, I’m happy to just sit with liking it and I need to get to submitting it.

Doing It Again

I remember having this realization when I was a teenager that a family is like a lake and things ripple out, replay themselves in slightly different ways, generation after generation. We’re living with the things our parent did to us and they did those things in response to the things their parents did to them who, in turn, were done poorly or weirdly by their parents.

My dad had some old home movies he found digitized and I spent some time looking through them. It was something to see my Grandpa Bob again, my dead cousin, my Grandma and Grandpa Phillips, my dead uncles.

To see me, so young and vibrant. How much time do you spend as a teenager hating yourself and wishing to be pretty? And then you see yourself from half a lifetime away, and that young girl was pretty. She moved like a poem.

I was alarmed to discover that I had forgotten what my Uncle B’s voice sounded like. In many of the movies–they’re his movies–he’s talking constantly, providing a running commentary, and I didn’t recognize it. He’s been gone so long I’ve forgotten.

Here’s what I know, though, watching those movies as an adult, coming to them with four decades’ worth of experience with people, as much as I know about my dad’s family, I don’t know anything. The siblings don’t interact like people who like each other. My grandma is cautious in a way I don’t remember her being, but it’s clear in ever minute of film, no matter from what year it’s taken.

My one uncle talks incessantly, just drones on in the background telling stories about people no one knows anything about. My dad does that now, but seeing the video has given me some sympathy for it. How strange silence or normal conversation must seem if you’re used to that constant noise? I wonder what my uncle thought would happen if he stopped talking. I wonder if he didn’t exist for himself if he wasn’t speaking.

But they’re all performing. All the siblings. Except for my uncle, when he’s filming. Then, of course, he’s watching.

And all us kids are remarkably quiet. Maybe that’s what disconcerts me most of all. The Butcher might only be six or eight. So, at any given time, there are five kids under the age of eight at any family gathering. No one’s running around. No one’s being loud. No one’s getting up to play. Everyone is so well-behaved.

All of us.

It’s not natural.

Every once in a while, my cousin A. will call me and ask why we’re not close. I think next time I’m going to send her one of these videos and ask her to watch it like it’s a video of strangers. I wonder what she’d make of it.


I have to fight with my parents today about whether I’m going to go down to Georgia for some as-of-yet unspecified number of days over my birthday to sit in a hotel room while they attend my nephew’s graduation.

He can only have ten people come to his graduation. If there’s a choice between his siblings and me, obviously, his siblings should get the spot.

It’s been a kind of grueling spring for me, for a lot of reasons. I think I’m shook by Jim’s death more than I realize, because, man, have I been hit hard by the feeling that life is too short and I’m not going to get to do the things I want to do–both because of that shortness and my own shortcomings and bad luck and the luck of the draw, etc.

And, fuck me, man, the second “my own shortcomings” comes into play, my brain has a whole litany of those shortcomings to run through on repeat, just to see which ones will cause me the most misery.

Added to that that I feel like my parents have been spending this Spring acting like I, because I don’t have “my own” family, am just an emotional extension of them, a pawn they can move around the board in their quest to make sure that everyone they care about is getting the kind of love and support they need, and it’s a bad scene.

Bah, I wonder how much longer I’ll feel able to even write these kinds of posts. I’m already leaving so much unsaid just because I feel more public in a way I haven’t.

But I’m worn out. I’m worn out from shit in my own life and I’m worn out from doing stuff for them for their friends and the family members they think need taken care of. And the thought that I would spend my birthday watching my dad and my brother reenact their life-long drama and hurt to not even go to a graduation which is ostensibly the reason I’m needed in Georgia?

It makes me want to throw up.

This is the other thing, too. Sometimes, I think, “Oh, my god, what if I died and I’ve not sold this book and I’ve never found true love and I’ve never seen a Viking burial mound and I didn’t laugh one last time with the Professor and I didn’t tell the Butcher I loved him” and all that kind of stuff that fills me with dread and anxiety. And sometimes I think, “Well, when I’m dead, I won’t have to give a shit about any of this stuff any more, whether I’m doing right by my family, whether I’m making the right decisions and balancing them against my responsibilities. Oh, glorious death, where nothing matters.”

And that’s not a good head space to be in.

On the other hand, if there was any doubt that I had some strain of grouchy German in me, it’s that I’m now comforting myself with the thought that someday I’ll be dead and this shit won’t be my problem then.

Books, Stories, Fun

Yesterday, I sat around, ate Thai food, talked about book publishing stuff, and the Metallica-time travel story I’ve been working on. Then I got to tour Third Man!

It was awesome. The Butcher is right. I’ve been too in my head lately. I need to get out and do some stuff even if I feel like I’m too busy to do anything. I feel tremendously better.

I tried to convince the folks at Third Man, after seeing how into old equipment they are, that they should head over to the Masons’ Grand Lodge and see their stage set-up.

I told them they could drop my name if they wanted to, though they wouldn’t need to.

Then they asked me if I was a Mason, and, of course, being a woman and someone who likes hanging out with gay people, I am not. Illuminati all the way, here. But on my drive home, I got the giggles thinking about the fact that literally the only people in town who might be “Oh, Betsy Phillips sent you? Um, okay, sure, come on in.” are the Masons! And possibly the Tennessee State Library and Archives–though, again, obviously, anyone can already go there.

But also, I think that I’ve figured out my discomfort with the Metallica story. The plot of the story is “scientists invent time travel, immediately decide to make young Metallica fight old Metallica over old Metallica’s audacious plan to get old and change.” So, it would seem that the climax of the story would be when the Metallicas confront each other.

That should be where the emotional oomp is.

But I think the emotional oomp of the story comes right before that, when one scientist is remembering the first time he saw the video for “One.”

The plot-dictated climax isn’t the emotional climax. And, on the one hand, I think that’s fine, because it’s a story about nostalgia and how the past is and isn’t connected to the present. It’s supposed to kind of peter out just when you want a brawl.

But man, on the other hand, it feels weird to me every time I read it, like it’s just not shaped right.


It’s funny to me how much whores are looked down on in our culture, while at the same time, a woman who doesn’t look like someone a bunch of people would want to fuck is so devalued. I mean, I know it’s because women are devalued period. But there’s something really fucked up about how much of our culture is “You are bad or evil or fucked up or victimized if someone gives you money to fuck you,” while at the same time being “Well, sure, of course we give more money to women who people will want to fuck.”

Like where’s the line? Of course there is no line. But god damn.

Anyway, this from EW:

Still, you can’t count on selling a book on the writer’s talent alone—so while factors like being photogenic or savvy with social media won’t make or break a deal, they can definitely sweeten it. “I actually knew very little about [Sweeney] when I bought The Nest,” says her editor at Ecco, Megan Lynch. “I didn’t know that, for example, she knew Amy Poehler well enough to approach her for a blurb. That was a happy bonus.” Lynch stresses that while she would never “decline a book I loved because I felt like the author wouldn’t be able to handle an NPR interview, it would certainly affect how determined I might be: Am I going to hang in for another round at auction, or drop out?” Herr, for her part, acknowledges that an author’s appearance can affect an advance — “We look at all of that stuff” — but insists, “We would have paid her the same money if she weighed 500 pounds and was really hard to look at. That’s my firm belief.”

I can’t really express how this makes me feel. It makes me mad in every sense of the word. I want to believe, have to believe, I’m getting rejected because my story is just not what people want and that the next story could be better, could find a home.

But I can’t become the kind of woman you want to look at, if you don’t already find me pleasant to look at. And the idea that my work is fine, but someone has looked me up on the internet and seen me and made the same judgement that the fucking Pith commenters make about me every day, that men in my family have made about me, that the whole fucking world every day… it just makes me feel insane. Like, what am I even doing, striving for something that the people who can give it to me literally think I am unworthy of?

Intellectually, I know that, when someone tells you that you’ll only be worthy of something once you achieve some arbitrary, unrelated thing, they’re intentionally trying to keep you from the first something. They’re trying to improve their odds of getting love or being successful or whatever by slamming the door in other people’s faces.

I know that.

It still sucks. This is the only body that I have. This is the only face I have. And I’m only getting older. This is literally as good as I get. To think that might keep me from success as a writer sucks.

A Touch of Home

I stumbled across the Small Town Horror podcast this weekend and there’s not yet a lot to it but it seems pretty fine based on what there is. I’m going to give it a chance anyway.

The thing I love about it, though, is that, even though it’s set in Minnesota, the dude’s accent is a dead ringer for my Uncle M.’s Southside accent.