Month: May 2014

Memories of Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day, readers! This is one of those holidays that can mean vastly different things depending on who is celebrating it. For those involved with the military or those who have lost loved ones, it’s no doubt a somber day, one of observance and of ritual, of sadness but perhaps also of pride. For all those Americans who don’t have a direct connection to the military, without any disrespect, I think the day has a more festive feeling. It’s a day that usually marks the start of summer, a day of celebration, of cookouts, parades, of facepainting and balloons tied to children’s wrists, of sparklers in the summer twilight. For either group, though, I think the day is still very much tied up with memory.

For the military families out there, the day is of course about remembering what has been lost, the prices paid, the people who aren’t there today. But for the other group, the day is about memory as well; it’s a day in which we remember when we were kids, and the summer traditions we had that the kids of today are upholding; it’s a day of doing what Americans have been doing for generations. Any major holiday has that element of memory to it, but whereas a religious holiday is only for some, Memorial Day is pretty much open to anyone who wants to tap into American traditions and share in them.

Memory, to me, is always a fundamental aspect of the stories I write, and both the unreliability and constancy of memory features prominently as a theme in those stories. I often write stories from the perspective of people looking back at important times in their lives, or marveling at how naive, how fresh, how unsullied they once were before other major life events came crowding in. I think memory is one of those things that simply can’t be avoided in fiction. To assume that memory is fixed and perfect, for example, ends up seeming naive, and denying the fluctuating nature of the worlds we store in our heads. To deny its powerful influence on us at all, on the other hand, is equally naive.

Today is an occasion to mark time, and to think about memorial days past. I remember having hot dogs on the grill with my family, and running barefoot in the cool grass of the shady backyard; I remember the elation that the school year was almost at its end; I remember the little shorts and t-shirts that I wore every day of the summer until they fell apart; I remember summer as a kid. I remember the radio playing through the open door of the kitchen and running to get the cushions off the chairs in the backyard when rain inevitably came. I remember the sound of that rain pinging on the metal air conditioner bolted into the window frame as I lay in bed at night.

What do you remember as part of your summer? What about childhood, or memory, or the person you were, does this day evoke?

Boston Calling 2014

This weekend I went to the concert called Boston Calling, a big rowdy musicfest held in the public square in front of Boston’s hideous City Hall building (don’t believe me? Google it. You’ll be stunned at what a concrete monstrosity is sitting within a block of Faneuil Hall). But it was an absolutely terrific time; I saw Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and they were probably the best musical performers I’ve ever been to. The live versions of their songs were fierce and rich with sound, melody, and depth; it might have something to do with the sheer size of the band and number of instruments the band uses; I saw banjos, guitars, piano, two sets of differing percussion, a giant bass, an accordian, and a tuba and trombone. Their music, if you haven’t heard them, has a soulful seventies vibe, and the hippies were out in full force in the crowd. The smell of pot wafted over the crowd and daisy chains abounded.
The lead singer was a relaxed bearded guy with a navy suit over what looked like white pajamas and a high top knot of ridiculously long hair; he sang joyous, catchy, exuberant songs, without a bad one in the bunch.
I haven’t been to a big concert like this in years, and it was amazing to see how many people turned out just for this band, with more coming for the following act of Jack Johnson. We were glad to have arrived early; if we’d come late, there would have been no way to get close to the stage. When leaving later, we had to push and weave and dodge and excuse ourselves for a good twenty minutes just to get to the edge of the mass of people. But it’s great once in a while to go to these big popular events, even if crowds aren’t your thing; there’s something joyful and liberatory about swaying and singing along with a thousand strangers. The next time your favorite band shows up in town, don’t miss it!
When was the last time you went to a big concert, and were the long lines, the security, and all the standing worth it? What do you love about live music?

Submitting Deadline May 15 for Issue 2

Time is running out, writers! In order to be considered for publication in Two Cities’ issue 2, you must submit your work by May 15. If you’ve been on the fence about submitting, now is the time to take the plunge! We are still looking for the best in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, so get in there. If you miss the deadline, your work will be still be considered for upcoming issues. But who wants to wait? We look forward to reading your submissions.

Find out about submitting to Two Cities Review here.

Memories of an Older City in the New

Today, I’m thinking about memory as I walk through my city. Twice a week my commuting path takes me through Copley Square, the historic center of Boston, and I walk/jog briskly through traffic past some of the oldest buildings in the area, such as the grand Boston Public Library and the old church that face each other across the plaza. I remember visiting the rare books room of the library and seeing documents from the sixteen hundreds or even earlier, chronicling the journeys of the earliest European settlers here. At the same time, I’m crossing Boylston street, which now has a plethora of other, starker memories demanding their room in my brain, demanding citywide remembrance.

That’s the funny thing about living in a city with any kind of history; there are always so many layers of time and memory super-imposed on each other, constantly layering on top of one another, blurring the lines of past and present. There is the circle memorializing the Boston massacre; and over there, a line of hip new clothing stores that seem to have sprung up just last week. The city keeps changing, but there are always signs of the old wherever you look. There’s the line of hungry cannoli-eating customers in the North End, waiting at Mike’s pastry shop; but the Italian immigrants that made up this neighborhood are largely gone. Where did they go?

I sometimes hear old Bostonians lamenting this change, the way all city-dwellers hate change. A guy I worked with who had grown up in Somerville remembered all those Irish Catholic kids he grew up with, the friendly cops who looked the other way when they were drinking out of paper bags, the saints’ parades down the streets. Now, he complained, there’s a Caribbean cultural parade every year instead, and the neighborhood is “all foreigners.” It’s always unpleasant to hear this kind of talk; after all, go back a generation or two and it was the Irish who were the foreigners. That, of course, is part of the way memory evolves in a city; the people who arrive as outsiders are quick to reject the next generation of newcomers. That’s natural, I suppose. Things even out in the end.

It’s amazing to me how fast cities change, and how the old does endure side-by-side with the new. Buildings get torn down, but the beloved ones become shrines to memory, treasures of common repository. And we say, “That used to be —” and are stunned to see the city growing up around us, and it reminds us that time passes. If anything, the city marks time for us, and reminds us that we grow older. But the memories of what was there before endure. Even on my small street in Cambridge, I see that one shop that seems to change its identity every six months, and already it has gone through three iterations. First it was an abandoned store front; then a trendy cafe with two chairs and only three items on the menu; now it’s a pie shop. I like the pie shop and hope it stays, but I know the odds are small.