Thesis Title

You Never Lived the Life You Remember


Ashlei Woelk

Date of Graduation

Spring 2004


Master of Arts in Writing



Committee Chair

Nancy Walker


Discussing my childhood with my mother, I mentioned memories I had about things we had done, places we had been. Apparently, very few of these really happened. I began to question, if my memories were wrong, how that affected the persona I created. I wanted to know how others could continue writing nonfiction. How did they capture themselves in stories that might not be true? How do they know who they are when they rely on unreliable memories? Not only did my perception of nonfiction writing change, but my perception of my story and my memories changed. I had built my life on a fantasy of my own creation. When I put in the "corrected" details, the story changed. The images didn't speak the same fears, same insecurities, same confidences as they did before. I was different because the words and images were different. I began to wonder how I could truthfully write about my life. What memories were real? What memories counted as fiction? How could I know who I am apart from my memories? The truth has a way of showing up in what we write, if we are true to the memories, true to the emotions, true, as best as we can remember, to the events. In writing these pieces, I struggled over and over, trying to figure out what happened, how to explain the feeling I had as I experienced that event, what I would have been th inking. I wrote as true a truth as I could find and still stayed true to the memories. Regardless of the post-structuralist idea that the author is dead and the deconstructionist idea that language points only to itself, the urge and the urgency to find traces of oneself in discourse lies at the core of creative nonfiction. The complication is in the paradox of self presented in writing. To accept this notion--that I can be found--unreflectively is naïve, to reject it entirely is an act of despair. Somewhere in between, in the dialectic, between catch-me-if-you-can and I-cannot-be-found lies the tentative truth of all expressive discourse.


memoir, memory, childhood, reading, writing

Subject Categories

Creative Writing


© Ashlei Woelk