It’s a Good Thing I’m Having Some Success

I’m really struggling with this Napier piece, in part because I hadn’t really realized before I got started how much of J.C. Napier’s personal philosophy was driven by the whole “it’s not race, it’s class” with an underlying “so, let me be upper class with you, ritzy white people, so that I can rightfully be better than low class whites and blacks.”

Well, yuck.

It’s also, though, still obvious that Napier did a lot of good and important things for the city and the nation.

I’m just having a hard time balancing my personal distaste for the family’s snobbiness with my belief that the city should know and remember them in the same way we know the Brileys and other political families.

And Pilot Knob? What of It?

As far as I can tell, all Sumner County school children are taught that Pilot Knob is so called because riverboat pilots used it as a guide on the Cumberland.

Pilot Knob isn’t on the Cumberland. It used to be taller, before it was quarried, so possibly, it used to be visible, but, even if that’s the case, there’s a bigger problem with this explanation.

Pilot Knob was called Pilot Knob long before there were riverboats on the Cumberland.

Thanks to Google Books, we now have a plausible explanation.

From The Historic Blue Grass Line:

From this camp Station Camp Creek got its name [Mansker, Bledsoe, Drake, Gillespie, Cage, and Franklin had a semi-permanent hunting camp here], and Pilot Knob, on the north, was so called because it guided the hunters through the wilderness to and from their main headquarters, or station camp. (Note.–Pilot Knob is mentioned in a road-making order on the minutes of the Davidson County Court, 1786, p. 109.)

Now, this seems right to me. You want to be able to find the same dry place year after year, you find one near a great big hill standing alone visible from the old animal trace you’re using to get into the area. You want to easily be able to get back to your base camp after a long day of hunting? Again, put your camp near the big lone hill.

But, like I told C., I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was a sailor among the long hunters, hence the reason we’re seeing these ship terms.

Why is Shackle Island Called Shackle Island?

The folk etymology suggests that there used to be an island in Drake’s Creek where slaves were kept shackled or where there was a shack where people used to drink even when it was illegal.

The problem with both of these theories is that Shackle Island was called that almost as soon as white people got to Sumner County, back before there was any real slave trading or before it was illegal to drink.

I have another theory.

A shackle in old-timey boat parlance was a length of cable fifteen fathoms long–about thirty yards.

Shackle Island is visible on the LOC map. You can see it up Drake’s Creek where Long Hollow Pike crosses it. It is conveniently labeled. Though the island no longer exists, I did my best to roughly sketch in the eastern boundary of the island.

The distance from the eastern side of the island to the western side of the island would have been almost 900 feet.

Thirty yards.

One shackle.

Edited to add: Holy shit! Is there anything my bad math won’t ruin. Thirty yards is 90 feet, not 900.

Storms

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

Please, please, please.

Also, no tornadoes.

Nashville and Race

On our walk this morning, I was thinking that there’s something really screwed up about the fact that there are people alive in this city who know who bombed Looby’s house. They have never come forward. We are more likely to live in a city that has forgotten who Looby is and what he did for us than we are to live in a city that knows who tried to kill him.

To my way of thinking, this is a good measure of whether we have racial justice in this city. Are we still choosing to protect the white people who tried to kill black Nashvillians? I’m not even talking about prosecuting anyone. I’m just talking about being wholly honest about what happened.

Every day, we choose this. People know. They choose not to say.

Tan and Purple

They’re putting up a new building on Charlotte and they’re finally putting the outsides on it. It’s this mix of tan and kind of purplish slate bricks. I really like it. Both because Nashville loves the fuck out of tan buildings and it’s nice to see something that spices it up, but also because that stretch is filled with both a lot of tan buildings and a lot of purplish gray buildings.

It’s as if someone looked at the neighborhood they were putting the building in and… made their building fit it!

So, that makes me happy.

Kevin Gordon

We went to see Kevin Gordon last night. He was, of course, incredible. The drumset was gorgeous. I’m convinced you can tell the difference between the plastic heads and the skin heads. You. Not me. Not just me. Anyone. You can hear something in the skin heads you can’t hear in the plastic. A kind of thickness to the strike.

We were sitting close enough that the bass drum resonated in our rib cages, our chests echoing their native lub-dub, lub-dub and that thump, thump, thump overlapping.

The drummer held his hands the old fashioned way. The jazz way. The way my dad did. That’s called “the right way,” but I wouldn’t say so in public.

I’m Missing a Door, Possibly Two

But I think my casual writer’s retreat was a success. I retreated, anyway.

Did I Discover White Joe Pye Weed?

The Joe Pye Weed that grows around my neighborhood used to be a kind of dusky purple. Then I had a brief, stupid idea that I would grow it on purpose in my yard and so I bought some from Bates and now the Joe Pye Weed in my neighborhood is a really vibrant purple, like the kind I grew in my yard.

But lately, I have noticed this white flower, which seems very similar to Joe Pye Weed. But the leaves are a little different, so I don’t know. I am, however, excited to see how it takes off in the coming years. Right now, it’s only growing in two places on Lloyd, but Joe Pye Weed, if that’s what it is, really likes my neighborhood.

joe pye1 joe pye2

Jury Duty

I had jury duty yesterday. I got seated on a jury, but didn’t make it through the selection process. And I get it. Looking at it from the lawyers’ perspective, my hobby is having opinions on the internet. I wouldn’t want me on a jury. But it still hurt my feelings. Which made the Butcher laugh at me. Which was well-deserved.

Jury Duty

I have jury duty next week. I’m excited but nervous. Not nervous about the being on a jury part. Nervous about getting parked and finding my way to where I’m supposed to go and all that stuff. They try to make it simple and clear but I still expect I’ll be nervous peeing about twelve times in a row Monday morning.

Dwight Yoakam?

So, the dog and I were walking home across the AT&T yard where George Straight was blaring out of one of the vans. A black guy comes out of the building and, in a joking manner, says “Turn that crap off.” His white co-worker says, “Yeah, the only one of these guys black people like is Dwight Yoakam. We’ll get you some Dwight Yoakam, buddy, and then you’ll like country music.”

I think this may be the strangest stereotype of black people I’ve ever heard a white person spout. Obviously, I don’t like racial stereotyping, but I love imagining Dwight Yoakam as some kind of secret weakness of every American, they just don’t know it yet.

But then, I thought, if this is true, what a strange place Charley Pride’s house would be. He could never listen to his own music with any kind of satisfaction, because the only country artist he would care for is Dwight Yoakam.

Smith Park in Brentwood

It’s harder, though not at all impossible, to find houses the same age as Ashland would be, if Ashland were a real place, but the new Brentwood park has one. The house isn’t open to the public, but I creeped around outside.

Yesterday

I had a lunch meeting at Lucky Belly, whose tuna burger is so good it could make me stray from beef forever. The bun is perfect. The spicing is well done. It’s not overly salty. The pickled onions actually seemed to be adding something interesting to the dish, rather than just being pickled for the sake of having some kind of pickle on the burger.

And I got to have an awesome conversation with a couple of book publicists who are just so nice and interesting. And I got to hear good gossip. I loaded them down with copies of A City of Ghosts, because I haven’t bothered to take the box out of my backseat yet.

And then I had sushi for dinner and the roll I had was so good–crab and avocado and roe–that I wished I’d ordered like five rolls and just ate until I died.

And then I went over to Parnassus to see Nicki Wood talk about her new cookbook (and to gossip with a friend who had good Cragfont ghost stories to tell me). And my god, Nicki was fantastic. Just at ease and funny and deeply insightful about southern cooking and its history. And she has hopes and dreams for southern cooking, which, you know, is just not really how I think about food, so that kind of blew my mind.

But, as an author, I was really glad to get to see her do her thing, because book events aren’t easy and they aren’t something someone at my level gets to do regularly enough to feel like they’re well-practiced at it. So, seeing someone who’s just so fucking boss about it and who is someone I know and like a great deal, well, it just feels kind of aspirational–like if Nicki can do this, it’s something I can learn to do, because it’s really fucking pleasant for her audience and I want my stuff to be pleasant for my audience.

Also, the podium at Parnassus has a crystal ball and I want to someday stand behind that podium and ponder that ball with and in front of a crowd.

My Trip to Cragfont

Today I went out to Cragfont and, let me tell you, that was the best $5 I have spent in a long time. I was the only person there, so the curator, the guy who’s been responsible for the home for the past three and a half decades, showed me the house. Just me. I got a personalized tour.

I really wanted to focus on the house itself. Not that the Winchesters aren’t interesting and, hey, thanks for Memphis, but I wanted to walk around a house just a little older than Ashland would be, if it were a real place. A house like this or the Hermitage is more of the style of Ashland than later homes.

When Cragfont was built, it was the largest home in Middle Tennessee, which, by today’s standard’s is not that large. But it has three rooms downstairs–a front ladies parlor, Winchester’s office, and a large sitting room that takes up the whole other side of the house. It’s also built in a lollypop shape, so there’s a kind of middle entrance hall with stairs going up to the ballroom, then the dining room and then the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen is the smokehouse. Yes, all attached. In the early 1800s.

Which, of course, was my first source of questions. But the construction of the house is ungodly amazing. It’s all limestone. All of it. Every wall and those walls are at least a foot thick, I’d estimate. So, what worry did the Winchesters have of fire? I assume the house was built to withstand Indian attack, even though it was built after relative peace had broken out. I mean it’s clearly intended to be a fortress. And the cook slept above the kitchen, which, to me, is another sign that they didn’t want to risk losing a valuable, skilled slave to attack.

The stars on the building are the outside ends of long metal poles put through the house to hold it together during an earthquake. Much to my delight, these went in after the 1812 earthquake. Because, of course they did.

I also think the rock served to keep the house a steady temperature–like building yourself a giant, above-ground cave.

Also cool is that much of the stuff that’s painted in the house is painted with a buttermilk-based paint. The greens are buttermilk and various plants. The reds are buttermilk and… ready?… goat’s blood. Hell yes, I’m stealing that.

I was really impressed by how much he talked about the slave labor and basically how it made the house possible.

I had heard that Cragfont is ridiculously haunted, but I have to tell you, he’d been having such problems with things falling off the walls and it was so creepy in parts of the house–the front hallway, for instance–and we were in there all alone, so I just didn’t have the guts.

But it was beautiful and awesome and I’m so glad I went.

I would love to get into Fairview, too, even though it’s been substantially remodeled.

Based On

The event at Belmont was really lovely and fun. I liked sitting in the green room getting to meet all of the artists and, man, musicians can tell some stories–quickly and with humor. I also liked seeing people’s pre-show rituals. A lot of folks got quiet and needed time to gather themselves. Some folks seemed cool going straight from watching in the audience to playing on stage.

When I got back to the green room, I had a million texts of pictures of myself from all my friends in the audience. Which made me smile.

But man, we have so much talent in town. I was glad I went early on, because I think I would have lost my nerve. The whole thing was just one spectacular reader followed by an awesome artist after another.

Anyway, I may have more coherent things to say after I wake up a little, but basically, it was lovely.

And, also, I’ll just say, because the Butcher brought it up, too, Craig Havighurst is some kind of minor god. He just kept things moving and lively and shifted the crowd from one artist to another in a really smooth and lovely manner. It’s one of those things that is a real and complicated skills that, when you see someone who’s got it mastered, you kind of wonder how they even knew they’d be good at it, if they just worked at it. Like, obviously, it’s a needed thing, but when done well, it’s kind of mostly invisible how much work it is.

‘Murica

Yesterday I saw a bald eagle downtown. I thought I was seeing something… like a mistake… or an impossibility. But it turns out that there was a bald eagle at Radnor last year and a breeding pair in Franklin some time before that. So, it’s actually not that weird, though uncommon, to see a bald eagle in Middle Tennessee.

But it felt amazing.

Friday

Just to recap for locals making weekend plans:

The launch party is at East Side Story at 6 p.m. I suspect actual doings won’t start until 6:30. You can pre-purchase copies here (and that’s the only way for out of town people to get books that I know of at the moment). You don’t have to pre-purchase copies. Plenty will be available at the event.

But once they’re gone, they’re gone.

How is this Real Life?

I went to lunch over at Two Boots and Muddy Waters came on. People started to whoop. Customers were whooping. And then they started to dance. And, even after that died out, when a new person came in, he or she would start dancing. Even though he or she hadn’t seen the others dancing.

It seemed like magic.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure it was this version of Mannish Boy. I’m going to guess it was the subliminal influence of Mick’s butt shaking that caused all the dancing.

Clowning Around

clown

Yesterday I went back up to Gallatin for the thing they were having out at Bledsoe’s Fort–a bunch of reinactors from the early days. It was all very interesting. I talked dolls with a woman for a long time, Native American tattoos with a couple of Indians who lectured me on how stupid they thought the term Native American was, and weaving with a guy who does the whole nine yards from flax to linen, which was really interesting. I always imagine with things like that, which require multiple steps, or, think about, say, cake making or any kind of baking really, when it’s more than just “Here’s a raw thing. Put it on heat until it’s cooked.” and I think of the people who first figured it out and I wonder a lot about them. All those steps. How long did it take you to figure out how to take them?

I also met this clown, who did not speak, but she blew my mind. She hand-made this outfit. The stitching, which she let me look at, was extraordinary. I tend to find clowns creepy, but I thought she was beautiful. And she was like if a contortionist and a dancer had a happy baby. That was her act, leaping and tumbling and juggling. It didn’t feel so far removed from something sacred.

One part of last week was hard. Not in a bad way hard. Last week was fucking awesome (and I’m fully expecting this week, when it runs in the paper, to be a lot less fun).

But here’s the thing. I think of myself as a blogger, first and foremost, and someone who aspires to write amazing ghost stories. I don’t really consider myself to be a straight up fantasy writer or a straight up horror writer. I just think of myself as writing ghost stories. All my stories are about a past that comes creeping up on you, no matter how buried. And I like it that way.

The non-fiction I write, I normally write because I have learned something interesting that I might want to use in my fiction later that I think other people also might find interesting. Sometimes I don’t end up using it. Sometimes I just find it really interesting and want to share it with other people because I think it helps me make better sense of where I live.

And I have this ghost story I really want to write.

But some of the responses to the Isaac Franklin piece make me wonder if I should go back to the Nashvillains book and let the ghost story sit. And I don’t know.

Right now would be the time to have a plan and goals, but I genuinely am not sure what I should be doing next.

We also went to see Age of Ultron yesterday and, though I thought it was good, I thought the clown was better and I’ve been thinking a lot about why. And I genuinely think it’s because she stood under a tree with a very few props and yet I felt like something transcendent was brushing right up next to me. I marveled at her (if I might be excused for using that word) and I didn’t at the movie. Also, I think I’m becoming some kind of strange old romantic softy in my own way as I get older, but I find “we can’t be together” storylines irritating not compelling.

Anyway, that’s where things are here. Which thing deserves my attention? How do I see myself?

I’m not sure.

The House in Harmony with Fairies

stone house

Oh, you guys! I totally forgot to tell you the awesome, strange thing I learned while in Gallatin. This house, up in the Bledsoe’s Fort park, was built by an Irish guy. The two doors are not the front of the house, but the side. Back in the day, all of the doors, they think, were double-paned–so you could keep livestock shut out and still have a breeze.

And everything about the house is set up to be in harmony with fairies. They have a big book explaining it. But the house is only one room wide–apparently fairies like (or used to like) that. Every window is across from another window or door so that, if a fairy came in one, he or she could easily pass through the house and back out. Apparently, from what I can gather, fairies like (or liked at the time) to be able to flow freely through a place without getting lost or stuck in it. You also enter right in the bedroom of the house. The back of the house was the dining/work room (dude was a weaver). And apparently this was also important, that guests be welcomed into the heart of the home and the front door open onto the hearth.

I immediately texted a picture to local author, Sara Harvey, for reasons.