Interview with A.L. Gordon

Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: “Circles” focuses on three primary elements, including your personal experience, your neighbors, and the image of the geese. How did you choose to focus on these three elements in particular, and were there any other images that you wanted to use that didn’t end up in the piece?

A.L. Gordon: It was quite a while ago when I was talking to a friend about the geese, and how strangely sad it made me, and she mentioned how that sounded like the start of an essay. I knew she was right but couldn’t figure out how. I was witnessing that loss and also being pulled back into mine, but aside from the loss aspect I didn’t really know what was connecting the experiences, so it just sat in my mind and percolated. When my neighbor died, and I watched his possessions, if not his body, being looked over and cared for, I saw how it mirrored what the goose was doing, and what I did, and currently do, with the things my son left behind. That caring, that guardianship those left behind sometimes feel, became the touchpoint of the essay.

RR: We admire how this piece covers such devastating and personal subject matter. How do you approach writing about these difficult topics?

ALG: It’s certainly not easy, nor is it for everyone. I used to worry that what I was writing was simply therapy for myself, and in a certain way let that constrain me and undermine my confidence. I was able to let that go by saying so what? So what if it is—if it helps me writing it maybe it will help someone reading it. But since therapy isn’t the purpose, a lot of editing goes into the writing. I start by letting it all come out, but then have to edit with a harsh eye towards what is needed for the essay and what is simply there because I felt it and it is true. Details or events that don’t fit can make the essay almost dishonest—if that makes sense. It can seem like I’m trying to win sympathy from the reader. The essay can become too personal, become a way to get rid of trauma on paper instead of a way to tell a meaningful story that others will connect with. For instance, in an early draft I had much more about my son’s cat, but realized I had put that in there for myself because I wanted to remember all those things. The parts about his cat were cut down until only the parts needed for the narrative were left. It’s a fine line and I’m sure I’m not always successful in toeing that line—I think in “Circles” I was.

RR: We’re interested in how the circles serve as a metaphor for the overarching themes; how did those come into the piece?

ALG: It was the way the goose wouldn’t stop circling its mate that struck me. And it made me see the circles in my own life. Grief can make it feel like you’re traveling but always ending up in the same spot—you’re tracing a circle, moving forward but ending up where you started. I wanted that concrete image of the goose circling to translate into the idea that circling can be mental as well. And maybe it can be good, maybe circling back can be helpful, but it can be dangerous too.

RR: We understand you’re a public school teacher; how has that work inspired or changed your writing?

ALG: The biggest thing being a teacher has done for me has been to continually remind me to not take anything at face value and to look beyond the surface at what is going on. Often a student will seem to have a perfect life, but the reality is much different. I try to always keep that in mind and really listen to what’s being said to me. I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing tooto look for what’s under the surface, to look behind what’s put out there for us to see.

RR: Can our readers be on the lookout for any upcoming projects from you?

ALG: I’m currently working on a memoir that will be a collection of flash/micro essays, with a prose poem thrown in here or there. I don’t know when it will be done, but it’s been a great journey so far. Having this long-term project in mind has made me feel much freer creatively and given me a structure to keep in mind as I write. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, you can see the essay that will precede “Circles” in the memoir collection at


Read “Circles” by A.L. Gordon in Issue 11.2