One Less Muddy Path to March

I quit the Scene today. There was a lot of weird stuff going on, but then there was some bullshit, and, well, either I mean the things I say or I don’t. And if I mean the things I say, then I don’t work for a guy I think is a dumbass lacking in good judgement.

I haven’t really processed it yet. I don’t know what it means for me. I’m sad but also relieved. But a lot sad.

I love the people at the Scene and I have so much respect for the hard work they do. And I’m going to miss the fuck out of being their peer.

Field Day!

For the first time, I got invited to Field Day for the Scene. I felt like an awkward doofus the whole time, but I also had a blast. And I got bit by so many flies. Yuck.

It was fun to see folks in that context, though. Like Erica is delightfully inclusive. Everyone get out there. Everyone cheer. Everyone have a good time.

And Patrick did a one-person double-play! He caught the ball (batter out) and then stepped on second (runner out). Which I guess happens all the time in professional baseball, but it was fun to see in wiffle ball.

Fort Houston beat us, though, and by the end of the day, I was so tired of their coolness–their friendly attitudes, their awesome shirts, their supportive cheering of children, their cute dogs–that I finally shouted, “You’re not even a fort” after they did one of their cool cheers.

So, you known, not my proudest moment.

Fun History Stuff

I wrote about an ax murder! It still remains my favorite thing about living here that you can read about stuff and the just go see where it happened. Not that there’s much to be discerned from going to see where this ax murder happened, but whatever.

On the Scene‘s facebook page, someone complained about the graphic image, which made me laugh, because I thought there was never a more chocolate-syrup-y looking bit of blood in the history of stage make-up.

Also, a reporter from the Washington Post is working on a piece about Isaac Franklin. I know this because a Franklin relative told me and the reporter contacted my editor to ask where the portrait of Franklin we used came from. I then contacted the expert on Franklin to see if she had contacted him. She had.

So, this isn’t about her. I’m looking forward to reading her story and it sounds like she’s contacting the right people. It’s really about my own ego, because y’all, I was so butt-hurt yesterday that she didn’t contact me. Like I’m some Franklin expert or have ownership of his story.

And the thing is, I want more people to be interested in history. I want more people to talk about the ways the past still influences the present. I want people to feel like history is available to them without them needing to go through gatekeepers.

And yet, my feelings were still deeply hurt and I was mad and insulted.

There’s no lesson to be learned from that, I suppose, except one we already know–which is that wanting to be recognized and valued and important are some of the wants that most easily cause you to get in the way of your own better impulses.

How Far?

Thanks to therapy, the dog and I have been walking to school every morning, even though the hill is steep and scary. When we get back, the dog is exhausted. I feel really proud of that–that I’m able to wear out the dog.

I don’t know if we’ll keep up going that far when the weather turns hot again, but man, when it’s lovely like today? I feel so lucky.

I pissed a dude off yesterday. He called me at work to complain. I don’t know if he was satisfied by the exchange. It didn’t seem like it. You ever talk to someone and where they’re coming from just makes so little sense that you can’t exactly even tell what’s happening in the conversation? I felt like that was happening to both of us.

I do sometimes feel like I have gotten way off the beaten path and not noticed. I will say that.


A Rogan Has Found Me

After the good response I got to my talk on Saturday, I wrote up some of my findings on the Rogans for Pith, leaving out the parts that would specifically point to places I thought Bud Rogan might be, because, like I said in my presentation, I’m curious, but if the Rogans went to these lengths to keep white curiosity-seekers from bothering Bud, then I feel obliged to respect that at some level. I mean, I’m still curious, but I’m not going to make it too easy for nefarious people to start digging.

And anyway, as you all know, in my digging, I became as fascinated by this large extended family who found a way to take care of each other under extraordinary pressures designed to break them apart.

So, the post went up and yesterday a Rogan contacted me! I went digging through his Facebook stuff and I know you can’t say for sure, because the human mind finds patterns where there aren’t any, but I thought some of the living Rogans still resembled Bud. And I laughed to find that they are still very religious.

I mean, really, it’s not been that long. My grandma’s birthday was yesterday. She turned 96. Two of her grandparents were born before the Civil War. Of course behavioral patterns deeply ingrained in your family, especially through trauma, can persist.

But I think it still surprises me because, much like discovering that old wooden church in the cemetery, it moves facts from something you’ve been reading up on to something real in the world. “The Rogans’ faith was important to them” as a fact you can use to track them down in cemeteries and “The Rogans’ faith is important to them” as a fact you can see in a person…well, they are the same thing, but they don’t feel like the same thing.

I do this history stuff for me, because I find it fascinating. But this past month has been a weird and lovely display of things I wrote about having an impact in the world. Fred Douglas Park is getting corrected to Frederick Douglass Park. Some Rogans read my piece and, maybe, got a lead on an ancestor or two they didn’t have before.

That is awesome. I also, though, feel like it’s something I need to be mindful of. It would be so easy to pat myself on the back for my awesomeness and gloat around and just come to think that I can do no wrong. Positive feedback is a heady drug.

But I want to be mindful and humble to the work. I want to always have in the forefront of my mind that I can and will be wrong.

I want enough self-assuredness and confidence that I can do the work I like to do without crippling anxiety.

But I want to not get too confident in my own awesomeness. I don’t want to start lying to myself. I want a clear head to do good work, to tell the truth as I’ve found it.

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.

The Insult Honor

One thing I wish I’d done a more elegant job of hammering home here is the way Nashville continues to use “honoring” J.C. Napier as a chance to insult him.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more civically engaged Nashvillian of more national prominence who didn’t hold a state or national elected position. Prominent banker, prominent lawyer, name on our money during his time at the Treasury, educational reformer, friends with really prominent and important thinkers.

There are things that happen for men like that in town–they get parks named after them, they get buildings named after them; they get schools named after them. All of which Napier got, but, in usual Nashville fashion when it came to him, in the shittiest way possible. A man who helped fund a huge park gets half a block. A man who owned a downtown building gets public housing. A man who remade Nashville schools faces having his name taken off a Nashville school building.

We so begrudgingly did what we do for men of his stature, in the smallest, miserliest way possible.

Anyway, I know the MOC now says they never planned on taking Napier’s name off the school. So, that’s good. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

In other news, on this week’s episode of Hello From the Magic Tavern, Chunt the talking badger (who’s a shape-shifter) invents a new game “Cats or Doctors” which involves them having to figure out what a penis sounds like. They all came up with kind of either farty noises or whacking off noises. It was pretty hilarious. Don’t know why I thought of that just now, but it’s worth checking the episode out.


I wrote a little bit about John Murrell’s thumb for Pith.

Tomorrow I have many feelings about the Bell Witch, so it’s basically a week of me pooping on Nashville’s most beloved legends.

But here’s the thing I am becoming more convinced of. Oftentimes the legend of something obscures or erases a much more interesting bunch of facts. See Robert Johnson and the legend of him selling his soul to the Devil for very minor regional talent vs. Robert Johnson traveling the country and having a bunch of friends and working really hard to develop his talent.

Or the Mystic Clan, which obscures the bizarre summer of 1835.

As for the Bell Witch…

While I am a firm believer in some kinds of psychic phenomenon (which I am convinced have a scientific explanation we just haven’t discovered yet)–like your mom having a sudden feeling that you’re in trouble or the kinds of conversations the Butcher and I have where something at work can remind me of something that happened twenty-five years ago and I come home and ask “Hey, do you remember that guy with the green shirt who did that weird thing?” and he’ll know exactly which guy in a green shirt I’m talking about and what the weird thing was.–I think most psychics are scam artists. Because I think being psychic is like having a gut feeling or a moment of intuition. You can’t make it happen and it’s not some constant state of being on.

Someone who can make it happen all the time is cheating.

And when you’re cheating to accuse dead people of molesting a girl? That really pisses me off.

Here’s the thing that I didn’t get into at Pith, mostly because I didn’t feel on as firm a footing scholarship-wise as I did about my point about the story treating this spirit the way Victorians would have treated and understood the spirit and not like people in the 1810s and 20s would have, the Red River community was very small and people’s windows were open for a great portion of the year. If Betsy Bell was being molested, there’s a good chance people would have known. Not a perfect chance but a good chance. If Betsy Bell’s molestation had somehow led to the Bell Witch phenomenon, people would have made that connection back then.

If Betsy Bell had been the true focus of a poltergeist, during that time, it would have made her very hard to marry off. If Betsy Bell had been molested and people knew about it, it would have been practically impossible to marry her off. Public knowledge of molestation ruined women’s lives. If Betsy Bell had a poltergeist who told secrets (which this one supposedly did) and was molested (and people knew about it, which it seems likely they would have, if the first one were true), she could not have gotten married.

The fact that Betsy Bell married tells me that the story as we know it, as well as the story as this psychic is trying to sell books on, is not true.

It pisses me off, both at the level of accusing people of a horrendous crime with nothing more than the word of a psychic, and at the level of utterly misunderstanding how that accusation would have ruined Betsy Bell’s life so utterly and completely.

As hard as it is for victims these days to come forward, there’s been such a profound shift in how we understand this crime that it’s almost impossible to wrap our heads around.

I mean, not to be flip, but I’d like to hear some explanation for how Betsy Bell, if she was molested, was able to, back in her own day, keep this mostly secret and not see herself as fallen and ruined, let alone how she’s now come to the conclusion that she’s fine, it’s the fuckers who molested her who are the problem.

That’s something I, as a 21st century woman, firmly believe. But I find it hard to believe an early 19th century woman from a religious home on the frontier would have not experienced this as something profoundly shameful and ruinous that she had caused to happen to herself.

I don’t know. It just feels like making light of how terrible that would have been for Betsy, had it happened, how profoundly different her life would have gone, if it was true and enough people knew about it for it to make its way down to us somehow.

Confederate Things

1. I argue we should stop providing racists cover.

2. I talk about how Nathan Bedford Forrest was always a man and a myth and how the man came to resent not being able to escape the myth. And here we are, still mythologizing him.

3. Coates makes the point that I have been wrestling with for years–that Confederates, actual Confederates, hated the “states-rights” origin story for the Civil War and were pissed that Southerners were rewriting what they did and why to make it more acceptable. Confederates got that their grandchildren were ashamed of them, even as their grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on mask that shame in veneration.

Those Darlins “Be Your Bro”

During the Vandy rape trial, witness after witness has described seeing the victim in some state of distress–the roommate saw her being raped on down to the people who just saw her passed out in the hall, undressed, sick and injured–and doing nothing. Just getting out of the way.

Over and over, the students describe why they didn’t call the police or why they helped in the cover-up. Two words keep coming up–1. “afraid,” which I get. I can imagine being afraid. But 2. “brother.” These guys, these alleged rapists, were their “brothers.” They didn’t want to stand against them.

We joke “bros before hos” and Those Darlins sing all about how they “wanna be your bro.” And most of the time, it is funny. Being your friend is awesome. You seeing me only as something to “stick it in” is not that fun. Ha ha ha.

And then something like this will happen to illuminate just how far the distance between bro and something to stick it in is. What woman doesn’t want to be your bro if it means I get help, even when I’m in the wrong, if it means I get your concern, even to the detriment of the people I’ve hurt? Being your fucking bro is awesome.

I don’t know. I suspect I might have, in college, been the kind of person who would have seen something wrong and not really recognized my obligation to help. But I don’t know. Someone passed out? Someone I knew? I feel like I might not have been the right kind of help, I think I would have tried.

But you don’t know, do you? Not until you’re in those circumstances. Maybe it’s not about identifying with the people doing the terrible things as it is trying to avoid being lumped in with the the kind of people this stuff can happen to.

Anyway, I wrote about it some more over at Pith.


I really find it weird that I upset people. Well, maybe I don’t find it that weird. I guess I just thought that provoking people would, you know, involve deliberately trying to upset people, rather than just saying what I think.

I don’t think that the things I think are that special or weird. I don’t experience myself as some weirdo, I guess.

So, it’s weird. I mean, I know I’m in a minority in Tennessee, but I don’t think it’s a minority of one.

But anyway, I just can’t see how standing against a swingers club is a good thing.

Trying to Find the Person-Shaped Absences

I need to remember this for my next chapter–the thought I had when I woke up this morning. The kind of history that I’m trying to write for Nashville is, in some parts, a history of holes–where you look at the people we do have information about and try to figure out what that would mean for the person we don’t.

Today at Pith, I talk about Mary Overton–a woman with two prominent husbands, a really significantly historical father, and a prominent family. You look at everything you know about the people you know about and see if you can discern from all that the life of the woman central to all of them.

And, of course, it’s hard. It’s deliberately hard. The people whose histories are so hard to come by–women, minorities–their lives are hard to come by on purpose. Names left out, chances to write their own stories denied.

Anyway. It’s sad and frustrating.

Informal History Week at Pith

I have a post on the thing I found in Ron Ramsey’s office. I will have a post on our chances of digging up Timothy Demonbreun. And, you guys! I spent all afternoon at Traveller’s Rest, sitting in the office where the old kitchen used to be, talking about history and Overtons and I got to ask if everyone was given an Overton upon their arrival at Nashville and they laughed.

And more importantly, even though I did not get to buy one–Traveller’s Rest has pie birds! In the gift shop.

Plus, I got to introduce Traveller’s Rest to Ben & Sue Allen’s The Thing, which, you may recall, from my incessant babbling about it, has many Overton connections–from Ben’s cousins to the Baxters’ friendship/enemyship with Dickinson.

And the other cool thing–Okay, I’ll just be honest that I learned many cool things–that I learned was that Mrs. Overton’s first husband was Andrew Jackson’s personal physician (a job with real security), hence how she ended up with a kid named Andrew Jackson May.

Plus, plus, I’m going to the TSLA at the end of the month to read to them about the fictional feud they fictionally had with the state museum over The Wolf’s Bane. I am so tickled.

I do feel a little bad for insisting the Butcher walk the dog this morning, because he was being so obnoxious yesterday after a week of very little getting-out-and-walking-around, and now it’s raining.

But pie birds!

Doing Nothing Wrong

I wrote about the Radnor Lake Rambo for Pith today. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how, if his crusade is not about publicly escalating his one-man terror-fest until he works up the guts to shoot someone, it’s about demanding the right to be thought of as harmless, no matter what social cues he’s giving off.

You see this come up in other situations, where men get mad when they know they’re just being nice guys by doing something–say following a girl home (to make sure she makes it), or offering to buy a woman a drink after she’s made it clear she no longer wants to talk to you–that sets off the “this guy is trouble” red flag. Like they’re really pissed that they’re not being thought of as harmless.

There are other instances, but you get the gist. And people try to make the argument that, hey, you might be harmless, but you’re doing this red-flag activity and we are not psychic so we have no way of knowing if the guy on campus with a gun is a good guy or a bad guy or if the guy following us home is a good guy or a rapist or if the woman flirting with our partners is friendly or has ill-intentions.

But you can’t indulge in mildly bad, scary behavior and still be treated like you’re harmless. That’s a really weird thing to ask of the world.