Running with Scissors
Period! Period! Period! Yeah, we said it. The Selena and Hailey of newsletters is taking our non-feud anywhere but the Sunshine State.
Have we suddenly been transported to Gilead? Or…Canada? On the one hand, the GOP geniuses in Florida—not content to merely attack abortion rights, ban books with LGBTQ+ characters, and prohibit education about racism—are trying to stop schools from even acknowledging a basic biological building block of womanhood (gasp! gross! ew!): menstruation. The bill in question, which passed with universal Republican support, would prohibit sex ed and even talk of periods till sixth grade—which, considering that record numbers of girls are now experiencing early-onset puberty, would be years after millions of young girls actually got their periods. The state is on a “truly stunning tear of misogyny, ignorance, homophobia and censorship,” writes Jill Filipovic on CNN. On the other hand, nothing says we accept you, women—in all your messy, unidealized, bleeding, aging glory—quite like the recent embrace of menstruation (or its cessation, at least) in lefty media and Hollywood. Menopause is now the subject of Super Bowl commercials, chic enough for Vogue, and explored in huge New York Times articles on a monthly—intentional?!—basis. Following the trend, Elle beauty director Kathleen Hou pairs meno-preneur Naomi Watts (age 54) up with author/thirst-trap Paulina Porizkova (57) for a Q&A titled, “In Praise of Well-Seasoned Women.” Yes, we are printing up those T-shirts as we speak.
On the one hand, we’ve got a movie about Judy Blume coming out. On the other, her books are still being forbidden in schools. So, Gilead v. Canada? Perhaps it's telling that our favorite maple leaf, Margaret Atwood, a well-seasoned woman who has a new short story collection, Old Babes in the Wood, to promote, let it all hang out with Kate Knibbs at Wired UK. “With exactly nothing to prove and no one left to impress,” Atwood ordered a whiskey and a $45 foie gras and talked about watching Captain Underpants on airplanes.
Before we kick off the issue: This week, Maggie’s book, which so many of you have so generously ordered and shouted-out in various ways, achieved the high-low Venn diagram of authorial dreams. First, The Kingdom of Prep was selected by People mag as their “book of the week.” Huzzah! Then it was the subject of a lengthy review in the Style issue of the New Yorker by Hua Hsu, who noted that, “whether as rebels or loyalists, we’re all fated to be subjects in the kingdom of prep.” Who are we to argue? In the words of Wayne and Garth, Sch-wing!
And: Our sincerest thank you to our new favorite people who upgraded to a paid subscription!! It should not be this surprising how motivating it feels to get cold hard cash for hard work. Though we’ll take the hearts, too.
We’re not worthy,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Here’s a headline that needs no preamble or embellishment: “Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski accident trial has begun.” (Washington Post)
“But what if love is perilous for Asian women not because we are Asian women, but because love is a perilous endeavor?”
Writer Kathy Chow describes herself as “one of those Asian girls who dates white boys.” In the Point, she critiques a recent wave of novels about white-male/Asian-female couples(including Alexandra Chang’s Days of Distraction, Elaine Hsieh Chou’s Disorientation, and Susie Yang’s White Ivy), arguing that their “singular focus on white supremacy…fails to account for the opacity of desire, its unruliness and mystery.” The piece is a blazingly self-aware defense of Chow’s own desires, choices, relationships; it’s also a showcase for a writer with a gift for capturing what it’s like to have a crush: “I detoured to get coffee even when I was already nauseously over-caffeinated just so I could catch sight of him at the pool tables he frequented,” she writes. “My time in Edinburgh, which should have been a year of self-discovery and respite abroad, was torturous. I spent hours agonizing over my phone, waiting for him to text back. I did chaturangas in a yoga studio heated to tropical temperatures until I couldn’t think straight. I hung a calendar in my room and crossed out each day that elapsed, counting down to when I would see him again.” Though Chow never mentions Mindy Kaling, who has recently come under fire for her white boy-loving protagonists (among other character-related sins), the Kaling controversy, which Maggie wrote about a few weeks ago, brought additional layers to the piece to me as a reader. “I am allergic to [these] scripts about white-male/Asian-female relationships,” Chow says, “because I experience love as a narrative that I am writing.” Also from the Department of Reclaiming the Narrative: Over at the Atlantic, Sophie Gilbert treats us to a piping-hot meditation on Nora Ephron’s classic roman à clef—or are we saying “autofiction” now?—Heartburn, 40 years after its publication sent male critics into a tizzy.—Rachel
Read “On Loving White Boys” here.
Read “Nora Ephron’s Revenge” here.
Monica and Joey had it right.
How did I get to be the kind of person who can’t read a story called, “Live Closer to Your Friends” without misting up? My husband and I are raising our two boys in carefully chosen neutral territory: Amherst, Massachusetts, is 3.5 hours north of most of my closest friends in New York City, and 3 hours south of most of my husband’s old buddies in Burlington, Vermont. This strategic choice, though fair, has caused us both angst for the five years we’ve lived here, and last year led to the (so far, futile) purchase of the largest white board Amazon had to offer, in the hopes that we could chart a life plan in dry-erase marker. (If anyone has a solution to propose, leave it in the comments. We’re listening.) My one consolation is that we’re not alone: It seems every thirty- and forty-something couple I know spends an inordinate amount of time debating some version of the where-should-we-live life question. In the Atlantic, Adrienne Matei isn’t talking about merely living in the same city as your friends, she’s talking about the same neighborhood—and preferably the same block. Maybe even the same house. Why? Because “researchers have found that happiness spreads ‘like an emotional contagion,’ especially among those who live close together,” Matei writes. “Friends living within a mile of each other are 25 percent more likely to feel happy, and their friends have a 10 percent chance of feeling happier too.” Living close is a cure for loneliness, she argues; a replacement for the breakdown of the extended family; and it leads to the kind of easy hangs many of us haven’t had since we all did live very close to our friends, in college, those, “walkable communities where you’re regularly running into pals on the street or having an impromptu party at somebody’s place.” Rachel, is it just me or does that sound like the stuff of fantasies?—Maggie
Maggie, A couple of my childhood friends, both named Mary-something (we grew up in Mississippi—I’m the rare non-Mary) and I have a long-running dream of buying a chunk of land somewhere and building a trio of A-frame cabins for each of us and our families, dogs and cats included, to spend a significant chunk of the year. There we will laugh, have conversations both very deep and stupid-light, read silently in the presence of one another, cook over-the-top meals, roast s’mores over a fire with our children, sing camp songs and folk songs and folksy hymns, do twice-weekly game nights, and laugh some more. Of course, in reality, we can hardly find a weekend that works for all of us to celebrate our 40th birthdays…which are in 2024. Life, as they say, gets in the way. Also nagging at me throughout Matei’s piece: A presumptuous attitude about jobs and finances and childcare and other circumstances that goes unchecked—moving is expensive and disruptive and, for many/most flat-out impossible. Which, to be honest, is on some level a gift—otherwise I might perish from the world’s worst case of FOMO.—Rachel
Read “Live Closer to Your Friends” here.
That superstar-author-on-320-acres lifestyle.
Jeannette Walls is one of those authors whom the New York Times will take any excuse to feature—lucky for me, as someone who will click on a fresh story about Walls faster than a presale for tickets to see Tina and Amy live. (This is especially true because she lives just up the road from me on a zillion acres in Orange, Virginia, and my fantasies of being invited to hang out with her while she, like, tends her chicken coop or some new beehive feel a teeny-tiny bit less delusional since I’ve moved to “the Commonwealth.” Cue Maggie to re-diagnose my tendency toward parasocial relationships as a little much! Maggie, I said a teeny-tiny bit less delusional! It’s all about self-awareness…right?) Where were we? The Style section’s most recent portrait, by Jim Windolf, captures Walls on the eve of her new novel, Hang the Moon, as she ATV’s around telling stories of her eccentric-at-best, Glass Castle-immortalized family. Like all good Jeannette profiles, this one mentions that it wasn’t until she was 40 that she decided to spill on her upbringing, and that her masterwork has sold upwards of seven million copies in North America alone to date. But that’s not all you’ll find in this bad boy: Walls also divulges where the bodies are buried. Literally.—Rachel
Read “The Many Lives of Jeannette Walls” here.
“Troll or truthteller, idealist or ironist?”
For his “mud show,” in October, 2022, the first-name-only Balenciaga creative director Demna sent out invitations “in the form of a battered wallet, stuffed with the personal effects of an Everywoman character named Natalia Antunes. They included her gym membership card, her government I.D., receipts from a vegan supermarket. The change purse was even filled with fake coins. The banality of the items offered an amusing counterpoint to luxury fashion’s ever-escalating swag wars.” In the aforementioned Style issue of the New Yorker—which you should read cover to cover because…ahem—Lauren Collins examines “the supposed darklord of luxury fashion” at a moment when he was nearly dropped by his famous supporters for controversial advertising. Collins somehow makes sense of his flirtation with Kimye, his tendency to wear a literal mask in public, the extensive trauma of his childhood and his family’s escape from a pogrom targeting ethnic Georgians (including traveling on foot through the Caucasus Mountains, and, later, spending three months in an immigrant camp), the why of those DHL shirts, and his devotion to Brené Brown (!!)—setting it all against the backdrop of the legend, the OG, Cristobal Balenciaga. This story is long, it’s deep, it’s rich with observations I’d never thought of and vocabulary I had to look up. It’s a master class in portraiture, in other words, but what else would you expect from Collins x the New Yorker?—Maggie
Read “The Button-Pushing Impresario of Balenciaga” here.
When the baby is the family business.
Whenever a group of parent-friends starts talking about the mores around posting our children on social media, Somebody inevitably brings up the merciless permanence of the internet—once our kids become teens and adults, they may not be on board with those baby pics we posted, to put it lightly. Well, instead of just speculating, Fortesa Latifi actually reported out the dynamic—applause emoji—for Teen Vogue, interviewing teens whose parents have profited off their online presence without their consent, and also influencer-mothers who’ve made the decision to stop showing their children’s faces. The upshot: It’s at least as bad as Somebody suspected. One young woman describes begging her parents to let her stop “working”—she’d starred in their content since she was a toddler—only to be told they’d have to move out of their house and stop buying nice things if she did. I’d like to read a follow-up on the longtail effects of children being written about in detail by their parents on the internet or elsewhere, a practice that proliferated with the dawn of mom-blogging and further still with social media’s cultural saturation—but has been around as long as memoir has itself existed (see the aforementioned Sophie Gilbert essay on Nora Ephron’s Heartburn). While your Spreaditors are so female we can’t help but confess our every passing thought in this newsletter, we also do our best to protect the specifics of our (many) kids’ identities and lives. Our self-reflection is burden enough on the world!—Rachel
Read “Influencer Parents and The Kids Who Had Their Childhood Made Into Content” here.
The one that got away.
On Saturday afternoon, I identified so hard with everything in an episode of the Everything is Fine podcast that, while listening, I ordered the guest’s novel and relentlessly texted Rachel. Hosts Kim France and Jenn Romolini were talking with novelist Carlene Bauer, who I knew in her former life, as the research chief at Elle. Back then, we all hoped Carlene would be the one to fact-check our stories: She was smart, calm, super likable, and not annoyingly over-literal. Now I’m kicking myself for not following her around the office until she agreed to be my best friend, because, man, this woman gets it. Her third book, the 2022 Girls They Write Songs About, which should be on my doorstep by now, is packed with super-Spready themes that speak to my Gen-X heart.—Maggie
As we buckle up for the show’s final season, which starts THIS SUNDAY, here’s a deep-dive on the creation of Succession’s outsider cringe-puppy/power player Tom Wambsgans!
Read “The Making of Tom Wambsgans” in the Ringer here.
Ben there, done that.
Rachel thinks of Ben Affleck as Maggie’s sometimes-embarrassing boyfriend, and she’s not wrong. Ben gives ur-Affleck vibes in this satisfying Q&A with Hollywood Reporter, the first post-remarriage press to begin to restore our faith that Good Ben (as in, the talented opinionated working-class striver and yes wide-shouldered with remarkably dense facial hair…OK, snapping out of it!) is still in there somewhere.
Read it here.
Taking her shot.
Culture sovereign Jia Tolentino this week tackled Ozempic and its ilk. Though the article doesn’t deliver tons of brand-new information—the phenomenon, as you know, has been widely covered—Tolentino’s piece is (no surprise) the most humane and far-reaching of the bunch.
Read “Will the Ozempic Era Change How We Think About Being Fat?” in the New Yorker here.
Still waiting to exhale.
Vulture’s Angelica Jade Bastién has a knack for whipping up the exact character study we’re all craving at the moment. Before Angela Bassett’s Oscar disappointment disappeared into rear view, Bastién took on the still-underdecorated best supporting actress nominee who continues to be “a vision for the glory of Black womanhood.”
Read “The Self-Possession of Angela Bassett” here.
Have we entered the Narcissist Decade?
In the Cut, Spread idol Hanna Rosin writes about TikTok’s embrace of narcissism on the heels of Trump, the Kardashians, and Elon Musk. We’d like to order up the cover story-length version of this piece, please!
Read “Narcissist and Proud” here.
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These works, she says, “operate under the assumption that the reader is unable to comprehend anything beyond the basic thesis that fetishization and microaggressions are bad….In this script, the heroine is both a victim and complicit in her own victimhood, and her desire is transparent, overdetermined. It’s a rendering of desire I do not recognize.”
Almost exactly a year ago, Elaine Hsieh Chou came out with her own essay about her experience as an Asian woman, in the Cut, the perspective-shaking “What White Men Say in Our Absence.” We wrote about it in the Spread then, and maintain that you should read it here now.
Quidnunc: an inquisitive and gossipy person. synonyms: busybody, nosey-parker, nosy-parker.