I moved to Portland the day I graduated. In retrospect it was a mad and stressful thing to do. I could have gone home for two weeks, since my internship didn’t start until then. But as Jack Kerouac said, “The only people for me are the mad ones.” I moved in with two other Colby grads. It was weird to think of myself as a grad, as one of them even though we were all in different class years. It was weird to say “I went to Colby” rather than “I go to Colby.”
I spent the two weeks between moving to Portland and my internship by taking walks around Portland and reading. I spent a little time in Portland while I was at Colby, but really being steeped in the city is so much different. I love that the entire city comes out to the art walk, that Longfellow Square is filled with young people selling their crafty things: recycled shirts, jewelry, paintings, and that people really consider what they are selling. I love that young people busk on the street corners of the Old Port. I love the old, gorgeous houses on the Eastern Prom that overlook the sea, with their second floor porches. I imagine someone walked on that porch in the 1800s, waiting for her sailor husband to come home, standing on the ledge to get the first glimpse of his ship.
Working at Maine magazine has made me love Maine more and more. I’m an editorial intern at the magazine, which means I do a lot of social media (updating the many Facebook pages the magazine has with advertisers’ events and events the magazine sponsors), writing some short clips for the magazine and editing and fact-checking articles. I was thrilled (and frankly shocked) that on my first day, I was asked to read through the final draft of the magazine; it was going to print later that afternoon. I was even more shocked (in a good way) that some of my suggestions about commas and ambiguous antecedents were considered and added to the final draft. You always hear about the miserable, lowly intern who fetches coffee and clears printer jams. Thankfully, that is not me.
The most revelatory thing about working at Maine magazine has been the business aspect of the industry. I think of written journalism as purely about the writing. I forget what a huge role advertisers play in written journalism. The role of advertising is way more apparent in television journalism because the ads play in between segments and there is pretty much no way of escaping them. At least you can flip through the ads in magazines and newspapers or ignore them. Advertising in print journalism feels much more passive than television journalism, in which advertising is pervasive and aggressive. I pretty much stopped watching television news because 1. It’s vapid and 2. I hate television advertising. For all the reasons I hate television advertising, see this essay. http://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf
Maine magazine has obligations to its advertisers—a certain number of Facebook posts about an event, vying to be the exclusive media sponsor of a certain event to get the Maine brand out there and lure in more advertisers and maybe subscribers. Given the content and readers of Maine and Maine Home & Design, the advertisers are generally art galleries, architects, interior designers, clothes makers, craftspeople, artists, contractors etc.
I must admit here, that although I enjoy most postmodern art and literature, I am drawn to Marxist critiques of postmodern culture, in which people like Jameson and Lyotard argue that free market capitalism’s invisible hand has become so pervasive in our culture, that nearly everything is transactional: relationships with other people, art like Damien Hirst’s, Times Square.
So this relationship between advertisers and Maine magazine caused me a little consternation initially, in my totally insular, abstracted, academic way. Certainly, writing up a few Facebook posts isn’t an awful example of how commerce becomes intertwined in a steamy embrace with a publication that is, in my mind, about good writing and stories people care about. But all the parties with advertisers and sponsoring events and all this stuff that is unrelated to the business of writing. Does it affect the quality of the magazine? Are articles not as they could be because staff is off schmoozing with advertisers and picking up potential advertisers? Do advertisers hold some invisible sway over content? So many moral questions.
There is a fine line between keeping advertisers happy, running a business that makes a profit and putting a magazine together. I am happy to say Maine straddles these three really well. I am proud to work at a magazine that runs new age-y articles alongside gritty, beautiful, human articles about quintessentially Maine topics like lobstermen on Monhegan Island. I love that the magazine supports Maine businesses, people who are committed to their work and clients, not to their shareholders (these are the people whose ads appear in Maine magazine). I like that I work for a small, regional magazine staffed with people who know the region well and really do care about this state they call home (and you know, like each other).
Basically, working at Maine has made me less cynical about making money: that the advertising is a small business supporting other small businesses, whose money stays within the Maine economy. And that you can make money and still do something affecting and responsible.
Also, working at the magazine, I’ve learned about the state and have found myself falling deeply in love with it. I came here for the snow. And I want to stay for the people.
In working for Maine magazine, I’ve learned that Maine has the most artists per capita of any state. I’ve learned that the majority of town halls in Maine are also attached to a performance venue. Think of how Portland’s City Hall is attached to Merrill Auditorium or the Waterville Opera House is attached to Waterville’s city hall, and think about what this says about these cities’ commitments to the arts. I’ve learned about Maine’s many art galleries, from big meccas like Portland to out of the way places like Deer Isle. I’ve learned that Maine is fiercely independent yet extremely communal.
I like Maine because the state is not a brand or a stereotype. There isn’t one image of Maine or one idea of Maine that dominates. You might say that when outsiders think about Maine, lobstermen and lighthouses come to mind. And I would say yes, this is probably true, but you can’t caricature these lobstermen and lighthouses. There are so many lighthouses in Maine, and each is something a community values and of which it is proud. Something of their history is rooted in that singular lighthouse, and no one lighthouse is like another. Each one’s construction is different, each one has different myths and stories attached to it. Same with the lobstermen. I cannot imagine how many lobstermen are in Maine, but each is an individual, singular human being. Some of them are artists who’ve studied with renowned painters. Others of them went to elite colleges in New England but couldn’t stand to be away from the sea. Others of them have lobstering in their blood, something their families have done for generations.
And Maine magazine does an excellent job with covering all the aspects of Maine that make it one of the most irrepressible and wonderful states, one of the most irrepressible and wonderful places in which I have had the good fortune to live. The easy way, the postmodern, consumptive tourist way of covering Maine would be to run only stories about picturesque lighthouses and the quaint seaside towns, to flatten complexities and make it easily marketable and digestible.
What Maine magazine does so well is not cater to this. Instead, Maine runs articles that are about a variety of subjects, that appeal to a variety of readers, and that are at their core about the people who make this state so amazing. The human element in a real way, not in the Dow Chemical PR blitz kind of way.
I’m excited to be going to graduate school in New York City, the city of dreams, where people go to remake themselves. But I cannot wait to come back to the place that has felt like home, where the people really are the mad ones: “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing.”