the artist as a lifestyle aesthetic: on trying on artist for size {long read}

IMG_5957IMG1231

Diptyque candle holding a lone peonie {check}, aviators {check}, an Etsy mug filled with coffee + an expensive lens that’s able to capture the rising steam {check}, the gleaming MacBook Air and accompanying iPhone with a glittery case {check}, glasses perched on a head {check} and a lady preened to dishabille perfection {checkmate} — do these images seem familiar to you? Perhaps because you’ve seen it, or a variation of it, on countless blogs, Instagram feeds and on photoshoots profiling small business owners and artists. This look was a magazine photograph we once pored over, a page we ripped from from its binding and posted on our vision-cum-Pinterest boards. We wanted our room of one’s own (as instructed by Virginia Woolf), and we thought if our room was beautiful, the words and magic would invariably come.

We’ve seen this whitewashing of an artist’s life proliferating the online space, so much so that it feels practiced, carefully composed, and overtly stylized — yet devoid of any actual, substantive meaning. I’ve endured countless blog posts featuring bloggers turned authors who dress up, apply lipstick to puckered lips, and don Warby Parker glasses, as if intellectualism was an outfit that they wanted to try on for size. Perhaps they think, this is how an artist at work should look to my readers, and this puts me to thinking of an excellent piece I just read, which speaks of the dual masks we wear — our practiced online personas versus the real lives we lead. Rarely are these masks reconciled, rarely do we see the innards of one’s life, only the representation of parts of it. Never do we bear witness to the whole until we meet this person “in real life” {ever think about that term, “in real life”? As opposed to what? Our “fake ones”?} and then, after a time, we think, Wow, this is you. We curate this enviable life, down to the suns settling into the dark water and our tawny, lithe legs crossed at the ankles during a day at the beach.

Perhaps part of us regresses, thinks, I’m projecting a version of me that’s slightly better than you.

I remember a blogger I used to revere a decade ago. She was blonde, European, artistically inclined and seemed to live this magical life, jettisoning to castles turned hotels and living a life out of an Anthropologie catalog. My god, did I want this life. I wanted out of my sterile cubicle with its foam grey walls and a computer that required constant coddling from an IT specialist. I wanted my organic teas and ginger-encrusted chocolates, and I sought out her friendship because, frankly, I idealized her life and I was a wannabe. We became fast friends, but our friendship soon became a mirror that shattered into pieces, with each broken shard revealing a more nefarious aspect of her personality. She lived, breathed, and believed her own fiction, and I stepped away from that friendship realizing that what I was missing was the beauty in my own life, which I had so assiduously attempted to fill with hers.

We want, we covet, we desire, we need — this is our nature as humans, but sometimes the desire for another’s life becomes a burden that is too overwhelming to bear, and it ultimately threatens the one thing that is real: our life, as we live it.

Last night, my dear friend, Summer and I had a slumber party, and we both woke at 5:30 this morning and spoke for hours about art, words, and the lack of authenticity in the online space. I revealed the reasoning behind changing the title of my novel to Follow Me into the Dark because it’s the most powerful kind of love I could imagine, yet hardly know. A love that puts your heart on pause, and when the object of your affection is threatened, you don’t hesitate, flinch or think about sacrificing the one thing that is truly yours: your life. This is what I imagine most mothers feel for their children. You will follow your beloved into the dark, and attempt to sacrifice yourself as a means of rescue. This is real love, and I hope to one day be privileged to know it.

I offer up this fragment of our conversation because it elucidates something larger — most people are terrified of the dark. So much so that they tether themselves to anything that resembles light, figuratively and literally. Sadness, loss, ugliness, fear — these are countries most don’t want, or know how, to navigate. They’re myopic in terms of the media they consume, and talk about how desperately they need their reality television shows and fluffy books because they need to escape. But I think about this, and if they close their eyes to the dark so wholly, so completely, what is it then that they’re escaping from? Last year I suffered a tremendous loss, my Sophie, and I was SO MOTHERFUCKING ENRAGED by people’s responses to her passing {and the platitudes they’d throw out like wrapped sweets} that it drove me to write about it. Because that was a time when the two masks were reconciled.

My cat died, I relapsed, and things got really fucked up. And many people in my life {online and off} couldn’t handle it.

This is a circuitous way of saying that this practiced life, this projection of light and beauty, can be dangerous. If the online space is a means for us to connect with others, why is it that we create this severe delineation of self? Naturally, there are lines I don’t cross — I don’t speak of my love life, or the lives of my friends and family without their expressed permission — but as an artist I find it impossible to not communicate the light and the dark because we need both to live a real life. As a writer, I NEED both to create. There’s no other way.

Above is a picture of my writing space. It’s cleaner than usual because I had a guest over, but know that it’s normally an atrocity composed of paper, books, magazines and random plates of half-eaten cake. My writing space is messy, unattractive, and you might notice my uncapped bottle of allergy meds, but I don’t think about styling my space to create — I just think about the act of creating in and of itself. Of course there are things I need — a comfortable seat {my sofa}, liquid {so I don’t pass out after hours confined to a single seated position}, and a remote {for those moments when I need to see The Twilight Zone because I can’t write ANOTHER GODDAMN LINE} — but I’m not attractive when I write, and when I’m in the thick of a story the outside world recedes. There is no other world other than the one I’m creating, and that’s the magic. Not the composition of what is perceived to be magic.

Someone once told me that my blog will never be “big” because I wasn’t mass market. I don’t appeal to a wide audience of people because I don’t constantly present pretty and my writing is sticky, messy, dark and strange. At first, I wanted to punch her in the face, but then I realized that she paid me the greatest compliment. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want the staged photos snapped with a Canon 5D Mark II camera.

I just want my work.

book buff freelance life + careers