One Year Older, 187 Years More Beleaguered

Hello again, Dames Nationals! WE’RE BACK!!

We went nowhere, and it was glorious

Dame Sophie: Dear darling Dame Margaret, first off, happy birthday to this blessed venture of ours! Our newsletter is now 6! Years! Old! I’m so happy to observe this milestone with you (just think — our newsletter is old enough to be in first grade! Maybe even starting to read independently?), and so glad we took a little time off at the end of the summer to recharge. How are you feeling about getting back in the saddle?

Dame Margaret: I hope it’s not uncouth for me to say — a bit reluctant! I was hopeful that I would come back to this endeavor bursting with new things to say, but the last few weeks have not been what I would call mentally restful for me or anyone in this country invested in, you know. Reproductive rights. The continued existence of gay marriage and the possibility of growing protection for more marginalized parts of the queer community. Universal healthcare. Free and fair elections. Our country’s long, admirable tradition of peaceful transfers of power. So my spirit is still a bit more threadbare than I’d hoped after a month off from writing. 

Dame S: OH BOY, do I identify with THOSE sentiments. Rather than diving into the maelstrom, let’s see if we can float above it for an issue. How would you feel about doing a little recap of what we’ve been enjoying during the break & then inviting our readers to tell us about what cultural highways & byways they’ve ventured along in the last few weeks?

Dame M: That does seem like a lovely way to ease us back into things. 

Dame S:  My first pick is the 8-part documentary The Last Dance. People often ask how we are so knowledgeable about so many aspects of culture, and one factor for me is acknowledging that I’m only awake a certain number of hours a day and, just as I have to commit to spending time on the things I’m interested in, I also have to choose not to pay attention to huge swaths of what’s out there. The two big things I usually ignore are reality tv (with a couple of exceptions like GBBO) and sports. If you are a sports person, and have been for a long time, you may not feel what a heavy lift sports are, as a hobby. Team histories, individual players’ stories, rivalries, statistics! Thanks to having had a very strong soap opera period that segued directly into a Jane Austen-and-lots-of-literary-adaptations period, I’m good at assimilating lots of arcane plot twists and huge casts of characters. However, thanks to never having exited the literary adaptations phase of my life, my brain is a little overstuffed. I’m making peace with the idea that I’ll never manage to acquire the statistical knowledge of a lifelong sports fan. 

However. The Last Dance has pushed me over the edge of perfectly reasonable fair-weather fandom into being a (totally ridiculous newborn baby of a) Serious Sports Lady. I am midway through a full rewatch of the entire series. Yes, I am watching it a second time! I have opinions about the mid-90s Chicago Bulls now! They are: 1) Michael Jordan is a thin-skinned champion of pettiness and also an undisputed sports genius whose physical grace and dedication are both dazzling and weird; 2) I would die for Scottie Pippen and Steve Kerr; 3) present-day Steve Kerr is the only coach who can compete with Coach Taylor for my affection and loyalty. I had somehow forgotten that MJ’s father was murdered, and I genuinely did not remember how the 1998 season ended (I won’t spoil a 22 year-old championship outcome here for any of my fellow dilettantes who also don’t know or remember and want to be surprised). (If you already know or remember the outcome of the Bull’s 1998 season, reading this poem by Hanif Abdurraqib is a good idea.) I also strongly recommend reading “Michael Jordan: A History of Flight”, which places him in various contexts: geographical, historical, sociological, and personal. It’s one of the best things I’ve read this year.

Michael: vital meme star.

Anyway, now I am watching a three-part ESPN documentary on the decades-long rivalry between the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics, both of whom I acknowledge are also NBA teams that have played many games over the years. I also acknowledge that the main reason I started watching them is that Ice Cube is the narrator for the Lakers bits and Donnie Wahlberg is the narrator for the Celtics bits, but the quality of the storytelling has me genuinely rapt. How will it end? Please, nobody tell me! I want to be heartbroken and celebratory by turns!

Dame M: Our psychic link continues nearly unbroken, Sophie, because I have also been getting into basketball over the last month, to such an extent that I’m mildly affronted to hear the Celtics — clearly the best team in the entire league and one indisputably possessed of a STORIED LEGACY — described as a team that has “played many games over the years.” It’s like you’ve never even seen Kevin Garnett losing his mind after winning his first ever championship in 2008, one of the best videos on the entire internet (don’t actually watch this, Sophie, as it might constitute a spoiler). This affront is very mild, however, because my fandom is still mostly a secondhand reflection of my older brother’s life-long devotion. However, since he moved into one of the rooms in my apartment at the beginning of last month, I’ve been watching a bunch more and really enjoying it as my brother is great at identifying all the narrative hooks for me. As a result of this, I actually actively chose to work on two sports stories that Audm produced for The New York Times Magazine and — spoiler alert — they were both fascinating. First “Can Athletic Intelligence Be Measured?”, which looks at a man developing an entirely new type of athletic IQ test, one that happens to a composite skills approach that I think is a brilliant model for how intellectual ability should be understood generally. Second, “What I Learned Inside the N.B.A. Bubble”, a really thoughtful meditation on the discomfort of deeply loving frivolous things during profoundly serious times. Sports!??! Are they good?????? MAYBE!!!? 

gotta admit, this image hits a l’il different this week than it does usually

Dame S: Another thing I’m enjoying a very great deal is the increased emphasis on A+ dads on Season 9 of Call The Midwife. This show — one of my steady favorites of the last decade — keeps its primary focus squarely on the nurses & midwives of Nonnatus House, and it has always had its share of stand-up male characters like Dr. Turner and the extravagantly endearing Fred Buckle. This season, though, the writers are showing us some increasingly modern fellows. There’s the one who can quote chapter & verse from Dr. Spock and who insists on being present at his first child’s birth! The one who is 10000% mutually doting on his wife & is aghast to learn his medical fragility is contributing to her exhaustion & loss of health! The strapping window cleaner who is unabashedly loving towards his wife and two children, and then devotes himself to the well-being of his wife and infant son when they learn that the newborn will die within weeks due to an incurable heart condition! 

Dame M.: In a similar vein of “continued enthusiasms,” my Instagram playlist project — begun on a whim in April and now thirteen playlists deep — remains an exceptionally rewarding (although admittedly labor-intensive) activity. To recap, for those who might have missed earlier mentions or those new to the newsletter, one or two Sundays a month, I have been throwing out a prompt to my Instagram story like “If you could elect to have inspired one song, which would you pick?” or “Tell me one song you think should be either more famous or more respected”, my listeners reply with the song (or, let’s be real, songs) that best match the prompt to them, I share highlights in my Instagram story and then, sometime that week, compile all the answers into a Spotify playlist for people to enjoy indefinitely (here find playlists one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen — of which, my picks for ABSOLUTE MUSTS are six, seven, ten, and twelve). For a few of the weeks — mother’s day, father’s day, and my crush playlist — I’ve invited people to send in pictures and stories along with their songs and those have been both the most labor intensive weeks and the best. This past Sunday was another such week. In honor of #Damesfav Lyndsey McKenna’s rescheduled and sadly diminished COVID wedding, and the proper wedding season we all collectively missed this year, I invited people to send me the songs that make them sprint for the dance floor and pictures/stories from favorite weddings. Having these strangers’ and friends’ exuberant images of joy cascade over me all week has been such an incredible treat. If you’d like to bathe in said images, you can find the whole set of pictures saved to the highlights on my Instagram profile, and the compiled playlist should be done on Sunday. My quarantine life would be markedly more diminished without this activity and the community of people who’ve come together around it. 

The air-drumming in this scene? Would definitely make the list if this were a real rather than fictional wedding.

Dame S.: And two more quick hits: 

  • Sohla El-Waylly is a wildly talented and creative chef, and it’s a blessing upon us all that she has her own show on the Babish Culinary Universe, Stump Sohla. The first season has 10 episodes documenting her approach to a series of tricky challenges, assigned by a Price Is Right-style wheel, with new episodes posted on Saturdays. It’s delightful and informative, and every couple of minutes I have to hit pause and yell at my family “CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT CONDE NAST COULD HAVE JUST...PAID HER AND THEN HAD A SHOW LIKE THIS OF THEIR OWN?????” Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel remains dark as of this writing. Nitwits. 

  • I share this in part to document it and in part to ask other Dames Nationals if they’re doing something similar: I find that I’m almost compulsively revisiting cultural things I clung to in the run-up to the elections in 2016 and 2018, including the Eagles documentary (the band, not the team, but obviously, Go, Birds) and our immediate post-election issue from 2016 (which includes some still-relevant and useful advice, but which I couldn’t even look at until the last week or so). 

Dame M.: And, in turn, my three more one more things. 

  • I realized last week that it’s been fifteen months since I last had my hair cut, likely the longest I’ve gone between haircuts since I was 21. And it was chiefly possible for me to get to hair this long without noticing a dire degradation in hair quality because of the good services of Virtue Labs hair care products — specifically their Recovery Conditioner and their Healing Oil, both 25% off (along with all other hair care) on Dermstore this weekend. Even at 75% of their usual cost, these products are expensive, but all I can say is they are worth it. To this mix, I have recently added Briogeo’s Scalp Revival Shampoo (also 25% off at Dermstore this weekend — and practically free when bundled with the brand’s equally great Don’t Despair, Repair Hair Mask!!?!) and altogether, they really do wonderful things for my hair.

  • For my TV podcast, I have been watching the Mindy Kaling-written and produced coming-of-age sitcom Never Have I Ever and, if you somehow missed it when it came out this spring, I cannot insist in strong enough terms that you begin watching it immediately. It is, for me, the perfect mix of deeply emotional and extremely funny to suit my needs at this terrible time. 

  • Finally, because I am a vain creature and I need to make myself look pretty to FEEL ALIVE, I have adapted a practice I call “Fri-liner” wherein I give myself winged eyeliner every Friday, even though I will likely see no one other than my roommates, just because *I* like looking at myself in it. This choice was facilitated by the acquisition of a new brand of eyeliner: UZ Beauty’s Green-Black eyeliner from its seven shades of black line. It reads as purely black, but does have the slightest green undertone that makes my eyes look just that bit more saturated, and the formula and applicator are both aces.   

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