January 13, 2013 This issue started out the same way most Got a Girl Crush projects start; with Andrea and Meg shooting the shit on Google Chat.
Meg how are ya? Andrea: im good! been busy but good :) im getting the itch to start issue #3 now! annnnnnnnnnd did i tell you my friend celeste is totally onboard to design the whole thing? she’s kind of really amazing Meg glad to hear you’re onboard for another issue :) :) :) yea i’ve actually got a list going for ish 3 my list so far: aubrey edwards, photographer 596 acres (paula segal) any/all women’s roller derby i want to shoot a roller derby Andrea roller derby!!!!i love it!!! dude. we’re totally wavin’. i started a list, too: ellen van dusen, annie larsen, mary roach and there’s a bunch of writer,illustrator,and photographer friends i’ve got in mind should we start a google doc? Meg word google doc. done. Andrea awesome
And just like that, we immediately set out with fury to pair up our photographer, illustrator & writer friends with our wishlist of girl crushes and watched the magic unfold.
Flash forward a year later at the the top of 2014. With all the content under our belt and design underway, we still had one final yet huge step to tackle. The step we always struggled with. Coming up with coin to print the damn thing. So, we decided to try something completely new and looked to the support of our readers, friends, family, neighbors, coworkersâ€”anybody out there who appreciates the musings of having a good olâ€™
fashioned girl crush. Thanks to our Kickstarter backers (a lot of whom are reading this right now and all of whom are named on our Thank You page) we were able to bring this thing into your hands today. This thing that embodies the special kind of affection, reverence and camaraderie that women have for one another. This thing that started out as chit-chat on a Sunday morning.
A deputy managing editor of Civil Eats, a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system. She is currently an Emerson National Hunger Fellow at Feeding America working to support food banks’ political advocacy efforts. She lives in Washington, DC. herhungryheart civileats.com
Lives in Toronto with her husband Geoff and their two cats. Together they run the small paper & accessories line Fieldguided, and she maintains a blog of the same name. She has stopped overplucking her eyebrows as she did as a teenager. fieldguided blog.fieldguided.com
Almost always has a girl crush. Originally from a small town in Ohio, she’s now a freelance photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. While her main medium is photography, she’s always working on having fun and learning from other mediums. hokaytokay amandajas.tumblr.com
A designer and illustrator living in San Francisco. She spends most of her time drawing things for fun and profit. You can probably find her eating the free samples in the cheese aisle. itsannahurley annalouisehurley.com
Amanda Stosz A Brooklyn based photographer and artist. When she is not busy working, you can find her biking around the city and posting pictures of other people’s pets on Instagram. amandastosz amandastosz.com
Amber Fouts An Atlanta–based editorial lifestyle photographer. Her other interests include cheese, crystals, and adventure. amberfouts amberfouts.com
Aubrey Edwards A portrait photographer and educator born in the California desert and presently living in New Orleans. She documents regional subcultures through imagery and collected oral histories; exploring themes of connection to land, living traditions practiced and passed, sexuality/ gender, and societal invisibility. aubreyedwards aubreyedwards.com
Celeste Prevost A designer living in San Francisco with an affinity for design that simplifies, unusual ice cream flavors, and commuting by bike. celesteprevost designisfine.com
A French artist living in Brooklyn, NY. She makes art about baseball, cacti, Greek columns and big cats. ameliemancini ameliemancini.com
A multi-disciplinary artist whose work has been shown across the US, Europe and Asia. Her playful illustrations are based in both fact and fiction, inspired by every day life. chelsearwong chelseawong.com
A typical San Franciscan, meaning she is from LA and has a white boyfriend. A one-time shopkeeper, she cooks a lot, eats too fast, and loves puppies. potandpantry potandpantry.com
A public radio journalist at 90.5 WESA in Pittsburgh, though she spent her formative years with Meg in Ohio. Liz likes biking and gardening and being outside, drinking cheap whiskey, and making music with friends. Her main girl crushes include Virginia Woolf, Etta James, and Leslie Knope. slowmovinglions.bandcamp.com
Erin Griffith A writer based in Brooklyn. Her work appears in BUST magazine, BBC, Huffington Post, Adweek and a variety of finance–related publications. She tweets about startups, tech and music. eringriffith
Grace Danico A modern day renaissance woman specializing in illustration in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a Masters in Library and Information Science, is available for freelance and dates revolving around books, museums, karaoke, plants, and ice cream. By the way, she’s always excited. gogograce gracedanico.com
Jen Dessinger A photographer based in Brooklyn. A former Cali girl who idolized all things Joan Jett and Debbie Harry. jendessinger jendessinger.com
Jenny Thai A writer who lives in San Francisco. She writes marketing copy for tech companies by day and procrastinates on other writing projects by night. Before becoming a professional wordsmith, she earned a master’s degree in history from UC Berkeley. six_of_seven sixofseven.tumblr.com.
Natalie Snoyman Natalie grew up by a warm place by the ocean and now lives in a much colder place by an archipelago. She is a PhD student who, in her spare time, attempts to replicate the veggie burritos from her favorite San Francisco Mexican joint. nsnoyman beingsnoyman.tumblr.com
Sam Paul A New York native with a degree in writing and gender studies. She is a very literate bike messenger, who waits for freight elevators courteously, while being ever mindful of diction, syntax, and systematic oppression. facebook.com/SamanthaPaul
Tuesday Bassen An Illustrator and Designer. Once described as “Queen of the Snaggle Toothed Girls in Baggy Cardigans,” Tuesday roams the streets of NYC with a sharp pencil in hand and a wild look on her face. Beware! tuesdaybassen tuesdaybassen.com.
10 Annie Larsen & Ellen Van Dusen
30 Danielle Wright & Sandi Falconer
have a chat
18 Adrien Schless-Meier
36 Helen Shirley Ho
discusses empty city lots
likes to ride bikes
22 Yael Malka & Cait Opperman
42 Danielle Flowers
share their photos
skates faster than you
48 Cristen Conger & Caroline Ervin
64 Rena Tom too many projects, too little time
talk Stuff Mom Never Told You
56 Jenny Thai is 6 of 7 sisters
60 Mary Roach drinks urine for the job
68 Sonali Fernando is a southern belle
Intro by Andrea Cheng Photos by Amanda Jasnowski
I discovered ALL Knitwear and Dusen Dusen around the same time. The first item I ever came across from ALL Knitwear was surprisingly not a piece of knitwear but a t-shirt with the famous Abbey Road print on it—however, instead of George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon striding down the street, it was a cast of Sanrio characters… and John Lennon walking down the street. With Dusen Dusen, it was a pair of shorts with brightly colored sharks all over them. The irreverent and colorful design sensibility of both brands deeply appealed to me and I immediately became obsessed with their work.
ALL Knitwear is a vertically–integrated knitwear label created by Annie Larson and an ongoing study of color, shapes, and patterns. Her collection of sweaters, hats and leggings embody the spirit of ’80s–era ESPRIT while delivering a completely unparalleled aesthetic in today’s fashion landscape. Dusen Dusen is Ellen Van Dusen’s line of universally flattering, print–driven basics.
With an educational background in psychology, she is constantly exploring the different ways our minds experience visuals and delivers her thesis by releasing a new set of prints every season. Both labels are based in Brooklyn and when I heard that Annie and Ellen were not only close friends but shared a studio together, it only made sense to ask them to interview one another for this issue.
Annie Larson Interviewed by Ellen Van Dusen
Ellen What was your favorite outfit in high school? Did you have a favorite sweater? Annie I wore mostly vintage in high school. I tried a lot of different things—the ’50s house dress phase lasted for awhile. My favorite sweater was the (dare I say, iconic) rainbow stripe wool raglan from the Gap. Ellen What’s your favorite color combo at the moment? Annie Black and white! Ellen How long does it take you to make a sweater from start to finish? Annie About four hours. I never make them start to finish, though. I knit several panels/pieces for multiple sweaters and link them together later—usually at night.
Ellen Do you knit with both arms or just one? Is one of your arms way stronger than the other? Annie I use my right arm to push the carriage, but my left arm is usually doing something too. I think my right arm is definitely stronger at this point. I’m secretly proud of my arm muscles. Ellen What is your morning breakfast routine? Annie First, I drink a tall glass of water. Then, I make two cups of coffee with my Chemex carafe. I usually eat soft–boiled eggs with salt, nutritional yeast, and Valentina’s hot sauce or avocado toast with cayenne pepper, salt, and nutritional yeast. I am obsessed with nutritional yeast! Grapefruit and oranges get some play too. Ellen How much coffee is too much coffee? Is there such a thing? Annie There is no such thing. Ellen What do you do when you feel stumped? Annie I change my focus to something else. I spend a lot of time at the studio and the days get long, so when I’m feeling particularly challenged or weary, I just take a break. Bike rides are good for this. Ellen What do you look at on the Internet while you are eating lunch? Annie Mostly Facebook, Etsy, and eBay. I spend a lot of time on Zappos looking at tennies—there is so much weird stuff on that site! I like to shop on the Internet. Ellen What would your ultimate special lunch be? Annie I would go to Saltie for a Scuttlebutt, then to [Momofuku] Milk Bar for a cookie, and then I’d have afternoon coffee. Ellen If you could only choose one forever, checkers or stripes? Annie Stripes. This has been a lifelong love affair! Ellen What’s your favorite thing about living in New York? Annie I like city life. You see so much every day—it’s a very stimulating environment to exist in. I bike nearly everywhere and I really enjoy seeing the city that way. It’s easy to feel cozy in
the neighborhoods were I live and work, but I love knowing how much more there is beyond that.
Ellen You used to not be a pet person, but now you are in love with a dog. Do you feel blessed to have Snips in your life? Annie Ha! Snips is the only girlâ€“ dog for me. You know that.
Ellen Van Dusen Interviewed by Annie Larson
Annie You’ve said before that you try to add one new element to your collection every season. How do you decide what that will be? Ellen There are a lot of things I’d like to make but figuring out something new production-wise is a major undertaking. I can really only dedicate the time each season to doing one new thing, so I end up going with what I am most excited about at the time. And it doesn’t always work out! I wanted to make
socks for fall but I didn’t end up finding the right manufacturer for the job. This season I did sunglasses! Annie In the past several years of developing Dusen Dusen, what has been the biggest surprise? What has stayed the same? Ellen The biggest surprises (and challenges) are always in production. It’s the hardest part of my job. I expected that once I found good people to work with it would run like clockwork. It has not! In order to have a final product I feel good about, I need to spend a ton of time at my factories and make sure everything is on track, correct and running smoothly. What has stayed the same, which is itself surprising, is my design process. Once something works, keep on usin’ it! Annie What is a goal you have right now (for life or business)? Ellen I would really, really like to redo my apartment. I’ve been saying that for so long! I want a new couch, a new rug, a new coffee table…it’s taking a really long time. I am slowly making progress! Annie If you weren’t in New York, where would you be? Ellen For the time being, I can’t imagine being anywhere but New York. But I don’t think I’ll be here forever. In the long run, I can see myself ending up in Savannah, GA, DC or somewhere in between. I’ve never lived in the South but have spent a lot of time there. I will probably end up there at some point! Annie What is your favorite part of the day? Ellen I am a morning person. I love getting to the studio super early and being really slow with getting my day started. Without those extra hours in the morning my days are way less productive. Annie What fabrication do you like working with the most? Ellen Cotton is my favorite. I like that it has structure and can hold a shape. Plus it’s easy to sew! Annie Tell me about your dream apartment. Ellen It’s really, really big. There is a room for my clothes and shoes, and a washer and dryer. It
would have painted white floors and walls, and bright boucherouite rugs (new obsession). Snips would have her own room which she can choose to fill with more dogs or whatever else her tiny heart desires. I would have a lot of plants (that someone else maintains—I usually kill plants). My kitchen would be big and spacious, with a detached ice maker (like they have in bars) and marble countertops. My bedroom would overlook a mountain and a river (but we would still be in NYC) and I would have clap on/clap off lighting. I would have a home studio with a 60-inchwide cutting table and 45 pairs of scissors. Can I have an in-house DJ? And a chef ? Or does that go beyond the bounds of the question? Annie You have a regular practice of looking at art. What have you been seeing lately?
Ellen My favorite thing that I’ve seen recently is a Jonas Wood show. I really like his paintings of interiors. I’ve also spent a lot of time looking at Rafael Rozendaal’s website and just got his book which is just stills from the site. The scope of the site is huge, and it’s completely mesmerizing. Annie What is the last purchase you made? Ellen A [Toyota] Prius!!!!!!!! Annie You are from DC, went to school in Boston, and currently live in New York. What do you think about the West Coast? Ellen I have spent almost no time on the West Coast. I went to SF for a week when I was in college with my family, but that’s the full extent of my West Coast experience. I think I would really like LA. I’m almost scared to go because I think I’d like it too much, and there are too many people on this side of the country that I love! Annie Dusen Dusen has been described by a lot of people. I often see words like, “easy, wearable, fun.” How would you describe your label? Ellen I have used the same three words many times! I would say that it’s fun, bright, colorful, and comfortable.
(Republished with permission, from http://civileats.com/2013/07/26/know-vacancy-from-new-york-tophiladelphia-urban-land-maps-support-communities-in-reclaiming-abandoned-lots)
K(NO)W VACANCY From NY to PA, Urban Land Maps Support Reclaiming Abandoned Lots Words by Adrien Schless–Meier Illustrations by Amelie Mancini
If you live in an urban area in the United States, you’ve probably seen a fair number of vacant lots dotting the streets. In 2001, nearly 15.4 percent of urban lands across the country were vacant, and the picture hasn’t improved much in more than a decade. A 2011 review of state and local laws regarding tax foreclosure, land banking, and code enforcement revealed that many municipalities rely on antiquated systems to manage vacant lands, making public control of those lands seem nearly impossible. The result? Cities all over the U.S. bear the financial burden as vacant lots sit unused and communities that live in areas with high concentrations of abandoned lands— disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color—are forced to deal with increased crime rates, depreciated property values, and potential public health concerns. For nearly a decade, Paula Segal walked by a vacant lot in her NYC neighborhood with a great deal of frustration. Occasionally, trucks would use the space to park and sometimes, for months at a time, the space would be untouched. Segal started talking to her neighbors about the lot’s history. She found out that it was a parcel taken as part of a huge public works project—the largest in the city’s history—a third water tunnel to bring drinking water from the Catskills to NYC residents.
The city agency had apparently made many promises over the years to convert this lot to a community space once the necessary construction was finished, even engaging a landscape architect and a community-driven design process in the late 1990s, with no tangible results. By 2010, it seemed the agency had instead let the land languish. Segal began working with her neighbors to turn the lot on her street into the community space that had been promised to previous generations. Through a partnership with Brooklyn College, the neighbors were able to map all of the vacant lots in their neighborhood, as this was not the only city agency-owned lot left undeveloped. The area, on the Northern edge of Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was full of holes. The only parks for two miles around were paved playgrounds. While officials blamed budget constraints for inaction, the legacy of so-called urban renewal and disinvestment in the area made many residents skeptical that the city ever intended to develop the land for community benefit in the first place. Over the last half–century, Bed–Stuy residents had both formally and informally taken matters into their own hands, starting community gardens and urban agriculture projects on scattered, otherwise empty parcels. The map they made of Northern Bedford– Stuyvesant let Segal and her fellow community
Paula Segal activists show decision-makers and elected officials—some of whom cited the need for more housing stock as a reason to stall development of the community space—that there was plenty of space in the neighborhood to meet everyone’s needs. Seeing the potential to create an effective advocacy tool, the project soon grew to encompass the whole borough, using data from the city’s property inventory. In May 2011, the same week she began studying for the bar exam, Segal printed posters that displayed the map of Brooklyn’s vacant lands and handed them out at block parties and other events in the area with her email tacked to the bottom. Soon, responses started rushing in. Residents wanted to know:
Was it really true that there were 596 acres of land in Brooklyn that weren’t being used? As it turns out, the city’s data was both over– inclusive and under–inclusive. Segal noted that community gardens that had been in operation for over 30 years were often listed as vacant, while scores of other abandoned parcels were not. Realizing the need to ground truth to the city’s data, Segal founded 596 Acres, an organization dedicated to accurately mapping the vacant lands in NYC and providing tools for communities to advocate for control of those lands. The name pays homage to the original amount of vacant land in Brooklyn that Segal calculated before she realized how complex the city’s data was. Using its mapping tool and on-the-ground community organizing, 596 Acres has helped NYC residents convert 16 lots to community– owned spaces—no small feat considering the bureaucratic twists and turns community members must navigate in order to gain control of vacant lands. 596 Acres’ interventions can be as small as posting signs on the fence of a vacant lot, which can support neighbors seeking permission from the NYC Parks Department GreenThumb
program to use a lot as a temporary garden, or as involved as providing legal representation to a group negotiating a lease with a massive city authority. The power of the online tool lies in its ability to distill complex city data into information that people can actually use to organize and advocate for control of vacant parcels, and the map provides the 596 Acres team with the information they need to accurately label NYC’s lots. In August 2012, the vacant lot above the water tunnel at the northern edge of Bedford– Stuyvesant that had set the ball rolling for Segal and 596 Acres became Myrtle Village Green, a community space that incorporates: a research farm; a communal medicinal herb garden; a movie screening space; beehives; chickens; a pumpkin patch for kids in the neighborhood; an outdoor classroom for local elementary school children who tend their own beds; a community– managed dog run; a compost system that diverts over 500 pounds of organic waste from landfill every month; and spaces where individuals and families can grow their own produce in raised beds. While Segal emphasizes that 596 Acres “does not prescribe what communities can and should do with their land,” much of the project’s strength comes from its ability to address residents’ frustration regarding unused land that could promote greater urban food access to areas in need. Furthermore, on a social level, Segal celebrates the potential for urban agriculture and gardening projects to promote collaboration among neighbors and to keep people coming back with new ideas. Outside of NYC, 596 Acres has expanded to build land access advocacy tools in other jurisdictions across the country. Segal notes that the way cities manage their land inventories is “hilariously different,” but they all tend to have complex, circuitous bureaucracy in common. Learning about other cities helps contextualize the issue of land access in NYC, and contributes to a burgeoning effort to make gaining access to
public lands a more transparent process nationwide. In late 2012, 596 Acres teamed up with the Garden Justice Legal Initiative (GJLI) of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia to create Grounded in Philly, a tool that maps the city’s vacant lands and active garden and farm projects, makes various pathways to land access more transparent, and provides users with a platform for organizing. The organization also employs a community organizer to distribute on-the-ground information and resources to residents who may not have access to the Internet, but live near or manage abandoned lots. Since many communities have already created gardens and green spaces on vacant parcels, GJLI offers pro bono legal services to support residents in securing more permanent access to those lots. Amy Laura Cahn, director of GJLI, points out the challenges in this process, calling attention to the fact that extant green spaces often span multiple parcels, and could be owned by any combination of the four city agencies that control land access in Philadelphia, or any of the thousands of tax delinquent private owners. GJLI works to streamline communication between those agencies and with the public so that community members who have tended gardens and green spaces for generations can gain legal protection. “If you’re a gardener who is on a parcel of land and who’s put down roots, you still don’t know from season to season whether someone is going to come along and threaten that community space,” Cahn says. While current policies provide the option for longer–term leases or sale to gardeners, Philadelphia generally only grants land access permits for one–year interim use, which means the city can easily seize property it deems ripe for commercial and housing development once the permits expire. This poses a challenge to gardeners who seek and rely upon community and financial
investment to support their “risky” ventures. Moreover, Cahn points out that for farmers and gardeners who need time to create and maintain fertile soil, not knowing if they’ll have access to land from year to year “makes it hard to have confidence in [their] work. People do it anyway, but it’s still a huge barrier.” While GJLI provides legal support to residents navigating city processes, Philadelphians also saw the need to be prepared for policy changes when the city council introduced legislation in 2012 that threatened nearly 20 percent of the city’s urban farms and gardens. Healthy Foods Green Spaces arose out of the efforts to defeat that bill, giving voice to a broad coalition of urban agriculture advocates and community gardeners. Now, the initiative is working to create a vision for the future of farming and gardening projects in urban Philadelphia by influencing decisions at the policy level. Like Segal, Cahn maintains that Grounded in Philly is really “a land project as much as a food project,” even though much of the conversation about the tool centers on urban farming and gardening. She emphasizes that “the roots of gardening in Philadelphia are in communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities who have all brought farming traditions” to the city, and in low-income communities where urban renewal and disinvestment has led to the most concentrated abandonment. The initiative’s primary focus is on supporting those communities’ self-determination and rightful access to land. “I hope this can be a forum for a conversation about anti-racism and anti-disinvestment in the food justice movement, rather than something that tries to side-step that conversation,” she says. “If we can make a tiny dent in supporting communities to define their own future, then I feel like we’re being successful. If we don’t enter into that conversation, which is a hard conversation, then we are not successful.”
21 Beds Yael & Cait share a few photos from their book Wherever We Were Words and photos by Yael Malka + Cait Oppermann Illustrations by Celeste Prevost
In July 2012, we embarked on a 70–day long backpacking trip across nine European countries, Turkey, and Morocco. We photographed things differently in every city we went to and were naturally interested in different things as the trip went on. The one thing we consistently photographed in each place we went was the bed, couch, or floor we slept on. Each photograph varies in terms of the setting as well as our body language and expressions, which were affected by the stage of the trip we were on, how exhausted we were, and how sunburnt we were on a given day. No matter what city or country we were in, the surface we slept on was consistently a place of refuge and served as our temporary idea of “home.”
Falconwright Interviewed by Anabela Piersol Photos by Meg Wachter
The Falconwright studio space is housed in a building that seems appropriately eclectic: there’s a party rental shop next door with an alligator in its logo, an auto body shop downstairs, and Oliphant’s Academy of Physical Culture—a gym that has been around forever— is down the hall. I’ve never been inside but it always makes me think of Jerry visiting Mr. Mandelbaum on “Seinfeld”, asking, “Is this a gym, or a fitness museum?” Sandi Falconer and Danielle Wright have transformed the space into an efficient and near–cozy production facility for their line of colorful printed leather goods. They’ve furnished the room, which is filled with natural light, with a loveseat that they printed and reupholstered themselves, plant pots covered with printed leather scraps, and tidily organized bins containing their current line of fall/winter
pieces. Samples from their exclusive range for Urban Outfitters sit on the shelves. Danielle’s dog, Ollie, sits on a red cushion in the corner. On the walls they’ve hung signs bearing slogans such as “YES” and “FRESH” that were hand–painted by Doug Kerr, whose lettering is instantly recognizable to anyone from Toronto (he has been hand–painting signs for an iconic local discount department store for over fifty years). It’s a fun space, but it’s obvious that some intense production happens here. They both handle the other nonglamorous parts involved in running an accessories line such as packing and administration, but in general, Sandi creates their unique designs and does the silkscreening, and Danielle handles the sewing and cutting. The two of them have a sweet, sisterly relationship that makes it seem as though they’ve known each other since childhood. There are many snacks.
I talked to Sandi and Danielle over French fries at their favorite local lunch spot, Fanny Chadwick’s, after shooting a lookbook in which they wore papier mâché mascot heads and posed with wildly printed snakes (of course). I was sitting next to our mutual friend Caitlyn Murphy, an illustrator who wore the snake head in the lookbook.
Anabela Piersol When did you start the line and when did you take it full time? Danielle Wright We decided we were going to do it summer of two years ago . Sandi Falconer Two years. That seems crazy, that’s so crazy that’s it’s been two years. We took it full time in May of 2012. Anabela What made you decide to take it full time? Danielle I got laid off. Sandi She got laid off the same day that I got a promotion at my job [at an association that handles performing royalties and rights]! Which is hilarious. Anabela So you’d been having some success running the line part time. Sandi Danielle had some time to devote to it, and we were busy because we had some bigger orders and opportunities that we didn’t know how to deal with at the time. Anabela Where were you working out of at the time? Sandi Just at home. We would meet each other on the subway line with giant bags of leather, and then Danielle would sew them, and then bring them back, and I’d do branding on the inside… I was always biking over to Danielle’s. Danielle It was back and forth all the time. It was wild. But a great start. Sandi We got the studio last July. One year. We should smash a champagne bottle. How do people commemorate anniversaries? Danielle I think they just open the bottle. Anabela How did you two meet? Sandi We met at a trunk show at The
Workroom [a Toronto sewing studio that occasionally hosts sales]. She was doing her thing… Danielle I made dolls. Sandi I was selling screenprinted prints and cards. We met there, and just sat on the couch, laughing and joking around.
Danielle Eating all the snacks. Anabela How did you decide to work on leather goods together? Danielle I found a box of leather at a thrift store. Little scraps. And we’d been talking about doing something together. Sandi We wanted to do something that was a little different from what we were already doing, so we were like, “Maybe we can screen print on leather?” Combine our skills. Danielle We were just like, what can we do that we’re not seeing a ton of already? Sandi And we had this box of leather. So we had to figure out how to work with it. We made a bunch of random things to see what worked. Anabela Didn’t you have headbands at one point? Danielle Yes! We tried headbands. My husband worked with leather before I did, just as a hobby, so he had leather supplies. Anabela What’s a typical day for Falconwright like? You guys seem pretty good about keeping a strict schedule. Sandi We’re pretty good. We try to work 9–5 together. First thing includes going to get coffee.
Number one. And then it just depends what’s on the docket. We try to have loose plans during the week, for what we have to accomplish that week. Like, ooh, today we have to cut all the leather for that thing. So it varies, but the days are easy to fill. Anabela It’s so physical to me, sitting at a sewing machine all day, or cutting leather, or silkscreening. If I spend the day sewing, by the end of the day my back is killing me from being hunched over the machine. Sandi We do max out. Danielle We do a lot of repetitive production work, which makes it a little bit easier. The same thing over and over again. Sandi We try to stretch when things hurt. Anabela How do you come up with the designs for the patterns? Sandi I just mess around. Draw a bunch of shapes, mash them up, try to make them make sense. Anabela Do you do it by hand? Sandi Yeah, I just draw everything, scan them, open them in Photoshop… eventually
they tend to make sense. Usually if we’re going to work on a collection I’ll just take a few days at home to mess with patterns and I’ll print a bunch of options, and Danielle and I will go over them together. Our favorites never end up being everybody else’s favorites. We tend to both really like the funner, wilder ones. Anabela Do you both have a background in art and illustration? Sandi No technical background, I just like to draw. That’s how I do everything. Jump in! Danielle I’ve taken courses. But I have a teaching degree. Anabela What’s your favorite pattern that you’ve done? Danielle Every time we make new things, that’s my new favorite. I really like animal print right now. Anabela You both have side projects under your own names (Sandi has a line of prints and cards, and Danielle has a line of jewelry). Do you find that helps you with Falconwright, to think
about the creative process in a different way? Danielle Yeah, Falconwright is a lot of production work, and I don’t want to say it’s more creative, but it’s nice to make smaller amounts of things. Sandi It’s nice to have a side project that doesn’t require having to make a certain amount of money every month to pay your rent. I think that’s good for both of us. Anabela What’s your dream project for Falconwright? Danielle Leather couch? Sandi Shoes would be a dream. I’d love to make patterned leather shoes. Danielle I was actually looking into being an apprentice for shoemakers in Toronto. Anabela How very Daniel Day–Lewis of you. Sandi Daniel Day–Lewis? Danielle He went to Italy to learn how to make shoes. And furniture. Not a lot of money to be made in handmade shoes. Anabela What inspires you? Sandi I feel like it’s pretty easy to get inspired by everything, all the time. There are a lot of amazing people doing amazing things all the time, so there’s no shortage of inspiration between the people that you know. Sitting at this table, even! You always feel like, “Aw damn! I gotta up my game!” Danielle We don’t have internet at the studio, just our phones, so that helps with that feeling. Anabela Do you feel a lot of pressure to constantly produce? Sandi The fashion thing is kind of weird, thinking ahead in terms of seasons. We never really thought about fashion schedules. Like today, shooting a lookbook. What? Danielle We always feel behind, like when we work with big companies, and their schedules for buying. We’re slowly learning.
Helen Shirley Ho Interviewed by Erin Griffith Photos by Amanda Stosz
Once a government worker living a life straight out of “Parks & Recreation”, Helen Shirley Ho dove head first into the nonprofit sector after she fell in love with urban biking. In addition to her role as as Development Director of Recycle-A-Bike (RAB), a nonprofit which refurbishes bikes, she’s been a prolific community organizer, working on projects ranging from the art world to youth outreach to political campaigns and landmarking (she’s even co-founded a secret society for the latter). But Shirley Ho rides so fast that, since we did this interview, she’d already rolling up her sleeves on a new project, and it’s equally as crush-worthy: she’s now joined the Hester Street Collaborative, a nonprofit focused on empowering the residents of underserved communities. There she’ll be working on the Queensway, an abandoned railway that community members are in the beginning phases of turning into a greenway. We spoke with her about her work for RAB. Erin Griffith How did you get involved with Recycle-A-Bicycle? Helen Shirley Ho I got involved because I was tricked by our founder and current executive director, Karen Overton. We had previously worked together at the Parks Department. Very slowly and surely she converted me into a bike rider and I think she did that by gifting me with jewelry, since she knew how much I loved jewelry! And I also liked community organizing, and soon enough I was a volunteer for Transportation Alternatives. I was then part of the founding crew of the Queens committee, and we started the Tour de Queens together. It was very fun for me because I like to fundraise. I organized an 18–mile tour for 500 people that first year and that’s how it all started. That was in 2007. The first Tour de Queens
was in 2008, so six years later, here I am, fully sucked into the bike world. Erin When you met (Overton) you had never ridden a bike in the city before? Helen I grew up in New York City, so I rode my bike on my block when I was little. When I was in my early 20’s, I tried riding my bike to work, which was exactly four blocks away. But it was all on highway service roads and like major roads, so I was a little scared. So I put [my bike] away until I met Karen. And then she made fun of me because my bike was too small for me. Since I met her, I have not only gotten a new bike, but I’ve gotten four bikes Erin What do you do day to day? Helen My title is Development Director. But we’re a nonprofit, so it’s a little bit “all hands on deck.” Sometimes I’ll tweet, sometimes I’ll
do the newsletter, but mostly my job is to look for funding for our youth programs. So we take donated bikes and refurbish the ones we can and we sell them in our shop. We also do full-service bike repair and that covers part of the youth program. So we teach middle school and high school students to be bike mechanics. We do job training programs and take around 1,000 students out each year on bike rides. Altogether we ride around 24,000 miles and burn around 1.75 million calories. Erin Why is that important for kids? Helen RAB started out as a youth program of Transportation Alternatives in 1994 in Washington Heights, in partnership with a children’s aid society and the Department of Sanitation. We got a little too big for Transportation Alternatives so we branched out on our own now. We’re turning 19 this year. Erin What about RAB sucked you in? What sucks anyone in? Making friends in the movement. Having peers that really enjoy what they’re doing on a day–to–day basis. I can say that I love my job, which I think that more people wish they could say that. So it’s really rewarding to be around all the people who are happy and like to do what they’re doing. Which happens to be riding bicycles and fixing bicycles. Erin There is a confluence of different movements that all overlap at RAB—conserving waste, helping kids, an aspect of health and pollution—all of that comes together and make what you’re doing unique. Are there ever conflicts between those different moving parts? Helen Not really. You have to choose which foot you’re going in with, depending on who you’re talking to or what grant I’m writing or who I’m approaching. I think they’re all really important issues. Whether it’s keeping 25 tons of bikes out of landfills each year, or riding bikes, which is obviously no carbon footprint compared
to driving a car or taking mass transit. There is also the health aspect, which is mostly about childhood obesity, which is one of the largest chronic disease issues in NYC now. And we’re also making sure we help lowincome families get the training they need in order to get a job. It just depends on what the best hat is to wear first, but there’s not really a conflict. Erin Are you a bike mechanic? Helen I actually am the only non-bike mechanic in our entire organization Erin Is there a reason for that? Helen I have some injuries that prevent me from doing anything too physically oriented with my wrists. But I like organizing people more than I like fixing things. We each have our own talents. So if I have to, I can fix your flat and do very basic things but I’m not like a bike mechanic by far. Erin Do you find, with kids you work with, that girls need to be encouraged more? I feel like bike culture has this male–dominated stereotype and I don’t know how true it still is, so I’m curious about your experience there. Helen I think it’s true. I think bikes can be really intimidating for women, because there is this perception that’s grounded in reality in a
lot of places. Where you go into a bike shop and the mechanics are all men, and mechanics have a reputation that follows them around of being snobby, so if you don’t know exactly what you’re talking about, or you bring your bike in and it’s not a fancy or special bike of some sort, people might treat you differently or laugh at you, which is not very nice. But it’s a little bit different at RAB and I think the culture for bike shops is changing as well. We were founded by women and all of our executive directors are women. At one time 50 percent of our shop staff were women. So we have a pretty high female–to–male ratio. I think that dynamic shifts things a little bit here, at least. There are more female faces.
We also ran a “women in transit” volunteer night, because it does make a difference when there are no men in the room. I think women learn differently. We’re less competitive. We’re more social learners and it benefits us sometimes to be alone, working and learning in a safe environment. Erin What is the biggest day–to–day challenge that you deal with? Helen Ask me a month ago and I would have said the lack of air conditioning! But I think a struggle that a lot of nonprofits have is just finding enough resources for your organization, with everyone wearing five hats, and trying to keep afloat. So we really perform miracles
Helen with the small budget we have. The challenge is to keep that momentum and those miracles going without burning out, and trying to be sustainable at the same time. Erin Let’s talk about your myriad of side projects. You’ve been involved in the Jackson Heights Art Club, Transportation Alternatives, you founded the Tour de Queens and you also cofounded a secret society. Helen I’m not as involved in the Jackson Heights Art Club any more. The Tour de Queens, we started it and now Transportation Alternatives produces it. I also used to run Queens Green Drinks, a once-a-month environmental gathering, but I don’t do that anymore. Now my side projects include the Biking Public Project, which emerged from the Youth Bike Summit. It’s a project–based group trying to engage more women, minorities and delivery cyclists into the advocacy world. Erin The inclusion of delivery cyclists is huge. Helen Nobody is organizing or talking to delivery cyclists at all. When we started, we talked to unions to see if they’d tried to engage or unionize the cyclists, and no one really has. So we’re doing two things based around Corona, Queens, which is taking portraits of normal everyday cyclists that are different from what we see in most cycling magazines, which is white men in spandex. So we’ve been doing that and we’ve also been surveying folks to find out what other peoples’ interests and concerns are. We don’t want to be presumptuous and say, “Oh we need more bike lanes, that’s why no one’s cycling.” Because maybe that’s not the issue. Maybe the issue is that people want bikes,
but can’t afford them. Or maybe there’s no parking spaces. Or maybe you have a bike but you can’t afford a lock. So we’re trying to have conversations with folks to find out what their issues are and pull out the emerging leaders from that pack. Erin And what about your other side project, StreetsPAC? Helen That’s also cycling related, but very separate from RAB because we’re a political action committee. We’re the “all–powerful bike lobby.” Dorothy Rabinowitz is a Wall Street Journal writer who was on Fox News talking badly about Citi
Ho Bike. She was the one who coined the term “all– powerful bike lobby,” which we all love to use now. I’m on the board there and I feel like I’m the token everything. The token woman, the token minority, the token person from Queens. Although I don’t think they’d appreciate if I said that but it’s true. So we just endorsed Bill de Blasio for Mayor. This group just formed in April . We met with Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio two weeks before the Democratic primaries. We’re gaining a lot of steam and momentum and we’re super excited. Erin And tell me about the secret society? Helen Our official name is The Roberta Moses Happy Hour Club and we’re a secret group on Facebook. There are around 250 members. It’s a women–only club and we meet once a month in a different location to power broker. We like to make ladies–only backroom deals. Sometimes actually in back rooms, sometimes we’re in public spaces. The group is pretty heavily comprised of urban planners, so Robert Moses is our big joke here. Erin So what kinds of backroom deals do you guys make? Helen We’re like the nuns of the city. We believe in equity and access for all, and so it could be about getting a building that we think should be historically landmarked, getting that going, building committees and finding people working on aspects around an issue in the same room and deciding they should partner and build a coalition to do things together. Erin Have any of the deals seen results yet? Helen Everything is still in progress right now. It started a little over a year ago. Erin How many people usually show up? Helen It depends on the event. Some of our Robertas work in fun places, so I think the next one will be a special tour of The High Line, or maybe a behind-the-scenes tour of Five Points before it gets torn down. Erin It seems like you’re the kind of person who likes to have new projects all the time.
Helen I think we all have great ideas. I’m the type of person who can’t just think the idea, I have to do my idea also, which is both a blessing and a curse. Erin Why a blessing and a curse? Helen Because it makes me very busy. I have less time to go to the movies and to recreate in normal ways, but I think it’s awesome because it opens all these new doors and allows me to meet really amazing people that I might not have met before. Erin Do you have a favorite person you’ve met as a result? Helen Six years ago I was in the world of parks, and it was all about the environment and trees and community organizing parks and parkland. Then I discovered bikes and it was like, “This is what I should be doing. I love traveling by bike.” And then I found a community of women in bikes, and I was like, “Oh yeah I should be hanging out with women in bikes.” And then it was like, “Hey, there’s no minorities here, and I should create something about minorities and bikes.” And I realized that for my entire career, working in the environmental world, I had never had any Asian–American peers. All of a sudden this year, after starting the biking public project, now I have like six other Asian women who are urban planners in the transportation world, which is like more Asian women in this world than I’ve ever met before in my entire career. I think it’s amazing. It sounds a little silly, because it’s like we’re like unicorns, but so now it’s like, us Asian women should caucus together. So I feel like each door opens another door. Erin One last question: was your time in the Parks Department anything like “Parks & Recreation”? Helen It was exactly like the first season of Parks & Rec. I think the show is now more about the characters, but I didn’t think the show needed any writing in the first season. Those are all real life scenarios, especially the community meetings. It is exactly like that.
OMG WTF Interviewed by Sam Paul Photos by Jen Dessinger
There is no question that Danielle Flowers (aka OMG WTF) is one of the most important players in Roller Derby today—on and off the track. She is a skater, a coach, and a business owner. She travels the world as co-captain of the Gotham Girls All Stars and as a coach to teams near and far. She and her partner, Bonnie Thunders, own New York’s only derby-centric skate shop, Five Strides, and their own skate company, Brooklyn Skate Company. She volunteers as part of Derby’s governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). A life-long athlete with a love for the DIY and punk ethos, Flowers found a mix of all these things she loves within Derby. As a coach, an organizer, and a skater, she is a driving force, shaping what the sport is and what it will become.
Sam Paul How did you start out in Derby? Danielle Flowers I lived in Montreal and owned a bike shop, Révolution Montréal, for four years. I had hit a point where I wanted to do something different. I had people working for me at the shop and I had a lot of free time. At a show, I met a group of girls who were like, “Oh you played sports in college? You should try this.” I grew up running, and then I played soccer in college. Then I just stopped doing everything and had my teenage angsty years after college of being in bands and doing all that type of stuff. Then, I moved to Portland, OR and got into cycling. But I had been to a game before and I was like, “No way. That’s crazy.” I could hardly roller skate, let alone hit people on roller skates. Somehow, they convinced me to give it a try. It was something different and fun to do. It was a different group of people to hang out with. It was a challenge. I had only skated as a kid a few times, at like a roller rink, going to a birthday party. So it was
weird at first, but I went and practiced a bunch. I would go skate by myself at the hockey rink. Sam Were the other women supportive in the beginning? Danielle Oh yeah, totally. It was really awesome. Everyone was super welcoming. I started becoming friends with a lot of different girls in the league and then you know, it sort of became a really awesome close–knit group of people we were hanging out with. It reminded me of being involved in bands and going and supporting your friend’s band. It
created this whole other community that I was involved in. I was really involved in the queer community in Montreal, and with queer arts, and the bike community. This opened up another subset of people. Everyone was super like–minded. Sam When did you come to NY? Danielle I moved here in November of 2008. I had come and visited with the Montreal team the month before. I had already been thinking about moving and I saw them play one of the home teams here. I was blown away by the level of play. I went to see other leagues in the US and that’s how I decided where I was going to move. [Gotham Girls All-Stars] won the national championship that year. I actually moved to New York the weekend that Nationals 2008 were happening in Portland. So everybody I had met here wasn’t here to help me move. The Brooklyn Bombshells were my home team. I skated for Brooklyn for three years. Last year and this year, I was All Stars only. So I managed
Brooklyn the last two seasons and played with the travel team. I get to travel all over the place. We were just in Asheville, NC last weekend. Sam When did you open Five Strides? Danielle We’ve been in this [Williamsburg, Brooklyn] location for two years. We were in Astoria first. When we first opened up the shop, we were like, let’s see if this would even take off. It was a teeny, teeny shop. After a few months, we had to get out. It was so small. After 8 months, we moved here. We have the store and the company. We actually manufacture boots. They’re made in a factory on 38th between 7th and 8th. Brooklyn Skate Company. We’re able to make our own boots, have a shop to sell them at. We sell to other stores, too. Sam You also coach other skaters? Danielle Bonnie and I run Five Stride Skate School. A league will ask us to coach them. We have our championship tournament that’s happening in Milwaukee. And the weekend after
that, the league in Berlin has asked us to coach them. So, we’re leading this big boot camp for the league. If we’re not here at the shop or in the factory doing that stuff or skating, we’re traveling or coaching. This season, we were in Australia, we were in Brazil, Bonnie was in Columbia. We traveled all over the country too. That is a lot of fun, but it’s exhausting. You’re coaching for ten hours, which is a long time to be on skates and constantly giving instruction. That is definitely something we do that we both really love. I grew up coaching soccer, so it made sense to me. Bonnie was a figure skater growing up, so she had a lot of instruction. We’re very complementary to each other. She’s very technical and I’m very practical. Sam Who were your ‘girl crushes’ growing up? Danielle I played soccer so I always had a lot
of soccer athletes that I looked up to. I loved Mia Hamm, who played for the national team. All the national team players because those are the female athletes you have to look up to. When I eased away from sports, I had different musicians I looked up to and thought were awesome—Kathleen Hanna, all the typical Riot Grrrl people. You know, Corin Tucker, all those people. It’s changed slightly throughout the years, but with Julie Ruin playing shows again, I’m so stoked and I’m so excited and it brings all of that out again. Bonnie and I went and saw Julie Ruin play at the Bowery and we were just like giddy kids going to see our teen idol. We have a junior derby team in our league and they’re all just now learning about Bikini Kill and Sleater–Kinney and they’re reading all of these Riot Grrrl books. It’s so exciting because they’re
so little and I’m so excited that I can give them all this music and make them all of these mix CDs—not mixtapes because they probably don’t have a cassette player. It’s cool that all of these people still exist. I’m sitting here wondering who are the new people inspiring the younger kids. Apparently, it’s the same people who were inspiring us. Sam You’ve really made Derby your life. What has motivated you to do so much? Danielle Derby sort of incorporates a lot of different aspects of a lot of different things that I’ve done in my life that I really love. Playing team sports, there is this sense of camaraderie with your teammates that you have, and you can’t replace. You can’t trade that for anything. There’s this understanding that you have with one another that you don’t even have to talk about. You know you’re on the same page doing all these things together. When I’m on the track skating with them, I know that I don’t have to say things. I just do things and they do the other things that they’re supposed to do. It’s this mindless machine that just moves forward. There’s the flip side of everything where this sport is what we make of it. Nobody else can say that about any sport. Playing soccer, I was playing by a rule set that a bunch of dudes in like France probably made up. In Roller Derby, we, the skaters, are making the rule set. We, the skaters, are saying, “No, we don’t want you, big corporate sponsor man, to come in and take our sport.” It’s sort of the same philosophy as DIY, which has its good and bad because it gets to a certain point where you’re so big that you need things to get done and you can’t just rely solely on
volunteers. We have hit that point where the WFTDA has started to hire people, and it’s just making things run even smoother, which is really cool. Also, just the friendships with the people that I’ve met. It’s really rewarding to work with someone and you know you’re volunteering for something that you both care so much about. Everybody is inspiring each other to be better, and it’s a healthy environment. We haven’t created a sport where you have to be this one specific kind of person to be good at it. It’s not like you need to be this skinny or fit. Yes, if you have an athletic background, it’s going to help, but you don’t need to be 5’6’’. You can be a giant. You can be little. You can be any size you want to be. Being a sport that is inclusive of all shapes all sizes just adds to its neat factor. I’ve met so many amazing people and it’s opened up doors for me to do other things that I want to do in my life. Whether it be go coach in Brazil or go travel. It’s created a lot of opportunity for me that I never would have had before. I’ve made amazing friends and I’ve met my partner this way. There’s a lot that I get out of it. I find it really rewarding, too. This is our tournament season. This is why we’ve been working our butts off all year—from a skating standpoint, on the backend, and from competitive standpoint. Now we get to sit back and watch tournaments happen and watch these teams who have been busting their butts all seasons long and see what they do.
Stuff Mom Never Told You
Interviewed by Liz Reid Photos by Amber Fouts
As co-hosts of the podcast “Stuff Mom Never Told You”, Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin offer a feminist take on the science, history, and philosophy behind every imaginable topic, from beer brewing to Beyonce, punk rock to pregnancy. Their show reaches a quarter of a million listeners monthly, and their hilarious and incredibly informative YouTube videos have logged over 3 million streams. Caroline and Cristen tell us how they blend journalism and activism, what it’s like to be an opinionated girl growing up in the South, and how they’ve introduced the dudeliest of dudes to the F-word.
Cristen Liz Reid Tell me a little bit about your backgrounds and how you became hosts of ‘Stuff Mom Never Told You.’ Cristen Conger Caroline and I actually met in college. We were both in journalism at the University of Georgia. We met at the campus newspaper, she was my boss and I went to my first meeting, she was editor-in-chief at the time, and she used ‘fuck’ in a meeting, and I was like, ‘This girl is cool!’ So, we really hit it off. Fast forward, after college I got a job at How Stuff Works, and I think that was in 2008, and around that time podcasts were taking off at How Stuff Works. Stuff You Should Know had just started and it had just gone through the roof. The thinking was, all of the writers were going to need to have a podcast. And at the time, I was writing exclusively animal–related articles, and the thought of having to do an animals podcast—not that I don’t like animals—but I was like I can’t be the animal podcast girl. I was starting to become that crazy girl at the party who was like, ‘Who wants to know about sharks?! I know everything!’ It was getting bad. One of the articles I wrote was about the shape of wombat poop. I’m page one Google for wombat poop, don’tcha know. So, I got together with Molly Edmonds, who was a staff writer at the time, and I was like ‘We should do a podcast together.’ And our idea was, we wanted to do a podcast that we would want to listen to, as women in our early–mid 20s. The initial idea was to take the How Stuff Works articles say, like how homelessness works. We would then just do a podcast on homelessness, but how that affects women. How can we put a women’s angle on this? Because How Stuff Works, as you can imagine, is very much skewed toward
a male demographic, and there wasn’t a lot of attention being paid to women. It took a while to get it off the ground. There was some hesitation about the concept because we were basically saying to our company, you’re not serving this audience, we would like to serve this audience. Caroline Ervin I studied journalism also at UGA, print journalism, because nobody told me that was a bad idea. I worked at the college paper, I did hire Cristen, and I just remember thinking Cristen was one of our best writers. She was not afraid to tackle government stuff that was more complicated and non-music related. Cristen We were in Athens, so you can imagine. Caroline I started as a staff writer there and moved up to various editor positions until one summer I was editor-in-chief. And all summer I had all these kids with stars in their eyes like ‘I
Caroline want to write about Elf Power.’ And so Cristen really impressed me because she wrote about a lot of the less glamorous topics that were more complicated. I graduated UGA in 2006, and went on to work at the Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, GA for four long years. Augusta is… it’s different. So I moved back to Atlanta. I actually moved in with my parents for a little while, just because I was like I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to get back to Atlanta and get a job. I got a job at a nursing accrediting agency. I basically edited these really long boring reports that nurses wrote about nursing schools, judging them on whether they fit all the criteria to be accredited. I remember I was miserable at work one day and Cristen texted me and was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna podcast with me?’
it was just language that I hadn’t used before. And especially once we found that community of listeners that wanted to hear those things and would share their own stories, I think now it’s definitely a form of activism. I always want it to be credible and fact–based and something that people can glean information from, politics aside, but I also do want to empower our listeners. Caroline I’ve definitely found that it is a mix of both, but my attitude toward the podcast is that it’s education that’s not kind of a forcingit-down-your-throat kind of way. I feel like the casual activism comes in outside of the podcast, outside of the studio, when I’m actually talking to people, whether it’s my friends, my family, or just strangers I meet on the train. Talking to them about the podcast, and they say, ‘Oh, what is that about?’ And I say, ‘Well, we talk about women, social issues, and health issues, but it’s all from
Talking to them about the podcast, and they say, ‘Oh, what is that about?’ And I say, ‘Well, we talk about women, social issues, and health issues, but it’s all from a perspective of feminism and of supporting women, and making that connection with like–minded individuals, male or female’. Liz Is Stuff Mom Never Told You activism for you guys? Is it journalism? Is it somewhere in between? Cristen I think it’s all of that, honestly. I think it started out more as journalism for me. All the stuff we had done at How Stuff Works is very research oriented, and as someone with a journalism background, we were very fact– driven to begin with. I never really took Women’s Studies courses in college. I was so focused on just being in school and figuring out how to get a job. It really took me being out of college, in the workforce, on my own, and really having this podcast that gave me a platform to learn about all of these issues that awakened a lot of activism in me. Not to say that I didn’t espouse the values of feminism and gender equality before that, but
a perspective of feminism and of supporting women, and making that connection with like– minded individuals, male or female’. I kind of feel like people who disagree with us or don’t share the same viewpoint, they’re not going to listen, they’re not going to want to connect. They’re either going to send us a snarky email, or they’re just going ignore us all together. So I kind of think that the podcast could not be totally successful as activism in that regard. I do think that it starts a lot of great conversations. So people that do listen to us and appreciate what we have to say, or at least want to hear what we say, they can take it from there and talk to people in their lives. Cristen I know for a fact, just from knowing people who know other listeners, I know that we have more conservative listeners, or listeners
who come from traditional backgrounds, older listeners, there’s middle aged men who listen to our podcast, who probably don’t think about it, never read The Feminine Mystique, or anything. In a way, I feel like because a lot of what we do is undergirded with education, it’s almost like subtle activism. Caroline I have an example. I live with this guy, my roommate. He’s a great guy but he’s such a stereotypically alpha male. I’m not going to go so far as to say bro, but he’s a stereotypical dude. And since we have moved in together, into this apartment, he has told me, ‘I never considered myself anti–women or against women, but I’ve also never considered myself a feminist. And since I’ve lived with you and watched you study for the podcast and research topics, and you’ve told me things that you’re researching for the podcast, I have a totally new perspective on so many things that I never thought of before. Trans rights, gay rights, just women’s rights.’ I think that things like that are great, you’re not pushing anything on anybody, but you’re making them think. People are learning. They’re hearing ideas from you that they maybe haven’t heard before and they’re like, okay, maybe I am a feminist. Liz What are some of your favorite topics or guests you’ve had on the show? Caroline Cristen just talked to Autumn Whitefield–Madrano from the Beheld, and it was such a great interview to listen to. Cristen She was awesome in terms of merging the whole beauty culture with feminism and her blog is great. One of my favorite guests was Hannah Blank, I interviewed her about one of her more recent books, Straight: A Brief History of Heterosexuality. Caroline Melissa Petro was a really interesting interview. Cristen She’s the hooker teacher, that’s what she’s known as. But she’s a very vocal ex-sex worker who got fired from her job in the New York Public School system. She came on to talk about that. That was one of the most gratifying topics, to me. A lot of times, we’re learning
alongside our audiences. We try to pick topics that not only pique our interest or might be things that are being talked about, but things that we want to learn about. We did an episode not too long ago, ‘Transgender 101.’ And the feedback from that was so gratifying, just in terms of hearing from trans listeners saying ‘Thank you for clarifying this.’ Or hearing from trans allies, ‘Now these kinds of things are cleared up.’ So that was a good one. And then there are just fun episodes like ‘Where do all the bobby pins go?’ We actually found information about bobby pins, and that was another one where we got a ton of feedback from listeners going, ‘I know! Where do all my bobby pins go?’ Caroline The response was really overwhelming. And that’s what’s rewarding, is that connection with people who are like ‘I know!’ Cristen It’s always surprising and kind of unpredictable what topics will resonate with women. One of our recent episodes on short hair, we’ve gotten so many awesome pictures from people, the response from that one was really fun. Just to hear a woman be like ‘I cut my hair off and it was amazing! Here’s a picture!’ Caroline When I first started, we did a couple really silly ones that I had so much fun with. My introduction to working with Cristen was doing episodes on rebound relationships, mermaids, and cowgirls. Liz Have there been any episodes that were difficult for you, either controversial or you weren’t sure how to approach them, or maybe even technically really complicated? Caroline Anything dealing with race or religion—although those things do have bearing on our gender topics and our sexuality topics— that stuff can be just a little bit outside of our wheelhouse. The last thing we want to do is piss people off. We’re not in it to be controversial or stir the pot necessarily. Cristen Or promote stereotypes, or anything like that. We did an episode on women and Islam, but that was an interview episode because that was a topic that I would want to have an expert to
Caroline talk about. Because that’s a) more controversial to talk about, broadly, and b) I don’t feel expertise to speak to that. Caroline We did episodes for Black History Month, where we related it back to women’s issues and African American women’s issues. Again, we want people to know we’re not claiming to be experts on the issues that African American women face today. But we did want to tie that in and just educate people and raise awareness. Cristen And we kicked that off with a conversation about privilege. What is privilege? This is white privilege, we need to talk about privilege first. Because before we are even comfortable getting into this, we’ve got to establish where we’re coming from. Liz You have done so much academic research on sex and gender for SMNTY, so I’m curious where you fall with regard to biological determinism of sex and gender. Are the differences in the genders—assuming a dichotomy—more nature or nurture? Cristen I think there’s a lot of nurture, I think there’s a lot of socialization that goes on. There’s also—and Caroline, maybe you feel this too—being a woman born and raised in the South I feel like draws those lines out a little more starkly sometimes. I don’t want to promote stereotypes of the South being backwards at all, because when I was growing up, my parents were very much like ‘Do whatever you want to do, you can be anything.’ Very supportive in that way. But maybe it’s not so much a gender difference, but one of the biggest things I’ve had to get over is vocalizing for myself. Self-promoting, being out and loud about the work that I do, and being like ‘Yeah, I
host this podcast, and it’s fuckin’ awesome, and you should listen to it!’ Rather than being like [quietly mumbling] ‘Oh yeah it’s a podcast and um…’ Which I really had to get over. I don’t know if that’s necessarily more of a Southern thing, but I feel like there is a little bit of that. And just like in basic workplace things. Essentially like, being more comfortable just directly asking for your needs rather than holding back and being [in a Southern accent] ‘polite.’ Caroline Right. I think that a lot of my attitudes… my whole life, I’ve had a lot of male friends and I was an only child and grew up next door to two boys and I sort of just joined their pack, you know? So my whole life I feel like I have had kind of this duality. I consider myself a straight woman, but there are a lot of aspects of my personality that are more masculine. I’m loud, I’m outspoken, I’m not super emotional or sensitive. Cristen From all the research I’ve done, I don’t think we can discount necessarily the influence of hormones on behavior. I’m not saying that necessarily puts us in one box or the other. I think that in the same way we consider sexuality on a spectrum, that gender is on the same spectrum, where you have influences both of biology and of nurture as well. Even down to a chromosomal level… there’s no set of “this is what a male is and this is what a female is”, because everyone has a mix of different things going on inside of their bodies and brains. And I think you have a whole host of things going on outside of our bodies and brains that influence how we act. Caroline I think there are people like my roommate, like the stereotypical ‘tough male,’ who really internalize social norms and social
expectations. Not to harp on my roommate, ‘cause I love him, but he has a very strict notion of what masculinity is and what being male is, and he does not deviate. He is very like ‘I’m going to watch sports, and an action movie, and I’m not going talk about my feelings. That girl broke up with me? I don’t care, I don’t care.’ I think there are people who are not willing to even consider the fact that there are blurred lines anywhere, whether that’s sexuality, whether that’s gender. What’s interesting is the podcast has gotten me thinking about things like that, that I probably never would have thought about as intensely. Liz Who are your feminist heroes? Caroline When I was at the newspaper, my managing editor was fantastic. She was this strong, brilliant woman who happened to have two kids, but also have a really powerful job at a top state newspaper. And she never gave any indication that she needed to ‘girl it up’ or anything. She was who she was and she did her job and there were no excuses and you just did what you had to do. She was a great role model for me, as a young journalist starting out. Cristen Amy Poehler. Liz Me too! Cristen Not only is she being fucking awesome in general, but she’s doing the Smart Girls at the Party thing. The whole organization, giving advice to girls and empowering them and highlighting all this stuff that they’re doing. Liz One of my heroes listed in my bio on the Got a Girl Crush website is Leslie Knope. I know she’s not a real person, but she’s so awesome. Cristen I love that they created that character kind of based on Amy Poehler. Just to be out about feminism. And she gives no fucks! I love that this woman is on TV. All the female characters… if you think about Donna who gives no fucks about how she is perceived. And April who gives no fucks about being a weirdo. All of them. Caroline There’s another woman that I think is fantastic. I’m trying to catch up with the rest of society and take some HTML and CSS classes. And I’m taking it through Skill Crush. It’s run
by this woman named Adda Birnir. She’s this really adorable funny blonde and she teaches this class and she’s so competent—she freakin’ went to Yale—and now she has this website that’s dedicated to teaching young women ‘Yes you can do this, no, it’s not that hard. You can accomplish this.’ I have total girl crush admiration for her. Liz My last question I’m stealing from the Beauty episode you did with Autumn Whitefield– Madrano. You asked her if she could go back in time, what would she tell her younger self about beauty? So I’m curious what you would tell your younger selves, about life in general, if you could go back in time? Caroline I would tell myself to chill out. Because now as a 29–year–old woman, I feel like I have nothing figured out, ever. I’ve learned a lot that the keys are, you be kind to people, but you also don’t compromise who you are. Be yourself, no apologies, but don’t take anyone down in the process. There’s a saying that I really like, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I found it on Pinterest, ‘Take no shit, but do no harm’. And I freakin’ love that, because as a 13 year old or a 16 year old, you feel like you’re dealing with the worst shit all the time. I think I would go back and just say ‘Chill. Not everybody is looking at you all the time like you think they are. They’re busy really worrying about themselves all the time, like you are. Just be kind to yourself and be kind to other people.’ Cristen This might sound weird, but I think that I would tell my younger self to dream bigger. I’ve kept a diary since I was like 8, and I have all of them. And there’s this shift that happens right around puberty, when it becomes all my body, and all boys, and it’s all insecurity. And I was so consumed by that for so long, and it’s like I could barely see beyond my own two feet. And I wish that I had used that brain space to fucking dream big and empower myself when I was even younger to be a badass and pave my own way and ask for what I want, or demand what I want if need be. And not be scared of making my voice heard.
Just the Seven of Us Words by Jenny Thai Illustrations by Chelsea Wong
I have six sisters. Including me, that makes seven girls in one family. Whenever friends and acquaintances discover this fact about me, the ensuing conversation usually goes something like this:
“Wow, really?” “Yes, really.” “No brothers?” “Nope.” “Your poor dad! So… what was it like growing up?” I’ve been asked this question so many times by now that I usually give the same default response: “Awesome! It’s like having six best friends!” I will be the first to admit that this sounds downright cheesy, but the sentiment is true. To be totally honest though, I rely on this as my go-to answer because I don’t really know how to explain what it’s like to grow up with six sisters, least of all during a passing conversation. In fact, I think it’s nearly impossible to fully encapsulate the experience in just a few words or milestone events. Rather, it’s the sum of every mundane, fleeting moment that makes the experience of growing up with my sisters so unique and so special. Friends tell me they “get it” when they see all seven of us interacting with each other. We get loud. Loud enough to the point where people
stop and stare at us when we’re together at a restaurant. We all talk excitedly over each other about anything and everything in our secret sister dialect of English-meets-Cantonese-meetsacronyms, punctuated by obscure inside joke references that nobody else understands, not even our parents. Seeing the seven of us hanging out, I imagine, is probably a lot like watching an episode of Arrested Development—but in real life and in real time. A few friends have compared it to a unicorn sighting. Of course all seven of us share the same genes, but we also shared just about everything else: clothes, makeup, books, music, friends, secrets, and of course, shoes. When we all lived under the same roof, we kept our shoes on rows and rows of shelves that lined an entire section of the wall in our parents’ garage. By the time my older sisters got jobs and started buying their own clothes, we probably had at least a hundred pairs of shoes, from fancy heels and sandals to Converse sneakers in multiple colors, all neatly lined up along the shoe wall. It was the ultimate shoe collection for any pre-teen girl to have access to, but the shoe wall was more than that, too. It reminds me of a time when all seven of us still lived together at home, before we started to move out one by one, each taking our respective shoes with us. Money was tight growing up so we never had a lot of toys or games at home, but my sisters and I somehow always managed to find ways to entertain ourselves and have fun. We made our own board games. We put on fashion shows and made dresses out of fabric scraps leftover from our mom’s sewing projects. We reenacted our favorite movies and television shows. We made dioramas out of shoe boxes. We played store, but
Jenny Thai our version of store was highly elaborate. If you wanted to make a purchase, you needed a “valid” credit card and driver’s license, both crafted out of cardboard, crayons, and packing tape. We didn’t have much, but we had each other—and the space to be creative and inventive. As adults, we still have the most fun when we’re doing nothing at home. Inevitably, downtime turns into something hilarious and amazing just by the sheer fact that all seven of us are together in the same room. Case in point: three years ago on Christmas Day we held a spontaneous hula hoop contest. By then, my oldest sister was almost 40 and my youngest sister was 24 years old. Two of my sisters even had kids of their own. It didn’t matter. We still laughed and shouted as if we were kids again, trying to outdo each other with increasingly difficult hula hoop tricks. I don’t remember much else about that Christmas except the stomach ache I got from cracking up so hard and how happy I felt that day. It is precisely moments like this that are quintessentially “Thai Sister.”
I mention my sisters so often that in college, people used to ask me if I was in a sorority. “Yep, except we’re all biologically related. Although we have all grown up, we haven’t grown apart. The seven of us are still very much a part of each other’s daily lives. I talk to my sisters at least once a day, whether by text, email or chat. I even share an apartment with three of my sisters. I mention my sisters so often that in college, people used to ask me if I was in a sorority. “Yep, except we’re all biologically related.” I can’t imagine life any other way. And even as we each pursue our individual paths, relationships, and careers, we still come back to each other. It always has, and always will be, just the seven of us.
Mary Roach Interviewed by Natalie Snoyman Illustrations by Grace Danico
Mary Roach never set out to be a science writer, but one would think she was determined from birth. After working as a freelance copy editor, Roach started writing press releases for her part-time job at the San Francisco Zoological Society. Since then, Mary has written for publications such as Vogue, GQ, The New York Times, National Geographic, and Wired. In her books, Mary asks the questions we all want to know but are maybe a little too embarrassed to ask. Is it possible to eat yourself to death? Can a corpse have an orgasm? Could I survive in a whale’s belly? Best of all, she’ll answer those questions and make you laugh page after page. Mary’s humorous, wellresearched books examine the life of cadavers (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook), sex (Bonk), take us through NASA training (Packing for Mars), and explore our digestive tract (Gulp). Simply put, Mary is one of my favorite authors and she was kind enough to answer a few questions I’ve been wanting to ask since I first picked up Stiff ten years ago! Natalie Snoyman Your books cover huge topics like sex, space, the afterlife, and the human body. Can you tell us about your brainstorm process and what inspires you to write about each subject? Mary Roach I like to have a huge swath of material from which to cherry–pick interesting/ unusual/bizarre/funny episodes. Sometimes I don’t start with a topic, but with a handful of related particulars. Gems I’ve stumbled onto over the years and known I’d like to do something with. If I have a cluster of three or four (each of which might make for a good chapter), I’ll start mulling a possible book topic that could encompass them. Example: Packing for Mars [Packing for Mars: The
Curious Science of Life in the Void]. Over the decades, I’d come across the astronaut video– toilet (for positional training), the bedrest facility, the neutral buoyancy tank and Enos, the second space chimp. All irresistible. At some point I thought, “Maybe I can build a book around these.” It’s like that awful TV ad for Kohler faucets, where this impossibly pretentious couple goes to see their architect, places this over-the-top faucet on the architect’s desk, and says, “Build a house around THIS.” Natalie I wonder if you can tell us about your research process. As a budding researcher, I find I become easily sidetracked by the sometimes,
Mary Roach unrelated yet golden stories and characters I meet along the way. I want to write about them all! How in the world do you keep it all organized? Mary Those unrelated golden nuggets end up as footnotes. I can’t leave them out! I’m a bit of an unusual case, in that my books are typically more sidetrack than main road. I do try to create a logical narrative flow out of it all, though. I spend a surprising amount of time thinking about the order of things. Especially for my first book. First books engender a lot of hand– wringing. “Do I have a book here, or a string of unrelated chunks?” I took comfort in the words of a former editor of mine (and one of my favorite writers), Burkhard Bilger. He said, “Mary, stop worrying. At some point your publisher is going to slap a cover on it, and it will be a book.” My organizational strategy is extremely primitive: file folders in a file cabinet drawer. Natalie The cast of characters in your books make them come to life in a fascinating way! Lewis E. Hollander, Jr., the quiet and kind sheep rancher in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, for example, won my heart. How do you come across these folks, and is it ever difficult to write about them objectively? Mary Oh, I loved Lew! And Gerry Nahum, too—Lew’s soul-weighing chapter-mate. How do I find them? I turn over a lot of rocks. I read and do Pub Med searches and ask around. Some of it is just dumb luck. You never really know who you’ve stumbled onto until you meet them in person or get them on the phone. Though sometimes you get a sense of it from the title of a paper they’ve published. For instance, the author of “Flaturia: Passage of Flatus at Coitus” is bound to be an interesting individual. I flew all the way to Cairo to spend a day with that man. “Objectively”… probably not a word that fits my work very well! I view the people I meet through the lens of my one
Let’s just say life was not improved by the knowledge that Alfred Kinsey occasionally enjoyed inserting a toothbrush up his urethra, bristles-first. or two days with them and our roles as writer and subject. So I am parked pretty far away from the objective reality of who they really are. Natalie The notion of “popular science” is a bit of a nebulous term, I think. What’s your relationship with the phrase and how have you found your place within the field? Mary I don’t take offense when people describe my work as “popular science.” It’s nice to be popular! I don’t actually think of what I do as “science writing.” The science writing programs I have visited require at least a masters degree in a science field. I go and talk to these students sometimes, and I tell them they’re already way ahead of me: I wouldn’t even be accepted in the program. If not science writing, then what? I don’t know. Not good with labels. I write about the things that interest me most, in the way I most enjoy writing. Natalie Your work is often described as entertaining and incredibly accurate, which is not what tends to come to mind when people think of science writing. Is it a challenge to explain a difficult topic in a humorous, fun way without losing its integrity? Mary In terms of keeping it entertaining: It helps to have a liberal arts degree. My ignorance is my secret weapon: It’s hard for me to write about a
topic in a way that leaves the reader behind, because few readers actually know less than I do about a topic (at the start of a new project, I mean). Science has gone molecular. It revolves around things you can’t easily see and describe and hold in your hands. Material like that is tough to bring to life in the same way a writer can bring to life a sexual arousal study or a Body Farm project, with description and character and dialogue. Fortunately, I don’t understand the fine-grain stuff—the protein receptors and genetics and subatomic particles. The downside is that I’ve put myself in a pretty small box. Natalie Is there anything you really wish you hadn’t learned during your research?
Mary Let’s just say life was not improved by the knowledge that Alfred Kinsey occasionally enjoyed inserting a toothbrush up his urethra, bristles–first. Natalie Lastly, I’ve read that the grossest thing you’ve come across during your research was drinking your own (filtered) urine. What the heck did it taste like? Mary Like some hyper–sweet kid’s drink. It was processed using—if memory serves— reverse osmosis, which basically swaps out salt for sugar. And it had been filtered through activated charcoal, which binds up all the organic nastiness. So in fact it was quite palatable, so long as you didn’t dwell upon what it was. Ed [Rachles, Mary’s husband] wouldn’t kiss me for days.
Rena Tom Interviewed by Donna Suh Illustrations by Anna Hurley
Rena Tom seems like a very nice and normal lady upon first meeting. Her voice is soft and girly–sweet, her figure pocket-sized and petite, her demeanor affable and pleasant. But while she is indeed a nice person (a true sweetheart, actually), she is by no means what most people would call “normal.” Rena’s angelic face belies what I can only call a Honey Badger attitude* a keep-itreal-slash-march-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum-slash-don’t-give-a-f kind of attitude. It’s awesome. Armed with brazenness and charm, this self-starting entrepreneur, maker, and mother has forged a career for herself that’s as unique as she is, and she’s become friends with a bunch of insanely talented folks along the way. She’s just cool like that. After opening the first Makeshift Society in San Francisco last year, Rena’s working on opening the second location of Makeshift Society in Brooklyn. Curious about how she does it all, I asked her three million questions to find out what it takes to be Rena Tom. *Rena has not seen, nor will she ever see, the famous YouTube Honey Badger video** to which I refer, but I call her that anyway. **We’ll save this for another time.
Rena Tom Donna Suh How would you describe what you do? Rena Tom Oh, that changes a lot. Lately I’ve been signing off as “Trouble. Maker.” but the party line is that I run a coworking space. This facilitates what people come to me for, which is advice about work, whether that’s making stuff, selling stuff, freelancing, or whatever. Donna You went from studying mechanical engineering to making jewelry to art to retail to Makeshift Society boss lady. What did you start out wanting to do with your life and how did that change over time? How did you use each step as a platform to the next? Rena I did engineering in school because I love rollercoasters and things that go fast, and I thought it would be cool to design them. I do love and appreciate design but it took me many years to realize that what I really was craving was finding a way to make people feel something—more experience design, I guess. I didn’t end up designing rollercoasters, obviously, but jewelry was manageable, and I am fascinated with the power objects have over people too. From there, I got deep into maker culture, which led to retail, which led to learning a lot about running a small business. That somehow turned into Makeshift Society, which pulls a lot of my interests together, with helping makers, helping small business owners, and crafting their experience around their work life. Donna So while obviously you’re a careful lady and you’re great at planning and strategizing for your various ventures, you’re also a huge risk taker. How do you balance what your mind is telling you vs your gut? What does the little voice in your head sound like? I personally don’t always know what’s good for me, it seems. How do you know the right thing to do is the right thing to do? Rena I don’t know! “Right” depends on so many variables. All I know for sure is that I’m lousy at
working for other people, and that I like projects where I must learn new things, or else I get bored. Pretty much all my decisions are shaped around that. Lately I’ve been trying to bring more partners in and so the new thing I’m learning is how to successfully work with someone else’s skillset and expectations and their own gut reactions. It takes a lot of effort, and I’m not sure if it’s right for me, but I won’t know until I try. Donna I don’t know how you find enough time in the day to do what you do. As someone who follows you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., I can tell you’re constantly finding and sharing a TON of cool things. Like, constantly. And on top of that, I know you’re on email and doing a shit ton of work. Like, constantly. And then you have a husband and a kid. You’re crazy! Kidding, but not really, you are kind of crazy. How do you prioritize, what’s important for you to get done every day? What are the things you make sure you do because they’re good for you or important, not necessarily because they’re fun to do? Anything that approximates a daily ritual in your busy schedule? Rena I’m totally crazy, you’re right. Well, the main priority is to make sure my kid is taken care of and doesn’t feel neglected, but still gets to see that mommy has to work and that she enjoys her work. After that it’s just clearing a path through my inbox, a little bit at a time, and making sure people have been treated with respect, even if I have to say no to them. Everything I do these days is good for me to do, and less because it’s fun to do—and that’s the sad truth of where I am right now. I know people depend on me and I hate admitting I can’t handle something so I end up taking on a lot of the shit work, and see if they want to do the fun stuff. It’s just how it is right now, but someday it won’t be. As a reward, I get to see other people be happy
I think I’m outspoken because I am not part of any one community—I exist on the edges, so I feel like I have a noninsular perspective, and also I don’t have as much to lose. and successful, and that really does make me feel good. I think the only thing I do every day is drink coffee and make sure the dog has clean water to drink. Donna A lot of people who work for themselves have a hard time saying no. I assume you are no different, but what factors into you saying “yes” to some things and “no” to others? Rena I am awful at saying no. When there is too much on my plate, I say no, but I still feel like I’m at the point where I can’t afford to say no to too many things. I’m starting to learn my own value, though, and that’s helping a lot. Self-esteem has so much to do with it. Donna I can’t say that I know of any other women doing what you’re doing. You are forging quite a unique path for yourself in a world that straddles business, creative/design, community, education. Do you have any “girl crushes” you look to, whom you admire for what they’ve made of themselves? Rena All of my friends who are living the lives they mean to live are inspirations to me. People who are trying, within whatever restrictions they have in their lives, are my jam. The same goes for ladies who speak up, and who are tireless in their creativity and ability to help other too. Hm, one good example of that is Kate Bingaman–Burt. She’s an artist, an educator, and always, always returns your emails. I am not sure I’ve ever heard a no out of her mouth and I don’t know how she does it. Donna You’re pretty outspoken about the lack of diversity in any field you’re lumped into,
particularly when you speak on panels and at design conferences—too many men, not enough minorities. How does this affect how you plot out your path to success, if at all? Is Makeshift Society your response to this drought of minorities and women? Rena I’m not sure where it came from, but I have a big ol’ chip on my shoulder about what I “should” be doing. I’m female, I’m small and I’m Asian so there’s always this interior struggle about doing things I love and then subverting it somehow if I feel it plays too close to stereotypes. I know that a lot of this is in my head, and I’ve been pretty privileged, but it is what it is, and being aware of how it makes me feel makes me extra conscious about how others might be feeling. I think I’m outspoken because I am not part of any one community—I exist on the edges, so I feel like I have a non-insular perspective, and also I don’t have as much to lose. I don’t want to make a “girls only” clubhouse with Makeshift, but it does have a lot of great women in it, and that creates a certain environment, and it’s not a bad thing at all. Conferences that are too monoculture or nondiverse make me itch. I get tired of fighting it sometimes. Donna You’ve been vocal about opening a hotel in the future. What else is part of your master plan for world domination? Spill the beans, sister. Rena Aw, nothing. I’m out of good ideas. That’s probably enough.
Sonali Fernando Interview and photos by Aubrey Edwards
I have been frequenting the city of New Orleans since the late nineties. I had family who lived here at the time, and it was the beginning of a long relationship with this place. Spending a month when I could. Coming for a long weekend. Never wanting to leave. A long relationship that would take fifteen years for the stars to finally align and lay the path for me to make it my home. Over that courting and waiting period, there were several elusive characters whose name would come up time and again. I’d file them away on my mental “make friends with” list that I would silently tick off over the years. Sonali Fernando, it is easy to say, is a deep–rooted local legend. Her fiery persona, her bellowing and boisterous laugh, and above all her ongoing cultural investment
in the Crescent City have made her one of the greats here. Her many projects run the gamut, and her toes are dipped in a multitude of communities—communities where she is highly respected. I consider her a close friend now, and I am so blessed to have her. She reminds me to focus on my breath and be present. She reminds me of the beautiful things that people can create together, and how important that is in life. And, most of all, she reminds me that you can dance atop a bar at 6 am, after drinking absinthe for 12 hours. Cowboy boots scuffing the veneer, and a contagious energy that forces others to do the same. Because life is about having a good fucking time.
Sonali Aubrey Edwards If you could sum up who you are, your core beliefs, your daily meditations, and what makes you as goal–driven as you are, how could you do it? Just try. Sonali Fernando In the apparent world, I am a first generation Sri–Lankan American. I was ingrained with a solid work ethic as a child and developed a social consciousness of my surroundings at an extremely young age. I’ve always valued strength of character over social and monetary gains, and I love music. I believe everything changes, you have to stay in the moment, and try as hard as you can to keep good intentions to not harm others. It’s hard for me, because I am a highly passionate warrior type who enjoys a couple shots of Chartreuse and the thrill of battle. I’m goal–driven because my parents were poor and sacrificed a lot for me to be successful. I guess it was always an expectation. Aubrey New Orleans is a seductive, mysterious city, and a beautifully broken/fucked up city. There are so many stories of folks coming down for a weekend in 1983, and never leaving. How did you end up in New Orleans? What did you find here that coaxed you to stay? And not only to stay, but to invest years here, and invest in multiple communities? Sonali I came to New Orleans as a member of one of the first four guinea pig classes of Loyola University’s Music Industry Studies program. It was certainly a weird time for that degree program and the teaching then was “Get out into New Orleans, that’s the real classroom!” So I was entrenched in the New Orleans music scene by the Spring of the second semester of 2002. Riding around Treme talking shit with Joe’s son, Joe, from Joe’s Cozy Corner at 19 with my old man at the time, who was literally much, much older than me. I think it was that relationship combined with music here and abroad during 2002 to late 2004 that really put a spell on me. To this day, I can’t recall a more magical time in my life. I was a Hurricane Senior, meaning Hurricane Katrina disrupted my senior year of university. When I came back second semester, obviously
it was a strange go of it. James Carville spoke at my graduation and echoed the sentiments of almost all of my music industry professors, which was “Stay. Stay and keep this place alive. Bring everyone home.” And more specifically, bring the musicians home. So, of course, being traumatized and feeling like I should stay. I stayed. Since then, it’s been a really rough time committing to New Orleans. The entire population has changed, the culture is slowly changing, and there are major race and class issues (as is everywhere but it’s felt constantly here). During the course of this internal battle with New Orleans, I wore many hats. I was a bartender, a youth theater company manager, traveled the country doing free health screenings, an artist manager and promoter, a bookkeeper, a DJ, a bike delivery girl, and the list goes on. I’d always been on the fence about staying or leaving, but it wasn’t until I started working at Bar Tonique and met my business partner that I considered staying for another 10 years. Aubrey You have a keen and inherent way of connecting people who need to be connected; introducing like–minded and driven people to each other so they can create and produce incredible things. Where do you think this intuition and desire to be a conduit comes from? Sonali You know, I’ve always had a knack for this. I think there might be a classification for this type of person in The Tipping Point, because multiple people have accused me of being a connector, a fixer, a sorceress (lol..lol??). I have no idea where its origin is, I’ve just always naturally disarmed and encouraged other people, and, in that process, have gleaned an accurate understanding of their skills, interests, motivations, and values. That assessment is a feeling more than it is a list of properties, and I intuitively know whom they will get along with. This is what makes me a good bartender, I think. It’s why I still enjoy doing it. I suppose one of the crazier stories of this was last year when I was working behind the bar in the
Fernando early evening (the sun was still out) and an Indian Australian man walked in. It’s not everyday that a South Asian man walks into a cocktail bar in the South to have a drink by himself, so I struck up a conversation. He works in info technology and media and is a huge food and beverage nerd. He had a drink and left for dinner. Way later that evening, into the wee drunk hours of the bar, I was closing out a couple that racked up an impressive bill of tequila shots and managed to still stand, so I bought them another round of tequila shots (naturally). We get to chatting, and turns out he is the now late journalist Michael Hastings, there with his wife. We made plans to have dinner the next day. As we speak at dinner the following day, I can’t stop thinking about the other gentleman and how he and Michael should have met. But what to do? I never got his information. However, serendipitously, he walks into a music venue we were at later. The introduction was prickly, so I took my leave to the ladies room. However, when I returned, they were well into a conversation about time in Afghanistan and their experiences with Julian Assange. It was amazing. We hung out for another two days. Simply being present with these two individuals and hearing their stories was incredible. That’s a very random example. Another was when I received and made a phone call that got you the gig to photograph for a Spike Lee film, and a couple days later he left a message on your cell. And yet another was when I met the CEO of Spin, Nion McEvoy, at Jazz Fest one day, then Dana Colley of Morphine and his wife, Kate, the next day, and brought those two and my friend, Osama Aduib, of the The High Line Hotel, to food writer, Pableaux Johnson’s house for red beans and rice. I was a party monster the night before and disco napped through most of it, but apparently they had an enchanting time and thanked me profusely afterwards. The more I think about it, the weirder the stories get, so I’ll stop there. Aubrey You’ve had a lengthy and varied pedigree of interests and careers here. Can you
tell us about your work with music in general, teaching and organizing music–related events? Sonali Like I said, I have a degree in Music Industry Studies. I actually wanted to take a gap year before college, but my immigrant parents were so scared I’d never go to uni, that they made me go. I applied to one college for one reason: to open a music venue. If I couldn’t party, I’d learn to make money off the party. So, in 2002, I arrived at Loyola University. Immediately joined a 10–15 piece funk band with friends, called Thumpasaurus, and in addition started producing shows and parties. During this time I also started tending bar for the first time at the now closed but world renowned Cafe Brasil. Still, when I’ve traveled internationally and met musicians, when I say New Orleans, if they toured in the 90s, they ask about Brasil. That club was a time and space conduit for dreamers. That environment introduced me to show promotion and a long list of new and veteran New Orleans musicians. These relationships continue today. One of these relationships actually got me the teaching job with the youth theater company. This work was really humbling and inspiring and taught me in a short amount of time the most I’d ever learned about the human spirit. In my time here, I’ve danced in parades as part of krewes, sang on various local records and performed in bands, DJed, produced shows, taught in the performing arts, managed artists, and had a grand ol’ time. Aubrey Why did you feel you needed to promote music in New Orleans? Was there a void you felt like you were filling by promoting certain shows, DJs, events, etc? Sonali There are two eras of my promo life in New Orleans. Pre–Katrina as a college student doing mostly live shows, and post–K with mostly DJs. I think I started throwing parties because in my mind there was constantly a marvelous party going on, with open minded, talented, socially concerned individuals, who were magnetic and laughing and drinking and doing drugs, but not in a creepy way. I wanted to manifest this gala in
real life, but as the years wore on in both eras of my promo life, I realized people couldn’t live up to the party in my dreams; so I stopped. That makes me sound like a crazy person, doesn’t it?
It’s my job to bring you into the atmosphere that I create, find our common ground, make you feel at home, and get you drunk on some delicious libations. You leave, hopefully, happy, with new friends, or closer to the ones with which you came. Specifically in the second phase, I developed an affinity for a lot of very new national and international electronic artists, and writers, and scenes, that were people of color and queer focused. I noticed in NOLA’s nightlife landscape, there were no truly safe spaces for those communities unless they were at a gay bounce club, or the gay bars on Bourbon. Templum was born, once I identified the talent, which was Johnny Sanders (DJ V, pronounced DJ Five) and Whitney Thomas (DJ Pr_ck), and later Bryant Wilms (DJ Honey B), and peripherally, JJ Marshall (Dead Cereal) and Austin Purnell. Aubrey Talk about Templum. What was the underlying mission, and what communities were you helping to bring together? Sonali Templum manifested towards the end of 2010. Creating an embracing space in the electronic music scene for people of color and the queer community was our mission with Templum. Kids who were into really progressive music, specifically other DJs and promoters, ended up being folded into that, regardless of their color or sexual orientation. Funny how PoCs and Queers are always associated with progressive culture, eh? That was an interesting resulting observation of our parties. Since then, so many
dedicated parties and cultural communities for these two groups have cropped up in New Orleans. It’s lovely. And inspiring. Templum is on indefinite hiatus for now, as we are all focusing on other parts of our lives. But all the artists continue putting their work into the world. Aubrey You began working in mixology about a year ago, bartending at the Nationally–known Tonique on Rampart Street. What brought you into this field, and can you talk about being a woman, and more specifically a woman of color in that field? Sonali I was coming off the heels of a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat. I spoke to Katie Darling about how I needed a service job to save some money, but I wanted to work in a higher end environment. Katie put in a word for me at Tonique, I wrote a ballsy email, was interviewed and then hired. One of the hallmarks of Bar Tonique that differentiates it from its peers locally and nationally is that it is a majority female staffed establishment. This is uncommon in the cocktail world. Of the 8 tenders that can work behind that bar, 5 are women, 1 of 4 of which work behind the bar every day of the week. Since I entered the mixology world in that environment, I can’t really speak to what it’s like being a woman as a minority, since I am constantly surrounded by estrogen–laden badassery. It feels great! But, as a woman of color, and even just as a PoC, there aren’t many of us making cocktails. As a minority of any sort, you are always aware that you are a minority. Never has anyone in my community of tenders and business owners made feel aware of it but certainly customers have. Until I’d say the last year, cocktail bars attracted very particular types of clientele and some of those folks did not like me for any reason other than how I appeared and their assumptions of where I was from. This is the South. It was very difficult in the beginning, but as I became more adept behind the bar, I figured out how to turn it around. That’s what makes bars beautiful. It’s my job to bring you into the atmosphere that I create, find our common
ground, make you feel at home, and get you drunk on some delicious libations. You leave, hopefully, happy, with new friends, or closer to the ones with which you came. I’ve had some astounding and sublime experiences with the patrons and New Oleanders tenders at Bar Tonique. Aubrey How did that lead you into becoming a successful restaurant owner, and pushing forward to open a second business in the near future? Sonali You know, as a youth, I fulfilled the overachieving South Asian girl stereotype. When I moved to New Orleans, I forsook that for living the artist’s life. I met my business partner, Justus Jagger, at Tonique. We worked behind the bar together. He reignited that sense of immigrant work ethic and ambition I had forgotten, nearly 10 years later. We met our chef, Jonathan Lestingi, at the bar as a patron. He was working for Scott Boswell at Stella! then. Justus had the opportunity
the church never resonated with me. I am Sri– Lankan American, so Buddhism was an ever– present cultural force. As a small child, when we would go home to Sri Lanka, my family would joke that I should have been a Buddhist nun because I was obsessed with temples. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago, when a gentleman I was dating encouraged me to sit a 10–day Vipassana course, that it all gelled. I think my, for lack of a better term, intellectual observations, were rectified by the Dhamma teachings. Compassion, the ephemeral nature of all things, no ego, equanimity, the reality of the breath etc., it changed my life and gave me a peacefulness I never had before. In practice as well, breathing is the simplest way of calming down and staying in the present moment. Am I enlightened? No. Does my job lend itself to this spiritual practice? No. Am I able to balance where I am in this cycle of
The girl crushes I’ve had led me to my closest friends. It wasn’t happenstance. I admired a woman for her talents, her character, and what she was making happen. I aimed to become. to open a restaurant and asked if I wanted to buy in. I said yes. I took what savings I had at that time, and put it to good use. La Fin Du Monde opened in December of 2012. As time went on, we built a sound workflow and a shared understanding of what we wanted from being business owners. That commonality cemented our working relationship and we are moving forward. Aubrey Whenever I need to cut bullshit out of my life, look practically at relationship problems, or simply remind myself to live more holistically in this world, you are always there to give the soundest fucking advice. Can you talk a bit about your spirituality, influence from your heritage, and other pillars that have helped you streamline your life free of toxins? Sonali I was raised Catholic, and tried very hard to accept that faith, but the teachings of
life because of this practice? Yes. I try to apply it when I can and share it with people whom I feel need to hear about it. Aubrey Any closing words? Sonali The girl crushes I’ve had led me to my closest friends. It wasn’t happenstance. I admired a woman for her talents, her character, and what she was making happen. I aimed to become her friend. BOOM! Long term friendship. Female relationships are important. I don’t trust women who cannot maintain them. The power of women holds human life together, in a very literal and physical way, but also in a spiritual one. What can I say, the ladies crush it!
Thank You Celeste Prevost, Tuesday Bassen, Jenny Thai, Dan Bonora, Len Crockett, Abby Carny, Drew Pattison, the Cheng Family, and the Wachter Family. And an extra special thank you to all of our Kickstarter backers: Aaron Blazey
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The efforts of the creators of Got a Girl Crush are a tribute to all the women that have come before them; Bonnie Wachter, Sally Wachter and Lita Don to name just a few. From them have come great, creative women like Megan, Allison, Carlen, and Bethany. Congrats to Got a Girl Crush on their fantastic publication. Hope for many more!!!! Dorothy & Mike Don