In Praise Of... Praise

We don’t talk enough about joy

This is a letter (not a newsletter, my god, have you seen the news?) about pleasure: mostly ephemeral, more or less material, and on the face of it, inconsequentialThings I’m doing, things I’m loving, things that spark my curiosity and interest and maybe—hopefully—yours too. I believe that pleasure is powerful when it’s rebellious, when it’s selfish, when it’s unapologetic, and I don’t think we have enough outlets to celebrate that. When we pay attention to pleasure, or joy, we get clues about how to live our lives better. Marjorie Hillis, the 1930s self-help guru who was the subject of my first book, THE EXTRA WOMAN, took this principle as a moral imperative, telling her readers firmly, “You have got to decide what kind of a life you want and then make it for yourself.” I’ve long been drawn to that very simple and very elusive truth, and so in some small way this will be a record of that deciding, that wanting, and that making. 

To write about pleasure might sound irresponsible or even insane right now, the world being what it is, especially from where I sit, an immigrant in an America I refuse to ever call his. But I don’t believe being a moral person is zero-sum, nor that pursuing pleasure or experiencing joy mean deliberately turning our eyes away from suffering. I’m going to try each week to highlight people and organizations that are doing good work, helping make sense of the world, and who could use your money or your eyeballs, and who are helping me understand, and resist, some of the awfulness. 

I’m not particularly interested in enthusing over things you can buy (except my book, of course, please and thank you.) The corporate-feminist internet has plenty of that already. I’m not anti-materialist and I’m sure as shit no minimalist. I love buying things. I love reading about things to buy. But I want to write less about stuff than (gulp) feelings. Attitudes. Approaches. And so forth. 

I’m going to share things I’ve been writing, and also recommendations, generally books, films, exhibitions, TV shows, music—the art and culture that is my professional beat, but also my main source of joy. Usually, it will be something medium-to-very old, in the spirit of resistance to the insane news-cycle new-release pressure of consuming culture to which we’ve all become habituated. There’s no such thing as being late to a goddamn novel, people.

So that’s the plan. Idiosyncrasy! Earnestness! Passion! Constant Self-Undermining Jokes! It’s what I’ve got. Welcome to the anti-newsletter.

In Praise Of... Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown 

I’ve seen a lot of PA’s later movies, but fewer of his early ones. This is currently on the (lifegiving) Criterion Channel and is as gloriously wild as you know it is, and honestly one of those films that I’m so happy to have seen because now I can see it again. Fresh barbiturate gazpacho for anyone who can tell me where to get María Barranco’s moka pot earrings. I mean. (Also shout-out to Antonio Banderas for his extreme Cary-Grant-in-Bringing-Up-Baby energy.)

In Praise Of... The King of Debunking

Michael Hobbes, @RottenInDenmark on Twitter, co-host of the (top-of-my-to-listen-list) podcast You’re Wrong About, and chronicler, for HuffPost, of the new economy and the unexpected forces shaping how we live. His obesity piece was a game-changer, and forced me to reckon with a lot of my own weight issues as a the daughter of an editor who worked on “slimming” magazines—a phenomenon in the UK in the 80s—which I read religiously as a (very skinny) kid, eating up their success stories about heavy people who crash-dieted their way to love and social acceptability. More recently he’s been writing about the homelessness crisis and the boomer rage that is making it worse, and next up he’s on a story about the sex-offender registry. 

Also: Tonight. Buy an electric candle and find a Lights For Liberty event near you. I’m planning to go down to Foley Square, which feels like quite literally the least I can do.

This letter brought to you by the transcendent Carmen Maura: