I’m deeply sorry for the lack of Staunchly last week. I was visiting DC, but I really thought I could do it all—confront my past in the city of my most intense professional traumas *and* send out a low-stakes weekly newsletter. Lesson learned!
About DC. Last weekend I took my first (and final?) trip back to Washington since moving out in December of 2016. I had been considering the trip for a while but finally booked the tickets the Sunday before in a trademark bout of impulsivity. The purpose of the trip was ostensibly that a bunch of my girlfriends were moving out of a house they had shared for the better part of a decade near H Street.
I never lived in the house, but it was the closest thing I had to a home in DC—a warm place that embraces you as soon as you walk through the door.
The girls decided to throw one last party to honor the space and all its crooked glory. So, I was flying out for that. But also: I was curious, in a masochistic sort of way, if the city had anything left to teach me. Any fresh ways to split my heart.
I roamed DC aimlessly for a couple days before the party, expecting to feel a push and pull with a city that never came. I visited some familiar places, but it all felt rote, like I was performing nostalgia. I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at midnight staring across the reflecting pool at one of the nation’s many sincere tributes to the White Phallus, listening to cheesy Americana—a tested technique proven to catalyze some feeling. But I felt nothing. Nothing except—at the lyric, “last train to the coast”—a hurry to get home.
Anyways, the party was very lovely and very sad. Sometime toward the end of the night, we all gravitated outside and sat knees-to-shoulders on the stoop, a treacherous stack of brick stairs I’d spent many hours looking out from. We shared our favorite memories. The Super Bowls, cookouts, random weeknights spent sunk in the couch, drinking wine and talking about our jobs, our families, the boys who didn’t know what they wanted.
Back inside, we sang along to “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crooked House. I’m just now realizing how perfect it was.
The first episode of Joint Didion, my stoner book club podcast with my pal Lauren Dunitz, is live! The first ep is a little jagged and scrappy, but I think we’re building something pretty special. Give it a listen. It’ll be up on iTunes tomorrow probably!
I hope you like it. If you don’t, please direct all complaints to Dunitz (despite her exhortation in the episode). Though a Gemini, she handles criticism far better than I do and is driven less by a quasi-borderline’s thirst for blood.
(note: my therapist [who is also Lauren’s therapist] subscribes to Staunchly and will be annoyed with me because she keeps telling me I don’t have borderline personality disorder because of my near-debilitating self-awareness and very healthy capacity for empathy. Still, I remain unconvinced. And really who are you going to trust: a medical professional or a person who has seen Girl, Interrupted? Twice.)
Alternatively, if you’re sick of listening to us: this previously-unreleased studio recording of Prince rehearsing “Nothing Compares 2 U” has been playing on loop in my apartment and destroying me in the best way! Listening to it feels like, I dunno, cracking every bone in your body—a sensation of being gummy and whole. I haven’t even had any celebratory 420 weed yet. That’s literally just how good this song is.
I saw Chappaquiddick a couple weeks ago and it twisted my insides. It’s stuck with me ever since (they have not twisted back). I believe strongly that every Democrat has a responsibility to reckon with what happened there, with the idea that one of our most lionized liberal icons—one of my own heroes—left a woman to die at the bottom of a tidal channel. A fact I had almost completely ignored until I was confronted with it in a theater two weekends ago.
So, after snapping at a friend in DC—who had written off the movie as conservative propaganda—I’m reposting what I wrote on Instagram immediately after seeing the movie. It’s safe to say this movie struck a nerve.
Mary Jo Kopechne was brilliant and devoted. She was 28 when she died, fighting for air in an overturned car Ted Kennedy had driven off a road. The story of Chappaquiddick is fundamentally a story of a man’s future weighing more than a woman’s present. It has nothing and everything to do with the Kennedys.
I have been captivated and heartbroken by the Kennedys, urgent in my love for them and debilitated by my disappointment. I owe my (truncated) career in politics to some great men who owe theirs to Teddy. So here is a moment where my two core instincts, towards loyalty and authenticity, clash head-on.
The problem is not (just) that Ted Kennedy made a choice to put his reputation before a human life. But that a variety of factors—the toxic insularity of privilege, bad fathering, implicit and explicit devaluation of female bodies since time immemorial—conspired to even make that a choice in the first place.
What a man could be has always been worth more than what a woman is, but I am grateful that we as a society are finally expanding to make room for these stories: the stories of underwater women and the men who walked away.