We, The Fragile
By Kate Jenkins
Letter from the Editor, Issue 3
Writing is a vulnerable endeavor. Every time I think of that, I think of the famous Hemingway quote that goes, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” As if the hard work and dedication of each of the writers in our magazine were not cause enough to celebrate them, it’s important to remember that we ask them to bleed for us.
The work we edit at The Intentional is often highly personal. Intimacy is inherent to creative non-fiction and essay as genres—for which we’ve admittedly got a soft spot—but the immediacy of our content is further explained by our deep and abiding love for subjects that especially affect 20-somethings. Financial instability, heartbreak, sexual exploration, social justice, the search for identity—The Intentional is never not vulnerable. And therein lies the value of the magazine. It is a communion around the universal experiences of being young—of failed OKCupid dates, of learning the topography of one’s morality in drunken stumbles, of the first time experiencing loss, of learning to juggle long days and dwindling rewards, of beginning to take care of your parents rather than the other way around.
Readers could likely consider every piece that’s ever been run in The Intentional through the lens of vulnerability. But then, there are a lot of ways to read everything. For this issue, we’ve selected stories that especially evoke a sense of fragility and exposure. Much of the writing in this issue found a home in us because the editors recognized so many of our own individual experiences in the blood on the page. But as a little tribe, searching for the humility and grace to create this thing together, vulnerability, blind trust, and great leaps of faith have also been what has bound us together as a team.
In a sense, they tell our story as much as they tell their own.
When I read Chelsea Martin’s neurotic, introspective poetry, I feel like I’m once again at the beginning of my terrible and fantastical founding journey—an Internet-era Dorothy navigating a new world of color before she finally stumbles upon her brains, heart, and courage. Martin’s way of throwing plates against the walls inside her head strikes me, and her clumsy, hyper-aware negotiations with the world around her are all too familiar. But while it seems impossible that other readers could have a similarly intimate connection with her work, I remind myself that we have all attempted to reconcile our inner selves with an outer world that often miscalculates or misinterprets us. That sort of aloneness is universal.
In the same breath, Meghan Flaherty’s study on the exhilarations and the reservations of committed partnership struck a chord with us. Though her gorgeous essay is about the surrender that accompanies moving in with a boyfriend for the first time, it parallels the choices that every individual on our team had to make before we sat down at the table.
Issue 3 is the issue that officially marks the movement of the magazine from a personal project to a business with a dedicated management team and editorial team. It may not be immediately clear why vulnerability would be an appropriate theme for an issue that marks such a transition, but let me assure you there’s no more vulnerable act than asking people to help you do things you’re not capable of.
Last year around this time, I sat in a coffee shop across from Katharine Pelzer, who was soon to become the fiction and poetry editor of The Intentional. I didn’t notice that she was assuming the role even then, shape-shifting right before my eyes; though if you were to ask her now, I suspect she’d tell you that the magazine had always had a kind of gravitational pull on her. I suspect she’d tell you that she was well aware of what she was getting herself into. She had witnessed my struggle from a safe distance before stepping in—initially out of a sense of charity, no doubt—to prevent what I’d been working so hard to realize over the course of a year from emerging an absolute disaster.
We had chosen the particular coffee shop for its cozy atmosphere and lack of Wi-Fi. On what I remember as the most pleasant of wintry Sunday afternoons I’ve yet to encounter, we occupied two tables with discarded scarfs, steaming cappuccinos, and print-offs of every piece I had managed to extract from the first issue’s contributors—all of whom had graciously agreed to submit their work without the faintest idea of what they were getting themselves into. Most of them had never even been published before.
The inherent flaw in this everybody-just-act-natural-and-fake-it-til-you-make-it-because-we’ll-learn-a-whole-helluva-lot-along-the-way model was that I had only just begun to cut my teeth as an editor, and like everything else I ever learned in my life, I learned to edit and to run a magazine using the kamikaze method. I was the blind leading the blind in a catastrophic, out-of-tune parade. Pick up the tambourine, kid, you’ll be fine. We (that is, just the writers and me) needed somebody with talent and experience who knew about things like plot development.
Katharine had been one such person the whole time, having had significantly more creative writing and editing experience than I did. She was many times more qualified to run a lit magazine, but as fate and idiocy would have it, I was the one with the feverish idea, and she was the one who stood by shaking her head while I tried my hand at contortionism.
So I sipped my coffee and watched her edit my hard-earned treasures. I figured that each piece would probably be “good enough” with a little spell checking, because I had already been through several rounds of editing with each writer and, more to the point, because I was ready to move on. She pored over each short story and essay, using editing shorthand that looked like hieroglyphics to me at the time (though I was smart enough to know that the sheer number of strange geometrics added up to mean “atrocious” or at best “not great”), while I pretended to read something else. After she finished with each she’d look up at me and ever so gently insist on what I already knew in my heart to be true—that this piece was narratively weak, that this other lacked any sort of conclusion, that this one should be discarded entirely—but that I was willing myself to ignore.
Yes, everyone knows that writing is vulnerable. But that day in the coffee shop, I learned for the first time that editing a magazine can be vulnerable, too.
Back in the fall of 2012, when I met our lead designer Lindsay Johnson and saw her work, I immediately asked her to join the parade. She must have been expecting the question, because she didn’t miss a beat; “I don’t work for free,” she told me, stone-faced. Fair enough. I suppose something about the struggle must have been either too beautiful or too pitiful for her to bear, because one evening she told me she had decided to design issue 1 pro-bono. But it wasn’t until September 2013, after issue 2 had gone to print, that she named her demands as a full team member.
It was at this time that Katharine also formally assumed her role, as did our partnerships director Alana Ramo, whose primary weekly agenda item is, plainly put, to save me from myself. This move was predicated by what can only be called an intervention. The three of them, who had always been endeared to my guppy magazine’s cause, forced me to sit in a circle and admit I had a problem, admit I needed help. (Okay fine, I said. I didn’t have a business plan per se.)
On the editorial side, we also added Wei Tchou. She was a pinch-hitter writer for issue 1, a connection facilitated by Katharine when we took stock of the state of the issue one month prior to the publishing date. Wei and I felt such a cosmic connection that she agreed to edit the creative non-fiction section.
And the rest—new logos, improved business models, and team tattoos—is history.
Without the life-saving injection of enthusiasm and commitment—and not to mention brilliant ideas—that they delivered to the project when they did, I’m not sure The Intentional would have survived to see a third issue produced. It’s been thrilling to share the occasional elation with such an incredible team, but I’ve also been a witness to their first experiences of the dark side of this—something I’ve never been able to properly explain, and for which I couldn’t really prepare them. Now we all link arms in tenacity and stubbornness against whatever is sent our way; though we don’t kid ourselves, we’re mostly still defenseless.
Maybe that’s why the work of Danielle Davis and Gretchen Kast felt so right. Davis’ essay on finding her personal limit as a stripper and Kast’s eager round-up of the new wave of pop princesses, who are rejecting the cushy promises of dictatorial agents in exchange for a flimsy but righteous independence, kept us warm all winter with their glowing, hopeful honesty. That anthem—the anthem of bold, risk-taking women gone rogue—was one we were more than willing to sing.
This team, they know what it means to take risks, to hustle, to grind, to toe their own edge. I have a feeling if you asked them, they’d tell you that it’s fucking worth it.
This piece originally appeared in issue 3 of The Intentional.