Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Dark Nightshade of the Soul; Or, Why can't good storytellers write a good apology?

I've been so pissed off that Sherman Alexie has turned out to be another man with fame and power who has treated people with less power (women, in Alexie's case) as if they were free starlight mints in a bowl at the cash register, instead of freestanding, fellow human beings. 
I was trying to work up to incandescent rage, but this is so stupidly familiar, I can only work up to pissed off. 

No person is a dishful of buttermints for grabbing, but each is like a . . . going with this restaurant theme, more like a palm tree in the entryway--a living creature whose autonomy you want to cherish. 

You might admire that tree, you might even want it, but you don't tear off some branches to sprout or try to lug one home at the end of the evening.

Or if you do, you know you're out of line and you don't say,
I would never do that, it's out of character:
some of you palm trees are getting me wrong.

And there's another thing that pisses me off:
these lame, half-assed apologies. [Here, Alexie's]

I want to say to Alexie, Come on, man:
That's how you got invited to that free meal where you got caught trying to stuff the nth palm tree into the trunk of your car.

Yet this self-protective piece of mediocre writing ("I made poor decisions") is the best you can show for yourself? the best you can offer people you hurt, including people who admired you from afar, like me?

(Also, telling us that a former consensual lover told your wife of her affair with you doesn't make her seem less reliable in our eyes. Rather the contrary.
Uncomfortable for you, no doubt, that she's now nailing you on Twitter, but it's you who come across as the liar there. 

How did you not do that math?)

Show some dignity to your own soul, and to the personhood of the people you tore those branches off of.

'Fess the fuck up!

Write an honorable and beautiful apology.
One that will make us say, your apology is going to help me NOT  hurt someone, not use anyone like a complimentary pair of slippers in a hotel––for their sake. For mine, I never want to have to say what you just did:
that every time you abused someone's trust, you might have come out looking fine on the surface, but you were like Dorian Gray--

every disrespectful action you took harmed your soul, stored out of sight--in, let's say, a potato. (I don't know, it just came to me.)

That your soul-storing potato started out fresh and firm, with enough fertile eyes to father a field of potatoes.

But that every time you used someone, that potato shriveled.
Every time you handled someone like a napkin, a bruise appeared.
Every time you put mints in your mouth, a bad odor arose.
And every time you tore off a branch, the bruise oozed.

All you guys who got famous by your gift for words--why aren't you using that to show compassion and remorse, not just to mouth platitudes or "yeah, buts"? Do you not have any?

Some of you, like you, Sherman Alexie, I thought I'd like as people, some of you, eh... the reports of your behavior came as no surprise.
But I hand it to you, whether I liked you or not, Louis C. K., Woody Allen,  Bill Cosby, et al.---you guys were creative. You were funny.

And now you're pathetic.

It doesn't have to be that way. Maybe some are entirely putrified, but some potatoes should have some good eyes left. 

Here's what I'm thinking:
Harvest those, stick toothpicks in, and set them in a glass of water in a windowsill. Plant the green shoots in the spring, and when it's harvest time, shovel those suckers out, and feed everyone you can.

What that would actually look like, I don't know. Go find out, form an experimental Truth and Reconciliation Potato Farm, and tell us an honest story about it.

I wish even one of you would make a move to do that.

If you can't, or you listen to your lawyers (I'm guessing), and you won't give yourself away, (give your self away!), I won't be surprised.
And we'll be OK anyway: 
the palm tree will regenerate branches; our potatoes might be dented, but they haven't disintegrated into slime; we've got a whole stockpile of Andes, the best after-dinner mints.

We can and do tell our own stories.

We are, have been, and will be our own freestanding selves. Same as it ever was. 

But it could be better if certain people would clean their shit up.


Michael Leddy said...

Great post.

“I genuinely apologize. I am so sorry” and “Again, I apologize to the people I have hurt. I am genuinely sorry”: the repetition reminds me of what plagiarizing students would sometimes say, as if saying the magic words, again and again, can erase any consequences. I suspect that what Alexie is really sorry about is that women have spoken publicly about his actions. His apology would be more compelling if it had appeared before that happened.

Fresca said...

Thank you, Michael.

I would say to these guys with their feeble apologies what Rhett says to Scarlett:
"You’re like the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail."

Alexie had a heads-up that he was going to be exposed, from the woman he slams in his statement (she brought food when he had a breakdown--the temerity!), and still he didn't come clean first, nor, seemingly, take much time to think about how he'd handle it when it came or to draft a thoughtful or well-written response.

Funny you mention plagiarizing---I'd said to bink it's like these guys get these apologies from some lawyers' firm.
Though if they did, they might sound better.

bink said...


Anonymous said...

Your post got me thinking about what I feel a good apology would be.

For me, I think it would really articulate that the offender understands the systemic (ugh, that word is a bit overused, but still applies) and historic power imbalance between men and women.
And acknowledges that they
a.) benefited from it and
b.) exploited it.

I also would like to see (every guide about offering an authentic apology says to do this) a commitment to future action. "Now that it is clear to me how I exploited my privilege, I commit to doing X" (contributing money, time, resources, to organizations that work to solve this problem.) Not enough to say, "sorry"--now what? So what are you going to do now?

"I hurt people, and I'm sorry." Okay, all well and good, but now what?

I bridle when I hear people--whoever they are--acting as if these events occur in isolation, by one "bad" person who did one "bad" thing. They are the ones, as well, that use terms like "witch hunt" and say "Slow down!"
Meanwhile, pretty much every sentient woman knows, to use DFW, that this is the sea we swim in. It's about the sea, not the fish, if that works. Not sure if it does.

Fresca said...

BINK: Thanks, I'm glad this came together in a way that worked for you. Took me a while to build up to it...

RUDY: Thanks for responding so thoughtfully.
I totally agree with your points, especially about context.

RIGHT: It's not just one individual making "bad decisions."
Since S.A. writes about this in other contexts, it's weird he had such a tin ear here.
"Why are you, Sherman, not see you are part of a school of fish all swimming in the same currents???"

Would love to read DF Wallace on this!
(Or, better yet, for my taste, Molly Ivins. I have never stopped missing Molly Ivins.)

And yes! to wanting to hear what the apologist is going to DO so they don't offend again.

I was put off that SA says he's going to work to get "healthier."
I suppose the idea is that a healthier person doesn't use other people, but that's not what he said---"I'm going to get healthier" just sounds selfish!
"I'm going on a spa retreat..."
Like something Gwyneth Paltrow would say.