AMERICAN MARY : An Un-Scary Horror Triumph

File this under Scary Rants. Also file it under Best At-Home Films of 2013.


Non-horror hounds often asked what is the “scariest” horror film I’ve ever seen. It’s a fair question, seeing as how most horror directors do intend to scare their audiences, but the question limits the possibilities of truly good and interesting horror. Although I rarely take the time to explore this issue with inquisitors, instead naming a few horror films that freaked my stuff out (Alien, Rosemary’s Baby, High Tension, the original Night of the Living Dead), my list of favorite horror films would include several titles that wouldn’t be considered “scary”. Often, the best horror does not seek to frighten as much as it seeks to recognize and respond to the grotesque – those unpleasant and unsavory forces in nature and society and spirit most folks prefer to avoid.


American Mary is such a film. Nothing about American Mary is “scary” per se, but it is twisted and disturbingly…

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A Splattering of Finger Flyings and A Meditation On [Bracketed Spans]

7:49 AM – Pug-dog attacked the landscapers with his voice. And he lunged the edges of his lease, pulling and pouncing at them as if their weed-wackers and mowers offended the comfortable decor of his pooping stall. I still do not understand what he intently searches for in the grass, nose buried deep, before choosing a spot to squat. A fresh spot? An unused spot? A spot to cover with his own offenses? I’ve stood in those lines of port-a-potties at concerts, and I never would have thought for a moment to pass on a possibility.  Sadly, even though he plops trough in the open on the side of the road and then scratches the ground a few feet away, I think he may be more sophisticated than I am in our doings. God bless him. God bless that pug-dog.


“Red, white, blue is in the sky / Summer’s in the air and baby / Heaven’s in your eyes / I’m your National Anthem.”  –  Lana Del Rey

I have no idea where I’m about to go with any of this. My fingers just need to fly.

Admittedly, I’ve avoided this thing for a few weeks now. Feels good to unplug occasionally – and I’m not even that plugged. But for the morning 500, for that initial
literary yoga stretch, I’ve spent my words and scribbles through pens, in letters, slowly pressing forward without any one button to hold down in deletion of entire lines. It feels good to slow down.

Ironically enough, slowing down often speeds up the mind. Does slowing down give it room to expand? To widen? To stretch? Perhaps this was the entire idea behind a Sabbath. Slow it down and allow the roots to swim.

Yesterday, sitting at a table with a coffee in my hand and Lana Del Rey in my earholes, I wrote to a friend that LDR was my greatest new discovery.

I would confess to crimes I never committed if it meant hearing Lana Del Rey sing my miranda rights.

That’s a fine thing to be said of someone.

And you slow down hearing the expanding cylindrical crested waves of your various ripples moving outward. What was even their center? What was even their inspiration? And you look back to where they spill up, cresting over, and you take the time to wonder how that sucker even started. What fell there? What was I doing at that time? Who walked through the door? And then you remember, and suddenly the waters are alive with a whole new splatter of splashes.

Imagine that these brackets right here – [ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ] – represented a single attention span, and every one of those dots represented, by either single digits or exponential notations, the number of thoughts or visions or entertainments or prayers or pages or songs or pleasantries that could be contained in that single attention span before the brain tapped out. Imagine that certain forces, such as sleep and caffeine and music and good beer and weed and phobias and air density, affected the size of that attention span, expanding it (hopefully) and limiting it (perhaps also hopefully, depending), it would be a feat of personal psychology to learn how to sense the edges of those brackets, to make them concrete, to put handles on them so they might be pushed and pulled like an accordion, making the music of reading and poems and stories and meditations.

I’m not sure the goal is to stretch the brackets so that they move from this:

[ . . . . ]

to this:

[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]

That might be one of the lies of modern education: that expanding the ability to sit still, to gaze thoughtfully, to engage singularly is the goal. So screw your kid if they can’t read more than three pages! So screw your genius if they prefer knocking down the blocks and starting again rather than seeing this one castle all the way through! So screw me if I prefer my iPod on shuffle rather than my Mahler on full symphony!

Maybe the goal is not expansion as much as combination, layering, so that it moves into this:

[ . . . . [ . . . [ . . . . . . [ . . ] . . [ . . .] . . . . . . . . . . ] . . . ] . . . . ]

Or something like that. I do like the way that looks. I like that idea of layering attention spans, which would require expansion as well.

I listened to an interview with Lana Del Rey last night, and the interviewer asked her why she chose her specific styles of video quality. He pointed out that she was born in 1986 but her video choices and styles reflected video from the 1950s and 1960s. And Lana Del Rey said, “I just liked the way it looks.” And the interviewer dug for greater significance, for metaphorical layers and meanings, and even though Lana Del Rey did talk about colors and textures and the matching of visual to sonic emotions, she just kept coming back to preference. She likes what she likes. But she did tell the interviewer that she appreciated his deeper reading of her videos, and she encouraged him to read as deeply as he wanted and to get back to her.

I like drawing thoughts with brackets. Maybe brackets will be to my writing what footnotes were to David Foster Wallace. He doesn’t own the monopoly on in-text symbols [just the overuse of them].

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Books 13-18 out of 52 in 2013

(Check the 28 Books of 2013 link above for scores to each title. Sorry I did not include them below. I don’t know what’s lamer: that I’m posting a list of the books I’m reading or that I’m too lazy to retype the scores from one list to the other. Enjoy. Read on.)


13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I previously posted a dual review of Fitzgerald’s book and Lurhmann’s new film. The New Yorker will be publishing this review, but most likely in a posthumous fashion, after my brilliance has become more widely evident.

14. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon – Also mentioned this title in my 13 Books of Summer recommendation list, which I have been lazy to follow myself. Advice is a pill best slipped in peanut butter and fed to the dog beneath the table.

15. Friday the 13th: Bad Land by Marz and Huddleston – I’m a sucker for a good Jason Voorhees story, and this short comic arc did not disappoint. Interesting narrative structure here as the setting of time – though locked directly on the premises of Camp Crystal Lake grounds – shifts between settler, gold rush-y era (it looks like a long time ago in the illustrations) and modern day college dweeb heads. The story seems to suggest that Camp Crystal Lake possesses a long-standing curse, one that greatly precedes the Voorhees’ family. I liked this story. I liked the spiritual lore lurking in those woods, something strong enough to raise the dead and create monsters. As a warning, the Friday the 13th comic line (and possibly the film franchise, as well) has been accused of promoting misogynistic ideals, which I find ridiculous since violence towards women is the greatest sin in the Friday the 13th universe. Just ask Beth, who knocked Pamela Voorhees down a notch or two, setting fire to the whole damn thing.

16. Rosie by Anne Lamott – Review previously posted on May 28. But I highly recommend Rosie, especially if for those who have not read Lamott’s fiction. Also, I highly recommend my review, especially if for those who like readying super good book reviews.

17. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk – I was totally disappointed in Damned. So far, I’ve loved Palahniuk’s early novels. And I especially enjoyed his nonfiction collection, Stranger Than Fiction, which I use – choice pieces – in my curriculum. But Damned didn’t work for me. Palahniuk’s signature Whitman-esque urgency was missing here, and the humor rubbed flat quickly. Repetitive jokes about disgusting Hell-ish landscapes and the demonic sins of telemarketing grow old after half a dozen rounds. I don’t even want to give it anymore words here. But my review of Stranger Than Fiction, linked above, is killer good.

18. The Twits by Roald Dahl – Delightful! And the whole thing starts out with an assessment of beards! Roald Dahl should be required reading in more schools and jobs and waiting rooms and dinner parties and public restrooms and bus stops and road-trips. If you haven’t read Dahl in at least the past year, stop whatever you are doing, get thee to the public library, and load up on Dahl titles. Far more fun to read out loud than inside your own head, I read The Twits to myself in my dad’s empty house while my pug-dog snored beside me and my wife shopped for shoes.

19. House Of Cards, Netflix Original. Okay, I’m sorta breaking the rules here, but it’s my list so bug off if you don’t like it. In my opinion, good television shows – like House Of Cards, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Freaks-N-Geeks, The United States of Tara, etc. – work as good novels. And if we can get credit for listening to a good novel on audio-book, then we should get credit for watching a good novel in a well-crafted series. With that argument as my defense, I present you with Book Title #19 in my 2013 reading, the “televised novel” by Beau Williamon and David Fincher, House of Cards. This show is expletively amazing. Kevin Spacey gives a career highlight performance as Frank Underwood, a US Congressman passed-up by the President for Secretary of State. Underwood teams with his wife Clair (a winning Robyn Wright) to take down the United States Presidency and secure Underwood’s seat in the Vice Presidency – at least, that’s Underwood’s intentions. House of Cards is filthy and disgusting and depraved in ways that don’t wash off easily. I loved it. And I invested a lot of time thinking through the characters and the development of this story, which is another strong argument for including it on my reading list: it owned me – like a good book – for days on end.

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From Zombies to Creed to Paula Deen : How Our Need For Communal Preferences Hinders Communication

8:54 AM – Wife’s out of town. Dishes stacked in the kitchen. The records she request I not blast when she’s home – In This Moment’s Blood, Megadeth’s Peace Sells, Neil Young’s Harvest – blast in repeat on the home stereo. Today I will drink two pots of coffee and later I will complain to my wife on the phone that I don’t know why my stomach hurts. I have 72 hours to become fully primate and then return to full Gator. Let the de-evolution begin.


I once was privy to a blind date in an Austin Chinese restaurant that made me feel ashamed for another human being. The gentleman of the pair looked like an aged metal guitarist with waist length grey hair and a pleasant tubular middle. The woman was a smoking failed actress type wearing a rose-patterned shawl. From looks alone, the man was drastically out of his league, but within a few bars of the conversation I began conspiring a solid out for my brother. He was kind, artistically minded, and the woman poo-pooed every question concerning art he posed. Books, it would appear, were no longer smart enough for her. Music was not soulful enough. Theater not classic enough. Radio – even NPR – not publicly radioed enough. Painting was too impersonal, sculpture too un-phallic, and fashion too drab. At one point I actually heard the lady scoff and say, “I only watch foreign films, particularly the Indian Bollywood cinema. It’s the only cinema saying anything anymore.” I empathetically looked to the man’s face, recognizing the great struggle of his eyes not to check his watch.

This encounter came to mind while reading Maureen Dowd’s June 22 column in the New York Times, titled “A Zombie Scare With a Zombie Chaser.” Dowd, thankfully, is not a culture poo-pooer. This may be one of the reasons I like reading her columns more than most other Times columnists. In this column, Dowd makes it fairly clear that she prefers vampires over zombies (Dowd won me over with her July 2010 piece about her first blushing girl crush on Dracula), then she explores her viewing of Brad Pitt’s new zombie epic World War Z. And Dowd makes interesting points about WWZ’s most pressing metaphor being one of a “broken Hollywood system” rather than a “broken global system.” Her article is light-hearted and authentic to her previous writings concerning our strange attempts to map and understand our shifting cultural landscape.

So how did Dowd’s article, written with humility and humor, bring to mind the hoity-toity rose in-shawled cinephile from Austin? Easily, as it was not Dowd’s article that conjured the cinephile to mind. Rather, it was the slew of pompous comments following Dowd’s article, deflating the fun from Dowd’s piece, that rivaled the pride of our previous poo-pooing prima donna. My favorite comment to Dowd’s piece, posted by Miss Thang, boasted, “I fell asleep during this movie. Nuff said.” What follows are loads of similar comments, all trying to sound smarter than the last by degrading and denying and debunking zombies, Brad Pitt, and American cinema in general. I laughed reading the comments thinking, Dowd’s the think-tank here, and she’s the only one of these stiffs willing to have fun with her brain. In their need to boast brilliance, they reveal little to double-tap in an undead rising.

Few cultural trends irk me like the need to poo-poo what everyone else poo-poos, especially in order to sound smart or hyper-cultured. Perhaps such sensitivity stems from my pop music fandom. I’ve stopped counting the number of people who, upon learning my pop music love, have confessed to secretly rocking Britney Spears in the car or wanting to watch the Katy Perry film but fearing what people would think. I’ve heard the same in pseudo-academic circles when certain writers – Stephen King, John Grisham, Steig Larsson, to name a few – are referred to as “guilty pleasures”. And I shirk from conversations making distinctions between low-brow and high-brow humor, especially confessions of minimally enjoying the former while strongly preferring the latter. I’m always tempted to fart right then and there and then watch their face, just to test how low-brow their humor truly could be.

What I mostly want to scream is to just come off it. No one cares. You are not that important. We’re not a culture of Santa Claus trainees keeping records of who’s cool and who’s not. But, then again, maybe we are. If social media has taught us anything, it’s to second guess our preferences and ideas, to publicize some, to hide others, and to wage massive cultural, religious or political debates in soundbites with as little evidence or strategy as possible. We’re reduced to (and fear) the immediacy of face value, because what if face value is not comprehensive enough to comprise a complimentary portrait of ourselves? God forbid the cool kids see me wearing my Kelly Clarkson t-shirt today and miss the Misfits skull I might sport tomorrow.

Chuck Klosterman – who I can never decide is friend or foe in these discussions – proposed a fine theory about our need to align our preferences with the populace, particularly our cultural hatred. To research his article “A Night With The World’s Most Hated Bands”, Klosterman attended a double-billing of Creed and Nickleback in a single night. He watched part of each performance. He talked to fans. He studied their studio work beforehand. And he found that the music is simple, poppy, and formulaic. It’s easy to listen to and possibly to enjoy, which makes it an easy target for music critics. In the end, Klosterman theorized that most people hate Creed and Nickleback because people need something to hate, and it’s always easiest to hate what other people hate. He suggested there may be other musicians we equally dislike, but there are few other bands we are so willing to hate as vehemently and publicly as Creed or Nickleback. In sharing our hatred for these bands communally, we gain a shared sense of superiority – a finely tuned cold shoulder decreeing a concretely formed “us” versus “them” dichotomy.

While this social and critical superiority – the same superiority that pays homage to the notion of “guilty pleasures” – is possibly my greatest cultural pet peeve, I realize it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how people position themselves in the face of zombies or Stephen King or Creed. Sure, you’ll drop several notches in my estimation, but my estimation is of little evolutionary concern on our forward trudging American path. Where this discussion matters most, I feel, is in conversations concerning our nation’s heart. For instance, in how we discuss Paula Deen.

As most of us now know, Paula Deen is simmering in a frying pan of her own doing. She made statements that could be considered grossly racist, and she has lost her Food Network television program and several corporate sponsorships as a result. What Paula Deen said, on multiple occasions, was beyond tacky. Asking for a team of Black men to dress in tuxedoes and serve at a Southern plantation style wedding represents an antiquated mindset most Americans, even in the South, no longer share, except in private parlor humor. And using the “n” word to describe her servers reveals a mistaken overlap between Deen’s domestic and public vocabulary.

In being an unthoughtful loudmouth, Paula Deen has given us a wonderful gift: she has given us a face we can all hate together. She has given us a behavior that, like Creed’s music, is easy to dismiss and, thereby, swell against with great superiority. We will do this for a week, until something more tantalizing comes along, and then we will hate that thing together and feel superior again until, once more, the flavor wears thin and someone else becomes the next buffoon.

However, in demonizing Paula Deen so quickly, only to move on just as quickly, we miss the opportunity to engage a vital and larger conversation: the very conversation juxtaposed a few headlines over from Deen concerning the Supreme Court’s rulings on Affirmative Action and Gay Marriage. The conversation hidden in all these headlines suggests that we have not yet resolved our issues of race and gender and sexuality and what to do with people different than us. The message glaring through these stories claims that our social and cultural vocabulary, perhaps as unthoughtfully loudmouthed as Paula Deen’s at times, is not complete. We’re still learning how to see one another, how to count and parcel and invite one another into our communities. And we’re still learning how to discuss such matters beyond their moment in print.

Paula Deen is not the face of blatant, mean-spirited racism; rather, she is the mouthpiece of an unchecked cultural superiority shared within her community. If only more of us could be so blessed – whether we’re discussing other races or the gays or the immigrants or the zombies next door – to have someone privately humble our poo-pooing, dismissive superiority.

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Kiki’s Most Played Records of 2013 (Thus Far)

I might lose friends over this one, but here we go.


Half way through the year, and it’s time to take inventory of what’s stood out musically. I asked Myles to join me in a Top Five SO FAR Records of 2013 list. I’ll be interested to see what, if any, of these records make my end of year list. Also, these records are listed in chronological order of acquisition, and they may not have even been released in 2013. If you have a problem with that, make your own list. Here’s what I’ve jammed the hardest this year.

Also, my friend Angela Craig will barf on her own shoes when she sees this.


1. Ke$ha – Warrior

It’s no secret that I shamelessly love pop music. And it’s also no secret that I do not believe in guilty pleasures. And I have zero intentions of apologizing or shirking my love of Ke$ha – and her entire canon – to make…

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The Question Of Muse Continues (Thoughts From A Fellow Writer)

6:47 AM – Today I serve jury duty. The last time I served jury duty I told the judge the case we were discussing sounded like a waste of time and energy because it sounded like they already had the thing figured out. I said something along the lines of, “We all know these things are based far more in rhetoric and resource than actual guilt or innocence, so I’d prefer to spend my time elsewhere.” In my defense, I often accept an invitation to be totally honest as an invitation to be totally honest. Today I plan to be more patient. Perhaps I can keep good graces with the Brazos County courts.


“I shall see what comes when I am not looking.” – Tanya Marlow

Having been the beneficiary of many such encounters, I believe in divine appointments. For instance, I find it more than consequential that yesterday I posted questions concerning the concept of a “muse” and today I read a post by a fellow online writer describing, what she believes to be, her muse. She comically referred to her muse as “the shower”, but she said something in her description that struck me as solid gold.

Tanya Marlow says “the shower” is her muse. The shower is where she gets her ideas. My good and lovely YA writer friend, Kelly Riad, also gets her best ideas in the shower. I do not get great ideas in the shower. I generally hum and sing a few repetitive bars of whatever Kelly Clarkson or troublesome hip-hop number has lodged itself in loop around my brain, but no solid thinking occurs in the shower. I enter dry. I leave wet. I then apply the patchouli and clothings. Done.

Tanya, in describing her shower-muse, said something I think is essential to the source of “muse”, something that reaches beyond location and activity:

I don’t know what it is about the shower. I suppose other people find it in coffee shops or going on a walk – any activity where you are not using much brain or physical energy, and you go into automatic pilot.

Tanya then said something interesting: although she uses little brain energy at this moment, she’s more able – in this quiet mental place – to sort through the rabble of her mind. She’s able to peel back the socially trending thoughts from the personal thoughts. She’s able to move aside what other people are saying to find the question that is most pertinent to her in that moment. Her process for doing so is worth reading, as it lands her in a place of finding some aspect of life or God that is true solely for her. This idea is what she has to give. Let the mega-bullhorns shout their messages! This kernel of a thought is the one thing Tanya has to say. I love that.

I said yesterday that I have often read Christian writers who write as if with authority but then say very little. Perhaps Tanya has struck on why that is so: perhaps very few of us take that moment to push back the popular notions, the spiritual memes, the hip theology of the moment in order to connect with the authentic place from which we are meeting God and culture and society. In fact, this notion falls in line precisely with the Mark Edmundson essay I wrote about yesterday. The true poet should look at life with unique eyes and lend us a vision worth consideration. More on this later.

My desire to question the concept of muse rises from a deeper desire to write words that, even if not popular, affect the moment – even though I’m not sure exactly what that means. Chadverb and I have written extensively as of late concerning the difference between writing for entertainment and writing for truth. I write a great deal for giggles (ie. The Four Hands), but I hope for more elsewhere, away from this internet and these ethereal pages I hold in such adoring contempt.

Tanya strikes at something I’ll hold before myself and God and, surely, anyone who will suffer the conversation: what vision is unique to this guy? What aspect of the out there or the in here might be delivered essentially through my voice? Perhaps I will not land on the precise name for that thing/those things, but it is worth striving towards after crawling from that quiet place, that sanctum that shuts down the other voices and strips away the rabbling thought that hinders inspiration.

My great thanks to Tanya Marlow for sharing bravely not only in this. Blessings on the words and waters flowing in the days ahead.

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The Question of Muse (And The Debunking of The Christian Sunday School Response)

9:12 AM – We returned a few days ago from a week vacationing in Galveston, Texas. (For the record, my definition of vacation is doing what I would normally do at home – read books, drink coffee, search for good cheese, porch sit, complain about neighbors and natives – but do them in a different location. Some would say this is successful vacationing, others that it is a waste. I also do not vacation to impress, so who cares what they think?) Galveston is an interesting town. Hurricane Ike appears to have left the town both shell-shocked and humbled. Houses remained boarded up, unpainted, sunlight blocked as if the entire town were a giant coven. Still, the people are kinder in Galveston than anywhere I’ve visited in Texas. A shared tragedy gels a community, and the people speak, even cling to one another, as if each person were a living buoy sent to withstand the weathers of another day. I liked this about Galveston, even if the beach looked like beef broth breaking over stale cornbread.


Mark Edmundson’s recent article about “The decline of American Verse” in the newest Harper’s Magazine is the best thing I’ve read this year. I can also see that the article would be polarizing. I’m not even sure how much I agree with Edmundson’s arguments, but I know that, as a reader and would-be writer, his essay has given me pause to consider how and to what degree and for what purposes do I magnify my own voice. Any chance we have to reevaluate our own voice – particularly what we’re shouting in which directions – is a good thing. I don’t need to agree totally with an argument in order for that argument to have already succeeded greatly. And I cannot recommend Edmundson’s piece highly enough. I imagine most of my posts this week will be devoted to Edmundson’s article and my subsequent morning meditations on it.

In essence, Edmundson – a professor of English at the University of Virginia who has written most intently on Freud, Emerson, the purposes of reading and teaching, and, most recently, football – argues two points in the Harper’s piece, “Poetry Slam: Or, The Decline of American Verse”.

For one, and this is the argument I’d like to focus on here today, Edmundson argues that great poets should possess and exhibit three key characteristics:

  1. “First, the writers must have something of a gift . . .”
  2. “. . . . a second requirement. She must also have something to say.”
  3. “Given these powers – the power of expression and the power to find a theme – the poet still must add ambition. She must be willing to write for her readers. She must be willing to articulate the possibility that what is true for her is true for all readers.”

Edmundson goes on to say:

“There are plenty of poets writing now who have a strong lyric gift, who have searched for and found a theme. There are even some few who can be said to possess both theme and creative prowess. But the muse they invoke is not a fiery one.”

What strikes me here is that the “lyric gift” and “themes” can be exercised and perhaps even exhumed (or honed) within a would-be writer by a mentor, but where does “muse” come from? How does one tap into the correct “muse”? Is that “muse” something innate that some are either born with or others are not? Am I screwed if, at this point, I feel I have not written anything of great effect or importance? Could the “muse” still seize me like the Spirit at Pentacost? I feel this idea of “muse” is something we toss around, but rarely consider in truth.

Obviously, the correct Christian answer to any of these questions concerning the “muse” is simply that God is our muse. God, or the Holy Spirit, is the source of the Christian writer or blogger’s enlightenment and literary gift. But I’ve read plenty of Christian authors and bloggers who write as if from the authority of Christ who say absolutely nothing and who say it poorly enough that I feel embarrassed for them. My wife and I both love Jesus Christ and hope for His salvation to indwell within our bones and home on a daily basis – however, when my wife prepares a meal as unto the Lord people flock to her table, whereas my meals are fit only for tin foil and kindly spoken intentions concerning leftovers. The Judeo-Christian muse has not seized us both in the kitchen, just as it has not impaled all Christian writers and bloggers with the Holy Quill.

I’ve joked over the past year that Rashida Jones is my “muse”, but this is only because I had a dream once that would not leave me for days about grocery shopping with Rashida Jones at an outdoor market on a beach. Jones was surprisingly bossy. I was glad to awaken away from her. In all actuality (and I’m glad she will not read this), a former co-worker from my tenure at Starbucks, a bottle-red sprite with an eye for photographed horizons and orchids, has provided the shape and voice for the main character in two pieces I’ve previously written and she’s now the lead in my current work. But I can hardly label this old friend a “muse”. Rather, she is something of a sketch-inspiration: the White girl I return to when I need a White-girl in a story.

This question of “muse” is something I hope to revisit. Unfortunately, Edmundson offers little definition or explanation to what he means by “muse”. He tosses the word into his piece willy-nilly, like most of us toss words about words like “freedom” and “peace” and “hope”, banking on others to have defined for themselves a notion we espouse as supremely central to both our arguments and even our lives.

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