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?
Here’s my latest on the Huffington Post, an article about The Phenomenon of Lashing Out
I promote my books. For one novel, I hired a publicist who turned out engaging press releases. She sent them to me for approval and then emailed them to every contact on her extensive list. She sent out dozens. That’s what I paid her to do and she was a responsible publicist.
A junior editor looked at one release, decided I thought I was better than other authors, and initiated a Twitter shaming campaign that lasted about eight hours.
It struck out of the blue. Suddenly my Twitter feed lit up with nasty tweets, many personal, directed at me. It was shocking and confusing. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. Then I did the best damage control I could.
I can only imagine how horrible a longer Twitter shame-barrage would have been. Eight hours was enough to leave me with a few weeks of mild PTSD. I never understood the point of the shaming episode. What pleasure did the junior editor and her cohorts take in such scathing nastiness? What did they hope to accomplish beyond making me feel badly? I certainly never felt that I was better than other authors, though I will balance that by saying that I have worked hard over the decades to write thousands of pages of prose. I take pride in whatever craftsmanship I accomplish.
A very different episode. I went to pick up my daughter at her bus stop. As a writer, I work out of a small home office. I seldom dress up for that. I brushed my teeth that morning and swiped on sun block–that was the extent of my ablutions. I trotted to the bus stop in my usual stinky yoga clothes.
At the bus stop waited an attractive young African American woman. I sidled up to her and casually chatted, the way parents do.
She suddenly snapped, “I’m not the nanny! I’m the mom!”
Given the current racial tensions, I must preface my remarks by saying that this was a bus stop for a private school in Manhattan. I am sure that this well-turned-out young woman had been mistaken for the nanny. Probably more than once. Few of the private schools here are as well integrated as one would hope. Most are putting honest effort into greater diversity.
On this particular occasion, this young woman correctly noted the calculation in my eyes. Then she incorrectly interpreted it. Yes, I certainly did look at her and make a judgment. But it wasn’t the one she projected onto me.
I was thinking, “Traci, look how nice she looks. You need to dress better. You don’t have to come to the bus stop looking like a schlub. For pete’s sake, woman, take twenty minutes to make yourself presentable.”
I think women of any race will relate to this self-criticism. But until the other mother spoke up, the issue of race had never occurred to me. It was about me looking dowdy.
At the time, I was surprised and flustered. I murmured something like “That’s what I thought.” I felt badly for this woman whose life experience had brought her to this point of assuming that another mom was judging her when I was only judging myself.
Another example. Now I confess to a certain tolerance for unconventional people. There are many worthy trapezoidal pegs; I don’t want to force them into square holes. Unfortunately, this attitude means that sometimes nutters slip inside my sphere. I did business with one such. My husband and a friend gleaned that this person was shaky; they warned me. I didn’t heed them. I should have, because when I made a decision this person didn’t like, they sent me dozens of crazed, threatening emails full of violent imagery. I blogged about this before, because I was helped by an organization called haltabuse.org that works to stop email harassment.
What these painful and bewildering episodes have in common is the phenomenon of projection. The Twitterers, the other mom, and the business fruitcake took something within themselves and projected it outward onto me. I knew this intellectually at the time, but it didn’t solace me. I had to work with myself to return to my center in the face of the onslaught. I think, for the Shamers and the Harasser, that’s what they wanted: to hurt me.
Obviously the mom felt that she was standing up for herself. Though she was projecting onto me, my interaction with her fits into a different category because she didn’t intend to cause harm. Nor did I feel hurt by her. I felt surprised, then I felt compassion.
Indeed, what continually surprises me about our culture now is how little compassion there is, and how widespread the phenomenon of lashing out has become. It often goes along with high self-righteous indignation that reeks of self-pleasuring. I have come to believe that self-righteous indignation is best enjoyed in private.
Recently my husband sculptor Sabin Howard came into the spotlight when he, with architect-in-training Joe Weishaar, won the WW1 Memorial design competition. Someone used social media to disparage Sabin, claiming that Sabin’s beautiful neoclassical works were “Nazi-like.”
The irony is that Sabin is at least one-quarter Jewish. His grandmother was a German Jew. His mother is Italian and I will never forget the dinner when Zio Carlo, upon hearing that I am Jewish, leaned over and whispered, “Ours is an Italian Jewish name. We are descended from Jews who were forcibly converted.”
One hater posted a video of Sabin sculpting in a friend’s studio as “proof” that Sabin’s work is Nazi-esque. But this studio belonged to a dear friend who happens to be gay and recently married to his long time partner. Since Sabin is famed for his male nudes, which are sublimely beautiful but not eroticized, we have, in our inner circle, many cherished gay friends. The Nazis would not have appreciated Sabin’s Jewish heritage nor his inclusiveness. Nor, I dare say, his Jewish wife.
I remain proud of Sabin’s neoclassicism. Beauty is beauty; we don’t have to allow a single ideal of beauty to languish as the province of murderous sociopaths. I wouldn’t give the Nazis that satisfaction.
Ultimately, I don’t want to give satisfaction to those who lash out, either. But it’s worth noting that negative projection causes pain. We are all human beings here, even if social media and email allow for depersonalization and anonymity. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Indeed we all do.
It’s that fanged, clawed thing, back to taunt me and play with me and befuddle me. Creativity, of course. The way in and the way out, both at once, and neither; a thing unto itself.
So here am I, staring into its liquid eyes that are one moment golden and another indigo. It leaves stripes of blood on my arms and torso but I don’t dare gaze away. We are in a contest, me and it, me and me.
Its tail flicks back and forth. It is stalking me. I pursue it. It changes shape in my arms, then it vanishes.
Moments like these I take to Rumi, who is a kind of solace for those who are word-drunk, like me. I think Rumi would sneer at me and I hate myself for it, for the insecurity and the terror, as much as for the inadequacy.
I know better than to take too much wine, though the temptation is there. That way lies a folie a deux, a sharing of madness.
There are more constructive ways to offer up.
I stand outside with my arms lifted toward the sun and pretend that I am a crocus. The hard earth has asked for the freeze to release it, and purple blossoms are the first hint of hope. I am still saturated.
I am evanescent. The moment will pass. The welts will reveal themselves as mirages. There are paw prints in the loam, and I am left with longing, the old longing, the one that never goes away.
My lovely stepdaughter Julia entertained us over a lazy, happy Christmas morning by administering the Myers-Briggs Personality test to all of us.
It didn’t work so well for my 9-and-a-half-year old. Some of the questions didn’t apply. As she put it, “How do I know if I’m soothed by a solitary walk? I’ve never walked anywhere by myself.”
Otherwise, the test was spot on. It turns out I am an INFJ, a diplomat type. I’m not sure I’d call myself a ‘diplomat,’ but the lengthy description otherwise fit me very well indeed.
The career paths for INFJs on the website 16personalities.com was especially pertinent:
INFJs often pursue expressive careers such as writing, elegant communicators that they are, and author many popular blogs, stories and screenplays. Music, photography, design and art are viable options too, and they all can focus on deeper themes of personal growth, morality and spirituality.
INFJ strengths are their creativity and their insight, their ability to be convincing, inspiring, and decisive, and their passion, determination, and altruism.
INFJ weaknesses are their sensitivity and perfectionism, their deep seated need for privacy, their need to have a cause, and the way they can burn out easily.–But I have discovered that when I burn out, I can still be productive by cleaning and organizing something, like my awesomely messy desk or my office with its piles and stacks of books.
My husband tested as an INTJ, and the description was jaw-droppingly accurate. Maybe they interviewed him before defining this type? He certainly has a strategic, imaginative mind and high self confidence, and he is determined, hard-working, decisive, judgmental, analytical, and sometimes arrogant.
I laughed out loud when I saw “Rules, limitations, and traditions are anathema to the INTJ personality type…” and INTJs are “Clueless in romance.” I could only nod and grin when I read,
A paradox to most observers, INTJs are able to live by glaring contradictions that nonetheless make perfect sense – at least from a purely rational perspective. For example, INTJs are simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics, a seemingly impossible conflict.
My stepdaughter says that the test is based on Carl Jung’s original personality types as interpreted by Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, and I took it as a sign that my recent interest in the Carl Jung Institute in Zurich is well-founded.