Lifestyle blogs are all about aspiration, which is code for making people envy you and shop accordingly. In our series I Like This Bitch’s Life, the Cut bitterly admits that it’s working.
On Twitter, the writer Nicholson Baker is partial to close-ups of greenery encased in raindrops. Once, he posted a photograph of a bowl of cherries with only the stems showing. After a similar photo of white flowers in a white bowl, Baker followed up to clarify the image’s origin with a credit — “gathered by my wife.” In my all-time favorite, Baker again evokes his wife: “My wife found an old box of linens,” he writes, to explain the photo of a clothesline populated by squares of fabric in various shades of blue. The trees in the background are bright green, as is the brush and the grass below. A white laundry basket stands out as a robust, happy contrast.
Baker is a novelist and essayist whose writing is also known for its obsession with minutia. As The Paris Review once put it, some of Baker’s novels — The Mezzanine, Room Temperature, A Box of Matches — are “filled with idle thoughts about the trivia of daily life.” About a year ago, Baker joined Twitter, arguably an excellent platform for idle thoughts about small details. It took a few months, but about halfway through his tenure of link-posting and book-promoting Baker hit his Twitter groove: the domestic sphere. At its best, Baker’s Twitter looks a lot like an Instagram, one I’d be happy to live inside. And if I could live in a farmhouse in Maine, I would.
But I cannot live in a farmhouse in Maine. For now, I can only live where I do, in a tiny apartment, with an adult male, an elder dog, and an active toddler. In our house, we listen to children’s music a lot, the kind with crisp, clear words that are hard to forget. A recent favorite goes like this: “Tractors, tractors, on a farm.” There’s more, but that’s the gist. There are some tractors. There is a farm. The tractors are on the farm.
To me, this musical approach is akin to what Baker brings to domestic social media. “Linens, linens, on a clothesline.” There are some linens, a clothesline. While linens and clotheslines have to come from somewhere, Baker’s images focus so intently on what’s at hand that other questions — should I have tried to buy Baker’s actual Maine farmhouse? And why, as he put it, was it in need of “new loving owners”? — seem less pressing. Plus, Baker’s not afraid of moments that seem less primed for social media: Here are two photos of hotel hallways lifestyle bloggers wouldn’t be caught dead in.
His editorialized photos are, in my opinion, less successful. “Lift,” he writes, to accompany the image of two white sheets flapping from a clothesline. “Reach,” his feed says, over a startlingly beautiful image of two coiled extension cords. Why attach the verbs, I think, when we could just revel in the nouns? I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted. In a world full of action, I’d like more nouns to just sit there, idle. “More linens.”
When a baby becomes frustrated by his inability to communicate, experts recommend responding in simple, clear sentences. Spectating on others’ domestic lives has become, for me, an adult version of this baby comfort. My Instagram feed, the parts of it I love, looks much like Baker’s Twitter feed: a calm, mild image, usually taken during daylight, that seems to exist outside of headlines and obligations. What does a bowl full of water look like at noon on a Tuesday, while I’m at work? Probably much like the one Baker tweeted, captioned with just two words — “water bowl.” This simple reaction to a scene is a good approach for domestic social media; it also works in areas of life where control is much further out of reach. Dinner, dinner, on the ground, I thought recently. If I’d taken the time, maybe I would have photographed it, then captioned it in the style of Baker — “fallen pasta,” follow up: “(thrown by my son).”
While so much of lifestyle Instagram seems to be about the glamour of deprivation — the only color needed in a room is white, the only sustenance I need for breakfast is this stark bowl of berries, the only pair of shoes by my door is an intentional pair of clogs — Baker’s Twitter feed comes across as less smug. His images are corralled, but just barely; sometimes, they’re found. Rather than a static, crafted moment, Baker’s domestic images feel more like a pause in real life. “Water bowl,” he writes. Water, water, in a bowl. Why not? I could do that.