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A (Gorgeous) Two-Headed Phoenix Rises from the Ashes
We’re back for realsies! The Kevin Bacon & Elizabeth McGovern circa 1988 of newsletters (too niche?) returns from leave with therapy-speak out the wazoozle, a mind-blowing beauty secret, and more.
It’s a thrill to finally write: Hello, Spread Nation,
We missed you, and we hope you missed us, too. You won’t be surprised to hear that before we could join you back here in reality, there was a pile of postpartum/post-book-writing admin to be handled—bills to be paid, New Yorker subscriptions to be unscrambled, baby clothes to be sorted by size and season, mommy clothes to be sorted by whether or not they made us look still full-on pregnant or just awkwardly recently pregnant. So very many customer service representatives to get stuck on hold with. In short, the kind of domestic drudgery that requires a backdrop of junky TV. The new show on Hulu’s home screen had a sexy image and a vaguely familiar title: Tell Me Lies. This turns out to be a college-sex series so derivative, yet addictive, it’s become our favorite background-watch in years. The whole thing just screams algorithm: The title is a mashup of Tell Me You Love Me, the 2007 HBO softcore-sex drama that all Adam Scott fans must watch immediately (you’re welcome) plus Big Little Lies, which at this point needs no recapping. The actual story steals from both of those series (graphic sex; a murder mystery involving, in this case, a Shailene Woodley lookalike) and also Hulu’s recent hit Normal People (graphic sex among undergrads) as well as James Van Der Beek’s entire oeuvre (the oversexed antihero of Rules of Attraction; the football-player injuries of Varsity Blues; the campus shenanigans of a fictional Northeast college a la Dawson’s Creek’s final seasons); Cruel Intentions (a nasty-sexy male lead); Succession (a Chappaquiddick-inspired accident)…shall we go on? As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun. Though here at the Spread, we do try to bring you at least a fresh way of looking at what’s going on in the world of women every week. While we were out, we racked up hundreds of new subscribers, to whom we say: Welcome! To the rest of you old friends: Welcome back! And to all of you: Please tell us you love us as much as a pair of naked college kids in a beer-soaked basement will love a breakfast sandwich come sunrise by smashing that like button.
Pass the coffee,
Rachel & Maggie
Our daddies, our selves.
In this week’s New Yorker, Rivka Galchen writes about her dad. For the first half of the New Yorker-length essay (did I mention it ran in the New Yorker?), Galchen’s point seems to be that Dad was a real character, with asides about how she—a successful novelist and writer for publications such as the New Yorker!—at various points went to medical school and studied at a women’s yeshiva in Jerusalem. (We get it, Rivka! You are brilliant and worldly and could definitely deliver a baby on an airplane if called to do so!) But in the second half we begin to see a bigger point. Like most of us, in her youth Galchen did see her dad as a mostly a larger-than-life character, but once she grows up and is able to mine the rich, often-trodden who-was-my-dad-really? territory, he becomes much more complex and also a reflection of herself. This all might sound like cliché—and it’s definitely the type of piece that you’ve read before—but the style and earned wisdom with which Galchen eventually infuses her subject had me screengrabbing quote after quote. Also, bringing the yeshiva thing full circle: There’s also a riff on Jacob & Esau that resurrected the misfit Sunday Schooler from my past and had me pumping my first in agreement. (In short: #teamesau.)
I should mention that I was already primed for a little reconsideration of parent-child relationships: Per my the recommendation of my new therapist who is younger than me (gasp, I know) and has amazing hair (yep), I’ve been reading the new-ish book Us by shrink-to-the-stars Terrance Real, which breaks down relational patterns according to one’s “adaptive child” (the immature version of ourselves that was cultivated in our youth but rears its head in adulthood) and the wise adult which we all strive to become. The big idea is that it’s ineffective and even destructive for parties in a relationship to operate independently; in marriages, friendships, and other adult relationships it’s essential to function as a single organism or team. I recommend the book, but if you don’t want to take my word for it, heed the Boss. Springsteen wrote the forward.—Rachel
Rachel, I agree, as I read the first (many) paragraphs of Galchen’s essay, I kept thinking: But what is this about? Is the New Yorker just running a lengthy portrait of one writer’s father? Rivka: Give a gal some signposts! Tell me where we’re headed with this! Which led to a related, 100-percent unfounded thought: Does David Remnick have a crush on Rivka Galchen? Which reminded me of another bubbling Conde Nast conspiracy theory: Are Edward Inningul and Anna Wintour on the outs like the Daily Beast says? Alright, that’s enough pot stirring for now.—Maggie
Read “How to Recover From a Happy Childhood” here.
Lordy, lordy, look who’s…45 and feelin’ it.
What is it about fall? Maybe it’s the cumulative sun damage of the summer months showing up on my face. Maybe it’s the washing away of that carefree fuck-it-all, it’s-summer-baby attitude. Maybe it’s the leaves, shriveling and falling from the tree outside my office window. (Like sand through the hourglass, so are the pores on my nose…) Whatever the reason, September is traditionally the month when my skin goes haywire and my waddle emerges, and I start to fantasize about...pumpkin-spice lattes? Gross. Duh, dermatology. When this happens the best splash of cold water to the face, so to speak, is a firm dose of reality from Val Monroe, the veteran beauty editor we’ve recommended here before—she’s the fellow Substacker behind the newsletter How to Not F*** Up Your Face. Last week, Val chatted with Kim France and Jennifer Romolini on Everything is Fine, their podcast for women 40-plus—a demo in which I solidly reside, and that Rachel occupies spiritually—to talk about the ways in which the “maliciousness of our western beauty culture” becomes more acute the older we get, and how “when you move past the point of ever being perceived as youthful…by younger people…the harder it is to feel comfortable in a culture that prizes that.” Sounds like a serious downer but somehow the effect is the opposite. Val’s takeaways are stark: A) Stop pretending that anything in a jar is holding a miracle (but there are things in the derm office that might help…). B) Stop buying into the image-creation myths of the beauty industry in general (and I quote: “It’s all fucking fake.”). But Val herself, at a proud 71, is both seriously hot and aspirationally wise. The ep left me with the most age-defying thing of all on my face: A huge smile.—Maggie
Find the episode here.
Bonding by ear.
In the pilot episode of seminal coming-of-age series My So-Called Life, Angela Chase slumps at the dinner table alongside her perky parents and younger sister, her inner monologue roiling: “I cannot bring myself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of my mother. It just means too much to her. I mean, if you stop to think about, like, chewing—what it really is? How people just do it, like, in public…” In my adult life, the same sentiment (not the chewing part) applies to…audiobooks. My mother, a passionate daily power walker, loves celebrity-read audiobooks and listens to scores of them vigorously during her lengthy workouts. I too love a celebrity audiobook! And I have a good (even great?) adult relationship with my mother. But I cannot bring myself to take her recommendations in this realm. It just means too much to her. Yes, I am a broken person. Most recently, all my mom wanted to talk about was Molly Shannon’s new personal history, Hello, Molly! I love Molly Shannon fiercely—her SNL work was truly formative for me; I adore her two delicious recent half-hour comedies The Other Two and I Love That For You (seriously, run don’t walk). But every time my mom would bring it up I felt RESISTANT. So one day my mom simply pulled up a favorite chapter on her phone and started playing the book for me, live, volume-up in real time. In horror, I searched for any words that would stop the madness: MOM, I SWEAR TO YOU I WILL LISTEN ON MY OWN IF YOU’LL JUST TURN IT OFF. The next week, when Mom was a safe distance away from me, literally in Europe, I made good. Readers, I devoured the 7-hour book in two business days. It is excellent. Shannon performs the highs and, perhaps more notably, the truly tragic lows of her own life with more heart than I’ve ever encountered in this format: You can hear her talking through smiles and tears. Forgive the cliché because it’s the truth: I laughed aloud every few minutes and cried actual tears, too, at least once each hour. This woman has lived! Now as I peruse this season’s upcoming glut of celeb-produced reading material, which includes books by Constance Wu, Kelly Ripa and… Sporty Spice, Sally Field’s In Pieces suddenly looks pretty appealing. And yes, it’s Mom-approved—Rachel
“Little bundle of joy”? That’s so 2020.
From the devastating home-birth scene in 2021’s Piece of a Woman to this spring’s all-guts-no-glory account of life in a British “gyny” ward in the BBC’s This is Going to Hurt, there seems to be something of a trend, dare we say, for ultragraphic accounts of childbirth. Many of these have come in a string of left-leaning essays that aim to stress the risks and sacrifices that come with childbearing—and that will be forced on an untold number of women now that we’re losing the right to abortion. Others are fictional accounts that aim to depict the grittier “reality” of women’s bodily experience. But what to make of HBO’s House of the Dragon, in which one medieval heroine after the next is being gratuitously, gruesomely split in two by her own progeny? In the series’ first episode, the matriarch is sacrificed in a painkiller-free c-section. (You’re telling me the “maester” couldn’t mix up a potion for that??) And Sunday’s sixth episode—with not one but two gruesome birth scenes—would make any person with a uterus think twice about the decision to procreate. Writing in Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk calls bullshit on the “feminist argument” for these scenes. (“Show the truth! Show the horror. Show what people really go through when they labor and sweat. Let’s hear the afterbirth as it flops onto the floor”—warning, if you watch, this sound will stay with you—"because that’s the only way to value the risk and sacrifice of childbirth.”) Rather, she argues, foregrounding the gore and also the helplessness of these women, who are only really worthy if they produce an heir—and better make it male!—is “just a different way of saying that women are most valuable as bodies and that people who can give birth can be reduced to whether or not their bodies behave.” Rachel, the realities of childbirth are fresher in your mind than in mine. What say you, my liege?—Maggie
Maggie, I tried a couple of early Game of Thrones episodes but pulled the plug when a very cute wolf was gratuitously murdered. But five days after I checked out of the hospital with Valentine, I did binge This Is Going to Hurt. Because the show is so humanely wrought—despite all the trauma and anxiety—I found it oddly therapeutic to watch its L&D ward dramas within days of my own visit to one. It somehow helped me process what had just happened to me, which was no walk in the park. That said, I am still not ready to see Pieces of a Woman, which came out when I was pregnant with my first baby. And I don’t think I will never be ready to witness what the dudes behind the rape scenes I saw in just my brief encounter with Game of Thrones came up with in their portrayal of childbirth. Hard pass.—Rachel
Read “House of the Dragon’s Brutal Birth Obsession Isn’t Realism. It’s Cruelty” here.
Not breaking the Banks.
In her new interview with the New York Times’s David Marchese, Elizabeth Banks walked into the conversation ready to put up her dukes. The result feels truly fresh, like an evolution of the ye-olde “women in Hollywood” conversation. But also worrying: If even the powerful, successful, conventionally attractive and seemingly wildly-popular-within-Hollywood-power-circles Banks can’t hold forth on these issues with impunity (and without seeing some damn results), what hope does a less advantaged soul have? Behold!—Rachel
“One of my least favorite things to do in talking to people like you is to represent all women in Hollywood who are doing interesting things. I am in a rarefied category. There are very few female directors in Hollywood. There are even fewer who are actresses who have become directors. I’ve [expletive] worked my tail off to be able to do what I’m doing. I would love for you to interview the studio heads and the corporations and ask them these questions, because I can’t solve it. I’m putting my head down and showing these big corporations that if they give women the opportunity to do this job, they can make a good product that can make them a profit. It’s a male-dominated industry. It’s a male-dominated world. That’s what I’m up against, but I can’t solve it and I don’t really want to analyze it. It’s not interesting to me. It puts me, frankly, in a position where the studio head is going to read it in The New York Times and be like, ‘Wow, that Liz Banks has got a lot to say.’ I don’t need that added pressure. I truly feel that it’s dangerous to talk about these things now.”
Read “Elizabeth Banks Thinks This Interview Is Dangerous for Her” here.
“You fuck with the Branch, you get the whole tree.”—our favorite Michelle Branch fan.
On Friday, August 12, at 6:07 p.m. I texted Maggie a link to a news item containing a mug shot of a mascara-smudged Michelle Branch, who had been arrested and charged with domestic abuse: “This will be a great magazine story one day, especially *if* they can get access.” Lucky for the Cut—and all of us—that day came in a hurry: Branch had a new album dropping on September 16th and that fresh-out-of-jail angle was ripe for promoting it. Way to use what you’ve got, Michelle! In the piece, Branch gives Taipei-based (!) writer Kaitlin Menza a lot of scoop on her music (fine, whatever)…and her marriage to Patrick Carney of the Black Keys—who has since dropped the charges he filed against her, allegedly for slapping him, allegedly after she learned that he’d allegedly cheated on her while she was home with their allegedly infant daughter (OK, no, the kid is confirmed). I’m both stunned by the writer’s access to an exceedingly fresh legal/marital dispute (shouldn’t some handler have been saving Michelle from herself here?) and surprised, honestly, that more has not been made of this story in general, which presents such an interesting role-reversal and a flipping of the power dynamics of domestic abuse.—Rachel
Read “One Day, Michelle Branch Will Write A Happy Love Song” here.
Stand by your man…and his memoir?
In another case of but should we know this much, really?, this one dropped two weeks ago but is too Spread-y to ignore: Who here has paused to ruminate upon Amanda Hesser’s Instagram post about her husband Tad Friend’s new-ish memoir, In the Early Times? Because it is a rich text! And yes, I’m talking about the Instagram post, not the book! Hesser is the former New York Times writer turned Food 52 founder; Friend is a writer whose mellifluous way with words, I, you, and everyone we know have been eating up in the New Yorker for eons. Together they’re a Brooklyn media power couple. Except that Friend’s memoir, which started out as an exploration of his relationship with his father, ended up revealing some unexpected common ground he and his dad shared: Infidelity. “Even though Tad and I have had a very happy marriage in so many ways, Tad was not faithful to me, and never really had been,” Hesser wrote on September 14th—on the occasion of their 20th wedding anniversary—addressing questions she has surely faced countless times in the months since the book’s release. Hesser says Friend wrote the book with “my full support” and praises his “rare” exploration of his own vulnerabilities and mistakes. She “didn’t want to stand by him and be quiet”—she wanted the truth to be told. Now, in the year since he came clean to her, his revelations have led to “an awakening for us both, an opportunity for deeper awakening and happiness.”
It would be hard to exaggerate the number of question marks and shocked-face emojis that followed this post as it leapt like lightning across my group texts. (The book, it must be said, had gotten a rather quiet reception, so this was the first many had heard of it, despite the fact that it came out in May.) And for me, at least, that shock seemed to linger. Why? What about it was especially resonant: Was it because it was them, this particular dignified, upstanding legacy media duo? Was it because there is something almost subversive about a woman standing by her man, in the face of multiple infidelities? Who is this creature, capable of having her marriage’s darkest, most personal secrets outed—and finding in that process “awakening and happiness”? One thing’s for sure: What it really left me wanting was a real profile of Hesser, writer/entrepreneur/wife/mother/Instagram bomb-dropper. You might say, a Tad Friend-style profile.—Maggie
Rachel, What am I listening to tonight, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you: Our girl Allison Janney—forever C.J. Cregg to us—is on the uber-dude-y SmartLess pod. I’m ready her for to knock those boys’ socks off.—Maggie