E. E. Cummings: Life Interview

When you read old issues of Life you sometimes come away with the impression that life was better in the old days. In Six Nonlectures E. E. Cummings describes a job interview his friend had at a magazine with "the largest circulation on earth."

"Now listen," the subsubeditor suggested, "if you're thinking of working with us, you'd better know The Three Rules."

"And what," my friend cheerfully inquired, "are The Three Rules?"

"The Three Rules," explained his mentor, "are: first, eight to eighty; second, anybody can do it; and third, makes you feel better."

"I don't quite understand," my friend confessed.

"Perfectly simple," his interlocutor assured him. "Our first Rule means that every article we publish must appeal to anybody, man woman or child, between the ages of eight and eighty years-- is that clear?"

My friend said it was indeed clear.

"Second," his enlightener continued, "any article we publish must convince any reader of the article that he or she could do whatever was done by the person about whom the article was written. Suppose (for instance) you were writing about Lindbergh, who had just flown the Atlantic ocean for the first time in history with nothing but unlimited nerve and a couple of chicken (or was it ham?) sandwiches-- do you follow me?"

"I'm ahead of you," my friend murmured.

"Remembering Rule number two," the subsub went on, "you'd impress on your readers' minds, over and over again, the fact that (after all) there wouldn't have been anything extraordinary about Lindbergh if he hadn't been just a human being like every single one of them. See?"

"I see," said my friend grimly.

"Third," the subsub intoned, "we'll imagine you're describing a record-breaking Chinese flood-- millions of poor unfortunate men and women and little children and helpless babies drowning and drowned; millions more perishing of slow starvation; suffering inconceivable, untold agonies and so forth-- well, any reader of this article must feel definitely and distinctly better, when he or she finishes the article, than when he or she began it."

"Sounds a trifle difficult," my friend hazarded.

"Don't be silly," the oracle admonished. "All you've got to do, when you're through with your horrors, is to close by saying: but (thanks to an all-merciful Providence) we Americans, with our high standard of living and our Christian ideals, will never be subjected to such inhuman conditions; as long as the Stars and Stripes triumphantly float over one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all-- get me?"

"I get you," said my disillusioned friend.