I can hold my dad’s professional and passionate pursuits in my hand. They are an assortment of medals with pens with strong insignia. Red and gold Maltese crosses, bugles, and axes show the authority of a man given the responsibility and honor to protect and serve.

He was a first responder before that phrase was coined. Both the Ambulance Chief and 1st Assistant Fire Chief in my home town.

I found the medals still pinned to his shirts where they had been hanging in the back of my mom’s closet since they’d last been worn 31 years ago. As I…


The metal inside the old peanut butter and mayonnaise jars weighed heavily in my arms as I carried them up from my dad’s basement workshop. Some of the hardware in the jar was shiny and straight, catching the light sharply, others were rounded and softer in color, dull browns, and greenish golds that absorbed the light. The nails, screws, bolts, washers, and other pieces had been pulled from constructed items and cleaned up at the end of a job, swept into these jars, whether bent or straight, where they would wait for the next project.

We had descended upon our…


I’ve been studying first lines and first pages of memoirs. I’ve rewritten mine at least a million times. Well, maybe not that many, but at least many times as I’ve rewritten the intro for this article. We all know that openings matter. People need to be wowed to keep reading.

Readers use the Look Inside feature on Amazon or flip open the first page in a book and start reading. If they are bored by the second paragraph of an article and stop reading, why would they keep reading a book that doesn’t immediately pull them in? …


Avoiding an oft-asked question and figuring out the real answer

Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

Although 2020 has kept me away from loved ones more than usual, as a self-proclaimed writer, I still get the same question no matter how long it has been when I see one of my fans.

“Have you been writing?”

These “fans” are, of course, my elderly relatives who don’t follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or read my blog. If they did, they’d know probably more than they want.

When they ask me this question, they really mean, do you have anything I can read? And the truth is…


A Memoir About Cancer and a Journey

I read a lot of memoirs. I read a lot of memoirs about people with diseases. But when I read Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad, I was still surprised that I was reading so much about a woman’s journey through cancer and not more about her actual journey after cancer.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

The cover features a picture of a woman, possibly her, and a dog sitting on a VW type bus and the description stated something about the road trip she took after her cancer diagnosis and treatment. …


They say denial ain’t just a river, but 2020 has been flooded with it. From COVID debunkers to a president who won’t concede the election, 2020 is the crazy man at the podium who refuses to admit his hair dye is running down his temple.

But I don’t even mean all of those obvious dismissals. I have seen myself avoid the truth in much more personal ways this year. It shows up in the things I don’t see, like the piles of manila files that were stacked on the kitchen table for months. They were a reminder of how, like…


Is the pandemic a blip on the radar? Or will it have long-term lasting effects on the way we live? At a time when we can’t seem to agree on anything, it’s no surprise that we’re divided on predictions of how it will all pan out.

Half of Americans think our lives will change in major ways and half think things will return to normal, according to Pew Research Center. Race, age, political affiliation, income, gender, and where we live changes our belief in whether or not life will be different for us after the pandemic:

  • 57% of younger adults…

Did you know it has been 20 years since the decade of the brain? The Decade of the Brain, from 1990–1999, was an initiative by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health “to enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research.”

During this decade and since, understanding of the brain advanced. Before, we thought that the adult brain stopped growing and changing after its initial development. …


I started reading The Opposite of Certainty, a memoir by Janine Urbaniak Reid, because it’s another story about someone with a brain tumor. This time it was the author’s young son. I’m an astrocytoma survivor and I think I’ve read every book there is on brain tumors trying to find myself in the story. Even as I tried, I never quite found the same story, until now.

Maybe the person I read about didn’t really have a brain tumor, but had cancer instead. Or maybe they had a stroke, like my dad, who acted like a different person after his…


As a writer, words are important to me. I usually write quickly, but still choose my words carefully. When I type, my cursor usually doesn’t just go one way. It goes forward and backward as I write and rewrite, making sure to choose the words I really want to say. When I choose the wrong word, I pick another one.

In the wake of the uprisings following George Floyd’s death, words matter more than ever. A group of artists are showing that now in an area hit by destruction.

Catherine Lanser

Narrative nonfiction and memoir. Querying my memoir about my family, told through the lens of brain tumor and father’s stroke. www.catherinelanser.com

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