A Secular Wednesday, Because I Have Been Away

happy to be back!

Oh, my darlings. What a lovely weekend. I will not barrage you with pics or stories bc I have made a new insta (nicole.cliffe) and I also basically live-tweeted the weekend. Well, obviously you have to see THIS bc a) of all I was already crying bc Fucklahoma was SO EMOTIONALLY POWERFUL and I met Jud (Patrick Vaill) bc my friend Natalie Walker is a Real Broadway Person, and so when Louis Peitzman hastily thrust his phone at me I just truly lost it:

Also, Hadestown was a revelation, though I was more personally rocked by Fucklahoma (which I think I may be able to drag my dad to in October if it’s still running, on the grounds of “it’s about how America is bad”) and I got to go…backstage. Natalie got us on the list and went over to see Persephone, the divine and angelic Amber Grey, who is PUMPING AT INTERMISSION bc she is a boss babe, and Amber saw me and hugged me and said she had been staring at my caftan bc she could see it during the show and it was even lovelier in person and I died!

But mostly, this weekend, although very very self-indulgent, gave me so many opportunities to have meaningful connections with total strangers and also dear friends. The Fucklahoma matinee (ESPECIALLY the matinee) had a lot of very confused (mostly older) people in the audience who were like…what the actual fuck is happening…at various points, and I found myself talking to an older woman who was totally into it, and her husband was iffy on it. And we got kind of deep together and she told me her husband had suffered a TBI the previous year and can only tolerate loud music if it’s music he already knows, so they had come from Albuquerque to see Oklahoma! and then we both cried a little and prayed a little and when we saw each other on the way out she said he had actually really loved the second half and we hugged and I felt such love for both of them.


And also this:

And this:

And this (we did not win but we had the best trivia team name):

Other things you need to see:

chris fleming always

Louis wrote about the Tonys and he speaks for me:

I know that I have to write about the Tony Awards because this is a newsletter wherein I talk about theater, but I feel so obliterated from the Tony Awards that I’m not really sure where to begin. I’m still kind of reeling from the whole night, which began with me co-hosting the fanciest party I’ve ever co-hosted and ended with me wandering into the fanciest party I’ve ever attended, where Stephanie J. Block let me see her Tony up close. But I am not here to brag. (I am not entirely here to brag.) Since I am still struggling to piece together my thoughts, however, here are a handful of things I loved from a Tonys that, as far as I’m concerned, mostly got it right. By which I mean, here are the times I teared up.

Crying moment #1: Ali Stroker winning Best Featured Actress in a Musical. I’ve been obsessed with Ali Stroker since first encountering her on The Glee Project, the most important reality competition of our generation. (Seriously, one show gave us Ali Stroker, Alex Newell, and Blake Jenner? The cultural impact jumped out.) Her performance in Oklahoma! is a fucking delight, a much needed ray of light in a largely bleak production. Sure, this Oklahoma! fucks, but it also cuts so deep. Her speech was lovely, and thinking about all the actors with disabilities who finally get to see a wheelchair user win a Tony Award — that is tremendously moving to me. “This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation, or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said. “You are.” And I’m crying again. (Side note: It’s shameful and embarrassing that the stage was not wheelchair accessible, which is yet another reminder of how far we still have to go.)

Crying moment #2: André De Shields winning Best Featured Actor in a Musical. He’s a fucking legend, and watching the audience go wild for him in Hadestown is one of the great joys of seeing that show. (I will also forever associate him with The Fortress of Solitude, a fantastic musical by the late, great Michael Friedman that deserves so much more recognition than it received. Listen to the perfect score on Spotify.) I teared up just seeing him win, but his speech touched me deeply: “I would like to share with you just three cardinal rules of my sustainability and longevity. One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.” Simple and profound words to live by from an icon.


Okay! Now, normal posting. I am finishing my celeb profile for Thursday, so that’s my big thing, and then I have a really exciting phone call about a project on Friday, bc doing this profile reminded me I’m supposed to be a writer and need to stop saying no to meaningful work? I need to be more like André De Shields.


Because I did not have time to do a Featured Pet, I went the #UglyDogs route:


Amanda Mull on the future of skincare (it’s bespoke, and it’s gonna be trouble):

Ronald Goldsmith, a consumer psychologist and a professor emeritus at Florida State University, says that data collection has always been a lucrative by-product of any customization program. “Companies will frequently collect that information, mesh it with what other information they can get from other sources, and sell the information back and forth” to other companies, he says. Prose’s privacy policy allows it to sell your data to other companies at will, as do the policies of most similar brands. (Prose shares data with partner companies like payment processors, but Pras says that Prose does not sell data to third parties.)

Even with the privacy issues that are rampant in much of modern shopping, Goldsmith thinks personalized products are an easy sell to many consumers, who tend to love them. In spite of the indignities of admitting that an Instagram ad worked on me (and in spite of the healthy amount of journalistic skepticism with which I approached my Prose shampoo order), I’m now part of that group. My curls are shiny and bouncy, even though most curl-friendly products weigh down my hair. The products smell amazing (and so does my hair), and my one-of-a-kind shampoo and conditioner were a couple of bucks less expensive per bottle than the high-end stuff I normally buy.

I also didn’t have to flip between product listings, trying to divine the secrets of several near-identical varieties of hair goop. The correct choice showed up in my apartment with my name right there on the label. “Choice overwhelms people, and studies have shown that people don’t respond well to too much choice,” Goldsmith explains. Personalization is a way out of that.

Nevertheless, Goldsmith says, the current crop of companies offering personalization might end up too successful for their own good: “The problem is that when it works, competitors do it.” It’s not hard to imagine a near future in which upstarts and big brands alike will let you have it your way with a custom cocktail of nutrients or a special face serum all your own, as long as you’re willing to tell them everything about yourself.


Monday’s Care and Feeding column:

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 8-year-old wants a cellphone. I think this is nuts; my wife says it’ll help her keep in touch with her friends after school, also in case of emergencies. She has agreed to abide by your ruling either way.

—It’s Nuts, Right?

Dear INR,

Do not give your 8-year-old a cellphone. My apologies to your wife. You can get her one of those phones designed for kids to literally call one number: yours. For emergencies. I promise this will not result in social ruination and your daughter eventually becoming a person who dresses up her cats in doll clothes and silently waltzes around the apartment holding them, wishing her father had not stunted her emotional and social growth.


My friend Nichole on smelling cheap and sweet:

My great-aunt Mary collected samples of perfume. On top of her bedroom dresser, she kept a fishbowl of those little booklets with vials inside. Whenever my family visited her, I’d say ‘hello’ and immediately head to her room. She’d sometimes come with me to make sure I didn’t play in the good stuff, but most often, she’d pick something special out for me to try and help me open the vials so I wouldn’t waste them. My mother always had jars of perfumed lotions from Avon. The thick cream left my arms and legs greasy, but I loved how good I thought I smelled. None of the scents suited me, I quickly realized upon adolescence, and by the time those teenage years hit, I no longer wanted to smell like the musky wealth found in luxury women’s magazines. I wanted to smell sweet. I still do. Keep your earthy patchouli, your floral musks. They smell lovely, but I want to smell edible, even if that means foregoing the expensive bottled scents of a mature woman and settling for those 3-for $24 deals found in every mall in middle America.

(I personally skip scented stuff bc I have family members who can’t breathe around it, but I guarantee if someone Nichole worked with asked her to go unscented for this reason, she would, bc she is a kind and good soul.


Angelica Jade, a great talent on the rise, in conversation with Patty Jenkins:

I want to ask about the other directors that were chosen for the project alongside yourself, because you establish in the first two episodes a really rich and fascinating world. It’s particularly strong in how it takes our expectations of what a noir looks like and subverts them.
Thank you for that! Thank you! That’s literally what we were doing, but nobody ever says it in that way, so I couldn’t appreciate it more.

I especially loved seeing Carl Franklin’s episodes. I’m such a fan of his work in Devil in a Blue Dress and One False Move, and I’ve enjoyed the directorial work that I Am the Night’s third director, Victoria Mahoney, has done on shows like You and Queen Sugar. Why did you feel that Victoria and Carl made sense for this world that you established?
This was a story I had wanted to do throughout the years, so I thought I was going to be the one to do all of it. Chris and I were getting really excited about it, but when scheduling started to look the way it was, it was heartbreaking that you can’t do all the episodes. But the mere existence of Carl Franklin made that slightly more complicated for me because I love Carl. Devil in a Blue Dress was groundbreaking and set the stage for a story like this to even be told. I kept saying, “If I have to go but I can get Carl Franklin … it’s not better than getting to do them myself, but it’s almost as great.” Here’s the other interesting thing: I sought him out, and when I told him the story, his jaw dropped and he’s like, “I optioned a different person’s version of that same story!”

So it was going to be just Carl and I, but when Carl hurt his leg and he couldn’t get working quickly, we wanted to look for another director to fill the middle two slots. Victoria was a little bit outside the box because she didn’t have the same history or body of work, but I was just really excited by the potential of bringing this point of view of a young, energized filmmaker. This is really Fauna’s story, so I was drawn to having a woman who could continue to carry that story forward, even though I’m open to any right person directing anything.

Well, I think that was a good choice because it feels like a very cohesive body of work, while also leaving space for individual visual choices. That’s another thing I want to ask you about: how the visual landscape of the series plays around with noir expectations. I was especially intrigued in location choices because there’s really interesting class commentary spoken through visual decisions. Can you talk a little bit about creating the look for the series?
We went into this thinking, We’re doing a kind of story that is very known for the tone of noir. And it really lends itself to being noir. But each generation that’s done noir has brought its own new thing to the party — Carl did, Chinatown did — so I thought, What’s ours? When we first started doing it, there was an assumption that we’d do shadows and darkness, but I thought, That’s not exciting. That’s just people mimicking what they’ve seen before. I found myself much more drawn to the idea of, How do we stay true to that spirit of noir, but do it in a completely different way? I started thinking of Hitchcock, William Eggleston, and photographers working in that period of time who, instead of going black-and-white, went really colorful but in a very limited palette. You’re capturing the tension and the withholding of noir in a new formula.

I have always had, in all of my work, a pretty voracious desire for big, ambitious places to shoot. The Sowden House is incredible. The fact that we got to shoot there is mind-blowing. But then, in [Hodel’s ex-wife] Corinna’s house, it’s all lush and over-the-top with all hipster artists of the era, and yet Corinna herself was not all that wealthy. Instead of being like, “Oh, it’s just a rich person’s house,” it’s actually a not-that-rich person’s house who’s living up to being a rich person who esteems art above all things. Versus, you know, the house Fauna grew up in, where her mother doing her best to hold it together in all the hours that she can. Trying to capture all those character details in locations and then trying to make those locations as visually stunning and as participatory in the story as possible is something I really care about.



Sarah Weinman on the other victims of Linda Fairstein and the other racist fuckos who put those poor boys in prison: the additional people the real rapist was able to victimize while the wrong people were in prison:

Thirty years ago, the attempted murder, rape, and assault of the woman still more commonly known today by her tabloid name — the Central Park Jogger — than as Trisha Meili, brought together real and imagined fears of a collapsing New York City into an unholy cocktail of outrage, blame, and recrimination. Nineteen eighty-nine was near the apex of escalating crime rates (nearly 2,000 people murdered, a record eclipsed the following year), underfunded social services, brazen muggings on graffiti-emblazoned subways, skyrocketing drug use thanks to the infusion of crack cocaine, and a police force that seemed helpless to do much about any of it.

New York was nearly unbearable for its residents, especially those who were not white and not rich. The media coverage, particularly from the tabloid Post and Daily News as well as local television, amplified fear with lurid reports and headlines (one memorable, simple one: VIOLENCE.) Which is why, when Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, the five African-American and Latino teens known as the Central Park Five, were charged and later convicted for Meili’s rape and near murder on the night of April 19, 1989, the public bought it. The misheard term of “wilding” — basically running amok and thrill-killing — was emblazoned on tabloid front pages for what these young men had purportedly done.

That changed in December 2002, when the New York Supreme Court vacated the convictions of the Five, acting upon the recommendation of the District Attorney’s Office. Earlier that year, a murderer and serial rapist named Matias Reyes had admitted that he, alone, was the rapist in the park, and DNA results confirmed his confession. He had preyed upon women during a yearlong campaign of terror all along the Upper East Side — a case covered in fits and starts by the media, which was ready to move on to the next story even after his arrest as a serial rapist and murderer.

Because the “wilding” narrative took hold so quickly, when it fell apart, the public reckoning never seemed to stick. Not after a civil suit lodged by the Five against the city, settled in 2014 for $41 million. Not after Sarah Burns’s 2011 book and 2012 documentary film on the case outlined the socioeconomic context for the teens’ wrongful convictions. When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series premiering on May 31, will inflame arguments anew, despite physical evidence pointing squarely to Reyes.

The public reckoning almost always centered on the injustice to the five men themselves, who were innocent boys whose lives were destroyed by shoddy police work and systemic racism. Less examined are the other lives destroyed by the case: Reyes’s many victims, who waited so long for justice, some who might not have been victims at all but for law enforcement’s staunch belief it had the right assailants.

That story can now be reconstructed from 200,000 pages of documents, affidavits, and legal briefs released by the city beginning in July 2018; countless newspaper articles; and interviews with more than two dozen sources, some on the record, or interviewed outright, for the very first time.

This wasn’t about one young, white affluent woman raped while jogging in Central Park, but about nine young women, some affluent, some less so, assaulted, raped, or murdered all around the Upper East Side. The story crafted within hours of that April 19 night was the splintered mirror image of the real narrative: that the man who attacked the Central Park Jogger was a serial rapist and murderer who struck before and after.

For three decades, the story of women harmed, one fatally, by a man whose escalating, raging violence wasn’t fully understood until it was too late, was hidden in plain view. The women were always at the center of what had happened. But they were written out of their own story.


While we are talking about those poor, poor young men, Rebecca Carroll's perfect review of Ava DuVernay’s documentary had me on the floor (you may not want to read it, and I get that):

The widely praised 2012 documentary, "The Central Park Five," from filmmaker Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns, chronicles the 1989 Central Park jogger case with skill and agility, recreating the ambient fear and violence in New York City during the 1980s, and using raw news footage to paint a thorough picture of the media frenzy and ultimate miscarriage of justice.

But Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix mini-series When They See Us, which dramatizes the events, does something different. It leads you straight into the eye of a visceral terror. It makes your skin hurt and your gut grieve.

In the beginning moments, there is a boldly auspicious shot: Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” blasts from an imaginary boombox in the night sky as black and brown boys flood an entrance into Central Park, where they parade their undiminished dignity down wide open paths lit only by lamp posts and the valor of their youth. The scene is a perfect artistic choice for Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young, who has worked with DuVernay on two feature films in the past (Selma and Middle of Nowhere) and whose visual genius is only one of many components that make When They See Us an unmitigated masterpiece.

As infamous as the case is, the actual story of the "Central Park Five" case is still a vicious kick to the chest and almost unbearable to believe. Thirty years ago, a white woman went for a nighttime jog in Central Park, where she was severely beaten, bound, and raped. (Almost two weeks later, she emerged from a coma with no memory of what had happened.) Within two days, a group of five black and brown boys ranging in age from 14 to 16, only two of whom knew each other, were targeted by the New York Police Department and subjected to hours of relentless interrogation and violent coercion until they all finally agreed to confess to a crime they did not commit.

During the interrogations, each were promised they could go home if they agreed to confess — and all they wanted, after hours alone without their parents or family, food or bathroom breaks, was to go home. They also believed, because they were children, in their own innocence. But despite no solid physical evidence, glaring inconsistencies in the taped confessions and because racism, Kevin Richardson, 15, Raymond Santana, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Korey Wise, 16, were all convicted and served sentences ranging from six to 13 years.

Wise was the only one tried as an adult and his conviction sent him to Rikers Island first, and then later to another maximum-security prison in New York State, while Richardson, Santana, McCray and Salaam were sent to a juvenile detention facility.

Twelve years after their 1990 sentences, convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed that he alone committed the assault and rape of the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili. In fact, Reyes had committed another rape near Central Park days prior in 1989 — same exact M.O. as Meili’s rape — and yet, the police and city prosecutor Linda Fairstein failed to consider him a suspect. All five men were exonerated, but their lives had already been irreparably shattered.


Ask a Manager takes on what to do when your HR director appears to be a pathological liar:

Jane has always been known as someone who tells interesting and crazy stories, but I’m worried that her quirky stories are signs that she is a pathological liar and possibly doing something to endanger the financial health of the company.

The source of my worry comes from a weird incident that only I and a few other employees know about. Jane is a retired army veteran and has told a lot of stories about her time in deployment. Last Veteran’s Day, she sent all-staff email with a photo of herself and proceeded to tell everyone that the photo was taken on her last day of service in the army. In the email she explained how you can see the “anguish” on her face in the photo and that her last day was marked by an ambush attack in which she successfully saved her team from a car explosion. A lot of people commended her for her honesty and candor, but one or two people questioned if the photo was actually of her since it did not really look like her.

Fast forward a few months later and an employee found a news article that included the EXACT SAME photo that Jane sent to us with her story about the ambush. In the article, the photo had a caption with the woman’s name included and of course, it was not the same name as Jane’s. An employee did some digging and found a LinkedIn page for the real woman in the photo and confirmed that she is a real person who was actually in the army, and had no relation whatsoever to Jane. It was crazy to those of us who found out that she would try and sell a story about the “anguish” on her face in the photo and relate it to her last day in the army when in truth it wasn’t even her in the photo. Moreover, it makes me wonder — if she lied about this, what else is she or has she lied about?

This was the first major red flag that set off a series of other red flags that makes me think this coworker is a pathological liar, narcissistic liar, or something else entirely that makes her an unethical choice for handling our finances.

All employees are given a yearly bonus based on the amount of time they worked in that year. For instance, last year I started in June so I received 50% of that year’s annual bonus. Jane began at the company a month before me in May, yet she still received 100% of the bonus. The accounting manager noticed this but said he was too scared to ask her why she gets 100% because she is his boss and he finds her intimidating.

Also, she recently got company approval for tuition reimbursement to take theology courses. These courses have nothing at all to do with her job and she will be studying to become a minister, but the company will reimburse her up to $5,200/year in tuition expenses. No one knows how she got approval for this because another employee also asked for tuition reimbursement for an accounting program relevant to his job and he had to go through various rounds of presentations to management for why they should accept his proposal.

Recently, she held an HR meeting with non-exempt employees explaining the rules of travel as a non-exempt employee (I’m non-exempt). She said that California law requires the company to pay for eight hours of travel time if it falls during standard business hours. I mentioned that later this year, I’ll be taking a flight that will be a minimum of 10 hours travel time. She said I would only be paid for eight hours of those 10 and that the rest of the travel time would be unpaid even though I am still traveling for work. A lot of the non-exempt employees left the meeting confused and doubtful that she was telling us legal, truthful information.

What’s most troubling is that Jane controls our finances and budgets. She gives the final recommendations for things like the cost of living increase and annual bonuses, as well as creates company policies (like the non-exempt policies) in her dual role as the HR director.

I’m starting to get increasingly discouraged from my work, because so many people in the office commend her for her wit and professionalism, when they have no idea about her lies. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this a secret and I’m worried that management will find nothing wrong with her lies if it does come out, since it might not have a direct relation to the business/financial matters. But its hard to believe that she isn’t doing something sneaky or sly without anyone noticing since we are such a small company and since no one suspects her of wrongdoing.



Oh, my Friday column!!!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m looking for some different perspectives on whether to talk to my kids’ baseball coach about the things I’m hearing from the sidelines.

Let me start by saying that I really appreciate how much energy and work these volunteers put into our kids’ team. There are four parent coaches for a team of 9- to 10-year-olds. What I’m concerned about is the really intense coaching from the sidelines by the coaches. Though most of it is positive and constructive, I’m also hearing things like “Keep it simple, stupid” and “Move your asses.” All at top volume, and throughout the entire game!

My kids claim not to be bothered by what they hear, but it feels way too intense to me. Do I talk to the head coach? Do I just talk to my kids? An additional wrinkle: My husband is also an assistant coach but is much more mellow. Should I have him talk to the other coaches?

—Or Just Sit Back and Enjoy the Game


Okay, time to devote myself to my celeb profile. I love you SO much, glad to be back in my ass-groove on the bed and able to spend my time with you every day.

xoxoxoox n