It should be needless to say, but: we believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, American Hero.
Just as we believed Anita Hill before her, and just as we believe all survivors of sexual violence, everywhere.
The majority of this week’s issue is the work of our phenomenal guest editors Nicole Soojung Chung and Elena Yip, but we wanted to take a moment up top to talk about yesterday’s hearing. If you’re worn out from coverage already, feel free to jump straight to their work. Neither of us were able to watch much, if any, of it— partly because of work, and partly because we were convinced we might well puke all over everything and everyone nearby if we did so. We really prefer not to puke, if it can be avoided.
After spending the day intermittently adding to a thread of tweets full of healthy & soothing counterprogramming, Dame Sophie listened to the first 2 minutes of Judge Kavanagh’s introductory statement. As she listened, a wild, impossible hope flourished in her heart that he was on the point of announcing his withdrawal of his nomination to the highest court in the land. Spoiler: he didn’t, and Dame Sophie noped directly out of NPR to re-listen to Act 2 of Hamilton for her drive home (listen, not all of her choices are good ones, they’re just not as bad for her as listening to an entitled upper-class twit rant at incoherent length about how his reputation is ruined and how his whole life is a joke now that maybe he won’t serve on the Supreme Court of the US, his actual god-given birthright as a rich white man and how much he loves beer in a totally healthy & normal way guys!!!! ).
I, Dame Margaret, watched about 15 minutes total, before my overwhelming and pure fury at Brett Kavanaugh and his legislative supporters made me (1) so uncomfortable I had to turn it off and (2) prompted a painful realization. I suddenly recognized that a huge part of the stress of Donald Trump’s rise to power has been being confronted, constantly, with evil, venal people, and being unable to turn off the part of my brain that scours their words and actions for an redeeming features, or cause for sympathy. I have worked hard all my life to see the best in people, even when it’s exhausting or uncomfortable, and to encounter so many people who leave me stymied is horrible. Without question, to have made it to age 32 with this quality still intact is evidence of both profound privilege and good luck, as plenty of people encounter evil and venality much earlier, and more directly. But it’s also left me vulnerable and it makes directly engaging with value systems this toxic very exhausting for me.
It’s particularly excruciating in this case because, when I look at the list of the people who made me who I am today, nearly all are survivors of sexual assault. People who had their agency taken away, who were forced to carry trauma they'd never have chosen— they're the ones who taught me to treat others with care and be brave. When I think about how hard it must have been for them to claw their way back into that strength and compassion and to embody it for me, so I could learn it, too, I am absolutely overwhelmed. So the utter lack of resources displayed by these men, who've never had to contend with the abuse SO MANY of the people I love carry with them daily, fills me with contempt, and I hate feeling that way. I hate it because the survivors who love me and the survivors who shaped me taught me that all humans deserve more than contempt, that all humans have a right to be treated fairly and respected.
I stopped watching the hearing because letting myself soak in that contempt is corrosive to my spirit and diminishes what I can give to the world. Anger can be a jolt to the system, but it’s not the fuel on which I run— that’s still connecting to other people. But I'm going to learn how to retract my compassion from people who haven't earned it, so that I can dedicate my energy more completely to protecting the vulnerable people who deserve it. People like sexual assault survivors Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, who this morning, shortly after Senator Jeff Flake announced his intention to vote in favor of advancing Brett Kavanaugh's nomination, confronted him on camera about the full impact of that vote. It was, according to this New York Times interview, the first time either woman had ever spoken publicly about their assaults— Ms. Archila had never even told her own family.
Both Dame Sophie and I are absolutely convinced that this brave action on their parts is what persuaded Senator Flake to insist on a week-long FBI investigation into the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. We think they're heroes. Which is why we’re donating $150 of this month’s newsletter proceeds to New York’s Center for Popular Democracy, the advocacy organization where Ms. Archila serves as executive director. If you’d like to supplement our donation, you can do so here: https://populardemocracy.org/donate.
Again: True American Heroes
AND WITH THAT, we leave you with in the hands of our capable guest editors, Nicole and Elena! We hope that you enjoy their discussion of Nicole’s forthcoming (HIGHLY ANTICIPATED) memoir, All You Can Ever Know, as much as we did.
Livetweet: Out of Sight
Our October livetweet will be the sharp, wry, sexy as hell heist picture Out Of Sight!
Clooney. Lopez. Shotgun. A doomed Chanel suit. Be There.
Out of Sight is an unjustly under-famous gem from 1998, a fun mid-career palate cleanser and skill-sharpener for Steven Soderbergh as he barreled towards his multi-nomination Oscar year (and variety of eventual wins) in 2001 for Traffic and Erin Brockovich.
The cast includes a classic George Clooney performance as— what else?— a charming rogue, Jennifer Lopez as the glamorous and determined-to-get-her-man Deputy US Marshal Karen Sisco, along with absolutely chef’s kiss supporting performances by Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Isaiah Washington, Steve Zahn, Dennis Farina, Catherine Keener, and one for-the-ages cameo we won’t mention here.
When: 7:30 PM ET on Sunday, October 7
Where: Twitter, using #outofsight (we’re keeping it real simple this time)
How: Netflix, another streaming service of your choice, or an obliging DVD
Fun fact: canonically, this film takes place in the same universe as Dame Sophie’s beloved Justified; in the Elmore Leonard novel the film adapts, Sisco is a colleague of Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, though she was never in the show, which is one of its few true failings, honestly.
Honestly it is a miracle that this car trunk set did not spontaneously catch fire, such was the intensity of the chemistry between these costars
Elena and Nicole on All You Can Ever Know
As We Your Dames have been looking forward to Nicole’s memoir for.. eighteen months at the very least, we were thrilled that— in addition to the traditional, beautifully curated links— Elena and Nicole were willing to share with us a quick discussion on the book in advance of its release THIS TUESDAY! We hope it renders your appetite for the memoir as keen as it has rendered ours.
Elena: You've mentioned before that you started writing about your own adoption at twenty-five, but when was the moment when you felt like you had to write All You Can Ever Know? Do you remember a specific moment or was it gradual?
Nicole: I always seem to give a different answer to this question, which means, I suppose, that it really was a gradual process! I’ve been telling my adoption story all my life in one form or another, because when you look different from your family you are going to get questions—from people you know, sure, but also from strangers. This story was always familiar to me; I thought a lot about it, obsessed over it, eventually started wondering more and more about the gaps. Finally I searched for my birth family in 2008, and at the time, writing and publishing nonfiction was not something I thought a lot about; certainly it was not something I had the foggiest idea how to do. I wouldn’t start publishing essays about it for another five or six years.
Just the other day I told someone I couldn’t remember a specific turning point, a moment when I knew I wanted to write this book. What I do remember clearly is that by the time an editor at a large house approached me in 2014-ish, asking if I wanted to discuss turning one of my essays into a book, I knew I did not want to turn that particular essay into a book—it was one of those rare cases in which I’d truly said all I wanted to say about that particular topic in the piece that was published. It wasn’t really difficult to say no, but thank you so much; I knew I wasn’t the person to write that book she wanted. And at that point, I do remember thinking, “If I write a memoir about anything, it’s going to be transracial adoption.”
So I talked to the editor about it, but it was really just the seed of an idea, and she couldn’t get everyone at her imprint on board. That was when I really started gathering material, working on sample chapters, talking to agents about what goes into a proposal. But this book wouldn’t sell for a couple more years, and at several points I thought it would never sell.
Elena: What was the most surprising thing about writing a memoir?
Nicole: LOL that I could actually do it? I mean, I thought I probably could, but I did feel a flash of real panic after it sold, like: oh, shit, now I have promised to do this and I actually have to DO THIS and what if I can’t and I disappoint everyone?? Until this book, my longest single piece of writing was probably 4,000ish words. I was like, IS IT EVEN PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE for a person to write 75,000 words in one year of evenings and weekends (the time in which I had to write)???
As it turns out, yes. (Just barely.)
Another surprising thing to me, honestly, was how much my adoptive parents loved the book. My dad, especially, though he didn’t get to finish reading it, was so proud. It’s not that I thought they’d hate it—I mean, I very much hoped I’d write a book they could enjoy and support—but I wasn’t expecting them to praise it in all the ways they did. That meant so much to me.
Finally, I suppose I was surprised by all the things that didn’t make it into the book. Not that I ever imagined it’d be my whole life story—I’m not a celebrity; no one would want to read that!—but there was a lot of stuff to fit in about adoption and family and identity and my own journey to motherhood, and in the end quite a bit of stuff I drafted wound up on the cutting room floor. I think the book is so much better for being tightly focused, but I would not necessarily have anticipated just how much I’d have to home in and focus in order to figure out a timeline and a narrative arc that made sense.
Elena: The memoir is told in first person perspective and also features the third person perspective of Cindy, your sister. What made you decide to include this perspective?
Nicole: Deciding to give my sister her own perspective in the book, not just in one chapter but in several spaced throughout, felt really important because we were making certain discoveries at the same time, on parallel tracks, but we weren’t yet talking—we weren’t yet together, because we didn’t know one another at all. We grew up not knowing anything about each other, being told very different things about my birth and what had happened to me. When our stories do eventually merge—when we learn the truth—I think it’s more meaningful because you don’t just know who I am, you know who she is.
I think of my sister as the hero of the book in so many ways. She is an extraordinary person. I think a big part of why I love those chapters about her is because I wanted readers to know and love her, too.
Elena: As someone who struggles with her own Asian American identity, there's a part in All You can Ever Know about your daughter asking if she's a real Korean that resonated with me. What do you hope resonates with people in your writing?
Nicole: Certainly as I wrote this, I was thinking a lot about fellow adopted people, fellow Asian Americans, people who grow up between two or more cultures, people whose families are changing or expanding in various ways. I did not really write it to be instructive, to teach a particular lesson; I wrote it as a piece of literature, and tried to tell a good and true story first and foremost. But I do hope that reading my book encourages readers, regardless of their background or family configuration, to reconsider some of our cultural narratives around adoption and race—and maybe also what family, community, and solidarity truly require of us.
Elena: You're also the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine. How do you manage to turn off your internal editor when writing? Or how do you balance both skills?
Nicole: LOL sometimes I feel like I don’t balance them at all! Being an editor means that I draft very clean copy, but I could still spend hours, days, years tearing apart my own work. Part of me is so eager to get this book out into the world, but another part is like, “Can’t I just hold onto it for another decade or so? I’m sure that would make it so much better!!!”
I think my editorial work has given me enormous respect for both writing and revision processes. As harsh as I can be about my own stuff, I know writing can be worked on. I know it can be improved. I see it every day, as it’s my job to try to help other writers with it—to believe in the potential of a story and believe the necessary words do exist. So when I was most anxious about or frustrated with this book, I would try to remind myself to trust that process.
Thank you so much for these wonderful questions about my book, Elena! I would just like to add that I’d LOVE to see my fellow Dames Nationals on tour—if you happen to reside in any of these fine cities, please consider attending a reading, and be sure to say hi if you do!
THINGS NICOLE WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOU, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
My dear friend Noah Cho has a new column about cooking and Korean food, illustrated to garlic-stuffed perfection by Shing Yin Khor. It will make you weep. It will make you hungry.
Crystal Hana Kim, author of the gorgeous novel If You Leave Me, wrote for ELLE about why she wears hanbok (Korean traditional dress): “What we wear can be a way to tell the world that no matter where we come from, we deserve to be here—and we demand to be seen.”
For Slate, I wrote about grief, parenting, and going to Disney World the day after we buried my father.
This flyer, which was found in a Milwaukee office building:
Truly, I hope Pete is found and safely returned to his owners! But I’m stuck on the “MAY BE” — THIS SEEMS LIKE AN IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW FOR SURE
ELENA’S LIST OF FREQUENTLY RECOMMENDED THINGS
The most definitive seal of approval we can imagine.
This article about sandwiches in Britain. I’m obsessed with how obsessed the UK is with sandwiches. They just love sandwiches so much!! Their sandwiches are clearly far superior to those in America because everyone in the UK is ready to write five-page papers complete with footnotes declaring their love for Pret-a-Manger meanwhile I have never seen anyone actually happy at a Pret in NYC.
@coco_pinkprincess on Instagram. For someone who does not have a kid, I follow a lot of extremely well-dressed toddlers on Instagram. Coco is seven and already effortlessly cool in a way I will never obtain. Teach me your ways, Coco!
“The Fever” episode of Reply All. Okay, we all know online dating is hard and terrible but this episode of “Reply All” perfectly encapsulates my specific fear with online dating. It’s all about yellow fever and takes a dark turn from there. It’s scary because it’s a very real thing. I play this episode for all my friends who want to understand the fetishizing of Asians or who can unfortunately relate with similar experiences.
“Far Away From Me” by Jenny Zhang. I have mixed feelings about growing up on the cusp of the Internet. On one hand, super-glad my teenage angst was not blasted all over social media where it would live forever. On the other hand, my teenage self would have loved to not feel alone in her own experience! I’m really glad Rookie exists now and that teens these days can see and fight to see themselves in media.
My friend wrote this review about Splice in 2010 and I still think about it! This is a BONKERS movie perfectly punctuated by the hilarious, all-caps review. I am a total capslock person. Like Chelsea Peretti said, “CAPS AREN'T YELLING THEY R ACTION MOVIE LEVEL INTENSITY TWEETING.” And this review is FULL THROTTLE ALL THE WAY!
I love to read about the minute details in someone’s lives when it’s set up as a voyueristic series because I am nosy. I eat up Refinery29’s Money Diaries, The Strategist's What [Insert Celeb] Can’t Live Without, and Grub Street’s Diets. Here are two I really like from Grub Street! Aparna Nancherla’s Grub Street Diet because she is one of my favorite comedians and this was a delight. Alissa Nutting’s Grub Street Diet because Alissa Nutting is a really good writer. She has such specific turns of phrases where I would never think to string those words together and manages to make you feel unsettled but engaged at the same time. It’s no different even when she’s outlining what she ate in a day.
Sunscreen. When I left my last job, two co-workers wrote in my goodbye card that I made them wear sunscreen more. GOOD! Because you should always wear sunscreen, even when it’s not sunny. Those rays are powerful and sun damage is real. There is a reason why you always see older Asian women with an umbrella, hat, AND sunglasses whenever they even see a speck of sunlight.
These cat planters. I feel confident sharing these with you guys because I already own two and I’m out of the game. The world of obtaining cute ceramics is NO JOKE. These cat planters only go up once a month and sell out within 30 seconds. I even have a worldwide clock set to the Netherlands to coordinate the time they go up and have definitely blocked out my schedule so I can sit in front of my laptop and refresh with the fervor of someone who chugged a 5-hour energy drink. But they are SO CUTE and totally worth it.
Some people have slime, others have pimple poppers, I have this soothing Instagram account of beautiful drinks I will never, ever make. I think this is a niche community because there is a community for everything. The drinks may or may not taste like garbage but oh, does it look good for the gram.
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Beloved non-poisonous pets that are right where you left them and ALSO can never ever die
Friends who feel like long-lost sisters and sisters who feel like long-lost friends
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