Skip to content
Like other writing genres such as the short story or poetry, there are certain creative constraints within memoir. In a March 2017 article published in The Atlantic, “When a Writer’s Great Freedom Lies in Constraint,” author Joe Fassler writes, “Artistic freedom, paradoxically, relies on the presence of constraints.”
I find these creative restraints in memoir to be quite good, oftentimes. Other times, I find myself returning to where I was while a student at the University of Virginia shortly after I read ATTENTION. DEFICIT. DISORDER by Brad Listi, a book that greatly affected me at the time. I read it shortly after my friend Jeremiah died from brain cancer.
“It’s an unabashed autobiographical novel,” Listi, who now runs the popular literary podcast OTHER PPL, said to me during my subsequent interview with him in 2008.
And this is where I find myself now. Fiction is alluring. A dash of the autobiographical or semi-autobiographical will free up and liberate some of my stories that have nowhere to go in the memoir form, save for a vignette.
An example from my childhood...
Stepping back in time to 1992
It’s a day I find myself continuously looking back on. It’s as if I'm supposed to write the story. But if I write it as memoir, it’s not much of a story. It is by and large a vignette, and nothing more. As memoir, it would go something like this…
It was a summer day, the sun high in the sky, the typical humid weather of Virginia forcing its weight on us as we walked along the railroad track behind the baseball field. To give ourselves reprieve from the sweltering orange ball of fire casting long shadows from our lanky bodies, we stepped down from the tracks onto a tiny path of red dirt and and made our way into the woods.
We walked a bit further in, a place we’d never stepped before, then further still; and as we did, we came upon area of forest with fescue grass, soft and lush, a deep green unlike the scorched crabgrass in our own backyards.
As we came upon this patch of lush grass and towering pines and hundred year oaks, at that moment, Ricky, in his sometimes unexpected philosophical manner, said, “It’s like we’ve gone back in time.” More