Editor's Letter: Strength
In a few months I will be entering junior year, and the aging process seems more blunting than ever before.
I’ve always been afraid of the irreversible quality of time, the way our presents are projected into the immediate future as we live our lives day to day. I’ve always been scared of hourglasses; how one can see the sand move from top to bottom through the small hole in the middle—and how the pessimistic observer knows that eventually, despite how slowly the sand moves, every grain will give way to the pull of that hole, gravity’s tug. A ticking clock, a finite number of sand. And this biiiiiiiiiiig life, while seemingly limitless, works in the same way.
These are thoughts that used to haunt me.
Someone once told me that it is during the teenage years when all of these philosophical epiphanies come at once. In other words, I am not alone in this thinking. I am not the only young person with logic in this world, nor is the world one full of nonsensical white noise. Everyone is thinking with me, but no one is talking about their troubles with life’s bigger questions. And so I was correct that the world is not white noise at all—instead, it is a silent film, black and white with the fear of vulnerability.
Too many are ashamed of these thoughts that come with thinking about life and death and awful Time: not because they’re insignificant at all, but because they focus on an aspect of life that gives the very act of living some value; and it’s saddening to think that so much art is devoted to the clash between life and death. Over the past two months I’ve read many books, thought many things, met many people, studied lots of history—and I’ve always been fascinated with the human tendency to focus on the worst rather than celebrating what makes us happy, and why—despite this constant state of pain and pessimism and disorder—compromising our strength (i.e., how people view each other’s strength) is our biggest concern. Sometimes I look at my surroundings and wonder, like: why can’t we just… live? Why is strength measured by how well we can cover up our feelings and “be okay” rather than how we go about life positively? Shouldn’t strength be measured in units of fearlessness? The motivation, passion, and fervency that most trim as they get older? Why is strength so passive and not active?
I’ve been reading a lot of Ray Bradbury recently. I’ve always found the sci-fi genre interesting, but the little time I’d spent exploring it hadn’t dawned on me until a few months ago. Since then, I’ve read all sorts of dystopian, futuristic, alien stuff—but there’s this expanding quality in Ray Bradbury’s work that keeps me with him. Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles—all of these stories take place in worlds that existed only in Bradbury’s head until he wrote about them, and I think knowing about these worlds—real or imagined—make our own world, as readers, a little bigger. This idea makes sense, for the mind’s outstanding ability to construct is already known; so if the world is made bigger by our own imaginations, think about how much more there is to explore, how much freedom we actually have as agents on a mission to simply exist? All of that potential, I’ve realized, makes me happy. Really happy—maybe because I am still living with my parents and under many age requirements. Maybe this is my way of finding independence in the places I'm allowed to have agency, because most of my life rests on my utter dependency (ON EVERYTHING) as a fifteen year old Asian woman.
But maybe this happiness I extract from realizing the world’s brilliance is just happiness… with no root cause or superficiality involved. Happiness for the sake of being happy, I’ve realized, is my fuel, what I should be focusing on rather than life and death, my strength.
And maybe strength is just that simple.
I have an old friend named Matt who used to tutor me. He is the only writer I know, so naturally I turn to him for advice about the craft, for writing is intricate and satisfying and exhausting and fun and dreaded. He shared with me something he wrote about meeting Bradbury himself in the years before his death:
“I finally got the guts, and I walked up to him. Ray, I said, thank you so much for your talk. I feel really inspired after hearing you—you’re such a fantastic speaker, everyone was really into it. I was really interested in what you were saying about the Great Library of Alexandria, about how it was a nexus of knowing and all that, about how it was faded and we're still trying to find that, which reminded me a lot of Carl Sagan and all that...
Ray smiled. He rolled his eyes with resignation and pointed to his ears. ‘I can't hear a word you're saying.’
I laughed and laughed and laughed, and we exchanged laughs and a handshake.
Then these freshmen showed up. This guy with bleached hair was crying, and he knelt before Bradbury, and he said in his shrill crying voice, ‘Mister Bradbury, thank you so, so, so, so much for your work, it's changed my life completely—'
And Ray smiled and nodded with gentle confidence as if he already knew this, but was humoring the good gesture.
‘--and I just wanted to tell you I've decided to dedicate my life to writing after reading The Halloween Tree and The Martian Chronicles, and thank you so, so, so, so much.’
Bradbury seemed quite pleased. Then he leaned forward and put his hand on the kid’s forehead. He bellowed, ‘LIVE FOREVER!’ And pushed the kid back, his friends catching him, and the entire room exploded into wild cheering.”
“To live forever”: to celebrate life as it is; to continue living as you are; to find the strength to move forth with life as it reveals itself naturally, for one’s strengths are found through trial-and-error. This is the phrase that Bradbury lives by; and as I read this story I immediately recognized the quote from a Bradbury interview with the Paris Review that I had already read. There’s this character in Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes named Mr. Electrico, whose existence as a real person has been debated in some scholarly studies. Here, Bradbury reveals that Mr. Electrico is an actual person in his real life: a friend, even.
“Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly…[Mr. Electrico] sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row…with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, ‘Live forever.’ And I decided to.
..he saw the intensity with which I lived. Every once in a while at a book signing I see [children] who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.”
I imagine a hill, a tall and steep one, with a child no older than six or seven running down it—eyes open, hair everywhere, arms flailing uncontrollably and legs spinning on the drug of inertia and fearlessness. Children do not tread through life, they elbow through it. Some have very little of it, and others—like children—radiate the thing. Mr. Electrico saw that light in young Bradbury, as did I in Bradbury’s writing, and as did Bradbury himself in that freshman’s tears and bleach.
This issue is about the strength to live, and to live fearlessly. This issue is about what it takes to keep a fire burning: endurance. This issue is about running down hills and seeing where they take you and not caring if you scrape your knees bloody when your sneaker toe catches on something; because the moment the shoe has you in the palm of its hand (sole, laces, whatever)—keeping you from taking that risk and goddamn running—a part of life’s fire dies a little bit in you, gone like the sand in the top half of an hourglass or the seconds you wasted worrying about death.
Growing old might seem scary. School might seem scary, the world ahead is scary.
But what I must say to all your unanswered questions is this: keep the fire burning, be a child richer with the things you know, and live forever.
P.S. Honing in from the largeness of this letter, we’ve got a lot of goodies for you in the next two months:
-ZINES ZINES ZINES
-coverage of the music that’s been releasing lately, because it’s all from the same melting pot of beauty + poetry + EMPOWERMENT + heaven, you know? (i.e. BEYONCÉ! Drake and Chance!!)