One of the things that makes writing both difficult and worthwhile is the way we all tend to identify with the stories we write. When I’ve worked hard on a piece and someone says something like, “Ethan, you write like a fourth grader,” something in me wants to curl up in a corner and die. And it gets even more complicated because we editors identify not only with our own work, but also with that of our writers.
So we end up with seemingly infinite ego clashes: writers and editors, editors and editors, artists and writers, artists and editors, and so on. The whole process sometimes feels like what the inside covers of this issue look like: a cluster of wide-eyed faces, anxious, eager, and sometimes resentful.
But on the other side of the anxiety we find moments of real intimacy. When I was editing Susanna Penfield’s memoir, I think we both felt the joy of creating something honest and moving. I’m sure the other editors have had similar experiences—after all, they haven’t quit yet. In this issue, Ale Tejeda also wrote a wrenching memoir, and my co-editor, Jack, became so attached to it than when I tried to remove a comma, he said, “Wait. That’s my comma. I want it in.”
That comma remains in the piece because we know there is much more to a good magazine than the words on the pages: there is a whole community of editors, writers and artists. The relationships that make up this community are just as important as the stories we publish. Still, I’ve somehow managed to put a strain on many of those relationships.
I’ve already subjected both of our new editors, Nathan Makela and Rachel Frizell, to horrible tests of commitment. I asked Rachel to write a story over a vacation, which I then said we didn’t actually need to publish just yet. And a few days later, I demanded that Nathan drive me three hours away to pick up my car while we were both supposed to be editing. After Nathan’s 2005 Passat broke down and we found ourselves in a stranger’s truck receiving repeated, half-joking death threats, he still wanted to work for Cipher.
Meanwhile, I belittled a story Sara was editing despite the fact that it was a story I asked her to take on because I knew it would have been too hard for me. And recently when Andrew sent me a draft of his own piece, I replied in an adolescent fit, “Yeah, pretty shitty, honestly.” (It wasn’t.) Maybe the only exception here is Jenny Sutton, who we recently hired as our publicist. Jenny, just wait a few days and I’m sure something will come up.
The disasters didn’t end with the staff. Nathan Goodman, who covers the controversy around “Ute Prayer Trees” on page eight, fell horribly ill just before his final deadline. He trucked on anyway, even going so far as to turn in a box of wine with his draft. Thanks, Nate.
If you, like me, need a pick-me-up, you can read Jenny’s story on an aspiring YouTube Shaman. Alternatively, laugh off your woes with Catherine Sinow’s hilarious fiction, which might have the added benefit of making you feel vindicated for driving five hours to see the eclipse this summer.
Luckily, two of our headiest stories went smoothly. Bridget O’Neill faces the despair (and shred of hope) that necessarily comes with working in a Senator’s office these days. David Andrews takes an analytical approach to three recent rap albums, revealing the societal and personal issues they all address.
If every ego clash, email exchange, abandoned draft, and notebook scribble that went into this issue were to be published, I’m sure it would fill a thousand pages. But I’ll end it here because it’s hours past our deadline. Plus, although Sara and I could keep bickering about this last sentence, you’ve got a whole issue to read.
-Ethan Cutler and the Cipher Editors
Part of the Ego issue