I’m being completely honest when I say that I believed I wouldn’t have the time or the will to read the latest issue (Issue 07) of The Common in time for this review. The Common, a print and online literary magazine based at Amherst College, publishes fiction, essays, poetry and images that focus on a modern sense of place. Issue 07, which was released this Monday, April 29, promised to be an enriching read, but I doubted how much time I’d have to devote to reading it. Drowning in my research, papers, presentations and labs, I worried constantly about budgeting what little time I had. Between our work, our extracurricular activities and the constant need to overextend ourselves, Amherst students generally don’t make time to step back and reflect. We don’t think we have the time or the motivation to find the “extraordinary in the common,” an idea that The Common’s mission statement confronts us with.
As I began drearily reading in anticipation of writing these words on this very column, I found myself inadvertently swept up in The Common’s ideal. With its simple design and magnificent typeface, The Common reels in the reader’s attention almost instantly. Indeed, this is its purpose: to create a common space for the articulation of change. Its content aims to tackle themes of space across distances and time in all senses. These stories, poems and images all rest upon a common theme: change and space.
“The Common Statement,” a piece by Editor in Chief and Amherst alum Jennifer Acker ’00, relays these themes and sets the stage for the rest of the pieces as she asks, “When do we start to have a past, a self we recognize not only as prior but as inaccessible except by memory?”
Acker confronts her present and her past through the theme of walking, first acknowledging the natural differences in her path between her past and her present in Montague. Indeed, she says that her nightly walks remind her of the past and tether her to the present while her mind and words look towards the future.
In “Without,” a quintessential essay that also reflects upon these themes, essayist Marisa Silver remembers her move from Cleveland to New York City as grounding moment for defining her relationship and view of her father. Her father losing and retrieving stolen bikes in an unfamiliar city had become folklore for her family, a reminder of their collective memories and a definition of the man they recently lost. As she recounts her father’s fatal accident, she remembers that she has never seen a photo of herself as a child in her father’s arms. This past and this place have both become inaccessible except through the collective memory of the story and myth of her father.
Many of the stories and poems in Issue 07 feature these same themes of remembering the past, and feeling tethered to the present by a physical place while being able to look towards the future. In “Little Chapel,” Richie Hofmann wonders aloud whether the chapel he finds himself in is “a place you recognize” and how memory and time has distorted the space itself. In “Erasure,” David Livewell depicts schoolgirls and boys playing with and writing their names in chalk and fearing that “the dead might clench [the children’s] ankles till they pulled [them] down into their moss-furred crypts.” Yet, he ends the poem by admitting that this defeat had already come as their chalked names disappeared to dust. The chalk disappears just as the bodies that the children feared did, and time goes on. Finally, in “Your Parents’ House,” Zeina Hashem Beck reminds us that of the simultaneous certainty and uncertainty of space and time. We know yet deny that we and our parents will grow old, safe in the repetition of our relationships, our furnishings and our homes.
Amherst students don’t often confront these seemingly obscure concepts of space and time. Unless we’re writing a paper about the subject, we seem to float through daily processes, desperately pleading with time to slow down so that we won’t face a due date, so we won’t face moving and, especially pertinent, so that we won’t face leaving this place. Yet, the themes of change are all around us, slowly encroaching onto our daily lives, into our common space.
I didn’t think I’d have time to even enjoy reading The Common. I am so scared of time escaping me and the transitions that are soon to come that I’ve forgotten how to anchor myself to the present and imagine the future in a positive light. Ultimately, this is why The Common exists in my mind: to remind me of the “extraordinary in the common” that is literature and to remind us all that that which we ignore or even fear in our ordinary lives can be beautiful.