Column: Life story? Say it in sixRumor has it someone once challenged Ernest Hemingway to write a story using just six words. The result, or so the story goes, was this: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
Rumor has it someone once challenged Ernest Hemingway to write a story using just six words. The result, or so the story goes, was this: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
I have no idea if this story is true, though I've seen it recounted several times in recent years. For all I know the whole thing started because some guy sitting around in his underwear felt some sudden literary inspiration on the same night he cranked out an e-mail about Nigerian princes who want to give you money and an inspirational story about a kitten rescuing a firefighter.
I'd like the story to be real, but it doesn't really matter. Whether or not it was Hemingway, somebody wrote that tiny little story, and it fascinates me. A big part of my job involves finding ways to squeeze people's stories onto the ever-shrinking pages of this newspaper, and seeing someone — whether it was Papa Hemingway himself or the anonymous underpants guy — pack so much emotional significance into so few words is remarkable. I'm better at that kind of thing now than I was when I started in this job a little over a decade ago, but clearly I've still got a ways to go.
The first time I heard the Hemingway story was in November of 2006, when Wired magazine posed a similar challenge to a collection of professional authors. Science fiction writer Orson Scott Card submitted, "The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly." Foulmouth director Kevin Smith added, "Kirby had never eaten toes before." Some of the entries were good. Some weren't. Some were funny. Some were serious. But none had the same kind of impact as the original.
More recently, an online publication called Smith Magazine made the experiment more personal, asking celebrities and readers alike to submit six-word memoirs. The results were published recently in a book called Not Quite What I Was Planning.
That's what got me thinking about all of this. Could I tell one of my subjects' stories in so little space? Could I tell my own? How would I even start?
I could focus on work, I suppose. Keep it simple. "I came. I saw. I reported." Or, "Excuse me, but I have to ask...." But does that capture the fact I'm doing a job for which I never received any formal education? That I never took a journalism class, nor worked on a school paper? How about, "Journalist? Me? I don't think so."?
I could write about the things I do for fun: "Biked far. Rode fast. Butt sore." Or I could try to convey the emotions of owning my first home: "I pay the mortgage monthly? Ugh!"
There are plenty of options, but I'm not sure any of them really captures every aspect of my life. There's just too much there. And my life isn't even that interesting.
In the end, maybe I'll just go with this: "Had fun so far. What's next?"
So, that's mine. Now it's your turn. Starting this week there will be an opportunity here to post your own six-word memoir. Make it funny if you want, or keep it serious. Write one or write a dozen. Do it online or mail them to me at PO Box 192 in Farmington. Heck, you can even call and ask us to transcribe them if you want. We're going to post a few of our own, too, but we really want to know how you define yourself.
Just keep it short.