Unexpected Channels Through Familiar Ground

By Scott Dickensheets

It’s a quiet September Saturday, and I’m thinking hard about how fragile life, civilization, and everything really are. Not because something’s wrong, at least not in my immediate world, but rather because nothing seems wrong: the grandkids are squealing, the dogs are sleeping, several of the bills are paid. Domestic bliss reigns. Which is precisely when I expect something to blow a gasket. Maybe it’s a consequence of our seething, anxious times that such moments of tranquility always remind me of how much I have to lose, or maybe I’m just naturally the kind of guy Dylan would call a worried man with a worried mind.

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Either way, my thoughts are underlined by the coming publication of Live Through This, the ninth volume of Las Vegas Writes, an anthology of local authors published annually in conjunction with the Las Vegas Book Festival and funded by Nevada Humanities. (I co-edited the book with Geoff Schumacher.) The theme of this year’s book? Unnatural disasters.

Yeah, we know. In the long shadow of the October 1, 2017 massacre, as well as the fact that the book would come out right around its first anniversary, soliciting writing about “unnatural disasters” could be risky. That tragedy pretty much rewrote the local definition of “unnatural disaster.” So we were properly cautious. But as two longtime residents of Southern Nevada—Geoff is a card-carrying historian of the region—we also knew that the idea of manmade trouble is almost endlessly applicable to Las Vegas in oh, so many ways. So, as editors, that expanded our comfort zone a bit.

Also: This is my sixth turn editing or co-editing a Las Vegas Writes book, and I’ve developed a cardinal rule: Trust the writers. They always surprise you, most often in a good way. I learned this early on: The first Las Vegas Writes volume I worked on had as its theme “decay,” and I braced myself for a book full of similar stories about crumbling buildings, aging neighborhoods, down-and-out gamblers. But when the contributions came in, I realized my concerns were baseless: Good writers always find—or create—unexpected channels through familiar ground. I’ve come to count on that year after year. 

So a couple of the pieces in Live Through This address October 1, but vector in from uniquely personal angles; others imbibe from a sense of apocalyptic tension that’s surely been sharpened by the chaos of that terrible day; but most—some funny, some thoughtful, some laceratingly revealing—simply go their own way. Even an unnatural disaster as rending, as encompassing as October 1 can’t be allowed to subsume every story.

It’s the magic of good writing to make that truism manifest on the page—and to suggest, as this pleasant Saturday leaks away without the sky falling, that maybe there’s less to worry about than I think.

Live Through This: An Anthology of Unnatural Disasters: Stories and Essays by Las Vegas Writers, published by Huntington Press.

Scott Dickensheets is the deputy editor of Desert Companion, the magazine of Nevada Public Radio. Before that, he edited Las Vegas CityLife and the Las Vegas Weekly, served as managing editor of Las Vegas Life, and worked in a number of positions at the Las Vegas Sun, from assistant features editor to columnist. Prior to that, he worked as a publicist and magazine editor for the Allied Arts Council. Scott has edited or co-edited six volumes of the Las Vegas Writes series, and was an assistant editor of Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State. He will also be participating in the Las Vegas Book Festival on October 20, 2018.

Cheyanne TreadwayThomas