The Cooking of Joy
Greetings, Dames Nationals!
Your guest editors this week are Ruth (perhaps better known as Rave Sashayed, the Internet’s preeminent historian of Boba Fett Being A Lesbian) and Willa (perhaps better known as Willa, the world’s preeminent historian of "lumbersexuals"). We hope you enjoy this week’s Premium Content!
Ruth: We’re glad you’re with us, Damewise Nation, here at the end of all things2016. There seems to be a solid consensus that this was literally the worst year ever, but counterpoint: have you guys heard of 1918? Dude, 1918 SUCKED. It was World War I, which was -- as you may have heard – extremely terrible. The flu pandemic that would be even deadlier than the war killed millions, mostly healthy people in their late 20s. Debussy and Klimt, the Prince and Bowie of their day possibly maybe, died: monstrous Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and the founder of Wal-Mart were born to replace them. The first submachine gun was invented, as was the superheterodyne receiver -- a device which, in that it enabled almost all modern TV and radio reception, was basically the proximate cause of the rise of Donald Trump.
So at least this isn’t 1918! Although I guess, counter-counterpoint: all suffering that we personally endure is worse than the vaguely construed sufferings of the elderly and/or historical. This is also why 2016 is worse than whatever year c. 252,000,000 B.C. made up the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, because I mean, at least whatever unfortunate organisms failed to make it through that one didn't have to deal with that f-ing “once I was seven years old” song.
Also, I don’t actually know if Klimt and Debussy were the Prince and Bowie of their day. Honestly I doubt it, but can we just roll with this parallel for five seconds please?
Willa: ACTUALLY, side note, the following things are true about Gustav Klimt: 1. Hewandered around home in a long robe and sandals like some desert ascetic, despite the fact that Vienna is negative a million degrees at all times; 2. After the University of Vienna didn't like that he painted basically porn on their ceilings he refused all public commissions before huffily declaring "all art is erotic" and starting the Vienna Secession, home of TOTAL WEIRDOS including Max "I'll base my whole artistic career on this one time I found a glove while out ice skating" Klinger and Egon "what, aren’t bodies just made of tendon? Does it look better with furious demon eyes?" Schiele. So while I know shit all about Debussy, I stand by Klimt: Prince and/or Bowie of his day.
Klimt with his cat, who was named KATZE, meaning he was ALSO arugably the Holly Golightly of his time.
Ruth: I just looked up Debussy on Wikipedia and he seems like a real asshole.
Willa: ANYWAY we have one more week to endure of this God Awful Mess of a Year so we wanted to take a minute to talk about work. More specifically, some Thoughts and Feelings on the Labor of Creating Joy.
Ruth: We have fun!!!! Can we break this up with a gif from a classic 2012 video of a Pomeranian sneezing?
Willa: Please, let’s.
Ruth: So Willa. Friend. Buddy. Talk to me about the hard work of creating spaces for happiness. I came up to visit you this past weekend, and you threw a holiday party that -- as Margaret will attest -- knocked every guest’s socks off.
Willa: Thank you! You left for a two-hour nap in the middle.
Ruth: My socks were ALL THE WAY OFF for that nap?? Metaphorically. I was actually asleep in all of my clothes. But also the fact that I could have fun for two hours, take a nap, come back downstairs and there was STILL A PARTY is pretty telling about how great it was. You have always thrown the best parties of anyone I know. The decor is elegant and welcoming, the sense of warmth and community is tender and real, the food is always on point (there was an ENTIRE HAM), there are always fun activities (there was, right next to the ham, a SPECIAL SELFIE ROOM), etc. Why do you do that?
Willa: Okay so for one there's real happiness to be found in knowing you are creating a thing for people you love, and I have no artistic abilities. Like, remember when you made me a bunch of motivational phone lockscreens using that photo of a little rabbit about to start his little rabbit race?
Ruth: Haha, I did do that.
(The amount Willa loves these screens cannot be quantified, I, Dame M., can with authority tell you.)
Willa: I can't give people that, so this is something I CAN give. Also party prep is, while impossible, a real joy. I used to prep parties with my friend Martin in London who would go to bed the MINUTE guests started arriving, as he considered the fun bit to be over. But I love both parts! I love making 100 individually rolled and fried gnocchi, and I love looking around a candlelit table and seeing friends enjoy themselves.
Ruth: I love eating 92 individually rolled and fried gnocchi.
Willa: Like I get insanely stressed and make myself miserable over the details and any sane friend can tell you that I'm a NIGHTMARE before parties, but I can't stop won't stop. Also I'm my mother's daughter and my mother once made 150 gingerbread men and then hand-labeled them with the names of everyone under 18 coming to a party so honestly this shit is genetic.
Ruth: This sounds like it might be about…….gender.
Willa: It’s not NOT about gender! I just was thinking about All My Feelings about how much effort women put into creating joy, which I actually think is VERY similar to women appearing beautiful as labor.
Ruth: Fantastic. Go on.
The hard work of creating joy AND looking beautiful: B.B. Homemaker gets it better than anyone.
Willa: Basically, this is a thing I inherited from my mother and, bless her, Martha, and Julia and Nigella and Ina…Wait, why are they all bougie and white? I mean, I am too. I suspect there is a whole world of this I'm not tapping into. It's amazing, when you get talking, all the embarrassing gaps you discover in your cultural exposure. Like I am sure there is a world of this out there that I know not of. That’s my Christmas project.
Ruth: It’s almost like if there’s one thing we as a culture value less than women’s work, it’s women’s work performed by women who aren’t white? Mirthless LOL.
B.B. Homemaker would approach this discussion from a broader perspective than WE, your Guest Dames, but we hope she'll appreciate our thoughts just the same.
Willa: Yikes. But yes: I think one of the great mistakes of first wave and second wave feminism was devaluing the labor that women had long done. Like, one of my heroes is Catherine Beecher. Who is that, you ask? Good question!
Ruth: THANKS FOR ANTICIPATING ME?
Willa: She was Harriet Beecher Stowe's big sister. Or Lyman Beecher's daughter. Or Henry Ward Beecher's also big sister. If you don't know who Lyman Beecher or Henry Ward Beecher were that's fine, you will when I write my book. So she reaches us as a daughter and a sister, but she also was the co-author of one of the top five selling books of the 19th century. It's called The American Woman's Home and lord is it terrible. She tries to do like a style in your budget thing that is AWFUL. My favorite is when she gives this whole decor scheme for a living room and it’s basically "you could have a green carpet and a green table and chairs and a divan in green with green wall paper and green curtains," and then there's an afterthought that says “you can, in the same way, make a red room.”
B.B. Homemaker is willing to give Catherine Beecher a shot.
So yes, it was ridiculous, but the point here was this: this was real WORK to make the world beautiful. To bring families together, to help women offer meals and lovely spaces. And it was also a super successful business venture from a kind of badass lady! But in the admittedly short pantheon of Women's History that is Taught in Schools, we tend to push aside women like Catherine Beecher for Noted Racist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I think we just don't value this kind of labor, like, all that much?
Ruth: IT'S TRUE! Elizabeth Cady Stanton sucks.
Willa: She sure does, even by my rigorous “define people only by the tools and ideas available to them at the time” metric. Anyway, the point is: being joyful isn't always easy, creating a lovely space isn't easy. The shit is DIFFICULT, you guys!!!!
Ruth: Yes. And also, you can do something because it’s fun and you want to, and it can still be difficult and be valuable. Like, look at every dude artist ever!
Willa: YES! And we need to learn to value this work much better than we do because I think that the work itself is worth doing, but it's EXHAUSTING to do it if people just assume that because it is Fun it is not work. It’s worthwhile work! Work is not inherently BAD. Work can be great! And have lovely rewards!! But holidays, dude: holidays are work. If we separate work from fun too much, we start to think the work is its own reward.
Even for B.B. Homemaker, WORK IS WORK.
Ruth: Which it kind of is, but it also kind of isn’t. Do you think that saying to your host, when invited into a lovely space, "I see how hard you have worked and I really appreciate it" is a big enough starting step for that re-evaluation? Or is something bigger required?
Willa: YES! OH MY GOD YES THAT IS ALL. I mean, and then everyone goes to therapy. I think that's the great labor of our generation: how not just to abandon those things that make life more pleasantly bearable, but to learn how to do them in a limited way keeping our own needs in mind so we don't grow resentful.
Ruth: Yes. Is this whole letter just us saying “Yes!” to each other?
Willa: YES. But so is our friendship! But like, to come back to gender for a second: we undervalue all these things as labor, the work we put into pleasantness, and we shouldn't HAVE to do it, and it shouldn't HAVE to be gendered work. But because it has been gendered it has also been devalued. There's no reason men can't take on the work of creating pleasantness and joy, but since those have been, for at LEAST a couple of centuries, women's labor they have been, like much of women's labor, turned into something some people supposedly just “want” to do, naturally. [Live footage of Your Dames reading this sentence.]
B.B. Homemaker does NOT take kindly to her gendered work being devalued.
And because you take pleasure in work doesn't make it NOT work. I do want to do it, but not because of a second X chromosome. Nor does the fact that I do want to do it mean it isn't at times rough labor that can suck. Because LOOK we all have seen homes where no one does that work, and spaces where no one cares to do it. And we can see the difference! My mom and I might have this genetically but so do her brothers. So does my brother, for that matter.
Ruth: It also has to do with creating joy for YOURSELF, which is difficult for some of us. Picture us rattling our prescription bottles of SSRIs like festive maracas.
Willa: Yes. Like you and I are not people for whom joy necessarily comes naturally all the time. So we get that it's labor. Like equally pertinent would be why do you spend 22 hours creating Regency-style portraits of the dudes from One Direction?
Ruth: Uhhhhhh, why do you ask so many questions???? I feel like that’s what’s really “pertinent” here.
Willa: In a good way! Your blog brings this insane amount of absurdist joy and delight to a bunch of sad people. [Your Dames: <Hamilton reference> THAT’S TRUE! </Hamilton reference>] We just have different kinds of labor we enjoy doing to create and cultivate joy, and both can be hard work. What makes creating elaborate Buzzfeed quizzes about an imaginary American Hogwarts worth it for you? Because I suspect it is very much the same things.
Ruth: Every hour I spend writing Star Wars raps, gently deflecting Facebook trolls, or photoshopping my cat into a Franz Winterhalter painting is an hour I didn’t spend facedown on the floor thinking about death.
Willa: Yes. It all goes back to recognizing what work…works for people.
Because people who refuse to acknowledge B.B. Homemaker's work are NOT invited to benefit from it twice.
Ruth: Good. So just basically, if we go somewhere nice this holiday season, let’s PLEASE make a point of thanking the people who made it. Like whatever family we enter, whether it's ours or someone else's, we should be aware that someone of whatever gender or age has been doing Work to make this pleasant for us. Is that about right?
Willa: Yes. Please. Do it for Catherine Beecher.
Ruth: Thank you for undertaking all the thoughtful historical labor of this conversation, Willa.
Willa: Thank YOU for shouldering the burden of editing it into a consistent and readable format, Ruth. I love all the jokes you punched up, and also, you are so pretty. Did you know you look like a slightly squishy Barbara Stanwyck? I absolutely typed all of these words in our original conversation!
Ruth: Wow thanks Willa for this spontaneous compliment that I did not add myself.
Willa: I can’t wait to hear what other Dames have to say about their own labors of joy [Your Dames MIGHT deem this newsletter one such thing. For starters.]. They’re so smart.
Ruth: They ARE so smart. Do you think they would enjoy some links to Internet Stuff that effectively creates a space for joy?
Willa: I bet they would!
RUTH AND WILLA’S SECRET PUBLIC STASH OF INTERNET JOY
Welcome to the holidays, Back Home Ballers! Enjoy these links while lying on the couch pretending to nap.
Ruth: Whenever I think about stuff that makes me happy on the internet, I think about:
This video of the Nicholas brothers killing it on some tabletops in “Stormy Weather”. Fred Astaire said it was the greatest movie musical number he’d ever seen, and he should know. Harold and Fayard Nicholas combine Astaire’s effortless elegance with Gene Kelly’s athleticism and tangible joy (and debatably improve on both??) in perfect, exquisite sync. I could literally watch this every hour of every day until I am dead. Thank you, Nicholas Brothers.
Maybe not everyone would be soothed by a tragic months-old article about MUNCHAUSEN BY PROXY and MURDER, but I am, and if there’s any audience that would get that I feel like it’s you guys. Actually, you’ve probably already read it. It was probably already in a TBD edition. It seems like it would be. Also have you guys read about the greatest female Everest climber of all time? Or this BANANAS story about a horrible upscale Irvine couple who tried to FRAME the PTA president at their kid’s school???? Maybe this is a good time to admit that December is when I read all the long pieces I opened in tabs over the course of the year. I mean, last week Margaret had to tell me about the HIPSTER SCAM CHOCOLATE, which apparently is like, the oldest of news.
Sometimes all I have to do is remember the existence of this post and I start laughing aloud. Ask all you want, you ain’t seeing these hands, dollface!
Willa just told me that she has NEVER SEEN that Back Home Ballers sketch which made me think: what is the best SNL sketch that she also might not have seen? The answer is, of course, Super Showcase, which I genuinely think is a perfect 5 minutes of comedy. Two funny people who are best friends having a great time makes for both the best comedy and the best sex IMO, although weirdly none of my sexual partners have appreciated me saying “I think it could be beef” in a flutey voice during the act of love. Like, grow up, people.
A reminder from Willa of something she HAS seen [I can’t believe I brought this up in conversation and it’s in YOUR links, just because YOU showed it to me in the first place. How rude. - Willa]: I assume you guys have already watched this literally perfect video of Anthony Hamilton and friends serenading a baby goat but it’s not like you’ll REGRET watching it again.
Willa:So before Lexapro came into my life I attempted to create joy almost entirely through videos on the internet. After Lexapro came into my life, I did the same thing, it’s just that now it’s actually effective. Forthwith, the four videos on the internet that make me the happiest:
Your new favorite barrel roll.
Seasonally appropriate: please watch all five minutes and forty glorious seconds of puppeteer Frank Oz losing his mind in this outtake from the most #KeeptheCryInChristmas special ever, Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas.
When I went through a kind of “can’t get out of bed for actual weeks” breakup everyone kept telling me to listen to Kelly Clarkson or that one really sad Frightened Rabbit album. Instead I just watched this mariachi band serenade a beluga whale who cannot believe his luck on repeat. Highly recommend for the Very Sad amongst us.
If this vine doesn’t make you believe there is still good left in the world, honestly I don’t know what to do with you.
Teddy Bear the porcupine eating a pumpkin is the greatest soundtrack on earth, I will replace all my christmas music will only this and never be sorry.
Thanks for reading! We are SO EXCITED to hear your thoughts on joy and labor and where you make space for happiness. If you want to talk more about the Beechers, great movie musicals or that time Willa totally backed up Ruth’s elaborate lie about Ian McKellen [Dame M: This is a great story], come say hi to us on Twitter: Ruth is @_sashayed and Willa is @hammitt. You can also find Ruth-as-Rave on her incomparable blog, Alas! the Creature Grows Degenerate, and all of Willa’s past work on this site that, despite appearances, has articles on things other than lumberjacks.
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