What Do You Do With a Memory?
Subscribers may recall that the cover of last year’s May/June issue—the first to be published in the earliest and, for many of us, darkest days of the pandemic—featured the words writing contests planted in a bed of green grass. It was a design developed apropos of nothing, really, beyond a desire to elicit the appearance, and maybe even the feeling, of sitting on the grass. To sit in communion with the earth: such a humble act, beautiful in its simplicity, the significance of which only grew during the initial weeks of stay-at-home orders, when even the prospect of a morning spent in a park, reading a book under a tree, seemed painfully out of reach. I was reminded of the grass—and with it a memory of sitting in a field when I was a kid, examining the riot of life teeming underfoot maybe a little more intently, certainly for a lot longer, than some would deem normal—when I read “Some Thoughts on Order—in Poetry, in Life” by Diane Seuss. “I’d always been a freak, hadn’t I?” she writes. “Little Touch-Me-Not, the kids called me. Laid on my belly and stared for hours into the ice fishing hole.” I suspect a good number of you will find in her essay not only the reassurance of a kindred spirit, but also an abundance of thought-provoking and inspiring observations about writing and, as she puts it, “forging a self.”
This issue’s cover with its expanse of water, at once refreshing and a tad mysterious, holds for me another memory: years of childhood swimming lessons, specifically the final drill of my final lesson, requiring sixty minutes in the dead man’s float. Face down, back arched, arms extended. Then head up, deep breath, and underwater again, for too long—too long. Reprimanded for treading water while taking a breath, no break, deep breath, face back under. What do you do with a memory like that? It recedes, returns. The “improvisational nature of memory,” Seuss calls it. During the past fourteen months or so there have been many opportunities to wade into memories, to dive deeper. “The dread of time, and the formlessness of time, a dread particularly keen to the writer, now has new gullies and crevasses,” writes Sarah Ruhl in “Not Writing Right Now: Writer’s Block During a Pandemic.” But eventually we need to rise back up to the surface, to breathe the air. Feel the sun on your face, if you can. Tread water if you need to—find words to stay afloat. From Arriel Vinson to Sarah Ruhl, Diane Seuss to Kavita Das, this issue’s writers offer life preservers. Grab hold until we reach dry land.