In the age of the Internet, what does it mean for a publication to be “local”? Sometimes it’s hard to say. On May 25, Garrett Heaney sent a message to his email list announcing a new online journal called Wishtank: “I have been working on a project with my tribe from the Northeast Kingdom for some time,” he wrote.
The staff of Wishtank, subtitled Journal of Intellectual Freedom, is indeed an NEK “tribe” of sorts. In a phone interview, Founding Editor Heaney explains that this crew of twentysomethings met at St. Johnsbury Academy, from which they graduated in the late ’90s. Nowadays, though, only Wishtank Director of Research Justin Boland still lives in the area. Creative Director Charles Choiniere runs a web-design business in Burlington, “Culture-Wise author” Astrid Lium is exploring Europe, illustrator Phil Wassell resides in Colorado, and Heaney himself works at a tea shop in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Wishtank’s content ranges far and wide, too. Divided into two sections, recurring columns called “The Commons” and changing features in “The Well,” it covers such topics as the globe-sailing Peace Boat, British “street artist” Banksy, and Japanese inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu. Brandon writer Ron Miller contributes a chapter from one of his books on holistic education, and Dan Briggs, a philosophy major at Bennington, writes about the concept of the gift. The journal’s only “local” item is an interview with lyricist Thirtyseven of the NEK band Wombaticus Rex.
That’s deliberate, according to Heaney. “A lot of the philosophy behind Wishtank is breaking down borders,” he says. “We feel they’re kind of imaginary lines.”
Though much of the journal has what might be called a progressive slant, Heaney rejects those divisions, too. “Politics right now is too confining for the type of literature we’re producing,” he says. “We can’t really think in terms of Democratic or Republican at this point. American politics is divisive, supportive of hegemony. We’d really like to see the world evolve to a point where everyone’s helping each other.”
All this may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky. But Wishtank, which Heaney hopes to put out every couple of months, isn’t a flimsy or whimsical production. Choiniere’s web design for the journal is strong and accessible, Wassell’s accomplished, sci-fi-inspired illustrations help link the diverse content, and the lengthy articles are polished by Heaney, who used to edit professionally for a brewing magazine.
Though Heaney says Wishtank is “not something we’re creating for Vermont or the United States,” the journal’s home page describes the Northeast Kingdom as “the common thread that has brought us together.” Heaney ascribes the global orientation of his “tribe” in part to the years at St. Johnsbury Academy, where they met students from all over the world. “That’s where we got a lot of our like-mindedness, growing up.”
That “like-mindedness” is informed by the rugged, live-and-let-live ethos of the NEK, too. “I feel a lot of publications on the web and in print want to change people’s minds, and use language that imposes their own beliefs on people,” Heaney says. “We respect our readership enough to understand that people need the freedom to develop their own outlook on life.”