Deep Dive w/ Kate Kennedy - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled “Deep Dive w/ Kate Kennedy.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
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Nora: Hello, everybody. It's Nora McInerny. This is "Terrible, Thanks for Asking." When this episode comes out, it is November 3rd, 2020. It is Election Day here in the United States. And it's all anybody has been thinking about or talking about for a long time — with good reason. It's a very important election.
Once you’ve voted, there's just sort of nothing else you can do but just wait and see what happens. And in that wait, during the last election, I really spiraled. I really just spent all day, deep into the night, just refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, looking for information that was not there, hoping somebody else had information that I did not have. And you know what? The results were the same, whether or not I scrolled and refreshed or whether I hadn't.
So today's episode is purely a distraction. This episode is extra long. We made it extra meaty for ya, because I think that right now we all just need something long to listen to. We just need to sort of disappear into listening to something that has nothing to do with anything going on in the world today. That has nothing to do with November 3rd whatsoever at all.
So in this episode, we've got a few things that are going to happen. First, I'm going to answer some listener questions from forever ago. I don't even know if these questions are still relevant to any of the people who asked them. But if not, you know, I guess... I guess send me a strongly worded email, like a person did recently, because I accidentally instead of saying Mozilla Firefox said Microsoft Firefox. Was that incorrect? Yes. Do accidents happen? Absolutely. Did I need a 300-word email telling me that it really damaged my credibility, which was already hanging by a thread given that I am a liberal woman? Yes, I really did. And I kind of enjoyed that email and uh… and I don't know what that says about me. But anyways.
Welcome to “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” Let's get into our first chunk of the day. I have a question from a listener named Lloyd. I actually know Lloyd, because Lloyd was one of maybe five men who have ever come to any of my book readings. He showed up in Nashville at Parnassus Books. He stood out, because I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. It appears there is... I don't make any assumptions, but there appears to be a guy here. Are you… sir, are you… are you lost? Did someone... did your spouse or sister or mother drag you here against your will? Are you… what brings you here?” And he said, “Oh, I listen to the podcast.” And I was like, “Oh. Oh, my goodness. Great. Thank you. Welcome!”
And since then, Lloyd and I have exchanged DMs. We've exchanged emails. If I ever go back to Nashville, you're darn tootin I'm expecting to see Lloyd front and center wherever we are. Should we ever gather again, I am so excited to do a live show. I will never again take for granted the energy of a thousand people in a room together crying. Okay? You might be thinking, “Nora, are you describing a well-attended funeral?” No. I'm describing a live show of “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
So Lloyd sent me a new question and said, “Help. I cannot be creative right now.” This question was sent amidst… amongst… aroundst the pandemic. And I saw that question and I was like, “Of course, you are struggling to be creative right now.” There is this absolutely maddening point of view that sort of indicates that because we are not going into offices anymore, or because our time has changed, that somehow we have more of it. And I cannot say enough, no, we do not. And in fact, we have even less of it, because so much of our executive function — the part of our brain that, you know, just like keeps things moving — is sucked up by just the absolute anxiety of living with a global pandemic, living within a civil rights uprising, living within a tumultuous economic time and political time. Just life in general times a billion. Creativity has sort of been marketed as a set it and forget it, “Oh, just sit down. It'll come to you. Writer's block isn't real.” You know, “Creativity is a muscle that you exercise.” And when things are going really well for me creatively, I think, yeah, of course it's so easy. You just do the thing.
However, I am struggling to do the things right now, and I tend to judge myself really, really harshly, probably because I spend time on the Internet like everybody else. And the Internet will have you believe that it is only you who is having a hard time. There is a whole bunch of, you know, memes going around on Instagram being like, “How do you want to come out of this pandemic, with a six-pack and a movie script or like that loser you were?” And it's like, I want to be the loser I was. Frankly, I would love to be her. She was great.
I am not on a self-improvement mode right now. I'm on a self... just existence mode. And I think that's kind of where we all need to be. There is a frenetic energy at the beginning of this, like, “We're all going to be just the best that we can be. We're all gonna learn how to bake bread.” Like, that's an actual science. And there are professional bakers. And I'm excited for you if you cracked the code and now you know how to make sourdough. But if you didn't, I also still respect you.
The thing about creativity is that we believe that we should just be able to do it. And when we can't, we treat ourselves very poorly, and we act as if creativity is a sentence, or it is an obligation. It is a punishment. Your creativity is not any of those things. It is not this price that you pay to be able to exist in the world. And like every other work that we have, we tend to believe that we are only as good as what we have done or what we are about to do, which is extremely depleting.
And if you can't get anything out, you gotta fill yourself up. You have to stop trying to squeeze the stone and just replenish whatever goes into a stone. Honest to God, take it easy. Give yourself a break and call somebody. Talk to them about life. I called one of my best friends. We talked for 58 minutes. I felt the spark of something coming back. It's not always gonna come back in a day. It might take quite a while. And that is not a sign of your insufficiency. It is not a sign of your inefficiency. It is a sign that you are a person, unfortunately, living in a very, very hard situation. So you can't be creative right now, join the club.
This question is from a woman named Diane. She asked me, “Do I think some people are just more naturally resilient?” I have literally no qualifications to answer this question, Diane. So buckle up, because I've got some answers.
I think that some people are naturally more buoyant. I do think people are born with all kinds of temperaments. If you've ever been around different people, been around different kinds of children, some people are un-plussed, nonplussed, could not be plussed if they tried about small setbacks. Some kids, some humans, some adults you know, will lose their GD minds. But when it comes down to it, I think that some people are just naturally more resourced. I think that some people have different, you know, backgrounds and privileges and we are all this sort of unknowable recipe of all the things that we have gone through, all of the opportunities that we have had and what our parents had and what our grandparents had.
And so what seems as if it could just be a natural personality trait might also be because your parents really taught you social emotional skills because their parents did, or because your parents, if they couldn't teach you that, at least had the ability and the resources to get you that kind of help. But when you are feeling particularly down, it is very easy to look around you and think like, “Well, god, everybody else seems to really be flying through whatever the situation is. Everybody else is sort of like doing better than me.” Everybody is doing very differently from you, and the experience of another person, your perception of their experience, your perception of their resilience, and their actual resilience are probably quite different. I would refer you to the good work of Brene Brown if you actually want to know more about that. But, you know, my gut reaction to that question is like, no, I honestly think just some people have a lot more than other people. It is much easier to bounce back if you have a bouncy place to land. If you’re falling onto a trampoline, yeah, you're going to jump back up. If you're falling onto concrete, oooh, I mean, ooof, you might stay down for a minute.
So this question kind of ties into the question from Lloyd. It's a question that I’ve gotten from several people, so I’m wrapping it all up into one question, which is essentially like, “How do you do all of these things?” Like... how do you have a family? Have a job. This sounds so… “People want to know how you do it all!”
But guess what? We all want to know how other people do things. We all want to know that, because we are living in this age of, like, optimization and, you know, like, “Hustle... work smarter, not harder. But also keep working pretty hard because if you don't get after it, like, where do you even doing? I guess you just want an average…”
Like, yes, I absolutely want an average life. And that is insulting when people act as if there is something wrong with that. As if there's something wrong with just the pure bliss of ordinariness, where nothing is actively falling apart. And the problem is that we have — more than we ever have in human history — a constant peek into everyone else's lives. Like, there are absolute strangers who I follow online. I can tell you how much their kitchen remodel cost. And because I'm a crazy person, I can tell you what kind of car they drive and the cost of it. Because I'm just curious. I'm a curious little cat. That information is useless, unless I am actively trying to just feel bad about myself, because I am fine. We all have this innate need to know how somebody else is doing things so that we can understand how we are stacking up. And we need this kind of a reflexive kind of certainty that they know something that we don't. They have to have a secret. And there is just one secret, which is that nobody does it all.
Nobody has it all. I have what I want. I want what I have. And I have the ability to go after other things that I want. But I do not do anything in my world alone at all.
For example, this podcast. What you don't hear in a show like this is all the work that goes in behind the scenes. You don't hear Phyllis Fletcher editing things and being like, “Nora, this sentence makes absolutely no sense. You sure you want to write it that way?” And I'm like, uhhh, no, no, that's a good point. You don't see Hannah Meacock Ross spending hours and hours trying to coordinate interviews, trying to make sure that I don't double book over something. You don't see Marcel Malekebu literally trying to cut out me being like… mouth noises, gasps, like, my loudest laughs, which like, spike the little sound thing and he's like, “Holy... wow. You really do love to laugh, don't you? You love to laugh.”
So I've got that entire team of people who help me make this show. There's an entire team of people who help make Still Kickin. And most importantly, when I am doing all of these things, I have a husband who does all of our home stuff for us. He does my laundry. He does the cooking. He knows when everybody needs a dentist appointment. He knows all of these things that, you know, that I just don't. He’s so amazing. And honestly, hearing that, it’s like, “Wow, Nora. Good for you.” Yes, it is good for me. That is the absolute point. And I hope knowing that is good for you, because when people send me messages like, “God, I don't know how you do all this stuff.” The subtext is basically, “I feel like I should be able to do all of that.” And no, you should not be able to do all of that stuff unless you also have all of these other mechanisms that are helping you. So I am not that person who does it all, and nobody is.
I can tell you that there's an entire industry on social media and beyond dedicated to making you feel like you should be doing more. You shouldn't settle for less. Full disclosure: Everything that I've ever done has been a slow burn and has all grown far, far beyond me. And my biggest ambition is to make sure that my successes are shared with every person who does this work alongside me. And we will get there. But not by hustling and not by comparing, just by doing what we do and staying in our lane and running our own race. And if you can think of another sports reference in there, put it in.
Hopefully that is helpful. I don't do it all. I don't do it all alone. And none of us do. And none of us should.
OK, one last question. This one is from Jessa. Jessa says, “How do I get someone I love to go to therapy or a support group?” We cannot make people do things, but you can go to therapy, and you can go to a support group. OK. You can do those things. And when you are in therapy and you are in a support group, the need to make somebody else go does diminish. It is also very difficult to watch somebody that you love and care about struggle. And you can suggest things all the live-long day. But if we're talking about other adults and not, like, a child that you're legally responsible for, it's… you looking up a therapist, interviewing them and then sending them as a... as an adult who could have done all those things for themselves is not going to have the results that you think it will. So instead, I would urge you to just go take care of yourself.
We will be right back after this break.
Nora: We're back. Second part of our show today is with a person who I greatly admire. Her name is Kate Kennedy. She has a podcast called “Be There In Five.” Kate is a very, very, very funny woman. She's a very, very, very smart woman. And she has this podcast that follows the format that a lot of men have been able to do, which is just like, “I'm a guy who's just going to talk into a microphone and, like, you're going to listen.”
And I do not know a lot of women who do that. And I know you're probably like, “Uh, Nora. That's you.” No. I do, like, interviews. I do narration. Kate will just get on the mic and go. And she does these intense deep dives into topics, so her podcast can be up to two hours long. I don't know how long this episode is going to end up being, but I hope we get to a Be There in Five level. And Kate will just go deep, deeply research something that she has an interest in. And one of her most recent episodes that I've really enjoyed is about Nxivm, which we will talk about in this sort of conversation that you will hear shortly. And I thought, I don't know if I can just talk for an hour to you guys. So I brought in Kate. Kate's my reinforcement. And here is that conversation with me and Kate Kennedy.
Nora: OK, so, Kate Kennedy, we are… this entire episode is about pure escape. The day that this is coming out — it is the future — it's November 3rd, 2020. So… [laughs]
Kate: [laughs] I know. I like, I have… I’m sweating hearing that date. So, Future Me is grateful for the escapist content.
Nora: Yeah. And where do I go for escapist content? I go to Kate Kennedy. I am an avid listener of “Be There In Five.” I would almost call the exact opposite of my show, and maybe that's why I love it so much. Because it's so thoughtful. It really is. And I've never met a single person who can speak so thoughtfully about so many things and dive so deeply into so many things that most people just haven't.
And so I guess today we're just going to talk about stuff. And in preparation for this call, I did next to nothing. But I did anticipate that you and I could talk about words, could talk about grammar, and I want to know if you've noticed the same thing I have, which to be the most intolerable person on the planet, this is going to be slightly about... I don't even know if it's grammar, becauseI wasn't that good of an English major, but I've noticed influencers constantly, this week, at least, maybe maybe for several weeks… but notice it more than once where they use the word resonate incorrectly.
Nora: And they say, “I'm resonating with that.”
Kate: Right. Which doesn't resonate with you.
Nora: It does not resonate with me. It does not resonate with me. It is… I can't be the person who's leaving a comment that's like, “The proper use of that word would say it is resonating with me.” But I want to say it. And so this is, like all of my work, just an act of passive aggression. If you are listening to this show, it's that “it resonates with you.” If you take nothing else away from today's episode, you do not resonate with something. It resonates with you. OK?
Kate: And this a blessing and the curse of influence, right? It's like… these people move the needle whether we like it or not. You do want to be the curmudgeon. But at the same time, our whole generation is learning to incorrectly use the word “resonate.” And what are we to do about this in this time, in this country?
Nora: You want me to stand idly by? Why, I am an activist. When I see something wrong happening in the world, I leave a comment about it, OK? When I see... if I'm given the opportunity to correct another person, I will take it. I will fully take it. Even knowing how absolutely futile it is and how little it does for the world.
Kate: Yes. Well, the flip side of that, too, is people correct me incorrectly, and then I don't know if I just let it go, or if I say, “Actually, I was right the first time.” An example is using the term ad nauseum. I've had people correct me with at nauseum. Or even stuff with pronunciation. I'll be in a restaurant and, you know, I struggle with pronunciations, period: When do you use the correct one in an otherwise English sentence? When do you use the proper? And if you say something like bruschetta, and the waiter says back to you almost deliberately, like, bruschetta, I'm like, “Well, technically I'm right. And now you're making me feel bad.” Pretentious pet peeves are really a sweet spot of mine.
Nora: Okay, good, good, good, good. I feel the exact same way. Also, when people spell out “per se” P-E-R-S-A-Y... like, I know what I know you think you're saying. However, that is… that's not it. That's not it.
Kate: It's not it. I wish there was a third party plugin that could… something about typing in Instagram stories. It’s like, spell check isn't there, like, it's easy to make mistakes. I wish there was a way to kind of, I don't know, filter out some of these things, because I agree. People don’t want to be rude and correct them, but at the same time, it's going to inform people of the incorrect usage. And in the professional context, it's not great to, you know, be using words wrong. It's just a very touchy subject that I never really know how to tackle. But I personally hate when people correct me even when I'm wrong, so I just try to not.
Nora: Also, it’s like... I got it from my parents, who were terribly pretentious and condescending. And I'm like, “Guys, no one likes it. No one likes it. You don't have to do it. And especially if you don't know a person, you don't have to do it.” And especially, I'm like, “Not everybody's lingua franca is the queen's English, Dad. OK? Not everybody's.” However, if you say, “I resonate with that,” I gotta say it's gonna bother me. OK? That's going to stick with me. It's going to get lodged in there. If you are a white lady who is speaking directly into a front-facing camera trying to get me to swipe up on some sort of, you know, e-course about how to use Instagram. And you are saying that you “resonate with it” with your own… It's going to bug me. It's going to bug me. And I will passive aggressively speak about it on a podcast that you will never listen to. And that is how I process things.
Kate: What if it was a webinar for, like a click funnel, you know? Something really meaningful like that? I know, trust me. The courses in general are like a whole separate thing that I may be too distracted by to even care about the grammar.
Nora: Yeah, there's… you called it. What did you call it. Cringephobia? OK. Will you explain cringephobia to me because I think I have it.
Kate: Yes. So they're not rational fears. They’re not meaningful fears. They have absolutely no bearing on your life. God, no. They are just things that... you preemptively know you'll cringe, so you almost dread them. And when you hear them, you’re like “No!” And it happens in the smallest ways. And it's secondary. It's kind of like what people would probably refer to as secondhand embarrassment, which is rude because you're projecting embarrassment onto somebody anyway. But for example, if somebody that’s like a grown woman says, like, “It's Fri-yay!” I’m like… I dunno. I dunno. It feels a little juvenile and like… are you a member of the Wiggles? Are you a blogger? I don't know. I don't get it. What's the point? But at the same time, a lot of people like cutesier language. And I don't want to be that person.
Nora: They do. They do. It is the... it is the Live Laugh Love of I don't know… of conversation. You would never say Live, Laugh, Love out loud, but you definitely want it on your wall. Instead out loud you can say Fri-yay — that’s something that translates I think to decor, conversation and digital communications. I have one, which is like when... God... when, like, people use words that like, you know, originated in the Black community, like “bling.” And I’m like, there's a specific root to that word. OK? Which is, I believe, Cash Money Millionaires and the song “Bling Bling.” They made up a word that is now just used to just describe something shiny. And whenever I hear it, I'm like… uhhhh.
Kate: Yes, there are many examples of that. Like, that happens a lot in, you know, like graphic tees with… it's kind of like mom wine culture, coffee culture… you know, the “but first whatever” culture, where people… There's a shirt that I've seen before, and people used to ask me to put them on mats, and it's like, “drink some coffee, put on some gangsta rap and handle it.” It’s exclusively worn and bought by white women. And I just… it kills me. I just don't get it. I don't know why.
Nora: Yeah. Yeah. I'm like, “eeeehhhhh.” Yeah. I have cringephobia over that. I have cringephobia over that. I have cringephobia over people calling babies studs, which somebody once described my son as, which also is...
Kate: So wrong on so many levels.
Nora: So wrong on so many levels! I was like, first of all, he is a fucking dweeb. You know? Second of all, he's six months old. I can already tell. OK? Like, I know exactly what he looks like as an adult. It's ehhhh...
Kate: When I was doing my podcasts about motherhood the last couple weeks, people were submitting some of their, like, pet peeves with, like, hashtag mom life, you know, digital mom culture. And one thing that I haven't really seen but that truly disturbed me to my core was people were saying that people will post photos of themselves breastfeeding, which great, beautiful. I support it. But the caption will be about how somebody is, like, a boob man.
Kate: That's not great. I don't know, is that —
Nora: It’s not great. It’s not great.
Kate: But I’m not a parent. I don't know if I am being insensitive.
Nora: I am. And it’s okay. It’s okay because also that is sort of the curse of the Internet for women specifically, is that we are almost obligated to take on motherhood as a personality trait and then to make it the next natural extension of whatever our, like, public persona is, quote unquote. And I say that because I find that one, most people that you consider influencers, if you ask them, are you an influencer, they'll be like, “God, no. Ugh!” And that no matter... whether or not you would categorize yourself as an influencer, the behaviors of an influencer have permeated every aspect of the way that we interact online, so that everybody — even, you know, the person from your seventh grade health class who has like six followers — is like performing this thing and, like, speaking to an invisible audience of her own family and then you. And you just think like, oh, God, is that what I look like? Is that what we're all doing? And it's… we've all created our own Truman Shows, and we're all trying to give the people what they want. And we think the people want, like, sexualized baby boys. But if anybody looked at your baby girl and was like, “What a babe. What a hot chick!” You'd be like uhhhh...
Kate: Oh, wow. Never thought of that.
Nora: But it's weird. Like, they’ll be like “Yeah, what a little stud,” or you know, like, “This is my new boyfriend,” or just things like that where I'm like —
Kate: There's onesies that say Lady Killer, and they're, like, infants! Like newborns. It is interesting, like that subtle genderization so early on. And even like, I was in Michigan recently and I was like, I don't know, maybe at a Target, and I overheard a group of women like cracking up over this onesie that was like, “This is what happens when mommy has too many margaritas.” And I was like, oh my God! Like, that is so inappropriate for a means for her to get pregnant. Like, I just don't... I guess like that humor is so lost on me. And like, I don't want to be a stickler, but like, it's just nothing I would put my child in, I guess. And I think that's where where you get into territory of like, oh gosh, is this even worth it to take it up with people, because you sound like a curmudgeon. But at the same time, like, I think it's fair to not want to sexualize and genderize and empower men that way from the womb, like geezus...
Nora: From the womb. From the womb. It's so weird. I got a onesie when I was pregnant. No, it must’ve been after the baby was born because we didn't know what we were having. And, which is, here's a cringephobia for you: When people would be like, what are you having? I'd say, “Well, I hope it's a baby.” Just... just push me down a flight of stairs. Okay? I just didn’t want to engage and be like, “We're not finding out.” And people like why? And I’m like, “Because it's the last good surprise in the world. It's the last good surprise on Earth.” For people who are just tuning in for the first time to this podcast, my husband had brain cancer when I got pregnant. And so we got this onesie after the baby was born, and it said, “Mommy's new man.” And Aaron was like, “Wow, you're moving on quick.” And it was so funny. It’s like god, wait until the body's cold.
Kate: Oh my god. Bless his heart. That’s the appropriate occasion where... bring some levity, perhaps?
Nora: I was like ew… you're not wearing something that says, “Mommy's new man.” It's just… God. Like, you'll be my mother boy forever. But do not in that way. OK?
Kate: Right. That’s funny you bring up, like, the notion of like, “What are you having?” and your response to it. Or like, kind of like people are like “No, I just ate a big lunch,” when they’re like, you know, 36 weeks. But it's kind of that funny thing of the way people shift the way they speak to you if you're pregnant or engaged or kind of some female life milestone, where you’re viewed as, like, bridal and motherly that you don't identify with as a person. It's kind of weird. And I foresee myself being a little uncomfortable with, like, the shift to the dialog of being so, like, motherly and soft that I almost think if I have a kid, it'll just be my ultimate influencer, like, secret project. And I'll just be like, by the way, had a baby.
Nora: I did that.
Kate: Did you? See I think that's the great surprise of life.
Nora: I did that. Part of it was like a deep shame and anxiety and depression. I had pre-part — I don't know, I just had depression and anxiety. And then I was pregnant, and I just went cold turkey, which I wasn't supposed to do. But I was also... my husband was dead. I’d already lost a pregnancy. So I was like, “I don't know, like, what if I hurt this baby somehow? So I'll just go on nothing.” Which is also you immediately are just sort of conditioned into believing that you're not important anymore. And also, I was sure, because I was making this podcast, but I'm a freelancer still, and I was a nobody, and they'd never made a podcast with a random woman who deemed them on Twitter, and everybody I worked with was a man, and I was not willing to risk, like being deprioritized or, you know, even to expose the fact this baby was coming out the same time as the podcast. And I mean, so as a result, I literally just did have a baby. And then I brought him in to record the podcast two days later, because that's… that’s a healthy thing. I don't know. Like, having a career or having kids, we want to believe that it's like a very easy choice and it will all be fine and everything works out. And I think that I have believed that before, and I might have even said that to people before. And it is actually an extreme balancing act that I do not know a single mother who feels great about how any of it’s going. Not to scare you. But it’s like… no one said that to be before! No one was like, “Yeah. No, we all feel really bad about ourselves.”
Kate: Yeah, and I think there's something that... I think people don't want to A., look non-maternal or ungrateful, because there's so many different, you know, pregnancy looks different for so many people, and people have such a struggle. And like, you want to be obviously sensitive to everyone's situation. But there's something to be said about totally misleading people about the way that they should feel and act when that time comes around, and when people feel differently from that thinking that something's wrong with them and, like, the induced shame as a result, like they're not meant for this or they're not doing it right or whatever, that almost leads people to this level of like even, you know, non-hormonal, but like just straight like normal emotional darkness that we've paired with the hormonal and bodily and chemical changes you're enduring. You just don't need those mismanaged expectations and really high standards put on you.
Nora: Yeah. You don't. You don't. And they're… they're there whether or not you believe them to be there. And I got pregnant the first time during the rise, the launch of “Lean In.” You know, my husband was sick. I was… I was pregnant through science. Like, this is obviously something we wanted. Right? Like that we... that we had to engage with the scientific community to make happen. And also something that was very, very intense and where I could feel, like, as maternity leave, which in the U.S. is a joke, was like taking down, that six weeks was up. I was feeling like, “Oh, I'm going to walk back into a job that isn't mine.”
And I was right. Like, I walked back into a job where, like, the projects that I had kicked off or, like, to use more, like, cringe words that don't mean anything, ideated. I don't, you know, I worked in marketing — “ideated” was a thing. You know, they were gone. Those projects belonged to somebody else, and I was sort of just, like, left with, like, weird little uninspiring scraps of tasks to do. And I felt always like, “Oh crap. I don't want to show this as a sign of weakness. I don't want to show this as a sign of, you know, that I can't do things. And so I'll bring my phone into the room well, while I pump, and then I'll only pump twice a day. How about.” And then... But you know, if you need to... I'll move it. I'll move it. No, you booked me over it. Great. That's fine. That's fine. That's fine.
I’m sorry, this is not… I don’t want to freak you out. I don't want to —
Kate: You're not at all. No. I think this is an important dialog. And this is stuff I actively research. It's… I’m not really... I have no interest in living in the clouds. And I kind of am forthcoming about this stuff on my podcast. It's almost like I feel license to say it because I don't have kids, and I won't be judged as a mother. And if in some way that gives another person permission to feel that way, I am willing to, like, put myself on the line because I think, like, people are so worried about conversations being, like, negative or heavy or too much for people. But like, I don't know, I think it's worse if you think you're the only person in the world who feels that way. And like when you look at the data with, you know, according to New York Times, called the motherhood penalty, it's very real, and it sets people back in their careers, and women aren't getting promoted, or they're the ones forced to cut down on hours or being more accommodating to be the primary caregiver. And with Covid, it's just even been exacerbated, to women leaving the workforce in droves. I mean, it's a problem. And yeah, I think that, like. Is it a bummer? Sure. But is it reality? Yeah. Is it escapist content? Who the hell knows now? Who knows.
Nora: Who knows? Yeah, sorry. Also people should know by now that when I'm like, “It's going to be lighthearted.” What I mean is... I tried. I really tried. I am such a bummer, guys. I really did try. I really... I was like, “Kate will liven this up. If I have Kate on, I cannot go into Bummer Town USA, because she will pull me out. She'll jerk the wheel, if she’s got to.”
Kate: Nora. I'm a one-way ticket to Bummer Town. My husband is always like, “You need to learn how to party talk,” because he finds me in the corner and somebody’s telling me their hopes, dreams, fears and regrets. And we are in it, and there's no sign of getting out. And I do not know how to not go there. It's just not in my DNA. So maybe I was the worst selection for this. Literally, we were at a baby… no, a child's second birthday party. And my friend’s — this is recent — and my friend's dad is a doctor. I don't even know what happened. But my husband walks up to me, and I am talking to my friend's father about how he feels in the medical community about when women get pelvic exams without their consent when they're under anesthetic. And he's like… “What?” I was like, I don't know. I don't know how to not try to have, like, meaningful discussions that, mind you, aren't meaningful to the other person just to me, and I want their input on something.
Nora: On my god. “You're a doctor, you should be reading up on all the terrible things happening in your industry. Are you not? You’re not reading the trades, sir?”
Kate: Right. Exactly. Exactly. There's problems on so many levels. But it's funny, because I actually think I'm a decent conversationalist. I love talking. But I'm not good at… they call it the small, medium and big talk. I'm not great at pleasantries, I guess.
Nora: Yeah, I'm not either. I know that it's jarring for some people. And then when I actively try not to be myself — because I'm the same. I'll be like, “Oh my God. Yes. Hello. I'm sorry. I'm just having a heart to heart with your mother-in-law. Yeah. Like the way she treats you, it's really a reflection on how her mother-in-law treated her. We're just... it's OK. There's a lot of trauma and we're going to unpack it. And could you bring me some more Midwest sushi? Thank you.”
Kate: What is that?
Nora: A pickle, wrapped in ham, but the ham has been spread with the cream cheese, and then you slice it into, you know, discs, and you put a toothpick in it. And that is Midwest sushi, people.
Kate: Okay. I live in the Midwest, and I've never heard of that. When you say Midwest sushi, I was thinking a soggy Costco pinwheel.
Kate: Okay. Just with a pickle.
Nora: Yeah, it's a pickle.
Kate: Vinegar really adds an extra something.
Nora: Oh, my God. There's, like, a crunch… if it's a good pickle. And by that, I mean, like, what's the one that has the pelican on the —
Kate: A Vlasic?
Nora: A Vlasic pickle. And so it's got the dyes in it. Like, it's green. It's very green. Even the inside is green. And there's, like, the right ratio of like the crispness, the creaminess of the cream cheese, and then the saltiness of a deli ham, a pre-sliced, thin-sliced, deli ham. You don't want a honey baked ham. You want the worst quality ham that you can find. That is... that's how you know you've got yourself a real… a real baby shower, Kate. I'm so sorry that you've not been invited to a real baby shower and people invited you to, like, a fake one just to make you feel...
Kate: I know. It's making me feel included. So I can bring my Lady Killer onesie. I love a shower. I love a baby shower. I love a bridal shower. I actually really enjoy the short-term camaraderie I find with a, you know, a middle-aged woman that lives in this person's neighborhood, that’s maybe her godmother, that has a gorgeous Tuscan-themed early-2009 interior and we… she can just show me her Norman Rockwell prints, and I’m just like, “He really captures Americana so well,” and say stuff that I don’t normally say.
Nora: Oh God, yeah. I love being invited into a home in the outer suburbs of Minneapolis, being asked to take off my shoes, to not track in on the carpet. And I really… I appreciate the same thing, which is, like, forming these very brief relationships with women who may or may not be invited to the big show. You know, I may not see them at the wedding. So I won't say “see you soon,” because they might not be on the invite list. But if I do see them at the reception, we will have something to catch up on. You know? We'll be able to say, “I haven’t seen you since the shower! Oh, my god. Yes. That was so fun. That was so great.” Yeah. It's really… that's a wonderful thing. Way to bring it up to something fun, Kate.
Kate: You're a nice sensitive person that, like, has the foresight to think, “You might not be invited to the big show.” Because you're right, it is a who's who of the parents’, like, you know, Bunko friends. People that are just known from different parts of life that, like, you know, tell you have a fun top on or something and they make you feel, like, so gorgeous. And I feel like bridal and baby showers are the only time I hear people use the term like, “You have such a great figure.” And I'm like, “Oh, my God, stop!” There's a way older women compliment you that is just unlike anything else. And I wish I was returning the favor and the way you do by considering I would not actually see them again.
Nora: I just think I'm like a natural dark sider and I'm like, oh, I don’t want to be the person who, like, you know, who brings up the sore subject, which is that she did not actually get invited to the reception, but she was invited to be an usher at the wedding, which is not a role. It's not.
Kate: It really isn't. Are you familiar with this phenomenon? Oh, shoot. What's it called? I did a couple episodes about what I don't like about being a bridesmaid, which doesn't mean I'm not grateful, but there's a whole to do that’s like, very funny. That after a lot of weddings, it's kind of like a process. We all know what to expect with the floral robes, early call time, whatever. And there was something called... in the South specifically, there's a basically junior varsity bridesmaid team. They still have to dress up. They still have to show up and do all the things, but with no glory. And I was like — oh, it’s called a house party. Have you ever heard of that?
Nora: No, but I grew up in the Midwest and I grew up Catholic, and weddings didn't really get to, like, be a big, you know, thing in, I don't know, like, I guess... or maybe they were, but I just didn't really realize them. No, I'm not familiar. What the hell is a house party?
Kate: I had never heard of it before until I did the episode, and women were writing in being like, “Yeah, well, technically I wasn’t a bridesmaid, I was part of the house party.” And I was like, excuse me? Looked it up. Literally junior varsity. You didn't make the cut. You are a good friend, but not a good enough friend to stand up the altar. So you're in, like, a reserved seating area, and you still have to wear a matching color. And it's honestly all the work and none of the glory. And I just think it's kind of… I think it's all just a little bit rude and dismissive to make people, like, second string, you know? And still ask something of them.
Nora: Yeah. Look, I think I am just not a part of wedding culture, and I just never have been. I think because I am such an unreliable friend. But I mean, I went through... I was certainly, like, I didn't go to all my friends’ weddings because I did not have a lot of money. I couldn't fly, like, all over the place, like when am I… how can I do this? I can't do it. And also because I was always in such a bad place in my life, I wasn't that happy for them, OK? I was like, cool. You all go start the rest of your life. I'll be here, you know, sort of hoping that this boyfriend of mine who doesn't want to call me his girlfriend wants to move in with me in the apartment I pay for, that he could not afford to split the rent with. Just a real bleak... every time I was at a wedding, it was somewhat bleak. And so as a result, also because my wedding was planned while we were deep in Trauma Town, I didn't do any of the things. My family had a bridal shower for me after our wedding. They had it Christmas Eve night, because that's when everyone was going to be in town.
Kate: They’re like, “No one’s busy. The 24th, 25th? Everyone good?”
Nora: No one’s busy. That was my baby shower. Sorry. They had a baby shower without me, because Aaron was having brain surgery on the 26th, and we couldn't be around anybody because he was about to have his head sawed open. And I never had a bridal shower, I don't think? Because it's like when would we have had one? We were engaged for, like, two minutes. And I didn't have an engagement ring, because I was like, oh God, we need to save that money. Like, no. Do not. Do not do that. That is so dumb. And then when I got married the second time, like, I wanted him to buy me an engagement ring, which is so weird, because I've never worn it. Like, I just wanted to be asked, even though we already had a baby together. Like, even though I always thought of myself as, like, not a part of that culture, like I wanted it, Kate. Like I wanted it. And then I didn't want it. I don't know.
Kate: I always think — this is truly the stupidest example — but I always think back to the scene in “The Breakup” of Jennifer Aniston saying to Vince Vaughn, like, “I want you to want to do the dishes.” It’s not about the dishes. It’s that I want you to want to do them.
Nora: I want you to want to marry me. And then I want you to want to propose to me. I wanted to want a big wedding. And like two months into planning it, I was like, “This is bananas, because we have now four kids between us.” And I think of everything in daycare units. So I was like, “Cool. Feeding each one of you… each meal here, each one of your meals... represents one hour of daycare.” And so we will not be having a wedding, and thank you for your interest.
Kate: That is such a curse, of like, the freelancer, or like... I see everything as hourly. Like, everything's a trade off for, like, the work I have to do, or the money I'd have to make. And that's something I never felt when I was salaried — that makes me choose what I do so differently. And it's like I don't... I almost wish I could go back to when I wasn't, like, as concerned with efficiency and output, like… what is this worth to me and my time? But yeah, I can totally see that. I mean, especially at the cost of childcare. I Googled it for kicks when I was recording that episode, and I was like, “Okey doke. I have a little bit more work to do. This is expensive.”
Nora: First two years of making the podcast, I paid more in daycare than I made making the show. So... net loss.
Kate: According to “Lean In,” that's an investment.
Nora: And I had to do it, OK? I had to do it. And I do not actually regret it. But I do love weddings. Like, I really... I think the older that I get, I'm like, wow, no, this is a sacrament even if you're not religious. Like, this is symbolic and it is beautiful. And I'm always so, like, touched to be there now. And I think I would have liked to have that. But also it would have been too much attention. And then I would have cried, been angry at somebody for no reason, and cried. And then I would have ruined it with my own bad attitude about, you know, one of my siblings would have not said the thing I wanted them to say or, you know, my mom would have also worn the exact same dress as me.
Kate: She shows up in a wedding gown.
Nora: My aunt wore white to my first wedding because she heard I wasn't going to wear white. So she wore a white suit. And I was like “that tracks.”
Kate: That's brave. Full “First Wives Club” with a white suit.
Nora: She looked so good, because her hair was like going silver too. And a full white suit, clear glass says, like, she's just she's quirky. Rita, if you're listening, I know you don't listen, but like, it was beautiful. And I was like, “Rita, what if I had changed my mind?”
Kate: Yeah, it's like, I respect you. And I'm offended. Because you look great. I think there's something to be said, and whenever people, like, lament being… people will write in and, you know, talk about how much pressure they feel at weddings and showers and these kind of like... at other people's milestones… of people pressure you in the name of small talk to hear more about your milestones, and when you're not hitting them, it makes an otherwise joyous occasion so glaring of where you're falling short. And it's like such a funny thing that weddings can either be really fun, and you can be really in the moment. But conversations about where you are in your life can really derail you. And I think that when you get married a little later and you do things on your own time and in your own way, like it's so important because like, yeah, you might have had a bad attitude and cried and not liked the attention if you forced yourself to do what other people were doing. But if you do the thing you want to do, that's not going to happen. And when you're older, you just don't like... I don't know. By the time I got married, I didn't have bridesmaids. I did exactly what I wanted. I had a great time. I, like, just... all the things I didn't like about other people's functions, I didn't feel like I had to do. But if I had gotten married even five years earlier, I would have done the whole song and dance and hated every minute of it. But I don't know. I guess that's… what do they call it, maturing?
Nora: It is. It's maturing. And I've had two weddings that I did the way that I wanted to do them. And both of them felt great. And I didn't have to feel, like, anything. I seriously had no wedding stress at all. Like, one of my mothers-in-law was like, do you want flowers? And I was like, literally didn't even think about it. If you think so, sure. Go get them. But I'm personally not going to do that, because I don't want to. But if you want to, that's great. I didn't have to get anybody a party favor, which always stresses me out, because I'm like... I have some irrational anxieties. And one of them is if I see a bunch of things all together that I know will end up in a landfill. So, for example, a bunch of etched wine glasses for each guest that say, like, you know, “Dom and Sarah, together forever.” I'm like… this is really wasteful. Like, I just… like going into, like, big, big stores does this for me, too. I was at… do you know Five Below? Have you heard of the store? OK, so it's... for people who are not in the know, and I'm new to it, it's like a dollar store. Everything is five dollars and below, and it is all made in places where human rights are not a thing. I will tell you that much. There's… it’s... allegedly, allegedly. This is public radio, I have to say facts. So the things are from an origin that it just makes you nervous, and the quality is whatever you think it is. And I was in there, and there were a bunch of like Himalayan sea salt lamps. And I was like....
Kate: But the ions! The ions. The vibes!
Nora: I was like, will there be any salt left in the Himalayas? Like, just it stuck in me and I was like, I can't think of anything except that if they are stocking dollar stores with Himalayan sea salt lamps, either this isn't Himalayan sea salt, or the Himalayas are not going to have enough sea salt anymore. Like there… we're going to run out.
Kate: Right. So that's where I go. You know, there's probably a workaround here. And this is not authentic Himalayan sea salt. And just like YooHoo is chocolate drink and not chocolate milk, there's probably some fine print here, where it's like Himalayan-inspired salt-like product lamp, you know?
Nora: Or it's missing one A and it's just like “Himalyan.”
Kate: So what do you do with that energy? You see something. You’re like, “This is an atelier for a future landfill.” Like, what do you do with that? Do you say something? Do you let it go?
Nora: I just let it burn inside me and I, like, lay awake at night thinking about it. Yesterday I was on a bike ride. Here in Phoenix, which is where I live now, there's no laws against, like, where you can put a political sign. They’re just everywhere. Every street just packed. Every public corner. Every bit of public land is staked to the gills with everything on the ballot right now. Well, one of these, and I will not say who the candidate was, but I will say that it is… it is… you can imagine who the candidate is. It was blocking the accessibility for our sidewalk. Like, the wheelchair accessibility. And like, I could ride my bike around it. But, you know, a bike is very narrow. And so I pulled it up, and I was like, “I’m gonna probably get murdered or arrested, but you can't block somebody’s accessibility.” And then I was like, where else are people not able to get up onto the sidewalk if they're using a wheelchair or an electric scooter, and then what's going to happen to them? Like... how many people were stymied by this sign? And then I just sort of spiral from there.
Kate: It's the HSP in you.
Nora: It’s the HSP. Like, I also get very anxious, and I actually got this from a couple other listeners, because I did put this on my Instagram and I was like, “What else are you, like, randomly nervous about that, you know, is irrational?” And several people — and I thought this was just me — said that they get upset when people use the door access, the button that opens it for people who can't open a door?
Kate: The handicap button?
Nora: That's it. OK. The door-opening button. When people open that, I think, like, you're using… and I know many disabilities are invisible, but you kinda know. When a dude, like, karate kicks it, you're like, one, some people will touch that with their hand, dude. And also I’m like, you just used a use of it, and now it will at some point not work for somebody who needs it. Like in my mind, it has a certain number of uses, and you just used one, and you didn't need to use it.
Kate: I have a couple of questions. First, have you truly seen somebody Mighty Morphin Power Rangers kick a handicap button?
Nora: All the time!
Kate: No way.
Nora: Yes, and I’m like... you could use your hip. You could use your elbow. You could use your bag. Sir, you did not need to power kick it as if that was... like, my children wouldn't even do that. But when they were like, you know, 2 and 6, I would be like, don’t push it! You're going to wear it out for somebody who needs it! Like, just losing my mind. And they would look at me quizzically, like… we just want to push a button. We are just children who get joy out of pushing a button. That's all we want.
Kate: I wonder if adults sometimes are that way too. Like, I think there's something... there's probably like a tendency people have where they see something and they’re like, because it's there, they want to push it. Like I only do it with my elbow if my hands are full. Those are my only circumstances when I can't physically open a door myself.
Nora: Yeah, but it is there for a reason, you know?
Kate: Yeah. Now that I'm thinking about it when I do that, are there people, like, heavy mouth breathing behind it? Seeming upset about it? I don't know. I haven't noticed it.
Nora: They are. It's me, and I'm so sorry. Same with if people use, like, the biggest toilet stall, I'm like… you don't use it. Like, somebody could come in and need it, and then they should not have to wait in line, they just buzz right into the handicap accessible, one. The wheelchair- accessible one. You've got to leave it free. I don't think that is a rational irritation. And yet, you know, I'm very nervous that somebody at some point will need it, and they won't be able to get in it, because you're in there with your, you know, four gal pals.
Kate: Well and I mean, at airports, forget it. I mean, because unfortunately, all of the doors in airports go into the stall. And it makes it very hard to maneuver luggage. And the larger stalls in airports are just like a nightmare, like, taken up. And the family, I mean, yeah, I notice this behavior, too. There was a consumer behavior class I took in college where this team, like, literally would sit in bathrooms and, like, observe people and which door they chose. And I forget where the findings were. But I remember thinking that's a really interesting behavioral study of why people choose which door.
Nora: Yeah, I always choose the second one.
Kate: Yeah. Oh God. You can't choose the first. You don't wanna be overeager.
Nora: No, no, no, no, no. Plus it makes me feel like, you know, oh… I’m making like... it just feels like a wise choice, and I have no idea why.
Kate: There was a TikTok I saw of somebody that was... it was like, “questions for Americans,” and it was somebody that lived in another country, and their first question was, “Why is there such a large gap on this… of the seam of toilet doors that allow me to make eye contact with people.” And I was like: Is that specific to America? I thought that was something we had to deal with in life.
Nora: It is specific to America. I saw that same TikTok. And then last year — thank God we went when we could — we took the big kids and Grandpa and Grandma to Ireland and England, and we had a layover in Germany? I don't know. And guess what, those doors sealed up so tight. Okay. They were just… there was no eye contact. And the eye contact? It's unavoidable. If you are trying not to make eye contact with someone in a bathroom, it is 100 percent going to happen. It's 100 percent going to happen. And it's like, you are seeing people in a very vulnerable, to bring it back… does Brene Brown address that?
Kate: I know. So one time, I was... I had to give, like, a keynote speech at some conference. This was, like, two years ago. And I did my speech, and it went well. There's, like, hundreds of people there. And then I had to go to the bathroom after the speech. Right after the speech, there was a long line of people that need to go. And I don't know what happened, but I guess the lock didn't go, and somebody opened the door on me. And it was the most… like… how far can one fall? From on stage to in this stall? Something was so embarrassing about the departure from where I was.
Nora: And when it happens, and you're seated and the door’s far away, and you hold up a hand like, “Nooooo!” And then there's just like, this mutual, shame spiral. But you're both in your own, in your own ways. Our son opened the door. He just does not knock on doors. I'm like, dude, like, you're 19, dude. You have got to knock, wait for a response, and then open it. And that is why I don't feel bad that you saw my mom naked.
Kate: Right. These are things that you've got to learn in life. And I think a lot of times guys like... they just all pee in front of each other. Which is maybe not the same thing.
Nora: Which also I do not like. Now that we're really getting into it, let me just say a bunch of things I don't like. I do not like the sound of men peeing at all. Like, it's such an aggressive flow. I don't like it at all. I'm like, shut the door. I do not want to hear it. I do not want to hear it. Even like, my little boys. I’m like no, no, no, no, no. Don’t want to hear it.
Kate: I agree. It is so aggressive. And like something I think about and obsess over. I really don't like to bump into people in the bathroom that like I have any sort of preexisting dynamic with, and I think a lot about, like, men having to stand next to each other and pee in front of one another. If there's like a boss or a person you’re just networking with… the other thing to me is so bizarre and an interesting element that I don't think I could ever get on board with. In addition to the sound.
Nora: In addition to the sound. Very unpleasant.
Kate: The whole thing’s an off-putting mystery.
Nora: I don't like it. Thank you guys. We don't like it. OK. This is a segment of the show called I Don’t Like It. That was not submitted. That was not submitted. But OK, this is one that I wonder if you can relate to because I've actually known... I think this is a highly sensitive person thing, which is: As a kid, when I'd watch the news and they'd mentioned an unsolved crime. I'd have a thought, like, what if it was me? And I just forgot that I did that. Like, I forgot that I killed someone, or I forgot that I robbed a bank. And I remember feeling that way sometimes. Like, I’d hear police sirens and be like, did I make a crime? Is that… did...
Kate: No. I literally, I always, always think I'm the one getting pulled over. I'm the one. The cops are outside for me. There's gonna be an FBI raid. I’m gonna be framed for a crime. I'm so unlikely to commit a crime that I'm scared that I would be framed for one, and then I would react poorly because I'm just awkward. And then I would look like Amanda Knox doing the cartwheel.
Nora: Yeah. And then I'd try to, like, relate to the cops. I would try to, I would bring up, you know, my affinity for “Law and Order.” I would… I would just give them all this information. I'd start telling them my insecurities. I would just... I'd try to go too deep, too fast. And they would be like, “It's not a baby shower, ma'am. I will not be invited to this ceremony. None of us. This is another relationship that has a small window of time and like a shower, everything you do and say can be held against you.”
Kate: I think that's what I struggle with. When I watch interrogations on television — well, on a separate note, I'm interested later if you can get into true crime, because you’re sensitive, because I can’t absorb it.
Nora: I can't do it at all. I can't do it at all. I can't do it at all. I know that a lot of our listeners listen to it. They just can't do it. I can't do it.
Kate: And neither can I. And it's a big blind spot as a person that’s supposed to create content and talk for a living, because people love to get enveloped in these stories. And I find them… I can't take pleasure in them. I find them deeply sad. I know other people do, too. But I think there's a lack of compartmentalization highly sensitive people can't do. And, like, the few times I'll watch, like, an interrogation, like I just watched the Chris Watts one, “An American Murder,” and I like I don't... if I was innocent, I'd perhaps act more weirdly than if I was guilty and being strategic, that I would look guilty.
Nora: Exactly. Also, it's like, how do you know how you'll act? You've never been through this before. I do not have a blueprint for how I should act while I'm being accused of murdering my second husband. Because I told Matthew if he dies, it will start to look like a pattern and it will… people will not have any sympathy for me. They'll be like, “Ugh, another one. Looks like she needed some content.” It would be the worst thing. It would be the worst thing, because I would miss him. And also because it would not look good. It would be suspicious. It would be suspicious. I can't do true crime. I have a craving for, like, a category that's like truer crime, which I think is called investigative journalism. Which is like... it's always about the crime itself, you know, and very little about the impact that it has on so many people. Because it's not just like the person who was murdered, which is always terrible and tragic, and also like the people who loved them, the people who knew them but didn't really know if they could grieve them, the people had to clean up the crime scene. The people who, you know, called to collect on a bill and didn't realize the person was dead and got an earful. There's just so much more to it than just like, oh, can you believe somebody did something horrible, which yes, I can. I can. I can believe somebody did something horrible.
Kate: That's such an interesting perspective. You're like, I am not interested in the main characters. I want the story of the 12 side characters that have a brief interaction adjacent to this crime and how it affected them.
Nora: I just don’t want to know about a murderer. Like, I just don't. There's just nothing about it to me that's intriguing. And I don't know why. I don't know why.
Kate: Yeah. No, I understand. I think it's... I know, I think it is just, like, not pure entertainment for some people. But I have to say I have found my true crime category, I think, to a degree. And it's very... there's many sad things that happen within this realm. But I really have been enjoying cult documentaries.
Nora: Yes, yes, yes, yes. What a good segue. You’re artful. I like crime where nobody dies. So I love financial crimes, even though I know those are also very devastating for people. I love… do you listen to Scam Goddess? I feel like you would love it.
Kate: I don't.
Nora: It's so funny. It's so funny. And that's a recommendation for anybody who's listening, which is like... it's for people like crime but don't like murder. And she just talks about scams and financial fraud and, you know, scams, frauds, robberies and cons. She's a comedian, Lacey Mosley, and she's so, so funny. But I'm also very into cults, and what intrigues me most about them, and... can we talk about The Vow?
Kate: Have you watched The Vow?
Nora: I am finally caught up.
Nora: Don't wanna spoil it for anybody. But like, you can't spoil it because there's just so much, and there will be a season two. There's been several sort of things made about this cult. But what almost frightens me watching anything about a cult is how long it takes for me to believe that it's bad.
Kate: Right. I am here for some light personal development. And the first episode, people were… they were curing Tourette’s! They were having revelations. It was almost artful, and it's the way it kind of almost tempts you, in the way that they want to mirror how the people were drawn in as well. Because that's the thing. Nobody joins a cult.
Nora: Nobody joins a cult. Nobody joins a cult. And you want to think like, “Oh, I'm so clever. That would never happen to me.” I can tell you what is most shocking to me so far is that I have not joined a cult. And 100 percent of my husbands have said that. How have you not joined a cult? You love belonging.
Kate: You just want to fit in.
Nora: I just want to fit it. I am deeply insecure. I hate myself enough that I would just, like... I'm always like, “Oh God, how can I be a better person?” Like, obviously my biggest fear is like, am I a good person? Probably not. You know, maybe I should go back to the Catholicism, or maybe I just need to sign up for a ten thousand dollar seminar. And I was invited to kind of things that were adjacent to Nxivm when I lived in New York. I wonder if you were too, ever. And I won't name the names, but there are just things. There are things that really toe this same line between self-improvement and self-awareness and then self-obsession, to the point where you are like… you can't see anything. You can't even see yourself. You've now just like... all you can see is like a system, a technology. All you can see is like a way of being that has completely depleted your sense of self while also basically making you gaze at your navel so hard that you invert.
Kate: Yes, exactly. It's a separation of personal identity and the adaptation of cult identity. You have a new language, a new community, a new way of being. There's a slow but subtle separation and distancing of your loved ones from you. It's honestly... it's kind of an intersection of two of my interests in a Venn diagram, the left being extremist organized religions and the right being self-help gurus. In the center of that is cults in some cases, you know, MLMs and they’re systems designed to be as thick as thieves. Anyone who dissents is persecuting us. They're wrong. They're going to hell. They don't get it. You're superior. It's developing this superiority in a specific vocabulary. So not only can people not contradict anything you're saying, they don't even understand what you're saying.
Nora: Yes. They don't even understand what you're saying because you are operating on a level that you have been conditioned to believe is a higher level. But really, you are… you have lost the plot. You have fully lost the plot. And I love what you said, which is also like, that's a quote from one of the— I almost said one of the characters in The Vow. But these are the people who, you know, escaped from this organization who said that. And he was like in this very emotional moment where everyone, like, wanted to laugh at that. That was like, that was... the most cringiest.
Kate: Oh, when Catherine Oxenberg made a joke about the mattress. Oh, that was awful. And she kind of got away with it. She didn't even seem to pick up on it.
Nora: Yeah, it was... it was bad. It was bad. And he's like, no, it's not. It's not funny to me. It's not funny that, you know, I made my wife sleep on the floor like a dog. Like that's… that actually makes me really sad. You're like, oh, yeah. No, it is really sad. But we as people and as, you know, viewers are consumers in any way, like, we do want to categorize things like and something that I know you do that I love about your work too, is that you: One, you defy categorization, but also like you, you really look for the both/and in everything. And I am personally a person who in practice in my daily life struggles to remember that the first page of my journal for this month just says, like it's all gray, it's all gray. As a podcast producer, I always look for the “and.” I always try to try to look at it from different angles. But I don't always do that in real life. And I know most of us don't. We want to be able to categorize things and to say, like, “I would never do this. Family would never do this. This is just not something that would happen to me.” And I think it might have already happened to you, and you didn't even know.
Kate: Totally. No. I think that kind of hyperbolic response is like such…. it's the easier place to go to. And it's the one you have an emotional reaction to something you want to like, not put yourself in the person's shoes. And people want, like, entertainers and content creators and podcasters, like, with definitive perspective. But I so rarely have one because I have a podcast coming out this week about “The Vow.” And I kind of was laughing going, you know, the cult identification model. The bite model.
Nora: Oh, yes, yes, yes. Go over it, though, cause I forgot it.
Kate: It's a framework for determining if something you’re getting into—
Nora: Oh, didn’t Frank Parlato bring this up?
Kate: Him or like Rick Russ, was the other—
Nora: Oh, my God. Frank Parlato is... I want a spin off of just Frank Parlato. He was... I was hoping him and Catherine Oxenberg would like… get together.
Kate: You paused.
Nora: Just like, you know, just really…
Kate: I think after she just took it upon herself to make a fresh-squeezed juice at his house, he was probably a little off-put. I thought that was a little aggressive.
Nora: Also, she was like, “Oh, my God, his house.” I was like, he lives in a very nice tudor. I would not be sneezing at staying at Frank Parlato’s house. It was a lovely home.
Kate: Yeah. Have you been to the Frank Report, Catherine? Like, geez.
Nora: First of all, it’s Frank Report HQ, okay?
Kate: So I was reading different interpretations of the show, and somebody pointed out that… you know when documentaries, it's almost like the editors or the director is kind of trying to make a point through the footage that they can't say explicitly. They were talking about how the way they were presenting Catherine in that entire scene, with the way she reacted to his house. She stormed in there and made a juice. The way she, like, made that joke with Mark and Bonnie. Like they were kind of, I think, trying to suggest how entitled she was and how driven she was, yes, for her daughter's sake. But how kind of unempathetic she was otherwise. And then she kind of was steamrolling in a lot of cases. And I was like, that's interesting because, yeah, was I off-put by the behavior? Sure. But I didn't really see it as some sort of elevated director's commentary about her character, because I was just so damn impressed with her the whole time.
Nora: Oh, I know. And also, she has such... I mean, I assume you're talking about her skin and her hair.
Kate: Oh, she's stunning. I was fascinated with her beauty. My husband was like Kate, pump your brakes. I just was like, how? She's just very elegant.
Nora: Elegant. I love those... the accent that you can't place, where it's like, “Are you… oh, you're rich.” Like that kind of accent I love. Ohhhh, you're rich. I love that for you.
Kate: It’s like the Julie Andrews, Queen of Genovia, vague country.
Nora: She grew up in Genovia! It’s true.
Kate: And India has your own documentary. She, like, went totally separate. Did you see that?
Kate: So India Oxenberg signed an exclusive with Starz and she has a four-part documentary just about her story as a part of Dos, the sex cult, that's way less about the framework of Nxivm and way more about the human experience of being a part of this haraam that I'm really... you know, I did sign up for a free trial. I'm probably gonna have to commit to the full month, because I only saw one episode. But I actually thought I did a really good job, actually, because I'm a little bit more interested in, like… I get the framework and I'm in. But now I want to know, like, what was it like being a part of it, and how can we empathize with that human experience more? Because when I was going through that bite model, which is just: You know you're in a cult if there's these criteria: behavioral control, information control, thought control and emotional control. And when you go through it, there's actually a lot of stuff that kind of falls under these categories. And literally, I was laughing today because it's like, oh, they, you know, dictate who you live with. There are rituals. There's an obligation of secrecy. They control how you act. There is a group... and I was like, oh, so a sorority? I've been in one of these. So I get it, because at the time you're like, how fun, this is exclusive. You know, who's to say how far it goes? And I think India's story is going to share more of how a pretty well-adjusted, self-aware person can get sucked in. And that's what I want to know.
Nora: Yeah, well, because it preys on the very human need that we have to be good and to know that we are doing a good job, which is what we all want. We all want to be told you're doing a good job or how can I possibly, you know, do better? And also, like, what does it all mean? And what really stood out to me about Nxivm was how Keith Raniere had previously started an MLM.
Kate: Oh, yeah. I mean, what's crazy is he literally had a background not only starting an MLM that was shut down by authorities, also is a statutory rapist. He had a horrendous background that people did not look into. And the argument on the one hand is, “Well, in 2000… it's not like the Internet was, you know, where it is now, where you can get anything on anybody.” But still, the fact that he was able to rebrand himself from serious criminal activity to do more criminal activity is deeply alarming. Because even when the articles came out about him and that 15-year-old girl, they just told everyone in Nxivm that it wasn't true.
Nora: Yeah. And we… I mean, we still aren't like, “YES. Believe women.” But in in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we were like, “Never believe a woman.”
Kate: Right. That’s an interesting angle I didn't think about. I was like, why on earth would people think she was lying? That's horrible. But yeah. Different time.
Nora: Yeah. Oh my God. And the structure of it, too, is really fascinating to me because there were people who had that red light feeling that you weren't born with. Right. You are born with a fight, flight or freeze response. And they didn't say anything because they just didn't want to, like, be awkward, basically, like, “well, this person invited me.” I'm like, you have no relationship with this person other than they met you at a coffee shop and sold you like a couple thousand dollar conference. And they set it up where I mean, these people were, unlike many cults, you could make a killing in this cult, like people were making money in this cult. And so it seemed that it was easier to position it as a business.
Kate: It's like on the one hand, I commend them for not going for the tax-exemption status of a religion. But on the other hand, it's like still such a… there's so many prongs of how you could get sucked in not only to make money in the pyramid scheme of it all, but then there's the collateral piece, and then there's the mind control, neuro-linguistic programing piece. And they kind of came at all angles to control your mind, your finances, your sense of agency. And it's kind of insane when such a mastermind operation is conducted by a goober in kneepads and a sweatband.
Nora: If nothing else, what I hope people take from this is that if you do not believe that male privilege is real, a woman who looked like that could not start a cult. OK? A woman who wanted to start a sex cult would have to be so hot, ageless, flawless.
Kate: You’re so right.
Nora: Could not be quirky. Could not be quirky. But it's like this, “Wild, Wild Country.” And there was another one. I'm like, wow, you can just be a guy and be like, “I have the answer for you,” and people will be like, “That's wonderful. I believe you. I have no reason to doubt you. You said it was true. And you said you have our best interests at heart. Why would I not believe you?” And a woman, they would be like… what is the thing where… men apply to lead cults when they have 20 percent of the qualifications. Women won’t volunteer to lead a cult until they have 100 percent of the qualifications. And even then, people will want to be like, “Well, I’m gonna need to see some credentials.”
Kate: That’s a funny show concept, a female cult leader with crippling impostor syndrome.
Nora: No, you could do this. Linda, you could lead this cult. OK?
Kate: Nancy Salzman! I mean, she just has big social studies teacher energy. Like she is just… like I don't really get what her appeal was, but she was a master, like, hypnotist that wasn't a psychotherapist. She literally read a Tony Robbins book and then led 16,000 people into the ground via this cult by controlling their... like, it's so insane.
Nora: The videos to me are the most intriguing part when she's like, “When you are not in alignment with your values, you are disorganized.” I'm like, what?
Kate: That's the thing is listening to the language and realizing it makes no sense and seeing people nearly in tears from it. Like Keith telling Allison Mack, like, “the thing about authenticity is that it really, you know, brings out this inauthentic part of yourself.” And Allison’s Mack’s like, “I don't know why I'm crying.” And I'm like, he just said opposing things. Like, this doesn't even make sense. It’s the language. It's so, so crazy. And I think people's willingness to, yeah, the Vanguard and the Prefect and…
Nora: Oh my God, that part is… big cringe every time they said Vanguard. Big, big cringe every time they said Vanguard, that they weren't supposed to use it. Also, big cringe that he had everybody kiss him on the lips. And then also going back to the highly sensitive person, did I commit this crime? The other day I was on a walk and I was like, “Keith Raniere goes on walks. What are people going to think of me?”
Kate: I'll raise you your walk and see you an influencer that talks to people for a living. Because I literally sit here and I'm like, “Do not listen to anything anybody tells you, except for me for two and a half hours a week.” And I'm like, how, were... I struggle with this. And I wonder if you do, too, of like... I'm very off-put by self-help gurus, by the business of broken people. I really don't like one-sided, aggressive advice. But I give it at the same time, and I never know how to reconcile those feelings.
Nora: All people want is something easy. And I think that is sort of what will always keep me at like a mid-level success. That's not to talk down about myself. But there are clear tiers, and I'm not at some of them. And I'm okay with that because… are you familiar with the work of Kate Bowler? If not, you would love her. She's a professor of divinity at college called Duke. Ever heard of it? She is actually, holy crap, you have to talk to her because she is the world's foremost expert on the prosperity gospel and the women who run it. Like she is a walking, talking Wikipedia article. She wrote this book called Blessed, which is an academic test and one called The Preacher's Wife, which is also an academic text but amazing. And she can just talk about it. It's fascinating. And, you know, she and I sort of occupy, like, a very similar space, which is like we don't have an easy answer for people. Like, we don't have something that's like, yeah, but it'll all be fine and you'll be good, and everything will be fine. And so that is a harder... that's a harder thing to sell. It's a harder thing to sell.
Kate: Yeah, it is. Because the word of mouth isn't quite there for a non-quick fix. It’s like, this one takes a while. I see people tag people in stories about my podcast, and they’re like, “it’s really long, and I’m sorry for that,” and I'm like “great sell, gang.” No, you're right. And I think that's the thing is like, you know, so much self-help is in the business of broken people. And people really need to think about their business model. And if it benefits them for you to improve then, you know, it's not happening. Like, they rely on the detonation of your self-esteem and making the absence of whatever it is they claim you're missing so glaring that you're hyper-focusing on it makes you obsess over its presence. And then you kind of chase something that you never needed or wanted. But by making it the focal point, you're obsessed with it. Andit's kind of a funny thing where it's just such the opposite of help in so many cases. And people dump so much time and money into it, and the preying on vulnerable people. I just can't handle it. And I always worry, like, I just never want to give somebody bad advice. You know, it's kind of a responsibility in a sense. And it's just interesting when people seem to, A., not take it seriously and, B., charge people for it.
Nora: Yeah, there is this part in “The Vow,” and I wrote a little bit about this, but I don't think I verbalized it out loud, where I think Mark is talking about, you know, sort of like the heyday of Nxivm. And he's like, you know, we were looking for joy. And everybody who was there was, you know, they thought that something was wrong with them because they weren't feeling joyful, because they weren't, you know, basically they weren't happy enough. And, you know, joy is a temporary state. You do not live there. You visit there. Like you… you can book an AirBNB. The elevator might pause there for a moment before you go, you know, go somewhere else. It's a Willy Wonka elevator. And you'd described it as basically, like, the business of broken people when it's like they're positioning the natural state of what it is to be human as a problem to be solved, when really what you're experiencing is being alive, unfortunately for you.
Kate: Exactly. It's part of the human experience. And when you're sold a bill of goods that commodifies an abstract concept like happiness, like success, like salvation as a static state of being and mislead people to chase that, they will chase it because it does not exist. And it's really, it's such a problem in so many ways. And it is so interesting how people still chase those things regardless, because, you know, we kind of all know happiness and success aren't static states of being. We all seem to think they should be, myself included. And it is such a funny thing when you really take a step back and think about how everything you do is in pursuit of a future fleeting feeling.
Nora: And like, if you were always joyful, it would mean nothing to you. Like, it is an impossible expectation, and also it immediately devalues that. I was at TED, and I hated it. I… highly sensitive person. I cried in a corner, but there were no corners. It's a round building. Because I was so overwhelmed. I didn't have anyone to sit with. And the activity to get lunch was that you had to find, like... there were picnic baskets and you could only be handed one if you had eight people to share it with. I starved that day.
Kate: That is like an elementary school nightmare of finding a buddy. Oh gosh.
Nora: Horrible. But there's this… there was a TED talk. And I am going to disparage the person who gave it. And I'm also going to… and I'm OK with that, because it was, they were talking about this technology. It started with an example of deep fakes of Barack Obama. And they were like, “Which one is real?” And then they're like, “None of them are real!” And they were pitching this technology as how amazing is this? We could take videos, you know, audio photos of your grandparents, and your kids could interact with your grandparents. And they had done it with Holocaust survivors and made some sort of interactive display for children. And I was like, that's a beautiful way of remembering people and also, that is not interaction. That is not getting to know somebody. And that is completely... my dead dad would hate that. That is a violation of my dead dad's privacy. I know he would say that. His ghost would haunt me. He would be like how dare you make a hologram of me for your children to interact with. No, no, no. And the only thing that makes life valuable is that it ends, and that we are nonrenewable resources, not like, oh, I can fake up an ancestor for you for your kids to pretend to interact with. It was just so... it was so alarming and unsettling to me. And that pushed me into a doom spiral. That definitely gave me some more anxiety, which is like, “OK. Then nothing is real. Nothing matters.”
Kate: There are no corners in this building.
Nora: No corners for me to cry in.
Kate: I mean, that's literally a “Black Mirror” episode. I'm actually shocked TED gave that real estate, because it is such an invasion of a person that doesn't have consent anymore’s privacy. It's like that stuff, I get how it's tempting, but I also see how it's deeply, deeply unfulfilling. And once you open that can of worms, it's like… they kind of have to pass all over again. You know, it's like… when you decide it's not what you want. And I. Yeah, that's bizarre. I've not seen that TED talk.
Nora: I will try to find it. And I might be, you know, I will try to find it because I might be slightly... You know, I might try to find it right now.
Kate: It was like actually trying to make a point about how you shouldn't be doing that.
Nora: And then I just, like, zoned out. But like, everyone around me was like, “yeah!” Oh, here we go. “Researcher who created a fake video of President Obama defended his invention at latest TED talks.” Here we go. Doo doo doo doo. “At the Vancouver event, he added, the tech could be a force for good. He's now employed by Google Brands Division.” This from 2018. “They developed an algorithm that took audio and transposed it onto a 3D model of the president's face. The task was completed by a neural network using 14 hours of Obama speeches and layering that data on top of a basic mouth shape. He acknowledged that fake videos can do a lot of damage and needed an ethical framework. It could offer history students the chance to meet and interview Holocaust victims, he said. Another example would be to let people create avatars of dead relatives.”
Kate: That’s honestly horrible.
Nora: Horrible. I don't want an approximation of my husband. Of my dad. Of me. When I die, control alt delete all of it. OK.
Kate: It's kind of like, you know, whether you're coercing somebody to propose to you, or you're insisting somebody buys a house they can't afford… when I watch people force people to do things and then that makes them happy, I'm always like, “But you know that they don't want to be doing that thing or in this place or…” And like, I have trouble understanding how people are so self-satisfied when someone's doing something against their will and coerce them anyway. I find that deep… that’s dark to me. But it's kind of that thing of where like, oh, this satisfies me in some way. Even though the person isn't doing it. It's hollow. It's not there. It's not real. And then I think there's a type of person that gets something out of that. And I really have trouble understanding not being able to see through it. I mean, you can literally see through a hologram, I guess, but it just seems unethical to me, and especially in the context of other issues with deep fakes in porn and stuff. It's just like, why would we promote this technology further?
Nora: Right. That's exactly how I feel. I also freaked out about this episode of The Daily from February, which was... I think it's called “The End of Privacy.” And they're talking about facial recognition software that law enforcement has, and the potential for it to be introduced to consumers, where I see a cute blond girl out at the bar, take her picture, run it through this app. Oh, it tells me it’s Kate Kennedy. Oh she lives here. Oh she was in this sorority. it can, like, pull up any photo they or even in the background of which is… and then I thought about my children. I thought of all these children whose photos are on the Internet, whose entire lives are documented, whose lives I know about even though I don't know them. And it's… whoooooo.
Kate: That's a spiral.
Nora: That’s a spiral. Wow. I’ve really helped people with this episode.
Kate: Thinking about that too, in the context of like you having a meltdown over like a political science blocking a sidewalk. It's like people take a video. They figure out it's you. They harass you online. Everybody would be afraid to do anything in public. And I actually... the last Taylor Swift concert I went to, I heard afterward that she had facial recognition software there so she could know that her, like, stalkers weren't coming in, and I was like, do we not have to consent to that? Not that I really care, because I don't want her stalkers there. But I was like, I didn't even know we were there yet.
Nora: Yeah. I didn't even know we were there yet. I didn't even know.
Kate: This was 2017.
Nora: Wearing the bracelet. I was like, “Oh cool.” Like the light-up bracelet, that made me feel real cool.
Kate: Oh. You were there.
Nora: I was. Don't worry. I was there. I was there for 1989. I was there for Reputation. And man, I hope to be there when Folklore gets a world tour, you know. But I don't think that she's going to be able to do it. And I was really sad when her mom got brain cancer, and the song “Soon You'll Get Better,” that's emotional self-harm for me. That is audible self-harm for me. I will sob through it. The orange bottles. We had those. Oh, God. All of it just deeply…
Kate: I'm on the verge just hearing you talk about it.
Nora: Aaron loved Taylor Swift so much. He loved her. He loved her.
Kate: And the problem is, on Lover, it comes on after this, like, really upbeat synth poppy song like “The Man,” I think. And then all of a sudden it, like, drops, and I run across the room with suffocating speed to press… to turn that song off, because I'm like... it sends me, but I have... I have huge issues with songs that upset me, like “Butterfly Kisses” being one that I find triggering. I’m like why do people make music designed to make you feel horrible, like derail your night. There's levels of sentiment and it's like, I get that it's art, but I just... there's never a time I'm wanting to listen to “Soon You’ll Get Better.”
Nora: Well I do. I have a I have a list of songs that are guaranteed to make me just bawl, just lose my mind. And that is on there.
Kate: Tell me some more, by all means.
Nora: Oh well let's just uh. Yeah, we'll pull it up. I'll pull it, I'll pull up the playlist for you. Actually one of them that was not on there that will eventually make it is another Taylor Swift song, “The Best Day,” which is, uhhhhhh.
Kate: No that one is… that one is… it’s so sweet. “The Best Day” and “Never Grow Up” are two others that, like, are really tough to listen to that have that really sweet parent-child sentimentality that just gets you.
Nora: And then she had so much sentimentality when she was still young, which I had too, like, I was already missing my childhood when I was in it.
Kate: Oh. Wow. Wow. I have never felt more understood. I used to sit in the rain and write poems. At Christmas, I feel homesick and I'm in my own house.
Nora: Same. And I've got kids like this too. Like we're laying in bed and Ralph is 7 and I'm exactly 30 years older than him and he goes, “So when I’m 8, you'll be 38. When I'm 30, you'll be 68. And when I'm 68, you’ll be dead.” I was like statistically speaking I will. I will be. Uhhhhh. And he told me his childhood is going too fast.
Kate: Bless his heart. It is hard. Being a sentimental kid is actually tough, because you overthink things you can't understand. You get their emotional gravity. And I used to go upstairs and I'd cry sometimes on my parents' birthday because I did... I was very scared of the passage of time.
Nora: Oh, my God, Kate, same. I was up at the cabin with my cousin. And our moms are five years apart. And I was inconsolable, because my mom is five years older than her mom. And that meant my mom would die sooner. And she is not a dark person. And she was like, “I still think about that. And I do not know what to do with you.”
Kate: How old were you?
Nora: I was probably nine. I was… nine. Ten, maybe.
Kate: Wow. At sleepovers. So my first inclinations of being bad at party talk was, like, late at night, there'd be a few people awake, and we'd get into it, and I'd, like, start talking about the galaxy and how I couldn't comprehend the extension of the universe. And not everyone was always on board. Were you kind of getting into those deep convos at sleepovers?
Nora: Absolutely. And I would be like, “What happens after the universe?” Like, what happens when our world is gone. And then I remember laying at Katherine's house. Katherine had a finished upstairs that was like her little suite. It was amazing. And she had a skylight. And my sleeping bag was under the skylight. And I was looking up at the sky, everyone else was asleep. And I was thinking about when the world ends, and my particles are floating away from my family's particles, and we will not find each other. So I was also fun. I've always been fun.
Kate: That’s the thing. I've never been a good sleeper. And it's because of stuff like that. And I'm very afraid of the night because that's when my mind will kind of wander, too. And I used to make people — speaking of fun — I would drop contracts at sleepovers for the Up All Night Club and try to make people sign their name to guarantee they'd stay up with me because I would get scared of my own thoughts. And if you're not in your house, you're not comfortable.
Nora: No, you're not. And I honestly, I'm not a fan of sleepovers for our kids unless they are at our house and it's with a family member. And I am not a fun mom. I'm like, it's nine o'clock. Everyone’s going to bed. Lights out. And I will, like, check on them. And otherwise I’m like, “No, you can’t sleep over at someone's house.” Like, you're going to be all upset the next day. You're gonna be sad. You might be sad that night and want to come home, but I won't answer my phone late at night…
Kate: I was thinking of that the other day. Is sleepover culture still alive and well? Because I feel like a huge part of the culture of late elementary and middle school growing up was like the huge group of people get sleeping bags. You go to someone's playroom, look up at the skylight, you watch “Grease,” you feel feelings. Maybe “Dirty Dancing.” You eat pizza. It's like, you play, you know, light as a feather, stiff as a board or whatever. And I just have fond and awful memories from these things that I just don't know if the same world exists anymore, where people blindly trust other people's parents like that, because the name of the game is you go to the person's house with the least strict parents.
Nora: True. True, true, true. I mean, also, I speak from such a limited scope of experience because I'm also just not like a fun mom. But I mean, in middle school, it felt like that was like going to be a thing, but it was always like groups of three, max. Max. And I had to know the parents, like, on a, you know, first-name basis. If you were in my phone as So and So's Mom, you know, you weren't sleeping over there. But if I've been in their home then and I got a good vibe. Sure. Sure. But also, none of my kids really like sleepovers because they like to sleep in a bed, which is the normal thing.
Kate: Yeah. It's so interesting. I don't even know why or how childhood would evolve in that way. But like I guess I think about, like, how strong FOMO was. And if I wasn't at a sleepover or group hang just by word of mouth, it was soul crushing. But if I now had to see it on TikTok through a dance to, like, Jason Derulo “Savage Love,” it would kill me softly and I would be so upset and it must be so hard to be a kid now and not be invited to stop.
Nora: Yeah, it has to be and it's so miserable. I mean I know it is, and it's so miserable. And also there is no reason why preteens or teenagers should have any of these apps, even though I know they're so funny at it. Mostly it is a way to harm each other and yourself. And you don't have, like, a fully developed brain yet. You're walking around with, like, a partially developed brain with a supercomputer that you can use to manipulate other people's feelings and that also promotes secrecy and duplicity. And I am not a fun parent. I just don't. I don’t know.
Kate: Yeah. TikTok. I mean, do you, like, actively, like, check, scroll. Are you into TikTok?
Nora: Kate, it is the self-soothe that I have right now. That's it.
Kate: I know.
Nora: And thank God for you because your episode, “We Need to Tok.” I was like, I will now. I will now Tok. My TikToks, my participation in the app is not good. I am not… you need an advanced film degree to create a TikTok. I don't know how to do it.
Kate: There's a high barrier to entry to create, but to a bystander. People are so off-put by it. I'm like, okay, you know, do what you want with your life. But I'm just telling you, amidst quarantine and the darkness of 2020, it's been a sunny corner that of course takes its dark turns, but it's short-form, it’s easily digestible. It's quick. And that algorithm is a terrifying privacy issue, but God does it know me. Because I’m on Mamma Mia TikTok, and I'm thrilled.
Nora: Oh, my God. I am on, honestly, like I'm on... like queer, POC TikTok. That’s my niche. That's my niche. That's what it serves me. I am deep into it, and I love it so much. I try to avoid, like, every once in a while they try to pull you into a different part of TikTok, and you have to be like, “No, no, that's not where I'm going. Like, no, I will… like, you tried to pull one over on me, algorithm. It's not going to happen.” And for a while I was getting like, a lot of, like, the self-help stuff, which really sort of… there's so many conversations that we have to have in life, Kate. But it's like the pressure for literally everybody to have a, quote, personal brand makes me so depressed. It's so sad to me. And so to watch people, like, you're a therapist or your whatever, whatever, or you’re, you know, a social worker and like, this is helping get a message out. But also it's like, it's not really doing a lot for you. You know, like you're not... I don't know. You're making a tech bro really rich. But like, what are you getting out of it? Or, like, what are you... I don't... it’s hard for me.
Kate: No I get what you’re saying. It's, like, subject matter experts in traditional non-digital trades digitizing their expertise and making a personal brand out of it. And it's informative and interesting. But it also is, like, whether this is the right side of history or not, it does ding their credibility a smidge because you're kind of like, well, why are you doing this?
Nora: Why are you doing this? And it's also like, you know, for a while I was getting pool cleaning TikToks, which I loved. And that was because I specifically asked, I was like, “Algorithm, give me pool cleaning TikToks,” because one of my friends, Luke Burbank, loves… he's like, “It's so soothing.” He sent me a few.
Kate: Oh yeah, power wash a pool clean.
Nora: Power wash a pool clean. Before and after, the pool's clean. And so I'm like, so this person spends all this time doing this. But it's like, is it going to move the needle for your business? These are the things I worry about. I worry about like is this a wise investment of your time as a business person? You've a million followers. Are all those million people gonna call you to clean their pool? No. Because you are actually located in, you know, South Carolina and I'm in Arizona. And so I hope that it is effective marketing for you. I fear that it is not. And then I'm like, God, is any part of our culture safe from needing to create content? And then if I really want to go down a hole, Kate, like, I mean, isn't there such a thing as digital pollution? Like... just imagine all these things floating through the air. I don't know how they get there, but I believe they're beamed through the air.
Kate: I know. I like to think about this every night when I fall asleep with headphones on. Can’t be good. But no, I think maybe it's double, like, there's two sides of the darkness for me of, like, the personal branding, because while I watch other people do it, I feel uncomfortable while simultaneously being constantly told how badly I need one to do anything material with my career, books, life. And I think we've maybe talked about this in terms of the kind of irony of being a quasi influencer that, like, needs to engage with social media and does like it but, like, doesn't want that to be your identity. But it's done so much for me. Like, everything I have is pretty much because of engaging with people online.
Nora: Hundred percent.
Kate: And I can't trivialize it. But at the same time, it's like, yeah, when the stakes get higher, the production gets better, the content gets more specific. It becomes hard to keep up. And I think there's just a natural resistance for me to not do things that don't come to me easily. And a lot of the TikTok content doesn't come easily to me. And, you know, it is hard to figure out where your time is best spent. But kind of the grind of being a creative, a freelancer, is a series of small efforts that compound over time. And you just hope for the best. It's hard to tease out what works and how.
Nora: And there's so much want in so much of this stuff, too, which is I… the intention was never like, “Oh, how can I be, you know, an influence?” I was just trying to process things, you know? Like, I didn't know that the podcast would ever be more than 10 episodes, which was, like, my initial contract, you know? And a part of me was like, well, of course it worked. Yeah. And a part of me also was like, oh, I guess I do this now. You know? Like, I guess this is the thing. And I did feel very natural. And I have obviously, like, very, very much like, you know, the Internet has giveth and the Internet has given me deep anxiety. And you are not your work, but also, like, when your personality is a part of your work, that is a fine line to walk. Remember when I said this was going to be an uplifting episode? Let me get back into what I like about TikTok...
Kate: Show me some things in your apartment that just make sense. You know where the money is? The money is things you didn't know you needed off Amazon. That comish is insane.
Nora: The commission's insane. And then I'm like, oh, yeah, that would make sense. Should I have… Kate? There's this thing... I'm actually really am asking you. There's this… it’s a chair, but it's, like, really like a bicycle. Like a stationary bicycle that you pull up to an elevated desk.
Kate: So a unicycle that’s stationary.
Nora: You're exactly right. It's a stationary unicycle. Or you can get an attached desk so you can work while you bike. And my husband's, like, just exercise or work. Why would you need to do them at the same time? I’m like, because it made sense. Somebody on TikTok said it just makes sense. Okay?
Kate: I'm a sucker for a multitasking activity. And that actually kind of sounds nice. I love to kill two birds. I do.
Nora: Oh, God. But yeah. So then I worry about Amazon. I’m like, if you do these affiliate links, It's sort of like God, what does that mean for small… what does it mean for the small unicycle makers of America?
Kate: Yeah. As a person that wants, you know, you want to support independent bookstores. I do, too. But it's just so much easier and faster when people order with Amazon. Oh, I know it. I'm a giant contradiction in everything I do.
Nora: Same, same, same. And also, it's like, you know, women have always, always done uncompensated word of mouth labor for companies, always. Tale as old as time. Like, they’re like “word of mouth,” and it really meant “word of woman.” Like, we just need to, like, tell women to tell their friends about this, and they'll do it because it feels good. It does feel good. It feels good to be like, “I actually know exactly the lipstick you need to get,” and to then see you wear it and be like “I told you,” it just feels good. We like to do that. We'd like to help each other. So why do I begrudge another woman for making, you know, one dollar and 17 cents for recommending me a lipstick. Isn't that worth it to me? Like, it doesn't cost me anything. But then, I’m like, what is the cost to the world? So that's where I get to mentally very quickly.
Kate: Yeah. I feel two ways about affiliate links too, especially when they're not disclosed. And, you know, it feels a little like... I don't know. It's like, you could suggest anything just to make a buck and not really mean it. But the flip side of that as a person who had a business that sold something, I couldn't afford advertising. All I could rely on as a small business owner is people sharing and my products and doing swipe ups. And not that, you know, Laura Mercier or whatever people are like hawking needs, you know, their advertising. But it's kind of a part of a more important ecosystem of sharing that does benefit small businesses at times. And like, I don't know, it's also tricky. And I feel like two ways about it, because I feel like a lot of it's really... I don't love the constant inundation of promotion. But at the same time, I am so deeply offended if somebody says something to me about an ad or an affiliate link, because I'm like, what, you're you want to deny me my livelihood? Like, I don't care how inconsequential the content seems. If you're consuming it, and it's free, you know, just like ads are on TV, people that create anything anywhere need to monetize it. And there's two ways you monetize things: ads or subscriber fees — or affiliate links, rather. And you gotta pick one. So it's like the rational side of me wants to be like, don't deny people their livelihood. It's not fair. If you consume their content, they deserve to monetize it. But then part of me thinks there's a line you cross where everything seems so forced and promotional and inauthentic that it's frustrating.
Nora: Yeah. And I think, like... I don't consider, for better or worse, I don't consider posting on Instagram free content. Like I just don't. I'm a terrible photographer. I, you know, there's really... I don't consider that free content because I just don't? Like, I guess the podcast is free content. And I also fully agree, like also, we used to read newspapers, and they were supported by ad revenue and subscriber fees. It's not like by subscribing to the newspaper you got an ad-free newspaper. No. But there was always, like, sort of a division between, like, what is editorial and what is advertising. And when you work in media or if you used to work in traditional media, those teams were so separate. Like no no no no no. Like, there's just like a huge firewall between them. And now, like, when you are the creator and you're the publisher, so you're wearing like, you know, when you’re wearing both hats, it does get sort of like murky. And then when I see, like, you know, huge influencers saying like, well, this is how I make all the free content for you, like, sort of defensively I'm like, “Well, yeah. But also you make this content because it drives engagement, which you can also use to sell advertising against, which really... guess what, this is pitting us against each other. Really, it's not at all about you getting a sponsorship, you know, getting an ad from you, because I thought because I followed you, like, we had an intimate, you know, parasocial relationship. No, no, no. This is all about somebody, like an algorithm, trying to keep us on an app where someone else who is neither of us is making a lot of money. And so for me, I think when I really think about it, that sort of, like, the feeling is like a distraction from a bigger issue, which is, you know, we do deserve to make money however the heck you can make it. And we want somebody to be more noble than others and it's not. Like it's not.
Kate: Right. And I think that's what I come back to because I'm the same way. I don't monetize Instagram. I see it as ancillary and supporting engagement for other things I want to do. And then when people hold me to a really high standard on it about what I talk about, or if I DM them back, I'm a little frustrated because I’m like, well this isn’t my job. You know, but then that's not a thing that you want to say. And yeah, being like “this is free content” is kind of off putting. And I feel different ways about it as a creator — I don't even love that word — vs. a consumer. Like, I get both sides very deeply. And I think I try to, like, kind of transcend the clutter I feel toward that and be like, “I want people to do well and I want people to make money and have this ecosystem exists and women can capitalize on it and support themselves, I'm going to just try to be supportive.” But it doesn't rid you of that kind of feeling of: Is this necessary? Is this genuine? You know? Especially... I mean, we were in peak quarantine and people were doing swipe ups for, like, you know, Lysol wipes. I'm just like, okay. There's points where it gets to be all too much. But that was a whole experience in and of itself. Just influence and COVID. Because we weren't doing anything else.
Nora: Or like influencers, like white influencers being like “swipe up for, like, you know, ten books on racial justice.” And I'm like, okay, so these are like… affiliate links, which feels weird right now? And also should you be curating these books right now? Like is this the time for you to, you know, do anything? Which is like... in a world where we've been sort of conditioned to view, like Nora Ephron's mom told her, “everything is copy” — that somehow just got, you know, drilled down into you millennial influencers to be “everything is content” — and just like... it's just not. Like, not everything is. Like, you don't have to have, like, a take on everything. You don't have to have, like, a... you know, an acknowledgment of everything. And yet also people will expect you too.
Kate: Yes. And I think the thing that I see happen is like... the 1 percent of people that are in your ear about something, people will respond and tell the other 99 percent of people about it who really just didn't notice. So if one person wants you to be collectively exhaustive or cover something or is on you about it, people are so, like, upset and defensive that they then almost have this instinct to broadcast. It’s kind of like people responding to hater comments on TikTok. I see it happening.
Nora: Yes, that's also cringe.
Kate: It's so cringe. And when people are new to that sort of negative response, they take it upon themselves to defend every single thing. And like, I think that people's over-involvement in, like almost like, kind of confusing level of social responsibility they bestowed upon themselves is, like, in response to just fear of the 1 percent of people saying they didn't do enough. And like, that's just gross in and of itself because it's so insincere. It's not proactive. It's just preventative. And, you know. Yeah. We got into territory where there were so many existential questions I was asking myself daily about, like, why am I doing this? What is it for? Who is it helping? Is it enough? It was really kind of an interesting time. It's still an interesting time amidst, you know, well… this is in the future, but, yeah. It's all crazy.
Nora: Yeah. Yeah. The Internet just, like, has made us all, like, the star of our own Truman Show in the center of our own universe more than we ever have. And also, like, ya know, we love to be right. We love to be right. We love to be, you know, righteous. And I absolutely, you know, am including myself in that. Like, anybody who has ever followed me on Instagram will know sometimes I am absolutely the problem. Sometimes I am the worst example. I am the worst example of, like, how to behave. How to process information. How to, you know, like, I am deeply deep regert.
Kate: You know, I just really resonate with that. I hear you. I see you. I almost just got confused of which was the wrong term because we talked about it.
Nora: Yeah, it is... I am resonating with this. We are resonating. We're resonating together right now.
Kate: Look at us. A couple of resonators.
Nora: Who'd a thought? Who'd have thought? Not me.
Kate: Not me.
Nora: Not me.
Nora: We're going to take another quick break.
Nora: And we are back. This is our Election Day don't say the word “election” episode. OK? This is an episode of “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” where we're not talking about that. We're not talking about that. We're talking about things, stuff, random topics. We are getting into a lot of territory.
You know what I'm going to talk about? I'm going to talk about an upcoming episode, because I really found it so, so helpful. It has been just something I've listened to and re-listened to, even though the episode’s not coming out for a few weeks. But it's with Susan David, who works at a little school called Harvard. She's a Ph.D. She's a psychologist. She's... I truly think was one of the women at the forefront of fighting this toxic positivity movement before it was a movement, and before it was probably even called toxic positivity. And I've seen her TED talk many, many times. And I reached out to her. I got… why am I about to brag? I’m about to be like, “Uhhh I actually met her once.” But I did. I met her once.
And we truly started our conversation by being like, “Wow, it's just... it's so nice to talk to you. Like, are people ever surprised at how, like, upbeat you are in real life?” And I was like, yes, people are. She’s like yeah, I mean, I study... she studies emotions. And so people expect a person who is an emotional advocate to be, you know, just kind of a bummer. People assume, probably from the titles of my books, probably from the content and title of this show, for me to just be a nonstop bummer. And then sometimes when they meet me, they're sort of, like, disappointed, or at least confused that I'm a happyish person. They don't say happyish, though. What do they say? They say positive. They say positive. They say, how do you stay so positive? How’d you stay positive when your husband was dying? How are you so positive? And I'm like, I'm not that positive. I'm not. I am happy.
But the word positive, it triggers the exact opposite reaction in me. Like, tell me to look for the bright side, I will snap shut my blackout curtains. I will pull the covers over my eyes, I will put down my eye shade that I bought on Instagram and was very, very targeted to me and honestly makes my eyes hurt, but it was expensive, so I’m going to get my money's worth. Tell me everything happens for a reason. I will be like, really? Hmm. What is the reason why my 35-year-old husband had to die from brain cancer?
I think you get the gist of how I am and why I don't get out much. But what I mean is that I'm just not that kind of positive. You know,? I'm just not... I'm not that kind of passive, but I'm really not all that negative either. It's just that I exist in a real life inside of a real world where things are simultaneously difficult and wonderful and where the full spectrum of human emotions is available, like an all-you-can-feel buffet, which is... I would go to that. I would pay $14.95. I would use a clean plate every time, even though it does seem wasteful. Does seem wasteful. But also cleanly. And now in these Covid times I cannot believe we ever did buffets. OK? And trust me, I love a buffet. I'd love to get my money's worth. You take me to a Chinese food buffet. I have been asked to leave. I have been asked to leave a buffet. They were like, “You have taken this to a level that is making people uncomfortable and that is hurting our business.” And I was like, “Well, I'm in college. What do you expect for me? I'm eating. This is my meal for the week. I'm stocking up.”
So, a little quote to get you through today, to get you through this week, which is, “People who have a goal to be happy become less and less happy over time, because happiness is not borne out of chasing some ideal. Happiness is borne out of living life in ways that feel concordant with what you value.”
Susan said that to me in our conversation, and it's really hard to know what you value without having curiosity about what you're feeling and why you're feeling it. And I'm trying harder lately to be curious about myself and my thoughts and my feelings, to not just be like, “That's a bad feeling,” or, “Oh, that's good.” But to see what else could be there. And so an example is like a few weeks ago, I'm scrolling Instagram, scrolling Instagram, and tappin through stories, tappin through stories. And I see a post by a person who I admire, who I appreciate as a person, who I enjoy. And she had shared, like, a link to an Amazon link for a product that was really similar, just kind of similar… not even that similar, but similar enough to one that Still Kickin makes. And I replied and was basically like, “Uhhhh, don't support Amazon.” And I was like, I'm just annoyed because, like, I'm so morally superior and, you know, like, obviously I would never support a big corporation over a small business. But really, all I did was make her feel crappy about sharing something that she liked, and that also that she was sharing for other people to like and enjoy. I was feeling, like, a moral righteousness, which... what could be more intoxicating than that. But truly, getting a little more curious, I was feeling insecure, small, insignificant, like, you know, that what I do, our business does, is, like, just not important. And honestly, just scared about the future of small business.
And I just let that fear and insignificance come out as just righteous a hole-ness. Because I didn't take the time to just rest with that and dig a little further in before puking that up with my thumbs. So that process of being curious and really identifying a specific emotion is called “emotional granularity.” Susan taught me that. And I just describe it as trying not to be a jerk.
So keep an ear out for that episode. Hate myself for saying that. And we will be back next week.
This has been an episode of “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” Thank you. We are glad to be here. Just keeping you busy on this Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020. What a day. Who knows what the future holds. We are going to stay in the moment. We're gonna stay here with each other in this podcast. I'm Nora McInerny. I am the host of this show. I write the scripts. I do the uh… I'm an ideas person. I'm an ideas person.
The show is made by Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina and Hannah Meacock Ross. We get so much help from Phyllis Fletcher. Truly. I mean, on my tombstone, write, “It was all Phyllis Fletcher.” It was all Phyllis Fletcher. She's so wonderful.
We had help from Jordan Turgeon. Jordan Turgeon. Been friends for four years, and honestly, sometimes hard to remember a person's name. And when all you see is their face and you're like, “I wish I could search my brain for faces to match with names.” I hope it never comes to that technology. People don't do that. If you can do that, please don't.
We are a production of APM — Another Podcastin’ McInerny. That was good. That was good. American Public Media is what it really stands for, I think I’m obviously legally obligated to say that. And our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson.
And… can you hear those birds, guys? I’ve got the best birds. I'm getting really into birding. Google “Phoenix love birds,” because I've worked very hard to attract them to my yard and they are here, baby. OK, talk soon. Bye.