Friday, March 28, 2008

The Archetype

Pretty Lady has known, probably, one or two dozen of these fellows. They live in bars and coffee houses around the world; they are Guests of Honor at keg parties. They are both Parasites upon Society, and utterly integral to society's continued progress. If you have never known one of them, you have truly wasted your life.

Victor: These people are on the fringe of society, they have no
money. If they have jobs at all they’re crappy, they do great Art, Music
and Literature and get virtually nothing for it, in fact they lose money
at it. In fact let’s face it, they’re on the fringe they are no-accounts.
That’s the way I always was and I’m happy being that way and I’m happy
having a few people appreciate my work.

Jean: Yeah okay, because part of what I’ve always thought is, part of it
is the connection between like you were a bohemian hippy type and still
are, right?

Victor: I was a rich bohemian when I was younger. When I was{in contrast to} these
people in their twenties, when I was in my twenties, I was very wealthy, I
was a bohemian, there’s no doubt about it.

Jean:(Confused) Now you weren’t very wealthy.

Victor: I was very wealthy and I had a lot of money, what in those
days was a lot of money.

Jean:(tentatively...more confused than ever) Okay..........

Victor: It’s virtually nothing now. The way prices are going up. I
mean in those days I had a ton of money. I mean I was a big investor in
stocks and bonds. I played the ponies, gambled on football. I had money to

Jean: (perplexed) That’s not true.

Victor: That’s not true?

Jean: That’s not true.

Victor: It is true. You didn’t know me in my twenties,

Jean: Well yeah but,{turns tape recorder off, vigorous debate with Victor ensues. Much discussion about what does "very wealthy "mean? we reach a compromise.}

Jean: But okay, well anyway, so you
had more money than they do, now.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

From the New York Times:
Why does she go on like this? Does Clinton privately believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can deliver the policies they both support? Is she simply selfish, and willing to put her party through agony for the sake of her slender chance? Are leading Democrats so narcissistic that they would create bitter stagnation even if they were granted one-party rule?
Dear Senator Clinton:

It is time to show some Class. Please concede. Please concede even if, deep down in your heart, you firmly believe that you were ordained to be The One. Please concede even if you believe your opponent to be a deluded naïf who will shortly go the way of Jimmy Carter. Please concede even if it will bankrupt you and end your marriage.

Please concede because this country has been gravely damaged by the sort of egotism which can never entertain the notion that one's personal view is not a Divine Right. Please concede because, even though the timing appeared to be Just Right at one moment, that moment has passed.

Please concede because by doing so, you may salvage a modicum of personal integrity, and live to fight another day. Please concede because it could save your soul.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Cloak of Courtesy

Darlings, brace yourselves. The Ninth Circle is icing up as we speak. Pretty Lady is about to make a case against courtesy.

Not entirely. But she was much struck by a point made by Chris Caldwell in the Financial Times, of all places:
The US has not managed to eliminate racism, Mr Jackson thinks, but it has succeeded in eliminating racist talk. Remarks the slightest bit “insensitive” draw draconian punishment. White people, because they feel thoroughly oppressed by this regime, assume that it must be some kind of “gift” to minorities, especially blacks.

It is not. It is more like a torment. It renders the power structure more opaque to blacks than it has ever been, leaving what Mr Jackson calls a “scary disconnect between the specifics of what gets said and the hazy possibilities of what kinds of things are truly meant”. If the historic enemies of your people suddenly began talking about you in what can fairly be called a secret code, how inclined would you be to trust in their protestations of generosity?

Pretty Lady, it must be confessed, has generally and wholly come down upon the side of Manners Before All. She is the first to deplore the trashy attribution of base motives to persons with whom one happens to disagree; the shameless pursuit of flamboyant Wealth as directly equated with Class; and she wholly condemns the knee-jerk spewing of vile epithets at the slightest provocation. Manners, she maintains, are the true signifier of Class.

However, upon reading Mr. Caldwell's essay, she was brought to a sudden vivid recollection of a certain college classmate, a gentleman who gave off the constant impression that he would really be at Harvard, but had whimsically decided to go slumming at the U. of T. instead. This fellow made bosom companions of a certain heavy-smoking, heavy-drinking, heavy-philosophizing consortium of Pretty Lady's buddies, so naturally she gregariously attempted to get to know him.

He treated her with impeccable, impenetrable, invariable, bland courtesy. It was dreadful.

For Pretty Lady, being the intuitive soul that she is, divined that this man despised and dismissed her out of hand, for what reasons she could not fathom. (Later, she read his thesis, and fathomed it. Evidently the highly expressive manner of her presentation of self led the gentleman to believe that she lacked genuine substance. Go figure.) However, no information was provided as to exactly what the problem was, and no point of access was permitted to address it; it was not admitted that there was a problem.

Freedom of association being a fine thing, at least in theory, perhaps indeed the problem existed only in Pretty Lady's mildly wounded mind. But she can imagine the horror of a world where every person treats you this way, and there's not a thing you can do about it. Particularly when the opaque purveyors of detached, dismissive courtesy are loan officers, and potential employers, and educational institutions.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hail Thee Festival Day

...Foremost among these practices is the one known as tonglen, which means "taking and sending." The practice is as follows:

In meditation, picture or visualize someone you know and love who is going through much suffering--an illness, a loss, depression, pain, anxiety, fear. As you breathe in, imagine all of that person's suffering--in the form of dark, black, smokelike, tarlike, thick, and heavy clouds--entering your nostrils and traveling down into your heart. Hold that suffering in your heart. Then, on the outbreath, take all of your peace, freedom, health, goodness, and virtue, and send it out to the person in the form of healing, liberating light. Imagine that they take it all in, and feel completely free, released, and happy. Do that for several breaths. Then imagine the town that person is in, and, on the inbreath, take in all of the suffering of that town, and send back all of your health and happiness to everyone in it. Then do that for the entire, state, then the entire country, the entire planet, the universe. You are taking in all the suffering of beings everywhere and sending them back health and happiness and virtue.

When people are first introduced to this practice, their reactions are usually strong, visceral, and negative. Mine were. Take that black tar into me? Are you kidding? What if I actually get sick? This is insane, dangerous! When Kalu first gave us these tonglen instructions, a woman stood up in the audience of about one hundred people and said what virtually everybody there was thinking:

"But what if I am doing this with someone who is really sick, and I start to get that sickness myself?"

Without hesitating Kalu said, "You should think, Oh good! It's working!"


A strange thing begins to happen when one practices tonglen for any length of time. First of all, nobody actually gets sick. Rather, you find that you stop recoiling in the face of suffering, both yours and others'. You stop running from pain, and instead find that you can begin to transform it by simply being willing to take it into yourself and then release it. The real changes start to happen in you, by the simple willingness to get your ego-protecting tendencies out of the way.

--Ken Wilber, 'Grace and Grit,' 247-49

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Extremist Dudgeon

Pretty Lady would just like to point out that some of her extremist friends are acting exactly the way some of her curmudgeonly would-be suitors used to act, the day they discovered that she was nice to everybody, not just curmudgeonly would-be suitors. If you are an extremist, it is disingenuous of you to go into extended periods of passive-aggressive pouting just because Pretty Lady has shown sympathy toward an extremist viewpoint that does not happen to be your own.

What part of 'love thy neighbor' don't you understand?

Ancient Rumors of Evil

Well, Pretty Lady is glad that somebody pointed out the obvious:
Many white Americans seem concerned that Mr. Obama, who seems so reasonable, should enjoy the company of Mr. Wright, who seems so militant, angry and threatening. To whites, for example, it has been shocking to hear Mr. Wright suggest that the AIDS virus was released as a deliberate government plot to kill black people.

That may be an absurd view in white circles, but a 1990 survey found that 30 percent of African-Americans believed this was at least plausible.

“That’s a real standard belief,” noted Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a political scientist at Princeton (and former member of Trinity church, when she lived in Chicago). “One of the things fascinating to me watching these responses to Jeremiah Wright is that white Americans find his beliefs so fringe or so extreme. When if you’ve spent time in black communities, they are not shared by everyone, but they are pretty common beliefs.”

Pretty Lady is not herself an African-American, but she clearly recalls reading a most shocking and convincing article, circa 1990, in an alternative Austin paper, which laid out the case for a calculated and deliberate infection of blacks, gays and drug users with the AIDS virus, under cover of a government immunization program. She did not know what to think; the evidence as presented seemed rather compelling.

A good friend of hers, a white gentleman who dressed habitually in suits, and made a name for himself in later years as a Jeopardy contestant, summed up her views: "I sure hope it's not true, because then I'd feel a moral obligation to do a number on those responsible."

Pretty Lady and her friends not being, by skill or inclination, hit-persons, there the matter was allowed to lie.

So when Pretty Lady heard Mr. Wright's incendiary sermons, she was not inclined to believe that he was a liar or a racist; she believed that he believed he was telling the truth. She cannot fault him for that. She doesn't know the truth, and neither does anybody else.

For the fact is, Evil exists. It is, by its nature, shadowy and cloaked in lies. It can exist everywhere, and most particularly in the corridors of Power. Its enemy is Truth, Transparency, and Honest Discussion, not hasty denunciations based upon superficial impressions.

This is why it is dangerous to simply repudiate incendiary rhetoric, instead of closely examining it. Sweeping Evil under the carpet only makes it stronger.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Romantic Interlude

Tuesday evening shenanigans at the Apple store.

On Empathy

Pretty Lady is still reeling with inarticulate emotion, following dear Mr. Obama's history-making speech. So please excuse her if she is not as stylistically sprightly as usual.

One of the things she particularly noticed--aside from his searing honesty, balanced analysis, and transcendent perspective--was the way in which he made a very clear distinction between empathizing with another person's position, and agreeing with it, much less excusing bad behavior.

For Pretty Lady has often, often found herself in a similar position to Mr. Obama's--that of having to explain away the egregious faux pas of her erstwhile friends and associates. This is no accident; as all of her remaining friends know, Pretty Lady has ever made a habit of associating with Colorful Extremists of every stripe. This may well have begun as a sort of rebellion against the bland neutrality of her middle-class background, but soon grew into a cornerstone of her personal philosophy, as well as a natural extension of her temperament. Pretty Lady, like Mr. Obama, is an empath; an 'NF' on the Meyers-Briggs temperament indicator.

In practical terms, this means that we pick up on the History, Subtext, and attendant Emotion of every word or action of every person we meet. This is not a conscious choice; it is something that we simply cannot help doing. We do not ever hear a statement in the isolated context of Pure Logic, although we are eminently capable of understanding this logic, or lack thereof. We are aware, instantaneously, of the path the speaker took to arrive at his position, including all the wounds, mistakes, and frustrations inherent in that path. Thus we respond to their statements in a holistic, inclusive manner, not merely in a pointless battle of points.

Because we see people as whole, as conglomerations of disparate experience, temperament, personality and influence, not merely as greater or lesser logicians, we have a hard time condemning anyone out of hand. We take a step back, we watch, we listen, we look for underlying motives, intentions, and those signals which indicate Character, in aggregate. We understand that we are all sinners, and that by a too-hasty condemnation of the flawed Other we may, willy-nilly, condemn ourselves.

We understand that people's words and opinions are neither complete, nor are they set in stone.

In this manner, we try to arrive at a deeper understanding of others, as a means of finding more effective means of mutual communication, and mutual healing. We do not reflexively separate ourselves from things which might appear dangerous; like fools or angels, we stand our ground and quietly pay attention.

This process in no way implies that we support, justify, agree with or excuse destructive behaviors and philosophies. It is often interpreted that way, or twisted to false equation by unscrupulous parties. These parties tend to be those who wholly identify with the egoistic perspective--that in order to be Saved, one must condemn all imperfection in others, casting off any taint in order to present a face of Perfection to the Almighty Judge.

Darlings, this is not true. We are all imperfect. We heal and become perfect by accepting ourselves and others as we are, flaws and all, and judiciously making the slow, committed effort to change, with patience and compassion. Condemning others hastily--out of fear, intolerance, sadism, rigidity, or sheer self-serving expedience--is the road to Hell. It never ceases to shock Pretty Lady, how many self-declared Christians choose to follow this path.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


It takes a great deal of faith in people--in their intelligence, patience, willingness to set aside grievances and simply listen, reconsidering their views from an expanded perspective--to make a speech like this one in the middle of a highly contested Presidential campaign. It is not dumbed down, clichéd, rabble-rousing or slanted. It is a clear-eyed assessment of how things are, in all their complexity.

I want a leader who sees and addresses things this way, because it is how I see and address them. There is no hope for healing otherwise.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How to Move to New York City

Well, hello, darlings! Pretty Lady has been a bit mopey and taciturn, lately; it seems she hasn't had a thing to say, what with Shocking Scandals popping out right and left, and the financial underpinnings of the local economy vanishing like a sinkhole in the basement. She has been too busy watching the floorboards, making sure they're still solid and present.

In fact, Pretty Lady has been a bit jittery ever since she moved to New York City, in the midst of a recession and a chronic terror alert. It is only recently that it occurred to her that she learned a few Facts the Hard Way, and that there might be a few enthusiastic, ambitious young persons out there in the provinces who might benefit from her hard-won experience. So she is rousing herself to give you dears a bit of Sage Advice, which she wishes somebody had given her, five or six years ago. Not that it would have made a great deal of difference, but there you go.

So! You want to move to New York City. Presumably because you are Talented, and Ambitious, and want to Make It in the Big Pond. She can't imagine any other reason. If you are ordinary and bland, there are infinitely more comfortable, congenial and inexpensive places for you to indulge yourself. She wouldn't wish New York City on anyone who wasn't asking for it.

Pretty Lady, first of all, congratulates you. It seems to her that one may not truly progress in one's vocation, or know one's limitations, until one has ventured out into the Wide World and declared, "Here I am. Bring it on!" There are many talented individuals who never develop their talent by honing it in competition with others; they prefer to swan around the Small Ponds of the world, basking in their native statistical superiority. These people may live pleasant and productive lives, but at heart they are cowards.

People who move to New York City are not cowards; most of them are, however, fools. Pretty Lady is no exception. If she had known then what she knows today, she might never have come here at all; what is certain is that she'd have done a few things differently.

1) If at all possible, have a job lined up.

It is madness to move to New York with no job, no friends, and nowhere to live. One ends up paying enormous broker's fees, getting scammed by moving companies, moving into a trashed, sabotaged and stinking apartment, getting stonewalled by licensing boards, jerked around by temp agencies, and generally sucked dry by an impersonal and parasitic machine. People you thought were your friends suddenly become hostile and insane; total strangers will demand impossible things from you.

A few random strangers, however, will save your life.

2) Do not pay a broker. Find a place to live through friends, or friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, or Craigslist. As a last resort, sublet or couch-surf until you find a no-fee apartment with air and sunlight and a reasonably sane landlord, preferably in Brooklyn.It seemed to Pretty Lady that paying a fair fee to a broker for a decent apartment was a fair price to pay--two or three hundred dollars, maybe?

Try thirteen hundred. In 2002. It's much higher now--ten to fifteen percent of your first year's rent. At between twelve hundred and two thousand a month, for a modest one-bedroom in a neighborhood with infrequent gunfire, you do the math. All this goes to an entity with no function except to get between you and what you need, so as to extort inordinate amounts of money from you. Employment agencies operate in exactly the same way. Welcome to The City!

3) Sign up for the classes, the co-op, and the social networking groups immediately, without waiting to feel grounded or Financially Stable.
Financial Stability will never happen; if you wait to start meeting people, learning things and taking care of yourself until it does, you will wake up and find that you have spent years in total isolation and deteriorating health, in the midst of a sea of opportunity. Nothing happens in New York without Personal Contacts; you make these contacts in yoga class, biking group, choir, co-op, etc. You cannot afford not to do these things.

4) When people in the social networking groups tell you exactly what you want to hear, do not believe them.

Never believe anything someone tells you in New York until you have known them for over a year, and scrupulously attended to their personal history of Word versus Action, or lack thereof. People will tell you anything to make a First Impression, and the big talkers are never the big doers. They are far more likely to be desperate poseurs looking for fresh victims.

Common Lies to Watch Out For:

"I'll call you tomorrow."
"I'll catch up with you later."
"I've got connections who would be delighted to fund that."
"I'll buy that painting."
"I'll have it to you by Tuesday."
"I have this friend you need to meet."
"You can count on me."

5) Get away from toxic people.

This is an important skill to learn, anywhere you live, but doubly so in New York. Endearing personality quirks such as incompetence, mendacity, pugnacity or sloth, which may be given slack in sleepier communities, are the equivalent of a sixteen-ton weight chained to one's ankle, in a city full of obsessive workaholics who will do anything to get ahead.

Furthermore, finding time in one's schedule for personal friends takes a great deal of commitment and ingenuity, in a city where every individual lives the life of ten; you must bestow that friendship wisely. It is important to cultivate the art of sussing out toxicity in a potential friend before the boat is scuttled and the bridge is burnt. Ideally one should have a smiling acquaintance with many, an intimate friendship with the precious few.

6) Beware the crucible effect.

It is Pretty Lady's inchoate theory that moving to New York City brings out a person's worst self-destructive habits, magnified by ten. One may live for decades in a small town, functioning fairly well with a mild case of vanity, paranoia, narcissism or codependency; one moves to New York and becomes a raging monster. Pretty Lady theorizes that this is a result of the pace, the competitiveness, the systemic parasitism, and the psychological pressure that comes from a pervasive sense of 'This is It, Make it or Break it.' The bad habits which emerge under stress threaten to subsume one's entire personality.

The good thing about this is that if one survives and overcomes it, one is an infinitely better and stronger person, a lean and purified verson of self, cleansed of psychic impurities and Stupid People Tricks; if not, well, look at Hillary Clinton. Dear Samantha was right.

7) Treat your real friends well.

Pretty Lady is thrilled to report that after nearly six years in this hell-hole, she is beginning to see the light around her. To her amazement, she looks at her address book and it is filled with astonishingly wonderful, generous, kind, wise, talented, loving people who impress the hell out of her. When she falls, there is a helping hand to pick her up; when she is frightened, there is a listening ear. The economy may have tanked, the Biennial may be full of worthless garbage, and she may be on the verge of bankruptcy, but on the whole she has few regrets.

Related: Why You Should Not Move to New York City

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The difference

“So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others - all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face - war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late,” - Barack Obama, January 20, 2008.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pretty Lady's Biennial

Pretty Lady just got back from the Whitney Biennial. She has one word to say about it, and that word is: Hmph.

So she is curating her own Biennial, right here, right now, along the time-tested principles of Nepotism, Favoritism, Elitism, and Extreme Prejudice.

Her Biennial will be, at the very least, Pretty.

Libby Pace.

Some people accuse Pretty Lady of being conservative, hidebound, and behind the times; they accuse her of being Against Installation Art. Perish the thought! She is All For Installation Art! The Installation merely needs to be as carefully thought-through, exquisitely crafted, poetically evocative, and aesthetically stunning as Libby's 2003 window project at Healing Arts Gallery in Williamsburg, and Pretty Lady is all over it.

Jennifer Coates.

Who is to say that the traditionally visual cannot also be abstractly metaphysical? Ms. Coates illustrates the Landscapes of the Expanding Mind.

Sophie Jodoin.

Viscerally compelling, emotionally complex Political Imagery--Sophie has been going to town on the war images, lately. She blows Kathe Kollewitz out of the water.

Simplicity, subtlety, depth and whimsy? That's our Danny-o. Pretty Lady is certain that he'd come up with something brand-new and surprising for her Biennial, perhaps crawling over the outside of the building, perhaps a roomful of toys indoors.

RA Friedman
Enigmatic, apolitical, immersed in the potentialities of an archaic medium--nice counterpoint to Sophie. Perhaps hang them across the room from one another, as a sort of echo effect.

John Morris.
Organic Abstraction is where it's at, or at least where John's head is at, 99% of the time.

Oriane Stender.
Recycling, sociopolitical commentary, and Really Finicky Detail, to match John's obsessiveness.

Chris Smith Evans.
Pretty Lady met Chris while selling erotic sketches on the street in Soho, one penurious winter. Chris was selling these cute little Shaker paintings, which were flying off the racks like hotcakes when the homosexual gentlemen came by. Later, they discovered that they'd both had a run-in with the same chauvinistic sculpture professor, fifteen years apart; by the time Pretty Lady encountered him, he'd at least mellowed out enough to teach her to weld.

Chris's work does a masterful job in slipping subliminal social commentary into the homes of the petit bourgeois, in Pretty Lady's opinion. Subversion does not have to be aesthetically abrasive.

Nancy Baker.

Our Rebel Belle may project a bit of an Edge, here in the blogosphere, but her lovely paintings demonstrate all the playful, ambiguous joy of artist who careens on a tightrope between Kitsch and the Sublime. No BS at all!

Wayne Thiebaud.

Every Biennial has at least one Token Old White Guy; why should Pretty Lady's be any different? At least dear Mr. Thiebaud's work is cheerful. Pretty Lady always wanted to meet him.

Tara Donovan.

Well, who could resist? Chris, maybe, but who else? As far as Pretty Lady is concerned, Tara may have a whole floor.

Deborah Fisher.

As long as we are going for the Raw Construction Aesthetic, let us be thoroughly committed to it. Raw lumber is boring; alchemical amalgamations of recycled trash, much less so.

You will note that Pretty Lady's Biennial is light to absent upon the video/performance fronts. This is because Pretty Lady's standards for moving pictures have been set by the viewing of actual Films, i.e. those by Kubrick, Bergman, the Coen brothers, etc; similarly, her standards for Performance are at the level of Mark Morris, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the RSC. She has yet to see an 'art performance' that qualified as such.

The catalogue essays for Pretty Lady's Biennial will be provided by Chris and Franklin, pending their approval. If you are, perhaps, a friend of Pretty Lady's and are feeling miffed by your exclusion from her biennial, remember that biennials happen every two years, and she had to save some of you for the next one. ;-)

UPDATE: Oops! Forgot Swoon and Barry McGee. Chris Ware and Julie Mehretu are not included, solely because they've been in the WB before.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Whole Woman

Gracious. Twisty must have gotten a soul transplant, during her long hiatus, because Pretty Lady actually agrees with her:
In this 2006* interview snippet, Sawyer accosts Madonna at a booksigning promoting her kiddie book The English Roses, accusing her of “hypocrisy.”
her sanctimony is disingenuous. The history of “legitimate” publishing in America is inseparable from the history of porn publishing; the latter has always been used to finance the former, and more than one serious writer has paid the rent by pounding out smut. TS Eliot’s publisher funded The Waste Land with trashy pulp fiction with titles like Flaming Youths.

Madonna’s no TS Eliot, but more people, by a factor of at least 8 gajillion, have busted a move to “Material Girl” than have ever even heard of J. Alfred Prufrock. Thus she has accrued enough cash and clout to land her in that class of women who, for their failure to be sufficiently chaste, must be reviled and ridiculed on Good Morning America.**

Pretty Lady, as her friends know, has taken her share of flak for daring to publish the occasional bit of erotic prose, and, moreover, featuring the link to it upon her sidebar. She has been banned from Google Ads for this act of impurity, and has been forced to eke out her income by selling ad space to shady European dating consortiums. She has been openly mocked, and her credibility challenged, by evangelical atheists who ought to know better. And her Mommy is afraid to read her blog.

But Pretty Lady maintains, as a matter of principle, that Sex is a part of Life; that it is, in fact, central to the perpetuation of same, and that there is nothing shameful about it. Moreover, it seems to her essential that persons with pretentions to intellect, creativity, and spirituality should also admit to being sexual beings; that sexuality should be integrated with the package. For if sex becomes Splintered Off, only to be engaged upon in furtive alleys with persons of intellectual, creative and spiritual vacuity, we our doing ourselves, our children and our society a terrible disservice. We are debasing and disowning an essential part of ourselves.

So the blowjob post stays.

Mailing-list Etiquette

It is the perennial question which emerges, perhaps particularly in New York City, where everyone you meet is a Go-Getter, a Self-Starter, an Odds-Beater, tirelessly and scrappily self-promoting to all and sundry in an indifferent world; the question, of course, is "Why am I still on this person's mailing list?"

For Pretty Lady understands the need to maintain extensive lists of personal contacts, when a person is a Self-Starter in New York City. One must have an invitation list for one's performance-art gigs, one's Pilates workshops, one's obscure art exhibitions off-off Chelsea; one cannot trust that one free advertisment in Time Out NY, to run three days after the event, will garner oneself an audience. And a person cannot perform to bare walls; this becomes depressing. Pretty Lady knows all about that.

But as any self-respecting New Yorker knows, Image is All. And many of these tireless mailing-list maintainers seem to Pretty Lady to have missed out on one important aspect of Image control; that indefinable line known as Tact, or, just perhaps, Class.

For if one's mailing list is made up of Personal Connections--those who can be expected to take a Special Interest in one's doings, above and beyond those of a complete stranger--one would do well to ask oneself, "Am I, in fact, Personally Connected to this person any longer?"

"Or, have I failed to return this person's phone calls, RSVP their invitations, and respond to their friendly emails, for the last year or two or five? Did they, perhaps, inform me of a death in the family, to which I failed to return condolences, or a wedding, which I failed to congratulate? Are they, perhaps, still waiting for me to make good on a promise I made, two or three years ago now, one which may have had a good deal of significance to this person, and which I did not attempt to honor, because my personal ambitions got away with me?"

"Is, there, in short, any compelling reason why this person should wish to drive out to Massachusetts and watch me rolling around onstage in yet another murky Experimental Theatre Project? Or are they more likely to be rolling their eyes at the continuing evidence of my crass, clueless, perennial self-aggrandizement, which sees Other People as merely resources to be tapped, and not individuals with personal lives and concerns of their own?"

Think on this, and purge thy mailing list.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pretty Lady's Super Power

Darlings, Pretty Lady is feeling much better, though still a bit woozy. Thank you all for your very kind messages.

Having been wandering in delirium-land for the better part of a week, Pretty Lady hasn't quite caught up on all her desultory blog-visiting; thus she regrettably missed dear Brucie's Mutant Super Power Roundup. She is so disappointed that she is going to share her own personal super power with you now.

When Pretty Lady was in second grade, there was a boy in her class who spent most of the school year under his desk. Once when he was absent, a sanctimonious girl made an officious speech about how 'we all need to help Terry,' which made no difference in how we treated Terry upon his return. Terry, even then, seemed beyond help.

By the fourth grade, Terry had graduated to sitting on his desk, for the vast majority of time, but still did not do his homework or interact with other humans. Terry's intelligence test scores, allegedly, were Just Fine, so the teachers dealt with his 'stubbornness' by screaming at him. This made no difference in his behavior, so Terry eventually went to public school, where he was suspended for kicking a teacher who touched him.

This entire time, Pretty Lady did not understand why everybody was yelling at Terry. It was perfectly obvious to her that Terry was just like that. You did not converse with Terry, you did not touch him, you did not expect him to do the impossible, such as look you in the eye, articulate his words, turn in his homework, or take his hands out of his ski-jacket pockets. This was, perfectly obviously, beyond Terry's psychological and neurological capabilities.

Decades later, it came to Pretty Lady that Terry obviously suffered from some form of autism. She doesn't know what happened to him; he is either living in an alley next to the garbage cans, or a successful programmer. These are the only two possible options.

At one time, Pretty Lady found herself working the Information Desk at the main San Francisco Public Library. In practical terms, this meant that the cream of the craziest people that the craziest city in the world has to offer came streaming toward her in an uninterrupted horde, and presented her with their concerns. Pretty Lady found that she was able to tune into nearly every one of these people, discover their needs, formulate a plan, communicate this plan, and send them away with a purpose.

In short, Pretty Lady's super power is a capacity to empathize and communicate with crazy people. Also with old people, young people, sick people, terrified Chinese immigrants, angry people, psychotic people, strung-out people, belligerant activists, pathological manipulators, neurotics, and incompetent bosses--at least for two or three minutes. Long enough to formulate a mode of simple communication and inchoate understanding.

This super power of Pretty Lady's is not an unmixed blessing. Not only has it precipitated a great many Unfortunate Relationships, but it creates unrealistic expectations in potentially dangerous hangers-on. Ergo Pretty Lady's reservoir of stalker stories is unusually large.

Conversely, the only sorts of people with whom Pretty Lady is unable to empathize are the bland, smug, rigid, unimaginative, illiberal, and unempathetic--in a word, with the 'normal' people. She simply has no understanding of what it is to lack both passion and empathy. It sometimes seems to her that these people lack souls entirely; that they are mindless automatons carrying out their programming without consciousness or feeling.

Furthermore, it frequently seems to her as though these people regard the cultivation of empathy for others as positively immoral, as though understanding people were the same as excusing all dangerous, evil, or antisocial behavior. As though to make an effort to put oneself in another's shoes, even for a second, even for the purposes of communication, were to taint one's own character irretrieveably.

And Pretty Lady has no patience with this attitude. For to her it is perfectly obvious that 1) we are all children of God and 2) we are all in this together. Behaving as though it were within anyone's rights or abilities to revoke humanity from another human is hubris of the highest degree; it is usurping the rights of God.

Which is, most certainly, ungodly.