He was saying that a magazine is a conversation, and that conversations among friends range from serious to funny, can bring tears and laughter, make us sad or giddy.
He was telling me these things because I had been lamenting some recent criticisms I’d heard and questions I’d been fielding. Like: “How can you find room in the magazine for that story, but not this one?” So I was particularly sensitive to articles insufficiently serious, that lightened life’s load, that injected some fun.
And then I told him about the stories assigned for this issue.
Good magazines have a personality, he said, and no issue is complete. The conversation doesn’t end with the latest edition; the conversation moves on to the next. And the next. Like return visits with good friends and family.
I had said for years that this magazine has many demands on its pages and each issue cannot accommodate all the stories, subjects and points of view. But over time a kaleidoscope of topics and opinions gets fairly represented.
I was grateful for the reassurance, though, that day at lunch. The good counsel came from Jim Small, who heads up communications for the University’s development operation, among other things. But he came to Notre Dame after a career as a magazine-maker, producing publications for an impressive list of clients including Chevrolet and Lexus, the NBA and NASCAR, the NHL and the PGA, Bank of America.
Our dialogue was especially welcome as we were putting together the issue you’re holding now, one that has planted uncomfortable misgivings in me. There are stories here of compelling gravity — the impact of a deadly school shooting on an alumnus and his family, a first-person account of the factious humanitarian crisis playing out on the U.S.-Mexico border and a thoughtful, forceful analysis of the scandals that still rock the Catholic Church.
And yet in the same issue we’ve gone in more playful directions, turning a dozen writers loose on stories exploring all the goofy, offbeat, mysterious, imagination-stretching phenomena that people do and don’t believe in. We had real fun with it. We added 12 pages to our typical 96, including a back-page comic, and temporarily closed the CrossCurrents section at the back of the book to make room for these conversation pieces — like ghosts and UFOs.
Yet these stories, placed side by side with articles of unwavering solemnity, are also laced with meaning and pose important riddles of human nature. And the blending is sort of like real life — where the sobering and profound get smashed up against the random and absurd, the amusing, wondrous and baffling. Often in unsettling juxtaposition.
So in the twisting turns of this unorthodox edition, you find again art imitating life as weighty concerns bundle with droll curiosities.
I also invite you to join the ongoing conversation by sending us your stories of the fetchingly inexplicable. We’ll keep the campfire talk going well into the night, when the darkening shadows dance with unearthly delight and good friends bare their souls in intimate conversations.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.