50-for-50 interview: Lisa Carnochan, cultural anthropologist

lisa of a midlife of privilege

Lisa Carnochan has two words for people like her: “Sturdy Gals.” By this she means that in the rarified world from whence she came, her style leans toward the no-nonsense, get-things-done end of the spectrum. (And believe me, Lisa knows style inside-out.) But the stiff upper lip and firmly squared shoulders belie a sensitive eye and a tender, poet’s heart. She is the outlier who passes for “regular,” and she moves among her various worlds gracefully, invisibly, then reports back to us on what she has seen and learned, making us the better and wiser for it. Of course her advice on presentation, on mien, on all matters external and interpersonal is both impeccable and exquisitely served up; how else could she have built such a robust following in so short a time? Yet I live for her “Saturday” posts, which she is wise enough to hold sacrosanct: let the rest of the week serve the mundane; on this one day, let us be quiet enough to hear the softest ripples of heart’s longing and truth.

When did you decide to become a writer?

Following the Great Crash of 2008 I lost my job as vice president of services for a software company.  I’d been writing marketing stuff like press releases, and data sheets on Microsoft, for 5 years. But I wanted to talk about privilege, about rapture, about the short sweetness of life. I remember sitting in the car, saying to a colleague, “I want to write a blog.” So I did.

Who was your favorite teacher?

All my high school English teachers. I remember those interactions vividly. Freshman year, a teacher let me and my best friend bring a Leonard Cohen record to class. We listened to Bird on a Wire.  My senior year teacher was a Princeton alumnus. He taught me for the first time what it meant to read a text carefully, and then convinced his friend in the Princeton admissions department to let me attend.

You can’t underestimate the value of good teaching.

What do you love to write about?

Anything that communicates astonishment. That said, since I wanted people to read, and didn’t think they’d necessarily go for a steady flow of “Oh wow, life is beautiful,” the blog’s about style and High WASP culture. I throw in stories of a 1982 trip to India here and there, because one should never let a good travel journal go to waste.

What has writing taught you?

Oof. Hard to know, since I’ve been doing it forever. Writing as an adolescent was a fairly unconscious act. See paper, scrawl feelings. Writing this blog now has taught me that no one decides but ourselves, in the end.

How has writing made you stronger?

Any blogger will tell you that whatever you write, someone out there is going to hate you. That’s good. Every time someone tells me I’m either too much of a snob, or, conversely, not enough of a lady, I take a deep breath and push on. Writing publicly gives you a laboratory to examine your own reactions. Because it’s all in text, and asynchronous, you can absorb a reader’s comment, understand your own emotional machinery, and respond with choice and intent.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

Don’t worry, boys will like you, but worry because boys will like you.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

As of 7:42 am, August 8th, 2011, books that astonish. These four are humdrum and magic at once. I read blogs with a specific and vivid attitude. Not required that I actually share said attitude, only that it be uniquely and enthusiastically communicated.

I know that’s seven. You’re kind of lucky it wasn’t 72. Colleen, thank you for asking me to contribute, and thank you even more for this project.

Lisa Carnochan is a blogger and marketing executive in Northern California. She writes about style, clothes, shoes, and jewelry, but as a hook to talk about cultural anthropology. Deconstructing dress codes leads to insight, now and then. Born to what she terms “High WASP” culture, Carnochan spends a fair amount of time reflecting on that demographic and its odd habits. Educated at Princeton and Columbia, she also consults to companies on web strategies, particularly those focused on a luxury market. She believes that life is short and sweet, and feels both joy and sorrow in its passing.

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