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This is How We Leave

4.79  ·  Rating details ·  29 ratings  ·  15 reviews
We all run from something, but do we have to leave?

Against a background of family runaways, award-winning memoirist Joanne Nelson explores what it takes to stay when the going begins to dazzle and the staying seems way too ordinary. With a great grandfather who disappears, a grandfather who strays, and a father who walks away, she’s lived a life liable to give way at any t
Paperback, 178 pages
Published August 11th 2020 by Vine Leaves Press
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Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Author and therapist Joanne Nelson proves through her tender new memoir, This is How We Leave, that writing is indeed the best therapy.

Through a series of essays, the author shows us her youth growing up in dysfunctional working-class family in Milwaukee. Through detailed, sensory-packed prose, we see, listen and feel the violent slaps; the cursing and criticism; and the drunkenness. When the father abandons the family, the two teen sons go off to their lives, leaving Joanne with her alcoholic m
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Raw and honest, insightful and smart, this essay collection/memoir hybrid takes us inside the mind and heart of a sensitive girl buffeted by a family stressed with alcohol, abandonment, and the tyranny of that “They” might think. Nelson takes us on a journey that explores leavings and stayings and coming out whole. This is a marvelous read.
Story Circle Book Reviews
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“In my basement office I keep a framed picture of my brothers and me, circa 1967,” writes Joanne Nelson at the opening of her memoir, This is How We Leave: “The three of us stand behind a kitchen table that features a three-tiered birthday cake and Currier & Ives coffee cups centered on matching saucers—enough to indicate the presence of grandparents. The coffee looks freshly poured, an equal amount in each cup and no lipstick smudges on the rims.”

This kind of careful observation of detail and i
Phill Provance
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In her new memoir This is How We Leave, Joanne Nelson invites us into a family history of running away and the struggle to avoid being someone others run from. The closest, safest man in the author's family is her Grandfather Eli, whose father, Nelson's great-grandfather, fled and was never heard from again and whose son, her own father, eventually up and left as well. And yet, while Eli remains, he is hardly a rock stabilizing Nelson's often troubled family: “Now here he [sits], the one who sta ...more
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've been looking forward to this since I heard it would be published, and I'm not disappointed at all. Reading this book has made me think of so many stories and events from my own family, and I'm guessing it will do that for many.

As I read, I was reminded of the way anthropologists doing a dig create a grid. Then they carefully scrape up dirt, about an inch or so at a time, and put it through a sieve so any fragments of artifacts can be found, cataloged, preserved, and finally displayed. I im
Wisconsin Alumni
Joanne Nelson MSW'87

From the author:
We all run from something, but do we have to leave?

A memoir of resilience, This Is How We Leave is an intensely poignant account of a tumultuous life lived with curiosity and humor. In this unique narrative of vivid prose, Joanne Nelson explores her Milwaukee childhood and baffling suburban adulthood against a backdrop of familial alcoholism, illness, and the occasional disappearance. With her effortless gift for characterization and strong attachment to
Gina Troisi
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I read Joanne Nelson’s This is How We Leave in one blissful day. It is a lovely illustration of growing up in a working-class Milwaukee neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. Nelson’s controlled, grounding narrative voice carries us through a harsh landscape of familial abuse and alcoholism with grace and precision. I greatly admire the way her wise, poetic prose displays such authentic self-reflection and self-examination. This book is an unflinching example of honesty in its purest form.

The aut
Ann Epstein
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Learning When, and Why, to Stay – Joanne Nelson’s memoir This is How We Leave, is about saying goodbye to a past that was far from good and accepting that the present doesn’t have to be perfect to be good enough. Nelson reveals the ghosts of her childhood with refreshing, and sometimes uncomfortable, honesty. As a writer (see my Goodreads author page, I appreciated the authenticity of her prose as she invites readers to accompany her on this searching jo ...more
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Reading “This is How We Leave”, by Joanne Nelson, is like going on a journey with a good friend. It’s as if the author reaches off the page and invites you to join her as she explores the ordinary and the extraordinary moments of family life. With empathy, humor and raw authenticity, Joanne Nelson takes you inside the mind and heart of a young, insecure girl from a working class family riddled with “leavings” - both literal and through addiction and abuse. She explores the complexities and uncer ...more
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"This is How We Leave" is raw and unapologetic without being sentimental. The author exposes her vulnerability with careful and measured courage, which can only be accomplished in retrospect after having walked through the fire of a tumultuous family life. Despite the trials and challenges, we see the author accept and cherish her life. Additionally, the simple prose adds to the memoir's starkness and beauty, leaving the reader to savor and ruminate over each carefully selected word. While this ...more
Bruce Campbell
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ms. Nelson offers us a charming, wrenching journey through some of the relationships and departures that have shaped her as a writer and person. Tolstoy oversimplified things when he said, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This book shows that both conditions intermingle in important and indelible ways.

Well written, self-revelatory, honest, and engaging. I look forward to the next collection.
Jan Heinitz
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
After drying my tears of joy for the woman this girl has become, I took the opportunity to reflect upon my own life. As a clinical psychologist, I recognize that we all leave others or are left behind by some. This book helped me realize even more that good can come from those possibly devastating, yet uplifting experiences. An extremely well written book, you feel all the sensations described by this talented author as you read about her victorious life, giving hope to all who read it.
Anne Wondra
Just finished your book last night. As I read, it felt like watching an artist paint, as pieces of a life story are layered and revealed. So proud of you and your work and your resilience in becoming all that you are. Beautiful job and a moving read. Thank you. (P.S. I don't do stars or ratings, especially something so personal to one's life, as this is. Our lives are not a competition and not to be judged.) ...more
Victoria Whelan
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Read this! Beautifully written with a combination of emotion and wry, subtle humor that pulls you in and makes you question, appreciate, and ponder your own instances of "leaving." ...more
Mary Carson
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the stories especially from the Milwaukee south side.
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Joanne Nelson is the author of This Is How We Leave (Vine Leaves Press). Her ongoing writing practice focuses on creative nonfiction, essays, commentaries on craft, reviews, and the occasional poem. In addition, Joanne is certified by the McLean Meditation Institute as a meditation and mindfulness teacher. The classes, workshops, and retreats that she leads have a solid foundation in the skills an ...more

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