News · 01/12/2010

Yr humble editor on 2009

Editor Steve Himmer writes in response to our recent question about what sparked imaginations in 2009.

Sure, it’s bad form to include myself among our contributers’, but no one else replied for today so you’re stuck with me. And after mentioning those deer who won’t cross the Iron Curtain, they’re more in my head than ever so I thought I’d say why. I’m fascinated by how landscapes, especially wilderness, are physical and mental at once, how people — and deer — navigate a tangle of geography and culture. Not to say deer have “culture,” but in the case of this invisible fence they have shared behavior taught from one generation to another. Not so different, maybe, from Americans teaching their children the Soviet Bloc was evil for no reason except that they’d learned it themselves (while parents on the other side were doing the same).

All that knowledge, ours and the deer’s, seemed so crucial a few years ago but is useless now — the territory no longer matches the map, leaving behind lives shaped in response to overlapping, multiple landscapes. That’s more compelling to me than describing a character through familiar varieties of personal or family experience, which can feel like a crutch, the equivalent of movies borrowing the built-in emotions of pop songs. And I worry, a bit, that it limits the stories we tell like the memory of old fences limits the range of those deer — as if who a character was is who they must be in the country of now. So grappling with these deer, trying to figure out what, exactly, they “mean,” is an excuse to grapple with a question about writing and — more fundamentally — storytelling: Should stories tell us who we already were, and confirm that other people were like that, too? Or do we need stories to ask who we want to become, and suggest a route for getting there? I’m hoping the deer will figure all of this out in 2010, and will let me know one way or the other. But I expect they, unlike me, have better things to do with their time.