Why Are Men Great ‘Til They Have to Be Great?

Every time I hear that song on the radio I’m shocked. It’s such a profound and honest question that gets at the heart of what so many of us experience that it just seems impossible that society would let it be so plainly said.

A thing that struck me when I went back to Illinois is just how openly everyone assumes Trump’s an idiot. Like, even in deeply rural red Illinois, everyone seems to share the baseline assumption that dude sucks. This isn’t to say that folks might not still vote for him again–things are stupid and complicated–but you can just openly talk about how much you think he’s a dumbass and everyone nods along. Even if they don’t agree, they don’t object.

The thing that bugged me about that, though, was how I had this discomfort with it–even though I wholly agree–because I thought “You can’t say things like that publicly.”

And I worry that this is a way living in the South has changed me, perhaps made me more timid

But, frankly, I am afraid. In this particular moment, not in general. And I do worry that having the wrong opinions could get you in trouble and that the trouble it could get you in is growing worse.

I always have been kind of a coward, but we have to be great now and I don’t think I can be. Why am I great ’til I have to be great?

Weird Thing

I was at the library to look for one last Banner photo for the book, waiting on the one working microfilm machine, which was being used by a little old lady and a man she was with.

They apologized for taking so long. I said it was fine. I was just looking for a picture of a bomber. I had time. They said they were researching something from 1957.

Well, shoot, I’ve spent a lot of time in 1957.

Y’all, she was one of the last, if not the last, living teacher from Hattie Cotton the day it was bombed.

She’s researching the bombing.

What are the chances of that?


I swear, this isn’t going to become me only complaining about my dad. I just need to put this stuff down and have it public so that I resist the urge to tell myself a story where he’s only mostly good and sweet and where I should be able to live with the bad stuff, where “live with the bad stuff” means they come here.

But also, he made comments about me being single and then, when I was holding the baby, made some comment about how I certainly have the right parts to care for a baby, but mine are broken or something.

I keep thinking of my therapist’s advice to name my emotions. Like, when I think about this shit, how does it make me feel? And, in general, I can’t tell what I feel. I feel the emotional equivalent of a scream you hear in the distance and you can’t tell if it’s hurt or rage.

But when I stop to think about it, I feel incredulous. How can you love someone and say this shit about them? Like, what the fuck is wrong with you?

The 50th

It went great. Both days went great. Everyone behaved themselves. My mom was okay healthwise. I got to meet my new baby niece, Dahlia.

My Aunt B. was so super helpful. She brought ice and helped get the food and basically just made sure everything happened.

Both Dad and Del ended up bleeding. I don’t think they had a knife fight or anything, but babies and old people are delicate and don’t pay a lot of attention to where they are in relation to sharp things.

And it was tough. I saw my best friend from junior high who was as hilarious and cool as ever. She works part-time at a grocery store in the town we grew up in.

I kind of felt like I couldn’t even talk to her about my life, because it would seem like bragging. It was hard. This person who changed my life for the better. I mean, I’m here because we were awkward and funny together and into weird, spooky shit. And I just felt like I didn’t know how to talk to her and that felt shitty.

And though my dad was on his best behavior, he was still a lot. I thought I smelled weird and I wanted to put powder or something in my shoes to see if that would help. I was also concerned because thinking I smell bad is like step one in the anxiety avalanche that leads to a panic attack.

So, I’m both trying to address the fact that I may genuinely smell weird and to sort out whether I’m about to melt down. And he says “Don’t worry, no one is going to smell your shoes. This isn’t Nashville, where everyone kisses your feet.”

And he was so mean about it that I couldn’t even take it seriously.

And, of course, he didn’t say thank you and he accused me of trying to get my mom to guilt him into paying for it (which I didn’t, and he didn’t, so?)

But he had a good time and he was mostly well-behaved and that meant a lot to me. I mean, I think he did as well as he can do.

He doesn’t like me. He loves me. I don’t doubt that. But he doesn’t like women and I’m a woman. And I feel sorry for him. And I think he knows that and resents it.

But also, he doesn’t know how to be happy, because being happy means risking being vulnerable, so I know he was as far out of his comfort zone as he could go.

It’s all complicated and stupid.

I’m glad I did it. But it didn’t fix or change anything. And all the outside validation didn’t really mean as much to me as maybe I was hoping.

But it also told me something I need to know as we move into the next stage of our lives: nothing I do, no matter how great, will be good enough. Everything my brother does, no matter how little, is extraordinary.

If I let them move here, that will grind me down into dust. Especially with the Butcher gone.

They cannot come here. If they have to live with/near someone, one of the boys is going to have to do it, because I won’t survive it.

I feel weirdly free. I tried my hardest. I did something extraordinary. I know it. Everyone there knew it. And it wasn’t enough to fix things.

So, there is nothing I can do that can fix things.

And trying will kill me, so I don’t have to try.

I love them. It’s a small thing, but it’s all I’ve got.

Tiki Baby

My brother, who just became a dad again is on the verge of becoming a grandpa. This is the afghan I made for my great nephew. I’m counting on the wash to pull a lot of shit straight.


–I hate the Renaissance Center. If you ever have wondered what it feels like to have anxiety, just hang out in that monstrosity. If you have anxiety, bring your Xanax.

–The conference was really good and I came away with a lot of ideas about stuff we could do as a press to improve things.

–I also ate so much churizo at this tapas place that I thought I might burst.

–Everyone in Detroit is so super nice.

–The Third Man up there is so neat. The people are great. My cousin A. and her husband came as my entourage, because I never get an entourage in Nashville. I mean, I live here. I just go do what Third Man asks me to do. I don’t need people to help me with that.

But up there? Hell yes I was going to have some people to keep me company and make me feel less awkward.

Which was lovely while the green room was empty and then… holy shit… when members of P-Funk started showing up.

I don’t even really know how to talk about that night. It was wonderful to watch how my cousin reacted to everyone with such compassion and enthusiasm. Her husband was like a kid at Christmas.

There was just this awesome vibe and it really felt like each reader empowered the next to be deeply awesome.

A member of P-Funk held my hand and my dear friend from high school and his awesome partner were there. And it was just great.

Also, at lunch, so this is kind of out of order, I wandered into this deli around back of Third Man and I asked the dude behind the counter what he recommended and he made me a roast beef sandwich like they serve in Heaven.

At lunch, I sent a long email to Third Man telling them the updates on the book–i.e. Oh, hey, the FBI was apparently running the Klan–and asking them to just sit down and talk over whether they want to be a part of this.

They’ve done so much good for me and given me a lot of mind-blowing opportunities. And I really want to publish this book with them.

But I don’t want to cause them any grief.

Right now my title is Dynamite Nashville: The Plot to Terrorize the City and Thwart the Civil Rights Movement. But I’m kind of wondering about Dynamite Nashville: The FBI, The Ku Klux Klan, and the Terrorists They Couldn’t Control. Or maybe The FBI, the KKK, and Why the City’s Integration-Era Bombings were Never Solved. Oh, or Lord, what about The FBI, the KKK, and the Racist Bombers Who Got Away? Okay, not as good as it sounded in my head.

Ugh Blah Ugh

I have to go to Detroit tomorrow. I really hate flying. No, not flying. Actually being on the plane is fine. I hate the apparatus around flying–having to get there and park and get checked in and finding your way to the hotel and all that. I also feel incredibly guilty about leaving the dog. I trust the cat can take care of herself, but the dog. I just worry.

I’m not going to have any Tennessean photos in my book. They can’t find the Klan picture I wanted and it’s not worth $400 to have the picture of Charles Reed.

I’m also completely wigged out about the anniversary. I want to sit down and figure out what we need still and how to get it, but I can’t let that overwhelm my need to keep all the Detroit things I need to do in the front of my mind.

And the FBI ran the Klan in Tennessee.

The Paradigm Shift

I am shook. Like the kind of shook I don’t quite know how to put into words. Like, if you tell yourself in the middle of a skid “this is bad, this is bad, this is bad,” but it’s not really until you stop sliding that you can assess how bad it actually is, that you can get used to living in the new reality where your car is totaled and you have to make time in your life to deal with insurance and getting a new car.

As you know, because I’ve been pissing and moaning about it for years, the one part of this bombing book that has been so frustrating to me is the actions of the FBI. They just made no sense to me. Why were they making no effort to solve these bombings?

I mean, yes, racism. But flipping through the files, the main impression of the FBI that you get is arrogance, that they were just so much better and smarter than any of these local dingbats. It just didn’t make any sense to me that the FBI wouldn’t have relished the opportunity to embarrass Nashville by solving these crimes.

On Friday I learned that the FBI was running the UKA strand of the Klan in Tennessee. From their own files. Hoover told the President. Now that I think about it, probably multiple presidents. It started when the Klan started expanding in Tennessee, which is 57 or 58.

I think the FBI halfassed solving our bombings because they didn’t want any investigations leading back to their guys.

The FBI claimed to have control of half the Klans in the nation. During the 60s.

If that’s so, then is it any wonder that so few Civil Rights era crimes were solved? Or successfully prosecuted?

I still don’t know what to make of it. I’ve updated my manuscript with all the relevant quotes, but I also have to take some time just to let it sink into my brain.

The FBI was running half the Klans in America during the worst Klan violence we saw in the postwar era. No one seemed to think that was wrong or fucked up.

Picture Drama

Lord, y’all, I am in Picture Drama Hell. I’m trying to get Gannett to give me permission to use two photos that ran in the Tennessean in the book. One is of Charles Reed, who told the FBI that he had helped John Kasper hide explosives before Hattie Cotton blew up. The other is of Gladys Girgenti in her Klan regalia standing in front of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest at the State Capitol because that picture makes me want to laugh and scream every time I see it.

So, I contact the Tennessean and ask for the person up the chain who can give me photo permission. I email that person with the details of my book, the details of the photos I want–what issues they appeared in, what pages, the names of the photographers.

This person emails me back and says she needs all the information I’ve already provided her and links to the photos on the paper’s site. And she calls me “Jean.” At that point, I knew it was going to be stupid, so I let it sit for a while.

I emailed her back and was like “Oops, I think you meant for that email to go to someone else (namely this Jean person) because I already gave you all this information, but here it is again. And here are some screenshots from newspapers.com of the photos.”

Long story short, basically, she won’t hunt photos down. If a Gannett newspaper doesn’t have the photo up on their website, she can’t/won’t find it or give you permission to use it.

But that’s very typical of Gannett. That’s not the crazy part. The crazy part is that she also lectures me about the futility of contacting anyone at the Tennessean because all they can do is send me back to her.

Folks, I got two more emails from her lecturing me about contacting other people for help when she’s told me no, lecturing me about expecting her to track down photos, etc. etc. Then she asked for my phone number! I guess so that she could lecture me on the phone?

In her last email to me, she said that even if I somehow tracked down the photos, she was going to charge me $400 a piece to use them.

To give you a sense of how this hit me, you should know that the permissions fee that I was quoted from the Library for using the Banner photographs was “We don’t want to make this too onerous for you. Let’s see what you need and we’ll work something out.” But when I asked them for permission to use some photos in slides in a lecture, they only charged me $50. That’s $50 for all the photos, not $50 a piece.

Also, I’ve been working with the Associated Press to get photos of non-Nashvillian racists and, even though their website price is over $300 a picture (which, frankly, when you experience the amount of work they put into finding you the right picture seems utterly worth it. They gave me at least two options for every person and they tracked down photos at a university and made sure I saw those!), they’re working a deal with me to bring those down to about half that.

Basically, usually, when you’re like “Hey, I’m paying for my own permissions,” places try to make it possible for you to afford to pay them.

This woman at Gannett does not have that ethos.

I haven’t completely given up hope. I found myself with a small battalion of really helpful Tennessean folks and I’m hoping something might shake out today.

But I think there’s a 50/50 chance that I’m going to end up with this book in which the Tennessean figures very prominently because its publisher was bombed, because they basically owned the reporting of these bombings as they happened, because their reporters were delightfully funny, which makes it fun to quote them, and because it seems like the terrorists were aware they needed to figure the Tennessean in as a potential roadblock to terrorist activities in Nashville, but have no Tennessean photos in the book.

Odds & Ends

I have permission for the Christian Anti-Jewish Party photo! And the AP has been so super helpful with other photos. I think I’m going to have some good things to use in the book.

I added my baby niece to Ancestry.com.

Look at this!

She is adorable. She’s just a hair over six pounds but she’s already 18 inches long. She is a lanky baby.

One of my authors came by yesterday for a pep talk about her manuscript and she told me some stories about working in higher ed that made me think we should just burn everything down and leave the planet to dogs and children.

This morning there was a bunny and I sent the dog after it and he did such a half-assed job of chasing the rabbit that the rabbit didn’t even bother to leave the grass. It just stood there, knowing that dog wasn’t going to come any closer.

“Come on,” I said and I started running toward the bunny. Sonnyboy looked so surprised and delighted, like it had never dawned on him that chasing bunnies could be a team sport.

But, hell, if he’s not even going to try, I can also not try to catch the bunny. We can do that together.

Psychic Powers

My family’s attitude toward psychic powers is incredibly annoying. If you want to sit around and talk about how my uncle can (and always has been) able to locate my dad anywhere in the world, fine. If you want to make jokes about how the Butcher can read minds, also fine. But if my other brother tells you the day his baby’s going to be born, well, let’s not be ridiculous. Except that he was right.

So, I thought the plan was for my parents to come down, help the Butcher move, and then go to Georgia to help with the arrival of Baby Dahlia. But when they got here, it was clear they had no intention of going from here to Georgia, because “the baby’s not due until the 10th” and they didn’t want to sit around down there for a week. Even though my other brother had told them the baby was coming on the 4th.

They didn’t even bring enough medication to change their plans, if they needed to.

Their visit here was mostly fine with a terrible ending in which my dad fought with a child, corralled a mayoral candidate and prevented him from schmoozing with people who might and could actually vote for him, and then told me I was boring people with talking about the bombing–the actual subject of the historical marker we were all there to dedicate–and that we needed to go. He then also complained that I should be getting paid for telling people this shit.

Do people pay for boring shit in his world? I do not know.

Anyway, after I posted yesterday, I got thinking of my other brother and his wife alone in a hospital room in Atlanta and it just pissed me off. So, I called out of work and drove down there. I only stayed an hour or so and the baby didn’t come while I was there.

But I’m glad I went and got to see everyone. And, after I left, the Butcher and his family showed up, having made a detour on their way to Phoenix.

They also didn’t get to see the baby being born.

But, eventually she was.

Happy birthday, Dahlia. I asked my other brother what her middle name was and he texted me back “Twinkle Toes Ninja Optimus Prime.” I texted him back “Oh, you went traditional.” “Family name.”

So, who knows what her name is, really.

These Assholes

I’m already running late for work, but I wish people in this family could communicate, calmly, in an effective manner.

Also, my sister-in-law is having her baby and I only know because I texted her to wish her a happy birthday and my brother shot back a picture.

My parents hadn’t bothered to tell me.

My brother hadn’t bothered to tell me.

Also, I’m kind of done inviting them to public places.

I’m Trying

Of course all of The Butcher’s awesome friends came out to help them load the truck. And of course The Butcher packed it all like life is just three dimensional Tetris and he is the world champion at it.

I have a kind of half-articulated belief that we are ourselves and also ways for some ancestral impulse or facet to work out some need or desire of its own.

Sometimes I suspect that my nephew is my grandpa, come back to have parents who could nurture him.

I know that sounds bananas. And I don’t think it’s as straight-up as reincarnation. I don’t think my nephew is my grandpa. It’s more like I think the part of my grandpa that could have benefited from good parents is in there, too, getting now what he needed then.

Being able to easily love my dad and being able to be easily loved by him.

I’m trying not to be too sad. But Phoenix is a long way.