My Rejected Letters to The New Yorker

My identical twin, Jacqueline, a magazine journalist, rates getting an article published in The New Yorker the pinnacle of success. So when her letter to the editor was published, I got it framed for her. I took partial credit for the coup because her authority to write about twinship came from our shared DNA. I haven’t had any luck getting published in the esteemed magazine on my own, but I share here, for fun, on our birthday, the letters to the editor that I have written and submitted, but, alas, were not accepted.

My identical twin’s letter to the editor of The New Yorker, “Twin Tales,” published in May 2009, was a response to Rebecca Mead’s article, “Couplet,” about identical twin writers, Matthew and Michael Dickman.

Listening to the voices we haven’t heard

I was heartened to read Alex Ross‘s exploration of white supremacy in Western classical music, “Master Pieces” (September 14, 2020), until I came to his conclusion: he doubled down on the value of Wagner, Handel et al. Not wanting to let go of the classics, Ross worked overtime to separate white male composers’ deeds from their music and searched for value in creative interpretations of their works. Instead, why not use the knowledge of the racism pervasive in the genre to reinforce the rallying cry for diversifying the classical music canon? White men have dominated classical music. Music, as well as history, is written by the victors. Let’s listen to the vanquished now instead. I want to hear the voices that we haven’t heard. Different musical scales, rhythms, and melodies would be a long overdue and welcome broadening of our aural environment. 

(After the decades of church music composer David Haas’ abuse recently came to light, I wrote two pieces about rethinking white male supremacy in the liturgical music world. So when I read the New Yorker article, the topic of power and diversity in music was on my mind.)

Let’s encourage Louis C.K. to get beyond dick-centric thinking

In Hilton Als’ review of Louis C.K.’s comeback tour show, “Can Louis C.K. spin his troubles into art?” (Feb 3, 2020), he laments C.K.’s lackluster jokes and suggests a more creative take: C.K. could have provided a dick-centric view of his shame and talked “from the vantage point of his disgraced penis.” That would be an option, but that’s not the show I’d like to see. Instead, I’d like to see men going beyond imagining how their dicks look to women to acknowledging that women have needs and desires of our own. Or how about not giving a performance platform to a man who has sexually transgressed personal boundaries until he comes to terms with and makes amends for the damage he has done? (Then he might actually be funny.) Or better yet, how about turning that platform over to those he has violated?

Behind every great man …

In “The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives” (January 21, 2019), Robert A. Caro begins his description of research in Johnson’s presidential library by stating that “Working in the Reading Room with me would be Ina, whose thoroughness and perceptivity in doing research I had learned to trust.” I thus expected that the forthcoming tales of discovery would be full of teamwork, but instead, it is he alone who finds each telegram and each letter in the archives. If his “loyal and true” wife, Ina, is indeed as thorough and perceptive as he claims, what exactly was she doing?

What about the other owner?

Even though Yvon and Malinda Chouinard are co-founders and co-owners of Patagonia, Nick Paumgarten chose to focus on Yvon in “Wild Man” (September 12, 2016). That’s his decision as an author, but I found myself wondering where Malinda was when Yvon was disappearing for months at a time. How does their partnership work? Paumgarten didn’t tell us beyond quoting Yvon’s derogatory comment that Malinda is a “micro-manager.” One might guess that perhaps she was focused on the couple’s children, but Paumgarten didn’t even allow her that. Paumgarten referring to the couple’s children as “his”— that is Yvon’s — was emblematic of the frustratingly male-centric point of view of the entire profile. 

Is responding to sexual assault not a moral conflict?

According to Rachel Aviv, Martha Nussbaum “describes motherhood as her first profound experience of moral conflict” (“The Philosopher of Feelings” July 18, 2016). How, then, does she define deciding how to respond to the sexual assault she experienced many years before? In a recent Huffington Post blog post, the University of Chicago Distinguished Professor of Law and Ethics describes how she chose not to report the famous man who violated her and then, incredibly, goes on to counsel other women unilaterally to do as she did and “forget the law.” Every violation is unique. Figuring out what to do in the wake of sexual violations is, for many, if not Nussbaum, a complex moral dilemma. Nussbaum is “calling for a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable.” The threat and reality of sexual violence is a vulnerability that many people, particularly women, herself included, live with daily. We are indebted to the victim-survivors who, in touch with their vulnerability, choose to fight for justice so that others may not have to endure it. 

(In “Nussbaum Ignores the Many Options Available for Survivors of Sexual Violence,” I debunk Martha Nussbaum’s contention that others should follow her lead after being sexually assaulted by powerful men and “Forget the law.” Every victim-survivor and every assault is unique. We would do best to honor each victim-survivor’s unique path to healing and recognize that what’s right for one survivor is not necessarily going to work for all others.)

© 2020 Michele Beaulieux … Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you are free to share and adapt as long as you attribute to Michele Beaulieux, don’t use for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! I continue to revise, so to avoid sharing an outdated version, I recommend linking to this page, where I provide the date of the current iteration: 11/26/2020

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