This is how the future’s made

3 12 2017

News cycle got your head spinning again? This is how the future’s made. A break from the past. This month’s headlines have been dominated by sexual harassment disclosures in the media industry. Or, to quote Limp Bizkit, “It’s all about the he-says, she-says bullshit.”

The primordial sludge of bad behavior and gender inequality has been churning for millennia, but the latest round of disclosures started when Harvey Weinstein was called out in a New York Times article. Similar to Lance Armstrong’s narrative the long-term cover-up seemed even more shocking than the original crimes. It was also kind of a bummer because Miramax used to be a byword for cool back when I would borrow VHS tapes from the library and had pictures of Winona Ryder in my locker. Now those nostalgic indie films from the 1990’s have a tinge of ick to them.

In rapid succession the hits kept coming. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K. Charlie Rose. Matt Lauer.


street art truthsayer

What happened to all the good guys? They couldn’t keep their bathrobes closed. The rest of us quickly learned the phrase, “I’m still processing this,” as a replacement for “No comment,” and/or “WTF?! Him, too? I haven’t even shared my Facebook outrage over the last one.”

From one perspective it can look like a massive disruption of the workplace we know. But from the perspective of those weary from the struggle, it can seem like after years and years of shouting they said, “one more time with feeling,” and finally their voices were loud enough to hear.

In the name of progress we all sacrifice unwillingly and unknowingly for the next generation. I didn’t have much to lose in this round of growing pains, maybe just some pop-culture disappointment (seriously, Louis C.K., I really expected more from you). But, boy, am I looking forward to a future where sexual harassment at work is as common as smoking at your desk.

Dear Monica Drake, I’m your traveler

24 11 2017

Dear Monica Drake,

I’m one of the 9,000 people who applied for the 52 Places to Go writing gig. You’re having a difficult time sifting through all the applications, huh? Relax, you’ve found me. Here’s why.

I’m good at following lists

Your team comes up with a list of 52 places to go every year. I respect that. I’m also a travel list maker. A while back I decided I wanted to travel to all seven continents. Since I have a day job, I couldn’t tackle them all at once, but I rationed my vacation days wisely and managed to see the world one continent at a time.


7 Continents or 52 places? I’ve got the hand signals for either job.

I’ve got stamina

My most epic spurt of travel occurred in 2014. I went on a two week hiking trip through India and Nepal, returned home to New Jersey for three days so I could move apartments, then flew to Monte Carlo for a week-long work conference, followed by another week of office work in London. Going from one extreme to the other, I found myself roughing it without electricity in Nepal one week and the next week I was at a black-tie gala in Monaco eating gold leaf desserts. You can send me anywhere.

I enjoy the big and little things on the road

Yes, I’ve been to Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal. But I’ve also been to more exotic places like the Pen Café in Waiouru, New Zealand and the Mushroom Museum in Kennett Square, PA, which has closed its main building but some of the exhibits have relocated to The Mushroom Cap store. I know because I’ve been to both mushroom locations.

I can write

I’m not just a pretty face with a well-worn passport. I also have a masters’ degree in journalism from Boston University. During my student days I interned at Food and Travel magazine in London. And I’ve been to Lonely Planet’s holiday party once. That last fact counts, right?

I’m a nice person

I’m nice by default, but it has its uses when you’re working as a travel journalist. People open up to you and tell you things they wouldn’t tell other people. If you ask a question about a train schedule, they’ll give you the answer but also advise you that the bus is the better option. Being nice has meant that when I’ve traveled in Brazil and India and England I’ve stayed at the homes of friends rather than hotels. Being nice helps the world feel smaller, which is useful when you have epic travel dreams.

So, Monica Drake, I’m your traveler. Let me know when you want me to start.

Emily Berry

Hey, Mr. History, where are the women?

12 10 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about documentary film historian Ken Burns lately because of his new work The Vietnam War. When I looked at a list of his past works I wondered: where are the women?

Burns has a reputation of being the chronicler of America’s stories, but those stories are only telling half the story, the male half.

My request of histories future is this – may we women have a seat at the table.
We dominate the stories of about the basic elements we’ve always been reduced to: appearance (through fashion and beauty) and reproduction (the never ending abortion battle). But we are seldom equal players when it comes it to the bread and butter of American stories Burns is known for, subjects like war and politics.

There are some exceptions to this, such as Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt’s appearance in The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. But they are exceptions.

Burns is not the only one doing this, but he is the titian of the historical documentary genre and thus got me thinking about the bigger picture.

It seems easier for narrators to group us all together (A League of Their Own, Title IX) or to single out those with the largest impact (Dorthea Lang, Henrietta Lacks) rather than to see the stories of women given equal billing alongside those of men.

And even when we are part of a bigger story, like the space program, we have to be lumped together (Hidden Figures) in order for our story to be heard, the same way a small brown body count won’t trigger the type of news stories that a small white body count will. The pile has to be get higher for outsiders to notice.

There is strength in diversification. More people living the stories. More people producing the stories. More people sharing the stories. This is our battle cry. Keep going. Speak up. And don’t leave half the population out of tomorrow’s history books.

If I had Ken Burn’s resources, I’d first start to look at the interesting stories in history (sorry, Serena and Hillary) or at least the elderly (looking at you, RBG!). Maybe develop a script about the steel industry in America featuring a start turn by Rebecca Lukens, America’s first female CEO of an industrial company. There are also interesting stories to be told about Mary Pickford, the token women at the table when United Artists was founded. And move over Jim Henson and Mr. Rogers, we’d like to shine a light on Sheri Lewis, too. Last but not least if the audience still wants a political focus, there’s always the leaders America has absorbed and forgotten, like Liliʻuokalani, Queen of Hawaii.

Notable women lived and breathed, even if the current history on them is quiet. We need to shout to fill the void.

In praise of January

12 01 2014

January is one of my favorite months and I’m glad it’s here. The air feels more fresh than frigid since we’re used to the freezing temperatures by now, and the days are steadily getting longer, filled with more wonderful sunlight. Everything is new and there’s a dreamy possibility of what the New Year will bring.

Plus, it always offers a lot of time snuggled in blankets reading new books collected over the holidays or indulging in hot baths or various spa treatments. I love it.

People who hate on January tend to focus on the dark, cold and increase of seasonal depression. But if there’s a month I dread, then it’s probably August, the death of summer and fun. I start to notice the shorter days and fading flowers. August is a total buzzkill.

Meanwhile, everything may be frozen solid in January, but we’re so much closer to Spring, my favorite season, then we are in August.

Embrace January! After the seasonal rush of forced socializing and too many commitments, January gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. Live it up, people.

January hides the blooms of Spring like a secret

January hides the blooms of Spring like a secret

The Ungraceful Gender Defender

25 11 2013

Of all the proud feminists out there, I’m not the one to call when the ladies need defending. I’m the ungraceful gender defender. Any eloquence of language that might come through now and again completely leaves the room when somebody, male or female, starts saying dumb shit. (See, I can’t even think of a better, more intellectual term to use than “dumb shit” and we haven’t even left the first paragraph yet.)

my grandma's cooler than you

my grandma’s cooler than you

The speaker doesn’t need to be putting ladies down to be offensive. The person could be trying to give a misguided compliment.

A man once said to me that women are more artistically inclined than men. At first I gave my standard response: What!?! Are you fucking kidding me?

Because this was someone that I’d previously had a bit more respect for, I spent the next several minutes trying to get him to admit that he was joking. He wasn’t. He was convinced this was a deep truth of the universe.

In hindsight I wish I’d challenged his statement with questions such as, “Then why are there so many male artists displayed in museums?” “Why aren’t their more women inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” “Why aren’t there more women on the best sellers list or directing movies or holding high-earning positions in the many artistic careers out there? Surely if we have that natural, God-given inclination to be artists, our culture’s artwork would reflect that.”

Just for all those dumbass readers thinking to themselves, yeah, there are a lot of successful men in the arts, that must mean men are more artistically inclined than women — Nope, it doesn’t mean that. It means you hear about the artists who make money and since men usually hold the power and the purse strings in a society, we usually end up hearing about their art.

And, oh yeah, something like artistic ability isn’t linked to gender, it’s up to the individual.

More recently someone told me I was just like a guy because I like music, beer and dive bars. This isn’t the first time that a guy has called me out like this, basically saying that I’m cool because I’m more like a guy than a girl. And I feel genuinely sorry for guys who think that way because they must know a bunch of lame girls.

I know a bunch of cool girls. Because girls are awesome. And that’s all I have to say about that because, again I’m the ungraceful gender defender. So fuck you.

Sometimes other people pull out their megaphones to reiterate these things, with better language. Think of the recent (possibly copyright infringing) video by GoldieBlox. When I see commercials like that I think those are the chicks I’d be friends with, not the princess patrol, not the trophy wives in training. And there’s nothing shocking about seeing girls as engineers, because I see them in real life, too.

The GoldieBlox video hit YouTube around the same time as Lily Allen’s video for “Hard Out Here.” Lily’s from my generation, and she’s got a way with words.

The chorus puts it bluntly. “Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say. I’ll go ahead and say them anyway. Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits. It’s hard out here for a bitch.”

Well said, lady.

Child of the U.S.A.

12 10 2013
Why the f#*k does The Boss make me weepy?!

Why the f#*k does The Boss make me weepy?!

Sometimes a moment just hits you. Out of nowhere, something happens, your mood changes and you can’t deny it. You are humbled by the moment, and left shaken.

And sometimes these moments crystallize your identity and make you realize things about yourself that you didn’t fully understand or previously see evidence of.

During a semester abroad, I was walking down the street in London on my way to the theatre. I loved living in London and could not have been happier about the situation and my life at that point.

It was autumn and the sun set early, so even though it wasn’t very late, the street were dark and I was navigating a new part of town. As I was walking past shops and grocers I heard Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” come playing out of bar and I started to cry, as I kept walking along.

“I was born in the U.S.A!” I wailed internally, while my mouth wobbled downward and I tried to hold back the tears welling up in my eyes.

These emotions caught me completely off guard. I didn’t like Bruce Springsteen. I didn’t care about this song. I knew I loved America, but so what? That’s nothing to cry about. What was it that provoked this reaction? I have no idea. Maybe I was in denial about my homesickness, or maybe hearing those words “Born in the U.S.A.,” so clearly when I was in a different country just highlighted my American-ness in a very powerful way. I don’t know.

I can wave the flag and sing the national anthem at football games, but it’s these unexpected moments that hit you in the gut that really make you think about your country and what it means to be one of its citizens.

In contrast, there are other times when you see the negative side of America and you wish you weren’t a part of it. I know America does a lot of bad things, but I usually don’t think too long about the specifics of it. Sometimes the injustices of America flicker through my mind, like when I was living in Cleveland and I knew no matter how fast I drove through East Cleveland or how many traffic laws I broke, the cops would never pull a white girl over in that neighborhood.

It’s wrong. It’s bad. It’s a fact. We move on.

But sometimes those things get to you.

In Johannesburg, South Africa in 2011, I was waiting for a plane to fly back to New York City. One of the girls I’d been traveling with was there, too, waiting for her flight home to London. We ate dinner and when it got closer to our flights we walked downstairs to our gates. Every other gate in the airport looked as it always did, looked the same way it did about a week ago when I few into the same airport. But it was a few days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the security around the flight to New York was visible.

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You call this gentrification?

30 09 2013

The chain stores crowding Manhattan make the city folks shutter. New York’s supposed to be unlike any other city in America. Yet lower Broadway is pretty much an open air mall oozing Sephora, Victoria’s Secret and H&M onto the pigeons and hot dog carts. Midtown, too.

But don’t worry, because if you look close enough inside those chain stores, you’ll see New York. You’ll smell it, too. Aside from the charming deli’s, vibrant street life and whatever else people like about this place, one undeniable characteristic of this city is inappropriate urination. Leaked by humans, animals, whomever, New York always smells like piss.

Which is why when I was in Kmart, and a woman peed in the dressing room I thought, “Fucking New York.” It’s not like I was blaming the city, but I don’t really come across that stuff in other towns.

Anyway, I like to go to Kmart sometimes because it reminds me of growing up in the suburbs. It’s comforting. So I’m waiting in line for the dressing room and listening to the conversation between a few young girls working there and an older cleaning man who they called in. Eventually the story emerges that a woman went into the dressing room, peed on the floor then ran out of the store before anyone could catch her. Oh, and she left her underwear behind in the puddle of pee, because, why not?

At this point I’m still waiting in line because the girls aren’t letting anyone in until the janitor is done. I guess I start making a face because one of the girls says to me, “You look surprised.”

First of all, it is totally acceptable to look surprised when you are standing in line at the Kmart listening to stories about customers peeing in the dressing room. I’m sorry that I’m not a jaded, minimum wage employee so used to scrubbing down the dressing room that this is just another day, another golden afternoon.

Secondly, if this type of incident is so common, maybe they should train employees on the proper way to handle it. These are some of the things the current employees were doing that I would suggest future employees not do: laugh so loudly when telling this story that you draw attention to yourself, pointing out other areas in the store where people have defecated, and (especially) saying it’s not that bad considering how often they find guys shitting in the men’s dressing room.

Up until this point, the main action was out of site. I could see the janitor go in and out of the offending dressing room, but I couldn’t see the mess he was cleaning up. Then he comes out gently holding a clear plastic bag containing the left behind underwear. (Another training tip: when something looks gross, don’t cover it in a see-through material.) There’s a quick banter between one of the girls and the janitor.

“You’re gonna drop it.”

“No, I’m not.”

“It’s gonna fall.”

“I’ve got it right here.”

Then right on cue, the soggy underwear falls out of the bag and in front of the line of waiting customers.

The people in line groan, the girls giggle and say “Eww” and the janitor says, “I thought I had it.” But we all still stay there. In a different universe maybe the janitor would have been working alone, efficiently blocking off the chaining rooms, emptying the stalls of customers and alerting the young staff when the clean up was done.

But this is New York. If we can handle the gentrification, we can handle this, too.