A Blog Interview: Kitchen Retro
Welcome Pocketchange readers to the triumphant return of our Blog Interview Series! To mark this occasion we’ve got a profile on Lidian from the Kitchen Retro blog – dedicated to all things vintage and pop culture. Lidia has an obvious love of history and it really shines through in her musings on everything from classic art and Americana to old timey advertisements and even discussions on Victorian novels. Read on for the goods!
Why did you decide to start a blog about vintage pop culture?
I started writing Kitchen Retro as a blog about my vintage/retro cookbook collection. And then I got a little bit bored with doing only that. I realized that what I really loved were the old advertisements about food and kitchens and so on – and then there were all these other amazing ads! So gradually Kitchen Retro expanded into a blog about retro everyday life.
What’s your favorite thing about writing the blog?
I really like finding a wonderfully funny and interesting advertisement – something that’s a totally unexpected, weird little message from the past – and getting an idea of the perfect writing angle for the post. I love sharing what I’ve found with my readers – I always imagine them sitting across the room and I run over and go “Take a look at this!”
Do you have a favorite piece of vintage history? Why is it your favorite?
I especially enjoy the 1930s ads in which there’s a whole dramatic story line complete with photos with speech bubbles and cartoon strips. For example, my post “The Bizarro Shirley Temple” (http://www.kitchen-retro.com/2008/10/bizarro-shirley-temple.html) stars a very rude little girl – quite angelic looking, but so unpleasant! - who berates her aunt for having bad breath and scaring off all the suitors. Colgate saves the day, in the end. But of course.These stories say a lot about what people thought back in the early to mid 20th century about all sorts of things – women’s place in the world not the least of these, which particularly interests me. In a sense, there’s a definite feminist subtext to Kitchen Retro that I haven’t run with too much (yet) – not overtly, anyway. But it’s there all the same.
What’s the best advice ever given to you (with regard to blogging, or anything else)?
All the stuff about doing what you really love, which I think a lot of people have said. If I don’t get excited about my writing – if that ad doesn’t make me laugh or go ‘what the heck is that all about? I must know!’ then why should anyone else care, really?
Any recommendations for people who want to start their own blog or get into vintage culture?
It’s really a good idea to try and find an original angle – something you can become known for, that’s yours alone. For Kitchen Retro, I often use the ads as creative writing prompts. And I write light verse about ads, which is great fun. I think the first one I did for Kitchen Retro was “Menswear Haiku” (http://www.kitchen-retro.com/2009/02/menswear-haiku.html). I don’t think anyone else writes haiku about 1950s ads. That particular original angle is pretty far out, but there it is.
I also highly recommend using a strong image with each post. It really helps break up the mass of writing on a page – and it’s enjoyable, too.
As far as getting into vintage print ads and ephemera (which is the vintage stuff I know about), you’ll want to go to secondhand bookstores, thrift stores, estate sales. And keep your eyes peeled around the house. I found some 50s newspaper ads under the floorboards when we were renovating a few years ago – which I promptly ironed and scanned. And then used on the blog. Check out what’s available online, too – there’s a lot out there.
And finally: expect to get really tired of your blog(s) sometimes. It’s OK (and actually productive, in the end) to take a break and come back refreshed.
Who is the one vintage icon that really stands out to you?
The first one that comes to mind is the 1940s/50s Hot Dan the Mustard Man (http://www.kitchen-retro.com/2010/04/trouble-for-dinner-in-gotham-city.html), a strange creature who solves people’s problems by appearing with a jar of French’s Mustard and applying lashings of it to whatever is handy.
What are/were your favorite and least favorite trends in pop culture?
My most and least favorite trends are the same thing: how much information is out there and is so readily available. It opens up research possibilities I never dreamed of years ago. Yet it can be overwhelming and kind of distracting, too. It’s like being at an endless party where everyone wants to tell you everything they’ve done, all at once. And probably the drinks have all run out by now and you’re getting a headache. On the other hand, I often like dropping in to that party, and am glad it’s going on.
What are you working on right now?
Online, I have 3 other blogs that get updated reasonably regularly: The Virtual Dime Museum (http://www.thevirtualdimemuseum.com/) – about NYC history and genealogy, The Doubletake (http://lidianblog.blogspot.com/) – Kitchen Retro’s companion blog, general weird history through ads and Cinnamon Moon (http://www.cinnamonmoon.com/) - weird culinary history. I do like weird or unusual, rather small bits of the everyday life of the past. I love old classified ads, for example. And I find that if you “unpack” that little ad, really try and find out what is going on in it, who the people are, and the products or places – you get a terrific, unusual take on a larger history.
Offline, I’m working on a book about my Brooklyn ancestors’ lives and how they connect to 19th century American history in a more general sense. They really were an unusually odd and interesting group of people. I keep finding incredible stories about them: for example, a 49er who went off to the Gold Rush, a notorious Brooklyn murderer, a scandalous stockbroker, and a great great great aunt who was one of the first woman photographers in New York – and who had quite a colorful personal life as well. There are several others, too. They were a mainstay of the New York and Brooklyn papers from the 1860s through the 1910s. It is just amazing. I’ve never come across a family group like them. So I feel absolutely compelled to write this.
I’m also working (slowly) on a steampunk/mystery novel which takes place in an alternative NYC, provisionally titled The Glass Bridge. I’m writing it for now on notecards, as an experiment in whether I can actually pull it off – and because they are less daunting than a blank screen! I’ve been working on it for a long time, in different ways. I keep quitting, but then I keep coming back to it in the end.
This is way too much stuff, I know! I don’t do all of this at once, all the time. I try to schedule things and switch between projects so that I don’t burn out. And take plenty of IRL breaks too, of course.
Any last thoughts?
I’m very grateful as a writer for the opportunities that blogging has opened up for me – and grateful for my readers. And thank you so much for inviting me to do this!
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