I've taught An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks to a number of English classes now, and the last chapter of the book tells the story of his visit with the remarkable Temple Grandin, PhD. During later classes, students watch Temple Grandin (2010) starring Claire Danes.
I've watched this film better than a dozen times, and it never fails to move me. Today, I noticed something different, however. During the last third of the movie, which covers Temple's establishment of her career in animal science (or as pictured charmingly in the film with a human groom and cattle bride, "animal husbandry"). An important door that opened for Temple was a door at the cattle auction, where she followed the good-natured editor of the Arizona Farmer-Ranchman trade publication out of the auction ring to what looks like the upper walkway of a huge barn or stockyard building. Temple is clearly apprehensive and nervous about talking to this nice gentleman. She blurts out her interests in animal studies and observations as quickly as possible (in true autistic, Temple style). He responds, "I'll read anything you send me, Miss Grandin. Here's my card. You address it directly to me" - and walks on. Excited, Temple goes off to compose her first article for the publication.
This is published, and she's later able to show it to her Master's Thesis advisor at Arizona State, along with the preliminary manuscript of her Master's thesis - on "mooing." The anti-female, anti "Temple" (or autism) bias she experiences is crystal-clear throughout this part of the film.
But only today did I see the 19th and 20th century gatekeeper aspect of publishing, and the "You're published, you're special," and "some publications are better than others" sub-theme. Temple is successful and gets business and influences people through her articles in the Arizona Farmer-Ranchman. Her stockyard-smell and clothing gets an upgrade courtesy of a female employee of the publication. The kindly, down to earth editor gives her a can of Arrid Extra-Dry. It's Temple's attitude (fear at approaching the editor) that stood out to me. And then there's Scotty, who spit in Temple's Jell-O as a kid. This snake-eyed snob and his booshy parents aren't interested in Temple's Master of Science in Animal Science degree or her hard-won articles for the Arizona Farmer-Ranchman. I always hated this threesome, and they made Temple cry in frustration later with her mother. If my memory serves me right, Scotty "had an article in New York Magazine." Yes! The same shop that thinks what Harold Bloom allegedly did to Naomi Wolf is more news- and note-worthy than the estimated 10,000 actual rape- and murder victims out there.
When I think about what Temple Grandin has overcome, the doors she has opened for herself and so many others -- the things that I visualize as bridges crossed, they are so numerous that this one seems such a small one in comparison. The whole Temple Grandin movie shows this so eloquently:
- Young Temple was diagnosed with autism, or as the booshy doctor put it "infantile schizophrenia," and her mother's fault. He recommended institutionalization, which her mother thank goodness, refused.
- She was ostracized and teased at school due to her differences -- bullying and torment. "Fish in France!"
- She was a "weirdo" and freak at college due to her squeeze machine and other differences ("Pervert!") - until she became Valedictorian.
- Good Ol' Don at the feedlot where she studied at Arizona State ... total misogynist and jerk of whom his own foreman, an observant man, said, "I'm not even sure old Don can write."
- Multiple challenges from individuals jealous of her talent and ability, looking to take advantage of her autism to set traps and pitfalls for her in her livestock handling projects.
- Getting published, as a young woman in an unconventional-for-women field, especially at the time.
Yet snotty Scotty and his appalling parents are instructive. "Scotty's had a piece in New York Magazine." Probably sponsored by Daddy's friend from the Club.
Well jolly good for Scotty.
I feature a salient quote in my talk on the history and future of publishing from the only book editor to ever achieve name recognition: Maxwell Perkins, known as the editor of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe. Perkins worked for Scribner's & Sons, now Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster today. Perkins became a book editor after graduating from Harvard and going to work for the New York Times because he was drawn to
"one of those professions whose practitioners deal in the most powerful of all commodities — words."
Put "power" and "commodity" in a single equation and you get: no little autistic girls allowed. Cows are dirty. And boring. Scotty's piece that Rex took for New York Magazine is a humorous romp about the history of golf.
Part of Temple's autism, I think, is that while she feels the fear of a prey animal, she doesn't so strongly feel the intimidation, entitlement, denigration or influence of the booshy Scotty's of the world. I think despite the upset portrayed in the film over the snobs at the party, she was fairly quickly able to get over it and get back to her important work, which has since become incredibly important in so many ways.
But here in this small area, in this great film, great real life, and great story, is so much of what is wrong with publishing illustrated.
There is no chance in Hell that Maxwell Perkins would have taken anything I've ever written seriously. He would likely have not looked at a single word I've written ... someone like me would be right to have been apprehensive or fearful about submitting work to such an editor. He did do Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Marguerite Young. Marguerite Young is barely in print today, with her most recent edition of the book Perkins edited, Miss Macintosh, My Darling available in a 1993 archive edition. I haven't read this book nor any of her other work so I can't say whether or not this is as unjustified as Faulkner being out of print for a decade before his Nobel Prize award. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Yearling is a classic children's book very much in print. But Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings isn't Ernest Hemingway.
I'm not going to say Temple made the kind of progress with the publishing gatekeeper problem as she was able to with autism and animal science.
Maybe it will take a different type of approach ... because it's as scary to me to be doing what I'm doing as it was to Temple to walk across the threshold of those many, many doors she opened. "A door opened, and I walked through it."
"And I held it open for you," said her kindly friend from the supermarket, whose husband worked at the Abbot slaughterhouse.
I view them as bridges. I have just begun to ask my friends to help me cross, and themselves, at the same time.
Perkins, I'm coming for YOU. And booshy snake-eyed Scotty, too.