ANTHONY VEASNA SO
There’s a strange state of inaction we, as readers, experience in the process of reading, a process we often embellish to ourselves as action, as leading us someplace new, to some higher plane of existence, to something more tangible than a deeper understanding and hours spent and lost.
Many of us are trained to equate reading with doing. Our validation-craving, grade-obsessed subcultures of overachievers and two-percent acceptance rates trick us into thinking that—when reading a poem or a short story or an essay—our strained eyes and caffeine-driven all-nighters account for us having exerted our very presence onto the world. And we know that’s not the case, I know we do. But it’s so tempting to soak in literature’s moral dilemmas and binary-defying insights and then proceed to pat ourselves on the back for another day of hard work done sitting in our coffee shops with book in hand or Atlantic article bookmarked. It feels so nice to conflate staying woke with enacting change, to have the privilege of misinterpreting empathy as being anything other than a door left open.
What marks this issue as special cannot be reduced to a clever line break or a well-crafted image. It’s more than that. It comes down to these writers having the moxie, the downright decency, to call us out when we’re being lazy, entitled, when we become mere spectators to the chaos abound.
Consider the speaker of Kenzie Allen’s “When I Say I Love You, This is What I Mean,” who, in pondering a time when “the electricity will fail [and] the generators run down,” encourages us to not settle for words that don’t “stay no matter how clever,” because memory should be “engraved in something stronger.” Or, examine the ways in which Kayleb Rae Candrilli reflects on trauma in “This House is Obvious,” even that which is redacted, erased. It is not enough to dwell in the known, the seen, to listen only to the ebullient highs of “Crazy” when Gnarles Barkley is singing, in “Necromancer,” “I’d have my way with what’s left of her will.” We need to question what’s been left behind and forgotten. “What does fight look like when your mind has died, if only for a night?”
These works push us beyond stasis, beyond misconstrued action. The following issue, to put it simply, asks more from us as readers, learners, and citizens. As Franny Choi puts it:
…Sure. You can have these worlds.
You can warm them in your hands at night. But know:
by signing, you agree also to be responsible for the universe.
—from “Introduction to Quantum Theory”
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Anthony Veasna So is a gay “man,” a Cambodian-American “son,” and a recent graduate of Stanford University. A native of Stockton, CA, he was raised on stories of the Khmer Rouge Genocide that often, somehow, ended on a joke. His prose and comics have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrelhouse, decomP, Hobart, Nashville Review, Ninth Letter Online, and elsewhere. Currently, he teaches high school English and dabbles with standup comedy.
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