The second year after grad school, I took a job with the great director, Arthur Penn. It was an assistant job, but basically it was a place holder, in his office, a tax dodge. He visited once a month. He liked to spend his life in Stockbridge, Mass on his lawn tractor.
Once in a long while there was activity. An offer intrigued him, and then we’d have meetings, lots of actors and writers pouring through the door, me fetching and carrying and smiling.
But when Warren Beatty arrived, all hell broke loose. Warren excited Arthur, it was a case of two refusniks courting each other. Neither wanted to work unless the project was Oscar bait and a commercial success, so they teased each other unendurably.
A few weeks in, I was directed to hand carry a script to Warren at the Ritz around the corner. No I couldn’t leave it with the front desk, I had to hand deliver it. So off I went, up into the corridors, knocked on the door, and there he was, still splendid, if a little rough around the edges, dressed in a very short bathrobe, a storm tossed bed behind him, it dressed in white sheets from Pratesi, no doubt.
“C’mon in”, said he.
“Can’t!” I chirped, thrust the script into his hands, and suffused with dread, tore, top speed, down the corridor.
Three weeks later, Arthur, who had been a perfect gentleman, asked me to his flat on West 67th, cannot remember why, but we were sitting on the banquette in his office when he put on music from Bonnie and Clyde and inched closer to me. OH! I said, I forgot something, must leave! And fled once again, this time heart sick.
Weinstein, Beatty and Penn were merely following the habit of all powerful Hollywood men. Beatty had been doing this to assistants for decades and no doubt many complied. I have a friend who had sex with him and another who wanted to, but by the time I met him, he wasn’t pretty, and therefore had to be coercive of those of lesser status. Who wanted to work in film, needed the job badly, and was belly-crawling her way in. I was using Penn’s weird requirements to teach myself to write, so losing the job would have hurt, but my need was not fundamental. There would be no penalty for refusing.
Boomer men had a sweet ride for a long time, but the more powerful they became, the more they devalued and brutalized women. The reason Weinstein’s accusers went back to him, sent notes, is two-fold. First coerced and shamed victims of sexual assault by a respected superior need to integrate the act, to somehow prove to themselves that the rape hadn’t happened. It is a child’s wish, but sexual assault is so primal, you are reduced to child status. The other reason is survival. Those men used the survival needs of those women to get what they wanted. If you refused them, they retaliated, as Weinstein did to Mira Soriano and Ashley Judd. A dominant photographer at Time-Life tried to get me fired for five years because I refused him on a story.
I hope they all die in shame, outed and humiliated, hopefully in prison. This. Must. Change.
I have started a newsletter about biohacking my physiology. I am obsessed. I cured myself of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome twice, which is vanishingly rare, and I am so afraid of getting it again, I am on the hunt, daily, for ways to live to 107, feeling great the whole time.
I come from a family of women, Irish bog dwellers back to 30,000 BC which is when I think they migrated from Africa to Ireland. We carry 7 longevity genes, we live typically into our late 90s, early 100’s. We can do it sick or healthy. Those who don’t focus on their health live forever, not well, depressed, exhausted miserable. Those that do – and many of us are health freaks, biohackers before the term was invented – live well and prosper. I’m in a beta testing phase but eventually I will step up and send weekly newsletters. You can subscribe at: https://elizabethnickson.substack.com
This week Jamie dragged me to an Otomi village, Indian descendants of the pyramids near us in San Miguel Allende in Mexico. We watched the women grind corn and make tortillas, ate some of their food and did the usual virtuous tramp around an indigenous village, spreading money everywhere. All Good. What interested me rather more, since I have visited lots of indigenous villages, were members of our tour, all of whom had let aging take them down. Most were bad tempered as a default setting, and they creaked and groaned and limped and quietly sighed and complained to themselves in a wholly adversarial relationship to their precious bodies. Most of them carried an extra forty or fifty pounds. Pause for a moment and consider carting a fifty pound weight all day. That is insane. It is the definition of insane. None of them smoked, because we all know that smoking shaves seven years off your life. But being overweight takes nine years.
None of their pain was necessary. No creak, no moan, no Spartan attitude. We already know how to stop their pain in its tracks: cleansing, supplements, a largely plant based diet along with nuts and seeds. Olive oil. Limited drinking. Good sleep. AWARENESS.
I was sick for three years recently. If I’d had a GP, I’m pretty sure she would have diagnosed lymphoma. But in the demented Dominion of Canada, having a GP is more luck than “human right”, so I mostly visited the emergency room, and took up with a young naturopath and we hacked our way through it. I cleansed for an entire year. A year of purging on deeper and deeper levels, until one day I woke up and I felt well. Not only did I feel well, I felt better than I had felt since I was 10.
This newsletter is going to be a deep dive, in part on how I healed myself with largely alternative medicine and how you can live so that when you are ninety, you jump out out of bed, with a leap of joy, saying to the Death spirit, “Not today, old friend.”
Here is the link: https://elizabethnickson.substack.com
I read Lionel Shriver’s piece in the US Spectator this morning and while I thought it was smart and well informed – Shriver had her own run in with the purity police, it did not get right to the point of the novel’s piling on, mostly by writers of colour, particularly the Latin community who call themselves, Latinx.
Jeanine Cummins did put herself through an extraordinarily strenuous period of research, and indeed, one does leave the book better informed regarding the migrant crisis and the cartel crisis in Mexico and beyond. Latin writers say that only they should be allowed to write about their culture, and Cummins publisher Tinder Press crawled in a release, begging forgiveness, promising to publish more Latin lit, and then cancelled her publicity tour. Some booksellers are refusing to carry it, making it unlikely that she will earn out her $1,000,000 advance.
Advances like that count on hot button issues to push the book to the forefront, but in today’s purity culture, the wrong kind of hot button brings out the shrews and hysterics. Shriver did a good job challenging the “evil” of appropriation, but she let it go before the real reason of the fury was revealed.
It starts with the $1,000,000 advance. These are relatively few and mostly given to proven commercial bestsellers like Patricia Cornwall, Harlan Coben, and other current darlings of the market. Latin writers do not get million dollar advances. Their stories are increasingly published and respected, but aside from Marquez, there have been few breakouts.
Still that’s not it, or all of it. Cummins is unflinching in her description of Mexico’s pervasive narco culture. She shows how it pollutes every possible transaction, every relationship, and is a punishing draw on the economy, keeping the lower 50% mired in poverty, crime, broken families, illness, and early death. Her main protagonist is an educated, middle class Mexican wife and mother with a bookstore. Readers – who are mostly educated and middle class – can relate to her, feel her plight as she attempts to flee a death sentence by a narco boss, who has murdered her entire family. As she travels to the north, to America, she gathers around herself misfit migrants, many of them children, and through their eyes we see modern Mexico, modern Honduras, modern life in south and Central America, and it is not pretty. American Dirt is not showing tragic poetry redeemed by a rich and deep culture. It’s a disaster, a catastrophe, and every single character longs for ‘El Norte’. Every encounter she has with bankers and housewives who help her, have their own tragic stories of the death of one or more of their families by the cartels. All of them long for America.
Cummins indicts the South in this book. She demonstrates, given the desperatIon of the characters she creates, what the failures of Communism, Socialism, Catholicism, and the tyranny of old Spanish families have wrought on the people of the South. That’s her real crime. She is telling the truth.
And the literary community, socialist and America hating, cannot stand it.
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