The Memoirist’s Dilemma

January 10, 2022 § 11 Comments

By Beth Kephart

If she writes the story the way she wants to write the story—the guttural cry, the injustice exclamation mark—someone will get hurt. Broken, even. Things break.

If she lays out the plot lines in the order of their occurrence—the momentum building, the inevitability rising, the just before and all the moments after—what will she have? The truth, and also the lie. There are multiple plot lines. They tangle.

Better to tell the story as allegory or camouflage, where x never precisely equals y, and the facts collide until there are no facts, and innuendo might be accusation (but if it is, the camo will contain the secret), all of which, come to think of it, is the stuff of auto fiction. Though she’d like to write that the paint was blue and not red, because red is a completely different story, and not to use the proper pronouns will confuse the pronouns, and weather is ultimately both temperature and mood, so she’ll have to keep the weather.

Better, then, to go with comedy—to turn the whole blare of the incident on its waggish head. There’s the chance (give her a few days) that she could find some humor in it. That she could render the day itself a circus then lean on circus metaphors—the big rent-a-tent where the scene went down, the daring trapeze (flyer, catcher), the clown that she imagines she was in the moment between the before and the after, with her tripping slap-slap of shoes, and her arms flapped out (flapping flapping) for the balance that does not come; she is still, now, on the short stone wall flapping her arms searching for balance, and the bone has not yet cracked, she has not yet heard it cracking—but maybe the circus metaphor is overdone, and besides, comedy is a truther’s stretch—inaccurate, bungling, and boggling.

Probably best, then, to go with grace. To write of how, now, she lies on the couch at night while her husband lies in the room above her, a boot the size of an elephant leg encasing the bone that broke and slowly is healing. She lies there, alone, and the night breezes in, the end-of-summer cicadas, the hoof beats of the deer near the hosta they have, stem by stem, been stealing. She lies there listening to the dark, and the ways of the dark, sounds she otherwise would not be hearing. So that this is the new, here, in her world. This is the new, yet still dawning.

Beth Kephart is a writer, teacher, and book artist. Her new books are Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays and We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class. Her website is

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§ 11 Responses to The Memoirist’s Dilemma

  • formyrtle says:

    Found Beth’s book, “Handling the Truth” at a used bookstore years ago. Held on to it after 4 or 5 moves – packing and unpacking it. Now reading it. Love her writing, her teaching. Thank you, Beth. I am touched by your words.

  • melspencer22 says:

    The meandering path of your words mirrors the memoirist’s struggle to capture meaning and emotion, to make her story live for someone else and for herself. I see myself in the reflection. Thank you.

  • This should not be here in the blog instead of the journal. It is too good to be here. But thank you. You take us through a conflicted journey toward awful truth and finally locate beauty for us with deer stealing your hosta stem by stem.

  • Nina Gaby says:

    I revel in seeing the visual artist that you are shaping the words that you write. And it just so happens this is exactly question ‘will someone get hurt’ which I tried to answer in a New Year’s yoga intention with the words “grace and humor” as I try to abandon “snark and anger”….so this is just lovely to read this morning.

  • […] startling play of words, poetic rhythm, and image. I read a beautiful example this morning on the Brevity blog by Beth Kephart, “The Memoirist’s Dilemma.” Take a […]

  • I think this IS the memoir and it’s great.

  • Karen says:

    Breathtaking –

  • Beth Kephart says:

    I am so appreciative of all of your enormous generosity here. Thank you. And Vicki, yes. The memoir lives inside the where is the memoir. And perhaps that is always the case?

  • Mary Hannah Terzino says:

    This is stunning, both surface and meta. Thank you for this post, which comes as a face a dilemma about fictionalizing a morsel of my own life.

  • Maddie Lock says:

    I have Handling the Truth and We Are The Words, both so beautifully written they are a joy to read…If only I could write so well!

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