Sometimes a person, place or experience is so colossal that we try to tame it with words. What you can name you can own, and what you can own you can control. Forget that control is an illusion…we humans ultimately don’t buy it.
Except when we do. Which is precious and rare – and a lifetime’s work to keep remembering.
As a word nerd, I am enthralled with words and the nuance of things. So imagine my delight, several years back, in discovering something called the six-word memoir. Have you heard of it? Legend has it that the short story came about in a bar bet when Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a novel in only six words. He met that challenge with:
For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.
In 2006, the storytelling website SMITH Magazine launched a similar challenge and over 1 million six-word memoirs have been submitted since. Several books and clever products later, here are some of my personal favorites from SMITH:
I turned eleven. No Hogwarts letter.
Ten year romance without your participation.
Hotel sex still rocks over fifty.
Followed yellow brick road. Disappointment ensued.
Law school trumps homosexuality, right Mom?
It hurts even worse in French.
Not exactly known for my economy of words – if you ask me the time I might also include instructions on building a clock – I have a real appreciation for the six-word memoir. It invites us to cut to the chase, right quick like. No prefacing, no parentheticals, no spin…just the pure essence of things.
Finding this format irresistible, I recently applied it to each of the men I have dated (whether one date or a full-blown relationship) in the five years since my divorce. I’m no Hemingway, but it was a highly entertaining way to mini-journal about my dating life so far. Here are a choice few to share:
Not thinking the kissing is coachable.
Imagined tortured airport scene with you.
You always seemed afraid of me.
Loaded on our first (only) date.
Fresh out of gate…design flaw.
You loved me with an asterisk.
A memoir is an account, a recollection, a sketch, a public record. So what better way to lasso the past or harness the present than in six words? I believe it can help us make sense out of the senseless, plus it’s a fun challenge to use exactly six words.
Larry Smith, founder of SMITH, was asked if six-word memoirs had the ability to heal. He said he wasn’t sure, but that they allowed one to be heard.
Often times being heard is all the healing we need.
The beauty of a six-word memoir is its brevity and poignancy. It need only have deep resonance for the person writing it, but often it hits the reader between the eyes as well. Used as a writing prompt, a way to define your workplace or community, as an icebreaker, or as a challenge to simplify, the six-word memoir is a brilliant invention. It challenges us to go deep but keep it plain.
I’m reminded of a time in college when I was filling my blue book with anything and everything I could think of, hoping and praying I would back into some semblance of an answer during an exam. Because I had no idea what the professor was asking, I attempted to cover that up with everything I did know about the class. Had he asked me to answer the question in a mere six words (or even a single paragraph, for that matter) I would have failed even more epically.
Put less elegantly, it’s hard to bullshit somebody in only six words.
Next time you are grappling with a challenge, a memory or an experience of any kind, try wrapping it in six words. Try it right now. Try it more than once. Try it in your personal life. Try it in your professional life. Try writing your life’s purpose or your life’s journey so far.
Write about your great loss, great fear, great folly, great desire, a great capital T truth or from a grateful heart. Just try it…no one’s watching.
God smiled on me with daughters.
Bought forever house. Lost my forever.
Aiming to channel the me-est me.