AJAX BELL

Author of the Queen City Boys books


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An open letter to Sherman Alexie

Just read a line in a Sherman Alexie story about standing in line at Bartell’s and suddenly I’m so homesick I’m not sure I can live through the heartbreak of it. In my head I ask Sherman Alexie if he imagines how many of his throw away lines profoundly affect people?  I think of every word I’ve put out there, every bit of fiction I’ve written, and no one has ever come back to me with the important words, with the phrases that I labored over, they only come to tell me about the how they were moved by my fast lines, the ones that drop out, that I don’t consider at all before I put them to paper.

Perhaps the lines I don’t labor over mean the most, come more truly from me?  Perhaps there is no meaning in any of it and will just keeping spilling out words, looking for the turn of phrase that will free my soul and find it someday.  Perhaps Sherman Alexie labored over that line and still will never know will never know how his two sentences made me break my own heart.  I could write him a letter and tell him, but I would labor too hard over the words, I would lose the importance of sharing what he gave me.  I have always been writing this letter to him in my head, through out the years, every time I read his stories and poems.  A letter that never makes it to paper, to computer screen, never achieves more than some small form of therapy for me.

I am talking to Sherman in my head (can I call you, Sherman, I feel we are close enough now) about my homesickness, about how I cannot ever really understand where he is from and he cannot understand how I am from where he is now.  I tell him it is a continuum that no one but me can see, a story that can’t quite be told, but is important all the same.  And the The Butchies pop up on shuffle on the old mp3 player and I start to cry because this is more homesickness than a soul can bear.  But this makes me get up and start to cook dinner: fettuccine alfredo with smoked salmon (real, PNW smoked salmon), peas and caramelized onions.  Because I am homesick and if I lived close enough that I could call my mom and ask if I could come over she would walk to me to a restaurant near her house (one Sherman Alexie has surely been too) and I would order some variation of this dish because you don’t really find it anywhere else in the world, not the way we make it in Seattle.

And while I am chopping onions the mp3 player turns again and gives me Kevin Gordon singing Watching the Sun Go Down, and I remember how I stopped at 6:42 am, on my way to work, to photograph the sunrise over an electrical power station, and got distracted by some horses too.  I think of how the redbuds are surely more beautiful this year than they have ever been before, blooming riotously, everywhere, making the edges of every roadway glow purple.  I think of how  the heat in Tennessee makes me feel warm all the way through to my bones, like I’ve never been warm before.

So I tell Sherman that he is lucky indeed, to be able wait in line at Bartell’s, but he has to go through cold rain to get there and I am saved by the sun  and the green in spring and the sounds, all the sounds, here in the dirty South.  Perhaps I am homesick for a place that no longer exists.  A place I visited, moved through in childhood, that is just a fairytale now, I can not go back.  My adult self does not have the magic to cross back over the boundaries of the places I’ve been before, I can only go to new places or create them myself. And I’m still crying when I sit down to eat my dinner, but not because I miss anything.  I am so lucky to have been so many places, both real and imagined. Lucky to be me and to be still so full of emotions good and bad (love) about all of those places I have been and the people in them.  Even the rude lady in the Bartell’s line that you have to tell to fuck all the way off.  So thanks, Sherman, for reminding of my home, the past one, the new one, the one that is always me and goes everywhere inside my heart.  I’m certain that you never knew that namedropping Bartell’s in a story would make some girl in Tennessee break out the fancy smoked salmon from way back home and cook herself a good dinner on a night when she would otherwise have been too tired, too worn down by work, to do more than make a quesadilla.  Thanks for dinner, Sherman, I really feel like we are close now.

 

(Pictures taken early this morning in Tennessee, when I stopped, before I even had coffee, to remember that there is beauty in the world.  Even when you feel like you break to pieces because of the stress that swirls around you and puts the anxiety inside you, there is still the color purple and leaves that were not that green yesterday and sunrises.  The redbuds really are spectacular this year.)


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There is not enough time to do all the nothing we want to do

So I’m moving in a couple weeks. Trying to keep it as low key and not stressful as possible.  I figured the best way to do that was to embark on a bunch of really ambitious projects right before moving.  Hahahaha!  Sometimes I am dumb.  Still most of these projects revolve around refinishing or painting furniture that I’ve been meaning to update or fix forever and would love to have in its finished form in the new house.  Thus it’s been fun and I need something to keep me busy and out of trouble anyway.

Oh my!  Look at this tiny, pretty indoor pond.   I have been messing with terrariums for a bit now, on and off.  My new apartment has great light and I’m hoping to be more successful with my terrariums this spring.  But look at these amazing water terrariums, which, uh, I guess are aquariums, but just for plants!  So pretty.  There might be one of these in my future once I’m settled and done with everything else.

Also I love this hippo shower curtain, although I’m not buying it because I got clear shower curtains to take advantage of the light from all the windows in the new bathroom.  I’m hoping to get lucky some day and find fabric like this curtain, I love the cute little helpers the hippos have!

Here are some random bits about my new apartment:

My current commute is a marathon round trip: 26.1 miles
New commute: 21 miles
Annual driving miles eliminated: 1300
New apartment currently only has one (1) interior door
Ratio of wall light switches to interior doors: 1:1 (heh, most the lights have pull cords from the ceiling rather than switches)
Number of hobbit sized closets in the new space: 3
Number of hobbit sized people living in the apartment: 1 (me)
Amount of support provided by quite overly generous mother, both emotional and financial, in this move: incalculable (but surely somewhere in the billions)
Number of friends I realized I have while dealing with the things surrounding moving: 129,567 (if we are calculating at a rate that measures each person’s individual emotional worth)
Days until I move: 14
Things needed doing by then: 570,000
Personal excitement level about the new apartment, on a scale of 1-10: 42

Here is a sneak peak at a ‘before’ picture of the apartment:


Looking forward to having many after pictures to show!

(Title quoted from the peerless Bill Watterson.)


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Day 37: Still Tuesday

Talks-to-Owls and I have agreed that this Tuesday never seems to end. It’s been about 37 days since we last had a day off of work.  Which makes every single day Tuesday.  In a regular week you can spend Monday reflecting on the past weekend, on Wednesday you’re halfway through, Thursday is almost Friday, and Friday is the end!  But Tuesday? Just another day with nothing great on either side of it.  So here I am having been through more than a month of Tuesdays, with half a dozen to a dozen more in front of me. Sure the bulk of it is behind me, but still, the light at the end of the tunnel is faint and seemingly far away.  I guess it won’t truly be bright until I actually have a solid end date. And that end date does depend on how fast my team can work, but it has many wobbly and unknowable outside factors creeping out of the tunnel shadows.

I work in the construction industry, in an office that was, until my arrival, mostly male.  I currently have a staff of 5 temps, all female, that are sitting in the larger shared office space that was, as stated, all male.  Overheard this morning (before the girls arrived):

S: Man, the ratio of boys to girls here is just so different you can’t even be yourself no more.
K: Better let one off before the girls get here.
S: T just did.
*I walk into the room laughing*
T: I ate daffodils for dinner last night.  It’s flowery when I let one off.
S: Farting honeysuckle everywhere you go, I knew you were that kind of guy.
T: Flowers and poppy seeds, that’s all I eat.

On the one hand, hilarious.  On the other hand, what does it even mean? I’ve been having weird Wizard of Oz field of poppies visions all morning because of that conversation leading to me to read more into it than I should and wonder what the underlying metaphors I missed were.  (The answer, none, no metaphors, just boys BSing.)

I have mentioned elsewhere that I am making a conscious decision NOT to boycott BP over the oil spill.  There are many reasons for this, the main one though is that the gas station I drive by every morning, my most convenient station, is a BP station.  I have been going there regularly for 4 years.  I know and like the people who own it.  I don’t want their livelihood to disappear just because they signed the “wrong” franchise agreement.  Honestly it could have been any oil company that caused this disaster and I do not want to see any more of the little guys get hurt.

(Southern Beale has written an excellent post on the kind of “punishment” that is fit for BP after this disaster.  Surely much more effective than a consumer boycott.)

Truly I ache for the fishermen, the people who live on those coasts and all the regular people who are so seriously impacted by this (we all are in the environmental sense, but the folks who might not pay bills right now because of it really weigh on me).  And it’s so wide reaching.  Like now BP might withhold dividends on stocks? Which would hurt British retirees whose retirement funds include BP stock.  How many more average people can BP fuck over with their greed and incompetence?

Here are some things I like:

Firefly lamp

Tom Robbins is weird

Synchronous fireflies

Banksy, especially his “Shop”

Blooming lamp

And my cousin and his wife had their first baby this week!!   Welcome Caleb James (who was clearly named after me, though that’s a joke that probably only my mom will get).  Weighing in at 9lbs and 4oz!  Hello big boy!  He’s healthy and home with mama, poppa and puppies.  HOORAY!  Here’s his “little” toes:


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when summer arrives it sparkles

Another Sunday afternoon at work.  This is, I believe, my 24th day in a row at work.  And cloudy with a chance of storms.  I swear there’s been like 2 dry days this month.  I’m sure I heard some weather guy say weeks ago that the second half of May would be dry.  I guess it’s drier than May 1 & 2, but then almost anything would be.

I’ve been too busy/tired/overworked/uninteresting to post lately.  I almost posted the other night to tell you about my night off.  It consisted of watching recorded eps of 30 Rock, soaking my feet in epsom salts, and eating a dinner of cheese toast dipped in marinara, olives and white wine spritzers.  It was actually a lovely evening.

Last night I used my night off to go see Kevin Gordon, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper at Puckett’s Grocery.  It was a wonderful, intimate show, that way that only seems to happen in Nashville.  There were kids dancing around. One toddler called out, “Good bye, Peter, I’ll be right back!” as her parents carried her out the door.  As if, someone from the stage commented, she was going to drop her parents off and be right back to party.  Good music, good company.  The waitress told my date he looked like Russell Crowe.  Fun was had by everyone, I htink.

The drive to Leiper’s Fork was beautiful as always.  I saw several deer eating in rich people’s yards.  A Bull resting after a long day of standing about in a field.  A heron flying overhead.  Turkeys hunting down dinner.  A bat swooping low to get the good, early evening bugs. On the drive home, I missed a fox because I was looking out the wrong window.  But it didn’t matter because out my window were fields and fields of fireflies.  So dense and bright that it looked like fairies were dancing between the trees.


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where were you when the walls came down?

This used to be a road. Photo by Jeff Deason.

I was just reading about Vince Gill’s flood relief telethon and I thought, you know, I’ve always liked that guy.  Really he seems like a good guy.  And then I remembered seeing Keith Urban on TV the other day whining about ruined musical instruments and time out of his recording schedule and I thought, hey, f*** that guy. And it now occurs to me, um, where is everybody?  I mean this is a town FULL of celebrities.  You can’t throw a rock without hitting one. Right now I’m feeling like throwing rocks.  I mean, why isn’t every major teams’ star sports player on the news asking for help down here?  What about Miley Cyrus and Carrie Underwood? Kenny Chesney, I heard your house was damaged, are you now compelled to help others too?  Hey, John Rich, you have about seven life times of bad karma to make up already, maybe start paying back by helping out?

I mean, am I missing something?  I’ve barely heard a peep out of anyone that the world is usually listening too.  I feel like I’ve been glued to local media and combing national media as much as I have time for and I’m not seeing Hank Jr. or Brad Paisley stepping up to ask the world to notice our problems here. What gives? Jon Stewart seems to be more concerned about us than our own residents. I hope all the big country stars are giving generously and anonymously to the relief efforts, otherwise we really will have to re-build this city on rock and roll.  Branson can have country music, doesn’t seem to be doing us much good right now.

ETA: Thanks, Vince Gill, for making everyone come out.  Thanks, Taylor Swift, for giving 50x as much as TVA did. I have love for you and everyone else who donated to help people in my city.


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no news is definitely not good

The corner of Electric Ave & Village St. Near my house. Shot by my friend Jacob Briggs.

A lot of folks in other parts of the country have told me that they aren’t seeing any, or barely any national news coverage of the flooding in Nashville (aside from my constant yammering here).  On the one hand, I get it.  I mean the oil spill, car bomb, truck explosion and Tylenol recall all potentially affect a lot of people.  On the other hand, a lot of people here in Nashville are already affected and many more probably will be.

I went and read through headlines as I haven’t thought about much but Nashville in 5 days.  And I went and read national coverage of our situation here.  And I think what bothers me the most is coverage that says things like, “the Cumberland river spilled over it’s banks,” and “weekend rains raise rivers in Middle Tennessee.” I don’t suppose that every single news story needs to be a violent and realistic depiction of exactly how disasterous things are here. Then again I know we won’t get the help and support we need if it looks like we just got a little wet, you know?

The local news here has done good coverage.  Thankfully, since they need to keep all of us informed.  People interested can follow breaking, local interest stories at the Tennessean, WKRN and WPLN.

Morgan and Christy, who run Nashvillest.com have done an AMAZING job of keeping everyone here informed.  Their blog has been filled with useful helpful and timely information.  But what is the most impressive is their Twitter feed.  For five days they have literally been spreading the best information that they have to anyone listening.  They have been passing on first hand accounts, rallying volunteers, getting news to people and getting people to help.  The work they’ve done is so incredibly above and beyond the call of duty of an average citizen that I feel emotional and teary just writing about it.

The work these two girls have done is an exceptional example of how well technology can work. Take a minute and read back through their blog posts and Twitter updates.  Imagine being in a disaster situation where parts of your city where cut off and maybe you had no access to TV but you had a phone on you and could get regular updates from their feed.  It’s been invaluable to thousands of people in this city.  Nashville is a city of Heroes right now.  Like the college president who rescued a faculty member with his canoe.  Like all of our emergency workers, volunteers and rescue folks.  Like all of our friends and neighbors who helped carry, pump, drain and dry.  Heroes to the last little one.  But those Nashvillest.com girls surely helped more people than they will ever know.  I want to thank them for putting together a web presence that has helped me and pthers in so many ways in Nashville, but that really, REALLY came through for us in this disaster.  If you see either of them around, buy’em a beer, alright? I don’t know what else we can do, but they definitely deserve a cold drink on us.

Most importantly for those of you not directly affected by this, check out Nashvillest’s post on what you can do to help.


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raining in my head like a tragedy

Reading Ann Patchett’s OpEd piece got me thinking about the rain we had here in Tennessee.  It’s storm season for sure, usually an enjoyable time of year, even with the tornado possibilities.  I like thunderstorms. And Tennessee gets so amazingly, unbelievably, gorgeously green in storm season.

Usually I like a morning storm.  There’s something very pleasant about being curled up in bed and hearing the thunder and the rain outside.
This past Saturday I woke up to thunder and a deluge of rain so hard it drowned out all other ambient sounds. I don’t know why I felt different, maybe because the thunder was so loud.  I woke up already feeling panicked.  I felt uneasy all day.  I watched the local news, listened for the tornado sirens over the sound of the rain.  I watched the water rise up a couple inches on the tires of my car, parked outside the kitchen window. The creek by the house (which always seemed safely on high ground) appeared to have risen 12 or so feet. Impossible!  The roof started leaking. The news started showing washed out roads, water in people houses, people being carried away, a BUILDING floating down the interstate and crashing into a semi truck.

I went to work Saturday night and was amazed to find many people who obviously had noticed the heavy rain, but had no idea the damage it was already causing around the city.  Everyone seemed confident that they were safe, or that they lived on high enough ground.  I went home, checked the weather and went to bed with a growing sense of dread.

Sunday morning around 5am I woke up to use the bathroom and was struck by how calm and quiet it seemed outside.  I looked out all the windows, saw no rising water, no rain.  I took a deep breath and went back to bed. 20 minutes later the tornado sirens started again and the thunder rolled back in and I was up for the day.

The rain never stopped coming. The news showed more and more storms backing up behind the ones already dumping on us.  I don’t feel like I ever relaxed on Sunday.  My back is still knotted with tension today.

By mid-day Sunday almost everyone I knew was reporting water in their basements, or worse in their homes.  People were checking in, and others were worrying about those friends we hadn’t heard from. Interstates were closing, local roads, whole neighborhoods. And the rain just kept coming.  The news just kept showing more storms coming up, not the same storm but a run of new storms over and over.

To put in perspective just how much rain fell, over May 1 & 2, we got around 30% of our annual rainfall.  In the city of Nashville around 14″ of water fell in 48 hours.  Nashville averages about 13″ from May through July.  That is to say that three months worth of rain fell inside of 48 hours.

Last night (Tuesday), I was brushing my teeth and car went by, rumbling loud bass that sounded like thunder.  My heart started racing and I automatically walked to the window to look.  The flooding and devastation is terrible.  It’s hard to even wrap my head around the extent of it and I’m here in Nashville to see it.  But it’s the idea of rain that’s making me jumpy now.  I have for a long time fallen asleep to white noise generator of sorts that plays rain sounds.  Last night I couldn’t even bring myself to turn it on, I had to switch to bird and forest noises.  Nothing about rain seems relaxing to me right now. I wonder how long it will be before I can really enjoy a storm again?