Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sotomayor's Aspirations

I hesitate to weigh in on Sotomayor, since there is already so much overblown and predictable garbage flying around the media about her appointment, 99% of which will be forgotten as soon as she is deservedly confirmed. Face it, the woman is an unexceptionable grind. It never seems to occur to Certain Persons that calling a Latina woman an 'affirmative action pick' just because she is a Latina woman is the definition of racism; this is why affirmative action needs to be phased out as soon as is practical. We don't need to be saddling competent people with the kind of self-doubt and social undermining that affirmative action necessarily creates.

I call her a 'grind,' however, because it is clear (as she states herself) that she has little natural oratorical or rhetorical talent. And I will probably regret this, but--am I the only person who noticed her misuse of the word 'aspiration' in her speech?
I stand on the shoulders of countless people, yet there is one extraordinary person who is my life aspiration. That person is my mother, Celina Sotomayor.
Surely, surely she meant that her mother is her life's inspiration? You can't aspire to be another person. A person can inspire you to be like them. This is a cliché, and she got it wrong.

I hope this was merely a slip due to extreme nervousness. From what I've read about her, she strikes me as far more middle-of-the-road than either the liberal or conservative factions are willing to admit. When are people going to understand that there is not a conflict between empathy and justice? A decision is only a sound one when it resonates with both the intellect and the heart.

Let alone the fact that in several of the most prominent cases being bandied about, Sotomayor has consistently erred on the side of strict, literal interpretation of the law, at the expense of the more touchy-feely outcomes. Which only points up the fact that 'conservatives' are frequently only in favor of 'the rule of law' when the rule of law favors them.

I am a Stepford Mom

Really. According to the hip, arch copy on the orange Vitamin Water bottle, only Valium-soaked Stepford moms cook breakfast.

I have nothing against Vitamin Water; I drank five cases of the stuff during my last six weeks of pregnancy. (That was the amount left over from the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival promotional samples. We would not, of course, PAY for five cases of colored water.) But people who write hip, arch copy on bottles run the danger of making Too Many Assumptions. In this case, and particularly in this economy, it is not a wise move to disrespect women who get up in the morning and pop a pan of biscuits in the oven--or muffins, or waffles, or bacon and eggs. Cooking breakfast from scratch is not hard, it is not time-consuming, and it's a heck of a lot more cost- and nutrition-effective than popping by Dunkin Donuts.

When you bake something yourself, you know what is in it. My biscuits, for example, contain organic whole wheat flour, butter, sea salt, aluminum-free baking powder, and organic milk. They don't contain high fructose corn sweetener, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, superfine white flour, processed dairy by-products, or preservatives.

(Not that 'preservatives' are necessarily a bad thing. I recently purchased a jar of marinated herring prominently labeled "No Preservatives;" the ingredients were herring, onions, vinegar, sugar, salt, spices, black pepper and wine. Somebody needs to brush up on the history of food preservation techniques.)

In the pursuit of feminist equality, we take the disrespect of 'women's work' much, much too far. I don't consider baking to be a symbol of oppression, but rather of freedom. I like to bake; in times of anxiety it calms me down. It's alchemical, and produces a tangible result, unlike the vast majority of what passes itself off as 'work' these days.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vanity and Shame

Transcript of recent interaction between myself and Ico Gallery:
Dear Stephanie Lee Jackson,

I recently been introduced [sic] to your work online, and I must say I'm very impressed. After reviewing your website, I'm extremely interested in finding out more about you and the process of your work. I feel that your work would be a grand addition to Perceptions Of Reality, which is our September collective exhibition that uses the Surrealist ideology of entering a different cosmos, and combines it with that of abstraction and Fauvism, which in effect will create an alternate view of reality, previously unexplored by one artist. This exhibition will the inaugural exhibition in our new flagship location in our extravagant ground floor 3,000 sq ft gallery in Chelsea.

[two paragraphs of pretentious blather about "renaissance," which, in case you didn't know, is a French word meaning "rebirth."]
Upon perusal of the attached proposal, I found the real reason for this 'career opportunity': $2500 in fees. I replied posthaste.

Get a clue. And take me off your mailing list.
Vanity galleries are like Nigerian 419 scammers; usually they crawl back into the woodwork like cockroaches when confronted with the truth about their business practices. I was thus rather surprised to receive a reply.
You do realize why you're [sic] resume is non-existent, right? With an attitude like that, you will not make it in the business of art!
My first impulse was to press the 'delete' button and forget about it. But I have been making a habit, lately, of stating my boundaries when strangers try to shame me, even though this may come across as hysterical and overengaged; it is helping me eradicate the bad habit of taking jerks too seriously.
Hello, could you BE any tackier?

I know enough about the 'business of art' to know that artists who show with galleries that charge thousands of dollars in fees never get any artistic respect, and are unlikely to recoup their fees in sales, because galleries that charge fees have less incentive to build a collector base; their overhead is already covered. They also prey upon artists with 'non-existent resumes' because they are looking for the ignorant and the insecure who haven't yet figured this out, and are thus vulnerable to their scams.

Genuine, respected art dealers make studio visits, spend time getting to know their artists, and build a consistent program over time. They don't do online searches and send out flattering (at first) emails to every random artist they find. This isn't the first solicitation I've received from you; you need to keep a better database.

My 'attitude' is generally just fine, thank you very much. I am just sick of being an object of predation for every fool with an MBA and cultural pretensions. If you believe in art, put your money where your mouth is and start a real gallery. Select your artists for their skill, passion and commitment, not their economic idiocy, and treat them decently. Which means NOT charging them fees.

Good day.
This is pretty much the basic screed, which any artist ought to know by heart. What I want to point out, though, is the levers which predators of all stripes use to control people.

Note in their first contact, the fulsome level of flattery; this is the sort of thing that every adolescent assumes will come as their just due--say, when they first upload their work to Saatchi Online. You have to be working a few years, and have your illusions shattered a few dozen times, before you truly understand that nobody will EVER come across your work online, or on the street, or in a restaurant, and be so blown away that they offer you a Chelsea exhibition and thousands of dollars per piece. (Unless you are Swoon, or Barry McGee. And I'm not even sure that both of these artists are solvent.) Our culture is too saturated with images for that to happen. Plus, anyone who thinks they truly understand what an artist's work is like from an online image doesn't understand visual art at all.

Then, of course, once their cover is blown, out come the nasties: "You do know why your resume is nonexistent, right?" People who use flattery as a tool are highly prone to use humiliation as a weapon, since these are two sides of the same coin. Simply, they're trying to shut me up by hitting my most vulnerable spot.

And the reason I'm posting about this at length, online, despite the fact that it showcases my lack of career success, is that vanity and shame are the forces which keep most of us isolated, helpless, and ultimately unsuccessful. Predators can only survive when they've got a steady supply of weak, ignorant victims who don't share information. Once we learn to step outside of our egos and ask ourselves, "hey, what's this person's agenda? What's the bigger picture? Who is profiting, and who is the loser?" it makes us much harder to manipulate. Then maybe the vanity galleries will disappear--not to mention the vanity governments.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This intuition thing...

Recently, I participated in a short publicity video for Frances Largeman-Roth's new book, 'Feed the Belly,' healthy eating for pregnant women. She asked us about our pregnancy cravings; I replied that I really didn't have any. Oh, except that I ate about a half-bushel of apples a week.

Lo, eating apples in pregnancy may help to prevent asthma in your child. Interestingly enough, allergies and asthma were one of my few genetic worries about parenthood. I was hospitalized with severe asthma at the age of three, and my brother has nearly died more than once from a severe peanut allergy. I did not know about this study while I was pregnant. I just ate what I felt like eating. The body is, indeed, wiser than we know.

Math lesson

Deborah Fisher presents an exhaustive discussion of why environmentalists need to get a grip on basic math:
The harder the individual Greenmonger (myself included) worked at trying to minimize her own personal impact, the more egotistically out of touch she seemed to the people around her. The result was a vicious cycle of very little progress: scores of people who really did want to care were put off by the one co-worker who kept digging in the trash and nagging people about Vampire Power. Environmentalists became the ultimate Debbie Downers--the ones who couldn't stop reminding you that this or that product that you use every day is toxic, talking about the horrors of factory farming when you're trying to eat, or the worst--expounding ad nauseum on the benefits of not buying anything unless the canvas bag was at the ready and otherwise living difficultly. Dick Cheney's evil prophecy was more than fulfilled. Environmentalism didn't just become a matter of personal virtue. Environmentalists became Victorian scolds with a wrongly-scaled sense of their own impact on the world and an impaired sense of humor.
'Wrongly-scaled'? Deborah, you are too kind.

Recently I came across a video on Facebook, of a 12-year-old girl scolding the UN for messing up the planet. It was powerful and touching; the conversation in the comments, however, rapidly devolved into a self-righteous group bashing of those evil people who use plastic bags. Plastic bags?

Well, yes, plastic bags are a problem. They strangle sea birds, and off-gas noxious chemicals that mimic estrogen. But defining the total virtue of self and others as a function of how many plastic bags you use is both narcissistic and petty. It also shows a criminal ignorance of proportionality: the ratio of plastic bags used or not-used by a single person, to the total number of plastic bags used by the billions of people on the planet, is so infinitesimal as to approach zero. In other words, even if you never use another plastic bag for as long as you live, your Puritan self-restraint will have virtually no effect on the state of the planet.

The standard response to this is, of course, "So what? It's better than nothing." But if "infinitesimally better than nothing" is the best any of us can possibly do to save the planet, we're doomed. As Deborah so eloquently points out, spreading the news that humans are nothing but pollution machines, with virtually no power to alter their surroundings short of mass suicide, is not the best way to recruit others to your point of view.

As a new mother, I am more sensitive than usual to the plethora of disparaging comments on websites like about People Who Breed Irresponsibly, or People Who Breed, period. I see perfectly nice women seriously worrying that they shouldn't have children because Overpopulation Is Destroying the Planet. Some people actually go so far as to verbally assault women with the temerity to write about the difficulties of supporting three children after a divorce; "serves you right," they say, "you shouldn't have had the kids in the first place."

I BEG your pardon? Rude, abusive and hateful, much?

What affects the global population rate is not the decision of one guilty, white, middle-class liberal to have a child or not; it is the rate of education of women in third world countries, or lack thereof. As the education level goes up, the birth rate goes down; it only starts going up again when the culture as a whole starts treating women as full-fledged human beings. So whatever your views on population control, the decline of Western civilization and the advent of feminism, you could do worse than to treat women as people with functioning minds, who are capable of making their own reproductive decisions.

One of the most destructive habits of human thinking, I believe, is the notion that we are just our bodies; that physical action and physical existence demarcate the limits of our sphere of influence. The truth is, our bodies are the least of us. The potential influence of our physical selves is negligible; the potential influence of our spirit is infinite.

This month in the New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch writes about Rwanda's astonishing recovery from genocide, fifteen years after the bloodbath. Incredible as it may seem, hundreds of proven, confessed murderers are living side by side with the friends and families of their victims, in relative peace and prosperity. Part of what has allowed this miracle to occur is the practice of gacaca; village courts which establish a collective accounting of past atrocities by publically hearing confessions, and pleas for forgiveness.

Of course, this has not produced anything like total healing or enlightenment for the vast majority of Rwandans. It has, however, largely prevented a continuation of the violence, and laid the groundwork for a stable, prosperous society. What makes the difference? Largely, Rwandan President Paul Kagame:
...It was Kagame, of course, who had issued the order granting the killers their reprieve, so after the ceremony he called the young man over. "And I asked him, How do you manage? When you meet them, what do they tell you or what do you tell them? What is your feeling? I want you to genuinely tell me how you feel. This young man looked me in the face and he said, 'Well, President, I manage because you ask us to manage.'"
There is a fine line between totalitarianism and inspiration, sometimes a line which is externally invisible. But in any cause for righteousness, our goal should be to inspire others, not to control them.