016 just keeps on 2016ing, doesn’t it?
We are on record wishing to cancel it as early as THE SECOND WEEK OF JANUARY, and we cannot say we’ve warmed to it much since then.
HOWEVER! This week featured two victories that gave us REAL HOPE.
First: Solange Knowles got her first ever #1 record with A Seat at the Table. Even if this album were just beautiful music made by a woman we admire-- and it’s most assuredly both of those things-- this would be wonderful. But, in addition to that, it’s a nuanced, challenging meditation on what it means to be a black woman in America today, featuring both songs and first-person reflections from people in Solange’s life on their experience of blackness. It’s album that’s unafraid to gently rebuke white listeners with lyrics like “Don't feel bad if you can't sing along/Just be glad you got the whole wide world.” This is Solange’s “What’s Going On?” and knowing art that’s unafraid to be complex can also be popular? Well, that’s a pretty great thing to be reminded of just now.
And second, the NPR Politics Podcast, the smart-funny-warm-insightful peanut butter which has allowed your Dames to more easily swallow this bitter pill of an election, had more than one million unique listeners just this week. To paraphrase Dame Sophie's thoughts from Twitter: the success of this show, hosted by a deep bench of mostly women & people of color, makes us think we might eventually be ok, as a nation. If you’re one of the podcast's unique listeners, we’re sure you’re just as delighted as by their success we are. And, if you have yet to listen, we recommend that you try their July 5th episode, “Musicals and Politics,” which discusses the historical interactions between politics and musical theater, from Hamilton to Dreamgirls.
Just ONE WEEK Till #Hamildames!!!
I mean, we HAVE been telling you about the upcoming airing of Hamilton’s America, PBS’s behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Hamilton, for actual months now. BUT, just so we’re sure you have the details of our livetweet down:
Where: In front of a television tuned to your local PBS station-- or on your computer, via the PBS website!
When: 9 PM EST on Friday, October 21st.
How: Using the #Hamildames hashtag to talk with ~*Dames Nation*~, supplemented with the official #HamilDocPBS hashtag as you see fit.
Next Friday will also be the deadline for getting your Private Secret Mashnote from Dame Margaret about her experience seeing Hamilton this August-- if you’re interested in receiving that, just reply to this email and let us know!
That’s right! The Queens of the Bookernet are going to be your Guest Dames next week. We know. You’re dancing with joy just like the books in the above gif. We are, too. We cannot wait to see what they make for you guys!
AND FINALLY, in honor of our SECOND BIRTHDAY: Our Anniversary Q&A!
Your Dames: The Weighted Average of BOTH Lumiere and Cogsworth
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for us, especially Honorary Dame Rosie, who we suspected submitted about 3.
I'm trying to start my own newsletter, but I keep getting derailed by things like work deadlines, illnesses, and wedding planning. So how do you two manage to get out such awesome content so regularly?
As we have said many times before and will say many times again: Having a partner is essential to our work process. Sophie and I both agree that, if we did not have the support and pressure of working with and gratifying a partner, our own newsletters would (1) never have come out weekly and (2) have likely fizzled after 2 months. It is a huge amount of work to add into a life that’s already quite full, as we assume all our readers’ lives would be.
We already have the intrinsic motivation to share interesting cultural stuff online. Having the commitment to each other to get this fun work done weekly is the crucial extrinsic motivator that actually gets us to format it all & hit SEND.
What album are you excited to blast for cold weather inside dance parties this year?
Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion has been on permanent repeat in the Dames Aerie since its release in June of 2015 and, particularly since Jepsen's release of its FIRE B-SIDES COMPANION ALBUM this August, we really show no signs of stopping. Dame S. uses it daily to keep her heart rate up on the treadmill, and apologizes to her ears for the likely louder-than-necessary volume she plays it at. It’s just so goooood!
Some other favorites we plan to dig into for hyggelicious listening & sharing are:
A previously unreleased album by David Bowie, The Gouster, which is a prelude to Young Americans & very much in that same blue-eyed Philadelphia soul vein (which is to say it’s excellent and a gift to us all)
The Cactus Blossoms are a duo of brothers singing in a very Everly Brothers/Sun Records stylee. Dame S is a real sucker for the way family harmonies wind together & around each other, and their debut album is going to be perfect for kitchen dancing & lounging under many blankets with a tea tray. They’re in the midst of a world tour, with current appearances in Australia & New Zealand
Also, if you want to know what Dame M. is dancing to on the regular, you can check out her Surreptitious Saturday Stacks Dancing playlists--the short list, which is always just five songs long and changes on a whim, andthe archiveswhich (at Dame Sophie’s insistence!) documents all the jams which have come before. Every time Margaret puts this playlist on, she feels like she is getting a wonderful gift from her past self. Hopefully you all like it, too.
What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? Did your dreams for the future change very often growing up?
When Dame S. was little, she wanted to be a nun, which her mother gently informed her was not really a viable career path for Nice Jewish Girls. Instead, she grew up to attend a women’s college and became a librarian, which is pretty close to fulfilling that original goal, only there’s no religion involved & she’s married to a lovely, living, breathing man. Which works out well, since it was the habits & sisterhood she was interested in, anyway, and her many dresses & female friendships meet those needs beautifully.
Dame M. has wanted to work with books, in one way or another, since she was big enough to conceive of jobs as work and not just a the names that went with her costume box clothing (fireman, ballerina, etc). Teaching, publishing, and bookselling all had their allure, and still do, but she settled on librarianship because it was the job where the day-to-day bullshit (un-jamming printers, directing people to bathrooms, explaining how to copy-paste) seemed most to her taste-- whatever you do in a library, you’re helping someone, and Dame M. is pathologically helpful. However, if Judge John Hodgman had existed when M. was an impressionable teenager, that is the only job she would ever have wanted for herself: having a podcast where she could make jokes and give people fake legally binding emotionally insightful advice!!! Still sounds like a dream to her. Which... might be why Two Bossy Dames shares a lot of JJHo's DNA.
Happy anniversary, ladies! I was wondering if y'all have any recs of coming of age fiction/non fiction for... adulthood? I've been thinking about that particular genre and all its wonderful (and sometimes not) creations for teens and tweens, but I have no idea about good comforting I-got-you-babe pieces for those of us who are in our first stage of adulthood and still flailing about and a little lost. Thank you so much and have a lovely anniversary month! 💕
A list-- alphabetical of course!-- of some titles we think fit this designation:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon
Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
Bellwether by Connie Willis
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
If you could give your 17 year old selves one piece of advice, what would it be?
Margaret: Despite what pop culture tells you, Margaret, attraction is not a meritocracy. Your love and affection are not something that you can award like a gold star for good behavior, they are feelings either provoked by a specific person, or not, for a wide array of complicated reasons. That is why dating is harder than achieving a perfect attendance record. Even when everyone around you has decided that someone, through years of Devoted Service, has earned the right to you, ignore them, because that’s not how it works. Instead of dragging yourself over the coals for failing to appreciate someone’s willingness to treat you “well,” keep seeking out the company of those you are excited to be around. Let mutual good treatment blossom from mutual enthusiasm rather than buying into a system where you are a passive object for which someone nobly toils. You stink at passivity. That’s a good thing.
Sophie: This is a tough one for me, because there are so many things I would love to tell my 17 year-old self about, it’s hard to limit myself to just one thing! I’d have advised her to settle her sibling rivalry with her middle sister sooner, as that relationship has been such a source of joy and mutual support since we did get right with each other. (Things with my youngest sister have been easy-breezy since the day she was born, thanks to her being one of the best humans alive and perhaps more critically, thanks to our 10-year age difference.)
I would like to know 1) why you are both so perfect and 2) when you will come and visit me in the U.K.?
We are highly imperfect individually, but together, we are:
As the great Willie Nelson so aptly put it, if you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got the time! We are both pretty well-traveled in the UK and it’s a favorite destination for us. Should Two Bossy Dames get bought out by NPR or Slate (CALL US) or some other large media organization that would give us travel budgets & assignments to tour the world gathering offbeat culture stories & ephemera to share with the world, we’d be there in a heartbeat. In the meantime, we hope you’ll be satisfied by us answering your next two questions. <3 <3 <3
Also I would like you each to list your three favourite traits about the other?
Twist our arms, why don't you.
Alternate title for this section: "In which Your Dames make each other cry."
Sophie: My favorite things about Margaret are: her combination of erudition & giddy, effervescent confidence that everyone with a good heart is destined to be her friend. This confidence has always been correctly placed, in my experience. She is both charming and deep, which is a tricky thing to balance: most people get the proportions wrong. I also love her ability to really hear what I’m saying (especially when I’m in a jam or having a shitty day) and offer the just-right amount & type of insightful bucking up, commiserating, and/or gut-busting GIF. And finally, her exquisite taste in all things and excellent eye for what others will enjoy. I often think the most interesting spaces in this newsletter are the ones where our tastes & interests diverge, but there’d be no newsletter at all if we didn’t spend a huge amount of time texting each other “OMG DID YOU SEE THIS?” “YES/NO, I LOVE IT!” “AHHHHH, FLAIL!!”
Margaret: Shielding my eyes from what Sophie wrote above, for fear of drowning in mine own tears, here is what I love about her. First, I love her unstinting generosity, which is apt because it’s the quality that took us from internet friends to more-IRL-internet friends-- I commented, with lust in my heart, on a picture of challah she’d baked, and she immediately replied “What’s your address? I can send you one!” And she is like this with everything-- from material goods to the sustaining intangibles: love, time, and attention. If you are someone she cares about, you will be showered with all of them, in proportion to your needs, in directly the style you most prefer. It is a wonderful quality from which to benefit, and a joyful quality to behold directed at others. Second, I would die without her important corollary skill: knowing how and when to be kind to herself-- and when to encourage me to do the same. I can’t overstate what a valuable quality it is in a partner. She always checks in-- “Are we doing okay?” “You know, we do not have to do all 8 of these things. We can do just one.” “Will we need some time off here?” Without the guiding hand of Sophie’s emotional resource management, I would have burned myself out on this project in six months. It’s an incredible model to have-- someone who’s generous with herself as often as she can be, but realistic about what that generosity costs, and capable of adjusting plans accordingly, and being frank about her needs. I am a better and happier person for getting to observe that emotional ecosystem firsthand. And, finally, I’m going to say that I love her curatorial instincts. It’s not merely the things that she finds, it’s the insightful ways that she places them in relation to one another so that they all shine the brighter that consistently bowls me over. I think my favorite example of this is her Spotify mixes-- both this one, on duets, and this one, aptly named “Autumnal Ennui & Luxury” are stellar examples. Ugh and although I was only supposed to name three, I’m naming four, because “what a great mom she is” does not count as a quality of Sophie, but is a suite of stellar qualities beautifully applied in ways I admire daily, so I am compelled to mention it.
ALSO can there be some kind of recipe from Dame Sophie??
(ok, this is a lie, I am plenty pleased with myself most of the time, but I am very delighted to be asked this in particular, so thank you!)
I’m happy to share two no-fail desserts that are always big hits with crowds of all ages. They both make substantial cakes (they can be split into smaller pans) and improve with age, which is handy if you need to make one a couple of days in advance.
The first is one I’ve been baking quite a lot recently, the one true honey cake from Smitten Kitchen. If you’re Jewish (or even just Ashkenormatively Jew-ISH), you’ve probably suffered through many bone-dry, sad, flavorless honey cakes at this time of year (we eat them to usher in a sweet new year). This one is moist, dense and rich with all the warm, spicy flavors of fall. I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly, sifting the dry ingredients together before adding the wet ingredients, pre-mixed in another bowl, all in one go. I also throw in the zest from the oranges I squeeze for the juice, and if I want to be maximally clever with boosting the orange flavor, the tea I brew for the batter is The Greatest Widely Available Tea, Constant Comment. (I haven’t made this just-published Russian Honey Cake yet, but you’d better believe it’s on my list!) [She has, however, successfully modified this honey cake to use molasses instead of honey for our favorite British vegan, so holler at Dame S. on Twitter for that how-to. - M.]
The second is Nigella Lawson’s chocolate gingerbread, which I make with extra ground ginger (a full tablespoon, no one has complained yet). I also bloom the spices in the melted butter & sugars for added oomph. The combination of chocolates - cocoa powder in the cake & the icing, plus mini chocolate chips in the cake - and spices is heavenly and rich. This is probably the cake I get the most requests for, in spite of it looking like a bit of a ramshackle, slightly eroded mess, thanks to baking in a parchment paper sling.
What are your thoughts on goal-setting when it comes to artistic/creative endeavors? So much of what I do making things is ostensibly for fun (as opposed to profit) but I also do sell some art pieces and such, so it's sort of a (not well-developed) business as well. I've always approached it with a laid back attitude (compared to my librarian life where it's all lists and goals all the time) but I wonder if I could do more if I took the time to do more planning or set goals more detailed than 'finish this thing I'm currently making'? I'd love some Dames wisdom!
Dame S. strongly favors a think big/plan small approach. But let’s back it up slightly and ask you to determine what you really want to accomplish. Do you want your Making Stuff to stay purely a hobby that you do for yourself, or are you motivated to make it into a bona fide revenue stream for yourself? Spend some time thinking about that first.
Then (or maybe at the same time!) make a list of all the things you’d like to do & make. By all means, approach your creative endeavors with a healthy dose of anything is possible! Do you dream of selling wares at a particular arts fair, or setting up a shop on Etsy? Write it down! Once you have a notion of what idea(s) you’re most excited to pursue, you will almost definitely get more done with an itemized list/plan in place. Who else is doing what you’d like to do? Can you make an appointment to speak with them about what’s worked for them? When we were setting up our Patreon campaign a year ago, we benefited tremendously from having our pals Craig & Andrew from Overdue available to answer our many questions. Get yourself a consigliere & lavish them with appreciation!
Once you’ve thought about your dreams & figured out which bits you’re best positioned to chase, break them down into their component parts. It sounds like you’re very familiar with an itemized list approach to your professional tasks, so we recommend using whatever methodology works for you at work to work for you at play, too. You may recall from a past issue & her routine yelling about it on Twitter that Dame S. loves the Bullet Journal method of task tracking. It’s flexible & easy to use, so if you’re in the market for a method, give it a whirl. Whatever path you choose, best of luck to you & please do let us know how it goes!
An Assortment of Items for Your 2016 Survival Kit
Is this what Dame was looking for when she searched "garbage fire GIF" ? No.
Was it too funny NOT to use? Yes.
OH OUR SECULAR GODS THIS AMERICAN ELECTION SEASON IS TERRIBLE. If you are so fortunate as to not have the absurd fun-house, but REAL, hahahahboohoo cruelty of this US presidential election cycle visited upon you daily, give thanks. What’s it like where you are? We would dearly love to know, so by all means, please do hit reply & tell us about your corner of the world. For the rest of us: 25 days and counting. We can do this, together. Here are some tools!
Magda Pescenye used to write the wonderful parenting advice blog Ask Moxie (essential to Dame S’s early parenthood years) and now writes brilliantly about a whole bunch of family & career stuff. Her 6 Steps To Calming Yourself From Incessant Attacks Until The Election is full of solid advice for things you can do to keep yourself physically & mentally healthy.
This interactive self-care guide is also aces & deeply useful anytime of year.
Remember that self-care and self-soothing overlap on a Venn Diagram, but they aren’t the same thing. Some things that soothe you may not be all that good for you, so just keep an eye on yourself to make sure you’re not letting soothing (exercise, food & drink, impulse-buying) behaviors get out of balance with behaviors that help you take care of you (drinking a glass of water, getting some sun on your face, folding & putting away your stupid laundry, responding to a solicitous email).
Generally speaking, do the things today that the you of several days from now will thank you for. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, it can be something as small as shelving that stack of books you brought downstairs when you tidied up your office, instead of leaving them on the kitchen counter to languish & maybe get food spattered on them, SOPHIE. Do the things that need to be done, that you can manage to do, when you can do them.