Friday, 30 March 2012

Bullying, 1920's Style...Rudy, the Beautiful Gardener's Boy...

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself.  What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.  ~~~Hermann Hesse

Rudolph Valentino, The Conquering Power

Everyone knows I'm a sappy Rudolph Valentino fan. In this girl's opinion, he was...hell, he still of the most beautiful men in the history of film.

I've studied him extensively, read just about every biography ever written about him. Did you know he was an accomplisehd poet, that a collection of his poems (link here) is available even today?

To know anything about him is to know he was also---quite apart from his smoldering, exotic screen persona---a very down-to-earth, congenial person.

If one's knowledge of him is only limited to the connection between him and his legendary sex symbol status, they might not be aware that he just happened to be a victim of a very public attack against his sexuality---a target of malicious bullying.

On July 18, 1926, an anonymous author posted an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, directly ambushing Valentino and pinning the demorilzation of the world'd masculinity on the film star.

Here is the astonishing editorial in its entirety.

A new public ballroom was opened on the north side a few days ago, a truely handsome place and apparently well run. The pleasant impression lasts until one steps into the men's washroom and finds there on the wall a contraption of glass tubes and levers and a slot for thre insertion of a coin. The glass tubes contain a fluffy pink solid, and beneath them one reads an amazing legend which runs something like this: "Insert coin. Hold personal puff beneath the tube. Then pull the lever."

A powder vending machine! In a men's washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn't some one quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo [sic] , alias Valentino, years ago?

And was the pink powder machine pulled from from the wall or ignored? Itwas not . It was used. We personally saw two "men"-- as young lady contributors to the Voice of the people are wont to describe the breed-- step up, insert coin, hold kerchief beneath the spout, pull the lever, then take the pretty pink stuff and put it on their cheeks in front the mirrior.

Another member of this department, one of the most benevolent men on earth, burst raging into the office the other day because he had seen a young "man" combing his pomaded hair in the elevator. But we claim our pink powder story beats his all hollow.

It is time for a matriarchy if the male of the species allows such things to persist. Better a rule by masculine women than by effeminate men. Man began to slip, we are beginning to believe, when he discarded the straight razor for the safety pattern. We shall not be surprised when we hear that the safety razor has given way to the depilatory.

Who or what is to blame is what puzzles us. Is this degeneration into effeminacy a cognate reaction with pacifism to the virilities and the realities of the war? Are pink powder and parlor pinks in any way related? How does one reconcile masculine cosmetics, shieks, floppy pants, and slave bracelets with a disregard for law and an aptitude for crime more in keeping with the frontier of half a century ago than a twentieth-century metropolis?

Do women like the type of "man" who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator? Do woman at heart belong to the Wilsonian era of " I didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier"? What has become of the old "caveman" line?

It is strange social phenomenon and one that is running its course not only here in america but in Europe as well. Chicago may have its powder puffs; London has its dancing men and Paris its gigolos. Down with Decatur; up with Elinor Glyn. Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener's boy, is the prototype of the American male.

Hell's bells. Oh, sugar.                                           --Chicago Tribune, July18, 1926

This horrific attack enraged Valentino to the point he even challenged the cowardly author of the article to come forward, make himself known. The film star staged a very public boxing match with the composer, to prove to the public that he indeed was not a pink powder puff, that he was a man.

The penman of the editorial never showed his face.

Valentino's sexuality has been a seat of hot debate for over 86 years. Whether he truly was homosexual or bi-sexual, no one will ever know. The man himself, though, found it important to be considered masculine, not to be judged by his appearance, his jewelry, his make-up or his hair, his love god persona. Or---most importantly---for his remarkable looks.

This attack, like so many of its kind, had a dramatic effect on Valentino. Historians claim the fury this ignited inside him which never ceased to boil, was the ultimate cause of his death from a perforated ulcer in August, 1926. I agree.

I always wondered about the coward who posted the editorial. What did he/she think when Valentino succumbed to the poisoning in his system from this ulcer's perforation? Did they feel any guilt, or were they happy that the 'Pink Powder Puff' passed on?

Did they realize they'd failed miserably when their hate-filled tirade did not stop the fashions trends, when men continued to sleek their hair with pomade and wore more jewelry than ever? What a sad loss of time and energy, to have done so much damage for so little impact on society. A whisper of a roar blowing in the wind.

To show you just how much this attack bothered the film star, do you know what his first words just out of surgery for the perforated ulcer? Did I behave like a pink powder puff or like a man?

The whole tragedy of Valentino---dead at 31 years old---is bad enough for me, makes my heart ache. But to know that question was the first thing on his mind after waking from surgery just twists the sad knife even more.

I'd never really thought about his expererience as a classic case of bullying before, but it is---after all---exactly that. And it's sobering to think just how long hatred has manifested itself in such forms. Forever. And forever.

An entity so aged and powerful seems impossible to ever conquer. But I refuse to believe it can't be done.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Lest They Cease to Interest Us...

There are persons who, when they cease to shock us, cease to interest us. ~F.H. Bradley, Aphorisms

I'd hesitated to ever write on this subject, to ever voice my feelings. Why? What could EVER lock the lips of the outspoken C. Zampa?


I've been silenced by fear, rendered dumb by it.

But when I came across the above quotation, the 'nature' of the beast I'd feared became clear to me and I suddenly recognized it for what it was: a very small, very meaningless, very sad monster. Not even a monster, but more like that Wizard behind the screen. An illusion of power that really is just...well, a being hiding behind a screen.

Recently I witnessed a storm of cyclone proportions in the literary world. I cannot even tell you how it started, as I---as usual---walked into the middle of the unsettled waters after they'd been stirred to tidal wave strength. But by the time I DID venture into the surf, it had become what appeared to be a lynch mob, out to hang an author.

The mob grew to horrific proportions, being egged on by what seemed a small handful who led the chants to kill, kill, kill, begging for blood, blood, blood. A literal cyber crucifixion took place. A blatant attempt to ruin, to slaughter.

I won't even say what the crowd's accusations were. To me, since it was not grounded by fact but by bitter whispers that grew into roars of meanness, I walked away.

Even so, coward that I am, I lay low, hoping those searchlights of hatred never find me lurking in the shadows. What if I displease this angry horde? What if I say something---even accidentally---to draw their wrath? Will MY book be next? Will they crucify ME?

There it is. Fear. And I'm ashamed to admit it. I'm embarrassed to confess I would choose not to voice my disapproval for mob mentatlity due to fear of retaliation, for terror that my own book might be targeted, that I as an author would be the next victim. I regret the fear that my own success would be somehow impeded was greater than my couarge to stand up to the cruelty, to say I do not like it, that is wrong.

It IS wrong. It's bullying. And I suspect the same voices at the front lines of the terror brigades are surely the very same who unite in anger over bullying in schools, yet do not realize they are just as bad.

Voices that hold court in such demeaning form go beyond the bounds of the critic. Alice Duer Miller said, If it's very painful for you to criticize your friends - you're safe in doing it.  But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that's the time to hold your tongue. 

Truer words.

And their power---their ability to generate fear---in my eyes anyway, is lessened by the fact that they indeed conduct themselves so in order to shock, to draw attention, to insure a consistent crowd. And if the curious minds who feed their insatiable need for attention at the expense of their peers---for it IS their own peers they target---ever walked away, bored with the high-octane snark? Would the cruelty wither and die?

Unfortunately, I don't suspect to see that happen any time soon. So, in the meantime, I'll cling to this thought by Andre Gide, There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. 

And, sure, I'll remain in fear that because I've spoken---oh, hell, it would take even less to spark bitter minds---they will set their sights on me.

And I'll write. Knowing my voice of dissent will surely draw them like the scent of blood to a vampire or raw meat to a hungry lion, I'll still write.

Others who stood in such arenas have survived. Proof that the animosity only has a brief moment to wail before the rubber-neckers get bored and walk away, waiting for the next uproar.

And while I continue to write and while I probably continue to cower, I'll pray every night to keep my heart in its rightful place and I truly will keep that golden rule, to do unto my peers as I would have them do unto me.

In the dictionary, the word for this rule is: RESPECT.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Birthings and Good Ol' Southern Fried...Jealousy...

If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. ~C.G. Jung, Integration of the Personality, 1939

Today is my baby's birthday. Well, my 'book baby', that is. A year ago this day was the release of my very first book, Candy G.

In a post last year, I compared the process---the writing, the release of the book and its future after it hits the public---to birthing a baby.

In looking back over the past year, I've found the experience is still parallel to parenting. Maybe even more so.

Now that my baby's been on his own, he's---in a manner of speaking---in public school. And, just as with my flesh-and-blood child, I've only been able to sit on the sidelines and watch, cheer him on, cry when he gets dumped on, cry happy tears when he makes new friends and sometimes---yes, I'll admit it---get my Irish up when he gets attacked.

Candy G has met with some wonderful feedback. He's encountered some not-so-wonderful feedback as well. Let's say he's a very well-rounded boy.

One facet of this experience, though---one that I find a little disturbing and comical at the same time---is that, like our real kids, our books sometimes bring out that other side of parenting. The not-so-pretty side. Jealousy. Competiveness with our baby's peers.

I'm not hesitant to step forward and admit I sometimes find myself harboring this unattractive parental flaw.

Picture it. Your baby's a new kid on the block. You want him to be accepted, to make friends. Just as your baby who gets passed up for the team, who doesn't make cheerleading, who isn't popular, there is that bit of ache on your part. Whether it's rational or not, it just is. It's a parent thing. Pride.

Sure, it hurts to see the popular kids get snatched up by the big, well-kown review sites, to have a year pass only to see your baby was just never big enough to capture their interest.
I'd be lying to say that does not smart just a tad.

But, I had to look at it in this light: if your child cried to you that another child didn't like them, would you tell them to try to force that other kid to accept them? No, you would not. Would you encourage your offspring to cry, tell them to withdraw because someone out there doesn't take to them? Again, no. You wouldn't.

It does sting when a reader just flat does not like your book. It's easy for that old jealousy to seep in when they brag about the books they love but not yours.

I'm only human, and the envy does find its way into my gut sometimes. But, with a year behind me since my book's release, my outlook has broadened to accept the bad with the good. I've finally learned not to take it personal.

I'd love to pretend I don't feel envy from time to time when I compare my work to other books, when I try to measure my own talent side-by-side against other authors. Some have gifts I simply do not have. Once more in that real kid to-literary child comparison: some kids are good in sports, some are not. Some kids have musical talents. Some don't. Same with authors.

Think about this, though. Is it wise for a parent to push its child into doing that which it cannot do, that which it isn't inclined to do, only because other kids can do it? Do I even have to ask you to answer that? The answer is of course not. If the child does possess a strength that could be nurtured, then fine---nurture it. Again, the same applies to our writing. As authors, we should cultivate our own strengths, our own gifts. And we all do have our own unique gifts.

Oh, I will work my ass off to improve my writing. But only for my writing's sake, not to compete. I strongly feel that competition---when triggered by an unhealthy dose of envy---can strangle our creativity. We're no longer writing for the love of it. We're no longer listening to our inner voice, where beauty and all things creative reside, we're following whispers that are coercing us to imitate others. Would we encourage our children to do this? Well, I hope not.

I get envious, too---or is it simply frustration?---when other authors are able to produce books faster than me. After all, I certainly thought I'd have had at least one book out during this year. But I haven't. I occasionally whine, why can't I write that fast? Why, why, why?

But my pace is my pace, plain and simple. I figure as long as I am writing, I'm happy. Those future children will come along in their own good time.

In the meantime, I found another writing quote that made me smile, seemed to address me and my book/child parallel.

Sydney J. Harris said, The beauty of "spacing" children many years apart lies in the fact that parents have time to learn the mistakes that were made with the older ones - which permits them to make exactly the opposite mistakes with the younger ones.

So see? My slow pace is simply meant to be. Maybe I am going to have a chance---with this lull between books---to learn and learn and learn.

At any rate, it has been a good year. A wonderful experience that---just like with my real child---I would not trade for the world.

So happy birthday, Candy G. You've been a good son any mom would be proud of!