I never planned Crunchable, but it wasn’t an accident. Call it a dream instead, even though that’s a cliché — because dreams are about desire, and all I desired then was to edit. Strange verb, “to edit” — means much more than it sounds; implies responsibility, forethought, organization. Broad shoulders and a strong back. And I had none of these in October 2001. All I ever realize when I think about the past is how foolish and lucky I’ve been. With Crunchable I was mostly lucky and only a little foolish. It was because I trusted my friends.
When I was first doodling out the concept for Crunchable, I thought briefly of enforcing topicality, creating a theme and making everything adhere to it in whatever fashion. (A genie’s power comes from the bottle that confines it.) So it wouldn’t be a dream anymore — more a frame. But people talked me out of it, and it was a good thing they did. Instead of some half-baked thought that would have carried the ’zine a half year maybe, we had empty sky that’s gotten it to an Internet eternity: five years. (As old as the iPod.) Yes, empty sky — call it that instead. It sounds nice.
Let me tell you about three stories from Crunchable’s first 12 months that I loved back then and still love, because that’s what’s made this boat float and this has-been-editor happy as a clam, what gave definition to the dream and sun in the sky. I’ll put them in chronological order, the way parents remember their children’s names:
“Matisse,” by Jenn Reeder
I am full of theories, mostly wrong. And Jenn proved what I could never even put into words: that our lives are boring and simple (all of them), but more than anything else they’re lovely. How much can you love a fish? It’s got a mind the size of a raindrop and the consistency of paste, and you can’t ever touch it, you can’t ever caress it — and yet Jenn wrote something so earnest and warm that I believed in it from its first sentence.
It was what I believed then but could never state: that we were only surrounded by the ordinary only because we did not love the world. We wanted things from the world. We wanted it to make us happy. We wanted it to recognize us for the geniuses we always were in our own heads. But we didn’t want to give up a single thing.
The moment we learn to love the world, everything changes.
There. That’s the best way I can put it. She did it so much better.
This was the first thing that we put on the Web site after my own too-cute intro, and it felt like we were onto something right. Jenn wrote a few more articles, then sort of drifted off. A lot of writers for Crunchable were like that, and it’s a vexing thing for an editor. You wrote something before that was grand — why can’t you do it now, when this thing’s about to collapse on itself? The answer only comes when you’re done, when you’ve given up (chose the word you prefer), when the deadlines stop clutching your neck with thin claws and the sweat evaporates from your forehead.
You can buttonhole writers at a party and tell them how much you love their work, and more importantly how much you’d appreciate more. I did this many times, with many people. And all of them will have reasons why they can’t: they don’t have time, they don’t have ideas — whatever. (Maybe they just don’t want to, your mind will whisper to itself if you’re sufficiently pessimistic.)
But the truth is simple. It always is. You can’t ask for a story. It has to be given to you.
So what do editors do in between? Well — God invented movie reviews for a reason.
“Victory,” by Chris Harring
This story starts running and by the end it’s halfway to the moon. I’ve never been to Boston nor loved football enough to ever imagine myself in Chris’s shoes that night, but this story is so immediate and erotic that it’s impossible not to be enchanted by it. There’s something so wonderful about the digression on the nature of victory and civilization that simply evaporates into a kiss with a girl he’ll never see again. That, to me, the essence of Chris: equal parts thoughtful and sensual. I envy that.
Editing this story was easy; I remember that. I dropped in some commas and deleted others, maybe added a few paragraph breaks — the way editors make their presence known in stories that arrive intact and fully functional, not by adding or subtracting but merely altering. When you edit a story, you become its stepfather. It can never truly be yours, but you still want to put your mark on it. Every publication has a voice — you can even tell a piece from Time from a Newsweek one if you know where to look. It’s editors that give it that voice, for good or ill.
Chris also wrote a few Crunchable articles, but the Internet just wasn’t his gig. The Internet is very few people’s gig — maybe because it’s so new, maybe because it pays so little. I still believe in it anyway. Call me crazy. I kind of like it when people do.
But Chris makes movies now; short ones for the moment. The minute I can get into one of his movies by handing $8.50 to a scrawny teenager in exchange for a ticket, I’ll buy two: one for me and one for the nearest girl who catches my fancy.
“I Came Here to Work,” by Dennis Wilson
There are some stories that carry a weight. Dennis’s is one of them. His story is, I think, the most important thing Crunchable has ever published. It’s not hard to find stories on the Internet that tell us our government is corrupt and that our corporations find their profit margins in the exploitation of the defenseless. But there are so few stories that show us this firsthand, that teach lessons through detail and truth.
I passed the factory where the story’s set many times late at night at college — it’s just a plain industrial building with a sign out front set in a plain serif font. Each time I passed it, I maybe thought of the dreary kind of existence the workers would find in such a place — but this was only a college-boy’s naive dream of hard times. The kind of life you imagine Paul from The Glass Menagerie leading before he runs off to the merchant marine — whatever that was. They never explain that in English class.
After I read Dennis’s story, I came closer to understanding what it would be like to be a new immigrant, legal or otherwise, trying to survive in America. But, see, there it is again: It’s easy to dismiss a tagline like that. It is impossible to forget Isabel, Snom Sen, and everyone else.
Dennis ended up being a one-shot writer. Crunchable was lucky enough to have a few. They always write something brilliant and disappear immediately after. You can cast e-mails in their direction but they’re already gone — like falling stars, or maybe heroes.