DAMES NATIONALS! While much of the world continues to be abject in its wretchedness, we want to open up this week’s letter with one small, true, good thing. Namely: Gina Rodriguez.
She does tho.
She is the star of Jane the Virgin, one of Your Dames’ favorite TV shows (four full and flawless seasons available on Netflix, yours for the binging a n y t i m e); the new love interest of Detective Rosa Diaz, one of Your Dames’ very favorite fictional characters (from the sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, five full and flawless seasons available on Hulu, see above note in re: bingeing); and she is an intelligent, outspoken activist on a number of important issues— and one who puts her money where her mouth is. Such as this week, for example, when she had took the money that CBS TV Studios had set aside to fund her Emmy’s For Your Consideration campaign for Best Actress in a Comedy and instead used it to fund a full four years of college for an undocumented California high school student. So now one young woman gets to reap the rewards of her hard work and attend Princeton, the Ivy League school that accepted her, without taking on a crushing financial burden because Gina made an unusual choice. There are still tons of DACA recipients we need to keep fighting for, to say nothing of undocumented immigrants at large, and asylum seekers currently being detained. But even if it’s small, a person is still a person and, as Gina herself hopes, maybe one actor’s unusual choice will lead to more.
For our part, we put $250 of our Substack money towards supporting organizations dedicated to helping immigrants and asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America: RAICES, Make The Road NJ, and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. And we’re proud to take a page out of Gina’s book.
Really and truly.
Kate and Tony
Now, as promised, and for those of you up to handling content pertaining to suicide, and mourning people we have lost to it, here are our thoughts about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and some of the most moving and interesting tributes we found about them.
First: Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan, or Kate Valentine, for legal and short, whose work as a designer renders her legacy a little more opaque than that of Anthony Bourdain, memoirist and highly public figure. But aesthetics can have real, visceral meaning even if they’re more complicated to parse than words, and hers impacted both of us enormously. Our friends Heather and Jessica of Go Fug Yourself wrote beautifully about what Kate Spade meant to them as young women-- feelings further reflected by another friend, Barrie Hardymon, and questioned (gently) by Farai Chideya, who made some excellent points about the danger of overstating the universality of these Kate Spade experiences. This photo essay of the apartment she shared with her husband reminded us strongly of why her aesthetics meant so much to us-- she really did, as so many have noted before us, have an uncanny way of conveying that maturity and whimsy did not have to be mutually exclusive. And, finally, the company by which we came to know her deserves some attention-- here is a vivid recollection of what it felt like to work in her first store, here is an interview between Kate, her husband and business partner Andy, and Guy Raz about how they built the brand, and, last but not least, here is a meditation on the complications that ensue when you sell a brand as tied to your identity as Kate Spade was to the woman who renamed herself Kate Valentine. As women invested in being both mature and fun, as women who feel that it’s important that dressing with joy should not communicate to anyone that we’re incapable of rage, misery, or other strong negative emotions, losing this particular designer in this particular way was a heavy blow. Which did not make Anthony Bourdain’s death quickly coming quickly on its heels an easy thing to bear.
Both of Your Dames have to admit that, prior to his passing, they weren’t avid Anthony Bourdain fans. He was a near-constant presence in the culture, thanks to his two TV series with CNN, his lively, pugnacious Twitter, his books, his interviews… but Dame Margaret, for one, mostly knew him as a recurring bit on Julie Klausner’s late lamented podcast, How Was Your Week?, and Dame Sophie always thought of his shows as ones she’d like to watch, you know, eventually. But in recent weeks, we’ve been coming to realize just how BADLY we slept on him. He was an opinionated, joyous, insightful rascal who restlessly sought always to improve in his craft. He stood up, always, for the Latinx staff of kitchens everywhere. In No Reservations and then in Parts Unknown, he never stopped focusing on food, but over time they also became about being a true citizen of the world. As #metoo emerged, he was one of a tiny handful of white male celebrities speaking out and refusing to mince his words (it was personal for him, of course, as the boyfriend of Asia Argento, but we think he’d have been out here swinging and landing punches, regardless). And, even more important than either supporting his partner or speaking frankly about bad actors, Bourdain was one of the few men to reflect seriously on what his behavior had done to foster this toxic environment, and what he had could do differently to make it safer for victims of sexual abuse in his field to come forward.
How could we fail to love someone so gutsy, so funny, someone we’d have given our eyeteeth to shed all our rigorous social conditioning to be more like (sometimes)? How could we not be shattered at the sudden death of this most alive person, whose curiosity about and respect for every culture made him an unwitting godparent to this newsletter? (Speaking of Parts Unknown, Dame Sophie is making her way through it on Netflix & is eager to receive recommendations of specific episodes from Dames Nationals. What are the top 3 you’d say are can’t-miss? I’ve seen the episodes in Koreatown, Punjab, Vietnam, and New Jersey.) We’ve read a lot about Anthony Bourdain in the last few weeks (and GOD, can you even imagine what he’d have to say about the news this week? The mind reels at such possibilities unfulfilled), and we want to recommend to your hearts three very fine pieces: two tributes, and one his own words of praise for his & Dame Sophie’s shared beloved home state of New Jersey. His friend Helen Rosner’s remembrance illustrates his commitment to growth as a person and as an artist, and includes probably the single best kicker you’ll read in 2018. David Simon’s piece is, of course, the kind of perfect that makes us want to lie down on the floor & groan for several hours while tears and snot stream gently down our faces. We have to close with Anthony’s own words about the Garden State, which could stand in as a loving homage to anything any of us loves that other people don’t quite get just yet:
It is my contention that New Jersey is so magnificent, so unique, its spirit and sense of humor so unsinkable that even there, seeing those places—as I do—with affection and respect and no small measure of hope, that those who watch this episode will find my beloved home state awesome and beautiful too.
Speaking of both Tony and Kate, we couldn’t have said it better, ourselves.
Dame Margaret Briefly Cares About Sports and Other Fun Nonsense!
This is Joel Embiid. He is an excellent Sweet Sports Boy of whom you should be aware.
At the urging of my genius older brother and in advance of my television podcast’s live show at the Philadelphia Podcast Festival TOMORROW AT NOON, I caught up on the frankly incredible stuff going down with the Philadelphia 76ers of late. With the help of the great podcast Reply All I educated myself first about “The Process,” in which a manager (Sam Hinkie) tanked the 76ers to get good draft picks and got fired before his genius plan could succeed, AND THEN-- in a second episode (starting around minute 34)-- I learned all about the general manager who succeeded him, and that GM’s absolutely bonkers fall from grace, which involved multiple puppet Twitter accounts defending things as arcane as the size of his shirt lapels. It is truly delectable drama.
And what makes all this even better than it already is— a feat that should be impossible!!!— is that Joel Embiid, the phenomenal player secured by the team-tanking process, is a social media savvy darling of a human. He was smart enough to nickname himself “The Process”, in honor of the strategy that brought him to Philadelphia. His favorite drink is the Shirley Temple, and he loves it with an all-encompassing passion that can only be described as PURE. When his face was injured, he deemed himself THE PHANTOM OF THE PROCESS and walked around wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask. He is so winning that even Vulture, pop-culture focused though it may be, was compelled to interview him, and the results were excellent— do not sleep on the footnotes!
This led to me asking Twitter to share its favorite sports trivia with me, resulting in a thread wherein I learned that the NBA has its own Weasley twins and NONE OF YOU EVEN TOLD ME???, along with many other glorious things.
While I was busy learning about Joel Embiid, Reductress was busy dragging the shit out of me with two particularly vicious personal attacks-- “My Best Friend Got Her Life Together Without Consulting Me First” and “Woman Has Unrealistic Standards On How Late She Can Leave For Work”— but they won me over again with one piece of straight-forward, hard-hitting journalism: “This Woman Forgot She Had a Butt Until a Man Sitting in Front of Rite-Aid Reminded Her.” Their work is always excellent, but I have found the injection of their headlines into my Twitter feed increasingly vital of late.
Also vital to my survival at present? ROMANCE NOVELS. I have been on a great run of contemporaries that I’m going to recommend real quick for you now:
First, if you haven’t read The Wedding Date yet, get on that, because I need you to pre-order its sequel, The Proposal, immediately. I know this suggestion is an unsatisfying one because (unless you’re a librarian, bookseller, or book reviewer) you still won’t be able to read the book it’s released in until September. But you should do Future You a favor because it’s excellent, and Future You deserves something nice.
IN THE MEANTIME, you should grab its label mate from Berkeley Romance (a publishing imprint whose output I’m really loving lately) The Kiss Quotient, about a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who hires a sex worker to teach her how to enjoy sex, and how they end up falling in love. It’s author Helen Hoang’s debut and, while the premise initially made me leery, I cannot speak highly enough of how delicate, moving, and fucking hot the execution is-- an accomplishment that made more sense once I learned that, like her heroine Stella, Helen, too, lives with Asperger's Syndrome. I’m still in the middle of this one and, honestly, I’m kind of mad to be writing you instead of finishing it. Buy it ASAP. You will be so happy you did.
And last but not least! A new book in my very favorite contemporary romance series, Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series (about people working in and around the theatrical hub of London’s West End), is out: Making Up, about a pink-haired circus acrobat (specializing in aerial silks) and the Lenny Kravitz-looking makeup artist from her past whom she hates-- until realizing that she very, very much doesn’t. It, and the excellent books in the series that preceded it, provided me with MUCH welcome respite from the grimness of the world presently engulfing us. I hope they can do the same for you.
And last but not least, here’s the latest entries in Margaret’s new Stress Shopping vertical! Today, it’s BACKPACKS! Namely the particular brand of very cute, highly functional, SUPER CHEAP backpacks I’ve just discovered— with some expert assistance from Twitter— on Amazon: Himawari! I can now personally vouch for the greatness of their standard model with a 13-inch laptop pocket, available in a dizzying number of appealing color combinations and just $30! The best feature is the light metal boning in the mouth of the backpack, which allows the bag to be opened super wide, and keeps it open and upright for loading and unloading. Moreover, as I am not made of stone, I am also eyeing its elegant flat-fronted counterpart (particularly in its super preppy red-white-and-navy colorway), both the standard backpack and the flat-front in sizes large enough for a 15-inch laptop, and these unrelated--but viciously cute-- celestial-print preppy backpacks in both blue and tangerine. And I must also call out another brand, whose goods did not make the cut, but whose very wacky size comparison image led me to write a mini-fanfic about an unruly teenager cursed by a witch to finish out life as a very clean-cut backpack.
I Stan A Legend of The Joyful Jet Engine
(Or: Dame Sophie Gets Religion, Sort Of, At A Harry Styles Concert)
I can’t count the number of times I heard someone yelling “I LOVE YOU!!!!” at the top of their lungs last Friday night. There were at least 15,000 of us there in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo arena, howling our joy the entire time. When we weren’t singing along or laughing at Harry’s goofy, charming stage banter, we were all screaming: I love you! I love you so much! Oh my god, why are you like this? King of suits! Yes, Make America Gay Again! I love YOUUUUU!!!!!
Who were we screaming our love at? It wasn’t only at Harry Styles, Actual Person, or to the stage iteration of Harry Styles, Famous Person. We were screaming it to each other, to ourselves, to people not present who we wish were present. This is why we scream at pop stars. We need to take our emotions and put them somewhere, we need to barbarically yawp our way to some kind of understanding. It was so much fun, and it was profoundly moving. People (ok, mostly men, and specifically: men holding onto some amount of cultural currency they want to hoard like dragons) like to mock pop music and what it means, but I will tell you and Rob Sheffield will back me up here: it’s transformative as hell.
When I first started hollering writing for this newsletter about Harry Styles and One Direction, it was the dawn of the current presidential administration here in the US of A. I was nauseated all the time. I couldn’t believe we had gotten ourselves into this xenophobic, misogynistic, queerphobic, racist pickle, but there we were, and there on the radio, serendipitously on the way home from school drop-off one morning in February, was “Story of My Life”. I’d heard it plenty of times before, but here’s how this listen was different from all other listens: hearing these young men singing about their delicate, soft & loving feelings cracked open something I must have been guarding in my heart, and out flowed love. Right place, right time, BAM, I was a convert.
Which makes perfect sense to me, a non-religious person who cares a lot about religion. Much like rock & roll, religion can be so messed-up, and at the same time, it contains and organizes and directs our baser impulses towards something bigger than ourselves, something divine. We’re inclined by those same impulses to make meaning out of all sorts of personal and collective experiences, and we’re promiscuous about it -- one may be quite devout or observant or just passionately believing in a religious tradition and still be seeking ways to experience similar ecstasies and purpose in other areas. Because lots of people pooh-pooh or politely ignore pop music, it’s a place where the expertise of girls & women is allowed to flourish and become the highest currency, and every night on this tour, we throw those ducats around like our lives depend on it. Right now, maybe they do.
We go to see Harry to be him, to soak up his mastery & prancing, preening, self-deprecating, silly stage prowess. In an engine-revving bit of theatrical business, we summon him to the stage with our screaming; a tease between the audience of believers and the performer-priest, who is also a bunch of other things: sex symbol, a goofball so hammy that I predict he’ll spearhead a revival of Catskills resorts before he’s through, and super-professional summoner of joy. We are his supplicants and the subjects of his songs. The songs are about specific people, but we generalize them to ourselves, and then sing them back to him, with him, transubstantiating ourselves into him. We study his fashion choices and admire them and make them our own and lovingly mock them.
The set list, particularly at this early point in his career -- “I only have ten songs! Don’t worry, I’m going to play them all!” -- is as established as the synagogue services of my youth, leading us through its sections in a pleasingly predictable sequence. We holler & scream & shush & croon right along on cue. We hold aloft our flashlight phones. We document all our favorite moments, for a whole bunch of reasons: our shaky, emoji-laden videos let us brag a bit, let us share the experience with those near & far, to confirm we really saw what we think we saw, to lay claim to a performance, to make space for ourselves IN the performance, to influence the performance and its history, to place ourselves AS the performer, and as the performer’s fans. To receive his love and to howl our love at him. To help him construct and refine and reify his own public persona & to do the same for our own. Fundamentally, to organize our time with our friends as our precious weirdo darling spouts water and prowls the stage in a neverending sequence of custom suits.
As 2017 ticked forward, Harry released “Sign of the Times” and then his first solo album and I found myself in one Harry-centric group DM & then another, and by June we’d merged into one solid daily chat, talking about our jobs and social lives and, of course, One Direction. One year later— today!— we met for brunch in Manhattan: a group of ten from around the US & the UK, and one wonderful member from Malaysia, who video chatted in at midnight her time (and whose work you may recall from these very pixel pages last summer). A roving, global chapter of The International Society of Harryologists, we met and hollered our joy over waffles.
Is there anything more pure, more sacred, than this type of friendship? How blessed are we here in this fellowship that knows no geography and thrives on loving critique? This is the ultimate outcome of Harry’s directive at every show to be exactly what we want to be in this room tonight. We take that room with us everywhere we go, and do what we want: to be friends, to howl our delight & joy into the night, to make meaning out of everything around us, to drink deeply of the cup of friendship & to let it restore us.
Every night, at the end of the as-yet live-only number “Oh, Anna”, Harry interpolates a bit of one of George Michael’s first solo hits, repeating “I think it would be nice, if I could touch your body!” What’s implied is that, as the title of that great song reminds us, we just gotta have faith. In ourselves, in our friends, yes, in our pop stars, and in what we can do & make in this stupid, cruel, hurting, beautiful, lovable world we just cannot, must not, shall not quit.
Dame Sophie’s Abbreviated Post-Script
Sorry, I can’t wrap up without sharing three more things on my mind this week:
File under: Who Knew?? British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has launched their own record label and is the single biggest mover of vinyl records in the UK? The primary audience for the albums -- all compilations overseen by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne -- seems to be GenXers, and I wish they were all available on Spotify, but we can’t have everything, I suppose!
I learned some weird stuff about how lobsters are so weird & amazing. The ocean is full of fascinating horrors.
And finally, The Carters released an album last weekend! Their video for “Apes**t”, shot in the Louvre, is a damn revelation, and the Internet has blessed us with all the art historical details we crave.
The biggest, most eternal mood.
Two Bossy Dames is brought to you by:
And the trailer for Netflix’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before
We appreciate you, readers of Dames Nation!
Every time you tell a friend to subscribe, some woman, somewhere, finally joins her bestie in said bestie’s consuming passion, to the delight of both— a long way of saying Dame Margaret is seeing Harry Styles on Sunday night and cannot articulate how eager Dame Sophie’s writing has left her.
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