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Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory 101

An introduction

By Cassie Bustamante

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been enthralled by magazines. My parents gifted me my very first subscriptions — to Highlights and National Geographic, which I would anxiously await each month, religiously checking our mailbox daily anticipating their arrival. And when I was old enough to walk to the drugstore in our small New England town center, I’d use my own babysitting money to purchase high quality publications — Bop and Seventeen (plus wet n’ wild Pink Frost lipstick— it was the early ’90s). Holding those glossy pages filled with bright images and stories felt magical in my hands.

Years later, as a senior at Wake Forest University, I knew I wanted to move to New York City after graduation and work my way up to editor at a magazine, to be a part of something that always brought me so much joy. However, that same year, I met my husband, Chris, and, much to my college advisor’s chagrin — sorry, Dr. Zulick! — I put my own dream on the back burner.

I’ve spent the last 20 years all over the career map as a retail manager, personal trainer, group exercise instructor, vintage store owner and DIY blogger/influencer. I’ve raised two kids who are almost ready to fly the coop and added a preschooler to the mix. We’ve moved from North Carolina to Tennessee to Texas to Louisiana to Maryland, and back to North Carolina in 2019. Through it all, one thing has remained constant: my love for magazines. OK, two things: my love for magazines and my love for my husband.

I’d long since buried that dream of working in the magazine world, but a chance meeting with a neighbor reminded me that it still lived within me, simmering quietly all along. On an early, pre-dawn morning walk in the midsummer of 2020, I met Jim Dodson, the founding editor of O.Henry. It was one of those moments when your soul responds to another with, “Oh, it’s you. I know you.”

A couple months later, knowing that I had social media experience, he called me about “a job you’d be a perfect fit for,” and asked me to attend a driveway meeting, as one did in 2020. At the time, I wasn’t looking for a job, but, after thinking it over, I decided to give it a shot and applied.

For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve worked as O.Henry’s digital content manager, adding the role of managing editor in 2022. Now, 23 years after putting that dream of being an editor on the back burner, it’s bubbling over with excitement. The fact that I get to play an integral part in delivering into your hands a magazine filled with beautiful, hopeful and humorous writing paired with stunning photography and artwork is the fourth greatest joy of my life, ranking just under my kids.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “When you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect.”

Full disclosure: We’re still a hot mess at our house. There are currently dirty dishes piled in the sink, dog slobber streaks on the windows and dried Play-Doh crumbs under my feet as I write. Life with three kids, two rescue dogs and two full-time careers can be, at times, utter chaos, but it’s given me pages upon pages of content — sometimes funny, sometimes bittersweet, always honest. And finally, I can see the storyline developing in the midst of the mess.  OH

Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.