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.
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.
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.
Yoga Teacher Training
A few months ago, a long time friend came for dinner. She’s an American living elsewhere. She’s brilliant and amazing and full of knowledge, an expert in her field.
But she has forgotten how to listen.
She talked over my husband and me and couldn’t hear any of our ideas or opinions. Now, this lovely lady is a wonderful person in a thousand ways. She’s a repository of information about the fascinating field of the esoteric, because she has studied metaphysics for decades. Her whole life, really. But there was this thing missing from the way she related to us and it was receptiveness. Her vast knowledge has become a bulwark through which no one else’s thoughts and experiences could penetrate.
That dinner made a big impression on me. I don’t want to be like that: ossified behind my own learning. I want to be open and flexible and receptive. I want to hear other modes of thought, other people, even when I have education and experience that contradicts what they think. Even when it’s hard to listen, which it can be, because I’m an opinionated person with a great deal of education.
I thought of this dinner when I signed up for Yoga Teacher Training at Three Sisters Yoga; as the body goes, so goes the mind. A flexible, open body will yield a flexible, open mind. I was also thinking of the next three decades of my life. I don’t want to teach yoga but I do want to invest in the training to nourish my body and to create flexibility, strength, and stamina for the next thirty years.
The program at Three Sisters Yoga is meticulously thought out and the teachers are terrific: warm, engaged, present. But already I have encountered opposition to my own internalized systems of thought. Because Yoga considers itself a Science, and I studied and used a different system that also considers itself a science. I studied Healing Science for 4 years at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing (BBSH). I had a practice as a healer and saw clients for a decade.
The BBSH was a pivotal, seminal experience for me. It is integral to who I am as a human being and to my writing. Most of my characters are healers in one way or another.
This thing about wholeness haunts me.
I seldom speak of the BBSH now. When I was at the school and for years after I graduated, I went around talking about it a lot. It was amazing: there existed other people like me who were attuned to the subtle worlds! Who perceived the subtle worlds! I was newly out of the closet as an energy sensitive and exulting in the liberation.
But I got tired of head-blind non-healers projecting weirdness onto me–as if it isn’t our birthright as souls taking on flesh to see, hear, feel those other, primary realms.
Also, there’s a lot of acting out at the school. The BBSH doesn’t always act in integrity. Graduates and teachers of the BBSH don’t always act in integrity. It was upsetting to me that when someone questioned the school, the school’s response was to squash that person and to decree, “You’re in resistance.” Translation: you’re bad.
There was a point at which almost all of the teachers with open hearts were either fired or chased out of the school. I did not respect that.
The founder of the school Barbara Brennan sued people over her healing techniques, an action which lacked integrity. In the field of science, scientists throughout history have built upon one another–that’s what leads to progress, to the slow and meticulous accumulation of scientific knowledge. Newton didn’t try to own gravity. But Barbara wanted to own her healing techniques, some of which had been developed by other people. She had a paranoid streak which she never owned but which was clearly visible to anyone not submerged in the cult of her personality.
Nor has the BBSH been open and honest about what’s going on now with Barbara: she’s institutionalized with Alzheimer’s. Students and graduates deserve to know this. Barbara Brennan isn’t just a private figure; she’s also a public figure. She put herself on the world stage with schools in Europe and Japan. She has forfeited some of her right to secrecy.
I had a lot of problems with the conduct of Barbara and the BBSH. Nonetheless, I remain grateful to both. Barbara’s vision was extraordinary, both her high sense perception and her larger sense of the possibilities for healing techniques in the world. The BBSH was a left brain mystery school. It was a gift and a blessing for someone like me, who has a good working intellect as well as access to the subtle realms.
Barbara herself was extraordinary as a human being. Before enrolling in the school, I attended a lecture she gave. I walked up to her to have her sign my program, and as I approached her, my energy bumped up. She had that affect on me. She smiled at me and her eyes got dreamy as she gazed at me. She wrote, “Traci, Keep letting out your love, beauty, and sweetness.”
In my sophomore year at her school, Barbara read my field in front of the class. She said, “One day everyone will know that you have a secret, private inner world full of butterflies.”
As someone who has spent a lifetime with a secret, private inner world full of butterflies, I was shaken, startled, and freed to have her see me and validate me.
I owe Barbara a debt of gratitude. Also, I used BBSH healing techniques effectively in my practice.
This circles back to Yoga Teacher Training and my desire to remain open and flexible because already some of the Yoga precepts that are taken as “true science” butt up against my training and experience as a healer.
Can I stay open and flexible and allow divergent schools of thought to live in me simultaneously? It will be a challenge. Of course, it’s only fun if it’s a challenge–and I love to have fun.