Lifestyle writing is all about aspiration, which is code for making people envy you. In our series I Like This Bitch’s Life, the Cut admits that it’s working.
Ariele Alasko carves spoons. Made from walnut, cherry, apple, spalted maple, yellow pine, their bowls are shaped like circles, triangles, human hands; their handles might extend a foot, or twist into a figure eight. Some are tiny enough to cup the tip of your finger. Others are as big as a saucer. Alasko shapes the spoons individually, lists them on her website, and announces every sale to her 300,000 Instagram followers. They sell out in minutes. They cost $200 each.
A spoon stops being a utensil at $3.99; after that, it becomes a luxury. A $200 spoon has to be a work of art. Alasko also sells cutting boards ($250), butter knives ($65), and bowls ($100), but a $200 spoon is so much too much that it hits a sweet spot I never knew I had: something small, something labored over, something common that has been made exceptional. A $250 cutting board is just a piece of wood, but a hand-carved spoon is something more.
If I had one, I would never use it. Alasko easily describes each item’s function — salad servers, spice spoon, ice-cream scoop — but I can't picture taking her at her word. What am I going to do, eat soup with one? Wash it in my sink afterwards? Am I supposed to use a sponge on it? I wouldn't dare. Alasko photographs her creations against a marble backdrop, and in my imagination, I, too, have a slab of marble, in front of which I hold my $200 spoon for friends to marvel at. "It's an Ariele Alasko," they say in a hush to each other. Every dinner party at my apartment would start and finish with a spoon-admiring hour.
Alasko’s Instagram feed shows none of the manic art direction visible in the work of some other web celebrities. Her images seem calm. They rise and fall on simple themes: her pit bull, Mazie, and cat, Mr. C; feathers, antlers, flowers, leaves; the furniture she's building for herself; the warehouse where she makes her art.
As my obsession with her feed grew, I started following Alasko's studio mate. Then her ceramacist collaborators. Then the textile designers and plant-shop owners whose usernames fill her photo captions. Following these accounts online began to feel a bit like following Alasko down the street — I saw glimpses of her whenever I signed on.
"She looks like a mermaid," I told my boyfriend, and raised my voice when he said he didn't understand. "A goddamn mermaid! If you don't know what that means, I can't explain it to you." Her hair falls in waves to her waist. Everything about her body, from her fingers to her face, is thin and pensive. She looks like she swam into the heart of Brooklyn, found a set of size-small coveralls in an abandoned industrial space, checked her reflection in the rippling glass of an antique window, and got to work.
"Bitches get stuff done," said Tina Fey on SNL back in 2008, the first time Hillary was running for president. Noted cultural commentator Britney Spears had this to say in 2013: "You better work, bitch." (She then added, "Work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work," and the single "Work Bitch" was born.)
Alasko fits Fey's definition. She heeds Britney's exhortation. Her photos look so good because they capture, in shades of cream and brown, someone working steadily toward greatness. Each spoon takes her two to five hours to form, and some of her bigger sculptural pieces take weeks, but she never appears to break her pace. A new photo arrives on Instagram daily. The wood shavings in the corners of her photos pile up, are cleared away, return and grow. "I'm thrilled to get to my studio every day," she once told Kinfolk magazine. "My work is so time-consuming, but somehow I'm still enjoying sorting through the same heaps of wood again and again, measuring, cutting, and nailing; measuring, cutting, and nailing, and so on."
"Document your work," she once said when asked for advice to other creative people. "Almost everything I am today happened because I started my blog and blogged every day for a year." Let me tag another line onto her suggestion, though, with an idea that's so obvious to Alasko she didn't even need to say it: have work to show. Spend an hour or a month or a year making a thing you can hold in your hand. Make it out of spalted maple, or clay, or ink, but make it well. Because before Alasko created an Instagram account, before she put her first post up on her blog, she was already getting stuff done.
Work, bitch, I remind myself when I'm procrastinating by scrolling past Alasko's Instagrams. They're a window into her life and the one I wish I had. In my imagination — the same place where I keep my marble slab — I'm a better host to my friends, a more patient partner to my man, and a more productive writer. I've got the studio, the great hair, the space to have a gorgeous dog. In that make-believe place, I hold up things I've labored over. The people around me swoon.
I want Ariele Alasko's discipline. I want her world. And I want the kind of life, the financial confidence, the guts, that it takes to make a $200 spoon.