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Where Have You Been?
Less Than Pulp 53
On Saturday, my dad and I took my oldest to the middle of nowhere to see the places in Texas that our family called home over a hundred years ago. This was a trip my dad has mentioned wanting to take with me over the past decade, and we finally got the opportunity to take it this past weekend. I’m glad my son was with us. He repeated several times that day how much he loved “the middle of nowhere,” which of course made me smile.
We headed out around 9 in the morning, stopping first for gas and snacks for the road. We took 183 North, which became 281, and then took Route 6. The drive took about three hours.
Our first stop was a place called Kokomo, where lonely a Baptist church stood in the middle of endless ranchland. There was a plaque in the adjacent yard commemorating a successful season of local boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from almost a century ago. The grass was full of strange-colored grasshoppers, no two of them alike. There was also a stone structure that used to be a clubhouse of some sort but was now overgrown with weeds. All I could hear was the wind and the cicadas. The air smelled of dry earth. One of my ancestors—I don’t remember how many greats ago—had played on that basketball team, so we got to see his name on the plaque.
We then visited the neighboring Simpson Cemetery in Gorman, where another distant relative was buried. Robert “Nat” Mangum was a woodsman who helped clear the brush from the area to build the settlement. He and some other woodsmen all got these special headstones that were tall and designed to look like logs. His had two axes carved into it above his name.
Next, we visited another graveyard, this one a family plot we had to hike through the wilderness to find. It was behind a metal fence, down a heavily weeded path. I had to carry my son on my back to get there because he was wearing shorts and I was worried about snakes and sticker bushes. The path had cow patties that had long ago dried up and looked like husks of dead sea creatures. We found a rusty, disused oil pump and a pile of desiccated wood. That woodpile is all that remains of my grandfather’s childhood home, a lean-to his family occupied during the Depression.
The gravesite itself was overgrown with weeds. Most alarming was a grave with my daughter’s name on it—a grave where my great, great grandmother was buried. When we named my daughter, we had no idea someone else in our family bore this name, so it threw me for a loop. There was also a grave for her husband Dr. James Mangum, who’d served as a physician in the Civil War.
After that, we saw a town called Mangum, TX, named for “Nat” Mangum and his brother. Wikipedia labels Mangum as a ghost town, but even that would be too generous a description. The area consisted of nothing more than an abandoned Baptist church and a whole lot of woods. Again, it was the middle of nowhere.
I’ve never thought much about family history. Most past contemplation has been specifically devoted to things I experienced personally and remember vividly, whether they be joys or traumas of childhood and youth. I can’t say it’s because I’ve been busy living in the moment, as my penchant for dissociating means I often don’t live in the moment. It isn’t because I’m wrapped up in planning for the future either; I do very little looking ahead, usually only thinking in abstracts. Both are things I’m working on.
For some reason, I’ve managed to convince myself that the distant past is as much a figment of one’s imagination as one of my books or something I watch on TV. Look, I know that’s not true. However, there’s often a disconnect between what I know and what I feel. But here’s something that I know now that I didn’t know then: the distant past, my family history, is a part of my personal journey, even if I wasn’t present for it in my current form.
I see myself in a man who would clear the away the brush to help build a community, in a man who would join a war effort to heal others instead of killing them. I see myself in my father, who spent much of his life as an idealist before looking to the past for some sort of higher meaning, for a clear path forward. I also see myself in his father: a stubborn creative who worked his ass off to keep a creative vocation by any means, a man who read obsessively, abused alcohol, and was often too cynical to let anyone get close.
Obviously, some of these are tendencies I work hard to ensure don’t get the better of me. Acknowledging these things, or in some cases learning about them for the first time, feels crucial to understanding myself. To transcending. To healing.
On the way back, my son got car sick and threw up all over his seat. We pulled over so I could get him out of his soiled clothing and Dad could clean up the car seat enough so that my son could comfortably get back in it.
I mentioned last week that I believe in symbols. Given that, it’s easy to imagine that his throwing up was some great purging of the past, an expulsion of demons as if reaching the end of an ayahuasca trip spanning generation. A rejection of the uglier pieces of our history while retaining the good.
Or maybe he was just car sick.
Much of the week was spent on freelancing, doing the books for my mom’s law firm, and looking for a full-time job, so I didn’t do much writing. I did, however, get some work done on Barn Door to Hell. I’m coming up on Chapter 6, but Chapter 2 will be up on Friday, so make sure you get caught up here and here. $5 a month gets you two new chapters every two weeks and a signed paperback when the book is done.
I’m in a very strange place with my writing. While I enjoy what I’m working on and love sharing it here, I’m less and less interested in the content hustle. By that, I mean I’m burned out on either a) cranking out a novella each month to stay relevant, or b) writing a thing and hoping a publisher will not just publish it but also get behind it in a way that ensures people actually see it. I’ve got a life to live, and while I firmly know where writing fits into that life, I’m no longer sure where the writing lifestyle fits into that life.
I’m not quitting or anything, but I am reevaluating. As Grant Wamack commented on my newsletter last week, reevaluating is exactly what I should be doing at this current cosmic moment.
I finally jumped on the Eric LaRocca train last week by picking up his new book Everything the Darkness Eats. He’s been getting a lot of acclaim since his debut Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke set the internet on fire, so I’ve had my eye on him for a while. That said, I am sometimes suspicious of viral success, so while I did pay attention, I was hesitant to check out his work. Now that he’s been here a while and showing no sign of slowing down, I figured it was a good time to take the plunge.
Holy shit, I’m glad I did. I absolutely see why people enjoy him. He occupies a sweet spot, a three-point intersection where the pulpy, the literary, and the transgressive meet and pass around illicit substances. It’s a place I myself strive to exist with my work, so I don’t know; if you like me, maybe you’ll like him, and vice versa.
Jean and I are also almost finished with 1883. I don’t know Taylor Sheridan (creator of the Yellowstone franchise) or follow him on social media (if he’s even on there), but I get the impression he’s not interested in making the kind of show that will get trending on Twitter for a night. He’s interested in stories. Now, I’m not saying shows that trend on Twitter are necessarily less than in the storytelling department. Indeed, I have loved a lot of media that’s trended on the socials. What I am saying is that he and his collaborators seem to write without such concerns, caring only for complex characters and the stories that grow out of their complexities. It’s true in both the main show and 1883, and I have no doubt 1923 will be just as compelling when we finally check it out.
In the latest episode of Make Your Own Damn Podcast, Jeff and I examine Toxic Crusaders: The Movie, a compilation of episodes of the children’s TV show based on the very adult Toxic Avenger movie. We talk about the show itself, the early 90s push to market adult media franchises to children, the involvement of Chuck Lorre, and the majesty of 90s toys. You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.
That’s it for now. In the meantime…