Showing Ten Good Stories

Memoirist Nick Flynn writes: “A memoir is not simply stringing together the five or ten good stories you’ve been telling about your wacky childhood for your whole life, … you need to ask yourself why you’ve been telling those particular stories, and not the millions of others you could tell.” That, says Flynn, is the real question. Why do I tell this story and not another?

For me, collecting ten stories about my father was a good beginning. The stories were hard won because I’d blocked out so much of my childhood. Slowly I recalled stories about Dad that we kids had laughed at when he was out of the house. Also I began to recall stories that I told only myself. Over these I shed a private tear.

One day I took a mental walk through our family home. All was going well until I got to the backyard where I remembered the weeping willow tree that had been cut down because our neighbor said it was ruining her water pipes. We were left with only the stump. The neighbor’s plumbing problems remained, and we kids had lost the beautiful willow that had cast its magic over our garden.

Why would I tell this story, and not another?  I believe it’s a metaphor for one’s feelings about loss, and accommodating someone else’s needs without due discernment. It led to my disillusionment with the residual barrenness of the suburban block. Maybe it formed my first questioning of the validity of external authority. I’ll have to think about this.

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