Family Things

I talked to my cousin for a long time last night. Her dog is dying. She’s bummed. But the other thing is that she’s pissed kind of existentially that the family we were all told we have is not the family we have. And I admit to finding it a little illuminating and befuddling to be sitting on this end of that conversation. Because, damn, man, have I sat at her end. A lot. A long time.

So, I had nothing comforting to tell her, which I found interesting and alarming.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m not making my point clear. But I guess what I’m trying to get at is the ways in which I am constantly assuming knowledge is power–to know something is to have power over it. To understand it is to reduce its ability to fuck you up.

Those things are not true. Knowing all the subtleties of a thing, all the minor details, all the facts (or even, in my case, just many of them, not even a majority but more than some know) does not make you immune to being hurt, still, by them.

Having thought a lot about a thing does not, in this case, make it easier for me, or even possible, to say something that will make it make sense.

All this work I’ve done hasn’t really moved me beyond things and I don’t feel like it’s given me skills to help someone else resolve it.

I guess I don’t believe in resolution. That’s where I’ve gotten after all this time. Resolution and catharsis are attractive fictions, but they’re fictions.

Things Settle

The cats are coming in the house in shifts, I guess so that they’re able to rest while the black dog gets hissed at non-stop. Sonnyboy has been eating the black dog’s food like he’s some kid of metaphor for Western Imperialism, but this morning, the black dog, who doesn’t normally eat breakfast, ate Sonnyboy’s breakfast.

The Return to Hill House afghan lived through the wash! It’s sitting in the dryer as we speak, and I’ll have to go take it out here in a second and declare the afghan either a success or a failure.

I finished a chapter in Ashland that makes me wonder if my book is about to include ghost fucking and, indeed, if ghost fucking would be considered a type of haunting or, instead, a very specific type of possession.

The Next Afghan

Whoa, I just did a test square to see how it was going to work. I love it.

Here's every skein of yarn in this color way I could find in Madison.

Here’s every skein of yarn in this color way I could find in Madison.

Here's the test square. I'm stunned and happy.

Here’s the test square. I’m stunned and happy.

Tired

The visiting dog was a barking mess all night. I’m tired today. I’m also kind of pissed that the dog is going to be here for “a couple of weeks” and the cats are hiding in the garage. I know, last time, the cats eventually were like “fuck it” and came in the house and made their peace with the dog. And I know that will happen again.

But I still don’t like this part.

Tennessee Marble

Southern Rambles is a great blog to find out about cool Tennessee things. Today, they’re taking about a history of Tennessee marble, which I didn’t even know was a thing. But this is cool how a rock quarried in East Tennessee by a small community of families influenced fireplaces and the state capitol across the state. I also didn’t realize there were houses made of marble. That’s awesome.

Thinking Things

I’m very close to done with the Return to Hill House afghan.

I’ve got another afghan in mind. Simpler but pretty, I think.

And I just found out that my brother’s divorce is final. My sister-in-law is no longer my sister-in-law!

Wow.

The Grave of the Tullahoma Witch

I went down to Tullahoma today to look for the grave of a supposed witch. Even knowing right where I was going and even having my phone yell at me when to make turns, it was still nearly impossible to find. And there were a ton of crows and it was really creepy. I parked, walked in, and even though it was totally empty and my view of the empty cemetery was completely unobstructed, I felt like someone was right behind me a couple of times. I took pictures of what I hope will turn out to be complete emptiness when I felt the most like someone had to be right there.

I found the “witch”‘s grave easily enough and I saw right away that this was a grave where people are still working magic. Someone had left flowers; people had left coins; there’s the kind of minor vandalism you expect from people when there’s something “magic” that they might take with them.

I was thrilled. I have been wanting to see a working grave in Tennessee since I got here. Everything that indicates that we could still have them is here–a long tradition of African American root workers/folk magicians, a long tradition of white granny medicine, the African-American hoodoo obsession with graveyards and graveyard dirt, the white folk tradition of using skulls and bones for medicine, and a tradition of fearsome witches (and fearsome witches never rest easy in the grave). So, it sure seemed like somewhere, someone must be going to the cemetery, calling on some dead person to help work the kind of magic that needs a magic worker on both sides of the veil, and leaving an offering either during or afterwards. Someone’s got to be doing the old school folk magic.

I looked and I looked, but I never did, before today, see it in Tennessee (I saw it in New Orleans at Marie Laveau’s grave, of course).

Just as an aside, it occurs to me that one reason they may be so hard to find is that we don’t have a lot of old time witches and our most famous one–the Bell Witch–well, there’s a huge taboo on revealing where her grave is. How huge a taboo? No one in Adams will tell you where it is–in my experience anyway. And even though the location is now on the internet, no pictures of the grave have surfaced as far as I can tell.

Anyway, here’s what I saw (or didn’t, as the case may be)

Ends Tucked

The ends are tucked. The first column of squares is together. If I weren’t going off in search of a witch’s grave today, the Return to Hill House afghan could be finished this very day. But soon!

I’m also 30,000 words into Ashland. I feel good about that.

rthh6

Yesterday

I had a lunch meeting at Lucky Belly, whose tuna burger is so good it could make me stray from beef forever. The bun is perfect. The spicing is well done. It’s not overly salty. The pickled onions actually seemed to be adding something interesting to the dish, rather than just being pickled for the sake of having some kind of pickle on the burger.

And I got to have an awesome conversation with a couple of book publicists who are just so nice and interesting. And I got to hear good gossip. I loaded them down with copies of A City of Ghosts, because I haven’t bothered to take the box out of my backseat yet.

And then I had sushi for dinner and the roll I had was so good–crab and avocado and roe–that I wished I’d ordered like five rolls and just ate until I died.

And then I went over to Parnassus to see Nicki Wood talk about her new cookbook (and to gossip with a friend who had good Cragfont ghost stories to tell me). And my god, Nicki was fantastic. Just at ease and funny and deeply insightful about southern cooking and its history. And she has hopes and dreams for southern cooking, which, you know, is just not really how I think about food, so that kind of blew my mind.

But, as an author, I was really glad to get to see her do her thing, because book events aren’t easy and they aren’t something someone at my level gets to do regularly enough to feel like they’re well-practiced at it. So, seeing someone who’s just so fucking boss about it and who is someone I know and like a great deal, well, it just feels kind of aspirational–like if Nicki can do this, it’s something I can learn to do, because it’s really fucking pleasant for her audience and I want my stuff to be pleasant for my audience.

Also, the podium at Parnassus has a crystal ball and I want to someday stand behind that podium and ponder that ball with and in front of a crowd.

Working, Working, Working

Sorry things have been so light here. I’m just working on the Return to Hill House afghan and stealing alone time when I can to work on Ashland. Since my alone time is usually for blogging, well, obviously, blogging’s getting neglected a little.

Chagrined

I’ve started tucking ends on the Return to Hill House afghan and I’m already noticing that the squares lie a lot flatter than they did on the first afghan. Also, I really like how the middle looks. It’s a subtle difference, but the squares have small gaps. The small gap in the middle just goes along with it.

So, here’s what chagrins me. Why would you construct a square in a way that falls apart in the wash if constructing it with a knot at the start looks better and lays better and won’t fall apart (knock on wood)?

Lunch

I love going over to Two Boots for lunch and just observing people. I’m not sure why it’s the kind of place that makes people relax and be worth observing, but it’s really excellent.

I could really use time off, even if I can’t (yet) afford to go on a real vacation and I’m kind of thinking of taking a week and forcing myself to do a historical home and lunch people-observing every day. I think that would be good for the book. And, I think, if I committed to it and didn’t just say “Ugh, I’m going to sit at home on the couch because I’m lazy” I would enjoy it.

Oh, This is Why I Do This

Yesterday, I had a lovely lunch with friends, then I wrote a chapter for Ashland that just went exactly how I wanted it to. No doubting, no stopping to check Twitter, no getting up to clean the bathroom. Just me, that screen, and all the words I wanted to get out.

I also finished all the Return to Hill House squares. Now on to the end-tucking. I’m listening to the audio book of A Head Full of Ghosts as I work on the afghan and it’s terrific. The voice actor they have reading it is just amazing. And I’m definitely picking up on things that I didn’t give enough weight to when reading. I’m especially starting to wonder about the younger daughter’s stomach problems and her sleeping in her clothes.

I just really want Ashland to be good enough to get published. Or eye-catching enough, or something. And I really want to figure out how to make that happen. So, I’m studying.

My Trip to Cragfont

Today I went out to Cragfont and, let me tell you, that was the best $5 I have spent in a long time. I was the only person there, so the curator, the guy who’s been responsible for the home for the past three and a half decades, showed me the house. Just me. I got a personalized tour.

I really wanted to focus on the house itself. Not that the Winchesters aren’t interesting and, hey, thanks for Memphis, but I wanted to walk around a house just a little older than Ashland would be, if it were a real place. A house like this or the Hermitage is more of the style of Ashland than later homes.

When Cragfont was built, it was the largest home in Middle Tennessee, which, by today’s standard’s is not that large. But it has three rooms downstairs–a front ladies parlor, Winchester’s office, and a large sitting room that takes up the whole other side of the house. It’s also built in a lollypop shape, so there’s a kind of middle entrance hall with stairs going up to the ballroom, then the dining room and then the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen is the smokehouse. Yes, all attached. In the early 1800s.

Which, of course, was my first source of questions. But the construction of the house is ungodly amazing. It’s all limestone. All of it. Every wall and those walls are at least a foot thick, I’d estimate. So, what worry did the Winchesters have of fire? I assume the house was built to withstand Indian attack, even though it was built after relative peace had broken out. I mean it’s clearly intended to be a fortress. And the cook slept above the kitchen, which, to me, is another sign that they didn’t want to risk losing a valuable, skilled slave to attack.

The stars on the building are the outside ends of long metal poles put through the house to hold it together during an earthquake. Much to my delight, these went in after the 1812 earthquake. Because, of course they did.

I also think the rock served to keep the house a steady temperature–like building yourself a giant, above-ground cave.

Also cool is that much of the stuff that’s painted in the house is painted with a buttermilk-based paint. The greens are buttermilk and various plants. The reds are buttermilk and… ready?… goat’s blood. Hell yes, I’m stealing that.

I was really impressed by how much he talked about the slave labor and basically how it made the house possible.

I had heard that Cragfont is ridiculously haunted, but I have to tell you, he’d been having such problems with things falling off the walls and it was so creepy in parts of the house–the front hallway, for instance–and we were in there all alone, so I just didn’t have the guts.

But it was beautiful and awesome and I’m so glad I went.

I would love to get into Fairview, too, even though it’s been substantially remodeled.

As I Went Walking that Ribbon of Highway

It’s going to be so close, whether I have enough yarn. So very close. In an effort to try to ensure that I have enough yarn, I’m working on the last twelve squares simultaneously, so I can use up all the yarn I have very, very little of on the middles. Then the yarn I have very little of on the next row, and so on out to the row where I hopefully have enough yarn to complete the borders. But, man, I don’t know.

I am still kind of an emotional mess over yesterday. Between gay marriage and listening to the President sing Amazing Grace at a funeral, I just felt so happy and sad and proud and all the emotions. Watching all the pictures of people getting married stream by in social media just made me feel so happy and so confused about why anyone would want to shit on this for someone else.

I heard conservatives threatening that this was going to galvanize their side like abortion did and I just think that’s not true and they have to know it. It’s like interracial marriage or marriages between people of two faiths. Some people won’t approve and some people won’t do them, but otherwise, it’s a non-issue.

And this morning I woke to pictures of Bree Newsome climbing the flagpole in Charleston to take down the Confederate flag. And I just felt so proud and honored to get to witness this moment in American history. Yes, it’s corny. Yes, they put it back up. But I don’t care. We are a country that makes a great promise to its people and the world and we mostly, thoroughly fail to deliver on that.

But sometimes, in fits and starts, we start to deliver.

Oh my god! I have Bruce Springsteen-itis!

Writing

It’s tough going on Ashland at the moment. Or maybe has been all along. I’m surprised to find myself second-guessing everything and having to remind myself that this is just a rough first draft of a form I have never tried before. But I’m worried my POV character is not very interesting. But then I also kind of feel like, let’s get the blocks of the plot in place and make sure that works, before we worry about fixing things that can be fixed on edit.

I am closer to the end of the Return to Hill House afghan. I have,  by my reckoning, thirteen squares left. Because who’s not looking forward to getting an afghan in July?

Also, it’s official, official. F&SF bought my story and announced it.

A Brief Thing About History

My feeling this week is that a lot of people in this country had thought they’d managed to stand in front of history as its caretakers, pointing people only to the things the caretakers wanted them to notice, and they called that “honoring the past.” And what they did not know is that a lot of people have been remembering a lot of things the caretakers thought they’d managed to erase.

“Knee-jerk.”

What you didn’t know is that knee’s been jerking for a hundred and fifty years. Often, at the end of a noose.

And we never forgot. Never, ever.

PC is putting a man who massacred Tennesseans in our state capitol because you don’t want to offend people who like him.

Jesus.

Don’t talk to me about knee-jerk PC reactions.

Should He Ever Catch a Bunny

Sometimes I think of how Sonnyboy did not even know how to run when we first got him, especially when he’s running after bunnies. I feel kind of bad about letting him chase them, but I don’t believe he’s ever going to catch one, so I hope they enjoy a good “whooo” first thing in the morning, as their heartbeats pick up and they sprint for the underbrush. And I enjoy watching him go and the way he circles back to me, big smile on his face, tongue lolling out, like “Damn, that was awesome.”

I think about how, when I was little, I’d get a new pair of shoes and I’d zip around the shoe store, convinced that I was running faster than I ever had before. Zip zip zip.

And I know he never had that. Today, when he took off after those rabbits and he ran as fast as I’ve ever seen him run, that was as fast as he’d ever ran. It was a countable number of times he’d ever run in his whole life. I didn’t count, so I don’t know. but less than 100. He’s run less than 100 times in his whole life. And every time he has run, it’s been with us, since we’ve owned him.

The other thing that amazes me, and would have greatly surprised me when we first got him and he was all “eyes? whatever. Who cares about eyes? I just use mine to feel your feet with.” is that he sees those rabbits, fifty yards off, and he looks for them as soon as we get to the AT&T yard.

I don’t know. Maybe one day he will figure out how to catch one and I’ll feel bad about not putting a stop to it.

But right now, I love to watch him do it. I love to see how happy it makes him.

Confederate Things

1. I argue we should stop providing racists cover.

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

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