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writing from memory

There’s a reason.


Writers walk atop a paper-thin edge. They must get to the truth of a tale–but that does not always mean they will present the events of the story accurately.

Or maybe they will.

We draw on our own memories for our sensory details, which might be extremely helpful.

Or not.

Some of you might have heard about my *unexpected surgery. Blahblahblah. The point is:

I mentioned to Big Bopper that while I was waiting for the ambulance I had been rolling around in pain. He said, “No you weren’t. You were lying perfectly still.”


Geez. I was rolling around in pain in my head.

Now, as a writer, what would I do with a scene like that?


A wave of nausea surged through my chest. Someone lodged a giant baseball bat under my ribs and pushed–shoved my insides out of the way to make room. Cold sweat beaded up on my forehead and back. I moaned, crumpled to the floor, my hands holding my abdomen. I rolled back and forth like a whipped dog. “Make it stop,” I said.


A wave of nausea surges through my chest. A terrible weight under my ribs. Clammy, I lie on the couch. Is it what I think it is?

The pain spreads–burns–hard to bear…

“I’d feel better if I could lie still,” I say.

My husband frowns down at me. “What do you mean? You’re not moving. At all.”


No freakouts. It was not what I thought it was.


I don’t think either piece  of writing is particularly superior or inferior. I think it has to do with who your audience is, and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Have any opinions on which audience these two examples might be suited for? Because I’m tired and I need you to finish this blogpost for me.

After all, I just had some *unexpected surgery.

*disclaimer: oh, please. i am fine. pay attention to the point i’m trying to get across, will you?


and the meaning of it all?

The nurses turn her every two hours to keep her from drowning in her own fluids.

Not so she won’t die, but so she won’t die that way.

You wait.

Can she see you?

Can she hear you?

First, you play marches.  Because she always played Sousa while she did housework, however infrequent that was.

Then you play waltzes. Because she always played Strauss while she sewed your clothes.  And  argued about the hem.

Finally Enya, because you think it sounds like the angels she must surely be hearing by now.

You sit by her side for two days.


Try to forget her last words before the coma.

You wait.

The sisters come.

They want to talk about funny things.  Happy memories you don’t share.

Glycerin swabs.  Alternating air-pressure mattress.  Things you didn’t know existed until hospice.

Ragged breath.  Ragged breath.

She won’t quit.  Has no idea how.

You wait.

The nurses find roll-away beds for everyone.

You go home to construct Easter baskets for the kids.  You’ll be back in an hour, tops.

Elbow deep in chocolate bunnies and jelly beans.

The phone rings.

She sneaked away behind your back.

You knew she would.

Before, you had no place to deposit your pain.  It laid in your gut, undigested.

Now, you write.

And your pain reflects the human condition, speaks to hundreds, to thousands of others who suffer.  It helps me recognize myself in you.  What a gift it is to be a writer, and make everyone feel a little less alone.

Easter Blessings to you all.


wounded writers


The ones you can’t see.

How much writing comes from unresolved grief?  I’m not sure even the writer knows.

You might start with the barest wisp of an idea.  You diddle around, you form a sentence or two, and then it’s like you’re channeling another dimension.  Anguish spatters across your screen.  Venom, confusion, self-flagellation.

You grope in the dark.  It feels so…so…alien.  So not you.

But it is you.  It’s the part that never sees the light of day.  The orphaned part that scutters around the trash-strewn alleys where your ego refuses to go.

You’ve got to let it breathe.

Oh, it’s scary.  It’s mottled and pock-marked, rancid and and a bit feverish.  But it did the heavy-lifting for you.  It’s how you learned some hard lessons, found out what you’re made of.  This pain isn’t just useful to you, it is necessary to you.

Respect it.  Cherish it. Give it voice.

It has a great story to tell.

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