At a favorite Asian restaurant recently, we had to laugh at the fortune cookie that accompanied our chicken fried rice and sweet potato tempura: “A good memory is one trained to ignore the trivial details.” Given we were hard at work on this memory-themed issue of Mason’s Road, we were more amused at the timing than the message itself. Actually, the more we contemplated the fortune, the more it irritated the tender creative spot that we writers protect so fiercely. After all, isn’t it precisely those “trivial details” that evoke the strongest memories and inspire us to write our most genuine, believable work? To quote some of our selected authors, isn’t it “the dewiness to her skin that made him feel like the early years of their marriage” or “those endless summer drives, smoking cigs, her feet out the window, hair in the wind,” exactly what characterizes life and makes it memorable? As human beings we curate our lives, sifting through the great joys, the deep sorrows and everything in between. We select the minutiae – the trivial details – that speak to us and ultimately become our memories. This is what makes our stories real.
As editors, we were fascinated to discover the complexity of this theme in each submission. The fact that memory is universal does not make it formulaic. The stories we selected to publish demonstrate this by utilizing unique and compelling perspectives. An old man’s heartbreak over losing his wife is palpable when witnessed through the naivete of his grandson; a father’s decision to support a son who needs him is redemptive when seen through the prism of his remembered guilt. These stories reflect the many faces of memory, and the “trivial” moments that make them indelible. Recognizing these moments gives them life. Recording them gives them permanence. And isn’t that our job as writers?
In discussing her recent novel Someone, Alice McDermott observed, “Incident is momentary, but the memory of an incident, the story told about it, is life-long and fluid.” Put that in your fortune cookie.
Heather Zullinger and Mary Linder