Editor's Notes 22.2

By Joe Mackall

April 13, 2021

Editor's Notes 22.2

   Before writing these editor’s notes on a cold Saturday morning in mid-November 2020, I thought back to the words penned in the editor’s notes of the previous issue by my friend and co-editor Dan Lehman, with the country and the world in the early days of the pandemic. Dan wrote: “So I sit here on April 22 knowing these words will not reach readers until late fall, when River Teeth 22.1 appears. I wonder. What will the world be like then? Or make that now—right at this moment—when you read these words? Will the shocks and shutdowns of the spring of 2020 be mostly a memory, some troubling dream from which we awaken? Or will contagion sweep unabated, ushering a soul darkness and earth cataclysm about which we have been repeatedly warned and usually ignore? I wonder.”
   When Dan wondered what the state of the pandemic would be in the fall of 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States sat at just over 972,000, and just over 55,000 Americans had died. As of this writing, we’ve surpassed 11 million cases and 250,000 deaths. Dan was right to wonder—and prescient to worry. So where will the pandemic be when these notes are read in spring of 2021? To paraphrase Dan, will we have awakened from our nightmare or will we still be living in a “soul darkness”? News of a vaccine and a change of leadership leave me hopeful, at least for now.
   As I always do in times of “soul darkness,” I turned to literature for consolation and succor. As the co-editor of River Teeth, I’m offered a great deal of terrific nonfiction to read. One of my favorite writers is Abigail Thomas, author of A Three Dog Life, Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life, and most recently and fitting for the times we’re living in, What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir. After pestering Abigail for over a year to send us something for River Teeth, I finally received “A Simple Solution,” which I believe is a perfect antidote for our dark times. She writes, “I haven’t left this house for nine weeks because of the coronavirus and I’m probably more than a little nuts . . . I want to write about fear, the kind that has no face, no edges, no logic. Free-floating fear has plagued me for months. I’m afraid of the rooms in my house, afraid of the fading sun, afraid of my bed. I’ve tried
meditation and guided meditation and gratitude and music and finding my happy place but nothing has worked.”
   I found immediate comfort reading Abigail’s words. I knew I was with somebody who felt the way I do, who offered a reader—a fellow human being—permission to feel what we feel. Her honesty and vulnerability welcome readers in, allowing us to commune with a kindred soul in a glum time. But Abigail does not leave us in fear. She offers us her simple solution, which I won’t spoil for you here.
   We at River Teeth have vowed consistently to publish those essays and memoir that merge the personal with the public, our lives and Our Lives, which is what Abigail does with her work and what the writer James Brown
does with his piece “Leaving Las Vegas.” Again, the personal and the public collide in an essay about the moment we’re living in, the anxieties we carry, the loss we fear. James writes of meeting his sons in Las Vegas for a small
family reunion. While enjoying their time together on an evening in October 2017, the Brown family is unaware that just a mile away, Stephen Paddock is preparing to commit the deadliest mass shooting in modern American
history. A short time later, the Browns will be thrown together with strangers in stairwells, everybody fleeing for safety as hundreds of gunshots fill the night. Brown does not hold back on his feelings about Paddock—who killed
58 innocent people who were enjoying an open-air music festival—but he understands how fully the public intrudes and shapes the personal, and how we all live at the precipice of loss in any moment. Brown writes, “I hug all of my boys. I make a point of telling them how proud I am of them, and when I have to say goodbye, I kiss them on the cheek. Sometimes I kiss them on both cheeks. This is how my father used to say goodbye to me, but I’ll never know if his eyes started to burn, as mine sometimes do a couple hours later.”
   The personal and the public collide as well in Greg Bottoms’s “Old Teammates,” when the emergence of the far right around the world and in the country remind him of the “straightforward toxic masculinity” he discovered at the hands of a bunch of bullies in a bathroom when Bottoms was in his early twenties. Other timely and wonderful works fill this issue, including Emily Waples’s “Time Passes,” Richard Goodman’s “Becoming Pete Dawkins,” and Jessica Franken’s “The Hayflick Limit.” Shamecca Harris in “New Harlem” and Rick Rees in “The Confederacy Comes For You” wrestle with issues of race, making us wonder if we can ever really untangle the personal and the public.
   Ultimately every piece in this issue, and really any piece of literature worth a damn, forces us to confront life as it is—and perhaps, at times, as it should be—shining fresh illumination on what William Styron called “the desperate predicament of being human.”

   Thanks for reading.

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