What We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then

For the second summer, Cathy and I are renting space in a community garden. We have a 4-foot by 12-foot raised bed. We’ve enjoyed our spring plantings of lettuce, spinach, and radishes, and now we’re watching the summer crops take hold: peppers, tomatoes, purple hull peas, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, and okra. I’ve never grown…

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Any Dark Cloud: Memoir, Obsession, and Loss

Here we are at the end of another academic year, only this year we’re facing an uptick in COVID cases at a time when too many people, pandemic-weary, have forsaken protocol, and we’re grieving in the aftermath of another school shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas, not to mention the ongoing war in Ukraine. It’s…

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Writing the Uncomfortable Places

When I wrote my first memoir, From Our House, I dramatized pivotal moments in my family’s difficulty following the farming accident that cost my father both of his hands. I wrote about my father’s anger. I wrote about how I was often the target of his rage. Sometimes I deserved it, and sometimes I didn’t.…

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Memoir and the Imagination

My wife Cathy has told me it’s all right if I tell this story. It’s her story of never knowing, until recently, the identity of her biological father. Her mother, a few years before she died, finally, when pressed, gave Cathy the identity of her father. He was deceased, but Cathy had no reason to…

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Interrogating Memory

From 1963 through 1969, my parents and I lived in Oak Forest, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago. We’d come there from our farm in southeastern Illinois so my mother could teach the third grade in the Arbor Park School District, #145. As many of you who have read my memoirs know, my mother had…

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Releasing Yourself from the “I” in Memoir

It’s a snowy day here in central Ohio which has me thinking about the intricacies of the flakes. We all know that no two are alike, and so it is for the experiences we present in a memoir. Each moment has various aspects, angles, and patterns. Our hearts and minds convince us we’ve accurately recalled,…

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Using Relics in Narratives

Yesterday, my wife Cathy was sorting through her purse when she came upon her now-expired YMCA membership card. “I guess I don’t need this anymore,” she said. Indeed our membership cards are now relics of a before-time that no longer exists, that time when COVID had yet to arrive. During the pandemic, we bought our…

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The Scent of Peonies: Sensory Details and Memoir

Compared to a year ago, the world seems a bit more open. With COVID positivity rates dropping and mask mandates relaxing, a certain degree of normalcy is returning to our lives. I fear, though, that too many people think this signals the end of the pandemic, but, of course, it doesn’t. There’s still too much…

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A Memory of My Mother

In honor of all mothers on Mother’s Day, I offer this section from my new memoir, Gone the Hard Road.   On one of the last visits that I made to the nursing home when my mother still had language, she told a fantastic story about just getting back from Florida where she’d been at…

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To Say the Secret Things: Tips for Memoirists

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of swapping stories with a group of friends, maybe out on the patio on a summer’s evening, or back in the pre-pandemic days at a dinner party. Someone starts to tell a story and then hesitates and says something like, “I really shouldn’t be telling you this.” Maybe…

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