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).