By RANDALL BABTKIS, faculty member in the Department of Writing, Consciousness and Creative Inquiry and editor of Mission At Tenth
A friend once offered some sound advice. The first rule is—he paused for dramatic effect—you have to ask. To be honest, my friend was talking about fundraising. But he might as well have been talking about life. Welcome to “Editing and Publishing!” This course is metaphorical and literary but it is also practical. Everyone on staff will ask, petition, beseech. Each of us will strike out (and occasionally strike gold) soliciting work from writers both known and unknown. Did I say “writers?” I meant to say we will be searching out works spanning the interdisciplinary arts.
No one will have to beg; we have something lavish to offer in return. We are the custodians of more than 100 pages of negative space, all dedicated to the interdisciplinary arts and waiting to be filled. Our pages will eventually be a welcome home for brightly colored words and objects—the fine arts—formatted and made real. In the end, our pages will metamorphose into a book you will place in the hands of others: friends, family, strangers.
Cast aside awe—your name in print on a masthead—in some sense you are no more than a grunt. In the interdisciplinary arts, you must act scrupulously, give your ear to work as tedious as, say, listening to radio signals for signs of life in outer space. Some of the signals and some of the circumstances will be heart-pounding. Decisions taken are final. Inhale deeply and listen for others, your fellow editors, in this beautiful, complex, collaborative undertaking.
And please! Start generating ideas. A guerilla interview with Banksy? Field notes on torture from a South American prison? A podcast with Jane Hirshfield? An essay from Luis Urrea? Though serendipity plays a part, you fight against it wielding an axe. You will not be grandiose; you will help decide difficult matters.
At some point the blur of all the work accumulating will make you overcome your worry that this issue could lack content. The solicitation and rejections, the dislocations and circumspections, the eaves-droppings, all of it gels to form some heart-stopping work that you experience as a pulse you never knew you had.
To get to that happy moment, repeat yourself dozens, maybe it will feel like hundreds, of times. When you think you have been perfectly clear asking for particular work by a specific date, and have waited well beyond several stages of urgent disappointment—until the issue has already returned from the printer—you will receive a note: “Remind me what you want and when the deadline is.” Should you be waiting for the finest lines a well-known poet has ever promised, suddenly you may receive brilliant work from a total unknown. And in the same week you might receive the worst verse ever, penned by that well-known writer you waited to hear from. You might also get an Instant Message at 2 a.m. saying “Sorry—just realized I don't have a thing to send you—best of luck.”
Another way to phrase this: putting together a literary arts magazine is like planning the breakout inside a kaleidoscope. You must discover the possibilities and understand what it is you are looking at. You must understand how a really good idea is enough. You will need to know when to stop twisting the case. Pause just a moment at the mirrored stage, surrounded by a small multitude of colored objects, and take in every crack. All is twirling around and transforming. Better choose exactly the right moment, and click the lens tight.
If you pay close attention it will keep you from making grievous mistakes. It might give you a new direction in life. You are working on finding the moment. You can only make it up partly of yourself, of experience and the inner-reflection it produces, of questions you too must answer—or at least know how to ask.