On Beauty
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On Beauty

On Beauty

I have been reading Rumi.

I do this whenever I am heartsick, soulsick. Usually it’s for something I can’t identify, though there’s always some exterior thing like a convenient hook to hang it on: my dog bit my little one and had to be surrendered; my 14-year-old told me a great big whopper; my in-laws have rejected their own grand-daughter and disinherited my husband as a means to communicating their supreme dislike of me; my husband is cranky with exhaustion and overwork and a long string of fourteen hour days; the publishing industry is in a stupid place, and largely, in my view, because publishers publish the same damn crap rather than searching out interesting work, and then they wonder why people don’t want to buy it; our financial situation is fraught, as is our situation with our two former spouses…. There’s no end to people and matters that will serve as an excuse. Rumi says, “Everyone chooses a suffering that will change him or her to a well-baked loaf.”

But I think that is preferable to avoiding the suffering, and failing to rise. That happens, too.

So there is all this stuff amenable to being blamed for my anguish, not to mention that it is that time of the month. But is the body or its relationships or its contexts really the reason for this melancholy seeking without an end?

Yesterday this poem of Rumi’s manifest itself to me, in a moment of bibliomancy, or at least I like to think that the Divine was smiling wryly at all my flailing about, and granted me this mouthful of grace.

Coleman Barks calls it THE MOST ALIVE MOMENT:

“The most living moment comes when
those who love each other meet each
other’s eyes and in what flows
between them then. To see your face
in a crowd of others, or alone on a 
frightening street, I weep for that.
Our tears improve the earth. The
time you scolded me, your gratitude,
your laughing, always your qualities
increase the soul. Seeing you is a 
wine that does not muddle or numb.
We sit inside the cypress shadow
where amazement and clear thought
twine their slow growth into us.”

(THE SOUL OF RUMI, translations by Coleman Barks.)

I cried after I read it. I found excuses to cry all day. It’s something I rarely do. And then my husband showed me this photo on his iPhone of his Apollo’s outstretched arm. Even in process, it was beautiful: gesture and form, a supreme example of artistry. I cried some more, alone, in my bathroom, so no one knew I was being so silly. And I remembered why this man, this life, this set of choices that has led to this moment in all its bittersweet, empty fullness.

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Bill Murray in TOOTSIE, and what a novelist wants

Bill Murray in TOOTSIE, and what a novelist wants

Jeff the playwright, played by Bill Murray: “I don’t want a full house at the Winter Garden. I want people who just came out of the worst rainstorm in history. These are people who are alive on the planet… until they dry off. I wish I had a theater that was only open when it rained.”

Yesterday the mail brought me the return of IMMORTAL from a reviewer. She had emailed me a month ago saying that up to 200 people a day visited her book review website, and could she please have an ARC, an Advanced Review Copy. I responded that there were none left, but I did have a finished copy. I sent it on to her.
And it reappeared yesterday, with a note: “Although Immortal is beautifully written, I regret that I was unable to read it. As a former career nanny and mother of four, I’m just too sensitive to read about child prostitution and murder.” Her note was kind and it was a gracious gesture of her to return the book.
Part of me was disappointed: I am seriously promoting IMMORTAL right now. I am a new novelist and I am not just in the business of writing novels, I am in the business of selling them. Every review on the internet–or in print–builds my platform for selling copies. And earning $$.
But another part of me was pleased: my story affected this woman so deeply that she wouldn’t even finish the book! She put it down rather than confront what I wrote! In her turning away, she demonstrated the power of my words, characters, plot.
I think many artists have this deeply non-commercial instinct, where we care more about the impact on the audience than on sales. Where we want people to show up and be 100% present to experience our creation. Even if that means they’re dripping wet from a ferocious rain, or if they send a book back, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
That said, if you’re reading this blog, kindly go out and buy a copy of IMMORTAL for yourself!
How Buddha erred, why Writer’s colonies are mistakes, and Maya Angelou
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How Buddha erred, why Writer’s colonies are mistakes, and Maya Angelou

I have definite opinions. They’re idiosyncratic, but usually carefully considered. Take my stance on the Buddha, whom I revere. I’ve had palpable experiences during meditation of the Buddha’s radiant compassion. The Buddha is enlightened and I am not. Still, as much as I sense the holiness of this archetypal being, I think the human Gautama made a mistake when he abandoned his wife and child to seek enlightenment. God and liberation are eternal; They would have waited for Gautama’s child to go off to college and his wife to start a career as a caterer so she wasn’t stuck with empty nest syndrome. Maybe this life is an illusion, but the illusion must be lived with integrity.

The householder bears the burden of liberation. It’s we who live in the mundane world with jobs, snotty teenagers, and ex-spouses who snipe over money, who have the most exquisite task: melting into communion with the divine despite the entangling web of responsibilities, obligations, and relationships. Anyone can get enlightened meditating all alone in a cave. That’s Gut 101, science for English majors with a guaranteed A, the easy way out.
Writer’s colonies perpetuate the same myth: that the work should be separate from daily life. That you need to leave the world behind in order to create. Bull manure. A writer writes. A writer carves out space in his or her messy, hectic, ragged, intervening life to write. It becomes a ritual, a discipline, a practice. It’s the journey that counts. When artists and writers stop thinking of themselves as precious children who need to be coddled in order to produce, there will be better quality art and writing.
Now, because I am a householder with a teenager who thinks I am wrong 95% of the time, I get challenged a lot. My oldest daughter yelled at me recently about my opinions on Chinua Achebe.
“Mommy, white people can’t criticize anything black people do!” she scolded me. She’s taking an African-American literature course in school; right now, she is very sensitive to the sad plight of black writers and to what African Americans have endured. I didn’t respond because there’s no point. Currently this daughter is convinced that I am an unredeemed idiot. But it did make me wonder.
Am I supposed to praise every work that comes from a black author or artist, simply because they are black and I am white? (Mostly white; there’s quite a lot of Native American blood in my lineage.) Does this chicanery really help black people achieve the parity of opportunity and circumstance that they’ve been denied because of race? It’s unconscionable that these inequities have caused so much suffering throughout history. Yet it feels to me that pretending that “Things Fall Apart” is a great novel actually detracts from the accomplishments of authors such as, say, Maya Angelou, whose work makes my soul sing. I put her in the same literary category as Yeats and Rumi, and in the larger artistic category with Giotto, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Caravaggio: these artists exalt, uplift, redeem. Well, in Caravaggio’s work, the spirit is rotting, so redemptive isn’t the appropriate word. Nonetheless, I am so compelled to have a relationship with his work because of its virtuosity that I place him in the elite.
And it isn’t just Chinua Achebe whose work I have criticized. I am an equal opportunity disliker of bad literature. Dan Brown is one of the worst writers of prose to come along in a century. His success just shows how powerful story is, even when told so badly it makes you want to vomit. This said, I do hope my novel IMMORTAL makes 10% as much money as Brown’s book did. And the fact that Leonardo is mentioned in the first paragraph of IMMORTAL certainly helped my novel get picked up by a publisher at a time when the the mania over Brown’s badly-written novel was at its peak.
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Today is the day: IMMORTAL is being released. It’s out on shelves in bookstores and available for shipping from Amazon and B&N and wherever else books are sold. Actually, a friend bought it a few weeks ago at a sly and impatient B&N downtown. Which is all good.

I am happy to have it out, after the years of writing, revising, and slogging through the publishing process, which moves at the speed of continental drift.

I hope readers enjoy the book, that they take pleasure and fun and perhaps a piquant idea from it. Let me know.

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Hello, Dear Readers:

This is the inaugural entry of my blog, In the mouth of the serpent. This blog will consist of my ramblings, rantings, observations, opinions, suggestions, and hopes for the future. My interests are passionate and diverse: books, pop and literary; art, especially of the Renaissance; spirituality and healing; politics; relationships; children and child-rearing; movies and TV shows and travel and yoga and any other topic that seizes my imagination. I hope this blog stimulates and intrigues you. Feel free to email me with questions and comments; if I’m intrigued, I’ll post your email and respond.
In Vedic astrology, I have entered a particular cycle of my life ruled by Rahu, the north node of the moon, the iconic head of the serpent. Rahu in general is considered malefic but in my horoscope, it’s unusually well placed by sign and house. So, for the next 17 years, I am standing in the serpent’s mouth: this is the view.
Very truly yours,
Traci L. Slatton