It took Kim Stafford, the son of celebrated Oregon poet William Stafford, 24 years to write his latest memoir. Stafford appeared on Think Out Loud to discuss 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, which chronicles the story of his brother Bret’s life up until his suicide and the memories that stuck with Stafford after.
Stafford says he tried hard to write the story of his brother’s death for years, but wasn’t able. “I would write privately. I would talk to a friend. I would write something and burn it.” It wasn’t until he came up with the idea of writing 100 memories that it all started to piece together. So he began with the table of contents — naming memory after memory in a list, beginning with Bret’s birth to his early childhood, college, death and beyond. He says that from there writing the book became more like stringing a necklace together, memory by memory.
Stafford explains that it was the writing of Bret’s story that finally allowed him to let go of some of the pain. “No one but me is responsible for what I have written — right or wrong, saintly or sinful, revealing or resistant — for I am still resistant, often, despite all I can do, to reveal hard things. This is my story of my brother. I believe he has found some peace. And so have I.”
Now Stafford takes the lessons he learned while writing about his brother to his classroom at Lewis & Clark College where he teaches. He says he starts a class by asking students what they’ve been carrying. He asks for the story they haven’t written or told because it is so important. He describes these as “the precious stories we hoard.” He tells his students: let’s begin there. Tell the part of the secret you can tell.