Talking With Mary H.K. Choi About Teens And Texting

Photo by Hatnim Lee

‘Emergency Contact’ is out now

"It sort of reminded me of marathon phone conversations that I had as a little kid, like when I was making a new friend and had that three-hour brain dump where you feel like you disgorged your entire guts," Mary H.K. Choi tells me over the phone, explaining how a "pretty torrid and epic text relationship," in which she would routinely deplete her entire phone battery ("easy to do on an iPhone," she points out), served as inspiration for the intimate texting relationship between Penny and Sam, the protagonists of her debut novel Emergency Contact. Choi says, "I wanted to write a book that sort of captured that feeling, and I also had the immediacy of being in this long-distance relationship to draw upon."

Long-distance or not and romantic or not, many relationships today rely on texting as a main form of communication, and yet this mode of talking with one another is often dismissed as being inferior, and lacking a "realness" that things like phone calls or face-to-face conversations are thought to possess inherently. This line of thinking, though, speaks to a circumscribed view of the world, one which hasn't expanded to include all the different ways in which people can make a difference in each other's lives. In Emergency Contact, Penny and Sam are both dealing with a myriad of their own issues, but they become one another's emergency contacts, and soon enough grow to rely on the other, not just in case of emergency but also in order to share the banalities of their lives, those small and beautiful thoughts and moments that make up our lived experience.

Below, I talk with Choi about the novel, why texting is a great method of communicating, and how the teens are going to be alright. 

One thing that strikes me about this book is that it serves as a counter-argument to all the people who think that digital forms of communication mean that relationships between young people are less "real" than they used to be in the past. I've heard people say that's why so much fiction is set in the recent past, because then they don't need to deal with texting and other modern forms of communication.
Yeah, you're right. It's funny because I wrote this article for Wired where I embedded with a bunch of high school age kids to talk to them about texting, social media, and their relationship with their phones, only because the conversation that rises to the top, in terms of clickbait and morning news, tends to be alarmist and monolithic, and about how teens are either in, like, mortal peril or they're, like, these cognitive geniuses who know everything. My experience with them, talking to them and asking them these analog questions about identity and relatability, I was like, Oh no, teens are... teens. And similarly, I've been getting the question of the hierarchy of communication, as if it's this finite goal we're all moving toward, like IRL, a form of touch-based intimacy. I think that's really skewed. It also omits people for whom touch-based intimacy isn't even a thing, because they're either asexual or just have trouble with that or don't want that. I know that getting a DM lurk or having someone sliding into your DMs and try to say some swift shit is inferior to a hug or a text that you get from someone you love or someone that you're super-invested in, but the fact that Penny and Sam are talking through text shows that it has everything to do with the person and the circumstance and how you feel about them, and that's been true of any human experience regardless of the methodology of how we're speaking to each other.

People's perceptions are really limited to their own experiences though. It's sort of like the way people talk about New York City, where the best NYC is always the one they were in when they were 22. And it's just so weird and narrow-minded and nostalgic in this way that doesn't at all account for how people continue to live and adapt and connect.
I think technology is this weird thing where, if you look at it objectively, it feels like this far away thing or you experience dissonance about the way you perceive it, but you use technology every day, and you think the way you use it is different from the way you either think other people use it or the way you think it's seen. And I always find that really interesting too. A lot of people are asking me things like, "How did you create such a real and nuanced dialogue between these two people even when it's through text?" And I'm like, "In the same way you text people, you love in your actual waking life." And they're like, "Oh yeah, totally." Maybe it's an age thing, I don't know. And perhaps it's more seamless for those of us who have just known the screen for a really long time.

The way some people are weird about technology is also related to how some people view teenagers. It's especially interesting right now, when there's this huge priority placed on either celebrating teenage activists or trying to tear them down, but also so frequently forgetting that these are just teenagers. They're not aliens, they're people.
Totally. I think the one wonderful thing technology has afforded us is that there really isn't a notion of precociousness in terms of what you're interested in or what you know because the news—and just the internet—has made it so that information is readily available to all of us. And so the only difference is that perhaps younger people don't have the same coping mechanisms we do, as older people, only because of a lack of experience and only because maybe they can't afford the therapist they want before they finally break down and get one in their 30s. Prior to the 1950s, we never thought of teens as this other group, they were just shorter adults or whatever, and now we're kind of going back to a certain aspect of that, where it's like their capabilities aren't at all limited or specific to a certain age group or a finite age period. It's sort of presumed that the older you get, you're moving toward some finite goal or enlightenment, and it's not like that. It's not linear, none of it is. 

What do you like about writing YA fiction?
I think the one great privilege inherent in writing for young people isn't that their opinions aren't formed or that they're like jelly; it's not that at all. It's not about placing your world view upon someone else. It's actually that they're growing up with all this information available to them, and younger people are so wavy and so incredibly, humblingly expansive, and so you have these conversations happening within YA about intersectionality, where the different layers of privilege and the many layers of the solidity of identity and gender and all of these issues are being explored at a lightning pace and really organically, and on a person-to-person basis. 

I think the conversations teens are having are so smart and moving and important and it's great to see that reflected. Sometimes, I think, it can feel a little forced, or sound like an adult is trying to voice their thoughts and feelings through a teenage mouthpiece. But Emergency Contact doesn't feel that way at all.
I definitely didn't want to have any sort of preciousness with these characters or any sort of head-patting, self-congratulatory thing. I think, if you honor your characters by making them as honest as possible to what resonates with you, regardless of how old you are, I think that that tends to work. It was really important for me, as a fan of contemporary YA and as a huge fan of authors like Nicola Yoon and Rainbow Rowell, to have a tenderness. There's so much brutality in the way that we speak to each other on the internet, an anonymity that prompts this kind of harshness. I wanted people to just be nice to each other, and I know that sounds denuded, and that's not kind of what I mean. It's more like, even when it's hard or even when you argue or stand up for yourself, I wanted to show people being tender, and a little bit careful, and that is completely from my personal experiences, because I am always accused of having a certain degree of solemnity to the way that I'm a friend, I always have. I take it really seriously and I feel like loyalty is serious and being available is an honor and asking for a favor is a sign of trust and intimacy, so these are the things that I really wanted to talk about... and to hear that I've even remotely succeeded in that is incredibly heartening. 

Emergency Contact is available for purchase here.

Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

"Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design"

Prada Group has announced that Prada, as well as all of its brands, will now be fur-free. According to a press release from the Humane Society, Prada, Miu Miu, Church's, and Car Shoe will ban the use of fur beginning with the Spring/Summer 2020 collection (aka the Fashion Week coming up next). The list of fashion designers banning fur only continues to grow, with 3.1 Phillip Lim, Coach, Armani, Versace, Gucci, and more having stopped using the material in seasons past.

"The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy—reached following a positive dialogue with the Fur Free Alliance, in particular with LAV and the Humane Society of the United States—is an extension of that engagement," Miuccia Prada told the Human Society. "Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design while meeting the demand for ethical products."

Following London Fashion Week designers forgoing the use of fur in September and the first-ever Vegan Fashion Week taking place in February, it's easy to imagine an entirely fur-free fashion future. It's especially easy, I presume, for the brands to consider a fur-free future, given that entire cities and states are taking a stance. New York is following in the footsteps of Los Angeles banning fur, with a bill proposed this March that would ban sales across New York State.

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Photo by Johnny Dufort

"Club leisure" is the new athleisure

Alexander Wang is recognizing clubbing as the workout that it truly is with his latest Adidas collaboration. In this fifth installment, he "changes gears," per a press release from the brand, taking the iconic sports brand to the dance floor.

For the new campaign, the collection comes to life in iconic choreographer Tanisha Scott's dance studio and stars dancers Noemi Janumala, Dakota Moore, Avi McClish, and Olivia Burgess. The dancers show just how far these clothes can go when you want to bust a move or stretch, but TBH, I'll leave these poses to the pros and just use my clothes for flexing on the 'gram.

The collection—which features six apparel items, three shoes, and six accessories—features, per a press release, "Wang's knack for pre-styling." Standouts from the mostly black-and-white items include a silver sneaker that was *made* for moonwalking, an airy windbreaker that has just the right dash of bright blue with the scattered Adidas trefoil design, and a towel hoodie that you won't feel bad sweating in.

Ahead of the May 25 collection drop online and in stores, peep the gorgeous campaign images below.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Joggers, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Towel Hoodie, $350, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Sock Leggings, $60, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Adilette Slides, $90, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Futureshell Shoes in Platinum Metallic, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Core White, $280, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Shorts in Core White, $120, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Bum Bag, $50, available staring May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Duffle Bag, $70, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

And Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's reaction to that prediction is literally all of us

Though it felt like no one saw the bonkers end to Game of Thrones coming, Gwendoline Christie, who played Ser Brienne of Tarth on the show, predicted exactly who would end up with the majority of power in the Seven, or rather, Six Kingdoms years before it all went down. During an interview leading up to the penultimate season of Game of Thrones in 2017, Christie sat down with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jaime Lannister) for an interview with Mario Lopez, and they were both asked to predict how the whole thing would come to a close. Spoilers ahead...

Lopez posed the question, "If you were a gambling man, who would you say?" Coster-Waldau replied: "Well gambling, the odds now are clearly in Daenerys Targaryan's favor. Or, that guy," he said, pointing to a picture of the Night King.

But Christie, knowing Game of Thrones' tendencies toward the unpredictable, came right back at Coster-Waldau, asking, "But don't you think it's going to be someone out of left field?"

"So I'm wondering if it might be Bran," Christie suggested, "Just because we keep seeing the world from his perspective, don't we? We keep seeing the visions. So is he in the future, projecting in the past?"

Coster-Waldau's reaction to the suggestion that Bran will rule over them all is, well, exactly how we all felt watching it play out in real time this past Sunday evening. "The three eyed raven? As a king? No, that doesn't make sense," he said. And, well, same. Because while I usually *adore* watching Christie shut down Coster-Waldau, like they're an old married couple bickering, this time I'm on his side. It made no sense!

Coster-Waldau attempted to reason with her, saying that if Bran was planning the whole thing, then he wanted Jaime to push him out the window, and that makes no sense at all. But Christie stood firm in her belief, and, as last Sunday demonstrated, her commitment to this highly improbably outcome paid off. We hope she placed a sizable bet in Vegas.

Catch the full clip below.