Author Archives: GemmaBurgess

On… Sweet/Vicious

I read this, and decided to watch Sweet/Vicious, and GUYS, it’s GREAT.

It triggers a shitload of happy endorphins into my women-kicking-the-shit-out-of-bad-guys pleasure centres, and those centers haven’t seen much action since, what, Buffy? (Oh Buffy. How I loved thee.) And it’s funny and smart and sharp. I love it.

I dare you to watch this trailer without punching the air and yelling ‘FUCK YEAH!’ at the end.

See? You punched the air, right?

You can watch it on the MTV website, and why the heck wouldn’t you.


On… The Greatest Knight

You guys, I just read the best book.


The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life Of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones 

The title is the worst thing about this book, being both forgettably generic (I keep telling everyone about it, and I’m like “the best knight? The bestest knight? the darkest knight? Ugh I can’t remember, I’ll text it to you when I get home”) and way too long. That’s a fifteen word title, people. I mean come the fuck on. However, I’ve had too many titles forced on my little books to be that critical of anyone else’s title. What’s important is what’s inside.

And OH. What a lot of wonderful things are inside this book. I have never read anything about this period before, and this story – such a cliche to say ‘brings it to life’ – but I suddenly understand that people existed, truly viscerally existed, 800 years ago. Before this, my knowledge of Western European history, social and political, stopped at Henry VIII. I vaguely imagined that before him everyone lived in hovels and had hunchbacks and boils, there was the odd crusade, some Vikings popping up now and again for a spot of rape and pillage, Tristan and Isolde in a boat and then at some point before that, the Romans. But no. It would appear people were real in the 1100s, and just as romantic and hopeful and ambitious and wise and silly and desperately violent as they are now. And to feel like you truly know and understand a knight who died 800 years ago, well, that’s a sign of damn good writing. Twenty bucks says Ron Howard and Brian Glazer make it into a movie. Someone send it to them.

On… Humanwire

Like you – like everyone – I’ve been deeply affected and shaken by the events in Syria, the millions of refugees fleeing death and destruction, the images of children drowning in the Med or covered in blood, and most recently the horrendous events in Aleppo. My friends and I were constantly talking about it – do we just keep giving money to Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF? What about the families that might fall through the cracks? How do you know you’re REALLY helping? How can I let these people know that the world cares about them, that they matter? How many more times can I start weeping uncontrollably while reading the news, and then go to Amazon and click-buy something for my children who have never known a single night of fear or hunger, before I go insane?

And then I found out about Humanwire, from a friend of a friend in Colorado.

Humanwire is a registered charity that establishes direct contact with the refugees you’re helping, so you can see the impact that your donation has (check out these Facebook stories) – and Humanwire itself takes 0% of the money you donate. There’s total transparency: it’s kind of cutting out the charity middleman.

You choose the refugee family that you want to help, read their stories, see their photos, decide how much money to raise (“leading a campaign”) and you see how the money you raise for them gets them food, clothes, school for their children, medical care, heating over the winter… It takes 60 seconds to sign up.


My friends Anna, Joanna, Lucy, Alex and I have pledged to lead campaigns together. So we’ll work together and support each other while we raise money, and hopefully, help many more families this way than we could alone.

These are real people. These are some of the stories. Each story is heartbreaking and horrible. These people urgently need help. This is the campaign we chose, and as soon as we raise the target, we’re choosing another one. Sustained support on a case-by-case basis.

Anyway, I wanted to write about this, because it’s Christmas, and as much as we’re all complaining about 2016 being a terrible year, it’s much much worse for these families. So please, join us. Do it alone or with your family or with your friends, sign up, lead a campaign, and help a family who has no one and nothing else. The only way through this is together, and you can genuinely make a difference. The refugees are chosen on a case-by-case basis, and are extensively vetted beforehand. These are families, particularly women and children and babies, who need us.


This is a letter from the founder of Humanwire:

Thank you for taking the time to visit Humanwire. My name is Andrew and this site is the result of my frustration with the war in Syria.

As of October 19, 2015, The United Nations has officially registered 4,180,631 Syrians with the greatest concentrations in Lebanon and Turkey. In order to support this large number of people, the UN requires $4.5B but has only raised $1.8B to date [1].

The UN’s World Food Program, the largest agency in the world for fighting hunger slashed its food allowances for each refugee in Jordan in August 2015 in half down to just $14 per month. Food allowances for refugees in Lebanon per person remain a steady $13.50 per month [2].

The UN Inter Agency noted in September of 2015 that “the spike in Syrian refugees arriving in Europe, including from Syria directly, is mainly due to the loss of hope that a political solution will soon be found to end the war as well as to steadily deteriorating living conditions in exile, triggered by the humanitarian funding shortfall, felt by refugees in the region” [3]

In Sept 2015, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees was quoted as saying: “Our income in 2015 will be around 10% less than in 2014. The global humanitarian community is not broken – as a whole they are more effective than ever before. But we are financially broke.” [4].

If you read between the lines, the funding is stretched too thin and the level of support on an individual basis has become too insignificant for any one person to sustain.

I first got interested in the Syrian crisis because my wife Rima is of Syrian descent and so now is our two-year-old son Freddy. Rima grew up in Lebanon which borders Syria to the west and every time we visit family in Beirut and around the country, the effects of the refugee crisis are impossible to miss.

We live in Boulder, Colorado, regularly voted as the top city in America for living standards and when I think about the conditions of people who are fleeing persecution and war, I can’t help but question my humanity.

Lebanon, the extra friendly and once small home to 4 million people, now has 5 million almost overnight. In Lebanon, there are no formal refugee camps. There are some makeshift camps and others simply roam the country.

The influx has effected everyone in Lebanon from the bottom-up. Opportunities for work for the Lebanese which were already scarce have evaporated while social resources have been overwhelmed beyond compare.

Most refugees from Syria do not want to go to America or Canada, and most don’t want to go to Europe, either. Given the opportunity to go safely, the vast majority would just prefer to go home.

People are being born into homeless lives due to other people’s wars and growing up knowing nothing else. Young adults once happily enrolled in quality education with big dreams of becoming engineers and astronauts are being deprived of the dreams so many others have freely.

Have you given any money? Maybe even $5? I hadn’t.

Why? Why?! I spent countless hours reading news stories about it. I saw UN advertisements on every page of the internet with children distressed in boats. My credit card details would autofill in the form with one touch and yet I didn’t.

There is something about sending money into the void that is disconnected, as if there was a missed opportunity when you want to do more than just give money. Even when you trust the organization you are giving to, and even when your contribution is effective, the relationship between the contributor and the charity has not evolved much, you just send in your money which goes into a pool, hope for the best, and basically that’s it for your part. By sending your money to the charity which acts as the intermediary, you never actually get a true connection. Not even a tangible smile is exchanged.

What would happen if you removed the intermediate, or reduced its role by setting the charity organization aside to facilitate a direct connection between the donor and the recipient? That is the purpose of Humanwire.

When I first traveled to Lebanon, it was not easy because I was unfamiliar with Arab culture. Even with Rima and her loving family, it took a few trips to begin to understand people’s intentions due to the culture being so different, I thought. Now when I look back on it, I think its funny because the Arab people are just as friendly and loving as anyone I’ve ever encountered. People in Lebanon in particular are a lot like Westerners. They have many of the same interests, the same concerns and the same ways of living.

There is a cultural gap that need not exist, I’m sure of it. With today’s ability to connect around the world, this is the time for people everywhere to come together.

More than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution [5]. Half of all refugees in the world are children 17 and under, most of which have lost family, home, school and friends. Humanwire is your opportunity go beyond providing mere sustainability, this is the time to take a stand and bridge the culture gap.


On… stocking fillers

I still get a Christmas stocking. I know, it’s SO lame.

The year that I got married, my mother announced: ‘that’s it, you’re an adult, I’m not making you a Christmas stocking anymore’. I was outraged (“WHAT NEXT? YOU WON’T TAKE BITES OUT OF THE COOKIES FOR SANTA AND THE CARROTS FOR RUDOLPH EITHER? MY GOD, WOMAN”) but then Fox joyfully manfully reluctantly just took over.

So, to help Fox, and because if I want it, you might want it too and it might help your long-suffering stocking-maker, here are some ideas…


A sample pack of scents from LuckyScent. I am a crazed perfume obsessive but in a cautious geeky way, which means I occasionally buy vintage formulations from eBay and Etsy, but I deep-dive research them for months first, on Fragrantica / Basenotes / Luca Turin’s A-Z of Perfumes (which is a GREAT book, by the way).

I love vintage perfumes the way that my Dad loved vintage cars. He would read vintage car magazines as though he was studying for a test. These LuckyScent samples are all new scents from small perfume houses that seem to be interesting beyond the tiresome ‘oh, let’s throw some oud in a bottle’ standard. I am sure my sniffy glands (technical term) will be delighted.


And to balance out all those newfangled smells, Michelle by Balenciaga. I’m deeply in love with two other old Balenciagas, Quadrille and Le Dix, and I am confident Michelle is just as special (despite the teenage-babysitter-in-the-80s name).

Vintage Balenciaga scents smell good, just deeply interesting and sexy and female and more-ish, in a million ways I can’t even begin to compare to the average sugary-vanilla-sparkling-grapefruit monstrosity perfume companies try to make us buy these days. What’s that? I sound like a crochety old biddy? SPEAK LOUDER. TALK INTO MY EAR HORN. HAVE SOME DANISH BUTTER COOKIES FROM THE TIN.

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Shashi Tassel Earrings. I am terrible at wearing jewellery, but whenever I see a woman in great chandelier earrings I think ‘dash it, I must try harder’.


Moonglow by Michael Chabon. His book The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier and Clay was so breathtakingly good that it made my heart beat faster with joy that it existed.


Cadbury’s Roses Chocolates. I am tres nostalgic for them lately. They’re British and cheap and delicious.


Boggle, because I like it. A few years ago I went to a Female Boggle Night (we probably named it something snappier than that, I can’t remember), and one of said females – Anna – was so extraordinarily brilliant at it, I still think about it. She was seeing words like ‘pulchritude’ where all i could see was ‘put’. I’m not kidding. When she started playing, the ‘AH-HOOOOOO’ chorus to ‘Werewolves of London‘ came on, like Tom Cruise shooting pool in Color Of Money.



And lastly, The Perfume Collector: A Novel, because it looks like lovely escapist fun. And right now, anything that makes me not think about the state of the world is pretty damn welcome.











On… a Christmas wish list

Well gang, you don’t need little old moi to tell you brilliant things to buy for the people you love. (Go here or here for that.) Instead, I’ll tell you what’s on my own wish list, because I am totes self-involved like that, and because you can forward it straight to your loved ones and say ‘THIS’ (or you can forward it straight to your best friend and say ‘dear God, she must be smoking meth’).

Now, two warnings: 1. I am kind of into looking like Albert’s mother in Bye Bye Birdie lately, my meth habit has nothing to do with it and 2. this is a wish list, so it veers on the expensive side, though IRL I am uncommonly devoted to TopShop and secondhand things from Etsy and this place.

Let’s dive in with:


A fake fur coat. Importantly, this one is not TOO leopardy. Leopard is hard to wear as a blonde. It quickly veers into hookerishness.


A pair of burgundy men’s shoes for looking smart with my new smart fake fur coat.


A candle that smells like a fireplace because I don’t have a fireplace and probably never will.


A brown suede bag that I can kick around because I’m a grubby little thing like that.


A pair of seriously battered boots with which to kick the above bag around. When I was 14, on vacation in the middle of nowhere in Western Australia, I bought a pair of used steel-capped men’s tan suede workbooks, two sizes too big, from a thrift shop. I wore them until I was 21. With everything: jeans shorts, ball gowns, everything. I never did up the laces. When I remind my mother about them she says ‘oh God darling, I wanted to burn them so much’. I’m actually surprised that she didn’t. This is the woman who, one day, when I was about 17 and studying, wearing my favorite hole-y grey t-shirt, came up behind me with A PAIR OF SCISSORS and CUT THE TSHIRT IN HALF RIGHT OFF MY BACK so I had to throw it out. (Yeah, my mother is pretty awesome.)


The nicest shampoo ever. I actually already have this, but I have nearly run out. It is REVOLUTIONARY. I swear. Why would I lie to you? Yes, it’s insanely expensive but you only need to use a teaspoon a week so, you know, that works out (she says with a vague wave of her hand). I used to use it with that WEN conditioner until I read something about it making women go bald and I switched to this faster than you can say ‘mostly because I like the bottle’.


A soft plummy red-brown lipstick. Not matte. But not sticky gloss either. Somewhere in between.


A lovely strawberry red blush so the aforementioned plummy brown lipstick doesn’t make you look like you just got transported back in time to 1996. (Although I wish I could be, just for a night. In fact, I wrote a movie about that very premise, and sold it to New Regency, but that’s a different story altogether.)


Miss Dior Originale perfume, because my Dad gave it to me when I was 12, and sometimes it’s just exactly what I want to smell like. I just ran out, and every morning I think ‘oh I want to smell like Miss Dior Originale today and I can’t why is my life so hard woe is me’. NB: Don’t forget the ‘Originale’ on the end of the name. This isn’t the Miss Dior that they sell in Sephora and whatnot, even though it looks almost exactly like it. It’s harder to track down. But soooo worth it.


A moisturizer with lactic acid. Yes, it feels like tiny bees stinging you for a minute or two. But it also makes your skin look like a Vermeer painting the next day. I used to use Noreva Alphacid KM, which is an AMAZING lactic acid moisturizer that costs like nine Euros in France, but it’s impossible to get in the USA (I almost bought it on eBay via Bulgaria a few weeks ago, then sense intervened). If Santa doesn’t provide, I may just bite this bullet on this one myself, as I’ve been using samples and OH it is good… although it’s so insanely overpriced I will give it the evil eye for a few more months first. Skin care is so expensive these days that I walk around Sephora shouting YOU’RE NOT MADE OF FUCKING UNICORN HORNS YOU KNOW and then they ask me to leave. (Okay, that is a lie, but it could be true.)


A green hat. I like green.













On… music

How about some comfort music? Listen to these in order:

Turin Brakes – Save Me

Mazzy Star – Fade Into You.

The Doves – There Goes The Fear

White Town – Your Woman

The Breeders – Cannonball

Liam Lynch – United States of Whatever


Gorillaz – Dare

Simian – La Breeze

Paolo Nutini – New Shoes

Lonely Island – Jizz In My Pants

Feeling better?

On… hanging in there

Okay, gang. The psychological pain is bad. I know. You’re probably not sleeping. You might have chest palpitations, like, a lot. For anyone with a brain, a sense of moral decency, and a conscience, it’s genuinely painful to imagine that this lovely country is now led by all the very very worst values. It’s shameful.

I actually wrote a whole other blog post about my horror about the election, and how the results simply don’t reflect the thoughtful, open-minded, open-hearted, empathetic, brilliant, highly moral and exceptionally kind Americans that we’ve met in the past four years. But then I deleted it because, you know, I was pretty pissed off, and that’s not always a good time to write. Then I didn’t know if it was wiser to shut up, or braver to speak up… But every time that I’ve read something about refusing to normalize this rhetoric, about standing together, I felt a thrill of powerful optimism run through me. And I figured the least I can do is offer you guys something powerfully optimistic, too.

Honestly, I’m trying to figure out how to survive right now, just like everyone else is, without going absolutely crazy with worry and rage. My brain is on an exhausting what can I DO what can I DO what can I DO loop, and then every now and again something deep inside says dude, you can’t be this anxious all the time or you’ll have a fucking heart attack. I’m profoundly glad that my kids are too young to understand the election.

So here’s what I’m trying to do: first, act, then, relax, then persevere.

My lovely friend Joanna has a blog that had a great post on what to do now (her blog is generally a very calming, kind thoughtful place to hang out). There are also great suggestions here. And here. And here. And here. We give money to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Emily’s List and Fund Texas Choice. Volunteering is another great way to help some of the people who will be the most in danger of persecution by the new administration. Bonus: giving your time and energy to someone else, without expectation of anything back, really calms your brain down. I don’t know why it works that way, but it just does. I joined New York Cares, a New York City volunteer group that’s sort of an umbrella for dozens of charities, about three years ago. Volunteering is not entirely altruistic – to misquote Friends, there is no such thing as altruism because helping other people makes you feel good. Volunteering helped me with grief; gave me an escape from the intense writing/baby cycle that has been my life for the past five years, and was emotionally rewarding and satisfying in ways I never expected.

The barriers to volunteering are, I think, mostly mental: you don’t know what it’ll be like. What if the people are mean? What if it’s depressing? What if it’s stressful? What if I’m no good at it? What if I don’t have time and have to let them down? Can’t I just give money? And all I can say is – it is lovely. People are warm and funny, sometimes a little weird, but fuck it, I’m probably kind of weird, too, and so are you. It’s not depressing, if anything, it affirms my belief (so battered by the election results) that people are essentially good and kind. I mostly volunteer with underprivileged children and Arab-American immigrants; my husband volunteers with a charity for the homeless – he drives a van around NYC every Wednesday night, handing out food to the homeless. In the last week I’ve also signed up here, to be a child advocate to unaccompanied immigrant children who have to navigate the US court system alone. (Seriously, that’s how it works here. WTF.)

Now, give your poor psyche a break.

Stop reading everything. No, really, I mean it. Don’t get me wrong – I am not going to put my head in the sand – I want to be informed, I want to read the news, and I will read analysis by smart, measured, thoughtful people… but so many ‘news’ sites are opinion sites angling for clickbait. Those articles are designed to elicit a reaction (panic, fear, rage) so you email them to your friends and they get more clicks. That’s how they make money. They are emotional self-harm: reading them is the equivalent of taking a pen knife to your arms. No one knows what’s going to happen. That is scary, but it is also reassuring.

Exercise. I go to ToneHouse, and I love it, even though it is getting harder and harder (no SERIOUSLY it is getting so fucking hard). Meditate if you can, I can’t, but my mother and sister love it. Do yoga. Again, not my bag, I know it should be, particularly since my mother is a teacher, but it’s just not my wheelhouse.

Listen to Hamilton very loudly. Fox and I were unbelieeeeeevably lucky to see Hamilton back in May. It’s really as exceptional, as touching and funny and brilliant, as everyone says. And it reminds me, every time, about the democratic optimism that this country was founded on. Also, I feel fucking cool, in the lamest way, when I realize I know all the words to the songs.

After you’ve finished Hamilton, then watch the following shows, because a) they’re brilliant and b) there’s no rape (we have a rape-free viewing policy in this apartment. Here’s my reasoning: rape is never entertainment. End of reasoning). Many of these I’ve ranted joyfully about before, but they’re worth recommending again:


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Timeless (seriously, this show is popcorn fun and has at least three genuinely funny lines in each episode)

Brothers & Sisters (strangely hasn’t aged)

The West Wing (also strangely hasn’t aged)

Grace & Frankie


Bad Behavior (it’s a little darker than my average bear, but it’s also rape-free!)

Catastrophe (we’ve covered this in previous sessions)

Fleabag (sigh of envy: SUCH a perfect show)

UnReal (both the female leads are psychotic in the best and most relatable way, and I don’t know how the creators didn’t get the ‘more likeable!’ note that I always get for my female leads, even though every leading man on television is an total fucking sociopath, whoops sorry wrong soapbox)

Difficult People (season two is better than season one)

Outlander (hummina hummina)

You’re The Worst



Silicon Valley (although I have a whole speech about how Silicon Valley, Ballers and Vice-Principals are all essentially the same fucking show about man-boys competing with each other, and meanwhile, will HBO make three shows at a time about women, will it, fuck, and no, Divorce came out after VEEP ended, whoops sorry, wrong soapbox again)

And most of all, watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. My sister and I watched it last night and it truly, truly made us laugh.

This is what I keep telling myself at 2am: Don’t despair. Most people are good. The vast majority of Americans voted for her, or didn’t vote at all, and frankly, the way he snaked through the electoral college is so fucking sketchy that I hope some Jason Bourne/Woodward and Bernstein type-person is currently tracing a giant hacking scandal straight to Russia. Next time, or sooner if possible, the lovely people who make up the majority of this country will get a president who deserves them.

And I also keep telling myself: Don’t shrug. Don’t accept it. Don’t normalize it and rationalize it and say ‘hey, I guess all those people who voted for him can’t be bad, I mean, they must have had their reasons’. No. We are human, we want everything to be okay… but it is not okay. So never accept that voting for a failed businessman who sexually attacks people and calls them rapists and wants to deport or incarcerate people on the basis of their religion and ridicules handicapped people and lies about everything – everything! – is okay. It is an outrage. But you can’t think about it all the time, either. Because you’ll be miserable.

I also, somehow, think about the people who emerged as the heroes, all around the world, during WW2, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, the suffragette movement, during abolition… People who spoke up for everyone, who were patient and strong and wise and vigilant. They protected the people who needed protecting, they fought the bullies who needed fighting. Now it’s our turn.

Lastly, a quote from a Bill Murray interview. “You have to hope that (good things) happen to you. That’s Pandora’s box, right? She opens up the box, and all the nightmares fly out. And slams the lid shut, like, “Oops,” and opens it one more time, and hope pops out of the box. That’s the only thing we really, surely have, is hope. You hope that you can be alive, that things will happen to you that you’ll actually witness, that you’ll participate in. Rather than life just rolling over you, and you wake up and it’s Thursday, and what happened to Monday? Whatever the best part of my life has been, has been as a result of that remembering. Who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation.”