Suzanne Cheavens is the senior editor of Mountainfreak magazine, based in Telluride, Colo.
Monday, 31 Jan 2000
Welcome to the happy chaos of my life as editor of Mountainfreak magazine. Since you probably have a voyeuristic streak if you’re reading someone else’s diary entries, I’ll start by letting you in on a secret. I have never edited a magazine before, much less anything like Mountainfreak. But the minute I sat at this desk, it felt as if my whole life had been leading up to this.
What Mountainfreak is about (because I’m sure you do not know) is the future. Mountainfreak presents the reader with possibilities and hope. Our content reminds the reader of the power of individual action to create change in a world beset by environmental and social woes. But because constantly being barraged with the sorry state of affairs of the world can become a stone cold drag on the heart, Mountainfreak also reminds our readers that if you’re not having fun, you’re not living. This world is a delightful place, meant to be enjoyed, as well as cherished. Digging life and learning a thing or two need not be mutually exclusive activities.
Oh, idealistic one, you say. Head in the clouds, has reality so eluded you? Not at all, say I. Let me explain where this magazine was born. We (yes, an editorial we) live in Telluride, Colo. It’s a small town in the San Juan Mountains (elevation 8,750 feet), surrounded by 10,000- to 14,000-foot peaks. The sheer physical beauty of this place is cliché-inspiring, but the spiritual connection to the place is very real.
There’s a lot of money here. The desirability of the area comes with a price. Those who can afford it are carving up the mesas, and trophy homes are strewn across the landscape. The skiing is phenomenal when it snows. Though it’s snowing now, our winter has been exceptionally mild. (Can you say global warming?) Us regular folk work hard to live here. Our resort economy is robust, but things ain’t cheap. Our biggest problem? Housing. The middle-class residents are having the toughest time. Most leave. I’m one of the lucky ones. My husband and I bought a modest home last year. I’m gonna stay, damn it.
Our publisher, Hilary White, founded Mountainfreak. She wanted to tap into the unheard voices of those in mountain towns. She wanted to celebrate the joys of exploring and worshipping in what we call our temple, the natural world. She discovered that numerous creative folks were drawn to these places. Hilary attracted her band of writing, painting, drawing, and photographer freaks easily. Mountainfreak‘s seminal, black and white issues were distributed free in mountain towns throughout Colorado, Wyoming, British Columbia, and elsewhere. That was 1996. After three gloriously, well … freaky issues, Hilary was broke and went back to cleaning rich people’s houses. Gone, for the time being, was the magazine that had attracted a loyal following hungry for stories about organic farming, backcountry skiing, hemp news, poetry, art, and politics with a high country perspective.
But because the truth can never founder, fate stepped in. Okay, fate had a fat bank account and cash flow. He also shared the Mountainfreak ideal that the Earth is a place to be protected and nurtured, a vast playground of opportunity and enlightenment. The resurrected Mountainfreak hit the streets in spring of 1998, full of color, perfect bound, and brimming with irrepressible energy. And so we’ve grown. We’re distributed nationally and have subscribers on every continent.
Our Spring 2000 issue, Number 12, is close to being born. This week is nutso. Production time is always a maelstrom of creativity and last-minute inspiration. Since editorial content is long in the bag, what remains is the layout, design, and proofing of the issue. Our job during production is to supply beer and love and prodigious amounts of food to Art Director Mark Steele. It’s worth it. We are the best-looking and most visually innovative magazine out there. Bold words? See for yourself. You’ll come for the eye candy and stay for the words. It’s attitude that makes us different. Not a puffed chest, cock-of-the-walk attitude, but something positive and loving. We want to change the way the world thinks. We want to inform people that eating organic, recycling, and riding a bike are good ways to live. We want to make folks aware of the Tibet-China struggle and of the wholesale destruction of forests everywhere. Mountainfreak tells you about heroes who live among us. Julia Butterfly Hill, Mardy Murie, Dolores La Chapelle, Wade Davis. Mostly, we give you ideas and tools to create changes in your own corner of the world.
So, diary followers, I’ve provided a little background for the first day. Being the editor of Mountainfreak is a tremendous challenge. None of us have ever done anything like this before, but we are succeeding. Tomorrow, you’ll meet my compatriots and maybe we’ll clean my desk. Oscar Madison’s got nothing on me. Peace.
Tuesday, 1 Feb 2000
So cold my eyes tear up on my walk to the coffee shop. For better or for worse, coffee is an integral part of every morning. I go to a place where the coffee is as black as a murderer’s heart and as strong as Joan of Arc’s faith. Damn good coffee.
After the diary, I’ll do an email session, update our entry in the Writer’s Market, finish up the masthead, and hone in on the intro for our Spring 2000 issue. Mark Steele and I will do the dummy, and then the magic begins. I think this is my favorite part of the whole process. I have already put my energy into the stories. Now Mark, our art director, will synthesize the words with the photos and artwork assembled by Brett Schreckengost, photo and art editor, to create what you will ultimately hold in your hands in March.
Today, I will introduce you to the tribe at Mountainfreak. Hilary White, as I wrote yesterday, created the magazine. It is her vision. She can sell the magazine like nobody’s business, and to that end, she is gone on a month-long marketing trip that will take her all over the country.
Mark is a wizard. The ideas that pour from his head fascinate me. I am verbal, so I find those who think visually to be exotic.
Brett not only has a deft touch with photo and art selection for the mag, but is a brilliant photographer. It’s interesting to watch him hit his stride as an artist. He’s young and can get impatient. I wish I could convince him he has his whole life before him and it will take a long time for him to refine his prodigious talent.
Lise Waring is our managing editor, aka Suzanne’s right arm. Before she came on board, I did everything — queries, rejection letters, writer payments — all the nuts and bolts stuff. I was overwhelmed. Lise is organized right down to her last comma. We complement each other well, and her presence frees me to assume the more visionary role I am supposed to fill. A good managing editor is worth her weight in dictionaries.
Christina Callicott handles subscriptions and customer service. She’s a climber and looks like the kind of
person who would rather be outside than in. But she gladly spends hours in front of the computer and is cheerful on the phone. And then she escapes to String Cheese shows whenever possible. I love her quietly tenacious approach to problems and her populist political views.
John Kula is our business manager and the resident new guy. If we’re a bunch of freaks, he’s our straight man. He loves numbers, he’s a day trader, and he has five kids. We’re just beginning to discover what makes him tick.
Lastly, but not at all least, is the über Mountainfreak, Mark Biedron. A successful, self-made businessman, Mark is our investor. He knew as little about the publication business as we did, but his unshakable faith in what we’re doing is bottomless. Magazines require copious amounts of cash thrown at them initially until they take hold. I don’t know that I would invest in a magazine if I had that kind of dough. I draw strength from Mark and channel his faith into my work.
Okay, the coffee has taken hold. Here’s a question for you, dear diary snooper. Have you read Peter Huber’s Hard Green? After I finish the book I’m in, I’m going to read it, but I’m afraid it will piss me off mightily. I will, however, approach it with an open mind. That’s the 40-year-old me talking. Just ten years ago, I would have gone into that book with a set of preconceived notions. Time teaches us that answers exist everywhere, even in the most unlikely places.
The day’s work beckons. Time to light my candle, crank the tunes, and let my fingers fly.
Are you wondering about the “freak” bit? Well fiddlee-dee, tomorrow’s another day.
Wednesday, 2 Feb 2000
Humpday. Everyday is humpday when you’re working on changing the consciousness of the world.
Today it’s warm. Too warm. No gloves, no hat, jacket open. The weather is strange, and it has got me paying attention. The balmy temps will make my midday cross-country ski most enjoyable, however.
What’s on my desk today? I have to proof the updated wholesale goods flyer, go through a few queries, call the local daily with a story idea (I freelance for them and write a column, too), finish the intro to the Spring 2000 issue, go over some cutlines with Brett, and attend a staff meeting.
I promised Grist Magazine diary fans an explanation of freak. One of our contributors is a gifted linguist and delved into the meaning of the word. Starting with Old English, freak meant bold, and from there evolved into fresh, lively, eager, lustful, playful. As a verb, the word means, “to adopt a wildly unconventional lifestyle.” Most of you are familiar with the usage of freak as a description of someone who is really into something. Chocolate freak, NASCAR freak, crossword freak, etc. Michael Franti of Spearhead says we are all freaks on the inside, and I would have to agree.
A writer from Outside magazine spent a week with us in October and asked each of us what made us freaks. That I am a freak is obvious to me but explaining it to a relative stranger was tough. At first blush, I lead a fairly conventional life. Married, two kids, two cats, mortgage slave, family wagon — all the typical, middle-class trappings. Dig deeper and see that I eschew organized religion and speak aloud to the spirits in the forest. I have partaken in an ayahuasca ceremony. I haven’t had cable since 1987. (I was stumped on the Sunday NYT crossword last week because I didn’t know Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s role on Seinfeld.) Again, to quote Franti, “I don’t eat red meat, but I’m not a vegetarian.” I burn incense, hula hoop in the house, don’t have a cell phone, don’t shave very often (especially in the winter), and am a vocal proponent of hemp and marijuana legalization, all the while married to a cop (albeit a cop with Libertarian inclinations). I do not believe there is a single, decent candidate for president, though I must confess that having seen Bill Bradley play basketball has me watching his campaign. I mean, hell, if we can elect an actor for president, why not an NBA star? As Michael Keaton says in Night Shift, “Is this a great country or what?”
This is a completely absurd world and America takes the cake for absurdity. Anything is possible. It’s the freakiest country on the planet and we live here. I don’t think the guy from Outside knew what hit him. Naturally, we’re curious as all get out to read the story (slated for April).
I’m on a rant. I always feel this way after some fool with a cell phone glued to his ear passes me going 60 mph in a 45 zone on my way to work. Call it a peeve. In Aspen, they’re debating putting an ordinance on the books that would ban the use of cell phones while driving. I can appreciate the concern, but can human stupidity be legislated into submission? Somehow I doubt it.
OK, back to freak. Think about it. What makes you a freak? Remember, freak is not a slur. It’s a description of the unique and that, I’m sure, would be you.
To conclude, perhaps the freakiest thing about me, about us at Mountainfreak, is that we believe that environmental concerns overrule concerns for the bottom line. Take care of the planet and the money will follow. Practice peace and tolerance for all people, all beliefs, all cultures, and wealth is yours. And wealth is not just a bank account but a spiritual state. What a freak.
Thursday, 3 Feb 2000
It’s another one of those crispy, blue-sky Colorado winter days. I am truly blessed to call this place my home. When I moved here almost 15 years ago, I made a vow to look up at the mountains every day, no matter how busy or preoccupied I might be. That was a good promise and I have faithfully cast my gaze to the massive peaks that surround this valley. My eyes drink up the mountains’ white shoulders, absorbing the power and serenity that radiates from the stony heights, delighting in the spindrift streamers whipping from the summits. I am humbled and empowered by this place.
And now to the more mundane demands of my day. Not that working here could be considered mundane, but the mountains certainly keep our puny lives in perspective.
Probably the most important thing I do as editor is read. I read everything. Daily newspapers, stacks of magazines, essays, short stories, fiction, non-fiction, trade journals, ad infinitum. It’s my way of traveling for the time being. There is so much information and a wealth of possible topics for the magazine. The world is a giant treasure trove and my mind is a gold panner’s sieve. Hmm, actually, comparing my mind to a sieve doesn’t sound good, but you get the idea: Discard the drek, keep the nuggets.
So, cup of joe by my side, I tuck into the local daily, the Denver paper, and whatever magazines and regional papers came through the door in the last few days. Then I write. Beats working.
I have a dream list of people I want to see in the magazine, either as contributors or as subjects. I’m going to put it out there because that’s the way the world works. With my purest intentions and with an open heart I submit my list: Jane Goodall, Rick Bass, Tim Cahill, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Andrew Weil, Patti Smith, Gail Zappa, Mark Plotkin, Michael Franti, Gordon Wiltsie, Granny D, Stephen Gaskin, any sitting U.S. president, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison (McCartney for vegetarianism and Harrison for Indian thought and spirituality and, hey man, because they’re former Beatles and the best band ever.) And this is just a start
Today, I must focus on fine-tuning the intro for our spring issue. The intro sets the tone for every issue. It is my most heartfelt writing. I know it is steeped in optimism and hope, but that is as unavoidable to me as breathing. It is our duty to hope and Mountainfreak is the standard-bearer of that belief.
I got my first letter yesterday as a result of this diary. Thank you a thousand times over. I crave feedback. Can’t learn without it.
My diary is short today. It’s a big day. Before I sign off, please join me in sending healing prayers to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. He helped my imagination catch fire as a young reader, and I am forever indebted to the man. Be well, Kurt.
Friday, 4 Feb 2000
Filing these diary entries has become my new favorite habit. There is not a writer on Earth that doesn’t journal. Keeping a journal or a diary not only works the muscle, it also provides a place to dump one’s joys and woes. I work out new turns of phrase, interesting comments I may have heard, unravel complicated relationships, or just ramble.
Many of us scribes have a book to write, and I am no different. My husband wonders why I don’t start writing it. I am patient, and a late-bloomer. For one thing, while many of the characters and places are fairly evolved, the story is not. The thread eludes me so far. The concentration and focus I would require does not exist in my life. Time spent with my children, 14 and 4 years of age, is my number one priority. Marriage is work and deserving of my energy. Telluride is a bustling community that thrives on volunteerism. The many nonprofit events that sparkle like jewels on the pages of my calendar provide my family with the opportunity to help community radio, AIDS research, local arts organizations, and so on. In other words, my life is full and rich. My book will come.
And then, there is Mountainfreak. If it were possible to quantify mental energy, I would have to say the magazine occupies 80 percent of mine. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I think about the magazine. In fact, I come up with some of my most inspired ideas in the nether hours of the night. Came up with a good one just last night and you’ll see it in the Summer issue, space providing.
As the magazine grows, the quality of submissions has improved dramatically. I took home a stack of submissions last night and read two excellent pieces before I forced myself to turn off the light. There are thousands of voices out there, rafts of great, unpublished writers, and it is those people who are drawn to Mountainfreak. The pros are great to work with, no doubt, and I am butt-naked honest about wanting some marquee writers on our masthead, but it’s the hungry ones who best fit Mountainfreak. The two writers I read last night are folks you’ve never heard of but whose work deserves an audience — our audience. I would love to be the editor that gives the Next Great Writer his or her first chance.
Today’s agenda is more of the same. I have to write some ad copy for John. (I actually got paid for ad copy writing in my early days. I’ve got a knack for the snappy phrase, but became disillusioned with the prospect of wasting perfectly good words on toothpaste and mufflers.) I’ll continue reading queries and go for a midday run. Tonight, I’m invited to my friend’s one-year anniversary of sobriety at her AA chapter. That’s gonna be a trip. This is a small town and I’ll know almost everybody there. I’m really proud of my friend and honored to be invited. Me, a sinner among saints.
My husband, Officer Friendly, just stopped by to say good morning but kept it short because I’m writing. Images of Tibetan incense and his deadly handgun clash when he stops by, but I know the human behind the Kevlar vest, and he is my number one fan.
This is a small office — no cubicles, no doors, many madly creative bodies, lots of interruptions. It’s a wonder I ever get anything done. The overall vibe, though, is cheery. Tensions certainly mount from time to time, but our passion for this great endeavor and our deep affection for one another is a bond as strong as Earth’s gravity. These people are my family, my tribe. Our readers are in this circle, too. Their letters are my best gauge of what we’re doing and I cherish them all.
So ends a week in my life. I know that I am idealistic, eternally optimistic, and hopelessly sunny. But, I am not unrealistic. There is much to heal, there are so many without love, so many without voices. We are going to try to help facilitate the change that is needed to ensure a good life for the seventh generation. Every day, I see our ideals take hold and take comfort in that we are not shooting in the dark. You are out there and your numbers are greater than you may suspect.
I really like Grist‘s slogan, “A beacon in the smog.” Mountainfreak is a beacon, too, and I often use the expression “a beacon from the mountains” when I am describing the mag to the uninitiated. Thank you for reading Grist. I hope to hear from you. It’s an honor to be part of the revolution.
In closing, some of our favorite quotes:
“In defiance of mass culture, tribalism constantly resurfaces.” — Paul Shepard (with thanks to Ken Wright)
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
“The shining hope for a revolution in human consciousness lies in the actions of everyday people.” — unknown (do you know?)
“People have the power … to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools …” — Patti Smith
“All you need is love.” — John Lennon/Paul McCartney
Peace and love,