Everyone once in awhile, you encounter a piece of clickbait to which the only possible response is:
And such is the case with this week’s header, via Town & Country Magazine (?!)*, “New Evidence Suggests Jane Austen Was Poisoned to Death.” Sadly, if you actually read the article, (1) it’s a very flimsy theory based mostly on her reading glasses suggesting she had cataracts and (2) it’s more likely to have been ~ambient~ arsenic poisoning (arsenic: the original asbestos) than deliberate murder. But, for a brief pearl-clutching moment, a bright and glorious world of cozy murder opened up to us wherein Jane was murdered and it fell to Cassandra to solve the crime and like LOOK you just know you want to read the shit out of that book. It gives a whole new life to the “And then the murders began” meme that became so popular this week.
*Whose clickbait game has been weirdly advanced lately, see: “If You Like Gin, You Might Be a Psychopath”
Guest Editors Ahoy! Fun Ahead! ALL HAIL THE FUG GIRLS!
We chose this gif for its elegance and snark, but it is the exact inverse of how this news makes us feel.
You read that right, Dames Nation. Next week we’re being annexed by, arguably, the greatest internet lady duo of them all: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan of Go Fug Yourself, one of the three websites that, circa 2005, took Dame Margaret from a casual internet user to the problematically obsessed link-collecting addict you know and love today. In fact, their expert coverage of Britney Spears’s rebellious phase was one of the first internet artifacts that Dame M. would use to rope people into her deviant, internet-all-day-every-day lifestyle, back when we still used this service MOSTLY for email. We remember-- VIVIDLY-- what it felt like when we first learned that the Fug Girls SUBSCRIBED to our newsletter, and then that they actually read it, and THEN that they liked it. It was a level of triumph that we may never recapture again. When we asked if they would edit, it felt like the world’s biggest longshot-- AND THEN THEY AGREED! So, needless to say, we’ve been looking forward to next week for MONTHS now, and we hope you’ll join us!
Ask TBD Week!
We promise not to send you to the Sunken Place, no matter how much you're smoking.
It’s that special time again! When we your Dames gather up your concerns and answer them with not even remotely sinister wisdom! If you have a question you'd like us to answer, you can submit it via our handy dandy Google Form! Here are the lucky three we're helping today:
I love getting your letters and here's a quick question. Now that I started 9-to-6 work life again, I am thinking of making better use of my Audible membership (during commute and before falling asleep). What books do you recommend as better to be listened to, rather than flipped-through? I would want to save good books with great writing so that I can savor each sentence... but then, I really enjoyed Trevor Noah's book and I am looking forward to listening to Saunders' new book (such a cast!). On the other hand, I also really liked having a very British person reading Watership Down for me. Any books you would recommend? Thank you as always for your fun & lifesaving letters.
Hang on. Just let us put on our “Born to Answer This Question” hat.
Oh, Dee. Do we ever have some favorites for YOU!
SO MANY FAVORITES! Let’s get specific with appeal factors. We’re going to give you just a quick smattering here, so as not to be overwhelming, but PLEASE know that you can come find us on Twitter as soon as these ones run out and we’d be DELIGHTED to provide you with more. Based on what you’ve mentioned enjoying, we’ll do this by category.
Celebrity Memoirs Read By Celebrities: Obviously, the one to beat in this category is Tina Fey’s Bossypants, a memoir we’ve both listened to on audio MULTIPLE times, but also one we assume everyone has already consumed at least once. Less well known but equally deserving of eternal adoration is Dave Holmes’s Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs, just published last year. Now, Dave Holmes, former MTV video jockey/current Maximum Fun podcast host, may not be exactly your idea of a celebrity, but since he is professionally trained to use his voice to elicit humor and emotion and has a lot of REALLY terrific anecdotes about famous people, we hope you’ll accept our designation. He also happens to be an exceptionally funny writer, and one with a lot of fun insights about music to boot. I (Dame M.) have a hard time imagining anyone failing to enjoy this memoir, particularly on audio.
British Classics Read By British People: Rather than simply recommending Prunella Scales’s narration of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters for the bajillionth time (on account of how it’s PERFECT), we here are going to point you in the direction of Absolute Most Bang for Your Credit and recommend that you go for The Complete Sherlock Holmes: The Heirloom Collection, narrated by the inimitable Simon Vance. It is FIFTY EIGHT HOURS of crime-solving goodness, all shared in Vance’s dangerously silken voice, with the narrative conveniently broken into short stories just bite-sized enough that you stay invested despite the incredible volume of material provided. PLUS then you can come and partake in Dame Margaret’s favorite pastime: internet shouting about the series's ACTUAL OTP, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and American secret societies.
An Exquisite Full-Cast….ish Audiobook Experience: We your Dames actually have mixed feelings about full cast recordings. Every once in awhile, they’re wonderful! But too often, they fall into something of an audio uncanny valley-- too dramatic to feel like hearing a really good book read aloud, but not dramatic ENOUGH to feel like a radio play. So, we’re less qualified to advise in this category, BUT the closest thing to that we unavowedly love is Jo Walton’s Small Change Trilogy-- Farthing, Ha’Penny, and Half a Crown. About an alternate reality Britain that surrendered to Nazi Germany after the Battle of Dunkirk and its slow slide into fascism, this series of murder mysteries/spy stories are told alternately from a third-person perspective, following a Scotland Yard inspector investigating a crime, and a first person perspective, each provided by a different woman involved in the crime at the center of each book. The voice acting demanded by this is exquisite and it takes books that are wonderful on the page to a whole new level of excellence.
Dames, I need your help!
I am, at a relatively middle-aged point in my life, in need of a way to reconnect with the meat sack that carries my brain and feelings around. I want to start power walking and maybe even work my way up to running and I feel like having a top-notch playlist is crucial to my success. Do you have recommendations for pump-you-up type songs?
Couch Potato with Aspirations
We will take… basically any excuse to link to Key & Peele’s “Aerobics Meltdown,”one of their very BEST sketches.
Dear Couch Potato,
YOU ARE IN LUCK! We, as a unit, love nothing more than lounging about in soft clothes, and therefore need to make MANY MANY excellent playlists to every motivate us to EVER leave our beds. Here are three of our best:
Every Saturday, Dame Margaret has the unenviable task of opening up her library and serving the public, no matter how much rather she’d remain in bed. As a result, she has an entire playlist-- built five songs at a time, as the mood strikes her-- dedicated to making the half hour she has before she must face the aforementioned public as energizing as possible: her Surreptitious Stacks Dancing playlist. Every time she puts it on, it feels like the best gift her past self has ever given her present self. Hopefully, it will effect you similarly.
YOU, dear Potato, are not the first one to come to Your Dames for exercise music! We also made a playlist for Dame Margaret’s cherished best friend Kerry meant to accomplish that self same goal, entitled Gym Hedgehog Kerry It’s tailored to Kerry’s specific tastes, so it may not be exactly what you’re in the market for, but you’re sure to find some QUALITY tunes in it.
AND FINALLY, our most recent masterwork: Turn Up Karen, a playlist inspired by autocorrect’s persistent assumption that when we type our friend Kathryn’s name we really mean to be typing Karen. This has, of course, led our group of friends to invent an entire separate character named Karen, a mom of indeterminate age whom we imagine lives somewhere in Bergen County, New Jersey. Karen's taste is permanently basic but her enthusiasm for Top 40 pop is untempered by any shred of self-consciousness. This character, in turn, led to us creating a playlist of all the songs we to which we imagine Karen getting turnt, probably aided by a generous poor of white wine, and the result is-- dare we say it?-- exquisite.
Hopefully these tunes take you from the couch to the frying pan, Potato!
I'm overwhelmed by the number of changes I need to make. How can I find the motivation within myself to be generally *better*? I am stuck in what has become an unintentional routine of bad habits and general passivity. Here are some of the things I hate that I regularly do but continue to do anyway: eat inconsistently and succumb to binge-ing junk when I finally do get around to eating, drink daily, smoke cigarettes, neglect my laundry and other chores, put off normal tasks (that range from necessary to even pleasant!) like shopping, calling for prescription refills, and catching up with dear friends, bite my nails until they bleed, leave parties conspicuously early when I probably could wait 15-30 minutes and at least not be the first to go, spend hours researching fun things to do in my city and then skip them, allow vegetables to rot in my fridge, open 50 browser tabs/save 5 new albums to my spotify/check out 6 books/download 3 podcasts and then don't read/listen despite my interest, try a new hobby and then bail on it for no discernible reason, and it goes on. How do people learn discipline and self control? Please help. I feel like my life is just happening to me even though I want to live with intention, and it's making me sad.
At some point, we've all stood in the Long Dark Kitchen of the Soul and eaten a Defeat Cupcake.
First of all, if you are a hugging person, may we offer you a hug? If you’re not, may we fix you a bracing hot or cold beverage of some kind to show our warm & encouraging thoughts towards you? Writing all that honest self-reflection and then sending it to us can’t have been easy, and we want to honor that.
So. We chose to answer your question in no small measure because reading it was like looking into a rather uncomfortable mirror. Our struggles with discipline and self-control regarding a lot of the attentiveness and self-soothing indulgences you’re talking about are...not dissimilar to yours.
*Gestures expansively* I mean, look at this newsletter. We are maximalist magpies. We love to consume, chronicle, and comment on all the things. Perhaps not unrelated, we are also both slobs (with excellent taste) who have to force ourselves to tidy up our living spaces. We’re both anxious about our mail. (There is no good reason, there’s only the fact that we are.) We stress-shop. We procrastinate things we know we need to do (LIKE FORMATTING THIS NEWSLETTER, for example), that if we did them, would make our lives easier and materially better. We make progress, we backslide, we maintain. Mostly.
We wish we could give you a list of things that, if you did them, you’d permanently fix all the things that you listed above. We also can’t tell you why your brain works the way it does. We can tell you about some adaptive strategies that have worked for us, and that might work for you. We’re writing them down & sharing them here just as much for ourselves as for you.
Dame S. had a really great conversation recently about what we owe to the people we love, and it turned into a real Oh, You’re Talking About Something Else But Now You’re Talking About You situation (is this the inverse of Two Things Can Be True, One Thing Can Be Two Things?). Being beholden to someone, or even a whole load of someones, is not the drag “free spirits” like to claim it is. Having A Person, whether that person is a beloved best friend, your best beloved, or a pet, gives you the gift of obligation. We have often written here about how being in a healthy creative partnership has been the key to this newsletter’s longevity & success. You can see that dynamic at work in this interview with our beloved Unfriendly Black Hotties, too.
So, things that have worked for us, that may work for you, with the caveat that your mileage may vary, and what you describe sounds sufficiently distressing that you may wish to engage a therapist so that you get the help you want from a real professional:
Write everything down. Sometimes Dame S. will write down tasks she has already completed on her to-do list just for the simple pleasure of crossing them out. The highly flexible bullet journal method has been very useful, as is making sub-lists of lists. One trick about this is that you have to be vigilant against the temptation to get so caught up in the delights of GETTING organized that you don’t forget to BE organized.
Timers! You’ve probably seen this recommended by productivity methods like Pomodoro or Unfuck Your Habitat: set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes & just focus on one task til you’re done, then move on to another, until the timer beeps. Give yourself 2-3 minutes off, then go again. This is another Dame S. standby and it works like a charm (when she forces herself to do it, ahem).
Talk it out. Your Dames rely on each other to talk through questions and tease out answers & solutions so that we can continue to pull off this labor of love.
Acknowledge when you need help. We can hear you flailing around in your letter, but we can also see that you can see where you’re flailing, and that’s a solid 30% of the issue right there.
Pick one thing. What’s the thing you most want to do but can’t quite do? If you want to listen to an album on Spotify, hit play. Fun fact: if you don’t like it, you can stop! That’s not being distracted, that’s engaging with what you’re hearing and evaluating it’s just-rightness for you. Not just right right now? Move on to the next one.
Try to find a “healthy substitute.” In most self-soothing behaviors, there is a kernel of genuine self-care. If you can find a way to satisfy the need driving the self-soothing behavior without collapsing completely into indulgence, that is usually the best way to learn an improved habit. Now, this is still a task your dames are working on applying to their most persistent indulgences (food and stress shopping), but one example where it’s been really helpful for Dame M. is in managing her appetite for toxic people. When she’s about to reach out to someone whom she knows makes her unhappy, surrendering to every self-aware person’s favorite fallacy that the people who treat you poorly do so because they have ~*special insight*~ proved by their ability to see the garbage heap you are, she instead flips through her Mental Rolodex of People She Loves Dearly But Never Contacts, a list she firmly believes we all have. And, rather than reaching out to someone likely to hurt her, she reaches out to one of those people just to say “Hey, I’m thinking of you!”, and BINGO. The urge to reach out resolves itself, a missed friend is less missed for a moment, and a toxic impulse has been transformed into a caring one. So: think critically about your worst habits and see if there’s a way you can work with them to a better goal rather than dismantling them altogether.
Good luck, Julia! And if you come up with any brilliant fixes, DO come share them with us. If Dame Margaret's floordrobe gets much deeper, it will swallow her up whole.
Three Cheery Links!
Chance: Simply the Best.
Chance the Rapper, one of Your Dames’s very favorite imaginary boyfriends, just donated one million dollars to Chicago’s public schools, and is challenging other moguls and corporations to step up and do the same. No one person can fix a crumbling bureaucracy, but Chance's unwillingness to give up and dedication to bettering his hometown definitely made our hearts grow at least three sizes this week.
Speaking of imaginary boyfriends, have you ever wondered what some of your animated crushes would be like in real life? Well, you’re in luck, because Buzzfeed UK has you covered with some hilariously in-depth and on-point speculations. We think they’re way too hard on the Beast (DAT LIBRARY) and WAY too easy on Aladdin, but otherwise cosign these thoughts 200%.
And finally, if you’d like to laugh longer and louder than is strictly medically advisable, this list of Available Middle-Aged Rom-Com Titles should do the trick. Tag yourselves on Twitter-- Dame Margaret is "I Guess We're Here Now!" and Dame Sophie is "You Say Oy, I Say Ole!"
Three Tough But Fair Links!
For yet another week where reading the news made you go “HMMMMMMMMMM.”
If this newsletter had a Mount Rushmore, Nicole Chung’s face would surely be one of the four heads chiseled into it, so often does her work get mentioned here. But when she writes essays as terrific as this week’s "The Worry I No Longer Remember Living Without," on the challenges of raising a child on the autism spectrum under a Secretary of Education who has no idea what the IDEA is, how could we do otherwise?
Speaking of our Sectretary of Education, Betsy DeVos referred to historically black colleges, schools that resulted directly from an illegal and unjust segregation of black people, as “pioneers of the school choice movement.” Many people had a LOT OF THOUGHTS about that, but among the best we read was this essay from Frederick McKindra, Buzzfeed’s Emerging Writer Fellow, “My Father And I Both Chose HBCUs, But Not For The Same Reason.”
Then, in the very same week!!!!, Ben Carson referred to slaves as part of America’s proud immigrant tradition, leading The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb toincivisively tackle America’s addiction to optimistic history. The money paragraph:
One part of the issue here is the eliding of the ugliness of the slave past in this country. This phenomenon is neither novel nor particularly surprising. The unwillingness to confront this narrative is tied not simply to the miasma of race but to something more subtle and, in the current atmosphere, more potentially treacherous: the reluctance to countenance anything that runs contrary to the habitual optimism and self-anointed sense of the exceptionalism of American life. It is this state-sanctioned sunniness from which the view of the present as a middle ground between an admirable past and a halcyon future springs. But the only way to sustain that sort of optimism is by not looking too closely at the past. And thus the past can serve only as an imperfect guide to the troubles of the present.”
AND FINALLY! Some Palette-Cleaning New Tunes:
Incredible but true: HEARING Tank and the Bangas’s music is EVEN BETTER than just looking at their fantastic outfits.
The winner of NPR Music’s third annual Tiny Desk Contest was announced this week, and their Tiny Desk Concert is one of the best Dame Margaret has encountered to date. Go fall in love with New Orleans's Tank And The Bangas: they are EXACTLY what your Friday needs.
Two of Dame Margaret’s favorite Americana artists released terrific new albums today: Valerie June released The Order of Time and Hurray for the Riff Raff realized The Navigator. The albums may be JUST the thing to comfort you on Sunday morning when you are cruelly forced to Spring Forward.
Also with a new album this week is Dame Margaret’s first Austin 100- derived musical crush: Jay Som, whose sophomore album Everybody Works is just the kind of dreamy fuzzy guitar music that Margaret can never get enough of.
And finally, PWR BTTM’s newest single “Answer My Text” is so funny, and so relatable that it may make you want to ask someone moderately useless for their number, just to have the satisfaction of singing along to it with fully-earned full-throated angst.