You know when you look at a stranger’s eyes and they catch you looking? You look away and pretend nothing ever happened. But something did happen. Shit!
This is the Editor’s Note from the first issue of The Public Journal. Bold, daring, and a bit befuddling, it raises the obvious question – just what does this have to do with anything? The Journal’s seven issues, regular submissions, expansion and growing national attention answer, “everything.” This passage is a perfect example of what the journal represents – according to one of the founders, “not fiction, not poetry … yourself.”
Furthermore, it’s about “finding connections with strangers, teaching you that the differences are that which divide and unite us. It’s about re-evaluating the idea of what normal means, getting them talking. Some eccentricity of someone is now reverberated in a magazine written by somebody else.”
These were the ideals that drove two Cornell students, Dylan Greif ’06 and Jonah Green ’06, to make their dream into a reality. Greif is an English and government major with a love of writing and intrigue for the basic state of people; “how they think, how social groups think” give him a good background, he said.
Grief, who took sculpture classes throughout Cornell, feels the importance of public expression, whether in sculpture or writing, needs to be recognized.
Though Greif and Green first met during high school, they say they did not become truly close until after graduation. Green is also an English major, with interests in sail-making and film.
Inspired by a mutual dissatisfaction with both the social and literary scene at Cornell, the two planted the seed for a truly unique publication.
Greif explained, “It all started my and Jonah’s second semester sophomore year. As we began to get involved with the literary community … we felt that some of the publications didn’t speak enough to a large enough group, that they could be a little more creative, outside the box and we wanted to do something on our own also. So, we got together, and started really thinking about what we thought was missing.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with fiction of poetry. Both of us are lovers and creators of the two, but there was a void in the magazine world of this kind of writing,” Green added.
Socially, Greif explained, “That year … was a transition time. The need to branch out of that categorized very bland and uncreative social world was something we wanted to explore and pursue.”
Most importantly though, he said, “We wanted to bring to light all aspects of life … that people are different … as a comfort to ourselves and to broaden potential. We wanted to bring private to public, to make conscious other kinds of interests.” From this idea and the fruits of their labor, The Public Journal was born.
The Public Journal is made up entirely of submissions from anonymous contributors, which range from embarrassing moments to thoughts of suicide. Green defines the Journal as “a purely expressive and direct outlet for students. The journal focuses on the highly personal, revealing nature of people’s writing, and we stress concentration on the individual and the subjective experience rather than a showcase of artistic merit.”
Also, as the creators point out, though the Journal calls each to focus on his or her individuality, “the result is a collective voice that is telling of a broader human experience.” Though for many the journal is comforting in its lesson about the oneness of mankind – that does not make exposing ones raw soul to the world any easier.
As Green said, “It’s a lot to ask – it’s not easy. The reasons many topics and things are unspoken and withheld are their sensitivity. It takes a lot of effort to know what to confess, to dig deep, and get that sort of material. That’s why it’s important.”
Anonymity is key to the success of the Journal. It is created by a “contributor’s page,” on which the authors’ names are listed altogether. There is no knowledge of which passage belongs to whom. The creators of the Journal, by making contributions anonymous, hoped to make the authors more comfortable writing about themselves, “less conscious about coming off as ‘abnormal’ [and] less conscious about coming off as amazing.” To top it all off, the anonymity gives each contribution a magnetism, which Green explains, “You can see yourself in the pages that other people write … it connects people in a disconnected way.” One reads a passage and finds him or herself wanting to know the creator’s story. Just who are these people who contribute?
“Ideally anyone can contribute,” Green said. “That’s the catch … the content is specific to nobody and everybody.”
That is the beauty of a public journal, as stated on the Journal’s website: “Do you keep a journal? Well, baby, this is a Journal that belongs to the Public…a blank page for your expression… an open book for everyone.”
Predictably, the total freedom given to the contributor under the protection of anonymity has led to some unique pieces.
Greif, dodging the question of which contribution has been the strangest, said, “I like to say they are my babies and I love them all equally … there are so different, and not as much strange as interesting. It’s wild, you’re learning something new about people in general every time.”
Green responded similarly, saying, “We hold no judgments – if it’s strange, we haven’t encountered it yet. What is so strange and compelling to one person, may be felt about the same way by another person feels the same way. We’re disappointed that nothing was so taboo that it didn’t offend anyone. We’re all about no censoring, no holding back.”
There are five published issues and two of The Little Public Journal, described as ” a cheaper, themed-er version of the bigger more expensive public journal.” The first, “Now We Are Twelve,” contains passages mainly about and from that awkward age on the brink of teen-hood; and “The Public Journal: The Instant Message” concerns this relatively new mode of communication, ” that last bastion of American found literature [which] has until now been largely ignored as an art form.” Not only are the number of issues, submissions, and readers expanding – so are the locations of publication.
There is now a Public Journal at Tufts University and Baylor University, and one is planned for New York University. There is even talk for a New York City Public Journal.
On the future of the Public Journal, Green said, “It would be terrific if it could be like a virus that spread through the universities, very democratic, people doing it themselves.” The Journal has also attracted national attention.
This past summer, Newsweek’s “Current” magazine featured The Public Journal’s website in a section called “Clip File: Back to School Made Easy,” naming it as one of five most interesting websites to spend time at.
Green said that the journal will “[ideally], at least continue at Cornell and wherever it’s at, and spread. For us, leaving this little bubble, we are going to try and get the journal out into the real world.”
Greif agreed, saying, “We want it to continue at Cornell, and we’ve really started to branch out, especially to other potential colleges. We have a new staff – our new Editor-in-Chief Erin Geld ’07 [a Sun columnist] and some other people who are really excited about continuing and who seem really bright. We’re excited for what they’ll come up with.”
Geld described the steps that brought her to this position, saying, “I just picked up the first edition, I fell I love with it, wrote to the editors, asked how I could get involved, got to know them socially, and it went from there.”
However, Erin expressed excitement about the new staff, saying, “Jonah and Dylan were the brains behind it, so it will be very different.” She hopes to keep a similar format to the original issues.
When Green was asked what his future held, he answered, “I think we are going to pursue this after graduation. If we fail that’s okay, at least we gave it a shot. I’m not worried, that’s the key. Something will turn up. I believe in chance and circumstance.” It was more than chance and circumstance that brought these two together and this journal success.
Greif’s parting words are ones of hope: “Though me and Jonah are leaving, we hope it will continue. It’s exciting to see how it will grow and evolve.”
Archived article by Molly O’Toole
Sun Staff Writer