This on-line magazine had its genesis in the thirteen paper magazines published by my English 241 (Creative Writing) class over the last thirteen years. And those magazines had their genesis in the exquisite quality of the work the writers in those classes were giving me each semester. I was astonished by how good it was, and I wanted to save it from the handing-in-and-handing-back that is the inevitable fate of students’ work. I wanted to hold on to the best of this work, retrieve it from the passage of time. Those magazines were the equivalent of a photo album, a way of cherishing the past before it becomes the past. Those thirteen issues stack up to more than four inches high and over 1,700 pages of work I’m proud to have received and published.
Over the years the names of the magazines changed from issue to issue. First was Upstarts 1, then Upstarts 2, then In the Memory House, Essais, Naked Dancing, Trespassing Aloud, On the Grounds of the Old Deluxe, Wilson West of the Tracks, Traveler There Are No Paths, Tuesday, March 10, The Jukebox Downstairs, Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven, and finally No End to the Things Made Out of Human Talk. The last two issues, as well as Tuesday, March 10, took their titles from works of art. I happened to be at art shows for an afternoon of viewing during the period we were putting together each of these magazines, and I was struck by correspondences between the titles of certain art works and the work of writers in the class. So they became the titles of our magazines.
And that’s how the title of this magazine came to be too. I love the work of Edward Hopper. Over the years I have had some Hopper calendars hanging in my kitchen. This year I was late on the draw, so I missed out on the Hopper calendars, as well as every other calendar I would want, so I was forced to resort to the box of old calendars I keep stored in the basement. This year instead of adding one to the box, I took one out. The days and dates of the calendar for 1990 matched up with the calendar for 2001, so it went up on my wall at the end of January. By April I knew I’d be involved in putting together an on-line magazine. I thought its title would be Out of the Box, the name of the public reading series my classes gave each year for the school and general public.
But then one morning in July, as I was sitting at my kitchen table, I looked up at the Hopper picture for that month. It was his famous painting of a lone gas station attendant standing beside three gas pumps in a rural gas station at dusk. The gas station is surrounded by dark woods. It is in the middle of nowhere. The attendant is the lone person in the scene. The sole light is from the old-time gas pump heads. I was suddenly aware of the radiance of these lowly gas pump heads. They were all that was between this man and darkness. At that moment I realized we must take our light wherever it comes from. These low-tech gas pumps provided all the light there was, and it was more than enough. I looked at the title of the piece: Gas. At that moment I knew I wanted it to be the title of our on-line magazine and that it wouldn’t change each issue; it would stay the same for the rest of its life.
The word “gas” suggests many things. Gas is one of the three basic states of matter. It is what moves our cars. It is what keeps hot air balloons aloft. It is what we use to heat our homes. It is what we used to use to light our lamps. It’s what anesthetists use to insure patients have no pain during surgery. Talking amongst friends used to called “gassing.” Gas can be lethal too. It’s how Sylvia Plath ended her life, how six million met their fate in the 40s, how we execute criminals in a majority of states. It’s not all heat, light, and lift.
In the months and years ahead Gas will present the best work of writers, photographers, and artists associated with Truman College. Be they students, faculty, staff, or alumni; we hope their work will give you heat and light, fuel your mind, maybe take away your pain. But if it just gets you high or makes you take something seriously that you hadn’t before, we’ll be happy too.