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Substack Reads: Marrying down, playing hard, and the beauty of no makeup
Guest editor Kim France shares her top recommended reads this week
Hello and welcome to Substack Reads, guest-edited by me,. This week, we’ve got Leah McLaren on what we notice as writers, Shannon Watts on the importance of play in our adult lives, and Katherine May on getting through winter’s pall.
On a makeup-free Pamela Anderson, and the power of no longer caring about being the prettiest girl in the room
Then came the photos from Paris Fashion Week: striking shots of Pamela Anderson with the glow of someone with purpose and poise, someone well-rested and hydrated and in control. She also, by no coincidence, was completely makeup-free. My Hand In Yours founder Jamie Lee Curtis remarked that this was the sounding bell of the natural beauty revolution, writing, “Pamela Anderson in the middle of Fashion Week, with so many pressures and postures, and and and, this woman showed up and claimed her seat at the table with nothing on her face. I am so impressed and floored by this act of courage and rebellion.”
Author and speaker Shannon Watts writes on the importance of play in our adult lives, what exactly that means, and why you should not be afraid of it
I’ve been in Japan for the past two weeks relaxing, eating, walking and—yes—playing. I haven’t worried about work or the kids or my life back in the states. So it was apropos when I stumbled across this Picasso quote at a museum in Hakone: “It took me … a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Picasso spent his life working to become more playful. Yet so many adults—including myself—do the opposite. The older we get, the less playful we become. As an only child growing up in upstate New York in the 1970s, I spent my free time roaming the woods behind our house; I rode bikes with kids in the neighborhood; and I got lost in books for hours and hours (thank you, Lucy Maud Montgomery).
Songwriter and musician Amy Rigby on the freedom that comes from realizing you are definitively not young anymore
I hadn’t been to the city since my father died in July. And along with any sadness and regret at the passing of the most towering figure I’ll ever know, I’ve noticed an incredible lightness—call it confidence, even—at this new state of being. Yes, there is nothing between me and the void, i.e. I am the elder now. But there’s a freedom I didn’t expect. I can’t pretend to myself or anyone else that I’m young anymore, because I’m no living person’s kid. Along with that arrives a sense of relief that I am the authority now. I never wanted to be that—too much responsibility! Let someone else hold the key. You’d think I would have figured out years ago that the ones in charge don’t know shit, are mostly just winging it like everybody else. I think I’ve spent years in a sort of limbo, no ingenue but unable to own my knowledge and years of experience, but if not now, when?
A fascinating examination of the ebbs and flows of creativity, and why we should take time to “schedule boredom”
More times than I can count, I’ve slid under the bedsheets, turned off the light, and shut my eyes … only to have a great idea pop into my head. I’ll toss and turn for a while, hoping I’ll forget the thought. But if it’s a good one, I’ll turn on the light and, eyes bleary, scribble it down.
When do you feel most creative? I’m surely not the only one with a bedtime burst of creativity. In a 2019 UK survey, more than 40 percent of people said being in bed spurs creativity, admitting they have their best ideas before sleep, in the middle of the night, and just after waking up.
As great as it is to have good ideas, the lights-on, lights-off approach to bedtime and our brain activity is tedious. To have great ideas during the day, we must make time for productive zoning out.
An exploration of why it pays off to pay attention to the “tiny remarkable details of life”
With the animal blessings it might be a scene in a future novel or even just an observation I might use about the passage of time. My changing response to the posters over the years is interesting, I think—it takes me back to the earnestness of new motherhood, when I strove to be perfect, often fretting myself into a state over details I’d now dismiss as trivial. Still. I miss that time. I saw the sweetness and cuteness in everything and tried to cultivate more of it everywhere I went. My scope of vision was certainly narrower than it is now, but there is joy in that. I was so completely focussed on the boys and the state of our house back then. I never considered my own pleasure or how my hair looked. Everything was batch cooking, kitchen gadgets, behaviour charts, Rainbow Music and Gymboree. How to get them to self-soothe, how to sit with the feeling, how to make the perfect roast potato… Their hungers and tempers and sleeping patterns were far more interesting and important than my own back then. They’re still important, I just have more of my sense of myself and the playing field seems bigger, though in reality it probably isn’t.
Best-selling British author Katherine May offers helpful tips on getting through winter’s pall
Despite the problems, I look forward to the light in the dark half of the year. I find summer light too penetrating, spring light too dreary. This is a season of delicious contrasts, of cold blue skies, of glowing light against black mornings. My time spent in the cold North—in Sweden, Norway and Iceland—has been formative for me. Those societies know how to paint with light in winter months, not only using light to see, but instead to create a cosy barrier against the harsh outdoors.
A sharp piece that explores the complications that—statistically—almost inevitably arise when women earn more than their partners
Now, I’m patently ambitious. A climber. A seeker. An achiever. I’m hungry. And I am tired of hiding my ambition under a cloak of smiles and “oh shucks geez” smiles.
But it’s created a tension in my dating life. A quiet buzzing that’s hard to put my finger on. No one will say, “I don’t like you because you are ambitious or make more than me.” Out loud. Not exactly. But the implications are there. The quiet cruelties. One person I was dating, when he found out about my book advance, accused me of being “too commercial” in my approach to writing. Another accused me of using him, and when I asked “for what?” he stopped speaking to me altogether.
Substackers in the press
Slate’s ICYMI podcast featureson “How a Substack Revived the Dracula Fandom.” of and her recent book deal for a “nuanced portrait” of Rupert Murdoch.
What’s happening in the feed
Substack asked you to share a letter you never sent, and you replied in droves:
Letters appeared to passed-away loved ones, estranged friends, old flames, strangers you never knew, and your younger selves:
And to grandparents:
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Substack Reads is a weekly roundup of writing, ideas, art, and audio from the world of Substack. Posts are recommended by staff and readers, and today’s edition was written and curated by
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