Wistful Bohemian Beans

Okay, shameful confession time.

I have a weird admiration for lifestyle blogging.

You probably know the kind. Very elegant staged shots of end-table dioramas that will probably wind up in decorating magazines. Soft-focus shots of food and hygienically grungy flea market stalls. “Easy” recipes that require more ingredients than bread and Velveeta cheese.* Step-by-step instructions for how to make some kind of craft thingy of questionable utility but unquestioned adorableness.

I have no actual desire to live this sort of life, let me hasten to add. Lots of people read these blogs and feel a weird mixture of envy and inspiration, but I am not actually one of them. My life is A) stupid awesome as it is and B) if you ask me if I want to build a blanket fort with some adorably photogenic children using a lovingly restored thrift-store quilt and then have a healthy gluten free snack on beautiful hand-painted plates—I will climb on top of the goddamn refrigerator and somebody will have to get me down with a broom. (I will hiss like a possum during this process, too.)

Such blogs are often billed as “aspirational” (a phrase I loathe, since it’s usually there to make me try and lose weight) but it’s not a life I personally aspire to. “Sorry, can’t take a soft focus photo of teacups with hand-written labels telling me to follow my bliss right now,” I say, pulling on my large and hideous mud boots. “Gotta go spread cow manure on the garden.”

And I would have absolutely no useful decor how-tos. Except I can tell you how to hang a skull. I’m pretty good at that.

1. Take a thin, easily bent wire. Wacky Wire will do. Rebar wrapping wire is overkill.

2. Thread the wire through conveniently sturdy bits. The zygomatic arch will usually do, if you don’t have any good holes in the back.

3. Twist a loop in the back.

4. Hang the loop on a nail. Make sure the nail is high enough up that the antlers, if any, will not gouge you in the eye and make people duck in terror.

5. Never ever try to hang it by the hole where the spinal cord attached to the base of the skull. It’ll look like its all sturdy and stable and then someone will slam a door and the skull will leap for the ground and shatter into a million tiny pieces and you will be sad and need glue.

There. That is the extent of my decor how-tos. I hope you enjoyed it.

Anyway. This is not me trying to slag this type of blog.

People slag on lifestyle bloggers all the time, because frankly, it’s easy to do. It’s all so perfectly curated and so staged and window-dressed and clean and relentlessly upbeat and optimistic and if you open a closet in this world there will be neatly folded shabby chic bedsheets smelling of homemade organic lavender sachets and there is a vague sense of having wandered into a fabric softener commercial, except with more journaling.

Open a closet in my world and there will be questionable kitchen devices, a leftover can of paint, half a box of light bulbs and a bottle of the dog shampoo we stopped using because it made the beagle itchy.

*pause while author goes to throw away the bottle of dog shampoo because there’s really no excuse for that*

Anyway. Like I said, easy to get resentful. At their worst, there’s an awful yooooou-are-a-failure-as-a-womaaaan vibe, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

But y’know, I actually kinda respect the genre. A lot of these bloggers are making money at it, and like all small businesses based on getting the internet to notice you, it can be hard damn work. There’s a perception that all of these women must have terribly rich husbands (and for all I know, plenty of them do) but this sort of thing is a full-time job for a lot of them and it’s not necessarily easy. This is weird little creative business in a way I totally understand it–ten bucks on Etsy here, a book there, a magazine article and some blog ad revenue here.

And you have to stay on top of it, same as a webcomic. You have to update regularly, you have to engage, you can’t lie at the bottom of the birdcage with your hair in snarls for too many days in a row, or else people start to forget you exist.

And there are skills involved that aren’t well appreciated. The difference between me taking a photo of a cake and one of these women (they are overwhelmingly women) taking a photo of a cake isn’t just the quality of the camera equipment, any more than the difference between my paintings and Michelangelo’s lies in the quality of the brushes.

My mother could set up still-lifes. She did it for paintings. It’s not actually that easy to do. I sure can’t do it. She had to pin fabrics to board and build sets and stare at them for hours figuring out where to put the plastic oryx and the mummified squirrel.** That kind of artful staging with the rose petals in the chipped bowl on the wooden farmhouse table looks easy. I am forced to assume that there’s something to it that’s hard, because if I try that, I certainly don’t get art.

(Maybe I have the wrong kind of farmhouse table. I don’t know. Spaghetti sauce stains are not photogenic, anyhow.)

I think maybe what I really admire is the photography skills. My personal artistic bugbear is that any time I see a style or a medium I like, I wonder “Could I do that?” And then I have to prove I could do it, if I wanted to. (Once I can do it, I generally lose interest. My muse is like a survivalist jumping between end-of-the-world scenarios. “WE MUST LEARN TO SURVIVE IN THE COMING ENCAUSTIC APOCALYPSE! GET THE HOT WAX AND—oh crap, paperclay meteor! Ditch the hot wax and get me some sandpaper!”)

I would love to be able to take that kind of out-of-the-pages-of-the-Anthropologie-catalog photo. I would probably photograph my beans. I have grown some really spectacular beans, and they deserve more appreciation than what I can offer. I want to shake a handful of Mother Stallard’s at the heavens and say “These are glorious! Why doesn’t the camera love them like I love them!? Where is the filter that makes them look like wistful bohemian girls walking along an alpine meadow!? My beans deserve better!”

Then, y’know, I come to and I’m on top of the refrigerator and Kevin has to get me down with the broom. Again.

Maybe I should try doing one of those photo a week things for a year, and see if I get any better. It’d wind up being a lot of cat photos, I expect. Still, practice is the only thing that ever made anybody better…practice, and maybe some good tutorials. And probably at the end I’d learn that the secret is expensive lighting.

Still. May be worth a shot.


*Which is thus obviously not easy. Mmm, processed cheese food…

**I know, right? How cool is a mummified squirrel?!

5 thoughts on “Wistful Bohemian Beans

  1. Therese says:

    I like to think that those carefully posed shots are the eye of the storm that is the rest of the house or yard. I’m sure that the cat just horked up a hairball behind the photographer who is still in her yoga pants and is barefoot. She’s about to back up for a long view and will step in the hairball. But maybe that’s just me, my cat, and my rampant projectile jealousy.

    “May be worth a shot.” <-I see what you did there!

  2. Emily says:

    Silly me, I thought your blog *was* a lifestyle blog…you mean to tell me you don’t actually expect anyone to want to be you when they grow up? :)

  3. Wolf Lahti says:

    Practice definitely. Tutorials maybe.

    But *attitude* is a big part of it. Attitude plus skill equals talent. Without the attitude that gives you perseverance, you may be a superb craftsman, but you’ll never be an artist. If you don’t believe you can do it, you never will.

    Incidentally, when you said, “Lots of people read these blogs and feel a weird mixture of envy and inspiration”, I thought you were talking about *your* blog, because envy and admiration are most decidedly what I feel regarding your lifestyle. I’d like to *be* you — or Neil Gaiman.

  4. dester'edra says:

    I think everyone is an amazing person to be envied to someone (ok, almost everyone). Me, i can’t write believable dialog to save my life, my descriptions use 20 words to say what should be expressed in five, and the only way i know to paint figuratively is if i put in every single solitary detail, so i envy the spare beauty of those artists who can capture character in a few smooth strokes, visually or verbally. I know a certain sickeningly talented girl who does both and with a delightfully snarky sense of humor.

    That said…my photography is gradually improving, and i found two things helped me a lot:

    1. having a really good dSLR to play with, even more so when i started borrowing my dad’s external flash. A friend once told me that the secret to getting great photos is to take a lot of shots and throw out all the bad ones. The digital camera means i can see results immediately, and the SLR means i can adjust the zoom by hand (with the electric ones, i got better results just moving my head than by trying to zoom in or out).

    2. getting a copy of lightroom on my computer with a good book on how to use it (even more so with a drawing tablet for the adjusting areas by hand). I could do it in photoshop, but lightroom is a little easier and more forgiving. Now i can get the shot framed ok with the camera and tinker with the lighting and the color and whatnot later.

  5. Prof. Godel Fishbreath says:

    A shot of you up on the refridge hissing like a raccoon is both more in tune with this blog and likely wonderfully priceless.

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