The first time I really met Tamsyn Brann (re: the first time we weren’t talking about work) was 12 days after our first work conversation. I had just broken up with my ex–boyfriend for the second time in two weeks, and relatively friendless, I called her, desperate for someone to keep me company. She was on my couch within ten minutes, and we drank wine and ate popcorn and talked about distinctly Tamsyn things: David Bowie, where to buy mini skirts, and the notion that change is okay.
That’s the most remarkable thing about Tamsyn—she’s so earnest and easy to talk to that she’ll become your best friend in minutes. If there’s anything Tamsyn has taught me about this job, it’s that though Street deals in the business of words, it’s a business built on people, so you need to be nice before you need to be good at anything else. Tamsyn did an awfully better job than I do at that, and every day, she inspires me to be good at the small things, like answering my text messages. To her, the small things are what make a difference.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with my predecessor (and for transparency’s sake, one of my best friends) to talk about what she learned at the silly little magazine that brought us together.
Name: Tamsyn Brann
Hometown: Ardsley, N.Y.
Major: Science, technology, and society
Activities: former editor–in–chief of Street and design editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian; marketing director for Gryphon Honor Society; clarinetist for the Penn Band.
Beatrice Forman: You’ve been involved at the DP, either as a graphic designer or my boss, for over three years. What drew you to 4015 Walnut St. in the first place?
Tamsyn Brann: I came to the DP info sessions and open houses as a first year without really wanting to join as a writer, even though that was technically what I was supposed to be good at. I did end up applying for three departments—but I failed the copy department's test and ghosted the news editors, so my start at Street and the DP was actually with design. My favorite step in editing my high school’s newspaper had always been formatting the layout, so that was the job the DP gave me almost four years ago: putting together the print edition. The design culture really did slurp me right up. I felt as comfortable as any new Penn student could ever hope to be in a scary and huge and new community. I began as a design associate in the fall semester of 2017. At that point, I had no conception of where I’d end up at Penn or the DP or Street, but I guess the rest of that story is history now.
BF: How has leading Street changed you for the better? And more introspectively, for the worse?
TB: Leadership taught me how to think on my feet. That’s probably the best and most concise way to put it. No amount of shadowing or training can adequately prepare you for the entirety of the year–long adventure that is a Street editor–in–chief’s tenure. You need to learn, know, and make the ropes at the same time. For the worse, on the other hand, I’d say that this job also takes a bit of a toll on your sense of reality. I spent a lot of time working on Street, and it became a bit too fundamental to my identity. You learn a lot, like I said, and I guess I’m still learning, now, to live without it.
BF: So, what do you do with your newfound free time?
TB: I go on very long walks and take very long showers. I’ve developed a fondness for items with cheetah print and scented candles. I do coursework, but that’s a boring answer. I watch Cosmos, the original Carl Sagan one. I write to–do lists of inane tasks on printer paper with brightly colored felt–tip pens—it makes me feel productive without the pressure. I also adopted four plants: three succulents and one bromeliad.
BF: You led Street through the start of the COVID–19 pandemic (very diligently, I might add). What was the most challenging part of leading a magazine while being a student during a pandemic? Do you have any tips for managing burnout?
TB: It always was part of my job to field the kinds of tasks that fell through the cracks, but the gaps really widened between communications and deadlines by late March 2020. I spiraled pretty hard for a bit. I languished; I thought I wasn’t doing enough, that I was making the wrong choices or defending the wrong ideas. I thought Street was dying and that it was my fault. I think I owe a lot to therapy, honestly, and I feel silly giving advice beyond paying really, really close attention to mental health and to ignore the social stigma surrounding a lot of the symptoms. Take care of yourself.
Eventually, March turned into summer, and by that time, things had changed. I think I wrote about that in one of my letters from the editor. What I didn’t write was that Street wasn’t dead, it wasn’t dying, and I needed to stop privately worrying that I’d killed it. Other stuff was going on. Street had to step up as a publication. We needed to actively commit to anti–racism to faithfully cover the Black Lives Matter protests in Philly, as well as everything that would come after. That needed to extend past my time at Street, so the situation didn’t just concern me and my paranoia anymore. I had a wonderful, dedicated, strong staff, too, who persevered and remained committed to Street through the initial pandemic madness. They rose to the occasion again and again throughout 2020.
BF: What’s a product you’re proud of from your time as editor–in–chief?
TB: This probably sounds too cheesy, but I’m really proud of my Street executive board successors. So much of what was done at Street in 2020 was a team effort, and to be entirely candid, the products of 'my' time as editor–in–chief are really just the most successfully implemented brainchildren of anyone with a solid suggestion—I can’t fully take credit. On a personal level, though, I have some firsthand knowledge of the difficulties inherent to transitions of power at Street and the DP, so I wanted to make the process as painless as possible for the new candidates running for positions last fall. They were qualified, visionary, and cohesive, and I wanted to preserve that energy as they entered their new positions.
BF: Who are the people that made this experience for you, and why?
TB: I want to first thank Annabelle Williams, Nick Joyner, Orly Greenberg, and every one of my predecessors who built this wonderful magazine that I was so privileged to steward for a whole year. Next, my executive board: Eliana Doft, architect of countless Street friendships and the angel on my shoulder, who was never more than a Slack away; Sam Mitchell, for having my precise sense of humor; and Bea Forman, my campus–renowned successor, who inspired me with her faith in Street—in its legacy, limitless future, and potential to always be more insightful, more meaningful, more inclusive, and more just. I want to thank the Design department, although it’s likely I can’t ever do that enough: Isabel Liang and Ava Cruz, thank you, thank you, a million times over. Thank you, Gillian Diebold, Lucy Ferry, Alice Heyeh, Alec Druggan, and the rest of the 135th board, who taught me nearly everything I know about the Adobe Suite, digital media at Street and the DP, print production, and genuine camaraderie. I also want to specifically thank Sarah Fortinsky from the 135 for leading by example for as long as I’ve known her, and, along with Annabelle, for seeing the editor–in–chief in me far longer than I ever saw her in myself. And, finally, the not–so–new–anymore 137 Strexec—Karin Hananel, Chelsey Zhu, Mehek Boparai, and Bea—I thank them for the new, true direction they have given Street. I know I said this already, but I’m proud of them every day.
BF: Favorite memory from our brief time in the office?
TB: We really weren’t there for that long, were we? I’m not even sure what month this was, but I called an emergency private executive board meeting in our office to get feedback on when I was supposed to tell my (at the time) semi–new boyfriend that I loved him. Half of us were cuffed, long–term, so I assumed that they’d both gone through the exact same thought process as I had at one point in their relationships. The unanimous—and very supportive—response was that I should just tell him already, so I did. It was a good idea.
BF: Outside of writing a lot about Bowie and comedians on campus, you’re quite the science writer and write a lot about space. What drew you to the topic?
TB: I was one of those kids who always said they wanted to be an astronaut when they grew up. Space was a great place for your imagination to really go crazy, which I think is appealing when you’re an artsy kid. There’s still a drawing I made of the solar system in my parents’ kitchen, a scientifically accurate crayon drawing with all the orbits and asteroid belts in the right places. Maybe it’s because the more I learned about space, the more interesting it got. Not everything is like that.
BF: If you could identify as any scientific phenomenon, which one would you be and why?
TB: The Yarkovsky effect. I had to learn about it during my second summer interning at NASA while I was doing research to write a press kit for the OSIRIS–REx mission. It describes how sunlight can exert a tiny—but real—push on any small rotating celestial body, like a comet or the asteroid being sampled by OSIRIS–REx. Literally just sunlight can nudge stuff out of orbit over the course of millions or billions of years. I think I identify with it because it’s a bit unexpected, but no less significant for it. I read recently that a super precise measurement of the Yarkovsky effect on a near–Earth asteroid actually helped humans project its path so accurately that we now know it won’t hit our planet in the near future. Thank God.
BF: If you could give any advice to an incoming first year, what would it be and why?
TB: That’s a scary question! I don’t feel old or wise enough to give advice about anything, really, but I often do anyway, so here it goes—allow for change, I guess? Events are supposed to happen in certain ways, and sometimes they do that, but if my Penn experience has taught me anything, it’s that things will change, permanently and forever, in a moment. It’s hard to be okay with that, with things suddenly going haywire in a way that you can’t control, but the sooner you come to terms with the new challenges instead of being stunned into stagnation, the better you’ll end up.
Last song you listened to?
“Blackout” by David Bowie, live in London, 1978.
If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
Claudia Cohen Hall, probably due to Stockholm syndrome.
Favorite color you've dyed your hair?
I liked when I had orange–pink bangs. You can replicate them at home with bleach.
There are two types of people at Penn ...
People who think they know everything and people who think they know nothing. That’s gently plagiarized from Oscar Wilde.
And you are?
I think I know everything.