Episode 72: Giving and Gifting
Published December 9. 2016.
Ann: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Aminatou: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Ann: I'm Ann Friedman.
Aminatou: And I'm Aminatou Sow. On this week's episode we discuss criticism and feedback from a previous episode, our gift-giving dilemmas, the TV shows and podcasts that are distracting us from the election, and so much more.
Aminatou: Hi Ann! How's it going?
Ann: I mean it's good. I'm many hours ahead still so I'm drinking a hotel happy hour beer and I'm eating beet root potato chips which can I have a pause button here? Why do Europeans say beet root? No one says carrot root, potato root, like all the other vegetables . . .
Aminatou: It's beet root.
Ann: All the other vegetables that are root we don't go out of our way to add root. It's only beet root here. It makes no sense.
Aminatou: Oh my god. You know what? I had honestly never thought of that.
Ann: I know. I'm just like the editor in me wants it consistent.
Aminatou: Well, but the thing is there's beet root but there's also definitely like . . . it's different than like golden beets or garden beets or table beets. But it's . . .
Ann: So it's not called golden beet root?
Aminatou: No, it's not called golden beet root but it's the same goddamn thing.
Ann: I don't know. I'm just like the minor linguistic mysteries of being in another place are endlessly wonderful to me. It's like yeah, why is it called beet root when carrots aren't called roots? I don't know.
Aminatou: Oh my god.
Ann: Anyway, sorry.
Aminatou: Maybe you'll get to the bottom of that.
Ann: Listen, I'm sure that I'll meet some vegetable linguist at some point in my life and can pose this question.
Aminatou: Oh my god. Fingers crossed for our audience that you get to the bottom of this mystery.
Ann: Actually, oh my god, if someone is a linguist who studies vegetable words who's listening to this get in touch.
Aminatou: We have many questions. Mostly I just found out that Roquette and arugula are the same thing like ten days ago and it's blown my mind.
Ann: Wait, you say Roquette like Radio City Music Hall, not rocket like the ship?
Aminatou: Mm-hmm. Yeah, because it's like Q-U-E-T-T-E.
Ann: Only in France, girl. Like . . .
Aminatou: Yes, exactly. Hello? [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, Roquette. I was like what? This is blowing my mind. This was like how when I found out what cilantro was years ago, also blew my mind.
Ann: I mean the cilantro/coriander thing is a bit confusing in the spice aisle for sure.
Aminatou: Yeah, for sure. You know, they don't serve the same function but when I found out it was the same root I was just shocked. [Laughs]
Ann: Coriander root?
Aminatou: Coriander root! Arugula root!
Ann: Anyway, do you want to talk about feelings? [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh my god, I have no feelings. I'm back to peak Amina. What's going on?
Ann: Oh, our listeners have lots of feelings, that's what I was referring to, about our last episode.
Aminatou: Sure, let's talk about it. [Laughs]
Ann: Let's talk about all of the feelings. That's why I said feelings, not your feelings.
Aminatou: I know.
Ann: Or my feelings, but feelings.
Aminatou: But I'm like selfish so I make everything about myself and I heard feelings and I was like me? I don't think so.
Ann: [Laughs] Having no feelings here, not a single one. Nope. Nope. Yeah, so I don't know, we got some emails after our last episode which to refresh your memory/maybe recap for people who didn't listen we were both kind of our worst selves, really stressed and kind of sick and talking at a weird hour which is -- it's not like we said something we didn't want to say, we'll talk about that in a minute, but I think that our tone probably was affected by being in a bad mood and showing up to do this even when we're not happy.
Aminatou: Right, like this podcast does not benefit from anybody being up past 10 p.m. in their time zone. It just doesn't work.
Ann: It's true. Every once in a while we cross the Rubicon into like giddy then it kind of works but most of the time . . .
Aminatou: [Laughs] Yeah, most of the times it's like hmm, this is bad.
Ann: So yeah, so we took a few listener questions. One in particular was a letter from a white woman who was a boss in her small business along with her parents who are the other bosses and essentially wondering how to respond to racist comments made by her colleagues, some of whom she indicated in her letter that she supervised. So that was one of the questions we took and we were pretty straightforward in our answer, which was mention to their faces that they're being racist and don't stand for it because you're the boss. Would you say that's a fair summary?
Aminatou: That's a fair summary. I would also add that that has consistently been our stance on this podcast.
Ann: It's true.
Aminatou: And in our lives. Don't be a coward. Take a stance when something is wrong. You should say it out loud.
Ann: Yeah. So anyway, but this is a broad summary of my reading of a couple of different emails. I'm not reading one in particular here. But it was sort of like "Hey, aren't you guys supposed to be supportive of other women and not tearing them down? Hey, I thought your tone was kind of mean. Why did you have to condescend to this person who wrote in asking a sincere question?" I think that's the general vein of a lot of the feedback that we got about our answer to that which was like I said very straightforward, you need to say something, it's not acceptable not to.
Aminatou: That's fair.
Ann: I would also note -- we did not say this at the time -- but in retrospect, having heard some of the reaction, if we were super excited in cheerleading and even coddling about everything, every question that we got, we would be a totally meaningless cheerleading squad/maybe the lowest common denominator women's magazine. Like we would not be . . .
Aminatou: Oh my god, Ann, isn't that what we're supposed to do though? Like uplift all women and support them and not tell them when they're doing things wrong. Or actually we don't tell people when they're doing things wrong. It's like if you're soliciting our feedback we'll tell you.
Ann: Yeah. Yeah, perfect example. Like, you know, if you are soliciting feedback it's because you genuinely want an answer. And I'm sorry but shine theory doesn't say tell your friends that they're doing great no matter what. Shine theory is like invest in each other. What is a greater investment in someone than being like I think that you are headed down the wrong path here? Or I think that you need to get serious about living your beliefs. Like to me that seems very, very -- like a very important component of substantively supporting someone who has come to you for advice or someone who you care about. It's not just being like cool, you're great, you're great, you're great all the time.
Aminatou: Especially in this moment where we have tangible data, proof, and evidence that things are not going well.
Ann: Yeah, and going way worse for some of us than others. I think that's another thing that's underlying this letter too. This is not someone who is totally powerless. This is someone who's like, you know, inherited a lot of privilege -- sorry, I'm just going to say that -- someone who intangibly in this situation has a lot of privilege as a boss. It's not exactly kicking someone who's down. It's saying to someone with a lot of power "You have a lot of power and you need to use it especially in this moment." I don't know. It's hard for me. I can't step outside myself enough to know whether that completely didn't come across but I think that a critical response was warranted from us which is why we gave it.
Aminatou: I'm like I will constantly be this person. But you know who's not writing us to tell us things like this? Women who are not white. Maybe you should really look really hard and deep and see why this kind of evokes these kinds of feelings in you and why it feels so personal and why you feel the need to be dealt with gently in this moment that is really hard for other people. I find these patterns really, really interesting. It's like we can talk about supporting each other and being there for each other and blah, blah, blah. But when the rubber really meets the road it's like are you willing to do the work? And are you willing to be uncomfortable? Some of us are always uncomfortable because we're not the norm and we're not the default and so maybe you should join us in this place of being uncomfortable and not always expecting everything to go your way.
Ann: I relate. I do relate, I mean not just like hey, I'm a white woman, but I relate to some of these letter writers when I think about various times in my own life when I have been challenged about things that I have said or done in part because there's this feeling that -- here's this white girl feeling of like I'm trying to be good here. Isn't that good enough? Which the underlying assumption there is I get to choose to be active on these issues. Like I could either stay on the sidelines or get in, and the fact that I'm kind of trying to get in and you're still criticizing me is unfair. That's sort of a general sentiment here. And I'm like wow, but you just gave the truth there and it's an option for you to be active on this, you know? That's frankly a very hard thing to get over and it's something that saying like "Don't worry about it, you're already doing great," is not going to help you cross that hurdle into acting is not optional anymore.
Aminatou: You know, like you and I have been feminists for like a minute now. [Laughs] And it's interesting how every year of your life you have these conversations. We were talking about this when we were like 20 in the baby feminist praxis class and now I'm talking about it with grown women who this stuff never hit. Part of everybody trying to be woke together is you need to realize the day that you get woke doesn't mean that it's the first day that people are learning about some of these concepts. Like the first day that you're hit with feminism or, I don't know, you learn about intersectionality or whatever, you need to kind of understand that people have been doing this for a long time. Your insight is great and it's like welcome to the team and we're happy to have you but it's not about you and it's not about centering your own feelings and your own contributions. Like that's not how we win.
Ann: Yeah, and I think that this gets to -- and this is obviously a bigger debate than feminism -- it's sort of this bigger conversation happening right now in the US about do you . . . and this is me summarizing what is a big and thorny debate. Do you try to gently bring people around to the point-of-view that there are big, systemic problems in America? Or do you say honestly get onboard immediately? Like there's no time for your learning curve. And I think the answer to that question varies greatly depending on who you are. I mean I'm a white woman who has had many people take time -- and this is not to be like "And I made it out the other side!"
Ann: Like no, I fuck up all the time. Like I don't mean to say that at all. I also really -- like I said, I relate to a lot of the sort of underlying defensiveness or "Hey, shouldn't you be nice?" or "I'm trying." I've had those feelings so many times. But I think these questions of who's responsible for kind of bringing people around slowly, like waking people up slowly versus who's already there and doesn't have time to wait? There's a big part of it that is like who are you talking to and what spaces are you talking in and who are you expecting to do what kind of work for you?
Aminatou: Yeah. I'm like that Judge Judy GIF where she's just tapping her wrist for the time. I'm like we don't have time. Like it's time to go right now. [Laughs] You know, I think that part of the reason that this is also hard for me is I hear the criticism and I hear feedback and it's not like I'm afraid of criticism or feedback. It's like actually please, more of this, because that's where we get real and that's where things change. It's not when we're all being cheerleaders and like this squad's so great. But I think it is hard as a woman of color to just constantly hear white women say "I'm here. Take care of me. Do the work for me." And I know that that's not the intention. None of this is selfish. It's like obviously we're living in a very weird and hard time right now and I'm really sympathetic to that. But it is just so inherently selfish to just want people of color to shepherd you through crises. Like that's not okay.
Ann: And even if that isn't the ask in this particular question that we fielded, I do think that having a really straightforward response that's like "Why aren't you doing something already? Obviously you should say something," which was our straightforward response, is something that you should also expect from white people in your lives, right? Like if that were the default assumption of all white people -- because among my friends I feel like this is a conversation I have with other white people quite a bit -- if it were like yeah, of course you need to say something, and let's talk about exactly what you're going to say and how as opposed to I don't know, should she speak up? I think part of that too is holding -- and this is now for you, white letter writers, holding each other to a higher standard where the assumption is we're obviously acting and now in what way as opposed to should we do something? Like what should we do? You know? And yeah, part of that is . . .
Aminatou: Right? And the standard is do more and be better. It doesn't matter how much you have done. The work of being free is never-ending. We're not going to get to this place where it's like okay, everything is great for everyone now. But for every single person we can always do more and we can always be better. It's ridiculous to think that that's not the case.
Ann: I sometimes, when trying to decide what to do in a difficult situation, this is 100% journalist me being like what do I want the headline to be here?
Ann: Ann sat quietly and picked her cuticles, you know? Or . . .
Aminatou: When the republic was falling. [Laughs]
Ann: I mean or like when someone you thought was pretty cool said something terrible, or things that feel more surprising and micro even. I don't know. Sometimes I'm like what is the story?
Aminatou: I know, but get this, it's really easy to sit back when nobody else is challenging you or you feel you can just skate by.
Ann: Oh, 100%. That's why I use the headline exercise. It's like what would you want broadcast about this moment?
Aminatou: Amina was a ball of anxiety in the moment. That's the headline.
Ann: Well that's an acceptable reaction for you, let's be real. It's not an acceptable reaction for me, to be real.
Aminatou: I'm glad that we're talking about this. I hope that it's helpful to some people and . . .
Ann: Yeah. Again, not to be super editorial about this, but I thought about a lot of this feedback. And I think part of it is we skirt this line between our show is a conversation between me and you, and as you pointed out we're maybe in a different place than some people who are listening, like many different places. And how do we -- understanding like yes, we want to interact with the people who listen to this podcast but at the same time ultimately it is kind of a conversation between me and you. It's not a teaching podcast. This is not like a how to bring people into the fold explicitly.
Aminatou: This podcast is for people who have their foot on the gas. You know, this car left a long time ago.
Ann: [Laughs] Sometimes we're hanging on to the bumper. We're like barely riding, like hanging onto the side with a skateboard. Yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah. But you know the other thing too, not to make this too meta, the reason you and I can have these conversations is because there's also a level of trust, right? I know that all of these things that you're saying are not just platitudes. I see the ways in which you are challenged and the ways in which you respond to challenges and I know you. And so the secret of Call Your Girlfriend, the hosts know each other.
Ann: Oh my god, I just had a feeling like when they used to say in church, when God is like "I have known you since I formed you," or whatever, I was like oh my god, Amina, I'm feeling it. [Laughs]
Aminatou: No, you know what I mean? It's like I know you. I know that you don't just like, I don't know, step up to a microphone and say crazy shit and then, you know, go live in your wild white woman ways.
Ann: I am drinking beer in a hotel room, speaking of wild white woman ways. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know. I'm just like Ann, what? Come home immediately. We have big, major problems here.
Ann: I'm in a hotel room in Austria. Oh my god.
Aminatou: And I think that for all of these listeners who are like "Me and my friends are so scared to give you feedback or blah, blah, blah," you need to form your own support system where you find people that you trust and you challenge each other in those ways. It's like the reason that this works is because we have that level of accountability. It's like if you listen to this podcast and you enjoy some of what you say, that's one of the lessons. It's like find your people and hold your people accountable and build with them.
Ann: Yeah, 100%. It's not . . . I don't know. We're in this weird space of I obviously understand this is a semi-public conversation and I think that there's good things that come out of us having these conversations publicly. But you're right, it's really different than the kind of work you do with people who you know intimately, who know your whole story, not three paragraphs in an email. And that's a place where I think working out some of these really difficult things, especially about how to be, frankly, an ethical and active person at this point in time, that's the best place for those conversations aided with a lot of Googling because there are many resources.
Aminatou: Right? This person I know always used to say this: we're not a family, we're a community. Like it's conditional love. And I'm like that's true. The only way that we know each other is by our actions.
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Aminatou: What else are we going to talk about when we're not having meta conversations? [Laughs]
Ann: About our own podcast.
Aminatou: I know. It's really weird to have that conversation though. It's like one day when we do the real behind the scenes at Call Your Girlfriend . . .
Ann: Oh my god, VH1 Behind the Podcast.
Aminatou: Yeah, VH1 Behind the Podcast. What's going on that's fun?
Ann: Definitely it is the time, if you do Christmas or assorted December holiday giving, it's sort of the time to think about that. I did all of that stuff way early because I sent people presents before I left on this massive trip.
Ann: I know. It's because I had guilt about not being with my family for Christmas and I was like so I'm going to send you presents ahead of time even though that's capitalism 101 failure where I'm like oh, I decided not to spend this time with you so I sent you a gift in advance. It's the worst.
Aminatou: That's the best of capitalism though.
Ann: But I really do like talking about what makes a good gift. Like that's one of my favorite kind of dumb service journalism things about this time of year, like what makes a good gift, how to think about giving, how to think about donations versus time versus physical presence. I actually really love that conversation.
Aminatou: Oh my god, okay. What makes a good gift?
Ann: I mean you tell me.
Aminatou: I don't know. I feel like I'm not a great gift giver right now. Well, I think moving has a lot to do with that but also . . .
Ann: Oh, totally.
Aminatou: I love giving gifts where it's somebody needs something, like you identify an immediate need and then you fill it. And it doesn't have to be anything fancy or crazy; it's just this is an essential that you need to have, you know? Or it's like they have a thing that's no longer great and we're replacing that for them. It's when I get really high from giving gifts.
Aminatou: On the other end of the spectrum I also love giving completely ridiculous gifts. It's like hi, you did not know you needed this ultra-silky seven foot long scarf with hilarious drawings on it. I don't do the kitschy Internet gifts. I'm trying to be better at that. Like I have a friend who's so great at that. It's like you like a meme, she'll find the thing for you, and I was like god, I'm so not good at that. I'm very extreme. Either it's very servicey like hi, you need this in your life, or here is a ridiculous, luxurious, crazy gift. And I also like to give books to my friends who like to read. It's like if I like a book, everybody's getting it that year.
Ann: Yeah. Talking about this around holiday time is a little weird because I think that if I look at my own gift giving history of physical gifts, the best I've ever done is when I see a thing and think of someone and it's not tied necessarily to a holiday, or maybe I buy it and squirrel it away for months and months, you know? That's like my best work.
Aminatou: You're so good though at there are many things in this box gifts. I'm so impressed by that.
Ann: You know, I think it comes from being a Midwest lady where we love the gift basket. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah. It's like you get a box from Ann Friedman, there's hella shit in there and it's crazy.
Ann: I know, little tiny treats. I do enjoy that. I really like mailing gifts, like the idea that this is a physical thing because I couldn't physically be there which I guess I've already sort of discussed. Especially if I can mail them myself. Sometimes I will order Internet things to my own house and then re-send them so I can be like it came from me, not from a fulfillment service.
Ann: Which is a weird also I think at this point extremely old-fashioned point-of-view about it. I don't know.
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm letting Amazon take care of a lot of my gift giving this year. What?
Ann: Yeah, so I don't know. It's an interesting thing too to think about the donation-based gifts which is like appropriately so of the moment, like this year I think lots of people are talking about just giving donations instead of physical presents.
Aminatou: Yeah. I saw friend-of-the-podcast Laura Olin was tweeting about this, about doing donations instead of physical gifts, and I was like this is such a smart idea in this moment. You know, it's like sometimes it's a little bit fraught. I have people that send me gifts. It's like for the conservative people in my life, every once in a while I'll donate to Planned Parenthood and send them the certificate. You know, that's a fraught thing to do. I think that this holiday season this is something that's really good, especially because in my friend circle at least people have been talking -- it's interesting to have this dual conversation about ugh, consumerism is so awful and whatever, and everybody is just feeling the need to do something and to do more. And I think that really taking time to research places that you want to give to and spending money that way is such a powerful way to be a consumer but it's also such a powerful way to be a community together. And so I think that's really cool.
Ann: There are definitely some people who are important to me who are getting donation gifts this year, and this again goes back to my old-fashioned ways, but the standard that I set for myself because it's in some ways the best gift you can give but in other ways I'm like this feels kind of weirdly impersonal, you know? I'm like oh, it's between . . . the transaction feels like it's between me and someone else, not me and the person I'm giving it to. I sort of set a standard for myself that I'm going to write a little letter that is not only hey, I made this donation for you as a gift but that has a little bit of an explanation as to why, or why I thought . . . in the same way that if you buy someone a toilet brush or whatever, you're like "This is what I thought of you, to buy this toilet brush."
Ann: "This is what I thought of you, to buy this silky scarf."
Aminatou: Please tell me somebody has bought you a toilet brush.
Ann: No, the closest was you buying me a trash can. I'm sorry. [Laughs]
Aminatou: It was a very nice trash can.
Ann: Listen, it remains to this day one of the top five gifts I've ever received so . . .
Aminatou: Oh my god.
Ann: It does. But anyway, writing a little note that's like this is why I chose to donate to this place. This is why you are an important part of my community and why I wanted to donate to reflect that. Like, I don't know, something that is . . .
Aminatou: That's really thoughtful, Ann. I love that.
Ann: That is how I'm getting around the -- and whatever, some people are getting physical gifts too, it's not everyone, but that's kind of how I'm getting around the feeling.
Ann: You know, there's an old Seinfeld joke about it being a copout, like I'm just going to write a card that says I gave to the whatever organization for you then I don't actually . . .
Aminatou: Sierra Club. [Laughs]
Ann: Yeah, exactly. But yeah, so it's the opposite.
Aminatou: How are you picking where you're donating for specific people? Or are you just donating to the same org in the name of multiple people?
Ann: Well, it kind of depends. It's funny, your remark about the conservative people in your life. You know, for most people I think about something that they are very invested in that I also agree with. Like this is sort of I think long, peacemaking skills with my Catholic family. But I'm like oh, we're both into direct services for immigrant families. What is an organization that supports the fact that you are newly woke about this issue because of a seminar at your church and the fact that I also care about it?
Ann: You know, then a donation being like hey, I see that this is something that you really care about. I also care about it. I made this donation which unites us. So I don't know, I think I'm thinking in this particular moment about a lot of direct services organizations which is not to fault anyone's donations to the ACLU or to NARAL. But when I think about who is really going to hurt based on our incoming president's policies, I don't know, I think that a lot of non-profits are going to have to fill the gap. So I really love the National Network of Abortion Funds as a way of basically being like hey, I helped fund an abortion for you for Christmas, for a woman who needed it. Like that was your Christmas gift. Like hell yes, that's such a great specific . . .
Aminatou: I know. That's such a great -- please, I would respond very positively to that gift. That's great.
Ann: Exactly. And it's weirdly because it's specific, I can Google how much an abortion costs in most places in America. I can make a donation of that amount. I can connect the dots in a letter to you. That to me is kind of a perfect gift for a pro-choice friend.
Aminatou: That's awesome.
Ann: What about you?
Aminatou: I really like . . . obviously I made the joke about donating to Planned Parenthood for the ultra-conservative people in my life. But like you I like causes that really unite us. I really like donating to veteran and military organizations, so Fischer House is great and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America where I used to work has been also a great place to help me honestly connect with people in my life that I don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with on some of the political spectrum or we're not super close, but knowing that we care about some of the same issues is super crucial. Yeah, you know, and I think this point that you made about direct services is really important because one of the things that a lot of people are feeling right now is how can I be effective? How can I have the highest impact possible? And knowing that your money goes towards helping people in really specific ways that they need is really awesome.
Ann: Yeah, 100%. I think that one thing that's been really tough for me, thinking about not just gifts but now I think I'm talking about my own personal giving this year, is we did a call to action donation for an organization called ZanaAfrica last year which hands out menstrual supplies and educational materials to girls in Africa. You know, we raised, collectively us and everyone who listens to this podcast, we sent a lot of money to that organization. And we talked then I think in some subsequent episodes too about how powerful it is to be an ongoing donor to an organization like that that is doing work that the need is not going away anytime soon. And then to sort of couple that idea, like that kind of giving philosophy, with this immediate need that I think a lot of us are seeing in the US in the coming years and trying to figure out where my money makes sense and how to split it up has been hard.
Aminatou: Yeah, that's been honestly the hardest thing because in the aftermath of the election I just setup all these recurring donations to a lot of domestic organizations that I felt were really important to me. And I do think there is something -- being a steward of a particular organization is great, wherever they're situated or whatever work they do, because it creates this consistency for the org themselves, you know? When they know how much money is coming in, they know how to have donor relationships with people, and their work is invaluable and it's great. But I think that this point that you made about the focus, right, where it's like what do I care about but also where am I needed right now? That has been really tough for me in trying to figure that out. And so I've been talking to a lot of other people about it. It's been really interesting just asking our friends what kind of their strategy is and everybody's kind of doing it differently, but this point kept coming back over and over again. It's like do I feel guilty about, I don't know, the goat I support every year or whatever? What's the really cool charity that does the animals?
Ann: Heifer International is the give a goat one.
Aminatou: Yes. I have never given but I love their ad so much maybe I should give this year.
Ann: Oh my god, I last minute got my mom goats three years in a row for Christmas.
Aminatou: Yeah, I feel like we have a friend who's really into Heifer. I forget who it is. But it's like I love their ads all the time. Never give. I'll change that because of how excited it just made me. Is that where my focus is, or do I care about these very serious domestic threats that we're facing right now, right? And I think there has to be a way that we're able to do both. It's like keep using your money in ways that matters to you and it really sends a signal about your values.
Ann: Yeah, I don't know. In previous years I have made sure to do local and national giving. There's a few local organizations that I donate to every single year. And it's been interesting this year too to think about like okay, well just in terms of again thinking about disproportionate impact that this president is likely to have, I'm like yes there are obviously people with needs that live in Los Angeles, that live in California, but should I be looking at an organization that is also focusing on vulnerable LGBT teens who don't live in California? Or, you know, I think the answer that I eventually came down on was maintaining my existing donations and giving more in this moment because the need is greater. But I don't know. I don't know how you answer that question.
Ann: If you can, you know? I don't know.
Aminatou: Yeah, I don't know if you can answer that question because I'm also finding myself being very reactionary to things that are happening, like Paul Ryan gave that awful speech this week where he basically said that kids who are on free lunch don't have a soul. I'm paraphrasing.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: But he said something really bad. His whole thing is how he's going to fix poverty because poor people don't have dignity, right? And it's like just hearing him say that, I went to private school, I was never on school lunch, but some of my bestest friends were on school lunch. And hearing him say that was so crazy to me, I called two local schools near me and asked if I could pay off some of the balances on the free lunch. And schools will let you do that. It's like it was such an easy, painless, fuck you Paul Ryan thing to do in that moment, you know? And just, yeah, it's like if you don't want kids to be hungry at school maybe you should pay their parents a living wage. But also really educating yourself, like that is a really hyper local issue that everybody can be a part of and it just took a little bit of research and calling to do. But I'm finding that I'm reacting really strongly in the news cycle. And, you know, I don't know that that . . . obviously in the moment it made me feel good and it was great and I was like I want to look at a way to do this at a higher scale. But really taking that time to think about how much money am I giving this year? Where is it all going to? What are the things that matter to me? It turns out it's a lot. And figuring that out, I don't have a real answer to that.
Ann: Okay, factcheck.org, actually the Paul Ryan story was from two years ago and he didn't really say that kids on school lunch or kids on reduced lunch or whatever have empty souls, which was the quote. But I think that the fundamental point of here is someone who does not have a great history of funding something like school lunch programs I think totally stands. You know what I mean?
Aminatou: Yeah, it's like he says -- here's what he says. I'm pulling it up from the CPAC thing. Yeah, it's crazy, it's like the story just resurfaced. It came to me yesterday. It's like what they're offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. It's like hmm, maybe you should pay their parents more money.
Ann: Right. So his whole thing was like -- he was accusing people on the left of supporting school lunch programs and not supporting job programs which is not true. But anyway, so that's where the quote is from. Anyway, I don't mean to defend Paul Ryan because Paul Ryan is a vile human. I'm just saying like . . .
Aminatou: I thought you were going to say because he works out and his body is sick and I was going to leap through this podcast and punch you.
Ann: I really wish that I had his personal phone number when I did some of the horrible Nazi regime exhibits in Berlin to text him quotes about all of the politicians who fell in line.
Ann: I just want to be like "Is this how you want history to remember you? Here's a mugshot." I'm sorry, that was extreme but . . .
Aminatou: I love the idea of you and Paul Ryan being on texting basis. That makes me very happy.
Ann: Oh my god, ugh. Like I don't even know. My emoji game would have to change so extremely to develop the sort of negative chastising edge . . .
Ann: It would just be like you know that no emoji? The circle with the line through it.
Aminatou: Yes. Oh my god.
Ann: I would just be watching the news texting him that with no comment all the time.
Aminatou: Oh my god. Oh my god.
Ann: Anyway . . .
Aminatou: This whole exercise of giving money too, it's interesting to think about when you think about your own finances and where you're at and what's an amount of money that won't break the bank but is significant to you and all of that stuff. It's like we're all navigating this together.
Ann: Yeah. I think the other thing that you can do, and this goes back to the whole contextualizing it with how you communicate it to someone, but if you don't have money to make a donation in someone's name you can totally be like "I'm going to sign up to be a clinic escort and I'm doing that three days a week and part of the reason I'm doing it is it's part of your gift."
Ann: Or to say that I can't donate money but I'm going to donate some time for you, and not everybody has time or money. But again trying to think a little bit creatively about using gift giving as a motivation to do things that you already have the desire but maybe haven't followed through on yet is a cool way to think about it.
Aminatou: Yeah. And I mean if you have awesome gift giving strategies or you're way far ahead of us on this we'd love to hear from you.
Ann: Oh my god, yes. Yeah, tangible ideas too are also valid. I don't know, it is nice to get the right stuff occasionally, you know? Not like a deluge of meaningless shit.
Aminatou: [Laughs] A deluge of meaningless shit? I'm making that t-shirt for myself. [Laughs]
Ann: I mean Christmas, right?
Aminatou: Oh my god, that's my own gift for myself. Do you buy yourself Christmas presents?
Ann: I mean I would like to tell you no but practically speaking I feel like being out in the world at a time when I'm maybe trying to buy something for someone else, it happens.
Aminatou: Listen, I not only buy myself presents I get them wrapped. I am very excited about this.
Ann: Oh my god. Do you do it in advance so you don't remember what you got yourself?
Aminatou: No, no, no. It's like when I'm out and about doing my Christmas shopping or whatever, if I see things that I want or I know things that I want, it's maybe the one time of the year where if there's a physical store of the thing then I will go to it and I'll get it gift wrapped and then I'll take it home and destroy the gift wrap and do whatever. It's perfect.
Ann: Oh my god, I love that. I suffer from/am blessed with an early January birthday so I always buy myself a birthday present which you could say bleeds into Christmas season as well. I'm very committed, in the way that you are committed to the Christmas gift for yourself, very committed to a self birthday gift.
Aminatou: Oh man, that's so good. I should start giving myself a birthday gift. I don't give myself enough gifts.
Ann: Oh my god. I believe very strongly in the importance of birthdays. Like it's like honestly . . .
Aminatou: No, that had never even occurred to me.
Ann: Yeah. You're like girl, Amina, you made it another year. That's what the birthday gift to yourself says.
Ann: It says thanks for sticking with me, self.
Aminatou: Thanks for another year around the sun, self. You've got it.
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: Treat yourself moments. I love it.
Ann: Oh my god, completely. But I think that, yeah, that just has to do with my point-of-view. I'm also someone who gets really upset when people hate celebrating their birthday, which I know, live and let live, right? Everyone can choose for themselves. But I'm just like I feel so strongly that birthdays are great.
Aminatou: You have really taught me the art of the birthday celebration. I will say I'm not great at it every year but I was like oh, you can aspire to do better.
Ann: You mean the international Aminatou Sow day? You don't want to celebrate it?
Aminatou: [Laughs] Oh my god.
Ann: I'm there for that holiday.
Aminatou: That is how you make it feel. [Laughs]
Ann: Exactly! Like that is like . . . everyone is like Pitbull, Mr. International on your birthday.
Aminatou: I'm just like I can't handle it. I was like that's why my birthday's not on social media. I just want low-key things.
Ann: I'm not talking about what other people say about your birthday; I just mean how you act on your birthday.
Aminatou: I know, but I feel like for me at least up until maybe this moment when you said it those things are very tied to each other.
Ann: Right, right.
Aminatou: And it's like hmm. It's like if you don't acknowledge it then maybe other people won't acknowledge it.
Ann: Right. I mean and if that's what you want to happen, listen, I can't be a birthday dictator here. All I'm saying is . . .
Aminatou: You are a birthday dictator though, but in the best way possible. [Laughs]
Ann: A birthday despot.
Aminatou: Yeah, you're like the Stalin of birthdays but you did so much for Russia. [Laughs]
Ann: Stroking my fine mustache over here. Yeah.
Aminatou: Can I tell you one of the depressing things that I'm doing to wait out these next four years?
Aminatou: So I got a ginormous TV with too much cable. Like I'm going to be watching TV. But I finally discovered the Oliver Stone history documentary on Netflix. It's like Untold History of the United States or something. But it's so depressing. My god, it's like ten episodes of just like Oliver Stone narrating US history to you and I was like this is my personal rock bottom and I'm so . . .
Ann: Is this like Oliver Stone tries to Howard Zen?
Aminatou: 100%. It's so depressing but I love it and I'm just like this is my personal -- this is rock bottom. And I sit there and I drink tea and I'm like my god, Eisenhower is the worst. [Laughs] And just watch. It's very, very sad. But also he has a point. He's like I love history. Then I started looking at my children's homework and they don't teach you shit at school. And I was like accurate. Thank you. Thank you, Oliver Stone.
Ann: It's true, but I feel like that about every time I read something that contains a fact that seems like it should be so well-known it should be blasted on the covers of history books, and I learn it for the first time at age 35. Like there are so many of those. I should start keeping an a-ha journal.
Ann: It's true. It's like it's really amazing. You think you have a modicum of education and you've read some books and basic stuff.
Aminatou: That's literally what the phrase stay woke is about. It's like no, we're not woke enough. What's one fact that you just learned that you were like how did I not know this?
Ann: Well, due to the . . . I'm sorry to keep bringing us down with my visits to Holocaust museums recently.
Aminatou: No, I love it.
Ann: But there are a bunch of photos in one of them of women being humiliated in public squares with Nazi soldiers shaving their heads because they consorted with political dissidents.
Ann: Or Jews, or other figures. And I think I had some vague recollection of head shaving as public shaming. That didn't sound totally new to me. But just the prevalence of that as a technique really early in the regime and how it was specifically used to sort of keep women from dissenting. I don't know, it was something that maybe I had kind of heard of in passing but it never stuck out for me in history class or whatever.
Aminatou: Oh, man.
Ann: I'm like that's something that I've been thinking about in those photos. There was also a photo I saw of Himmler laughing, just uproariously laughing with his assistant, that has been haunting me for a week.
Ann: I just feel like a lot of the lesser . . . you know, growing up you learn like Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, and maybe a few other names as you get older. But just this idea of a broad-based understanding of terrible things happening in history because of groups of complicit people and systems. Like complicated, real history. I don't know if Oliver Stone gets at that but I feel like that's the shit.
Aminatou: Listen, so far Oliver Stone is treating me right. [Laughs] Just like depressing history documentaries. Something that is not depressing that I'm learning so much about though is on this other podcast, Presidents are People Too, that is hosted by my friend Alexis, it's been so great. I started listening. It's like I had maybe listened to two episodes before the election and I was like fine, maybe one day I'll make time for this. And then post-election depression hit and I'm like I only have time.
Aminatou: That podcast is fantastic. It's like you just learn so much about presidential history which I knew nothing. It's like talk about finding out that you're a complete dweeb who knows nothing. I'm like I knew nothing. Like I just know nothing about presidents. And yeah, they break it down president by president. They don't go in chronological order which I really appreciate. And yeah, it's just really smartly done and just teaches you so much and I'm like wow, 31, still so much to fucking learn. This is crazy. But it's been like a bomb to the soul during this tumultuous time.
Ann: I mean there is something that is kind of comforting, and god, I can see why old people are always reading historical-heavy biographies and stuff.
Ann: I'm like the longer you lived, history does get more interesting. Or the more that you've seen. It is both important, terrifying, comforting. I mean that Rebecca Solnit book Hope in the Dark which has been circulated a lot lately I've been re-reading and she has this whole part about understanding the past is not just important for being wary of what could happen in the future, but important because it has all these lessons about how people overcame really, really terrible shit. And so I don't know. History, yes.
Aminatou: Yeah, history. Also it just makes me feel so young and nave and like the sun still rises type feelings, you know what I mean?
Ann: Oh, completely. Yeah.
Aminatou: Where you're just like oh, but also some of it is sometimes hilarious. You're like wow, Germany and Austria are the only things that are standing in the way of global fascism right now. That's crazy. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh, and you know, maybe that's because this shit is taught really young in Germany like repeatedly, you know what I mean?
Aminatou: Yeah. It's like -- I'm like they know. They know. They know. I'm reading that Ari Berman book on voting rights again and that's been really good.
Aminatou: Because I'm just like yeah, all of the things that I was not sufficient educated about during the election, like this is a great time to learn about them instead of getting outraged that hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin for example couldn't vote. It's like oh, now I can read about it and find out exactly what the deal is and what the history of voter suppression is in this country and how it manifests and how it plays out. It's like also I didn't really know a ton about the electoral college. I'm reading about that now. It's great to know these things not every four years, you know?
Aminatou: It's an interesting time, but also yeah, I'm just like wow I am consuming so much history content right now because I'm depressed and anxious and that's the only thing that helps.
Ann: I mean maybe we're also back to good gifts. I feel like a really relevant book on a historical topic would be such a good gift at this time too.
Aminatou: Yeah. It's like good dad gift, good friend gift. Yeah, definitely.
Aminatou: Oh man, now you're making me want to ask all the older people in my life what their favorite historical books are.
Ann: I love that idea. I mean shout out to all the baby history majors who got this a lot younger than I did.
Aminatou: Yes, word.
Ann: Because I'm like . . . yeah.
Aminatou: You guys are on it.
Ann: Here I am reading about the Habsburgs for the first time at the museum today.
Aminatou: No, stop it. [Laughs]
Ann: No, not the first time. But you know. You know.
Aminatou: No, I'm just laughing because that's my funnest -- I think the funnest period of history in French school because they're so dismissive of everybody but at the same time it's like yes, I love royalty.
Ann: I mean it's also so dramatic. I walked through a hall of Kaiser coins today and I was just like this is the most . . .
Aminatou: [Laughs] You're like Europe, so drama. So great.
Ann: Europe has no chill. I'm like wow, you put more ornate shit on top of that ornate shit and then made coins to house there?
Aminatou: Yeah, but also here's the thing, right? It's like that's what happens when your history is longer than 300 years, you know what I mean?
Ann: Oh yeah.
Aminatou: People have been out here. There's a fantastic aside about this in the Amanda Knox documentary where this . . .
Ann: Oh my god, stop. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I love it. But where this Italian lawyer has finally had it. I think he's the lawyer of the boyfriend or some shit and he's just had it with the Americans and he's like "When you guys were still living in caves we were doing XYZ in Italy." And it was hilarious. And I was like oh my god, even in the Amanda Knox documentary you can take time out to learn about Italian history. It's so fascinating.
Ann: It's so true, but I find a way to be an obnoxious American even about that. I'm like yeah, you had learned about some repressive monarchies by then but you hadn't figured out anything related to shit I care about. Like you figured out how to make one inbred family really rich. That's all you figured out.
Ann: Like good job. Like talk about not making society work for everyone.
Aminatou: Oh my god. Speaking of, this is when I plug you need to watch The Crown on Netflix so we can LOL about it.
Ann: Oh my god, I'm watching it. I am watching it.
Aminatou: Ann, I'm dying and laughing so hard because only the royals take royalty seriously, right?
Ann: I know. It's so LOL.
Aminatou: You're living in a prison of your own making. Nobody gives a shit. Let Margaret wear pants. Let her marry the divorcee. This is ludicrous. People do not care. And I'm just like I can't handle it. It's like I laugh so hard. Yeah, and then it's like oh, you know how the rest of the story unfolds so it's also amazing.
Ann: I was reading a novel that was set in California and I was too mentally elsewhere. I was like I need to get with some pop culture that is set in the place I'm hanging out with right now which is how I got there. But yeah.
Aminatou: Yo, The Crown, for real, it's so good. That actress that places Elizabeth, give her every price. Like it's amazing.
Ann: It's also like, I mean, much like the monarchy itself, boring enough that I can watch it before bed and I'm not still thinking about it.
Aminatou: Oh yeah, definitely. [Laughs]
Ann: Right to sleep. Like my mind is not running. I'm just gone.
Aminatou: Yeah. You know how I love to wolf down shows? This was definitely a one episode at a time, like my god, this is so boring and fascinating at the same time. Just like LOL for days. Nobody cares about these rules that you've made for yourself. This is why you're miserable. Let go.
Ann: I mean that's also how I feel about Europe. Nobody cares about these rules you made for yourself. Like I learned that I was cutting my food wrong the other day.
Aminatou: You are cutting your food wrong. [Laughs]
Ann: And I was like can't I live? Don't you understand there are actual problems in the world that's not how I cut my ravioli?
Aminatou: Listen, nothing is more traumatizing for me than like cutlery placement in the Sow family and learning how to eat all foods right. The fact that I survived my family being crazy about that is how I know I'm going to be okay on all other facets of life. It's just stressful.
Ann: Oh my god, you'll just . . . or when you finally . . .
Aminatou: But yeah, that's the thing about watching The Crown is you're just like wow, people do so many things out of obligation and tradition and nobody gives a shit. [Laughs] We were all . . . if we were all real and honest all the time we wouldn't have to go through this stupid paternalism that we've invented for ourselves.
Ann: I know. I would have like a sweatpants and mac and cheese empire if you put me in charge of things.
Ann: I would not be making rules for myself that were horribly restrictive. Yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah. I'm like what's the whole point of being queen if you can't make the rules? [Laughs] This is not how the game is played, Elizabeth.
Ann: I know. Well, then there's the other thing too where there's like these bad boy/bad girl rule-breaking monarchs who break the rules for themselves.
Aminatou: Yo, shout out Margaret though. She's been breaking rules. [Laughs]
Ann: Shout out Margaret, but then they have kids and they conscript them into the same bullshit they avoided.
Aminatou: Oh, one hundo. Isn't that what all of parenting is? [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god. I think it's worse if you're a monarch.
Aminatou: No, it's crazy. It's people just want bread and clean water. They do not care about your weirdo . . .
Ann: You can't give them bread and clean water when you're making all those coins and jewels. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh my god, so tacky. Also, yeah, I'm like you people are lazy. What do you actually do for work? Yeah, I went down this deep rabbit hole of how does the royal family support themselves?
Ann: Oh, welfare.
Aminatou: And let me tell you, welfare of the highest order. It's crazy. They should get jobs.
Ann: And now they're dumping all this money into Buckingham Palace. It's crazy.
Aminatou: I know, like it's a complete dump. The whole thing is crazy. Thank you, Netflix. The Crown is amazing. I'm so glad I watched.
Ann: The other thing that I watched lately that I love so much is Grayson Perry, the British artist, has a series about masculinity that I believe is not super old but not super new either. And I've been watching that and it's really well-done. I also recommend that. In other modern, slightly more relevant British television.
Aminatou: Oh, that's great. The other great British TV I watched recently was Chewing Gum which was amazing. You know all of those coming of age, like teen TV shows where it's like boy learns about his body and now he just wants to have sex with someone at all costs? Like those movies?
Ann: [Laughs] Yeah.
Aminatou: It's that except the main character is an amazing black girl who lives in a low income like estate in England, in London, and it's amazing.
Ann: Ugh, yes.
Aminatou: Ann, you have to watch at least one episode of it and you'll die.
Ann: I will.
Aminatou: It's like she has this really conservative boyfriend who is not down for the sex and then she meets somebody else but they're all goofballs. And it's so cringeworthy also. Just awful, awful, awful moments happen to hilarious people.
Ann: Ugh, yes, I will definitely watch.
Ann: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com. You can also download this podcast on any app you like to use to listen to these, but iTunes especially and we would love a review there. You can tweet at us or find us on Instagram at @callyrgf. We're also on Facebook. Or you can email us at email@example.com. Or you can leave us a voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.
Aminatou: Gina! Miss you so much girl!
Ann: I know. So far away, Gina.
Aminatou: So far away. Okay, see you on the Internet, booboo.
Ann: See you on the Internet.