The Story of my Work
Convinced at a young age that I could combine ALL my passions together, I’ve spent the bulk of my career doing just that. As a child I designed and sewed clothes with my grandmother, explored the woods and wetlands surrounding my Hudson Valley home, lost myself utterly in books, painting, and ceramics, and travelled the world with my peripatetic family. Not much has changed since those days (except the vast expanses of time seem to have shrunk!).
I am a creative thinker, passionate environmentalist, stubborn optimist, pragmatic scientist and avowed sensualist who sees no contradiction in any of those titles.
Officially, I’m a problogger, editor and author with a focus on science, sustainability and environmental issues, and an ethical fashion expert and stylist with more than a decade’s experience in living (and communicating) about greener, more ethical choices. I’m also a creative writer, photographer, designer, traveler and vegetarian. Here’s how I got here.
I graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in Geology and a BA in English (the latter was just for fun! Or so I thought…) and lived in Berkeley, California for a time in early 2000, exploring the American Southwest for weeks at a stretch and enjoying two months in Montana as part of field studies for my geology degree. Then I went to work as an environmental scientist. Three months was as long as I lasted at that job, scribing dramatically in my resignation note, “I’m supposed to be a writer!” I took a position as an environmental educator an ecology camp in northwestern Massachusetts for the summer, teaching inner-city kids about the natural world, and pondered my next step.
And so I began looking for editorial jobs in Manhattan, in late August of 2001. The tragedy of 911 at the beginning of what was to be my new career (and which halted my well-laid plans as interviews were cancelled) put many things in perspective, and made me realize that you never know what’s going to happen next in life.
I put down roots in Connecticut, mourned along with the rest of the NYC metro area (which I’ve always called home) and buried myself in work, starting with interning at E/The Environmental Magazine and Fairfield County Magazine (yes, both at the same time!). At these two small print magazines, I learned the beauty of concision and practiced putting one word in front of another in a way that people would want to read, and was able to work directly with top editors, an invaluable experience.
I went on to become a copy editor at the JCC in Manhattan, which was my first paid editorial job, and my boss was an old-school nitpicker who really taught me line-editing the traditional way; I even got to go to press and see how printing on paper really happens (blue lines and all!).
While at the JCC I met my good friend Dan Sieradski, who invited me to join a group blog he had started, called Jakeneck. Widely read, Jakeneck was written by politically opinionated young people from 2001-2005 (mostly the run-up to the 2004 election) and that’s where I earned my hardcore blogger chops. From there I jumped to a job a little closer to my core interests as science writer at Friends of Animals, a national animal-advocacy organization. I wrote letters to the editor of national papers (several of which were printed, including one in the New York Times), press releases, responses to government proposals and opinion articles, magazine features for the organization’s member magazine, and organized events and campaigns.
Since I hadn’t yet written a screenplay (but felt like I had written everything else!) my next position was as a screenwriter’s assistant, and I helped Paul Lussier, an award-winning writer, put together projects that were bought by Discovery, HBO and CBS. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, interviewed scientists at NASA and elsewhere, and met with industry execs to assist in pitching our screenplays. When I was offered a job with one of the previously mentioned networks and didn’t want it, I realized that Hollywood wasn’t quite my scene, but my, what a good time I had!
Concurrently to screenwriting, I was writing a food review column for the Fairfield County Weekly called Short Order, which I did for three years (and gained ten pounds in the process, no joke!). It was a super-popular column and an opportunity that gave me on-the-ground food writing experience. I DO love to eat! I also covered transportation issues; I have long-standing fascination with trains, and continued freelancing for E/The Environmental Magazine, and wrote a chapter in their 2005 book, Green Living.
I then moved to an editor position at WRC media (owner of Weekly Reader) where I put together Current Events magazine for high school kids and contributed to Teen Newsweek. In October, 2005 I founded Eco-chick.com, bringing together my blogging expertise, love of environmental issues and green living practices, and what I saw as a dearth of great eco info for women. Eco fashion was just getting off the ground, and so was I; when I started learning from designers how destructive the fashion industry truly is, I united my interests in fashion and design with my environmentalism, and started reporting.
In 2006, I took a break from full-time work and went to grad school, enrolling at Columbia University for an MFA for creative nonfiction writing, taking classes and doing some freelancing on the side. In between my first and second years at Columbia, I wrote my first book, The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to Be Fabulously Green, which was published by St. Martin’s Press in the autumn of 2008. My book received a great review in the New York Times Style section! I started writing for the Huffington Post shortly thereafter, and was the style editor for Plenty Magazine, where I got on-the-ground experience at styling photo shoots and magazine spreads, which was really fun.
By early 2008 I became fascinated with social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, integrating it into my communications going forward. After grad school I helped bring Greenopia.com to life on the web as the site’s editor, in charge of 10 writers, social media, and site organization, and brought the site’s readership from 10,000 to over 100,000 uniques/month in less than a year. In 2009 I took some needed time off to spend with my family in Australia, worked on my thesis for Columbia, explored green travel destinations, and experimented with living off the grid, spending 8 months on the road, with stops in California, Hawaii’s Big Island, and Townsville, Brisbane, Coldale and Sydney, Australia.
In 2010 I returned to the NY area and went full-time freelance, juggling positions as Contributor-at-Large for Whole Living magazine (Martha Stewart), the Editor-at-Large for Coco Eco Magazine, a green packaging columnist for Inhabitat, and contributed to Huffington Post, and MNN.com, and was an active corporate consultant for companies like eBay and American Express.
In 2013 my partner Simon and I moved to the woods of Oregon and I spent a year beginning my first novel, working on my photography and then launching Dogwood & Hastings, a small collection of housewares featuring my original nature photographs.
I am currently publishing Eco Chick and Eco Chick Escapes, and a freelance writing on science, environment and consumption topics; I live in the Bay Area in California and travel about a week a month as my travel-writing opportunities have expanded.
During the last almost-decade, I’ve received some amazing accolades, garnered plenty of media attention, and become a an expert in ethical living and women’s interests. I’m incredibly thankful for this amazing and nontraditional path that unites my interests in design, science, health, creative problem-solving, writing, collaboration, and travel.
I don’t think that the world is going to cease existing anytime soon due to human action (or inaction). Having a background in geology (and the concept of geological time) helps me understand that what we are really hurting when we pollute, desecrate, ignore and generally defile the natural world is ourselves. If we continue on our current path, we will end the human experiment, not the Earth.
I write this because I think that plenty of journalists and non-writers alike try to downplay the importance of sustainability since people don’t respond to ‘gloom and doom’. While I think that’s partially true, I also know that we are in a very serious planetary situation, and despite many a peppy blogpost, I don’t want to downplay the fact that human beings are responsible for some irreversible stuff that’s going down right NOW. The health and well-being of the environment is THE most pressing issue of our time, which is why I dedicate my life’s work to it. And the thing is, we have all the tools to live well (and better) AND in a very sustainable way too.
That being said, I endeavor to enjoy being here as much as possible; like you, I only have one life, and outside my service to the planet and its people, I love having a good time. In recent years I have refocused my life so that while my work is of utmost importance to me, so is keeping my stress levels low, sleeping enough, exercising every day, eating healthfully, and doing the things that make me happiest, like spending time with friends, taking baths, travelling, reading, drinking coffee and daydreaming. I will never give them up and I will never sacrifice those things; they are nonnegotiable in my life.
Whence I Came
I was born in Sydney, in January of 1977 on Australia Day, which is January 26th. My mother’s family is Australian, originally from England and Germany; my British grandfather on that side was a well-known Sydney-area doctor. My father’s side is from New York City; immigrants from Lebanon, Scotland, and Armenia who ventured to the US in the late 1800’s. My great-grandfather was a doctor and engineer from Scotland, his wife and her sisters designed beautiful lace which I’m lucky to have boxes of now; my Armenian grandfather was a fine artist, opera singer and photographer whose work was featured in Life Magazine; my grandmother was an EMT who founded the ambulance corps in the town I grew up in, and my father is a painter and owned an advertising agency in Sydney called McMurtry, Sherbon, Vartan and Partners (MSV).
My earliest memories are of the sun and the sea, playing in the water and watching creatures in the tidepools of Coogee Beach near my mother’s family home, Hastings House. I travelled quite a bit with my parents as a young child and came to New York eventually to be raised by my grandmother in Garrison, a woodsy hamlet on the Hudson River.
Growing up with my grandmother in Garrison has had the most significant impact on why I have chosen my life’s work. My town was made up of media professionals who worked in NYC, independent or creative types who needed a getaway from the city, nature-lovers and other people who had chosen to live there because it just happens to be incredibly gorgeous and bountiful part of the world. I grew up on the dead-end of a dirt road, free to spend my days exploring the woods and wetlands around my house. It was the perfect incubator for creativity, questioning, learning about ecology and natural systems first-hand, and fostered real independence. I also had access to and frequently visited New York City, where I experienced Broadway plays, music, art, and most importantly, a totally different way of living and being, an important contrast to my small town upbringing.
My grandmother’s passion for animals and natural systems was dominant in my childhood. We always took care of between 5 and 8 dogs, a small menagerie of cats, and myriad other creatures, including, but not limited to fish, hampsters, mice, and snakes. We fed the birds (with different kinds of seed for each), and I did the Audubon Christmas Bird Count every year, and could ID most birds by the time I was 7. Deer, raccoons, possums, insects galore, reptiles and my beloved frogs, and all sorts of creatures helped me learn about each of their unique importance in the world.
My grandmother built our house so that it was in tune with its surroundings, taking ideas from Russell Wright (who built the famous Manitoga in my town) and modernist architects and combining it with her own aesthetic. Built on a rock ledge it included locally hewn wood floors, a combined kitchen/dining room (my feminist grandma hated being relegated to the kitchen away from guests but loved to cook!) and a raised living room so that one was eye-level with a rock garden and pool. As our septic drained into the local wetland, we were also conscious never to put anything but biodegradable waste down the drain, and never to use toxic chemicals or cleaners. My grandmother grew (and later I helped) food from our gardens and fruit trees and I ate it or went hungry (I learned to love vegetables that way—there was no pandering to a child’s tastes in our home).
Saunders’ Farm down the road provided us with meat you could meet, and chickens next door laid our eggs (and sometimes wandered through the woods to our property). It was a very healthy foundation for an imaginative young girl.
As I grew, my curiosity was slaked by the natural world around me and my beloved books. A denizen of the Desmond and Hamilton Fish Library, I was reading some of the publications I would later write for, like E/The Environmental Magazine and Audubon Magazine (and later, Plenty), and some I hope I will write for someday, from the time I was 14 and had my first job at the library. The Garrison School provided me with a top-notch education and the School Forest and regular hiking trips made me think that every kid grew up spending school time outdoors! (I’d just like to note here that Garrison was, and is to this day, a public school; I’m a big believer that a public school education can be excellent!).
I also spent summers outdoors at Camp Sloane in Lakeville, Connecticut and rode my elderly neighbor’s horses, rode my bike through the woods at breakneck speeds, swam in every body of water I came across, took classes with my grandma at the esoteric, New Age stronghold Omega Institute (which I still love!) and watched thousands of films with my grandma, who would excuse me from school for movie days quite often (I honestly spent a lot of time out of school growing up—not that it wasn’t valued, but my grandmother thought there were many routes to education and school was just one of them).
I began exploring atheism and vegetarianism when I was 13 and disassociated myself from organized religion (I had attended the lovely St. Philip’s Episcopal church my whole life until that point) and declared myself atheist at 14. At 16, I became a vegetarian, since I had grown up with so many animals and even seen them killed for food, which is a great lesson. Many people disagree with me about this, but I think children (and adults) should see animals killed for food if they are going to eat them, then make the decision about whether they are comfortable with the process. I was not, so I don’t eat animals—simple.
Both atheism and vegetarianism were decisions I arrived at following a lot of thought, discussion with my grandma (she disagreed with both of them), reading, writing, and soul-searching, and I feel they are valuable results of being taught to think for myself and the encouragement both my father and grandmother gave me to cultivate an independent mind, a gift for which I am forever grateful to them for.
I chose to stay in New York for high school, college and graduate school, and indeed, have received all my education in the great state of New York. I call the tri-state (NYC metro area for those not from here) my home, and proudly so; it is the most diverse place on the planet – which means the best food, the most interesting people and amazing cultural mashups wherever you look. And the broody Atlantic, soft mountains, powerful rivers, bays, diverse ecosystems, cool green lakes, mucky marshes, and animals that I love remain the driving force for what I do. Their inherent beauty and support for all the teeming life in the Hudson River Valley and Connecticut River watersheds lives in my heart each day, even if I am far from the east coast.