A Letter From the Editor
While faithful readers of keepgoing.org are familiar with my longstanding role as contributor, editor, and finally editor-in-chief of this fine publication, many of you may not know that this was not my first foray into the rocky world of independent (or alternative, or underground, or what have you) publishing.
In fact, as a tender young slip of a girl, I and a group of high school friends published an “underground newspaper” known as The R.A. for two years. The R stood for Roosevelt, the street our school was located on, while the A was replaced with a different A word for every issue—hence such titles as The Roosevelt Acid Trip, The Roosevelt After Dinner Mint, The Roosevelt Autotoxin, The Roosevelt Alchemist, and my personal favorite, The Roosevelt 6.02 x 1023 (and if you don’t get that last one, then my friends and I were more clever and better educated than you even as teenagers).
As you can probably imagine, our content was hit or miss, especially given that like keepgoing.org, it consisted mainly of two components: (1) pieces created by an inner circle of extremely intelligent and creative but also highly flakey editors and (2) random submissions from outside contributors, in our case mainly our high school classmates. We published angry editorial rants about censorship and the evils of “the system,” cartoons about stoners enduring math class on acid, Dadaistic prose pieces, and the kind of truly awful poetry that can only be written by high school students. We published music reviews and interviews with up-and-coming Chicago-area punk bands that were good enough to stand up to things I see today in The Reader and The Onion. We published inside jokes and visual word play that still make me smile today. We received more letters to the editor (albeit mostly negative) than keepgoing.org ever has, and we ran a free classified service, something this publication never even attempted.
Again like keepgoing.org, we had our fair share of drama. But ours was far less banal. When the school attempted to have us suspended for publishing foul language, we received free legal advice from the Student Press Law Center and the ACLU, who told us that as long as we didn’t use school property or funds, the administration really had no legal grounds to do anything to us at all. As a dorky, shy, straight-A student, I found this first brush with The Man terrifying and exhilarating. Being called out of class to report to the principal’s office was something entirely new to me; although my heart was thumping ridiculously, I also felt like a minor celebrity. When they questioned us, demanding to know which of the eight of us was actually “in charge,” we righteously stuck to our guns: “No one’s in charge! We all have an equal vote and an equal say!”
Our vice principal was the kind of stereotypical idiot who would bark about having been in Vietnam and call us “you punk kids” (even though most of us were good students and not troublemakers at all); he even locked one of our editors in his office, which turns out to be against the law. But by our second year of publication, the administration had totally flip-flopped, giving us Cokes when we hung out in the lounge after school and basically choosing to ignore us rather than embarrass itself fighting a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old kids. By the end of my senior year, we were so accepted as a fixture of student life that we were even included in the yearbook.
As with keepgoing.org, The R.A. sometimes had to publish things we didn’t love in order to fill out our pages—and as with the group of opinionated and talented contributors who ran this website, that sometimes led to strife. Back in high school we handled the issue in a creative, elegant way (and with far less posturing, pouting, and quitting than has happened behind the scenes here), allowing each editor to voice his or her objections in the introduction that began each issue. This outlet became a creative endeavor in its own right; our objections left behind the boundaries of our little publication to include objections regarding our lives in general (“Blythe objects to early curfews and dry parties”) and even meta-objections (“Brad and Tom both object to the unnecessary use of profanity. Seth objects to Brad and Tom being afraid to offend people who probably need some offensiveness in their lives anyway. Brad objects to Seth accusing him of cowardice. Matt objects to being pressured into objecting to something to make the intro longer.”).
Looking back on the project 20 years later, it’s easy to poke fun at the material we published. In many cases and with some notable exceptions, it was as juvenile and naïve as you would expect from a group of teenagers. My own pieces reek of overwrought adolescent sexuality and a dreadfully obvious reliance on Cure lyrics as inspiration. Still, taken as a whole, The R.A. derived a great deal of value and charm from the same things that made keepgoing.org something special: it was the unique, spirited voice of a group of outsiders, a tribe of slacker intellectuals who genuinely had something to say.
Having now found and become a working member of such a community not once but twice in my life, I can assure you that it is an invaluable experience whether you are 17 or 37. For an odd bird such as myself, finding my fellow editors with The R.A. was liberating, even perhaps lifesaving. I had been trying—with little to no success—to fit in, to be normal, to be accepted, ever since the third grade; here, finally, was a group of people who actually liked me, in some cases even loved me, exactly as I was. The people with whom I published The R.A. were more than my fellow editors; they were my best friends during a time in one’s life when your friends are your world. They were with me as I awkwardly stumbled toward the adult version of myself. Some of them are still my friends, and I am thankful for it; some of them have not been my friends for quite some time, and I miss them still.
As an adult, being a part of the circle of friends who were the substance of keepgoing.org has been a life-changing experience that I will carry to my grave. There is nothing more meaningful than finding one’s family.
Still, all good things must come to an end, and as the majority of our members approached graduation and we began to lift our eyes beyond the oppressive bounds of our high school and our small-minded hometown, The R.A.’s editors began to lose interest and drift away from the project—and, in yet another parallel to keepgoing.org, as the core members lost interest, the publication began to lose focus and energy. Still, I can say that in both cases, I am extremely proud of both my own individual contributions and the work that we collectively created.
And so, to those of you who have asked me to look back on my experiences with this website over the years or to tell you what’s next for the keepgoing.org family, I refer to the words of my fellow editor from 1989:
We’ve all heard the question, “Will there be an R.A. next year?” Four of our seven editors are graduating, three of those are leaving Wheaton for college, and one more may be moving. None of us have definite plans for next year, but in any case, this will be the last R.A. ever. It is possible that the remaining editors will publish something next year, but it might not be a “high school underground newspaper,” as the R.A. has inevitably been labeled.
As Wheaton Central’s only independent student publication, we’ve often been made to feel (by ourselves and others) that the R.A. should have been more than it was—a voice for the downtrodden, an arbiter of change, passionate defender of this that and the other. Fuck that. All we’ve ever wanted is to do our own thing, not to “represent the student body” or whatever. Over and over we hear the question, “Why do you do this?” We can’t understand why we’re the only ones. It’s a tribute to our school system’s suppression of individuality and independent student initiative that no one else cares enough to do it.
If there’s an impression we’d like the R.A. to leave in the minds of the students who have read it, it’s that you don’t have to accept the System’s ideas about who they want you to be and what they want you to do. High School is institutionalized hypocrisy; you have to put up with it, but you don’t have to believe in it. That applies to the rest of your lives, too.
While I can recognize the trite, Breakfast Club-esque nature of these thoughts, more than 20 years later they still ring true for me. I can honestly say that this is one area of my life in which 17-year-old me could proudly say that 38-year-old me is still keeping the faith—and that feels pretty good.
There are too many voices gone, too many faces missing for me to end my tenure at keepgoing.org in any manner that isn’t bittersweet. But I am truly proud to have sounded my barbaric yawp to the world with this website alongside my friends for the last 10 years.
Keep going. We mean it.
Copyright 2010, Blythe Hurley
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