Unwinnable Monthly – May 2023
This is a reprint of the letter from the editor in Unwinnable Monthly Issue 163. You can buy Issue 163 now, or purchase a monthly subscription to make sure you never miss an issue!
Welcome to myths and legends.
There’s a beautiful quality to myths and legends that is so deeply human to me. Even though they are often stories far beyond the human, they are stories that gather and bind us. Things happen, they’re elevated and the stories begin to form a kind of fabric upon which many of us place our experienced reality.
For me, there is nothing pejorative in the mythical or legendary. I can acknowledge their outlandishness, the ability of them to defy the things I personally believe to be rational while, while simultaneously entertaining the possibility they contain some great truth. Even if that truth is “there once was a strong person with that name, yes” or “such a location exists, without magic powers” there is still a captivating essence as to having a story and passing it on.
There is an undeniable memetic quality to mythmaking. To take part in it, to make a myth of a real experience, is to participate in an ancient, and viral, act of storytelling. To be a link in the chain. To tell someone a story half-remembered and for that person to then pass it on until years later, so far from the originator, there is now a story told that only scarcely resembles true events is the essence of becoming a legend. Tales told through the great morphic power of human recollection and embellishment.
Even from experience, I once took a bored, innocuous action that perpetuated itself for years. I once even met someone who had encountered the distant ripples of my bored fun and surprised them with how decidedly unimpressive the originator of what is now something of a proud tradition in the final stages of crumbling.
But truly, what separates myth and legend from the mundane is often only the number of degrees we are separated from source. I am careful here not to call these sources facts out of respect for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Both can be true. That the inspiration is mundane and that organizing our lives around a myth or legend eventually organizes us around a shared delusion. With enough time and distance, perhaps all history morphs into something more, something mythical, legendary.
This cuts another way. The act of mythologizing has a habit of distilling matters, for lack of a better term Flanderizing them. Heracles is more remembered for his great and heroic feats and not for, you know, killing his children. Many in the US are taught that the “Founding Fathers” were all friends who loved democracy and the republic but it is not until later we’re allowed to find out that they were all deeply flawed people and many downright rotten. Then something like Hamilton comes around, rewrites the legend, and we move forward, carriers of a new story.
To my mind, this has always been the truth of something like American Gods. It is not just that we carry things from Old Country or even between generations. It is that the versions of stories become a kind of truth unto themselves. They have a life, one that continues to grow and evolve with the telling.
That’s why this issue was something I had looked forward to beyond the normal, “Oh neat! A theme!” It’s an issue themed around the very nature of what so many of us have striven to do here at Unwinnable. To tell stories and with the telling, help those stories transcend beyond the beat-by-beat reporting into something more, alive and sustaining.
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This month’s cover by Kyle Patterson features the Green Man, a mysterious figure that finds its way, sometimes obliquely, into many of this month’s stories. See if you can find him!
We have two guest writers for the theme this month. Orrin Grey talks about stinky guys made of mud and stuff. Saniya Ahmed, who searches for a time when Islamic art and history will be treated like Pentiment.
In Funeral Rites, brought to you by our friends at Exalted Funeral, Phoenix Simms chats with Luka Rejec about the second edition of Ultraviolet Grasslands, Our Golden Age and the Synthetic Dream Machine, with which you can forge your own myths and legends.
As for our regular columnists, Jay Castello talks about what we’re able to see at an increasingly low tide. Maddi Chilton talks about a green guy and the dude who tries to kill him. Dierdre Coyle gets into the FAUNtastical. Stu Horvath tells us why he is this way with the power of song. Matt Marrone is a sick and twisted person. Emily Price plays New Leaf to find old ones. Justin Reeve makes his grand folly. Rob Rich talks about his cat. Autumn Wright heads to the rock show. Levi Rubeck gets kind of Greek. Ben Sailer takes a bath. Phoenix Simms does Folklore. Phoenix, the theme was myths!
See you all in a few weeks in Exploits!
Also, it’s MAY! What have you done to support workers lately?
May 15, 2023