King Kong

King Kong has been sitting in the back of my mind for a few days. I don’t know why. But I’ve been thinking how King Kong is probably, if someone wants to try to understand the fucked up way America works about race, the perfect movie.

King Kong is racist as shit. The big black ape who wants to possess the beautiful white woman as his own, even though he doesn’t really know what to do with her or, if he did, it would destroy her to have it happen. His abduction of her is a sexual abduction.

So, there you have the deepest white American fear–these animals are coming for our women and they’re dangerous and powerful and scary. Fortunately, we can outsmart and outgun them.

But from the minute audiences started watching King Kong, they started sympathizing with Kong. His death felt like an unjust tragedy. Clearly, it’s supposed to feel like a victory–We’ve defeated the monster and rescued the damsel. But, as evidenced by the fact that they rushed a Son of Kong into theaters also in ’33, people didn’t want Kong dead. They wanted to see more of him.

That, right there, is fucking America. That’s the bitter twist at the heart of minstrelsy, too. The racial stereotype designed to reinforce white America’s worst beliefs about the talents and abilities of black Americans leaves white Americans screaming for more.

The argument we make to ourselves that justifies our treatment of black people ends up encouraging sympathy for black people in some abstract way. But, as complicated as that is, it’s also too easy. Because it’s not sympathy for black people, but sympathy for black people as we imagine them. Which is why our sympathy, throughout American history, doesn’t necessarily result in improvements for black people.

There’s a special effect here, at the heart of American culture, a trick of light and sound, a series of mirrors reflecting back to us a misshapen view of reality. We act as if those misshapes are real. Sometimes our acting on them has devastating consequences. Sometimes they have unexpected good consequences.

You can’t predict how things are going to come through the fun house.

But it’s important to acknowledge that the fun house is there, I think.

Too Close to Home

My favorite thing about TANIS this week was how they dealt with the discomfort of reading history for vast conspiracies. It’s one thing to say that Charlemagne was looking for Tanis. It’s another thing to suggest that Kurt Cobain was killed over it.

But where’s the line? I find it really curious that I saw nothing wrong with giving Jack Parsons over to fiction, but I was uncomfortable with L. Ron Hubbard being used in that way, even though they’re contemporaries and, if anyone would love becoming a legend, I imagine it’s Hubbard.

I can’t say why Hubbard seemed for me “too soon.” But I thought this week’s episode, in which Nick is really uncomfortable with a conspiracy theorist who crosses his “too soon” line, did a good job of making clear that the show isn’t unwittingly pressing these buttons.

The Sound of Things

Yesterday morning, they played this song on the radio:

They were trying to argue that it was a kind of proto-rap, which is not really an argument I find that interesting. But I do think that the song has something in common with rap. Not just the rapid-fire delivery but with the joy taken in the sound of words, the playfulness with the very noise of language. These names of places are just fun to say.

I also like this song, because it reminds me that a lot of Johnny Cash songs have a kind of scary humor to them that may not always be immediately obvious. In this one, it’s only when you listen carefully, when you hear him say “I’m a killer” that you start to be very nervous for the guy who picked him up going to Winnemucca.

There is a tradition of kind of “talking” singing songs. Like, you can hear it in “Hot Rod Lincoln,” which, in my head, is a kind of brother to “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

But, clearly, this is about the noise the instruments can make and the story and the sounds of words is less paramount.

I was kind of thinking that this song, by Nathaniel Rateliff, has that same kind of joy in the sounds of words. Who knows what he’s saying? Who even cares? It just sounds like something.


So, I’ve been listening to the Tanis podcast, as you all know. I love The Black Tapes and this scratches that same itch. Plus, I have to say, I think I’ll be less annoyed if this story doesn’t resolve at the end of the season, since it’s hard to imagine how it could resolve.

But, after this episode, I’ve decided the other reason I’m listening with rapt attention and fear is that they’re taking L. Ron Hubbard and moving him into the fictional realm. Like we talked about this morning, they’re making him a legend. And I am a little afraid for them over it. But also in awe. It feels so brave.

As I’ve been working on Ashland, I’ve been thinking that there are two realms we always live in–real and fiction. And, like the realm of the elves is said to lie just next to but often unrecognized in our world, fiction and fact lie together. Two rivers sharing the same bed, passing next to each other, influencing each other, often intermixing in ways that can’t later be separated.

Sometimes, I suspect that religion is an effort to peel away the too-close-for-comfort nature of the Unreal and set it up in Heaven or down in Hell or off in the distance, somewhere where we don’t have to worry about it. But it doesn’t move. It’s still right here, us always slipping into it without realizing it.

As it must be, because how else can you understand a soul or consciousness or this weirdness that makes us think we have a self? It makes no sense. It is the Unrealness at our very core, the story told to us from the beginning, that we have an interior life.

Which is not to say that I don’t believe in myself, my self. I believe in a great deal of Unreal things. I’m just saying that the strangeness is in us, from the start.

Anyway, I hope the Tanis folks stay safe.

Old Friends

Elias pointed out that Furiosa has one arm. Max doesn’t have one eye, but he’s hanged, upside down, is chaotic, and at the end, he wanders off.

Oh, hi!

I was thinking on our walk this morning, both how amazing it is that these formations stick with us for so long–thousands of years–and how cool it is that women can inhabit these roles now. But I did wonder what ancient stories we tell about women, if there are similar age-old stories with women at their centers we could recognize now?

Good Day for Creepy Things

Last night I watched The Haunting, which was every bit as terrifying as I’d been promised. I wish I’d watched it earlier in the evening, as I found it incredibly unsettling. I also thought it handled the arrival of the doctor’s wife better than in the book. Her reason for being there seems to me to make more sense.

It’s also really clear why the remakes have all failed. Hollywood thinks about horror in one way, this movie thinks about it in another. Plus, could you do those kinds of voice-overs these days? I’m not sure. But the core dynamic would be easy enough to replicate. A Dugger-like girl goes to a slightly less-conservative Christian college and a charismatic professor has a Thanksgiving week excursion to Hill House to investigate paranormal claims. So, it’s her, the somewhat closeted, cool lesbian, and a kind of jocky frat kid, plus the charismatic professor. In other words, draw a line between the heavy religious stuff of the daughter to the heavy religious stuff of the students.

I also listened to the first two episodes of Tanis, the new podcast from The Black Tapes people. Or, perhaps, it’s the same podcast coming from a slightly different angle. I can’t tell yet. But I’m enjoying the fuck out of it. It’s got Jack Parsons and a nod to House of Leaves and, most importantly, a strong consideration of Hard Harry. Pump Up the Volume did terribly at the box office. I can’t say that it became a cult hit. It’s never on repeats on cable. For the most part, it was an utter dud.

For a few of us. So few it apparently doesn’t even count as a cult, that movie was something else. Like, you thought your life was going one way and you saw it and your life couldn’t go that way any more.

It’s because of its non-cult status, its importance, but only to a small, inconsequential group of people, that I laughed when it was mentioned on Tanis. If you want to know what Tanis is about, it’s basically about taking those moments that mean everything to almost no one and asking how something so important could remain hidden. (In this case, I suspect because, if you aren’t a 1990s teenager watching Pump Up the Volume in 1990, it might be a terrible movie, which I will never know because I’m not going to let this asshole 41 year old watch it and nitpick it.)

I’m liking it.

Work continues on Ashland. I envisioned its structure all along like a spiral. But it’s a spiral like those funnels you drop a coin into at the mall. The first part takes long loops, circling but slowly. Then we build up tension. And now we’re just about to the part where the coin slips into the mouth of the funnel and is spinning so tightly you can barely see it.

C.S. Lewis in Your Writing Group

We were briefly talking about what it would be like to have C.S. Lewis in your writing group and how that might explain a lot about why Tolkien had songs and histories of various grasses and chapters devoted to wandering around in circles, because Lewis would be all “Today, I have an essay on why there’s so much suffering and whether children deserve pain” and everyone else in the group would be all “Um, we’re still helping Tolkien get through this tricky part about… um…” They all look at Tolkien.

“This song about trees?” He shrugs.

But I was thinking about it on our walk this morning and, lord, could you imagine Lewis’s elevator pitches?

“Okay, it’s an allegory about Christ and the dangers of modern women set in a magical land with lions.”

“Okay it’s an allegory about Christ and the dangers of modern women set in space.”

“Okay, it’s a book of essays about Christ and the dangers of modern women.”

Can you imagine the time he was all “Okay, it’s a book about bureaucratic devils.”

All the other Inklings chime in “and the dangers of moder–wait, what? Just about bureaucratic devils?”

Tolkien’s all whispering to his neighbor “So, I don’t need this song about a sword to distract him?”

Lewis is confused. “Yes, just bureaucratic devils. Why? Do you think it needs some dangerous modern women in there? I could add some.”

“No, no, no. This is great. Much better than our idea.”

Devil Dance Blues by Sippie Wallace

I can’t find any online lyrics for this and I think I might need them. Help me, sharper-eared folks!

I had a dream last night and it filled me full of fright.

I had a dream last night. It filled me full of fright.

I dreamed I was in the dancehall where the Devil dance at night.

I saw the sweet Mrs. Devil standing in her home (? Possibly she’s saying “Sweet Mister Devil” but then I don’t know where he’s standing.)

I saw the sweet Mrs. Devil standing in her home

He was out with the Devil band. He was giving a ball. (This whole verse seems like it might be wrong.)

He had on a robe that was that was made of crow(?)

He had on a robe that was made made of bone(?) (It seems unlikely that he was wearing a robe of crow and bone, but my god, I hope so. A Robe of Crow and Bone is the name of a book, I tell you.)

I never seen no Devil look so sweet before.

It was a dream a dream I never had before.

It was a dream a dream I never had before.

I dream we all was dancing and put on a great big show.

It Never Gets Out of Me

I’ve probably talked about this a million times already, but I love this song. I was listening to it yesterday and not only do I love the guitar part which has a little unexpected swinging kick to it, and I love how she’s like, “what you do to me, baby, it never gets out of me.” Whew. It just blows my mind. It sounds like the truth about certain people.

But it also may be the only song I can think of where a mother-in-law is mentioned positively, as someone who might be on the side of the singer.

This is one of the songs I’m most curious about hearing the original women do it live, because there definitely is something about it that, recorded, seems kind of dour, but I wonder about, in a crowd, if people are dancing real close and slyly.

Oh, Oh

You guys, I love this song so much. Even though it’s not objectively that great. But it makes me happy and the video is adorable.

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.

George Jones

I watched this video last night and I felt, suddenly, that I knew why George Jones drank. Not all the reasons why. Obviously, a lot of that stuff is genetic and a lot of it is private. But, if you don’t care for country music, just mute it and watch him. I feel like I’m watching a man surfing a wave too large for him or a man on a tightrope over the Grand Canyon. You can learn something about want, about bone-deep want, that men will never tell you about by watching his face–how he wants her, how he’s got such a charge out of wanting her, how it threatens to overwhelm him. This woman makes him feel… what… something, something so private and powerful that it feels like we’re witnessing something we shouldn’t be privy to just by watching them sing.

It can’t be easy to be that open to those kinds of deep emotions. It must feel like a kind of madness. A wonderful kind of madness when you have someone like Tammy, like they were at their best, to be in it with. But when you don’t? When it’s just you and that conduit inside you and the big empty sky?


I think Alyssa Rosenberg makes a good case that Go Set a Watchman could have been a good book, if it had been developmentally edited, and that, even as it is now, it does some important things.

But I’m unsurprised to see that the reviews coming out now are all about how not good the book is. Which, duh, how could it not be not good? It’s a draft.

And I find it shady as hell that Harper Lee is too deaf to ask about shit, but not too deaf that we shouldn’t take the word of the people who talked to her that she’s cool with everything.

I’m not reading it. I have a pile of good books I haven’t gotten to yet, many written by people who handed them to me so I feel confident that they’re cool with the books’ publication. So, that’s where I’m putting my eyes, assuming I get some spare moments to read.


I’ll tell you one thing about this discussion. It made me listen to Lightning 100 differently on the way home from work. Do they ever play two women back to back? Does any radio station I listen to? I think that dude is a jerk, but I think he may have said out-loud something true a lot of radio programmers believe, across genre.

I’ve been long giving Lightning 100, a radio station I really love, a kind of side-eye because they play very few black artists, which means that both Adia Victoria and Valerie June don’t get played, even though their music–though very different from each other–is exactly the kind of music Lightning 100 plays.

But I keep thinking how studies show that people perceive that crowds look “right” or that women are participating half the time, when women are only a quarter of participants. That feels equal to people–men and women (unless you happen to be one of the women directly shut out because there’s only room for one woman in every four people). How can that kind of conditioned bias no affect what we hear?

I’m sure country music fans perceive that they hear from a lot of women artists. That doesn’t make it okay. It just further shows that, in 150 years, the progress we’ve made in popular culture is to go from almost no presence to 25% presence. Obviously, that’s a pretty big change, but we don’t have the same space in public imagination that we have in real life. Still. Yet.

Clowning Around


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.

Return to the Haunting of Hill House

As part of my on-going efforts to figure out how to construct a haunted house story that satisfies me, I’m rereading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’m about halfway through it and I’m really struck by a couple of things. First is how much, this time, I was more sympathetic to Eleanor’s sister and husband. The first time I read it, I felt more sympathy for Eleanor being stuck taking care of her mother while her sister got to get married and have kids. But there’s less, this time, to suggest that her sister somehow stuck Eleanor in that position. The other is just how much making things up there is at the beginning, how often Eleanor is daydreaming or the four people in the house are telling tall tales about their origins.

One thing I think is really brilliant is how Jackson tells you that the trick of the house is that none of the angles are right angles and the dis-ease the house causes is, at some level, because of your brain perceiving as straight, right angles, things that are crooked.

And then she plops you right into the point of view of someone whose corners also don’t meet square, so to speak. But she leaves that to you to decide whether you’re going to keep that fact at the front of your mind as you read.

Lord Huron

This morning the folks on the radio could not figure out how to say “Huron.” And it struck me so funny. They also used to have problems with the band “Augustana,” which they pronounced as if all the “a”s were the same. But I get how you grow up not knowing how to say Augustana. But “Huron”?! It’s a Great Lake. And they were trying to say it “Huh-ron.” and “Who-run.”

It reminded me of how that dude on Nightvale couldn’t figure out how to say “Michigan.”

I’m really excited about their upcoming album. I was trying to explain to the Butcher that I felt like their first album was somewhat spooky songs for middle aged women and this album is just full on for people who loved heavy metal but can’t stand the noise anymore.

I hope they wouldn’t find that insulting, because I love the fuck out of them.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, listen to this song twice. First time, pay no attention to the lyrics. Just enjoy the peppy old-fashioned-ness of it. Second time, listen to the words. It’s a horror show wrapped in a Twinkie.

Suspect Zero or, Perhaps, Another Movie

Last night, while I was tucking tails, I thought I was rewatching Suspect Zero, which is a supernatural suspense movie starring Ben Kingsley, that chick from The Matrix, and that guy who looks better scruffy, but they never let him just all the time dress like a long-haired biker.

Now, it’s been some time since I thought I first saw this, so I was unsurprised to find that I didn’t quite remember some parts–like the whole deal with the mask. But other parts–like the creepy truck and the misdirect with the guy at the fair were just as fresh as they were, ostensibly, the first time I saw it.

So, kind of, spoiler alert for this next part (for reasons that will be clear in a minute).

At this point–the misdirect with the guy at the fair–I start watching really closely to see if I can tell this time that Ben Kingsley’s character is dead. Because I am certain that, in the version I saw, once Ben Kinglsey’s character’s visions narrow down and certain up to the point where hot-biker-dude-who-never-gets-to-play-a-biker is definitely going to find Suspect Zero, Kinglsey’s character offs himself and his ghost provides guidance to the hero and then we get the reveal at the end that he’s been dead this whole time. Kind of The Sixth Sense, but in a sadder way, because it suggests death isn’t the relief Ben Kingley’s character thought it would be.

Folks, that’s not remotely how the movie ends.

So, where the fuck did my alternate ending come from? Is there another movie out there like it and I just conflated the two? Am I from some alternate world where that’s how the movie goes and I fell into this realm because your Betsy is off making out with Ourselves in some third parallel universe? I don’t know. But it’s strange as fuck.

For what it’s worth, I did think this version was more logically consistent, but I was bummed to miss out on a ghost.

Lady of the Lake, Women in the River

Ugh, this song and Jewly’s writing about it.

I believe the way for things to change for women is for women to come together for each other, to check on each other, to find each other and tell each other our stories.

But I have to say, I keep thinking about how often Death is a woman, the rivers, lakes, and streams are women, sailors can be married to the ocean, and all those ancient earth goddesses. All the places you might put a woman where she’ll never be found, they’re all considered to be feminine spaces.

I don’t know. It makes me sad.

My Kardashian Dream

I’ve never watched an episode of any of the Kardashian shows, but that doesn’t prevent me from dreaming about them, apparently. I dreamed that I was taking a shower in their house (or one of their houses, I guess) and I got to use their shampoo and conditioner and it was amazing. My hair was so soft and luxurious and tangle-free.

I also kept having people open the curtain to talk to me or to get my opinion on whatever they were talking about, but it was totally worth it. Because of the bath products.