Briefly, a Ham-nouncement
Sorry, not sorry, the Hamilton puns are non-stop around here, folks. The Original Broadway Cast Recording is continuing to take our hearts & minds by storm and we know many of you are in the same boat of thoughts & feelings.
So! we are planning a Hamilton listen-and-tweet extravaganza in two parts next week:
Act 1: Sunday, October 18 at 8 PM ET
Act 2: Monday, October 19 at 8 PM ET
The Hamilton OBCR is available to listen to for free viaSpotifyandAmazon Prime Music. Some of you may even have bought copies on iTunes or in the physical musical recording emporium of your choice.
Just hit PLAY at 8 PM next Sunday and/or Monday night and follow#Hamildamesfor live analysis, contextualization, laughs & tears.
And Now, On With The Showwwww!
Friends, if you’ll indulge us, we’re skipping the link round-up this week in favor of a little something different. Dame M’s longtime friend (and now, joyously, by the Transitive Principle of Internet Friendships, Dame S’s friend, too) Kathryn VanArendonk agreed to interview us for our first anniversary issue.
Many of you asked in the recent reader survey how this delicious Internet sausage is made, and, real talk, we like to talk about ourselves, sooooo, take it away, Kathryn!
Kathryn: So, when I open up my newsletter every Friday, my immediate, number one response, every single time, is HOW DOES THIS EVEN HAPPEN? Obviously you can do this because you are both well-read women immersed in culture with your thumbs firmly on the Pulse of Awesomeness, but what does that actually look like, week to week? Where are your go-to sources for excellence, and then once you have a collection of stuff, how do you pull it all together?
Margaret:So, it turns out that one of the best ways to HAVE a newsletter is to subscribe to lots and lots and lots of other newsletters. I think I get at least 12, probably more.
Sophie:Same. We’re in a really fun and interesting period for newsletters. There’s such a variety of great ones out there, all being as idiosyncratic as they wanna be, in a medium that feels intimate (and has been recently pointed out,safer than The Open Internet).
M: It’s really helpful-- it’s like everyone less has already skimmed the cream off their internet milk, passed it to us, and we get to skim it again to get like…. hyper cream.
S: Creme de la creme!
M: Oh yeah, sure, that’s exactly the phrase I was actually looking for, thanks Dame Sophie, owner of the better half of my brain! Some of our favorite link sources are the Ann Friedman Weekly, Today in Tabs, So What? Who Cares?, Uptalk, The Great American Newsletter, vogue anonymous, This is Colossal, Atlas Obscura, and This Week’s Work.
S: We also read widely in general, and have friends with sharp eyes who send us great stuff. It all comes together in Pocket & Instapaper, where each of us saves things that catch our eyes but we don’t have time to read immediately, and then we just sift it through our brains & copious texting throughout the week. There was an issue last fall where we talked about our as-yet-undiagnosed-but-quite-likely adult ADHD and came to the conclusion that we have managed to turn the challenge of constantly shifting among skimming and connecting and cross-referencing and deep diving with a wide variety of things into an asset. We’re just sort of always talking and thinking about culture things, and now we do so in a venue where we can stretch out with our feeeelings (which include feeling hard-done by that there is no readily available GIF of Obi-Wan counseling Luke to stretch out with his feelings).
K: I read that piece on newsletters as safe female spaces, and it is obviously suuuuuuuper relevant and interesting here. Can you talk a little about the name Two Bossy Dames? To me it feels like it pulls largely in the direction of the kinds of Katharine Hepburn characters I loved in her rom-com era, but maybe there is also a more current statement you’re making with the name.
S: The name came up in a volley of texts between us in the early stages of our planning. I think we wanted something that was a statement of purpose, that was also a bit of self-mockery. Like, that name guarantees that there is no way someone would subscribe to this newsletter without understanding that we are deeply concerned with feminism as well as examining & sometimes reveling in femininity, while also being a bit cheeky. Katharine Hepburn is a major icon to us (I’m pretty sure loving her is in second only to the swim safety test as a Bryn Mawr graduation requirement), so that didn’t hurt.
M: Yeah, I can think of few people who have been QUITE AS CENTRAL to my identity formation as Katharine Hepburn -- specifically in Bringing Up Baby, which I watched a probably problematic number of times as a young child. We settled on the name shortly after after the whole #BanBossy movement, which Sophie and I had both sort of side-eyed--because we are bossy. Warmly, lovingly, femininely, feministly dictatorial-- in short, bossy. And, after all, there ain’t nothing like a Dame.
K: Where did this whole thing even come from? Surely you weren’t just sitting, staring at your computer screens and thinking, “I should make a weekly newsletter with a person who lives several hundred miles away from me where we write about adorable basketball players in press conferences trying to stump their stenographers.” But maybe?
M: Dame Sophie and I became friends nearly 5 years ago, through watching each other make adorable and incisive comments on the Pop Culture Happy Hour Facebook page. And Dame S. took it to the next level when she posted a picture of challah she was making on Facebook, I responded with the obvious food lust such an image would trigger, and she offered to send me a loaf. From there on out, we were FULL BROS.
S: My challah brings all the friends to the yard! We quickly realized the depth of our shared taste & sensibilities, and I started scheming, which is a longstanding habit of mine. I always want to invent fun things to do with my friends. So about two years ago, I sent Margaret an FB message saying, “let’s do a project together!” And she was immediately on board, and then we didn’t really do anything with it for about 6 months. Considered generously, you might think of this as an extended germination period.
M: We were both huge fans of Ann Friedman’s weekly newsletter and Bim Adewunmi’s weekly #BimsTenThings “newsletter,” and Sophie had the brilliant idea to do our own version of the same. So, we spent the summer scheduling & sharing links on Twitter with the #TwoBossyDames hashtag, every Thursday afternoon. And then, a year ago this fall, we transitioned into TinyLetter and have never looked back.
K: Fuck, Marry, Kill: Ryan Adams’s 1989, Taylor Swift’s 1989, the actual year1989.
M:... What even happened in the year 1989? Is that when the Berlin Wall came down?
S: Yeah, late in the year.
M: Ugh, then I can’t kill the year!
S: Well, that’s what I was going to do -- it was awful! I mean, that was the peak of the AIDS crisis, George Bush had just been elected after 8 years of Ronald Reagan, it seemed like abortion rights were going down the drain (hahahahaboohoo if only I had known what awaited us in the 2010s!).
M: I mean, M is easy: obviously we’re both marrying Taylor Swift’s 1989.
S: And we will live happily ever after adrift on a tide of pop bliss.
JOINT VERDICT: F: the year 1989 (with hate in our hearts) / M: Taylor’s 1989 / K: Ryan’s 1989.
K: I’d like to add that I did not feel strongly about the potential pleasure of killing Ryan Adam’s 1989 until I saw him on The Daily Show, but since that viewing, I have come around to that perspective.
M: I haven’t watched that yet, but now I am both dying to and afraid to-- you make it sound quite dreadful, Kathryn.
K: All right, now that we’ve dispensed with the pleasantries, let’s get to the really important stuff. The GIFs. Where do they come from? How did they become such an integral part of your style? What is it about a GIF that makes you look at it and say, “AHA! That is a TBD GIF if ever I saw one”?
S: Well, Margaret was the one who taught me the mechanics of GIF-finding. If you want to do it yourself, here’s what we do: go to images.google.com, search for the thing we want, select Search Tools, then select “animated” from the Type menu. We search for a person, a quote from a song/movie/TV, or a concept.
M: And that was a skill I learned from our friend Ally, of #GirlGang fame. You would be amazed how exact you can go if you just google with hope in your heart. Sometimes, I have something really specific in mind, and I can get… um.. fixated on trying to find it. Like I’ll know I want a Thelma and Louise GIF, but I can’t find one of them blowing a kiss, even though I’m sure something like that must exist. So I go down the rabbit hole. If the newsletter is ever super late coming out, it’s usually because I got a little quixotic trying to find EXACTLY THE RIGHT GIF and lost track of time.
S: The specific application in the newsletter comes from our literary educations: it’s just using allusions in a visual way. Collectively, we have accrued & stored so much cultural knowledge of dubious practical value that it has to find a place to be put to use. Sooo, GIFs! They are so handy! So many Internet friendships begin on the basis of shared interests & cultural references, and GIFs really let you layer those on. You can also look at it as Internet annotation & marginalia & palimpsest-y (though that might be getting a little too academically precious about it. Not that I have ever shied away from that, ha! A high-low mix is all my joy.).
M: Every once in a while, we’ll come across something in the wild, when we’re not in active newsletter prep and just KNOW we’ve found a Dames GIF. It’s like porn, basically -- sometimes, you just know a TBD GIF when you see it. The best example I can think of for that is this GIF of Anita flipping up her skirt in West Side Story -- the second we saw it, we knew the newsletter needed it.
K: Yeah, the idea of the GIF as a kind of reference-based marginalia feels right to me, but I also find myself turning to GIFs - and I think TDB does this as well - as an emotional shorthand. It’s just so interesting to think about them as capable of communicating not just, for instance, happy tears, but:
And maybe I didn’t want that, I wanted it to have more of a
vibe. But I wanted it to be an older reference, so I’m going with
WHICH, HAH, I GOOGLED AND FOUND FROM YOUR NEWSLETTER.
What I’m saying is, it feels a little bit like building a second language that we’re all just learning to speak, I think one of the things that makes TBD stand out to me is that it’s so adept at communicating this way.
M & S (together in her kitchen in New Jersey doing a last pass at this interview): WE COMPLETELY AGREE! Neither of us really remember how even we communicated before we had gifs and emoji -- they enrich our language & relationships so deeply.
K: How has the newsletter grown since you started? I mean this both in the sense of – how many of us are there now, out there in Dames Nation, but also – how has it changed as you’ve been working on it? Has anything about it surprised you?
M: I mean, the sheer number of subscribers we have currently, when I really think about it, still surprises me.
S: It is BANANAS. In a thrilling way.
M: I feel like, in terms of the people who interact with us directly on Twitter, it’s still mostly people who Sophie and I either know in real life or have known on the Internet for awhile, so it still feels like a community of friends. But then there’s this silent majority of people who are SUBSCRIBERS -- and doing our survey recently really brought that home, in the best way. Because I’d read the descriptions people shared of themselves and they’d go from being a subscriber to being a friend. And that made the 4,000+ subscribers we have go from feeling kind of daunting and impossible to just being an enormous, embracing friend swarm.
K: Do you have examples of issues you’ve done that you really loved? Some of my favorites are when you go all-out on a specific topic – I love the one onnostalgia formation and brutalist architecture, for instance.
S: This is going to sound TERRIBLE, but I often forget what we’ve written about previously by the time the next issue rolls around, though we do often call back to previous issues when topics recur later. I think my favorites have been our historic preservation-nostalgia issue and the one where I talked about accents & class at length.
M: I love both of those issues, too! And I’d add our early issue on hygge (those cultural recommendations are still some of my favorites!), and the Ask Two Bossy Dames issue where we gave advice to a girl who was struggling to find her own personal style after leaving a religious, conservative household.
S: The one on hygge was so central to our #brand formation (she said barfing into her own mouth, but it's true!) -- people really associate us with that concept now. When the BBC wrote about it a couple weeks ago, so many people sent us the link. It was like the indie band we’d been into for years got featured in an iTunes ad.
K: Where did the idea of live-tweeting movies come from, and how has it been working for you? Are there upcoming live-tweet events and CAN ONE OF THEM PLEASE BE HIS GIRL FRIDAY PLEASE IT’S ON NETFLIX I CHECKED.
S: I love live-tweeting live events like The Oscars, and live-tweeting a beloved movie feels like a natural extension of the groovy, erudite & funny slumber party aesthetic we’ve cultivated. I also really enjoy following @BlackGirlNerds on Twitter, and Jamie Broadnax, who runs that account, is so good at organizing almost-daily live-tweets of TV shows & movies. It just seemed like a good fit for us & our internet chums.
M: We came up with the idea to go forward with it ourselves really organically. I think we both posted separately, with obvious joy, about Moonstruck coming to Netflix. And we were like HEY! We can take our shared, personal delight about this and make it into an event. And we are definitely open to live-tweeting His Girl Fridayat some point.
S: And our next event, mentioned at the opening of this email, will be live-tweeting Lin-Manuel Miranda's masterpiece Hamilton: Act I at 8 PM on Sunday the 18th and Act II at 8 PM on Monday the 19th.
K: I mean, you don’t HAVE to, but I’m just saying that my first time watching that movie was with Dame M., and I know what awesomeness would be in store.
M: Worth noting-- I was also there the first time you watched Charade. I am a 6-trick pony at best.
K: Which is twee-er: a French bulldog wearing a sweater, or a sweater covered in tiny knitted French bulldogs?
M: Well, this question really depends on what kind of sweater the French bulldog is wearing! Like, if it’s just a plain fleece jacket -- eh. Only so twee.
S: But! A French bulldog wearing a sweater covered in tiny knitted French bulldogs: that would be PEAK TWEE.
K: What does the future hold? What are you looking forward to? I get this lovely GIFt in my inbox every week and I want to, like, make sure that will keep happening.
M&S: We have something that we’re working on and will be announcing shortly that will address this very question. But it’s not quite ready yet -- so keep your eyes open and your ears perked up, Dames Nation!
Two Bossy Dames celebrate good times, come on!