Issue #59: Memory

Rob Spillman

Aeschylus posited, “Memory is the mother of all wisdom.” While true, memory also can be a trickster, and cruel. And why are some of our most emotionally laden memories incomplete, a scent or color or image triggering a flood of half-remembered events accompanied by an overwhelming sense of joy or dread? In this issue we wrestle with this imperfect and changeable source of all writing.

Stephen King, Kevin Barry, Cheryl Strayed, Colum McCann, and Jodi Angel offer short takes on their strongest memories evoked by a piece of clothing or jewelry. Dana Spiotta and Rachel Kushner, two of America’s sharpest cultural observers, talk about collective memory and the creative process of weaving the personal with the political. Dale Peck, in “Parable of the Man Lost in the Snow,” creates a story out of a Zen exercise while simultaneously exploring the history of consciousness. In “Moving On,” Diane Cook imagines a future in which our former spouses are counseled out of our memories. Tiffany Briere, who holds a PhD in genetics, looks at the collision of hard science and mysticism in her Jamaican and Guyanese family history. In an excerpt from The Other Side, Lacy M. Johnson confronts a horrific memory with incredible force and grace. The incomparable Joy Williams, in her story “The Country,” asks, “Why are we here?”

The poets, naturally, bat the memory prompt around like a beach ball, seemingly having much more fun than anyone else at the party. C. K. Williams offers a “Little Hymn to Time,” Charlie Smith asks “Why Harp on It?,” and Troy Jollimore plumbs the “Past Imperfect.” Walt Whitman is here as well, with an excerpt from Allen Crawford’s illustrated Song of Myself. The opening: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,/And what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” pretty much sums up what we’re after with this issue. I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.