Sometimes my early days at the University of Iowa -- the first of two colleges I didn't graduate before I finally got my diploma from the third -- seems a million years away. Lately, though, I can close my eyes and be right there again, going to concerts at Gabe's and The Union, shopping for candles and incense at Moon Mystique, grabbing a coffee to read a new book at Prairie Lights.
Iowa City was easily the single most important phase of my career, and that's not because of all I learned working at the college newspaper. In fact, I refused to work there. I was a punk and pissed that I was passed over for a scholarship, so instead of accepting an invitation to write there, I started my own newspaper with my then-boyfriend, a musician. Together, we created The Proper Gander, a 'zine covering independent music throughout the Midwest.
It was beyond ambitious for both of us, and frankly, it took a toll, both emotionally and financially. But, man, it really was pretty awesome. We worked our asses off, first from my dorm room college, and then from a shithole apartment above a sub shop in Iowa City's pedestrian mall. The "bedroom" didn't legally qualify as one. We literally had to push the futon one direction to reach the closet, then the other to step into the bathroom. The undoubtedly lead paint peeled throughout the place. The kitchen appliances might have been new when my mom was college-aged. The carpet was so cheap and frayed that it unraveled and, I kid you not, killed my cat.
Looking back, though, we really did pretty amazing work for kids our age, publishing on our own dimes. (If I ever become a millionaire, I promise I'll pay my old partner back for his share, if he'll let me. ) Sure, we sold ads, but at $25 per quarter page, it hardly paid for newsprint. In fewer than 18 months, we grew to 10,000 circulation throughout the Midwest. We drove to hand deliver some of our copies, hitting Minneapolis and Madison on the regular. Other destinations were reached by snail mail, another hefty cost. The work I did with Proper Gander let me leapfrog the usual path of a young journalist. Instead of beginning as a low-paid report, I began at The Cedar Rapids Gazette -- Iowa's second-largest newspaper -- as associate art and entertainment editor. I was 20 years old.
My intention isn't just to self-congratulate or reminisce, though. I've moved a lot over the years, and in one of the more recent moves, my copies of The Gander disappeared. I'd kept them in a tall metal filing cabinet, which I remember seeing in Harper Woods, but which never arrived in Sioux Falls. I was heartbroken to lose this part of my history. So I started searching. I found one through a Twitter follower, which was incredibly cool. (Who keeps 22-year-old 'zines that they didn't create?!) I've also scoured websites and found that somehow, a few issues of the 'zine landed in various college libraries. Only one was available via an online request. The other two, I'll have to drive to get. I can't tell you how excited I was to find the two issues stored at the University of Iowa's college archives, though. The two issues -- Nos. 10 and 11 -- were after we'd hired a page designer, and I admit I never loved how hard to read these two issues were. I also cringe reading a few of the stories. (I was so starstruck by Johnette Napolitano that I could. not. quit. direct. quoting. her, which unfortunately was at the expense of a nicely constructed narrative.) Still, it means so much to me to see these issues again. Next, I have to travel to Bowling Green and Rock Island to see what issues they have stored.
Without further ado, here's a glimpse into my past and at one of the coolest things I've ever done. For now, I'll just upload the covers of the three issues I have, but as I'm able, I'll add the inside pages. If any young adults are reading, know that what you do in and immediately after high school absolutely can shape the rest of your life. Don't let anyone tell you that foolish risks don't ever pay off. (Also, learn from my mistakes as well as my triumphs and, if you feel yourself overwhelmed and anxious, don't take it out on the people who love you. Sap-ass portion over.)
I'm an author, journalist, photographer and college instructor.