“You can make anything by writing.” ― C.S. Lewis

Posts for Memoir Category

On Being Seen.

One of the most infuriating opinions I often overhear is this degradation of poverty, of those so down on their luck they’re homeless or panhandle on the side of the street, or need assistance with bills or health care. I hear too many people say they deserve it, or they’re freeloaders, or drug addicts, or basically just worthless non-people, people whose existence apparently doesn’t count anymore.

There are a lot – a lot – of things I could say in reply to this opinion. And sometimes I do – and yet, there’s a very specific memory I have, one that stuck with me for a few years. I wrote about it a while back, and any time I reread it, I just think – yes. This is why it matters.

As we turned off of Third Street, and onto Grant, we passed a woman standing on the corner. She looked tired. Not in the I didn’t get enough sleep last night way.  More I’m tired of how hard life is, all the time, nonstop sort of way.

Lauren, Becky, and I had just spent the morning lounging on the IU campus in the sunlight, and then had a delicious lunch at a Creole and Canjun style restaurant. We were tipsy on sunshine and laughter.

We drove past this woman and I read the small cardboard sign she was holding: Single mother. 2 kids. Homeless. Anything will help.

She looked tired, but strong as she stood there at the corner. Cars rolled by, people on the sidewalks walked around her. It seemed like she was completely resigned to the fact that most people were going to overlook her, let their eyes wash right over her and pretend not to see her, a person. But she felt like she had to at least try.

We paused at the stop sign and I purposefully didn’t look at her. I started to be one of those people that walk on by without acknowledging her.

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Going Home

Florida, Life, Memoir, My Little Family, Our Marriage, Shaun, Travel - Emily - December 4, 2015

Nearly ten years had passed since I’d last been down this way.

Shaun and I had spent hours on I-65, but at the tail end of Alabama, we took an exit and wound around to newly finished country highways, the asphalt black and smooth with fresh paint.

He’d never been to this part of country before, and our GPS didn’t recognize it either. The highways had changed since the maps had been updated, the little screen blinked and skewed wide, showed us driving over nothing land, no roads and no direction.

I felt a flicker of worry – it had been nearly ten years since I’d made the drive to this part of Florida, and I’d never been the driver, the navigator, the one responsible for finding our way there. I’d always been a child, before, or a teenager. A passenger.

But my phone picked up right where the actual GPS freaked out, and we sped along, through little Alabama towns only miles apart. What little city there was faded away the longer we drove, here and there veering off a junction onto a different little highway.

Did we pass the Florida border yet? Shaun asked, and I shook my head.

I don’t think so, yet. But I dunno, I dunno if they’d have border signs way out here.

We’d taken a picture at every state line we’d passed, on our first long road trip together; at the rest stop in Tennessee we were so familiar with, at the Huntsville rest stop with the old space shuttle in Alabama. I didn’t plan on making us stop for a Florida picture – there’d be no rest stop, this far off the beaten path, and I knew we’d be taking plenty of Florida-themed pictures during our week there.


The land had changed, all throughout our drive. The gentle hills and autumn-hued trees of Kentucky gave way to sharply rising gorges in Tennessee, the trees slightly greener, only tipped with red. Alabama seemed like such a strange place, long flat stretches of mostly empty land, the billboard on one mile proclaiming GO TO CHURCH OR THE DEVIL WILL GET YOU, and the next mile advertising strip clubs, adult bookstores. Over and over again.

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For My Mother, On Her Birthday

Life, Mama Suh, Memoir, Non-Fiction - Emily - October 7, 2015

My mother would never call herself a singer, or any sort of performer. My mother is – many things; kind and thoughtful, strong and wise, a good listener, a good advice giver – but she has never been unduly outgoing. She loves her simple pleasures, her moments of tranquility and solitude, or perhaps moments of calm with small groups of dear ones. Rambunctious is not a word to describe my mother; dramatic or theatrical aren’t a good fit either. She is steady, she is a still placid lake, or a very strong tree unbending in the storm. She enjoys a good laugh, she smiles often – but she has never identified herself as a creative, an artist. I don’t know where you get your creativity, Emmy, she’ll tell me, but it certainly wasn’t from me.

But the thing is – my earliest memories of my mother are all completely her performing for me, in some way.

I don’t know how far back specifically I can remember, but my earliest memories all seem to be in our little home in Florida, which means I was maybe about two, maybe three. Mama is who I remember most, there’s not a lot of my siblings or my father or anyone else who would have lived with or nearby at that time – I get brief flashes of idolization of my Uncle Lance, the comforting chuckle of my grandfather as he bounced me on his knee.

But mostly my whole world was my mother, as is most two and three year olds, I suppose, and all of the memories that survived into adulthood center around her.

The earliest thing I can remember is sitting in my high chair, or my booster seat, whatever it was. Eating something small and manageable for my chubby little fists. And my mother – singing.

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Sorrow & Memory

Sometimes memories are beautiful simply because we know how damaged we were in that moment, that hour, that day – and in the present, we can look back on that former version of ourselves and understand what even still was waiting for us. How we managed to blunder through and come out the other side breathing.

I think back to a dorm room with sickly florescent light, knowing how lonely and sad my little sister was to be there, and how desperately she was trying to fake it for my mom. How we both were. I remember a store-bought chocolate cake eaten on university supplied couches, the fabric scratchy under our hands, catching on our clothes. I remember the empty hollowness that followed us around all day even though it was a remarkably warm day for January, the sun bright. We fawned over books and beads and Greek food as we always did, but we did it with the knowledge that we were all kind of bruised and limping. All of us faking it just because even one of us giving up and lying down on the side walk, please no more,  would have given the other two permission to do the same. The car ride home, just my mom and me, both of us trying to play at normal and both of us just tired. So tired.

Funny how time goes on. Funny how you can think you were completely exhausted and at the end of your rope with no more drive to try. Funny how you do keep on trying because what the hell else are you going to do.  Giving up would be weakness, the one weakness we crave more than anything. Not being weak becomes the only lifeline we have left to hold.

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The Best Memory

I just remembered the best memory.

Coincidentally, this is also the story of how I had to seek emergency professional medical care for my asthma for the first time.

Oddly enough, it can be both.

It started like any other Tuesday evening for me, at the time, 18, in college, away from home – 45 minutes away – for the first time. Young, impressionable. Scarily optimistic and trusting. I took a full class load, I took Honors Civ and Honors Humanities, I auditioned for dance company, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed little thing.

My bestest best friend Lauren and I still taught dance back in our home town, 45 minutes away. We ran the dance program at our community park and recreation center with our other best friend Becky, which, eventually, two years and two recitals later, turned out to be a bit much for both of us to handle, on top of our class work, on top of dance company rehearsals, attempting a modicum of a social life. But our first semester, freshman year, it was completely the norm for me to scamper home from my afternoon class, grab our stuff, hike down the hill to the freshman lot, get Lauren’s car, drive it over to the building where her afternoon class was finishing up – pick her up, stuff sandwiches or fruit – lunch — in our face as we drove top speed, play our class music and review or notes – teach from 4:30 until 9:30, some eight to ten classes in five hours between the three of us…and then drive 45 minutes home. Stagger up the hill from the freshman lot to our form. Collapse in our dorm rooms, unwind for a moment – and then start our homework. It was exhausting – but we had amazing students, and it was the first time we’d gotten to run a dance program on our own.

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