30 November 2013

0 (10)

'And so he really was stuck by lightening,' said Avril, at long last solving the long unsolved mystery of how great grandfather's sister's husband had died. 

Marietta exhaled. 'Don't let's tell Melly Marvel! You know how morbid she can be.'

For Melly Marvel had recently taken to collecting deaths like other kids collected Barbies. 

It started when she lay in Marietta's lap, feigning sleep, while Marietta and Avril sat on the front veranda sipping iced tea and talking about the recent death of a friend of a friend's friend. 

'She just leaned her head back in the police car after the wreck, like you do, you know? When you're in the backseat and you're looking up at the stars? Just leaned it back like that and it killed her. Becuase they'd not known her neck was broke.'

Melly Marvel would think of this story often. Later, in college, while riding the dark Mississippi roads with friends, she'd be in the back seat, looking up at the stars thinking of her mother's friend of a friend's friend who'd died because she'd looked up at the stars, not knowing her neck was broken. 

The South was like that, you see. There was always death. But not just death, weird and awful death. Like the guy who got the Spanish influenza and died of slit wrists and a slit throat. It was ruled a suicide, and Melly Marvel always wondered how he had time to slit so many things before bleeding to death. 

Then there was Williamson's sister, who'd been taken away while the rest of the family was working in the fields. She'd just disappeared, never to be heard from again. 

What Melly Marvel learned from this was that people would leave, often, and they wouldn't just walk out the door. No. Southerners were more creative. They loved them some spectacle. 

Melly Marvel's absolute favorite was the story she'd heard of her mother's cousin who fell in the lake. All that was left of him was his boots, standing straight stuck up in the mud as though he had been raptured from them. 

29 November 2013

0 (5)

Melly Marvel wasn't actually her name, as I've mentioned. She came by the name on accident. Her full name was Hope Melanie Marvel Sprawling.

Phelan and Marietta hadn't meant for the Marvel- the part that would ultimately make Melly Marvel so very irrepressibly much herself- to happen. The hospital attendant in charge of the newly born infant's documentation had misheard 'Marvelliefielles ', in honor of Marietta's family, as 'Marvel'- which was purely Marietta's fault, Phelan would contest, because she'd let Williamson Allen Marvelliefielles, whose drawl was INTENSE, relay the name to the nurse, who heard it as 'Marvel', not surprisingly as half the letters were silent.

And so Marietta and Phelan's child was a Marvel rather than a Marvelliefielles. Quite quickly Hope went the way of Marvelliefielles too, for what parent could saddle such a child- with those hard green eyes and dark tufts of hair and the lip that curled up into a sneer when she was hungry- with such a name?

After an hour in her infant's company, Marietta turned to Phelan, sitting by her bed in a bubble gum pink chair with a plastic cover that made farting noises every time he uncrossed his legs, and said, 'I don't know if I can call this child Hope.'

She had the face of a wizened old man. She was so obviously a cynic.

They called her Melly instead.

When Melly Marvel was three and three-quarters, Avril told her the story of her naming, of how she was almost Melly Marvelliefielles. Immediately the child announced to the room: 'I'm Melly Marvel and nobody else.'

The Marvelliefielles fancied themselves Southern royalty when, in fact, they had come down in the world. Over the years, their great Plantation had been reduced to a lone field, rented out for city folks to board their horses on. They were, thus, kings and queens of an empire of horse shit.

The deep closely guarded family secret was that Marietta Marvelliefielles had married a man from New York. Yes, this southern belle had run off with a Yankee, a fact Melly Marvel relished, proclaiming herself to everyone as 'Melly Marvel, Yankee Brat.'

She took in identities like a sponge, constantly adding and refining the details of her own biography, her own existence, ruthlessly building her sense of who she was.

 An even darker closely guarded family secret was that Phelan Sprawling was born in Texas. Melly Marvel, Yankee Brat, didn't even exist.

Melly Marvel, however, did.

This business of names was typical in the south then. Every fall, Melly Marvel would come home and rattle on to Marietta the names of all the kids in her class.

'There's Ashley Edward Abernathy (she's a boy), Tabitha Tarleton Tvedt, Abercrombie Allen Anderson Eaton...'

It was a time when parents packed in as many names as possible and, barring that, they just named kids nicknames and then gave them other nicknames. And so Sue was called Susie 'for short.' And Bill was Billy. And Roxanne was Dough.

Melly Marvel was glad she wasn't Dough. Or Biscuit. Or Junior.She was glad she was Melly Marvel. She didn't want to be anyone else.  (Though she might have liked to be Gala.)

28 November 2013

0 (4)

'He must be so lonely up there,' thought Melly Marvel. She was thinking about God. She often thought about God. Mostly because she was in church a lot, but sometimes just for fun. Because she felt sorry for Him. Being all alone, in the dark, wanting to be loved. 

Melly Marvel sometimes felt alone, but at least she could just turn on a light. She didn't have to invent it all from scratch. 

Melly Marvel didn't really like thinking about God, even though she did it quite a lot these days. She'd much rather think about the man in the ruffled blouse and velvet coat who she knew absolutely with total conviction was waiting outside her window, plotting to slide his broadsword through the open window and slice off her hands while she slept. Melly Marvel preferred to think about him because he seemed the more present threat, but she didn't think about him as much as she thought about God. 

You see, she knew the man in the ruffled blouse was going to be ok. He had friends. Presumably an entire regiment of musketeers. God she wasn't so sure about. God was all alone up there, his only company a ghost and his dead son. 

And they didn't sound like particularly fun crowd to run with. 

And so Melly Marvel imagined God probably went into his room and shut the door- just like she did- and pretended he was someone else, someone better, A Star. 

Melly Marvel would have liked to pretend with God. She fancied he was fun. And she worried he was lonely. 

When her Sunday School teacher told her to close her eyes and imagine God before the creation of the world, Melly Marvel wanted to cry. 

Instead of crying, she raised her hand when the teacher asked if anyone wanted to become a Christian. 

She did this not because she believed in Christ or the resurrection or the Gospels, but because she did not want God- the God of the Old Testament, the God of Genesis 1:1, the god at the edge of the beginning of all the world- to be alone. 

27 November 2013

0 (3)

Melly Marvel was going to be a star. How she knew this is, again, questionable, as the things Melly Marvel knew often were.

Because Melly Marvel wasn't exactly star material. She'd average brown hair, average pre-teen skin, was of average height, and average looks.

Enter The Outfit.

You see Melly Marvel may have been average to the outside world, but- due to the extravagant richness of her inner imaginative life- she fancied herself remarkable.

To that end, she didn't dress like the other kids. Instead, she had Marietta make her clothes. Thus, she was the only eleven-year-old at Windsor Elementary wearing haute couture.

The problem with this was that Melly's eye was not yet well trained. Which is precisely why she thought The Outfit was a good idea.

And it may well have been had she been in Beverly Hills. But in Memphis, Tennessee, The Outfit was entirely too avant garde.

Still she blazed forward. Melly and Marietta plotted their crowning glory. There was the selection of a lovely striped cotton fabric that resembled nothing so much as the curtains in an ice cream parlor. There was the loosening of the elastic around the ankles. (One doesn't want one's Outfit to cut off one's circulation!) And then there was the big reveal: the wearing of The Outfit to Windsor Elementary School.

The Sprawlings made this- as they made most things- a huge, big deal.

Pictures were taken. A stamp was put into the back of The Outfit bearing Melly Marvel's name, as though The Outfit alone among all of her clothes were at risk of being stolen off her body.

Melly Marvel felt like a movie star. She felt she had arrived. Leaving for school, she hugged Marietta with such fervor that, watching them, Phelan saw tears of happiness leap to Marietta's eyes.

That night, Melly Marvel entered the house like a dark cloud, dirt stains on her clothes. Phelan and Marietta asked what had happened but Melly Marvel said nothing.

She had sworn she wouldn't tell them. As soon as it had happened, she'd sworn she wouldn't tell them that, when she walked up to school, Louis Fitch had walked up beside her and called her 'Clownpants'. Melly Marvel swore to herself that her parents must never know that, on the playground that day, the boys had thrown dirt at her, taunting her, calling her Clownpants, saying she looked stupid, teasing because her clothes were homemade.

There were things parents should never know and this was one of those things. Melly Marvel knew this for sure. Because their feelings mustn't be hurt. She must protect them. Phelan and Marietta must never know people were so mean.

The Outfit was never worn again.

1 for reals, did i completely fail to share the awesomeness of my parents halloween costumes with you guys?

26 November 2013

25 November 2013


sister has blessed my project.

that means nothing, so let me back up.

several months ago (the afternoon i went on that date with the guy who thought all americans ride around in limos, to be precise), i did an interview with a nun who had taught caroline kennedy's catechism class.

she was an absolute delight. and her stories were useful.

it's a rare and special thing to speak to someone who knew and liked the person you're writing a whole book about. reaffirming, for obvious reasons, to know she wasn't a beast but was liked and that your image of who she was isn't terribly off the mark.

sister confirmed my image of who she was.

but, because i am the worst administrator of my own project, i forgot to get her permission on tape to use the interview in the book. and, because i am the worst procrastinator when it comes to correcting things i have not done, i put off approaching her for that permission until now. which necessitated a quick back and forth clarifying the fact that i'm not writing with pitchforks ready and the book won't be a hatchet job.

and then sister said ok.

but she didn't just say ok. she wrote a blessing. a really really lovely blessing that made the work i have to do next- the work i've been ignoring because supervision temporarily shook my confidence and therapy isn't until tomorrow- seem slightly less daunting.

because sister's talking to god for me. it will all be well.

0 my mother sent me this with the note "this is us!"... which it is.

21 November 2013

1 randoms

i had supervision yesterday. which means i spent all of today in an emotional tailspin of 'oh my god, WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I DONE WITH MY LIFE.' and tomorrow i will pick up the pieces (which is a lie, because actually tomorrow i'm fleeing to the north for faux-giving) and remember, oh yes, i am doing this for jackie. and i'm doing this because i can't not.

slooooooooooooooooooowly things are moving. they're falling together. i may land an interview. a really major interview. or i may not come anywhere near. the stars have to align. we'll see if they do. it could always be a near-miss.

i read brian's jim henson book in two days. both because it was good and because we were discussing it for the podcast today. so i kind of can't see straight. but you should really go pick it up in a bookstore and at least read the prologue. because it is amaze. do it. immediately. go right now.

after supervision, i was struck by the realization that i need to read gone with the wind again. you guys, AGAIN. that'll be the third time this year, which is, even i'll allow, excessive. but it's dawning that, in strange way, it fits, and i need to see how, and the only way to do that is to read the whole thing again.

that and portrait of a lady and the silent woman. and maybe american wife.

there are so many opposed rotations of books that i need to be reading... all of the jackie biographies, all of the jackie-esque novels, that one sally bedell smith biography of princess diana that i've read at least twice a year since 2003. all in a constant rotation. a reality so beyond the realm of practicality that it's laughable. and yet i'm pretty sure i'd be a better writer if i could swing it.

i said i'd been feeling it was just about time to read portrait of a lady again and my supervisor, without missing a beat and in all earnesty, said, 'when is it ever not time to read portrait of a lady?' and we all nodded our heads as though this were the greatest possible truth. i'm undecided as to whether it is.

0 we briefly interrupt our regularly scheduled justin timberlake programming to bring you some thoughts on jackie upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her 1st husband’s death

she hated the 22nd, jackie did. hated that people chose to remember the day JFK died rather than the day of his birth or the inauguration or anything else. hated that they chose to remember the killing and not the life. she’d cancel the papers, but it didn’t matter because there’d be displays in store windows, people on the street, etc. one particularly bad year, on the anniversary, children from her son’s school followed the pair of them home shouting at the little boy ‘your father’s dead! your father’s dead!’ as he held his mother’s hand.
so i’ve mixed feelings re: writing now. re: posting tomorrow, which is why i’m posting today. because my loyalty is, as always, with her.  Continue reading 

20 November 2013

19 November 2013

0 it doesn't bode well

for my ability to get through the impending biography of fred rogers that i couldn't even make it through the preface of brian's book without weeping on the tube. 

0 so this is my new favorite thing, because OHMYGOD.

18 November 2013

0 “being armed and dangerous is not gonna solve all my problems.”

So here we are at the remaining 3/4s of the episode entitled ’20 years ago today’. since we technically started this last week, let’s dive right in…
jimbo and cindy have been married for 20 years! Continue reading 

17 November 2013

0 little earthquakes

i grew up in memphis. one of the things about growing up in memphis is that you hear a lot about earthquakes. because memphis is a city haunted by many many things, and one of them is earthquakes.

and so we had earthquake drills in school. and every home i've ever lived in- in memphis and everywhere else precisely because we were from memphis- has had gallons of water hidden throughout. and we have all of us, all of our lives, been waiting for The Big One.

i only just yesterday realized how this has colored my view of the world, this perpetual anticipation of earthquakes. because my go-to descriptor what grief feels like is to say that i feel like the survivor of an earthquake and i no longer trust the ground. and the best way i can describe speaking on the phone to someone you do not know is drunk is like having the earth shake beneath you while trying to find something to hold.

so i am, apparently, all about earthquakes.

the very great irony being that i've never experienced one.

so if anyone ever does write a biography about me (please, god, spare us that!), it would behoove them to pause here and wonder how much the near certainty that the place i come from will, in my lifetime, crumble into the depths might have shaped who i've become.

15 November 2013

0 (6)

Melly Marvel waited for her period. She waited for her period and for Jesus and neither showed up.

Her mother had taken her to the lady aisle at the pharmacy, with all the glossy wrapped packages in sherbet colors and they'd picked one out for Melly Marvel to keep under the vanity in her bathroom. 'One day, when you are a woman, you will use this,' said Marietta.

Melly Marvel couldn't wait for the day when she could open this exciting gift. This gift that only women, real woman, could have.

The sexual education of Melly Marvel had been quite a to-do. Marietta had sat her down in the green rocking chair where they always sat together in to share emotions and read to her a book about how babies are made.

Marietta sighed to Phelan, 'Whew, I'm glad that's done!' when it was all over, this moment in the green chair where they had emotions, and Melly Marvel had been sexually educated.

Unfortunately, Melly Marvel- who was mayhaps a bit too young at the time to handle the juxtaposition of animal and people examples- emerged from this session with the belief that babies were made when chickens crawled into the beds of married people and shoved boiled eggs up ladies' pee holes.

Melly Marvel wasn't interested in sex at all.

It wasn't until years later, when she and her best friend Charlotte were at camp and faked their periods for a month because they were irrationally afraid that their inability to make sense of the matrix of straps on their cross-back bathing suits would result in their missing the bus from the pool back to camp, that Melly Marvel heard about sex for real when Charlotte told her that adults who are in love and have sworn their love before God will put one another's genitals in their mouths and that's where babies come from. They were kissed into being.

But that was all ages ago. Before Melly Marvel really knew about periods and the gifts one got to open upon getting one.

Melly Marvel still didn't have her period- despite being absolutely convinced it had come many occasions, upon which she would raise her hand, get the bathroom pass, rush to the stall to inspect her underpants, only to discover nothing but the fact that she was still a little girl.

Full disclosure: she'd opened the gift. Much as she'd pried apart the wrapping paper at the ends of Christmas presents this past year to make sure she was going to be the surprised recipient of the Sweet Valley High board game come Christmas Eve, so she gingerly pride open the plastic and pulled out a maxi pad.

A pad she proceeded to carry around like a lucky rabbit's foot. Because she did not want to be caught unprepared. When womanhood came like a thief in the night, she wanted to be ready.

At school, when the boys had gone into the other room to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the girls remained in their seats for a slide show of naked women entitled THIS IS YOUR CHANGING FEMALE BODY, a woman had demonstrated how to put a pad into a pair of painties. Except it was all wrong because the underwear was inside out and the pad wouldn't stay stuck.

Melly Marvel didn't want to get it all wrong when her period finally came. When she was a woman, at very long last, she wouldn't make any mistakes.

0 i said 'i really need to see the vieve right now'

and so my father sent this:

which, well, thank you. but geez. surely we can do better. she looks like a meatloaf with eyes. 

13 November 2013

0 yum

0 things i never imagined i would be doing all fall: writing about justin timberlake

there are celebrities i cannot stand and justin timberlake is #1 (a personal meditation [part 4])

so hey, guess who we’re talking about! yup. STILL. i know, i know. you’re wondering how there could possibly more words to spill on this man. how has my admittedly shallow well of thoughts and analysis not run completely dry. fear not! we’re nearly done. (except… ARE WE?! because now j.tim’s chimed up about how he’s so memphis because his primary impulse is to kill people rather than dialogue, which is a maddeningly reductive thing to have said about a city known for the killing of martin luther king, jr.)  as i mentioned initially, my dislike of j.tim can be distilled into three episodes: the wedding, the shriners, and take back the night.
(sidenote: doesn’t he totally look like chuck bass in the photo above??)
which brings us to TAKE BACK THE NIGHT… Continue reading 

11 November 2013

0 KTI is coming

this week. we are, of course, committed to MAKING IT COUNT.

10 November 2013

0 remembering

friday was armistice day in the UK. today is remembrance sunday. what that meant for me is that the church service that usually contains maybe 35 people on a strong sunday was suddenly packed and we sang the elusive second verse of 'god save the queen.' oh, and the lord mayor of our borough was there, as was his wig.

mr. lindear was in town the other day and in the course of our meanderings, we got to talking about the ways in which nationality defines the things of which one can make fun.

9/11, for instance, is something we take pretty seriously in the US. not something about which one really feels free to joke. but here in britain, there've been several occasions where i've heard people reference 9/11 in ways that i find border-line offensive, the border being the fact that the people saying these things aren't american and so 9/11 doesn't mean to them what it might mean to me.

this goes the other way. in the US, WWII is a conflict in which maybe our grandfathers or great-grandfather's fought. in the arc of the school year, it is also falls unfortunately towards the end and is presented in the context of pearl harbor, rather than larger problems brewing throughout europe since the partitioning of germany after WW1. so the world wars are less of a big deal in the US.

the great wars are huge here. in the sense that if you say anything less than totally reverent, there's an immediate pervasive sense of TOO SOON! 

i'm not sure what the point of this post is, except maybe to suggest how unconsciously deeply nationalistic our world views often are. and how easy it is to be insensitive to the- now-distant or still recent- wounds that persist in other cultures, no matter how much time has passed.

08 November 2013


0 grounding

there's the list compiled by psychologists of the various things a person can endure within the period of a year. it's, like, the death of a relative, the death of a friend, the death of a relationship, career change, loss of a pet, and relocation. allegedly, we can withstand any two of these in a 365 day period. three or more apparently puts you at risk of breakdown.

this is a list regularly cited in biographies of liz taylor.

it's also one that my mother keeps citing as proof that it's ok that i'm in therapy, that i have bad days, that i'm tired, that i still cannot handle my grief, that- in this last week- it has hit me like a train that i really really want to come home.

she seems to completely overlook the fact that it's also saying it's ok if i'm in an asylum, as all but one of these happened during a six month period last fall and winter.

so the thing that is new is that i am homesick. officially. formally. quite dreadfully, horribly so.

and i'm not even sure what i'm homesick for.

maybe it's memphis. maybe it's family. maybe it's just for a space of time wherein i don't have to meet new people, don't have to be entirely responsible for caring for myself, don't have to have conversations that feel so slippery, don't have to be this fractured person whose professional and problem-free and representing america well in one context and riddled with anxieties and cultural exhaustion in another.

or maybe i'm just homesick for a space wherein i no longer need be brave.

debo said that the other day. when i wailed 'i want my mommy' down the line and struggled to explain the way in which i am deeply, awfully existentially fatigued, she said, 'of course you are! you're tired of being brave.' which is, in the end, the truth. 

because i'm a horrible coward. and i didn't realize, in moving abroad, how consistently brave i would have to be. i'm also a lazy ass. and i didn't realize how tiring bravery was. and i'm an incredibly spoiled child and didn't realize how dependent i was upon the occasional eaton family hug for maintaining emotional equilibrium.

which isn't to say i don't love london. which isn't to say that after one week of being in memphis over the holidays i won't be absolutely itching to come back.

it's just that i'm tired of being The American. i'm ready to come home.

in therapy, we talk a lot about how death can be seen as someone being perpetually abroad. i think about that a lot. and about what that means as someone who is living abroad. because it feels, on some level, like i'm holding out for a return to a home that no longer exists. or a home that exists more in memories and stories than in real life. a home that has vanished. or- perhaps this is the more accurate assessment- a home to which i am returning with a greater awareness of its slow vanishing.

(which is at once deeply true and totally bunk as i've been nostalgic for the place i come from since approximately the age of 9.)

so i am, eventually, going home. and i both do and do not want to go to there. because i'm not entirely sure it will help. and i'm not entirely sure what it will be. i worry that, whatever it is, it will let me down.

it is, i imagine, like surviving an earthquake. you realize you can no longer trust the solidity of the ground. 

i think a lot about burvil. because, if therapy has taught me anything, it has been that burvil is one of the most key people in my whole life. burvil is the sister i never had. burvil is my savior. burvil is my guts and bones. one day burvil will no longer be here, a fact i'm keenly aware we're skating ever closer towards. and a fact that buzzes below the surface of everything i do these days, like an electrical current occasionally surfacing in a violent sting.

burvil is going to leave me. everyone is going to leave me. everything has been shaken up. the holidays are coming. i'm returning to a place i long for and yet do not know.

last sunday, the church i go to held an all souls service for which i changed my return from vienna solely to be back in london in time to attend. and i pretty much cried from start to finish. 

i cried because i cannot trust the ground. 

07 November 2013

0 there's something enormously comforting

in the fact that, in the middle of an exhausting week wherein i've officially succumbed to Living in a Foreign Land Fatigue (LFLF), i can skype my father whilst slathered up in an anti-aging, complexion clearing, anti-stress cucumber facial mud mask and it is exactly like normal until the end, when he says, looking a little green there, bearoline. 

06 November 2013

0 there are celebrities i cannot stand and justin timberlake is #1 (a personal meditation [part 3])

i knew this was going to happen. i knew that in doing this i was going to run slipshod over really really important things, which is precisely what i did last week.
things i totally forgot to talk about: white privilege.  Continue reading 

0 debo and burvil on the farm

chased by the runty ugly horse that no one but k.clen and i likes...