Yesterday actress Blake Lively’s new lifestyle magazine/store Preserve opened, to some (admittedly sarcastic) fanfare. I have no beef with the site – it seems pretty, and store-wise I’m not really the target audience so I have no business commenting on the products.
But I’ve been struck by a phrase Lively has been using to promote the site. She says that it will help readers live “a curated life.”
Curation is the watchword of a lot of social media and a lot of post-modern life generally. It means, basically, to select carefully and present with a thought to the total collection and its reception by others. It’s something I find myself unconsciously doing almost every time I pin, tweet, or post something. What would someone who scrolled through my profile think of me? What does this Home board say about who I am, what my taste is, what kind of life I want to lead/am leading?
Initially only relevant to galleries and museums, curation is now a concept that subtly drives a lot of our self-presentation online and off. In my line of work there’s even a pretty good book called Curating Worship, about thinking of worship as curated experiences rather than rituals or habits.
But the beauty and careful discernment that can come from curation present their own dangers for a fulfilling or spiritual life. At this point it’s a cliche to acknowledge that facebook is a pretty poor representation of ‘real’ life, leaving out many of the moments of failure, frustration, and boredom that actually characterize the everyday. No one instagrams their frozen meals, or pins the very sensible iron they have to save for on a tight budget. So when we look at others, we see only the good stuff, and tend to think the worse of our own petty and mixed lives.
But it’s not just the bad or the dull that we miss when we lead curated existences. It’s the surprising. A curated life or presence leaves no room for the shock and the beauty that come from completely outside of us, from the things that we would never think to choose, from the events that mess up every neat narrative we’ve written for ourselves but manage to make living the story we’re stuck with that much more enriching.
So here’s what I think. Do you want to feel whole? Then yes, embrace the vulnerability of posting your Pinterest fails and honestly expressing your darkness and doubts. But also make sure to invite surprises into your life. Force yourself to go to new places, sit with an object you initially had a distaste for, talk to a person who seems at odds with your values.
It is rarely the things we choose that have the most to teach us about what life is. To learn who we are we have to first learn the world as it is – bursting at the seems with un-understandable, un-curated, un-capturable chaos. In the midst of that chaos we find the most beautiful order – not any order we can curate but the order of creation, which will always disrupt whatever we seek to impose upon it.