Editor's Notes, Volume 18, Number 1

By Joe Mackall

September 15, 2016

Editor's Notes, Volume 18, Number 1

At the end of the academic year, when students start to lose it over grade pressure and work load, and I begin to wear down and wonder how much longer I can read thousands of pages of student work, I do what every burned-out writing teacher would do—I read.

I read like a lunatic. I begin with the books that continually startle me with their insights and language. If I don’t have much time, I go first to my favorite American writer, William Styron, and I take in the final sentences of Sophie’s Choice: “This was not judgment day—only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.” I read this over perhaps a dozen times, and all of the novel’s beauty and heartbreak come back to me in a surge, and then I’m usually ready to get on with the other reading and writing I need to do to survive. Styron called reading “the best state yet to keep loneliness at bay.” I have much love in my life and loneliness is not often a problem, but I understand Styron’s sentiment. There appears to be a state of human existence that only art has a chance of assuaging.

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard asks and answers the reading and writing question perfectly: “Why are we reading if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened, and its deepest mystery probed?”

And this is why I’m continually honored to be able to co-edit this journal. So often it’s our very own writers who remind us we’re not alone in our anguish or pain or suffering, in our journey. Alex Lemon, in “How Long Before You Go Dry,” writes of being in Kathmandu in his early twenties watching cremations and being “groped and fondled each day” and how he’d “never felt such a huge surging in me: of want and shame, a need to inflict damage, to destroy myself, to feel someone’s love, to pray for forgiveness.” In the next paragraph Lemon becomes even more honest and vulnerable when he writes of the time in his life when he “[could not] love—especially myself. The monster living behind my ribs would not allow that.” I feel less alone because of Lemon’s willingness to be open, and openly vulnerable. In this same essay, Lemon delves into the fallout from his own brain surgery, the different reasons men and women cry, and above all his love for his wife and young son.

In “Cycling the Mojave,” Kevin Honold, as he’s cycling the Mojave Desert, is asked by a fellow he meets on his journey why he’s doing it, and Honold answers, “[S]ometimes I just need to kick the shit out of myself. I was surprised at how readily he understood exactly what I meant, even if I didn’t.” I read this piece in the same spirit Honold approached his excursion into the desert. When I finished Honold’s piece I felt simultaneously energized and dead tired, the way you feel after a good shit-kicking; but at the same time I knew I had just joined one more person in the ride along the road. For that I’m always endlessly grateful.

But not all of our writers get groped in Kathmandu or cycle a desert; some write to heighten ordinary life. For instance, Marion Boyer writes of being newly retired in “Bingo Territory,” and of anticipating a night out to celebrate her sixty-fifth birthday with her retired husband: “We will order wine or an umbrella drink. The restaurant will be crowded. We will eat without anything to say to one another.” She reveals what many people might keep hidden, perhaps even to themselves. Boyer captures the uneasy realities of the newly retired by giving us this hard truth and therefore gives the reader, as Dillard writes, “beauty laid bare.” Many more fine writers fill the pages of this issue, hoping always to hand us this “life heightened,” this “beauty laid bare, the “deepest mystery probed.”

On another note, we’re happy to report that our friend Andre Dubus III has agreed to judge the River Teeth Nonfiction contest for another year. The winning manuscript will be published by the University of New Mexico Press. We’re delighted to announce that this year Andre chose Rosemary McGuire’s Rough Crossing: An Alaskan Fisherwoman’s Memoir, a beautiful memoir about an Alaskan fisherwoman making her way in a male-dominated industry, which will be published in the spring of 2017.

Thanks for reading.


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