June 5, 2007

Book o' Mine ~ Bohemian Manifesto

I love the word bohemian. Merriam-Webster defines it: a person (as a writer or an artist) living an unconventional life usually in a colony with others. I've always known I have a bohemian spirit in some ways, even as a child, even before I knew the definition. So when I saw Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge by Laren Stover I knew I had to grab it. Especially because the cover art is so very groovy.

Ms. Stover's first chapter Defining Bohemia: A Diagnosis describes a bohemian as one who lives beyond convention, a maverick, an errant spirit. "You know them when you see them: She wears velvet in the rain." Well, I've never worn velvet in the rain, but when the snooty saleslady in the bridal department Wanamaker's of Philadelphia told me my bridesmaids shouldn't wear velvet on my wedding day, March 24th, because it was technically spring, well. You can guess the rest. My bridesmaids wore velvet on my wedding day when it was "technically spring." And it snowed. Isn't that so bohemian?

Another chapter, Bohemian Bon Mots, is a delightful list of quotes that are so bohemian. Quotes like:

Trees pass information on how to hold up hillsides and how to grow, and they also know how to communicate feelings. l Julia Butterfly Hill
Travel, leave everything, copy the birds. The home is one of civilization's sadnesses. In a few years humanity will go back to its nomadic state. l Gustave FlaubertArt washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. l Pablo Picasso
If someone tells you not to do something--that's a clue to do it. l Mark Innerst

She goes on to classify bohemians. You can't just lump them into one. There is the Nouveau Bohemian who brings elements of contemporary culture to the traditional "bohemian ideology." There is the Beat Bohemian who might be described best with Jack Kerouac's quote "If you own a rug, you own too much." There are Zen and Dandy Bohemians, but my favorite is the Gypsy.

I once told a man from Ireland that I too was mostly Irish. "Ah. Gypsy," he replied matter-of-factly. I have questions about my Gypsy-ness, my attraction to Chianti bottles covered in drippy wax, scarves tied around heads and sitting in a cafe till all hours talking about the nothings and everythings of the world. I keep getting back to my grandfather, my dad's dad. He was an orphan (or maybe just a gypsy?) No one knows his story, except for his own mother-in-law and they both died with the secret. He was dark, quiet and mysterious, a career bartender. His surname was an English one, common to Chicago, his supposed birthplace. But we can't trace him to it. Every lead is a dead end. I don't even know if my last name is really my last name. (I hope it's Del Toro) Once, a Romanian woman spoke to me in Romanian and was actually perplexed when I told her that I wasn't from her homeland. This type of thing has happened to me throughout my life, people always seem to think I'm from "somewhere else."

According to the author, the Gypsy bohemians are "the expatriate types." They "scatter like seeds on the wind, don't own a watch, show up on your doorstep and disappear in the night. They're happy to sleep in your barn and may have without you even knowing it." Truth to tell, I've slept in a barn or two (okay, one) ... have only just recently owned and worn a watch, a beautiful real gold one that my son found on a sidewalk in a strip mall. And I finally gave in and bought an umbrella. I mean, what's a little rain?

I like this paragraph:

"They make wind chimes out of old silverware or broken pottery. Mix their own essential oils, grow their own herbs, embroider their clothing, crochet their own clothing, build little houses in old tree stumps for elves......They will keep bees and sell honey. Their children will be tutored at home and on the road and run around naked and free. Good luck trying to figure out the family tree."

Me? I usually wear essential oils (mostly lavender or a homemade potion, Christmas gift from a friend), I grow my own herbs, I dye my clothing when I get tired of the colors or when my white things turn dingy, I tutor my children at home, as you know, and I chose to for the freedom of it. And the part about the elves and the tree? Been there, done that. I can see the moss carpet, the broken sidewalk, the gnarly roots now. My father has since cut down the tree and repaired the sidewalk, but there was that magical time on Roosevelt Terrace when the ant-sized elves and I were as one. I'd love to go there now, but...neighbors. I do have two very inviting concrete mushrooms out front in the moss garden and a pile of geodes. The elves know I'm here.

"Dusting is, for the bohemian, counterproductive, a thief of time. When the poem is read aloud or published in a literary review, when the painting is finally hung on the wall, when the film is premiered, the dust that collected during creative days and nights is of no consequence. It will not be apparent in the work at all or may, in fact, be a part of the work, if you take Jackson Pollock's example." Sometimes I laugh aloud, it rings so true.

I think the names of my children might fit in nicely with Stover's chapter on bohemian names. And the ones I really wanted would have been even better. Azalea, and Val (for a boy), Eve, Satchel and Benicio are some of my first choices. When my second was in the womb, I called him "Yippee." However, Stan is not so much the bohemian, so we settled on Seth, Luke and Sean. Luke (who's name actually does appear as an authentic bohemian name), I call Luca, which until now I didn't think much about, but I'd say it's rather bohemian. My oldest, Seth is very bohemian. He just doesn't know it yet. He dresses like a "Dandy," prefers to gather his breakfast at a nearby convenience store before school with money he doesn't own and, at 14, started playing his own music at a music cafe. He feels most comfortable on stage, he says. Evidence shows he feels least comfortable studying math. Luca is a born artist and I foresee late nights at cafes sometime in his future. Sean, well, he may be from Stan's side. I love them just the way they are. We gypsies need the non-gypsies of the world to keep us real. Heck, just to keep us.

It's hard to sum up a person's character, their very way of living, with one or two words. I tried reverent bohemian in my blog title. You see, some things about me are decidedly not bohemian. For instance, I'm not a drinker of absinthe, though I did try it recently when a friend, the head of a lighting crew for a famous rock band, smuggled it into the country. I don't enjoy casual nudity myself, but I could imagine a world where it wouldn't bother me so much. My minivan, Goldie, is absolutely the anti-bohemian, but she (sorry Goldie!) is also not my first or 28th choice either. She is just necessary. My first car, Sir Jazz Carr, was a putrid yellow Mustang II, which probably better fit the bill. Finally, Christianity in this modern society doesn't really jive so well with the strictest bohemian lifestyle, but it certainly leaves room for some things, like keeping exotic animals or using homeopathic toothpaste.

lI am almost always barefoot, I sprinkle gold aromatic fairy dust from a vile with a tiny cork on my children's beds when I remove the tooth from under their pillow, I wore one giant silver earring all through college that I bought on South Street in Philadelphia and now it's hanging in my bedroom window from a ribbon. When I was in college, I smoked cigarettes and I really liked it. I like the soundtrack of Chocolat to be playing in the background whenever possible....I like beads, wild hair, Jesus sandals, purple kurtas, and lavender and patchouli oils...and once in a while I wear them all at once. l

Please visit the Bohemian Manifesto site and find out just what kind of bohemian you are.


michelle said...

this is very cool.. I took the test and I am the Noveau Bohemian - without the money.. lol.. Will definately have to get this!
here via michele's

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that you have been with me half your life and don't recognize that I am a hillbilly bohemian. My family settled Indiana in the 1830's to get away from societal norms. While a log cabin may not fit the bohemian cultural definition, I imagine that they had lots of fringe on their buckskins.

Your evolved hillbilly husband.

Jennie said...

Oh, okay. I'll contact Laren Stover and let her know she left out a classification - the red bohemian.

rosemary said...

Well, it seems that I have absolutely no bohemian spirit...I have no money but want it, have to shower everyday and clean my house, can't wear any scents, wear socks and shoes daily...never open toe sandals, no tatterd jeans for me and while I did "do" the 60's I left my flower child on the delivery table....and I let my husbands bully me about everything from my kid's names to the divorce settlement....there is no 6th bohemian called the tight butt bohemian or the obsessive-compulsive bohemian...figures. Like you I do love the Chcoclat soundtrack tho....Jennie, you are absolutely the most talented writer I have come across in a long, long, long time....and I read tons of books, essays and blogs...you are a delight. I am so glad to have you as a blog friend.

rosemary said...

PS I can hardly wait for next Tuesday!

Jennie said...

Glad you enjoyed it Rosemary. I'm enjoying trying to decide which book to pick next! Also glad to know there's another person out there who loves Chocolat. It is hugely one of my favorite movies and soundtracks.

Jennie said...

And thank you for the nice words about my writing!!

Ember said...


I am so happy I found this post! I rarely come across people who love the things I do or are fans of the Bohemian Manifesto.

I'm a bit of each Bohemian, but Gypsy Bohemians pretty much spell out my childhood with all the moving, family took in foreign strangers or relatives, and read tarot cards, and talked and drank on our porch at twilight. I kind of miss it.

Ciao Bella xo