UPDATE: I’ve selected a winner for the bag of beauty goodies using a random number selector online. Marty (firstname.lastname@example.org), I’ll be emailing you for your address! Thanks for entering. Will do this again soon!
If you want more Magpie, you can subscribe to my Magpie Email Digest for a weekly roundup of top essays, musings, conversations, and finds.
The most entertaining thing I read this week: the sharp, borderline-throwaway-but-brilliant observations and insights about Taylor Swift and music snobbery in this essay from Tom Cox, an author and music critic. I thought those of us who engaged heavily in the conversation subtitled “what is it about John Mayer?” would appreciate. By the way, I did tune into a few of the live Mayer performances you recommended and found this one, where he’s playing with B.B. King, riveting. Is B. B. King…irritated? with John? Is he being upstaged and outperformed? Maybe the interaction is a cute routine, or maybe it’s more authentic. Either way, Mayer seems/plays oblivious, positively vibrating with a “put me in, coach!” energy. It almost seems like he has to physically restrain himself from jumping in at points, his fingers sliding over the fretboard in hungry anticipation. The video aligned with my preconceptions that a) Mayer is a true musician’s musician: it’s the music gets him up and running and b) he might be kind of obtuse or unaware in the company of others? What might it be like to live life that way? I’m not asking this from a moralist standpoint, but from the perspective that I am always so engrossed and invested in the way others are feeling and expressing themselves that I sometimes strangle my own feelings on their way out. While we’re talking John, a Magpie wrote to implore me to listen to his live album, “Where the Light Is,” recorded in front of a live audience in LA in 2007, and I am obsessed with it. I’d heard most of the tracks over the years, but never end-to-end. His voice has a particular huskiness to it in this performance — the recording set-up? a head-cold? that phase of his vocal life? — that invites a new level of intimacy into his lyrics. That Magpie and I had a side exchange about the fact that we both find his performance of “Free Falling” better than Petty’s — don’t hate us! (I’m scared to write that out loud.) If you doubt this, or, hell, if you agree, you might enjoy watching him perform it live in 2009 in this recording. He’s totally playing to type in the delivery — the smirks, the way he sings “I’m a bad boy,” the unusual pronunciation of “mama,” the way he moves his eyes around during the lyrics. Woof. Is it hot in here?
Anyhow. In the essay, Cox speaks openly about his appreciation for (nay, love of –) Swift, ostentatiously asserting that “Blank Space” is the best pop song of the 21st century, and he goes on to write:
“In terms of genre-switching and remaining relevant, she has already eclipsed Madonna while simultaneously being the Joni Mitchell you can dance to and the nearest thing you could feasibly ever get to a one person Beatles in an era when musical forms are no longer constantly, rapidly reinventing themselves but technology and language are.”
He notes that these perspectives rattle cages, especially among “serious” music people, who feel “let down” by his tastes and are “horrified that I was enthusing about what they perceived as throwaway records liked by teenage girls.” He writes, in reply:
“But musical snobbery can take many different forms. I’ve encountered cheesy pop snobs – people desperate to demonstrate how fun and radical they are by browbeating you in an entirely funless way about all the cheap throwaway songs they like and of their blanket intolerance for any music they view as highbrow or experimental – every bit as thunderingly pretentious as indie snobs or jazz snobs. There are some people who go to such lengths to try to show the world that they are not musical snobs that they invent their own different kind of musical snobbery in the process. In the end, the type of music getting weaponised isn’t the problem. The problem is using a type of music to try to assert your superiority over another human being.“
This felt deeply familiar to me in an adjacent space, as literary tastes have also been “weaponised” in several of the circles in which I’ve traveled in my life. In graduate school, one of my classmates said “We’ll throw in some Foucault for fun” while talking about his syllabus as a T.A., and my stomach clenched uneasily. This was not the kind of person with whom I would feel comfortable enthusing about the latest thriller I’d stayed up reading, which is to say: this was not the kind of person I could be myself in front of.
Over cocktails a few weeks ago, a new friend of mine “admitted” (her words) to loving sci fi novels. “So dorky,” she apologized. I could have thrown my arms around her in joy. Be you! Be weird! I went on to baldly state that I’d much rather be friends with someone with a niche interest and a private passion than someone who can’t name a single thing she’s “crazy” about.
Which leads me to —
I attended a high school established by the nuns of the Visitation, an order that was founded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal in 1610, in Annecy, France. (I mention Annecy only because I was lucky enough to visit while studying abroad in France, and it was a deeply meaningful, if confusing, excursion.) One of St. Francis’ famous sayings became something of a school motto for us Visitation girls:
“Be who you are, and be that well.”
It’s incredible, what the repetition of words can do for you, imprinting themselves on you in spite of your most fervent teenage denials. I did not live my life according to their principle as a teen, but my God, have they come in handy in the years since.
Be who you are. Be that well.
Not too far afield from “What do you want to be known for? Deliver those things with excellence.” And also: “Be an expert in yourself.”
Be you — be weird — be it well.
Also this week…
+A propos of Taylor Swift, I shared on Instagram that I’d been enjoying a delightful speculative side text with my friend Caroline about Traylor (we were zooming in on the smudged lipstick in this photo), and so many of you wrote to say how much you’ve been delighting in following their dalliance. One said: “IDK why but their budding romance brings me such joy. Did I really need glimmers of hope that much?! I guess so LOL.” I totally get this. First, I think so often we trivialize female joy (an element Cox references above, and unpacks a bit more in making the point that female listeners have often been the core demographic for important music phenomena, like the Beatles, Elvis, etc), and why shouldn’t we love following the story of a girl who many of us love falling in love? Second, she is so good at giving her audiences what they want — two albums during the dead months of COVID, juicy lyrics about her famous love affairs, revenge songs…! Surely the publicity of this romance is partly intentional, and we are thankful for that. Below: me in my Swift tee with my girlie on our way to the Eras concert in theater, and my girlie in her boots and tee.
+The photo at top and below: I just learned about the cutest brand called Match South. They make these adorable vintage/collegiate framed matchbook prints, and they sent me the perfect UVA one to add to our little “gallery table” in the front foyer. It has lots of objects/curios on it that we’ve collected over the years and I love having Virginia spotlighted there, too — it’s a big piece of my love story with Landon. More than just a backdrop, really: the place is woven into our romance. Like, The Biltmore is where I first called him “baby,” as I wrote about here, a landmark of love. Anyway, these would be a good gift for a graduating senior, or for a husband/boyfriend, or just as a way to commemorate a college experience you loved.
+The John Derian x Target collection is SO good. My pieces arrived and I’m obsessed. The mushroom plates would make a great seasonal hostess gift, but I’m keeping mine! They are so fun even as trinket dishes, decor, etc. I also ordered the melamine turkey plates/cups for my children’s Thanksgiving table. The plates are a great size and will work for general fall use. My MIL ordered these napkins, and my friend Nan got this tray and tablecloth and I think I might go back for all three! Below, you can also see some of my table linens from Christina Dickson (such great fall patterns! — use code MAGPIE20 for 20% off) and my favorite scalloped rattan tray from Half Past Seven, which was sold out for awhile and now restocked. It’s a great, gracious size (larger than you might think) that is perfect for a bar or coffee table.
+My two most-worn bags at the moment: this Madewell (love the size, strap length, big buckle, and magnetic closure! — and under $200!) and the APC Small Grace bag I eyed for months and months. She’s the perfect shape and has a Celine vibe at 1/3 or 1/4 the price. I noticed that Gilt has this bag in black on super sale and Bloomies’ carries it in a delicious burgundy color that is currently 30% off.
+Goop launched a limited edition collection of its favorite beauty products in honor of its 15th Anniversary, and the packaging is spectacular. These would makes such pretty gifts for a girlfriend, wrapped up in cello. (More thoughts on gift wrap here.) I especially love the idea of gifting the GoopGlow exfoliator, which is one of my favorite beauty discoveries this year (you can read a full review here). I’ve received a lot of PR packages with beauty products this month. I test some of them and give some away to friends, but I’d love to give some of these away to a Magpie reader. If you’d like me to send you a little package with some goodies in it, leave a comment? I have no other way to democratize the selection process. I’ll just randomly select one of the commenters on this post and ship to you. Random side note: below, you can see the edge of my HHH hotel robe. I love it. I get more use out of my Weezie robe (thinner — easier to maneuver around my day / caring for kids / wash the dishes with it on!), but there are those days where you are cold to the bone and ultra-fatigued, and just need to pour yourself into a fluffy, thick, plush hotel robe. And this one is it.
+Lord help me — this boy has me wrapped around his little finger like none other. The age is too cute for words, and I am having so much fun dressing him — something I did not expect out of boy mom-hood. Below, he’s wearing Gap cords, a Gap denim shirt, this fleece vest, and tiny Birk Boston lookalikes.
+I will write more about this soon, but on Thursday, I was able to hear Ann Patchett speak at the Library of Congress (in conversation with celebrated children’s book author Kate Di Camillo, known especially for Because of Winn Dixie, The Magician’s Elephant, and the Mercy Watson series, which several of you recommended for mini a few months ago). I was nearly shaking with excitement. She is a true literary hero of mine, and I know many of you treasure her, too. (As evidenced by my enthusiastic reviews of Dutch House, Commonwealth, and Tom Lake, and your equally effusive comments.) She was just as delightful, brilliant, insightful as I’d expected, and absolutely wonderful on the dais, which is not always a given, if you think about it. Writers are good at communicating on the page, but presenting oneself charmingly, in real-time, in front of a live audience is an entirely different kettle of fish. I have a lot of thoughts tumbling around from the conversation, but I did want to pass along a couple of book recommendations that she was deeply passionate about: Margaret Renkl’s Comfort of Crows (coming out on Tuesday, October 24) and Alice McDermott’s Absolution (coming out on October 31). She specifically said that McDermott has been shortlisted for the Pulitzer three times in her life, and that she staunchly believes she will win it with Absolution. Paying those notes forward! I think I’ll read Absolution next.
+To hear Patchett, I wore the Mother jeans I raved about earlier this week (details on sizing, etc there) with this SEA top and my new Modafleur earrings. When I shared this photo, my girlfriend (who has been singing the praises of these jeans forever), sent me a text urging me to order the same pair in this lighter wash, which she described as “not too light, not too distressed, just right.” A good everyday pair. (PS – yes, I am carrying my beloved UBeauty Lip Plasma. She goes with me everywhere.)
+Final note. A few items on my shopping shortlist at the moment: this Cara Cara dress, the aforementioned John Derian x Target tray, this Parterre dress, U Beauty’s new tinted super hydrator, this Veronica Beard topcoat, these suede tall boots (love the heel and shaft heights — good price, too!)
If you want more Magpie, you can subscribe to my Magpie Email Digest for a weekly roundup of top essays, musings, conversations, and finds. Subscribers will be getting a surprise Thanksgiving treat in their inboxes next week.