In March, 2015, The Cronk of Higher Education’s elusive editor-in-chief Leah Wescott all but disappeared with no explanation. Everyone who works for a college knows there is plenty of work to do without having to worry about satire, but we were curious where CronkNews.com was headed. Is this the end?
We sat down with Ms. Wescott to find out why she went AWOL and what we could expect from the Cronk in the future.
Leah, thanks for sitting down with us.
LW: Thank you. I owe everyone a big apology for jumping ship without any communication. My explanation is mostly awful but there is a more profound element to it, too. As I say that, I already feel ridiculous. You can judge for yourself.
LW: My slide started in January when I started a new day job. It was every satirist’s worst nightmare. Some might call it tragic. As soon as I walked into my new office, I loved every minute of it. Even worse, my new colleagues were unbelievably competent. They are really really good at what they do. Those assholes gave me nothing. I got home each night exhausted by meaningful work and intellectual challenge and I was rewarded with absolutely no new material to draw from as a humorist.
Wow. We had no idea how bad it’s been for you. I’m really sorry for giving you grief about going away. It must have been pretty painful being so happy all the time.
I appreciate your support. I’m still trying to adjust to the healthy environment. At the same time, I was also going through a bit of a soul search at the same time as my career life became so fulfilling.
In a religious way?
Really. This is not satire. Since I’ve been so blessed with my new situation, I’ve paused to ask myself about my motives in writing satire. Right around the time CronkNews celebrated its fifth anniversary last summer, I was putting my vacation reading list together Out of nothing but curiosity, I decided I would give the New Testament a try. I hear people quote it a lot but I’d never read it myself. I wondered about all the vitriol and fear that’s spouted and wanted to see for myself what it was all about. I read it cover-to-cover like a novel.
This really isn’t where I thought this interview was going to go.
I know. It’s a little weird, but it really impacted me. Jesus was so cool! He was so down to earth and patient. I didn’t read anything about who we’re supposed to persecute until after he died (four times in a row, as it turns out). Using the Bible as a textbook on leadership theory, I was curious how satire would hold up to the message to love my enemies.
Uh oh. Are you telling us you’re quitting the Cronk and becoming a Christian?
[Laughs] No. Not at all. If anything, I feel more humble because Jesus was such a brilliant satirist. I don’t know all the books and chapters, but there were times when his wry humor with the Pharisees (the know-it-alls who took the rules and themselves very seriously) sounded like stuff I’d love to publish in the Cronk. When Jesus told his disciples to quit lecturing and try parables that were more accessible to listeners I knew that for at least one world religion, I was in the clear. I write parables.
Jonathan Swift was the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
I’m not planning to become a nun, if that’s what you’re implying. This summer I’m reading all about the Buddha. Instead of asking myself whether a satirist can be a good person, I wondered if I could still find material when I’m trying to stay in the present – where problems can’t exist.
So what happens now? You have divine inspiration but no material?
Interestingly, the divine and the satire came together one day this spring, around the time I was questioning whether to pull the plug on the Cronk. One of my colleagues was incensed by a decision that had been made at work. In her rage, she asked me, “Have you ever read the Cronk?” I was stunned. “The Cronk of Higher Education,” she explained. “It’s a satirical…” she went on to explain my own publication to me and then said that her situation reminded her of an old Cronk story – one that I had written that I didn’t think many readers had appreciated. I felt like that was a sign to buckle down. There is plenty of material and voices that need to be heard. I just have to quiet myself to hear those stories.
Are you finding things to write about?
This summer, I sat down on June 5 – the day I started CronkNews six years ago and started from scratch. I threw away my old list of story ideas and wrote five pages of new headlines. For the past month I’ve been plugging away at writing enough material for CronkNews to run weekly throughout the school year.
Give us some details.
August 3, the Cronk presses roll. Later this fall, to feed a different heart’s desire, I’ll offer some online classes that feed a different part of my soul – the work of actual change. I hope there might be others who don’t just want to poke fun at what’s wrong but to do the more risky work of challenging a powerful, broken system.