nashville

Summers of Content

Summer left all kinds of marks on your legs. Thick bands of red from the metal flatbed of your dad's pickup truck. Raised welts made by cut grass criss-crossed your thighs. Jean shorts and sandals left stripes of burned flesh after long afternoons in the yard with a book.

The heat didn't keep you inside. Not when Aunt Shirley would promise a trip down to the store for something sweet. She'd pile all the kids into her aging maroon sedan and carry you around the bend down by the big house with the horses on the front lawn.

Eager children's limbs spilled out of the car and into the store where air conditioning filled all the space within, instantly freezing swimsuits and wet hair. You got to pick one thing--and hurry up--and you'd usually go for a Nutty Buddy or an orange push-up pop. You raced to eat your treat before it liquified down your arm. Then you'd fold and fold and fold the sopping wrapper into a fat sqaure and shove it into the smallest pocket of your hand-me-down cutoffs for your mom to find later in the laundry.

The nights were a respite, but not by much. The night air was still thick with wet, but when the sun dropped the stars showed themselves to you in the black tapestry of night, pulsing overhead, nestled like jewels. When the frogs and crickets gave pause you could hear their secrets.

There was nowhere but there.

Face into the fan you'd sing ahhhhhhhhh as the blades whipped your voice into a hilarious thing. 

You needn't move anywhere. Besides, where would you go?

Creek

The creeks were the thing when you knew no one with a boat. You'd slip off socks and shoes and ease into shiny water, scrunching toes over mossy-smooth stones, wavering, gripping, standing steady as the water filled in around you, delighting in every almost-fall. You were told to be on the lookout for broken glass or sharp rocks, but no one mentioned water moccasins, so you got to watch your father beat one to death with a stone. 

Why would it occur to you to leave?

Anyway, how would you go?

You'd lie in bed at night, legs sometimes over, sometimes under the thin sheet. You'd find triangles where the walls met the doors. You'd count them. Seven triangles. Seven intersections of three. Some were flags and some were pyramids, but that would change depending on how far the door was ajar. So many hours to find your own flags and temples.

You lived in your head then, back before you left and learned just how hot it got.

[Photo: Brenton Rogers]


The Little Differences Are Vast

I-440/I-65 7I am going home to Nashville in a few days. Haven't seen Tennessee in 16 months, not since I stopped there on the way from New York to California, two cats in tow.

A generous friend is loaning me his car and he told me where I could find it near 21st Avenue, a well-known Nashville thoroughfare and area I once knew like my own back yard, but when I read "21st Avenue" I couldn't place it, not even a little. I imagined the interstates in the middle of the city, the snare of intersecting freeways that criss-cross the city, and I could vaguely make out the exit sign in my memory. With more tugging on the synapses I could recollect the area in clearer detail, but this should not happen! I lived in that city for 30 years. How when I hear "21st Avenue" could I not forever and always know immediately what that is and means? 

Driving in and of itself will be a novelty. I just made a trip to the DMV to get my driver license renewed since I didn't even get one in New York, only a state-issued I.D. Will I need GPS to get around my own home? Those interstate exchanges can be tricky. 65, 440, 40, 24. I had to Google "interstates in Nashville" just now, and I almost forgot about 24. How do you forget about 24? The long straight shot from Murfreesboro to Clarksville with a stop in Pleasant View along the way?

In a few days all those old things, the home things, the woven into my being things will be all around me again. Rolling hills and winding roads and green, green as far as the eye can see, especially traveling 75 miles per hour on the freeway to Ashland City. Except it's not called a freeway there, it's an interstate. The little differences are vast.

I'm going home this week. I look forward to hearing the crickets at night. 


Do Y'all Hear My Accent?

"Hi, and welcome. Have you dined with us before?"

They looked up at me from their menus with smiles, "Okay. Where are you from?"

These guests who grew up in the South heard it instantly, what is left of my Tennessee accent. 

It is not debatable that I have a Southern accent. I do. What is in question is whether or not it is detectable to most. 

My roommate would tell you that absolutely, yes, it is. She is a Bay Area native with no discernable regional accent besides the patented California uptalk. To her, my accent is noticeable and pronounced. She now calls it "Tinnissee" rather than "Tennessee," because that is how I say it. I can't help it. "Pen" will always sound closer to "tin" than to "hen," no matter how hard I try to shake my drawl.

Heyyall

Not that I try to shake it. I mean, I used to, when I lived there. In fact, when I waited tables in Tennessee people often asked me where I was from since I didn't have the thick, honeyed accent had by many Middle Tennesseans. But since moving away I have naturally lost the Southern twang I acquired when learning to talk, at least to some degree.

I mean, when I call my family I am often surprised at how Southern they sound. My sister's voicemail message for the longest time was this amazing example of how a Southerner can turn single syllable words into a symphony of sounds: "Heyyy, the-is is Amy. Ahm naught here ra-ight nay-ow, but leave a message aind ah'll ge-yet back to ya." It was a thing of beauty--unabashedly drawly and Southern-sounding.

I slip into this style of speaking when I call home or when I've had too much to drink. When I visit my family my Southern accent picks up where it left off like it never disappeared. It takes days for the drawl to wear off after a trip home.

Certain words for me will always come out drawl-y, like "Tinnissee." Or "oy vey," which I inexplicably adopted after just 14 months in New York. But I've also developed that unsure California uptalk where every sentence ends like you are asking a question? As though you don't want to commit, because you are an open-minded, up-for-anything Californian? Quite the nasty little trifecta of speaking styles.

Most people tell me my accent is endearing, but I have no doubt many who don't speak up dismiss me as simple or stupid. The Bay Area is a well-educated enclave that can be quick to judge not only your university, but its location. And sadly, the South still carries a stigma of ignorance that even incredible institutions like Vanderbilt and Emory can't erase. 

I don't really have a take-away or a conclusion to this post. But as a transplant, comments on my accent happen a lot. Of course, most of the time I hear no accent when I speak, and so I'm often suprised when somone brings it up. But the truth is, being Southern if very much part of my identity living in places like New York or San Francisco.

The other day I was introduced thusly: "This is Brittney. She's from the South, and she's awesome. She helped me fry okra the other day."

Sure as shit, I did. And I was proud to do so.


She Shines in the Darkness of His Absence

Much like Chris, I won't be contented until I write something about the passing of Karsten Soltauer. And Karsten and I weren't nearly as close as he and Chris were. Though, closeness or the illusion thereof is one of the points made in Chris' terrific blog post. He asks, "how close are any of us," really? "How well do I really know any of my friends?"

That is something I've thinking a lot about since I learned that my friend Kate's partner of nearly fifteen years left her, left us all. A shock like this thrusts the subjects of love, mortality and time into the forefront of our minds, but I've also been thinking about goals, waste, challenges and art.

But, mostly I've been thinking about Kate. And I find myself in awe.

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I have no doubt my friend is gutted and riddled with grief about the loss of the love of her life. It's clear to anyone who was around them that Kate loved Karsten with a richness that shined right through her, and he the same for her. Perhaps it is this rich love, in part, that has allowed Kate to harness her mind's power and use it for good. I mean, just read what she wrote in a blog post following Karsten's death:

I think perhaps the key to processing a loss this immense and intense is to embrace the bothness of it: I have never experienced one emotion without the potential for its complement. I am nowhere near the master observer of absurdity that Karsten was, but I have been his student for nearly fifteen years and maybe I can see it a bit more than most. But if devastating loss is a swing to the left from the emotional equilibrium, I sense there is the opening of an often unnoticed rather large area to the right, into gratitude, appreciation, abundance, humor, and moments of joy and peace. 

[...]

Like Karsten's "Curvature of the Mind" series, as he later named the swirling marbled pieces, there are treasures to be found in the chaos. You just have to really look for them. And pencil stroke by pencil stroke, you shade out what doesn't contribute to the picture you want to remain. But the bothness of it is that just as the oil and water needed to be mixed to make the paper, and the darker shadowing needs to be drawn in to see the colorful image more clearly, so do the dark emotions bring contrast to the lighter ones, and we can seek those out if we choose to. At least, that's my hope. 

This perspective in the face of tragedy is phenomenal to behold. The sheer hope she displays here is stunning. In just five short days she's taught me invaluable lessons from 2,500 miles away. Witnessing Kate's public reaction to her partner's passing illustrates to me ways I can better live my life and take in the world around me. This is what Karsten did for Kate, too.

What I have been reminded of, loud and clear, is this: we get to choose how we feel about things. We also get to choose how we behave in the face of tragedy. And for each person that will be different, and that is okay. 

I am so grateful to Kate for this gift of insight. Her positivity and outlook during this time is precisely why she enchants nearly every one she meets. 

We lost one of the good ones when Karsten left. In his absence is a darkness Kate will never shake, but that allows her wisdom and attitude to stand out all the more. And oh, how she shines.

[Photo of Karsten and Kate by the talented Chris Wage, who has more photos of Karsten in his Flickr stream]


Hey, You Wanna Hear a Good Story?

Eve Batey and Justin Beck were very nice to ask me to talk to them about why I decided to leave social media as a career and go back to waiting tables and writing. The conversation was recorded for their media podcast Punching Down. 

Eve and Justin came all the way to me in the Mission, and Justin even brought beer. And not cheap Miller, neither. 

It only took one Day Beer to get my big mouth moving. 

You can listen to me talk Nashville is Talking, what happened after I flounced out of WKRN in a huff, how my work translated in San Francisco, how taking that job in New York was a mistake and why after a short stint in San Jose I said, "Fuck it. I'll just wait tables and write."

Hear all that stuff here.


Getting Trashy (No More Dump and Run)

Recycle, Compost, GarbageHere's a little something different about waiting tables in California versus Tennessee (the only place I was ever a server), besides the health care and minimum wage: by law restaurants have to not only recycle, but compost.

That means three different bins in the dish area: a black one, a blue one and a green one. Food scraps, paper products like beverage napkins, coffee grounds and other "organic" items go in the green bins, plastics and glass from wine bottles go in the blue, while very little, actually, goes in the black.

I'm in full support of this mandate. I used to stand at the enormous trash barrels at Outback Steakhouse and frown at all the wasted food and landfill fodder. It really made me sad. This arrangement feels a little less gratuitously wasteful.*

So, it's awesome that there are three bins.

But hoo boy, do three bins take a lot of extra precious time. 

You're in the weeds, and your table are so fucking mad at you, and you come into the kitchen with a complicated arm load of dirty table items, and you can either dump everything with a quickness into a single, massive tub then gingerly sling flatware into its proper stack and be on your way. 

Orrrr, you can get to the kitchen with the same complicated arm load of dirty table items and stand there trying to determine whether the paper liner will decompose or if that plastic will degrade, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to just dump and run.

But this is better, even though it is more difficult. And it's just different. Sooner than I know, it won't be.

*And for heaven's sake, the portion sizes at Outback Steakhouse contribute to a tremendous amount of food waste. Another plus for smaller portions than that of a trough. 

[photo credit]


How To Get Two Cats in a Single Carrier with a Minimal Amount of Blood

Friday morning, the day after a celebration of thanks known as Bronxgiving, I boarded a plane at LaGuardia carrying two cats in a bag. 

This was no small feat, my friends.

I never would have made it to the airport without losing my mind or committing a felony if it weren't for my girl Reebs who got her ass up before 7 a.m. and took the 1 train all the way to Times Square to help me wrangle two kittens into a single carrier. Even with four hands between the two of us, that shit wasn't easy.

It became quickly apparent that we'd need to bag the cats in the bathroom. Unfortunately, Goat caught on quickly that he was about to be corralled, so he did what any smart cat would do, he shrunk under the couch and hid.

And there he stayed. I tried treats and pleading, then demanding that he come out, but no dice. The clock was tearing off loud ticks reminding me that the airplane would leave without us, so Reebs and I did what anyone would do: we picked up the couch and shook the cat out.

Poor Goat, who had never been shaken from a couch in his life, tumbled from between the fabric and the frame and began sprinting hard in whatever direction he was pointed. Unfortunately for him, that was right at the refrigerator. He ran head first into the freezer door, bounced off, then looked at me with one eye half open, dazed, like, "Why?!?!?"

That's when Reebs made the mistake of looking at me and asking, "Are you okay?" Which, of course, made me lose it.

I started crying and blubbering, and Reebs did what all good friends do, and told me to shut it up.

"You can't do this right now! You can't! You have to hold it together! The more you freak out, the more the cats are going to freak out!"

She was right, but I just felt so guilty. I was moving and making the cats come with me, despite cats really, really liking where they are already. 

Still, she was right, and the clock continued to count down, and so we went back to it, trying to get Goat into the bathroom. Apparently a cat concussion makes that easier, and on the next try we were all four in the bathroom.

However, the bathroom is not the SWA-approved cat carrier, and so the daunting task of getting two cats in a single bag still loomed. Reebs held open the carrier while I picked up the girl cat and tried placing her into the bag, but she had all four legs extended, along with her claws, and with a single body thrust she was out of my arms, and I was bleeding profusely from a crease in my palm.

Again with the waterworks. I was stressed and sweaty and crying and bleeding, and basically repeating to the animals as if they understood, "You have to go in the bag. You have to go in the bag."

Sheer force and determination saved the day, and finally, both cats sat defeated, pissed off and silent in their cross-country crate.

So, this post goes out to Reebs, without whom, I would be a shredded, bloody heap on the floor of a New York studio apartment. Love you, BigPimpinNoG31.


The Screaming Baby

There was nothing I could do. The baby was screaming, and there was nothing I could do.

The plane was full. That is because flights into Newark had been canceled for days due to a record breaking blizzard in the northeast. It was my third attempt to fly home. I had been stranded in Nashville for four days longer then anticipated.

I was ready to get home.

I settled into my seat, pulled out the inflatable neck pillow and fired up a digital version of my friend Betsy's book, City of Ghosts. That is when the screaming began.

= Many infants cry on airplanes, and it is always a bother. They start to whine and you steel yourself for noise, because you are, after all, in a tin can with no way of escape.

But this was not crying. This was screaming. Raw, unbridled, diaphragmatic screaming that only babies can accomplish. Piercing, incessant, teeth-hurting screaming. And there was nothing I could do.

It wasn't my baby. It was someone else's baby, and it was being set on fire. At least, he thought. Unhappy is too gentle a word. This child thought he was dying.

It went on for an hour. Sixty minutes. A long fucking time.

Just when I thought the baby had worn himself into sure slumber the screams would begin again. I started to understand why parents might consider drugging an infant.

At first I was empathetic to the poor mother who was sushing her child as quietly as possible, but eventually I got up and went to the lavatory solely for the purpose of shooting this kid's mom a dirty look. Not my proudest moment but I had no headphones and so was literally sticking my fingers in my ears.

The screaming was all I could focus on. I tried meditating, being present and deep breathing to calm myself. It didn't work due to the screaming.

Finally, blessedly, before I jumped out the emergency door and ended it all, he stopped. He slept. The baby had stopped screaming.

And after a long sigh the next thing I heard was an overly earnest Nashville man who discussed the finer points of the Baptist Church the entire remainder of the flight.


Talk of the Weather Will Do

When you live your whole life in once place, an entire 30 years in an area with four seasons, then you up and move several thousand miles to a coastal state where cliffs colide with ocean waves and fog eats up buildings and the wind almost never stops, it takes some getting used to.

So, I got used to it. I bought lots of thin clothes to layer on top of one another, so that when the afternoon came, and it the sun was blazing, I could remove a few for comfort and still be covered.

I had that shit down to a science. Tank top under long sleeved sheathy thing with another one of those on top plus a jacket stuffed into my purse. For later. For nightfall. When the cold comes back.

I no longer needed a heavy wool coat or giant cable knit sweaters with turtlenecks. Those weren't layery enough. They were too hot. They didn't work well for traveling the 15 miles to a different climate in the East Bay.

Of course, once I nailed dressing for San Francisco weather I moved to New York. Back to four seasons.

And on this November 1st in Manhattan it is straight-up cold. Not chilly. Cold. I can see my breath cold. I haven't seen my breath in years.

The crisp air, the frigid air, the smell of the season--all of it awesome. It pairs well with the gentlemen at Macy's who are putting up the enormous Christmas tree out front. It goes with ice skating rinks in Bryant Park. It is a wonderful partner for steaming cups of coffee.

Right now I am loving the weather in New York. The seasons give me a sense of structure, a sense of nostalgia. A way to remember building snow men with my sister on Rosehill Court until we couldn't stand it then went inside to melt down with hot chocolate and television.

The winter up here in Yankeetown is going to be brutal. No one will let me forget this hard and true fact. But I welcome the gusts of wind so strong they will knock you down and snow banks to high you can't see to cross the street.

It's something wild and new and wonderful.


A Little About Aunt B and Her New Book

There's this woman I know named Betsy, and she's in every way awesome. She fucking kills me on so many levels. First of all, smart as a whip. Like, you go have a drink with her and suddenly you start penciling in library time on your calendar because you can suddenly feel a little dim. But it's not like she's all snobby and smug like a lot of smart people, who love nothing more than to make others feel unintelligent. That's not it. It's that she has this razor wit and she'll reference something you totally know, but she does it in such a sly, clever manner that you don't catch on to what you missed til you are driving home later.

And she has the best laugh. She's one of these people who throws her head back and laughs with her whole body, and even if you are pissed off or crying, you can't help but laugh back. She's also just as funny in real life, if not more, than she is at her hilarious Tiny Cat Pants

I found Tiny Cat Pants when I first started the blogging job at WKRN, and I was immediately charmed by its tagline: "Is there anything funnier than tiny cat pants?" At the time I discovered this question, I thought no. There couldn't possibly be anything funnier than that until I read the blog. The answer to that tagline is clear: Yes, there is, and its Tiny Cat Pants.

Here's the thing, though. Her blog is not jokes. No way. It's genuine, good-hearted humor. That's why it translates into real humor in real life. She's not trying too hard. She just is who she is, and she does it on a blog. And it's real, and it's always, always thought provoking, and it's fair, almost all the time, and if she says something she regrets, she says so. The woman is never loathe to admit a mistake.

Anyway, I admire the shit out of her. She's a strong-willed, beautiful soul who will defend you, support you, tickle you and serve you wine in her backyard in a mason jar on a hammock.

And she wrote a book. A book about ghosts and their stories in and around Nashville. 

This woman's writing reads like breathing--effortlessly. She's a master at the craft, in my humble opinion, and while her blog is scattered in topic, I can't wait to see her nail down this single idea.

You have to buy it. It's not optional. Do yourself the favor, and bring the delight of my friend Betsy into your home. It's a far cry from having her swapping stories and swatting flies with you, but hey, we can't all be so lucky.

Get it here.

And here is the book's website.