Book Club • Slouching Towards Bethlehem

 

   

 

 

I’m Changing My Major to Joan

Courtney Preiss

 

When I summon Joan Didion to the forefront of my mind, I wonder if there’s anything more I can say about a woman iconic enough to have an entire essay genre and a Céline print advertisement to her name. Is there an original thought left to be had about the woman who has transcended culture in such a way that her face graced the back of a $1,200 leather jacket last season?

 

I first read Slouching Towards Bethlehem—Didion’s first non-fiction collection, published in 1968—when I was twenty years old, living on a famous street in Boston and preparing to move to Los Angeles. I was rattled upon completing the collection of essays, at once falling in love with her and berating myself for not having become a fervent devotee sooner.

 

You see, I too was a migraine sufferer with a uniform wardrobe and an ear to the street trying to mine my surroundings for compelling essay content. My college student–caliber arrogance allowed me a short spell of thinking that aspirations to be Joan Didion was my thing. (I ask, as she once famously did: was anyone ever so young?) However bratty the claim, it was one that echoed in the minds of my friends—each of whom had come to me at quiet phases over the passing years, all armed with the same question.

 

“Say I wanted to get into Joan Didion…where would you recommend I begin?”

 

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is broken out into three sections: “Lifestyles in the Golden Land,” an exploration of Didion’s native California; “Personals,” her espousal of maintaining a notebook and some self-respect, among other things; and “Seven Places of the Mind,” featuring essays that jump in time and place.

 

There are pieces that stand out among others—ones that have carved spaces in my mind and stuck to my ribs against the test of time. The titular essay opens in a time and place of exponential social change in our country—San Francisco in 1967—with the note: “The center was not holding.” Didion escorts us through this essential slice of American culture by way of Grateful Dead jam sessions, parties among adopted bands of runaway friends, and a morning spent with a five-year-old girl whose mother regularly dosed her with LSD in lieu of sending her to kindergarten.

 

The idea of staying on nodding terms with oneself, introduced in “On Keeping a Notebook,” is a life changing notion—one that allows the readers a better understanding of themselves in an instant. It allows for personal reconciliations perhaps not yet afforded us before reading about how Joan pored over her own notebooks and made peace with the younger incarnations of herself who made the notes years prior.

 

Joan Didion by Julian Wasser, Dan Ziger Gallery

Joan Didion by Julian Wasser, Dan Ziger Gallery

And then of course there is the essay Didion is most famous for these days. Chances are, if a sampling of twenty-something, city-dwelling women were surveyed on how they came across Joan Didion and what they knew her for, a sizable portion would say they came across her packing list on Tumblr, but a greater portion still would cite her ubiquitous essay about leaving New York City.

 

“Goodbye to All That” is the first Didion essay in the collection I read that summer in Boston when she first hooked me, so I have always understood its potency despite my eventual bristling at the frequency to which it is referred. In it, she describes moving to Manhattan in her early twenties, falling in love with the city “the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again,” and returning home to California eight years later.

 

Visceral, evocative, intimate, and yet all the while maintaining an air of mystery and distance—it is both a powerful breakup song and the first in a genre of essays to follow in its mighty imprint. It is the piece that self-anointed “expats” who leave Manhattan for one reason or another continue to draw from, and even prompted a 2013 anthology of the same name, comprised of essays written on the subject. If you are a New Yorker, or ever were one, you will read “Goodbye to All That” either with supreme arrogance or utmost empathy, depending on where you are in your current relationship with the city.

 

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a collection that has the ability to alter the way you view your role within the conversations you are a part of, be they notably major or seemingly mundane. It is a book that has the ability to make you believe in the power of your own stories.

 

If you have ever dreamt of a bygone era where Haight meets Ashbury, tried to decipher your own notebooks, lived in/loved/left New York—this is a book and an icon for you.

 

Of note. If you are among the throngs seeking absolution in the aforementioned grand farewell to New York that launched a thousand essays, please bear in mind: Ms. Didion eventually returned. She currently resides on East 71st Street.

Shirley Bryant • Floral Designer

Mon | Tues | Wed | Thurs | Fri

SHIRLEY BRYANT

FLORAL DESIGNER • SPROUT HOME

 

A floral designer. As a job. A dream. 

Shirley Bryant of Sprout Home is that person with that dream job. The physical nature of it makes it tough. The fresh flowers that come in daily, make it surreal. 

As someone who is established in Greenpoint, her stories about women in the area were more about colleagues who are also established and settled in their careers.  Owners of companies and friends who have watched Williamsburg change and the places she and they have come to frequent with the changes. 

Follow us as we follow Shirley, this week on By Way of Brooklyn. 

Shirley Bryant • Misc

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Eat: Dokebi and Little Dokebi

It is consistently delicious and close to where I live and work. 

Dokebi, 199 Grand St. Williamsburg

 

Dance: My living room

We have a 2 year old so going out is a bit limited, but toddlers are great dancers and always game for a mid-day dance party.

 

Take a girl friend: Enid's

I used to go there years ago for the bar scene but now tend to go earlier because it's actually really kid friends and right on the park.

Enid's, 560 Manhattan Ave. 

 

Take a guy friend: Calexico on Manhattan Avenue

A margarita pitcher and some fish tacos is just right for an early night out.

Calexico, 645 Manhattan Ave. 

 

Interview: Sarah Kim

Photography: Amanda Alborano & Anthony Tafuro

Kami Baergen • Artist/Illustrator

Mon | Tues | Wed | Thurs | Fri

MEET KAMI BAERGEN

ARTIST/ILLUSTRATOR

When someone tells you they know someone that's EXACTLY like you, it can always go one of two ways: you meet and they are a complete nightmare and you question yourself, your character, and your friendship with the person who felt so inclined to intro you OR you meet, and you feel like you're looking at yourself in the mirror. 

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With Kami Baergen, it was the latter. (Thanks Ping for the intro). We met one night at The West in Williamsburg. We laughed and joked like friends who had known each other for years. Things that the general population of people like or joke about felt like our specific likes and inside jokes. And the more I got to know her, the more my heart felt for her. It was like looking at someone who is a little ahead of you in someone ways to help you get through things, and then on the other hand, having gone through experiences so you could help that person when they got there. 

She worked at a gallery. We needed a place for a tie dye party. Some totes and tee shirts and a lot of Rit dye later, 7Dunham quickly became our go-to gallery. But then I saw her artwork and it was smart, relatable, intricate, involved watercolors. 

After three years of working there and more years of being in Brooklyn, Kami is moving back to where she came, Nashville, Tennessee. And as an artist who is trying to "make it," I wanted to know why she was leaving and why Brooklyn isn't and wasn't the be all, end all for her.

Follow us this week as we page through Kami's sketchbook and conduct her exit interview out of Brooklyn, to BK's loss. 

 

INTERVIEW: SARAH KIM

PHOTOGRAPHY: MICHAEL COOPER

Shirley Bryant • Floral Designer

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image.jpg

SHIRLEY BRYANT

FLORAL DESIGNER • SPROUT HOME

A floral designer. As a job. A dream. 

Shirley Bryant of Sprout Home is that person with that dream job. The physical nature of it makes it tough. The fresh flowers that come in daily, make it surreal. 

As someone who is established in Greenpoint, her stories about women in the area were more about colleagues who are also established and settled in their careers.  Owners of companies and friends who have watched Williamsburg change and the places she and they have come to frequent with the changes. 

Follow us as we follow Shirley, this week on By Way of Brooklyn. 

 

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Interview: Sarah Kim  

Photography: Amanda Alborano  

 

Kami Baergen • Go-To Spots

DRINK:

La Superior has the best margaritas, great tacos. 

@lasuperiornyc, 295 Berry St., Williamsburg

 

Donna for that Brancolada. 

@donnabklyn, 27 Broadway, Williamsburg

 

EAT:

Marlow & Sons has the best chocolate chip cookie ever and their egg sandwich is amazing. 

@marlowandsons, 81 Broadway, Williamsburg

 

King Noodle's flash fried mini mackerel are delicious.

@kingnoodlebk, 1045 Flushing Ave., Bushwick

 

PIZZA:

Luigi's Pizza (near Greenwood cemetery).

686 5th Ave., Sunset Park

 

Roberta's (OF COURSE) 

@robertaspizza, 261 Moore St. Bushwick

 

Whit's End for pizza.

Whit's End, 97-14 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Queens, NY

 

 

TOURIST ATTRACTION:

Go to the botanical garden! 

@brooklynbotanic, 990 Washington Ave., Prospect Heights

 

Walk over the Williamsburg Bridge.

 

READ:

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. This book has been a great companion for hard times and times when the questions seem overwhelming. Old wise words to soothe the soul. 

 

LISTEN:

Antonio Carlos Jobim for island vibes. 

BWOB: An Exit, Part 1 - Instrumental 

BWOB: An Exit, Part 2

 

 

Interview: Sarah Kim

Photography: Michael Cooper, @cooperphotog

Kami Baergen • On Brooklyn

ON BEING AN ARTIST IN BROOKLYN

How has that been nurtured or hindered being in Brooklyn? 
It's certainly two sided: you've got all the culture in the world smashed into this small (yet gigantic) place that you get to learn from, meet new people, broaden your horizons, and push your limits - creatively and personally. The other side is that it's really hard, because of space and money. You don't get the luxuries other places offer. 

What would it take for you to "make it" as an artist in Brooklyn today? Money? A PR person? Connections with bigger people in higher places? 
It all comes down to money, and a business mind (or being educated on how to be a business person as an artist). Everybody works so much to pay for life that it gets in the way of creating and often leaves you creating a lot less and subsequently means you're not making money from your art. 

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What was moving to Brooklyn like for your creativity when you first moved here? What is it like now?
When I first moved here my goal was to co-run 7Dunham - it was perfect. I got to scour the nooks of the city for artists that I thought were doing cool things and then help bring them together and help promote them - my goals were for the space, and as those goals changed to my own art work I moved away from working with 7Dunham and worked on my own things, which has proven difficult because I don't have my own studio here. I still see artwork all over and am still scouring for cool people doing cool things, but it's always been more internet based than walking out my door, and I can do that anywhere. 
 

What artists in Brooklyn do you respect, who are doing well in Brooklyn these days?

Casey Brooks
Eric Helvie (Harlem, sry bk) 
Chris Riddle
Monica Ramos
Chelsea Pettyjohn


BEFORE BROOKLYN, AFTER BROOKLYN


What’s your biggest gripe with Brooklyn? The thing you hate most? What do you love about Brooklyn and what will you miss most?

Community: some of the loveliest of people are here, yet if they're not within a few blocks radius, you'll see them every 2-6 months. I hate that dogs have to shit on the side walk and the people who are just so much cooler than you, I ain't got time for that. Also dating sucks here. 
I love that I can be myself. There is no "normal" here. 
I will miss the ocean (it's so close, and everyone forgets!), my friends, the smell of breakfast sandwiches on early weekend mornings before the hustle and bustle kicks up the dust. 

What can we expect from you in a year’s time in Nashville? What does the future Kami look like and what is she doing?
I'll be primarily focusing on making and selling art - next summer, there'll be a plethora of pieces available for purchase and hopefully loads that have already found their homes. 
I'll also be chipping away at a proposal and plan for an Artist/Creative Retreat & Residency House that future me will be running, while creating and producing art. 

Lots of learning, lots of making, and a stronger online presence that is more art based than it is now.

When do you think the whole getting married, having kids, family life, is going to happen for you? Is that something you want for your life? If so, when and what will it look like? Will you stay at home? Work?
I absolutely want to be married and be a mother, I don't know when or if it will happen (as I said, a great fear is that I'll miss this in life). First and foremost is to find a good partner, which is theoretically easy, and in actuality the hardest fucking thing - especially since the world is literally our oyster and in the palm of our hands (and pockets) at all times, and our generation (and probably the following generations) are plagued with the "but what if there's someone better?!" but back in the day people would go "you rule and you're in my life, let's do this." Whenever I do have kids I will work from home, as I hope to do for most of my life, and hopefully I'll raise some cool kids who can make humanity a better place.  

 

Photography: Michael Cooper, @cooperphotog

Interview: Sarah Kim

Kami Baergen • Feelings

Why are some women so tough to like? How do you combat?

I think we're all a little jaded by woman-to-woman competition, but also the competition of women-to-men. Because of those things and because of humanity we've all been hurt before and can continue on pretty calloused and cold.  We're women, we experience like 10 more sences than men and have brains that feel like spaghetti a lot of times. Combat by asking questions. People like talking about themselves, but more importantly they like when people are interested in them. The more questions you can ask with humility and compassion the more of those walls will start to come down. 

 

How do you find balance in being a daughter, a friend, a girlfriend, a co worker, every other role you play? 
 

Every relationship and role is so different, and I'm most definitely a quality time person, so I've found balance by (this will sound awful) prioritizing relationships and visually writing out who's who and who I need to spend time - it helps keep close the people who uplift and support you rather than those relationships you're still really confused why you're spending time with them.  I talk on the phone and write letters/cards to people.

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What is the toughest position you've ever been put in, with family, friends and/or at work? How did you make peace or exit or rise above?

I don't know. I think I've blocked a lot of it out. 

 

Where do you find rest and solitude? 

At the ocean, in a forest, and with friends.

 

When do you think the whole getting married, having kids, family life, is going to happen for you? Is that something you want for your life? If so, when and what will it look like? Will you stay at home? Work?
 

I absolutely want to be married and be a mother, I don't know when or if it will happen (as I said, a great fear is that I'll miss this in life). First and foremost is to find a good partner, which is theoretically easy, and in actuality the hardest fucking thing - especially since the world is literally our oyster and in the palm of our hands (and pockets) at all times, and our generation (and probably the following generations) are plagued with the "but what if there's someone better?!" but back in the day people would go "you rule and you're in my life, let's do this." Whenever I do have kids I will work from home, as I hope to do for most of my life, and hopefully I'll raise some cool kids who can make humanity a better place.  

 

When you are 85, a cute grandma with all kinds of life experience and wisdom, where do you see yourself and what are you doing?
 

I'm on land, near the ocean, with a garden. Always making lots of dinners for friends and family to collect around, and am still making art and exploring the world around me. I never want to let go of my child-self, it seems as though it would be rather boring. 

 

Photography: Michael Cooper, @cooperphotog

Interview: Sarah Kim

Kami Baergen • Process & Inspiration

When do you feel your best and most confident?
 

First: When I wake up, I look at myself in the mirror and see a beautiful and strong woman, and I find myself wishing I'd feel that way throughout every part of my day and that people would see me that way.

But then I put my makeup on, my clothes, and that feeling fades. By the time I'm out the door I've already lost that feeling and have started to feel the pressures of society. Perhaps we wake up everyday like we're being reborn, and we haven't yet connected the things society and our culture have pounded into our brains, the pressure to be a certain way.

The first two hours of my day keep me sane. 

Second: When I'm creating. Set down, and drawing, painting, all the other things fade away, and I can just be. 

Third: At the ocean - it's dangerous and wild, can completely consume you and is not afraid of you or whatever you bring to the table, it makes me feel small in the best way possible. 
 

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What's been the best process to find inspiration? 

Reading (books, anything that interests you) and scooping out other artists (booooooom.com + vimeo's staff picks), but mainly making more art, even when you feel like you've got nothing. Drawing something shitty can sometimes be really helpful to clear out the wonky things bumbling around your cloudy brain.

 

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What's been the best working environment? 

Alone in a room,

door closed,

music on,

good light.  

 

What are your biggest fears? In career and in life?

Missing out on love and happiness because I'm trying to fulfill some curious, semi-gaping hole, that I'm growing to believe, all creatives have. My dad is an artist and art director and has had some insane accomplishments in the advertising world, so I've always lived on a "good v. not good enough" scale that runs rampant in ad land, but has messed with my personal life (beauty standards, personality, relationships) and career life (personal art work, career relationships, money, overall success). I guess it's not really a fear, but more so something that I think fucks with my head, and I have to make extremely conscious efforts to tell myself that there isn't a magical grand scale that says you're okay or awful (and it's never that extreme)

I hate snakes. They are a terrifying creatures. 

 


What's your ultimate goal as an artist? How do you get ahead in your career? In those goals? 

My ultimate goal is definitely more general (and so vague because I'm just a creature in progress) but I want to be happy, make a lot of art and hopefully make others happy through that art, but more importantly that people connect to the art I make - whether it makes them ask questions, have an obscure feeling, be sad, look at the world a little differently. I want to make the world a little bit happier of a place. Maybe, one day, everything will come together and I'll be able to support my life through my livelihood. 

The only way to get ahead is to keep moving. dive deep: make as much as you can, put it out into the world and see what comes back to you. 

 

What would make you feel stronger and more empowered in your career or workplace?

Loving critique and encouragement. 

 

 

Photography: Michael Cooper, @cooperphotog

Interview: Sarah Kim