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One of the unexpected challenges of parenthood, I’ve come to realize, is watching my kids, especially my six-year-old daughter, navigate the various social structures at school, on the playground, in her Girl Scout troop—wherever the tectonic forces of young relationships and premature cliques are allowed to push and pull their fragile psyches with what can seem like terrifying ease. As their dad I can offer a model, perhaps, and give support and encouragement, clumsy as it may be, but with every breathless mention of a new BFF or teary report of a recess altercation, I’ve come to accept that I am, for the most part, merely a witness to my kids’ education in friendship.
It’s an education that never ends, of course. Like everyone else, I’ve passed through a number of communities and had my share of friendships. Some were fostered by me while some, quite honestly, were foisted on me. Some lasted, therefore, and some didn’t.
What we all eventually learn is that a critical ingredient in any good friendship is honesty: the quality that makes it possible to speak your mind, empathize, offer a new perspective, maybe even help. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I started working on this issue. While reading early drafts of the terrific collection of articles you have in front of you, and making my way through an advance reader’s edition of Cheryl Strayed’s new memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, whose publication this month is the occasion for our moving profile of the author on page 46, I was struck by just how honest and forthcoming our contributors and interview subjects have been.
Whether it’s Maura Kelly (35) admitting that she was deeply envious of her good friend after he won a Whiting Writers’ Award, Kim Wright (93) revealing her depression following the publication of her first novel, or Elizabeth Greenwood (66) describing how she was forced to confront herself and her work in the solitude of a writers retreat, many of the articles in this issue offer information and advice about subjects that writers must deal with every day—with or without the benefit of a group of people in whom they can confide. I hope you find these articles as helpful as I have. “Build a circle of friends,” advises Wright, “even if you meet them online through blogs and Facebook. They’re the only ones who will even remotely understand what you’re going through.”