That's It: We're Starting a Cult
The Sleater-Kinney of newsletters—what? in our way, we shred—brings you the Curmudgeon Issue: Rage over Roe, mourning the death of watercooler chat, and much more.
We’re sad for the children. For the children will never know what it’s like to skulk into the office at 11 a.m. the morning after a rip-roaring company holiday party with a pulsing headache and a deep need to debrief. As with everything, the pandemic is to blame, but also the new prevailing wisdom that offices are bad and corporate culture is a vampire to your soul and everyone should want to stick it to the man. Puh-lease. Obviously none of these revolutionaries have had the privilege of bunny-hopping with an octogenarian CEO, or doing the Macarena with the mailroom guy while side-eyeing your best work bud from across the tinsel-strewn dance floor of an iffy-buffeted hotel ballroom. The best part, truly—to employ an even more dated term—was always the watercooler chatter the day after. Now that office holiday parties and offices in general are decidedly out, the current generation of twentysomethings and those who follow will instead get to enjoy a festive departmental Zoom toast—and if that isn’t lovely, we don’t know what is! Actually, we do: Lovely is making a pack of friends at work, friends who become so close that, on the day after the party, you don’t even have to pretend you’re missing the conference-room lunch/Secret Santa swap because you “had to take a call” (when you’re clearly retching in the ladies’). Lovely is those friends sticking with you for life...and starting a cult-beloved, award-winning newsletter with you, just because they miss working together. Lovely is the way. We. Did. It. In. Our. Day. Welcome to the curmudgeon issue.
Shall we Cha Cha Slide?
Rachel & Maggie
A too-young mother’s conversation with her 19-year-old self.
As Roe v. Wade goes up in flames, the New York Times Magazine has delivered a tour de force in its cover essay by writer Merritt Tierce. When Tierce, an ambitious, Yale Divinity School-bound 19-year-old, got pregnant, she was from a religious Texas family; abortion wan’t an option. Instead, she got married (and later divorced) and had the baby, a son (followed by another, a daughter), dashing her plans and exploding her life into one she couldn’t recognize. The piece is so thoughtful, beautifully wrought, and layered that I imagine every woman’s takeaway will be slightly different. What impresses me most, perhaps, is Tierce’s ability to hold in her head and on the page the both/and-ness of loving her son and knowing she was too young to have a child when she did. As someone who grew up in a conservative culture where, for many families, abortion was not an option—and whose best friend also got knocked up at 19 and has a brilliant daughter who is a gift to the world (in addition to three subsequent children and a fantastic husband)—I fiercely admire Tierce’s explanation of how it looks and feels to exist in such a closed-circuit religious unit.
To go with Tierce’s essay at this tenuous moment is an elegant and disciplined choice on the part of the Times Magazine, which doesn’t weigh down her powerful personal experience by zooming out with sweeping facts or stats on women’s health and access to abortion care or by veering into the politics that got us here. Thankfully, we have Rebecca Traister for that, who over at New York explains how the hell this has happened. Your blood will boil, or at least it should.
Maggie: Were you familiar with Tierce before this essay? I wasn’t!—Rachel
Rachel, My girlfriends’ text chain sent me this story the minute it dropped with the message, You are clearly going to want to talk about this in the Spread. Bingo! I did not know about Tierce before this, and in fact, spent most of the read wondering how the Times Mag had found this unicorn: A person willing to take on this third-rail topic—admitting that the abortion you didn’t have derailed your life, after all, comes thisclose to admitting you wish you never had that child, as verboten a statement as they come—and also artful enough to do so without alienating the reader and/or her son. But in the final act, Tierce reveals she has worked as an abortion activist, sharing this story for the past ten years; in almost any other case, that bit of info might have undercut the revelation, but Tierce’s telling is so powerful, readers will take this news in stride.—Maggie
Read Tierce’s “The Abortion I Didn’t Have” here.
Read Traister’s “The Betrayal of Roe” here.
The “pure, hot rage” of “galimony” payouts.
“I was like, God, please just get a job. Like, anything. Starbucks barista! Work at Harris Teeter!” So laments an ex-wife to Washingtonian reporter Jessica M. Goldstein, who documents the hefty alimony payments successful women are making to “failure to launch” exes—dudes who not only brought home less bacon, but also failed to pick up the kids or load the dishwasher (in some cases, Goldstein suggests, because they don’t like being the lower earner: “Instead of stepping up at home, the husbands leaned way back.”) Goldstein does not go deep on the feminist politics of high-earning women resenting the burden of alimony payments; what she does here is cover the history of alimony (historically awarded to women, who had neither earning ability nor property rights during marriage) while—maybe rightly?—taking her sources’ complaints about these “losers” at face value: “It’s not just that these women are out-earning their husbands. They’re out-parenting their husbands. They’re out-homemaking their husbands. They’re out-everythinging their husbands.” Now, during “wine nights” with their divorced girlfriends, the women joke about what they write in the memo line of their support checks. “One friend does sneaky acronyms—‘YAAA’ for ‘you are an asshole,’ ‘YFD’ for ‘you f—ing dick.’” Cheers, ladies.—Maggie
Read “More and More Women are Paying Alimony to Failure to Launch Ex-Husbands” here.
The Ghislaine-trial text I sent Rachel a week ago:
We knew this one would be sickening, and disturbing, and also (forgive me) colorful—but monogrammed slippers in a plexi box? In week one of the trial? The People v. Ghislaine Maxwell was off to the races. Since then we’ve learned the (no shocker) angle of Maxwell’s defense: It would be sexist to scapegoat a woman for the sins of a man. And the rush of counterarguments (notably this one by the New Yorker’s Naomi Fry) arguing that it would be sexist not to make a woman stand trial for the kind of evil we more readily ascribe to men. We’ve read Amanda Marcotte in Salon, paralleling Maxwell’s case with the other high-profile trial of the moment, that of Elizabeth Holmes: “Both are white women from high-class backgrounds. Their alleged crimes played out in the world of famous and wealthy people. Both seem to have a peculiar charm that they are accused of using to manipulate people. And most disturbingly, both have legal defenses that are relying on a glib and phony form of feminism.” But our favorite Ghislaine-trial follow is “Court Appearances,” a dedicated newsletter from New York mag by Choire Sicha— his first recurring project after a high-profile departure from the helm of the New York Times Style Section—who chronicles the trial with a freewheeling subjectivity (of the first accuser to testify, he writes, “At one point, she seemed to be suffering and answered a question about the abuse in a different vocal mode, in a strangled or childlike tone; I absolutely believed everything from her after hearing that”) and the kind of language (“vloggy uptalk”) you won’t find in WSJ court reporting.—Maggie
Sign up to read “Court Appearances” here.
Mentor me, Francine. Come to, Kendall!
The Hollywood Reporter loves an award. Instead of just doing a Q&A with casting director Francine Maisler on the occasion of the star-studded Adam McKay movie Don’t Look Up and Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, they named her—cymbals crash—Casting Director of the Year…and then they did that Q&A. Regular Spread readers know that we love to play would-be casting director around here, making this interview both a huge treat and a portal into an unhelpful interior round of what could have been if… OK, snapping out of it! Maisler, who has cast so many cool movies for so long (Reality Bites, The Usual Suspects, Bad Boys, Ex Machina, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 are just a handful of her 172 IMDB credits) that I found myself googling her age (60), describes herself without a trace of false modesty as the first hire and creative partner of the shiny directors she works with. The whole interview is worth a read if you’re into this stuff, but the part that most stuck with me is how Maisler has literally changed Hollywood: After her groundbreaking casting of Succession with (mostly) previously unknown character actors, HBO no longer requires Hollywood stars to launch a pilot.
Speaking of Succession—and yes, we realize we’re quite frequently speaking of Succession!—the New Yorker dropped a profile of Jeremy Strong/Kendall Roy by Michael Schulman on Monday morning, on the heels of the best-written and most explosive episode of the show maybe ever. The piece is a detail-packed page-turner thanks to the unguarded participation of Strong and his costars, with whom his relationship is not exactly buddy-buddy—in the name of the work, Strong keeps some distance. He’s the kind of laser-focused acting maniac who has a hard time knowing where he ends and Kendall begins; he even struggles to discuss Kendall in the third person. In the piece, there are cameos from movie stars like not-running-for-Texas-governor Matthew McConaughey and Michelle Williams (whose Boerum Hill basement Strong lived in for a while?) and a few digs from the famously dig-happy Brian Cox. Succession fans should stop what they’re doing to read—or listen to—this profile immediately. And if you’ve never watched the show, I’m not sure what’s wrong with you, but you should still read this portrait of a singular artiste/human.—Rachel
Read “Searching Far and Wide” here.
Read “On Succession, Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke” here.
Remember when yoga seemed kinda wholesome?
How did a middle class white farm girl named Katie Griggs become a spiritual leader (with no shortage of rough edges) known as Guru Jagat? “I’m a controversial figure…I’m not, like, love-and-light Suzie. I’m very direct and I talk about shit people don’t want to talk about.” Jagat—who founded her Ra Ma empire and became leader of the Kundalinis after the other leader was posthumously disgraced in a series of #metoo abuses—said this to Vanity Fair writer Hayley Phelan earlier this year...shortly before Jagat died of mysterious causes (or maybe, ya know, of Covid-19, which she wasn’t sure existed) this past August. Talk about a twisted web! You could read it now, or wait for the docuseries: Intriguingly, on the day the story dropped online, so did news that VF is turning it into a four-parter called “Breath of Fire,” on HBO Max—with, we writers were happy to see, Phelan on board as a co-EP. Om shanti! And as Jagat herself might say, show me the money!—Maggie
Maggie, I cannot wait for this fiery cult series and would like to take this opportunity to share my personal ranking of cult-centric television to date:
Wild, Wild Country
The Path (season one)
And for anyone who’s wondering: Yes, I watched The Family and I didn’t like it. Thank you.—Rachel
Read “The Second Coming of Guru Jagat” here.
We trust her about as far as we can throw her.
It says something about these times we’re living in that two weeks ago, when news broke about Rep. Lauren Boebert’s repellent, Islamophobic—and, good grief, so deeply middle school—comments about her fellow U.S. representative Ilhan Omar, I felt the obligatory bolt of nausea, followed by...not a whole lot. Not only do approximately half of our elected officials lack the basic human civility it takes to spend 45 seconds in an elevator with someone of opposing views, Ilhan says Boebert was bragging about bad behavior in an interaction that never even happened. That’s just modus operandi. But then Nancy Mace, the freshman Republican from South Carolina (who I knew next to nothing about), surfaced on one news show after another and mysteriously appeared to do the right thing, denouncing Boebert’s miscreant spew. I should know better than to look for signs of hope, but I can’t help myself: Mace represents a territory that runs from Charleston to Hilton Head, where a significant (and yes mostly right-leaning, gun owning, etc.) faction of my family resides. At the Atlantic, Elaine Godfrey theorizes on Mace’s reasoning (this week’s post is brief; it’s worth reading Godfrey’s June profile of Mace, including a get-to-know-ya visit at a gun range). What Godfrey arrives at, though, is as cynical as it comes: Those who know Mace say the good-looking, smooth-haired 44-year-old has designs on being the A.O.C. of the right, which is to say, its highly electable, highly visible poster girl. And she’ll say whatever it takes to get there. So bone up, readers: Mace isn’t as wackadoo as Boebert or M.T.G, and that might make her even more dangerous.—Maggie
Read “Nancy Mace and the Hunt for the Republican Spotlight” here.
The Short Stack, aka, wait…there’s more!
Have y’all gazed upon this breathtaking cover shoot with Hunter Schafer? (Photographs by John Edmonds, Bazaar) // Rich people are hiring longevity coaches! (Jill Kargman, T&C) // Ye ole Men of the Year franchise continues to honor the objects of our 1990s fascination, this time with Blink182’s Mark Hoppus. (Chris Gayomali, GQ) // Ladies be drafted? (Mariel Padilla, The 19th) // Josephine Baker enters the actual Pantheon. (Lauren Collins, New Yorker) // Great read alert! This Bill Adair-on-Stephen Glass story is more pleasant if you imagine Glass as a gray-templed Hayden Christiensen. (Air Mail)
Midway through this last episode, my husband, James, turned to me wide-eyed and said, “Can you imagine being able to afford HBO Max and then not watching this show?” I’ve never loved him more.