But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,note: still being edited sorry for the mess
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
Here's the story:
A writer's wife leaves him for a billionaire.
Sometime in June 2007 he decides the best way to tell people about this is to describe the situation in a lengthy email and he asks for the recipients' help disseminating the story of the demise of his marriage: "You can feel free to use any part or all of this email to do so." The email he sends to his students begins:
"Rumors will soon be swirling around the department, so I want to tell the full and nuanced story to the five of you among the graduate students and ask that you clarify the issues for any of your fellow grad students who ask. This sort of thing can get wildly distorted pretty quickly. You can feel free to use any part or all of this email to do so. I really appreciate your help."and concludes with the statement that he and his ex-wife:
"will now conduct ourselves as if this is public knowledge. So as I suggested at the outset, you need not keep this to yourself, if the occasion arises to speak of it to someone."The missive informs the recipients:
- His ex-wife is a talented writer but because he won a Pulitzer she always felt like a failure around him
- He has always supported her as a writer even though he is, of course, better than her.
- She credits him with saving her life.
- The new love affair blossomed in the midst of a life-threatening bowel obstruction she experienced while travelling with the billionaire in South America.
- His ex-wife was molested as a child by her grandfather
- Her evangelical Christian parents knew about this but did nothing.
- She fell in love with the billionaire because he reminded her of the grandfather that abused her.
- She will be one of a (small) number of the billionaire's stable of women lovers.
- She will spend one week a month with the billionaire.
- She is not doing this for the money.
- He asks people not to think ill of his ex-wife.
- He will keep the dogs and cats.
- Also, he won a Pulitzer.
Six weeks later . . .
TUE JUL 31 2007
06:39 AM The publishing industry blog GalleyCat posts the story as a blind item and summarizes the contents of the email:
Regarding the decision to run the item blind the editor later says: "If I'd known I could end the week with a Pulitzer-winner comparing me to the terrorists, damn, I would've totally skipped the blind item stage." (BY RONHOGAN AT 08/03/07 12:44 PM)
11:43 AM Gawker ("daily Manhattan media news and gossip") announces: "we've gotten what we believe is the full insane insane INSANE email" and publishes the entire text:
(click on link above to read original email)11:44am All hell breaks loose.
By the end of the day there are over 40,000 viewings and 150 comments. Great for Gawker. Not so great for Butler. Here are a selection of the responses (you can go to the main site to read all of them):
BY TEDSEZ AT 07/31/07 11:53 AM O.M.G. If that e-mail doesn't win a Pulitzer of its own, the prize has lost its meaning.
BY UNUTTERABLE AT 07/31/07 11:57 AM I like how he claims they remain the best of friends, yet compares her new boyfriend to her abusing grandfather (and lets us know that he has other girlfriends), reminds her that she's never gotten a Pulitzer, and adds that he's done everything he could for her and she obviously is still nuts. Plus she had an intestinal blockage! Then he sews it up by saying "I ask you not to think ill of her in any way." Seriously, what would he have written if he wanted us to think ill of her?
BY MADAMEEDUCATRIX AT 07/31/07 12:00 PM "I have a high regard and affection for the students in our program. I hope this will help them sort out this rather intense story in an appropriate way." Elizabeth and I love you all very, very much, and want you to know that this is not your fault. Sometimes, mommies and daddies don't love each other anymore. It doesn't mean we love you any less.
BY WHATEVER AT 07/31/07 12:13 PM And they say men can't do passive-aggressive as well as women.
BY MANSLATIONS AT 07/31/07 12:14 PM P.P.S. I have offered Elizabeth the rights to use this letter as a blurb for the jacket of her next book.
BY CKEAV AT 07/31/07 12:32 PM Dear Professor Butler Thank you for your email. As you suggested, I have discussed your situation with some of my fellow graduate students. Nobody cares. Also, no one has heard of your wife.
BY ATOURGATES AT 07/31/07 12:55 PM
The only thing that could have made this missive more self-serving is if Mr. Butler had mentioned that while he is a tender and capable lover, Ms. Dewberry found his manhood to be too long and overly girthy, leading to difficulties in their lovemaking.
WED AUG 1 2007
"I am not Brad Pitt, nor was meant to be . . . "8:00 AM The New York Post's Page Six -- the nation's best known gossip column -- leads with the story. Butler had already granted them an interview. He appears surprised and amused by all the attention. It becomes the most emailed item of the day.
August 1, 2007 -- PULITZER prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler sent out an e-mail yesterday announcing that his wife had dumped him for billionaire Ted Turner. "Put down your cup of coffee or you might spill it," Butler, 62, wrote to his graduate students and fellow professors at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "Elizabeth is leaving me for Ted Turner." Elizabeth is Butler's wife of 12 years, Elizabeth Dewberry, 44, an author in her own right, who might be attracted to Turner, 68, because the media mogul resembles the grandfather who molested her as a child, Butler writes in the shocking e-mail. "She has spoken openly in her work and in her public life of the fact that she was molested by her grandfather from an early age, a molestation that was known and tacitly condoned by her radically Evangelical Christian parents," Butler wrote. "And it is very common for a woman to be drawn to men who remind them of their childhood abusers. Ted is such a man, though fortunately, he is far from being abusive." However, Turner, who has been married three times, is hardly an ideal partner. "She will not be Ted's only girlfriend. Ted is permanently and avowedly non-monogamous," Butler writes. "But though he has several girlfriends, it is a very small number, and he does not take them up lightly and he gives them his absolute support when he does." The jilted husband reveals Dewberry nearly died in March from an intestinal blockage while she was traveling with Turner in Argentina. The white-haired mogul also took Dewberry as his date to the May premiere of "Georgia Rule," which starred Turner's ex-wife, Jane Fonda. "Rumors will soon be swirling . . . so I want to tell the full and nuanced story," Butler wrote. "This sort of thing can get wildly distorted pretty quickly." Butler, whose books include "Tabloid Dreams" and "Mr. Spaceman," told Page Six he showed Dewberry his e-mail before sending it off and, "she was weepingly grateful to me for it. It's full of love and compassion." He said he was surprised one of the recipients then leaked it to several Internet "Elizabeth and I are not Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston" he told us. A rep for Turner had no comment.NOTE: Butler told Page Six that he showed Dewberry his e-mail before sending it off and he claimed that "she was “weepingly grateful to me for it. It's full of love and compassion." The claim that she was "weepingly grateful" is something that he repeats in other interviews. However Page Six does not contact Dewberry to confirm whether this is an accurate description of her feelings.
AM WED AUG 1 Slate covers the story in its "hot document" section.
10:40 AM The penny drops.
Robert Olen Butler won the 1993 Pulitzer for fiction for A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain, but at the moment a different selection from Butler's oeuvre is attracting widespread notice within the literary community. That would be the e-mail he recently sent five graduate students (Butler is a professor of English at Florida State University) explaining in bizarrely fine-grained detail why his wife of 12 years, fellow novelist Elizabeth Dewberry, left him to be Ted Turner's part-time girlfriend. You can read the e-mail below (thanks to Gawker.com, which posted the full text, and to Mediabistro.com, which broke the story). "Elizabeth has never been able to step out of the shadow of the Pulitzer," Butler explains calmly. "The multitude of small reflections of regard that came my way inevitably threw a spotlight on the absence of those expressions of regard for her." Also, "she was molested by her grandfather from an early age," and later suffered through a "decade-long abusive marriage." Dewberry, Butler explains, "says I saved her life. But de facto therapy as the initial foundation of a marriage eventually sucks the life out of a relationship." Dewberry is drawn to Turner, Butler further explains, because Turner reminds her of her childhood abuser. Pausing one passive-aggressive beat, Butler then reports that Turner himself "is far from being abusive." To be sure, Butler writes, the man once known in yachting circles as Captain Outrageous already has "several girlfriends." But "it is a very small number, and he does not take them up lightly and he gives them his absolute support when he does. And Elizabeth's leaving me is as much about the three weeks a month she is alone as it is about the week a month she is with Ted." By Bonnie Goldstein.
“That is not what I meant at all.This is where it starts to either go downhill ...or get really good. How you see this would depend on how you feel about ROB and what kind of sense of humor you possess.
That is not it, at all.”
Robert Olen Butler writes an angry email to Gawker:
Robert Olen Butler Says His Mass Email
Was 'Intended Strictly For Those Who
Personally Know Elizabeth And Me'
(click on link above to post at Gawker site with all comments)
Was 'Intended Strictly For Those Who
Personally Know Elizabeth And Me'
(click on link above to post at Gawker site with all comments)
They publish this email, illustrated by an author portrait of ROB holding a bichon frise:
Gawker Editor Emily Gould provides the following introduction:
So! Jilted author Robert Olen Butler isn't happy that yesterday we published the email he sent to his grad students. You know, the email that began "this sort of thing can get wildly distorted pretty quickly. You can feel free to use any part or all of this email to do so," and in which he explained exactly why his wife was leaving him for Ted Turner (she was abused by her grandpa!). In his email to us, he sounded steamed!followed by Butler's text:
That email, intended strictly for those who personally know Elizabeth and me, was to explain an event that, if not explained, would be spun in ways that would unfairly make Elizabeth look bad. It had its intended effect around Tallahassee and in some other places where she and I are actual human beings. The sad thing about your sneeringly printing this in a blog is that both of us are easily dehumanized. Which, of course, is your point. Dehumanization is the essential ingredient for the daily pleasure of gossipers and gawkers. What a creepy little circle-jerk of self-righteousness you're running.NOTE: The Gawker commenters are perversely delighted by his description of them as a "creepy little circle-jerk of self-righteousness." They suggest that the editors create a new Gawker t-shirt using this phrase. They also want the shirt to include the (above) photograph of ROB with the bichon frise.
Responses to Butler's angry lashing included a set of comments on what it means to be human in Tallahassee:
BY LUCIA TOLEDO AT 08/01/07 11:01 AM For readers who don't know Florida all that well: "around Tallahassee and in other places" is a very funny line.As well as a number of withering critiques of Butler's self-righteousness, his sense of outrage and his moralizing. Some, as in this case, are even given by those who are familiar with him (and like him) as a writer:
BY SARGASM AT 08/01/07 11:03 AM So, if they leave Tallahassee, are they no longer actual human beings? But how can that be, if we already dehumanized them? I'm confused.
BY DAVIDWATTS 08/01/07 11:03 AM I went to school in Tallahassee, and I can assure you that there are no actual people there.
BY HEARTBREAKTURNIP AT 08/01/07 11:10 AM I don't care if he did intend that e-mail for a select group of friends and others, or the entire world. What he had to say was the kind of thing that, perhaps -- perhaps you share with your closest of friends over coffee or a beer or something. And, probably, that close friend would say,There were even Gawker commenters who flatly defended Butler.
“Bob, that whole grandfather theory is just weird. I'm not so sure about that. Don't you think money, travel, and so on might also have something to do with it? And anyway, if the grandfather theory is true, it doesn't say much about her own attraction to YOU, Bob, who at age 50 married her at Tavern on the Green when she was barely 30. So, I'd steer away from that whole line of reasoning for your own good. It makes it sound like she dumped you for a richer and better looking molester. You don't want to be the ugly molester, Bob.”
Instead, Bob Butler decides he's too busy to actually have, ahem, actual human and humanizing contact with the few people who he wants to know the gory details, and so he sends out an e-mail with instructions to go forth and spread the story as he's told it. The assertion that Elizabeth Dewberry wept with gratitude about that e-mail is either a huge lie or more proof that she's got corn bread for brains, which has long been suspected. In either case he does her no favors, which puts the lie to his assertions of love and gratitude and so on.
And if the e-mail recipients were so close, so dear and human to him, that he would share such personal details with them, how come he couldn't predict that at least one of them would forward it on to the world? Clearly, there's at least one person who needed to know about Dewberry's intestinal distress who, in fact, he did not know very well at all.
Let's cut the bullshit: creative writing staffs are notoriously catty, backbiting groups of malingerers who love talking about each other. Robert Olen Butler was merely trying to get ahead of the spin and win the gossip battle. Bob Butler has always perceived himself as something of an otherworldly saint figure, but this latest is just so much crap.
By the way, he's not a crap writer like some have alleged -- he's pretty damned great if you ask me. Writers like him should write more and talk less.
One person pointed out that only a saint can resist the temptation not to hurt the person who has broken your heart. That led to the following exchange (a very typical type of Gawker reparte where things are never allowed to get serious for very long):
BY POPE JOHN PEEPS II AT 08/01/07 11:08 AM It's NOT POSSIBLE to avoid the temptation to hurt someone who has done damage to you. Of course he failed. Of course he was weak. It's what we do. Barring breaking up with the Dalai Lama ... everyone fucks it right up the wall at the end.
BY MATHNET AT 08/01/07 11:16 AM When I broke up with the Dalai Lama, he keyed my car.
BY LOLCAIT AT 08/01/07 11:20 AM Gandhi pooped in a bag, lit it on fire, and left it on my porch after I dumped him at the Harvest Dance.
BY VENUSCLOACINA AT 08/01/07 11:23 AM Mother Teresa cut the crotches out of all my underpants. She was a rattlesnake in a wimple, that one.
BY KARENUHOH AT 08/01/07 11:42 AM Joan of Arc burned my steak.
MIDDAY (AUG 1)
Butler is interviewed by Alex Chadwick on NPR (click here for a link to listen to the interview). In the interview it becomes clear that one reason why Dewberry could not emerge from underneath the burden of Butler's Pulitzer is that he kept reminding her that would not let her forget that he had won the Pulitzer, i.e. : she was a good writer but she was not the best writer in the house.
Alex Chadwick also informs listeners that he contacted Elizabeth Dewberry who told him that although she had seen the email she did not approve it and there were inaccuracies in it.
NOTE: Chadwick is the only journalist who contacts Dewberry and is one of the few who incorporates this caveat into the coverage of the story.
PM AUG 1 The widening gyre.
The story is showing up in a variety of national and international press outlets. The general take on the story is as follows:
"Pulitzer Prize winning writer sent out an email announcing that his wife left him for billionaire Ted Turner because the media mogul resembles the grandfather who molested her as a child."It appears that Butler is agreeing to all requests for interviews.
4:10 PM AUG 1 Gawker publishes an excerpt from a story by Robert Olen Butler:
'Jealous Husband Returns In The Form Of A Parrot'
By Robert Olen Butler
(click on link above to read fuller text and all comments)
By Robert Olen Butler
(click on link above to read fuller text and all comments)
Sure, we all know that Robert Olen Butler is the Pulitzer-winning author whose author wife, Elizabeth Dewberry, just left him to become one of media mogul Ted Turner's girlfriends, prompting him to pen the nuttiest email of all time. But how familiar are we all with his award-winning work? Maybe some excerpts from this short story, which first appeared in the New Yorker in 1995, would be a good primer. It is about what you think: a man turns into a parrot, is purchased as a pet by his wife, and is forced to watch her cavort around the house with her new lover.NOTE: Gawker commentators are generally (not entirely) respectful of Butler's talents as a writer. As a whole they separate the person from the writer and feel that the character of an artist should not be the basis for judging their work. Naturally, there are also some amusing comments about the excerpt's relevance to Butler's current situation.
9:00 PM AUG 1 On the other hand, Elizabeth Dewberry's parents are not amused:
BY HARLEYGO AT 08/01/07 08:55 PMNOTE: This should give him pause. This should give everyone pause. This is not just a matter of rudeness. He has accused them of a crime. Even if Dewberry has claimed this to be true he has no right to this allegation. Ever. Certainly not in public. Definitely not in an uncontrollable and ever expanding information spreading forum. Remember, he invited recipients to share this with whomever they saw fit. Further, Butler's letter implies that there is some sort of causal relationship between her parents being evangelical Christians and their toleration of their daughter's molestation: in the same way that being a professor means that you have probably had drug-fueled orgies with your students.
As Elizabeth Dewberry's parents, her Mom and I take great exception to two comments by Bob Butler reported in his email. Butler states that her parents are "radical evangelical Christians" who "knowingly and tacitly" allowed her to be molested by her grandfather.
Not true: we would have done everything in our power to defend our child from predators, like any decent parent would do, had we known what was happening. While we are Christians from the 'classic/historical' teaching perspective, we never knew our child was being abused.
In 1990, while Elizabeth was studying for her PhD at Emory University, she published her first book, "Many Things Have Happened Since He Died". The novel is a classic on the subject of abuse from the victim's viewpoint. Later in "Image, A Journal of Arts and Religion," November 15, 1996, Elizabeth writes "…my mother asked me how I knew so much about abuse. I answered her honestly, 'I don't know'." Elizabeth's straightforward revelation of the abuse was not made until much later.
We have fully supported all of her accusations against her grandfather. We never doubted her allegations. The Dewberry's
NOTE: The short story excerpt Gawker quoted ('Jealous Husband Returns in the Form of a Parrot') comes from Tabloid Dreams, a work that demonstrates Butler's long-time fascination with tabloid media. This illustrates that he is not treading into this world as a naive cloistered old fogey writer but that he is fully aware of the hazards and benefits of mass media attention.
NOTE: "I'm enchanted with the internet" Butler tells readers on his personal FSU home page, a site that includes a calendar of his writing schedule so that people may watch him write. This project which he calls "Inside Creative Writing" is described as a rather exhibitionist display: "sharing of a fully elaborated, moment-to-moment act of personal intimacy formerly found only behind the veil of private life." He compares this opportunity to "what it would have been like if English students could have watched live as William Shakespeare composed Romeo and Juliet on the Internet." Modesty has never been his strong suit. He expected this to provide "millions of students and would-be writers a golden opportunity to learn from every creative decision as it is happening." Millions. To watch him write. On the internet.
"I will choose the card at the last minute so that I won't have a chance, even unconsciously, to pre-plan the story-I want the whole process to be visible in real-time on the Internet." (source)NOTE: Uh... I think this is what is called a dream journal.
"I tell my writing students that works of art do not come from the mind, they come from the place where you dream. I deeply believe that. And so I welcome you to my dreams." (source)
NOTE: I gotta say that I strongly disagree with this on both philosophical and pedagogical grounds. Art does indeed come from the mind. These are the kind of facile romantic myths that a lot of writing and art professors work very hard to dispel in their students: i.e., the idea that art is somehow more about inspiration, that there is something genius about the first ill-formed thing that comes into your head. Just because you dreamt something doesn't make it art. Just because you feel something deeply doesn't make it art. The rare works that do "come in a flash" happen because of all the work the artist has done and is always doing. Like reading. Writing is about planning. It is also about revising and revising and revising. It is about reading and knowing about literary history and literary writing. Art isn't easy. Art isn't ignorant. It challenges the comfortable and familiar. Imagination and intelligence are talents but what you do with them have to do with experience and education and rigor. (And then the politics of who you know and all that other crap.) I like his idea of starting with a postcard. That is just where you start.
THUR AUG 2, 2007
AM The story (expanded from Wednesday) is in the Washington Post :
By Thursday the chair of the Creative Writing Department, David Kirby, is brought into interviews to defend his colleague:
"Experts are deconstructing (the original e-mail) on the World Wide Web," said FSU English professor David Kirby, a good friend of Butler's. "(But) if you take what is said at face value, it is a very nuanced and compassionate explanation of a very sad situation."Gawker posters are (tongue in cheek) honored tickled by being called "experts" while the literati amongst them mock Kirby's expertise:
BY SHESAIDWHAT AT 08/03/07 02:39 PM I wonder if we can get college credit for this? As expert as our interpretive skills may be, one does not have to employ deconstructive methodology to determine that Butler's email was less than "gentlemanly" as he claims in the Tallahassee newspaper (where we can find more of his increasingly delusional self-serving twaddle -- although with this latest terrorist material he is starting to sound a bit barking mad). Nonetheless, Professor Kirby claims "if you take what is said at face value, it is a very nuanced and compassionate explanation of a very sad situation." I guess you don't have to have very strong interpretive skills to be on the English faculty at FSU.NOTES:
BY VENUSCLOACINA AT 08/03/07 02:42 PM Yes, well, if you take what is said at face value, Jonathan Swift was a cannibal, and Nabokov's Kinbote was the King of Zembla. As you suggest, anybody who takes "what is said at face value" probably shouldn't be teaching English.
- Haven't these people ever heard of the phrase "No Comment"??!!
- The old boys will stand by each other no matter what they do: that is one tried and true fact of academia.
- Raise your hands ladies if you've heard this one: "I'm sure he didn't mean it that way."?
- Honestly, if Kirby is truly a good friend of Butler's then instead of making moronic statements to the press he should:
- disconnect his computer;
- disable his online account;
- get him a mental health medical leave for at least the fall semester;
- tell him to get as far away from Tallahassee Florida as he possibly can and;
- to not write another friggin' email until at least 2008 and then to use it only for business purposes;
- and make him get some serious help -- he's out of control.
There are always various disagreements among the Gawker commenters:
BY STEVERINO AT 08/03/07 11:26 AM I still think that people are being bitches to Butler. The guy wrote a nutty email and then was naive enough to challenge a gossip site. I bet people in gang fights have the decency to push away the random old man that wonders into the mosh pit.10:40 AM THU AUG 2
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;Butler contacts Gawker again, this time he tries to educate the editors and readers on the mysteries of love. It doesn't go over well.
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
(click on link above to read full post at Gawker site with all comments)Below, some excerpts from Butler's email and Gawker editor Emily Gould's running commentary. Keep in mind that the editor, Emily Gould, is in her 20s and Bob Butler is in his 60s.
EG: "Can you please give voice to this at your site?" reads the subject line of Pulitzer-winning author Robert Olen Butler's latest email to us. We certainly can. If you recall, Robert's wife of twelve years, author Elizabeth Dewberry recently left him to become one of Ted Turner's girlfriends, which prompted him to send an email to five of his grad students explaining the circumstances in vivid—novelistic!—detail. Today, he writes,NOTE: This makes me cringe as much as anything else. I am astonished that a 62 year old man would say such a thing. And a writer as well: i.e., someone who would presumably would have some emotional maturity above that of a twelve year old.
ROB: "I am sure there are a number of your followers who actually might want to understand this intense letter which was written in an extreme emotional circumstance. They encountered the email with no knowledge of two of the three principal players in the drama. They have only a sound-bite-and-media-spun understanding of the third. I can well see how a first reaction to the email by someone for whom it was not intended might be that it is only a bizarre and inappropriate document worthy of scorn."
EG: Let's allow him the space he needs in order to attempt to convince us that it is otherwise. Before we continue, though: "your followers?" This is a just a website. Not a cult! ...
ROB: "My drama of love and loss was particularly intense and had some strikingly unique characteristics."
EG: Newsflash: we all feel that way! Everyone thinks their heartbreak is special and unique! But no one's feeeeeeeelings are more important or special than anyone else's, no matter how good they are at writing about them!NOTE: Here's the thing I find curious: Is Jane Fonda's memoir that popular of a read amongst the members of the FSU English Department? Of all books he could be recommending to an audience this large, this is the one he tells people to read? How about a reading list of Southern Gothic literature? Or (my choice) perhaps Prufrock?
ROB: "And it presented only a small range of choices, none of them good. In terms of the inevitable news of all this, my primary concern, of course, was with the community she and I lived in. If I had said nothing, the naked facts of the events would have meant that Elizabeth would be savaged by the rumor mill."
EG: Oh, way to dodge that bullet. We would like to take this opportunity to recommend that Robert immediately purchase a copy of the instructive book Send, which is a guide to email etiquette that also details the history of the medium of email, and explains why, if there is ever any sensitive information that you'd like to communicate to a select few people, you must communicate that information in person.
ROB: "And the email was never a mass email. I chose five trusted grad students who know us both the best. I chose half a dozen faculty members who know us both the best. And they were asked, when the rumors reached them, to tell the appropriately nuanced story. Or to tell the fuller story on their own initiative--because everyone would soon know anyway...Without that sanction to use the email, the explanation vacuum would have continued to form and be filled with lies."
EG: Any email has the potential to become a "mass email." That is the nature of the medium of email.
ROB: "Now as to the intimate nature of the email, this is crucial to understand: there is not a single fact of Elizabeth's or Ted's or my personal lives that the intended audience could not easily have already known. Elizabeth has spoken and written openly, publicly, about everything in her childhood. Ted's persona and the details of the pattern of his love life are widely known (just read Jane Fonda's memoir).
ROB: We all of us often--some psychologists would say pretty much always--form adult relationships as an acting out of the basic love patterns of childhood relationships. There is nothing unseemly or wrong about this. It is the human condition."As if to prove the point this post receives one of the most cutthroat (and astute) responses of all:
EG: Oh my god, THERE IS SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH THERAPY.
ROB: "In spite of my previous chiding of you and your readers, I wish that happiness for all of you, as well. It's dangerous to live too deeply in a world of glib judgmentalism. And man, there is some truly legitimate short-burst writing talent among you all."
EG: Whee! Clip and paste permanently! "There is some truly legitimate short-burst writing talent among you all" -- Robert Olen Butler. We are all so excited to use this as a blurb someday for our novels.
ROB: "But I hope at least some of you come to realize that vituperation, no matter how funny or elegantly expressed, is not an art form."
EG: Wrong! We'll give you this—some of our commenters are really mean.
BY CLICKABLE AT 08/02/07 07:00 PMPM THU AUG 2
Mr. Butler? Put the pen down and step away from the desk slowly. Seriously, dude. You aren't doing yourself any favors at this point. And stop talking to gossip columnists, you idiot. What the hell were you thinking? Who the hell talks to a gossip columnist about their marriage? What kind of people reared you? Were you raised in a barn? Don't you have any self-respect?
Leave your wife out of this. You got yourself into this mess. All we did was point out how you completely abandoned the boundary between public and private. I see you as all too human, and that is why this bothers me. If this were about Paris Hilton, I wouldn't have gone past the headline.
I think you are regular folk, Mr. Butler, but why would regular folk do something like this? Whom can that email possibly benefit? What purpose can it serve other than to fuel idle gossip? NONE. No purpose, Mr. Butler.
Having opened the floodgates of gossip - and you held those gates wide open yourself, sir - you compound the grotesquerie by eagerly jumping onto the most public stage offered you. From bellyaching at Gawker one minute to comparing yourself to Brad Pitt on Page Six the next, are you starting to see why we think you're an attention whore?
This is no accident. Regular folk do not suddenly find their private affairs gracing the front pages. Regular folk use the sense of propriety instilled by their parents (as I'm sure your parents instilled in you) to know when it's time to go home, shut the door, and shield their families from scrutiny.
You seem to think that you are entitled - no, compelled, and by your wife, even! - to expose your wife's fragile psyche to your graduate students. Bullshit. She may tell her narrative if she wishes, but you may not. Even with her permission. Remember the old aphorism about how discretion is the better part of valor? And remember what we learned yesterday, about what happens when someone insists on being an attention whore in these trying times, when there's a sneering, self-righteous circle jerk happening just around the cybercorner, eagerly waiting to call you on your hypocrisy? You urged the recipients of the email to share its contents if the occasion arose, and to use any and all of it to tell the full and nuanced story. They did, and we are. Hope you're appreciating so far.
You seem to think, too, that you owe your graduate students an explanation of why, in your view (or at least how your view sounds in that email) your wife's many and varied sins of omission and sins of commission, together with her general inadequacy compared with your general awesomeness (did we mention your Pulitzer?) and her failure to adapt to your exalted status (did we mention your Pulitzer?), caused your marriage to fail. Apparently you were a paragon of husbandly perfection, bordering on saintliness, yes? Because nothing in that email would lead me to think you bear any responsibility for the current state of affairs. I'm just saying. And please please please please please don't see this as an invitation to spill any more of your guts.
That's exactly what your email sounds like, only worse. A petty attempt at character assassination, coated in sugar syrup. It's been done, but seldom masked in such grace and subtlety.
You didn't miss even a single mark, and maybe that's why you sound so hollow now when you cry foul. Each sentence, and then each paragraph, and then the whole, was so perfectly balanced, containing equal parts venom and honey. At first I thought it was unbelievable. Now I just think you're unbelievably fucked up. I believe you are being mendacious when you say you are shocked and dismayed to be in the spotlight. The only thing you are shocked and dismayed about is that you can't control its glare.
I don't feel sorry for you because you are old enough and sophisticated enough about the ways of the world to know better. You steered your way from the backwaters of Tallahassee to Page Six and to the portal of Slate at the speed of lightning, and I think the avalanche has not even gained full momentum.
The Associated Press picks up the story. Someone actually talks to the editors at Gawker.
Butler said in a phone interview Thursday he never intended for the e-mail to go public, but that he was afraid that might happen after finding out that it had circulated among book editors in New York. Butler said he heard that Turner's editor told him about the e-mail. He said “he suspects Gawker has a mole in a New York publishing house.”NOTE: In an interview with the local Tallahassee paper Butler compares Gawker to al-Qaida.
"It was a stolen e-mail by somebody in the New York publishing world," Butler said. "It's nobody's fault but the prurience of our pop culture."
Emily Gould, a Gawker editor, denied anyone stole the e-mail. She said there's no telling how many times it had been forward until eventually someone sent it to Gawker. She said Butler's allegation indicates he doesn't understand the hazards of putting personal or sensitive information in an e-mail.
"I think it's a cautionary tale for all of us," Gould said. She said e-mail "lends itself to impulsive decisions, which is what makes it so dangerous." [BILL KACZOR Associated Press Writer]
NOTE: In an interview with the St Petersberg Times Butler continue to assert that he is protecting Dewberry and that he is outraged that the story has spread. At the same time that he is clearly enjoying the media attention as well as the additional sales. He repeats his line about Brad Pitt.
He said he doesn't regret the response or the original e-mail. "I wrote it to protect Elizabeth. I guess I was a little naive. After all, it's Ted Turner."NOTE: while some Gawker commenters are not above such a thing, the reference to Brad Pitt is not to Gawker critiques of his appearance but to Butler's own repeated comparisons of himself to Brad Pitt.
Butler said the media response has been astonishing. "Good grief, I've talked to People magazine today. You'd think we were Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston." Gawker isn't Butler's first experience with the tabloid mentality; his 1996 story collection Tabloid Dreams was based on outlandish headlines. This experience could someday prove to be grist for the fictional mill, he said.
While on the phone, Butler said, "I'm getting e-mail from strangers."
He clicked, then began to laugh. "The subject line on this one is, 'You may not be Brad Pitt, but...,' " a reference to some of the Gawker posts critiquing his appearance. "The rest of the message is, 'I did buy two of your books today.'"
12:16 PM THURS AUG 02
GalleyCat points out that Bob Butler has been fudging the numbers:
Not that we want to dwell too long on the spectacular flameout of Robert Olen Butler's marriage, but remember how he told off Gawker, insisting his detailed explanation of why his wife left him for Ted Turner was "intended strictly for those who personally know Elizabeth and me" and "had its intended effect around Tallahassee and in some other places where she and I are actual human beings"? Well, it turns out those "other places" stretch way past Florida, as we hear through the grapevine that some version of that email worked its way north to the complete opposite end of the country, to people who spend significantly less quality personal time with Butler than his creative writing students. Little enough time, in fact, that the recipients thought the bulletin was creepy. Although, let's face it, you could be Robert Olen Butler's best friend ever and be creeped out by that letter.NOTE: Newspaper reports continue to stick to the story that the email was originally sent to just a few close friends. By Friday this is proven to be false and yet no "real" journalism outlet has corrected its story.
FRI AUG 3 2007
Chickens, home, roosts, etc.
In an amazing story Roger Friedman, gossip columnist for Fox News, announces: "I must tell you that it’s in great part thanks to yours truly that Butler even exists in the literary world."
In a piece that seems written from bizarro world Friedman asserts that he could no longer tolerate Butler because he was too much of a fraud, egomaniac and sleaze...for Friedman! The mind reels.
Excerpts: Ted Turner: Pulitzer Tempest in a Small Teapot
When I met him in 1983, he was on his second marriage — Dewberry is his fourth — and living in a salt box cottage in Sea Cliff, Long Island in New York. He was writing novels while traveling round trip on the railroad to Manhattan, where he was working for a trade magazine.10:35 AM Gawker is now receiving various anecdotes about Butler's behavior as a visitor, teacher, etc. The one they post is an anecdote told by Ann Beattie:
The late and legendary Anatole Broyard discovered him in a writing class. He gave Butler’s first novel, “The Alleys of Eden,” published by the tiny Horizon Press, a rave in the Times. In 1984, after the amazingly talented editor Bob Wyatt brought “Alleys” to Ballantine Books —where I was a publicist — it was yours truly who took him to Robert Gottlieb at Knopf. I still recall sitting in Gottlieb’s office, in a plastic chair in the shape of a hand, as he showed me all his famous triumphs like "Catch-22." I also brought Butler to the late, great agent Candida Donadio , who couldn’t wait to represent him along with her associate Eric Ashworth (also deceased, sadly). The pair immediately snatched him up, and result was a pair of fine novel: “On Distant Ground,” published in 1985, and “Wabash” a couple of years later.
That novel did Bob a lot of good, but we could never have anticipated the response to "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain," a collection of short stories he wrote after moving to Lake Charles, La., divorcing wife No. 2 and marrying wife No. 3, a lovely local girl who was a great stepmother to his then 13-year-old son. "Good Scent" was a throwaway, a book Bob thought was beneath him. He was a novelist, after all.
Wife No. 2, a charismatic Catholic with a history of sexual abuse and mental infelicity, by then was long gone. Bob, having dealt with her baggage, was a porter looking for more people to save.
When the Pulitzer came in 1993, it couldn’t have been at a worse time. His ego was already on “explode.” I tried to explain to him what winning an award like this could do to your life. He didn’t listen. Affairs began, in lockstep with readings around the country. He became a stereotype.
In one week, he announced that he was leaving No. 3 for a married woman he’d met at a conference. Before that plan even took hold, he’d met Dewberry, pronounced her a “great writer,” and saw his future at last. What he had been thinking, married to a civilian? And No. 3 was over, and No. 4 began.
But it was also the end of our friendship. The Bob Butler I’d met a decade earlier was completely gone, replaced by an unrecognizable "star."
(click on link above to post at Gawker site with all comments)NOTE: If you've spent any time around English Departments, Creative Writing departments or writers conferences, you are going to have a few stories of your own. When that a-hole has their public comeuppance you too can step forward and testify. There is something profoundly unsavory and puritannical about this form of punishment. It is the modern day version of putting someone in the public stocks and throwing rotten food at them. It is an unchecked sphere where people can say pretty much whatever they want without consequences... kind of like what tenured faculty have all the time, except that they have real power over their students (administrators, junior faculty) and what they do and say can't be dismissed as just the rantings of crazy bloggers.
AM FRI AUG 3 GalleyCat shares news about the split couple's appearance at an upcoming writer's conference and the increasing paranoid fantasies of Bob Butler.
I'm almost sorry that I've already spent my way through the entire GalleyCat conference travel budget for 2007, because the director of the Sanibel Island Writer's Conference has confirmed to his local southwest Florida newspaper that Robert Olen Butler and Elizabeth Dewberry are still scheduled to appear at the four-day conference in early October. Tom DeMarchi also tells The News-Press that Butler, who's scheduled to give the keynote address, informed him about the breakup over a month ago. "All I had to say in response was how sorry I was, and asked if there was anything they needed from me," he told the reporter, and as far as he knew last week, the two of them were getting along fine. Of course, that was before Butler made the mistake of using an email to tell at least a dozen people his theories about why his wife would rather be Ted Turner's part-time lover—an email he's now telling reporters he thinks "somebody in the New York publishing world" stole and passed on to Gawker. Sure, Bob: Some underpaid publishing apparatchik took the time to hack an FSU grad student's computer on the off chance there might be some juicy Robert Olen Butler dirt stashed on it. That makes sense. Maybe you should try to get together with Romantic Times CEO Kathryn Falk and see where your imaginations take you. Actually, now that I think about it, I might be more inclined to read the results of that hypothetical collaboration than the collection of severed head stories he published last year...Robert Olen Butler and Wikipedia
One amusing side show could be found at the online encyclopedia Wikipedia updated the scandal on the Robert Olen Butler entry in practically real time -- so that his entry ultimately included an hilarious amount of scandalous detail. This lead to an unusually testy confrontation between wikipedia editors about the proper contents of the online encyclopedia. The resulting compromise was a beefed up literary career entry that far exceeded the amount that is generally devoted to a writer of his rather limited stature and reputation. He won the Pulitzer prize, yes, but that was fourteen years ago.
What have we learned?
BY LOLCAIT AT 08/03/07 11:19 AMNOTE: I assumed the bichon was named "Fluffy".
Things I Have Learned This Week
by Robert Olen Butler:
- Email, apparently, has something to do with the Internet, which is a network of shared information and accessible country, and possibly even world, wide.
- Joey P, my bouffanted dog, does not appreciate media attention and will take to sulking under the stairs if I try to call him "Elizabeth" when I am drunk and wearing her old housecoat.
- The Parrot was not me/was me/was not me/was very much me.
- NPR cares, in some small fraction, about me.
- It's best to breathe deep and maybe swallow your pride a little bit before writing down how you feel when you picture her and him, bronzed by Georgian sun, zooming on jet skis toward Cumberland Island, her face pressed up against his back, eyes closed tight against the wind, her heart racing, mind dreaming because, more than likely, you'll end up sending raving letters into the cyber world and sit, waiting all night, a bottle of bourbon propped up between your legs, waiting for the dim whisper of a sympathetic response.
NOTE: The lesson learned is not that you can't send anything private by email but that if you don't want something shared with the public then you shouldn't send a group email and invite the recipients to share the information. DUH. The key is that the messages are sent between two people exclusively who are close and trustworthy friends who have no interest in sharing the contents with anyone else. This is why students/professors employees/bosses and colleagues and ex-wives are never truly your friends. They are always in a relationship with you that different from that of a friend.
NOTE: If you lie (e.g. the email was only sent to a "few" close friends, my ex-wife was "weepingly grateful" to me for sending it) they will be discovered via the web. However, mainstream journalism is unlikely to correct their mistakes so your lies will stand in the general media. This is something Butler may have learned from Karl Rove.
PM FRI AUG 3 One Gawker commenter is fed up with the topic. The attack elicits this response:
MADAMEEDUCATRIX AT 08/03/07 07:14 PM Is this a breakup? That's it...I'm writing a letter to our colleagues, acquaintances, and the population at large.~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Till human voices wake us, and we drown."
(this and other quotes above from:)
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
by T. S. Eliot