Moral relativism is a failed social experiment. So is moral fundamentalism. I blame modern psychotherapy–partly–for the degradation of a culture that can not tolerate accountability and discernment. It’s why so many TV shows and movies are about serial killers: we can not conceive of a bad guy anymore. The only “bad guy” we can all agree on is a mass murderer. Even that is in danger of being OKified by the shrinked up zeitgeist: ergo Dexter, the lovable serial killer who kills serial killers. We want to rehabilitate everyone in this sophomoric, brainless insistence that there is no evil.
But somewhere between the rocks and the hard place of relativism and fundamentalism is a unitive philosophy that embraces what Teilhard de Chardin called humanism, but still leaves room for shame and discernment. Yes, shame has an important place in social interaction. So does spirituality. I am playing around with the middle way in my head, and I call it coherence theory.
I got to hear some comments about Teilhard de Chardin at a dinner last night that honors classicism. The art critic Donald Kuspit received an award for excellence in the arts, and he spoke about the failure of the avant-guard, which has turned into an empty “frantic trendiness.” It was a great relief to hear someone state outright that the emperor has no clothes. My husband Sabin Howard, being a sculptor, drags me to a lot of art shows, and I have seen a lot of twelfth rate crap. In fact, as soon as anyone says they are an “abstract expressionist,” I know they suck.
Speaking of art that sucks: I was seated at dinner next to some stuffed shirts who run an arts club, and on hearing I was a novelist, they told me with much self-importance that they were honoring Chinua Achebe. I groaned. “For what? His novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ is so badly written! It’s boring and unreadable! He gets attention just because he’s the only one out of Nigeria.”
Immediately, the stuffed shirts wanted to prove that I was rascist and asked me if Obama was just getting votes because he was black.
“That’s not why I voted for him,” I answered. “I voted for him because he’s smart and inspiring, I think he can truly bring change, and I want change!” That shut them up long enough for me to carry on for a while about what a piece of cockroach manure “Things Fall Apart” is. The stuffed shirts managed to save themselves by turning away to talk to other people, and I seized the opportunity to make vomiting motions in their direction. It got a laugh out of my husband but probably didn’t endear me to the artsy fartsy shirts.
Later, in the cab ride home, the great Burt Silverman, a realist portrait painter who actually has a foundation in craftsmanship and tradition, twitted me about my oration on the indignity of art. “You were networking?” he asked wryly. Probably not.
Update from a few years later: The stuffed shirt who insulted me embezzled money from the arts club–a LOT of money. Sometimes my instincts hit the bull’s eye.
Factual error in the New Yorker: I write this post not just for myself, but for all women whose ideas were misattributed to a man, and who were told to leave it be and not to rock the boat.
My husband Sabin Howard is making a national memorial, the National World War I Memorial.
He began with drawings. He drafted several iterations of a relief that would tell the story of the Great War.
One morning over breakfast, he was talking about the design and showing it to me.
“My goodness,” I said. “You’ve got Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey there.”
Sabin said, “Explain that?”
So I did. As a novelist, I’ve worked with Campbell’s ideas for years. For the purposes of storytelling, the beats of the hero’s journey are useful and important. I’ve been so entranced by Campbell’s work that I’ve talked about getting a PhD in it.
And so, with my explanation over coffee and scrambled eggs, began a critical and oft-repeated piece of the story around the WWI Memorial. The Hero’s Journey connection has been publicly broadcast, by Sabin and by others associated with the Memorial, including PR people.
This is my contribution to this worthy endeavor and I’m proud of it.
Sabin is an honorable man. He consistently credits me with telling him about Joseph Campbell. He says, “My wife told me about the Hero’s Journey…” in every public venue where he’s spoken–including at a meeting of the Commission on Fine Arts in Washington DC.
In the worlds of literature and academia, claiming credit for someone else’s work is called plagiarism. Sabin is well aware of that. He is extraordinarily brilliant, but I was the one who came up with the Hero’s Journey.
The idea is to give credit where credit is due. As a matter of integrity–don’t take credit for other people’s work. Sabin doesn’t. He’s honorable.
Then came a big opportunity: The New Yorker magazine decided to do a Talk of the Town piece on Sabin and his sculpture at the New York Academy of Art.
The publicist for the NYAA was happy and excited. She had done a great job! This piece would add luster to the NYAA, to Sabin, who was showing the WWI Memorial Maquette at the NYAA, and to the Memorial itself. This was a coup!
Sabin was happy. Despite the extraordinary–unparalleled–quality of his work, he has struggled for acceptance here in the New York art world.
“A prophet is not recognized in his home town,” I tell him.
The Talk of the Town piece went live online yesterday.
It contained a factual error:
“I realized, Oh, my God, this is like Joseph Campbell’s ‘the hero’s journey,’ ” Howard said. “It’s a very simple story that everybody in every single culture has experienced.”
Sabin was out when I texted him about the error. He stepped away from a meeting to contact the publicist at the NYAA and ask for the article to be corrected for factual accuracy.
Here’s where the story gets interesting.
The NYAA publicist was less than enthusiastic about the update. She forwarded the request to the writer at The New Yorker.
Then she emailed back, “Anna…consulted with the fact-checking department on the request, and they feel since the piece doesn’t go into “how” the realization was made, it should stay as is.”
This is disingenuous. Sabin was directly misquoted and asked for his words to be represented correctly. He always says, “My wife said, “This is Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.”
The New Yorker‘s misquote creates a factual error in the piece.
Sabin and I continued to push for accuracy. Sabin felt it was an injustice that his words were manipulated and that he was misquoted.
The NYAA publicist responded with increasing unpleasantness. She even told Sabin, “The story wasn’t pitched to The New Yorker as a piece about you and Traci.”
I emailed her,
Adding the words, “My wife remarked…” certainly does not make it a story about me and Sabin. Three words could not do that in a piece of this length. It does, however, become factually correct. It gives the piece an integrity that it currently lacks. Whether or not the magazine is attempting to be vindictive, they are acting in a way that has become a sore point with the parties involved. The magazine has been informed of a misquote and has chosen, this far, not to correct the piece.
The publicist was so appalled that I would continue to stand up for myself and my ideas that she got the head of the New York Academy of Art to email Sabin to tell me to back down.
Is that how the NYAA chooses to behave: by attempting to bully women who are standing up for their contributions? By attempting to get an authority to squelch the quest for accuracy and integrity? Women applying to the New York Academy of Art: BEWARE!
Regarding The New Yorker, here are my questions:
Is this how fake news starts: with journalists twisting subjects’ words any way that pleases them, and being unwilling to correct their piece when told about the error?
If The New Yorker makes a mistake and doesn’t correct that error because of specious and disingenuous reasoning, how is this publication any different from the fake news outlets they descry?
It’s disappointing that a venue that lauds its own integrity isn’t showing its integrity.
And there’s one more wrinkle in this sordid story. That is, there’s a concern about vindictiveness. The NYAA publicist and the head of the NYAA wanted us to stand down for fear that we would alienate people who had “been on our side.”
The NYAA publicist wrote us,
No press will be inclined to write on Sabin again, because it appears that he goes and attacks press who cover him. In addition, “fake news” is very inflammatory language to use and the New Yorker takes accusations like that extremely seriously – they have to, because of their political journalism. Claiming that the New Yorker is publishing fake news will attract a lot of unpleasant attention to you.
It’s a craven concern, but a real one. In today’s world, with its emphasis on expedience, the press might just step away from a subject who insists that his words be accurately represented.
Sabin said to me, “The New York Academy of Art will never work with me again because of this.” In order to uphold his personal integrity, he himself has to make a personal sacrifice that directly affects his career.
And so…I write this blog post for myself, for all women whose ideas have been misattributed to a man and were told to leave it be and not to rock the boat, and–come to think about it–for all the wives who are the unsung heroes supporting their husband.
Lip Service by M.J. Rose
Recently I was in Portland, Oregon for a wedding. I went alone because my husband had work stuff and anyway, someone had to stay with our little one.
Early in the afternoon, with several hours to spare before the much-anticipated headline event, I wandered down to the university area to check out the farmer’s market.
The sun shone, warm and yellow, through a high sibilant canopy of rich emerald leaves. The air was playful on my skin. I meandered through stalls of glistening red raspberries, juicy bursting blueberries, and gleaming purple blackberries ready to squish open on my tongue. There were heads of pale green fennel so fragrant and sweet, and rows of perfect round tomatoes, and long ripe squash… I was soon a little soft in my knees.
I found myself breathing faster and deeper. I felt both vaguer and keyed up, all at once.
A fantasy like a ball of yarn unraveled in my mind. I say ‘mind’ not ‘head’ because my whole body was involved, in the most emollient way.
I was walking indoors with a man I know, someone I hadn’t thought of in this most interesting context. We were inside and we were alone and he leaned down and wove his fingers through my hair. Then he pulled me close to his body, which was warm and taut. When he kissed me, his mouth tasted salty but also sweet.
There was more, which led me back to my hotel room and some private moments. After a luxuriant nap, I texted my husband: “Really REALLY wish u were here.”
This lush diversion led me into some pleasant reveries: a memory of lying on a couch in the sun in Cape Cod, with the smell of bayberry thicket and sea on the wind, and the wonderful release I’d enjoyed then; a night early in our relationship that I’d spent telling my then-boyfriend-now-husband funny stories that were not G-rated, and which evolved into the kind of sweaty, rollicking good time I usually only read about; a sense of wonder at the pleasure and power inherent in sensual fantasy.
Reading MJ Rose’s delicious and often poignant and always intelligent “Lip Service” has brought all this back to me.
World of Writing— World of Writing —That’s right! It’s time for another fascinating interview with other writers, offering their insights on the industry. Loyal listeners of our radio sho may remember we had Tracy Slatton on as a featured guest back in May 2008 – check out the full interview via: Midlife & the Italian Renaissance
She has some more interesting thoughts on the industry that she’d like to share with us today, but first let me tell you a little about her. Traci L. Slatton is a graduate of Yale and Columbia, and she also attended the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, sculptor Sabin Howard – and she’s here to speak about both her life as an author and her thoughts on the world of e-publishing. * Find Traci @: www.tracilslatton.comQ: Where are you from?People ask where I am from, and I say, “Around.” My dad was in the Navy, so we moved frequently. I was born outside Chicago and grew up in Groton, CT; Norfolk, VA; Millington, TN; and Olathe, KS. I’ve been in New York city since 1985 and I consider myself a New Yorker.Because I grew up in a peripatetic military life, my books reflect my love for travel, for different ways of being in the world. There is curiosity and adventure to life. Fallen is set in France, right after the world has ended. But this is France after a devastating apocalypse. The Botticelli Affair takes place partly in New York city, but the main character, luscious art forger Laila Cambridge, travels to Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome—three of my favorite cities.Q: When did you consider yourself a writer?I knew when I was 6 years old, after reading my first “big book,” that I wanted to write novels. It has been the longing that has led me through my life. In some way, everything I have done has been about that goal, that longing. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I was accepted into Yale after my junior year of high school. That was, for me, about becoming a writer. I was determined to do whatever it took to get there.Q: Do you use more than one voice in your writing? (first/second…)My three novels are largely written in the first person. Part of my process is about feeling myself, and imagining myself, deeply into the main character. The character comes alive when I use ‘I.’Laila, my bubbly art forger in The Botticelli Affair, was fun to write because she’s zany and frisky, while also wrestling with her dark temptations. Emma, the main character in Fallen, struggles with her own heart. Emma is on a mystical odyssey, and her choices are fateful. She is trying to find joy and meaning while keeping a group of children alive.Q: What is your profession and educational background?I received a bachelor’s from Yale in English and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia. I also attended the four year Barbara Brennan School of Healing. I spent many years as a hands-on healer. Now I am a professional writer. I’ve also been raising three and a half children—‘half’ being my beautiful step-daughter.Q: What is your mission?My mission is to write novels that entertain, uplift, and awaken the reader. I intend to write stories that will buoy people through troubled times, as well as delight them while they are reading.For these reasons, I write novels where the stakes are high. In Fallen, there has been an apocalypse. So the question is, what is left, when everything is gone? In this story, I propose that it is love.Q: What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?I think I create three-dimensional characters, that’s a strength. But I am borderline wordy. It’s imperative for me to have a good editor!Q: About e-Publishing and Self publishingIt’s a brave new world of publishing. Because of e-publishing, we are in the midst of the greatest revolution in publishing since the invention of the Guttenberg Press, which, by the way, put a whole class of people out of work within a generation: scribes. And initially, there was quite a lot of resistance to printed books; members of the elite classes believed that no educated man would buy coarse printed books. We’ve all seen how that turned out!The traditional publishers are dinosaurs, fossilizing in front of our eyes. They take too long to read manuscripts, they take too long to get manuscripts into printed form, they respond too slowly to the market, they are afraid to take risks, they are terrified of innovation and run from it, they run themselves on old-school business ‘rules’ that are outmoded and largely false for books, they run via group-think and committee-mind so they lack creativity and vision, their PR departments are incompetent, they want to be gatekeepers instead of gate-openers serving the reading public, and they have no sense of nurturing mid-list authors and developing a career over time. Basically, traditional publishing houses are searching vainly for an algorithm that will guarantee that every book they publish will be a bestseller. To that end, they beat the deceased equine until it is a gelatinous mass.This is a time when independent-minded, innovative, pathologically persistent authors can do very, very well—because they can get their books out to the reading, buying public quickly. However: beware of literary agencies that offer to publish your novel for you, for a price. In my mind this is a serious conflict of interest for a literary agency and a shocking dereliction of ethical responsibility. If an agent likes your book but can’t sell it, take your book and e-publish it yourself.HOWEVER, and this is crucial: it is imperative that every e-publishing author do a few things: 1. Hire a professional manuscript editor and do at least 2 revisions, and 2. Hire a professional copy-editor and have the manuscript copy-edited before sending it to the e-publisher. These are not optional. They are mandatory. Sloppy books are not taken seriously and will not sell. My third recommendation is to hire a PR firm. Readers can’t buy your books if they don’t know about them!
Renowned astrologer and author of 3 books LYNN BELL sent me this thoughtful essay this morning, and then graciously gave permission for me to post it here as a guest post.
Lynn Bell is American by birth but lives in Paris and teaches at the Centre for Psychological Astrology in London. She frequently lectures and teaches for groups in England, Germany, Norway, Austria, France and Mexico, including The Faculty Summer School at Oxford, The London School of Astrology, Agape in Paris and RAH in France.