Ebola Ebollience

Posted November 14,2014

More medical news, this time about the face of Ebola: My poem “On the Arrival of Ebola in New York” (http://www.humortimes.com/29290/poem-arrival-ebola-new-york/) correctly predicted a good outcome for New York’s first Ebola patient Dr. Craig Spencer. He was declared Ebola-free and discharged from Bellevue Hospital yesterday. Hats off to all the medical professionals who diligently and selflessly cared for him.

Renee, Me, and Plastic Surgery

Posted November 13, 2014

Those of you familiar with my parody revue CUTS: An Uplifting Musical, about our national obsession with looking young and beautiful (http://carylavery.com/cuts-the-musical), have figured out that I’m not a fan of cosmetic surgery—at least for me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t stood in front of a mirror and pulled my undereyes taut to see if removing the bags would make me look less tired. (It would.) Or wondered whether a little filler could really fill in those vertical lip lines into which lip gloss so readily slides. (It could.) But when I think of the down-time, the money, the potential for complications, I come down reluctantly but firmly on the side of “Nah.” The main reason for taking a pass on puttering, however, is fear—especially fear of no longer looking like myself. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this would be a bummer, given the uproar that ensued when Renée Zellweger revealed her new face after “a little work” (which, by the way, she denies having had, despite assessments to the contrary by numerous plastic surgeons). What people were upset about was not that she didn’t look good—she did!—but that she no longer looked like her adorable, squinty-eyed, puffy-faced self. I couldn’t resist commenting on this myself, in a verse called “Renéevation,” which you can find at http://www.humortimes.com/29796/reneevation-renee-zellweger/

Advice to Writers Interview

by Caryl Avery

Posted August 27, 2014

Earlier this summer, my wonderful writer friend Nancy Hathaway introduced me to her wonderful writer friend Jon Winokur whose wonderful website advicetowriters.com is one you should know. Whether you write or aspire to write or are merely curious about why those who write do and how they do it, you’ll find dipping into these writers on writing immensely satisfying. Literary gelato. In addition to interviews with the crème, you’ll find an interview with me. Not literary gelato but enough to give you the flavor of where I came from and where I’m coming from as a writer.


The questions:

  • How did you become a writer?
  • Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
  • When and where do you write?
  • What are you working on now?
  • Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
  • What’s your advice to new writers?


For the answers, click on http://www.advicetowriters.com/interviews/2014/8/19/caryl-avery.html


Monica, Shame, and Fame

by Caryl Avery

Posted May 27, 2014

In her essay “Shame and Survival” in the June 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, Monica Lewinsky calls out Bill and Hill, the Clinton machine, the media, and a “catty confab” of feminists for humiliating her so publicly that the resulting shame has prevented her from “moving on” for the past 16 years. As an example, she cites a 2002 HBO documentary in which she was asked a particularly “crass” question.

“One of the unintended consequences of my agreeing to put myself out there and to try to tell the truth [was] that shame would once again be hung around my neck like a scarlet-A albatross,” she writes. “Believe me, once it’s on, it is a bitch to take off.”

It doesn’t have to be. Shame, embraced, is both a friend and a teacher.

Shame, the devastating feeling of being deeply flawed, is often called the “secret” emotion—the one we’re most likely to keep hidden, from other people and from ourselves. It is the temporary I-wish-I-could-drop-off-the-face-of-the-earth feeling we experience when we are exposed—to ourselves or others—as having fallen short of some ideal. The key word is temporary.

If Monica feels like a victim of shame 16 years after her affair with then-President Clinton hit the headlines in 1998, it seems to me that she is trying to heal her shame in all the wrong ways.

The latest example is her decision to break her “decade of self-imposed silence”—“The last major interview I granted was 10 years ago”—by publishing this essay in the first place. Her rationale for speaking out now is that at age 40, “it is time…. I am determined to have a different ending to my story….”

“The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor’s minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck….

“Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I didn’t ‘let this define’ me—I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others.”

Well said. The question now is, Why perpetuate that image yourself? Why keep reinvigorating the opprobrium by calling attention to it?

There is an essential contradiction between feeling shame and drawing attention to the acts that caused it. That is, if shame is characterized by a desire to hide, to disappear, why would Monica invite readers—not once, but twice!—to check out that humiliating HBO documentary:

“…[T]hanks to the all-encompassing nature of the Web, you can, 12 years later, watch it all day long on YouTube if you want to (but I really hope you have better things to do with your time).”

And, “…each easy click of that YouTube link reinforces the archetype, despite my efforts to parry it away: Me, America’s B.J. Queen.”

Monica, Monica, you’ve worked in communications! It’s PR 101 that you never, never, repeat something you don’t want “out there.” Repeating it just reinforces it.

And surely you, with a master’s in social psychology, have heard of those experiments where students are instructed not to think of a pink elephant. (Guess what they can’t stop thinking about?)

So despite your protestations to the contrary, do you think there might, just might, be a small part of you that likes being Queen of something? Why else would you be bringing all this up again? Why else would you write, “I would give anything to go back and rewind the tape.”? (So that you could replay it? Or did you mean erase?) Why else, according to The New York Times, would you have been talking “on and off” during 7 of your self-proclaimed 10 years of silence to your friends at Vanity Fair about “cooperating with a profile for the magazine or writing a first-person piece”? Why else, if you long to be seen as an upstanding young woman with career aspirations, would you agree to pose reclining on a sofa? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. But it is suggestive—suggestive that the motivation for your essay might be fame, not shame.

Same goes for your apparent habit of Googling yourself daily to see how many times you’re referenced in the media: “Every day someone mentions me in a tweet or a blog post, and not altogether kindly. Every day, it seems, my name shows up in an op-ed column or a press clip or two….”

Patient: “Doctor, it hurts when I go like this.”

Doctor: “Don’t go like that.”

Or there could be other motivations: Do you want to cash in? [“I turned down offers that would have earned me more than $10 million, because they didn’t feel like the right thing to do…I’ve managed to get by (barely, at times) with my own projects, usually with start-ups that I have participated in, or with loans from friends and family.”] It would be interesting to know how much Vanity Fair paid you for your essay.

Exact revenge, now that Hillary is poised to run for president? (“When I hear of Hillary’s prospective candidacy, I cannot help but fear the next wave of paparazzi, the next wave of ‘Where is she now?’ stories…”) Despite your claim that you wish them no ill, you clearly believe they threw you under the bus: “I fully understand that what has happened to me and the issue of my future do not matter to either of them.”

Extract an apology from Bill or at least invite him to take more blame for The Affair than he has in the past?

The problem with all of these motivations is that they entail going public and perpetuating the shame you claim you want to put behind you.

Whether the shame from which you’ve been suffering is rooted in social opprobrium or self-disappointment, or both, there are a limited number of ways to deal with it:

You can stew in it, which often leads to depression, addiction (to food, drugs, shopping, fame), and a slew of unproductive defenses, including rage and blaming behaviors. It can also cause you unconsciously to seek out or remain in destructive relationships.

You can try to set the record straight, as you have done in your essay, and hope that you will be judged more kindly in light of today’s social mores, where the sexual advances of powerful bosses are condemned. (However, with that comes the certainty of dredging up the affair and the risk of too much information.)

Or you can accept humbly that you’re a person with flaws and let the world know that you can no longer be shamed for your youthful lapse in judgment because you’ve forgiven yourself.

Which bring us back to shame as friend and teacher.

In a book I read years ago by two psychotherapists (Letting Go of Shame), the authors put it this way: Healthy shame “is like having a true friend, one who is not afraid to tell you that you are messing up your life.” But like a good friend, healthy shame says, “No, you’re not perfect, but I love you anyway.” It puts us in touch with our humanity. It allows us to acknowledge our flaws, learn from our mistakes, and move on. In short, to replace humiliation with humility.

Monica, you can do it.


This article originally appeared on womensvoicesforchange.org.