Friday, December 05, 2008

The Genesis of Pretty Lady

Hello, everybody. This is Pretty Lady's author.

Those of you who have been around since the beginning have probably noticed a falling off of Pretty Lady's style and elán, lately. The truth is, I think she may have come to the end of her incarnation. At the very least, the tone of this blog will change. I could make this blog an archive and start a new one, but then I'd have to start my ad revenue programs from scratch, and I need that fifty bucks a month right now ;-). So Pretty Lady will integrate with the much more down-to-earth voice of her author, Stephanie Lee Jackson, and those of you who are enamoured with third-person singular and over-the-top affectation will have to go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I owe you all a bit of an explanation.

Pretty Lady fell into my mind on New Years' Eve, 2006. I'd been thinking for awhile that if I'd been born in a different century, I might have been a courtesan; the more I considered the many absurd, colorful, raucous episodes of my past, the more I realized that with a slight change of context and tone, they'd be excellent raw material for a picaresque novel. Moreover, I'd been thinking about the power of the feminine. Women managed to obtain and wield power long before most of us had any political or economic status; what did that look like? Could my inner courtesan shed any light on the subject?

So, Pretty Lady arrived. Originally I conceived of her as wildly transgressive and politically incorrect, along the lines of a Camille Paglia--narcissistic, sexist, racist, trivial and vain. But the parameters I'd set soon began to take on a deeper dimension. The fact that she referred to all comers as 'dear' and 'darling' began to rub off; I soon found that the promiscuous affection she spewed everywhere was genuine. By definition, she did love everybody. And I found that affection is necessary before any communication occurs.

Then I discovered that although she had an unflappable level of self-esteem, based upon her unassailable 'prettyness,' she had no ego whatsoever. She greeted all attempts at personal attack with blithe acceptance, and undiminished affection for the would-be attacker. This proved to be incredibly disarming. It obviated a lot of unwinnable, pointless arguments, because when someone is defending an identity, they're unable to absorb any other perspective. Since I wasn't trying to change anyone's mind, and was operating without fear, I was as free to consider radically different perspectives as other people were to consider mine.

I think that a lot of what she wrote, particularly in the first year, was channelled. A force that I might call the Holy Spirit took hold of my mind, my history, my ideas and my fingers, and poured itself out without too much direction from me. Sometimes I look back at old posts and can't believe I wrote that; I rather think I didn't. The ideas are with me still, but the force that wrought their expression is beyond anything I consciously set out to achieve. This is also why I relentlessly stuck with the third person singular, despite the fact that it often seemed forced and annoying. Pretty Lady was written by me, she had my ideas, experiences and sometimes my face, but she wasn't me. She was both more than me, and nothing at all.

The process was an extraordinarily healing one for me. It allowed me to lay to rest a lot of ghosts from my past, and move forward without so much baggage. It allowed me to articulate a lot of things that bothered me about gender politics in particular--namely, that feminist cant is often used against women, by selfish and unscrupulous people who then claim the moral high ground for it. It allowed me to clarify the fact that the dividing line is not between 'left' and 'right,' liberal and conservative, feminist and anti-feminist, religious and secular; it's between egoism and basic decency. Any ideology can be used to beat people up, and just about any ideology can liberate them. So many of the quarrels we expend our energy on are smokescreens for fear, anguish and desperation.

It also allowed me to bridge the gap between my religious upbringing and my transpersonal perspective. For the last twenty years or so I have considered myself 'spiritual, but not religious.' The bigotry, rigidity and dogmatism of the Christian religion as it is practiced by millions today is something I can't swallow, even in the tempered Anglican version; yet I acknowledge that the best parts of Christianity have formed my outlook and dwell at the bedrock of my soul. Now I believe that dogmatic, rule-based morality is a necessary phase in the development of human moral reasoning. It provides the first solid step out of egoistic chaos, and the first intimation that other people are more than just objects to be used, attacked and defended against. We can't combat bigotry by attacking religion.

We can, however, do extensive damage control by defining and maintaining boundaries. A lot of harm would be avoided if we simply did our best to establish a clear, universal understanding that the rules of any religion apply to the voluntary adherents of that religion, not to random bystanders. Evangelism at its best is just rude; when it becomes political, it violates the tenets of spiritual equality on which all major religions are based. The only truly transformative discipline is self-discipline. It would be nice if religious institutions generally acknowledged that.

As most of you know, Joe and I are expecting a daughter in February. I find that pregnancy has sapped the vast majority of my creative energy; mothers and healthcare providers assure me that it will come back after the baby is born, but for the moment I have not had much inspiration to spare. That is, I think, as it should be. Narcissists make terrible mothers.

And the election perhaps marks a turning point as well. Something about the reality-denial, dogmatism, solipsism and incompetence of the Bush administration years seemed to call out for the creation of a whimisical mask self, if only as a way of whistling in the dark. Now that it looks like the adults are finally in charge, a lot of the exigency has gone out of the pose.

So I will still be here; I will still tell you what I think; I will still love you. I'll just be a bit more muted about it. Thank you for the three years of bliss! Let's have many more!


Spatula said...

Dear Lovely Stephanie,

Pretty Lady has taught me a lot. This summer, I printed out all her musings on feminism and relationships, and dwelt on them at length as I tried to rescue my soul from the dust into which I allowed it to be kicked by Evil Forces. She did seem like a picaresque heroine, and her having travelled through twisty roads, and emerging stronger and wiser, made my own trudgings seem less scary and bewildering. I didn't see her as "narcissistic, sexist, racist, trivial and vain" at all, so in that respect she may have failed a bit. :-D

"The bigotry, rigidity and dogmatism of the Christian religion... is something I can't swallow, even in the tempered Anglican version; yet ...the best parts of Christianity have formed my outlook and dwell at the bedrock of my soul."

I think I share this as well. I can't follow where any organized religion likes to go, because of those factors, and because somehow people can't seem to devote themselves to spiritual matters as a group without ignoring spiritual matters in favour of hierarchies, political machinations, bids for dominance and thinking and acting in a manner I consider silly. But listening to Pretty Lady helped me make peace with the fact that I am a spiritual creature, that my art practice is a spiritual practice, and that the myths of Christianity hums in a way that makes my soul hum back in response.

Motherhood tends to claim one's energies a bit, or so I'm told :-D So if blogging isn't calling you as much, I'm not surprised. But I'll be around, and when you feel like sharing what you discover, I'll be most curious to hear it, because if there are brains that will think interesting thoughts about motherhood, they are surely those of Stephanie and Pretty Lady. Evolve away, mes dames! I hurl blessings at you and yours.

Pretty Lady said...

Wow, Spatula, I had no idea. Thank you.

Spatula said...

Just hope you are not backing away from the monitor in fear :-)

I totally mean in a non-stalkery way and I don't boil people's rabbits or anything. Honest to blog.

Pretty Lady said...

Nah, I wasn't worried; it's a good twelve-hour drive from Toronto, which would wear out even the most determined rabbit boiler.;-) I'm just Pleased As Punch.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Stephanie.....


David said...

Dear Stephanie:

Thank you so much for Pretty Lady. She will always have a special place in many hearts I'm sure. Having always depended on the kindness of strangers myself, not to mention the wisdom of the opposite sex, I've found her to be a beacon and a comfort. This does seem to be a moment for turning the page, for good or ill, with the election over and the global financial meltdown and all, and let's all hope it will be for the good. Take good care of that baby now.


Mary Klein said...

Congratulations, oh-pretty-mother, what wonderful news!

Wishing you all the very best, Mary

Anonymous said...

Oh, Pretty Lady. Or whoever you are. I am twenty years old and slowly, slowly trying to figure out how I will make a living as a musician, how to stay inspired, how to deal with bullies and losers, how to have a healthy romantic relationship, and how to be a good person. I've been lurking on this blog for about a year. I cannot believe I've never commented. But you have helped me SO in my quest to learn how to do these things. Thank you so much. You're going to be the best mom ever.

Anonymous said...

Dear Stephanie,
Congratulations on the baby. Yes, it seems that pregnancy reduces bloodflow to the brain, or if you like to think in terms of energy, your creative energy is busy creating a little person.
I'm glad you'll still be around.
I was looking at your shop a couple days ago. Notecards, please? Pretty-please?
My t-shirt's holding up okay, considering how often I wear it. Note to others: do wash inside out.

Nikki Di Virgilio said...

Hello. I am new to your blog. We are both contributors to Rachelle's BlogHer articles- as "writers of spirit" so I thought I would visit.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I figured it out! I need to look at the top link. Sorry about that. I guess I can't just order a card mix, I have to build my own. OK, I'll figure this out.
Thanks so much!

Pretty Lady said...

Yes, indeed, Boysmom, the card options at Cafe Press were lousy, and you couldn't make up a pre-boxed set at ImageKind, but you CAN get what you want with a little labor.

Glad you like the t-shirt! I need to order one for myself...

Eva said...

How many of us, I wonder, thought we would have been courtesans in another era or another life? Many women have told me their version. Growing up in the west - the Wild West - we always pretended to be the local can-can girls, never Calamity Jane. And in my small attempts to be an actress, I was in few productions, but it is absolutely amazing how many times I was cast as a hooker. So it was not just how I saw myself, but how others did too, as a source of art, not just money.