Years ago, my sister Lindsay and I went to see Howard’s End together, and I remember how she and I both yearned for a salon. Not the kind at which you get pampered and have your hair cut (although those are nice, too), but the kind in which people gather to have interesting discussions. How nice, we both thought, to be a young woman (as we both were in those days) and not to have to worry about such things as trying to find a job at which you were not miserable (job-related misery being something with which we were both a little too familiar) and could earn a decent living (something we were both struggling to do). Instead, you had plenty of inherited wealth and got to host salons at your home, gathering all sorts of interesting people together for intellectual and philosophical discussions and debates. Really. Why can’t we have professional salons in this country and get paid for doing such things? I’ll gladly apply for CEO.
Around that same time, I went in search of such a group through The Utne Reader, which in those days (I don’t know if they still do) would hook you up with like-minded people who wanted to meet on a regular basis to discuss ideas in the magazine (as well as those not in the magazine). My ex-boyfriend and I attended a few of these Utne Reader salons, as they were called, but my experience was that the most interesting people (the woman who was a documentary film maker who’d had out-of-body experiences, for example) never seemed to attend on a regular basis, or they moved away just when I was beginning to feel we were really becoming friends. Instead, we were stuck with the man who clearly suffered from narcolepsy, practically falling asleep in the middle of sentences, and a few pseudo-intellectuals who really got on my nerves.
When I met Bob, this was the sort of thing he was seeking as well. I decided to try again and took him to an Utne Reader salon. He thought it was one of the most humorless, everyone-takes-him-or-herself-way-too-seriously events he’d ever attended. Needless to say, I never took him to another one, and I soon dropped out of it for good. He and I eventually joined a book discussion group that sort of filled the need, but not really. I mean, what I really wanted was a group of people who wanted to get together and talk about anything interesting that came to mind: an article read, or a movie seen, or the weird religious sect that required women practically to dress like pilgrims while the men wore jeans and t-shirts like everyone else in our society, that insisted on marching around outside the library handing out pamphlets. I wanted people with all different kinds of perspectives, people who would challenge each other, even disagree with one another (politely, of course. There were no “I-hate-yous” or “You’re-so-stupid-I –can’t-believe-I-listen-to-yous” in Howard’s End). I just couldn’t seem to organize such a group.
Now, many years later, I’m finding what I wanted. It’s not what I ever would have imagined back in those days (“Emily, just wait about fifteen years, and you’ll get what you want online.” Huh?), but I’m meeting all kinds of fascinating people, people challenging me to think, to read, to write. Litlove’s blog was the one most recently described as being an online salon, and I couldn’t agree more with that observation. She has such an open, thinking mind, and she inspires so many others to come to her “house,” where they can find comfortable couches for their own minds to wander and explore. As the perfect hostess, she’s always encouraging about what everyone has to say.
Really, though, all the blogs I read on a regular basis do this. I don’t belong to just one salon: I belong to a whole slew of them. Granted, many of them have overlapping membership, but that’s exactly the way it should be, all these interesting minds gathering in different places and constantly welcoming new members to the fold. We debate; we question; we laugh; and we also cry together.
So, I’ve found what I wanted oh-so-long ago. Now, I’ve just got to work on that plenty of inherited wealth part. Then I could spend all my time in salons without having to worry about that pesky little “earning a decent living” stuff (because, you know, even writing for salon.com won't put food on anyone's table).
So funny you would write this today because we inaugurated a a once-a-month "salon" at our house this weekend called "The Library" ('cause we do it in the cool library in our old house) in which we all read something we've written (I think we had eight people reading). I dragged my heels every step of the way but it was so much fun and the diversity of writing styles and content was very inspiring. I wish you could come and bring Bob to show him that so-called literary salons don't have to be scary pretentious affairs. (But I also agree with you about how blogs can simulate many aspects of a salon.)
Sorry to ask this here, but did you get my email about my trip to New York next week? I'd hate to miss you if you're around but I can't remember if you've already hightailed it out of there.
Danny, wish I could come to that, too! It sounds like great fun (and I love the name). Bob and I plan to have a cool library in our old (new, to us) house, so maybe we'll have to institute an east-coast version when we move. Think we can get some Amish to attend?
I did get your email, but was slow to respond, hoping I could clear my calendar. I think you will have gotten my response by now.
That's true. All those e-salons are fabulous. Sometimes I even think Mme de Lespinasse or d'Alembert would have done no better than us if they had blogged (do I look bloated?).
If your issue is just about putting food in your plate, you might consider growing it (maybe not in the graveyard, though) and backshifting somewhat on the dayjob front. At least, that's what I am contemplating every day a little more.
Erratum: I think I wrote backshifting when I meant downshifting as in slowing down.
The cool thing about blog salons is that you can try different ones, float in and out, get excited by some and stay or move on if it doesn't feel right. I truly love that aspect - the liberty to stay or move on, depending.
Yes! You're so right. And I love that they are ongoing, so you can "attend" whenever it suits you -- no impatient waiting for the right evening when everyone can get together.
Emily - you are a darling to say such nice things about the site and I loved you well enough before you said them! I agree with all the other comments - e-salons are an absolute delight because they are welcoming yet unconstraining, always interesting but never intimidating. I still say, though, that at some point we should all meet up for real (and I WILL email you about that one of these days!)
Mandarine, except I have a very brown thumb and would hate to be dependent on my gardening skills to eat! And glad to see a hint that occasionally, you English might be worse than mine.
Charlotte and Dorr, yes, that floating in and out and attending when you want to is a great part of online salons (kind of allows one to be a ghost, doesn't it?).
Litlove, I'm dying for a real-life get-together. I'm hoping, since all my vacation is going to be used this year for such things as moving that it might be state-side? And on the east coast? How about even at my house?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Emily, you finally put into words what it is I love about the blog world. I too have been looking for Salon, but never went through the Utne REader experience simply because I think we may be the only people in Lebanon MO who actually read magazines like Utne. Anyway, I do love the experience of visiting blogs and being visited and discussing. Must get over to Litlove's place more often.
Emily, put my yes with everybody else. I'm impressed you actually went to some of the Utne salons. I thought it would be interesting but never went farther than that. So I joined a book group at my public library! That was ultimately disappointing. So I am very glad about blogs too. And we don't even all have to be here at the same time like Dorothy said. It's marvelous.
I've always thought of our family gatherings as a kind of salon--an exciting one, too, because there's no telling whether it'll remain civilized or turn into a free-for-all, loud serious of arguments and insults. But I do like the cyber salons for all the reasons cited by Charlotte--I like being able to move in and out of salons without offending a host or hostess.
I often feel like a salon-crasher, but I look at it as practice for communicating my thoughts, and I'm learning, I think. You and your network really have a salon-like feel, and it is fascinating to follow the subjects all of you take on. In a way, it is better than face to face conversation, because each participant has time to polish their ideas. And I have time to understand them. Ideas are the very best part of it all.
I think this is why I love blogging so much, too, although I never would have thought of it as a salon until Litlove and you brought it up...but I love such ridiculous things about blogging, like, everybody has a different blogroll, and different visitors while retaining a solid core of folks...and you can find blogs about EVERYTHING which I also love, so if I want to read about someone's diet or divorce, I can, and it's okay, because it's out their for the public, to satisfy the eavesdropper in me..
Ms. Hands, oh yes, go spend more time over at Litlove's. You won't be disappointed. And you're better off there than with an Utne Reader salon. Although, being in the midwest, if you can find other readers, it probably wouldn't be as pretentious as CT.
Stef, you too, are better off with e-salons than an Utne Reader salon, although, again, those in your neck of the woods might be a little better. Then again, you'd have to all be there at the same time.
Froshty, yes it can be very exciting being a member of the family salon.
Ian, I love the ideas, too, and the fact I get the time I need in order to compose my thoughts articulately (or at least, the delusion that I'm composing them articulately).
Court, yes, it's amazing all the different things you can find. I've noticed that I'm becoming more reliant on blogs these day when doing things like looking for recipes than I am on more traditional resources. They tend to come with more interesting stories.
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