If You Don’t Mourn Elvis Your Soul Is Too Small

            I am sorely behind on answering e-mails or responding to comments, and you are dear to me so I offer my apologies.  I’ve been stricken with an illness both weird and unrelenting, and it seems to have gone on forever.  Really:  weeks.  Western medicine’s consistent name for everything is ‘virus’; for them it’s the equivalent of naming all of one’s children George Foreman.  I think it’s possible my agent put hoodoo on me, because of my last blog entry, for which I didn’t seek his approval and which made him mad.  I may have mentioned that he is viciously smart and a handsome devil, and mean?  You have not seen mean until you have required hand-holding as one of his authors.  I would rather confess, “I’m stuck here, I think this book is too big for me, I don’t know what to do,” to a hyena, and hyenas are nothing less than Satan with a hemi-penis.  Never ever forget the truth about hyenas:  their jaws are hinged, their sinuses are specially designed so that they can breathe and swallow at once, and their bite strength is so powerful they eat bones.  This is how they have earned the nickname ‘chalk-poopers.’  It’s possible they earned that from me, which makes it no less true.  Besides all the other things I said about my agent, he also commands unconditional love and devotion, you can’t even feel it happening, and there’s a small army of us who love him so much we’re like his Secret Service.  Walking down the street with him I am on high alert, and my own life means nothing to me – I have signed it over – compared to protecting Christopher. 

            My mentalist – and for those of you who don’t have a sage and trustworthy psychiatrist, if you can afford it, find one:  mental hygiene is as important as flossing.  It’s similar really, except for how, while flossing, one doesn’t say every week, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying like this” – as I started to say, my mentalist has become concerned about how long I’ve been sick and asked if I yet knew what it was.  I told him I suspect I picked up a worm in Vietnam.  He asked when I was in Vietnam and I said, “I’ve never been.”  Then I suggested Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, and he said, “I don’t imagine you’ve been eating brains,” causing me to reply, “Sir, you may be a doctor, but your education is sorely lacking in the nature of the prion.  I am dying now of the brains I ate twenty years ago.”  And we agreed that it is a terrible disease and that I am brave.

            My mother is unconcerned, as one of her mantras is that we are made of ‘peasant stock.’  She and I are not as one in the connotation of peasant.  I see a Slovakian behind a plow pulled by an ox; she is referring to the unspeakable living conditions I grew up in, resulting in my thorough lack of asthma.  Also she’s thinking of herself, and how could she not.  Her birth mother abandoned her at a Catholic orphanage when mother was nine months old, then went on to have five children by five different men, each of them abandoned so she could join the circus.  She also once fled town with – I kid you not – a band of Roma, i.e., the gypsies.  A fine, fine woman.  When Delonda located her, the old sociopath was lying in bed, practicing her dementia:  “Mama, is that you?  Tell Effie to get the horses ready, I’ve got to find the midwife.  Jello-O is poison, why is it all I get to eat?”  On and on, never looking closely at the woman standing before her, admitting nothing, nonsense nonsense, until Delonda said, “I wonder if you would just do me the favor of telling me who my father was,” and Lady Alzheimer’s said, “Him?  Yeah, I remember that son-of-a-bitch.”  And never told.  Mom brought home a photograph of her and I said, “That’s not your biological mother – that person has nothing to do with any of us,” and even though I held no can opener, Mendel’s peas appeared on the table and I was forced to notice how rare the green of this woman’s eyes, exactly the same shade as my mother’s, and even if you put the peas in a pile and smush them you know green eyes are unusual, particularly such a pale emerald.  Now the old bat is dead and the biological facts don’t enter my mind.  You’re probably guessing I have put her in Purgatory, and OH YES I HAVE, but not the usual one; I gave her her own.  I based it on Bradbury, Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival, where the horror is getting exactly what you wish.  RUH-ROH, Grammy!  Do not – I repeat – do not harm my mother.  That is all.

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 12:12 am  Comments (24)  


  1. I am overwhelmed by the fact that I often read your writing and have not the SLIGHTEST idea what you are talking about, and it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of it in the least.

  2. If it’s any comfort, there’s a good chance I’m not talking about anything, except in my own head. Imagine this: every hour I’m awake what’s going on in there is similar to the way you might cross a broad river. I choose the rock closest to shore, then leap to the next, the next, leap leap (sometimes the rocks aren’t in a straight line, and I must zigzag), BIG leap, ta da! I’ve reached the other country. I start with one thought-rock, jump to the next. I’ve given up trying to be more linear; it was making me tired. I’m glad you can still enjoy it.

    Oooo wouldn’t it be terrible if my intellect moved like a hermit crab? Scott is HORRIFIED by any creature that moves in a lateral motion; when the subject comes up he basically just puts on his little pink dress and screams like a nine-year-old. If I THOUGHT that way, and talked in such a fashion? I bet he’d go mad, but slowly, like a Hitchcock film.

  3. That is absolutely hootilicious. Maybe your body’s telling you to slow down and take a couple of days off to do nothing but rest and heal. Even peasant stock needs a break now and then. Netflix, the Bravo! network, that sort of thing. So you don’t go into a Frenzy or become Notorious by going Psycho or developing Vertigo. Let me know if you need the shortbread cure.

  4. Polly shoots with the Hitchcock humor — she SCORES!

    This is 100% SECRET, but you know I was working on the Quaker book, I mean really really working on it, and I realized that IODINE was going to come out and I’d spend at least two months promoting it, and I thought, “Why don’t you just stop, take a break. Finish the IODINE tour, go back to the big task.” So I did, I can’t remember how long. Let’s say three days. And then one night I thought, “Well, if I can’t write a book I can write a poem every day,” so I wrote one, and
    when Augusten read it he said, “THIS IS A BOOK — YOU MUST BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING AND TELL THE ENTIRE STORY, A MEMOIR IN POEMS, IF YOU DON’T DO THIS I WILL COME TO YOUR HOUSE AND MAKE YOUR HUSBAND GAY, THEN TAKE THE BABY.” I’m paraphrasing. But as soon as he said it I saw the whole book just unspool in front of me, and I’ve been working on it MADLY since then, and it’s a monstrously large and painful task. When I e-mailed Augusten and said, “I don’t think this is good for me, I think it’s too painful psychologically,” his answer was, “Don’t give me that nonsense, you opened that vein, now write the poems. It’s not a story of what happened to just anyone, it happened to a WRITER and you are obligated to suck it up and finish it.” And then he sent mind-control rays and I kept working.

    When Christopher finds out about this he’s going to be so mad I’ll probably come down with syphillis or leprosy.

  5. You probably need to take up golf, Haven. If not golf, some other hobby, like putting together model airplanes. I used to do that when I was a kid. I especially enjoyed the gluing process and would spend hours — HOURS — hunched over a tiny chrome part for a plastic replica of a 1956 Chevy huffing that aroma of pure Testors glue.

    Oh, the things I would see…the future perfect and the past progressive. Sometimes I would just be tense. But that was rare because I always had golf to calm me.

    Your problems could very well be caused by eating a brain sandwich.

    Did you, by any chance eat at this certain little diner in Dunreith back in the early 1980s did you? I highly recommend the banana creme pie, but please eschew the brain sandwich. I had one there before the advent of Mad Cow Disease, of course, and the thing tasted like…like…like…chicken. And I could have had a chicken biscuit instead of fried brains. Anyway, I felt badly throughout much of 1985 and the docs at Riley finally isolated the problem as a mild form of Mad Cow, which they called, Slightly Honked-Off Cow Disease. Advil in gelcap form cured it, however, and I went on to a brilliant newspaper career at The Indianapolis Star.

    But enough about me…

    I want to address the misinfo you so maliciously spread about hyenas.

    This is an absolutely true story. Three years ago I was in a wildlife sanctuary in Botwswana researching and writing a story for a National Geographic Web site. For all the bad press about hyenas, what endeared this little devils to me was their maternal sense. The mothers would roam the park doing God knows what to the zebra, gazelles, ostrich, even the lions. Then they would bring home to their den “toys” from the hunt for the cubbies to play with.

    Try to imagine how cute it was when the driver of our Toyota Land Cruiser stalked up to the den so we could watch the little hyena cubbies munching on various hooves and skulls and leg bones and antlers like my dogs Sadie and Gus gnaw on a Kong chew toy.

    Darling little critters. They have infrared vision you know.

    So, my prescription for you, young lady, is golf, golf and more golf.

  6. Hope you feel better soon Haven!

    Love the pics!


  7. I believe Robert Frost was very clear when he said a poet does not drive; ergo, I infer poets don’t putt, either. And it goes without saying I could not play golf at any club that would have me, which limits my options considerably. A number of people have shown concern when they discover how tragically small the focus of my life really is. I read and I write, then I read and write some more. My friend Leslie, a painter, said her mother had suggested she take a vacation. I said, “A vacation? From what? I’d just be working someplace else, which is pointless.” Leslie said, “RIGHT?!? Time vacationing is time I could be working.” That said, I have tried to follow this ‘hobby’ advice, and that’s how I ended up surrounded by taxidermy. Scott has taken to calling my German marten “the cord weasel,” as it’s impossible to plug anything in without tangling it in his driftwood, and a few nights ago I wrote all night with a stuffed bobcat on my lap, because I was in his chair. I don’t excel at hobbies but I have quite an eye for pelts, as it happens.

    My very first love was from Dunreith. We had lost touch for 26 years, and the first time I answered his e-mail I wrote, “Was your phone number ——–?” He was stunned. There are no brain sandwiches in this story. However, years
    ago there was a New Yorker article about a woman who survived being attacked by a hyena — a zoologist with a doctorate in PURE EVIL — and between the photograph at the beginning of the story and her description of hyenas and what they do, I tell you truly George Stuteville, reading that story makes the living envy the dead. You would fall on your knees and shake your fists, cursing God, and you would come to despise the world itself, because there are hyenas in it. Reality would lose all lustre, dimension, intensity, and you would fall into a nearly Viennese melancholia, hyenus melancholius absurdum. That is the power of the beast. The Bible says, “How does it serve a man, to have knowledge of the hyena and yet lose his soul?” I tell you these things out of concern.

  8. ‘preciate your concern, Miz Haven. It’s nice when an author shows some pity on her readers.

    jest a word about Frost and golf.

    What’s he know, anyways? He was too busy apple pickin’ and building fences to take up the practice. Besides, the kid who could have taught him was an assistant pro at Whose Woods Are These Golf and Swimming Club, but, alas, he hacked his hand off (or was it an arm) while cutting wood for one of those New England winters.

    That said, I bet Mary Oliver plays golf…or, at the least, knows someone who does.

    I’ll ask her next time I am in Wellfleet or Truro or P’town.

    and let’s face it, Frost was a downer…

    a word about Dunreith…I bet you know that little diner. I forgot the name. It wasn’t the Frosty Boy or the KKKountry Harvest, I am pretty sure about that. Oh well, the name totally escapes me, but I can still taste those pie. My newspaper job sent me to many Hoosier towns. We’re talkin’ goooooo–oood. That’s the pies, not my newspaper job.

    a word about first loves, well, how about taxidermy?

    all I know is a taxidermist who was a neighbor, bought my house after I moved to Indy from Troy, Ind., in 1981. It was about the same time my dog Pete disappeared, come to think of it. I wonder if that specimen in the corner with the bed sheet thrown over it might have been Petey Boy…naw.

    now about hyenas: New Yorker Magazine you say…I’ll look that story up. Who wrote it? Dean Koontz? Y’all weren’t related was you?

    When I was in Botswana, I didn’t see any grown hyenas…just their little cubs. They used to sharpen their claws and fangs with portable grinding machines like the kind Hellboy uses to file down his Satanic horns.

    …and speaking of hyenas, a lot of people don’t know this, but giant hyenas…I’m talking some really big bastards about three stories tall…roamed North America back during the Yurassic Period or some such time in prehistory.

    Homosapiens were amassed at the Bering Straits, in line from Moscow to Vladistok, just itching to scurry across the sea ice and get into Alaska for the King Crabfest, but were held at bay by these huge hyenas.

    We, who walk erect — some, of us anyway — dealt with the situation by taking a few hundred years to domesticate dogs. The dogs’ hysterical barking gave advance warning of the approaching giant hyenas, thus enabling the Cro-Magnons to get their spears and arrows ready so they could just go ahead and kill themselves before the marauding hyenas burst into camp.

    No, just kidding. The dog’s barking would alert the people and give them enough time to run to the edges of the nearest tar pit or bog and taunt and tease the giant hyenas, thus causing the beasts to rush forward into the tar pits and bogs, trapping them for the benefit of future paleontologists and museums of natural history.

    Thus it was, bog by bog, tar pit by tar pit, North America was settled…and largely at the expense of the giant hyenas.

    Anyway…wish your sis another Happy Birthday…it’s wonderful to have sibs. I told my oldest son the once that I wish I’d have had a big brother like he is to his younger brother (also my son.) Funny, my brother said the same darned thing. I loved her picture. Was that the inspiration for Something Rising?

    And just a reader’s note. I am really a slow reader. I have Something Rising from the library and I bought a copy of Iodine, which I will highly recommend on my widely-read place on Facebook, but I got sidetracked last week by Eudora and Katherine. Flannery is just going to have to wait her turn. Maybe I’ll pay her a visit in November or October. Don’t know how I missed them. Guess I was too busy reading Bobby Ann Mason and Sharyn McCrumb.

    …glad you’re gettin’ your poetry groove back.

  9. Yeah, it’s hard to follow your rock-hopping stream of consciousness sometimes, but I love it, too! Your memoirs (which I prefer to your novels so far, but haven’t read Iodine yet) inspired mine (in progress) and I hope you are well enough to make your reading/signing down in Oxford, Mississippi on September 8, because I’m driving down from Memphis to meet you! Just ordered a copy of Iodine and hope to read a good bit of it before the signing. Sending get-well prayers and thoughts your way!

  10. A memoir in poems??? That’s worse than syphilis and leprosy combined, so I’ll have to think of some other form of punishment. And I will.

  11. I just realized THANK GOD CHRISTOPHER CAN’T READ THIS. Whew.

  12. Whenever I read the phrase “peasant stock,” I imagine the writer’s forebears brewing in a stereotypical cannibal’s pot. Which is another way of saying it’s a heck of a lot better to come from peasant stock than to BE peasant stock.

    Good to see you back. I’d just found your blog and it went silent on that note of angst and despair.

  13. so, like God, your agent is everywhere and all around you? this seems to more than justify the fifteen percent thing, twenty worldwide. kitten, i would be your agent for free, but i can’t take a meeting even if i am on fire and the meeting is a wet standpipe and a man in engineer boots. so. yea. hang onto that agent. and of course every book you write is one i don’t have to write. just so you know? my real estate agent has starting pushing me to write a book WHILE I’M MOVING ACROSS FORTY EIGHT STATES. she will be harmed in ways too subtle to grasp, once this house is sold, i will disinform her of her right to exist and bear advice,

  14. When I know that I’m going to get in serious bad trouble with Christopher, I have two emergency backup plans:

    1. Blame Augusten.
    2. Pretend I’m invisible.

    See how clever?

  15. …just climb into your clown suit…who would guess?

  16. Once I strap on those stilts I am two-and-a-half times his size. It’s like trying to convince a bear that you’re huge by waving your arms.

    Delonda’s e-mail has been down because some heathen devil child knocked a cable out with a baseball bat (no, I can’t picture it either), so I just read this to her and she found it deeply amusing. Rare is the woman who will allow her life to be exposed so — two books and now this. Well, there’s Melinda but she has no choice. AND HELLO I just realized I expose my own life with much more frequency. Now I wonder if perhaps I am a complete idiot. Will ponder.

  17. it’s best not ponder too much…just strap on the stilts, smear on the makeup, jam the wig on and if you can’t make em wonder, or confirm what they already know, then make em laugh…or at least smile.

    ok, now i am into something rising. it is so clean, so authentic. there was a bar in tell city, ind. called braunies. i used to shoot pool there after putting the paper to bed. once, i was in there when it caught fire and damn near burned to the ground. i lost a good friend in the fire. i called his mother. then i wrote a story about it.

    i shot a lot of pool, too, when i lived in fort kent, maine during the mid 70s. i’d put the st. john valley times to bed and then drive across the river to edmunston, n.b. and dance with french-canadian girls and shoot pool.

    there’s a lot of people who think good pool players are good putters in golf.

    i am not too good at either.

    but i have had my moments…moments when the angles worked, when the velocity was ok, when the stroke was sure…guess that is what is meant when everything clicks…like billiard balls…

    anyway…just really enjoying this book. i think jimmy might be a long lost uncle of mine.

    oh, what type of bike does cassie ride? did jimmy win it and bring it home?

  18. Stephen King would give me a demerit if I described Cassie’s bike, because it’s yours now, whatever you want it to be. Maybe I’ve mentioned that I have a sister, Melinda? She always uses SOMETHING RISING as an example of how some novelists do everything humanly possible to get every detail right — almost hyper-verisimilitude. She’s one of the few people who doesn’t consider the amount of research I do to be neurotic. (Although if you knew the lengths I went to to get everything about pool right, you’d be shocked.) And it worked: I’ve had gamblers and professionals, players at every level tell me that there wasn’t a false note. The owner of a pool hall in town had it displayed on a stand at the counter for years. I own my own beautiful cue — I played every day for a year-and-a-half before I started writing, and then the book came out and I never played again. Melinda asked me why and I said it was because I have to do the same amount of research for all of them and had to move on.

    This is not in any way an exaggeration, but before I wrote IODINE I read THREE THOUSAND PAGES of source material. No billiards when you’re trying to do that, sadly.

  19. Genetics are amazing. Can it be that the precious, quiet baby girl who survived a cord in a knot and a staph infection has become the author of a blog I can barely comprehend, being read by clever readers who are also smarter than I am? It is true, which proves the existence of God because who could make this stuff up? Hyenas be blamed if necessary, but the little baseball bat wielding villains who cut off my phone and internet service for 4 days while AT&T sucked their thumbs are at the top of my list right now.
    Well, I’m off to prison. God bless you all.

  20. Cassie’s bike is mine?

    Geez, I think that is the nicest gift an author has ever given me…especially while reading her book.

    Apologies here to Mr. King.

    Ok. Let’s make it a 1970s-era Italian racer. An orange Colnago with gorgeous lugs done up in umber and outlined with gold leaf and equipped with a Campagnolo groupo. The bike is slightly rusted and scratched and the drop handlebars have been adjusted so they look like a profile of Bighorn sheep. Oh, and as an afterthought she got rid of the hard Cinelli racing saddle and replaced it with a big padded Schwinn seat that she bought at the Used World Emporium for 35 cents.

    How did Cassie get the bike? It was something Jimmy dragged home one night after hustling a kid at a pool hall in Ellettsville, Ind. The kid’s parents bought it for him in 1981 after his frat team won the Little 500 bike race at IU that year. Jimmy had already taken $175 off the kid and the kid offered the bike to pay off the rest of his $25 debt.

    The bike was a bit too big for her but she didn’t care. The thing could fly once she got off her road and onto the highway into town. It could stand some oil on the chain, though, and maybe somebody should do something about the brake squeal. I suspect, however, Cassie will take of those issues her own damn self.

    How’s that?

    I do believe you read 3,000 pages of source material and shot pool for 18 months.

    A writing coach at the paper once told me that even the best writing cannot cover over shoddy reporting and research. How true.

    PRIVATE to DELONDA: I plan on being back in Indiana next month, want me to kick those little villian’s asses for you or just bring ’em to you? Either way is fine by me. I suspect you handled Little Ma Bell by yerself. And yes, genetics are amazing, It’s amazing what splashes from a gene pool after a diver goes into the water following a three and half cutaway somersault with a twist.

  21. George, you gave Cassie the best bike she could have hoped for, even after she was long past hope. THAT is the mark of a good man.

    As you see, the Delightful Delonda herself replied, and she replied with one of one Quaker jokes: I suppose, in the end, it is my humility of which of I am most proud. Of course, it is my own daughter who will, in due time, run circles around me, as I sit dribbling butterscotch pudding dow my chin and asking whatever became of that old mule, Butchie, who used to eat my pansies. And I don’t even like butterscotch pudding.

  22. I think I know of the flood that deluged the house that Cassie partied in. It was in the mid-80s or so…a nasty inland flood that nailed the White River and the tributaries. I remember driving up to the New Castle area…I wrote my story from the migrant camp at the Red Gold Tomato cannery…

    yesterday i had lunch with a friend who asked me what i was reading…she knew all about you but wasn’t aware of iodine. so I did my duty as a reader and former journalist. i spread the news, but Haven, I wasn’t objective.

  23. Objectivity is for cowards, and you, M. Stuteville, are no coward.

    I cannot tell you how disconcerting it is to see, on a blog that might be read as far away as Columbia, South Carolina, to hear a person mention New Castle. All my dad’s remaining kin still lives there! It is like Jarvis Central! Oh, The Flat Hills of my Homeland!

  24. Objectivity is certainly non-comittal and there is a ton of cowardice in that.

    Ok, so mentioned New Castle.

    In the book about Cassie, which I just now finished, you mentioned all my huants — Evansville, Tell City, Corydon. places where I have cousins and kin and a brokenheart or two.

    Cassie, what an unforgettable woman. To go on,you do have to leave anger behind. In your heart and where you live. By the way, I think I got high with Puck once.

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