Memoir as Discovery

A childhood friend sent me a snapshot today, one I didn’t know existed, but one I was so very glad to see. It’s a photograph of me in the home of my childhood friend. I must be around ten or eleven. I’m sitting on what appears to be a love seat, or an oversized stuffed chair. I’m wearing a green polo shirt and jeans with the legs rolled into cuffs. I have on low-cut white tennis shoes, and I’m smiling at someone out of the frame. It means a good deal to me to see that smile because there were [...]

By | 2018-02-05T12:18:33+00:00 February 5th, 2018|Uncategorized|5 Comments

Gather and Release: The Energy of a Narrative

Finally, after a brutal stretch of snow and ice and cold, temperatures have moderated, and the thaw has begun. All that snow will now melt to water and run off into streams and tributaries and storm drains. Once we get above freezing, it has to go somewhere, right? During what I like to think of as a time of gathering, the snow accumulated and the cold set in, and I went out into it with my shoulders hunched against the wind and the muscles in my legs tensed as I carefully made my way over ice. I felt the tension [...]

By | 2018-01-22T08:03:11+00:00 January 22nd, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Making Stories Matter in Creative Nonfiction

I could tell you a story, as I do in my essay, “Bastards,” about the night a young man opened the back door to our house and stepped inside while my mother was washing dishes. I could recall, fact by fact, what happened next. The relevant question for those of us who write creative nonfiction is one of why I’ve decided this is a story worth telling. It’s our nature to tell stories, and we have a number of them at our disposal. When we write, we usually choose to tell the ones that have left us mystified or unsettled [...]

By | 2017-10-17T21:50:24+00:00 October 9th, 2017|Blog|14 Comments

One Way to Shape a Narrative

Here we are on the other side of the Fourth of July. We’re in the heart of summer now, but I can feel its end and the coming of the crisp days of fall and then the biting winds of winter within the hot, sunny days that will still be ours for some time. Book-length narratives—whether we’re talking novels or memoirs—are like that. The end is always contained in the beginning. Think of The Great Gatsby, which opens with Gatsby longing for Daisy, with Tom Buchannan’s affair with Myrtle Wilson, with Nick Carraway’s romance with Jordan Baker. In Chapter 7, [...]

By | 2017-07-10T07:12:30+00:00 July 10th, 2017|Blog|12 Comments

Not Fade Away: The Memoirist at Center Stage

Not Fade Away: The Memoirist at Center Stage My wife and I just got back from the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green, where we got to spend time with friends we haven’t seen for quite some time. At dinner last night, stories were abundant and laughs were plentiful. At times, though, we talked about serious matters, and empathy and understanding were widespread. This is what I look for in the people I think of as friends, this willingness to accept me for who I am, this refusal to judge. I want my friends to laugh with me, yes, [...]

By | 2017-04-24T07:22:03+00:00 April 24th, 2017|Blog|5 Comments

Looking Back on the Follies of Youth

I spent Sunday afternoon at an all-class reunion for my high school in Sumner, Illinois. Our town was a small town; our school was a small school, the sort where everyone knew everyone else and where your embarrassing and criminal moments stood out and became the stuff of stories to be told for years and years. I’m sure you can understand, then, that I went to the reunion with a certain amount of dread. I couldn’t help but carry with me all the memories from those high school days along with the fear that others would remember all the stupid [...]

By | 2016-09-12T07:36:26+00:00 September 12th, 2016|Blog|7 Comments

Goofus and Gallant Write Their Memoirs

If you’re like me, you remember very well the magazine, Highlights for Children, and one of its regular features, “Goofus and Gallant.” Six panels of drawings compared the comportment of the two boys: the always ill-behaved, Goofus, and the ever. . .well, the ever-gallant, Gallant.” The first panel on the left might say, “When Goofus loses, he runs away, crying.” The right panel might then counter: “Gallant doesn’t cry when he loses in games.” You get the idea. Goofus illustrates poor choices; Gallant shows us how to conduct ourselves. I thought it might be fun, then, to use this strategy [...]

By | 2016-09-05T07:50:09+00:00 September 5th, 2016|Blog|12 Comments

Memoir and the Imagination

      I’ve been spending some time lately wandering through cemeteries, chasing down departed ancestors. I particularly love the old country graveyards, some of them alongside small churches, some of them on hillsides along gravel roads, some of them only accessible by driving through a farmer’s barn lot or down grassy lanes between cornfields. The stones are sometimes so worn that I have to trace the letters with my fingers to make out the names of the dead. My great-great-grandmother’s stone has fallen to the ground and most of it is blackened from the elements, but still at its [...]

By | 2015-07-06T09:25:35+00:00 July 6th, 2015|Blog|12 Comments

Daydreaming Your Memoir

I saw a photograph once, but now it only exists in my memory. It was an 8 x 10 glossy of the congregation of the Berryville Church of Christ, the church I attended with my mother when I was a small child on our family farm. The church itself was a one-room affair with a brick chimney and white-washed clapboards. It sat a little ways south of Berryville proper, which is to say it was just a bit south of the Berryville General Store. My grandparents at one time managed that store. They lived cattycornered from it in a modest [...]

By | 2015-04-06T08:06:37+00:00 April 6th, 2015|Blog|6 Comments