The Digital Fairy-Tale Salon

Making art can be a lonely thing.

Well, honestly, just existing can be a lonely thing, especially during COVID times.

But there’s something about picking up a pen or a paintbrush or power drill that can suddenly make you feel like you’re the only person on earth, trying desperately to speak out into an indifferent void. 

Will anyone else ever see what you’re making? Will you ever finish it? Will anyone care if you do, or don’t?

Questions like these are part of why we’ve always been fascinated with the French salons of the seventeenth century.

Look, it’s become a kind of truism to say that, if you want to be a creator – a writer, an artist, a puppeteer – you have to do it yourself. And, to an extent, that’s true. You become the lone artist, making things alone. Most people don’t have an audience waiting with baited breath ready on command when they finish their first poem. But it can also be really hard to create when you’re in a vacuum. It’s so easy to get tangled up in your own head, to fall victim to perfectionism, to decide that no one else will ever get to see what you’re writing or making until it’s perfect

Ask us how we know.

We’ve been there. 

People ask us all the time how on earth we’re so prolific. Despite the evil little voices in our heads that say we’re not working hard enough or doing enough, it’s objectively true. We make a lot of stuff. This year, we’ve taught seven workshops and courses through Carterhaugh, given about a dozen guest lectures and talks, and written 8 articles and book chapters, half a dozen short stories and poems, and weekly blog posts. 

We’re prolific because we work together. We can’t sit on something indefinitely because the other person needs to see it. We’ve become real good at sending each other drafts with the note “Does this suck? Or is it kind of cool? What do you think?”

Reader, it usually doesn’t suck. (Sometimes it does, but we’re both kind enough people to offer helpful suggestions instead of saying “yes it sucks, fix it immediately.”)

Okay, but what does this have to do with you, or with salons?

Basically, it’s all about the importance of community. Getting other eyes on your page or ears on your tale, even when you don’t want to, even when you feel like going full-on lone artist mode. And you don’t have to have a day job where you work with your BFF to harness its power. 

Enter the concept of salons. 

In many ways, seventeenth-century France was not an easy place to be a woman. They were barred from universities and expected to acquiesce to arranged marriages. Divorce was pretty much off the table, and birth control was… not a reliable option. (And as bad as aristocratic women had it, the poor often had it way worse.) 

As Terri Windling explains, “In the 1630s, disaffected women began to host gatherings in their own homes in order to discuss the topics of their choice: arts and letters, politics (carefully, for the Sun King’s spies were everywhere), and social matters of immediate concern to the women of their class: marriage, love, financial and physical independence, and access to education… 

Encouraged by their success in the salons, women began to write fiction, poetry and plays in unprecedented numbers — and to earn a living through this work which enabled them to remain unmarried or to establish separate households. The salons became quite influential — fashions grew out of them, artistic ideas, and even political movements; they also provided a network for women struggling to achieve independence.

In the middle of the 17th century, a passion for conversational parlor games based on the plots of old folk tales swept through the salons. The telling of folk tales was an art that had long historical associations with women – yet the use that these bluestocking women made of such tales was new and subversive. Each salonnière would be called upon to retell an old tale or rework an old theme, spinning them into clever new stories that not only showcased verbal agility and imagination, but also slyly commented on the conditions of aristocratic life. Great emphasis was placed on a mode of delivery that seemed natural and spontaneous — but in fact people devised and practiced their stories before they trotted them out in public, and a style emerged that was both archly sophisticated and faux-naif.

Basically, these salons were places to let loose, to be yourself (especially if you were a woman, though some men participated as well), to talk to others who GOT YOU (instead of the void) about your work and thoughts and dreams. Today, you see echoes of them in writing groups, artist collectives, knitting circles, and other groups like that… and, we hope, in Carterhaugh. 

Carterhaugh has grown into an amazing fairy-tale community on the web. It’s gotten so much bigger than the two of us. It’s full of writers, artists, and makers of all sorts (there’s a reason we address you as “Magic Makers” in our emails… you guys are all constantly making magic in all kinds of fabulous ways!) We gather and we lean on each other and we grow together. And no, most of us have never met up in person (er, and we couldn’t meet in person now anyway, even if we did all live somewhere as glamorous as Paris!), and no, we don’t have a fancy parlor to call home, but we look at what Carterhaugh has become and realize that we all, together, are part of a grand tradition in the fairy-tale world that goes back centuries. 

We are a digital fairy-tale salon. 

You may have noticed that the course that just closed for enrollment, Gothic Fairy Tales, featured a new course aspect named after the salons. We were first imagining these as sort of fairy-tale slumber parties, but so many people signed up that they’re going to be a LOT more than that – we’ve enticed Gypsy Thornton of the incredible Once Upon a Blog to take over as host salonnière for these events, and she’s full of ideas on how to draw on the salons of the past to make these salons of the present absolutely wonderful. We’re leaning hard into this, and we hope you all love it as much as we do. 

Even if you’re not in Gothic Fairy Tales, you’re still a part of our community – through this blog, through our email list, through our Facebook discussion group! And if you want to know more about our seventeenth-century inspirations, you’re definitely going to want to check out our upcoming Profs & Pints talk all about them – it’s this Sunday at 7PM EST (tickets here!)

So we have a question for you – what could we do to make Carterhaugh an even better community for YOU? If you had a magic wand, what would you ask for to feed your creative practice and to inspire you?

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