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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Memoir and the Dangers of Nostalgia

It’s 1974, and I’m eighteen years old. I drive a slant-six Plymouth Duster, and I wear my hair long and my jeans tight. I hang out at John Piper’s pool hall, where I play the pinball machines. When the weather’s good, I play basketball on the schoolyard. My game has never been better. I’m young…

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The Reflective Narrator in Memoir

Last week, I made a post about the reflective first-person narrator’s attempt to make meaning from a past experience. I talked specifically about the art of fiction. The reflective narrator has always been essential to writers of memoir, and that’s where I’d like to put my focus now. Writers of memoir simultaneously serve as players…

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