Celebrity kin: Over the years we’ve met all the Moores — Peggy, Tucker, Maggie, Riley and Andy (from left).
This is a little like writing your own obituary. When I started writing the Close to Home column, time stretched out lazily before me. I began taking word snapshots of our travels through it. Our first son was 1.
He’s 27 now.
People ask me what it’s like for my family members to have been documented in my columns. Depending on the essay, it hasn’t been especially easy. Even the truth, in its purest form, is debatable. I shined a light on their words and movements. What I saw wasn’t always what they saw. Still. When we matched, and there were lots of times that happened, it was sublime.
That said, I could write a column about all the columns my wife, Peggy, talked me out of writing.
I’ve never pretended for a second that people care about what happens at our house. I reminded myself of that every time I sat down to compose. My goal has been pretty simple: To take our common experience and turn it into something funny or sad. Period.
There were two rituals in the creation of every piece. One was giving it a name, a title. That helped me see if I had something worth keeping. And then, if the draft was too “me” and not enough “us,” I’d pitch it.
Example: “My First Cell Phone” would never do. “Good Bye Privacy” would.
I’ve never been a fan of the term “creative nonfiction.” One side seems to cancel out the other. To be sure, walking the line between creative and nonfiction is a tricky business. I couldn’t have been as successful with that odd challenge if it weren’t for my often-reluctant home editor, Peggy, who is the most authentic person I know, or without my Isthmus editors.
I want to thank my friend, Fall Creek author Michael Perry, for steering me through several particularly challenging pieces that were very important to me to get right. Creative nonfiction? There’s no one better at it than him.
It’s been such a joy to tend to this little piece of prosaic real estate. Hearing someone say, “My favorite story of yours is...” gives me goosebumps to the extent that I can barely concentrate on what they say next. As I look back, here are some of my favorite stories.
There was the long essay called “Missing Years” that described my relationship with the late UW-Madison Dean Paul Ginsburg and how he, after 11 years of my trying, guided me toward a B.A. That one was also about how Peggy and I started a bond that lasts to this day, as well as a high school graduation farewell to our oldest son, Tucker.
“Letter to a Graduate” was a college sendoff to our daughter, Maggie. I said good-bye to our boy Riley in “Reflections on the Youngest Leaving the Nest.” Our children found themselves in the center and the corners of so many essays. It was hard to pick.
I wrote about my father in this space. A lot. My favorites: “(Un)fortunate Son” revealed how jealous I was of my nephew’s relationship with him. “The Art of the Shake” told how he taught me how to shake a man’s hand. “Snap, Crack, and BOOM!” celebrated his maniacal devotion to fireworks. “My Father’s Mental Illness” told the horror of his battle with bipolar disease and how he met the challenge.
For all the time spent close to home in Close to Home, I’m also proud of the stories that had nothing whatsoever to do with my family. A couple favorites in that category: “Farewell to Ultimate Frisbee” mocked ultimate Frisbee culture, to the chagrin of my disc-flipping friends. “Helping a Fella Move a Stove” was the woeful tale of a painful morning I spent moving a wood- burning stove with my friend Matt.
“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,” said William Shakespeare. I’m retiring the column because I feel I’ve given it all I have to give. I don’t want that to show on the page. I want to turn the motor off while all the parts are still moving.
The column is going away, but I’m not. I’ll continue to write features for Isthmus. I’ll also pour reclaimed creative time into song writing, banjo practice and a long-form writing project.
Every house has that one drawer. The one filled with paperclips, a tiny Super Ball, old recipes, maps, matchbooks, a drink coaster from that trip. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for looking into ours for the last 27 years.