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The Ke$ha and Pitbull of newsletters is getting existential about animals, vegetables, and all the rest of it.
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.
Last Wednesday, a man climbed a series of scraggly 90-foot white pines standing right in front of Maggie’s house, revved the chain saw he had strapped to his hip, and unleashed Armageddon. The trees had been dead for many moons, and had begun to drop enormous limbs in inconvenient places such as the exact spot in the yard where children are most likely to play. They had to go. Still, watching them fall, in slow motion, down down down, shaking the whole house with their weight, exploding into a zillion pieces of tree shrapnel? That was a shock. Powerful. And kinda exhilarating. (Not to mention excellent theater for the whole family: If you need to have trees removed, definitely book it during a holiday week.)
Something that was standing in the same place for a long time (90-odd years: we counted the rings) and has been dying so slowly that it takes a couple of months to look up and notice—oh wait, that’s dead now—can be cleared out in one cathartic, slightly terrifying swoop, so that you wake to a clear view the next morning: How could that not be a metaphor for, like, everything? Not to get all Oprah Daily on you, but the scene has put your Spreaditors in a philosophical frame of mind. What else in our lives is deadwood, ready to be cleared out if only we had the guts to rev up the ole chain saw? Also: What is life? Why are we here? When will we all go the way of the white pines? Should we light a candle in the pines’ memory? Should the candle be a holiday-ish fir-and-firewood scent or a more year-round blend such as a soothing lavender-and-sandalwood combo? Is anybody still reading this?
Alright. Yep, that’s it. That’s the intro.
Stand tall, Spreadinistas. We promise to always build you up and to never chop you down.
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. Don’t be shy. Show us some of that sweet, sweet loving by punching the heart button up there. (Actual family members to whom we just fed 15 lbs of dry-brined spatchcocked el birdo: This week, that especially means you.)
How much is that kitty in the window?
It has come to my attention that even the smartest journalists from the most august publications have also spent the fall mainlining Bachelor in Paradise. As fellow Bachelor Nation members will recall, there was an explosive plot point this season involving a contender named Hayden who had a dog back home named Rambo who had an inoperable brain tumor. Because Rambo was a very good boy, Hayden (according to Hayden) spent "six figures" on the Golden Retriever's treatment. To some, the alleged expenditure was preposterous, even irresponsible. To others, it signaled big "provider energy"—the idea being that if somebody would spend so much cash on his dog, there must be a whole lot more where that came from. And to one Sarah Zhang of the Atlantic, it sounded like a story idea! (To be clear, this is all wild speculation, unfounded justification, and any other -tion you'd like to insert here.) In the new issue, Zhang brings us "How Much Would You Pay to Save Your Cat's Life?" which is anchored by the tale of Strawberry, a cuddly feline who received a kidney transplant for roughly $15,000 of her human’s money and a generous if nonconsensual gesture by a donor cat. Zhang has an amazing talent for layering science, ethics, and emotion—remember “The Last Children of Down Syndrome”?—and this piece is no different, wrestling with questions about interspecies relationships as they relate to history, class, and what we owe not only to our beloved animals but to one another.—Rachel
Read it in the Atlantic here.
Don't sleep on this one.
Because I am getting very little sleep these days (my four-month-old prefers shrieking to shut-eye and my formerly great-snoozing toddler has decided this would be an excellent time to go through a hellacious regression), I think about sleep a lot: What is it, really? Who gets it? Is it as good as I remember it being? Will I ever do it again? Apparently Vulture's Rachel Handler and I are totally in tune because, pegged to a study about pre-bed screen time maybe not being so bad for sleep after all (!), she recently wrote a long-in-a-satisfying-way odyssey for New York investigating the effect of media on slumber by using herself as a test case. The whole thing is hilariously absurd from the jump (and that's the point) but also packed with fun studies and numbers and takes from experts that leave you with something to chew on...while you stare at the ceiling.—Rachel
Read "Bed Habits" here.
The -gasm that might be getting in the way of your big O.
I was up to my elbows in the last of the Thanksgiving dishes—working my way down the ever-present list of Things That Must Get Done—when the words of Emily Nagoski, PhD, flayed me like the aforementioned spatchcocked fowl. Nagoski is the sex educator who wrote Come as You Are, and who just moved her newsletter over to Substack in the post-Bulletin diaspora (welcome, Doc!). I love her for her Nirvana references as well as her science-forward approach to the intricacies of intimacy. Her new podcast takes the same title as her book—because could there be a better title? No—and I was listening to the “prelude” ep, 29 minutes all about something that I’m not actually that good at: pleasure. As in, knowing what feels physically and emotionally good to you (in life, not just in bed) and taking the time to actually do that thing. I knew that I put pleasure very far down in the list, often in a place that is easy to bump right off, but I don’t think I ever knew why exactly, until Nagoski—by way of the writings of Audre Lorde—spelled it out: What I really chase in life is the “choregasm,” the feeling you get when you cross the last thing off your to-do list. (Even writing that sentence gave me a shiver: Can you imagine? The Very. Last. Thing? 🔥🔥🔥) A society “that rewards us for our productivity punishes us for our aliveness,” Nagoski says. “So I, like everyone, have fallen into the trap of focusing on my productivity and forgetting to focus on my aliveness.” Turns out even a sex educator who is writing a new book about sexual pleasure finds herself torn between the “joy of disappearing into a work project” and wanting to re-emerge from that writing K-hole to connect with the things that bring her pleasure, not to mention the actual humans in her life. Same, same!—Maggie
If last year’s Spreadie Award winner (and yes, National Magazine Award winner) Harper's Bazaar hadn't sealed the deal as the most aggressively cool of mainstream fashion magazines, it has now with its December cover featuring Patti Smith in all her Smith-y glory. Inside, you'll find a lovely, high-access accompanying profile by Easy Beauty writer Chloé Cooper Jones in which Smith speaks at length about the concept of work. My favorite part, though, is when she talks about the 16 years she disappeared from the public eye to focus on domestic life with her husband and children. To Smith, even sewing a button onto her husband's shirt felt like a meaningful creative endeavor. Which is why she is an internationally important artist and a national treasure and I am sitting in my bedroom tapping away at this newsletter. Thanks for being here!—Rachel
Read “The Radical Hope of Patti Smith” here.
From the annals of harrowing parental reads, comes…
After allowing myself to sink too deep into the deluge of press surrounding Rob Delaney’s brutal memoir on the death of his toddler son, I felt like I needed a trigger warning just to deal with the title of novelist Allegra Goodman’s essay in Vogue, “My Daughter’s Brain Tumor.” Goodman’s youngest daughter was the age my oldest son is now—second grade, pretty much a perfect age, IMHO—when she developed a tremor in one hand. This is strictly against Spread doctrine but I will now deliver a spoiler: What Goodman underwent was terrible, awful, but ultimately her daughter came through it! THIS GIRL IS OK. I say this because what struck me about the story was what happened after the crisis, how undergoing treatment—being terrified in doctors’ offices and hospitals, fearing each new round of scans—seems to have shaped her daughter’s dreams and aspirations, but also her very personality. Goodman marvels at her daughter’s tenacity, her drive, and wonders what made her so: “Is that how her experience marked her? Or did sickness and surgery reveal what was already there?”—Maggie
Read “My Daughter’s Brain Tumor” here.
Friends in bro places.
The New York Times has figured out that adult men have a hard time making friends and we don’t want to condescend—the problem is real, guys—but it does seem like some of these helpful pointers came straight from 1958: How ’bout a game of poker…seriously? Also, fellas: Don’t forget the routine check-in with your fledgling pal! And, next time you’re hanging out, “tell them something you are struggling with. That’s it.” If a man in your life is looking for advice on how to talk about his feelings, may we suggest sending him a subscription to the Spread on this Giving Tuesday? It’s free!
Read “Why Is It So Hard for Men to Make Close Friends?” here.
Are we late on the whole crypto thing?
This week’s New Yorker piece by Spreadfave Molly Fischer is ostensibly a profile of N.F.T. artist Yam Karkai but doubles as the clearest portrait of the whole crypto/blockchain world that we’ve consumed.
Read “Yam Karkai’s Illustrations Made Her an N.F.T. Sensation. Now What?” here.
This is no place for fire-engine red.
A cream-colored play mat? Got it. Blonde-wood blocks, crib, and baby gym? Sure. Stuffed mouse with an outfit made of potato sack-adjacent linen? Of course. Fawn-hued pajamas and chunky vanilla sweaters? Duh. Natural-woven baskets as far as the eye can see? Guilty. Welcome to our nursery and my life as what the Guardian has coined a "sad beige parent."—Rachel
Read "The rise of sad beige parenting" here.
New here? Welcome, welcome! Please be sure to sign up and spread the word. Please also tell us what you think of our first-ever attempt at audio (listen here if you missed it). And if you’re still feeling hungry, fuel up with some of the Spread’s best-loved posts:
In case you’re not yet sold, there's a history section in which Zhang talks about women breastfeeding their pets in the olden days!!
You know who isn’t sad-beige anything? Lena Dunham, whose cottage in her parents’ Connecticut backyard is in the new Arch Digest and is quite whimsical. So whimsical in fact, it inspired your Spreaditors to discuss every aspect of its design and waste an entire 30 precious minutes of writing time this morning. (Maggie kinda digs it. Rachel wishes Lena would just grow up already! Maggie chalks this level of conviction up to Rachel’s lack of shut-eye.) If this newsletter feels a little thin to you, blame Lena and that damn oversize rose wallpaper! Check it out here.