Are women artists inferior to men artists?

Virginia Woolf Smiling? Surely not…
Woolf has a thing or two to say about this. Just look at that smirk.

Today I read a long and interesting piece by my favorite book critic, Francine Prose. The essay, entitled “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are Women Writers Really Inferior?” was published in Harper’s back in June 1998. You’d think it was written today, because the problem Prose addresses–the lack of skilled women writers getting critical attention–is no better today than it was in 1998. (For purely graphical proof, take a look at the pie charts published by VIDA on the dispersion of male-to-female writers in top literary magazines.)

Of course, this topic interests me. Heck, I once wrote 120 pages about Woolf’s thoughts on women artists and the struggles they face. Francine Prose, in 1998, is merely writing shades of what Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929. Is there such a thing as writing “like a woman” or writing “like a man”? Why do people take men’s fiction more seriously than women’s fiction? Is it because women actually aren’t as skilled as men are?

As Prose points out, serious readers and serious consumers of art would never say that women artists are inferior to men artists. We should judge art by time-honored standards of value, skill, and beauty–not by the sex of its creator. But what if there is an unconscious and disguised sex bias against women artists? Prose gives plenty of examples of this (and some of them are not so unconscious and disguised. You’re appalling, Norman Mailer), but I’ll give some personal anecdotes to support this hypothesis.

Take, for example, my ex-boyfriend. He was a very serious reader and very intelligent; I respected his opinion on art. He was a classics and philosophy major; he read “real” books–and he did appreciate books by great female writers. (Flannery O’Connor, whom Prose uses as an example of stereotypically “masculine” prose in her essay, was one of his favorites.) But I noticed a distinct gender preference in his music taste. I realized early on that he didn’t listen to any female musicians. He never said anything against women musicians or bands fronted by women; he just stayed away from them entirely. This bothered me, but I never had any grounds to mention it to him. When I started hanging out with my husband, I was instantly interested by the fact that he talked about a lot of women musicians–Joanna Newsom, Bjork, Tori Amos, St. Vincent, Ani diFranco–and he didn’t just talk about them; he actually respected them as lyricists and musicians.

It’s not impossible for men to like women artists; many men do. But why does this bias persist? Prose quotes novelist Diane Johnson’s hypothesis on the issue:

Diane Johnson — herself a novelist of enormous range, elegance, wit, and energy — observes that male readers at least “have not learned to make a connection between the images, metaphors, and situations employed by women (house, garden, madness), and universal experience, although women, trained from childhood to read books by people of both sexes, know the metaphorical significance of the battlefield, the sailing ship, the voyage, and so on.”

It’s an interesting suggestion–that men aren’t cultured to appreciate or decipher language that’s traditionally relegated to women. I feel like I can resonate with this depiction. I read your typical fare of princess books, Little House on the Prairie, and Nancy Drew, but I also read Johnny Tremain, The Bronze Bow, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Narnia books (interestingly, those first two “boy” books were written by women). It was somehow improper or undignified for a boy to read Little House on the Prairie or other “girls'” books. And yet girls were encouraged and even expected to read books across the gender categories.

This point was impressed upon me a few months ago. I served as a judge for a city-wide short story contest for middle-school girls. As I read through the dozens of submissions, I was surprised by how many girls wrote stories from the perspective of boys. Of the 70 submissions I read, there were at least 30 of them that were written from the vantage point of boys. I think you’d be very hard-pressed to find any middle school boys who were writing stories from a girl’s point of view of girls; the very idea seems ridiculous.

Why is this? This implicit understanding that boys should read boy books, but girls can read both? If anything, it’s far more of an injustice to boys. Because then they grow up to be men who blanch at the thought of reading anything that wasn’t written by Clive Cussler.

I don’t know any men who like Woolf, for example. (With the exception of my freshman-year English professor, Marc Cohen, who introduced me to the beauty and power of Woolf in the first place.) Woolf is intensely introspective, women-focused, and grounded primarily in the domestic realm. She writes about “feminine” things like wives, flowers, families, and mental illness. But does that mean she’s not as valuable a writer as Ernest Hemingway, who wrote about bulls and battlefields? Hardly. It’s worth noting that men write just as many superficial, cheap novels as women supposedly do. Let’s talk a little bit about Dashiell Hammett and his ilk, shall we?

And what should we say of Marcel Proust, who is just as intensely introspective, women-focused, and domestically centered as Woolf is? He seems to write “like a woman,” but no one dares question his merit or his additions to the Canon. People question Woolf’s contribution to literature all the time. That said, I am gratified by the rise of male artists writing about the mind and the domestic scene, like Jonathan Franzen, but maybe that’s still part of the problem. Franzen gets a lot more attention than his contemporary women writers who are doing the exact same thing. Prose is a huge fan of Deborah Eisenberg, one of Guion’s celebrated professors at UVA. Prose frequently references Eisenberg as an example of a woman writer who writes strong, “stereotypically ‘masculine'” stories and yet still fails to garner much critical attention.

So, what’s the deal? Prose ends her essay with the expected platitude that we cannot judge writers by their sexes; rather, there is good writing and there is bad writing. That is all. I felt a little disappointed. I wanted her to provide a solution to this appalling trajectory of the descent of critically acclaimed female novelists. But she was writing this in 1998. I can’t help but wonder if she feels dejected that, in 2011, we still seem to think that women artists aren’t as deserving of attention, merit, or praise as men artists. (Update: It seems that she is dejected, per her response to V.S. Naipaul’s statement that “no woman is my equal.”)

Clearly, an “affirmative action”-type program is not what we need. Women artists ought not to be unfairly elevated just because they are women. But how do we move ourselves beyond gender stereotypes in art? I guess that’s the unanswerable question. And so I am still frustrated. But at least I’m writing about it.

Monday Snax

That is one fresh baby.
Welcome to the world, Leah Catherine! Dear friends Tara and Andrew welcomed this sweet baby on Saturday morning, just in time for Tara's first Mother's Day!

We had a full, busy, and sunny weekend and it was just perfect. I spent most of my weekend around dogs, which naturally made it a wonderful one; I had my volunteer orientation at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, which I loved. I can’t wait to go back there and walk some more attention-hungry puppies! After getting home, I took a two-hour walk with my beloved Bo. The next morning, I walked our rector’s dogs with Mary-Boyce and then we all went to go see the newest addition to our community, Leah Catherine! Such a sweet baby and SO much hair! Tara looked amazing and we are just so excited to get to hang out with her and watch her grow up.

Snax with a bowl of perfect strawberries:

The Princess Party. This is about a week late now, but I just wanted you to appreciate all of the gorgeous details from Cate’s royal wedding-watching party. Didn’t it look amazing? I feel very privileged to have received an invitation. We had such a good, thoroughly girly time! (The Charlotte)

Rainbow Gatherings. I have an abiding fascination with off-the-grid living communities and I love photo series of these groups of people. Photographer Benoit Paillé spent a series of years with people from the Rainbow Gatherings, which happen all around the world. The people are so haunting and unusual; so many of them look like they might have lived a thousand years ago. (Behance)

Super-Secret War Dogs Are Basically Bionic. This is crazy. Titanium teeth!? Headpieces with microphones so they can hear and respond to handlers’ remote commands?! (Daily Intel)

A Mother’s Day Report Card. A day late, but this is still hilarious. “Helping me with math homework: Average.” (Passive Aggressive Notes)

A Mother’s Prayer, by Tina Fey. A hilarious but heartfelt prayer from the funniest woman alive.  “When the crystal meth is offered, may she remember her parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with beer.” (Peonies and Polaroids)

Best Countries to Be a Mom. Is anyone surprised that Scandinavia rocks this list, too? #1, Norway. Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are also in the top 10. The United States is not. (The Hairpin)

Around the Farm. I’m not going to lie: This is kind of our ideal life. Fairytale, dreadlocked children in a tractor? Homemade biscuits? Chicks in a bin? Bring it on. (Farmama)

House G. A sweet house in the Netherlands that was once an old barn. I’ll take it! (Wolf Eyebrows)

The Art of Disney Animation. A collection of sketches and proofs from old Disney films; makes you appreciate the artistry behind those chirpy little films you watched as a child. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

The Man Repeller on Makeup. Ever since Catherine told me about The Man Repeller, I’ve been hooked. Here the main Repeller herself shares her favorite makeup products. I love her. (Into the Gloss)

Gypsy Queen Marina. The strong brow and the devil-may-care attitude! I feel like she wears whatever the heck she wants and manages to look fabulous all day long. (Tales of Endearment)

This Is How We Do It. All I want is to be invited to one of Brian Ferry’s dinner parties. How magical. You can almost hear the sparkle of conversation in his photographs. (Brian Ferry)

A Beautiful Hair Story. A photographer documents the daily regrowth of her hair after cancer treatments. (Design for Mankind)

Meet Riggins. My friend Megan just got a tiny kitten and named it Tim Riggins, after the Friday Night Lights rebel heart-throb. Well done. (Thoughts from a Nest)

Not a dog’s chance of writing poetry

Virginia Woolf, in her room.

Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

If I am honest with myself, it was this paragraph from A Room of One’s Own that inspired my honors thesis on Woolf. Her chain of argument was fascinating to me, particularly when I saw it woven into her novels. Women have been poor–in station and in economy–for thousands of years. Women’s poverty has a direct correlation to a woman’s ability to create. And if women are to create, women must have a space to call their own. A strange series of points, perhaps, but I ended up writing about 120 pages on these basic ideas. My thesis turned out to be a statement on mothers as artists in Woolf’s novels and I think this paragraph is largely to blame.

I am returning to these ideas now, nearly nine months out of the university bubble, because they still ring true to me. In fact, I feel like I can see these ideas more clearly even now that I have been removed from the thrilling–if naive–atmosphere of amateur academia. Living and interacting with “real” women (not just my undergraduate peers), I feel like I have actually met the women that Woolf was writing about.

The women that I interact with are not necessarily hindered by poverty, but they do still face the limitations of privacy and space. Most of the married women I know have their homes as their personal dominions–they make the decorating decisions, they upholster the furniture, they keep it clean–but being an “Angel of the House” is entirely different from having a room of one’s own. Woolf writes about this as well; she points out that men may have their libraries and studies, to which they may retreat without interruption, but a woman has no such space. Even in the drawing room, she is open to constant interruption and distraction. No intense creative work can be accomplished in the family room or kitchen or even in one’s bedroom.

Therefore, women must have their own rooms–their own studies or work spaces. I feel like this is especially important for stay-at-home moms.

I think of my own mother. She sacrificed her career and her personal interests to stay at home with us and homeschool the four of us. Even though she always insists that she’s “not creative,” anyone who knows her knows that’s not true. She has a gifted eye for interior design and is a talented chef, gardener, and dresser. She fits the pattern of a lot of Woolf’s mothers, actually: the women who are creatively gifted but are forced by their domestic lifestyles to seek creative expression through alternative, non-traditional means (like caring about paint swatches, fabrics, and the symmetry of plants).

Mom never had a room of her own. How could she? At one point, she had four children under the age of 7. When would she even find the time to retreat? Dad had his study and his garage and now, his Man Cave, but Mom didn’t have a space of her own. She made our house a beautiful, open, and calming environment, but I found myself wondering where she went to regenerate from all of this beauty-making.

Today, now that most of her children have gone, I feel like she has made her garden her “room.” Dad built her these impressive tiered plots on the sides of the house. She finds a lot of joy in making things grow and digging in the dirt. On sunny days, you can find her rooting around in her gardens, taming plants and fretting about voles. On wet or cold days, she lurks around the windows and shouts at the squirrels who dare to disturb her bird feeders and bird baths. (Aside: I got an e-mail from Kelsey that said that Mom had recently acquired a rather extravagant birdhouse; Dad has been calling it the “Ritz-Carlton” of birdhouses. Apparently the Ritz-Carlton birdhouse has also brought out Mom’s inner elitist; Kels caught her chiding an ugly cardinal for daring to take residence there. The drab bird was not fit for such a home. Not fit, I say!)

I find myself rejoicing when mothers get rooms of their own; I feel like it’s a victory for womankind. I think of my friend Catherine’s mother, especially. Janet went back to law school after her kids had left the home and is now a devoted student and tireless advocate for the care and conservation of a local lake, Falls Lake. She turned Catherine’s old room into her study and it is a paean to Rooms of One’s Own everywhere; it is spacious and light, outfitted with a wide desk and a comfortable armchair and a basket of books and magazines. On the door, she even has a sign that reads, “The Falls Lake Center for Social Justice.”

In my own life, I have experienced the deep necessity of a Room of One’s Own. This opportunity came, quite appropriately, when I was thick in my thesis. During my senior year, I moved into a big house on a lovely street with six other girls. Yes, six. I shared a detached shed in the back with Caroline. The Shoebox, as we came to call it, was a gross, mostly dilapidated, and occasionally stressful place to live (construction at ALL hours of the day, not kidding. The dump trucks arrived at 4:30 a.m.).

My sanity was a bit wobbly my senior year, but the one thing that saved it was my closet in the main house. There was a white walk-in closet on the second floor of the house. Some of the other girls offered it to Caroline and me, since we definitely got the shaft as far as living arrangements were concerned. Caroline said she primarily studied in her room and so I was only too happy to take up residence there. I borrowed a tiny desk from my then future-in-laws and outfitted the room with books, stationery, pretty photographs, and an orchid. I did all of my best writing from that little room and I daresay I spent more time there than I did anywhere else. It absolutely saved my senior year and gave me unparalleled peace of mind. I took to calling it “ARMO” (A Room of My Own) and the moniker stuck.

Hard at work on my thesis. My tiny little desk in ARMO, October 15, 2009. Sigh. I miss that place.

Our current apartment is too small to accommodate my having another ARMO. We do have a small room with a desk in it, but this space has become Guion’s, since it is primarily occupied with his musical instruments, tools, and beer supplies. I keep my stationery and calligraphy supplies in there, but I don’t use the space that often, since I don’t have sole possession of it. But one day, one day, I keep telling myself, I’ll have an ARMO again. And then, perhaps, I will have a dog’s chance of writing poetry…

Monday Snax

I decided to send a few belated Valentines and used my copperplate nib so I could go all-out with the flourishes. Happy V-Day from the two of us!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Guion and I have enjoyed a particularly laissez-faire holiday and went out for dinner on Saturday and then tonight, he’s promised to make me filet mignon with fingerling potatoes. Who needs chocolates and roses when you have the best husband ever? That’s what I want to know.

And this week’s Angela quote, even though it’s not true about me:

(ALSO WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT MY LIFE-LIST? THERE ARE ONLY TWO THINGS ON IT (YOU INSPIRED ME TO MAKE ONE, BUT THINKING BACK ON IT, ALL OF YOUR ASPIRATIONS ARE LIKE ‘GET PUBLISHED IN THE NEW YORKER AND DONATE EARNINGS TO CHARITY’ WHILE MINE ARE LIKE ‘EAT 10 HOTDOGS IN ONE SITTING WITHOUT THROWING UP”)
–E-mail from Angela

That said, here are some Snax on a bed of red rose petals:

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Making Valentine’s Day Plans. Still don’t know what you’re doing yet with your lovebird? Let Mint’s sarcastic flowchart help you out. (Mint)

Google Art Project. If you use the Internet at all, then you already know about this, but I’m posting it here because it BLEW MY MIND. Google Art Project. OMG OMG.  I just went to the MoMA on my lunch break, and then I strolled around the Palace of Versailles before checking out a few paintings at the Met. Yes. This is basically Google Street View for art museums. It’s not without its drawbacks, but it really is an amazing prototype. Have fun! (Google)

Missing Summer. Sad about how cold it still is outside? Then these photos might make tears come to your eyes; they certainly made my eyes get misty (even though today we’re going to enjoy a high of 61!! This calls for a garish number of exclamation points!). (Clever Nettle)

Fly Me to the Moon. Danielle has a conversation with one of her students about what it is that astronauts actually do. Hilarious. I miss getting to hear these stories around the dinner table at 208. (Gallimaufry of a Girl)

Period Films! Um, yeah, I’ve probably seen all of these. At least three-quarters of them. And I’d watch them all again today. A collection of stills from period films, just because. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

John Stezaker. An artist who merges vintage photographs of people with vintage landscape postcards. Sounds dull, but the results are actually quite fascinating and beautiful. (Freckle Farm)

Princeton, 1969. Great photographs from a Life magazine feature from 1969, which was the year that women were admitted to Princeton. I loved the images of these young women and their fashion aesthetics, but it also made me think about how little college students have changed in 40 years. (Miss Moss)

Sadie North. Another gem Miss Moss found from the Life magazine archives. I hope I’ll be just like this woman when I’m her age. Look at her on that bicycle and mowing her lawn and snuggling that baby! Who says that old age has to slow you down? Not Sadie North. (Miss Moss)

Reviewers on Reviewing. Interesting and clever thoughts about the state of book reviewing today, considering Zadie Smith’s new post as the book critic for Harper’s. (The Book Bench)

Six Expressions that Hollywood Will Turn into #1 Movies. Because you know they will. (Best Week Ever)

Rifle Paper Co. 2011 Sneak Peek. Really love the palette and design for this stationery/notebook line. (Rifle Paper Co.)

Sights & Sounds: Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. Did you know that Sam Beam did all of the cover art for his albums except for “Creek Drank the Cradle”? I didn’t. That’s one talented, bearded, whispery musician, and here’s his interview with the ladies at Design Sponge about his artwork. (Design Sponge)

Week 1: Morning Pages

In honor of my sister Grace, I am imposing a set of weekly challenges on myself. For 12 weeks, I will attempt a different “challenge” each week–to do one thing every day for seven days, ranging from serious to silly. At the end of each week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

WEEK 1: MORNING PAGES

I’m married to a full-time poet and musician and most of my closest friends are legitimate artists: painters, writers, dancers, and so forth. This means that I’m often very intimidated when I attempt to exhibit creativity of any kind. I can work on my calligraphy or take fuzzy photographs or scribble halfhearted stories into a notebook, but I dare not call myself an “artist” or even a creative person. I’m surrounded by so many serious–and seriously talented–artists that I wouldn’t dare join their throng in any tangible way.

I talk to Emily a lot about this. Emily is an artist–a dancer, a poet, a costume designer, and a basket-weaver–and she is equally intimidating in her talents. But she’s always encouraged me to artistic pursuits, despite my protestations. A few weeks ago, she sent me a copy of Julia Cameron’s workbook for stifled creative people, called The Artist’s Way. It’s a program designed to help frustrated artists or people like myself, who want to be creative but can’t get over their self-consciousness, to start making art. Some of the chapters are pretty hokey, but some are really encouraging.

One of the tasks that Cameron forces her students to do is write “morning pages.” Morning pages are essentially a brain dump of three handwritten pages right after you wake up. The goal is to get yourself in the habit of expressing thought in an uninhibited manner. This, supposedly, will allow you to loosen your self-conscious chains. For my first week of challenges, I wanted to try to write morning pages every day.

WHAT I LEARNED:

  • Coming up with stuff to write when you wake up is difficult. But maybe that’s the point?
  • At first, I wrote a lot about weather, mostly complaints about how cold it was still. But as I kept writing each morning, my thoughts seemed to diverge and I was actually able to write about the things I was thinking. Like, can you call a graphic novel a novel? Or, why is grapefruit so delicious in the winter?
  • I have a very well-documented and boring life.
  • I might try to keep doing it.

Next week’s challenge: Daily yoga. Grace, this is all your fault…

Monday Snax

We are still creeping back to good health, but it has been very nice to have a week at home to hibernate and recuperate. This week I have been fairly possessed by the need to read and exercise. This is good, because they are both included in my 2011 resolution list. I’ve been able to stay active thanks to Rodney Yee (Grace, Kelsey, remember our mornings with him?) and his yoga DVD and the New York City Ballet workout, found on Chinese YouTube by Catherine. Brilliant. Ballet is also freaking HARD. I’m going to keep trying, though. Gotta learn what all those French words mean…

Snax with pastrami, because it is one of the more hilarious meat-like substances:

Books as a Way to Grace a Room. I mean, if you’re not going to READ them–because, really, who does that anymore?–you might as well turn them into home decor, right? I don’t know how I feel about this. Actually, I do. I feel bad about this. I’m all for wall-to-wall bookshelves–it’s my personal dream–but they must be known and read first. Not so for these rich people. (New York Times)

Dream Jobs: So You Wanted to be a Veterinarian. This girl was totally me. Except I decided not to take this path after I endured my first animal dissection when I was 13. I love how quickly this imaginary veterinarian turns into a deranged animal liberator. A hilarious article, at least. The paragraph that describes when the scales fall from your eyes: “As you settled into the routine of your field, it became glaringly obvious that the bulk of a veterinarian’s day is spent giving rabies vaccines, castrating animals so they won’t make new ones, or humanely killing animals whose owners are either unable or unwilling to take care of their supposedly beloved pet. Toss in a prescription flea repellent here and there and that’s the whole job. It was grossly unsatisfying. You weren’t some great caregiver of God’s creatures; you were the enabler of a system that subjugated those creatures for human whimsy.” (McSweeney’s)

Adorable French-Speaking Kids Play with 80’s Technology. And try to figure out what it is. First, it’s true that we wish all children were French. Because listening to them talk is probably the cutest thing ever. Second, I love the boy who thinks that the diskette could be a camera. Twenty-first century children! They think anything is possible. (Flavorwire)

Morimura Ray. I can never get enough Japanese prints. These are so modern, beautiful, streamlined. Also, I also can’t get enough of Miss Moss’s blog. I realize that I link to her stuff all the time. I don’t know who you are, Miss Moss, but I think we’d be friends. (Miss Moss)

Samantha and James: A New Year’s Sneak Preview. This really fun wedding video was shot at the wedding we attended in Durham on New Year’s. It was done by our very talented photographer’s sister and her husband. They did SUCH a great job; everyone probably looks way cooler than they did in real life in this film. Really cute. (Inkspot Crow Films)

A Thoughtful Farewell. I love it when kids express themselves in letters. I remember writing stuff like this. Girls are so mean: Poor Bri and Grandma. (Found Magazine)

Fully Validated Kanye West Retires to a Quiet Farm in Iowa. “So I just want to say thank you to everyone who bolstered my self-esteem by showering me with so much acclaim,” added West, sweeping some dust from his front porch. “Because it worked. I’m good to go.” Also love the picture of him making snickerdoodles for his neighbors. So sweet. (The Onion)

I Think It’s Time for Us to Have a Toast. Josh Groban sings Kanye West’s tweets on Jimmy Fallon. It’s worth it, regardless of what you think of either of them. (Via Dooce)

Joe Biden Thought of a Joke and Will Not Rest Until Everyone Has Heard It. … but it’s not a very good one, and it’s just kind of creepy. (Daily Intel)

Things I Have Needed to Google While Writing Poems to Turn into My MFA Workshop. Guion, I hope your list is quite different from this one, even though we’ve talked about some of the things in this roster. Yours might go like… “Barns Civil War beekeeping horse racing beer condemned buildings,” etc. Maybe? (McSweeney’s)

Bangable Dudes in History: Dmitri Shostakovich. This new blog is amazing. Blog creator Megan takes suggestions and then creates pie charts to describe the sexiest famous dead guys. I’m just happy my dead dude crush–Alex Hamilton–made the blog already. Of course he did. (Bangable Dudes in History)

World’s Largest Hanging Flower Basket. Now that would be a pain to water. (Urban Gardens)

Censoring Mark Twain’s ‘N-Words’ Is Unacceptable. If you use the Internet regularly, then you’re already aware that a publisher has taken it upon himself to scrub The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn of the n-word. I think The Guardian makes one of the many good cases out there why this should not have happened. (The Guardian Book Blog)

The Best Boring Books. More from The Guardian: A list of the 10 best, most boring books. I feel rather proud that Woolf’s The Waves made the cut. It deserves to. Because it is beautiful… and nothing happens. What books would you include? Has anyone read any of these? (The Guardian Book Blog)

How to Make a Decent Cup of Tea. Christopher Hitchens teaches all of us heathen Yanks how to make tea. I drink tea every day, and I daresay I learned quite a bit. (Slate)

Christmas in CT. Brian Ferry, how do you make everything so beautiful? I always want to be exactly where these photographs were taken. (Brian Ferry)

Tilt Shift. Same goes for you, sister. This is from Grace’s new photography portfolio online–which you should all go check out! I really love this technique in photographs and I think my little sis makes great use of it. She is in New Zealand now, about to start her new life on a farm there! So excited for her. (Grace Farson Photography)

The AFP New Year’s Babies. One of the many reasons I’m frightened of having children: What if they turn out looking like one of these!? The chances are high. Why? Premise 1: because we are white, and Premise 2: all these babies are white. (Awkward Family Photos)

“Toddlers and Tiaras” Returns with a Very Special Southern Baby Dinosaur Episode. And this is why America is The Greatest Country in the World. (Best Week Ever)

Monday Snax

The four of us, about to leave Primland.

(More Primland photos here!)

We enjoyed a simultaneously wild (nightmare car ride; lost in the woods; I vomited) and relaxing (watching ANTM; eating chocolate; drinking wine) weekend at Primland. I already miss the family women, but I am delighted at the thought that I get to see them all again in just a few days! Very thankful for Thanksgiving.

Today, I’d like to do a special feature on Snax and share with you the work of some of our incredibly gifted friends here:

Matt Kleberg. Matt is one of the most hilarious and generous people we have met in Charlottesville, and he’s also one of the greatest painters. I have loved discovering his work and am always so impressed with his color choices and approaches. Enjoy his diverse and beautiful portfolio! (Matt Kleberg)

Ross McDermott. Ross and I somehow always end up sitting next to each other and conspiring. In our friend circle, we rank at the opposite ends of the age spectrum (he’s the oldest; I’m the youngest). We get along well. I didn’t know until recently how talented he was with a camera. National Geographic (yes, the premier photography publication) courted him to produce the American Festivals Project. He traveled around the country for a year capturing America’s craziest and most interesting festivals. The results are outstanding. (Surface Below)

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program. With some gravy and cranberry sauce on the side.

Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving. I just discovered Allie Brosh’s blog, and it has had me LOL’ing all over the place. I think this is my favorite post so far. Please enjoy. Please LOL. (Hyperbole and a Half)

Ernie. Ernie the lop-eared rabbit looks startlingly similar to our childhood bunny, Spencer. Want to snuggle right now. (From Me to You)

Mirror Mirror. In general, I feel like pregnancy photo shoots always turn out weird and awkward, but this one takes the cake. (Awkward Family Photos)

Free Font: Matilde. I’m always on the lookout for pretty fonts, especially when they’re free. I really like this one. So delicate. (How About Orange)

Photo of the Day. This kid knows what he wants, and he will stop at nothing to get it. (Marvelous Kiddo)

The 10 Most Confusing Vintage Subway Ads. Advertising from the 1940s and 50s is almost always hilarious. And weird. (Best Week Ever)

Owl Lover 2011 Calendar. OK, so I wouldn’t exactly classify myself as an “owl lover,” but this calendar tool is pretty sweet. A collection of artists painted/drew/designed some owls and this site lets you assign your favorite works to a month and print off a lovely 2011 calendar for yourself. I pinned mine to my cubicle wall.

Five alternate lives

I got to talk to Emily for over an hour on Thursday night and it was SO good to catch up with her; I’ve missed her company a lot. She was telling me about this book she’s been working through, The Artist’s Way. It’s a book created to help artists work through blocks.

One of the exercises she described asked you to write down the five alternate lives you would have liked to have lived (e.g., the careers/vocations you might have pursued that deviate from the path you’re on now). I was thinking about it today, and this is the list I came up with:

1. Australian Shepherd breeder

Australian Shepherd puppies

As totally weird as dog lovers can be, I’ve always been one. I got mocked mercilessly in middle school–by my FATHER–because all I wanted for one birthday was a subscription to the magazine Dog Fancy. (He kept referencing the movie “Best in Show” whenever I got the magazine in the mail, which I hadn’t seen at the time. Now I have and I admit, yeah, those people are weird.) But I wouldn’t breed these dogs to show. I’d breed them because I LOVE these dogs and because I’d love to train them in agility competitions. Or even sheep herding ones. I just think they’re the best dogs around, still.

2. Farmer

 

Guion and me in a few years.

Specifically, I’d like to live somewhere either in North Carolina or even around here in the Shenandoah Valley. Prettiest country around. And I would specialize in either berries or horses. Because I love berries and horses.

3. Graphic designer

Letterpress cards from Seesaw.

This is a skill I’d love to have. I’d love to have a business creating beautiful stationery (and then another one to teach all of the Cool Lady Bloggers how to properly spell “stationery”). Branding companies would also be fun. And I’d definitely want to make my own fonts, too. I’ve always loved fonts.

4. English professor

This is actually my thesis advisor. Hi, Dr. Carlston!

I know it’s hard work and you have to labor six to eight years to do it, but I think I’d really love the life of an English professor. To have a job that’s essentially defined by your love of literature? What more could you ask for? (Cooperative students, better pay, and less academic politics maybe…)

5. Editor at a large, successful publishing house

Streep as Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada." Yes, I know she's not a book editor. But still. She's badass.

This one is simultaneously the most ridiculous and the most realistic. Ridiculous because who knows if publishing houses will even EXIST in 10 years; realistic because editing is the path I’ve more or less taken so far. I know editors are somewhat glamorized in film and stories and such, but from what little I’ve seen of it in my internships and work, I think it’s a place I’d like to be. Particularly with fiction. Sorry, Financial Analysts Journal, but you don’t pluck my heart strings.

Common theme in my five answers? All things that people don’t have much use for anymore! The world doesn’t really need more Australian Shepherds, as brilliant as they are. Farmers barely make enough money to survive, much less food. People don’t write handwritten notes anymore, so there’s not a huge demand for expensive letterpress cards. There are probably more wannabe English professors than wannabe English students; grad schools are brimming with them. And, as mentioned above, editors will soon have nothing to edit. Thanks, Interwebs.

But. Even with my semi-dashed dreams, now I’m curious. What about you? What five alternate lives might you have chosen for yourself?

For the novelists

The Curtain

A consoling thought for the novelists, from Milan Kundera’s The Curtain, which I have just finished:

Applied to art, the notion of history has nothing to do with progress; it does not imply improvement, amelioration, an ascent; it resembles a journey undertaken to explore unknown lands and chart them. The novelist’s ambition is not to do something better than his predecessors but to see what they did not see, say what they did not say. Flaubert’s poetics does not devalue Balzac’s, any more than the discovery of the North Pole renders obsolete the discovery of America.

It reminds me somewhat of T.S. Eliot’s argument in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and yet we hope to see something different.

On an unrelated note, I have started on My Life List #30: Memorize an entire New Testament letter (that’s not Jude or Philemon). I chose 1 John, which is a legitimate book; it has five full chapters, and possibly THE most difficult first sentence ever to memorize. Sheesh.