For months, I’ve dreaded writing this essay, which is my last as editor of Oregon Humanities magazine. Not only did I want to avoid the complex feelings that would inevitably arise when looking back at my eighteen-year tenure, I simply didn’t want to go back and confront my past selves.
It’s not that I’m bad at looking back: nostalgia for the past (both real and imagined) is something I’m pretty adept at. I can evoke the feeling at will and make cinematic even the most tedious chore. Leans heavily on broom and gazes out over a landscape of yellow and orange leaves, wistful expression on face: “I remember sweeping leaves off the porch last fall, and now it’s fall again.” Sighs, grasps broom handle and begins a slow rhythmic motion of sweeping, leaves crackling and swirling before falling to the ground.
But eighteen years is a long time, a lifetime. It is a childhood, enough time to be born, to grow up, to move on. It’s enough time to wander, then grow weary of wandering, then settle down. It’s enough time to morph from a family of two, to three, to four, to three again.
For me, nearing the end of my third cycle of eighteen, I see this pattern clearly in my own life. The first eighteen years was the time it took to question everything I’d known on the small island I grew up on, to pick at everything and everyone, to trim away at the me there at the cusp of adulthood, and to take that lighter self and board a plane heading east, vowing to not look back and not come back.
Eighteen years was the time it took to look back, feel regret, and go back. Eighteen years is the time it is taking to reconcile, repair, and rebuild.
As a writer and editor, I understand the power of reflection and revision in shaping a narrative: shuffling plot points and observations around few times, cutting and adding, trying to figure out where the story begins, how it moves, where it ends. I might start out thinking I know the shape of a story, but in looking back, a different structure and arc reveal themselves.
For Oregon Humanities magazine, one version of the past eighteen years shows up on the pages of this issue. It was difficult to select from hundreds of essays and articles just the seven that follow; squeezing in the handful of excerpts on pages six and seven was my attempt to get just a few more voices and perspectives onto these pages. I’m fond of so many more pieces, but these seven are the ones that seem to best show an arc of the magazine and the organization from 2001 to 2019. Anyone else could have assembled a different collection to show a different arc, or I, on another day, might have made some different choices.
It was difficult to dispassionately evaluate my editor’s notes. Over the years, through these notes, I confronted and explored assimilation, acculturation, colonialism, misogyny, patriarchy, racism, interdependence, loss, and hope. I used as context my upbringing in Hawai’i and my identity as a woman of color, an adoptee, a survivor of sexual abuse, and a parent. In writing these notes, I struggled with the limits of language, the obligations of relationships, the fragility of my own ego.
When the emotions of revisiting these past versions of me was too much, I used word clouds to find patterns. Though I was first listed as editor of this magazine in the Fall 2001 issue, the first editor’s note I wrote was for the Spring 2006 issue. From 2006 to 2011, the largest words (meaning, those that appeared with the most frequency) were issue, time, world, people, Oregon, work, and past. From 2014 to 2019, the largest words were kids, life, years, family, school, make, and time. This aligns with a shift in priorities that I was feeling in my personal life, but also with my sense of the value of individual stories in understanding larger overwhelming systems.
Ultimately, I saw a similar arc as the one laid out in the features that follow. In the beginning, I often leaned on the words and experiences of others, used them as models, looked to them to validate and affirm my own thoughts and feelings. Toward the end, I leaned on myself, though I still struggled to do so, with every single note. Even this one.
Looking back, I have almost always written about power, justice, and integrity—even though these words don’t appear through a word cloud generator. In recent years, when I was at my most courageous, I wrote about love.
It’s comforting and liberating to know that, even with the same raw material, there are so many different ways to tell a story, there is no one right or best way forward. Instead, we can capture these daily impressions, inputs, wonderings, and decisions with the nets of our minds and sort through them and assemble them into one version of our lives in order to make sense of it all. In looking back, we can do it again. And again. And again.
I’m grateful to have had these notes as a place to process my thoughts and observations, snippets of things read, watched, and heard. Though I’ve always written, I’ve never been a disciplined diarist. Instead, here in this magazine, I’ve made one collage of my life and shared it with readers as a way of saying, “This is me. This is my life. This is what it looks like to be me, living.” It’s been a way of asking, “What does it look like to be you, living?”
It’s hard to imagine a better way I could have spent these last eighteen years.
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