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Mystic friends reconnect during the pandemic, restart magazine from 1990s

Mystic — As a teenager growing up in Mystic in the 1990s, Eva Jane Peck found inspiration in the creative, do-it-yourself music and arts culture, with local bands recording and producing their own albums.

She enjoyed the scene where people could walk downtown and hang out at The Green Marble Coffee House, go to an art show at The Emporium, or buy records at Mystic Disc.

While students at The Williams School, Peck and her friend, Vanessa Gezari, who liked writing and music, decided to start a local “fanzine,” called The Root of Twinkle, to cover the music and arts culture, Peck said. They produced several issues of the homemade publication, in which they interviewed local bands, such as 17 Relics and Lotus, wrote record and concert reviews, and included contributions from other young writers.

Over the next 25 years, Peck moved to New York City, pursued a career at the New York Review of Books and in early childhood special education and had a daughter.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Peck found herself back in her hometown. As the pandemic hit New York City, she said she and her daughter hunkered down in their Brooklyn apartment for a few months, and then, with Peck able to work remotely, spent the summer at Peck’s mother’s home in Mystic.

Peck reconnected with Michelle Gemma, owner of the Mystic Army Navy Store and a photographer who had contributed photos of local bands to The Root of Twinkle, and Gemma suggested restarting the beloved 1990s zine.

During a time of social distance, Peck realized producing The Root of Twinkle was a way to bring together people from the local area and as far away as California, and to tap back into Mystic’s local culture through pieces about music and landmarks, such as the former Bee Bee Dairy in downtown Mystic.

“Because of the pandemic you can’t see people or hang out with people, so it was just a way to reconnect and come back together,” she said.

Peck and Gemma further wanted to document 2020, a time — as they wrote in the introduction of the magazine — of “COVID-19, disparities in health care, lockdowns, the coming to light of the unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, among so many others, and the response of Black Lives Matter to police brutality.”

Peck had initially emailed Gemma, after Peck saw Gemma organized a gift drive with local merchants standing in solidarity with Crystal Caldwell, a Black woman who was assaulted while working at the Quality Inn in Mystic, and Peck and Gemma bonded over their support of Caldwell.

Gemma said they then started to put together the idea of restarting The Root of Twinkle as a means to use their voices and make a statement about these divisive times. Rather than feeling hopeless and helpless, they wanted to do something by utilizing the written word.

"We just wanted people to have a voice and to use their voice and to provide that platform," Gemma said.

Gemma reached out to young people in Generation Z who were attending Black Lives Matter protests, to share their perspectives.

In The Root of Twinkle, Peck reflects on life during the pandemic, sharing her journals about living in Brooklyn with her daughter amid the constant sound of sirens.

Gemma wrote about the history of Stitch in Time, a former Mystic boutique run by her parents and where Gemma used to work, and the Mystic Army Navy Store. She also described her new love of photography in her 20s and setting up a darkroom at the Greenman Collective, “a rehearsal and art space” she and her friends established.

Since Peck started the magazine in pre-digital times, she said she felt it was important to make the 2020 edition in its original print form. The cover traditionally features a grid of people's faces, and the 2020 edition includes Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness"; Breonna Taylor; Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the late Congressman and Civil Rights hero John Lewis; author and trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem and the late artist Hilma af Klint.

To produce the new edition, Gemma, the production editor, said they had on hand old copies, along with arts publications put out by Hozomeen Press, flyers from music shows and old newspaper articles.

They not only enjoyed the tactile experience of putting together a print publication, but Gemma said they also thought it would be comforting and fun for people to have a physical copy during the pandemic.

Gemma said people are already asking when the next edition will be published, and the group would like to release another issue, at least annually. "I think people were sort of astounded that we took on this mission to do this analog production, and I think people just want more," she said.

Peck said people from Mystic, as well as from places across the country, read the publication and it was an opportunity to break through some of the isolation imposed by this time and reconnect as a community.

“Life kind of stopped for a while, and it was a moment for people to look at their lives and realize what was important and what wasn’t as important,” she said.

People can purchase Root for $6 in person at Mystic Disc or Mystic Army Navy Store, or $8, postage paid, through Peck’s Venmo, @Eva-Peck. The Root of Twinkle’s website is portfire.org/root-of-twinkle.

k.drelich@theday.com

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