by Traci L. Slatton
My hat warned of twisting postures
an old rag, really, but after a quarter century
imbued with my fondness.
It was suddenly gone, vanished
as if it had never been yet it was
full of my cranium, and my hair, and various
dreams that had rattled through while it wore me
A pair of sunglasses featured
in favorite photos, me kissing my little daughter
growing in front of my eyes
asking to board away at a distant school
next to my friend the blonde Countess
she of evanescent visits
All that is
even my yoga
studio closed, the community
and the classes I enjoyed
the shala of my heart
a pair of suede boots my husband bought me. Will I ever find
all that is
like the close touch of a mate who has shed
over another woman,
younger than me,
and that faith misplaced
along with haberdashery and footwear and other
miscellany, even people.
Another warrior, a longer dog, a deeper backbend
to open my heart.
I move through until the body trembles denying
It is loss that is union.
2018 was a helluva year. This is my personal, highly idiosyncratic take on the Best of 2018. I hope you enjoy the list and I hope it inspires you.
Best Movie: A Star Is Born. I cried like a baby at the end. Love always contains loss, love and loss nest inside each other like Russian matryoshka dolls. And how great was the music?
Best Book I read: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, PhD. This was a tough choice, I read a lot of great books. I’ll mention Jordan Peterson‘s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos; The Coddling of the American Mind; John Medina’s Brain Rules; and Scott Adams‘ Win Bigly. Oh, and I’ve been working my way through Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. In the end, I chose the book that resonated most deeply for the way of the human heart. Dr. Gottman’s work is amazing, and he rocks!
Best Song: Shallow, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. I mean, right?!?!
Best TV Show: The Big Bang Theory. I’m binge-watching. I keep plunking down the $ on Amazon Prime for each season. It just makes me happy to snuggle up with my husband at night and watch a few episodes–giggling at my own inner nerd as much as at Sheldon, Leonard, and the gang. “Math, science, history, unraveling the mystery…”
Best Place to Visit: The Dolomites. A world heritage site. Awe-inspiring grandeur. And after a day of hiking up and down the mountains, you get to eat Italian food! How great is that?
Best Restaurant in Manhattan: The Fairway Cafe. The service is spotty, the noise rattles the windows, and the food is tasty. Go for the yummy eats, not the ambiance. It’s New York for New Yorkers.
Best Yoga Studio in NYC: Yogaworks UWS. Thoughtful teachers, a caring community. Alas, it closed at the end of November. I miss it.
Cutest Grandson: Mine. ❤️
Quillette Magazine published my article on why artists aren’t necessarily leftist: “Art, Commerce, and Vision.”
If you don’t know Quillette, check it out! It’s an online platform for free speech.
Here’s what I wrote my friends:
I am delighted to send you my article on Quillette Magazine. It’s about why artists aren’t necessarily Left-wing. I write about Sabin and his work and broach, yes, the question of what real art is. Hint: “Real art is the product of the personal, human vision of the artist… Beauty, excellence, and the artist’s skill matter.”If you don’t know Quillette Magazine, I recommend it. Quillette is a platform for free-thinking. It’s one of the very few places taking on current controversies in a thoughtful way. Please consider becoming a Patron of this extraordinary venue.One note. If you follow my twitter feed, @tracilslatton, you will see that I follow, like, and retweet some Twitter users who are much further to the Right than I am, personally. I do this to preserve their voices. Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, is hell-bent on silencing Conservative voices. I see this as antithetical to free speech, which is the foundation of democracy. We the people need lively, and civil, discussions between people of different viewpoints. We the people need the opportunity to consider all viewpoints of an issue. Technocrat fascism must be resisted.
On a recent Saturday, my husband and I enjoyed date night at the Paris Theater. We watched the film Colette.
I’m a novelist and so the film held a special resonance for me. It’s always intriguing for me to see how other women do it–how other women wrestle with the great fanged beast of their need to write–how other women embrace the struggle of creativity and storytelling alongside the demands of partnership and self-actualization.
For me, there is no self without writing. If I’m not writing, it’s because I’m in a no-self space. That’s not a wholesome place for me.
Colette is turned on to writing by her husband Willy, who calls himself, in the film, a “writing entrepreneur.” He cheats on her and tells her to pen her thoughts and then proclaims her work to be worthless. Then he re-reads it and loves it. He pores over her prose with her and teaches her to edit and revise. At least in the film, he is instrumental to her discovering her talent.
Willy publishes her book under his own name. When it becomes successful beyond his wildest dreams, he locks her in a room to write another book.
Colette slowly wakes up to her own worth. Her self-awareness grows as she uncovers her individual sexuality. Her husband cheats but she begins to sleep with women–which he permits, as long as she doesn’t sleep with other men.
It’s comical when the husband beds her paramour and they both carry on with the libidinous lady in question.
There’s a kind of leftist-liberal-proselytizing fabric to this movie; the husband is an exploitative patriarchal scumbag and noble, victimized Colette naturally finds a supportive woman partner/lover. So many films these days are taken over by the need to preach leftist liberal values. I wish more films would focus on good storytelling and leave preaching propaganda to the politicians. It’s boring.
When a story delves deeply into the human condition, the spectrum of left-right, liberal-conservative falls away. What is left is meaning. That meaning is far more moving, far more convincing, than even the best propaganda.
In this case, the film transcends the current Hollywood piety. After all, Colette was a French novelist. She’s an archetypal French woman novelist. She actually lived the life and she did so before it was appropriated by a certain tiresome sector of post-modernist feminists–as if being a traveling mime with a woman lover is the only way to be a woman novelist.
I admire Colette but her choices wouldn’t work for me. I would never have been happy or fulfilled without children and a husband. Being a mother and wife contributes to, and enhances, my fruitfulness.
As painful as my situation is with one of my beloved daughters and with a dearly loved husband who took off for the antipodes, putting his own art before the family who needs him–despite everything–I was always supposed to be a wife and mother. And a novelist. And lately a screenwriter.
Willy exceeds his role, too, I think. Yes, he’s selfish, self-indulgent, egotistical, and riddled with vices. He’s also the fulcrum on which Colette’s own writing turns. He’s a catalyst for her. I find that real life is like this, that people are like this: marbled through with light and dark. Variegated. Bittersweet.
People are complex. They enter our lives bearing gifts, some laced with poison, some with nectar. Often the most difficult characters in our stories are our best teachers.
And beyond the propaganda is the story of a woman coming to own her own voice.
This is the essential struggle for a woman novelist: owning her own voice. Even for women who come across as strong, as I seem to, there’s vulnerability at the root. How do we embrace, own, and integrate that vulnerability with our creative talent?
My husband Sabin Howard can sculpt. Think Carpeaux, Canova, or Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Think Michelangelo. He says, “Art represents us. How do we want to be represented?”
It’s a fair question, and answering it leads me to all the reasons I’m not a post-modernist. Boiling it down, I believe in transcendence and immanence, meaning and responsibility, the integrity of the individual, and free and unfettered thinking. Ultimately, I believe in beauty, excellence, and the artist’s skill.
So it is with both humility and amusement that I behold Sabin’s Bust of Ceres, for which I posed. It was hours and hours of sitting on a step ladder in our bedroom at night, working to hold my head at the right angle. Sabin is a tough taskmaster. Such demands are placed on the wife of an artist!
She is beautiful. She is me, and she isn’t me. She’s me on Mt. Olympus, an idealized plane of existence. She’s a form of representation that alludes to an aesthetic philosophy that is beyond me, in my day to day life, as I sit at my keyboard, wearing stinky yoga clothes and tapping out the latest novel.
I see the transpersonal in Ceres. She’s soulful, she’s elevated and elevating. I feel fondly toward my husband for naming a portrait of me after a Goddess. My ego is gratified, despite knowing that Sabin chose the Goddess out of his own artistic vision, with little to no concern for the model’s vanity.
On the personal level, I see a woman of a certain age, with more lines on her face than she wishes were there.
The Gottman Institute: The Art & Science of Love
My husband and I had a rude and rough couple of years.
Sabin was briefly ensconced at the antipodes with people who thought they knew him better after 12 minutes than I did after 18 years, and they brought out his worst self. They encouraged him to forget his family–to lose sight of his integrity. I frittered away our months apart with people and pastimes that took me away from my mission in life. I wasn’t my best self, either.
Love brought us back together and our union needed repair.
There were tools that aided us. I’ve blogged about those before. I read several books and used an excellent program developed by a California-based marriage counselor.
In particular, and with some mirth because he’s funny, we watched videos of Dr. John Gottman talking about what makes a marriage work. I bought Gottman’s books and googled The Gottman Institute.
After one fierce fight that ended with me in tears and Sabin apoplectic with hurt and anger, I said, “Enough. We’re going to a Gottman workshop.”
Sabin agreed, if skeptically. He was more amenable when I assured him that there was no public disclosure.
The time came and we flew to Seattle a few days early so we could hike Mt. Rainier. I figured two days of exercise on the mountain would exorcise Sabin’s physical restlessness.
We arrived early at the Seattle Sheraton on the morning of the workshop to secure good seats, close to the front. And there began two days of extraordinary learning.
The first day focused on building the ground of being of love through Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s research-based techniques. We listened to lectures on love maps, fondness and admiration, and bids for connection, and then we practiced the skills through carefully thought out exercises. The exercises were good fun as well as good practicum for a marriage. They deepened the friendship, connection, and trust that are so essential in the union.
It was fun to tell Sabin all the good things I think about him–and even more fun to hear him describe my strengths!
We also practiced a “stress reducing conversation” according to a Gottman script. It was an effective tool. When Sabin spoke about the stresses of his life, he was able to feel my empathy; when it was my turn to confide, I felt his empathy. We finished the exercise feeling heard and cared for. Our hearts opened and we felt close to each other.
But it wasn’t just the exercises and lectures that taught us and moved us. Equally eloquent was the way John and Julie Gottman related to each other. They were at turns playful and somber and they were always palpably connected. They teased each other, finished each other’s sentences, demoed exercises together with zest and relish, touched each other affectionately, listened respectfully when the other was saying something of heightened import, admitted to fighting, owned their own parts in their conflict, apologized for hurting each other, and praised the other.
Julie and John were modeling something critical: a real marriage, hugs and warts and tears and laughs and all. A marriage wherein both spouses are deeply committed and deeply engaged in the ongoing work of building a strong and joyful shared sense of “we.”
This was most evident the second day of the workshop, when the Gottmans addressed conflict.
Around 10 am of the second day, I witnessed one of the most profound human interactions I’ve ever seen–and I attended a 4 years hands-on healing school which included a great deal of deep personal process work. But this was astonishing: Julie and John demonstrated their script for repair after a regrettable incident.
I’ve never seen two people be more real, more vulnerable, more honest, and more sensitive with each other. It was deeply soulful. It showed the power of being real, being vulnerable, being honest, and being sensitive with your mate.
Julie and John worked through an actual fight from a few years earlier, following one of the scripts they’d written. Julie dissolved into tears, remembering early life traumas that had played a part in her responses. I was in tears watching her. With candor and grace, John also talked about his triggers. I marveled at his insight into himself.
The goal was to understand each other better. It achieved that and so much more. It was a marvelous process.
In class, Sabin and I did the exercise around a recent fight. Since returning home, we’ve done the exercise around the painful episodes from the last two years.
The Gottman Institute weekend ended with presentations and exercises around shared meaning and helping each other attain life dreams. In a real way, Sabin and I are already strong in that area, because we both feel so strongly about arts and letters. He’s been the strongest supporter of my writing, and I’ve always supported his art.
For me, the best part of the weekend was being in the field of the relationship between Julie and John Gottman. So that’s what a good relationship is, I thought. Perhaps the Gottman tools could even have helped my difficult first marriage. It’s possible. It’s for certain they’re a great blessing for Sabin and me.
In his thoughtful way, Sabin voiced the most beautiful, most telling comment about the weekend. “I never before understood about the sacredness of marriage,” he told me. “Now I do.”