Curly Butt

I know it’s not nice to make fun of your dog, but Sonnyboy gets this adorable curl on his butt, like he has a butt cowlick and it just warms my whole heart. This morning I sang him a song about the importance of pooping outside, even if you don’t like sinking into the mud to do it. He seemed unimpressed by the song’s sound reasoning. At least, he didn’t poop when I had him outside.

I did get out yesterday and check the ice damage on the magnolia. We lost three branches. I cut them off completely. It looks to me like the top one broke and took the other two out with it on the way down, but considering how healthy the tree looked otherwise, I imagine the spot will fill in before long.

The dog watched me from the porch and then, I took him off-leash and he jumped around like a bunny.

Still didn’t poop, though.

I just can’t help but wonder who would get rid of a dog that awesome. But, if he really was kind of left to hang out with himself in a pen (which I suspect), I guess they never noticed how cool he is.

Considering the amount of awesome, fun, quirky animals who’ve been overlooked by whoever had them first that I’ve really enjoyed having in my life, I wonder if I should have looked for a spouse that way. But looking back on it, I don’t recall ever seeing anyone just standing in my garage or tied to a tree by their current wife.

Ghost Story Research

Last night I read The Little Stranger and then some of the reviews of it. I thought it was really well-done, though I couldn’t decide if I thought the ending was too ambiguous or too spot on the nose. Which, I guess means that it was just right.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about two things I read in reviews:

One:

Yet, while Waters might have blown the dust off a fusty genre, she can’t escape its limitations. There is an inherent problem with ghost stories: they always boil down to a futile argument between sceptic and believer. Poor Dr Faraday has the thankless task of trying to convince the Ayres that every odd sight and sound and incident has a rational explanation. I eventually grew tired of vacillating between wondering if there was a real ghost and expecting the housemaid to be behind it all; I longed for a credible third way. Waters hints at one, but its supernaturalism disguised with psychology left me dissatisfied.

Two:

Every ghost story needs a Dr Faraday, a blunt literalist with a sturdy sense of self. Such a figure begins as the reader’s surrogate, the voice of scepticism. We’ve been told ghost stories before, and we’re not going to fall for the author’s wiles and tricks; our narrator is determined, on our behalf, to avoid melodrama. Then as the story progresses, our representative comes up with ever more tortured “rational explanations” for bizarre events, explanations that require us to be more imaginative and gullible than we would be if we simply accepted the supernatural. “I see what’s in front of me,” Faraday claims stoutly. For the love of God, the reader cries: wake up man, look behind you! The author has worked a spell. We now see that our guide and mentor is dull-witted, complacent, perhaps self-deceiving; we are turning the pages faster and faster.

On the one hand, I agree with both of these things–that ghost stories do boil down to an argument between believer and rationalist and that, if the author’s done her job, the person in the guide and mentor position does seem eventually dull-witted, complacent, and perhaps self-deceiving. (I should take a moment to note that, if all you know about The Little Stranger comes from the two paragraphs I quoted here, both of them seem to entirely misunderstand Dr. Faraday and what’s going on in the house, so don’t discount the book solely because these paragraphs make Faraday seem dull.)

But I can’t help but think that, unless you move the focus of the argument between the believer and the rationalist, you can’t set a haunted house story in the American South. What Southerner doesn’t love a good ghost story? Even if only as folklore? Who wouldn’t want to hear it? To see for him or herself if it can be experienced? Where would you find a Southern rationalist about ghosts?

The argument isn’t about whether there are ghosts or not. To me, it seems obvious that the argument is about which ghosts are there, why those stories get told, what they mean. In other words, it’s an argument between the history believer and the history rationalist.

The Houses I Looked At

Rich Hill

I spent the morning looking at old houses, trying to get a feel for how my haunted house should be laid out. Trying to decide which ones I should try to get in.

I came home and the Butcher put on the documentary, Rich Hill. I don’t really know what to say about it. It’s fantastic. It’s as clear a picture you’ll get for why I would never, ever live in a small town, especially not a small midwestern town. It’s so sad. Just a heartbreaking look at a bunch of boys whose lives and parents suck. The only decent parent in the whole movie is the mom in prison and her kid is a fucking mess.

Bah.

Yuck.

My heart is broken. How easy it is to be left behind like that. And why weren’t we? Mostly luck. It’s so easy to get trapped there.

Things are Different This Time

This is the start of the haunted house book. I'm taking a ton of notes. I'm thinking hard about the shape. I want it to be scary, which means managing the tension, which means having better control of the narrative than I usually do. I'm also going back to The Haunting of Hill House and The Red Tree, two of my favorites, to spend some time considering how they're done.

This is the start of the haunted house book. I’m taking a ton of notes. I’m thinking hard about the shape. I want it to be scary, which means managing the tension, which means having better control of the narrative than I usually do. I’m also going back to The Haunting of Hill House and The Red Tree, two of my favorites, to spend some time considering how they’re done.

The dog wanted his picture taken. This is what I ended up with. For some reason, it reminds me of a ship or a rock or some kind of landscape. I think, in part, because everything I consider recognizably dog--nose, eyes, ears, tail--is missing.

The dog wanted his picture taken. This is what I ended up with. For some reason, it reminds me of a ship or a rock or some kind of landscape. I think, in part, because everything I consider recognizably dog–nose, eyes, ears, tail–is missing.

The Stripey Afghan

I had a lot of yarn left over from the hexagon afghan. It’s now going into the stripey afghan which is due to be about a third stripes and two thirds the charcoal gray I love so much. But I’m ending up with a lot more stripes than I thought I’d have, so I’m now just striving for having it not equally stripes and charcoal gray. But I really love it. This may be the best batch of color picking I’ve ever done. Anyway, for those of you playing along at home, it’s just a basket weave made with a single crochet and a chain with the single crochet the other way going where the chain is. It lets you end up, when you’re using a hook this big, with a fairly solid blanket with a really nice drape and some give to it. It’s super easy and looks fantastic.

stripey 1 stripey 2

Snow and Thoughts

The snow blew the dog’s mind this morning. He kept putting his whole face in it and I could tell he kind of wanted to roll around in it but wasn’t sure how that would go. He kept looking back at me like “Is this really real?”

Then he got himself stuck on the porch, so it wasn’t his most shining moment. But it was still, for him, obviously, pretty cool.

I know you guys don’t really care why I’d move on to another novel without having sold either of my other two. First, if only for one reason–my writing has taken a dramatic leap forward in many ways from novel-writing. Two, though I would read a book like the Ben & Sue book and love it as it is right now, clearly it needs something more/else that I’m not in a position to identify.

If I have a book that works, that someone wants, maybe that someone will feel compelled to help me figure out how to make the Ben & Sue project cross the finish line.

Or maybe not.

The truth is that I don’t know. And I’ve talked to a lot of writers and no one knows. There isn’t a path. You don’t do x,y, and then z in order to make “being a writer” happen. Even if a bunch of people all look like they’re doing or have done x,y, and z, the other things they did that didn’t work but that they still needed to do in order to do the things that look like a “typical” writing career aren’t visible.

Plus, I can’t really move forward on the Nashvillains book until I’ve reckoned with how much Isaac Franklin bothers me.

The Kind of Day I’m Having

I have a long day and I won’t get home until late. At some point, I have to go pick up my prescriptions. I am bummed because I forgot my pills and, if I don’t take them with dinner, I feel shitty when I take them without food.

Just now.

I mean, just fucking now, four hours into my day, I realize–I have to go pick up my prescriptions. I just take pills from the new bottle with dinner.

Ta da.

More Snow

They’re predicting the kind of weather tomorrow into Thursday that makes me concerned I’ll be sitting here on my couch Thursday and Friday. Maybe I’ll get ambitious and clean the kitchen, which the Butcher informs me is not part of the dishwashing duties. This comes as a great shock, because, since he’s my brother, I grew up in the same house as him and hung out with his grandparents and I can assure you that we are at least the third generation of people who clean up the kitchen as we do the dishes.

Or at least, we were when I was doing the dishes.

It always makes me feel like a dumbass when I think about how chores happen in our house, because the Butcher could live in a junkyard and be fine. They always advise that roommate (or spouse) harmony comes from respecting the level of filth the other person in the house is willing to live with and, if you need it to be cleaner than that, doing it yourself.

They never explain how to keep from being the only person who cleans in that scenario.

And I’m not an incredibly clean person. I just have standards like “Maybe we shouldn’t just leave the garbage the dog took out of the can on the floor.”

Anyway, I’ve gotten off track because the thought of being here, trapped in this house again, is setting me on edge.

What I came here to say is I think I want to do it–write a ghost story. I mean, I’m old and I’m apparently not getting any more successful as a writer. I want to have written something genuinely scary and unsettling. So, I think I better do it.

Ghost Graduation

Trying to find a good spooky movie on Netflix is always something of a challenge. So, when we saw that a movie stupidly titled “Ghost Graduation” had over four stars, we were unconvinced. (The best horror movies on Netflix usually have a rating just under three stars, for some reason.)

But we watched it.

And it was fantastic! It was like, kind of, if Beetlejuice and The Breakfast Club had an affair and left their baby in Spain to be raised by rabid Bonnie Tyler fans.

I would love to know why Spain churns out such satisfying ghost stories. I thought The Orphanage was tremendous, intensely satisfying, and utterly horrible.

There are so many ghost stories I love–The Orphanage, The Haunting of Hill House, The Red Tree, Lake Mungo, The Devil’s Backbone–that I keep thinking I would like to try my hands at one. Not that I don’t already write ghost stories, but something spooky and sad and lovely.

I Don’t Even Like Zombies

I tend not to find zombies, the current pop culture zombies we have anyway, very scary. But holy shit, last night I had the worst zombie dream. I woke up early and took the dog for a walk (which was thwarted by the bog, but whatever) to clear my head.

We watched Battle Creek and I had mixed feelings. I love Dean Winters. I loved the whole Battle Creek police department. But I hated the FBI guy and the show doesn’t really feel very Battle Creek specific. They could benefit from doing a week-long ride-along with my uncle and learning where people hang out and what they talk about. Believe me, it’s just highly improbable that anyone could move to town–like the FBI guy did–and not have simply everyone he meets telling him about cereal and their connection to it.

It’s like when you live here and you know people in the music industry and in healthcare. You live in Battle Creek, someone works at Kellogg’s or Post. It’s a company town, pretty much. One of my dead uncles even lived in the Post company houses.

We were also laughing because it looked like their establishing shots were all taken within like five blocks of each other. So, yeah, clearly, they came to town. And clearly, they did not venture very far out of downtown. Which, considering how dominated by Kellogg’s the downtown is, makes the complete absence of cereal even stranger.

So, it’s quirky–the coffee cakes–but not quirky in the ways you’d expect–mentions of cereal, Sojourner Truth, the Seventh Day Adventists, etc.

I spent some time recently, too, listening to Nebraska as a whole album, not just stumbling across random songs from it. God, that’s a good album. But the person who had the idea that it’s a better, albeit more depressing, album if you listen to the songs in backwards order is right.

Done!

The afghan is finished! I'm trying not to be too judgmental, but I'm not in love with the way I mixed the hexagons. I'm probably the only one who will be dissatisfied with it, though, so I'm just going to stop being so nitpicky.

The afghan is finished! I’m trying not to be too judgmental, but I’m not in love with the way I mixed the hexagons. I’m probably the only one who will be dissatisfied with it, though, so I’m just going to stop being so nitpicky.

Many Irons in the Fire

The Butcher's scarf, a simple half-double crochet in green. Just waiting on the last skein to finish it up.

The Butcher’s scarf, a simple half-double crochet in green. Just waiting on the last skein to finish it up.

I'm now piecing this together, so it's very close to done.

I’m now piecing this together, so it’s very close to done.

This is not a great photo of the stripey afghan, but you can get the idea. It's going to be stripey and then charcoal gray.

This is not a great photo of the stripey afghan, but you can get the idea. It’s going to be stripey and then charcoal gray.

And then after this I have the yarn for an afghan for C and his wife. So, I guess I’m assuming it’s going to be cold and/or rainy for a bit more.

Battle Creek

Four generations of Phillipses rot in the ground in Battle Creek, Michigan. I dream so deeply and frequently about my grandma’s house there on Bradley I worry I haunt it.

Battle Creek has always been a kind of mythic place for me, where all the stories my dad told about his childhood took place.

So, I’m excited that “Battle Creek” is supposed to be good. I can’t wait to watch it.

And I Don’t Have Enough Yarn for My Scarf

On the one hand, it looks good. On the other hand, I need another skein.

I teased the Butcher too much this morning and hurt his feelings. And now I feel like a cad. But he’s always telling me that I ruin my meanness by not sticking the landing, so I don’t know.

We’re having a fight because he thinks the dog is getting fat, so we need to feed him less. I don’t think the dog is getting fat, but I think that, if we’re concerned that he is, we could take him to the park more and switch him to a higher-protein less-grain food. And stop feeding him pizza crusts.

But I’m being unreasonable.

I did accuse the Butcher of having Doggie Dismorphic Disorder, but our fight was really about my ongoing midlife crisis and my feeling like he has a life on my dime while I sit at home and fret about how to keep things together. Because I feed the dog and, lately, have been the one walking him. So, I feel like the Butcher is accusing me of not taking proper care of the dog while he does nothing to take care of the dog.

Which is objectively not true. But it’s a fight about being trapped together during a long winter.

So, you know, ugly stuff.

And I don’t really want to be a more outgoing person. But I’m jealous of the ease at which he meets people and how there are always people who want to hang out with him. And I want things to happen for me, but I feel instead like a big old weirdo just spinning my wheels.

Ever Onward

Well, yesterday was kind of an existential low point. But, as they say in The Crow, it can’t rain all the time.

And tonight I’m going to make the Butcher a scarf. Then I will finish up the hexagon afghan.

I Have Failed

I haven’t been able to walk lately. The weather’s been shitty. The house looks like a garbage tornado hit it. And I’m just down. I was telling a friend this morning that I feel both like I’ve failed to accomplish anything with my life and failed to protect myself from fools. And that just feels kind of unbearable.

The refrigerator leaks. The oven door is still busted. I’m missing a hubcap thanks to all our new potholes. But I need to do my taxes before I spend any extra money. So, I just have to live for a while in my rickety state of crap.

I told the Butcher this morning I feel like I’m having a midlife crisis. Like the kind of midlife crisis that leads people to come home with convertibles and 20-year-olds. So, put car theft and kidnapping on my list of things to do, I guess.

I’m 40 years old and I still don’t have money. I have more money than I used to. But I still can’t fix my problems when they happen.

I don’t know why it burns me so much, but it does.

Also, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that Project X has been pushed back again.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I really don’t.

Things I Wanted to Mention

–I spent the afternoon at the retinologist. All looks fine. He thinks the flashes are some other, old-age thing. Since I hate new things, I am afraid of dying (not being dead, mind you, just dying), so I don’t appreciate the reminders that there’s no going back.

–I massively improved a story this weekend by changing a “one day, last summer” to “yesterday.”

–The weird thing about being a writer is that you never really know if no one wants to publish you because you’re not very good or if no one wants to publish this particular story because it just doesn’t strike their fancy. This feeling, apparently, never goes away.

–I am about to have a ridiculous number of crochet projects in the works. I’m stalled on the hexagons until my yarn arrives. I promised the Butcher I would make him a scarf. He has now procured the yarn he wants for that, so I have to set aside everything and knock that out this week. But, in the meantime, I have started a stripey afghan.

–They’ve switched the generic on my birth control pills and I dislike it for a couple of reasons. One, they’ve given the pills a slight minty flavor. I don’t really want my medicine to taste like weak breath mints. I find it disconcerting. It doesn’t taste like it can possibly be doing anything. The second is that it doesn’t really curb my PMS, so I got all weepy on Sunday because the Butcher took the dog over to his friend’s house and I was convinced that the dog would like this friend better than me and never come home.

–I miss walking in the mornings. I can’t wait for the mud to subside.

Families

One thing I was struck by when working on the Scene piece, which I didn’t write about but tried to indicate indirectly, was just how much work was happening for social justice in families. JC Napier’s parents, for instance, worked really, really hard to get James and his peers educated for a Nashville they could barely imagine and never got to see come to pass. James worked his ass off for a Nashville he never got to see come to pass. Each generation working to make a better future they would never see. They moved the ball down the field, but they often knew they wouldn’t be alive to see if they scored.

And it strikes me, watching these families working that long game, how important it is for white supremacy to pathologize black families–to tear them apart and then pretend that torn apart is their natural state–because the nation gets changed because of the generations’ long strategies of black families. Someone willing to work toward a goal she will not accomplish, but that her grandchildren might, is really powerful. Normally, you break a person by destroying their ability to reach their goal. If they already know they aren’t going to reach it, but that they just need to make some strides toward it and trust that it puts the next generation in a better position for when they set out for the goal, how do you break them?

If you can’t break a person working toward something for his family, you throw his family into disarray.

Opinions, Assholes, etc.

Partly because I’m bored and cabin-fevery, but partly just because I stupidly read the comments on my Scene story, I’ve been mulling over why someone would bother to read a whole story only to complain that she didn’t really find those figures worth a story.

I mean, once you realize you don’t give a shit about the story, why keep reading it? And once you realize you don’t give a shit about the story, what do you think you’re accomplishing by making a public remark about it? Differences in philosophy–“I think you should have covered x, not y”–or anger at my being incorrect–“That’s my dad and you made it seem like he believes x, when really he believes y.” I get. I even get, to some extent, “Wow, this is really bad writing on a good subject.”

But I am fascinated by the “this story just didn’t do it for me” approach to commenting. The world is not a critiquing circle. You’re not obliged to comment on everything.

I’m really torn. On the one hand, I love that the internet has given people I wouldn’t otherwise ordinarily hear from a way to communicate with me frequently. And I do think that there’s been an important democratizing effect. Everyone can have their say.

But that doesn’t mean that we need to hear from everyone on everything. Like, if you read something and you’re like “Well, that didn’t really suit my taste,” that’s an important bit of information for you–the person who has to decide what kind of stuff is worth your time and energy–but unless you’ve asked me to write something specifically for you, it’s not really my business or my problem if it didn’t suit your taste.

I might be reading too much into this–I have spent a lot of time in my house lately–but I really wonder if this isn’t some manifestation of white supremacy–the assumption that everything created is created for you and, therefore, your realization that something doesn’t suit you does seem like a problem the creator needs to know about.

I don’t know. It just strikes me as such a weird approach to thing that I wonder about what motivates a person to persist in doing it.

My Life, In One Picture

Also, just to give you some context, remember that I just finished the never-ending afghan February 1st. Which I started before Thanksgiving. Now, granted, I have been cooped up in the house all week, so I’m doing more crocheting than I might normally, but here it is February 20th and by lunch, I’ll be ready to piece this one together.

I won’t be piecing it together because I’m out of charcoal yarn and I’m not driving anywhere until it gets back above freezing. But I could.

And there was a lot of end tucking!

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