The Monster in the Mirror

 

Reposting my essay from March, 2015

The_Hermit_and_the_Sleeping_Angelica_by_Rubens
The Hermit and the Sleeping Angelica by Rubens

After all the hoopla over Leonard Nimoy’s stunning photo of nude fat women that I posted on Facebook, and the energized Internet response to my essay Is Obesity the New Obscenity? I’ve been thinking a lot about personal body image and how society feels empowered to comment and judge on a woman’s physical appearance.

Women’s Bodies As Markers of Social Standing

In past ages, a full rounded figure was a sign of wealth, of having enough to eat. Society would point at a man who could afford to keep his wife fleshy and recognize him as a man of substance. He was far above the riff raff who lived hand to mouth with no excess in their homes or on their bodies. Only aristocrats or very successful merchants had what we now call obese wives and children.

Today, as tabloids, TV and the Internet constantly remind us, the truly rich tend to marry the truly thin.

But in all the discussions I’ve seen about the various feminine ideals through the ages, most ignore the central issue. Women’s bodies have long been commodities and status symbols. The “trophy wife” might be a 20th century phrase, but it’s an age-old concept.Read More

Technology versus Art

A few years ago, Daniel and I were writing profiles of prominent professional photographers for Lexar Media’s Website SayCheese.com (which has since been discontinued). They were feature stories about the photographers’ philosophy, style and adventures, with some tips and tricks thrown in. The pieces were a delight to do because of the people we got to spend time with and watch at work.

At the time, I was at a trade show party (I think it was PhotoPlus in New York City), when someone said, “You absolutely must profile… [name withheld to avoid his embarrassment]” for SayChesse. I didn’t know the photographer being recommended, but he happened to be present at the party, just on the other side of the room. So I went over to him, introduced myself, and asked him what he shoots. His reply was an energized discourse about his camera equipment. When he finally took a breath, I smiled, told him how nice it was to meet him and walked away. Daniel and I never wrote a profile on him for SayCheese or any other publication.

What that photographer had lost sight of is that photography isn’t about the camera, it’s Read More

Being Alien: An Essay in Progress

Today, while doing my morning exercises, I clicked through Netflix and ended up watching “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon.” It’s a fascinating documentary about an anthropologist’s first interaction with one of the isolated tribes of the region. But my interest wasn’t only intellectual. I was curious about how the tribe Daniel and I had once met might have fared. (To read a bit about our experience in the Amazon, please go to a lighthearted piece I did for Lawrence Schoen’s Eating Authors.)

According to “First Contact,” an Amazon region of about 30,000 square miles (spread across the border between Brazil and Peru) is home to the majority of “uncontacted” people in the planet. Uncontacted means that we have no records of any interaction between them and the outside modern world. However, many (if not most) have been watching us for a long time. Read More

In the Beginning…

 

The Storyteller by Sally Wiener Grotta
The Storyteller (c) by Sally Wiener Grotta

 

In the beginning…. How many tales start with those three words? In all languages, from every people who have ever walked this earth. Here is mine – or at least, my latest.

In the beginning, there was Story. Before Story, all was amorphous, unfathomable. Mysteries too profound and daunting to ever be knowable. Yet the human mind needs shape and form. We struggle to create it even in a dense, nebulous fog. We look up at the night sky with its chaotic multitude of stars and see creatures and gods staring down at us, maybe even watching us.

We are so small and insignificant, mere pebbles in the surf, tossed here and there by forces beyond our ken. Why? Who made it so? Questions formed in our minds and gave birth to Story. And with Story, we stepped up one more evolutionary level, becoming human. Read More

The Novelist as Poet or Philosopher; Meditation Inspired by Samuel Delany’s The Atheist in the Attic

"The Atheist in the Attic" by Samuel R. DelanyMy short essay “Novelist as Poet or Philosopher; Meditation Inspired by Samuel Delany‘s The Atheist in the Attic” was recently published on the SFWA blog (Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors of America). 

The Atheist in the Attic is a “fictive reconstruction” of a meeting between the philosophers Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Baruch de Spinoza, told from Leibniz’s point of view. An intriguing read, it sent my mind in a variety of different direction. At one point, I took a discussion of the differences between a poet and a philosopher and considered how it might apply to different kinds of novelists. I’ve decided that I’m essentially a philosopher; no surprise there. As I wrote in the essay, “I write to understand. My characters and plots are formed in a subconscious that churns with confusion or concern about how the world functions (or fails to function). As I write the story my characters tell me, I find myself posing questions that [as Delany wrote in The Atheist in the Attic] “reflect and even explain the differences and forces that relate them all… hold them together… or tear them apart.” 

Please read the essay here, and let me know what you think. What kinds of authors do you prefer to read — poets or philosophers, as defined by Delany’s book? And if you’re a writer, are you a poet or philosopher… or something else?

Walking the Starry Path

“‘It’s up there in the sky for us all to see, a prayer every night.
A good story fill you up when you hungry, when you lonely.
A good song take the hurting out your spirit.
No harm believing in that.’ She gave him a wind-up music box.
‘Play this and think of the stars smiling on you.'”

from From Redwood and Wildfire
by Andrea Hairston

When I was a young child, my mother had two sure fire ways to get me to go to bed. My favorite was when she would read me to sleep. As I drifted off, riding the rhythms of her voice, I would often continue to weave the tale in my dreams. My dreamtales became so real to me that I was sometimes surprised when she read the same stories to me again and they finished in a different way than I remembered.

The other was to tune the radio to “fairie music.” (Looking back, I suppose it was the name I gave to classical orchestrations that purred rather than crashed.) Sometimes, Mother would be frustrated in trying to find a station playing just the right kind of sweet music I wanted. But when she did, it billowed through my mind, guiding me to see stars dancing and to feel the breeze of dreams. The music, like the stories, carried me to a place in my imagination that existed beyond the here and now. Read More

Malleable Memory

Memory is malleable.

In my short story The Broken Bottle, I refer to Akira Kurosawa’s seminal movie Rashomon, in which each witness to a murder tells a different story of the crime – including the ghost of the victim. While Rashomon paints a scenario in which individuals may or may not be lying to us about their memory, I propose that our own memories lie to us. Often they tell us the stories we want to hear about ourselves. And what we want to hear changes as we move further and further away from the truth of the event. (Of course, “want” may be debatable. But I’ll leave that psychological discussion to another time.)

Johanna, the protagonist of The Broken Bottle says, “It’s as though the young woman I was back on that wet July night stands in the middle of a polygonal mirrored room. Though she is surrounded by the facts of the moment, all she can see are the distorted reflections, refracting through time.”

When I look back on my childhood, which I shared with my sister and my parents and an assortment of friends, family and pets, it’s an ethereal landscape. Sometimes shrouded in dense fog. Periodically illuminated, so that specific places or people stand out so clearly that I can taste the air, smell their perfume, feel the emotions in the pit of my stomach – especially the shock of embarrassment or great hurt or ecstasy. But mostly, everything and everyone in my past are Read More

I Can Do That! (Does Everyone Have the Creative Gene?)

Carol HIll sewing her quilt square by Sally Wiener Grotta“I just take hundreds of photos and then fix the best one in the computer,” the woman bragged.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard similar statements. But this particular occasion was during my gallery talk at one of my American Hands exhibit. The woman beamed with pride, identifying with my artistic endeavors and wanting to share something of her accomplishments with me.

One of my friends, a highly respected writer, has been known to answer these kinds of statements with the Infinite Monkey Theorem: “If an infinite number of monkeys bang on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite number of years, eventually they’ll produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Does that make those chimps genius playwrights?”

I have a very different attitude about these accidental artists. I’m delighted when people explore their creativity, and identify with me as a photographer or writer. When someone is inspired by my presentations, pictures or stories, it makes the effort I put into them so very worthwhile. As I explain in my American Hands mission statementRead More

Carving a Sacred Place

Nate Favors from The American Hands Project by Sally Wiener GrottaToday, I will write.

Because it is time.

I’m not sure when I last wrote. At least a year. No, it was more like a year and a half, except maybe for a couple of essays and one or two very short poems. I’m not talking about the reviews and features that currently represent the bulk of my livelihood, but my core writing. The novels, stories, poems and essays that reach through my throat into my gut and haul out my voice through my heart.

I write because pouring myself out onto the keyboard is how I have always tried to make sense of a senseless world. I don’t understand the pain we cause each other, the hate, the distortion of love. War and tribalism. Walls between individuals, between tribes and nations, that are built up brick by brick over years of preconceptions and propaganda. So I create stories to try to help me find the right questions to ask that might yet explain the inexplicable. Perhaps, I can also use it to try to navigate my way through the morass of this new world that now envelops me.

I write because through words, through Story, I have long discovered myself. So I shall write with the hope of rediscovery, not of the woman I am or have been, but this new woman I am now forced to become. Without my compass, without the living breathing other soul who lived within me, by my side, facing each morning as a new adventure to be shared.

Where do I start? At the end? That’s one simple sentence. Three words. Daniel is dead. In my novel The Winter Boy, I wrote, “How people die shapes our world.” Read More

Is Obesity the New Obscenity?

 

Leonard Nimoy and Raphael
Leonard Nimoy’s photo and the Raphael inspiration

 

Facebook has decided that I post offensive material, and I have been warned to desist.

On Saturday morning, I logged into Facebook, expecting to spend a few minutes checking what my friends were up to, reposting some of their more interesting comments, pictures and links, and responding to messages. I also had links that I wanted to post about art, writing, grants and creativity – plus the usual humorous, heartwarming or meaningful pictures or videos I thought folks would enjoy. In other words, I planned a routine social visit on Facebook, before logging off to work on my current novel in progress.

But Facebook had other plans for me.

Instead of taking me directly to my FB page, a rather intimidating message popped up. It stated in no uncertain terms that I had posted an offensive nude photograph, which Facebook had excised from my page and feed (i.e. censored). Then I was shown my online albums, was commanded to remove any other pictures of naked people, and I had to confirm by checkmark that I had no such pictures left on Facebook. I didn’t think they were referring to the various Renoirs, Matisses, Goyas, Picassos and such that I’ve posted over the years. So I clicked the Agree button, and I was allowed to enter Facebook’s supposedly squeaky clean domain.

Of course, I knew immediately which photograph Facebook had found so offensive, and I’m convinced it wasn’t because it was of nude women, but because it was of obese nude women.

In fact, it was a picture from The Full Body Project, a book of photographs by Leonard Nimoy, which is Amazon’s number one best seller in Women’s Studies. What’s more, my posting wasn’t just of the photograph, but a link to a lovely tribute to Mr. Nimoy in the New York Observer My Friend Leonard Nimoy was a Fervent Feminist by Abby Ellin.

SO MUCH MORE THAN SPOCK

Like many millions of others, my fascination with Leonard Nimoy began with a young girl’s crush on Mr. Spock. But it was only as I learned more about the man behind the actor, that I began to admire him – as a thinker, author, artist and philanthropist. And then there was the phone call.Read More