In mid-June, I received an e-mail from Julie Hanus, assistant editor at Utne Reader, inquiring about reprint rights to a piece we ran in our May issue. The bimonthly digest of the nation’s alternative press, Utne publishes the best independent news and views from 1,300 publications. With a paid circulation of 90,000 and a strong online presence, Utne has the ability to showcase the ideas, trends, and solutions you won’t find in the mainstream media—views like you find in this publication, albeit on a larger scale.
Obviously, I was thrilled that Utne was interested in featuring a piece from Chronogram. We pride ourselves on the quality of our content. What we say and how we say it in our publication is both vocation and avocation for those of us who work here. I should add that this was not the first time we’d been approached by Utne. They reprinted a piece from these pages in their January/February 2008 issue by Erika Alexia profiling Music Together, an innovative, interactive music education program for parents and kids.
In their September/October issue, Utne will be publishing an excerpt of an interview our health and wellness editor, Lorrie Klosterman, conducted with Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona from the May issue. An author as well as a physician, Mehl-Madrona has studied indigenous healing for 30 years. He has pioneered a holistic approach that brings narrative medicine—the idea that we can discover the power of personal storytelling to pull us out of sickness—into statistics-driven conventional medicine. (The full transcript of Lorrie’s interview with Mehl-Madrona is available online at www.chronogram.com.)
Like Mehl-Madrona, Lorrie’s background is a seemingly paradoxic hybrid of science and native studies; in addition to being a shaman, Lorrie has a PhD in biology. She brings the rigor of the scientific method to every topic she’s written about in the last six years, allying it with an understanding that there are also viable therapeutic possibilities outside of what is taught in medical school. It’s a perfect set of qualifications for Chronogram.
I was introduced to Lorrie by Jim Andrews, who was assistant editor here at the time. One of Jim’s tasks was to edit the Whole Living section of the magazine, in addition to helping Amara Projansky with various editorial duties for Upstate House, a publication Jim would go on to edit. Jim, a confident gent of many talents, was never afraid to say he was in over his head (the ego-denying lesson I am still struggling to learn, Jim), which is exactly what he said to me about editing articles on the intersection of mainstream and complementary health. He knew someone, however, a “Dr. K”—as Jim referred to Professor Klosterman—who was perfect for the job. And she was, and is.
So I view Utne picking up the Mehl-Madrona interview as Jim’s triumph. Jim brought Dr. K to Chronogram. He knew exactly what was required and how actualize it, from understanding the needs of the magazine to persuading my bullheaded self that we should hire a writer with a specialized skill set. But Jim can’t celebrate with us, as he died on June 14, having succumbed to the kidney cancer he battled for three years. Jim would have turned 44 this August.
Jim and I were not close, but we admired each other as colleagues, and I was extremely touched when he called me last summer and asked my advice about what he should write in his last column as editor of House, as he was stepping down. I can’t recall what I said, but it was certainly odd to be on the dispensing end of advice with Jim, who had spent five years cleaning up the prose in Chronogram and providing me with an ongoing lesson in the mechanics of the English language and the abstruse subtleties of the editorial metier.
For make no mistake about it, Jim was a better line editor than I will ever be. When Jim stopped editing certain sections of Chronogram to focus fully on House, writers lamented the loss of such a keen editor. Beth Elaine Wilson, our former art columnist and as fine a writer as this magazine has ever seen, complained that her new editor was not nearly as capable of making her prose sing as Jim was. (The new editor was me.) Jim had a way with words that was part craft, part ear, and part empathy. He was the epitome of the editor as seamless technician and silent partner—he made your prose better; if you hadn’t seen his red marks on the page you wouldn’t be quite sure how he made the magic happen. Your words just sparkled a bit more.
Jim used to edit this column, you see. If he had taken his pen to this, I’d sound more coherent. You might even have thought I’m a better writer than I actually am. That was Jim’s way with things—gentle improvement. For me, Jim will always be il miglior fabbro. That’s the dedication to Ezra Pound that T. S. Eliot gratefully gave to his tireless editor at the beginning of “The Waste Land.” It translates as the better craftsman.