A Mighty Fine Life, Carryin’ the Banner

I was in The New York Times several years ago.

Well, okay, at least an organization I was involved with was in the Times. It was an article about the New York City Newsgirls Union, and although not mentioned or interviewed specifically, I was a member at the time of the article. Let me back up a bit and explain this in more detail so you understand what I’m talking about. Because I’m fairly certain no one else has any clue about my involvement in the NYNU, or even what it was.

It was an online writing circle for fans of the Disney live-action musical Newsies (1992), but it wasn’t fan fiction in the usual sense. That is, almost all of the characters were original creations who never even interacted with the characters from Newsies, because our characters were from all over New York City (or even Hoboken, New Jersey) and it just didn’t make sense for them to be familiar with street rats all the way in Lower Manhattan. Plus, by the time I joined, the timeline was already several years after the strike depicted in the movie.

Here’s the article, by the by. And here’s the depressingly empty NYNU site. (Click on the little pictures of actual newsboys in the bottom right corner for information.) Most of the links on the site are dead ends now, including all of the archives of our stories. Some of the lodging houses are still there, but their libraries were all hosted on a domain that no longer exists.

I sincerely miss the NYNU. I feel as though I didn’t contribute enough when it was still around, and now that it’s gone I feel as though I lost something irretrievable. (And I did, actually, because I no longer have backups of the stories I had posted.)

This online community was really important to me in high school. I wasn’t as active as other members, because I preferred to write stories on my own rather than join in the real-time chat rooms (they were always in character, and served as a way to get to know the other characters as well as generate story ideas). I was just too nervous about having to think on my feet about how my character would react to what was going on. I’m much more a think it over, revise and edit kind of girl. But I loved the NYNU because I loved being a part of something that was creative in its nature, which allowed me to write about a time period I was fascinated with and explore my own characters more deeply.

One of the best things about the Union was that the leaders were fairly adamant about historical accuracy and writing quality. The virtual library of historical resources was amazing, and extremely helpful. To get accepted into the Union, you had to “audition” by having your character apply for an open bed in one of the boarding houses. If it was too implausible or immature in story-telling, you could be sure you wouldn’t get in; but they had a list of tips on how to improve your writing. If you did find a house that would take you, you were expected to regularly contribute a story (regularly being a loose term, but you needed to make it obvious that you were committed to keeping the community going). These girls really put effort into creating the site, and wanted you to put effort into writing your stories.

Of course some stories were better than others. We were, after all, between the ages of 12 and 25—and some girls had never written before. But it was so much fun. I had motivation to do research on turn-of-the-century New York, and inspiration to keep writing outside of school assignments. Although I have been writing stories of all kinds since I was in elementary school, I never let anyone read them until the NYNU.

I suppose you might be interested in my specific contribution. Eventually I had four characters—a boy in the Bronx, a girl in Harlem, and a couple working at Spreckler’s Pharmacy in Morningside Heights. Unfortunately all three of those locations are ones that have no trace left of them, and therefore no record of my ever being a part of the Union. The only story I still have a copy of is an early version of Committed No Crime, the story of how my character Jacob “Toss-Penny” Parker became a newsboy in the Bronx. I only have it because I used it for the “book” I wrote in my sophomore English class. Like I said, though, it is an early version and I don’t have any of the revisions I made since then.

The stories I’m most disappointed in losing are the ones for Aeva Demeter, the girl in Harlem. I sent those stories via email to my freshman English teacher throughout my high school career, and she always had very supportive things to say about them. They were my favorite to write, and I think up to that point the best stories I’d ever written. I wish I still had some remnant of them so I could make them better and continue the storyline I had planned…

The Union was at the beginning of its decline not too long after the article came out. We were growing up, going to college, getting jobs, and just lost the time. Then a year later something tragic happened, which pretty much stopped the Union in its tracks; one of the main leaders Beth (also known as “Mouse”) died unexpectedly. There was another girl who had been killed by a drunk driver before I came along, Janie “Curls” Morgan, whom the site was dedicated to. The second death was the one that finally ended the Union. Beth ran several of the lodging houses, and no one was willing to replace her because we were all so devastated. It breaks my heart every time I think about it. I almost wish we could just start the Union up again, as though six years never passed us by, and keep the community going. For Beth’s sake, and for ours.

-Rachel

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4 thoughts on “A Mighty Fine Life, Carryin’ the Banner

  1. One of the things that I’ve always loved most about you is your die-hard commitment to the things that you love.

    I remember the stories you talk about here. I think that I read one or two, though I was usually the reader for your Monkees-inspired stories, not your Newsies-inspired ones.

    By the by…did you know that Mike Nesmith’s mother invented white-out (originally called Mistake-Out)? You probably did, but it’s a neat piece of trivia nonetheless.

  2. Yep, I did know that about Nez’ mom. Hers is actually Liquid Paper, though. To show my extreme nerdiness, anytime I go to an office supply store I head straight to that section and smile at the little bottles. I also only buy Liquid Paper now, instead of White Out. It’s purely out of association, because she sold the corporation to Gillette before she died, so neither she nor her son make any profit on it anymore.
    Yes, I am ridiculous.

  3. Hey, that’s pretty cool. I did (for a very short while) a similar type thing based on Star Trek.

    Has it really been 17 years since Newsies? I feel old…

  4. Hi, Rachel ~ I left a comment for you on my blog but wanted to come peek in here again. This is a really great post, full of things I know nothing about – so I’ll be back to pay more attention to them!

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