It Is Amazing What People Can Say in Six Words
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There are the adults. Google Alerts are a wonderful thing. It's how we learned that a spinning instructor in Newport, Kentucky, was yelling six-word memoirs to pump up his class; a convention of computer security experts held their own six-word contest ("Never Let A Breach Happen Again"; "Obsessive Worrying — is the door locked?"; "My personal heroes? Ones and Zeros" just to give you a taste); and a blog about RVs got 51 submissions for a call for " Six Words about Your RV Life."
Week after week, people got in touch with us directly about how much the form meant to them. A woman named Abby sent us six-word memoirs from her teen patients at a psychiatric hospital in Forest Park, Illinois. Jolene, a nurse in Oakland, California, wrote to tell us this story about a patient with leukemia:
I was taking care of this 21 yr old guy who has had Leukemia since he's been 8 yrs old. He's pretty debilitated, is wasting away right now — a very sad case. I brought in your book and asked him to come up w/ his own 6-word memoir. He thought about it for about 2 minutes (mind you before that i could barely get him to engage w/ me, he was extremely depressed as you can imagine). He then just blurted out: "Fat man eats pie then farts." It's a metaphor for life you see, we indulge ourselves then we die.
Back at SMITH, a contributor who goes by the screen name " Miandering" documented her year of traveling the globe in a series of more than 100 six-word memoirs submitted one by one: "Sticky rice at every meal. Yum" (a great start in Thailand) to "Wet flip-flops. Shiny linoleum. Bad combination." (a tough break in Malaysia). She continues to travel, and the memoirs keep coming in, diary-like, six words at a time.
At an event with The Rumpus and McSweeney's in NYC last spring, we had a few dozen brave six-word memoirists create a wave of short-short storytelling, in front of 300 people, and on the same stage writer Amy Tan and singer Amanda Palmer had been on a few minutes earlier.
There are the celebrities. We love having Sarah Silverman's hilarious six-word memoir (and won't repeat it in this family-friendly space) and Malcolm Gladwell's ironic one ("Father: 'Anything but journalism.' I rebelled."), but admittedly have the softest spot for memoirists we've long admired, and now have an excuse to contact. When we emailed J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, he was kind and responsive, but said he was deep in the middle of a book and it might take him a while, and, "What was the final, final deadline?" Sure, it's only six words, but we've come to see just exactly how seriously writers famous and obscure alike take their words. Four months and three email reminders later, J.R. submitted his short-short life story: "Say when, childhood whispered, pouring, spilling." It was worth the wait.
Another wait that meant the world to us was for a man who reinvigorated the long-form memoir in the '90s. We had been chasing Frank McCourt since we started putting together our first collection, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. For years, no luck. Then on a Sunday morning in late March, Larry woke up to find an email from an address he didn't recognize. Subject line: DEEP SIX.
Larry: Here is my half dozen.
"Miserable childhood leads to royalties."