I once watched a close friend read my short story, “Empty.” She touched each page hesitantly, careful to avoid bending the corners of the printout. She scanned the pages, taking her time as I watched from the corner of the room. I couldn’t be closer. There seemed to be some terrible force that would push me away from her, from her act of reading my story. The very moment a tear slipped down  to the corner of her mouth, I fled the room. My wife asked me later that evening why I had left. She told me that our friend had been deeply moved by the story. I struggled for an answer but found only the power of my friend’s reaction, my own embarrassment at having caused her tears, and stranger still, an elation at her response.

I did not flee because I was afraid, in fact I was terrifically happy to have such an impact on my reader. I fled because I am only half convinced that the character was mine in the first place. In my time as a writer I have met many artists who claim to channel their creativity. Be it profound inspiration or something disconcertingly spiritual, I have heard many explanations for the ideas of a given work. My fellow artists swear by the presence of something else.

I would like to claim a rigid rationality, a perfect adherence to the scientific and objective. I would like to be one of those admirable writers who knows exactly which closet of the mind their characters emerge from, but I can’t. The character, Ethan Merryweather Tea, did not come from the conscious parts of my mind, even the semiconscious shadows of my creative drive. “Empty” came to me complete, a static-filled blast in the middle of the night that demanded I write it at once.  I did just that and was struck by how quickly the work went, how few spelling mistakes, typos, and lazy sentences there were to correct when I finished. “Empty” came with scars and I left most of those in place.

I do not have an explanation for the muse or for the feeling of receiving a story from outside of the self but I do have an explanation for fleeing my reader’s tears. It wasn’t fear, not entirely embarrassment so much as it was a variation of that muse, and understanding that I could share that moment of creation, of inspiration with my reader. It felt for all the world like telling her a deeply held secret, a heavy hidden thought that I could finally expose. I did not flee because I did not want to see her reaction but rather that I didn’t want my reader to see my own reaction. That feeling of elation, of desperation, of profound grief that the story was finished, and the overwhelming sensation of relief.  


My window is open and the sound of rain makes my fingers into a crowd of drunks arguing about love and politics. I should be working on a story, on grading, on any one of the numerous essays I have promised to write, but here I am watching a chickadee hold tight to her branch outside my window. Her eyes are half closed and she calls to herself as the rain shakes the needles of her pine tree. I am lost for a moment, my day playing back to me in fragments of classroom lessons and student conferences. The story I have sat down to write fragments and trails away. There is time to reclaim, to chase it down, but right now the chickadee is singing even though it is raining and I am lost to her voice. I wish for a poet, a writer who is unafraid to shape the metal of my emotion into something more than a paragraph on a tired chickadee and the memories of worn out lecture. I let the wind take my poetic envy, let the chickadee whisper her song, let my lecture finally die out, taking even its echo with it. Bird, window, writer, sometimes there needs to be fewer words to salvage the soul of the thing.

Fall Class – Writing Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

I first fell in love with stories as I shined shoes in my grandfather’s barbershop. I have explored fiction, memoir, poetry, screen and stage writing for the past twelve years. I believe that we all have a story to tell, whether it be a deeply felt memoir or a poetic journey of the soul.

This October, I will be teaching Writing Memoir and Creative Nonfiction with Portland Community College Community Education.

Explore your story through memoir and creative nonfiction. Investigate linked memories, history vignettes and publishing in today’s memoir market. Share in workshops, group reading, detailed discussions on craft. All skill levels welcome.