Pop Culture Care Package, Pt. 16: Phone-a-Friend

Today’s newsletter is three things: a recommendation, a personal news bulletin, and a newsletter scheduling announcement.

First: The Recommendation

Which is a recommendation of an essay recommending something: namely, Sarah Larson’s recent piece in The New Yorker“In Praise of Phone Calls". As one of the nation’s more elderly Millennials (soon to be 35), I do remember a time when calling someone up on the phone was a very common experience. In fact, because I went to college in rural Ohio back when rural Ohio did not have much cell coverage, full-blown landlines remained a regular feature in my life up until I was 22. 

There was one type of ring when someone on campus called you and another type of ring when someone off campus called you and I still remember the way the latter would make my heart leap, thinking it might be my best friend calling from home. She’d call every Tuesday to summarize the latest episode of The Gilmore Girls for me because— and this is true— I could not figure out what channel or time slot it aired in Ohio. One time, at 8 o’clock or so on a Saturday morning, our phone emitted the off-campus ring, and I picked it up, smart-alecky, and quoted When Harry Met Sally: “No one I know would call at this hour.” The caller was my roommate’s aged, serious grandmother. She did not catch my reference and she certainly didn’t appreciate my tone. 

The point of all this: I am old enough to remember phone calls with vivid nostalgia. But I am also young enough— I was ten-years-old in 1995, the year when my household and 2,999,999 others American got AOL— that there have always been other, quite addictive ways to talk, too. Instant messaging, texting, group texting, DM sliding, slacking— they are all keen pleasures to me. It is easy to forget the particular joys of phone calls when I can electronically communicate with everyone I care to any hour of the day. So Larson’s full-throated tribute to the medium was especially well-timed, and prompted a call to my number one phone friend. It also, incidentally, has something to do with my personal news bulletin. 

Second: Personal News Bulletin

When you open the recommended article above, you might notice an embedded audio player— just below the accompanying illustration and just above the article’s main text. It’s both a great way to experience the article— praise of the human voice delivered via the human voice— and a lovely example of the work of Audm, the company where I started working (remotely, of course!) this Thursday. 

On one hand, this new job is ridiculously exciting. The work is so interesting, my coworkers are so smart and kind, I have a New York Times email address now????????, and the company’s goal of making excellent, long-form journalism even more broadly accessible is one in which I am passionately, wonkishly invested. As production coordinator, I will be overseeing the process of turning pieces from print features into high-quality audio content, which means everything from deciding the best way to pronounce apartheid (when the OED and Merriam-Webster say it should be pronounced apar-tight, but the vast majority of even very educated Americans still say apar-tide; which do you pick??) to figuring out which narrators are best suited to which pieces. You would not believe the number of fiddling details that need to be settled between those two points, but I am lucky enough that no amount of them feels like drudgery— at least, not yet. If I am very, very lucky, I will still feel the same way after a year. 

On the other hand, it’s a little terrifying. Although I talk about it rarely either here or online, I have been working at the MIT Libraries for twelve years. I was twenty-two when I started there and it’s the only employer I’ve had as an adult. I am leaving coworkers I love, work I know backwards and forwards, and a physical place to which I’ve grown deeply attached without being able to say goodbye to any of them in person. My departure was announced five days after the MIT Libraries switched to fully remote work for all staff and after I had been out sick with a non-COVID cough for a week. I never knew how attached I was to the whole rusty apparatus of a traditional departure, from the meticulously orchestrated mass-signed goodbye card to the gently awkward afternoon party where 20% of the people are there for you (if you’re lucky) and the other 80% are in it for the snacks, until I knew I wouldn’t get any of it. It’s far from the biggest tragedy of this situation, but it’s been a true sadness for me. And finally: 

Third: A Scheduling Announcement 

While I am elbow-deep in training for a brand new, bracingly demanding job, producing seven daily quarantine newsletters a week will not be a realistic goal for either me or Dame Sophie. So, starting with this Monday, we are cutting back— just slightly!— to one recommendation from me on Mondays, one recommendation from Sophie on Wednesdays, and one issue from the two of us together on Fridays. The Friday issues may be a little shorter than our typical magnum opuses, but we are going to make sure the quality of what we share with you remains a constant. Your enthusiastic feedback about our more frequent messages in the last two weeks has been both emotional sustenance for us and the push we needed to start thinking about the best way to structure our #content moving forward. Hopefully, this new schedule works well for all of us, and serves our writing well.

And with that, 52 minutes into Sunday, I have finally finished my Saturday email. It feels really special to share this news with you, Dames Nation. It feels overwhelming (in the nice way) to know how many of you will care, an observation kept from monstrous egotism because I know that investment is a two-way street. It’s wild and wonderful to realize how happy I would be to know good things were happening for just about any of you, even if we’ve never met. Thank you for the time, care, and enthusiasm you share with us, whether you’ve been here from email one or just signed up last night (which, TBQH, was a GREAT issue to start with). I hope you and your loved ones are as safe and as well as the chaos around us allows anyone to be. I hope we all have good news soon. 

Love, Margaret