After distributing a final PDF proof of Issue 1 to contributors, we received this lovely note from one of them:
“Congratulations it’s an amazing magazine. And I never say that usually.”
Who wouldn’t be pleased to see this brief but lovely affirmation?
Then, a couple of days later, immediately after launch, the same contributor emailed us this:
Your prompt is Idiotic I am very disappointed so is Claude she told me
What’s this horshit of a theme you should ask Claude what she thinks
Of it AND IN FRENCH PLEASE.
What she thinks of it.
Destroy my sex.
Don’t say in French what you can’t say to your mom.
But all is about Judaity like Proust.
Can ‘t you get that.
Why should Americans always change reality and steal…
It’s like a curse.
French Jewish shaved concentration camp Auchwitz Himler
The rest is. Masturbation.
We knew launching a journal as an un-named editor with no bona fides or reputation was going to be risky. We were nervous about everything. Will anyone submit? What if the submissions weren’t what we were looking for? What if we publish and nobody reads it? What if people read it and don’t like it? All the kinds of questions anyone in our position might worry about.
The origin of this journal was a whim. The time from conception to launch was four months. We’re doing it as a lone editor with no experience in publishing. We don’t have a masthead. These are all very good reasons to expect resistance or criticism.
Many artists, writers, and now we can confidently say editors, struggle with imposture syndrome. What the hell were we thinking? Who did we think we were? This is all to say that we were prepared for pushback. We weren’t prepared for the above email. We couldn’t make sense of it.
The turnaround from “amazing magazine” to “idiotic” was less than 72 hours. And this is from a contributor! Someone whose work we just published. And paid them for it. WTF had we opened ourselves up to?
It would be too much to say we were devastated, but we certainly had to wrestle with hurt feelings, doubts, and insecurities. We had no idea how to respond, so we didn’t. Not right away. We left the email in our inbox and went about our business. You know how that went. We kept thinking about it, and we kept going back to it. Each time we had a new reaction. We read it so many times that it became diffused. What, at first, felt like a personal attack slowly transformed into something different. Words on a screen. What could they mean? It was a puzzle. Words on a page with a mysterious meaning. Was it a poem?
Crudely written, perhaps, with several misspellings and a messy and inconsistent form. Parts of it made sense. It was clearly reactive and critical. But it also had some evocative and interesting juxtapositions. It was even, in a way, accurate and appropriate to the occasion. It raised legitimate questions, however unsettling for us.
We finally reached out to the contributor with, “We’re not sure what to make of this.” They responded with a brief explanation, “it was written late last night during a psychotic episode.” [The contributor has given permission for us to quote them.]
In further discussion, the contributor affirmed that the message was definitely not a poem. They apologized for its “deeply insulting” nature and added further context, “I think I saw myself as Claude when I wrote this, and I thought, how dare they…”
The explanation didn’t change any of the emotional or intellectual responses we had already had to the email. The context didn’t change the meaning of any of the words. The explanation wasn’t an excuse for the email, but it changed our understanding and experience of it as we read it again. What it became for us, whether censure or poem, was a test of faith. And rather than shrink from the test, we embraced it.
How dare we, indeed. That’s the question someone afflicted with imposture syndrome is waiting for. Our answer is simply this: because we dare. We offer a heartfelt thank you to all our contributors for risking to dare with us.
My name is Eric Jennings (he/him) – I am a writer and visual artist with a background in theatre and performance. My experiences as a survivor of childhood sexual victimization inform my work.