Emily is the associate editor at The Slowdown and a graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course. Prior to The Slowdown, she was founder and editor in chief of the undergraduate philosophy journal
Tabula Rasa at Pomona College. Emily Jiang's Articles The Eerie, Dreamlike Piano Melodies Behind An Yu’s Latest Novel An Yu’s latest novel, Ghost Music (Grove Atlantic), tells the story of Song Yan, a former concert pianist whose domestic life starts to cave in when her husband refuses her pleas to have a child. Beginning with unsolicited parcels of mushrooms arriving at her door, Song Yan’s world devolves into the phantasmagorical as she is slowly led to the discovery of a long-vanished musician, the once world-famous pianist Bai Yu. Throughout the story, eerie, dream-like piano melodies guide the reader between the real and surreal, and between Song Yan’s conscious and subconscious. Anne Helen Petersen on Keeping Media All Around—But at Arm’s Length Anne Helen Petersen resides on Lummi Island, a small land mass in the Puget Sound seven minutes off the coast of Washington by ferry. Just over nine square miles large and home to a mere 900 residents, Lummi is known to be the quietest of the islands in the Sound. Up above, seagulls soar and squawk; down below, ocean waves slosh onto stony shores. Residents spend their time hiking, boating, or strolling along the serene coastline, or catching up on the local goings-on via The Tome, the island’s newsletter, which arrives in their (physical) mailboxes once a month. Five Trendsetters on Their Most Anticipated 2023 Travel Destinations The old’s been rung out, the new’s been rung in. We’re now all looking out on the year ahead, thinking about what it might hold, and where it might take us. This latter question, we realize, is quite literal for a lot of people, particularly with the tide turning on travel restrictions and peace of mind slowly being restored to the masses. 2023 is forecast to be the year when, for better or worse, travel will make a full return to its pre-pandemic patterns. Eight Distinctive and Delightful Gifts for the 2022 Holiday Season A few years ago, some days after my birthday, a cardboard shipping tube appeared at my door, beige and unassuming, addressed to me but with no sender information listed. Upon discovering its contents, I was in tears—I knew immediately who had sent it and what was meant by it. It remains the best gift I’ve ever received, and it’ll stay with me for a long time. A National Garden Program Connects Faith With the Environment, in Detroit and Beyond Two years ago, outside Christ the King Catholic Church, in northwest Detroit, a flurry of congregants’ hands were at work, digging, weeding, and watering. Slowly but surely, a special kind of garden was taking shape: one that centered around plant species native to the region. Located just a mile from the River Rouge, which flows from the Metro Detroit area into the Detroit River, the patch doubles as a rain garden, drinking up stormwater runoff from the church’s roof and downspouts. This orientation allows the water to percolate through the garden soil rather than into Detroit’s sewers, which, during particularly precipitous times of year, are known to overflow and pollute nearby waterways.
The 95-year-old church’s garden—which will be joined by another later this month—is part of an expanding network of sites participating in Sacred Grounds, a program run by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that helps houses of worship transform a portion of their properties into outdoor oases for wildlife by growing native plants. This type of greenery plays an essential role in any locale: Since a given region’s flora and fauna develop together, certain species can only feed on plants they co-evolved with. Without them, gardens become ecological deserts for pollinating insects, which are essential for the survival of all terrestrial ecosystems. Native plants also provide vital food, shelter, and places to rear offspring for songbirds, and, thanks to their local roots, often thrive year-round.
First conceived a decade ago by Naomi Edelson, NWF’s senior director of wildlife partnerships, the program now has regional hubs in the Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, and South Central regions of the United States, with other gardens cropping up elsewhere nationwide. More than 100 congregations have joined the program to date, comprising a diverse membership spanning Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Indigenous faiths. By design, Sacred Grounds is a communal effort. To participate, churches must create some form of wildlife habitat with native plants, as well as educate and engage their congregation, and surrounding neighborhoods, in the practice. Once inducted as a Sacred Grounds member, a church can apply for grants to receive funding, a native plant starter kit, and—if its congregation is located in one of Sacred Grounds’ regional hubs—on-site guidance and assistance.
Houses of worship have turned out to be apt vehicles for getting the word out about safeguarding the environment, as most serve as beacons in their locales, exercise a wide reach, and are situated on large swathes of land. “Faith leaders are really passionate about community revitalization, community empowerment, and lifting people up,” says Tiffany Carey, NWF’s education and engagement manager. Edelson, the program’s partnerships director, says that the esteem that faith leaders often hold in their districts goes a long way, too. “They’re well respected,” she says. “So having them connect faith and the environment, as superior figures in their communities, is very powerful.”
More than just a way to revitalize a congregation’s surroundings, the program also prompts a turning inward, reinvigorating the spiritual identities of the congregants themselves. “The Sacred Grounds initiative is such a logical and appropriate idea because different faiths are united in their notion that God is creator, and that we, as one of the creations, need to band together to protect creation for the glory of the Creator,” says Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland. “We connect the sacred grounds, and we create islands of sustainability, because we are people of faith.”
When it comes to the planting itself, NWF helps congregations strategize to account for their community’s landscaping preferences, the needs of area pollinators and wildlife, and the demands of the local climate. In Detroit, for instance, plants with deep root systems are needed to protect against flooding. At the city’s Gesu Catholic Church, perennial flowers and grasses, including Black-eyed Susans, wild strawberries, and Indian grass fill the garden beds, while the plot at the nearby Pure in Heart Missionary Baptist Church brims with coneflower, ivory halo dogwood, crocuses, woodland sage, Allegheny serviceberry, and red tulips. Across the country, keystone plants—organisms specific to local food webs within ecoregions—known to attract caterpillars, take priority. (Caterpillars, in turn, draw nesting birds, such as chickadees, which act as key pollinators.)
Ultimately, Sacred Grounds’s impact transcends the fragrant flowers, the habitat creation, and even the community building. The relationship between faith and the environment is one that has long been entangled with controversy and political beliefs—a straddle of sorts across party lines. By working hand in hand with houses of worship that encompass multiple belief systems, and by guiding them through education and expertise, Sacred Grounds takes environmentalism back to its uncomplicated roots: an effort to take care of our shared home, and to treat the earth with the reverence it deserves. Bold, Umami-Laden Spice Kits to Make Traditional Asian Dishes at Home When walking down the “ethnic” aisles of mainstream grocery stores, sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham always felt a palpable disconnect between the bland offerings they saw on the shelves and the bold, umami-laden dishes they grew up with in their first-generation Vietnamese American home. “A lot of these products were not made with folks like us in the room,” Kim told Vogue about the experience. Pleated Clothing Designed to Grow With Your Kid On average, children grow seven sizes in just their first two years. As a result, parents end up spending an average of nearly $3,000 on clothing—much of which ultimately joins the 17 million tons of clothing that finds its way into landfills every year—before their child reaches the age of 3. Considering these realities, aeronautical engineer Ryan Mario Yasin wondered: What if children’s clothes could grow with them? What Will the Metaverse Smell Like? The metaverse is expanding by the minute, and speculation abounds as to what each of us might want to do there. Attend virtual parties? Catch a virtual wave? Buy and furnish a virtual home? What remains nebulous, however, is what it will actually be like to do these things. What exactly will virtual experiences sound like, or feel like, or taste like? Dare we ask … what might they smell like? The Brooklyn Baker Modeling Cakes on Her Rock Collection What makes a cake a cake? Is it its stately, cylindrical shape? Its spongy texture? Its sugary contents? Whatever preconceptions come to mind, Amy Yip, the baker behind the Brooklyn cake company Yip Studio, wants to uproot them. She specializes in naturalistic, rock-shaped cakes that, on first glance, could easily be mistaken for whimsical table décor. Some, jagged, angular, and mottled with vivid coloring, evoke the dynamism of Abstract Expressionism, while others, amorphous and adorned with flowers and slug-like swirls, give off an ethereal, almost otherworldly feel. “I’m trying to transcend what a conventional cake is supposed to look like, in terms of both the flavors and the visuals,” she says. “I think of my cakes as sculptures.” Simple Sets for Carving Out Daily Moments of Calm Many of us segment our days into hour-or-so-long stretches—an errand here, a catch-up there—but even with our time premeditated, rarely is every minute one of presence. Noticing this widespread need to carve out moments of awareness in our everyday lives, creative director Stephanie Tam and brand marketer Isabella Marengo founded the Los Angeles creative studio Space of Time in 2019. A Sound Project That Recreates the Sonic Landscape of the Womb In the womb, it is calm, quiet, and comfortable. We float about for our first nine months largely unbothered, with noises muffled, and enveloped by the sedative cadence of our mothers’ internal rhythms. It’s no wonder that, postpartum, humans tend to feel most at peace—and achieve the soundest sleep—in environments that imitate these serene, lulling conditions. “As far as sleep is concerned, we’re basically all trying to get back into the womb,” says doctor Keith Sigel, who encountered this phenomenon while studying the effect of aural environments on sleep. “Infants crave the white noise and deep rhythmic pulsations [of the space], and we retain this instinct our whole lives.” Inspired by these findings, Sigel, who’s also a musician, teamed up with drummer Mason Ingram to create Slowave, a New York–based ambient-music project that seeks to recreate the sonic landscape of our earliest days. Experience Japanese Hot Springs From the Comfort of Your Bathtub In the Mount Nyuto forest in Japan’s Akita prefecture, a certain smell pervades the air. It’s an enigmatic concoction of earthen minerals, fresh water, and steam that rises from the area’s hot springs, or onsen, and that can induce an almost instant mental calm. The natural phenomena, found in locales with geothermal energy beneath their terrains, are also known for their skin-enhancing effects: Silica and the mineral content of sulfur provide a soothing sensation and can even be used to treat topical conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema. These myriad benefits prompted some companies to create bath accessories that use the hot springs not only as olfactory inspiration, but sometimes as the direct source material for the products themselves. A Soul-Nourishing Album for Your Plants The plant market comprises an ever-expanding array of things—foods, fertilizers, grow lights—that promise to help houseplants reach their full potential. But beyond the nutrient level, plant parents might wonder, how do we nourish their souls? A Digital Space Tracker That Prompts Users to Look Up At this and at every moment, the Earth, and all the species who reside on it, are pushing through time and space, surrounded by celestial bodies that are simultaneously doing the same. But the universe’s extraordinary choreography is rarely top of mind, if on our minds at all. Instead, most of us go about our days, weeks, and months in a routine manner, leaning into the circular rhythms our calendars afford us. A Tokyo Design Studio Makes Crayons Out of Wood from Japan’s Overabundant Forests In recent decades, art has steadily expanded into the digital realm, thanks, in part, to copious new apps, tools, and tutorials for creating pixelated illustrations and lifelike simulations. Playfool, a Tokyo-based design studio that seeks to spark imagination in artists of all ages through the act of play, decisively counters the trend—and draws attention to Japan’s obscure wood-waste problem—with its Forest Crayons, a series of prism-shaped drawing implements that are made from natural materials and that use wood as their sole source of pigmentation. How Pin-Up Magazine Founder Felix Burrichter Feeds His Insatiable Curiosity To Felix Burrichter, the German-born, New York–based founder of the biannual architecture and design magazine Pin-Up, life is a glorious cacophony of different voices, visions, and ideas—and he can’t get enough of them. “I’m never happy with just the world around me,” he says. “I always want to know what’s going on everywhere else. And it’s not even necessarily places around the world. Sometimes there are other worlds right in front of you.” In Miami, an Amsterdam Studio Builds a Pared-Down Portal to Japan’s Serene Birch Forests Marked by a snow-white dial with a texture evocative of tree bark, the SLGH005 timepiece from the Japanese watchmaker Grand Seiko was informed by the shirakaba (white birch trees) that thrive in Japan’s northern region, particularly those near the company’s studio in Shizukuishi, where the accessory is made. Released earlier this year as part of Grand Seiko’s Heritage Collection, the “White Birch” watch elegantly symbolizes the deep connections between nature and time—elements that feature in every timepiece the company creates—and serves as a fitting muse for a multisensory installation that Grand Seiko will debut this week at the Design Miami collectible design fair. This Unisex Fragrance Captures Iceland’s Natural Splendor A solitary island nation marooned between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, Iceland is known for its extraordinary natural phenomena—including glacial lagoons, hot springs, and the transient, striking midnight sun. In an effort to capture the aromatic experience of the nation’s sublime landscapes, Icelandic outerwear company 66° North joined forces with Reykjavík-based perfume and home goods brand Fischersund—co-founded by Jónsi Birgisson, the vocalist of the Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós—to create a unisex fragrance, Útilykt, released earlier this fall. The Codes and Modes of Gucci Gucci. The luxury fashion house’s name alone conjures up images of vibrancy, extravagance, experimentation, and offbeat flair. Indeed, the brand is known for its ways of uprooting social norms and weaving together various time periods to create a captivating and instantly recognizable aesthetic. In stylist Kate Young’s words, Gucci is “a world you enter into.” On the latest episode of Hello Fashion, Young’s YouTube show created with The Slowdown, she investigates how this “world” came to be by illuminating the house’s central codes and probing the minds of its creators. An Electronic Musician’s Quest to Reimagine Hospital Soundscapes When Washington, D.C.–based electronic musician and sound engineer Yoko Sen fell ill and was hospitalized for multiple days, in 2014, she was unnerved—but not because of the potential trajectory of her ailment. Instead, the disquiet stemmed from the sounds she heard in the hospital: a cacophony of alarms, beeps, people screaming, and doors slamming. Because Sen is a musician, the disturbances manifested in a very acute way. “The beeps translated in my head as, ‘Oh, this is a B flat, and this is F sharp, and this is E flat,’” she says. When two or three beeps occurred at the same time, they often created an unsettling dissonance. Dior’s Practically Unparalleled Design History In the sphere of luxury fashion, Dior’s richness of history is practically unparalleled. As stylist Kate Young says, Dior dresses “make the images that really symbolize time and moments in fashion history that are so essential.” The brand’s evolution is currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum’s “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibition (through Feb. 20, 2022), where the latest episode of Hello Fashion, Young’s YouTube show created with The Slowdown, was filmed. In the episode, Young takes us through Dior’s aesthetic trajectory—one contoured by fluctuations in style, historical context, and creative leadership. The First-Ever Comprehensive Chinese Baking Cookbook While “matcha,” “bao,” and “red bean” have become increasingly familiar parts of the American food lexicon, books on how to make and serve them are few to none. “It’s very surprising that, even in 2021, there hasn’t ever really been a comprehensive cookbook covering Chinese baking,” says Bay Area food blogger Kristina Cho. She addresses this absence with her new book, Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries (Harper Horizon), a detailed guide for preparing a wide range of treats that’s enhanced with profiles of exceptional Chinese bakeries—and the delectable goods they create—from across the country. The Perennial Power of the Burberry Trench What does a trench coat represent? For stylist Kate Young, it’s a marker of sophistication, exploration, and evergreen style. “Whether you’re in fashion or you’re not in fashion, you know what this piece is,” Young says. On the latest episode of Hello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, Young introduces us to the piece’s original architect—the British luxury fashion house Burberry—and opens our eyes to its many intricacies. Prada’s Genre-Bending Aesthetic Codes Can clothing be at once opulent and utilitarian, traditional and unexpected, ugly and sublime? Can it be both a statement and a question? On the latest episode of Hello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, stylist Kate Young explains the ways in which the Italian luxury fashion house Prada embodies each of these ostensible paradoxes. The Eye-Opening Adventure of Dinners in the Dark Dimly lit restaurants are no rarity in New York. But at Abigail’s Kitchen in Greenwich Village, reduced visibility isn’t exactly for ambience. Twice a week, chef-owner Abigail Hitchcock offers Dinners in the Dark, for which she blindfolds her guests before they enter the dining space, then serves them a multicourse, seasonal menu of items that are kept secret until the end of the meal, allowing the diners’ remaining sensory faculties—particularly their taste buds—to take center stage. How Louis Vuitton Evolved From Parisian Trunk-Maker to International Luxury Juggernaut Luxury and utility don’t often go hand in hand. French fashion house Louis Vuitton, however, is a clear exception: As stylist Kate Young explains on the latest episode of Hello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, the house—though now one of the world’s most recognizable fashion brands—was originally “built by a luggage-maker who was innovative, who thought about things in a very practical way: how to travel with things, how to make bags lighter, how to make them more practical.” In the episode, Young walks us through the evolution of the house and its designs, which have consistently checked the boxes for both form and function. Stylist Kate Young on Cartier’s Ever-Enduring Timepieces As a stylist, Kate Young has a particular affinity for well-designed things—that is, iconic items that stand the test of time. To her, Cartier is a paragon of this idea. “I think what’s so amazing about Cartier is there’s a very clear aesthetic that runs through everything,” Young says. “You know what Cartier is. It’s sexy. It’s French. It’s sort of, always, for me, rooted in the seventies.” To kick off Season 2 of Hello Fashion, her YouTube show created in collaboration with The Slowdown, the stylist walks through some of the famed French jewelry house’s most emblematic pieces. How Brands That Use Images of Animals in Their Ads Can Help Preserve Biodiversity In branding and marketing, animal imagery abounds: Lacoste’s crocodile, Bacardi’s bat, Geico’s gecko, Swarovski’s swan, Hermès’s horse, Cartier’s panther. In fact, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), animals appear in approximately 20 percent of all advertisements. These creatures, however, receive little to no support or compensation from those who profit from them in this way. Quite to the contrary, humans’ unrestricted exploitation of wildlife has created—in tandem with the climate crisis—a mounting biodiversity crisis, with 1 million animal and plant species at the precipice of extinction, and more than 700,000 square miles of natural habitat destroyed in just the past two decades. The increasing rate of extinction is extremely alarming: At stake are earth’s biological diversity and ecological balance.