The closest thing I have to a religious text is the email sent to sophomore me by the outgoing Nass editor, an addled dispatch from an overheating thesis carrel, for sure, but still almost infuriatingly clear in its concerns and charming in its tone. I’d written to him in a daze, worried I was about to take over a paper I had no idea what to do with, armed with little beyond the passwords for some accounts. [Things were all t0rnasund3r, then.]
His reply ranged wider than expected: part capsule history of the Nass, part reckoning with his own ups and downs at its helm, part campus sociology, part “here’s how I hope you kids defibrillate this dying thing.” I revisit it—an odd honor no other email in the dusty .edu inbox can claim—exhuming it almost annually from its resting place among offers of free congealing pizza and deadline extensions denied. I reread it because it was written by the writer I most admired, and because each time I feel anew a 19-year-old’s thrill of admiring, and aspiring, unrusted by the air of the actual world and its pressing material concerns. And because he wrote, real prettily, that writing did good. He thought the that the Nass could not just “be good,” but actually “do good” for Princeton.
How might that work? First, he said that the Nass gave people of skeptical, irreverent mind a place to be, on a campus that offered few such places, and that generally rewarded unquestioning reverence. It scooped up kids who might otherwise “fracture confusingly and alienatingly” into the campus’s manifold social castes, and did not send them leaping through any hoops, or any gauntlet of interviews, just to write in its pages. Its pages were for anyone who liked the flavor (and even some who didn’t). Second, he said that it provided a concrete space for these Nassy people to talk to each other, and drink with each other, and—he couldn’t have anticipated—go to each other’s weddings, and lie out on a midsummer riverbank with each other, and cackle at each other’s uncaptioned 2 a.m. texted images, and, with luck, continue reading each other.
“For very vague reasons I’ve spent twenty pages and must shortly spend 50+ more explaining to myself, I genuinely believe that by addressing a group you give it being. That’s an amazing beautiful thing, and it’s something the University misses, if just ever so slightly, with the near-disappearance of the only publication on campus that’s for everyone without standing for nothing,” he wrote, about his thesis, but about a lot more.
In pursuit of the wild bounty he promised, we took over the Nass. We made a paper as many weeks as we could manage. We put something dumb on its covers, a quarter-assed pun to suit some winking image. We amused ourselves, and, perhaps infrequently, others. We wrote screeds on music and books and movies and food at an emotional wattage only the undergraduate soul can muster. We wrote about each other, about ourselves (endlessly, obviously), about our travels and vices, about the internet increasingly, about the broader world, and about the stirrings of our strange and often stifling campus. We compiled large lists of things we wished would stop existing and large lists of classes we wished would start existing. Most importantly, we compiled all those stupid sumptuous Verbatims that will one day comprise the definitive social history of this campus. Bind them all in leather and sell it.
Money and feasibility never darkened our skies, then. Looking back, it’s difficult to believe that we just met up in a room, then days later splayed the fruits of that conversation over layout, then days later splayed the physical version all over campus. That itself was a funny ritual: sliding out of bed, getting the car from the lot, steering it into the Terrace driveway, where I was met by at some hungover 70 percent of that issue’s writers, arriving as if in penitence for having written the articles inside. We starburst and shambled across campus, through the dining halls and eating clubs and centers for religious and student life. We left our words scattered all over. We hoped people would read it, at least out of respect for the trees, if not for us. Some people read it, more probably opted to recycle it, and a few even wanted to write for it. Copies could, hearteningly, be found next to toilets.
Our ranks swelled. We threw parties. We made new titles. We found people who could make things pretty and others who might make them profitable. We poured the dubious nectar of Bud Light Lime in the upstairs of Thai Village. The Nassy promised land described in that editor’s email began to take shape. We replaced ourselves with brighter and better writers, went off to cocoon in our carrels, then left.
As if in prophecy, the things that editor claimed the Nass did for students are those things most missing from my life as alum. I’ve enjoyed plenty of blessings in the time since, but after years in the quasi-anonymous metropolitan ant hive, I’d trade some chunk of them for access to the weekly bat-signal of a Nass meeting. It would beckon the Nassy to gather, low-stakes, in a small space. There we’d shoot the shit, make each other laugh and maybe even think, under just enough social pressure to push a good idea out of your head and onto the printed page and back into other people’s heads. I would like to hit up a Nass meeting once a week, in this real life—to return to the wreckage of that office, full of dead iMacs like huge useless jewels, inscrutable oil paintings of the inexplicably nude, stacks of yellowing archives, all the cast-off detritus of people I never knew but felt quite certain I would have liked.
Giri Nathan ‘13 is a former editor-in-chief of the Nass.