Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Orleans writer Dean Shapiro pens timely thriller about a polygamist cult

Dean Shapiro, a writer down New Orleans way, has published his fourth novel, The Eleventh Commandment. With the recent raid of the polygamist community in Texas (April 7, 2008), the setting couldn’t be more current – a polygamous cult.

Dean is that rare mix of a creative mind with a eye for the details of copy editing. He’s has an M.A. in history, and he’s a bit of buff on American history and politics. He doesn’t need me to speak for him, so here are some notes about the novel that I got a few days ago:

"My new novel, The Eleventh Commandment, was published by PublishAmerica of Baltimore, Maryland. Here’s the 101 on what the book is about, taken from the blurb on the back cover:

'How far will a reporter go to get a story? Tom Foster is about to find out. As the Religion Editor for a large daily newspaper, Tom goes undercover to expose a fanatical, polygamous cult leader suspected in the deaths of more than a dozen followers. He gets more than he bargained for when his own life is on the line, especially after he has fallen in love with one of the cult leader's wives. Can Tom save her -- and himself -- when his deception is discovered? The answer comes after a tragic climax that shocks the world.'

"So what exactly IS the "Eleventh Commandment"??? Aaahh, you'll just have to buy the book to find out."

I’ve never asked Dean how old he is, but he has encountered employment ageism. That motivated Dean to do what so few freelancers manage – to earn his entire living as a wordsmith.

Besides being one of the hardest working writers I know, Dean also is what is known in Yiddish as a mensch. When hurricane Wilma devastated New Orleans, Dean’s apartment on the other side of the Mississippi River, in Gretna on high ground, became a refuge for friends. It was a kind of huge dorm party, the way he describes it. Electricity and phone service were out for a short time, and people piled one on another in friendly camaraderie.

That’s the kind of person Dean is. He threw me a huge assignment that he was too busy to tackle, when I most needed a boost. I will be forever grateful to him for that. I just wish my blog had more readers so I could give Dean’s book the traffic it deserves. He writes:

“As a nearly-starving artist, I have to depend on sales of this book and other writing jobs to keep food on my table and in my cat’s dish (not to mention two kids with college expenses). I hope you will support this nearly-starving artist you know by buying a copy of his book.

"Here’s how you can order the book. Go to the the Barnes & Noble website. . . It’s $24.95 + $3.99 shipping (a few dollars less if you’re a B&N book club member), out of which a whopping 8% goes into yours truly’s pocket (roughly $2.00 on each copy sold). . . . Or, you can go to the nearest Barnes & Noble store and place the order with them.

“Then, once the book is in your hands and if you want me to autograph it for you, contact me and I’ll make arrangements to do this.

“It costs less than a tank of gas at today’s prices, and it’s more permanent. Call or email me if you have any questions or if you just want to congratulate me. When I become rich and famous (well, famous, anyway) you can always say, “I knew him when . . . “ Anyway, I thank you in advance for your support of me over the years you’ve known me, and I hope you buy and enjoy my book. It’s pretty damn good, if I don’t mind saying so myself.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eat More Ice Cream, Forget Diet Programs

Special K cereal is advertising a swimsuit challenge. It’s guaranteed that if you use their product for two weeks, you will lose an inch off your waistline. I’m pretty sure that even if I lose an inch off my waistline, I am not going to look like the model wearing the red bikini in the television spot.

Oddly, I don’t care as much as I used to about these things. There is something maladjusted about a woman of a certain age who thinks she has to look like a 20-something fashion model. We’ve known for decades that fashion models have bodies that do not even look human, if what one means by human is the median female body.

Swimsuit challenges abound right now, connected with promotions for various diet and exercise plans. Try Googling the term and see what comes up. Then go enjoy a nice bowl of ice cream

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Goddess for Our Times: A History of Goddess-Lore from Pre-Historic Times to the Contemporary Era

Gadon, Elinor W. (1989). The Once and Future Goddess. New York: Harper & Row.

Elinor Gadon write fluently about a wealth of goddess-lore research that encompasses archaeology, anthropology, ethnography, arts, and the emerging Gaia ecology. She distills these sources into a highly readable account of the virtues and qualities of feminine knowledge, from the pre-historic roots of humankind to contemporary times. The work is attractively laid-out with a readable font and wide margins that frequently feature photos and art that illustrates the ideas.

Among the well-known writers, artists, and researchers whose work is taken into account by Gadon are:

  • Judy Chicago, feminist artist whose best-known work may be The Dinner Party art installation;

  • Mary Daly, the scholar and interpret of feminist and feminine studies;

  • Mercia Eliade, specifically The Encyclopedia of Religion;

  • Robert Graves, The White Goddess;

  • Maria Gimbutas, the pioneering archaeological-anthropologist whose work was among the most to foreground a theory of pre-historic matriarchal societies;

  • Merlin Stone’s work along similar lines;

  • Starkhawk’s updating of the old religions and many, many more.

The most arguable part of the account of matriarchal pre-historic societies is, to my mind, the broadly interpretive speculations of how such societies functioned and worshipped on the basis of a few icons, ruins, and other shards of the past. Late in the work, Gadon admits that such speculations are debatable.

Gadon is truly in her element as she makes sense of the feminine artists’ emergence in the 1970s and beyond. She weaves together the artists’ own accounts of their works, her own and art critics’ interpretations, and photo illustrations in a persuasive account.

The idea of the planet Earth as a living goddess whose body has been tortured by the ecological offenses of humankind is another idea that is appropriate in our times of ecological crisis. Perhaps the softer arts of feminine nurture and collaboration are the healing unguent for a planet that has been contaminated by the masculine emphasis on science and technology.

If you are interested in a comprehensive and fluently written summary of groundbreaking feminist research and a new interpretation of human history, Gadon’s account is an excellent starting place.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sexism, Racism, Ageism: America's Dirty Secrets Are Projected Into the Presidential Contest

The competition between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, and the candidacy of John McCain under the Republican Party banner, is a screen onto which the nation’s deepest and most secret biases are cast. Here are a few of these psychological telltales that are circulating this week.

SEXISM. Hillary Clinton plays the “woman card” too often when she says, “The boys are coming after me again” because she has refused to concede the close race. Even a token African-American feminist said last night on Chris Matthews’ Crossfire (MSNBC) that her organization encourages women not to make gender an issue.

But why not, dear girl? Women of Clinton’s generation – and mine – fought and have born the weight of many discriminatory indignities so that you can sit on Chris Matthews’ show and intone against the gender card. How would you like it, dear lady, if Senator Obama was asked to leave the race because he can’t win anyway? It would be called racial discrimination, as indeed almost every observation about his lack of experience or other defects is contextualized. And that brings us to the next projection.

RACISM. It’s always about race when Barack Obama is criticized. Like a teenager at his first strip club and fascinated by the display of pulchritude, TV’s political pundits can’t get their eyes off Obama’s brownness. He is as white as he is black. But the nation’s guilt from the history of slavery is projected onto his candidacy, a country’s dirty secret. The lingering white separatist and supremacist tensions that are predicted to sway male voters, especially in some sections of the country.

AGEISM. McCain is old, doddering, could die in office, and is generally unfit for office due his age, according to political commentors who shamelessly spout ageist comments. Extreme ageism is a comedy joke for David Letterman, John Stewart on The Daily Show, and Bill Mahar on Real Time. Mhar was called on his ageism last night by Robert Reich, former secretary of labor for President Bill Clinton. Ageism is the last ism that many people wholeheartedly believe is all right “because I’m just making fun of my older self,” as one of my students expressed it.

So there we have it: three great isms – sexism, racism, and ageism – playing out across our TV screens as we engage in the quadrennial blood sport of electing a president. Our deepest dirty secrets are now played out on our television sets, the ruminations of a nation’s hearts and minds moderated by stand-up comics and corporate point men posing as political commentators.

In future posts, I will use archetype analysis to discuss other psychological patterns evident in this contest.