Editor’s Note: Love in the Time of Reckoning

Expect of me no high editorial remove. Not this year. I opened this project for submissions six months ago in a different world. Nothing is as I imagined it would be.

Yet I find that almost everything I wanted out of Reckoning remains the same—and suddenly it means a lot more. The individual, personal, visceral ways injustice and exploitation affect us mean so much more; narratives of resistance mean so much more; acts of protest mean so much more, for one thing, because they give us a voice, they help us find each other. I’m proud to think Reckoning might be another way of bringing us together—all of us still committed to resist.

In these pages you’ll find the people on the front lines: activists, ecopunks, scientists, historians, workers of the land, teachers, students, immigrants, the marginalized, and yes, the privileged. Environmental justice isn’t just for the exploited. Neither is reckoning. For what it’s worth, we’re 66% white, 60% American, 50% male-identifying, 12% Asian, 11% Indigenous, 7% Black. Yes, I counted. (No, I didn’t count sexual orientation.) I needed to know if all that agitating for diverse submissions had done any good. And it has. But not enough. I can do better, I’ll do better. We all have to do better.

When I conceived of a journal of writing on environmental justice, I entertained the notion it might escape bias. I wanted a platform for the viewpoints of individuals, not movements, certainly not corporations. I learned with painful swiftness that the biases least to be avoided were my own: the confining nature of the English language, my education, my experience and lack thereof. I’ve tried to circumvent my biases, to balance them, but in certain ways they remain, and in certain ways, I am unashamed. You will hear no voice in these pages attempting to pretend climate change isn’t real, nor that we’re not responsible, nor that some of us aren’t more responsible than others, nor that there’s nothing to be done.

I wanted Reckoning to provide a means for perceiving the passage of time, a marker we can look back on and judge what’s changed. It can still be that. But watching the world change around us as this first issue has taken form has made the limitations of that ambition clear. Some of the darkest thoughts featured here look even darker since they’ve been written. Some of the most hopeful may begin to seem far-fetched. The outlook presented here on the world and humanity’s relationship to it became imperfect as soon as the words were put to the page. But I can also think of this as exactly the kind of reckoning I set out to do: seeking not blame or punishment, but new perspective, new understanding. It’s what humans do. We leave behind what we’ve done, we share it, we move on, we do better. I picked the winter solstice for Reckoning’s release because it seems in some ways to have always been a time humans used for looking forward, looking back. It’s the top of the cycle, when everything starts again, and we get another chance.

I cannot articulate how privileged I feel to get to be the one to pay these authors and artists for their work and put it out into the world, to encourage and in some fractional part help them to do more.

I hope their work encourages that in you.

If you’re reading this on the website, new content will be appearing weekly henceforth; links in the table of contents will go live accordingly. If you’d rather not wait, the full ebook is available now from Weightless Books (other outlets coming soon).

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The Broken Compass and the Old Map

There’s been a bit of debate/misunderstanding as to what I’m talking about when I talk about “reckoning”, so by way of explication, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the picture I’m using in the header and what it means.

(I am very much hoping that header will change, and maybe even the whole site design will change with it, for each successive issue, in order to showcase new art and possibly to suit a new theme. For now, though, I am happy enough with this minimalist thing as is.)

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The compass was my grandfather’s, Navy-issue, from when he was stationed in the Phillipines during the Korean War. The needle is rusted in place, so it’s only right once in 360 degrees; worse than a stopped clock. Zoom in close on this picture and you can barely make out the words below the needle. “West Germany”. My grandfather didn’t talk much about the war. He was born in Quincy, MA in the twenties, the son of Italian immigrants. His father was a stonemason, he was a stonemason. The way he talked about it you’d think he’d built half of Quincy, including the house my father grew up in, plus the lake house in New Hampshire. When I was a kid he was always out in the yard building a fireplace or a brick oven using stone left over from some job. He was a master with a brick hammer, the kind with a flat head at one end, a tapering chisel at the other. And he had an uncanny ability for finding the fault lines in a piece of rock. Hefting a football-sized piece of granite, he’d strike it, quickly, expertly, three times with the chisel end of the hammer, with a sound like a cap gun going off, and it would split. Then he’d call over whichever of his grandchildren happened to be closest. “Quick! Quick!” he’d say, as if we were about to miss a rare butterfly or a solar eclipse. “Touch that!” And we’d brush a fingertip over the fresh, bright plane of stone, expecting it to be fiery hot like molten lava, though it never was. “Nobody’s touched that for hundreds of millions of years.”

The map was my father’s. It’s the 1:62500 scale 1964 US geological survey of the Kezar Falls quadrangle, along the Maine – New Hampshire border, and it hung on the wall of our family’s hunting cottage through my entire childhood, until it got a little too mildewed and moth-eaten and he replaced it with the much more detailed and up-to-date 1:2400 scale 1986 edition. Every fall, through my entire life, my dad has cashed in his accumulated vacation time, hung up his electrical engineer’s cap (he did not actually have a cap; rather a slide rule, then a graphing calculator–I only thought he was a train engineer for maybe the first seven years of my life), and spent a minimum of two weeks getting up before dawn to eat an enormous breakfast, put on hunter’s orange and step slowly and as quietly as possible to a carefully scouted and plotted location somewhere in the New England woods, where he would sit all day with a bow or a gun in his lap, watching the passage of time express itself in the motion of leaves, branches, birds, mammals, bugs. He took me with him a few times when I was a kid. I fidgeted. I couldn’t believe he had the patience. I never killed anything. I never even saw anything. After awhile I started to think I was jinxing him. I stopped going. He didn’t. As years went by, he graduated from binoculars, walkie-talkie, map and compass to infrared motion sensing trail camera, smartphone and GPS. He’s still out there every fall. Now I envy him.

My way of thinking about the earth and nature and what we do with it is a product of theirs; it entails a lot of study, close observation, forethought, patience and craftsmanship. I’m proud of that. But my understanding has evolved from theirs. It includes an appreciation for the assumptions theirs depends on, what they had that not everybody does. Property. Financial solvency. Access to natural resources. Education. And I appreciate what’s absent from the way they interacted with the natural world. Women, for example. My mother and grandmother had plenty to teach me too, though nobody issued them a compass. But I try to grow beyond their influence. The example they set out seems to me to require that. I look at them, then I look at the world, then I look for ways to reconcile them.

I want to publish writing that reflects this same kind of personal, idiosyncratic, subjective, but open and thoughtful experience of nature, its meaning and value, how we use it, what we take from it, what we give back, what we leave behind.

But I want to see experiences that aren’t my own.

Reckoning, in my estimation, is about finding our place not just in space or even time but in understanding, and looking not just where we’ve been and where we’re going but how.

I hope that sheds some light. If not, or not enough, I’ll keep trying. I’ll do better.

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