If you attend an obscure campus event, you will likely spot Baladine Pierce ’20, a smiling, slender girl with blunt bangs wearing fur or plaid – or both. She and I are entrymates, and I admire her brilliance and how she seems to find everything charming. I sat down with Baladine to chat about her name, art, history, vegetarian dining and Alfred Hitchcock.
Let’s begin with an obvious question: Where does the name “Baladine” come from?
There is a painter called Balthus, and his mother was named Elizabeth. But one day, she woke up and decided that it should be Baladine and not Elizabeth anymore, so she changed it. She was a very inventive person and also an artist. I think I am one of the only people who have the name. It means “singer of little songs.” People often think that my name is Valentine or Valadine. My favorite confusion was Baldrone, which I really wish was my name. But my dad is an art history teacher and artist, so he came across Baladine in his readings.
That’s awesome! And how do your dad — and mom — influence you?
My dad is an artist, and my mom is a psychiatric nurse, so they are definitely very different. I do think that I have a mind more similar to my dad’s than my mom’s. I definitely have a tendency toward visual expression and really looking at the way the world presents different pictures to you. It is nice to have that contrast between my parents, my mom is a lot more analytical and put-together, whereas my dad has a more artistic messiness. I am a self-proclaimed slob, which I’d like to think has some of his haphazard artistic spirit.
In addition to art, I know that you write a lot. Could you tell me about some of the things you have written and what writing means to you?
I keep a lot of journals and that is both to process things that are going on in my life and to keep a record. It can be stressful to think about it that way, because there is no way to record all of your life moments, and I find that I record so much less when my life is brimming with things to discuss and process. It hasn’t been going that well lately, but it is definitely an important thing to me. I love having that sense of the past, because my biggest academic interest is history, and I feel like it helps me keep track of my own history.
Why history? What do you love about it?
That’s a challenge. I should dig up some old internship applications and tell you. I just think that all of the subjects are represented in history. Psychology is so important, and it connects so well with literature. You can learn history through all of these different subjects and history of all of these different subjects. So I think that choosing history as a center of interest and a vocation really lets you pull from so many different fascinating disciplines that I would not want to distance myself from. The present is such a struggle for me, and the future is such a struggle for me, and history just makes both of those states much easier to grapple with and understand. There is definitely a kind of solace in reaching back to what is set and what will always exist as it was but, at the same time, you can change your own perception and history. I like that permanence and flexibility, because history remains the same, but the way we look back on it changes. That is something that I am definitely interested in looking into. It drives my career dreams.
So you want to study how we study history. That’s cool! Very meta. I know that you are also a fan of Hitchcock movies. Could you tell me about your favorites and why you like them?
I love The Birds. I think that it is an extremely unique movie,because of the subject. The idea that nature is the murderer is very interesting. It is also just so surreal. I love the pre-CGI [Computer-Generated Imagery] editing, which kind of makes it more frightening in way, because it’s all so confused and abstract. I love Vertigo and Strangers on a Train. It’s very hard for me to watch modern movies that are coming out now, because there is something in those old movies that I don’t know if we can ever capture again in cinema. There’s something so special about the past. Maybe people will look back on 21st-century movies and feel the same way, but Hitchcock is just so special. I grew up as an extreme coward, so I could not watch anything with the mere suggestion of frightening content. I was terrified of movie theaters. But there is something in suspense that is such an incredible emotion to have. Hitchcock’s movies are not excessively gory, but they’re so strategically set up to have perfect suspense. And now I am not as much of a coward as I was.
I am also curious about your childhood in New York City. What was it like growing up in Manhattan?
I definitely think about that a lot here. Sometimes, I kind of wish I had a suburban childhood. I used to idealize that so much, but I’m sure it would have been dreadful for me, because the people are what I really love about the city. When I went back, I was most taken over with the sensation of standing on a street corner or in the subway and having people come toward me in streams and seeing their faces for the first and last time in the same minute. That’s something that does not exist here, where we have preconceived notions of each other based on the fact that we are Williams students. In the city, I love the mystery of every person you see. The cultural institutions are also so wonderful, but I definitely craved nature throughout my childhood.
Is that why you decided to come to the College?
That was the greatest gain in coming here. Now I am always going to have picnics outside and hanging out on Stone Hill, which is my favorite spot. But as for why I fell in love with Williams, I hope this doesn’t seem traitorous, but I originally loved Amherst before I had visited anything. I was terrified of college. I thought it was going to be doom with academic burdens and no outlet. Then I looked up Amherst and saw the words “nestled in a happy valley” and saw that there was an organic farm on campus. Then I knew that college was going to be amazing. But when I actually toured, I realized that Amherst was nothing compared to Williams. It was just the feeling on this campus, which I know a lot of people refer to, and it’s kind of vague and annoying, but that’s what it was. Also the purple mist that was all along the mountains. And it was one of my life dreams to touch a cloud, and when I was here, I touched a cloud on a hill and ran through it! It felt like nothing at all, but I was so, so happy. I’d like to think about that metaphorically — touching something that is not really there — but I don’t think that will work. So then I was in love with Williams. I realized that it is nestled in a happier valley. And now I am on the Garden Board and involved with Sustainable Growers even though we don’t have an organic farm.
Could you talk a little more about your eating habits and food philosophy?
I am a ginormous food snob. That resulted from my life in New York City, where my mother was a phenomenal cook and we had farmers’ markets and lovely food options all around us. My fear was to come to college and have questionable food circumstances. I don’t want to eat things that are chock-full of preservatives and GMOs and non-organic, and I don’t think that should be food snob status. For a while, I was subsisting on rice cakes and the crispy brown rice products here. The gluten-free section at Mission is my haven. I also do a lot of my own cooking. I was a pescatarian for two years before I came to college, but I just don’t think the seafood here is real. If it is real, it is very, very sad. But all of the things that I used to not eat at home I eat the most of here. I was afraid of beans — like actually afraid — for decades. They irked me and confused me, and I was very averse to them. But here that is like all I eat. And it was the same thing with rice cakes. I was not a fan of them, but the key is to put them in the toaster in Mission — not the small toaster though, or they’ll catch on fire.