Spotlight: The Whimsical World of Laura Wertheim

By Stefan Deeran

Before Laura Wertheim ’06 could clarify why her kindred flower is a tulip, we found ourselves locked out of her feline-defended fortress. “You’d be surprised how frequently I have these catastrophic things happen during my day,” Ms. Wertheim explained as she boldly hoisted a ladder in a futile attempt to sneak through a window. “I take such pains to prevent them from reoccurring, but then some other, unpredicted disaster comes along.” After an escapade for the extra key that led us all the way to St. Thomas, we discussed Macademia and domesticity. She even recounted, albeit reluctantly, the silly “Blonde Squad” moniker of yesteryear.

Let’s discuss your major, International Studies.

The reason that it’s so important to my intellectual life at Macalester is its insistence upon interdisciplinary [work] and the fact that it empathizes … that nothing in the world exists independently. And that’s how I view my intellectual experience as a whole. It’s enabled me to take classes from different departments that I wouldn’t be able to take if I was just a history major. You kind of miss out that you don’t have this consolidated knowledge, but you do find out how every class is interconnected.

Studied abroad in Paris for your French major?
I am kind of a Francophile and I’ve always wanted to be a part of the French community. I’m obviously an American and never felt that so profoundly then when I was in France. But the International Studies major has enabled me to participate in conversation in France and feel like I am well informed and can look at international issues from a more open perspective.
What were you doing in Paris?
I had an internship at Sotheby’s auction house and I worked in the impressionist department. I had some amazing experiences. I went to Maya Picasso’s apartment and saw some incredible artwork of [Pablo’s]; she confirms the authenticity of a lot of his works.

Post grad plans?
The ultimate plan is to go to grad school. I’d like to get an MBA with some sort of art emphasis—art administration. For immediate plans I’m going to Paris and doing a fashion program there, and hopefully when I come back I’ll have some sort of job.

Any professor shout-outs?
Diane Brown. She was my first-year professor and my advisor. I love the classes she teaches. I am taking her “Seduction and Betrayal” class this semester and I was the writing assistant for the equivalent class for first-years last semester. She makes a huge effort to integrate theory, [for example] we’re going to an opera at the Ordway. She also works to make class interesting on a high intellectual level.

How long have you been at this house?
Since this summer. So I’ve done a lot of homemaking since then.

So what has inspired your homemaking?
I’ve always liked domestic things to a certain extent. I like decorating. I’m kind of amazing with color palates. It’s also kind of a creative release. And it’s frivolous and fun, a nice counterbalance to school because I get so obsessive and stressed out about school. I love making cupcakes. I don’t cook, I bake. If I’ve got a whole lot of homework, I’ll make myself a lemon loaf—and hopefully not eat the whole lemon loaf. It’s always fun to make a cake. It’s a great stress-reliever.

Can an independent woman also be a domestic goddess?
I think if you were to take the domesticity issue to a marriage point, maybe I might re-evaluate it, but it’s something I enjoy. I am not doing this for anybody else—I’m not sitting here cooking for my boyfriend or something. I cook for friends; it’s fun to set a pretty table and such. Why not create a lovely environment if that’s something you like to do? In terms of social issues, I don’t think this changes my views.
How would you define the good life?
That’s a really hard question—partially because I’m very satisfied with my life right now. Not to say that I’m not ambitious, just that I don’t know what direction life will take me. There are so many opportunities and possibilities. Sometimes I think it would be so fabulous to live in NYC or a really big city with an incredible arts scene and go to incredible restaurants every night and go to the theater all the time. I really appreciate all that cultural capital of big cities, I guess. But other times I like staying at home and having the time to read lots of novels and relax. I collect so many books and I don’t get to read them all.

Who’s one person that’s had the most influence on you?
Without a doubt, my sister. She’s been my best friend forever. She’s knows every quirk I have which is kind of hard because I have so many. Someone who is willing to criticize you and yet it is not detrimental to the relationship.

Which quirk is most jejune?
I know what [my sister] would say. She would say that I love musicals and I like the idea of my life being a musical. [Laughs] We may have to have this off the record…Especially around her, I sing all the time, which drives her insane, like Phantom of the Opera or Cabaret.
What were the difficulties you experienced coming to Macalester?
When I applied to college, I wanted a place that was liberal and dedicated a lot of energy towards being socially responsible. So that was something that initially attracted me to Macalester—and its community that was open and inclusive. And then upon coming I found that it wasn’t very inclusive at all. It was just inclusive to a certain pre-designated kind of idea of what someone should be like going to Macalester. And I kind of take that back now, I feel much more integrated into the system now. Maybe it’s so ancient history, but my first few years really influenced my experience. There were just so many people speculating about my appearance and what it meant. I loved my classes, I loved the intellectual experience, I loved the Twin Cities. When I went into classes I felt I had to prove that I had legitimate contributions to make and so I was really self-conscious in my classes. I felt like I needed to plan what I had to say and be as succinct and articulate as I possible could be. And it made me kind of paranoid. Part of me wanted to know who was saying this, who had such a problem with me. Because it was so anonymous I just attributed it to everyone. Maybe people who didn’t even know me, who couldn’t care less.
Why did some people single you out?
Honestly if I understood, it would help me come to terms with it. I never talked with someone specifically who had these feelings. I never discovered the logic behind it. And it became less and less relevant as I became more confident, as I met more people and felt more connected and felt like more people actually knew me and could make a judgment based on actual information instead of just seeing me walking through the cafeteria.

So you transferred to USC for a week or two?
That’s not the way the story goes! I oscillated for a really, really long time as to whether to transfer or not.

Why did you consider transferring from Mac?
I started to believe that I must be this kind of person, this superficial girl who loves California, the beach and shopping so of course USC would be the perfect place for me. I don’t know how this happened in my head, but maybe because I had been rejected to a certain extent I felt like maybe I’d be more accepted at USC. I can’t remember exactly. Something about “Blonde Squad,” you know, “the Make-up Girls” maybe had something to do with it. I think at the time that was bothersome to me, maybe I just felt I wasn’t part of the Macalester Community, and I wondered whether that was what I really wanted my college experience to be like. And its cold in Minnesota; there are other reasons. I really oscillated because I really liked my classes and I love my friends. But at the same time, it was like ‘what if I’m missing out on the big university, in California, experience?’ If you’re from New Mexico that’s your idea of what college should be like.
So what happened when you got to USC?
I have to say, if ther
e’s anything that has given me a profound appreciation for Macalester, it was that experience. It made me realize that no college community is ideal or perfect. Even if I wasn’t completely integrated into the Macalester community, I had fabulous friends here and the community at large is interested in an intellectual experience. So what happened is that it all went awry [at USC] before I even made it to class. I had to go out there two months before school started to go through rush…
Why did you join a sorority?
Because it’s this huge school and I’m transferring so I figured that was my best shot of getting to know people. This is the thing, I only joined for one day and then I had to leave. I thought it was so horrible and one of the most unpleasant things I had done ever in my life. I realized I’d rather live in Dupre.

Macalester has made you more conservative?
In high school I was so radical, partially because I was fueled by some of these groups I was in. But when I got to Macalester, I felt that people were so extreme to the point of not being reasonable or rational. I’ve found the middle ground to be so much more productive and useful in terms of making some kind of difference. One of my friends has recently started a group, the Republicrats, on campus. I really like the idea that there is conversation between the two groups. I really don’t like the idea of these dualisms, right and left. It’s so reductive to think that way. You can’t have a rhetorical conversation if the entire community is so homogeneous in terms of one political identity. I feel you need to hear both sides of the conversation.

So you don’t let people bother you now?
I went to dinner with some people that I never would have gone to dinner with freshman year just because I only hung out with the same people. And upon meeting someone, she was like, “Oh you’re one of the ‘Blonde Squad.”‘ And I hadn’t heard this reference in such a long time that it’s just kind of funny. We don’t all have blond hair, although I know that the title serves to equate blond with stupid. I am like, “I dye my hair so I’m glad I fooled you!” [laughs]. [The girl] wasn’t malicious about it at all. She was just making a reference and it didn’t hold the same negative connotations. And now if I were to be completely honest, maybe I have some sort of nostalgia for the days when we had more presence on campus.