Missouri Center for the Book Presents…


                           DUELING NARRATIVES   




                  Saturday, October 10, 2009    

                         8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. 


                         Stephens College                                                     


            Registration, including box lunch,


Sponsored by:

Stephens College English/Creative Writing Department


              The Missouri Center for the Book

Featuring a keynote address by historian and novelist,


                        HARPER BARNES,

        Author of the prize-winning history, Never Been a Time:

          The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement,                and the novel, Blue Monday, among other titles.


With readings and panels on historical fiction, biography, memoir, dramatizations of real life, journalistic narrative, true crime writing, essay writing, and workshops on writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction,


With participating writers, Fran Baker, Mary Kay Blakely, Virginia Brackett, Barri Bumgarner, Thomas Danisi, John Mark Eberhart, Matthew Eck, R.M. Kinder, Kate Berneking Kogut, Phong Nguyen, Scott Phillips, Kris Somerville, Whitney Terrell, Tina Parke- Sutherland, and Mark Tiedemann,


And a special event, a presentation by the distinguished translator and author,



            Translator of works by Octavio Paz, Carlos

                 Fuentes, Isabel Allende, Cesar Vallejo, and

                numerous other important Latin American



All events will be located in the main learning center on the Stephens College campus, with entrance through the Columbia Foyer, facing East Broadway.  Book displays and author signings will continue through the day.

For more information, go to  Missouri Center for the Book



Readingless Writers—Not Right

I’ve heard of this phenomenon, but never before encountered it directly.  Excuse me, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the utter vapidity of this…

I have a MySpace page.  Admittedly, I pay less attention to it these days in lieu of my Facebook page  (all these Pages…for such a functional Luddite, it amazes me I navigate these strange seas), but I do check it at least once a week.  I post a short blog there.  And I collect Friend Requests.

I received such a request the other day from someone whose name I will not use.  Unless it’s from someone or something I recognize, I go to the requester’s page to check them out.  Saves on a small amount of embarrassment.  This person had a legit page.  Aspiring writer.  Claimed to be working on several short stories and a novel.  Great.  I’m all about supporting other writers.  Sometimes we’re all we’ve got.  But I scrolled down to the section where he lists his interests and find under BOOKS this:

I actually don’t read to much but I do like a few. Twilight, Harry Potter, Impulse, Dead on Town Line, etc.

I sat back and stared at that and the question ran through my head like a neon billboard, “How does that work?  Just how the hell do you want to be a writer and not like to read?”

So I sent this person a message and asked.  I told him that to be a writer you have to love words, love stories…

Well, here’s the exchange, sans names:

Okay, you sent me a friend request, so I looked at your profile. It says you want to be a writer, but then under Books you say you don’t read much.

How does that work? You want to be a writer you have to love words, you have to love stories, you have to love it on the page, and that means reading A LOT.

You might just blow this off, but don’t. If you really want to be a writer, you must read. That’s where you learn your craft, sure, but more importantly that’s where you nurture the love of what you say you want to do.

Either that, or you’re a poser.

Apologies for the bluntness, but I am a writer and before that I was a reader. You can’t have one without the other.



You don’t have to like both to be a writer. That’s a ridiculous thesis to be honest. That’s like saying that you have to like listening to someone else to you how their day was in order to tell them how your day was. It’s just true. Reading bores me, and prefer to witness a story as a much faster pace, eg. a Movie. Writing, however, doesn’t bore me. It’s as simple as that. I don’t know why people always over complicate simple things like that.


Well, good luck with that. It’s like being an auto mechanic and not liking cars. Or being a musician who doesn’t listen to anyone else’s music.

Maybe someday you’ll get it.


You don’t have to like both to be a writer?

Well, I suppose in the absolute strict sense of wanting to write things while disliking going through other people’s work, he’s right.  But that, it seems to me, is legitimate only insofar as a narcissistic indulgence.

But a ridiculous thesis?  How do you even come to a notion of what it means to be A Writer without some affection for the product in general?  This is so alien to my experience, my way of thinking, that I’m still struggling to make sense of it.

It only scans in one of two ways.  (A), it’s not that you want to be a writer.  Being a writer is hard work, it’s paying attention to all manner of triviality that goes into the making of Life, sorting it into piles of Meaning and Dross, and from that compiling and elucidating an observation that is relevant to strangers, because if you publish you have no idea who will read your words, and the viability of what you do must find a resonance with people you do not and will never know.  Being a writer is living through the word, through the paragraph, the scene, the story.  The way in which story operates—how it comes to be, how it is constructed, how it moves—can only be learned by responding to it yourself, both in life and on the page, but on the page is where the art happens, and you cannot learn how to do that unless you read, widely and deeply.  So it is not that you want to be a writer, you want to be an Author, someone with titles strewn beneath your name, who is adulated by the public, respected for what wisdom may be found in works you presumably did by some mechanism (but not, apparently, by actually being a writer).  You like the idea of being a writer, but having no idea what the purpose of it is, you cannot be one, only, if you learn the trick, an Author.

Or (B) you are simply in love with the sound and look of your own voice on the page.  Nothing wrong with that, but unless you have some external input what you write will only be relevant to yourself.  It will be indulgent.  And it will have resonance to others only by accident—not because you are so different from anyone else, but because you have no notion how to convey your commonality.  It is a form of masturbation, and while that is legitimate, it is done in isolation, born out of a fantasy of connection and, in time, if it is all you do, an inability to touch anyone outside yourself.

But what genuinely troubles me is the whole disregard—the blind ignorance—of what writing is all about.  It is an art and if you cannot respond to the art you cannot do it, not so that it means much to anyone else.  It is, to stretch a metaphor from the previous sentence, like having sex with someone you don’t much care to spend any time with.  You like the orgasm, but you don’t want to be bothered with other people and their desires and needs.  It’s selfish, true, but it’s also tragic, especially if you then go and pose as a Great Lover.

We do have a generation (and I’m using that term to define an age bracket—this group includes people from 10 to 50) that is enamored of film.  That’s where it is for them.  But a lot of flawed and failed films get made and often—not every time—but often the failure is because someone doesn’t read and has no idea what it is that good writing conveys.  It begins with the word, but they want to bypass that.

Why?  I have a theory, of course.  Because it’s hard work to make the translation from words on a page to images in the mind.  Most of the people I know who do not read for pleasure—read fiction for pleasure, I should say—seem incapable of running the story in their imagination.  The words do not make pictures for them, do not open vistas of the imagination, do not convey the essence of character.  They’re just words on a page.  This is sad and I think a failure of education on a basic level.

But it’s sadder still when these sorts then try to do film.  Or fail to do film.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it till I have no more breath with which to say it—reading is fundamentally different from almost any other form of entertainment (the closest is radio drama) because it is interactive and participatory.  You must do the work of creating the images suggested on the page in your own mind.  It is a trick best learned young, but it is a trick that will give us the stars, because the imagination is a living thing that must be nourished from both within and without. If you cannot envision, you cannot build.

There are many reasons to read and I was encouraged more this year than ever before to learn, via and NEA report, that reading in America had increased substantially for the first time since they’ve been keeping track in 1982.

But you run across these bizarre confluences from time to time and you wonder how this happened?  I can live with the idea that there are people bored by reading.  But then to be told that these same people want to be writers baffles.  If reading bores them one can only assume that what they write will be boring—because they’ll have no clue how it can be otherwise.

On Knowing Your Limits

Something that annoys me no end is people who make promises they don’t keep.  Not people who are prevented from keeping them or due to circumstances beyond their control find they simply cannot do it.  No, as aggravating as that might be, life happens.  The circumstances deserve our ire, not the people—not if they’ve made an honest effort.  No, what I’m talking about are people who can do something, know how, but as they make the promise know they probably won’t.  Bad scheduling, bad planning, bad whatever—or just lack of real interest.  Or the habit traditionally known as Biting Off More Than You Can Chew.

Many years ago—decades, really—a local youth activist tried to draft me into service by writing a comic he intended to locally produce and distributed.  He knew I wrote, I was just beginning to garner a bit of a reputation, he thought it would be a good fit.  I demurred.

“I don’t want to commit to something I might not have the time or inclination to do,” I said.

He understood.  In fact, “I wish more people would be that honest about their limits.”

I knew what he meant, but had no idea it would become part of my own personal landscape of trials and tribulations.  But I remembered that and I’ve been scrupulous about not making unfullfillable commitments.

What happens is, of course, that someone says “I’ll do that” and you then feed the information to that person, get him or her set up enough to take the ball, and you go pay attention to all the other thousand to million details demanding your attention.  But all of sudden one day you turn around and discover that nothing has been done by this person.  They have completely dropped the ball and you then are left scrambling to repair the damage, build the bridge, make the call, write the report, and so forth.  The arrangements you’ve made based on their commitment fall apart because now you’re over-scheduled.  It’s a mess.

It would have been better had that person said “I don’t think I can do that.”

I don’t have a problem either saying that or hearing it.  The inability to do something, for whatever reason, honestly admitted up front before any time or resource is wasted does not offend me at all.  What offends is the unwillingness or inability to state that up front and said individual makes an unkeepable promise.  That promise did not happen in a vacuum.  Things get built around it and based on it.  So when the promise is broken, that section crumbles and everything else is put at risk.

(Yes, I have right now a particular something in mind, but I won’t air that laundry here.)

Sure, you disappoint someone by saying no.  For about a minute.  The disappointment that comes later when you can’t fulfill your promise lasts a bit more than a minute.  It can last a lifetime.

Now, there are all manner of external reasons why promises get derailed and the person who made those promises ought not be held accountable.  If they take on the responsibility and make an honest attempt at fulfilling it and Other Shit gets in their way and renders their task impossible, that’s not on them.  You might get angry and argue that they should have found a way, but that doesn’t bear on the issue of whether or not they broke a promise.  They showed up, ready to play, and then it rained.  Or  someone else didn’t bring the tools.  Or they got hit by a bus.  Or their best friend did, and that commitment trumps yours.  You can work with that if you know it’s happening.  What I’m talking about is the person who steps up and says “I can do that” and then goes off and doesn’t do it.  Because.

Because they really didn’t have the time or they really didn’t know how to do it or they simply lacked interest.

So why did they make the promise to begin with?  Because they didn’t want to look like a bad person.  They hate saying no, they wanted to impress you, or, worse, they didn’t really think it was that important.  Any number of reasons, most of them boiling down to a statement something like  “Oh, you really wanted that done?  Sorry, I didn’t realize you were serious.”

As a corollary to this, the next most annoying thing is to be told “I’ll get back to you” and then never, ever hear back.  It’s a species of Being Ignored that drives me personally right up a telephone pole.  Just exactly what is so damn difficult about picking up the phone, making a call, and saying “I really can’t/don’t want to/won’t do that?”  It’s polite.  Maybe there’s an aversion to saying No, as above, but this manifests as evasion rather than flat out honesty.

But plans get ruined by such inconsiderate failures of self-knowledge and integrity.  Sometimes plans involving many other people.  Telling me you can’t, or won’t, is infinitely better than promising me to do something and then not showing up.  I can shrug off the first.  The latter has a flypaper tackiness that takes years to peel off.

Granted, sometimes it’s hard to know your limits.  It’s hard to know that you really don’t want to do some things until you get into them and see what they are.  But as time and life hand you experience, you should get a clue.  Then it’s just a matter of acting on that knowledge.

Learn your limits,  Know them.  Then let others know.  It’s polite.  And it saves a tremendous amount of clean-up later.


Because I am a computer doofus, it takes me forever to figure out the simplest things.  Sometimes.  Like, for instance, activating the Comments function on this blog.  I’ve been getting complaints from a few people for some time that they’ve been unable to post comments here for some reason.  I’d go into the guts of the blog, make sure the right stuff was checked—especially the one that says Allow People to Comment?—and still, no go.

Well, there was a pre-registration function apparently which I’d set so only authorized Users could register and comment.  Well, hell, I’m the only authorized user besides my webmaster.  A small difference in nomenclature.  I opted for the Everyone Can Comment thing…or is Everyone Can Register To Comment?…don’t know, don’t know.

Well, I may be a doofus but I learn.  Click enough buttons and eventually you hit the right combination.  The Comments function is now enabled and you all can start inundating me with your wisdom.  Or what have you.

Thank you, Nicola, for testing it again.  We are up and running.

Choice Evening

Donna and I arrived a few minutes after six.  The evening—the physical manifestation of July 17th—was wonderful.  Mid seventies, straggly cloudlets in darkening blue sky, a pleasant breeze.  Early for the usual nightlife that flows up and down Park Avenue on a Friday night, but there are a few folks choosing restaurants.  There’s a custom glass shop across the street, customers still perusing.

I’d changed clothes twice, trying to decide what level of chic or cool I wanted to reach.  Had to wear the hat, the Bogard, which Donna had made me buy several years back and which I love.

Only the owners are in the Gallery as we step through the door.  Greetings, there’s wine.  I pour a glass—plastic cup, really—and step out into the main gallery.  My photographs range across one complete wall, with three spill-overs on another.  Jane, the gallery manager, puts on some music—light jazz.

And people start to arrive.

A lot of friends show up, and Donna points out later that a lot of them never saw this much of my photography before, many of them having met us wehn writing had become the dominant pursuit.  Only Tom showed up, who has been there through multiple ambitions—even helped with a lot of it.  But most of these images were new even to him.

Then strangers arrived.  People are looking.  The place gets crowded.  Questions get asked.

I’m a bit of a hit, it appears.  No offers for purchases, but that may come later.  For three hours people keep showing up, leaving, a couple of them come back.  All the wine gets drunk but for two glasses, which the owner and I finish.  The last people out besides us is a local photographer who is favorably impressed and we talk knowledgeably about certain difficulties in printing.

We go home and I’m in a kind of warm bubble.  Even if no one buys anything, it was worthwhile.  Choice evening.


Because It’s Only A Week Away…

I thought I ought to post the notice about my upcoming photography exhibit here.  Am I excited about this?  Does a dog chase squirrels?

Marbles Gallery exhibits “Edge on…” photography by *Sally B. Simpson *and* Mark Tiedemann* with a free public opening reception on Friday, July 17 from 6-9 p.m. The exhibit will run from July 3-31. Open hours before yoga classes or by appointment. Marbles Yoga Studio and Art Gallery is located at 1905 Park Avenue in Lafayette Square. For additional information call 314.791.6466 or visit www.marblesyoga.com .

Marbles Gallery exhibits “Edge on…” photography by* Sally B. Simpson *and* Mark Tiedemann *from July 3 – 31.

*Opening Reception: *

Friday, July 17 from 6-9 p.m.

Marbles Yoga Studio and Gallery

1905 Park Avenue in Lafayette Square

Meet the artists, enjoy a glass of wine

Free and open to the public

*Sally B. Simpson* photographs under natural lighting situations, with very little or no use of camera filters to capture the beauty and simplicity of everyday subjects using a variety of camera types, including /the medium format 120 film toy camera, the Holga. Intrigued by places and subjects that exhibit a haunting sense of abandonment, as well as images that evoke a strong sense of familiarity and simplicity, Simpson chooses to photograph with her Holga often. With its cheap construction, images produced from the Holga often yield photographs with characteristic light leaks, blurs and vignetting, adding depth and individuality to each photograph.

With a decade of experience, Simpson’s award winning and published photography includes a collection of Route 66 color images that were exhibited at the Route 66 State Park Visitor Center in 2007. Today, Simpson, a St. Louis native, is currently working on her AFA in Photography as well as her Certificate of Proficiency from the St. Louis Community College at Meramec.

Multitalented writer, musician and photographer, *Mark Tiedemann*, premiers his black and white art photography inspired by the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and other members of the f64 Group. During his commercial photography career as a proficient black and white lab technician, he has continuously recorded and printed but never shown his own work.

In 1990, Mark achieved a childhood of dream of becoming a published author and to date has published ten novels and over fifty short stories. He is a regular contributor of essays to DangerousIntersection.org and a book reviewer for Science Fiction Age, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Sauce Magazine, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Born and raised in St. Louis, Mark Tiedemann recently served for four years as president of the Missouri Center for the Book where he oversaw the establishment of the first Missouri Poet Laureate position.

Open before yoga classes. Call 314.621.4744 to confirm additional hours or for an appointment www.marblesyoga.com

Marbles Yoga Studio and Gallery

Exhibiting St. Louis area artists in historic Lafayette Square



Jane Ollendorff
Art Director, Marbles Gallery
1905 Park Avenue, Lafayette Square
St. Louis, MO 63105
exhibiting local artists

The Bubble and Warehouse 13

I just finished watching the new show on SyFy called Warehouse 13.  I enjoyed it, it was a good ride, even though they clearly went after the X-Files crowd with this one.  It could be worth a few hours to see where they go with it.  They took the endless warehouse from Indiana Jones, added some National Treasure grace notes, stirred in a dollop of Muldur and Scully, and introduced a bit of humor.  That last is very important, because when you have a premise that is this borderline, taking it too seriously is risking alienating a lot of audience.  The main reason the X-Files worked was the mood, the color, the textures that Carter wove into it, and he played the conspiracy theory game like a master.  But for me, it got very old very fast.

The problems with the X-Files were manifold and manifest.  The biggest one was Scully.  She was the dumbest “scientist” I’d ever seen on television or read in fiction.  To remain so obdurately unseeing through all that she was put through required zero imagination in the character, zero sense of humor, and probably some sort of serial fixation or related pathology.  If they’d played that up it might have worked, but for pity’s sake she was just dense.  And therefore unbelievable.

The other problem with it was the profundity of the secrets ultimately being kept.  It worked well when Muldur was just going through a bunch of old case files no one wanted to tackle because they led to bizarre places.  Kept modest like that would have allowed the concept to work on the fringe, where it started out, and could have been very entertaining.  But when it became this all-encompassing, “the aliens have been here and we are in league with them” kind of schtick, it became ridiculous.

Because they were trying to keep it consistent with mimetic fiction.  They were trying to convince us that the world really is this way, only we don’t know it.  They tried to make it mainstream.

Doesn’t work.  Fringe stuff has to stay on the fringe.  Now you can use the premise that what’s on the fringe is really there, but it’s kept on the fringe, and the agents in charge are tasked with keeping the rest of us from knowing it, and in so doing keep all this weird shit away from everyone.  You build a bubble attached to the “real world” and populate it with fun plots and wild extrapolations. but it doesn’t have to bear the burden of supporting itself interwoven with the rest of the world.

Which one can do as well, but not at series length.  A single movie will work.  A novel, a short story.  Once you extend the concept into multiple seasons, you run into problems.

The Warehouse 13 people aren’t making that mistake.  They’ve created their bubble and there is a conduit attaching it to the real world, but it is not in the real world.  The two agents are tasked with removing the weird stuff and quarantining it in South Dakota.  That will work.

They will, certainly, imply that what is secreted in the warehouse has, in one way or another, over time, here and there, now and then, affected the real world, and that’s cool, too, but with the conceit that the three habitues of the warehouse are supposed to bottle this stuff up we are not burdened with the implausibilities and inexplicabilities of having the government know about this stuff and attempting to use it.

And keeping everything looking like it still does when we step out our front door.

The way science fiction would work in that instance would be to set the show in the future and posit that everything is now different.  It would not then be burdened with selling the audience that this is “our” world, but a world yet to come.  Suspension of disbelief proceeds apace then without fear that some major difficulties with the audience b.s. detector will come into play.

Part of this problem is also with what I call the Escalation Problem, which has been part of science fiction almost from day one.  Look at, say, E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensmen.  Each succeeding book—indeed, each succeeding chapter—required a bigger bang than the last.  It was almost a Hollywood approach—to feed the expectations of the audience, the special effects have to keep getting bigger, wilder, more impressive, almost to the point where the storytelling and plot become little more than vehicles for the next cool thing.  Smith could match his plots and ideas to his effects, so it wasn’t a disaster, but today, especially in television, this is a Big Problem.  It leads to escalations of the absurd in many instances.  It leads to cul-de-sacs out of which the writers cannot write.

But it’s a real disaster when  stories are set in the given world, the mundane world as it were.  Because eventually you have to explain, subtextually if nothing else, why the world hasn’t changed when the tv is turned off and we turn on the news.

Hence the bubble.

I’m looking forward to seeing a few more episodes of this show.  I like the premise (such as it is) and I love Saul Rubinek.  He’s one of the better character actors working today.  For a treat, you should see his portrayal of Lon Cohen in the Timothy Hutton Nero Wolfe’s.

So, with a caveat or two, I’ll give Warehouse 13 my blessing.  As if it needs it.  Let’s just hope they can keep it on track.

A New Short Story!

I finished a new short story.

Why is this worth commenting on?  Well, because I haven’t actually finished a new short story in several years.  I think the last one was in 2004.

When I start really cranking on novels, back in 2000, they swallowed so much time and, frankly, gave me the illusion that I had finally “made it”—I’d all along wanted first and foremost to be a novelist, not a short story writer—that my short fiction muscle atrophied.

I’ve published about 50 short stories.  I know well respected writers with Big Names who haven’t published that many short stories.  I actually got fairly good at it and I look at my oeuvre now and I’m damn proud of those stories.  Some of them, I think, are pretty good.

But inadvertantly I let go of the skill when it seemed I’d be doing novels, like I wanted to.

Well.  I’ve actually missed being able to do short fiction and it would be nice to resurrect that part of my career since it seems that my novel career is in limbo.  No rejections, mind you, but no acceptances, either.  I can only do so much.  It would be nice to sell a couple of short stories now and then, just to keep up my presence.

So a couple of weeks ago I had a remarkable event.  An appreciation from someone over something I wrote, and the someone was one of my… I don’t want to say idols, because I don’t idolize anyone anymore, but…was one of those for whom my respect is enormous.  It gave me a bit of an unconscious kick in the pants and I started working on a short story for which I had the opening scene done long ago, but no clue how to end it.  This is not abnormal.  I’ve had short stories take as long as four years to be finished. It sounds cracked, I know, but these things sometimes just can’t be rushed.

Well, I say I’ve finished it.  That is to say I have a first draft, and it is an ugly, nasty thing to behold.  It will require a lot of work on the rewrite and even then it is not going to be a cuddly story by any means.  It is at heart a nasty piece of work.  Those are often the hardest kind, because you need to sell them, and people don’t often like to be mugged by a story.

So it may be that this will be one of those that will not sell.  No matter.  I finished the sucker, that’s what counts.  If it remains unsold for long enough, I may post it here just to get it out.  But for the moment, today, I mark it as a Good Day.

July Memory

Back in 2001, Donna and I took a vacation that has become, for us, a high bar, a hall mark, the Gold Standard of vacations.  We flew into Oakland, CA, rented a car, and for next several days wandered up toward Seattle.  We visited many places, saw many amazing things, ate some wonderful food, and ended the automotive part of the trip in Seattle where we stayed with our very good friends, Kelley and Nicola.

Arriving in Washington state, Donna wanted to take the ferry into Seattle, so we drove into Bremerton.  Just in time to catch the ferry.  I took this shot of the clever, hungry, graceful gulls that followed the boat all the way.  People would throw bread crumbs or whatever up into the air to watch one of these birds pluck the morsel out of the sky.  The trip was magic and remains one of our best memories.


We’d been to Seattle before and took lots of photographs.  So, interestingly enough, once we arrived at their house, I stopped taking pictures.  The gulls were more or less the last images I shot during that trip.  Not a bad endcap, all in all.

Life Sometimes Takes You…

Mind you, I am not defending Governor Sanford, not really.  But I have to admit to be pleasantly surprised at his current stance, vis a vis his affair.

“I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate,” he said in an interview.

So many public figures indulge in affairs, get caught, and then drag the whole thing out in a back yard lot, pour gasoline on it, and set it ablaze in a spasm of self-loathing apologetics.  I suppose the most dramatic was Jimmy Swaggart, weeping openly on television, going through a self-flagellation of Medieval proportions, at least psychologically.

And he was “forgiven” by his followers.

It seemed for a time that Sanford’s supporters were getting set to forgive him.  “Okay,” they seemed to say, “you have a fling, it could happen to anybody, but now you’re back, you’ve abased yourself, your wife is going to forgive you, we can go on.”

But wait.  Now he has come out a gone off-script.  He was in love with  Maria Belen Chapur, and still is.  They met in 2001, at the onset of our eight-year-long Republican convulsion over public morality and national meltdown in global politics.  The Republican Party named for itself the “high ground” of moral probity, condemning liberalism as somehow not only fiscal irresponbsible but the ideology of license and promiscuity.

Democrats have been caught in extramarital affairs, no question.  But most of them did not sign on to any puritanical anti-sex purgation program.  The Republicans, who stand foursquare in opposition to gay marriage, sex education, pre-marital sex, contraception, divorce, pornography, and just about anything that suggests an embrace of physical pleasure outside the narrow parameters of a biblical prescription for wedded bliss (all without obviously understanding just what biblical standards actually are) seem to be having more than their share of revelatory faux pas in this area.  They are the party now of “Do What I Say Not What I Do”—a parenting stance that has long since lost any credibility.

Polls and surveys and studies suggest that conservatives generally have a bigger problem with pornography than do liberals.  Likewise, it seems conservative men of power screw around a lot more than do liberals in similar positions.

I think this is because there is an unspoken assumption among conservatives in power having to do with “perks.”  You can see this extending all the way back in history.  The man with the power gets to play more.  In fact, they might suggest to colleagues in the know that a little “extracurricular action” is necessary to keep things sane.

John Edwards, for all his faults, is more typical of liberals/democrats.  He screwed up.  But he didn’t go out in public crying his eyes out about how he’d lost his way.  He said he intended to try to patch things up with his wife, sorry if the public is disappointed, and I’m outta here.  Crass as it seems, his wife has been very ill.  Say what you want about marital commitment, the stress cancer puts on a relationship is not something most people understand and if the man indulged inadvisedly in sex outside his marriage, well, that’s between him and his wife.  End of story.  We can condemn, understand, forget, forgive, or deal with it as we will, it is no longer any of our business.

It’s not like Newt Gingrich, who (planned or not) had his sick wife served with divorce papers in the hospital so he could marry his mistress.

But Sanford now…he’s gone off-script as I say.  He’s owning up.  He’s not really apologizing for the affair.  He’s sorry it came out, he’s sorry the situation is what it is, but frankly, he isn’t sorry it happened.

And honestly?  That’s a bit refreshing.

We indulge a myth in this culture about True Love that’s pretty unsupportable in real life.  It happens.  But it’s almost never—almost—the way we tell ourselves it’s supposed to be.  Falling in love with your high school sweetheart, marrying, and being happy in that relationship till we die…it does happen.  But it is not the norm and it’s not fair to hold it up as the Gold Standard, because you just can’t know where life will sometimes take you.

Besides, a big part of that myth is that we can only ever fall in love with one other person.  An ancillary part of that is that we can only ever be in love with one person at a time.  It’s not true.  Maybe it would be better if it were.

But standing up acting like a victim—which is what most of these people like Sanford and Swaggert and the rest do—and throwing themselves on the mercy of the public, a public that can have no real idea what was going on in these people’s lives, is worse in my opinion than the initial indiscretion.  Because when you do that, you throw your lover on a bonfire and make him or her out to be a terrible thing.

Sanford’s not doing that.  Sanford is basically saying “You know, I don’t like it that my life is about to explode over this, but I met someone and we have a connection, and I’m not sorry about it.”

What?!?  How can you say that?

Because—out of everything else he might have said or done—it’s the truth.  And for that, I applaud the man.

The dirty secret about the Republican mindset regarding this, with a few exceptions, is that they’re not nearly so angry with him for having done it as they are for getting caught.

And he didn’t actually get caught.  He took a week off to go see someone he loves.  Very publicly.  Maybe the press was sniffing around, maybe not, but if so he stole their thunder.

Molly Ivans,who was such a breath of fresh air and common sense in a realm where neither is in any great supply, once responded to a question about sexual misconduct and the performance of civic duty more or less this way.  I’m paraphrasing.

“It would be nice to think there’s a connection between private sexual conduct and the ability to do your duty in public office, but there just isn’t.  Some of the most lecherous men have been great politicians.”

Should Sanford resign over this?   If it were me, I’d fight it.  I’d look at my detractors and say “How dare you judge me for something a significant number of you would either like to do, have done, or are doing.”  But it seems unlikely he’ll be allowed to be effective now.

It’s a small thing, perhaps, this one spot of honesty in all this mess, but I think it’s an important one because for once it’s not feeding into the self-deceptive self righteousness that is our national myth about True Love.

There is True Love.  But it doesn’t always come along at a convenient time and it doesn’t only happen just once.  And—this is the most important thing—it is not reducable to a consumer package to be paraded and auctioned for Air Time and Ratings.

Just sayin’, you know?