Like many of you, growing up I only had access to people who shared my obsessions because of the internet. I had wonderful friends, friends I’m still close to now, but — how shall I put this? — it was painfully clear most of them didn’t want to spend their free time writing terrible fiction or creating fansites or trawling for bootleg cassettes of Broadway shows. If I had to sum up my issue in just one sentence, I’d say I was maybe just a little too intense about a few too many things. The little communities I found online were among the first places I ever felt normal — I got to know people who didn’t make me feel like Too Much, and we sent one another long emails and obsessed over fandoms and traded mix tapes. Our friendships migrated from early Geocities websites and emails to LiveJournal and Facebook. I fielded many questions from bewildered relatives about “your internet friends.”
So the notion of a genuine web community has never been strange or foreign to me. I expect to find close, life-giving friendships and connections online. I expect to meet lots of people who make me think, You? Me too! Still, I never expected to find quite so many kind, open, generous people who shared and wrote about so many overlapping interests, all in one place. I never expected anything like The Toast.
I found my way here early, following Mallory’s Texts From posts over from The Hairpin. Whenever I was reading something and laughing so hard I couldn’t speak, my husband would say, “The Toast?” and I’d nod, helpless. My first Toast essay, published as a freelancer, meant more to me at the time than any other byline — I read those other sites that published my work, but The Toast? That was love.
Two years ago, I sent Mallory an email that began: “I don’t know if you have space for another Nicole or if it would just be TOO COMPLICATED, but I would love to help out with editing.” The editor job had just been posted and I knew everyone in the world was going to apply, so I fully expected to receive a polite “thanks but no thanks” note back and then I could say “well, I tried!” and continue on with the freelancing and part-time editing I was already doing. I was gobsmacked when Mallory said she wanted to talk to me (my actual email began: “!!!!!!!!!” but I still believe I deserve a lot of credit for not demanding “WHY???”). We scheduled an interview. At the appointed time, I shooed my family out of the house, gave myself a little pep talk, and waited for her to call.
And checked Mallory’s Twitter timeline and saw that hmm, she hadn’t tweeted for a day or more?
And fired off a quick note to Nicole Cliffe (Hey, Mallory and I were supposed to talk about the job today; is that still happening or…?).
And then got a call from an apologetic Mallory, who had been on the road and thought our call was a different day. “NICOLE! I am A MONSTER!” were her very first words to me. After a couple more chats, Nicole and Mallory offered me the job — probably because they felt bad about that whole missing-our-first-interview thing. I was a little nervous, but then the announcement went live and everyone was so welcoming, and I had a feeling it would all be okay.
When you edit The Toast, you’re accountable to a community, a family of sorts. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but at the beginning — and, okay, a year into the job, and also just last month — it could be a bit daunting. I wanted to do a good job because I knew you deserved it.
I’m an editor at heart and I don’t know what I’d do without it. This is the job I always wanted — helping others tell the stories that mean the most to them is my greatest professional thrill. It felt so good, and so important, to be able to do that work for this site. As an editor I saw a little (and sometimes a lot) of what went into every lovely freelance essay, every brilliant humor post, every in-depth interview or roundtable we ran. As a freelancer, I knew how it felt to send work out into the world and then fret over the reception. Would you be attacked? Would you be seen? Would you be understood? So it was always a pleasure to sit back and watch all of your generous, thoughtful responses pile up. I was proud every time a new-to-us writer said to me, with surprise and delight, “Your readers are amazing!” “For the first time, I’m actually glad I read the comments.” “The feedback was so kind it made me cry.”
When looking at pitches, I was able to promise writers that their stories would be safe here. When I accepted a piece I knew you’d love, I’d find myself eagerly, impatiently looking forward to publication day. Wait until they see this! More than one returning writer specifically mentioned the community as the reason they were pitching us again. They’d come back a day or a week or a month later, brimming with compliments for you all, and my response was always the same: Yep. They’re the best.
We only have a few days left together, so you WILL accept my love and eternal gratitude. Without this job, I wouldn’t have published some of the pieces I’m proudest of. I wouldn’t have gotten to know so many delightful people. I probably wouldn’t be writing a book right now. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve laughed a lot — which were pretty much the only two predictions I made when I accepted the position. While I’m excited to get going on my book and work with talented writers over at Catapult (where I hope some of you will pitch me!), there will always be a little Toast-shaped hole in my heart. This site is irreplaceable, because this is where we were all together for a little while. I can love it and miss it and be ready to move on, all at once.
Thank you so much, Mallory and Nicole, for giving me this absolute dream of a job and being so patient and teaching me so much. Thank you, Marco and Jaya, for being the best, most brilliant and supportive colleagues. Thank you to everyone who wrote for us and trusted us with your wit and wisdom. Thank you all for letting me laugh and obsess with you, make mistakes and learn from them, read and publish and delight in your work. This site has been such a joy and a privilege to work on. While I’m sad it’s ending, I know that I’ll be better able to face whatever comes next because I had The Toast for as long as I did. (I hope you feel the same.)
Keep in touch now, hear? I love you, Toasties. I am so very grateful for you.
Nicole Chung is the Managing Editor of The Toast.