Last year when the May issue was released, former editor-in-chief Catherine Chong, now graduating, introduced me to the Review’s readership alongside her thoughts on the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull glacier. How fragile, Catherine mused, we all are—nature can still sweep away all of the order and peace of our world, and can do so whenever and however it should like. It is humbling when these things happen from time to time. But when nature and humanity perpetually undermine the order of the world, the experience moves from humbling to terrifying. The horrific floods in Pakistan, the nuclear disaster in Japan, not to mention the apocalyptic droves of dead birds periodically falling from the sky—it has been an uneasy year.
Sitting at the helm of this magazine (which has undergone its own instability in the near past), making disconcerting decisions about what was news and what deserved space in the pages, it has been a strange experience. The kind of analysis this magazine does runs the risk, far too often, of taking a step into the realm of abstraction, of playing with men and events as if they were tools for our writers and readers.
Though our intentions in producing this magazine are good and noble, I often have to stop and wonder at how our words and choices play into a larger realm of discourse, and a more real realm of human suffering and hope. I can only pray that what we have done in the past year has been of use and benefit to those trying to navigate a shifting and opaque existence.
I know I am meant to give more of a pep talk in these notes (and my goodness, I have tried to keep them to lighter notes in the past). But I cannot deny the prevailing current of unease both in this issue of the magazine and in myself. Whether it’s about the issue of Planned Parenthood (pg. 6) or nuclear energy (pg. 19) or the growing nativist rhetoric in Europe (pg. 22), the world is growing nervous. It doesn’t help that the coming year is 2012.
Perhaps I’m writing this note because I am personally feeling the unstoppable sweep of external forces. My editorship ends as you read these words and I do not know, to be honest, what my future with this magazine or beyond it will be. I have my best-laid plans. But we all know what happens to those.
I have faith that incoming editor-in-chief Narayan Subramanian will do a fine job of shepherding this magazine forward, and of using it as a tool to continue to make sense of the obscure, the forgotten, the inaccessible for all of its readers. And I hope you will place that faith in him too. But for me, this is the end of the line.
My layout editor has challenged me to write a short note this month. It seems I am failing, so I will wrap it up. The future scares me. Quite a bit. The thought of a sudden lahar from Mount Rainier washing away a swath of my native Washington State is terrifying. But let’s just take a deep breath, focus on trying to make order of chaos, and march once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.