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I’m not gonna lie; I’m crying as I type this.
The announcement came out Friday afternoon that after fifteen years of publication, mental_floss magazine is ending its print publication with the November/December 2016 issue...which went to print Friday morning.
Words can’t begin to describe the sense of loss I’m feeling right now. The first issue I read was found on the end table of my then-boyfriend’s parents house in 2005, and it was just an insanely well-written conglomerate of interesting topics. But nobody back home had ever heard of it, and so it wasn’t until the spring of 2007 after I moved to Cleveland that a friend re-introduced me and I fell in love all over again. I was just out of college and out on my own, making barely enough money to pay my bills and keep my clunker car on the road to get to work. PB&J’s and store brand macaroni and cheese were my primary food staples that first year, but every other month on the day a new issue would hit the newsstands, I’d scrape together a little bit of cash, make the trek out to the Barnes and Noble store in Westlake (the only place that carried it), and get flossin. Such was the joy it brought me that I remember in particular a phone conversation with my sister that fall, where I was lamenting having missed the new issue because I’d been sick and had to use all my extra cash on prescriptions and doctor’s bills. Two days later, I got a letter in the mail with a twenty dollar bill inside and a note with my sister’s unmistakable scrawl saying “just get a damned subscription already.”
I’ve never missed an issue since.
But my love affair with mental_floss has been so much more than an uninterrupted nine-year subscribership1. It’s more than the shelf in our living room holding, among my other most treasured titles, all twelve of the “mental_floss presents…” books. It’s more than the board game in the closet that my husband refuses to play with me after the first time because we’d had too much wine, kept getting distracted by the facts on the cards, and ended up reading all of them instead of finishing the game. It’s even more than the innumerable memories with friends, those around-the-table ‘oh-my-god-did-you-hear-about…’ conversations that started with an article from those pages.
You see, in the course of those countless nights curled up in my favorite chair with a cup of tea and the latest collection of stories the mental_floss team had to offer, the most interesting story to me was the ongoing one behind the features and the glossy photo spreads. It was the story of how two college kids started a magazine in their dorm room, defied the odds to get it off the ground, and went on to assemble some of the brightest young talent of our time to craft a publication that was fun, engaging, and with every issue lived up to its tagline of “feel smart again.” When I say I read every issue cover to cover, I’m not talking about ‘I also read all the letters in Chatterbox and editor’s notes.’ I mean I read through the publication credits, too. I followed up on the names that appeared and disappeared and noted the ones that worked their ways quietly up the ranks. When Lucas Reilly’s name started showing up as a senior editor, I cheered. When Ransom Riggs’s name dropped off the list of staff writers, I was disappointed (he was one of my favorites early on; my love of his articles in the magazine are what led my now-husband to look at and love his novels). And when Mangesh Hattikudar wrote his last2 editor’s note to introduce the new editor-in-chief Jessanne Collins three years ago, I cried a little...only to immediately fall in literary love with her the very next issue.
All this, combined with the creativity and love that was poured liberally into every issue, was immensely inspiring. Was it a well-crafted vessel of entertainment? Absolutely. But it is also directly responsible for making me dream about publishing again. It was directly responsible for my getting involved with RCM; for pitching the idea of a writing department in the first place; for giving me a solid example for how to build that program; for connecting me with some very talented writers who remind me frequently that I’m not crazy after all and really am on the right track, even on the days when I feel like giving up; and especially for starting and maintaining a weekly blog to chronicle the successes and challenges of this quest. Why? Because mental_floss, or more appropriately, the people who made mental_floss, made me believe that with the right mix of moxie, creativity, and steadfast perseverance, one could beat the odds in an incredibly harsh industry and create something that was both entertaining and educational. Something that told the stories people needed to hear to be inspired to their own somethings. Something that made a difference.
My dream, up until 11 PM Friday night when we wrapped On Tap and I saw Jen Doll’s tweet and read Foster Kamer’s heartbreaking farewell, was to be a part of that something, to write something worthy enough to put my name in those pages. I’m never going to have that chance now, so yes, it’s hard to find the words to appropriately describe the emotional vacuum I’m feeling.
But here’s the really funny part: the quest isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Because the spirit raised in that publication - to be amazing, to feel smart again - is alive, well, and ready to kick some ass. The joy of living in the 21st century is that we have at our disposal tools to connect us to people on the opposite side of the planet in real time, to find our tribe no matter where they are, to share ideas and stories in ways that no other people at any other time in history have been able to do. What mental_floss was able to do for fifteen glorious years was to find those stories, those ideas, those little-known gems of knowledge, and connect them with an audience eager to know and connect with that world, thinking outside the everyday and being inspired by it. I connected with mental_floss because as a publication it embodied everything I wanted to be as a writer; that doesn’t change just because the magazine folds. The yearnings of the soul go a lot deeper than that.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you. Thank you to the writers, the editors, and the fact checkers. Thank you to the photographers, the layout artists, and the graphic designers. Thank you to the researchers and proofreaders. Thank you to the operations manager (Joy Hart, I’m looking at you), because I do that job and I know the work that goes into wrangling the day-to-day challenges to keep a place running seamlessly...or at least making it look seamless. Whether you’re staying on to help with the content for mentalfloss.com or moving on to your Next Big Thing, I need to say thank you to everyone who played a part in creating the most amazing magazine to grace the newsstands. You haven’t just inspired me; you gave me a standard by which to assess my own work and the work of RCM Writing, and you proved that I wasn’t alone in being amazed by the world.
There are still a lot of stories out there, waiting to be told.
Thank you for helping get me ready for the challenge.
1 A subscribership which, at the time of the announcement, was paid up through May of 2018 and, let’s be honest, would have continued indefinitely. For my holiday gift this year, I was going to have a subscription sent to our local library; guess I need to start thinking up a new plan for that, too.
2 It wasn’t his absolute last - Mangesh did fill in once more (for the May/June 2016 issue) while Jessanne was on leave making a tiny human.