Everyone wears white here. Girls with white dogs in their arms rush towards the water. Women smear white ointments across the backs of their knees. Swimmers crouch over white caps.
Friends have gathered halfway up the beach, my father’s friends. Beside him sits a woman who was once so beautiful she was named the Rag Queen and transported on a float through the city. They crowd together under the Pohutukawa trees, the family and the extended family visiting from Europe. She waves to me. From across the sand I hear my father say “water lilies”…
As The Common office continues to anticipate the exciting work we plan to share in 2019 both online and in our next issues, it seems like a great time to reflect on the pieces that made 2018 just as exciting for us. See what resonated with readers the most in 2018 by browsing the list below of our most-read works of the past year: they range from fiction to essays, interviews, and more!
J.M. Holmes was born in Denver and raised in Rhode Island. His literary prizes include the Burnett Howe Prize for fiction at Amherst College, the Henfield Prize for literature, and a Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, The White Review, How Journal, the Missouri Review, and Gettysburg Review. His debut book How Are You Going to Save Yourself was published with Little, Brown and Sceptre books in August 2018.
Keeping Perspective: An Interview with Jeff Holmes
When I heard ancient Iranians worshipped Mithra in subterranean caverns, my first reaction was: why would anyone worship Mithra in total darkness? Mithra, the god of heavenly light, who goes over the earth, all her breadth over, after the setting of the sun, touches both ends of this wide, round earth, whose ends lie afar, and surveys everything that is between the earth and the heavens. In Mithraic belief, the God Mithra slays a bull to move the world and enlighten it with love. Followers pray and purify their souls in order to ascend to their heavenly place of origin.
How long have you lived here: With the exception of two years in Spain, I’ve lived in Puerto Rico almost my whole life. I was born and raised in the center of the island, in a small town called Aibonito.
Three words to describe the climate: Tropical, Hot, Lush (You are going to be hit hard by humidity the moment you walk out of the airport, but then, you will feel the caress of the sun and the wind, and maybe of the rain as well. Also, we are obsessed with air conditioning, so you could go from sweating profusely to freezing in minutes). Also, as Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Cien años de soledad portrayed, in the Caribbean we are still obsessed with ice. Months after the hurricane —when it was really a necessity and we waited 6 or 8 hours in line to buy it— this is still a thing. Ice: the ultimate great thing.
Best time of year to visit? Christmas season (In the island it lasts 50 days and the weather is amazing, but besides that the whole country experiences a feeling of constant celebration during those festive days that start just after Thanksgiving and extend until mid-January when we celebrate Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, a popular festivity with a bit of the experience and feeling of a carnival. We also celebrate the Three Kings Day on January 6th, and share lots of “arroz con gandules”, “pasteles”, “lechón asado”, and our beloved “pitorro.” Most of it made by our mothers and grandmothers.)
Ask a Local: Ana Teresa Toro, San Juan, Puerto Rico
In 1992, at age 19, novelist Sandi Tan wrote and starred in Shirkers, a feature-length road movie shot on the streets of Singapore. The title was inspired by Tan’s idea that in life, there were people who were neither movers nor shakers, but shirkers—those who evade responsibility and duty, escaping the confines of society. It starred Tan as S., a murderer and kidnapper on a mysterious mission to save children. One of Tan’s points of inspiration was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The plot didn’t matter as much as the mood, which Tan cultivated through carefully chosen locations, props, costumes, and music. Tan hired a friend to compose a soundtrack on his electric guitar, and hand-made many of her props, including a colorful board game that S. uses to plot her kidnappings. S.’s costume was a pink sailor shirt and blue knee-length shorts; she carried an old-fashioned camera on a strap, as well as a leather suitcase. “When I was eighteen,” Tan explains, “I thought you found freedom by building worlds inside your head.”
In the same way that some structures carry time on their shoulders, we too want to observe its traces. Every place, of course, has anchors that halt time as it passes by. In Europe, the huge cathedrals are mute and impotent witnesses of history. Likewise, the old sugar mills of Puerto Rico remain to remind us of an era that, while gone, is still harbored within them. These metal monsters, abandoned to their rusty luck, become sanctuaries of memory. The mill Coloso, one of the last of the dying titans, is now only a grey silhouette lost in the green and twisted landscape of the valley.
“…to feel at home nowhere, but at ease almost everywhere.”
“You need to be able to receive beauty.”
I am on the island of Patmos for Easter. Though I haven’t come for the holiday specifically. It so happens I’m off from work because it’s Easter, arguably the most important event in the Greek holiday calendar; Christ’s birth the less celebrated event as compared to his death as necessary prelude to resurrection. Patmos, the island where St. John the Divine is said to have had his vision of the apocalypse, generally feels mournful this time of year. Not infrequently it will be a sun-splashed day anywhere else in Greece while here clouds gather in their overcast greys. I am not a believer, though I’m hard put to call myself an atheist. Perhaps agnostic, with its Greek root, is closest to describing my feeling — that is, gnōsis (knowledge), and so agnōsto (unknown) would make me a believer in the unknown.