Washington has known that things haven't gone so well for the bright and full-of-promise Buddy Roemer ever since he left Congress to become governor of Louisiana. But according to Alison Cook's profile in the March Esquire, it's much worse than that. It's enough, when you're finished laughing, to make you weep for the man.
Roemer, nearly one term in, has become the latest well-intentioned technocrat to bite the dust after taking on the good old boys. His tax overhaul plan was a bust with the voters. His second wife, Patti, and son, Dakota Frost, have abandoned him in the governor's mansion. And he and his erstwhile Roemeristas (so called because of the much-touted but since-wilted "Roemer revolution") have been reduced to mouthing the ridiculous platitudes of Robert Fulghum and other New Age shamans. Cook reports, "He packed himself and his staff off to motivational treats dubbed 'Adventures in Attitudes,' where they learned to banish negative thoughts by snapping a rubber band against their wrists while uttering 'Cancel, cancel.' "
One can hear the hoots of Louisianians, and one is tempted to kiss Roemer off for good -- when along comes the first hint that things might not be so terrible and unsalvageable for the newly buddy-buddy Buddy ... and it's in the second-to-last paragraph of this long story: "Still, few would deny that Louisiana is in better shape than when Roemer took over. ... If the price of oil holds, he could well become Louisiana's first reform governor in memory to get himself reelected ... his career is back on track."
Good of Cook to mention these minor details before signing off.
Lively, muscular talk is hard to find, which may be one reason why talk shows are so popular. But what Geraldo or McLaughlin orchestrates has more to do with performance than conversation. To meet a perceived hunger for venues of intellectual intimacy in an impersonal world, Utne Reader proposes ways and means to reinvent the salon.
Stephanie Mills, in the lead essay of the March-April package, sees the modern salon as an instrument of political and social action. "The dreamers, the leaders, and the theoreticians may be members of separate circles that need to intersect to be useful to society as a whole. So we need to become acquainted, to share information, to develop trust in one another, and to challenge, correct and synthesize. ... A salon is a thought-trader's rendezvous." Sounds like something Gov. Roemer should look into.
Another way of creating an atmosphere of listening is the "council" process championed in another Utne article, by Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle. It adapts Quaker and Native American precepts to promote listening as well as talk in quasi-religious group experiences -- Madame de Stael at Big Sur, if you will.
And the computer, of course, is a salon just waiting to go on line. Such hookups are rather impersonal means of reaching like minds, but Gareth Branwyn, in this Artpaper reprint, makes a stirring case for WELL, the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, which functions as cyberspace salon. "As a community, the WELL may be virtual," he writes -- contrasting it with an "actual" community -- "but it also lives and breathes: People work there (it's a haven for writers, editors, and researchers), learn there (thousands of conversations cover every conceivable topic), socialize there (through electronic mail and a chat feature), provide and receive therapy (in numerous health and 'true confession' conferences), and recreate (through games, role-playing, and just plain goofing off)."
Even when the subject is talk, Utne Reader isn't just talk. This late-'80s publishing success, rooted in the texts of the alternative press, has blossomed into something larger than a mere magazine -- that's its obvious ambition, anyway. It has spawned: journalism awards for the alternative media, a big gathering of the tribes last spring on the environment, a bulletin board and clearinghouse of new age and conscientious-citizen goods and services -- and now, a thousand salons, actual and on line, based on the assumption of shared values inherent in an Utne Reader subscription.
Fortune's intriguing Feb. 25 report on poetry in executive life probably will be read by all the wrong people. Its inspiration will be wasted on the converted -- English majors and other semiliterates -- who like the idea of a businessperson writing poems on the side, as did Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot and Archibald MacLeish (formerly a Fortune editor).
The latter-day versions, according to the magazine's Alan Farnham and William E. Sheeline, include Meredith publishing executive James Autry, who in an interview rails against "all this hiding of emotion, of passion, behind some cool mask of macho detachment" and hopes his poetry conveys "how it FEELS to be a good manager -- the joy, the pride, the pain, and the disappointment of a life fully engaged every day." Autry's poems (his book "Love and Profit" is just out) explore such freighted topics as sacking an underling, comforting a sick colleague and feeling oneself become an anachronism.
It is hard not to applaud any impulse of mental recreation on the part of such hard-chargers, but the truth is not all the poetry is either terribly artful or profound. Fortune even twits one ITT executive's "unfortunate" poem on the space shuttle ("As she fades into the heavens, you/ wipe away a tear of pride ... / and inwardly chant ... / Go, Columbia, go./ Go, Columbia, go ...")
Among this mixed bag is one outstanding and recognized poet, Dana Gioia, who earns his living as a vice president for marketing, desserts division, General Foods. His provocative train ride "In Cheever Country" is among the page and a half of executive poems reproduced with this article.