Still Aways Away

It’s difficult to remember now, deep into the post-Kardashian Age, but — even in the early days of the Internet — it was unusual to write in the first person.

I spent years as a young writer trying to convince my then manager that bylines could connect writers to readers, that the stories behind our stories were compelling, and that readers were a source of ideas — and community.

My friend Whitney Matheson was way ahead of all of us, building a universe of that first-person exchange well before it was called “blogging.” Moreover, she did so at the intersection of burgeoning, new communities: in her own words, “music festivals, mustaches, comic books and Andy Warhol.”

Whit was hip before hipsters.

At her height as USA Today’s Pop Candy blogger, Whitney’s ComicCon parties were THE hottest ticket in town. Her posters papered over San Diego. She was rendered in pen and ink a la “The Attack 50 Foot Woman”. Whitney was giant.

But what set Whit apart then as now, is her guileless, unbridled enthusiasm for creativity in all its forms: art, books, movies, television. I’ve worked alongside so many journalists that that looked down on their audience, eschewing them for liking Britney Spears, not The Pixies, or “Reality Bites,” not “The 400 Blows.”

Whit doesn’t look down on other people’s tastes. She celebrates and amplifies them. Even then, she was crowdsourcing her readers for what THEY loved. She’s not about box office or power ranking, she’s all about the things we love: wonder, awe, laughter, adventure, inspiration.

In 2009, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for our film, “Mister Rogers & Me.” My first email was to Whit; as a long-time reader, I knew she loved the Neighborhood.

She posted about our fundraiser, which then reached its goal within hours. And you know the rest: we finished the film, premiered in Nantucket, and licensed to PBS.

Years later, as I was making a fraught, challenging transition from between jobs, and Whit’s USA Today run had come to an unceremonious, post-Bank Bailout end, we grabbed a beer to commiserate, share ideas and tactics.

We’ve been sharing ever since.

Whit and I always have so much to talk about always: our favorite R.E.M. songs, the nature of journalism, the Internet, comic book movies, parenthood, career wishes and worries.

In the last few years, we started sharing our goals with each other. I call it “Goals Club,” which I’m sure she thinks is corny.

Still, it’s nice to be accountable, to know someone else is keeping tabs, checking in. We champion one another.

And so it was only natural that we would kick off this, our premiere season of “Friends & Neighbors” with Whitney; “Friends & Neighbors” was one of those goals.

And even though we’ve been talking about R.E.M. for years, it’s difficult for either of us to pick a favorite REM song: we love so many.

But in our “Friends & Neighbors” conversation, Whit finally commits — at least in that moment — to one of the band’s early, college rock hits, “Driver 8.”

The song finds frontman, Michael Stipe, at his most evasive; his vocals are mumbled, his lyrics indiscernible.

What comes through the music and the mumbles for me, anyway, is the tension between relentless forward motion towards some fuzzy, far off place, and the imperative to rest, to take a break before you go off the rails.

In the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, that’s what it boils down to with me and Whit: helping one another recognize and balance that tension between relentless motion, and the imperative to rest.

So this one’s for you, Whit. And for all of you. Keep your head up, and keep moving forward.

We are all part of one another’s journey, after all: beating on, boats against the current, still aways away.