The Albedo Principle

Once upon a time, just like a starry-eyed kid in a 1950s musical, I came to New York to seek fame and fortune. My first job was as a book club correspondent. My name was “Thomas J. Clark,” and I solved the problems of members who had not received the books that they ordered or who had received books that they had not ordered.

My second job was as typist to a much revered and much hated, novelist. I had been captivated by her conviction that our brains are our primary tools of survival and by her belief that the human spirit is a thing of joy and beauty. But I also knew that, like Greek philosophers of old, she surrounded herself with admirers and acolytes. So ... I was a bit hesitant.

I asked myself a question: In the presence of her immense brain and huge personality, could I retain my own judgment? Or would I lose myself in an unrelenting atmosphere of adulation?

After taking a pretty rigid inventory of my mental equipment, I decided that I could, indeed, handle the challenge. Anyway, I wanted to be associated with stellar people, and I was bored.

When I first started to work for her, I was neither disappointed nor surprised that the novelist did not resemble any of the characters in her heroic fiction. After all, I had seen her at lectures before I got the job.

What did surprise me, though, was that I would feel sorry for her.

The first time this happened, I was on my way out of her apartment after picking up a manuscript. I had just reached the door when she mentioned two students of her philosophy. One was a college professor who taught a course based on her novels at a southwestern university. The other was a woman I’ll call Francine. Francine was always nipping at the heels of the author’s Inner Circle and wanting to join in.

What my boss said that evoked my sympathy was, “Isn’t it wonderful that Francine is so committed to studying philosophy, she is going all the way across the country for the sole purpose of taking his course.”

I was nineteen, for God’s sake, and just a baby. So, I didn’t feel I had the right to blurt out what I was thinking, i.e., that everybody (except her) knew Francine was only going to that Southwestern University because she was obsessed with the professor and was planning on trapping him in a love nest.

Many more such incidents played out across the year that I worked for the novelist. She would praise a museum director’s enlightened analysis of paintings, not realizing that the analysis was just a rearrangement of words extracted from her own books. She would applaud the works of psychologists, psychiatrists, playwrights, painters, musicians, and economists, and I would shake my head sadly, wondering, “Can’t you see that you are praising in others what they have taken from you and are giving back to you as if they had created it themselves?”

Observing this odd travesty, I developed, in dismay, what I call The Albedo Principle.

During a brief stint in college, I took a course in astronomy, and I learned one astonishing fact: That the moon creates no light of it’s own. When we speak of moonlight or moonbeams or moon glow, we are being linguistically enchanting but scientifically inaccurate. Every bit of illumination that the moon sends down to us is merely reflected sunlight. The word “albedo” refers to the surface reflectivity of the sun’s radiation. The albedo of our moon is about 12% of the sun’s radiation.

Imagine the sun. A slightly delusional, isolated sun, shining brightly in the sky.

Poor lonely sun. It cannot bear the thought that in the vast and infinite universe, it, alone, generates light. So it looks at the planets revolving around it, gratefully observes their dim luminescence, and convinces itself that, rather than reflecting back the its own brilliance, those friendly and comforting orbs are generating a light of their own.

The Albedo Principle.

It has the advantage of allowing the sun (my novelist) to surround herself with deceptive people who seem to have brilliant ideas, while hiding from herself the knowledge that the ideas are brilliant because they originated in her own brain.

Sad. Sad. Sad.

Which is why, these many years after I first danced, like a character from an MGM musical, into this wonderful state to seek fame and fortune, I still want to be loved. But not loved too much. I still want to be admired. But not admired too much.

And I want to bask in the sunlight.

But never, never do I want to bask in sunlight of my own.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit

Copyright © 2009, Shelly Reuben

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