The Fault Lines of Memory

Embracing Imperfect Memory in Creative Nonfiction

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Craft Essay

“Memory is imagination, and imagination is memory. I don’t think we remember the past, we imagine it. We take a few props with us into the future, and out of those props we make a model, some stage set, and that’s our version of the past. Of course, models decay, and they change. And so we’re constantly reshaping the past.”

― John Banville

I. San Fernando Quake, 1971

I grew up in Northridge California, a place prone to big earthquakes. The San Andreas fault is a defining feature of California, and anyone who lives there, lives with the recognition that the ground can shift at any moment. What was certain one day can be completely changed in the next.
          On February 9, 1971, a few weeks before I turned twelve, a magnitude 6.6 quake shook the ground beneath us while we slept—6 a.m., that transitory hour between dreaming and being awake. I woke to my bed tilting, the blurred figure of my mom in my doorway, the sound of screaming. I remember the smell of vinegar from broken bottles in the cupboards, the strange feeling of being outside in my pajamas. Did we stand on the threshold first, the way we were taught (though that information kept changing too)? Did we rush out into the street, a quiet cul-de-sac, with the rest of our neighbors as we waited to see if our houses would fall?
          My brothers—fifteen and seven years old—would of course have been with us in a family huddle, but I have no memory of them. Only me and my mom and dad, as if I were an only child, held between them in a safe embrace. I remember my father cooking dinners in the aftermath on the BBQ, since we had no power for days. I remember my junior high being closed from structural damage, and this unexpected holiday feeling in the air as the kids ran wild in the cool winter days of southern California. It was close to my birthday; did we still plan a party? Actually, my brother’s birthday was just a week away; did we do anything for him? How far off would normalcy be?

II. Slippage

“Memory’s an active, dynamic force, not just a recording one; over the course of a life, as perspective shifts, we keep moving into different relationships to the past, reconsidering, so that what happened turns out to be nothing stable, but a scribbled-over field of revisions, rife with questions, half its contents hidden.”

— Mark Doty

Okay, so maybe my memory of that earthquake isn’t wholly accurate. How can it be? How can our memories fully encompass all the details from a moment in the past, especially those that speed by so quickly we can barely keep up? We continually fill in the gaps. For example, I didn’t know the date of the earthquake, so I looked it up, inserted it casually, with no one the wiser. Other details I fill in from the quickest of flashes: my eyes fluttering open before my normal waking time, the blur of myopia, the seasick sensation in my gut, a flash of my mother’s nightgown in the hallway.
          From the standpoint of decades later, I witness this scene as a dispassionate observer, watching that little girl as she comes to awareness in a world that has slipped sideways. My body remembers the smell of vinegar, but maybe it was ammonia. My body remembers running outside, but I can’t really know for certain, unless I ask my parents, one of whom is gone and the other whose memory may be more reliable, but whose perspective was completely different: that of a mother rather than a child.
          And to be honest, I don’t really care about the facts of the situation beyond that the earthquake shook our home and my family and I survived it intact, with a few things missing and broken. What I do care about is why I remember it the way that I do, why certain details seem clear while others remain blurred. I want to know where my brothers are in this scene.
          And this is a different kind of accuracy. In the etymological roots of the word “accurate” the key meaning is “taking care.” When one is being accurate, one is also being a curator, the two words share the same root, taking care. As creative nonfiction writers, we curate our memories, assembling them in a way that makes artistic sense. We are taking care of the memories, revising them as we go along as we gain new information, new insights, seeing recurring themes that emerge from the fault lines, the places of slippage and uncertainty.

III. Desire for Art

“Life is not a story, a settled version. It’s an unsorted heap of images we go through, the familiar snaps taken up and regarded, then tossed back until, unbidden, they rise again, images that float to the surface of the mind, rise, fall, drift—and return only to drift away again in shadow. They never quite die, and they never achieve form. They are the makings of a life, not of a narrative. Not art, but life trailing its poignant desire for art.”

― Patricia Hampl

The first chapter I wrote in the textbook I co-authored with Suzanne Paola, Tell it Slant, is called “The Body of Memory.” I begin with a narrative of my earliest memory, based on having my tonsils out at age four, and the “badge of courage” I received as a testament to getting through that particular ordeal. Here is part of it:

In my earliest memory, I’m a four-year-old girl waking slowly from anesthesia. I lift my head off the pillow and gaze blearily out the bars of my hospital crib. I can see a dim hallway with a golden light burning; somehow, I know in that hallway my mother will appear any minute now, bearing ice cream and 7-up…. I’m vaguely aware of another little girl screaming for her mother in the crib next to mine, but otherwise the room remains dark and hushed, buffered by the footfalls of nurses who stop a moment at the doorway and move on.

Do I really remember these things? Why, yes, I do remember them, though I may not be remembering them as if viewing video evidence. But the fact that I remember, yes, that is true.
          It goes on:

I keep my gaze fixed on that hallway, but something glints in my peripheral vision, and I turn to face the bedside table. There, in a mason jar, my tonsils float. They rotate in the liquid: misshapen ovals, pink and nubbly, grotesque.

Later in the memory, my mother appears and spoons me soft ice cream through the bars of the crib. The nurses give me a “Badge of Courage” certificate that I will display on my bedroom door for years and years to come. My father is nowhere in this memory, nor is my older brother. It’s just me and my mother and my excised body parts cohabiting a hospital room as stark and barren as any in a horror film.
          When I ask my mother about this odd detail of the preserved tonsils, she has no memory of it, and of course her version is much more likely than mine. I doubt the doctor would have provided this grisly souvenir and certainly not in a mason jar (!). Still, I have this urge to write it as I remember it, because my remembering is, indeed, as factual as the facts themselves. The key is that in order to use it for literary purposes, I need to nudge this memory rather than have it just lie there doing nothing. I have to poke it, examine it, try to understand why this jar shows up again and again, a talisman. I have to assemble all the parts like a puzzle: crib bars, ice cream, girl screaming, tonsils in a jar, badge of courage. And if I want to, I can begin to understand this memory as the foundation of a theme that has come up in my writing since the beginning: the body, its fragility, its ability to be transformed at the hands of others, the “courage” I’m supposed to have but rarely find. And my mother—always my mother there, feeding me, trying to soothe the pain.
          As N. Scott Momaday writes in his memoir The Names: “Memory begins to qualify the imagination, to give it another formation, one that is peculiar to the self…. If I were to remember other things, I should be someone else.” Our earliest memories, imperfect though they may be, seed the perennial themes that pop up over and over, connecting the disparate events of our lives into a story that makes intuitive sense.
          When we re-inhabit these early memories, we do so, as Virginia Woolf says, from the Platform of the Present, a landing place that is never stable but keeps shifting as we live from moment to moment, year to year. She calls these early flashes of memory “Moments of Being,” as they are the times the curtain opens, or the ground shifts, and we come to an awareness of ourselves as alive in particular bodies at particular times in particular places. As our moving Platform of the Present chugs down the conveyer belt of life, we can study the same memory and come away with new understandings or insights.
          For example, just now, writing this memory again, from the platform of a daughter who now takes care of her elderly mother, I focus more on that spoonful of ice cream, the urge to protect, the bars between us that will grow in size over the years and then crumble.

IV. Making Sh*t Up

“And here’s where making things up comes in: there is only a degree to which the narration of history can do the work of achieving something as dimensional as reality …. ‘Making things up’ is very imprecise. I mean by that phrase a host of things: eliding some moments, juxtaposing others because they resonate together or comment upon one another, stretching time out in certain instances, trying to look more deeply into a moment…”

— Mark Doty

In his essay “Bride in Beige,” Mark Doty describes writing his memoir Firebird, and how much of it is built on a foundation of blurred memories. In one key scene, he remembers his sister wearing a beige suit to her wedding, and all the questions this memory brings up for him. Why did she wear beige? Was it mere frugality or a statement of something larger? Did she choose that matronly suit or was it forced on her, given that she was already a few months pregnant?
          Doty mulls on these questions in his memoir, bringing them forth on the page, the questions themselves becoming as much a part of the story as the memory of his sister’s wedding. Then, the copyeditor comes in, wielding the blunt pen of fact and practicality; he writes in the margins: “Why don’t you just ask her?”
          Well, of course, one could “just ask,” and the mystery would be solved. Or would it? Certainly, his sister could provide the bare bones of information that would make this scene more “accurate” from a transcription point of view. But Doty, and many of us, are not after transcription. We crawl the edges of the fault lines, peering into the earthy dark. We are courting mystery. We are after the labyrinthian workings of our minds and consciousness. We are living out the poet Rainer Marie Rilke’s mandate to “love the questions themselves.”
          “The Answer” the essayist seeks is not necessarily the answer of the facts. It is the answer of connection, of desire, of the metaphors our memories show us.

V. The Space In-Between

“I don’t worry about the “real” so much as my perception of the real, and it’s in the working out of the discrepancies between the two realms that a different kind of truth emerges. I can’t seem to stay rooted in fact (too boring) or invention (too ungrounded), but instead inhabit that space in between, where anything can happen. I think it does speak to a kind of sincerity on the part of a writer, when you are willing to let the reader in on your thought process and do not rely on presenting something fully formed.”

— Brenda Miller in Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction

I do often “just ask” to fact check something, though I usually wait until long after the first draft to do so. As Patricia Hampl writes: “For me, writing a first draft is a little like meeting someone for the first time. I come away with a wary acquaintanceship, but the real friendship (if any) is down the road. Intimacy with a piece of writing, as with a person, comes from paying attention to the revelations it is capable of giving…”
          If I focus too much on the factual accuracy of a piece while in the throes of my “scribbling” (as I call my first drafts), then I know I will shut down my capacity for metaphor-making, for the unexpected revelations the writing, itself, might have in store for me. Once I have a first draft down, then I start examining it with a more critical eye, looking not necessarily for inaccuracies that I need to clarify, but for moments of slippage that shake things up, cracking open the crust of the “real” to expose the juicier core of experience.
          Sometimes this asking takes place, as many things do these days, on the Internet, confirming or correcting certain facts such as dates, names, words, etc. And these facts can also lead to more fodder for contemplation. For example, in the earthquake scene I wrote earlier, the date I discovered in my fact checking brought up new questions to explore; I hadn’t remembered that the earthquake happened so close to my brother’s birthday and to my own. The date nudges me to remember more deeply, to speculate on how our lives had been disrupted that day, yes, but also for weeks to come. A child’s birthday is one of the most normal and most extraordinary days in their lives; how did the earthquake show this child the way we can’t really count on anything?
          In the above quote from Metawritings, I’m referring to the essay included in that anthology, called “The Dog at the Edge of the World.” In this essay, I start by saying “I’ve been looking for one of my favorite Franz Marc paintings called “The Dog at the End of the World.” At least I think that’s what it’s called; I had the image on a postcard I gave away, and I’ve never been able to find it again.”
          Here I make what seems to be a factual statement and then immediately call into question my reliability as a narrator. I bring the reader into my desire to see this image again, to come along on the search with me. I go on to describe how I lost that postcard to a man in an unsuccessful effort to win his love, and “Now years later, I don’t want the man back, but I do want that postcard, my dog at the end of the world.” I’ve shown the passage of time, and I’ve claimed possession of this image as “mine.” I go on to describe the painting as I remember it, and then cop to the fact that I really have no idea what I’m talking about. The third paragraph begins: “Maybe this picture doesn’t even really exist. Perhaps I’ve conflated several different Franz March paintings to create this one resonant image.”
          There’s a lot of hedging in those first few paragraphs. A lot of maybe and perhaps. And it doesn’t stop there. At a section break I begin musing on why this image seems to have taken on undue importance: “Perhaps I’ve fixated on the dog at the edge of the world because I’m just now beginning to understand what Winston Churchill called the ‘black dog’ of depression. This animal, I know now, has been at my heels for years, an unstinting companion. Perhaps I see Marc’s white dog as a kind of redemption, how she sits to restfully on the dangerous precipice.”
          You’ll notice the way the word “perhaps” allows my mind to muse on the “why” of my faulty memory, in full view of the reader. Words like “perhaps” and “maybe” invite the reader to mull along with the writer, to imagine, to dwell in uncertainty rather than simply imbibe certain facts, histories, or information. In her essay “Perhapsing: The Uses of Speculation in Creative Nonfiction,” Lisa Knopp shows how this simple word allows your work to enter the realm of speculative creative nonfiction. Articulating what might seem to be a paradox, Knopp writes:

“When an author’s memories of concrete details are sketchy or absent, the technique of perhapsing not only allows her to recreate the scene effectively, it also helps establish her as a reliable narrator.” By confessing to our fallibility as narrators, we can actually become more trustworthy in the eyes of our readers, who have become our confidantes and companions in this journey of discovery.”

This move also gives me permission to slide into an unexpected association. I didn’t set out to write about depression, but my focus on Marc’s white dog led my mind to a black dog, and to the factoid about Churchill that had been stored somewhere in the labyrinthian corridors of memory.
          My curiosity leads me to find out more about Franz Marc himself, intuiting that there might be a connection here. And, of course, there is. I use another workhorse phrase to transition into this connective thread unearthed through research: “As it turns out, Marc himself suffered from severe anxiety and depression…” As it turns out…. This phrase has a complex tone, akin to it just so happens, which is also related to the etymology of “perhaps,” which means “by chance.” I’m giving the impression of putting together puzzle pieces that happen upon one another. As it turns out… implies that information arrives to fit neatly into the essay’s trajectory, on its own momentum.
          The essay then goes on to integrate facts from Marc’s biography, including the horrors he experienced in WWI, then to the discovery of the image I’d been searching for all along. It’s called “Hound Before the World” and a big white dog fills up my screen in multiple images. But I’m unhappy with this dog; the reality of it does not line up with my imagined dog, so the essay then returns to the slippage, the fault line, refusing to give up my imagined version:

I want my own white dog back, the one I fabricated, the one who led me to the edge and allowed me to sit still, showed me how to be alone with no need to either leap into the abyss or back away…

I want: that signal of desire. The essay becomes about yearning, rather than about the actuality of a real painting. If I had revised the essay without acknowledging the disparity between imagination and fact, I would be writing anecdotes that stay on the surface, refusing to budge. The real meaning would stay hidden. I would have described a Franz Marc painting and a postcard of it, but then I’d hit a dead end. There wouldn’t be much more to say that would interest either me or the reader.

VI. “But Still…”

“We find, in our details and broken, obscured images, the language of symbol. Here memory impulsively reaches out and embraces imagination. This is the resort to invention. It isn’t a lie, but an act of necessity, as the innate urge to locate truth always is.”

— Patricia Hampl

Picture this: My friend Dayna and I are sitting together in a coffee house we’ve visited many times together for what we call “Poetry Church.” A Sunday morning. Usually, a couple more friends join our small congregation, but today it’s just the two of us. I can’t remember what books we discussed (of course I can’t; I’ve already confessed about my terrible memory!), but we have a bit of time, so we decide to write together, taking out our notebooks. It’s around the holidays, and we choose a word at random, “Star.” We each quickly write a list of ten images that come to mind. Then we circle one on our list, and begin writing for 20 minutes.
          The image that leaps to me is the Star of David that my father displayed on our house at holiday time. It suddenly looms large in my memory/imagination, and I begin describing a representative scene from a blurred image of large wooden star of David blazing with blue light from the roof of our house. I then muse on my father’s motivation for taking the trouble to decorate for Hanukkah, which also leads me to a memory of our electric menorah prominently displayed in our kitchen window.
          I’m writing with Dayna in a familiar coffee shop, doing a practice we’ve done many times before, and my pen has gained momentum. I’m not worried about facts or accuracy; I’m curating this memory now, and time is winding down, so I suspend that moment in time, imagining my father paused on our roof, pleased with his handiwork, gazing out over our neighborhood.
          We finish writing and Dayna and I read to each other what we wrote. We’re both pleased with our session, having ruffled up some unexpected images that could be viable.
          And then I do a little fact checking, asking my mother about that Hanukkah star. “Oh,” she says, “he never climbed onto the roof, he nailed it to the posts of the front porch.” I’m a little crestfallen. This won’t do at all. The front porch isn’t nearly as rich with imagery as that roof, not nearly as good for my purposes. “And,” she adds, “he made that star himself.” Well, that’s a nice detail, and brings to mind the way my father would spend hours at his workbench in our garage, tinkering, making things that functioned, barely.
          I return to my practice writing with this new knowledge in mind. I add the bit about my father making the star, but I can’t bear to part with the image of my father on the roof. Here is how it all ended up:

Every year, my father climbed to the roof in late fall to install his homemade star of David on the top of our house. It usually happened about the same time the neighbors strung their bright garlands of red and green, their blinking icicles melting in the southern California heat. He had built the star at his workbench in our garage, measuring and sawing the exact lengths of lumber needed to create this symbol, then carefully attached strands of blue lights to adorn each of the six points. He must have unfurled an extension cord, run it along the eaves, camouflaged it among the shingles. The light was supposed to look miraculous, the blue star proclaiming our Jewishness among the goys.

It wasn’t meant to be an affront, a confrontation, or maybe it was: since Hanukkah could happen as early as Thanksgiving, the star might appear a few weeks before we’d see Christmas trees bundled on top of station wagons, our star the only glow among darkened houses on the cul-de-sac, pulsing its blue message into the night. At the same time, my mother got out the electric menorah, screwed in each bulb on the appropriate night of Hanukkah, until all nine artificial candles glowed in our kitchen window. Sometimes she let us do it, and I remember the tingle in my fingertips as the bulb tightened, the moment before the glow hit my eyes and blinded me.

I understand now that my memory is incorrect; my mother tells me my father affixed the star to the posts on our front porch, which makes more sense. But still, years after he has died, I would like to imagine my father making that treacherous climb upward, gripping his unwieldy creation. I want to picture him staying a few moments longer than necessary, surveying the block, watching Christmas lights appear—gingerbread icing gilding identical rooflines. He liked to do these kinds of things by himself, a man with the proper tools and know-how, a man who could plan out exactly what needed to be done in any situation. I imagine him bathed in blue light, crouched above his family, checking the star one more time, shaking it firmly in place, before touching one foot and then another to the ladder that would lead him down to earth.

Notice how the fact that my father made the star is inserted casually, as if I knew it all along. Though I don’t remember watching the construction, the prose acts as if I had. Is this a lie? Perhaps, but a tiny one that’s still adjacent to the truth. And then I use an inconspicuous phrase— “he must have”—to signal that I’m in the realm of speculation. I don’t know, I didn’t witness it, but this image makes sense in the progression of the narrative. It’s a small phrase, one that a casual reader might not notice, but it’s another phrase that does a lot of labor. It establishes some rules of engagement. We are in the realm of memory/imagination. We create this scene together.
          The next paragraph also shows my ignorance in full view of the reader: I really have no idea why my father would go to the trouble to hoist a heavy star onto our house, but I offer a few possibilities from the perspective of an older narrator who might be able to glean the nuances of these types of things, especially in light of the history of Jewish persecution. And while I can’t claim to have been aware of it at the time, the blue star echoes the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in Nazi territories, their Jewishness “proclaimed” in a very different way.
          The electric bulbs on the star lead me to the electric bulbs in the menorah, and since it’s become a reflex for me to add sensory detail when I can, I bring forth the tactile memory of screwing in those miraculous bulbs myself, the moment when they come to life. I’m doing a bit of a close-up there, zooming in. Do I “really” remember that sensation in my fingertips? My mind doesn’t, but my body does, so I allow it to stay without fussing about it.
          And then comes the crucial moment in this short essay; what am I going to do with my “false” memory as it butts up against what is probably the “real” memory? As I am wont to do, I go ahead and keep it, because I sense that there will be something revealed in that fault line. If I had chosen to go back and simply “correct” my memory to the front porch, the essay would have nowhere to go. There would be that “so what?” moment without an adequate answer. So, I use this line as a transition:

I understand now that my memory is incorrect; my mother tells me my father affixed the star to the posts on our front porch, which makes more sense. But still, years after he has died, I would like to imagine my father…

That transition does a few things: I arrive into the essay as the writer looking back on what she’s written; I bring my mother into the memory process with me, affirming her version of events. And then the phrase “But still” brings us to a moment of suspension, of stillness, where something is about to happen. Then “years after he has died…” brings in a new context; I’m looking back on this memory in the absence of my father, in the light of long-term mourning.
          But what I think is crucial here is that I didn’t consciously realize I was writing in that context until I wrote those words “years after he has died.” These words emerge from the stillness I’ve allowed myself at the beginning of that sentence. And now the writing is showing me the “why” of this faulty memory; now that my father is no longer a physical presence in my life, I still yearn for him in whatever ways such a presence manifests now. “I would like to imagine my father…” and so I do, and I bring you along with me, lifting our gaze to the roof where my father now sits like a gargoyle above us, still a part of the family, still protecting us, still providing his own kind of light.
          The real essay is not about the Star of David, or about being Jewish in the suburbs. The essay is about the slippage between spectral memory and the all-too-real world. It is about love and loss and the yearning to keep our beloveds with us. It is about that word “want.” It is about “but still.” It is about “a few moments longer.”

VII. (Non)fiction

“Let’s say that fiction and nonfiction aren’t categories, but two poles on a spectrum called “narrative” or “story.” …Everyone seems so determined these days to separate fiction and nonfiction, to define them in opposition to each other, but I’m interested in that place where they overlap, how they hang out and talk to each other.”

— Cathy Day

So why not just write fiction if I’m so attached to my made-up versions of the past? As Patricia Hampl says: “Why did I invent, and then, if memory inevitably leads to invention, why do I—why should anybody—write memoir at all?”
          It’s a good question, and one that I’ll keep exploring all my writing life. But for now, I can say that through this exploration of my own tendencies I see that all my work is about desire, and if I were to completely fictionalize, or, on the other end of the spectrum, completely nonfictionalize, I wouldn’t be telling the truth either way. It’s in the disparities that insight lies. Memory is not the “real” story. Fantasy isn’t either. It’s in the rift between the two that the story simmers. I dive into that crevasse and emerge with a new understanding.
          For me it is important, when working this way, to maintain what we call the “pact with the reader”: I let them in on my thought process. I’m not doing it behind the scenes. As you’ve witnessed, sometimes I will simply revise a fact or two after checking, usually when there’s no real significance between my faulty memory and the “real” version. But when I sense, intuitively, that an image or metaphor lurks that will make the essay sing, I go for it in full view of my readers. I trust them, and in turn, they trust me to bring them somewhere if not wholly “truthful,” at least worth their time.
          I’ve noted several instances of how certain small phrases can act as our packhorses as we venture along the faultiness of memory and imagination. We call this “cueing the reader” but it’s also cueing the writer, a signal to go ahead, see where this new path will take you. Here is an incomplete list:

    • I don’t know, but…
    • I don’t remember, but…
    • I would like to believe…
    • Maybe…
    • Or perhaps…
    • I imagine…
    • I now know/understand/have been told… but…
    • But still…

You can come up with others that work for you. See what happens when these words appear, what kind of opening they offer to explore the unknown, or the not-yet-known.

VIII. Modulations of Untranslatable Truth

“Sometimes the truth is so elusive that it’s just not available, so I usually think of essays as looking to gain clarity on an experience instead of looking for some single tidy answer. And sometimes the fact that you can’t know something leads you to another more important discovery.”

— Ryan Van Meter

I still live in earthquake country, and during the pandemic I began stocking up on disaster supplies, convinced that the “big one” was bound to happen now, as the world seemed to be falling apart. That hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve already dug into my supplies of Trader Joe Granola Bars and Costco cold brew coffee, and I can’t remember where I put all those batteries or the combo lantern transistor/USB charger I bought online. So, when the time comes, I’ll still be woefully unprepared, as we all are when the big things happen, no matter how hard we’ve tried.
          Sometimes our imagination is one of our most necessary supplies as we seek truth and new understandings. In his short essay “Capiche?” Bernard Cooper describes meeting a handsome man named Sandro in Venice, Italy, with whom he shares some beautifully intimate moments, all without a common language between them. But then he confesses:

“Everything I have told you is a lie…. But lies are filled with modulations of untranslatable truth, and early this morning when I awoke, birds were restless in the olive trees. Dogs tramped through the grass and growled. The local rooster crowed fluently….and I was so moved by the strange, abstract trajectories of sound that I wanted to take you with me somewhere, somewhere old and beautiful, and I honestly wanted to offer you something, something like the prospect of sudden love…”

The word “Capiche?” means “do you understand?” This little essay is filled with desire: desire for Sandro, yes, but more so desire to understand and to be understood. Desire to offer something of beauty—to himself, and to us. The word “want” repeats like a chant. You can feel the yearning in every sentence, drawing us along into this world, and even the word “honestly” appears, because this fantasy is also a complete truth.
          What I’d like to offer you here is the permission to explore those mysterious fault lines where movement happens, where things are revealed that couldn’t be known on the surface. It’s scary, there’s no denying it, maybe even dangerous—shaking things up, questioning our certainties and the certainties of others. But we have the tools we need for these excavations. We are strong enough to go to those deep places and come back changed.

Works Cited

    Brenda Miller

    Brenda Miller

    Brenda Miller’s most recent books are A Braided Heart: Essays on Writing on Form and Telephone: Essays in Two Voices, a collection of collaborative essays with Julie Marie Wade. She is the author of five more essay collections, including An Earlier Life, which received the Washington State Book Award for Memoir. She co-authored, with Suzanne Paola, the textbook Tell it Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, now in its third edition from McGraw-Hill Higher Education.