In my twenties I landed a job at a holistic-living magazine. We were part of a movement that would revolutionize the choices Americans make around food, lifestyle, and the environment, while raising awareness about how unchecked pollution and toxins imperil our health and that of the planet. As a young person I was thrilled to be in a workplace animated by a strong sense of common purpose.
Our work culture emphasized collaboration, eschewing the strict hierarchical structure of many American companies. Maximizing profits was the last thing on most of our minds, yet our idealistic vision bore an inherent paradox. To stay true to our ideals we were doomed to remain small and insular. To flourish and make a real mark on the world we had to expand our reach.
The publishers decided to implement drastic changes, bring in leadership with one goal: turn the magazine around and make it profitable. Period. That meant layoffs and a 180° shift in our easygoing, creative culture. It was a grueling process that did indeed result in greater market share and ultimately put the magazine into more hands. Some of us went on to work even more passionately to further our causes.
That experience—by turns exhilarating and traumatic—has stayed with me over the years since. Last fall, Kathy Fish penned a craft essay titled “We Real Cool” in her newsletter The Art of Flash Fiction. The essay, which addressed the use of first-person plural to create a sense of community and common purpose, was referenced in a tweet by Jacqueline Doyle expressing her desire to see more workplace-related creative nonfiction in the CRAFT submissions queue. That convergence lit a fire in me and the story of my time at the magazine poured forth.
The first-person-plural point-of-view choice made it possible to elevate the story from the purely personal to one that could address the existential dread many of us feel in the face of weak-willed leadership on climate change and an increasingly toxic world. While alternative lifestyle choices as well as better food and product options are now widely available, they remain out of reach for millions who simply can’t afford them. In “We Had Something Beautiful,” I aim to highlight how the collaborative mindset and exuberant optimism of youth can be potent forces for change—but at the same time may clash headlong with myopically driven capitalist ambitions. In best-case scenarios these seemingly contradictory forces work together to address the pressing challenges of our times. I hope to leave the reader with the thought that in spite of the sense of impending doom that sometimes descends over us all, we are not helpless. Every individual, business, organization, and governmental body has a part to play in ensuring the survival and health of the planet together with its inhabitants. It will take a massive, concerted effort to combat climate change, and to guarantee access to pure, healthful food options, clean water, and safe products for all. We can, and must, take collective action toward these ends without delay.
KATHRYN SILVER-HAJO is a 2023 Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best American Food Writing nominee. Her flash fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry can be found in Atticus Review, Bending Genres, The Citron Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Fictive Dream, Flash Boulevard, Pithead Chapel, Ruby, and other lovely places. Her flash collection Wolfsong and novel Roots of the Banyan Tree are both forthcoming in 2023. Kathryn is a reader for Fractured Lit. Find her on Twitter at @KSilverHajo.