Associated Press AP

Bradley Cooper Recalls Pitching A Star Is Born To Clint Eastwood

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star is Born, shows off all the filmmaking chops we never knew he had — along with his amazing ability to beautifully duet with Lady Gaga. It was a project that originally was set to be directed by Clint Eastwood, with Beyoncé as the star.

What became a missed opportunity for Clint Eastwood and Beyoncé as they moved on from A Star is Born became the career shift Bradley Cooper had been longing for. It came to Cooper just as he started working on American Sniper with Eastwood, who directed him in the 2014 film. That allowed Cooper to talk with the past director about how he wanted to go about A Star Is Born. In Cooper’s words:

During a director roundtable with The Hollywood Reporter, Bradley Cooper said he’d always had a passion but didn’t really feel like he was ready until A Star is Born came along. The film served as the perfect medium to explore the themes he’d been draw to, such as the effects of childhood trauma, a love story, and music of course. It wasn’t about remaking a Hollywood classic for the fourth time, it was about finally saying what he wanted to on film.

Clint Eastwood passed on A Star is Born to focus on his other planned projects — including his new film The Mule, with himself as both star and director. The idea to remake A Star Is Born under Warner Bros. might have been dropped or placed in the wrong hands, but Bradley Cooper stepped in with a specific vision for the film — a vision that apparently came to him at least in part from a dream.

A Star is Born has been widely-praised, perhaps as one of the best films of the year, much due to Bradley Cooper’s work and his decision to bring in Lady Gaga for the lead role. The film has already been nominated for quite a few Golden Globes, including Best Picture, and Best Director and Best Actor nods for Cooper.

There’s no question the achievement will make its way to the Oscars this year, hopefully with a live performance from Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. There’s also no question the remake was placed in the right hands — along with gifting the audiences with some incredible performances by its leads.

Headspace vs. Calm: The Meditation Battle That’s Anything but Zen

Headspace vs. Calm: The Meditation Battle That’s Anything but Zen
Illustration: Carol Henaff

The two smartphone apps taking meditation mainstream exude a Zen vibe and trumpet nearly identical missions to increase health and happiness around the world.

But behind the blissful marketing mantras, Headspace and Calm are locked in a head-to-head fight to dominate the booming $1.2 billion meditation market.

“I would say we’re in mindful competition with each other,” says Michael Acton Smith, co-CEO and co-founder of Calm, based in San Francisco. “And they have six times as many employees as we do.” Calm has a staff of about 40, while Headspace employs 230.

“The irony is not lost on me,” says Rich Pierson, CEO and co-founder of Headspace, of the rivalry with Calm. But he’d rather focus on his Santa Monica, Calif.-based company’s authenticity, he says, which is drawn from co-founder Andy Puddicombe’s 10 years of studying meditation at Buddhist monasteries.

Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of meditation and mindfulness app Headspace, spent a decade studying meditation at Buddhist monasteries.
Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of meditation and mindfulness app Headspace, spent a decade studying meditation at Buddhist monasteries. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News

“If you were going to see a psychologist, you’d probably want to know where they trained and qualified. It’s the same with meditation,” Mr. Pierson says. Calm’s founders previously worked in online gaming and advertising.

Both startups are venture-backed, founded by charismatic British guys who moved to California. Both practice what they preach, offering officewide daily meditation sessions. And both apps have been downloaded more than 38 million times, with each hitting 1 million paid subscribers in June, the companies say.

“Headspace launched two years before us, and now we’re neck and neck,” says Dun Wang, Calm’s chief product and growth officer.

Founded in 2010, Headspace had dominated the meditation category until this year, when Calm caught up.

Calm got a boost from winning the 2017 iPhone App of the Year award from Apple ’s App Store last December.

“Since winning App of the Year, we seem to have a much higher growth rate than they do, and we’ll surpass them from now on,” Calm’s Ms. Wang says.

Calm has topped the category in both downloads and mobile revenue since last December, with revenue through October at $50.7 million, according to estimates from mobile-data firm Sensor Tower. Headspace, now in second place, saw revenue of $34.3 million, according to Sensor Tower. Both offer standard subscription rates of $13 a month. Annual subscriptions cost $96 a year at Headspace and $70 a year at Calm.

Michael Acton Smith, co-CEO and co-founder of meditation and mindfulness app Calm, at his company’s San Francisco headquarters.
Michael Acton Smith, co-CEO and co-founder of meditation and mindfulness app Calm, at his company’s San Francisco headquarters. Photo: Calm

A Headspace spokeswoman says Sensor Tower’s data didn’t account for subscriptions that come through its website and corporate partnerships, which would push its 12-month revenues “north of $100 million.” The company declined to provide year-over-year comparisons. Calm didn’t dispute Sensor Tower’s data.

The award is a touchy subject at Headspace. Apple does not reveal its selection methods or criteria.

“I think people are blowing App-of-the-Year way out of proportion,” says Ben Spero, a managing director at Spectrum Equity, a Headspace investor. “It’s good P.R., but it’s not determinative. It’s not that Apple was saying that Calm is a better app—they’re big fans of Headspace, too,” he says, pointing out that the App Store often features Headspace on its landing page. Apple declined to comment on the 2017 award.

The meditation industry—including studio classes, workshops, books, online courses and apps—is worth about $1.2 billion and growing, according to a 2017 estimate by Marketdata Enterprises. Studies show meditation can reduce stress and improve sleep.

Headspace vs. Calm: The Meditation Battle That’s Anything but Zen

The national meditation rate has tripled over the past five years. The number of U.S. adults meditating is on track to surpass the number of those practicing yoga in the next two years, according to an October report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Businesses are eager to help employees tap into their higher consciousness in the hopes that it will improve productivity and reduce stress-related health-care costs. About 22% of companies started offering mindfulness meditation training in 2016, and another 21% planned to add it in 2017, according to a survey by The National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments.

All the attention has fueled a digital bonanza, with more than 2,000 new meditation apps launched over the past three years. Headspace and Calm account for about 85% of the revenue generated by the top 10 apps in the category, according to Sensor Tower data.

Headspace uses quirky cartoons to walk the user through meditation sessions, all guided by Mr. Puddicombe. In addition to programs for stress and anxiety, it offers sessions for sleep, work/productivity and fitness.

Calm lets listeners choose from several different meditation teachers and peaceful nature scenes. About half of Calm’s users use it primarily as a sleep app rather than a meditation app, the company says. They tune in to Calm Sleep Stories, which are bedtime stories narrated by actors including Matthew McConaughey, and Calm Music, which offers curated musical playlists.

Headspace is pushing for growth through corporate partnerships, last year hiring chief business officer Ross Hoffman away from Twitter , where he led global content partnerships.

Headspace launched Mindful Cab, a program of in-cab meditations, in November.
Headspace launched Mindful Cab, a program of in-cab meditations, in November. Photo: Getty Images

“We’re just fishing where the fish are,” Mr. Hoffman says. Over the past 18 months, he has signed deals with more than 300 companies to integrate Headspace subscriptions into their employee health and wellness benefits, including Unilever , Adobe , Genentech and LinkedIn.

Last March, Headspace announced a deal with the National Basketball Association to become the league’s official mediation and mindfulness partner. It involves branded content, promotions and about 7,000 subscriptions for players and staff, but no money exchanged hands, Headspace says.

Calm has largely ignored the business market, declining most corporate requests until recently, when some major companies started calling. Calm executives say such deals don’t add substantial revenue. Corporations typically negotiate bulk purchasing discounts of up to 50% off standard subscription fees.

“Calm has managed to overtake Headspace because they’ve been laser-focused without getting distracted by the types of vanity partnerships, like with sports teams, that look good in the press but don’t move the needle,” says Harley Miller, principal at Insight Venture Partners, a Calm investor.

Headspace responds that all its partners serve a strategic purpose. Seeing professional athletes practice mindfulness and meditation with Headspace will encourage young aspiring athletes to do the same, Mr. Hoffman says, especially with stars like Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers and retired league MVP Steve Nash extolling its benefits. (Neither is a paid spokesman.)

“We have the strongest brand,” Mr. Hoffman says, pointing out that morning talk shows and late-night comedy hosts regularly turn to Headspace’s Mr. Puddicombe to teach viewers about meditation.

Early reluctance aside, Calm is expanding into the corporate arena, often on the heels of its biggest competitor.

“Companies will approach us and say, ‘We got this offer from Headspace, do you guys want to put in an offer as well?,’ ” Calm’s Ms. Wang says. “It’s working out great for us. We don’t need to be the ones making the cold calls to win these projects.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers and Samsung were among Calm’s first corporate clients.

In October, American Airlines became its first airline partner. (Headspace already has content deals with 11 airlines, including JetBlue , Delta and United.) Calm’s soothing nature videos will play on all seat-back screens during boarding, putting the brand in the faces of more than 200 million passengers a year, according to the carrier.

Headspace isn’t taking this lying down. Its Headspace Health division is currently seeking Food and Drug Administration approval to become the first prescription meditation app for certain chronic illnesses. FDA approval would pave the way for Headspace programs to be covered by health insurance.

Calm’s leadership team is focused on achieving mass mindfulness, and on victory.

“We’re both growing the sector. This is such a huge market, there’s going to be room for a few different winners,” Mr. Acton Smith says. “We want Calm to be the number one, of course—and we wish the others the best for second place.”

Corrections & Amplifications
Calm’s deal with American Airlines will put the company’s nature videos before more than 200 million passengers annually. An earlier version of this article incorrectly estimated the figure as 800 million. (Dec. 15, 2018)

More on Meditation

CBS Is Donating $20 Million From Les Moonves’ Severance Package to 18 Women’s Organizations

On Friday, CBS announced it will donate $20 million to 18 women’s organizations that focus on eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. The move comes as CBS grapples with multiple accusations of misconduct leveled against high-profile leaders at the organization.

CBS said earlier this year that it planned to take funds out of former CEO Les Moonves’ $140 million severance package and apply them toward women’s rights causes. They have now identified the recipients of the money, which include Time’s Up, Catalyst, the Freedom Forum Institute’s Power Shift Project, the International Women’s Media Foundation, Press Forward, and the Women’s Media Center. Reportedly, two of the organizations will also disperse some of the money to smaller women’s organizations.

Moonves stepped down in September after at least 12 women came forward to accuse him of behavior that ranged from lewd comments to assault. Along with Moonves, allegations have also been made against former show host Charlie Rose and 60 Minutes producer Jeff Fager, both of whom are no longer with the company.

A recent investigation into CBS’s history and culture of harassment also revealed that the network had paid actress Eliza Dushku $9.5 million in January to settle a dispute about how it handles harassment complaints she made about actor Michael Weatherly. According to documents obtained by The New York Times, Dushku had felt uncomfortable after Weatherly allegedly made comments about rape, a threesome, and her physical appearance.

For many, however, CBS’s $20 million pledge still not enough. Time’s Up, which will received $2 million toward an initiative aimed at increasing female representation in the entertainment industry, had previously urged the company to donate all of Moonves’ severance package.

“We also urge that the full amount reserved for Mr. Moonves’ severance be contributed to organizations that address sexual harassment and workplace safety. That is $120 million dollars that will either go to Mr. Moonves or back into the coffers of the company that allowed the culture created by Mr. Moonves to continue,” the organization wrote in a letter this September. “Or that $120 million can create change by going to organizations—and there are many impactful organizations—that can help women of all kinds. The choice is yours. But the answer is obvious. We ask that you not dishonor the bravery of those who have come forward by spending that money unwisely.”

In a joint statement released by all of the groups, the 18 organizations thanked CBS for the donation, but made it clear it doesn’t excuse the misbehaviors that have occurred at the highest levels of the company.

“We thank CBS for these donations. We also recognize these funds are not a panacea, nor do they erase or absolve decades of bad behavior,” the groups wrote.

Related Stories:

CBS Confirms It Paid Actress Eliza Dushku $9.5 Million to Settle Harassment Claims

Time’s Up Wants CBS to Donate All of Les Moonves’ $120 Million Severance

More Networks Are Creating TV Shows for and by Women—So Why Isn’t CBS?

Benicio Del Toro Will Play Swiper In Dora The Explorer Movie

Stop everything that you are doing right now, because Benicio del Toro has been cast to play the character Swiper the Fox in the live-action Dora the Explorer movie, based on the popular children’s television series.

Now that you’ve had a couple of seconds to digest that information, let’s get into the details. Benicio del Toro has been cast to play the voice of Swiper, the villain of Dora the Explorer. Swiper is a fox who loves to steal things, often trying to nab the artifacts that Dora finds on her missions. The only way to stop him is for Dora to repeat the phrase “Swiper, no swiping” three times. This is exactly what Swiper’s wife said to him in the episode where she found Tinder on his phone.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Benicio del Toro joins the film a little late-in-the-game, as production has already wrapped in Australia. However, del Toro is just supplying the voice for the character, and it’s normal for the roles of CGI characters to be finalized when post-production begins.

Swiper the Fox has been in nearly every episode of Dora the Explorer, so it’s no surprise to see him pop up in the live-action movie. It is a bit of a surprise that Paramount got Benicio del Toro to provide the voice, which perhaps gives us a clue that this version of Swiper is a bit more menacing than he ever was on the cartoon.

It is unknown if other popular Dora characters will be joining Swiper in the film, such as Map, Backpack, Benny the Bull, and (checks notes) the Grumpy Old Troll.

Benicio del Toro joins a cast that already includes Isabela Moner (Instant Family, Transformers: The Last Knight) as Dora. Moner and del Toro previously shared the screen in Sicario: Day of the Soldado earlier this year. The live-action cast also stars Michael Pena and Eva Longoria as Dora’s parents, in addition to Eugenio Derbez, Adriana Barraza, and Temuera Morrison.

The plot of Dora the Explorer will find Dora leaving the familiarity of the jungle to explore an all-new world: High school. However, Dora soon hears the call to adventure and leads her best friend/monkey Boots, her cousin Diego, and a group of teens on a Goonies-like quest to save her parents and uncover the mystery of an Inca civilization.

I was a bit too old for Dora when it debuted on Nickelodeon but it was still popular enough where I was aware of the most famous parts of the show. It’ll be interesting to see the tone that the movie is going for, as it sounds like an adventure film, but one that keeps the sillier elements like Swiper intact.

Dora the Explorer, which is directed by James Bobin, is currently slated to release on August 2, 2019. For everything else releasing next year, hit up our 2019 movie release guide.

Ryan Reynolds Sent The Coolest Gift To The Guy Who Redirected Endgame Domains To Deadpool

Since Ryan Reynolds first suited-up as Deadpool, he has become somewhat one-and-the-same with the Merc with a Mouth. Twitter tends to be his primary outlet — as with his ongoing Hugh Jackman troll.

Ryan Reynolds is perhaps an influence to one Twitter user, @AGuyInChair, who made headlines last week for buying the domains and well before the upcoming Avengers film’s title was announced… like back in April. He is holding the website domains hostage, in a sense, offering to trade with Marvel for two tickets to the Avengers: Endgame premiere.

Since a PG-13 re-release of Deadpool 2 came to theaters this week, @AGuyInChair used the domains to redirect his Avengers: Endgame websites to the Once Upon a Deadpool page. Marvel or Disney may not have responded to this fun gimmick, but Ryan Reynolds certainly was entertained, because he sent him a gift for it. Take a look:

The tweet by @AGuyInChair shows Ryan Reynolds pulled all the stops with his gift to him, as he sent him headphones and tonic and gin in an impressive case from his gin company, Aviation American Gin. His tweets show a clear excitement for the personal gift from Reynolds, but the man is sticking to his dream to get those two tickets to be among the first to see Avengers: Endgame in April.

This story wouldn’t quite be the same without a tweet from Ryan Reynolds himself, who responded to the Twitter user and received a perfect reaction from @AGuyInChair. Here’s what he said:

It’s quite clever (or suspect) that @AGuyInChair could make a confident guess about the title of the fourth Avengers film that we’ve been theorizing about for months. The announcement that its title would be Avengers: Endgame came with the release of the first trailer for the highly-anticipated MCU movie last week. The Endgame trailer became the most viewed trailer within 24 hours in history, knocking the previous record breaker Avengers: Infinity War from staying at No. 1.

Marvel’s decision to conceal the title for Endgame for so long was just to focus on the release of Infinity War, per Marvel President Kevin Feige. That decision backfired as it created even more speculation over the past eight months about what it could be. Endgame as a title makes sense, since it was uttered by Doctor Strange in Infinity War after seeing the future of the universe played out.

If you visit @AGuyInChair’s Endgame domains today, they no longer redirect to Once Upon a Deadpool. They now feature a video of Santa Claus (possibly the user himself?) addressing “that naughty boy” Kevin Feige to trade the websites for those two golden tickets to Avengers: Endgame. Whether the folks at Marvel respond to his request, at least Deadpool has given him the thumbs up on his maximum effort.

Ariana Grande Had the Perfect Response After Kanye West Said She Was ‘Using’ Him to Promote a Song

On Thursday, Ariana Grande stepped into the Kanye West/Drake clash and encouraged people to turn their attention away from the feud to focus on “beautiful, new songs” she and Miley Cyrus had dropped. “Guys, i know there are grown men arguing online rn but miley and i dropping our beautiful, new songs tonight so if y’all could please jus behave for just like a few hours so the girls can shine that’d be so sick thank u,” she tweeted.

Apparently that didn’t make West very happy. On Saturday, the rapper fired off a few tweets aimed at Grande, letting her know that “all of this foolishness weighed on my mental health” and directing her not to “use me or this moment to promote a song.”

It was a pointed accusation, but Grande wasn’t going to let that one sit. She clapped back in the nicest way possible: In her own tweet, she said that she was sorry she had offended him, but made it crystal clear she doesn’t need him to promote her music.

“With all due respect,” she wrote, “I don’t need to use anyone to promote anything. period. I was making a comment ab what men were doing at the time vs. women. It was a joke which i understand now was probably insensitive. I apologize if i was in any way triggering and hope u feel well today.”

Grande’s comments seemed to read more about the public focusing on “grown men arguing” than attacking West, and she seemed to be getting at how oftentimes women’s accomplishments are overshadowed by men in the media. Still, she did her part to try to smooth things over.

The singer had made the joke about the Kanye-Drake showdown just before releasing her newest song, “Imagine,” which many people think is about her relationship with Mac Miller, who passed away this year. Although she hasn’t revealed who inspired the track, she did share that it’s about “pretending” a relationship “never ended.”

Related Stories:

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Accidentally Gave Nicolas Cage Some Pornographic Lines

Nic Cage is known for being an … eccentric performer (have you seen Mandy?) and even in a family-friendly animated movie like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, he still ends up saying the craziest lines. In the film, Cage voices Spider-Man Noir, a Spider-Man from the 1930s who loves to say silly slang from the era. Most of these lines were improvised for the film, and it turns out that one of these made-up lines was straight-up a real pornographic sex act.

In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-People from across the multiverse meet for the first time. This includes Nic Cage’s Spider-Man Noir, a fedora and trenchcoat wearing hero from the rough and tumble 1930s. Cage is really funny in the role, and a few of his lines involve saying improvised phrases like “Biscuit-Boxer” or “Turtle Slapper.” According to co-director Rodney Rothman, they made Cage record about “50 different weird slangs.”

Apparently, no one in production is up to date on their pornographic slang, because one of the lines that Nicolas Cage read was a real sex act. Rodney Rothman told Collider that the line ended up in the movie and was thankfully caught by someone who was presumably pervy enough for the line to ring some bells.

We can only guess at this point as to what the line was, but if you are familiar with your porn terms, pick out the one that sounds like something someone would have said in the 30s.

Couple this with the fact that John Mulaney (the voice of Spider-Ham) accidentally improvised a bunch of curses into his dialogue and you’ve got a strangely NSFW Spider-Man movie on your hands.

Well, you won’t find any pornographic terms in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but you should still go see the movie anyway because it’s awesome. The story follows the origin of Miles Morales, who learns how to become Spider-Man from different Spider-People from across the multiverse. It’s super fun, witty, and even inspirational, and you should check it out if you get a chance.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is in theaters right now. The movie is already getting talks of a sequel, no doubt thanks to positive reviews and some early box office dollars. If you’ve already seen it, be sure to check out our breakdown of the important character from the after-credits scene. For all other movie news and updates, be sure to stick with CinemaBlend, and we’ll keep you up to date on the latest information as soon as it is available.

Ulta Holiday Gift Ideas: Best Beauty Gift Sets

The countdown to Christmas is on which is exactly why a foolproof gift idea with fast shipping is key. Luckily beauty gift sets are one of the greatest last-minute gift ideas of all. They’re already packaged like a gift, come with a great selection of beauty products for less, and are available on Ulta Beauty with free standard shipping that’ll get it to you in three to five days. Even better, most of all these gift sets are under $50.

From an essential set of brushes to a kit of all the best lip shades to beauty products that literally come inside a cake, these are the nineteen best beauty gift sets from Ulta to give this holiday season.

Host a Holiday Party—or Any Gathering—Without Making Yourself Miserable

This story is part of a 10-part series profiling the “warrior women” behind the Hello Sunshine x Together Live tour, a band of all-female storytellers who traveled to 10 cities across North America in November. On tour, the women shared their stories and songs, and made 10,000 women across the country laugh and cry. Learn more about Hello Sunshine x Together Live here—and get excited to join the party in 2019.

Hosting a holiday party always seems like a good idea, in theory: a cozy night in with friends—nothing fancy!—with some festive sweaters and Santa-themed Champagne cocktails. What could possibly go wrong? But then, day of, you find yourself simultaneously cooking and cleaning and yelling, “Where’s the effing cookie platter?” while cursing Martha Stewart for ever setting an “easy-but-elegant” table. And suddenly all you want to do is bolt the door and drink the Champagne straight from the bottle.

But there’s good news, beleaguered hostesses: It’s possible to host a party without making yourself with miserable. Inspired by Priya Parker, author of The New York Times Bestseller The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, people everywhere are enjoying gatherings more—and worrying less about what direction the knife is supposed to face. Below, find Priya’s advice, in her own words. And then follow it, starting now.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, $19.04.

I grew up with images of what I thought the perfect dinner party had to look like: a beautifully set table, gorgeous wine glasses, a vase of flowers set just so. I attended cotillion classes as a pre-teen, where an instructor would roll out a white-clothed table and instruct us on how to properly display a napkin, where to set teaspoons, and what to do if you drop a fork on the floor. (Leave it there.) I’d leaf through my stepmother’s hosting diary from the ’70s, where she meticulously captured which recipe she tried, to whom she served it, and the date. I grew up with the implicit message that there was a right way of gathering and that it took a particular form. And, furthermore, that if you got the “things” of a gathering right—the food, the settings, the wine—the night would be a success. And implicitly, to gather well, one had to eventually obtain those specific things and follow a specific inherited form. And, lucky me, there was an entire industry designed to help me on my way.

Years later, I became a group conflict resolution facilitator and found myself designing experiences for Hindus and Muslims after riots in India trying to rebuild their neighborhoods, for the World Economic Forum trying to find its way to a more authentic culture, and for government agencies trying to figure out how to revamp a national poverty program. What all these gatherings had in common was that no one had any idea what they “should” look like. And because of that, we had freedom to invent. In addition to my own work, I set out to study the world’s most remarkable gatherings, and in speaking with over a hundred gatherers around the world, I learned a mantra that has deeply freed me in my own hosting: It doesn’t have to look a certain way. In fact, gatherings are far more interesting, meaningful, and memorable when they don’t. As you get ready for the holidays, and for a new year, here are some tips to help you host meaningfully on your own terms:

Hello Sunshine x Together Live - Minneapolis

PHOTO: Adam Bettcher

Priya Parker at the Hello Sunshine x Together Live presentation in Minneapolis.

Throw a “Worn-Out Mom’s Hootenanny,” Not a Dinner Party

Spending time and energy on our gatherings isn’t what is making us miserable. Rather, spending time and energy on predictable, routine gatherings is. When our gatherings go into autopilot, it’s hard to connect meaningfully. Instead of starting with the supposed form of something (a dinner party, a workshop, a house party), start with a need in your life you could gather around and then design afresh around it. Take for example, a dinner party Jancee Dunn, a writer, wanted to host at her place. She came to me for advice on how to “Art-of-Gather-ify” her dinner party. Rather than giving her tips on the form of a dinner party, I asked her instead: What is a need in your life right now that by gathering other specific people they could help you fulfill? She said that she, in addition to being a writer, was a worn-out mom. She realized how worn out she was when a friend cut her a PBJ into triangles, and she felt so deeply taken care of. Jancee wanted a night where she wasn’t only in the care-taking role, and thought perhaps she could host something to gather her other worn-out mom friends. She gave it a name: The Worn-Out Mom’s Hootenanny. She gave it a rule: If you talk about your kids, you have to take a shot. She emailed six mom friends the idea, and they all RSVP’d yes immediately. She took a general evening and made it specific, disputable, and exciting.

Don’t Assume a Party Has to Look a Certain Way

A friend of mine was leaving a well-paid job to become a metal artist and wanted to host a gathering to mark the transition. But rather than just hosting a party and inviting everyone in her life to it, she invited a subset of people: those who gave her courage. Like many of us, she had a range of people in her life who had various opinions about her decisions. She certainly had a set of peers and colleagues who thought she was nuts to leave a high-paying, prestigious job to explore something that was effectively more of a hobby. And she also had people in her life that thought it was awesome and admired the decision. She invited a subset of us—who didn’t all know each other—for a dinner to help her commit to her choice, mark it, and go through with it. She asked us each to bring a poem or some words to share with the group that have helped us when we took big risks. After some general hanging out, she gathered everyone into the living room, and we sat on the floor around a glass coffee table and munched on some carrots and celery sticks and mozzarella balls. There were a few bottles of wine open. She started the evening by talking about why she was going to leave this job and why she believed so deeply in pursuing metal artistry. She said that she was also scared about her choice and asked us each there to help keep her on her decision when she felt wobbly. I felt immediately drawn in and inspired by both her boldness and her vulnerability. She had made up a structure for the evening that fit her needs: to tap a sub-community in her life to help her uphold a decision when it got scary. And, she let us know that we could actually help her with that. We each had a chance to share our reading and any advice we had. And the evening became a night of stories and risk-taking and community. It was her “farewell party,” but there was no sheet cake.

Don’t Over-Include

If you’re anything like me, you grew up with the age-old adage, “The more, the merrier.” That is certainly true for football games and barn-raising, but it is not true for many of the moments we typically gather. When you know why you’re gathering and what for, it’s “the more the scarier.” Before my husband and I were married, we had gone home for the holidays and were going to get our parents together for an afternoon tea to get to know each other better. My parents happened to have an aunt visiting, and it happened to be her birthday. At the last minute, she wanted to come, too. To her surprise, we asked that she not come because it was such a rare occasion for our two sets of parents to meet before our marriage. And, effectively, she wasn’t a parent. It wasn’t personal, it was purposeful.

If You Think You’re Overdoing It, You Probably Are

“People are throwing birthday parties for their 1-year-olds with photo booths and a cake-smash portrait session and a sit-down meal, and the parents are miserable and over-spending, and the kid would rather be home with them and an empty box, anyway,” an editor friend said recently. “Amirite?” She is right. When we get stuck to the form of something, we think reciprocity has to be in the same form (and take the same financial value). They had a bouncy house at their birthday party, how can we not? This is a recipe for collective misery. Instead, assuming each family is different, ask: “What is a need in my kids’ life right now that by gathering people together in a certain way could help fulfill?”

Don’t Aim for Instagrammable. Aim For “You Had to Be There”

One danger of Instagram is that, because it is a visual medium, it rewards moments that are visually captivating to people who are not there. A stunning table setting is easier to capture than a memorable conversation. A group selfie is imminently more postable than a conversation about how to deal with sick parents, or how to choose the right partner, or even, what to do about location monitoring services and the tradeoff between privacy and convenience. The danger of the Instagrammable gathering is that you start making trade-offs between two different audiences: the real-life, flesh-and-blood guests in front of you and those not there. Sometimes these two audiences have the same needs, but more often than not, they don’t. Think ahead of time about your “phone philosophy” and set some norms around when and how (and if) people can take photos of the gathering, and whether and how to share them. As we’ve seen over and over, when we believe we are being watched or will later be seen by some future audience, our behavior changes. Maximize your gathering for the people in the room. And if the magic was hard to capture for someone who wasn’t there, you’re probably moving in the right direction.

Visit Priya online at, buy The Art of Gathering here, and follow Priya on Instagram at @priyaparker, where you will not find any overwrought “did it for the ‘gram” party selfies.

More from Hello Sunshine x Together Live: