Search Results for: Rookie

The Rookie and the Zetas

Longreads Pick

How the Feds took down a drug cartel’s horse-racing empire.

Author: Joe Tone
Source: Dallas Observer
Published: Apr 1, 2015
Length: 27 minutes (6,940 words)

At 18, Tavi Gevinson Is a Fashion Veteran—and a Broadway Rookie

Longreads Pick

A profile of a teen icon, after graduation. “‘She likes to argue and so do I,’ says [Kenneth] Lonergan, ‘and she’s really smart and so am I, so you end up having these discussions about interesting and broad-ranging topics. But then I find it very charming that she’ll go from mentioning a talk she gave in Australia at 16 to complaining about ‘Why does my dad care if I go to bed late?’ Or how annoying it is that her best friend is in Costa Rica and she can’t text her.'”

Published: Aug 10, 2014
Length: 15 minutes (3,824 words)

Unleashed in Paris

Illustrator Kate Gavino walks a group of dogs in Paris and speaks in French when giving commands.
Illustration by Kate Gavino

Kate Gavino | Longreads | April 2019 | 7 minutes (1,663 words)

A few years ago I had a big, fluffy chow chow-German shepherd mix named Colleen. Neither of us spoke much. She was old -- 11 or 12 -- and was so docile and well-behaved that I never had to order her around with too many commands. We lived in a companionable silence. This suited me, since words have always been best expressed through writing rather than speaking.

 Last year I moved to France when my husband got a job in Paris. The first few weeks were jarring.

You know that feeling when you say a word out loud for the first time, having only ever seen it before in a book? The moment you learn how badly you mispronounce it, the shame hits you sharp and quick, like a mosquito bite. That’s what it’s been like to learn French in Paris. Each time I try out a new word, I gird myself for the new and innovative ways I will mangle the delicate language.

While living in Paris, I started to write and draw as a full-time freelancer. I spent a lot of time working at home or at the library. I missed having a canine companion, but I knew our tiny 30-square-meter apartment wasn’t the best home for one.

After a few weeks, I enrolled in beginner French classes. My first few months of learning the language showed little improvement. I angered French speakers with my incompetence.

I wondered if some of it had to do with them seeing my Asian face and assuming I was a tourist, not here long enough to warrant the extra time spent listening to me. Then when they heard my American accent, it threw them off more. Many people didn’t know what to make of me. This ambiguity was frustrating. A thoughtful traveler makes an effort to learn a country’s customs and rules of etiquette. But when your face or skin color immediately give you away as different, you find yourself bending over backward to be polite and, more often than not, taking up as little space as possible.

A common cliché passed around in French classes and cultural integration workshops is the Peach/Coconut Dichotomy. Americans, it claims, are like peaches: tender and pleasing on the onset, but with a hard center that’s impossible for outsiders to crack. Meanwhile, the French are like coconuts: a hard, seemingly impenetrable exterior that protects a soft, sweet interior. I hoped this overly simple metaphor extended into the French language. Maybe after a couple of years of hammering away at the coconut’s exterior, I’d finally get to enjoy its meat. (Ew.)

 I’ve always had a fear of sounding stupid, no matter the language. Even in English, I’ve felt the words that come out of my mouth rarely match up with what I truly mean. Sometimes the barrier is my own anxiety or shyness, and other times, it’s just the speed of my own thoughts. Figuring out exactly what to say and then translating it into French seemed impossible.

I came across many people who had moved to Paris because, like me, their partner worked or lived here. Usually that partner was French. A Colombian woman told me she was still a beginner at the French language, but when she argued with her French boyfriend, she suddenly became fluent, her rage conjugating verbs and pulling insults from the air. I longed for a similar magic shortcut. I eventually found one. Sort of.

One day, desperate to leave the freelance dungeon of my apartment, I offered to walk a fellow expat’s dog.

We walked to the Tuileries, the sprawling park that was once a residence to monarchs and now a paradise for dogs and screaming children. The first time I called for Lola in French, she did so obediently. I was quietly stunned. I felt a weird sense of accomplishment when she had understood my French.

Even stranger, the other dog walkers at the park spoke to me. Or rather, they spoke to Lola, and I had to answer for her.

We walked back to her owner’s apartment, traipsing along the Seine, having the kind of postcard-worthy moment that so often happens in Paris. For once, I felt like I was experiencing it not as a visitor, but as someone who lived in the city. I knew once I returned Lola I would revert to being invisible or a nuisance, but I batted the thought away.

I had a flexible schedule, so I began to walk dogs for my friends and neighbors. Through word of mouth, people began recommending me as a trustworthy dog walker who kept dogs safe and texted owners dozens of cute photos from our walks. I desperately missed owning and caring for a dog of my own. Hanging out with other people’s dogs was the next best thing.

At the time, dogs were allowed almost everywhere in Paris, except, curiously enough, most parks. When I walked other people’s dogs, I’d take them to bookshops, cafes, and the occasional department store. On these walks, Parisians would stop to scratch the dogs’ ears and whisper “très mignon!”

I wondered if French people setting aside their aloof, hard coconut shells to coo at dogs represented a cultural-wide vulnerability. It reminded me of one of my favorite, albeit depressing, Parisian sites. The Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques is a gated-off pet cemetery on the outskirts of the city, the final resting place for a select number of dogs, cats, and even some lions and monkeys. When I visited a few years ago, the dog gravestones stuck out to me the most, each one erected with such sentimentality and care. Walking past countless memorials, I thought only of Colleen.

The Tuileries was overrun by dogs on weekday mornings. I’d take a dog there and engage in brief conversations with the dog owners. Once a man lost his little dachshund, Eugène, in the park’s tall hedges, and we all called out, “Viens, Eugène, viens!” while squeezing squeaky toys and holding out treats. Eventually we found him near the big arch, sniffing cigarette butts. We all cheered.

There was a man who didn’t own a dog but was at the Tuileries without fail every morning. He played with the dogs and threw sticks for them to catch. He seemed harmless to me, but the other dog owners regarded him with suspicion, like a childless man lurking around a playground. One morning, the owner of a shaggy maltese regarded the man and whispered something that sounded like “pleut,” the French word for rain. I looked up at the clear blue sky and shrugged.

Another time, I heard her say it again, this time hearing a “c” at the end of the word. Google Translate told me she was saying, “plouc,” an insult meaning slob or country bumpkin. I filed the word away with the countless others I was learning from the dog park.

A few months in, I had a small coterie of dogs I walked regularly.I walked each dog individually since, for various reasons, they all had slightly antisocial personalities. They didn’t bark or bite other dogs -- they simply preferred to be alone. So each afternoon, I walked past the big crowd of dog walkers with their extroverted, frisbee-catching packs, onto a quiet corner of the lawn hidden by a tall  hedge. Occasionally one of the social dogs approached one of mine, and I’d have to explain to its walker that my dog “préfère être seule.”

Despite this, we still crossed other dogs along the Seine and on the tiny streets leading up to our destinations. As the dogs sniffed each other, I engaged with their owners in basic French conversations that consisted of simple questions.

When addressing a dog, you use the informal form of you: “tu.” This lended an unexpected sense of closeness to my conversations with other dog walkers.I was usually so scared of offending anyone, I used the formal “votre” more often than “tu.” But dog walking was one instance when “tu” was appropriate.

Once a German shepherd without a leash lunged at the tiny schnauzer I was walking, terrifying the little dog. To my surprise, I yelled, “Attention votre chien!” to its oblivious owner. For days after, I turned the phrase in my head over and over again: “Attention votre chien!” I had yelled out a French phrase without even thinking. The pride was enough to get me through weeks of mispronunciations and bungled conjugations.

Walking the streets and quais of Paris with a dog made me more confident. The fact that I was established enough to navigate the city with a dog seemed to signal to others that I wasn’t a tourist. More people started to ask me for directions. When I walked a hyperactive papillon around the Jardin de Luxembourg, I casually befriended another woman with the same breed.

Speaking in French to these four-legged companions was easy. I knew they understood me when they sat as I said “Assieds!” My dog-friendly French unlocked something within me. It was a tiny step toward the intimacy I had with the English language, which I spoke fluently and easily, despite the anxious fog that lived in my head.

Bilingual people often say their personality changes when they switch languages. For so many months, I felt like I had no personality when I attempted to speak French. I couldn’t discuss my favorite books or make dumb jokes. I couldn’t tell someone I loved their haircut because it looked like Faye Wong’s in Chungking Express. I was rendered silent.

I doubt I’ll ever speak flawless French. But it’s been over a year, and each time a dog reste when I say restes, or vien when I say viens, it feels like an accomplishment. On some level, despite my accent, despite my mother tongue, we understand each other.

* * *

Kate Gavino is a writer and illustrator. She is the creator of Last Night’s Reading, which was compiled into a published collection by Penguin Books in 2015. Her work has been featured in BuzzFeed, Lenny Letter, Oprah.com, Rookie, and more. She was named one of Brooklyn Magazine’s 30 Under 30. Her second book, Sanpaku, was published by BOOM! Studios in 2018.

 

Editor: Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Is It Ever Too Late to Pursue a Dream?

Brendan Burden

Matt Giles | LongreadsMarch 2019 | 28 minutes (6,730 words)

Dry heaves racked Dan Stoddard’s body as he bent his 6-foot-8, 325-plus-pound frame awkwardly over a toilet, shaking as he vomited up the Gatorade and other fluids he had consumed in an attempt to stave off dehydration. The 39-year-old hadn’t slept well in days, and even when he did manage some shut-eye, it was only for a few hours at a time before beginning the first of his two six-hour shifts driving a bus for Ottawa’s OC Transpo public transit system. Stoddard had never felt this exhausted, but he couldn’t rest — down seven points at halftime, his team needed him.

It only took the first 20 minutes of this early February 2018 game against Seneca, one of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association’s top teams, for Stoddard to realize his body was fully gassed. Algonquin had lost 10 of its first 14 games, so the final outcome — an 80-71 defeat — was immaterial, but Stoddard had joined the team to finally act on the lifetime of regrets he had accumulated, and he didn’t want to add another disappointment to the ledger.

In September 2017, Stoddard enrolled as a freshman at Algonquin College, one of Canada’s largest public colleges. Not long after, the accounting major joined the basketball team. But Stoddard wasn’t just acting on a whim, a loosely conceived midlife crisis outfitted in size 14 Air Jordan 8s: Stoddard, who is known around campus as “Old Man Dan,” has serious hoop dreams. “You can call it lunacy,” he told me over tea with honey at Tim Hortons on campus. “I’m not saying I’ll make the NBA or go play overseas, but I want to get to a point where I can do it.”

He knew others would think this experiment was crazy — during the Thunders’ preseason schedule, Stoddard heard the laughter from opposing coaches and players — and he even realized that his endeavor reeked of desperation, but he never felt the pull of quitting. “If I’m not talented enough, I can live with that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to put in the effort to be the best player I can be,” he told me. “I don’t want to be wasting time hemming and hawing thinking about it.”

Most of Stoddard’s teammates are at least two decades younger than he is; at first, they thought of him as something of a sideshow, but Stoddard’s commitment to training earned him respect: “They see me on Instagram at the gym at 5 a.m., and they see me in practice every day, and they understand how dedicated I am to the team.”

According to Trevor Costello, Algonquin’s head coach, “All Dan cares about is getting better and better. This fucker is constantly in pain. He sprained his ankle before last Christmas, and after a twelve-hour shift driving a bus, his foot down on the ground the whole time, his foot was the size of a watermelon. He’s just so dedicated. Fuck, if he was a real stud, he’d get us thirty points a game. But he’s working — he’ll be better next year.”

Photo by Brendan Burden

Yusuf Ali, Seneca’s guard, didn’t initially understand Stoddard’s passion. He was taken aback when the two teams first met in November — “[Stoddard] looked so old, it was very confusing,” he told me — but before the February rematch, he congratulated Stoddard: “I told him it was an honor to play against him. I know people out there are scared of the risks to pursue their dreams, so he is a hero in my eyes. This doesn’t happen every day.”

At the start of his freshman season, Stoddard experienced something of a 15-minute burst of fame in the Canadian press; several outlets featured his journey for the same reason — his story touches the very base emotions of our human core — but then the novelty of his quest wore off. Now, he’s just a player with immense hustle in a changing body still growing accustomed to the grueling athletic demands of a college athlete.

‘All Dan cares about is getting better and better. This fucker is constantly in pain.’

The now 40-year-old is more than a publicity stunt, and although he’s taken it to the extreme, Stoddard’s career is part of a trend of competitive athletics taking hold among adults well into and beyond their 30s: Of the 2,500 or so adults surveyed for  a 2015 study commissioned by Harvard, NPR, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, only a quarter said they’d played or participated in some sport in the past year. But of that quarter, a large majority played once a week or more. The majority play mostly because they enjoy doing so, but 23 percent said they played mainly for health reasons. Stoddard’s quest is emblematic of this shift. Not only does he plan to keep attending and playing for Algonquin for the next three years, after which point he will be 42 years old, but he has also already lost nearly 150 pounds pounds in a 12-month period and hopes to drop nearly 200 pounds total by the time he graduates.

Where Stoddard differs from those other midlife warriors, though, is that he would actually like to continue playing beyond Algonquin — to explore the possibility of becoming a pro athlete. Stoddard claims ex-pros have been encouraging, and his stats, were they those of a 19-year-old are promising: Through 21 games of his sophomore season, the center averaged 6.4 points and nearly five rebounds per game, and his field goal percentage (54.7) was  fourth-best in the conference. During a November win against Georgian College, Stoddard barely missed a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds), hustling up the court in a high-paced (77 possessions) game, which he could never have done when he joined the team.

But still, the facts are glaring. Stoddard has spent decades willing his body across eastern Ontario; stabilizing badly sprained ankles with tightly bound boots while working a 100-hour week at a construction site; falling 22 feet from a ladder and breaking his hand, only to cut the cast off to avoid unemployment. Stoddard estimates he has had about 60 jobs since graduating high school; construction, sewer maintenance, a bouncer who once fought off a knife-wielding assailant — you name it. The work has put an untold amount of stress on his body. It has, in other words, been through the wear and tear that everyday life requires.

“To jump in at the top rung without developing one’s body fully is a recipe for disaster,” said Andre Deloya, a retired sports trainer with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “The predictive formula is not rosy. Our bodies are developing, evolving, and positively growing until the age of twenty-five, which is the peak of the mountain. After that, we all start to deteriorate.”

Stoddard is aware of the risks, but to his mind, they make his current moon shot all the more enticing: Who could have possibly conjured up a tale of a bus driver to the Algonquin hardwood (and potentially beyond)? “The reality is that when growing up, you see the NBA, and that’s where you want to be,” he said to me when I met him in February 2018. “It’s the best, and you strive for the best. You don’t just want to be the guy no one remembers. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

He added, “So what if it happened at forty-two? Who gives a shit. I’ve always said age is a number, but that’s bullshit. We all know it’s old, especially when it comes to basketball. But if you can play, you can play, and I just want to have the definitive answer, to have someone tell me I don’t have the talent to make it at the highest level. It’s just to know.”

***

According to his Ottawa-Carleton (OC) Transpo colleagues, Stoddard’s a “big teddy bear,” someone who “shoots the shit” in the locker room between his daily bus routes. “I’m always honest and I don’t beat around the bush,” he told me, detailing his childhood in what he calls the boondocks of Ontario, helping his father to build houses for a burgeoning community on what previously had been acres and acres of farmland. Stoddard had a sheltered upbringing: If he wanted to visit friends, he biked several miles to the next town, which explains why he didn’t take to basketball until high school. “I was a teenage kid doing nothing,” he explained, adding that until the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors expanded north of the border in the mid ’90s, he had never watched a basketball game on television.

Stoddard started playing a bit early in high school, but in 11th grade he sprouted and added several inches to his frame. While he lacked coordination and his understanding of the game was limited, a player with his size — by then 6-foot-8 — was very much in demand. “My center of gravity was thrown off,” he said, “and after six months of being messed up, I had to retrain my body’s balance. I was just a tall guy.” Stoddard flunked out of high school before he could improve upon his burgeoning basketball skillset, and his biggest regret, he told his family, was that he didn’t play organized basketball beyond high school. That failure gave way to a chip on his shoulder, one fueled by a sole thought: Why didn’t he succeed on the court? No matter the highs in his life, the nagging perception remained. I spent a long part of my life not knowing what I wanted to do, or how I wanted to be perceived, or the legacy I want to leave behind,” he said.

“Once I achieve a limitation or a goal or an understanding of what I’m doing, I get bored quickly,” he continued. “I tend to drive myself a thousand miles a minute.” And off the court, that chip was a hindrance — dropping out of college after a semester or two, he rebuffed his father’s offer to take over the family’s construction business. “It felt like he was encroaching on me, and I couldn’t be bothered,” said Stoddard.

Stoddard forced himself to do things for the health of his own family — working those 100-hour work weeks to not only provide for his son and daughter but also to help pay for his wife, Amanda, to get a nursing degree in palliative care. Basketball was his one outlet that provided unfettered joy; it was his lone constant and getaway from the demands of life. “You fend for yourself, and you take care of yourself,” he said. But on the court or at the playground, he wasn’t a construction worker, a sewer company employee, a garbageman, a nightclub bouncer, or a husband married at 20 years old and father of two teenagers.

Photo by Brendan Burden

He could be found on the playgrounds of eastern Ontario at least four nights a week, finally “doing something for me, and not for the family.” All those reps had an added bonus, transforming Stoddard into an immovable center with an unguardable skillset. His hulking frame — “I told people that I weighed 386 pounds, but that’s only because it was the last number on our scale, so the notion I weighed somewhere around 400 pounds isn’t far-fetched” — belied a pick-and-pop nimbleness with a soft touch around the basket. By 2017, he was “crushing” guys with backgrounds more advantageous than his.

Each summer, Stoddard participates in a high school alumni tournament. It’s very low-key: #BallIsLife during the two-day round-robin setting, burgers and beers at night. Stoddard’s team — a roster of mid-’90s graduates, the group’s name is “We’re So Old It Doesn’t Even Matter” — was typically good enough for a win or two but unable to compete with others in their athletic prime. But few teams had a player Stoddard’s size, and even fewer had a player of Stoddard’s size who, prior to the tournament’s tip, was balling a dozen-plus hours a week.

As Costello watched Stoddard torch players — some at least two decades younger than the hulking center — the coach jokingly blurted out, ‘Look at the size of you! You could play for my team.’

When he isn’t coaching the Thunder, Costello supports himself through refereeing (he also works at an elementary school as an educational assistant and spends his nights overseeing a group home), and he was refereeing Stoddard’s alumni tournament that summer of 2017 when he first spotted the ultimate diamond on the blacktop. Stoddard’s play was a revelation to the coach, who was about to coach his 18th season at a school that had once been the crown jewel of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association but recently tumbled down the rankings. “The best Canadians who don’t cross the border to play college basketball play in the OUA,” said Costello. “That’s the dream for most kids”.

He added, “The last few years haven’t been good. I don’t want to demean it, but Algonquin is a last chance resort. It’s tough to get kids.” Three players Costello expected to join the team bailed before ever arriving on the Ottawa campus, and his lead recruiter had taken a new job, which prevented him from working Algonquin’s sidelines.

As Costello watched Stoddard torch players — some at least two decades younger than the hulking center — the coach jokingly blurted out, “Look at the size of you!” recalled Stoddard. “You could play for my team.” The more he thought about it, the more the coach began to formulate a different sort of recruiting pitch. Yes, Stoddard was clearly overweight, but few teams in Algonquin’s conference had a taller player. On a team whose prospects were already dim for the upcoming season, inviting Stoddard to try out didn’t seem much of a gamble. “I’m all about winning games,” explained Costello. “Dan was far from a sideshow. I’m hardly getting paid enough to do this as a goof. Did I know he would ultimately end up starting for us? That might be pushing it. His upside is far from that of a twenty-two-year-old, but his brain is working so much harder.”
Read more…

The Caviar Con

Wiki Commons / Thor via Flickr CC / Illustration by Katie Kosma

David Gauvey Herbert | Longreads | February 2019 | 15 minutes (3,739 words)

Not long ago, Mike Reynolds was working at Cody’s Bait and Tackle when two men entered the shop with a jingle. He identified them right away by their accents as Russians. The two men began rifling through fishing poles that didn’t yet have price tags. Reynolds asked them to stop. They ignored him and continued to lay rods on the floor.

Reynolds, then 57, had seen plenty of Russians come through the shop, which sits on a quiet dam access road in Warsaw, Missouri, deep in the Ozarks. He was tired of them poaching the town’s beloved paddlefish. Sick of their entitled attitude, too.

So when he asked them to leave and they did not comply, there seemed only one option left. He removed a .40-caliber pistol from under the counter, chambered a round, and placed it on the counter.

“I fear for my life,” he said in a slow, deliberate drawl. He wanted to cover his bases, legally, for whatever came next.

The two men looked up, backed out of the store, and never returned.

It was just another dustup in the long-running war between caviar-mad Russians, local fishermen, and the feds that centers on this unlikely town in the Ozarks and a very curious fish. Read more…

The Thrill (and the Heavy Emotional Burden) of Blazing a Trail for Black Women Journalists

Dorothy Butler Gilliam at her desk in the fall of 1961 or early in 1962, soon after she arrived at The Washington Post. (©1962, Harry Naltchayan, Washington Post)

Dorothy Butler Gilliam | an excerpt from Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America | Center Street | January 2019 | 17 minutes (4,927 words)

When I arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1961, the city, the entire country, and the African continent were all on the threshold of change. The dashing, young John F. Kennedy had just begun his presidency promising “a new frontier.” The Civil Rights Movement was kicking into high gear with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. now urging young people like me to pursue professions we’d been excluded from and to excel. It was thrilling to be in the nation’s capital to begin my career as a daily newspaper journalist in the white press.

I brought a pretty placid nature to that career. When I later looked back, I surprised myself. I was so conservative politically! For example, only six years earlier, when I wrote about school integration in the student newspaper while attending Lincoln University from 1955 to 1957 (the Negro college in Missouri that provided higher education for colored students, allowing the state to keep all its other colleges and universities white), I indicated reasons we should go slowly with integration. But reporting for The Tri-State Defender in Memphis as the Civil Rights Movement dawned had begun to change me. The bus boycott victories had begun to liberate my thinking. And added confidence came from my faith, strengthened my spirit, and pushed me to do things that other people in my family didn’t do. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2018: All of Our No. 1 Story Picks

All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2018. Here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.

If you like these, you can sign up to receive our weekly email every Friday. Read more…

My So-Called Media: How the Publishing Industry Sells Out Young Women

Sipapre, AP / Getty / Collage by Katie Kosma

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | December 2018 | 10 minutes (2,554 words)

On November 30th, Tavi Gevinson published her last ever editor’s letter at Rookie. The 22-year-old started the site when she was just 15, and in the intervening years it had spawned a pastel-hued community of girlhood, which, if not always sparkly, was always honest. The letter spanned six pages, 5707 words. In Longreads terms, that’s 20 minutes, 20 minutes of Gevinson agonizing over the site she loved so much, the site that was so good, that was now bigger than her, that she couldn’t figure out how to save. “Rookie had been founded, in part, as a response to feeling constantly marketed to in almost all forms of media,” she wrote, “to being seen as a consumer rather than a reader or person.”

The market had won, but Gevinson was fighting to the death. It was hard to read. You could sense her torturing herself. And she was. Because in truth there was nothing Gevinson could have done, because the failure of Rookie was not about her, or even about the poor state of media as a whole. It was about what it has always been about, which is that as much power as women have online — as strong as their voices are, as good as their work is, as valuable as it is to women, especially young women — its intrinsic worth is something capitalism, dominated by men, feels no obligation to understand. This is what ultimately killed Rookie. And The Hairpin. And The Toast. And maybe even Lenny Letter too.

***

In her first ever editor’s letter, Tavi Gevinson explained that she wasn’t interested in the “average teenage girl,” or even in finding out who that was or whether Rookie appealed to her. “It seems that entire industries are based on answering these very questions,” she wrote. “Who is the typical teenage girl? What does she want? (And, a lot of the time, How can we get her allowance?)” She claimed not to have the answer but provided it anyway by not asking the question: by not inquiring, like other young women’s publications, whether her readers would like some lipstick or maybe some blush with that. Instead, Rookie existed in a state of flux, a mood board of art and writing and photography on popular culture and fashion and politics and, just, the reality of being a girl. In an interview with NPR in 2011, Gevinson noted the hypocrisy of other teen magazines’ feminist gestures: “they say something really simple about how you should love your body and be confident or whatever, but then in the actual magazine, there will still be stuff that maybe doesn’t really make you love your body.”

Writer Hazel Cills emailed Gevinson when she was 17 to ask if she could join Rookie. In her eulogy for the site, published in Jezebel, Cills described the magazine’s novel concept: “unlike Teen Vogue or Seventeen, we were overwhelmingly staffed with actual teenagers, and were free to write about our realities as if they were the stuff of serious journalism.” Lena Singer, who was in her 30s when she worked as Rookie’s managing editor, thinks the publication deserves some credit for the fact that adults are now more willing to defer to adolescents than they were when it launched. “Part of my role as an editor there was to help protect the idea — and I still believe it — that the world doesn’t need another adult’s opinion about teen spaces, online or elsewhere,” she says. “Teens say what needs to be known about that.” And when they didn’t have the answers, they chose which adults to consult with video features like “Ask a Grown Man,” where celebrities like Thom Yorke answered readers’ questions. The column would have been familiar to Sassy aficionados, particularly fans of its “Dear Boy” series which had guys like Beck offering advice. Which made sense, because Sassy was basically the OG Rookie.

Named by the 13-year-old daughter of one of the heads of its publishing company, Fairfax, Sassy arrived in 1988 and was the first American magazine that actually spoke the language of adolescence. Teen publications dated back to 1944, the year Seventeen launched, but Sassy was different. “The wink-wink, exasperated, bemused tone was completely unlike the vaguely disguised parental voice of Seventeen,” write Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer in How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine. And unlike Teen or YM, it did not make guys the goal and girls the competition — if it had a goal at all, it was to be smart (and preferably not a conservative). Sassy was launched as the U.S. iteration of the Australian magazine Dolly — they originally shared a publisher — and presented itself as the big sister telling you everything you needed to know about celebrity, fashion, and beauty but also drugs, sex, and politics. “The teen magazines here were like Good Housekeeping for teen-agers,” Dolly co-founder Sandra Yates told the New York Times in 1988, adding, “I’m going to prove that you can run a business with feminist principles and make money.”

So she hired Jane Pratt, an associate editor at Teenage magazine, who matched her polka dot skirt with work boots, who donated to a pro-choice organization. Pratt “cast” writers like Dolly did, then went further to reinforce their personalities by publishing more photos and encouraging them to write in the first person, with plenty of self-reference, culminating in a sort of reality TV show-slash-blog before either of those things existed. Sassy became ground zero for indie music coverage thanks largely to Christina Kelly, a fan of Slaves of New York author Tama Janowitz who wrote the way teenagers talk. “I don’t know how to say where my voice came from,” she says. “It was just there.” Like the other writers on staff, she offered a proto-Jezebel take on pop culture, a new form of postmodern love-hate criticism.

At its peak, Sassy, which had one of the most successful women’s magazine launches ever (per Jesella and Meltzer), attracted 800,000 readers. But this was the era of the feminist backlash, where politicians were doubling down on good old American family values. The writers and editors at Sassy weren’t activists, per se, but they were the children of second wavers, they went to universities with women’s departments, they knew about the patriarchy. “Sassy was like a Trojan horse,” wrote Jesella and Meltzer, “reaching girls who weren’t necessarily looking for a feminist message.” Realizing that adolescents were more sexually active, receiving letters about the shame around it, Sassy made it a priority to provide realistic accounts of sex without the moralism. They covered homosexuality, abortion, and even abuse, and were the first teen magazine in America to advertise condoms.

In response, right-wing religious groups petitioned to boycott Sassy‘s advertisers; within several months the magazine lost nearly nearly 20 percent of its advertising. After several changes in ownership, including the removal of Sandra Yates and a squarer mandate, the oxymoronic conservative Sassy eventually folded into Teen magazine in 1997, the alternative press devoured once again by the mainstream.

But Sassy left behind a community. A form of analog social media, the magazine united writers with readers, but also readers with each other. Sassy even had its readers conceptualize an issue in 1990 — the “first-ever reader-produced issue of a consumer magazine” — the same year Andi Zeisler secured an internship at Sassy with a hand-illustrated envelope and the straightforward line, “I want to be your intern.” Six years later, she co-created her own magazine, Bitch, a cross between Sassy and Ms. It had the same sort of intimate community where, Zeisler explains, “there’s somehow a collective feeling of ownership that you don’t have with something like Bustle.”

Bustle, a digital media company for millennial women, is often cited as the counter-example to indie sites like Sassy, Bitch, and Rookie. It has more than 50 million monthly uniques (Bustle alone boasts 37 million) and is run by a man named Bryan Goldberg, who upon its 2013 launch wrote, with a straight face, “Maybe we need a destination that is powered by the young women who currently occupy the bottom floors at major publishing houses.” While Sassy had to struggle to be profitable and sustainable in an ad-based and legacy driven industry, now corporate entities like Bustle manspread sites like Rookie into non-existence. “The one thing that has stayed the same,” says Zeisler, “is the fact that alternative presentations of media by and for girls and young women is really overlooked as a cultural force.”

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Tavi Gevinson was born the year Sassy died, but Lena Dunham arrived just in time. Recalling her predecessor, she described her feminist newsletter, Lenny Letter, which launched in 2015 as “a big sister to young radical women on the Internet.” Delivered to your inbox, Lenny, backed by Hearst, mimicked the intimacy of magazines past, the ones that existed outside Twitter and the comments section. It included an advice column and interviews (the first was with Hillary Clinton) as well as personal essays touching on various sociopolitcal issues. It was more activist than Sassy, more earnest than ironic, more 20-something than adolescent. It even had a Rookie alum, Laia Garcia, as its deputy editor. Lenny’s third issue launched it into mainstream consciousness when Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay about pay disparity in Hollywood, which provoked an industry-wide conversation. Then three years after launch and without warning, on October 19, a final letter by Dunham and co-creator Jenni Konner claimed “there’s no one reason for our closure” and shut down.

Lenny’s demise came nine months after that of another site that had a loyal female-driven community: The Hairpin. Founded in 2010 by Edith Zimmerman under The Awl umbrella, the site that had also published writing by Lenny editor-at-large Doreen St. Félix claimed “a natural end” — the same words The Awl used for its closure. NPR’s Glen Weldon suggested more specific reasons for their termination: the decline in ad revenue online, the sites’ unwillingness to compromise, their independence. “The Awl and The Hairpin were breeding grounds for new writers — like The National Lampoon in the ‘70s, Spy Magazine in the ‘80s, Sassy in the ‘90s and McSweeney’s in the aughts,” he explained, adding, “Invariably they would find, waiting for them, a comparatively small, but loyal, sympathetic and (mostly) supportive readership.”

Two years before this, a similar site, The Toast, founded by former Hairpinners Nicole Cliffe and Daniel Ortberg, also closed. The publication was created in 2013 to be an intersectional space for women to write basically whatever they fancied. They even invited Rookie to contribute. The Toast published multiple features a day, stating, “we think there’s value in posting things that we’ve invested time and energy on, even if it comes at the expense of ‘You won’t believe this story about the thing you saw on Twitter and have already believed’ link roundups.” In a lengthy message posted in May 2016, Ortberg broke down the financial circumstances that left them weighing their options. “Most of them would have necessitated turning The Toast into something we didn’t like, or continuing to work ourselves into the ground forever,” Ortberg wrote, adding, “The only regret I have is that Bustle will outlive us and I will never be able to icily reject a million-dollar check from Bryan Goldberg, but that’s pretty much it.”

It says everything about the American media industry that Bustle, a site with an owner who mansplained women’s sites to women, a site which acquired the social justice-oriented publication Mic only after it had laid off almost its entire staff, has outlived the ones that are actually powered by women. If you look closely, you will see that the majority of women’s sites that continue to exist — from SheKnows to Refinery29 — have men in charge. Even HelloGiggles, which was created by three women, is owned by the male-run Meredith Corporation. That means that, fundamentally, these publications are in the hands of a gender that does not historically believe in the inherent value of women’s media. Women, including young women, are valuable as consumers, but if their interests cannot be monetized, they are worthless. Yet the same year The Toast closed, Lauren Duca wrote a Sassy-style essay, “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” in Teen Vogue which dominated the news and garnered 1.4 million unique visitors. “Teen girls are so much smarter than anyone gives them credit for,” Phillip Picardi, Teen Vogue’s digital editorial director, reminded us. “We’ve seen an immense resonance of political coverage with our audience.” Seventeen and ELLE have also capitalized on wokeness, their spon-con sharing real estate with social justice reporting, blurring the boundaries between protesting and shopping. “The inner workings of those places are not about feminism,” says Zeisler. “They’re about selling feminism and empowerment as a brand and that’s very different from what you would find at Rookie or at The Toast or The Hairpin.”

It seems fitting that a new print teen magazine launched last year called Teen Boss. On the fact that it had no ads, Jia Tolentino side-eyed in The New Yorker, “unless, of course, it’s all advertising — sponsored content promoting “Shark Tank” and JoJo Siwa (both appear in each of the first three issues) and also the monetizable self.”

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Teen girls are the “giant piggybank of capitalism,” says Zeisler, and it’s an apt metaphor. Their value is their purchasing power and they are sacrificed, smashed to pieces, to get to it. When Ariana Grande obliterates every sales record known to man, man still asks why she is on the cover of BuzzFeed. Man never seems to ask, however, why sports — literal games — are on the cover of anything. This is the world in which Rookie and Lenny Letter and The Hairpin and The Toast attempt to survive, in which all that is left when they don’t are floating communities of women, because the industry refuses to make room. As Gevinson wrote, “that next iteration of what Rookie stands for — the Rookie spirit, if you will — is already living on in you.” As Dunham wrote, “Lenny IS you: every politician, every journalist, every activist, every illustrator, every athlete who shared her words here.” As The Hairpin wrote, “We hope when you look back on what we did here together it makes you proud and not a little delighted.” As Cliffe and Ortberg wrote, “The Toast was never just a chance for people to tune in to The Mallory and Nicole Show, it was also a true community and it will be missed.”

These publications did not die by their own hand. Zeisler notes that to this day, she sees people tweeting about missing The Toast. These sites died because their inherent value did not translate into monetary value in a capitalist system run by men who only know how to monetize women by selling them out. As bright and as hungry as young women are today, they are entering a world designed to shut them down. And the future looks bleak. “If media as an industry doesn’t figure out how to value [independent sites for young women] in a way that really reflects and respects the work that goes into them,” says Zeisler, “we’re just going to have a million fucking Bustles.”

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Soraya Roberts is a culture columnist at Longreads.

West Across the Sea

Illustration by J.O. Applegate

 Sam Riches / Longreads / October 2018 / 17 minutes (4,328 words)

The first thing you need to know about Iceland is that sheep are everywhere. In the pastures, on top of the mountains, next to the highway. They graze freely and abundantly and peacefully, most of the time. An approaching vehicle can cause them to scatter — bells clanging frantically, fuzzy butts bouncing wildly — into the countryside, where the only predator to worry about, other than humans, is the delightfully cute but sometimes fatal arctic fox.

Icelandic sheep are hardy creatures. They are farmed mostly for their meat but also for their wool, which provides insulated, waterproof protection against Iceland’s damp weather. For centuries, sheep have been fundamental to Icelandic life — so perhaps it is not surprising that one of the most intriguing basketball prospects the country has ever produced was, just four and a half years ago, focused on a more traditional career: sheep farmer. Read more…