From the Editor
It was Dadaist philosopher David Byrne whose singing persona took stock of the stunning possibilities that life presents—shotgun shack, large automobile, beautiful house, beautiful wife, an adventure in another part of the world—and posed a question that’s confronted thinkers and drinkers of all stripes: “Well...how did I get here?”
Here, meaning this point in time—with the year nearly done.
Here, meaning this latitude and longitude on the globe—or at least these coordinates on the GPS.
Here, meaning this point on life’s trajectory: having trod through places of wonder and bewilderment, into moments of bleakness and startling clarity—with one foot plunged into the rushing river into which you can never step twice, and if this be your Rubicon, well, then, the die is cast.
Here, realizing that in answering the innocuous question “How did I get here?” the journey so far has been something amazing and worth the telling. You’ll find a few stories of that ilk on the pages that follow, true tales of life’s travelers that would have defied plotting before it was time to light out for the territories. There is a chaplain who has carried tostadas to New Haven and, along the way, upended three centuries of Ivy League tradition. Byways have taken a girl who always wanted to be a prosecutor down to San Diego and on to London and then Russia and the Department of Justice, while motherhood takes her to the place where the Three Bears live and magic beans sprout. Superskyways we were building into a future that hummed and whirred with possibility—or was that from acres of server farms powering the socially networked and wikiwireless society?— have carried an entire nation into the great unknown and, in so doing, taken us into a big blue-skied yonder where we might soar like never before. Or we might crash and burn.
Economically, it has seemed more of the latter in recent months, as financial castles built on credit default swaps—which, it turns out, were promises impossible to keep—crumbled to dust. That sounds rather bleak, but one of the threads you’ll find woven through parts of this issue is the ability some folks have to gaze into the wreckage of what could have been and still find reason for hope. After all, in this year's presidential election the people of this country accomplished something truly historic.
A few years after the Soviet empire collapsed, I lived in Ukraine, in a town where Russian officers were once sent into exile, and I counted among my friends those whose life savings were devoured overnight by hyperinflation: when money set aside—bit by bit, payday by payday—for two decades in anticipation of a daughter’s wedding in the end only covered the cost for half a watermelon at the reception. And, too, I met young folks who nourished an ember of optimism and sustained a vision of something better, a time and place they would do their darndest to summon. In that land where the rivers of hospitality flow wide and deep (as does the horilka, especially at the holidays), one of the poets whose work I taught to students of contemporary American literature was Theodore Roethke. It’s with a nod to him that we might traverse the next frontier: Take the lively air, and, lovely, learn by going where to go.
Keep the faith,
Steven Boyd Saum