Last Things First
By Mark Wood
It’s a joke around our office that this introductory column is always the last
thing written. In other words, I always manage to put it off a bit longer
than anything else. My colleague, Mark Kendall, has suggested retitling it
something like “Last Things First,” or “A Funny Thing Happened on the
Way to the Press.”
It’s not exactly a case of procrastination—more like waiting for inspiration.
At last, desperation sets in and I sally forth, hoping to find an idea
along the way.
Certainly I could write about the alma mater—how the whole controversy
struck me as silly at first, but how, with time and growing empathy, I
came to see it differently. I could write loads about that wonderful old
term—“generation gap”—and how my generation, once so full of irreverence
and disdain for tradition, distrustful of anyone over 40, now frequently
finds itself shouting from the opposite shore.
I could write about hard times. About my mother, who grew up during
the Great Depression, telling me more than a year ago to get my savings in
order because another big one was on its way. How I smiled tolerantly at
her (an expression I’ve begun to glimpse on my own daughter’s face once in
a while) and told her not to get herself worked up because such things simply
didn’t happen any more.
I could start with the cryptic theme of this magazine—getting there—
and branch out in any of a dozen directions. Getting there as journey.
Getting there as arrival. Getting there as progress. Getting there as success.
How America has always been about getting there—the West, the moon, the
top of the heap.
I could dredge up something out of memory, something with a touch
of humor and pathos and symbolic resonance. Like the first time I crossed
the Atlantic, aboard the old SS France. And then the time, some 30 years
later, when I boarded her again in her new guise as the SS Norway, and
spent seven days cruising through my own memories and mythmaking, trying
to tell the two apart.
I could simply use this column as an old-fashioned magazine introduction.
Talk about a few of the things included in the issue, enlarge upon the
theme, poke a little fun at myself along the way. That’s always safe, if a bit
I could write about the process of putting together a magazine. The
ever-popular behind-the-scenes glimpse of how things come together.
Or—the ultimate cop-out, I suppose—I could write about the process
of writing a column. Something like a Charlie Kaufman screenplay. About
how ideas come and go. How one eventually sticks in the net. After all,
that’s how my mind works best—with the written equivalent of thinking
Someone once said that essay-writing is the mind in motion, and a finished
essay is a map of thought. So maybe I should just start writing and see
where the map I’m drawing leads me. Someplace interesting, I hope. Or
maybe just on a scenic tour of my own rather cluttered brain.