“To love our neighbors as ourselves means to see that we are worth loving, and those around us are too.” Jonathan Merritt
Megyn Kelly the former anchor turned morning show host recently recalled a conversation with Roger Ailes who told her she had an “authenticity problem.” Whether you agree or disagree with her perceived politics is not what I care about here. What troubled me instantly was the sense that a growing number of people (including myself) in an effort to impress others, avoid fights and seem agreeable have this same problem.
“Viewers can spot a phony from a mile away,” Megyn recalled Ailes telling her. In her book, she said she grappled with this issue. “Why can’t I make friends more easily? Why don’t more women want to be around me? I had been so busy for so many years building up a protective veneer that it didn’t dawn on me that I might be alienating others—from viewers to potential friends.” Vanity Fair
I grew up in a world where people assumed other people had differing opinions (sometimes radically differing), yet everyone managed to understand that listening to extreme and opposing ideas was often a good thing. It either alerted us to the holes in our arguments or sharpened them. The notion that some ideas could not be tolerated was frowned upon and seen as immature.
A few times online I have stumbled into debates about heated issues. My experience was telling and common. In each case as soon as I stepped out of line to one side or the other I was demonized. As some of you know my mantra is that we’re all flawed. This is now seen as an extremist sentiment.
I believe what I’m supposed to think is that most of us are victimized . Not all of us, mind you. There are those people—those people we won’t talk about here who painted masterpieces and invented light bulbs and semiconductors, worked 18 hours a day picking cotton, died to end slavery or for civil rights and wrote The Bill of Rights etc. Okay I will say it. MEN. Can we stop the silly hatred of them?
We are all victims of fate. We didn’t choose where or when to be born. If I’m going to admire anyone it’s going to be the person who actively overcomes their fated victimization, the person who is heroic. What is heroism? Is it posting a paragraph or two about injustice? Is it wearing a t-shirt or slapping a bumper-sticker on your car? I often wonder at the people so eaten up by hate that they choose to show the Christian symbol of the fish being devoured by Darwin. Isn’t it enough for these people to be at peace with their own beliefs? Why be so provoking? But I’m fine with them ruining the look of their car if they want to. I’d never think of demanding they stop.
A verse comes to mind: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead.” Matthew 23:27
Another story I heard recently was about a professor who was discussing a “sensitive” topic. He was baffled by the students’ lack of participation until a “brave” student confessed that she was afraid to offend anyone. The professor asked for a show of hands. “How many of you have been doing the same thing?” The entire class raised their hands.
Bravery and creativity don’t usually thrive in group-think situations. Here’s my confession: I often lack authenticity. I want to be liked by strangers. I worry if book sales will stop because I mention I believe in Jesus and that I had a conversion experience I can’t explain. I say glib things to seem clever and modern. I have difficulty making female friends. BUT . . .
I know in these moments of weakness there is nothing brave or satisfying about being cowardly. There’s nothing uplifting or fulfilling in claiming your victim card. It’s such a hollow victory. It leaves you mired in misery. I know this from experience.
Most people seem to sense that we’re here on this planet to be more than victims. It’s why we fantasize about being heroes or at least tagging along with one.
In MY NOVELS I don’t quite have perfect heroes. I know some exist, but in my world most of us are saddled with baggage, scars of our upbringing, societal preferences that make us feel inferior, an unbridled need to be liked, etc. What makes my characters heroes to me is that throughout their long existences they keep trying to get it right. Often they get things terribly wrong. Their maddening like the real people I know. Like me. But they are active. On some level, though they rarely admit it, they think they are made for something better–something heroic if only quietly heroic.
My heroes are the ones saddled with poverty, addiction, abuse, neglect and cowardice. They are the people who lose everything and still get up the next day. Bitter moments, even bitter years, plague us all but love saves the day. It saves lives—all lives. Authentic love forces us to think of others first. It forces us to see the beating heart behind the opinion we think is ludicrous. Love is not just for the people we agree with and not just for those of us with authenticity problems.
What about you? Are you authentic? Do you have any advice for those of us who can sometimes be slaves to our desire for approval?
***Featured Image: Vanity by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1907)
One of the joys of independent publishing is finding a cover designer who “gets” your work. Samantha Hennessy at SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN is the IT GIRL for me. Her cover for my latest novel THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY is a lush, velvety dream (I’ve had people at book fairs gush over it).
A designer who listens to your vague ideas and improves upon them to create works of art is a rare find. By the third novel I really had no idea what I wanted. I gave Sam the title (and maybe a brief synopsis of the manuscript) and before long the cover arrived in my inbox. I didn’t make a single change to it (it helped that she’d designed my other two books and had a great feel for the series).
With the cover designs for THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES, I borrowed inspiration from Adrienne’s blog header and created designs where past meets present. I wanted the covers to feel modern while still keeping with the spirit of historical fiction.
With WEARY OF RUNNING, the first cover I worked on, I started with the torn and old photograph of the cadets. At first I considered cleanly cropping the edges but realized those rough edges I had first thought of as a nuisance could be used as a charming design element! The torn edges added texture and brought in a little of the bright teal color to break up the sepia tones of the front cover. It also acted as a transitional element to connect the spine and the front cover through color.
Design work is problem solving. As a designer I make incongruous bits and pieces or ideas fit together, often times by reconsidering those bit and pieces that at first seemed a problem.
With the second cover I designed, THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I started out with a scan of a photograph of the actual house on Tenafly Road. The scan’s quality wasn’t great, so I knew I would have to modify it in some way to make it workable. After playing around for a bit with the photo, I finally settled on a halftone filter for the scan.
Halftone is a printing process originally used in newspapers – think of the little dots you see that make up comic strips or newsprint letters. It’s a rudimentary way to print, and applying the halftone filter maintained the photo’s vintage sensibilities, while the bright magenta and contrasting pastel yellow color added a bit of freshness that the original scan needed. Color relationships are what I focus on the most in my designs, and I love trying to figure out how I can use color to create mood, interest and movement.
THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY cover is special to me because I used my own photograph for the art. The photo was inspired by Alexa Meade’s work. Her paintings are unusual because Meade paints right on top of a real person, sitting at a real table, and applies exaggerated shadows and highlights straight onto these unique “canvases.” It’s very meta. And everyone knows that anything can be art as long as its meta!
One of her paintings – or to be exact – a photograph of a person she painted on top of, was a woman half-submerged in opaque, white liquid. The photo was captured just as the woman’s painted face met the water and started to run.
I was brainstorming ideas for cover art for the third novel in my apartment, looking at a bouquet of flowers in a vase. I knew the title of the third novel (The Dew That Goes Early Away) and that it was a story about lost innocence. That conjured in my mind images of dew drops on flowers and the transience of nature and life.
Alexa Meade popped into my head. I quickly filled a plastic bin with water, added a cup of milk, dropped in some daubs of red and blue paint, swirled everything around, and floated the now beheaded flowers on top. My favorite part of the photograph is the white flower on the top right corner of the cover that has a couple red-paint dew drops on its petals.
I mentioned that the third book was special to me because I used my own art, but my least favorite part of cover design is choosing the right art. Looking at those flowers and trying to figure out what to do with them – for a couple of moments there – felt torturous. Choosing the right art is stressful, but once I settle on it manipulating things like fonts and layout feels meditative in comparison. I’ve spent what might be considered an obsessive amount of time getting the kerning just right (kerning is the spacing between letters). I’m fascinated by typography and experimenting with different fonts to best represent the personality of the design.
I do enjoy working on projects independently but definitely want the direction that an agency provides. While studying art in college, I always found that the projects I became most invested in and enjoyed the most where the projects I was forced to do, that initially seemed completely incompatible with my artistic style and voice. The assignments I started off dreading were the ones I often had such fondness for in the end.
Having complete artistic control without the intervention of mentors and colleagues can feel narcissistic if I’m not self-evaluating my work properly. And that’s a hard thing to do! Sometimes when I look back on old projects I wish I had someone there at the time to tell me that the work wasn’t fully “there” yet. I love having that dialogue between artists. Hearing criticism in the moment can make me feel defensive, red-faced, and like my identity as an artist is just a huge sham! But then I get over my pride, and I’m a better artist for it.
I don’t listen to music much while working but I do listen to podcasts. Music can be distracting for me because stopping to skip a song or to choose a new artist breaks my concentration. Podcasts on the other hand, especially long-form narratives, are so immersive and wonderful in their storytelling. Audio as a medium, I think, is superior to visual media in a lot of different ways. That might sound strange coming from a visual artist! I just really respect the art. In another world where I was a talented writer, that would be my dream job. Audio allows the listener to build their own visuals and fill in the story using memories and personal experiences. It’s magical. Two shows I will recommend are 99% Invisible and Criminal. The former is a show about design, but it’s not just for designers. Give it a chance. The latter is a riveting true-crime-esque podcast that I love even more for the illustrations made for each episode by Julienne Alexander. Visuals complimenting audio is up there in my list of things I love.
My grandmother is a STAINED GLASS ARTIST and owns a studio in Jersey City. She’s done stain glass work for a number of churches and synagogues around the area, and she restores glass as well. My childhood home is decorated with her stained glass projects and I grew up admiring her work.
YOU CAN FIND MORE OF SAMANTHA’S WORK AT SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN
Young America (ca. 1863), Thomas Le Clear
“No man has ever lived that had enough of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.” William Butler Yeats
“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” George Bernard Shaw
Who says women couldn’t do anything in the 19th century? Not Isabella L. Bird. Ladies and gents, listen up. Here’s a story full of spirit. Dear Miss Bird was a sickly soul, but despite her weakness, she charged ahead endeavoring to see the world and write about it. And so she did.
As simple as that. She made choices. Didn’t expect others to treat her in a particular way, but noted when people treated her kindly. First she went to Australia, then China and finally to Colorado where she gifted future generations a marvelous look into one woman’s fearlessness and heroic curiosity.
How many of us modern girls would throw our cares to the wind, travel alone or with strange men into deep mountain ravines and sleep in insect infested hovels for fun? How many of us would climb such treacherous mountains on horseback and suffer being thrown and tumbled over by said horse?
Isabella refused to ride side-saddle, yet threatened to sue a newspaper when a writer said she dressed like a man (which she most definitely DID NOT!). She fell for a famous handsome bad boy “Rocky Mountain Jim” who just recently lost his eye to a grizzly and despite his bad reputation quoted poetry and seemed bewitched by this strange English lady who found him tucked in a little valley of the mountains.
Their romance was ill-fated and only a year after she left him in his frosty mountain solitude he was shot dead.
Do you like sunsets? Do you like trying to describe them? I get about as far as saying, “It was a pink sunset . . .” But not Isabella. Some people are born to write about natural things in such a way that the reader feels nearly as in awe as the writer (and without photographs!).
When we bemoan our boring lives or how fate has made us women or how life keeps throwing us curve balls we need heroines like Miss Bird. She shows us from her far distant time that we hold the key to our adventurous lives. God gives us the mountains and the sunsets, the tumbling horses and the people we come across on our travels, but He lets us decide how we’re going to handle it all. Isabella made do and then some. She didn’t hate men for being men and didn’t hate being a woman. She was who she was and that was all she needed.
So let’s be happy in our skins today. Men and women alike–I love you. Now off you go! Have an adventure or read this book.
Don’t you just love finding musty old paperback treasures for fifty cents? The American Western Novel drew me in since its title has two of my favorite words in it–American and Western. Both words often get a bum rap and I tend to like anything that’s undervalued or misunderstood.
Yeah, our government sucks, but I have a lot of faith in the common man (and woman). Wake up people!
The western sometimes sucks, too. Yet within this lowly genre are a few treasures and a great amount of food for thought about life in general:
Civilization and feminization–now this is interesting. Since we no longer as a culture value the feminine what happens to civilization? We do value empowering women to compete more like men (or better yet oust men from power)–but the word feminine is equated with standing in the kitchen baking cookies (may I ask–aren’t chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven deliciously civilizing things?).
Conventional feminine values vs. masculine ones? What’s this all about? Maybe it’s about the tension driving both survival and civilization–the hunting and the gathering, the building and the nesting. This tension is good (though at times it doesn’t feel like it). This tension is sexy and dynamic. Men want respect–women want love–books and lives hinge on these things. Okay, hang me for generalities, but old books about other books do this to one’s mind.
Hey, you know that whole thing about needing two incomes to get by? People used to live with a lot less. By today’s standards most of us growing up in the 1970’s were poor.
This section brings me to the present. Why does it feel like we’re sending troops to Africa– are involved in African politics– to possibly take their riches? Hmm. Americans enjoyed Westerns because we liked to believe there were white hats and black hats and we were the guys in white. This was a far distant time when the average Joe believed in moral absolutes. This is not to say that our impulses were always simple and good. Our ability to do what’s good is certainly not absolute.
Here’s why this book is great: It’s not a very angry historian’s or English professor’s rant about injustice. It’s actually refreshingly neutral. The author doesn’t suggest that masculine is better than feminine or that civilization is worse than primativism. It doesn’t give answers. That’s up to you and me.