Safety Town

Traffic gardens are miniature street systems through which children — and adults — can learn about road safety. Ilana Bean explores these small-scale utopias through the lens of her mother’s work in traffic safety and road design, and also writes about our relationships to transportation and our urban environment.

For the most part, we don’t actively interact with transportation until we reach the magic age of sixteen, when we’re supposed to learn how to operate a two-ton vehicle and navigate the road within a period of months. My mom tried to disrupt this dynamic.

It will take years before we know if the children she teaches become safe, confident, knowledgeable road users. If they grow up to be considerate of those they share the street with, if they attend their own town meetings, raise their hands, and advocate for bus routes. If they end up less likely to be injured or killed in a crash. If they end up less likely to hit someone themselves, less likely to only look right for cars, less likely to bump people on bikes for fun. If they help create a version of this country that makes sense to my mom.

Author: Ilana Bean
Published: Jun 20, 2022
Length: 15 minutes (3,839 words)

On Metaphors and Snow Boots

Annie Sand suggests that for us to understand others’ pain and communicate our own, we need to create some new metaphors based on our individual perception and experience.

Author: Annie Sand
Published: May 23, 2022
Length: 11 minutes (2,821 words)

In Pursuit of Chicken Rice

Hainanese chicken rice has long been a comfort food staple for untold millions around the world, including many who aren’t of Chinese descent. And when Theodore Rice, a writer who falls squarely in that not-of-Chinese-descent category, set out to learn to make one of his favorite dishes, he found himself embroiled in an existential dilemma that has settled over the larger culinary landscape. Yes, this story’s reductive dek (“Can a white guy from New York cook authentic Hainanese chicken?”) might induce a well-warranted shudder. But if you read past it, you’ll find a well-reported, nuanced piece that’s unafraid to interrogate food’s inescapable subtext — as well as the pitfalls of reflexive lockstep.

I began speaking to cooks, food writers, and restaurant owners about Hainanese chicken rice. I asked about their recipes, and also if they thought what was I was doing was cultural appropriation. Most drew a distinction between home cooking and the conflicts in professional settings. You could, it seemed, make whatever you wanted in the privacy of your own home. Turning a profit was the issue. I did not argue. Twitter was unlikely to get mad at me for making my family a crappy chicken rice. But the logic of cultural appropriation and food, which I was as interested in as an ethical dinner, suggested otherwise. The impulse to take from another culture, as a white person in the United States, was “problematic” even if I did not sell the final product.

Published: Apr 25, 2022
Length: 39 minutes (9,964 words)

How to Apply Makeup

“My scars are too deep, too wide, too fucked up to be smoothed over.” So writes Nicole Shawan Junior in this moving, deeply personal essay about their experience with dermatillomania, a cousin of obsessive compulsive disorder.

At Smith, these wealthy, mostly white, women make me realize I’m piss poor. I try to believe the American meritocratic promise: despite the racism and classism that grip my neck like a vise, I’ll escape poverty as long as I earn top grades while among these women who’ve attended top private schools their entire lives and have trust funds larger than Mama’s life earnings. But this shit is making me hate myself.

I go to Gillett’s third floor communal bathroom, stare at my reflection in the mirror, and pop the zits that are increasingly showing up on my face, chest, back, and arms. I’m obsessed. I pick my pimples while picking at my intelligence, personality, my socioeconomic class, my Blackness: You don’t belong here. Why did you say that in class, dumb ass? Why didn’t you check that professor? Why couldn’t you just let that racist-ass statement go? Why didn’t you call out that classist statement for what the fuck it was? Why can’t you just shut your ghetto ass up?

Published: Feb 24, 2022
Length: 25 minutes (6,300 words)

Suzanne Takes You Down to Her Place Near the River

“Wrestling with debt, ambition, and the woman who inspired Leonard Cohen’s famous song.”

Published: Feb 7, 2022
Length: 20 minutes (5,082 words)

Breathe In

“It wasn’t until after I returned from Iraq that I found out what all was tossed into those burn pits at The Dump.”

Published: Nov 29, 2021
Length: 16 minutes (4,216 words)

Ordinary People

“Other people can be intolerable on public transit, but they can be a comfort at the same time. They fill a raw need that we don’t always recognize.”

Published: Oct 5, 2021
Length: 10 minutes (2,536 words)

Living Memory

“Who, then, are the chroniclers of Black lives in the pandemic?”

Published: Jun 23, 2021
Length: 20 minutes (5,158 words)

Cooking Backwards

“On becoming a kitchen archivist.”

Published: May 24, 2021
Length: 16 minutes (4,044 words)

The Grief Artist

“In the wake of a loss comes the urge to create.”

Published: Jan 6, 2021
Length: 20 minutes (5,018 words)