With the enormous loss of human life this year, it feels inappropriate at best to admit that you’re grieving a room. But nonetheless, I am. I know it’s partly a synecdoche for the greater social losses we’re experiencing—the loss of being together represented by the loss of where we were together—but that’s not the whole of it. The whole of it is that truth, plus the truth that I loved that goddamned room.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I first walked in, but #405 was not it: neither a glossy site of contemporary cultural production nor a bustling office of the press, the kind that still evokes, in one’s nostalgic imaginary, clattering typewriters and flying leaves of paper. Instead, it was a dim room, the light exceptionally poor except at 12:18–1:22 PM, when the sun would crest the steel monolith of luxury apartments across the street and linger for a 64-minute arc, streaming harshly through each window in succession. After generations of office staff’s vision declined due to the paired eyestrain of attempting to read endless pages on screen and printed out in that low light, we invested in a few floor lamps not scavenged from the trash piles on Pearl St. The brick walls shed a constant layer of fine red dust, which spread and lingered, and the old wood floors were scuffed, cracked, and often sticky, carved and layered with years of dragged tables and spilled beers.
When I started working there, I’d just graduated from art school and had grown attached to studio culture: Cluttered desks, late nights, hard work, lots of coffee. Quiet lulls of intense focus punctuated by enthusiastic discussion and groans of frustration. The box of communal stress cigarettes tucked into the cabinet for “emergencies” beside the communal deodorant—also for “emergencies”—and the generic ibuprofen and the box of Band-Aids. The grime felt comfortingly familiar.
Like a studio, it felt like a place to do good work (the work, your work) more than a place of business. It felt like a place to read, to take notes, to write. It wasn’t cozy enough that you could settle in deeply: the armchairs were remarkably stiff and the stained, grey corduroy couch—also scavenged from the trash—seemed to accommodate no shape of body comfortably. But what the couch lacked in stuffing, it made up for in lore and rumors: Was it Kaitlin Phillips who slept on it for weeks circa 2012, or Charles Petersen? Who can say.
People and ideas flowed freely through the space: Authors and editors stopped by at will to discuss a piece or debrief their therapy appointment. Occasionally a stranger would show up unannounced, perhaps to drop off the manuscript of their entire unpublished novel, photocopied with handwritten notation. To them, we never quite knew what to say. (When we have a physical space again, I beg you, please do not do this—firstname.lastname@example.org will give you better luck.)
Our wall decor was comprised of thoughtfully designed n+1 posters, but also poems Nico Medina Mora drunkenly scrawled on paper plates and signed, an ASCII portrait of Mark Krotov’s daughter printed on a shipping label, two classroom-style laminated world maps, and a small print of a racehorse Victoria Lomasko gave to me as a thank you for designing Other Russias. The assortment most closely resembled magnetized mementos on a fridge—which of course we also had: the minifridge was papered with postcards from editors, writers, former interns, or staff on vacation; thank you notes from readers, ranging from humorous to tear jerking; a picture of someone’s cat lying upon a pile of n+1 issues and clutching a small, striped toy frog.
We didn’t have running water in the room and took turns doing dishes in the floor’s collective bathroom. The basement storage, where we kept books and back issues, had a distinct and putrid smell that revelatorily coalesced for me, after years of gagging over it, as a rank combination of Spaghetti-Os and weed. Jo Livingstone once told me, laughing, that I visibly flinched every time the trains roared by overhead, which was every few minutes. We made standing desks out of piles of galleys and boxes of back issues and cycled through several arrangements of the desks themselves. The last configuration had the staff staring out the window at the Chase bank across the street, with the interns seated at a table behind us, able to see our screens over our shoulders. We debated fiercely whether this would make them feel alienated or empowered.
Now all the furniture, all the books, all the posters, a pair of my glasses, a few pairs of my socks, Mark’s Amtrak mug, Cosme’s softball bases, Dayna’s terracotta camel, Lisa’s pencil with a joke on it, Nicole’s handsewn hat, and Emily’s popcorn popper are in storage, in a factory in New Jersey. People have asked me, will you just stay remote? Does n+1 even need a physical space? And I tell them, yes, we do. If we didn’t have an office, we couldn’t have readings that devolve into late night discussions, pizza parties held for proofreading the issues, eccentric and idealistic reading groups that forge intimate friendships, and possibly-illegal guitar concerts by Russian musician-poets. If there wasn’t an office, I would never have come to do what I do, to have learned what I’ve learned, or to know many of the people I now hold most dear.
Of course mine was by no means the longest tenure at #405—Dayna and Cosme both beat me out by years—and I know I’m not the only one who felt it was a home. But it is an intimate part of my psyche, an embodied memory palace for my coming of age, siting the knowledge, events, and emotions of my past five years. Hours spent sifting through the stacks of galleys, deciding what to read next, always felt like a choice of becoming: What did I want to think about? What did I want to fill myself with? Who did I want to be?
It ends up that the answer was less in the books and more in the room itself. I wanted to be a person who could take part in this room’s conversations, could add to them or push back against a bulldozing opinion. I didn’t know who Elif Batuman was when I hid with her and Jo in the back stairwell during a party, as they gossiped and mused and smoked, ashing their butts in the crevices of the old stairs. But they were so funny and smart and warm—I wanted to listen to them for days. It was always like that.
So if you’re still asking: yes, there will be an office again. Someday, somewhere. In return, I have two lingering questions: Who left the garden gnome confidently riding a turtle outside the office door? (The notes we left to ask remained unanswered, and it stayed for years to guard the door.) Who taped a key to the bottom of the intern table? (If you need this urgently, Lisa should know where it is.)
The 50 Year Argument, Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s bland New York Review of Books documentary, is worth watching for two reasons. The first is Darryl Pinckney. The second is the footage of the beautiful New York Review office on Hudson Street, around the corner from Film Forum. Lisa and I had a meeting there not long before the pandemic closed everything down, and the office looked just like it did in the documentary: a bright and well-lit loft without the usual loftly self-regard. We were led to a conference room, and to get there we walked through . . . another conference room. Did anyone actually need this much space? Probably not, but if anyone deserved it, it was the New York Review.
n+1 never had much space. The office at 68 Jay Street was small, around eight hundred square feet, and even so it was too big. The only time it didn’t feel too big was on evenings when we hosted events. But as lovely as it was to see a crowd struggling to hear a speaker or a panel over the subway lurching and screeching on the Manhattan Bridge, it was day-to-day work that gave the office purpose and meaning. History’s first WeWork, or maybe Adam Neumann’s prototype for history’s first WeWork (I refuse to look this shit up), was located on the second floor of 68 Jay, but it was the socialists in #405 who truly perfected the collaborative workplace. Anytime we were making a new book, Rachel would print out all her cover sketches and lay them out on the floor for comparison and examination by the group. The light in the office was so bad that we were always squinting and kneeling down to get a closer look. But it was less about total legibility and more the multitude of opinion: what was the point of creating something great if you couldn’t get others’ input? (Collective labor and bad lighting don’t typically lend themselves to cinematic depiction, which is why I’m not holding out hope for an n+1 documentary.)
As we’ve learned since March, it’s possible to make a magazine without an office. It’s possible to make a magazine under almost any conditions! But what’s harder to do is everything else: harder to work together on a grant application; harder to crowdsource an adjective or resolve an especially unsettling fact check; harder to argue about the civic virtues of dead malls, or the relationship between Trumpism and autofiction; harder for sudden bursts of inspiration or surprising areas of expertise to announce themselves and make their way into the pages of the magazine. It’s harder for our interns, whose internship can only be a simulacrum of the real thing, and harder for my younger colleagues, who don’t have memories of a decade-plus of office life to fall back on as remote life gets increasingly unbearable, as Silicon Valley exploits the crisis so as to make this estranged, digital lifestyle politically inevitable long term. Above all it’s harder to keep building and improving a workplace the same way we’ve continued to build and improve the magazine. To crudely paraphrase Lenin, it is not difficult to be a revolutionary when revolution has already broken out in the office. It is far more difficult to be a revolutionary over Zoom.
People are always accusing me of living in the n+1 office. Did I live there? Marco Roth woke me up once, I remember that. I must have been writing something for college at that time and fallen asleep. I’ve always assumed that’s how the rumor started. And yet, I don’t remember much from that period. I was homeless in New York for a few years (not homeless according to the leftist definition of the word), but I had everyone’s keys. At some point I got accused of holding on to a $50 key card for the n+1 elevator. I denied it. Of course, I did have an elevator card. You never know when you might need it. Maybe I did live there. Who knows. (I still have it. The elevator card.)
In 1978, the artist Martin Kippenberger created the Kippenberger Office in Berlin. Like Andy Warhol calling his studio “The Factory,” Kippenberger’s studio both was and was not an office. The distance between studio and office—like the distance between factory and studio—was the crack where life got in. For twelve years a lot of life got into the n+1 office, smushed into the corner of an old industrial building on Jay street in DUMBO. To make a workplace a social space and back again is to insist on somebody always forgetting where they are. It is to mix an uncertain serving of friction and confusion within the center of the universe. Oh is there an event tonight? Are you here for the reading? Our people need to feel like they are someplace they shouldn’t be, a little, in order to feel at home. We are pretentious creatures—or we were—and backstage is what pretentious creatures have. Precarious intimacy with the material is what we get for our trouble. There isn’t much to recommend making culture for other culture makers, working in what someone once called the restricted field. The pay is bad, your family will never quite understand what it is you do, or why the two-hundred people who read your weirdo essay matter so much more to you than they did. But that backstage feeling, being in a room with sixty-five other people who know like you know because, like you, they are here, in this city, trying to do something? Nora Roberts doesn’t get that. Time Magazine never knew it. VICE is one giant sacrificial shrine to this feeling that, like a death sentence, still refuses to be bought. Please don’t be offended. I console myself because the office isn’t there to do it anymore.
The n+1 office was where the job I interviewed for was the only thing I didn’t get. It was where I stole a galley of Fredric Jameson and Mark Greif emailed the list and said, hey, who stole my Jameson. Where Keith Gessen sat me down and went through line by line until I understood what editing meant and how it worked. I’d never been someplace like that before because those places don’t exist. The office was where we dropped off Brooklyn Lagers and picked them up. Where issues were made and shipped. Where Carla Blumenkranz suggested edits I wish I’d taken. Where difficult writers stopped by and where I felt lonely and at peace. I met my person there, I am told, she claims I don’t remember. But even in my version, the office was where I was coming from just the same. It was where I raved about Middlemarch the first time I read it and someone said hey, hey you’re embarrassing yourself. Sing the water to the sea, why don’t you? Not all artists need this but I did. I needed to be told what counted and what didn’t. The n+1 office was like the last stop on the train before you have to get off and make your own way home. My favorite thing to do was sit on the couch, in the corner, during parties and flip through the review copies on the shelf. Near the end I learned that this behavior was offensive and I was just so grateful. I had made it safely, after all.
There’s a document full of classified advice which is passed from one group of n+1 interns to the next. It somehow missed my class (Summer 2016), and no one realized until a few months later. At the issue launch party, Mark asked what advice or wisdom I would’ve added about life in the office. The thing that came out of my mouth was, “You can wear whatever you want,” to which Mark (understandably) replied, “Is that it?!” Sure, there were other things—you can phrase your fact-checking fixes as questions when the author is particularly touchy, sometimes it’s better to ask a question via email if the room is really quiet, there is one rolling chair that suddenly dips precariously far back when you sit in it. But I stand by my gut response: most immediately, most profoundly, I was compelled to free my successors of that particular anxiety about office life.
In the rest of my professional life, I’ve found it awkward and difficult to exist in the workplace as a creature with a body; I sweat through the costume I wear to cover my arms and legs and I move self-consciously, sucking in my stomach and letting my hands swing as if they’ve died. At times I’ve felt horrified that I’m not just a floating head. In the office at 68 Jay Street, on the hottest days of summer, having hauled myself up the long F train platform and all its stairs, I could wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt and walk into the office without feeling conspicuous and ashamed. We were all sweaty because the air conditioning barely worked, and the tables were a little bit sticky, and the brick walls crumbled gently—the room was not costumed either. We worked quietly, my legs stuck to my pleather chair. Later, when I was working other jobs, coming into that office felt like a great exhale. It was a place where you could do the work without performing. In the n+1 office, you could wear whatever you want.
In bouts of boredom and despair, I turn to Google Photos. Compelled by a need to lay eyes on my exes in apple orchards or wearing sweaters or any other staging of former adoration, I scroll. Recently I was prompted to try this exercise with the n+1 office, since it, too, is finished. Among the dramatic and soul-searching search terms I applied here were “books,” “Dumbo,” “fact-checking,” “baseball,” before I turned to chronology and got distracted by the bigger picture. Algorithm, take me away! Sometime in February 2018 it’s snowing and I’m reading a lot of Thoreau, unfortunately, and knitting socks. I have a stress ball and a borrowed French press I use for tea. My fashion sense at the time had a lot to do with a pair of red cotton leggings—this I stand by. I only finish one sock. All of which is to say: I am an intern.
My time at the office is mostly marked by commuting and cakes. Too often, I would get lost trying to find the office on the fourth (I think) floor. I can prove it with a selfie in which I’m holding a paper cup of coffee and looking distressed, timestamped just before 10:00 AM. Once I got locked out because everybody was late or out of town. Thanks to my intrepid photojournalism, I know I wore my BEST ACTRESS T-shirt that day. Yeah, rhinestones. But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. Walking over the Brooklyn bridge one night after work I snapped a picture of two graffitied penises. (True grit? I don’t know this girl.) On April 20th, a picture of issues 4 and 20 (Reconstruction + Survival) stacked together—a hilarious joke someone else tweeted.
On to dessert. A gift for Dayna’s birthday from the interns: a single cigarette wrapped in a bow made of embroidery thread. For my birthday: a perfect slice of cheesecake from the bakery in the lobby sitting on a paper plate next to a pink highlighter. A Lactaid pill was offered and bravely forgone. For a baby shower, a simple, gender-neutral affair: bibs were donned, a model of a clean air hybrid electric bus was excavated from a vanilla cake. To mark our last day on the job, intern Jo had made chocolate chip cookies and mistakenly put them in a Tupperware while they were still hot. The effect was a shapely log, which we sliced like a buche du noel. No rose-colored glasses here: I remember it tasting much better than it looked, and now it’s gone forever.
All I eked out of 68 Jay was a tiny, five-day love affair. I had my final interview on February 28, 2020, and Dayna emailed over instructions on how to find #405: “There’s a poster on the door that says Utopia in Our Time and, unless someone has removed it, a moody photograph of a tree across from the door.” No one had removed it and the tree was, as advertised, a bit dour.
I was new to New York, so I’m sure I’m romancing a bit, but the office had that certain cliché slant of dust-spun-light. I was nervous for the interview and muttered something about the notable desk layout, which I can now freely admit was a little zany: everyone arranged in a straight line, backs flat to the door.
The arrangement seemed less odd once I got my desk (and hey, the job!). The window above it had a kindly cropped view of the Manhattan Bridge, and that little line of worker-people proved to be full of excited creative minds—which, if you’re a kid from Nebraska with an artistic dream, is almost formulaically the desired adult scenario.
I was there for four days before we went into lockdown—just long enough to set all my passwords to some variation of “HelloBridge” and leave a half-eaten pear in the mini fridge to rot through the summer. Not long enough to mourn it, exactly, but certainly long enough to show up to the memorial.
I first came to the office in 2017 as one of the magazine’s first Zoomer interns, a fact that was, if not a harbinger of the end, at least concurrent with it. It was the summer when a full eclipse was set to just miss New York on its arc across the continent. My time as an intern was full of such details, signs and symbols that my experience at the office was just out of alignment with the way things used to be.
As an intern, one of the main pieces I was tasked with fact-checking was a story about a fact-checker. The story was a parable about how many of this magazine’s writers started out: paying their bills by verifying banal celebrity details at a high-profile glossy. The author of the story had been a real fact-checker, so my work passed quickly. The facts had already been checked. I honed in on one item: the collective square footage of Kardashian-owned real estate. I browsed TMZ, calculated a sum, and suggested an edit. I was an intern seeking a fix of identification with the work; I wanted to feel like a hustler working some side-gig, the real deal. The story went to print, and the sum went unchanged. We ran it as fiction.
Later in the summer, one of the editors invited me to be an extra in a scene he was acting in; he was to be a bit part in an indie production directed by a former intern of his. The night before my debut, I discovered I had overdrafted my debit card, so the next morning I had to scrounge together some cash to make it out to the set in Greenpoint. The scene was of an academic panel, and solely consisted of a fake moderator reading off the panelists’ fake credentials. In the script, every panelist had published a piece in n+1, including the character played by its real editor.
The producer turned to us extras seated in the audience and asked for 10 seconds of chatter for the beginning of the scene. I turned to the woman sitting next to me, a podcast producer of some kind, and exchanged pleasantries while the cameras rolled. Yes, I had just come to the city, and yes, I was working as a summer intern. Oh, where? n+1. She thought it was a joke, and used her 10 seconds of fame to pretend to have funds in the Caymans. I looked down at my phone in embarrassment. A friend had just texted a photo of me from a few months earlier, where I was pictured sitting at an academic panel. I looked around at the set; I had arrived where I always was, but now I was an extra.
Was I trailing someone else’s glamour? Death knells abounded. Francesco Pacifico came by the office to give a talk about, among other things, James Murphy. The man who shared a name with a character in Francesco’s second novel had, on his album a decade earlier, asked New York to take him off its mailing list. My greatest achievement as an intern was when I found an email from the bassist of Interpol; he was submitting a piece that memorialized his band from his “civilian post-rock star afterlife” and waxed nostalgic about doing key bumps on the Metro North.
But this is a history of something that hasn’t really ended. That summer, on the day of the eclipse, we cut up old boxes that were piled on one side of the office. We taped foil to their sides and punctured holes in their ends, and we clambered up to the roof to watch the eclipsed sun cast partial twilight on DUMBO. I thought about how the next total solar eclipse was still 6 years away.
What is true for so many of the young people who found a home at the office is that we often felt like we were in the wake of someone else’s promise. Sometimes that felt like showing up to a party a little too late. Now it feels more like a mission. Farewell to the office. May those who knew it find it again.
I run a magazine—not this one—from my bed. One of my best friends in publishing told me years ago it wasn’t serious if it didn’t have an office. I meet with the other editors on video one morning every week. We used to do it without video, but last March we started feeling the need to be visible to one another, to be seen and acknowledged by people you respect. The other day I was sitting on my bed, the usual briefs and t-shirt, camera on the lines of my face and the new gray of my beard, when my wife came in the room as she was taking off the t-shirt she’d slept in. Nobody saw her, on camera, but I made fun of her, I told the others she was naked. It’s so unprofessional it may not be a profession.
My God, maybe it’s not a profession, after all. I was reading ______ the other day and it said—between the lines!—that producing artistic/intellectual work that nobody wants to buy or consume is a good way to show humanity the way. I stand by that. I think a magazine without an office is not a real magazine; and a magazine with an office is just work, content, product, so there’s no way, ever, we can be right. That author also says that if you’re a philosopher in the XX’s, in the Western Hemisphere, you should try to get your theories falsified so that you can show the world the void that is reality, and hence, the way forward.
I sincerely miss those heavy-meta authors I used to go see at the n+1 office. I miss the innocence I’ve known. I hung out at the n+1 office while I was turning down offers to run countries and big conglomerates; at one time, I resolutely refused to lead the national army’s beheading commission. And still, even after I turned down all that wealth and power, they told me I was wrong all the same because the people who eventually got the job were my brothers and so the money was trickling down all the way to me and I had just made the leisurely choice, while my hands were soaked in blood as if I’d committed those crimes myself.
I befriended Marco Roth at a literary event in 2008, we bonded over lamenting the childish, experimental ways of McSweeney’s, advocating for a sterner, more mad, more involved something. Up to then I hadn’t found anybody who was willing to go to those ambivalent lengths to be themselves, in the literary world. Intense Marco Roth, that was a real event, meeting him at dinner, sitting next to Mark Greif. But I really started hanging out at the n+1 office when a new generation took over, when Mark Krotov and Dayna Tortorici brought the new wave. That was one of the first occasions I realized that while the literary market was treating me like a yet unresolved young author I was already old and on the brink of losing touch. If I hadn’t had the n+1 office to teach me that, and the manners you need to put up with it, I would have missed out on the changing of the guard. I would have woken up somewhere far from the scene and realized I was just over. Instead, I got a chance to attend my own funeral, to witness it from that angular, stern office on Jay Street. There was a new breed of people who were even more intense and angular, and also very different. Those communists. They had reclaimed the office for their own stab at cultural hegemony. Fantastic. Every time I went there I was afraid it was my time to be dazibaoed out of the office forever. I strove so hard for their approval. I learned how to say hi without making eye contact, and I always counted the minutes I was interrupting their work. My later formative years.
Growing old alongside Christian Lorentzen—I wish my vicar knew. I wish my vicar could say “classic” after an inspired mass the way Lorentzen used to say it after a party at the n+1 office. I learned so much from his monklike abandonment to otium and form.
I learn so much when I see a place like this taken over by a new generation. It’s different than when restaurants change owners. That’s what I like about magazines. They go by a different logic, and if you try to use the go-to free market categories on them they sound eerie. What should a literary magazine be? What should it do to be a grown up? The magazine can’t turn a profit. The magazine is a waste of time. It’s as if the most romantic yuppie told his girlfriend, I love you so much I’ll waste a hundred people’s youths for you.
It’s so hard to write about the office when I can’t visit New York City. Where will I go if you people can’t pay for an office? Come on, wealthy people I’ve seen at the fundraisers in those Upper West Side apartments where gentlemen take paintings off the walls to auction them, we don’t want families, we want to have fun, we want to be free, give us an office to work in!