It was written by a writer named Irwin Shaw, and as I was telling Verdant about it, I remembered how much I loved it, and I wound up poking around and buying his short story compendium.
The book came yesterday (along with my mom's fed-exed boxes of music from tennessee) and as I was flipping through it on the ferry this morning, one of the girls on the boat said, "Oh! I read a novel by him in AP English. It was really nice. He was a beautiful writer." And we talked about the writing until the boat docked on the waterside.
And then I read this excerpt from Shaw's Introduction (which was just so beautifully written):
Why does a man spend fifty years of his life in an occupation that is often painful? ...There is the reward of the storyteller, sitting cross-legged in the bazaar, filling the need of humanity in the humdrum course of the ordinary day for magic and distant wonders, for disguised moralizing that will set everyday transactions into larger perspectives, for the compression of great matters into digestible portions, for the shaping of mysteries into sharply edged and comprehensible symbols.
Then there is the private and exquisite reward of escaping from the laws of consistency. Today you are sad and you tell a sad story. Tomorrow you are happy and your tale is a joyful one. You remember a woman whom you loved whole-heartedly, and you celebrate her memory. You suffer from the wound of a woman who treated you badly and you denigrate womanhood. A saint has touched you and you are a priest. God has neglected you and you preach atheism.
In a novel or a play you must be a whole man. In a collection of stories, you can be all the men or fragments of men, worthy and unworthy, who in different seasons abound in you. It is a luxury not to be scorned.
Originally, this book was intended to contain all of my stories, but... we fixed on sixty-three stories as a reasonable number and began the sad process of winnowing out the ones we would leave behind. It was a little like being the commander of a besieged town who knows he cannot evacuate all his troops and is forced to decide who shall go and who shall stay to be overrun by the enemy. And the enemy in this case might be oblivion.
...If the drowning man is devout, it can be imagined that in those final moments he examines the scenes to determine the balance between his sins and his virtues with a view toward eventual salvation. My chances for salvation lie in a place sometime in the future on a library shelf. These stories were selected, often with doubts and misgivings, with the hope that a spot on a distant shelf is waiting for them.
- Irwin Shaw
And i thought: how beautiful it is that today two people meeting at random can stop and talk about how much they both loved this writer's work, thirty years after he wrote that sentence. how beautiful it is that such a connection can happen between two people, that one man's words can tie them together, just for a moment, one moment in a morning on a ferry.
And then I thought: how beautiful it is that I have had the privilege of meeting and connecting to thousands of people through my stories. how beautiful it is that they have been translated into other languages, that people have printed them off and read them - on planes, on subways, on trains in tokyo. how beautiful it is that i have had the opportunity to write - to have that writing touch other people, and to be touched in turn.
how beautiful. how grateful i am for that. and for all of you who have given me that.