Monday, December 27, 2004
Snowy and cold
I’d like to wish author Gerina Dunwich a very happy birthday! I enjoy her work, and hope a great day today is the start of a great year for her.
I have permission to link to and mention the political blog I mentioned in a previous post. It’s Dave Pell’s column, and some of the best and most coherent writing out there:
It’s worth bookmarking. I’m also adding it to my list of “Recommended Reading” for my students.
According to this morning’s news, the death toll from the tsunamis is up to 21,000. How can there possibly be words to describe the grief, the horror, the loss? I’ll spend the next few days, if not weeks, performing Ceremonies for the Dead, much as I do in the days around the end of October. At times like this, I wish I was a billionaire, so that I could send aid, but this is what I can do, and I will do it.
Discussion with friends was quite lively (bottles of wine and all). They are both life-long diarists as well, and we got into discussion about the whys, wherefores and power of the diary. There was a great deal of pulling books out of shelves and taking down the atlas, etc., etc., leaving quite an avalanche of literature in the middle of the living room floor. But it was fun. We got into an especially heated debate about the Tolstoys.
Since I read their diaries, I have not been able to read and enjoy any of Tolstoy’s work. His hypocrisy, deliberate cruelty, and self-obsession revolt me so much that I can’t get past it to appreciate the quality of the actual writing – okay, I never had much patience with Anna – I always thought she was an idiot to throw herself under a train – but I used to appreciate his craft. Now he just sickens me.
And that brings up the question: Does genius excuse bad behavior?
At eighteen, I would have said, “Absolutely.”
Now, I say, “No.”
Too often, people claim genius as a reason for treating people badly and being selfish to a degree of harming everyone around them. Granted, there’s more psychological complexity around them with the people who indulge them – all of that s/m co-dependence – but I’m tired of artists who sacrifice the lives of those around them in order to do their work.
In other words, if you think you’re too good to do the laundry or the dishes because you’re a “genius”, get out of my face, because I want nothing to do with you. It’s the daily details that keep a person grounded and that allow the work to speak universally.
Does Tolstoy’s work speak universally? It does, to millions of readers. It never really did to me, and by the time I read the diaries, I was so disgusted that I can’t get beyond two or three pages without wanting to throw the book across the room. It’s a personal response to someone whose life I don’t respect.
But is his life any of my business? Of course not. His life was the business of himself and his family. I don’t have the right to judge it. Any more than I think readers of my serials or short stories or whatever have a right to judge my life. Because, as entwined as my life and work are, there is still a separation.
And I work hard to make sure I don’t perform deliberate acts of cruelty. I stand firm in not compromising about my work – I don’t get myself into relationships anymore where I’m supposed to be “the little woman”. I’m interested in partnerships, where each helps the other, not one person is devoted to the other’s dreams/careers/etc. at the expense of one’s own. As I would not submerge my own work and talent in order to pour all that energy into someone else’s life, I would not want my partner/husband/lover/whatever to give up his creative life for me. It’s got to work both ways.
I’ve tried the whole helpmeet thing in the past, and, fortunately, my survival instinct always kicked in early enough to get out. And now I know the warning signs when someone wants that, and I can put a stop to it immediately, saving us all time, energy and heartache.
I guess, in general, I’m tired of all the justifications people give for cruelty – genius, religion, money, power.
I don’t believe that one has to sacrifice being a great artist in order to be a decent human being. I think it’s an indulgent excuse. I think some artists’ works might have even been stronger if they’d practiced more kindness and less self-indulgence.
Are there artists whose work I avoid because I think their lives were too hypocritical? Tolstoy is the one who immediately comes to mind. I’m sure there are others. Right now, I can’t think of them, but I’m sure there are even contemporary writers, actors, etc., whose work I turn away from because I think they’re vile people. It doesn’t mean I feel I have the right to tell them to work a different way or be a different way, because I don’t. But I can make a choice not to have anything to do with them or their work.
Ah, I just thought of two of them – one an author, one an actor. I won’t mention their names, because they are both alive and it’s unfair. But there’s one particular author whose work was popular several years ago who I think is both a lousy writer and a lousy human being. And there’s an actor whose work I don’t particularly like who I think is such a loathsome person that I won’t be in the same room with said actor – to the point of refusing wok on a production in which that person is involved.
In both those cases, I don’t like the work or the person. But what of cases where the work is spectacular and the person is vile? And can we really know the extent of someone’s life while they’re still alive? But is it always truth that comes with history?
There are dozens of answers to these questions. I don’t pretend to have the only ones or the right ones. I can only respond, case-by-case, as best I can individually and try to figure out why I have such a strong reaction to certain lives and works and not to others. It’s a murky, complicated labyrinth.
And I can’t spend all day in there. I was called to go in to Wicked tonight – which means I’ll get home around 1 AM, have to get up at six and be back on an 8 AM train tomorrow for my long day call. I better watch out or I will be a vile person by tomorrow night.
In the meantime, Angel Hunt week begins today. I need to get some work done on that, more done on Charlotte and Widow’s Chamber, and the first draft of the About.com article done – before 4:30 this afternoon, when I have to catch my train.
Enough theorizing. Down to work.
The burn on my arm is blistered – I should have gone to the hospital. But hey, the hospital closed and the nearest one – I don’t even know where it is. But I’m treating it here and will wrap it in sterilized gauze to go to work, because there’s no way it’s not going to get bumped, rubbed, and who knows what else.
Delta deserves to go out of business for the way they ruined thousands of people’s holidays, canceling Comair flights because a computer went down. People were able to fly before computers were used to assign flights. The system crashes, you have a HUMAN assign flights and fax the list around and you SOLVE THE PROBLEM. This tendency to simply shrug and refuse to create solutions whenever there’s a computer glitch has got to stop. The world ran just fine before computers were used in every aspect of life, and we can’t forget how to function when the power goes off.
If it requires creative or individual thought, the majority don’t want to do it. Anyone who says, “I can’t” or “it’s not my job” should be instantly fired. Especially if that person is in a management or supervisory capacity.