So, This is What Nice is Like

My first post for the Post is up!

The reaction to it has been really wonderful. I mean, I’m sure someone someplace is saying something shitty about it, but I didn’t, myself, hear from a single asshole. I heard from a ton of people who loved it.

And it feels pretty wonderful to have written something that found a large audience of happy people. It kind of reminds me of my New Shackle Island piece, but on a much larger scale.

I also got to have this weird experience where I wrote this and then someone at the Tennessean wrote this. And on the one hand, certainly we need to get the park fixed, so I’m all for a higher profile discussion, and also, if the information has been in the Tennessean all along, then hell yes, who is better to comb through their archives and get a definitive answer than the Tennessean?

But come the fuck on! If you’re going to use the piece I wrote as the outline for your piece and just use the quotes I already found instead of finding your own, then use my name.

Ha ha ha. It is super flattering, though. I don’t think I’ve ever written something before that caused the Tennessean to feel compelled to also address it.

And thirdly, last night when I got home, the dog went for a gallivant in the neighbor’s yard and I called for him and he ignored me and then I said, “Come on, buddy. It’s too muddy for me to come get you.”

And he came home!

 

Respite

I have to find a way to stay engaged enough to, oh, you know, do my job for Pith and yet not sit at my real job paralyzed in front of the computer waiting for the next bit of bad news.

Speaking of Pith, this weekend we went out to look at a part of town where the Trail of Tears had gone through and there was an old Indian village. A thing I will never tire of is the moment when I realize “Oh, shit, that’s what this is.”

Like, for instance, when you’re driving up 18th Ave and you’re going up hill but it makes these stair-step jogs, as if you’re crossing a series of terraces, that’s because you’re driving through an old quarry–the old quarry the state capitol and the old state prison came out of.

And so there was a moment when I looked at that old map of the Whites Creek Road when I realized, holy shit, the Trail of Tears could not have gone up the Whites Creek Pike, because the Pike didn’t go in until the 1840s. Here, along the river, this road on this map, is it. Here’s the way it went.

Who had seen this map in recent years? Just whoever digitized it at the TSLA and whoever put it online and then who really looked at it? Let’s say a hundred people looked at the map when the TSLA announced it was online. How many people realized what they were looking at? That number’s hard to guess, but maybe ten, maybe fewer? Of that amount, who would have realized that other people didn’t know this? And of that amount, who would have a platform to say “Oh, hey!”

I can’t tell you how much it blows my mind, how much it delights me–always delights me–to feel like I might know something no one else knows yet.

But I also had another experience with this map, before I went out, where a friend was telling me about the Indian village that was there and he mentioned the mounds and I was like, “you mean these bumps?” and I pointed to them on the map. So, in that moment, I was in a small group of people who had seen the map but didn’t know what they were looking at.

And he was the one person, the first person, to look at that map and realize what he was seeing–the only known rendering of those mounds. Archaeologists have known they were there, but no one’s ever seen a picture of them or a drawing of them or an indication on a map of where they were. Until last Friday.

It was amazing.

But here is the sorrow to go with delight. Those mounds, most of which were burial mounds, were there when the Cherokee were forced through town. The scope of the shitty thing we were doing as a country is hard to realize, hard to focus on, it’s so large. And while I do think that the trauma of the Indian wars was partly the driving force behind walking them through settlements they had tried to stop–look, you didn’t destroy Nashville. You didn’t destroy Clarksville. We’re destroying you.–and I’m not sure we were trying to send any less blunt a message than that, it’s hard not to read into it a message of “look how we live on top of your dead, how we knock down your mounds, how we erase you from the landscape.”

Because that’s the other thing that struck me doing the research–when the Trail of Tears came through, we weren’t certain that those weren’t old villages of tribes we were familiar with. Some folks had begun theorizing that they were not, but that wasn’t widely accepted.

Hell at that point they were still not sure where saltpeter in the caves around here came from. (Hint: batshit).

So, you know, the “empty Eden” story we tell about Nashville when we got here has to be so much bullshit. We arrived at a place full of villages. Creepy, empty villages, but villages. And we didn’t know how old they were or who they belonged to. We just settled in those villages and fought off the people who came to drive us out.

 

Strange Days

It’s been a strange couple of days. I’m trying to pull some stuff together for my Washington Post stint, so I’ve been interviewing people and pitching ideas and such. Before I got sick I interviewed a local author and it was really interesting and fun.

Listening to my voice to transcribe the interview, though, ugh. I kind of wonder if I could hire someone from our public radio station to teach me to talk in a less nasally manner? But I do love my laugh and I like the way I can hear the places I’ve lived in my voice.

It’s a weird thing, to be raised to loathe yourself and find everything about yourself falling short of how you “should” be, and also to be raised with people you love so much, who, yes, also loathe themselves. But so many of them are gone now and the most immediate way I have to still see and hear them is in the traits I have that resemble theirs. I’m supposed to hate my fatness because it marks me as lazy and unhealthy. But what other way do I have to feel the soft side of my grandmother I snuggled against as a small child?

There’s something about the pressure society puts on us to all look a certain way–and it’s beyond dieting. Carve up your face. Paint yourself to “minimize” “problem” areas. Try to look like some version of yourself untouched by history and experience–that as I get older feels like pressure to not have a history, to not feel connected to your people.

Anyway, I got to interview the mayor and our congressman and, yes, sure, at some level, they’re politicians and they know how to play those games. But I was asking them about Nashville and I have to tell you, I found it really moving how much they love the city and like to talk about it.

And on the one hand, it’s weird to interview the mayor of Nashville, but on the other hand, it’s weird because I’ve known her for a million years. Not a million, but a long time. And I guess, you live long enough and your acquaintances start running shit, but it’s still weird. I didn’t know if I should call her Megan or Mayor Barry or what. Still, I have a way to make sense of that. I knew a person. She became mayor. Her press secretary is an old Nashville blogger. It’s not weird that I should talk to them.

But sitting in the waiting area of Cooper’s office? It’s surreal. It will never not be surreal.

In my head, no matter what, I’m a nobody from rural Illinois. I have good friends and a happy life, but don’t aim too high. Don’t expect too much. If something really good happens, it’s either a trap or a mistake. Don’t trust good fortune. Maybe, maybe, if you work really hard and endure a lot of hardship, something okay could happen to you. But the big wide world is a scary place and it’s not for you.

And now this? Writing for the Post? Interviewing national politicians? It just feels like I’m getting away with something, like, whoa boy, they don’t let people like me do things like this. I wonder how long it’s going to take them to notice I’m a people like me?

I’m doing it anyway. I’m not going to decline based on the fact that it’s ludicrous on its face that a person like me should be doing these things. Like, I’m going to make them tell me I’m not in the right place. I’m not going to do that work for them. And so, until someone asks me who the fuck do I think I am and tells me to get out, I’m just going to keep going and see where it leads.

Still, weird as fuck. So, so fucking weird. And amazing. Really amazing.

 

The Strange Architecture of Dreams

I think we’ve talked before about this. I dream, sometimes, of a house we lived in when I was in kindergarten, except that, always, in the dream, it has many more floors than it did in real life and staircases that go non-Euclidean places and endless halls and even when I’m dreaming of being in that home, I know that though something is telling me this is that childhood home, I am in the dream-version of that home, not the real version.

Weirdly enough, I sometimes dream of my Grandma Phillips’s house there on Bradley Street and it is architecturally just as it was in life, always. No strange additions. And yet, I sometimes have the knowledge, even in my dream, that this is a dream home.

It’s hard to explain because it’s not quite lucid dreaming. I never make the connection that, if this is the dream version of these houses, it must be because I am dreaming. It’s just the explanation my brain needs for why I don’t recognize aspects of these places I should know in and out. (Though, I think in the case of my grandma’s home, my brain just needs an explanation for how I’m in the home of a woman who’s been dead over a decade that she sold many years before she died.)

The other night, I realized that I now often dream of a neighborhood in Nashville that does not exist in real life. It’s there on the high ground in Metro Center, where the Starbucks and the gas station is and across the street where the Maxwell House hotel is. Instead of all that commercial stuff, there’s a neighborhood full of Victorian row houses and in my dreams, my friends live there and they often invite me over to see how they’ve remodeled and renovated. So, clearly, they don’t just look Victorian. That’s the era in which they were built.

That neighborhood has never existed in real life in Nashville. Not like I dream it. Definitely not in that spot. But I go there, sometimes, anyway.

Jemima Clancy?

jemima-clancy

This is a map of Nashville from 1805. Here’s a link to the original, if you want to compare how the map maker made certain letters. And here’s a later, cleaner version of that 1805 map.

The newer map renders the name you see there on Lot 80 as “Jemima Clancy.” The hitch in that particular interpretation is that, in 1800, there were only three Clancy families living in the USA. None of them in Nashville. Which isn’t to say that by 1805 someone’s widow or daughter couldn’t have been here, but is to say that a land-owning woman named Jemima Clancy anywhere in the country probably would have left more of a trail than her name on one map.

There were Chaucys living in the country, but not many more than Clancys and, though it’s rare to find women on census records that old, no Jemimas and no one living in Nashville.

There were quite a few Cheneys. And I did find two Jeremiah Chaneys. The senior Jeremiah lived at Marsh and Barren Hundred, Washington, Maryland, which is an amazing name for a place. His son, who I’m just digging into, was also Jeremiah Chaney and he served in the Revolutionary War and lived (and died) over in Overton County.

So, my question for you dear readers is, do you think that name could be “Jeremiah Cheney?”

Peopled Out

The Butcher also has tomorrow off and though he’s excited about the two of us hanging out, I’m like “Noo, I had two days of alone time planned!” It will also be nice, but I am not an extrovert. I’m just a very enthusiastic introvert.

It was lovely to see everyone, though. And lovely to sit out in the sunshine all day for two days.

I’ll probably have thoughts when I can think again, but my brain is a little fried.

Weekend Outside

It’s the Southern Festival of Books this weekend. Yesterday was a washout due to the rain, but today should be nice and tomorrow glorious.

I hope to see tons of people I know and to think a lot about books.

It Strikes Me as Victorian

I’m not done putting my bright green row on my peacock motifs. I have exactly half the motifs left and I’m not sure I’m going to have enough green. I’m going to be so mad if I need to buy a whole other skein for like five motifs. Ha ha ha. We’ll see.

But I made myself up a column to see what it will look like with the green that will be the most plentiful green. I think I like it. I don’t think of this kind of dull green as being Victorian, but I think it’s the way it shows off the stitches or something. When I look ati it, it just looks very Victorian. I mean, I guess the peacock motif is very Victorian.

Anyway, I hope it looks okay. I’m nervous that it doesn’t look quite right.

peacock-column

Yesterday I went over to the State Museum to see some artifacts for a “spooky things at the museum” thing I’m doing for the Scene. And, man, the things they have are so…I don’t know. They are really spooky, which is excellent for my story, but they are also these intimate, very personal items created, often, at the saddest moment of people’s lives.

I want to make sure I don’t lose sight of that.

Fake Park?

Yesterday, I went down to Murfreesboro to wander around the wetlands that used to be Black Fox’s camp. I don’t think I’m nuts for trying to do this. I came across a few pictures of the area where it appears people go hiking. I found a brochure someone had done for the city about the area.

But it turns out it’s just a wooded area behind some houses in a subdivision. I couldn’t even figure out if there was a place to park, let alone if there were real marked paths.

I felt so dumb.

I wish there were more ways to learn about Nashville’s, and Tennessee’s, Native American history. I’m just not finding the resources I want. Like, I don’t know what questions I have, but I know the stuff I find doesn’t satisfy them.

I also find it really frustrating that the conventional understanding so clearly makes no sense. Like, if there weren’t people here to trade with, why was Timothy Demonbreun here?

But more than that, when you say Jean (or Charles or whatever his name was) Charleville came from New Orleans before New Orleans existed as a city, how do you explain how a Frenchman coming from the south–Creek territory–was accepted as a trader by their enemies, the Shawnee? Like, we all know the Creek and the Shawnee fought and we all know the French intermarried with everyone. So, wouldn’t a French guy coming up from the south have been seen as Creek or Creek-allied?

I’ll tell you why we don’t. Because we’re so committed to the “no one was here” narrative that we don’t learn basic Native American history (which is also not our faults because finding basic Native American history is not that easy). We don’t think of Nashville being able to become Nashville because of what was going on in the Creek Nation or the Cherokee Nation or with the Shawnee or whatever, so we don’t look.

But it matters.

More of the Same

I have a theory, built on an observation, reinforced over the course of this past week, that women divide men up into two groups–dudes you need to keep an eye on and dudes that are some woman’s project (like, she’s working on transforming him into a “good” guy).

So, say you’re in a place. Let’s not mention any specific places, but a big open public place a woman thinks she should be able to go without issue. She steps off the elevator and turns to the right, to head toward the large room with seats and computers. Three men come out of the room to see who’s coming off the elevator. Two of the men dart back inside. The third man moves around in front of the doors she’d like to go in. She gets the sense they’re doing something in the room they’d rather her not see.

How many women do you think would go into that room? Past that third man? I don’t know. I’m going to say a little less than half. But I’ll also say that I think somewhere closer to 3/4 of women would immediately understand why the women who didn’t go in the room didn’t go in the room.

After all, you have to trust your gut and keep an eye on dudes.

But let’s say that one of those guys is the boyfriend of an acquaintance of yours. You don’t know him. You don’t really know her. You recognize him, but he obviously didn’t immediately recognize you.

Here’s the thing women don’t admit. Now more of us are inclined to go in the room. Not because we feel more safe, but because not going in the room means that we’re saying that this man our friend knows is one of the guys you have to keep an eye on.

And you don’t fucking disrespect some woman and her project that way.

The mistake I made this past week was not in misinterpreting what’s going on. But by the time I stumbled on the third fucking group of angry women talking shit about my “privilege” and how disappointed they are in me, it dawned on me: I’m in trouble because I shit on some women’s project. I saw men they’re “working on” as unsettling and their behavior as cause for caution. I impugned their (the women’s) ability to transform these men.

I have a lot of thoughts about how unhealthy it is for women to take it upon ourselves to try to transform men–just starting with how incredibly icky and disrespectful it is to the men and how women are not the civilizing force of society and it’s weird to assume that is your job AND WEIRDER YET to assume it’s your job and then suck so bad at it–but who cares?

The important thing is that I was complaining to the Butcher about all of this and how women are talking about sitting me down and talking to me about my privilege and he laughed and he said, “You should tell them, ‘Sure. Let’s meet in the 3rd Floor Reading Room at the Library some Saturday morning.'”

And then I laughed, too.

A Friend of Crows

I came home yesterday shaky and excited, the stain of a cherry lime-ade spreading across my “We Get What We Deserve” t-shirt. I took the dowsing rods and my mom out into the back yard, way back to where we’d buried the dog. I showed her how to hold them. I showed her how it worked–how they crossed when I crossed the dog’s grave. I asked her if she wanted to try and of course she did. And she stepped on the dog’s grave and they crossed for her.

My mom has her degree in biology. She’s trained to think things through. She knows about the ideomotor phenomenon. She just looked at me and I said, “I know, right. It makes no sense.” She wandered around the yard a little more. No further crossing. You know it can’t  be real, can’t really work, and yet, there you are.

And then a squabble of crows barked in a nearby tree and we looked up to see them harassing a hoot owl. A big one. A couple of mockingbirds were screaming at the owl, too, and a cardinal hopped from limb to limb nearby, as if eager to see a fight. The owl kept looking back at us as if to check to see whose side we were on.

My mom said, “Crows hate owls. Always have. I’m a friend of crows normally, but I don’t like to see them take after owls like this. In this situation, I’m always on the owl’s side.”

I felt the same, even though I knew I was just watching everyone who’d ever lost a relative to an owl letting the owl know how they felt about it.

We watched the argument for a good ten minutes and once the crows got bored, we went inside.

Nice Things

Yesterday I had to go down to the Hall of Fame for a meeting, to introduce my new co-worker to the person she’ll mostly be working with. After we met, that person took us down to the museum and walked us through the first part of the exhibit, pointing things out to her and telling her behind the scenes stories (even things that I did not know, like the gender of the person that destroyed a certain famous, now reconstructed, mandolin–and let’s just say that there’s one gender it could be that makes you say, “Wow, I guess that person must have been on drugs” and there’s another gender that makes you say, “Oh, oooooohhhh, right.” And the coverage of the destruction at the time made it seem like it was the former, but it was the latter.).

My co-worker is not very familiar with country music, with the exception of the O Brother soundtrack and I admit, I’m kind of envious of the enormous task she has before her to work up a passing familiarity with it. I guess I believe she’s in for a real treat. Ha ha ha. I guess we’ll see.

Anyway, we got to Cindy Walker’s typewriter and our generous guide asked my co-worker if she knew Cindy’s song, “Sweet Dreams,” and she seemed confused, but it’s Roy Orbison! So I figured there was a chance she might have heard the song, even if she didn’t know it, so I started singing it and then our guide joined in.

And you know that fantasy you have when you’re singing in the shower? That you will be called upon to sing in some extraordinary circumstances–like maybe you’re trying to get in a pub in Ireland with, oh, I don’t know, Colin Ferrell, and everyone who enters has to sing an Irish folk song and you’re like, “Yes, I knew those morning I sang ‘Wild Rover’ in the shower were going to come in handy, because I know four fucking verse, so you sing it and Colin Ferrell realizes he’s in love with you, even though you don’t have lavender eyes like Elizabeth Taylor, but kind of ordinary blue ones, and everyone in the pub applauds you–THIS WAS LIKE THAT BUT IN REAL LIFE (and no one fell in love with me, I don’t think).

So, my co-worker didn’t know it, but we sat in the sun and ate and talked about Nashville and I thought, well, shoot, you know, this is also my life, too. Still, I wish someone wanted to publish my book.

Charles du Charleville

So, an early Nashville history might read something like “when the first white settlers arrived in the area, they encountered French fur trader, Timothy Demonbreun, who was not the first Frenchman in the area–that being Charles du Charleville.” You might get stuck scratching your head about how the “Virginians” could be the first white people in the area when Demonbreun was here when they got here.

But what of this Charles du Charleville?

I had been assuming he was a Frenchman from Kaskaskia. There are plenty of Charlevilles in Kaskaskia at the time that Demonbreun is there and one of them is named Charles Charleville, though he seems too young to be our man. But you could imagine a scenario in which Charles Charleville retires from fur trading at French Lick, comes home to Kaskaskia and his kids tell Timothy Demonbreun about the awesome trading spot he found.

But! I found something really interesting. A few family historians and Shawnee history buffs say that the great Shawnee leader, Peter Chartier, whose dad is also a delight, had two brothers–Charles Chartier and Jean Chartier–who were fur traders at French Lick where they were known as Charles du Charleville and Jean du Charleville.

This suggests that the area during their lives may have been known as Charleville.

Anyway, I’m trying to see what kinds of historical sources I can find for these guys being the du Charlevilles. Historians seem pretty united in the belief that Peter Chartier did come (back) to the Cumberland, so the area was known to him. But did he actually have brothers?

We have to see.

The Nations

This morning, while I was walking the dog, I thinking about The Nations some more and I was wondering if there were any things that it could mean–like could it be short for something? “The Nation’s Best Donuts” or “The Domination of Mankind?”

And then I remembered that there is a known thing that “Nation” has been shortened from–Donation. Robert Johnson sings about his woman’s “nation sack.”

The nation sack has been the source of a lot of controversy over the years, but it appears that Memphis prostitutes called their purses their donation sacks as a joke poking fun at the donation sacks of tent-revival preachers, which then got shortened to “nation sack” and sometimes conflated with the hoodoo nature sack.

So, that’s a somewhat nearby usage of the term. But I’m not sure what might have been happening in The Nations. But could it have been prostitution? “I’m going to make my donation to the girls.” becomes “I’m going to the Nations.” Or tent revivals?

WXNA

We have a new radio station in town that’s the renegades from Vanderbilt’s old community station–WXNA (that’s the new station, not Vandy’s old station). And I’m loving it, so far. It’s like listening to interesting people’s cool record collections.

It makes me really happy to hear people doing interesting, creative things.

But I have to tell you that I think we’re seeing more and more a real split between people who can make a living doing the creative thing they love and creative people who have to find some way to subsidize the cool thing they love. The quality of people stuck in the “I do this for free” is exploding and it’s getting harder and harder to make a living doing what you love.

But it can’t go on, I don’t think. If society stratifies like this, then a lot of us will be happy with the entertainment provided by the people we know, which leaves the upper tier entertainment without the audience they want.

Maybe.

The Nations

I’m doing some research into why the Nashville neighborhood called “The Nations” is called “The Nations” and it’s both really interesting–the research–and not very enlightening. The two main stories are just-so stories, I think, ways of justifying the name after the fact.

I think the truth is kind of racist and kind of harder to get at because of that. I mean, no one comes out and says, “We, who did not live there, called it The Nations, because it was poor and integrated because of its poverty and it’s a knock on that diversity” and I can’t yet find any evidence of anyone saying “We, who lived there, called it The Nations.” At least, not at first.

But that’s my guess. Not that “integrated” meant that integrated. You could still find mostly black people east of 51st and mostly white people west, but there were Hispanics and Asians thrown in there, too.

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.

The House from Which My House Came

IMG_0068

I don’t know what this is growing in the front meadow, but it is amazing. I don’t think this picture begins to do justice to it. If you could look beyond those tall trees, you’d seem my back yard. Once upon a time, my lot was a part of this house’s land. I don’t know anything about this house but I would guess that it’s probably built by some Stump or a Ewing.

Third Man Books

The Third Man Books first anniversary party was incredible. One thing I really admire about Chet’s ability to set a vibe in a room is that the vibe is “Let’s enjoy this.” No nitpicking, no cooler-than-thou ironic stances, no eye-rolling, just show up and be open to things.

I admit, that’s hard for me sometimes. My cousin, A., keeps lecturing me on what I think she sees as the barrier I put up between myself and genuine compliments, but it’s not just genuine compliments. I think I have a hard time openly enjoying things without also wanting to hide a little of myself from it. I’m trying to be better about it.

Rita Bullwinkel was there in the audience and I got to say “hi.” She does such good work. The Parnassus people were there and they’re so giddy about Stephen King coming that it made me happy for them. I got to say “hi” to Robert Gordon, who I haven’t seen in ages, so that was nice.

It was just such nice energy and it was invigorating to be sitting in a room full of really creative people all delighted to see what other creative people are up to.

It was also my first time in the Third Man building and it was very lovely. The women’s bathroom was cold as shit, though. It seemed like an aesthetic point, but I’m not sure what the point was. Again, maybe it was just the vibe of the night, but there was something nice about “oh, here is very cold.” “Oh, here is warm and toasty.” The building is definitely set up to make you feel like everything has been considered for the effect it will have.

Also, apparently, Third Man is going to start publishing some fantasy & science fiction. So, I slipped a note to Chet telling him to publish Bullwinkel, because, whoa, Christ, of course he should!

It is Happening!

I have all my squares done. I have begun piecing it together. And I think it does have the kind of hippie patchwork vibe I was hoping for. I think it’s going to be gorgeous.

I’m going to the Third Man Books party tonight. I’m a little nervous and excited. A couple of poets I really admire are going to be there.

All of a sudden Nashville has a literary scene or something.

Tiny Gloating

I keep forgetting that I wanted to make this point. So, Chris Stapleton remade George Jones’s “Tennessee Whiskey” (well, Jones made it famous, but anyway).

George:

I one-hundred percent recommend just watching George’s face through this whole performance. He just has such great expressions.

And Chris:

Okay, you all know that I had a belief that Gretchen Wilson could have salvaged her career with an album of country standards (I, myself, was especially keen on her doing “I’m Going to Hire a Wino” which I think would have been brilliant).

I thought it was such a good idea I even pitched it to someone who was, at the time, in a position to rip the idea off from me and do something with it. I would not have minded! It would have been worth it just to have the album!

But, boy oh boy, did I get told what a stupid idea that was and that nobody wants to hear artists doing other people’s songs anymore. The fans don’t know old songs so they don’t care about them. Labels, in fact, have forbidden covers on albums unless you’re a “niche” artist.

Years go by. This happens. I laugh.

Paint Peeling

Yesterday I got to ride around with Josh Rothman showing him the Franklin sites. Fairvue’s gate was open, so we went right up to the front door. All the houses we looked at were in need of a paint job and I don’t remember them being that way when P. took me around, so I wonder if they got hail up there real bad recently or what.

But the two things I wanted to share that I did not know are 1. Ed Baptist’s name is pronounced ‘Baptist,’ like the church and he’s somewhat confused about how the ‘Baptiste’ pronunciation has caught on. 2. HOLY FUCK. John Armfield’s house in Hendersonville is still standing and you can get married there. Just let that sink the fuck in.I mean, though, hell, you can get married in Beersheba Springs and at the University of the South, too, but both of those do a good job of gliding over where the money to make them came from. The man’s house is the man’s house, you know?

Response

I had a bunch of errands to run and I got busy and neglected the old blog here, but also, I was kind of hiding from the thing I wanted to write about.

The response to my Napier piece has been overwhelming. In a good way, mind you. But, usually, when I write something, I feel like it’s me yelling across a canyon and not being sure if anyone heard it (especially since I’m not reading comments). Sometimes, people will email me and tell me that they liked something or tell me in person and that’s super great.

And I really like the Napier piece. Of course, like any writing, seeing it in print, I wish there were things I’d finessed better (like, did you notice one of the Napier kids vanishes? I say William Napier raised his five kids here, but then I only account for four of them? I could have just explicitly said that the fifth kid died.) and things I wish I’d been able to do–like get into the Napier collection at Fisk.

But it seems to me like a pretty okay piece. Not my best, but pretty okay. I’m proud of it.

I would not have guessed at the flood of emotion the piece brought forth in people. I didn’t anticipate how it would move them or how much it means to them.

I’m not sure how to feel about it. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m deeply honored and grateful. But I wonder, if I had known ahead of time how much this meant to people, if I would have written it differently.

It’s hard to talk about the ways that being white makes you kind of oblivious to the meaning and implications of your actions. From my perspective, there’s just a lot of history out there, a lot of sources, a lot of ways to finagle some kind of understanding about people’s lives.

And, from my perspective, there are a lot of stories of a lot of people that don’t get told, that we have a tradition of overlooking. As big a feminist as I am, if someone came along and told me that we really don’t understand Nashville history because we don’t understand how, say, Charlotte Robertson was really running the show, I wouldn’t be surprised, and I’d be excited to hear how. I’d want this new perspective.

But the truth is that I don’t feel robbed when I discover something about white women or white people that was heretofore unknown to me. I mostly feel like “Oh, those dumbasses trying so hard to sell the future a lie.”

It’s very easy for me to not have to know how black people in Nashville didn’t even get a lie. They got deliberately erased, every step of the way.

I kind of hate the term “privilege” for many reasons, but it is a privilege to assume that your history just lies to you. The truth isn’t gone, just covered up.

Because a lot of history is gone and deliberately so.

I failed to appreciate how powerful saying “Look, here, none of this stuff is lost” would then be.

So, as proud as I am of the piece, I also am kind of embarrassed about that failure.

The Napiers

My cover story on William Napier.And my Pith addendum on Solomon Napier.

I’m also hoping I have time to go to the TSLA and investigate a little further into the attacks on Elias Napier. He mentions one in his will and I saw that there was some court case over another. I’m curious about that.

I found, and still find, Solomon’s story deeply, viscerally upsetting. Trick of the imagination or the past pressing too close, but when I think of him, especially of him coming back to Nashville, the last place he knew to look for his mother, I feel this sadness on her behalf that overwhelms me.

As if her sorrow is still soaked in the streets, just waiting for someone to know of it so that it can come up into a body and work itself out.

And since I know of it, it works through me.

Solomon Napier

I found out more about him. More than I think anyone left knows.

He got married in Cincinnati to an Ariel Mitchell, whose family had come from Virginia. He then went to war. He was a private in the 100th infantry, Company E.

He fought here in Nashville. He battled up John Overton’s hill, through his peach orchard.

You can give a boy five hundred dollars and a new family. He will not forget the mother he left here, enslaved.

The Overtons knew the Napiers. Well. They mingled money. They bought a horse together.

Solomon Napier was armed within sight of Traveller’s Rest. Within sight of his father/uncle’s friends. Killing the kinds of men who stole his mother from him.

He lived through the War. He had three daughters that I could find.

In 1870, he lived in Arkansas with his family. He was a farmer. It was a good time to be a black man in Arkansas. By 1875, though, it wasn’t.

His widow and his children are in Minneapolis with her people by 1880.

I find no record of what happened to him. No grave with his name on it.

It could just be shoddy record-keeping, one last indignity, one last effort to erase a person from history.

But you lose a man, a black man who fought for the Union, in Arkansas in the middle of the ’70s with no trace, you start to think you’re looking at the last faint echoes of something really, really bad.