Bad, Bad Writer

New York Times writer Penelope Green — not unlike the subject of her recent article — must have too much time on her hands. She’s wasting her literary skills by working hard to humiliate the innocent. The woman in question is a rich Connecticut socialite who is trying to establish an arts colony in her suburban home. (I must disclose that I am an alumnus of an artist’s retreat — the Blue Mountain Center in upstate New York — where I enjoyed a month-long summer respite from all that is cold and cruel. It was for established writers, artists and musicians, who applied and were accepted, with all expenses paid by it’s own endowment. I had a good time, got a lot of work down, and spent time canoeing each day on the estate’s pristine lake with a wonderful painter from Montana. I also learned from other inmates that there was a whole world of artists’ colonies out there, and a few younger ones bounced regularly from fellowship to fellowship in the U.S. and abroad. What a life!)

Back to Penelope: what a supreme hatchet job she has given us on page 1 of the Times’s Home section one week ago! Yes, there is probably a zoning violation facing the altruistic homeowner, Michelle Slater. That might’ve been the original idea for the story.  But most of the article is pure and relentless mockery. The reader doesn’t realize this at first; it seems like an interesting take on a devotée of the arts who wishes to use her standing to do some good in the world, and the mean neighbors who oppose her. No, no, no. Penelope must’ve gone to the interview, then decided that that angle was too boring (been-there-done-that), so she switched things up a bit.  This woman, in her view, is a not a do-gooder, she is a fool, thought Penelope, and I’m such a clever so-and-so, so what if… ?

During the writing process, Penny (may I call you that because I find multi-syllabic “Penelope” oh-so-pretentious?!) must have had thought bubbles over her head as she snickered through the piece, reading, “My God, I can really show off now… what an idiot this woman is, I am so much sharper than she is, I mean, after all, I went to Sarah Lawrence… “) Some quick highlights:

  • Unlike most islands, those owned or adjacent to Michelle Slater’s property are unaccountably “dainty.”
  • The meals Michelle serves are “nearly” vegan (uh-oh, not authentic enuf!)
  • Yoga sessions “she would lead herself” (what an egomaniac!)
  • Michelle’s website is “official-looking” (hack job) with a mission statement that is too “lofty” (geez, it’s only 16-words)
  • mayapple-mark-cranberry-white-smallPenelope even ridicules the website’s logo, seen here at actual size (okay, the maroon color comes from a Hermès scarf Michelle treasures.  Score one for PG)… wow, Pen, you’re right! Out-of-control!!! How utterly offensive! Pablum of the first order! You are deliciously bloodthirsty!
  • Penny tells us this whole incident is obviously a case of “Nimbyism,” a word I had to look up, even with all my fancy college degrees! It turns out it derives from the British hazardous waste industry. Why did I not know that?
  • She claims Michelle’s program is striving to attract “gentle scholars” (her words, not Michelle’s… OMG, she is such an easy target)
  • Pen ridicules a silly-sounding class taught by a professor from nearby Sarah Lawrence (please do not reveal that author Penelope is herself a graduate of Sarah Lawrence!)
    • P.S. She got the name of the class wrong and the Times had to issue a retraction the next day. Still silly, but less so.
  • If she is a reporter, or conducting reportage, why is she participating in the morning yoga routine she is so busy ridiculing? Maybe Penelope is simply curating the news, rather than reporting it.
  • She uses the word “littered” to describe artist Arthur Zorn’s work. Nice. What did poor Arthur do to offend you? The work actually looks pretty interesting, if that is what is depicted in the photographs intended to deride Michelle’s home, or her taste, or both.
  • Michelle has been “accruing” university degrees (implying she’s just a collector and has cheated her bought her way through numerous academies… are you ready for a libel suit?)

Okay, on one hand, Michelle says some dopey things, meant to be clever, like, “I am a recovering perfectionist.”  On the other hand, she is ridiculed for saying things that are not totally unreasonable: “I felt a moral obligation to contribute to humanity and the humanities, at this time when everybody is sounding a death knell for the humanities.” Okay, her grammar could use some improvement, but her heart is in the right place.

Personally, I wouldn’t charge $1200/week if I was a true patron of the arts.  The truly great, legitimate artists colonies are paid for, such as Yaddo, MacDowell, the Millay Colony, etc. I’m sure once the thing gets rolling, she will reduce the rate and get some donors… right, Michelle?  Michelle?

In any case, the article finally settles down into the real point of the situation: is this a “bad neighbor,” albeit a well-meaning one, creating another zoning violation in our beloved, leafy suburbs? We’ll see.  In the meantime, I hope do-gooders somehow prevail in making the world a better place, at least over snarky reporters who do nothing more than make us sneer for 5 minutes. Cheap shot, Penelope, cheap shot.

By the way, The New York Times has embellished the article with 12 photographs by Jane Beiles which supposedly affirm the ridiculousness of this setting. They all look fairly innocuous except for a goofy-looking dining room.

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