beauty

Art and Representation
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Art and Representation

Representation

Sabin Howard's Bust of Ceres

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
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The Gottman Institute: The Art & Science of Love

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.”

Sabin Howard and Traci Slatton

 

 

Empowering Women
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Empowering Women

I have raised four daughters: Empowering Women is a force close to my heart.

“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

There are so many astounding Eleanor Roosevelt quotes that it was hard to choose just ONE. That great lady had it going on!

I travel a lot. I’ve been all over the globe, recently with my husband. Sabin has been involved with a national memorial–something that’s been all foible, all the time. But it has allowed him to seek out the means and methods for creating a world class, monumental sculpture. Note: Stay tuned for a novel called “Truth Be Told” about an author married to a sculptor who is making a national memorial!

At any rate, regarding our travels. There’s a lot of America-bashing that happens abroad. For example, in New Zealand, a country stuck in the 1950’s, where women are treated like it is 1951, it is quite the vogue to bash America and our materialism.

But those backwater Kiwis are missing the point. The point is that the United States produces innovation and ingenuity. We are a generative force for new ideas, new technologies, new strategies, new businesses. The US has ambition. It takes risks. It’s the most generous nation on the planet. It doesn’t know its place. And that’s what’s brilliant about the USA: generosity and boundary-lessness.

Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t know her place. She redefined what it meant to be a First Lady. She got out in front of the public eye and did humanitarian good. She said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.”

I’m an American woman and proud of it. I do what I feel is right in my heart. I don’t know my place.

Plenty of men wish I did.

There’s a male fantasy of submissive women. It’s a weak male fantasy; it’s part of the attraction of porn, a visual representation of low consciousness in human sexuality.

The strong male dreams of strong females and their contribution, their partnership: “Too often the great decisions are originated and given form in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression,” said Eleanor Roosevelt.

Women have something of special value to offer the world.

Now Sabin is working with an initiative for empowering women, and he would sculpt some of the Great Women who’ve done that by example. I’m so excited for him! Can you imagine Eleanor Roosevelt sculpted by Sabin Howard?

In a rich and deep way, his work has led to an extraordinary conversation between the two of us.

“What do you think an empowered woman is?” I asked him.

He gave a thoughtful reply about human beings.

I said, “Women are a subset of human beings, we have our own special contributions to make. Power means something a bit different for women.”

So here’s the cool thing: my husband and I have begun a new conversation in new terms–about Women’s Empowerment.

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Tender Loving Care for a Marriage
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Tender Loving Care for a Marriage

Tender Loving Care for a Marriage

Sabin and I came to a dark and stormy place in our marriage.

That diction belies the fresh and cutting pain of such a place and time.

When we both returned to the marriage, we sought help in putting things back together. There are books, websites, and videos that have helped us, and that continue to do so. I write this blog for people like us who are working to strengthen their marriage.

It’s a deeply heartfelt journey to restore a marriage to love and harmony.

One resource for us is Dr. Dana Fillmore’s Strong Marriage Now site, www.strongmarriagenow.com. Her videos and blog posts tell it like it is, spell out effective strategies for working through marital issues, and offer hope to a bewildered spouse floundering with the despair of a marriage on the rocks. There’s not a moment of fluff. She talks about personal responsibility and strategies for effective communication. Of particular note are the videos on “How to Get Your Partner Checked Back In,” “Get Over Past Pain – Forgive,” and “7 Steps to an Effective Apology.” I also liked her “Surviving an Affair” series.

Dr. Fillmore emphasizes time spent together in her valuable “StrongMarriageNow System.” At least 8 hours per week, she insists. Eight hours per week, every week. I think back over the past few years with Sabin and I realize, if he and I had been spending 8 hours a week together, we never would have come to the treacherous shoals of near divorce. Her “StrongMarriageNow System” is important. It’s worth the investment of time and money for anyone who cares about their marriage. Buy it now.

Note: I’m not an affiliate! I used her program and found it helpful. Her program became a springboard for me to explore the wealth of published wisdom on strengthening a marriage.

Somewhere in Dr. Fillmore’s website or blog, she recommended “The 5 Languages of Love,” and I bought this book by Gary Chapman. Sabin and I both took the quiz, and we discovered that his primary love language is Physical Touch, and mine is Quality Time. Neither of us had our love language spoken to us when we were separated by vast distances. It was a recipe for disaster.

I liked this book “The 5 Languages of Love: The Secret to Love that Lasts” and I recommend it for couples. It’s worth exploring how you and your mate each feel and receive love.

Isn’t that ultimately the point of the sacred union of marriage? To share joy and communion and to make each other feel safe and profoundly connected to each other? To be the one person who is the bulwark against the vagaries of fate, the one person who’s always there for your mate.

Googling online one morning over my coffee–coconut sugar and heavy whipping cream, please–I discovered a YouTube Video of Dr. John Gottman speaking. He was giving a lecture at a Rotary Club on “Making Relationships Work.”

I was electrified!

Dr. Gottman is an MIT-trained researcher with more than four decades of experience in carefully studying marriages, what makes them work and how they fail. His “4 Horseman of the Apocalypse“: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling shocked me with their truthfulness. I saw immediately that Sabin stonewalls, and that I, yes, alas, I am critical.

It was evident that I needed to work on myself so I wasn’t critical.

In a general way, our pattern is mirrored by men and women at large. Dr. Gottman says that 85% of stonewallers in a heterosexual marriage are men.

Defensiveness is when we don’t take responsibility for our part, or any part, of the problem.

Worst of all is contempt. “Contempt is sulfuric acid for love,” says Dr. Gottman, and it actually erodes the immune system.

It hit me like a lightning bolt across the steppes to have these 4 toxic styles of relating articulated so clearly. I don’t enjoy having my failings pointed out to me, but I want my marriage to work. I don’t want to be a critical wife. I want to be a loving and respectful wife. Not a doormat–a loving and respectful wife. In fact, I intend to be a loving and respectful person.

Dr. Gottman also discusses what makes a marriage work, the strategies employed by “the Masters” who have happy, successful marriages. He talks about creating an atmosphere of fondness and admiration; about turning towards each other, especially when one spouse makes a bid for connection; about exploring each other’s love maps; and about accepting influence from each other. Especially, he notes, a husband accepting influence from his wife will strengthen the marriage.

I watched all the Dr. Gottman videos I could find, and then I bought some of his books. “The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work” is wonderful. The sections on ‘Solving solvable conflicts’ and ‘Coping with conflicts you can’t resolve’ are useful in the loveliest ways. Every marriage endures conflict, even the happiest marriage. What matters is how conflict is handled.

It’s no easy thing to rectify and restore a marriage. It’s no easy thing to keep a marriage strong. Besides the internal relating styles that can complicate matters, there are external forces working to dissolve a marriage.

There are predatory women who want to scoop up other women’s husbands; there are low class women who come for a job interview and drop their knickers. There are selfish men who, if they want her, don’t care whether or not a woman is married or if there is a child involved. These sorts will manipulate to achieve their own ends. Their manipulations can be devastating for a marriage.

There are other negative outside influences that can derail a marriage. There are nasty in-laws. There are so-called “friends” who want to break up the marriage for their own spiteful or self-interested purposes. In my opinion, those types should be avoided as soon as they’re identified.

It’s easy enough to get married but hard to stay married. It’s the hardest thing we do, perhaps. It requires constant self-monitoring and constant accommodation and regular sacrifice.

Marriage requires sacrifice because it is sacred. Sanctity requires hard work and sacrifice. It’s the most poignant endeavor of all. It’s the hardest road to walk–and the most important, the most human.

To anyone out there who reads this blog post hoping for help for their painfully unsettled marriage: Welcome, and God Speed. I pray that these suggestions help you. I offer you my blessing.

Sabin Howard and Traci Slatton

Returning to Source and Writing Again
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Returning to Source and Writing Again

Write again, they are telling me. You must write, Traci. 

It’s the new theme: writing again.

The past twelve months have been excruciating. I am struggling.

It’s been a year of comings and goings from my life; intermittency like a suddenly thrown grenade blew up my peace of mind. It has been a year of travel, loss, loneliness, bad advice, uncertainty, sadness, emptiness, tough choices, betrayal, humiliation.

It has also been a year of joy: the birth of my beautiful grandson, deepening friendships, richer closeness with my sweet middle daughter. A lot of yoga! Books newly cherished. A beautiful place that has come into my consciousness as a home.

Change is afoot.

Write again, my husband says, as if that will erase everything that has passed between us. His eyes are soft and his voice is loving as he counsels me. Write again. He holds me often throughout the day.

His hands on my shoulders, my arms, my breasts, my belly help me. He is kind. And I am still struggling.

In every moment brims the fullness of the spiritual imperative: We are here to love, to learn, to work, and to play. We are here to choose love over fear.

Why then this heart ache?

For what reason did I come here? I’ve asked myself a thousand times over the last span of time.

What is the imperative that I am mindful of it?

How have I betrayed myself?

I suspect it’s the effort to answer these questions that will heal me. It’s the journey itself that will return me to Source–whatever the destination may be.

 

 

Marriage and Family are Real: Marriage and Family are Love
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Marriage and Family are Real: Marriage and Family are Love

Marriage and Family are Real: Marriage and Family are Love

(reprise of a Facebook Post I wrote)Marriage and Family are Real Sabin Howard Traci Slatton

 

Marriage

This is our family. We’ve gone to see the Tree at the Met for nearly 2 decades.
It’s love. Family is love, and it is everything. Family is real.
Family radiates from a marriage. Marriage is love, and it is everything. Marriage is real. Imperfect, unglamorous, full of laughter and tears: real.
Sabin and I have been married for 13 years, together for almost 18. We’ve stood beside each other, holding hands and enjoying holiday uplift, for nearly 2 decades.
Marriages are built on such things: trips to the Met and to Italy and to the pediatrician and to the kitchen to cook breakfast; shared jokes and shared Figurative Sculpture books and shared victories and shared burdens and, yes, shared challenges. Every life encounters conflict and obstacle, ache and loss. These are real, too. And they are so much easier to bear with your family, your mate, holding your hand–as Sabin and I have held hands for nearly two decades.
We’ve held hands through lean times and good times, through sickness and health, through the birth of our daughter, when I died twice and was narrowly revived by a doctor who had “never seen so much blood in her life.” We held hands and held each other in a spacious room in Venice while the rain pattered on the canal during our 10th anniversary.
Even though this year, 2017, has been so hard, forcing a lengthy and devastating separation, I affirm our marriage. Marriage is 1000 tiny threads that bind people together, and those threads are shared experiences. I affirm our threads. I affirm our marriage. Sabin Howard, I love you.

Marriage and Family are Real

Marriage and Family are Real