Tribal Catholic.

Me. In my head.

Me. In my head.

This morning, I was already carving new arrows for my quiver, brain burning with summary thoughts on Catholic elementary education. My dad texted me: “Pray. It’ll be ok.” I huffed to myself, and it was easy to imagine my dagger and my determination – and my wood-shavings everywhere. My dad in the doorway. Pray. It’ll be okay.

“Tribal Catholic” is my term for a Catholic who is somewhat convinced that Catholic things are somehow better. Even very ordinary things: that Catholic poet, that Catholic scientist, that Catholic shoemaker. Better. Someone who is at least partly of the opinion that all roads lead to Rome, even the ones that never did. The sort who loves the new buildings in town, and cherishes all the old things in the attics of all the misshapen, weathered homes. That ridiculous affection that knows its own strangeness. Its too-much-ness. A Catholic who is loyal to the Church in that odd old way tribes treat their blood-kin: loyalty first of all to blood, often very effectively, sometimes reason be damned.

I call myself a tribal Catholic when I’m about to say something from my heart whose only explanation is my heart. It will be neither an argument nor a claim, only a truth known in what cannot be spoken.

Or when I want to explain the odd ferocity that, say, J.R.R. Tolkien or Dietrich von Hildebrand had for their religion: tribal Catholics, to be taken seriously, and whose extravagance can be both loved and relativized. Other Catholics are diplomats, or clever tricksters, or whatever. I’m not about to offer a typology of Catholics. I’m just explaining a certain way of loving the Church that often finds its way into Catholic self-expression regardless of the personality.

Sometimes, when I want to poke fun at myself, I admit that I am something of a “Hegelian Catholic”: I have never met a truth or a good that I thought the Church couldn’t appropriate. In my mind, she can and will grow to cosmic proportions – and eschatologically, she already (always) has.

It’s often grating, offensive, this Catholic impulse. This clear contortion of perspective. I have learned to soften it, even to conceal it. Never in my life have I tried to convert anyone to Catholicism, nor do I see that in my future. I am very nearly lackadaisical about whether a soul comes to see the countenance of the Church: that is the Spirit’s concern for her, and mine is trusting both of them. I do more still: rarely will I comment as Protestants discuss why they are not Catholic, which often seems to happen around Catholics. (Our tribalism provokes the question without announcing it.) When others tell me their idea of religion, I only listen. If a Catholic says why they are not anymore: quiet attention.

Sometimes my aunt and uncle walk up to me and explain why they’re Lutheran now. More than once, they’ve done so. I’d have never known. They imagine, perhaps, that I think poorly of them. In fact, I think only of the Spirit. He will search us, and I will not.

Catholics can be absurd. We don’t really do everything better, Thomas Aquinas does not answer every question, every single Catholic feels like a bad Catholic (not just you), and we are the worst in the ways we treat each other. I am sure that we confuse the hell out of others, and not just because our words for things are different and our rituals foreign. How odd, after all: the sight of Catholics bickering over whether they love or hate Pope Francis the way that they should – as if that were a real question, a measure of anything, when for the Church herself obedience to the office is the measure. Obedience to the local bishop first.

The sheer vitriol. As if the Church were something to win or to lose.

Or that odd moment: seeing cherished kin across the Tiber, heart to heart, and wanting to punch the Catholic over on this side of the river right in the throat.

I’m too tribal not to know the contradiction, and so tribal that I seriously do not care who wins what. The tribe is the tribe is the tribe. I am here with her. The family brawls behind me on Thanksgiving and I am very pleased with my goddamn sweet potatoes. Only time I’m upset is when a guest laughs at the fight or the meal. Then I drag warpaint across my face and set it like flint.

Mostly I am enamored of the things in the attic and the old things handed over. The crazy family stories and the brave ones. Peasants sprinting from one Mass to another simply to see the elevation of the host; bishops lifted on ordinary shoulders for proclaiming the Theotokos.

I am in the main a Catholic of considerable intellectual sophistication. A theologian cannot help but be so, and it is such a profound aspect of my temperament that I’d be that way even if I were a mechanic instead. (And mechanics are more noble.) Questions have always haunted me. My dad didn’t quite teach me this, but we share the bent of mind. As conflicted about my family as I can be, especially toward the father who was gone so much (even when he was there, too tired), I know this: the fact that he’d give me books and let me sprint far past him was perhaps his greatest act of paternal generosity and humility. Encouraging a daughter to know more than him. That’s hard for men my age, let alone a man who comes from where my dad does. From a family that zealously cherishes the family name and the men who pass it on.

His mother, my grandmother, was very sharp, openly well-educated. She prepared him for such a gift. I am convinced of it.

And she taught me something of Irish Catholic tribalism, gave it to me directly. So did my mom, but in an entirely different way. My mother is a peasant Catholic in that best and most beloved tradition of the Church: the peasant-folk who have always been the life-blood and heart of Catholicism. The ones who are not the treasured lights of a culture, the Augustines and Newmans of the Church. But these not-treasures are the real treasures, the ones that St. Lawrence gathered and offered to the Romans. Augustine, the true Father of the West, is useless to his Church unless he defends these least.

My mom taught me my prayers, and really just the two: Our Father and Hail Mary, simple and true. She was the one who made sure her children all wore a gold crucifix or a medal of a saint. She the one who touched her children’s holy things to relics to make them really holy. Who imagined angels and the Virgin Mary watching us, and said so. My mother of the implacable statement, “God kept you alive.” Neither argued nor explained. A maternal law I’ve never once questioned.

As angry and contradictory as I can be toward the mother who could look and not see so many things in me, her greatest maternal act was to love me into the tangible details of the Faith. The touches and the movements and the places.

As for the rest of me: Catholicism absorbed with baffling alacrity despite indifferent, confused grownup Catholics at the parish; learned at the sides of patient priests; saturated in defiance of liturgical poverty. Despite, indeed, parents who suffered ignorance of their own faith because it had been given to them by a generation perplexed at Vatican II. The generation that wanted to be different and also didn’t, and that is often rather bitter over it. The generation – my grandparents’ – that I least understand. My parents were taught by their confusion. Nevertheless. I am Catholic to my bones, and would be so were I an atheist. This education-despite skewed me enough that I haven’t breathed in all I could of the Church’s life. Not yet. Even had I been raised in a monastery, this would still be so.

God’s unexplained gift to me was my formation outside the confines of my resources. “Unexplained” because He’s never said why He gave me this, and I’ll leave its meaning to the Spirit and the Church.

I always try to embrace the Protestants who sit by me at Mass and cannot receive communion. I try to touch them somehow after I’ve received the Eucharist, and the impulse has something to do with how I think the act comes from the Heart of Christ and the Spirit of the Church. At the same time, I’ll be the first tempted to tackle a non-Catholic for daring to receive the Eucharist without receiving the Catholic Church (her practice is more generous: no one who asks is refused). The treasure of my tribe without my tribe somehow hurts and angers me the most. I don’t understand, can never seem to fathom, why a non-Catholic would dare. Not to have bled for her and yet to grip her heart. I stare at the act as if it were a language I didn’t know. I can’t read it, can’t understand.

The tribe wants to embrace but wants to be embraced, too. The desires are and will always be inextricably twined.

To serve without distinguishing who deserves to be served, because all do. To stubbornly distinguish and guard who serves. These are so innately Catholic, so frequently offensive and misunderstood.

A dear friend of mine mentioned that when next we meet, he might be able to receive with me. I looked at him and tried not to cry, tried not to contrive and convince. Looked at him feeling a desperate desire to have him near. There is a part of me that always wants everyone to be Catholic and never says so. Knows not to say it. It is a burning secret, a letter on the heart. To be able to take and eat with everyone, especially my friends: how desperately I want it, and how fiercely I won’t allow it unless they want it too. To want is to want the tribe, and I know that is hard. We are not so very lovable. Sometimes it seems others don’t join the tribe because of this or that doctrine, which I do vaguely understand. Mostly my heart wants to know whether they can love her, love my gathered blood-kin. All of us. We are all related and we are each other’s. This is what I more readily grasp as something someone can or cannot be.

I would love so much to eat with him. I said only, “Follow where the Spirit leads.” That is the Spirit’s concern and the Church’s too, and the Spirit always paints in the colors of the tribe. This I do and do not understand. I only know that neither the Church nor the Spirit are mine, and this I trust.


A prelude to forgiveness.

“The Church doorway,” Grant Wood

“They don’t understand,” she said, soft on the phone. I sighed and closed my eyes. She meant our vast shared family. She meant mental illness. “No, they don’t,” I said, voice just as soft. “It isn’t their fault.”

I have an enormous network of family members, there are a million, or close to that, and I remember in kindergarten figuring out that when the other kids said “family,” they didn’t mean all their cousins and aunts and uncles and second cousins and so on. Everyone in my family is wildly different, whatever branch of the family tree I imagine.

I have loved and hated that tree. Every inch of it. With all of my being. Loved. Hated.

The side of the family in question, in that phone conversation – well. I won’t name it. The story would wander through different details to arrive at the same destination. Let us leave some things to rest.

Either way, I do not… It has been very hard to face what no one noticed when I was young. The awful things. I do not know how to mourn the horrible, the shameful things – that no one knew. Not really. They didn’t. They couldn’t. My God, they would’ve stopped it. Right? If they just knew. And why didn’t they? It hurts. Why didn’t they know?

My keen awareness of how little others could do for me slices me apart inside, like I’d swallowed razor blades.

I hurt. All I did was hurt. It still hurts.

It has made me angry, this question about the past. Sometimes I thought I’d burn alive right where I stood, consumed by a rage so powerful I feared I wouldn’t survive it. I hated every soul who’d ever known me as a child. Fuck them for never rescuing me. I had never felt such anger. Or, I should correct: I had never realized how angry I was inside. Very, very angry. Burning up.

Sometimes it comes up again, the howling rage. It terrifies me every time, though I do remember I’ll survive it. That it doesn’t make me evil, or a monster, or unredeemable to feel it. For a long time, I worried that I had betrayed my family, and that was the one thing I knew I should never, ever do – betray them. I needed to love them, not hate their guts. Why couldn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I stop hating them so much? I was the worst, the worst human being, to hate them so much.


Strangely, I have learned that love can survive hatred. Anger, too. It just…doesn’t burn.

That is a mystery to me, that strange quality of love. It has a way of redeeming even an anger so fierce it eats everything else alive. All red and orange claws, all breathless heat. Snarling.

I hear their voices on the phone, and I know. I still love them. I do. Even when it hurts all over again.

It is the case that no one understood what happened to me, or in any case very few did, and definitely no one did anything. It doesn’t matter: I was alone with those feelings. They are painfully difficult even now. It is also the case that no one understood as I fell apart with those feelings and many, many more. I was alone with those feelings, too, hurting in a different way.


It isn’t their fault. Not understanding, whenever they don’t understand. There is much, so much, underneath all that lack. Like some darkly crystalline cave beneath the floorboards. They don’t do it on purpose, not knowing. It’s a twisted history under there, carefully unspoken. They still love me as much as they know how, even when there is so little to hold onto in the dark. Love has a strange way of surviving…really goddamn demented family histories, and gut-wrenching blindnesses, and secret devastations. Not everything survives. Not happily. Even if none of it did: it isn’t their fault. How they are isn’t their fault. And they are still lovable, just the way they are.

Even when I hate them.

Even when I don’t understand them at all.

It isn’t their fault. Somehow. When I first said it on the phone, I did not expect the other voice to understand it, even as it seemed to echo in my ears all new and mysterious. I’d add that a weight was lifted from my shoulders, but really it wasn’t, and really I felt deep sorrow. Sadness at the strange blamelessness of guilt in the world, that saturated and surpassing guilt. The kind of shuddering thing that’s no one’s fault as everyone hurts under its power, as everyone hurts each other – which is their fault, that part.

Is it possible to forgive a strange mess of measureless guilt and (sort of) measurable responsibility?

I worried, sometimes, that to forgive would mean somehow voiding the past. Like it never happened. Like that hurt never cut. Someone once told me that when God forgives us, God doesn’t remember our sins at all. That’s not forgiveness, that’s forgetting. How much more real is it when the dark is there in plain view – and forgiven? In other words, forgiveness is for things that need forgiving – not things that go away. The remarkable turn isn’t so much that the hurt vanishes, but that it is relinquished as it is acknowledged. It is as if it never happened, but only because it did happen and it was forgiven, and somehow the wound itself is more precious because it became an experience of genuine mercy. Remembering the agony becomes a window to remembering that aching relief, that breathless happiness that strangely makes us cry. Why forget that?

“Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20).

I have things I need forgiveness for, too. After all. And I do hope that I can be forgiven, someday, for what I did and do. I hope that those people don’t have to forget what I did, or say it wasn’t real, but can know it in some new and precious way. For them. Not for me.

I need to forgive my young self, too. After all. For all that silence.

And… My family. I understand, a little, the jagged pathways of fault. They don’t understand, didn’t. I barely do. Must I keep waiting around for them to cry for my every tear before wiping them away from all of our eyes (Rev 21:4)? I don’t think forgiveness needs that. Not really. Though of course many other things must pass before grace finds its way through the wounds. It’s not easy. I’m not saying that. And maybe there are some things that wait for another time, a time beyond time, for forgiveness. Hell: it has taken me years to arrive to wherever it is I am. It is somewhere or something, though.

I wouldn’t call it forgiveness. Not from me. Not yet.

It is something like the shadow of forgiveness stretching across an open door.

Self-Portraits and Paradoxes

“Self Portrait,” Joshua Reynolds

I am aware that my honesty about my struggles in this digital space might well cost me the next job. I hope it does not. But I have paid much steeper prices than a future job to maintain silence, and I don’t have it in me anymore. So I write here to work through what I have left, since writing is kind of my thing, and I hope sometimes that someone somewhere will decide silence isn’t worth it for them.

Yesterday, I saw myself through a friend’s eyes. Saw his perplexity at the dark and bewildering losses to which I refer here, saw his confusion in the face of an otherwise gentle and successful life. I’ve got a job. I am what I say: a young professor on the West Coast with a book on the way to presses, conferences to visit, new ideas spinning through my head, students who adore me and whom I adore right back. My friend might have you reminded that I am considerably talented: he thinks of me first as a poet. I will admit talent with words and languages – I can read eight of them, and I love translating – and a certain sharpness of mind that I think I’ve only begun to welcome. I’m really fucking good at my job. I want to get better. I don’t ever want to stop getting better.

I tend toward being gentle and perceptive, and I don’t have much violence in me. And damn do I love listening most days. Most people aren’t saying what they’re saying, and I can close my eyes and hear the words underneath the words. I can carry those words with me, and find a way to affirm the secret without giving it away.

It shocked a lot of people when I tried to kill myself. The summer just after my successful dissertation defense: that crowded event, one of the highest attended. People fucking loved me. I didn’t.

It shocked my parents.

I didn’t tell them.

Someone else did.

That says so many things: that they had no idea, that I didn’t trust them with my feelings. I just about lost it all over again when someone went and told them anyway. I didn’t trust them at all. That says too much, too much about what I thought of them, and it still hurts. And I know it hurts them, and I wish it didn’t, but I can’t fucking change what I did as if it weren’t true. As if I did trust.

I am intelligent, and I’ll work hard. That’s how I got a bunch of A’s even though I basically didn’t attend high school. I was too sick. So I taught it to myself. Graduate school just felt like more of that, except it was allowed. I’ll never forget one time when I snapped at a friend who complained at how quick I was at tasks: “You didn’t fucking have to teach yourself! Of course I learned to be fast! What other choice did I have?”

I blush now at my rage. I didn’t know what an angry person I was underneath. I hid it from myself.

And sweet Jesus, how very far A’s go to hide a teenager broken by trauma.

Once I hugged my mom and I lied to her with a straight face. “Mom,” I whispered, “it’s going to be okay.” Then I walked down the hospital hallway by myself, and I knew it wasn’t. I was ten.

There were so many hospital visits. I lost count. So many procedures and faces. It is difficult, psychologically, to grow up under the hands of other people. By the time I’d hit my early teens, I was fully traumatized by years of invasions. I didn’t know that. I knew that I didn’t want to be touched anymore. I remember that part. It was some kind of fucking cruel joke: I would have paid absolutely anything not to be touched. And as the other kids awakened to sexuality, I got needles and cold hands.

Jesus Christ, what that does to a person.

Here in the Bay Area, where people openly ask me about my sexuality – because that’s a thing people do here – I have to try so hard not to laugh. Laugh bitterly until I can’t breathe anymore. Laugh until I’ve started crying.

I was sexually abused. No, I don’t remember. Somewhere with the doctors and nurses and sometimes I think I can see his face, but I know I really can’t. The mind does not register many things when it is protecting itself. Years and years of… Those things. And, no, there is no evidence – none I could give and rest my case.

Nothing but the nightmares and the coping mechanisms that, in the hands of experts, clearly mark me out as incredibly traumatized.

Years later. I told my parents years later.

Like I said, I’m not one for trust.

I was the child that had learned that adults never figure it out and must never be trusted. So I told no one. Not even my best friend.

In psychology, the measure for truth is physiological. What the nervous system has got programmed into itself – that can’t be overridden or faked. Based on that evidence, I’m a torture victim. I just about threw up after the second time an expert told me.

I didn’t believe the first time.

I am told that, as far as psychological experiences go, I was handed all the bad cards. And I didn’t any good ones to help me hold it together. They’re amazed I’ve survived as intact as I am.

“Fucking intact torture victim,” I muttered, unimpressed.

And so it is. I’m not a bad person, mostly, though I’ve done bad things. All kinds of responses to my own suffering that don’t make me proud. I can be very good, especially to people I think need a little gentleness. I’ve seen a lot of things, a lot of not very good things, and the nice part about collapsing is I don’t have much shame left for lies or for judging someone else.

And I am a contradiction. Broken and survived. (Damn am I good at surviving, and it makes me so fucking tired too.) I understand that I am more than the scars that mark my mind. I understand, too, that I’m very different because I have them. And different because I acknowledge them.

I’m a torture survivor and I was sexually abused and I tried to die. I’m a professor of theology and I really love people and my favorite part of yesterday was the hug I got from my colleague, Paul.

And I do think God is redeeming me as I breathe.

The Hole-y Family

"Margam Castle," Walt Jabsco

“Margam Castle,” Walt Jabsco

If I had a giant mansion, I’d put lots of people in it with me. Probably no one anyone would expect, since I hate expectations and since I love my sophomores from Seminar this past semester. They’d go in the mansion.

As an adult, I’ve never much liked the idea of family. I don’t have one of my own, and getting one of my own is buried deep underneath much more immediate concerns. Like not being afraid of the office printers. (They beep. They scare me. PTSD is super fun.) Concerns like how much I love German, and adore research, and how attached I am to some of my colleagues – Paul Giurlanda is going in my mansion – that distract me entirely from standard wishes about families.

I’d have lots of other people’s families in my mansion. Plenty of children running around sounds just about awesome. And I’d like an entire wing dedicated to the lost twenty-somethings that I keep meeting in my classrooms. They can play with the children and calm the hell down for a while. I will teach them German and philosophy, the children and the lost adults both.

And no one would have a damn timeline. For when they became good enough, or loved enough, or anything at all. There’s not enough time in life for timelines.

Everyone would be allowed to feel crazy, sometimes, and sometimes really happy and sometimes really sad. No emotion would be disallowed. There is enough space for every shade of feeling, and every book. There will be lots of books. And music. So much music.

My young Padawan whom I sent away to Boston College. He’d have a place. And his mom, who is in heaven, she’d be there too. My music major, and my fighter in his wheelchair, and all the librarians I’ve loved. My dissertation director and his whole family. They’re invited. We also need at least one Catholic philosopher, and I think she’ll be available.

Not everyone is my favorite. Not everyone would be in the mansion. They’ve got homes they can get to, or I don’t know them anyway. Or they irritate me. I’m not sure how many social scientists will be allowed in my mansion. Perhaps none. And I think I’ll ban Ugg boots just to see what happens.

But I do love the idea of folks coming and going as they pleased. I love the idea of permanent welcome and generous goodbyes.

And secret passageways. Lots of those.

Sometimes it’s nice just to imagine that mansion.

Photo originally from Walt Jabsco on Flickr

The Belchers: Best Family Currently on TV?

belcher family

A TV family with a smart dad? Children who get along? A mom with more than one idea? Oh, and it’s freaking hilarious? It must not be real. No, it is: it’s Bob’s Burgers.

Most sitcoms of one sort or another seem to believe that intelligence, weirdness, insecurity, and virtue all come in very small doses that must be handed out to exactly one character a piece. The weird one can’t also be intelligent unless the former explains the latter; insecurity can never be accompanied by courage; the smartass can’t possibly be weak unless we have a very special episode about it. You get the picture: everyone has basically one talent or foible that defines them and no one else. What I love about Bob’s Burgers is that this is absolutely not the case with almost all of its characters, especially its central family. They are essentially human, though incredibly odd. And, you know, it’s a cartoon. They’re cartoons. I’m a grownup and I love this cartoon.

The Belcher family struggles together to keep their tiny burger restaurant afloat. It is clear from the outset that, even when distracted, they are in it together through every struggle and success. For this family, that mostly means hilarious struggle. “I paid the rent a few days ago,” Bob says at one point to their landlord, “I know there were a lot of pennies.”

This is not a normal family, and this is not a normal cast. Of the five family members, only one is actually voiced by a woman (Kirsten Schaal as the youngest daughter, Louise); the rest of the voices are from men, including the women. I love that odd underlying ambiguity. If I were more ambitious, I’d write an essay about how the voicing choices help us experience families as complex negotiations of gender. As it is, I’ll just say it’s hilarious. Tina in particular, voiced in soft monotones by Dan Mintz, is sweet and awkward and never at any point derided by the show’s narration. If anything, Tina is the show’s narrative darling. She is just burgeoning on adolescence, with crushes on every boy she knows…and also bearer of a zombie fixation. Mr. Mintz emphasizes Tina’s goofy sincerity rather than making a constant mockery of the fact that he is a man voicing the character of a young woman. Presented with a man who believes he was once a mannequin, Tina empathically confides, “I get it. One day all of a sudden you’re anatomically correct. I just went through that.”

Speaking of a man who was once a mannequin (but who probably wasn’t): nobody in town is normal. Absolutely nobody. From the self-certified school counselor who adores knitting to the twins who try to carry one another across the street. The Belcher family is filled with oddness, but so is everyone else. It helps to contextualize how insane anyone can feel at any moment, whether in real life or in a cartoon. Like dear Teddy, we all sometimes get stuck under a fridge in a trap the children laid for Santa. Or we feel like it, anyway.

Have I mentioned the songs? The show is filled with various songs to narrate some of its sequences, and almost all of them are perfectly hilarious. While Bob learns to play a video game, we get a man in the background singing about how you’ll lose “if you put in the towel/that’s how rules work.” Or there is Linda’s brilliant self-composed Thanksgiving song, which somehow ends with the line, “Kill the turkey.”

The show is fun, and like all fun things it is a release from reality and yet somehow stays true to it. This is a family that loves each other, and that even loves its weird neighbors (school counselors excepted). The parents love their kids and want good things for them, and the children feel very much the same…even if they can’t focus enough to hand out flyers for the restaurant. (“There was a bug on the ground,” explains Louise.)

So let me review some of my other favorite moments in a random list, and leave the actual show-watching and analysis to you:

  • Tina says to her father, “It’s like when you got that flu shot for me to show me it was okay.” Bob’s response: “That was brave of me.”
  • Somehow I always laugh at how Linda’s instant response to a man trying to have an affair with her is to slap him. A lot.
  • Gene’s suggestion for what he’s inherited from his mother: “My birthing hips.”
  • Louise fails to properly distract people from tackling Bob. When he points out the problem – on the floor during a cruise, pinned down while holding oysters – his response to her cheerful lapse is a very fatherly, “Okay, next time.” (As if there will be another?)
  • Linda is furious at Bob, and tells the children to go to bed. Bob desperately tries to get the kids to stay with him, and when they’ve finally gone, the children keep listening as their parents argue. “Do the stompy dance, mom!” says Gene from afar.
  • Teddy, noticing that the restaurant is dark and empty: “This kinda makes me want to loot you.” “What?” “Nothing.”
  • Bob’s response to his misery at losing his family for Thanksgiving is to talk to his turkey, which he’s named Lance. “You don’t get to eat Lance! Ow, Lance, you’re burning my arm.”
  • Ollie and Andy are the best twins ever. Just watch them pretend to be umpires and shout, “You’re outta here!” at each other with endless repetitive gusto. Try not to love them.
  • One of the other teenagers, Jimmy Jr., seems to be living in a constant state of Foot Loose against his dad. I don’t mind that. Especially when he runs around a taffy factory, dancing his rebellion.
  • Gene is either a musical prodigy or accidentally brilliant. He has a great composition for a Thomas Edison project, a song that only has so much to do with Edison but everything to do with Edison’s “electric love” for the elephant he electrocuted to death.