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One More and We’ve Got Ourselves a Trend

Aquatic covers from Richmond and Northwestern.

richmond    nw

The spring/summer issue of University of Richmond Magazine really exploits the great redesign that debuted with the previous issue, especially with an eight-page photo feature on students’ artistic pursuits by photographer Cade Martin. I’d show you some of it but don’t have a scanner big enough to scan two-page spreads from the oversized magazine, and the website is being overhauled so I can’t grab images from that. But trust me, it looks great.

Editor Matt Dewald devotes his editor’s note to all those readers not hip enough, or old enough, to realize that a headline—”The Kids Are Alright”—was an allusion to the 1979 album by The Who and not an example of editorial illiteracy. On the positive side, Dewald points out that his magazine has been getting more letters lately. Well alright alright alright.

I say! some fine essays

If you love the essay form as I do, you’ll want to turn to the current issue of Notre Dame Magazine. I believe I have already mentioned Mel Livatino’s superb “Dogged by the Dark,” but I’m going to promote it again, because it is so good. Livatino is coping with his wife’s dementia, and one way a writer copes is by writing. Here’s a sample:

One morning each week I wake up alone. On that day—typically a Wednesday—my wife is with her daughter, who takes her for a day and a half each week. Kathy has advanced dementia. She no longer knows my name or her full name; she forgets she has children and grandchildren; she does not know where we live; she no longer knows the names for such common things as kitchen, refrigerator, bedroom, grass, sky, sun. And of course she is no longer capable of conversation. So while I miss her for that day and a half, I am also glad for the time alone to think and write and read.

Those mornings when I’m alone start much the same. The room is dark when I awaken. I do not want to be awake yet, but I am, so I lie on my back and look into the dark space above the bed. That’s when the hurt begins. The hurt is brought on by a sense of aloneness. It has grown since my retirement from teaching nine years ago, which coincided with the onset of my wife’s dementia. I know as I look into the dark space of the room that this hurt will weave itself into everything I do that day. It may go undetected while I’m concentrating on something—shopping, driving, cooking, writing, reading or talking to someone—but it will be there beneath the surface. And when the day goes slack, the hurt will become palpable again.

The whole thing is that good. I am not a spiritual person—seriously, the closest I come to religious faith is the occasional diversionary joke about being a Buddhagnostic, and spiritual concerns cross my mind about as often as I wonder about the latest jai-alai scores—and “Dogged by the Dark” is a meditation on God’s love. But the quality of Livatino’s mind and prose carried me past all resistance to pondering faith.

Also worthy of your attention is “How Far We Have Come” by Art Busse. A taste:

For hundreds of thousands of years our species has evolved. Millennium upon millennium of gradual shifting in response to the ebb and flow of the natural world. A hundred thousand years of living this way, a hundred thousand years of living that way, etching patterns into our genetic codes, imprinting the attributes of generation after generation of the winners of the race to survive and the battle to breed. What effect can the last few thousand years of history have on that?

Yet here we stand on the thin ice of civilization dismissing all that dark water beneath our feet as if it didn’t exist, as if we weren’t carrying the instincts of our animal ancestry into the future in every cell of our bodies. We are the beings who came down out of the trees with rudimentary tools in our hands, fanning out from Africa to populate a world and threaten it with extinction. We’re monkeys in suits, pushing buttons, telling ourselves stories that we take to be real, inventing new weapons with which to club and hack at each other, smug in the moral delusions of culture.

We’re clever little creatures, but not clever enough to do much more with that intelligence than leverage the effects of our bad habits through technology. What they still do with clubs and knives in Africa, we in the civilized world have learned to do with gas chambers, nuclear bombs and spreadsheets, imagining wrongs that will allow us to use our cherished instruments to right.

While I’m singing Notre Dame‘s praises, I’ll mention how terrific its website looks. (Click on the image.)

And last, while on the subject of essayists, Portland‘s editor Brian Doyle has a new gig at The American Scholar. He will contribute an essay to the magazine’s website each Friday, as part of “The Daily Scholar.” (He is taking Michael Dirda’s place.) His first contribution is an introduction called “Storycatcher.” After noting some of the other Brian Doyle’s who are about in the world, he writes:

This Brian Doyle, whom I have known for 50 years, is addled by stories, and that’s what he would like to write about in this space. That’s it. He thinks stories are wild and holy and necessary and crucial and hilarious and heartbreaking and the food of our souls and our national idea. He thinks all stories with humor and substance are steps toward a world of peace and joy and all stories with greed and lies in them are slimy retreats. He’s riveted by the way people tell and speak and sing their stories, and he thinks that often the very best pieces of writing are the ones where the writer leaps out of the way of a story as it passes from teller to listener.

I too am addled and riveted by stories. I suspect we all are. It’s what keeps us in this business that promises little in the way of remuneration, esteem, or groupies. Storycatchers, indeed.

Well done, UVA

Alumni magazines are house organs, by and large, and nothing presents a challenge for editors and writers like the house in an uproar. Last June, the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia (apparently UVA’s version of a board of trustees) peremptorily fired university president Theresa Sullivan. (Technically, Sullivan resigned, but not because she wanted to.) Within days, pretty much everyone in the university community—faculty, staff, students, alumni—rose in revolt sufficient to force the board to reverse itself and reinstate Sullivan. As institutional messes go, this one does not rank with Penn State’s child sexual abuse scandal, but still it generated a lot of news coverage of the sort no university wants.

Many of us wondered what The University of Virginia Magazine would do with the story. The answer came with the magazine’s fall issue: Virginia did the right thing. The magazine devoted its entire feature well to “17 Days in June: From Resignation to Reinstatement,” and thoroughly reported what had ensued with integrity as well as laudable thoroughness, candor, and neutrality.

In 36 pages, Virginia recounted  the events of June 10 to June 29 (OK, a day or two more than 17, but I think the editors were counting the days from Sullian’s resignation to the board’s reinstatement of her.) The magazine published a sampling of the protest signs, a photo spread of the turmoil, a page of analysis of the school’s financial situation (which played a role in the aborted dismissal of the president), a think piece on what public universities are struggling to cope with these days by former Chronicle of Higher Education staffer Elyse Ashburn, and an octet of essays by faculty members, the executive vice president and provost, a student, and an alum. (The Penn Stater and Virginia may now have established a spectrum of essays as the editorial method for dealing with big institutional controversies.) The magazine also gave the principal antagonists in this story, President Sullivan and Helen Dragas, rector of the board, two pages each for their statements; Sullivan penned a two-page perspective and Dragas submitted to a Q&A.

Like Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and other similar periodicals, Virginia takes a sober, earnest approach to making a magazine. So there’s not much here that conveys the emotional heat of those troubling days on the UVA campus. But that’s a quibble. I think the top of Virginia‘s masthead—Robert Viccellio, Sierra Bellows, and Molly Minturn—deserve credit for the magazine they put out.

Now you know (second of a series)

Things I know now because I read alumni magazines:

— In a University of Minnesota study, pasting pictures of vegetables in the compartments of school cafeteria lunch trays resulted in twice as many kids eating green beans. Consumption of carrots tripled. Oh, and astronauts on prolonged space flights lose weight in part because they just don’t eat enough while in orbit. (From “Serving Up Good News About Food,” Greg Breining, Reach from the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts)

— Title IX, the piece of legislation that forced colleges and universities to provide equal access to intercollegiate sports for men and women, is composed of 37 words. “Sports,” “athletics,” and “women” are not among them. (From “In the Wake of Title IX,” Melissa Ludtke, Wellesley)

— Beloit College holds an annual theme party called Bizarro Beloit, in which students dress up as another Beloit person of their choosing. Me, I’d come dressed as one of those squirrels, but I bet it’s been done. (From “Incomplete Glossary of Beloitisms,” Beloit College Magazine)

— There is such a thing as a vegan doughnut. Apparently, that means they are made without benefit of eggs or milk, in this case by Dun-Well Doughnuts, founded by a couple of Ithaca College grads. The New York Daily News says Dun-Well makes the best doughnuts in New York City, and co-founder Dan Dunbar says it took he and his partner a while to perfect the recipe. When he dropped their first try at workable dough into the deep fryer, it sank to the bottom and did not pop to the surface for 40 minutes. I bet that one was good. (From “A Business Made from Scratch,” Robin Roger, IC View)

Comic Wars: Revenge of the Yoe

What have I started? No sooner did I make note of The University of Chicago Magazine‘s telling a story through comic graphics, then I heard from Richard Anderson at Occidental about his magazine’s comic feature. Now the esteemed Mary Ruth Yoe has countered with an “oh yeah? well we did it in 2000” riposte.

OK, the gauntlet has been thrown. Can anybody beat 2000?

From Chicago April 2000, “Nice Guys Finish First.” Now, does anyone want to claim that they were way ahead of  Beloit in the use of squirrels in campus videos?

And speaking of video, though it’s not really one of my keener interests (and UMagazinology tends to concentrate on print), I’d like to hear from editors pointing me toward fine examples of video magazine content. I don’t mean your school’s thank you video or homecoming videos or recruiting videos. I mean video that augments content in your print magazine. You know where to find me.