Future: Here for It, #249
Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
Friday was our wedding anniversary so David and I went to DC to see Och & Oy, a cabaret performed by Alan Cumming and Ari Shapiro. We've been married for five years now and, as I'm sure you agree, the last five years have been some of the very best years in American history. I look at the period from the time we got married--about two weeks prior to election day 2016--to now and I think "Ah yes, a phenomenal run; tell the universe I have no notes!"
At dinner beforehand I almost had the absolute gall to say "Well, here's to an easier second five years" like some sort of idiot at the beginning of a disaster movie. Baby, you're not going to catch me out in these DC streets setting up ironic comeuppance! The number one rule in our house growing up was NO FORESHADOWING and I'm not trying besmirch my family name. So here's to the progression of time UNLESS TIME DECIDES TO STOP MOVNG AND THEN WE'LL DEAL WITH THAT, I GUESS.
(Like, I don't quite understand what 'time' is besides sun rise, sun set, and the creeping sensation that you no longer know who any of the performers on the Video Music Awards. Nonetheless, it could conceivably stop, and while that might be fun for a bit I suppose we'd have to restart it but sending Bruce Willis from Armageddon in a spaceship to crash into the International Date Line or something. [I deeply rupaulogize to any and all physicists who read this newsletter. The fact of the matter is that I do not get science, reality, or facts but I support them. I am a science ally. When it comes to physics, I'll never understand but yet I stand. ❤️])
We decided to stay the night instead of driving back to Baltimore as in our new house the drive to and from the nation's capital is about 30 minutes longer, which meant I got to do one of my favorite activities: scouring my little deal sites and combining random rewards points, coupons, and "things that just feel like a bargain" to get a chic hotel room. I settled on a place called Hotel Zena, which I'd never heard of but which has a pretty mural on the side and was affordable enough that I didn't feel like I was dooming us to the next five years of crushing debt but not so cheap that I was like "hmm, what's the catch?" It's a very tricky balance, and unfortunately for David I narrate about 40% of the journey aloud as if it is in any way interesting. But in my defense, one of my wedding vows was "I promise to be weird about coupons, money, economic anxiety, and trying to beat an unbeatable marketing algorithm".
I didn't really have criteria for the place beyond "looks nice; great price; don't let the bedbugs bite" so we were delighted, surprised, and a little confused when we arrived and found that the hotel is--and these are my words, not the official language--feminism themed.
Like, this was great news for us as we are feminists but also I can honestly say I've never booked a hotel thinking "I hope the prevailing design aesthetic is thoughtfully tied to a social issue." Most hotel themes are, like, "variations on beige" and "where's the light switch in this place; why do hotel rooms never have enough light?" Sometimes the theme of a hotel is "we're aggressively asking you to ignore the reality of the neighborhood we're in," which I don't like. But my favorite theme is "hi, breakfast is free."
But this was a whole new ballgame. (There's also the complicating factor of whether we actually want capitalist enterprises to use the language and imagery of movements to further their private goals. And whether the parent company lives up to the values of the movement. To be honest, these are questions we should always be asking before we click "buy" along with the question "who is paying for breakfast in this scenario and why is it me?")
When we checked in, the front desk attendant told us the usual stuff about amenities and what we were doing in town and the situation with breakfast (free but it was only a pastry and a coffee and a fruit bowl and I'm currently in mediation regarding the question of whether that qualifies as breakfast.) Then, she gave us our keys and we headed for the elevator. "Wait," she said, pulling a box from underneath the counter. "You get a button." For what, we asked. "For keeping! Everyone can pick a button," she said. And we looked and inside the box was a variety of buttons with various feminist and feminist-adjacent slogans. For keeping!
We both chose "feminism is for everybody" and as I rode up the elevator, standing on a social distance circle that had a Michelle Obama quote, I started to think "Is something... different about this hotel?"
It's so fascinating to me the different flourishes they added. I started to make a game for myself to guess what would be feminism-themed or women-centric. Yes to throw pillows, no to bathroom amenities, oddly! The Keurig pods in the room were all decaf, which... I'm actually not sure what that means.
The key cards and the do not disturb door hanger were plays on the phrase "The Future is Female." The key was also holographic!
The walls of the hallway were lined with artwork like this. Each painting had a different body and a different message.
This is the art that greets you when you get off the elevator. The left is Greta Thunberg, the right is Rachel Carson.
This is the gift shop. In the background: Ms. Monopoly. In the foreground: Michelle Obama, RBG, Mary Beard, and a Nintendo Switch.
Artwork in the lobby; I really liked the composition of the Rosa Parks one.
An enormous Ruth Bader Ginsburg artpiece made out of painted tampons (except her collar, which is made of spikes).
And from the "hmm, indeed..." files:
The pool table is pink.
And this lobby painting, I presume, references Eve.
It was one of the most interesting hotel experiences I've ever had, design-wise. It felt like the feminism at play here was in some ways intersectional and while there were aspects that I had more questions about, it made me think a lot about how we can ask more of every space, how a business truly communicates a commitment to intersectional feminism or how a space can effectively say "Black Lives Matter" or anything else that affirms the humanity of the people the space wants to welcome. I thought about how functional design also plays a part in all of this–how does a space convey that it is thoughtfully created for all sorts of body types and needs and abilities and economic levels? How do the chairs, the amenities, the doors, the price point, the location, the staff, along with the artwork, push us closer to justice? How do you create the hotel, the store, the home, the society of the future that we all want to live in? I guess that's something to work in the second five years.
I'm going away to write a book this week (I won't write it all, obviously, but I'm hoping to write somewhere between one word and forty thousand. Wish me luck)! As a result, there won't be a Wednesday Thread this week or a newsletter next Sunday.
However, I will be sending out a fun lil announcement on Thursday. EYES EMOJI.
In Previously On...
I wrote about the excellent series Maid, it's unique and inspiring take on the Beautiful Mind trope, and the gendering of genius.
In 'Maid', There's (Super)Power in Numbers
Random Thing on the Internet
I love this local news reporter skate boarding through his broadcast!
"hi, breakfast is free.",