When I first started writing this column (not this particular column, but this column in general) I almost titled it “Letter to Mark” instead of “From the Editor.” Now, I’m sure some of you are named Mark—maybe even a lot of you—but probably not enough to warrant the switch. Plus, I had one particular Mark in mind at the time, and that would be Mark Issenberg. He’s a potter who lives in Rising Fawn, Georgia, and operates Lookout Mountain Pottery (www.lookoutmountainpottery.com). Once upon a time, when he was the president of the board of the Potters Council, and we were both attending the Arrowmont Utilitarian Clay Symposium, we had a conversation during which I asked him what he thought could make the magazine better. He said I should write a letter to the readers in every issue. Of course, I was hoping he would say something like, “Just keep doing more of what you’re doing; it’s great—maybe more pictures would be nice.” But he didn’t say that; he said the very thing I had been pondering and did not want to pursue because of my then short-term perspective that only took into account the time and effort it would take; not what Mark likely already knew, which was that an honest presentation of my perspective from “behind the pages of the magazine” would point out for all of you considerate people that this magazine is for you, from people like you. (He may also have said some thing like, “You’re such a nice guy, and you have such fascinating things to say; how could you deprive the readers of that?” That could be a bit of creative memory on my part, but I prefer to recall it that way.)
In the end, Mark’s encouragement pushed me to start the column and convinced me that I didn’t need to have a fully formed agenda or a backlog of letters ready to go, I just needed to start writing. This is so different from anything else we do in making magazines, and I have to say it still makes me nervous every time I sit down to a blank page and start writing after the magazine has been put together, with no specific plan or agenda. It seems so simple now that I should approach this with a curious intent, and it has become progressively more natural over time—at least it feels that way to me. That said, I do have a few tricks to get me started. At first, I would actually pretend I was writing to Mark, and I may have actually joked to him that I would be writing these to him specifically, and that he should read them that way. I don’t know if he does that, but I hope that he won’t mind (and you won’t mind) that I use him as a stand-in for the rest of you from time to time.
Something I did not realize until recently, which I bet even Mark hadn’t considered at the time he suggested I write this column, is that this exercise might turn out to be a very positive experience me, personally. Sure, I spend a fair amount of time pulling at my hair, rewriting, crumpling imaginary sheets of paper and throwing them onto an imaginary pile of previous efforts, but the truth is that trying to define my own perspective has forced me to realize that my point of view is perhaps a bit different than I once thought it was. This has become much more obvious after having gone through this recent redesign. We had so many discussions on staff here about which way to go, what direction to follow, and how best to serve what each of us thinks are the most important needs of the readership. And at the risk of looping this all back to Mark and laying it at his feet, there certainly is a connection between the somewhat sweeping changes we have made, and that one conversation a few years ago. It seems almost comical that just one person telling me what he thought would be a good idea changed my mind about starting a new section of the magazine, but that’s exactly what happened. In fairness, some members of our editorial advisory board had brought it up previously, but Mark said it not so much as a wise structural or editorial strategy, it was because he was personally interested in my perspective and what I might have to say. Now, maybe he’s just an expert at flattery, to which I say, “well done, Mr. Issenberg,” but I think he really wanted to see something in the magazine he had not seen before.
So, we hope you see something on the following pages that you like and you haven’t seen before, but we realize that can’t possibly be true for all of you, and you may even find something you don’t like, and don’t want to see, in which case you should let me know and I’ll give you Mark’s email address.