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Laying It On Thick
The Steve Jobs and Eve Jobs of newsletters is back! And ringing it in with deadline doulas, feminist milestones—and no breastfeeding.
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, big ideas, deeply personal examinations of women’s lives—and none of the advertiser obligations. Welcome to the Spread, where every week two editors read, listen, and watch it all, and deliver only the best to your inbox.
Konnichiwa, Spread Readers:
We are filing today’s edition from the Manuscript Writing Café in Tokyo’s Koenji neighborhood. The weather is brisk, or so we hear: We’re not allowed to step outside—not until we nail our deadline. Until then, we’ll be click-clacking away on our rose-gold MacBooks while a man named Takuya Kawai looks over our shoulder while snuggling his Chihuahua-dachshund. How’d we get here, you ask? Well, around 6 PM yesterday, we looked up at the wall calendar and saw something new: the number 23. Oh dear! A new year—and us without a resolution! As a pair of ex-lady-magazine editors we felt naked, needy. Lost. Aghast. Mildly hungover, worrisomely broke, and seriously underdressed. Who even are we without a deeply-researched self-improvement agenda? How will we ever put one foot in front of the other if it is not part of a pre-ordained Plan? Desperate, we reached for the New Yorker that’s been our go-to coaster for the past 10 days, where we found Ann Tashi Slater’s “Coffee, with a Side of Deadline Hectoring,” about this very Manuscript Writing Café. Two 24-hour Delta flights (JFK to HND) for the low, low price of $1,223 each way later, here we are, outsourcing our self-improvement to Mr. Kawai! Really, how could we afford not to come? So. Wishing you a Happy New Year from just shy of 7,000 miles away and thanking you for being with us as we embark on the gorgeous/gray days of 2023 ahead. Tomorrow, we’ll head to Fiji to pick up our Morning Pages. See you there?
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. One New Years resolution that would be easy to stick with? Hit that little heart button up top every week. Positive affirmation goes a long way.
This will make you long for “the Barbara Walters Interview” with Barbara Walters.
After decades of seeing Barbara Walters mostly ensconced on the white couch of The View, Matt Zoller Seitz’s obit of the 93-year-old, who died this past Friday, is a welcome eye-opener. For ages, Walters was a journalist at the top of her field, yet the gatekeepers never *quite* recognized her as such, writing her off for “girlifying” the news and fusing it with celebrity. (Babs got the last laugh on that one!) “Many prominent male journalists (including the stars of 60 Minutes) had already packaged themselves as ‘characters’ and used their celebrity to disarm pugnacious interviewees,” writes Zoller Seitz. “When Walters did it, it was a sin against the Fourth Estate.” In 1976 Time called her the year’s “Most Appalling Argument for Feminism.” Larry Flynt offered her a mill to pose for Hustler. Gilda Radner portrayed her as a lightweight. It’s worth reading the whole thing—dare you to resist tearing up when you read about the reason Walters quit the speech therapy that was supposed to correct her lisp—but yes I will serve up the ra-ra money graph that makes me regret having referred to her as “Baba wawa” since…always:
In 2007, she interviewed Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and asked him if it was true that he’d called President George Bush the devil. Chavez replied, “That’s true. Another time, I said that he was a donkey just because I think that he is very ignorant about the things that are actually happening in Latin America and the world … But who is causing more harm? He burns people, villages, and he invades nations.” Twenty-two years ago, she asked the Russian premier Vladimir Putin if he’d ever had anyone killed. Putin said no, but in a memorial segment on Today this past weekend, Walters’s 20/20 producer Bill Sloane noted that “a killer’s eyes looked back at her — and she felt that she nailed that one.” She interviewed Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, before he flew off to peace talks with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, then did the first English-language interview with the two of them together. Richard Nixon let her accompany him to China and sat for his first interview after resigning the presidency in disgrace; Walters’s final question was, “Are you sorry you didn’t burn the tapes?” “I probably should have,” he replied. When Fidel Castro cited Cuba’s lack of protests as proof that citizens were happy with his leadership, Walters pointed out that protesting was illegal in Cuba. She asked Monica Lewinsky what she could imagine telling her children about her affair with President Bill Clinton. The answer: “Mommy made a mistake.”
After that last one, cut to Walters alone in a studio: “And that was the understatement of the year.”—Maggie
Read “Barbara Walters’s Superpower Was Fairness” here.
Letting her (west) coast.
Maybe I’m just especially weak and a little confused today, what with the flight to Japan and the whole New Year thing, following a never-ending “break” of 16 days and 17 hours (who’s counting, I’m counting) that came hot on the heels of a 10-day, household-encompassing non-Covid illness? But I found Benjamin Svetkey’s profile of Bari Weiss—controversial ex-New York Times columnist turned Substacker extraordinaire—in the most recent Los Angeles Magazine to be even further destabilizing? (I’m hoping that if I end all of my sentences with question marks you’ll be kinder to me or at least stay subscribed to this newsletter as I attempt to process said profile?) In “Bari Weiss’s L.A. Adventure,” we meet a charisma machine who’s drawn ire from the media establishment primarily because of jealousy (at least, that’s what some Bold Quotes from New York mag political writer Shawn McCreesh, who worked with Weiss at the Times, would imply). But Bari looks like she’s having a whole lot of fun on the outside of all that in L.A.’s Larchmont Village, as she and her scrappy team work on her new publication of “independent ideas,” the Free Press. Svetkey does not go deep on Weiss’s signature flame-throwing on topics from Israel to the Dark Web to Aziz Ansari (the latter of which—I’ll go out on a limb here—I didn’t disagree with), but it’s an interesting example of the power of a city magazine-style personality profile, a genre I love and think the current Los Angeles crew is really good at? I think?? I’m losing the thread??? Need nap???? Send help?????—Rachel
Read “Bari Weiss’s L.A. Adventure” here.
“Guess what? Marriage isn’t 50/50—ever, ever.”
People, this is not me saying this. It’s a direct quote from the Divine Oracle, Michelle Obama. Promoting her new book, The Light We Carry, America’s truth-teller-in-chief last week declared that, for a full 10 years when Sasha and Malia were little, she “couldn’t stand” her husband. (If you’re paying attention, yes, these were at least in part the years when they lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And yes, we kind of knew this already. But never before has she been quite so blunt about it.) Maybe what Mobama really needed at the time—what she deserved—was a Paul Pelosi. On this, the 3rd of January, as our beloved Nancy steps down from her job as Speaker (and something inexplicable goes down at the Capitol, about which we can only say 🤷♀️), let’s take a moment to celebrate Paul, a multizillionaire businessman who “never caught the political bug”; never envisioned a life for himself as a political spouse—and yet who, for 35-odd years of Nancy’s career, has taken care of the “business of living” while assiduously avoiding the spotlight himself, so that she could, you know, keep democracy from toppling. And look damn good doing it. In their daughter Alexandra’s new documentary, Pelosi in the House—which pulls from three decades of personal footage—we learn that business extended from dealing with the dude who was fixing the broken shower to even shopping for Nancy’s wardrobe. “He’s got Armani on speed dial,” Alexandra tells the New York Times’ Annie Karni. “He’s the full-service husband.” To all the full-service wives out there: Your documentary is coming…someday.—Maggie
Watch “Pelosi in the House” on HBO.
Read “Advice From a Political Daughter: ‘Every Woman Needs a Paul Pelosi’” here.
This past October at our two-year-old’s pink-airplane-themed birthday party—her very specific theme of choice—our 3-month-old made her debut on the social circuit. While I helped a group of fired-up toddlers pound away on a tanklike cloud piñata (apparently pink-airplane piñatas are strictly custom), I overheard one guest ask my husband if I was breastfeeding—a question he hadn’t had to field before. Hearing him struggle to answer accurately yet in a way that might prevent judgment from the asker (who we knew was still breastfeeding her almost-two-year-old) was—how do I put this?—an utter delight. I, of course, had been in this exact position so many times that I had my answer down to a quick, “I just stopped—it was a great decision!” But I was thrilled that my fantastic equal-parent partner also got the opportunity to answer to the breastfeeding lobby. The pressure to breastfeed and the inequity inherent therein has gotten some attention in the press in the past few years, most recently in a Vogue essay by novelist Leah Konen, which came out last week. This is the rare Vogue piece that doesn’t shoehorn in a single designer name—I kept waiting for her to unbutton her Chloe blouse or lift up her Gabriela Hearst poncho in all the chaos. Blessedly, she did not. Instead the piece pulls double-duty as a screed about the personal misery of her breastfeeding experience, which involved bloody nipples, bad latches, and infinite hours cluster feeding, and a polemic against the societal conditions that make it so hard, plus the mighty pressure to make it work. Konen writes that her new thriller, You Should Have Told Me, includes scenes from breastfeeding hell—and that early reviewers have commented there’s too much of it. But of course, like so many essays of this ilk (even Hanna Rosen’s watershed, Spread-beloved 2009 Atlantic story on the subject), in the final paragraphs, the author lets the air out of my tires: Konen ultimately breastfed for 19 months. Even now, she misses it. Which makes me want to blow my non-Chloe top. The moral of the story still, on some level, seems to be that even if a mother finds breastfeeding painful and frustrating—even if, say, she’s not a great “producer” which means she’s spending hours a day eeking out a few droplets—it’s all worth it in the end. And so, here and now, I’ll do something different: I breastfed my first baby for a harrowing five months. I honestly wish I had given up sooner, and regret the time I spent consumed by anxiety, convinced that breast milk was a mystical cure-all, a protective potion that I would be selfish not to score for my infant no matter the price. The price turned out to be my sanity, whittled down by countless hours spent pumping; I was yielding one “magic” ounce per day and yet I kept at it. I breastfed this more recent baby for six weeks…if we’re rounding up. And I feel great about it. Can’t you tell?—Rachel
Read “Breastfeeding Is Basically Impossible—Why Don’t We Say That More?” Vogue here.
Deep in the heart.
Y’all up to date on your Texas Highways magazine? In the December issue, Elizabeth Bruenig, whose background in theology has given her an amazing lens through which to cover the death penalty for the Atlantic, has a helluva love letter to the state where she was born and raised. The occasion is her parents’ recent move to Maryland, to be closer to Bruenig and their grandchildren; their relocation leaves her with no direct connection to her homeland but a grand excuse to go deep on her family roots and her love of the land. (Bruenig, as you may remember, started having babies at 25, has loved every second of it, somehow has time to be a beautiful and convincing writer with a thriving career, and is all of…32. Not that we’re bitter.) I point you to this essay mostly for the sheer force of Bruenig’s writing—she absolutely lets it rip. At first, I felt almost taken aback by the confidence of the prose. Then I gave in to blazing landscapes and sacks of unshelled pecans, until it all washed over me like a sliver of an actual getaway.—Rachel
Read “A Long Goodbye to Texas” here.
Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Achey Brakey Heart?
In Kelly McMasters’s new Atlantic essay, “What Squirrels Taught Me About Life After Divorce,” fluffy-tailed rodents are not mere window dressing—a cutesy lede to a story about people. They really are the stars of this show. Or the costars, at least, along with McMasters and her boyfriend. Both humans are divorced. He lives in Brooklyn, where he enjoys an unusually robust relationship with the squirrels on his fire escape. She lives in the burbs with her two kids, except on the weekends when they’re with their dad. To McMasters, home feels more than full. “And yet, during the pandemic, when friends would text to check up on me, I realized this is how many saw me: living alone, with children. Squirrels and humans, it seems, require an adult partner in order to be considered not alone.” From this state of non-aloneness, she is at the precipice of a new togetherness: Maybe moving in together, and committing to this relationship, despite the “shipwreck” of both of their previous unions, and the dire chances (statistically speaking) of success in a second marriage. I loved McMasters’s perspective because it flies in the face of convention: She likes living alone with her children. If anything, she longs for more actual alone time. But she also yearns to care for someone else deeply; someone who, unlike her children, she did not produce with her own body. That’s the nut, if you will. And then there’s a lot of nice stuff to read about squirrels.—Maggie
Read “What Squirrels Taught Me About Life After Divorce” here. McMasters’s The Leaving Season, a memoir on motherhood and divorce, is out in May.
No doubt we could make an entire Spread issue analyzing the finer points of the Hulu/FX adaptation of Fleishman Is in Trouble, a show that we were eagerly anticipating and that has—in a rare twist—exceeded our expectations. And maybe one day we will! For now, though, I’d like to point you to this excerpt of a Cut conversation between Fleishman writer/showrunner Taffy Brodesser-Akner and star Lizzy Caplan on our favorite #spreadtopic, maternal ambivalence.—Rachel
TBA: When I was pregnant with my first child, I did not know how motherhood would change my life in terms of limiting my choices. If I had read my book while I was pregnant, I would have thrown it across the room and said, “This woman is broken. That will never happen to me.”
LC: I couldn’t stomach a version of parenthood that didn’t have the honest-conversation component. That feels very new. Taffy, when you had your kids, I’m sure it was a lot of, like, gauzy curtains floating in the breeze. Thank God the conversation is a lot more layered now. A lot of being a mother is a fucking drag. And I really like it! The fact that most people still can’t admit to that is very isolating for new mothers.
TBA: The Fleishman point of view on motherhood is that I can tell you my arm looks fat and I hate it and you never assume that means I want to cut it off. It is well established that mothers have a bond to their babies. Now let’s talk freely about the other things. You don’t need to say that Libby would do anything for her kids. She’s subverted her whole life. She’s wearing a tankini at a pool and serving grilled cheese. She’s allowed to have some questions. And some complaints.
Read “Fleishman Is in Trouble Knows Motherhood Is a Drag” here.
Who wants a piece of candy?
Especially for those of us who have parasocial relationships with our celebrities (ahem, Rachel), this handy-dandy People name-pronunciation guide is a real eye-opener. Read via AppleNews here.