ink stained wretch, class traitor, bitter polemicist
Fasting Sucks….it is not virtue, but it is the one necessary thing.
I am on a 24 hour fast right now, barring coffee with collagen and herbal tea and gallons of water. I am trying to break into ketosis, which is that state wherein you do not feel hungry, and your energy soars. It is hard to get into for women and there are a bunch of cautions around it especially if you are pre-menopausal, which I thankfully am not. I am in my 22nd hour and I am not hungry. So I may extend it. Yesterday, after all, I was sneaking chocolate chips, so the “fast” was hardly rigorous. Onwards.
An English journalist, Victoria Mather, called Meghan Markle five clicks up from trailer trash yesterday, and again sang the song that she had disrespected the Queen. I personally think almost all of this hate is based in the sheer gorgeousness of the woman, and the disjunction between the British people (and Victoria Mather), most of whom are strikingly homely, the descendants of whom have populated trailer parks all over the world.
In fact, 99.9% of us are five clicks from trailer trash, and those among us who’ve climbed out should be damned proud. Climbing out of the trailer park takes discipline, furiously hard work and opportunity, which, frankly is better found in the US, Canada and Australia than in the hidebound, very expensive British economy wherein toffs have dug themselves so deeply into the lifeblood of that economy that they grift off every single transaction. Compare prices in England to the US. $1.50 = $1.00. That’s 50% that the British aristocracy and other clever buggers take for themselves. The Queen, financially speaking, has no leg to stand on.
The British media lost themselves, Meghan Markle, through the most vicious envy in print that I have ever read. Yeah, some of it was fabulous fun, but taking it? I was mentioned in a British tabloid once with regard to my sex life and it took six months to stop shuddering, it’s brutal and humiliating.
Luckily MM will continue to entertain us with her intoxicating mix of beauty, silliness, vulnerability, (preposterously) identifying herself with the marginal, and courage. I don’t blame her for taking up residence in the furthest flung islet in the Commonwealth with the strongest privacy laws, surrounded by Canadians who are far too shy to do more than say ‘hey’, duck their heads and scurry away to their entirely safe and comfortable lives.
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.
Break my heart, why don’t you? Just gorgeous male energy. The Prince tribute sent me rocketing back to those fifteen years I spent having fun, drowning in sensation, in the visual, my own sensuality, entirely out of my (cerebral) comfort zone, never out of love, not for one moment. This is the reason I will (and can) work into my 100’s. Forever young, yo.
Trying to broaden my reading I came across The Millions, a newsletter belonging to Publisher’s Weekly and in it, a piece by Sonia Chung, called “Bon Courage” about women STILL not being allowed to “…in 2020 anywhere in America—mindlessly, without cost, inhabit and manifest her Alpha dog, her Nietzschean mensch.”
This is true. Or is it? Are the women screaming at the sky at Women’s Marches, not inhabiting their Nietzschean mensch? Hillary, who won’t/can’t give up till her last breath, hasn’t demonstrated her Nietzschean mensch? Was the attack on jurist Kavanaugh by women collectively raging that due process including evidence must be junked, not the female ID in full cry? Or is the writer asking for more violence, more destructiveness, more aggression? It took humans a good 1000 years to climb out of the uber-violent past and create the fragile safety we now inhabit, at least in western democracies. Travel to anywhere off the tourist track in the developing world, and you will definitely run into the female Primal, the Alpha bitch, the Nietzschean mensch and you will be rightly terrified. I’m thinking of Winnie Mandela here, who routinely necklaced liberal blacks and burnt alive teenagers, terrifying even her communist overlords. Staring Winnie in the eye was, for me, a look into the beast. I lowered my eyes and slouched away. It was, however, a vivifying moment, I was reduced to the savannah, to the primitive fear of the predator. Fun for privileged moi!
But maybe the writer is asking for something rather less terrifying and violent? Is she, while complimentary, asking for more out of the proliferation of successful middlebrow women writers that the current absorbedness we give to successful premium TV? Vis:
I have nothing against this experience of propulsive absorbedness. I enjoy and seek out this experience regularly. I just think: This isn’t what literature as an art form is/does/should do. Literature is not about smoothing out prickly spots or sharp corners or the essential misshapenness of existence; in a word, literature should be, at minimum, more courageous than life.
I can hear Sophocles complaining at the local philosophers’ book group.
Plotting, she implies, is cheating the reader of the real, messy world. And she is right, there is an emptiness at the core of many of the currently successful women novelists, of which there are thousands. Equally empty is premium TV, which grabs your lizard self and scares the shit out of it until you cannot tear your eyes away. This compellingness has been codified by writers teaching writing. The Story Code, Save the Cat, The Bestseller Code, Hit Lit, (the great grand-dad) Robert McKee’s Story has reduced the story to an algorithm designed to sweep the reader away. So yeah, it gets old being swept away. It’s like having had too many lovers, one’s eventual response is a shudder.
Or is this the most muted, sophisticated call to chaos and disruption, I have come across?
Bon Courage was written by a novelist who teaches at Skidmore, easily one of the plushest of the plush Seven Sisters, who very definitely does not live in fear of bullets piercing her sitting room walls or serious financial difficulty or in fact, any difficulty at all. And after chunking down and analyzing her piece, it seems that, rather than the invasion of human female evil into safe spaces, she is asking for fully-fleshed women characters, who are mixed good and evil, using the vivid language of the primitive, the marginal, in order to fully evoke the experience of the writer. She calls that ‘richness’, and indeed, it is. But wait, is that she wants?
I’d be happy to see literary novels become less prosaic in both senses of the word—braver, more language rich and structurally inventive—shaping and challenging more than reflecting existence as we know it.
Shaping and challenging rather than reflecting. Shurely not. Does she mean an attempt to encourage readers to immerse themselves in the difficult lives in the developing world, in communities of color? No, we are celebrating quite a lot of that. A call to writers to develop a more sophisticated version of the socialist realism forced on Russian writers post 1917? Maybe. She goes onto recommend a handful of books four by people of color, one of them, female, and another dead white male.
I want these works too to be widely read, to generate buzzy chatter, to re-energize novel-reading. But I don’t know how that happens. Is there only one way to generate so-called “momentum” in a book? Is it always “what happens next?” Or “relatability” or manageable smoothness? Why not intensity, or depth, or unsolvable mystery—a more vertically-oriented driving energy?
“A vertically oriented driving energy”. Jesus God, is Marx everywhere? And what is this fresh meaning of the word “vertical”? The Cut, New York Magazine’s style, fashion and whining section, uses the word ‘vertical’, as in a “women’s vertical” to describe itself. Does it mean challenging the status quo? The man, the patriarchy? How tiresome.
It is an inevitability that when the world seems at its most accommodating, as it must at Skidmore, we seek out danger. It is a hectic way to live and read, but barring any moral core, any culture-wide, over-arching imperative toward virtue (rather than the accepted modernity of kindness, inclusion, correctness), are we to work towards a vertically-oriented driving energy that will topple the white male (and his privileged lapdog of a woman) off his throne?
Chung uses seven years of The Good Wife as her template of the perfect middlebrow serial, but its conflicted ending is for her, the perfect coda for her idealized future lit:
“… that ending leaves a rough taste in our mouths: the messes Alicia leaves behind her and now faces before her, are what lingers. As novelistic vision, this for me rises above middlebrow. It’s unmanageable. And true.”
Literature now follows the therapeutic model, beginning wound leading to misbehavior, consequences, therapeutic insight. Few novels end with a misalignment. They end with a teaching moment, these days about race and privilege. If 19th-century lit’s heroines did not die under the wheels of a train or riven with syphilis, they spent the rest of their lives trapped and repentant, having flouted convention. It was messy, it was punitive, it was informed, though not overtly, by Christianity, even by the best of the best. And its effect was to (slowly) widen acceptable individuation and morality.
Outside the world inhabited by the gatekeepers of literature is a rough beast that kindness and inclusion cannot tame, despite our attempts to codify and export those virtues as a requirement of foreign aid. Venture outside our safety and make yourself vulnerable, and you very quickly encounter what Christ called, the Ruler of this world. Christianity dealt with that force, buried deep in our nature and expressed by our bad selves. Our entire civilization is built to bar its entry, deal with its manifestations.
We have not yet found a replacement for the pre-modern faiths, the result being a furious and chaotic public debate, canceling, moral certitude, the cry to replace the legal and political underpinnings of our fragile stability. Faced with so much uncertainty, the invocation of a new form of evil, the revenge of the Female Id, capable of overturning all that made her suffering acceptable, is understandable. But very very dangerous.
We are well into the self-improvement months. There is a new wrinkle to the diet and suffer thing, stopping drinking and suffering, suffering at the gym and so on. But no worries, there is still pain involved. It is about manipulating your face to make it look the way you want it to look. Younger women want to look like Kylie Jenner, a heavily sexualized siren presenting as much older than her actual years. If you are 50 and under, like Jennifer Lopez, say, you want to look like yourself at 30, sharper angles, idealized, and very slightly threatening. Both are possible. Costs range between $5,000 and $30,000, depending on your location and involve no surgery or not much. Over 50s are still working on the old paradigm, wellness, and rejuvenation. For now.
The difference is that whatever iteration you choose, you can do it yourself for a fraction of the above prices. You can whisk control from The Man, or rather, from the insanely rich plastics in the megacities busily turning out copies of Instagram Face. Glancing through Youtube will tell you, that this is everywhere, in every single country, rich or poor, women are performing these procedures on themselves far into their 70s.
The average price of a syringe of filler at a clinic is $683 US. Calculate one syringe per decade, meaning at 50, you need five or $3,500 US per year to keep up. That does not count Botox ($1000 3 times a year) micro-needling, peels, IPL, etc, etc, etc. You can buy filler for $40 US, and Botox for $50, which means we are seeing the democratization of beauty. For $500, you can slowly over time, create the way you want to look, yourself. It’s not that safe, you can really fuck up. But so can the plastics. Various health authorities are trying to stop it, but the desire is too strong, it’s spread too far, it is unstoppable.
Disturbing, right? But beauty is disturbing, it’s supposed to be.
Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference.
The New Yorker ran a story on Instagram Face in mid-December by Jia Tolentino who investigated the increasing prevalence of the cyborgian beauty of Kim Kardashian, who, over the past ten years has turned herself from human into something out of a digital war game, something unearthly and all-powerful. Some elements of Kim’s beauty are fairly easily re-created: remove the buccal fat in your face, slowly, over time, inject hyaluronic acid building that desirable cartoonish smoothness. There are dozens of other non-invasive procedures that can create a facial imperturbability that is both repellent and seductive.
So what are we considering beauty in a woman these days? Instagram Face tells us. First of all, it is multiracial. Secondly, it is decidedly not a vulnerable beauty, like that of Marilyn Monroe. Lips are invariably African-American and telegraph a deep sensuality. the high (called top model) cheekbones, American-Indian or Middle-Eastern. The eyes (Bella Hadid, the K Jenners, Emily Ratajowski, Chrissy Tiegen) have an Asian tilt – making the windows of the soul a mystery, out of reach, setting up a tension between the eyes and lips. The nose is refined Caucasian, leading the beauty, arguably.*
Our response to beauty is mostly unconscious. We cannot inform ourselves enough not to be taken by it, even when it is an obvious commercial play, like those of the Kardashians. This too tells us something about where we are going, which is towards cultural multi-racialism. It is also telling us what men are finding attractive in women, which on the evidence, is strong, mysterious, sensual women who can out-earn them. I’m not saying it’s complex, thoughtful, or virtuous. It is precisely what it is.
The title of the #metoo book is taken from Christine Blasey-Ford’s memory of the boys laughing as they tumbled her onto the bed and tried to take her clothes off. Her story sounded plausible to me when she testified, entirely teenage behavior in the ’80s, post-sexual revolution when women were supposed to be as extractive of sex as men, as avid, as careless, anticipating no harm. If she’d had a couple of witnesses, or friends, evidence, I would have believed her. Without, it just sounded plausible. And clearly, given the conviction that Bret Kavanaugh would prove another nail in the coffin of abortion on demand, her motives were suspect. I called it a draw, a shrug, the incident plausible, even familiar, the evidence absent.
But the phrase she used, “indelible in the hippocampus”, was damned catchy and serves as a perfect title for a collection of poems, short stories, “creative non-fiction” and generalized reports of sexual abuse of one’s self, friends or cousins.
Fully one-third of college students report being sexually harassed. Struck by that stat, I wanted to know more. This book, out of McSweeney’s, claims to be representative, so I read it. But if the essays in the Hippocampus are representative, we have defined abuse down to reports about friends’ experiences, imaginings of being a predated slave woman more than a century ago or a free black in the South half a century ago, being transsexual and being harassed by some barely sentient hick, feeling vulnerable on the streets, getting into sticky situations while blind drunk, being 12 and hanging around an unsupervised house full of teenaged boys, etc.
Takeaway? It’s not that bad. Not anymore. Cutting out being a slave or a free black woman in the South decades ago, almost every incident could have been avoided with a little common sense. But, say these young women, the world should be safe, it should be ok, to look sexually available and not have men respond to it. I should be able to get blind drunk at a fraternity party and not wake up with someone on top of me. No one should be able to insult me with impunity. I should not feel passive. My bad uncle should not paw at me at family parties. I should not be stalked. I should not feel vulnerable in my house alone. And so on. Yes, you should be that safe, and I hope you make the world that safe for your daughters and granddaughters.
I’m cutting out here the very real harassment suffered by working women in glamorous professions in the 80s-2000s. The closer you got to power in NY, LA, London, DC, etc., the worse it became, the more men took advantage, the more likely you would run into a monster. But this is not the experience of the writers in Hippocampus, their experiences are by comparison, creepy and nasty rather than criminal, requiring behavioral change, not jail.
Note: when Christianity was embedded in every family and community, women were safer, they were not seen as wholely sexual objects. Campuses were not free-for-all sexual buffets, nor were the streets a gauntlet of crude remarks and stalking. So there’s that. We, in western democracies, are experiencing the aftermath of the overthrow of the most effective moral system the world has yet created. Don’t call up Margaret Atwood, what you call “the patriarchy” will never come back, narcissism is just too seductive. Until you find you’ve given away your power to a fiction.