2016-01-13

Interview with Natalie Brown: Novelist, Artist, Craftswoman

Natalie Brown

Natalie Brown is an inspired novelist and metalsmith, her art exudes a beautiful simplicity with plenty of magic. Gratefully she is a dear friend and muse to Everything Golden. Every time I spend time with her my consciousness expands. It’s like I can feel the windows and doors open and fresh air is pouring into our conversation. I often write about style, trying to capture that elusive quality that is ‘true style’ and Natalie embodies this. That is why I love the synergy of her and I working together. So, in addition to some of my favorite shots from our latest shoot, I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the depth behind her inspiration and style. 

Your book The Lovebird is one of my all-time favorite books. Reading it for the first time I kept thinking, I can’t believe I know this woman and I can’t wait to get to know her more. Can you explain the dance between your daily life and your imaginary world—the place where your stories come from? Do they blend together seamlessly, or are they separate?

Thank you. I’ve always felt flattered and grateful that you responded so strongly to that book. My daily life and imaginary world are married. Each inspires, informs, and bleeds into the other. Occasionally the interesting or emotional things that happen in my daily life go through a sort of Fictionalization Filter and find their way into stories. But, on a deeper level, sometimes I’m able to see the seemingly mundane details of my everyday existence as doorways to the infinite, to the realm of absolute creativity and imagination. The more present and conscious I can be in my daily life—working, doing chores, making food, walking my dog—the more my imaginary world flourishes. It’s a mistake for an artist to try to escape these unglamorous everyday duties and just devote herself 100% to her art. One of the ideas I tried to flesh out in a book I wrote last year, The Pregnant Sister, is that this prosaic everyday life is full of gateways to the divine, or what some might term “heaven.” It’s important to be really rooted in your daily life and to love it, no matter how humble it may be—and mine is humble—because the rituals and tangibles of the everyday are miracles in their own way, each one with the potential to illuminate something bigger, something other, something new. And, conversely, I have found it to be true all my life that creative writing is a form of (usually accidental) spellcasting, like a charm or an enchantment, as I’ve seen time and again how the wholly made-up fictions I’ve written have come true in my regular daily existence. The veil between the two realms is so permeable. It’s actually illusory; I don’t really think there is one.

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When and how did you discover that writing what your path? And how did jewelry work it’s way into the picture?

My grandparents showered me in magazines and books when I was a child—including some classic literature that was sort of beyond my ability to fully comprehend at the time but which nevertheless inspired me to fall in love with written words and to feel at ease with them. I saw early on how these great writers had made art with words. They made images and expressed & evoked emotions and created sensory experiences with words. They assembled phrases that would stay in my head forever. I wanted to do that, too. I started trying to write little stories and books when I was about seven, and I stuck with it. In high school I journaled religiously and wrote stories and novels I never finished. At that time I thought I wanted to be an actress and try to get into the movies—I grew up 40 minutes from Los Angeles—but meanwhile I was also spending most of my free hours alone in my bedroom writing, even though I had plenty of friends whom I loved. So this writing obsession has always ruled me. I had a file cabinet full of stories, novels, poetry, and essays in various stages of completion by the time The Lovebird came out in 2013. It’s a strange thing to feel compelled to do: sit all alone at a desk for thousands of hours telling stories maybe nobody will ever see by scratching symbols onto sheets of tree. It’s really weird. Sometimes I wish I were a singer or nurse. But I feel like I can’t get away from this.

As for jewelry, I’m just really attuned to small things, both in everyday life and in my writing. I love details. Like a crow, I’m drawn to small, shiny objects. I made jewelry as a hobby all through my childhood, and then took some metalsmithing classes as an undergrad. Metalsmithing is so physical. I’m sure I like the violence of it. It’s all about tangibles, and there’s a near-instant gratification: you labor for an hour or two, and you have a ring. It’s a nice contrast to writing, which is so much about intangible emotions and ideas, and delayed gratification; a writer can labor on one project for years before she even knows what it is. I started selling my jewelry under the name Milk and Roses in 2010. It’s really simple stuff, but some people seem to like it, and I’m grateful to them.

What is your main source of inspiration?

Certainly nature—all of creation—is a huge inspiration. Men have always been a big source of inspiration for me. I love them, and I’ve had a lot of male muses—most of whom had no idea they were muses. I’m currently putting together a book of poems I’ve written about men over the years; it’ll be called either Maple Won’t Weep or Men. Romantic love inspires me. The feminine in all its forms inspires me—the feminine that weaves through all of creation and manifests in individual women. All of these people and things do come from one source, though, so to give a nutshell answer I’ll confess that God is my inspiration and everything I write is an effort to reflect light back onto God, and hopefully inspire people to see even more beauty in life—the beauty of where and who we are and all we have been given.

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You and I have had some really juicy conversations about mystical experiences, dreams and spirituality. Can you describe your spiritual life? How does that influence your work?

I’m always grateful for our conversations! I don’t feel like I can describe my spiritual life, even though I want to, except to say that it is idiosyncratic, really personal, really earthy, and really central to who I am. I pray all the time, and I know I get a lot of help in response. Technically, I’m a very liberal Catholic; it seems that Catholicism is one of the rare western religions in which more eastern contemplative and mystical traditions can thrive, and it’s very tribal, which I appreciate. I also believe in the transformative power of rituals and ceremonies, and in the notion that the most everyday of objects/events/people can be suffused with the sacred. But I am certain God is incomprehensibly bigger than any religion. Two of my favorite quotes pertaining to spirituality are:

“The Kingdom of Heaven is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.” –Jesus, The Gospel of Thomas

and

“Life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we do not want to know it, and if we did want to know it, tomorrow there would be paradise the world over.”—Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

My spiritual life influences my creative writing to a degree that I can’t quantify. I can’t separate the two. For me, writing is prayer. It’s something I love to lose myself in.

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What does “a day in the life” look like for you?  Go ahead and dish! I laugh out loud every time I think of you playing your piano in an imaginary smoky bar in your bathrobe.

In my fantasy I’m wearing some breathtaking slinky silk vintage dress from Everything Golden and I look like Ava Gardner in The Killers while tinkling the ivories for an adoring crowd in that smoky bar, but in reality I’m just at home in my shabby rented house wearing a huge fuzzy bathrobe playing for my cat and dog. I am a total amateur, wannabe musician who watches YouTube tutorials to learn how to play her favorite Lana Del Rey songs, but I love the emotional release that comes with singing and playing for a few minutes. On a typical day I’ll devote the bulk of my time to one or more of my jobs—I work as a teacher at the university, as a copywriter for a local branding agency, and I have jewelry stuff to stay on top of. I wake up, make both coffee and tea, and try not to look at the Internet before I begin writing for what I hope will be a decent amount of time. First I write in my journal, then I work on the novel I’m currently trying to finish, The Doves of Altadena. Then I get cleaned up and dressed. I always think I’m going to wear makeup and look really pulled together, but usually that goes out the window because as I am dressing I get suddenly & incredibly anxious to get out of the house and don’t have the patience for too much fussing. I like my jobs. My students are really young these days—fresh out of high school—and I really adore their smarts and humor and feel very maternal toward them. Copywriting is fun because it’s always about something different—a dog toy or a bicycle. Once work is done, there’s usually some piano playing involved in a typical day, and plenty of making and eating food—I love love love to eat—and drinking hot herbal teas; I do that all day long. I’m a bit of a hermitess but I do spend time with loved ones, without whom I would be lost. I go on at least two walks with my dog, morning and night. I stay up late, ’till after midnight, and I wish I didn’t. I haven’t had a TV in over 15 years, so it’s not that. I’m reading or thinking or dreaming or goofing off, or I’m in love.

How do your dreams influence your waking life and work?

You are the one who really inspired me to see there is no separation between our dream lives and our daily waking lives. And you led me to a teacher who helped me to go deeper with that. I dream vividly and I write down all the dreams I remember. As a reader and writer, I’ve found that my dreams speak to me in the language I love best—a language of symbols and metaphors. When I “read” my dreams I understand and know things about my life, my struggles, and my loved ones I wouldn’t know otherwise. Dreams are so important. And so are the daydreams we have when we’re awake. The ideas and images that surface from a subterranean place enable us to heal ourselves and also to make art that helps to heal others.

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I love your style sensibility—a mix of vintage and homemade with a modern twist. What does true style mean to you? What are your richest style moments?

Thank you! Style is a form of storytelling. Style is psychology. Style is a place where art, emotion, sensuality, memory, and desire all intersect. To me great style means authenticity—when someone manages to express so much about who she is and what she loves through how she adorns herself, regardless of trends. And being limited can inspire more creativity; the most stylish people I’ve known did not have a lot of money for clothes—quite the opposite! My richest style moments? I don’t know—I’ll always be California girl at heart. I like fresh, wholesome, sexy, 1950s Los Angeles style: sundresses and sandals, full unbrushed hair, very clean, very rosy, very healthy. I don’t like the typical, super-groomed, makeup-heavy, overly-fragranced mainstream American style. I like both men and women to look clean but always slightly rumpled, with a bit of bedroom residue. Lately my keyword with regard to style is “intimacy”—little touches that maybe only you and your lover notice. I’m never without my two thin gold bracelets—one on each wrist—and two thin gold chokers. I like secret thin ribbons worn on the body under clothes.

What are your most cherished items and why?

The potentially sacred qualities of objects are not to be dismissed! Some things are so suffused with emotion and memory they become more than mere stuff. I cherish an Avon perfume pendant my mom gave me on a very sweet Christmas morning in 1985—the perfume is gone but the scent is still in it; when I catch a whiff, it takes me right back. I was so in love with and attached to my mother, who was a single mom. If anything happened to the Mary & Jesus medal my grandma took off her own neck and handed down to me 10 years ago, I would be heartbroken; she asked me to wear it because she wanted me to be physically safe and healthy. I have one and only one thing my dad ever gave me (when I was seven): a very battered baseball glove. I still use it when I play catch.

Who is your spirit animal?

Well, all my life I have been stumbling across and nursing injured birds, so I seem to be a sort of unwitting bird mother. But I definitely feel closest to deer, both does and bucks. One of the stories in The Pregnant Sister, a book I hope will be published soon, is about a woman who transforms into a deer every time she puts on a certain necklace. When she returns to her human form her knees hurt from all the jumping over fences and her tongue is stained purple from the berries.

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All of these looks are currently available in the shop!

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