Memory as Resurrection: A Writing Activity

Cathy and I have had an odd feeling after selling her family home. She still tears up from time to time when she realizes our attachment to our native land has just become a bit less firm. For the past nine years, she’s been in that home four days out of each month, as she…

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Start Small: Writing Memoirs and Personal Essays

This will be a brief post since it’s about small approaches to writing difficult material. That’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m writing a memoir about something very personal and often times uncomfortable. I’m giving myself an hour each morning to write a small section. Unlike my usual strategy of telling a story from beginning…

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Begin with the Details: Writing Memoir

Down a lane off County Line Road in Lukin Township, Lawrence County, Illinois, a pile of rubble, which used to be the farmhouse where I lived with my parents, lies surrounded by briars and weeds. Some years back, one of the giant maple trees I remember from my childhood fell on the house, and it…

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It Is What It Is: Writing Memoir from the Voices of Our Pasts

My father had a penchant for colorful sayings. “Can’t never did nothing,” he often told me when I complained I couldn’t perform a task. “You’re breeding a scab on your ass,” he said when I misbehaved. “You’re just talking to hear yourself roar,” he said when I got too chatty. And, of course, when I…

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Communion: Telling It All

When I was in high school, I had a friend who lived down the street. His mother, who cleaned people’s houses, was often away from home. Her husband was quite elderly and nearly blind. When it came to meals, my friend usually had to fend for himself. It became easy for him to rely on…

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An Object Exercise for Prose Writers

Thanks to a friend, my wife Cathy now has a new hairstyle. It’s short and spiky just like this post is going to be. This is a writing activity for those who write memoir. Recall a time in your life when you acquired something new. Maybe it was a hairstyle, or a fashion, or maybe…

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Visual Images and the Writing of Narrative

Visual images can often suggest narratives. Such is the case with the one that opens this post, a photograph of a pair of hot pink stilettos lying the tall grass. How did they get there? Who was wearing them, or were they wearing them? Where were they going? What happened when they got there? Did…

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The Adult World Arrives: A Writing Prompt

The summer I was seventeen I worked on a Christmas tree farm. It was my job to shape the trees that, come December, would end up in people’s homes. “Just like an upside-down ice cream cone,” my boss told me. I used a machete or hand shears to trim the trees into a proper shape.…

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The Shadows They Leave Behind: Research and Narrative

Some of you may recall that my wife Cathy recently discovered the identity of her biological father. This discovery has sent her in search of information about her ancestors. Yesterday, she learned that a son of her great-great grandfather was Lockwood Lewis, a saxophonist who played with the Dixieland Jug Blowers in the 1920s and…

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Thanksgiving, Old Photos, and Memoir

At the start of this Thanksgiving week, I remember the family dinners of my childhood. As long as she was able, my grandmother Read hosted. She lived in a modest frame house cattycornered from the Berryville Store in southeastern Illinois. At one time, she and my grandfather had managed that general store, but he died…

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