Déjà Voodoo

Hello Dames Nation!

We are Anna and Alene, the Bellwether Friends! We share our thoughts every few weeks on our eponymous podcast, where we speak authoritatively about many things while acknowledging that we are not actually authorities on most subjects. You should trust us, because we’re librarians! Check out our commemorative 100th episode, in which we discuss our namesake (and top five book of all time), Bellwether by Connie Willis, with the Two Bossy Dames and other luminaries!


Groundhog Day

Not an uncommon sentiment in these exceedingly wild times.

Have you ever had the feeling that your day is repeating? Been struck by déjà vu? Had the feeling that your day is repeating? Been struck by déjà vu? We’re here today to discuss the phenomenon of the time loop, which was brought back to our attention by the recent release of the series Russian Doll on Netflix. A time loop is loosely defined as one or more people experiencing a series of events or period of time over and over again. The loop restarts when the main character dies or some other precipitating event occurs. The loop ends when the character fulfills the requirements of the narrative. While we acknowledge and appreciate that time loop narratives exist in book form, we have primarily been occupied over the past month with their realization on film.

Anna: There’s something fascinating about watching a main character going through the same scene over and over again with increasing awareness and dismay as they realize they are trapped in time. On some level I assume that this must be what it’s like being an actor. One of the things I enjoy about watching time loop movies is second-guessing the characters on their choices as they struggle to extract themselves.

Alene: I wonder how long it would take me to realize I was in a time loop, since there are many aspects of my life that play out the same from day to day. And yet I am extremely impatient with characters in time loops when they don’t figure it out the first time it repeats! I’ve had a great time comparing the ways different films approach the repetition. Some replay the whole loop more than once, some jump immediately to highlights after the first pass, some dive in and expand on particular moments from loop to loop.

In the aforementioned Russian Doll, cynical game designer Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) finds herself caught in a time loop that restarts on the night of her 36th birthday. While trying to figure out why this is happening, she encounters a stranger (Charlie Barnett) whose life seems to be linked to hers. If you don’t have access to Russian Doll via Netflix, it will probably (eventually) be released on DVD and subsequently available at your local library.

Alene: Nadia got around my skepticism promptly by thinking her time loop might be drug-induced. Her friend Maxine’s (Greta Lee) reading of “Sweet birthday baby!” made every round special and surreal. Can I just say I have loved Natasha Lyonne since Slums of Beverly Hills? Please don’t get bangs, even if you are just as cute and stylish as Natasha/Nadia.

Anna: Your distrust of bangs is on the record. All the characters in Russian Doll are so vibrant and memorable, no matter how little time we get to spend with them. Nadia’s foster parent Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), a therapist, says that “Holding two incompatible ideas in your head at the same time and accepting both of them, well, that’s the best of being human.” My therapist was always trying to get me to do this; it’s a quintessentially therapist thing to say. I also appreciated Nadia’s clear Jewish-ness, which is an integral part of her character (more on that here, along with a huge host of spoilers).

Russian Doll feels different from many time loop narratives because of the (mild spoiler) inclusion of another character with their own loop, allowing the audience to see how different people approach the conundrum in the same universe. Instead of remaining fixed, inanimate objects age and decay while Nadia keeps looping. There are also regrettably few time loops that feature female protagonists. More on the emotional labor of lady time loopers in this excellent piece by Natalie Zutter. Russian Doll truly is appointment television.

A deep and eternal truth.

The most well-known time loop tale is 1993’s Groundhog Day, in which misanthropic weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) spends anywhere from 8 to nearly 34 years reliving the same day in the small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, emerging at last with a better outlook on life and the love of Andie MacDowell.

Anna: I remember watching Groundhog Day but not, ironically, watching it over and over as I did many other movies during that era. It does say something about our culture that the universe is forced to repeat a day for 34 years to teach one white man a lesson.

Alene: This brings up something that I never considered until we watched Russian Doll: what is going on for everyone else? Are they just carrying on with their lives after Nadia (or Phil) die? Are there n parallel futures out there after each of Nadia’s deaths (or Phil’s days)? Nadia references Ruth grieving her fifteen times. That tears my heart out.

Time loops lend themselves particularly well to the horror, mystery, and romance genres. Potential lovers can get their meet cutes just right with enough opportunities, sleuths have plenty of time to track down all the clues, and time loops reset by death allow for a glorious proliferation of gory outcomes.

One of the most intriguing recent uses of the time loop trope has been in the movies Happy Death Day (2017) and the recently released sequel Happy Death Day 2 U. Much in the mold of weatherman Phil, at the beginning of the first movie sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe) is impressively self-centered, to the point where the viewer would not be blamed for rooting for her death at the hands of a killer in a baby mask.

This gif should come with a trigger-warning for scaredy cats like We Your Dames

Ostensibly horror/slasher movies, the Happy Death Day franchise has stealthily created two films that require their heroine to confront the death of her mother in order to defeat her demons.

Anna: As documented in episode 73 of Bellwether Friends, I’m not a huge fan of horror, particularly not the kind that involves spurting blood. But Happy Death Day was fun! And sweet! There’s a romance! The sequel made me cry bittersweet dead-parent tears. All of the time loops where the main character dies to reset seem to include some horrific elements.

Alene: When the main characters realize this and start killing themselves to restart the loop, I get grumpy because I don’t like suicides played for laughs.

In 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live. Die. Repeat.), based on a Japanese novel, Cage (Tom Cruise) is a cowardly public relations officer forcibly enlisted to fight the alien race occupying Europe. The main appeal of this one, if you’re not fond of creepy aliens that whirl around super fast, is war hero Rita (Emily Blunt) repeatedly shooting Tom Cruise in order to make the day reset.

Anna: Alene, given that you’re always hoping during previews that Tom Cruise’s characters will be skeletonized by rats, how did this measure up?

A high-point of modern cinematic wish-fulfillment.

Alene: There really is something delightful about Tom Cruise playing an unlikable antihero who is repeatedly put to death by misfortune and his costar.

Anna: I loved seeing Emily Blunt as a kick-ass action hero.

Alene: Edge of Tomorrow had a quality I see in video games, where a player who has to get through a battle scenario makes the same moves and dodges each time, advancing the action a little bit farther only to die in the next moment and go back to the beginning. Times a hundred.

Many time loop stories involve a mystery of some sort, ranging from the relatively minor “How do I get this day to stop repeating? Ugh, personal growth.” to “How do we save the planet from aliens?” In the movie (adapted from the book of the same name) Before I Fall (2017), teenage protagonist/antagonist Sam (Zoey Deutch) tries to solve the mystery of her own death and in the process goes through the typical Stages of Time Looping:

  1. Denial

  2. Attempting to repair

  3. Giving up and doing whatever the hell you want

  4. Settling down and finally figuring shit out

After several resets, she concludes that if nothing she does changes the outcome of her loop, she might as well be as unpleasant as possible to her friends, family, and the world in general. Since she’s one of the mean girls at school, this isn’t a huge stretch. However, she eventually comes around to a very Groundhog Day-esque approach to her last day, making amends and trying to help someone else. Are there any time loopers who don’t have self repair to do and amends to make?

Alene: This is a particularly alluring aspect of time loops for me, the possibility of replaying an awkward situation or mistake made until one gets it right. I mean, I do it all day long in my brain, so having it played out on screen is soothing.

Anna: I’m not sure that Russian Doll’s Nadia needs a lot of fixing, although she is carrying a lot of grief about her mother. Maybe a time loop offers characters the luxury to see beyond their daily routines and address underlying issues?

The release of female-centered time loop stories like Russian Doll and Happy Death Day hopefully augur well for the progression of the time loop trope away from the trials and tribulations of white men. Looking at the genre as a whole, one might be forgiven for thinking that time loops only happen to white people— give us a metric ton of well-conceived repeating days with people of color at the center!

Luckily, we were able to find at least one with non-white protagonists: the Netflix film Nakeda remake of a Swedish film. In it, Rob (Marlon Wayans) is a groom whose loop starts when he wakes up naked in an elevator on the morning of his wedding to Regina Hall, already late for the ceremony. Over the course of a very Groundhog Day-like film, Rob journeys from immature and unreliable to marriage-worthy as he sources nice clothes, writes his vows, learns to dance, makes friends with Brian McKnight, and solves the mystery of the night before the wedding.

Alene: After being a little confused that it took more than one loop for him to prioritize clothing his naked self before trying to get to his wedding, I was taken in by Rob’s essential sweetness and tickled by his backup-singer-to-the-stars mom (Loretta Devine) and her almost famous™ stories. I also appreciate that he went through all the aforementioned Stages of Time Looping.

Anna:  I’m glad we found this one! More, please! Although I could do with less violence to the main character. Bonus points for Scott Foley in a villain role.

First impressions are important in terms of romance, and there are several time loop or time loop-adjacent romantic comedies that explore the idea of alternate timelines.

Alene: I love Sliding Doors, the 1998 movie in which a pre-GOOP Gwyneth Paltrow catches a train, thus getting home in time to discover her boyfriend in flagrante delicto with a brash American AND also misses the train, splitting the timeline to continue supporting her good-for-nothing writer boyfriend long past his use. In both timelines the charmingest charmer John Hannah charms, and through the magic of movies (and a somewhat blithely glossed-over tragedy), the timelines re-merge and we are hopeful for the future.

Adorable Drew Barrymore is repeatedly wooed by Adam Sandler in a tropical paradise in 2004’s 50 First Dates, which is only a time loop in that Drew’s character has a special fictitious amnesia and doesn’t form memories after the accident that gave her amnesia. The whole town works together to keep Drew thinking it’s the same day, and Adam has to figure out how to get her to fall in love with him in what amounts to a single day.

Anna: How very Groundhog Day. Which is also a romance!

Alene: Using time travel to make sure you get the girl is both creepy as heck and somehow extremely cute when Domhnall Gleeson does it to Rachel McAdams in 2013’s About Time.

Anna: I’m very fond of the made-for-cable movie 12:01 (1993), starring Jonathan Silverman as an accountant (Barry) who falls in love with scientist Helen Slater (Lisa), based on a short story by Richard Lupoff. Barry’s the only one aware that everyone is stuck in a time loop because he had an electric shock at the same time the particle accelerator responsible for the looping was fired up. Hijinks ensue!

There could be so many more time loop romantic comedies! I would like a time loop movie where the main character has to break the loop by figuring out which person that they encounter is the one they should be having a relationship with. Ideally this would take place in New York City or some other well-populated location, so there would be lots of attempts at romance. It could also end with them figuring out they’re happiest alone. And a peaceful reset each time, none of these suicides and bullets to the head.

What does it say that mainstream popular culture keeps repeating this style of narrative (see what we did there)? Is it about relentless self-improvement? Returning to a crucial moment and choosing differently with the assistance of hindsight? Many time loop films make it clear that their characters are in a kind of purgatory; Sam’s first-period teacher in Before I Fall mentions Sisyphus, forced to repeat the same task endlessly. However, the notion of repetition and repair seems to go beyond religious boundaries. Perhaps time loop films reflect a cultural obsession with the questions of fate and free will. Hot take: The gif format is nothing but a tiny time loop that we have been incorporating into the very FABRIC OF OUR LIVES— you heard it here first.

Whether audiences are interested in examining these larger questions or just want to see Tom Cruise get shot repeatedly, it’s clear that there will always be more time loop, parallel universe, time slip, and alternate timeline stories to come. And the Bellwether Friends will be here for it.


Notes!

Time loop movies that we haven’t seen yet but want to:

Alene: I Do I Do I Do, a Hallmark Original Movie, has an architect repeating her disastrous wedding day over and over until she discovers what she really wants in life.

Anna: OMG I picked that one too!

A selection of time loop television episodes:

“Death Ship,” “Shadow Play,” and “Judgment Night” - The Twilight Zone

“Monday” - The X-Files

“Cause and Effect” - Star Trek: The Next Generation

“Life Serial” - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Hot Mess Time Machine” - The Mindy Project

“"Twas the Night before Mxymas" - Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

See also: Three Recent Time Loop Episodes That Are Instant Classics

Where to find time loop narratives:

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GroundhogDayLoop

What are your favorite time loop movies, television series/episodes, and books? Tweet at us jointly @BellwetherFrnds or individually at @helgagrace and @surlyspice.

[n.b. Alene has seen Source Code and doesn’t want to talk about it.]

On our podcast, we always close our episodes by sharing our current obsessions: songs, books, movies, television, and other things that are resonating for us at the time we record. We compile our musical obsessions into a Spotify playlist for everyone to enjoy. In that tradition, our musical obsessions and regular obsessions this week are as follows:

Musical Obsessions:

Alene:Time after Time” by Cyndi Lauper (although I am always up for a Glee cast interpretation of anything)

Anna: “Now That I Found You” by Carly Rae Jepsen (perennial Bellwether Friends favorite)

Obsessions:

Alene: Helen Hoang’s clever and contemporary romances The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, both of which feature neuroatypical and nonwhite central characters!

Anna: Captain Marvel of course ; American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

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Pop Goes Our Hearts

Hello, Beloved DamesPals! We come bearing further glad tidings about Our Queen!

Only one week after singing her praises for personal growth and elegant activism, we’re back with more pro-Emma Thompson feelings. Namely, we cannot wait to see her in Late Night, Mindy Kaling’s debut as both a screenwriter and a leading lady, the freshly-released trailer for which looks scrumptious:

Before it came into our lives, we missed it so bad!

It looks like a funnier, more cogently & overtly feminist take on The Devil Wears Prada and we are DYING for June 7th to get here so that we can go watch it. For Emma Thompson’s blazers alone (BLACK SEQUINS!! BLUE PORCELAIN FLORAL!!!! CREAM SILK WITH ZEBRAS!!!!), it will be worth the price of admission. And that chic pixie-with-a-pompadour haircut? To die.

Future live footage of Your Dames racing to watch this movie


Dame Sophie’s Cri de Coeur

I can still hear him murmuring plaintively, cajolingly: Brennnnnnnnn

The dream of the 90s continues to die, little by little. This week in Mortality Is Bullshit, Luke Perry’s death hit me pretty hard! It’s impossible to overstate the significance of Beverly Hills, 90210 in the cultural landscape of my high school years, and it’s been genuinely delightful to see him again each week on Riverdale, where he played Archie Andrews’ lived-in yet still quite foxy dad, Fred. (Shout-out to Riverdale for giving teen icons of the 80s & 90s substantive work and for giving today’s teens an easy point of entry to those actors’ earlier work in the aggressively fever dreamy world they’ve cooked up on that show. My 13 year-old and I love to watch together and peel back all the many layers of cultural allusions.) Here’s a round-up of the best remembrances of him I’ve read so far. I’m sure I’ve missed some good ones; please do @ me with your favorites that didn’t make this list!

  • Jessica Morgan’s remembrance over at Go Fug Yourself captures the significance of Beverly Hills, 90210 in a culture that had no teen soaps to speak of. Try to imagine a TV landscape without The OC, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Riverdale, all those DC shows! Without 90210 (or Bev, as one girl in my homeroom called it) “there would probably be no CW at all, honestly — and Dylan was its heartthrob, the perfect trope of the Sexy Bad Boy With Hidden Depths; Misunderstood With Terrible Parents, Sensitive and Thoughtful and Hot, Who Doesn’t Even Make Fun of You When You Have an Unfortunate Accident With Sun-In Leave-In Hair Dye.” At first blush, Dylan seemed like the kind of boy you’d warn your kid off from dating, but like Ryan Atwood and so many others after him, he was primarily a sweet kid who needed structure and consistency. It’s remarkable when an actor can simultaneously embody capital-T trouble and maximum vulnerability, and it’s a skill we underrate, because who cares about that combo pack? (I know who, and so do you.)

  • Obviously, Rob Sheffield’s take is perfect, and reveals an encyclopedic knowledge of 90210 and Perry’s career as a whole, which I deeply respect. Similarly, Linda Holmes’ remembrance strikes a just-right balance of true appreciation and the gentlest possible acknowledgement that Perry got very famous by taking seriously a role that in lesser hands would have only been worthy of mockery. This special episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour featuring Sarah D. Bunting does a lovely job of assaying Perry’s contributions, while Richard Lawson’s appreciation in Vanity Fair chimes out a lovely & true grace note: “I’ll tell you what hasn’t dimmed: the pure wonder of Luke Perry cocking his head and furrowing his brow as Dylan contemplates some surfer insight with charmingly self-important seriousness. Perry’s magic still has deep power.”

  • Off-screen, by many accounts, Luke Perry was an absolute doll who maintained a decades-long family friendship with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, was a genius of jollying along kids who were about to melt down on airplanes, and was quite pro-union, as befits a true son of the Rust Belt. RIP, dreamy prince of worker solidarity.

And now, I’m just gonna let Maris Kreizman’s perfect Slaughterhouse 90210 post -- which shredded my heart into sadness confetti when she re-shared it this week -- take it from here:

The past is gone, and it’s also ever-present in our shared memories. Living with and through that paradox, particularly through a shared grief experience, is one of the best/worst/best and most deeply bittersweet things I know.


Dame Margaret’s Half-and-Half of Happiness

Live footage of Dame M. within 15 minutes of hitting send on this here newsletter

For some reason (perhaps my Lenten abandonment of the snooze button?), my brain feels like it’s oozing out my ears today, so I’m going to give you one half FRESH LINKS and one half thoroughly vetted, lightly updated recommended purchases that were previously exclusively to our paying subscribers. My hope is that you’ll enjoy both parts, but regardless of your enjoyment THIS IS ALL I CAN PROVIDE TODAY, I AM SO SORRY, I HOPE YOU STILL LOVE ME.

FRESH LINKS:

  • In an important reminder that Hollywood will almost always let you down, only a few weeks after I wrote in praise of his screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?, director Peter Bogdanovich sat down for a long interview with Vulture and reminded me (1) that he’s a dreadful, predatory creep and that (2) Hollywood is toxic cesspit designed to protect misogynistic ego-maniacs like him. Whether it’s Orson Welles sleeping in Bogdanovich’s guest house or Bogdanovich sleeping in Quentin Tarantino's (admittedly both reality TV series I would probably watch), the piece drives home the Brotherhood of Art white male directors manifested for one another and said Brotherhood’s conviction that women were disposable ornaments and nothing more. All of which made me grateful that, before going on a possibly permanent hiatus, Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This processed one piece of this interview through its typically feminist, intersectional lens: the murder of Dorothy Stratten. After reading this interview, I would kill for Longworth to do an entire season re-examining Bogdanovich’s legacy, from his ex-wife’s claims to shaping his three most influential films to his dismissive claims concerning Cher’s acting ability. Maybe if all of Dames Nation wishes along with me, we can manifest it via The Secret.

  • Then, in an important reminder that not all your faves are terrible, legendary investigative reporter Jane Mayer both (1) released a searing, must-read article on the unprecedented degree of enmeshment between Fox News and the Trump White House (a powerhouse report which has already led to one resignation and could lead to criminal charges) and (2) was the focus of a charming profile from Elle that included the following winning anecdote: “In the early ’90s, [Mayer] returned from a reporting trip to discover that the lawyer she’d been living with had taken up with her ‘polar opposite,’ Laura Ingraham, now a Fox News host. The new couple refused to return Mayer’s dog, so one day, when they weren’t home, she and Abramson drove over, and Mayer climbed through the pet door to retrieve it. (‘She’s a lot of fun,’ Abramson tells me. ‘I don’t want you to make her seem deadly serious.’)” So, you know, every once in a while, your favs are exactly as great as you hope they’ll be.

GOOD BUYS:

  • First up, let me give a more informed recommendation for the terrific— and shockingly affordable!— backpack I got this summer on Amazon: the Himawari Travel Backpack. After using it for nine months, I am fully in love with it. It’s held up beautifully to everything from international travel to music festivals, . The wire frame at the mouth lets it open really wide and stay open without additional support, which is always handy, and the zipper on the back lets you access all the sedimentary layers of the bag even at its most full. And, best of all, It looks so cute that I get compliments on it constantly, especially with the row of enamel pins I added to the front pocket.

  • This recommendation is less a product endorsement and more a lifehack: these rainbow mesh nylon pouches have the potential to change your life. HOW, you ask? By using them as modular purse essential pouches. This serves two purposes: first, by gathering all your odds and ends into pouches within your purse, you cut down on digging enormously, especially for heavy items like your keys. Second, it makes it really easy to assure that all the things you actually need are with you when you switch from one purse to another. These particular bags are cute, surprisingly sturdy (mine has last 8 years of hard wear without visible weathering), and by dint of being transparent, make it easy to see exactly what’s inside, and where in the pouch it’s gotten to.

  • You know how in romantic comedies, Meg Ryan or whomever always has a very coherent pajama collection and looks absolutely adorable in it? Well, I have spent my whole life chasing that aesthetic and, after years of trial and error, I finally have the perfect pajama wardrobe. The contents:  

    • The most important thing is a pajama set that actually fits. As a small woman with narrow shoulders, short arms, and a short torso, most commercially available pajama sets look comically overlarge on me rather than winsomely boxy. Which is why I was so relieved and delighted to discover that L.L. Bean offers their flannel pajama sets in petite sizes. Although currently only available in an array of woodsy plaids, from time to time cuter patterns (like my piped and polka dot set) become available, and they’re worth their slightly high price tag. Three years in, both my pairs are still in beautiful shape despite the fact that I spend like… 60% of my time in them.  

    • That said, I have also had great luck with more affordably priced jersey shortie sets from Target, now the heart of the extremely good sleepwear line they launched this week (and from which I have already bought an irresistible green floral robe). The jersey fabric these shortie pajamas are made from is outlandishly soft and possessed of a beautiful drape, meaning that they look every bit as adorable on as I could ever hope— at least in the short sleeve, short shorts variety. At full length, the jersey can drag and cling, so I stick with the shortie sets, pairing them with Uniqlo’s HeatTech leggings and pajama cardigans when the weather begins to turn cool. They are available in solid colors pretty much year round, and periodically also in cute patterns, like this adorable yellow-and-white stripe. I own four pairs of these pajamas and will happily buy more as further prints become available.

    • And then, the pièce de résistance: a glorious floral silk kaftan for vastly less than you would expect courtesy of Silk & More on Etsy. This listing lets you pick any of the shop’s designs in any of the silk fabrics offered, and this one allows you to add pockets for $46 (including shipping!), I got a floor-length empire-waist kaftan (style #8) in yellow floral silk, with pockets, and it’s stupidly glamorous and comfortable and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  


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Every time you tell a friend to subscribe, some woman, somewhere, finds exactly the piece of silk sleepwear for which she has sought her whole life.

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Share your saucy opinions with us on Twitter whether jointly as your @twobossydames, or in single size servings as @MrsFridayNext & @sophiebiblio!

Shawl Vaults & Cashmere Thoughts

Dames Nationals, Rolling Stone and Rob Sheffield have given us a real gift this week: a truly excellent interview with Stevie Nicks to mark her second induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Some highlights from this interview:

Stevie on her shawls:

I have my shawl vault — they’re all in temperature-controlled storage. I have these huge red cases Fleetwood Mac bought, all the way back in 1975 — my clothes are saved in these cases. All my vintage stuff is protected for all my little goddaughters and nieces. I’m trying to give my shawls away — but there’s thousands of them. If I ever write my life story, maybe that should be the name of my book: There’s Enough Shawls to Go Around.

On her cashmere thoughts:

I mean, I don’t do casual very well. Even my normal life, I’m in cashmere pants and a cashmere sweater and cashmere thoughts.” Cashmere Thoughts is, incidentally, the title of Dame Sophie’s forthcoming chapbook/buying guide for lovers of luxury knitwear at sensible prices. Look for it in deeply obscure bookstores everywhere!

On Tom Petty:

Had he not given me [“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”], let me candidly tell you, Bella Donna might not have been a hit. That song kicked Bella Donna right into the universe. My biggest sadness about the Hall of Fame is that Tom is not here to enjoy this with me, because he would have been the proudest of me of anyone.

On Prince:

But you know, I feel like Prince is with me. When I’m nervous, I’ll talk to Prince. In my solo act, when I do ‘Moonlight,’ I wear this white wolfy coat — I put this coat on and I try to transform into a Dire Wolf from Game of Thrones. And before I go on, I always say, “Walk with me, Prince.”

(If these two quotes affected you as deeply as they did We Your Dames, may we recommend  in the strongest possible terms the episode of Chris Molanphy’s stellar podcast Hit Parade in which he focuses on the joint legacy of Prince and Tom Petty. It will leave you suffuse with tears in the best possible way.)

The whole interview is insightful & celebratory, and most of all, highlights Stevie’s decades-long devotion to collaborating with artists she admires, which is pretty much the entire premise of this very newsletter. In fact, we featured Stevie in the Two Bossy Dames’ first issue, and you can count on seeing her here regularly for as long as we keep this enthusiastic enterprise going!


Dame Sophie’s Luxury Assortment

I mean, have you seen Hannah Beachler’s best? It’s extraordinary!

  • The Oscars is like...well, they’re like my second Oscars, really. My first Oscars is the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards, where the winners of awards such as Pura Belpre, Coretta Scott King, Schneider, Odyssey, Stonewall, Newbery, and Printz are announced. I wasn’t super feeling it for the Oscars this year, for a whole bunch of reasons I haven’t spent enough time examining, but on the plus side, that means that my little Oscars recap is going to be briefer than usual, featuring only highlights of things I cared about in my bones:

  • I’ve been experimenting with not doing any hate-reading for the last few months & that’s been working for me, but I want to draw a distinction between hate-reading and rage-reading. Rage-reading is when you read something you really need to know about, that brings a red curtain of fury drop before your very eyes, and then prompts you to holler about it to a few thousand of your closest friends in your weekly newsletter. This week’s rage-read is brought to you by this stunning revelation in an NPR piece on attempts to improve childbirth safety: "It's mind-boggling that in this day and age, we still don't understand [even] in a normal pregnancy how women go into labor — what triggers labor," Vink says. "Because we don't understand the normal fundamental mechanisms, we can't identify how things go bad — and then how we fix it when things go bad." Emphasis mine, h/t beloved DamesPal Ann, convenor of The Pallas Network, an online community for GenX and older Millennial women. Call the Midwife, call the National Institutes of Health, call the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, call everyone you know and ask them if it’s ever occurred to them to wonder what triggers labor. I know lots of people who have been in labor, including myself, and prior to reading this article, never once had I wondered about why it happens when it does, and now I’m furious about that, too. Why does nobody talk about this?

  • You know what I love? A useful metaphor/schema. You know who’s come up with a great one this week? Fiona, aka the originator of the greatest thread of 2017-18, Cate Blanchett & Harry Styles, Fashion Twins. Behold, a new vocabulary for talking about the many ways the celebrities we love make us feel: The Lenses! Essential for fans of faves everywhere.

  • Listen, I know it’s ridiculous that the 2020 US Presidential election cycle has already begun. I know this. And yet, I’m just not the kind of person who can ignore it for the next year now that it’s already happening. Some things that have caught my eye recently, that I think are worth passing along for consideration by my fellow mid-range political obsessives include:

    • What if womanhood were not a disqualification for running for office, but instead a qualifying asset? I’m delighted that this cycle’s Democratic field includes brilliant, thoughtful women like Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. Yes, please, let’s talk about the crisis of how life-derailingly expensive childcare is, and get behind some proposals to make it easier for mothers to re-enter the workforce if and when they want to.

    • I’m also very impressed by Pete Buttigieg. In addition to having a compelling personal story and being, at 37, the youngest member of the field, he comes across as being compassionate & responsible on a molecular level. More of this, please.  

    • Stacey Abrams isn’t running for president yet, but she may well run for the Senate to represent her home state of Georgia in 2020. You all know how I love a planner, and Stacy is a breathtakingly skillful layer of philosophically-backed groundwork. Get to know her better by listening to (or reading) this engaging, wide-ranging, and fun interview on Why Is This Happening? with Chris Hayes.

Here’s a super-handy gif of Richard E. Grant, being extremely Lensy for his lifelong crush, Barbra Streisand


What Dame Margaret Could Pull Together Before the Victorian Milk Punch Took Hold

  • Sometimes, the auto-play algorithm on YouTube presently me with an extremely delightful surprise, as with this video of Amy Sedaris discussing the decor of her West Village apartment, perhaps the most perfect encapsulation of my decorating aesthetics that I have ever seen. If you, Dames Nationals, would like to start sending me charming flea market paintings in twee frames, I would appreciate that extremely.

  • Considering that when I saw my first Orolay parka in real life last month, I felt wryly starstruck (as if I had just seen a minor Instagram Influencer at my local bar), I am dead center in the target audience for an article about how a random coat from Amazon achieved this off-beat cache. However, even if you’ve never heard of “the Amazon coat”, I think you’ll enjoy this fascinating article about how it went “viral” and how consumer trend clickbait gets made.

  • Eternal #damesfav (and past guest editor) Jasmine Guillory has been producing some terrific #content about writing romance novels-- a task at which she absolutely excels. A link round-up:

  • Speaking of Modern Love, let me share with you my newest obsession: Netflix’s show Dating Around. It has a very simple structure: you watch one person go on five first dates and, at the episode’s end (~25 minutes later), you find out which of the five people they opt to go on a second date with. The six episodes go down so smooth and fast, you’ll barely even notice you’ve finished. Fair warning, the first episode is the most annoying episode because it’s the only one that focuses on the type of people dating shows usually feature-- a pretty boring straight guy dating pretty normal straight girls. Subsequent to that, however, it’s all combo breakers! An Indian divorcee! QUEER PEOPLE OF COLOR! A 70-something private detective!! They are ALL GREAT! To regain your equilibrium after episode two, you’ll want to read this lovely interview with Gurki Basra, that episode’s primary dater. And, once you’ve binged all six, you’ll need this essential Vulture piece deciding which people from each episode you’d fuck, marry, or kill.

  • And finally, not particularly related to any of the above, Emma Thompson once again justified our love by taking an elegant, concrete stand against rehabilitating John Lasseter, one of the many Hollywood bigwigs felled by #MeToo allegations. She has put a foot wrong on this issue before (by blindly signing a letter of support for Roman Polanski, for which she apologized immediately and thoroughly), so it’s particularly satisfying to see her do the right thing with such unerring confidence.   

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Grief and Its Discontents

Hey Dames Fans!

It’s Jessica Reedy and Kat Chow here for today’s take over of Two Bossy Dames. *Troy McClure voice* You might remember us from such NPR podcasts as Pop Culture Happy Hour (for which Jessica is a producer and on which Kat is a regular fourth chair) and Code Switch (for which Kat is a frequent contributor).

This go-’round, we’re talking about grief — the IRL version, and the consumable, as-experienced via pop culture version. It really needs no further introduction, so we’ll get right to it.

Jessica: My grandmother Kathy passed away 10 days ago, and I need your grieving expertise. Deaths are always sad, but is it weird to say it couldn’t have gone better? She was 90 years old and was in hospice, so this wasn’t a surprise. I visited her a few times around Christmas, and we had a wonderful last visit — she was lucid and charming and clearly at peace with her own mortality. All of my family had a chance to say goodbye. She passed away in the presence of her two daughters (my beloved aunts), and wasn’t in pain. I know I’m sad, but I also know I can’t let myself leave the denial stage quite yet. I’m blaming work — Oscar season is my busiest time of year. But also it doesn’t feel real. I’m here in Washington, D.C., and my whole family is in my hometown, Santa Cruz, California. Kathy was a huge part of my life, and I don’t think I’ve felt the tectonic shift that the Reedy matriarch is now dead, even though intellectually I know she’s gone. Is this normal?

Kat: Jessica! I’m really sorry for your loss. From what you’ve described, it sounds like your grandmother Kathy lived a long and hopefully full life, and I’m so glad that you had the chance to visit with her over the holidays. I don’t want to be prescriptive, but I personally don’t think it’s “weird” at all to say that it couldn’t have gone better, or that it’s “abnormal” to say you haven’t experienced an enormous shift yet. And I put those words in quotes because I’ve always considered loss to be nearly impossible to describe with adjectives, since there isn’t a standardized way to grieve. (I mean, there’s always Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — but when she came up with those stages, she was trying to understand what the varying emotional waves that terminally ill patients were passing through as they were understanding their pending deaths. She never intended for this framework to be linear.)

No one tell Jack Donaghy.

It seems like your family was as prepared as they could be for your grandmother’s passing, and that you were able to have a thoughtful conversation about her mortality during your last visit over the holidays; I imagine that would feel almost like a relief to hear that she seemed at peace. Still, I think that regardless of how expected a death is — in the case of someone who’s elderly or has a terminal illness — grief comes and goes in truly unexpected ways. Some days you might be going about your day thinking everything’s just dandy, laughing at some wacko thing on Twitter, and then the next moment, an evocative scent or a taste or sound might tug you into a memory of a loved one that sends you through all of Kubler-Ross’ five stages at once. I know this might seem terribly cheesy, but it’s OK, as hard as it might be sometimes, to let yourself just be. Even if being is, well …

Jessica: Heh. We talked offline about how the challenge of finding appropriate gifs for grief, but you found THE PERFECT ONE! Seeing as you are writing a book about about grief, do you have suggestions of what I should read or watch?

Kat: Hrm. There a bajillion things to suggest. But can we start with books? I have a lot of grief or death-adjacent memoirs and novels on my shelf that I’ve been re-reading as I’ve been working on my own book project. In the memoir space, the poet Elizabeth Alexander wrote a moving book about her husband’s death called The Light of the World, which I’d say is as much of a love story as it is about loss. H Is for Hawk is Helen Macdonald’s meditation on her father’s death as she trains a goshawk. Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped traces the lives of five men in her life who died young. I also really recommend a lot of Tracy K. Smith’s poetry and work in general. She wrote a memoir about losing her mother called Ordinary Light. (And speaking of Smith: a friend recently recommended I listen to her podcast called The Slowdown. It’s been described as “literary ASMR,” and each episode is only five minutes long, includes a new poem, and manages to be incredibly reflective and meditative in such a short time. A good starter episode that’s specifically about grief is “Mystical Rose.”)

The novel Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter is a staple. My very favorite novel of 2018 was Severance by Ling Ma, and I’d argue that it was as much about loss as it was the end of the world. So Many Olympic Exertions by Anelise Chen is this experimental novel that I’ve returned to re-read many times over the past couple of years, and explores loss, failure and the act of giving up in a tremendously thoughtful way. It’s one of those books I can’t stop thinking about.

I also highly recommend A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers — a short story by Yiyun Li that was also turned into a movie by Wayne Wang — since I think it shows an immigrant’s grief story with a lot of depth in a compact space. Same goes for the author Ken Liu’s short story, “The Paper Menagerie,” which is about a Chinese American kid in Connecticut who lost his mom at a young age; when I read the story, I was blown away with how many very specific parallels there were to my own life as … a Chinese American kid in Connecticut who lost a mom at a young age.

Also, I can’t wait to watch the movie The Farewell, which Awkwafina stars in and has received some exciting buzz. What about you? I’m always in search of new stuff that makes me think differently about loss.

Jessica: Kat, you are giving me SO many great options for my “to read” list — thank you! I’ve been meaning to read Men We Reaped and Severance. Clearly I have to move them to the top of my reading list.

I recently read Nick Dranso’s graphic novel Sabrina and it floored me. It follows a man after his girlfriend Sabrina goes missing, and the media firestorm that ensues. Ariel Levy’s memoir Rules Do Not Apply also stuck with me.

I would argue that Michael Kupperman’s excellent graphic memoir All The Answers is about grief. Michael’s father Joel is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so Michael sets out to learn about his father time as a Quiz Kid before it’s too late. I would also recommend Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, a beautiful novel about a son who must cope with his mother disappearance after goes to her job at a nail salon and never returns.

If you are looking for something shorter, Mia Alvar’s wonderful story collection In The Country includes a remarkable story about a man who returns to Manila to take care of his ailing father. David Sedaris’ essay “Now We Are Five” helped me understand what it’s like to lose a loved one to suicide. Samantha Irby is a national treasure, and there’s a wonderful piece about scattering her estranged father’s ashes in We Are Never Meeting In Real Life.

Two other things come to mind: First is the movie A Fantastic Woman. It’s a Chilean film about a trans woman who faces intense scrutiny after her older lover dies. The other feels like a left turn, but bear with me… Comedian Nicole Byer’s wonderful podcast Why Won’t You Date Me is primarily about her love life. But her parents died when she was in her late teens, and I find it illuminating how she discusses her grief and abandonment issues as they relate to her relationships.

Which, oddly enough, brings me to my next question: how does grief change years after losing a parent? I assume it never goes away?

Kat: Before I answer your question — I can’t WAIT to dig into all your recommendations. Lisa Ko’s The Leavers destroyed me, and In The Country has been on my list to read for too long. You’re reminding me I gotta return to it.

The editorial team’s official position on mortality.

But back to your question: You’re right. It never goes away, but it’s certainly changing all the time. My mom died when I was thirteen, which was right around the time when I was, you know, a pimply weirdo just trying to figure out who I was all while shrugging off this horse girl phase. So my mom’s loss and all the questions I had about her death, our family and being the kid of immigrants from China coalesced into my general identity. The way I currently think about grief is how it forces us to constantly redefine our relationship with the person who’s died. Before, it was so hard to even think or let alone speak about my mom. I’d write about her as a form of release, but I wanted her to stay dead. Now, I consider her to be this dynamic, shifting force in my life, and I see that in trying to finally understand her, I’m helping reanimate her so that she can exist as I remember her: a full, three-dimensional woman.

Jessica: I imagine marinating in grief is emotionally draining. What do you do to take care of yourself?

Kat: Oh! This is a good question. I’m on book leave right now, so I need to constantly unwind, otherwise I’ll find myself locked in my own mind-palace, which is usually an OK place to be. But, ya know, sometimes you gotta break away. I like taking walks around D.C., and I often find myself in Malcolm X Park, which is a quiet, gorgeous place to just sit and people watch. When I’m indoors, I snuggle with my very needy dog, Samson. I’ll bundle him up in a ball of blankets and hug him for hours while I sit on the couch, binge-watching something on TV. (Currently, I can’t get enough of The Fosters — why is Brandon the worst?! — and the YouTube series that the pastry chef Claire Saffitz hosts for Bon Appétit, where she tries to re-create things like instant ramen or Snickers bars.) I’m a big fan of my weighted blanket (that I got based off of your recommendation!) and putting a few droplets of citrus-y essential oils in my diffuser. I’ve also found the occasional consumption of CBD oil to be helpful. What about you, Jess?

Royal Tenenbaum: a man who understood how to exit the world.

Jessica: I’m so glad you invested in a weighted blanket. I love mine so much. I’m sitting under it as I type this! Right now I’m in a phase where I only want to consume things that won’t upset me. I’ve been doing my best Netflix binges on the treadmill. I recently watched The Hookup Plan  and Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Shion and Tsubasa 4eva). Right now I’m working my way through the latest season of One Day At A Time.

I feel better both physically and emotionally when I cook for myself. I’ve been trying a few new recipes this winter, including blueberry baked oatmeal, roasted cauliflower and quoina salad, and vegetarian lentil chili.

I try to unplug from all screens by 9 p.m. It helps me decompress, plus it’s helped me up my book-reading game. I now plough through a book a week. A few of my recent favorites include My Sister, The Serial Killer by Braithewate Oyinkan, You’ll Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Wife by Meg Wolizter (WAY better than the movie, IMO.), and (*ahem* this is a galley brag) The Bride Test by Helen Hoang.

I also have a few YouTube videos I return to again and again when I need a boost. I can’t stop watching Janet Jackson perform “Rhythm Nation.” Or these adorable girls dancing to Beyonce’s “Formation.” Or this bootleg of D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary about recording the Company cast album. Or Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand performing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” (I COULD keep going, but I’ll stop here.)

Alright, Dames Nationals. We know that grief can be a bit heavy, but we hope that this dames-dition gave you some things that might help.

We wanna hear from you, too. What are some things that you’ve watched/listened to/read that have been helpful in your grieving process? Tell us on the Twitters! We’re at @jessica_reedy and @katchow.

— Jessica and Kat

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We appreciate you, readers of Dames Nation!

Every time you tell a friend to subscribe, some woman, somewhere, feels a profound sense of connection with someone who’s gone.

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Share your saucy opinions with us on Twitter whether jointly as your @twobossydames, or in single size servings as @MrsFridayNext & @sophiebiblio!

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