When I was feeling bummed and discombobulated last week, S. took me to lunch and told me to go write.

I have been, very slowly, working on a story since then. It’s so gross! Not in a bad way, just in a yuck way. And I keep thinking, “you cannot submit a story like this!” but then I keep also thinking “Just write it and send it to S. and, if she laughs and shudders, then that’s what you need to know.”

But it’s taking me a little bit to get through it, to understand what’s changing in the characters.

Back to the Boobs

I went in for my second annual mammogram today. I has to go over to Vanderbilt because my insurance is a dumpster fire. This is nothing against Vanderbilt. I really liked how things went today.

But, seeing as how this was the year follow-up after my surgery, I would have preferred to go to the place that did my surgery and thus would have my films and charts and such.

Instead, only half the shit Vanderbilt needed ended up over there, even though I checked at my appointment and called to make sure everything had been sent.

So, instead of finding out today that everything looks good, I have a kind of half-knowledge. The doctor said he didn’t see anything in there he’d be worried about if this were my first mammogram. However, knowing that this is my second, he really wished he had the first one to compare to.

When he gets those, he’ll be able to give me a better all-clear.

Here’s the thing, though. I’d like to think, based on my mom and grandma, that I’m not quite halfway through my life. But I’m close.

I don’t want to be on my death bed wishing I’d really tried to get a novel published.

Adverbial Compression

One of my podcasts is Writing Excuses, which I like and find really thought-provoking, but, in general, haven’t found to be writing changing for me. It’s nice to think about the craft of writing for a few minutes with people who have thought a lot about the craft of writing, though, so I look forward to it.

Until this week’s episode, which has blown my mind. They’ve been talking about revision for a couple of weeks–so you can see why I’ve been paying close attention.

And this week, they were talking about adverbs. Adverbs have a bad reputation among writers and yet, when you’re writing, my god, if she says, “I love you” softly, is it really so bad that she says it softly?

But this week, one of the Writing Excuses people introduced this idea of “adverbial compression.” He looks for adverbs in his work and finds that they are often places where he’d be better off writing more.

So, take my example above.

I might write “‘I love you,’ she said, softly.”

But dude is arguing that your writing is stronger if you cut the softly and add some shit that lets the reader know she’s saying it softly. You can see how that works thusly:

“She pressed her face into the pillow, so that he could not hear what she was saying, if he was even awake, and she said, ‘I love you.'”


“She grabbed him by the chest hair, pulled his ear close to her lips, and said, ‘I love you.'”

My mind is blown. Not just because it’s a great way to add more descriptive interactions between your characters, but because, wow, yes, here’s a good explanation for why you might not want to use adverbs and what you might do in those spots instead.

Little Sister Death

I read William Gay’s Little Sister Death. It’s not a book I’d recommend to non-writers. It’s not a complete book. It’s not even a complete manuscript. Weirdly, there’s nothing in the book to let you know that it’s a partial, rough draft, so I’m sure if you buy the book thinking that you’re going to get Gay’s take on the Bell Witch, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

It’s this incomplete draft and his essay on the Bell Witch which, I think, first appeared in the Oxford American.

If you are a writer, though, I highly, highly recommend this book. Who ever gets to see what a genius is like at this early stage in a book’s life? Here you see him toying with what characters might be important, what conceits he might want to employ–toward the middle of the book, the house itself starts to sleep and awake, but then it stops and I’d be so curious to know if he thought that was working (I did) or if he would have cut that from the final version–what kinds of imagery and symbolism might be important. It’s also fun to watch him clearly toying around with things that horror writers did that he liked. It’s amazing to see how strong and beautiful his prose already is, that early in the process.

It’s a real gift.

I’m bummed we’re never going to get to see his final version.

I’m also bummed because his article on the Bell Witch is good and has a lot of information that would seem to be substantiatable. The Saturday Evening Post wrote a story about the Bell Witch in 1849. Betsy Bell sued them over it. Local papers regularly covered the story as it was happening and shortly after. I got into the archives of the Post. I couldn’t find a story in 1849. I ran a search through the Post through the whole 19th century. Nothing. I ran searches through all of Proquest’s historical newspapers. Nothing.

I could have missed things.

But I have to tell you, I think that story didn’t exist until Ingram’s book in the 1880s.

How Things Go

You all remember that my story “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” got accepted by Fantasy & Science Fiction a while back. Yesterday, I got the edits on the story. I have a dream that, if I had a good editor, I learn a shit-ton about writing. This experience did nothing to dissuade me. The kinds of changes they proposed did a lot to really tighten up my prose.

But, yeah, so the interesting thing is that, even at this point, since it’s a print magazine, there’s a whole other round of checking of page proofs that is going to happen later. And it’s still not clear which issue it’s going to be in.

Now, keeping in mind that I’m speaking from my experience, but this is different than how online magazines work. First, I had a contract and got paid for my story way back when they accepted it. Then many months went by and now I’ve received the copyediting. There will be some point at which I see page proofs. And I’ll eventually learn which issue it’ll appear in. Then it will come out, probably sometime next year.

The online magazines I’ve worked with have accepted me pretty quickly, but not sent me a contract until much closer to publication. So, it’s like contract, payment, copyediting, published, kind of all in a bunch and the waiting time is between when you hear that the story is accepted and the flurry of activity that happens right before publication.

I’m sure there will be other ways other places work, too. But it just goes to show that Publishing is not a thing, but a bunch of related things that kind of all have steps in common, but are also really different. Doing it once doesn’t really teach you much about how it might go again.

In related news, I laughed so hard reading through the story, which made me happy. I think it’s a good one. But, as I was telling the Butcher, it’s the kind of story that pretty much does a bunch of stuff stories aren’t “supposed” to do.

Things I Think about Sucking

I have said the same things to multiple people over the last few weeks, so I’m also going to say them here.

  1. Revision is a lot of writing. Revision sucks.
  2. There’s no way around rejection. You just have to get rejected, a lot, and you just have to find a way to get used to it, though it never stops sucking a little.
  3. In order to be a writer, you have to write. In order to have written something you have to write.
  4. In order to write, you have to suck.

This, I think, is one of the hardest parts. You want to be a writer because you’ve always loved to read and you’re good at writing. Yes, so say we all. Probably, you’ve always been good at writing. If you’re like me, you’ve never sucked at something you liked. If you sucked at it, you didn’t like it. If you didn’t like it, you didn’t do it. So, getting used to sucking, even temporarily, at something you like and know you’re good at is really hard. You may feel the unpleasant suspicion–one I have regularly–that the sucking is not temporary, that it is your writing life.

Take up a hobby that you suck at, that you aren’t so emotionally invested in it. Practice sucking. Get used to it in a forum where the stakes are lower for you. Suck until you see what it is to get better.

Be prepared to always suck as a writer in some ways.

But, also, have faith in your readers, who are coming a great distance to meet you in a mystical place. They really want to overlook all the ways you suck. As long as you make that possible, the ways you suck will remain a private thing the whole world can see but ignore.

A Little More on Spooky Jones

That story went through a number of endings. For a while, Spooky went to live with one of his sons in the city, nothing exciting for Louise happened at the end, but we find out that Uncle Matt is never able to escape the town. Then, for a while, it ended with them standing in front of the house, Spooky being sad, and Louise calls the dog and, for the first time in its life, it comes when someone calls it and Spooky realizes that Louise is special and is happy to see the dog again. Spooky still goes to live with one of his sons in the city, Louise inherits the dog, and mysteriously, when she’s older and telling this story, she still has the dog. Matt is still stuck in that town. Then, for a while, it ended with all that and a long explanation about how the dog was immortal because it had dug its way into Hell and then back out again and the bad guys wanted it because it was immortal and magic.

All of these had their awesome elements. But they weren’t quite right.

And I think the reason they weren’t quite right is that they moved the focus off of Louise. This is was a tricky thing for me to figure out, because, in my mind, this story was about Louise and her grandfather, with the dog and Matt being kind of equally important minor characters. So, Spooky has an arc, a kind of sad arc, where we seem him disappointed and more disappointed and then losing his house. In spite of all his power, he can’t make a life that makes him happy. And Louise has an arc, where she realizes that she’s inherited the family power.

So, the ending to the story seemed like it should be “how it ended up for everyone.”

But, once I realized that Spooky has always been disappointed and miserable, the main character was obviously Louise. Once you realized Louise is the character, a lot of questions spring to mind. What does it mean to have this kind of power in your family? Could you have it? What would it mean for you to have it? Would you have to be as miserable as Spooky?

The story doesn’t really answer these questions, though. To me, the arc of Louise is realizing that something that has been kept from her is going on, as is often the case for children, and that she is a part of that thing. How will she react to that knowledge?

So, the ending of the story, I realized, needed only to be “What does Louise find out and how will she react to that?”

And, though it isn’t 100% clear how she reacts to it on a first read through, I did try to leave a couple of clues in the story as to what happens.

Anyway, long story short: if your ending is not working, sometimes you don’t need more words, you need tighter focus.

The Reading

The other person they had reading was Rita Bulwinkel, who’s an amazing author here in town. She read part of a story and I read the ghost story I read in Memphis. I like that story a lot for reading out loud in that it’s dreamy and scary and funny and the audience gets to heave a huge sigh of relief before being left with a shivery feeling that maybe all was not as well as it seemed.  It’s a really good out-loud story.

So, it went over like gang-busters, I think. And, as I was reading it, I had this realization, “This is a really different story than Rita’s, but I’m not at all embarrassed to have to follow her with it.”

I genuinely can’t tell you how good that makes me feel.

Not Screwing Up

One of my biggest fears about Ashland is that, while I don’t mind if my characters are shitty about race, I don’t want to be. One of the themes of the book is the way that the set-up of the house can seduce a person into believing that the story of the people who own the house is the story of the house. I want white people’s inability to see black people as central individuals in the story to be a cause of the horror of the story.

But I don’t want to fuck up in the same way my characters are. And yet, as we’ve talked about, this society is set up to breed racists. I don’t think there’s any way that I can be a white person born in this country, who lived in all white towns growing up and not be racist. Not in the “Oh, hey, I should join Stormfront” way, but in the “I have assumptions and expectations about how the world works that fuck over people I care about and people I don’t even know who I don’t bear any ill-will toward.” I want my book to be scary and hard, but I don’t want it to be insulting.

And yet, how can I see my own blind spots?  I’v esignd up for a workshoop with Alice Randall. The assigned reading is The Help. I hope my problems aren’t so blatant.

I’m nervous, but it must be done. I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t a bad little story and I might, indeed, find someone who wants it. If that’s the case, then I really want it to be right.

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.


I’m also thinking of returning Ashland’s title to Ashland. The Burning Brides of Ashland is catchy, but the story really isn’t about women’s propensity to catch fire in the house. It’s about the house. If I ever find a publisher, I wonder if I can talk them into doing “A Ghost Story” the same way some books do “A Novel.”

Ashland: A Ghost Story.

I like it.

Beautiful Weekend

The Southern Festival of Books went very well. The weather was lovely (except for Friday, but that didn’t seem to dampen too many moods) and I got to see a bunch of people I know and talk books and it was really lovely.

There was just a general mood of optimism that was nice. Everyone seems to think that things are going to be much different in the book industry and no one knows how but there’s less “we’re all going to die” about it.

I’ve also noticed the beginnings of a split (so, the fact that I’ve noticed it makes it certain the split has been happening for a while) in the “self-publishing” world. Somehow, the “I published this because no one else would because it sucks” and the “I published this because no one else would because, for as much as the publishing industry talks about the importance of diversity, it’s really hard to get a book with a protagonist like x or a setting like y or a plot like z published through traditional means” books are differentiating themselves from each other. Even at a place like the Southern Festival of Books, which is solely focused on traditionally published works.

I also think it’s both surprising and not surprising (considering the good work Chet and Ben are doing over at Third Man) to see that we’re back in an era when poetry matters. Who would have thought, even five years ago, that the most interesting discussions about what it means to be a person and an artist would be happening in poetry?

It really felt like people were resolved to just persevere in telling good stories to each other and that made me feel good and optimistic about things too.

Chuck Wendig’s New Book

I just finished Chuck Wendig’s new book, Zeroes. It was fine! But more than that, I don’t really feel qualified to say. I read a lot differently when I’m writing than I do when I’m not, so I can’t say whether you, as a reader, might  like it. I, as a writer, really did. One thing he does that I want to think hard about for my next draft, is his specificity. I think that I tend to gloss over the details that I don’t think are that important in a story, because I hate when unimportant things are given too much attention.

I don’t have Wendig’s book in front of me, but let’s say that we’re writing a story about a guy who goes to the store to get some orange juice and, on the way, he gets abducted by aliens. Let’s say that the least important element in the story is the car he takes.

The kind of writing I don’t like might go something like “He gently eased his Levi-encased buttocks onto the leathery seat of the musty old El Camino, the color of sunsets or fresh, coppery menstrual blood, and rested his cracked hands on the ancient wheel. The car smelled of elderberries, freshly picked by young virgins on a cool, Spring morning.”

A lot of my writing goes like this: “He got in his car and he drove toward the store.”

But a Chuck Wendig-ish sentence goes something like “He got into his rusty, old El Camino and headed up the street to the IGA.”

You don’t spend too much time reading about things that aren’t important, but you spend enough time on them to get a taste of something you otherwise wouldn’t get. You can see how “he got into his new Lexus and headed up the street to the Whole Foods” changes the whole flavor of the sentence, implies a hundred different things about this “him” than the other “him,” none of which you can even begin to guess about my “him.”

I’m not terrible at that kind of specificity, but I’ve been hip-deep in this novel long enough to know that I’m not great at it. Watching someone just nail it sentence after sentence after sentence makes my inadequacies really stand out to me.

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.”


I wrote about writing Ashland. I am genuinely glad to see that it’s an interesting read. It makes me feel better about my writing abilities at the moment. Ha ha ha.

This morning, as I was walking the dog, I had a realization about a later part of the book. It made me wonder if I could somehow figure out a way to walk the dog, have a realization, fix that part, walk the dog again, have another realization, etc. But I don’t suppose you could guarantee the realizations.

For me, writing is a weirdly physical thing. I do feel like I’m somehow squeezing or wringing this thing out of me.

And I had hoped to be farther along in this revision before October, which is in so many ways the busiest month of the year for me. I don’t want to lose track of the things I need to do to the book, you know?

One More Ugly Confession about Ashland

Rereading the October stories made it clear that the writing in Ashland sucks. Like, you would not read my stories and read this book and think that I’d written the book after I’d written the stories. So, this means that, after I get all the bones and joints of the story how I want it, hinges opening how they should, I’ve still got to fix that.

So, the big goals stand:

  1. Finish Draft 4.
  2. Do a version of the beginning that starts in the present day.
  3. See how I like it.
  4. Possibly do a draft that accounts for the new beginning.
  5. Improve the writing of the whole thing.

And I need to rework the television crew earlier in. But I had an idea that might work that goes along with my slim-down efforts–i.e. there can’t be that many camera guys in the world. So, if I have one group of camera guys with the ghost hunters and the television crew has a camera guy, might not that one of the camera men be the same person?

This Weekend

Many of my plans fell through. Much rewriting got done. I had breakfast with a friend that went clear past lunch, we were both laughing and solving all of the world’s problems. I’m making an afghan for my grad school friend who’s in Australia kind of having a rough go of things. Yes, I’m going to send her an afghan in the middle of her summer. Oops.

It’s just one of my regular diagonal granny square ones. I really like those.

I was going to tell you all a little bit about how the writing is going from a practical stand-point. I’m still retyping. I have a file called Ashland 3 open on the left side of my screen and a file called Ashland 4 open on the right. Ashland 3 was an exact copy of Ashland 2, my first massive revision. Ashland 4 started out blank. Following along Ashland 3, I either typed whole new things that had to fix what was wrong with the story into Ashland 4 or typed what was there or made minor corrections.

Sometimes I go out and walk the dog and I’m struck by an idea–like, for instance, what my bad guy responds to is not people who know him well, since most of the people who know him well come to loathe him, but people who love the house. That’s the thing that puts you in a semi-protected bubble from him. But I’m not anywhere near fixing that scene in Ashland 4. So, I go ahead and skip to that part in Ashland 3 and fix it there so that it is right, or closer to right, when 4 finally gets to that point.

I’m liking the shape of this version a lot. It’s very slimmed down. The two things about the shape of it that I still feel uncertain about, which still require major mulling over are one small and one large. The small thing is that, at the end, a TV crew is present. We’ve never been introduced to them before. It makes sense that they would show up at the end of the book, but it violates my belief that, in a working horror novel, nothing new is added in the last quarter of the book. I’m still not sure how to work them in earlier, probably deeply in the background, but they need to be there. Since my house doesn’t have a TV, this is a problem. My house does have a radio, though.

I’ll have to think about it.

The other thing is that I’ve now read a lot of haunted house stories and a convention of the genre is the slow descent into batshit stuff. At the moment, this is how Ashland works. But I’m not sure it’s the right way for it to work. I don’t want to change it yet. I want to get the mechanics of the whole story working right. But it’s hanging out there–I may not yet have the beginning right. Like the first quarter of the book. That’s daunting.

It’s Probably Me

I’m limited my exposure to things that stress me the fuck out, including unfollowing everyone on Facebook who is still trying to argue that poor Texan could have had a bomb and that he was the asshole, not his school.

I’m still just filled with rage every time I get on the internet. I prefer Facebook filled with babies and puppies and how fucking nice your life is. Hell, I’d rather know how your life is sad and hard for you right now. I don’t want to know how afraid you are of children you don’t know and will never meet or how, even though you break the law 90 different ways, you’re on the side of authority when it comes to picking on children.

I hate the idea that writers are writers whether they’re published or not. I cling to that idea like a fucking life raft. I hate when I say it to myself because I feel like I’m letting myself off the hook, that I’m making excuses for not being good enough that I can live with. And yet, I also believe that it’s true.

This is just the stage the book is at. Not the book. The book is in okay shape, I think. Or being shaped into okay shape.

This is the stage I’m in while writing the book. I hate everything. I resent that I work so hard on this and nothing’s going to come of it. I’m pissed that I let these self-defeating thoughts live in my head.

I’m mad that people are mean and stupid. I hate that I am so mean and stupid to myself.


Today I finished the shitty Constantine-ripping-off podcast I’ve been power-listening to. There are two kinds of guys I find utterly irresistible–“I am a brilliant, hairy wall” guy and “I am a miserable, but mysterious, fuck.” If Bigfoot started smoking and trying to conjure demons, I would abandon my life to track him down and throw myself at him. I would not be cool enough for Esoteric Bigfoot and that bums me out more than I can tell you, and Esoteric Bigfoot is not even a real thing.

Fuck, now I’m sad.

Oh, right, the poor-man’s John Constantine pod cast. It was terrible. I listened to ever episode with rapt attention. I binged listened to the whole thing until they killed him off. Oh, fuck them, those terrible pod cast writers. But it’s not popular enough for there to be any spoilers about whether he lived through being killed off. So, I had to keep listening.

And he did indeed live. And the ending was so sweet and he told the weird goth girl that she was the only thing he loved and I got all teary.

But I’ve been thinking about it. Why is a cliched character on a terrible pod cast so compelling? I think it’s because he is who he is so vibrantly. The writers might not have known what else they were doing (though it is kind of weird how much better the third season got, as if they all ran away and got MFAs before writing it), but they knew how to write a character who stays true to himself.

I find that really inspiring and compelling.


Every part of this book is so wicked and funny to me. I really hope someone decides to publish it. Today I wrote a part where a guy’s wife insists he sell the enslaved girl he fathered, so he takes her down to New Orleans and gets rid of her and my bad guy buys her and brings her back to town just so he can torment the father. It’s so terrible and it makes me laugh so hard.

It ends poorly for the girl, as all tragedies must. So the bad guy sends a condolence letter to the father. Which is also hilarious and terrible.

I’m still liking this whole “just retype the motherfucker” strategy. We’ll see how long I can keep it up for, though. It seems to work well for parts that require massive rewriting. We’ll see how I feel when/if we get to parts that are less in need of ditching whole characters and reworking plot lines and adding in some horrors for my bad guy to have perpetrated.


So, I think I have a good idea of what the revisions of Ashland need to look like. And a good idea about the parts that need to be rewritten. And I’ve decided to give this Joe Hill idea a try. I’m retyping it. I have the old version on the left and the new blank page on the right and I just look over and type what works and type new stuff where I need to.

Here’s the part I think, if I were to guess, Joe Hill likes about it. If you come to a part where you’re like “Ugh, I have to type all that?” you know it needs to go.

I don’t know if I’ll stick with it the whole way through, but for now, it’s kind of blowing my mind about how easily and clearly it shows you what needs to go.


There’s a fight/discussion/kerfluffle in the sci-fi/fantasy world about “nerds” vs. “cool kids.” And there are a lot of people rushing to declare their nerdiness and decry any charges of being a “cool kid.” This is dumb for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that we’re not in high school anymore and a bunch of adults still letting the standards of children dictate whether they think they have cultural value and, if so, what kind, is dumb as fuck. Thirteen year olds are fucking idiots. It’s a miserable time and they’re miserable people. Our efforts should be to help them live through it with as much grace as possible, not to empower them to dictate how we feel about our adult lives.

But second, and just as important in many other ways, I want to stick up for cool, because cool is at its core a response to oppression. That most of sci-fi/fantasy doesn’t get this just shows how very white the genre is and how very much a lot of us need to read Donnell Alexander’s “Cool Like Me” and sit with it a long, long time.

Let me repeat, cool is at its core a response to oppression.

Alexander says:

Cool was born when the first plantation nigga figured out how to make animal innards-massa’s garbage, hog maws and chitlins-taste good enough to eat. That inclination to make something out of nothing and then to make that something special articulated itself first in the work chants that slaves sang in the field and then in the hymns that rose out of their churches. It would later reveal itself in the music made from cast-off Civil War marching-band instruments (jazz); physical exercise turned to public spectacle (sports); and street life styling, from pimps’ silky handshakes to the comer crack dealer’s baggy pants. Cool is all about trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. It’s about living on the cusp, on the periphery, diving for scraps. Essential to cool is being outside looking in.

Cool is making something out of nothing and then making it special. If that’s not what a writer aspires to, then fuck that writer.

Alexander rightly identifies “cool” as an idea black people brought to U.S. culture. Misunderstanding “cool” is stupid. Publicly repudiating and rejecting “cool” is a mixture of accepting the definition of cool some pre-teen gave you when you were a pre-teen, which is dumb as fuck, and replicating the same old erasures of black contributions to culture that so many of the very people rejecting being called “cool” claim to be against.

Most of the people who don’t want to be called cool aren’t cool. Not by the fucked-up-child definition they’re using, not in the sense of cool being a response to oppression.

But they could be. Again, back to Alexander:

Humans put cool on a pedestal because life at large is a challenge, and in that challenge we’re trying to cram in as much as we can-as much fine loving, fat eating, dope sleeping, mellow walking, and substantive working as possible. We need spiritual assistance in the matter. That’s where cool comes in. At its core, cool is useful. Cool gave bass to 20th-century American culture, but I think that if the culture had needed more on the high end, cool would have given that, because cool closely resembles the human spirit. It’s about completing the task of living with enough spontaneity to splurge some of it on bystanders, to share with others working through their own travails a little of your bonus life. Cool is about turning desire into deed with a surplus of ease. Some white people are cool in their own varied ways. I married a white girl who was cooler than she ever knew.

Fine loving, fat eating, dope sleeping, mellow walking, and substantive working. Fuck yes. This is it folks. And, no, most of the people who are saying “Well, I’m not one of the cool kid,” aren’t doing these things. But I know at least they aspire to be doing substantive work. So, what’s wrong with being cool? Or aspiring to be cool? Or finding value in being cool?

Cool is a response to oppression that enabled people to survive that oppression. At its worst, which is not very bad, cool is a coopting of the posture that enables survival. Why would we throw that out or turn our backs on it?

I’m not cool, but I damn well strive to complete “the task of living with enough spontaneity to splurge some of it on bystanders, to share with others working through their own travails a little of [my] bonus life.”

That’s why I write. That’s why I write here. That’s why I write at Pith. That’s why I write the stories I write. That’s why I sit down and write novels I can’t sell, or haven’t sold, or whatever. Substantive working. And sharing a little of my bonus life.

If someone called me cool, they’d be wrong, but I’d be honored. Still a nerd, but honored.