Usually when you appear in my mailbox, I neglect all of my other duties to read you—I prop you up next to the recipe card and read “the mail,” “soapbox” and “backtalk” while I make dinner; I hide you behind board books and sneak my way through “nutshell.” I perch on the toilet while my children splash in the bathtub and read the first essay and convince myself that they are putting on their pajamas and brushing their teeth while I read the second. Finally, after I tuck them all in bed, I settle in my own bed to read the “feature” and “fiction” and “motherwit.”
But not this time. When I found you in my mailbox right late Saturday afternoon, I was prepared to steal away with you for a little while. I had already picked strawberries, read, colored and painted with the children, cleaned the house and taken a nap. But no one else was showing any inclination toward making dinner and I had twenty-nine quarts of strawberries to deal with. I settled on the sofa to read “soapbox.” That’s when I learned this was your last issue, and that’s when I put you aside in favor of making jam.
I first met you just before my twins were born, seven years ago. A friend had mentioned your name, and when I couldn’t find you on the local bookstore’s shelves, I plunged in and ordered a subscription, along with the Best of Brain, Child compilation you offered. I spent the week between my last day at work and the birth of my babies on self-imposed bed rest (there was nothing wrong with me, other than being 38 weeks pregnant with more than fourteen pounds of baby) reading you. This may not have been the wisest move, since in that compilation was a story about still-born twins, but nevertheless, I was hooked.
You were my first introduction into the “mommy-lit” genre. Other than reading Naomi Wolf’s somewhat depressing Misconceptions, when my oldest son was a baby I mostly devoured mystery novels and Bridget Jones—brain candy for a baby addled brain. Shortly after the twins were born, my friend gave me a copy of Hausfrau Mutha-Zine and I was hooked. I searched out momoirs and mamazines and became consumed by an urge to write my way through the harrowing world of mother-of-two-babies-and-a-very-unhappy-four-year-old. Reading you and your sisters, and writing my own stories, kept me afloat during those days of bone-crushing exhaustion and mind-numbing repetition.
Over the years I started taking writing classes, and publishing bits and pieces here and there. At the same time, I watched the rise and fall of some great mama-lit venues: Motherverse, Mamazine, Mom-Writer’s Literary Magazine. I realized I better get publishing before all the publishing opportunities are gone. And I did. One of my proudest accomplishments was getting an essay published in your pages.
Which makes my gripe sound a little selfish. Now my one print credit is with a defunct magazine. Not very impressive. Also, I was hoping to publish more in your pages. Because you were not a typical literary journal—you know the obscure academic ones that are only read by people hoping to publish within their pages—nor were you an impenetrable boys’ club, like The New Yorker or The Atlantic, nor were you a glitzy, glossy mommy magazine dominated by ads and filled with articles about tummy fat or taming temper tantrums or breast and bottle wars. You were something more, real stories by real people, who were real good writers.
And so you see, my lament isn’t just for me, but for the state of writing—if not art in general—and any hope for those of us who create it. Does no one read anymore? Does no one want to read anything of substance? Or is it that there is so much free stuff to read online, why would anyone bother paying for a magazine or a book, anyway? The old getting-the-milk-for-free dilemma. This makes me despair for our children (everyone’s children). Is there no hope at all that anyone interested in a creative life—writing, art, music, poetry, photography, dance, whatever—will also be able to make a living at it? Or even find an audience?
Of course there’s always been the image of the starving artist, the expectation that you must suffer for your work, that it be a labor of love. My question, which of course you can’t answer, as you are a (defunct) magazine, but for the universe in general, is: just because this has always been so, does it make it true or right? And why don’t we think the same about professional baseball players or hedge fund managers or financiers? Don’t we value their work enough to believe they should suffer and starve for it?
Anyway, I’m getting off track here. I guess my point in this letter is to say thank you, for opening up a door inside me, and opening up the world of writing and reading and expressing myself, which I long ago had set aside when I switched majors from journalism to human ecology. And I’ll miss you.