One year ago, on October 5, 2020, Air/Light launched into a very uncertain world. The COVID-19 pandemic was raging; the presidential election was a month away. To call it chaos seems the most pernicious sort of understatement—and it has not gone away. Twelve months later, not enough of us are vaccinated, and the Delta variant has cut a wide swath across the United States and the world. The divisions of the last four years remain entrenched, or even heightened, in the wake of the attempted insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6.
And yet, I want to say, although I am not overly optimistic, I am also not without a modicum of hope. If, as advisory editor Maggie Nelson suggests in her recently published book On Freedom, we need to come to terms “with the fact that everything is not going to be OK, that no one or nothing is coming to save us,” this is not necessarily a tragedy. I don’t mean to say that the issues that beset us are not considerable, nor that they will not, most likely, destroy us in the end. But who has use for easy optimism? That is what has gotten us into trouble all along.
No, what we need—more than bromides or empty affirmations—is clarity. We need to recognize who and where we are. Only then can we be truly responsible and present in the world. We need to be in conversation with one another. We need to recognize our common fate. We need to tell our stories, not to drown out anyone else’s but to add to the quilt of our collective humanity, to recognize our grace and our fragility, to give space to one another’s joy and suffering, to participate and move through existence on the most collective terms.
This is what we’ve sought to do with Air/Light over the course of this long last year, and what we continue to aspire to do. We have published more than 100 pieces since we launched last October: stories and essays and poems, art and music and collaborations, videos and interviews. We have built the foundations of not just a journal, but also—we hope—of a community. With issue four, we seek to continue this ongoing process of thinking and communicating and engaging, of … excavation is the only term that makes sense.
That, of course, is as it should be, for what else is the point of art? We share our work, our narratives not to show off but rather to connect. We write or paint or compose out of our experience, and in those efforts our readers, or our audience, may recognize themselves. I’m not referring to empathy, or not entirely; sometimes, empathy becomes a default fix. It is also about discomfort, and exposure, about the messy work of—to use a word I don’t entirely trust or believe in—honesty.
This messy work, this middle ground, is where we live. It is the definition of the present tense. So welcome to issue four, for that excavation and that reckoning: that necessary questioning, in other words, and the uncertainty it provokes.