“Their Culture”

I think, if parents are begging you to stop something and kids are trying to shoot their way out of their circumstances, then, no, this pedophilia is not “their culture.”

The sad and upsetting part is that, if we allow pedophiles to bring their victims to our bases and we require our troops to look the other way and punish them if they don’t, then it is “our culture.”

But, yes, let’s have more war, always war, continuous war. Remind me again why the Taliban was worse than this?


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.


This morning I was listening to Keith Richards singing “Good Night Irene” and I swear I remember my Grandpa Phillips singing that when I was a little girl. The gravel in his voice.

But I find it kind of baffling now, to think of my grandfather singing at all.

So, I wonder if that was true, if it really happened.

But, if it didn’t, how did I come to know the song?


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.

Ankle Sprain

rufus1 rufus 2

I think you can see the lump on Sonnyboy’s left front leg. He seems to have sprained his leg. He’s licking his lips because I gave him his pill in a bunch of peanut butter. He’s supposed to be on bedrest and he might have to go to the vet tomorrow. He was limping last night, but this morning, he seemed much better. I took him for his walk and then I thought I would maybe give him a baby aspirin just to ease any lingering pain. But when he got off the couch to get it, he was limping even worse than he was last night.

I called the vet. They agreed that it was probably a sprain and they prescribed him some medicine. Hopefully, it should ease his pain and reduce swelling.

The thing I admire about this dog–the thing that got us into this mess–is that he’s happy to do whatever you want to do. You want to go for a walk? Okay. You doing something in the kitchen that needs company? Okay. Car ride? Okay. And he doesn’t let his own discomfort get in the way. But it’s also stupid because he ended up in a worse mess than he was in.

But here’s the other thing. The Butcher and I were trying to figure out where he was hurt last night and I know I squeezed that area that is swollen today, because it was wet and I suspected he was licking at something that was bothering him. He didn’t even flinch. Like the automatic response you can’t control? He didn’t do it.

It reminded me of back when he’d just put his eyeball right on my foot. I mean, there has to be some reflex that causes you to pull back when you’ve misplaced your damn eyeball onto a foot! But he never did.

I wonder if he’s missing that reflex?


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.

It’s Easy to Love an Obedient Dog

This week is very busy and stressful. The dog has been walking like an angel.

I understand the appeal of throwing oneself into a fundamentalist religion. It’s really hard when you look at what life has dealt you and you feel conflicted and you’re not sure what to do. There’s something nice about having someone in authority at times like this say “You can’t do that because you’re a woman” or “You have to do that.”

Then you can either be pissed of and do it anyway (and thus ends your short experiment with fundamentalist religion) or you don’t do it. Either way, the path becomes clear.

But when your ethos is be happy if you can figure out how to, be honorable, if possible, and be good to others when you can, there come crossroads where which street to take is just not clear.

You can, I suppose, guess where I’m standing today.

Orange Cat, Yellow Dog

When the black dog is here, Sonnyboy follows him around outside, peeing where he’s peed, sometimes attempting to get beneath him to prevent him from peeing on anything but Sonnyboy. It’s weird, but who can understand the ways of dogs? It’s also nice because, when you call the black dog, who knows his name and comes when he’s called, the yellow dog follows.

He’s not bright and he kind of prefers someone else to be in charge. No shame in that, Sonnyboy.

Yesterday, he tried to follow the cat around the yard in the same manner. Which shows the limits to the “I’ll let you pee on me, if you just tell me what to do,” approach to life. Because cat pee stinks. I owe the cat one for failing to deliver.

Kevin Gordon

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

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

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


Here was another weird thing that happened in Memphis. My hotel’s elevators had glass backs. I did not have a panic attack, even once taking it. I also walked down the stairs at the venue. Literally walked. Not the usual right foot down, left foot next to it, right foot down, left foot next to it.

I know that both things have an enormous psychological component. Fine, I can’t do those things.

But I kind of don’t know what to make of the reprieve. Obviously, something shifted. Am I eating less sugar? Did some hormone fluctuate? Is there some kind of chemical explanation?

And how long will it last? I have a hard time believing that I’m just not wigged out by that stuff anymore. Or that I never will be again.

Back From Memphis

I’m back from Memphis. It was lovely. I ate this delicious tuna taco that blew my mind. I caught up with old friends. I saw surprising people in the bathroom. I read a ghost story and the audience loved it and it felt like magic. I moderated a panel and it was really interesting and gave me a lot to think about on the way home.

Speaking of the drive home, everyone should drive 100 from Nashville to Memphis-ish once in their lives (or the other direction), if only to see what happens when TDOT says “fuck this old road, fuck it so hard. I’m done. No more curves, no more turns, no more taking the landscape into account. You just pave the fuck over whatever is between here and there.” Highway 100 out there in the middle of west Tennessee is as straight as a Midwestern road. I’m sure whole towns got paved over. Hills. People’s pets. They did not care.

If it’s the straightest road in Tennessee for the longest length, I would not be surprised.

I had a lot of time to think out there, on that unnaturally straight road.

Off to Memphis

I’m headed to Memphis, which seems a nice way to spend a day. I’m trying to arrange for some kind of adventure while also avoiding being stuck too much in the rain.

If you’re at the Mid South Book Festival, please be sure to say hello. I’ll be leaving shortly after lunch in order to get home before dark, as is my way, but I’ll be around all morning.


I got all caught up in Pith hullabaloo and I forgot to blog yesterday.

This weekend is the Midsouth Book Festival over in Memphis and I’m moderating a panel. I’m very excited and nervous.

The dogs and cats have reached some kind of understanding, but I still have to feed the cats behind the drum set, because they won’t come that far out of hiding. I imagine, if we set them up a secret path throughout the whole house, where they could just sneak around without being seen, they’d be quite happy.

I had no idea that fake NPR-ish supernatural podcasts were a whole genre, but they appear to be. I’m kind of excited about Limetown, and not just because it’s set in Tennessee and seems sort of aware of our history as a place for hidden government facilities and failed utopias.

I’m letting Ashland percolate while I have a busy couple of weeks. But then I’m diving in to revisions. I’m considering going down to Ravenswood and sitting on the porch again to do some. I looked into what it might cost to rent it for the day, just to be able to sit inside it and work, but the deposit! Holy shit. I mean, I just want to sit in a chair in a corner and type and occasionally wander around and check out views and such. Not bring 250 people in there for a wedding.

So, if any of you have an 1820s 8-room antebellum mansion you’d let me write in for free or for maybe $100, please holler.

Ha ha ha.

I’m too poor to even get in dead rich people’s houses.

Ten Hours

Y’all, I went to bed at 8 p.m. and slept soundly until the Butcher’s alarm went off shortly after 5. I then fell immediately back to sleep and slept until my alarm went off forty-five minutes later.

I feel fantastic.

And both cats are in the house along with the dogs. And no one is barking or hissing, so that’s nice.

Walking the Dogs

I plan to spend my day in a haze of grouchy exhaustion, doing laundry. That wasn’t my intended way of spending the day, but the Butcher and I seem to have had a misunderstand of just who is responsible for the black dog that belongs to his friends when he tells them “we” would be happy to dogsit. And so, when the dog spent three hours barking in the middle of the night, it was me who was home alone to try to deal with him.

I’m not ashamed to say that, after hours of tired trial and error, the solution was to drug him and turn on music so that he could not hear whatever it was that he was barking at outside.

Unfortunately, I had a difficult time sleeping soundly through the music. And then everyone needed to go outside at 6 this morning anyway, because that’s what time they go out.

So, dear readers, I decided they needed to go for a walk. Yes, both of them. At the same time. One of whom I have never walked before.

And I only almost cried once!

Sonnyboy was amazing. Like, disconcertingly amazing. Like all the lessons we’d been learning totally kicked in to overdrive. He came when he was called. He got his leash on. He didn’t tug. He walked nicely by my side. The whole left side of my body was having the best dog walk we’ve ever been on. Which was good because, sweet Jesus, the black dog was a tugging, twisting nightmare.

And then I don’t know what happened, but it kind of clicked in for him, too.

We didn’t go as far as we normally do, but everyone pooped and no one peed on each other.

The thing about the black dog, aside from being a fretful mess, is that he’s very, very bright. So, he understands how doors work. When he sincerely needs to go out and isn’t just being a giant nervous baby, he puts his paw on the door knob. Which, I admit, I find slightly terrifying. If he had thumbs, he would not need people.

We got back, we had breakfast. Everyone needed an intensive face scratching and now those fuckers are asleep. Where I’d like to be, but I am, instead, awake and getting on with my grouchy day.

I’m Missing a Door, Possibly Two

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

Making My Own Writing Retreat

This weekend, I’m going to go sit on the porch of Ravenswood and think about revisions. I might tour Carnton. I can’t decide. I hate those stairs. As I hate most stairs. But I hate those stairs.

I read that Joe Hill writes his book and then, once he has a handle on what all the problems are, he just rewrites it, fresh, not using the old first draft even as a guide. I guess then he picks and chooses from between the two versions what he likes best. I kind of envy that and find it frightening. More what I want is to make room for something to grow along side my draft in my brain.

Of all the things in the book, I am the least concerned about the house. I could walk it in my sleep. But I still feel like sitting at a house like that is useful. And finding one the right age is tricky.

On an unrelated note, I haven’t forgotten about October. I just don’t have anything terribly cool lined up for ye olde blog. I do, however, have a couple of uncool things, I think.

Back to the Black Book

If you want an illustration of how Ashland is going, I set aside my baby blanket after a gross miscalculation about how much yarn I would need and started an old-fashioned granny square, something that would sit in my hands and require no thought.

Reports from my readers are coming in and, I swear, even when you say to yourself, “Yeah, something’s not quite right here and here and here but I can’t figure out what it is” and then you say “Hey, guys, can you help me?” when they say “Yeah, something’s not quite right here and here and here and I think it’s this and this and this,” my immediate reaction is “Why does everyone hate me and think I suck?” Like, seriously. At this point, having been through this a few times, I know the feeling will pass. But it’s ridiculous.

I’m going to say that, in a way, I kind of get the Puppies. Not in the slating or the cozying up to that Nazi, but I get the massive amount of pouty hurt that they run around with. I feel that same pouty hurt. I totally get the impulse to say “Well, why can’t my shitty thing be good enough? Lots of shitty things are good enough! Fuck it! My shitty thing is good enough and I will destroy everyone who says it isn’t!”

Plus, that approach has its victories. It’s satisfying.

Whereas, the thing I have to do now is not satisfying. It’s scary. I have to crack this thing open and fix a lot of things. And, at the end of all that work, there’s no guarantee that it will be good enough.

That sucks and, like I said, is scary. But that’s the way to get to where I want to go.

So, I’m moving the black book full of notes back into my purse and I’m back to mulling and mulling and making granny squares with my hands so my mind can focus on other crap.

There Was a Secret Society in the Secret Society

This story about these folks who cracked this 250-year-old code is really, really neat. And that they might have been a secret-society front for the Masons is even neater.

One nice thing about living in Tennessee is that I might, indeed, someday have to join a secret society in order to talk about dangerous ideas like “my vagina is not your property” and “I like smart people.” I already have the rest of the members of my order picked out.

Two Things Have Happened–One Semi-Expected and One Not

  1. I am teaching the dog to come when he’s called, specifically so that I can put a leash on him for our walks. This has been somewhat frustrating, because he just so steadfastly refused to get it for so long, but also, I thought, if there was anything he was going to get, it was coming when he was called to the leash because he and I both enjoy walks. We needed just to make it from one happy scenario–running around the back yard like a wild man–to another happy scenario–going for a leashed walk–with the transition being he came when he was called. The reward–the walk–was built into the problem. It has taken some time, but he seems to now have it down. Today, I said his name and “let’s put on your leash” and he came right over to me so I could put on his leash. Score one for us.
  2. After our walk, I was putting away something in the yard while Sonnyboy was lollygagging in the garage. I came back from the shed and he was no longer in the garage. I looked over to the neighbor’s and there he was. I said “Okay, [his real name], come here.” Once! I said it once! And he did. And I died. And I am writing this to you from dog heaven, where dogs come when they’re called and get leashes for walks like pros. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic. But I at least think, after two long years, either he has kind of learned his name or he at least is like “Oh, that girl is making noises. This could be interesting.” Either one is okay with me.

There’s a Reason You Let Chili Simmer

I was so hungry last night that I whooped up some chili and we ate it. Skipping the part where it simmers for a half an hour or an hour or an afternoon or four freezing days or however long.

And it was… interesting. You’d eat a bite and it would be bland. Then another bite would be very salty. Then another that would be a different kind of spicy. And then there’s a big clump of tomato paste.

It was still tasty, but we laughed. It will be delicious tonight.

Did I Discover White Joe Pye Weed?

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

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

joe pye1 joe pye2

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

I did almost nothing this weekend. I mean, I did it hard. I basically sat on the couch and played Civilization until I’d crawled so far in my head I had no choice but to crawl back out. The dog and I went for walks. I read some. But basically, I spent the weekend trying to get my brain to shut off.

Which, ha, is terrible, because there will come a time when I spend days trying to get my brain to turn back on, but that’s life.

The kids saw crawdads eating a snake skin. The crows alighted on lamp posts just ahead of me. I delivered the tripping jaguar afghan and it looks perfect in the room it was made to go in. I couldn’t be more pleased.

As I was walking this morning, the mist rose out of the hills in a layer, like someone was lifting a blanket. And it reminded me of “Beyond, Behind, Below,” which, maybe, is not my best story, but it’s the best I’ve ever done saying something true about this place, right here, and how it seems like it could be.

The Tripping Jaguar Dries on My Bed

HOLY SHIT! I want to make ten of these. Maybe not ten. But damn. Damn. Damn.

finished jaguar 1

Here’s the whole thing, laying on towels, drying out.

finished jaguar 2

Here it is up closer. You can see that some of the squares aren’t lying flat, which is probably always going to be a slight issue for the afghan, unless it surprises me in the next few hours.

finished jaguar 3

I think what I really like about it is how the self-striping yarn and the imperfect nature of the squares works together to really make it seem as if all parts are interesting to look at.

finished jaguar 4

Even the back turned out really lovely.

jaguar stripes

But see what I mean? Here’s the exact same yarn, just worked up into rows. And it’s fine, possibly lovely, even. It will make a cheery baby blanket for a winter baby. But it doesn’t quite do it the way the squares do.