It’s Wonderful to Be Here

The Reykjavik Grapevine will always have a special place in my heart.

I moved to Reykjavík with plans to stay for six months, but I wound up staying for nearly six years thanks to this magazine, which gave me the dream job of being its editor.

I found my way to the old office at Hafnarstræti 15 in my early twenties, when I was looking for an internship to meet a requirement for a class I was taking. The magazine took me on as an intern and then hired me as their journalist. It was an exciting time to be in journalism, especially in Iceland at a magazine that didn’t pull any punches. We were about a year into the Great Recession, and people were still banging on pots and pans in front of the parliament building. We printed a lot of stories back then about what happened and why, and whether anybody had learned anything after we voted back into office the very same political parties that presided over the big banking boom and bust.

About a year after I arrived, I experienced the first of four eruptions. Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that nobody could pronounce, stranded people all over the world, and it changed Iceland forever. Fearing that the eruption would have a devastating effect on the economy, the government launched a highly successful PR campaign luring people to the country, where you could dance in pristine nature to the beat of Emiliana Torrini’s “Jungle Drum.” The budget airline WOW began transporting planeloads of people to the island every day, and tourism surpassed fishing as the country’s largest industry. In downtown Reykjavík, we watched as hotels sprouted everywhere and puffin stores, as we called them, took over our main drag.

As editor during the cusp of the tourism boom, I struggled to accept the changing landscape of the country that I had grown up visiting every summer and loved for its raw, untouched qualities. Despite the influx of tourists who picked up the magazine, I continued to try to print articles that appealed to the people who lived here, the Icelanders and expats who appreciated our unique window into Icelandic politics and society and our heavy coverage of music and the arts. It was my belief that tourists and Icelandophiles around the world would enjoy reading us as a result. While this magazine has never taken itself too seriously, it has always had its finger on the pulse, and it’s published some serious journalism through the years. We were loved and sometimes hated, but it always felt like what we were doing mattered.

No day on the job was ever quite the same. The magazine took me to the president’s residence to chat with the incumbent and to the maximum security prison to watch standup comedy with the inmates. I went up into the mountains on horseback to round up sheep and deep down into the chamber of a dormant volcano via one of those lifts that window washers use on skyscrapers. I went rafting down a glacial river, snorkeling between tectonic plates, and surfing in the North Atlantic. I drove all over the country and flew to remote towns in Greenland to take in the breathtaking nature and glimpse another way of life. With each story I worked on, I learned something new and gained experience.

It was tough work, though, to create this magazine. On print day, after several sleepless nights, I would walk up the steps to our office to find our large proofs scattered around the room as writers and interns with fresher eyes than mine looked for typos and layout mistakes. I would sit down and try to write a coherent editor’s letter while our equally sleepless designer worked opposite me on articles that inevitably came in late. Sometimes it couldn’t be helped, such as when a big political or geological event derailed our best laid plans. It was chaos, but we somehow always made it to the printer.

At some point I realized I was measuring the passage of time in the increment of issues, and the issues grew larger in size every year. My life was attuned to our print schedule. With each issue, the pressure mounted until we went to press, and then it would subside for a few days before it would mount again, in a cycle that repeated itself like this for years. As I reflect on the nearly 60 issues I sent to the printer, I know it was only possible because this magazine was surrounded by a large community of smart, creative contributors. I worked with so many amazing writers, designers, photographers, and illustrators, and it’s thanks to them that this magazine endured.

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been a decade since we were working on our 10-year anniversary issue, busy tracking down a cover star from each year of the magazine’s existence for a cover shoot together. I’m not sure where the time went, but I’m thrilled to see that The Reykjavik Grapevine is thriving at this milestone and that so many of my old colleagues are still involved or have returned to it after a hiatus. This is a special place where you make lifelong friendships with the most incredible people and the work feels meaningful. To the team now putting their hearts into this magazine, thank you for keeping it going.

Although it’s a lot of fun, I’m sure it’s still also largely a labour of love.

This appeared in “Twenty Years of Grit.”