Guest post by By Elizabeth Shara The Six-Word Memoir process came into my life at the perfect time. I had spent months trying to express the grief and pain that was tearing my heart apart. Writing had always been my go-to for personal growth and clarity but at this point in my life, filling pages with words did nothing for me. The tear-soaked paper only reminded me how fragile my world had become.
"I love that Six Words is truly a community. I love that people come and go, and I especially love that people stay."
Name: Karen Golden Place: Cherry Hill, New Jersey Member since: May 2011 Browse through the reams of Six-Word Memoirs from notjustagirlintheworld—at well over 2,000, there are plenty to peruse—and you’ll discover a clever (“Cloud 8 is my personal best”), quick-witted (“More Walter Mitty than Wonder Woman”), and pleasingly neurotic woman (“The cant’s have me totally surrounded”). If we could use only one word to describe her memoirs: acerbic. Of course, we’d rather use six: “Look up acerbic, find Karen Golden.”
"I always thought I’d write a novel, and when I was younger I’d draft chapters with the big end goal in mind. But when I discovered short story form, and then poetry, and then six words, I came to the realization that often, less is more."Name: Kathryn Campbell Place: Minneapolis, Minnesota SMITH Member Since: April 2011 [caption id="attachment_4948" align="alignright" width="560" caption="Kathryn Campbell with her children, Cameron (14), Olivia (4) and Victoria (17) celebrating Cam’s middle school Moving On this spring. (Photo by Diane Anderson)"][/caption]
Kathryn Campbell has shared so many milestones with SMITH (from “Yes! Yes! 5 years cancer free.” to “She turns 0-4; I turn 4-0.”), it’s hard to believe it’s been a mere two years since she joined us. As SMITH member Lillybrook, Kathryn’s memoirs are insightful and touching (“Failed moments are awarded with wisdom.”), clever and introspective (“So perfectionist even my blood's A+.”) and show she’s wise beyond her years (“Important life lesson: do no harm.”). We were fortunate to catch the super-busy Kathryn during her summer break and are thrilled to feature her as SMITH’s Memoirist of the Month for August. Thanks to our friends at Spreadshirt. Kathryn can mark this milestone with a Six-Word Memoir T-shirt of her choice.
When did you start writing, and what have been turning points in your creative life? I started my first diary when I was six years old. I still have that Hallmark book with its keyed lock and green gingham cover. Most of my notes were pretty bland, but I wrote every day. Writing in a diary taught me that recording time illuminates those moments in life, both extraordinary and mundane, that you don’t see if you don’t document them.
"Reading and writing Sixes provides a creative spark, as does commenting and conversing with the other Sixers. What a weapon against writer’s block it is. Seeing what other people do with words makes you a better writer."
Name: Dick Peterson Place: Kansas City SMITH Member since: July 2010 Since Dick Peterson joined SMITH in 2010, much of his writing has been about...writing. From “Let it be written...and read” to “Don't sit on it. Write it,” Dick has motivated himself and countless others to transform their thoughts into written words. Even his clever moniker pays homage to his beloved homeland and his yearning to write about it—Baton Rouge translates to Red Stick, he’s better known to the SMITH Community as RedStickWriter. Dick lives in Kansas City, but explains he's "a Missourian by employment, a Louisianan by birth, a Southerner by the grace of God, and a Tybee Islander at heart." Currently writing his second novel, he says that his work in progress "is set in these places of intimate familiarity to me." While Dick has been selective with his submissions, we’ve noticed a steady rise in memoirs in recent months. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that come the end of July, Dick retires from banking after a career spanning more than four decades. With his own recent six words—“Banking career sunsetting, writing ideas dawning”—as inspiration, we're so pleased to name Dick Peterson July's Memoirist of the Month. Congratulations on the Spreadshirt T-shirt of your choice and, more importantly, on having more time to “write a Six, then a chapter.”
This week’s featured classroom attends Essex Street Academy in NYC, a school that prides itself on its project-based focus on learning and personalized approach to education. The ninth and tenth graders taking a creative writing course with teachers Jenny Platow and Caitlin Thomas were asked to write Six-Word Memoirs after thoroughly analyzing the book, I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure, found in the school library. The students were encouraged to notice not just the words used in the memoirs but also the positioning of the words on the page and the book's overall design. The class then went on to explore the Six-Word Memoir project as a greater movement by checking out some YouTube video compilations, celebrity six-worders and memoirs from teenagers just like them. Several of the students have IEP's (Individual Education Plan) and struggle with reading and writing in some capacity; still, as we’ve so often found, the Six-Word Memoir format is for everyone. Although the main focus of their creative writing course this semester was dramatic writing, students took the creative liberty to mix things up by incorporating other forms of creative writing into the curriculum as well. Each student was required to create three to four memoirs of her own, whether funny, sad, serious or random. “We quickly saw that while some of our students used the format as a way to just express their creativity and silliness others quickly gravitated towards revealing more serious and sad anecdotes from their life experiences,” Platow says.
"For the shy poets, taking a risk in six words to share a secret, a memory, or a fear is easier than delving into a longer poem."Spring always seems to reinvigorate creativity and inspire new ideas. The days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter and the Six-Word Memoirs are less “Wishing for other reasons to shiver” and more “Mudluscious and puddle-wonderful Spring. -e.e. cummings.” Which brings us to this month’s featured classroom! Meet Meghan Adler, learning specialist, seasoned writer and poetry teacher at San Francisco Day School in San Francisco, California. Adler is a longtime fan of Six-Word Memoirs who recently attended SMITH founder Larry Smith's workshop to benefit 826Valencia. She says that her school boasts a community of learners in which perpetual intellectual curiosity and love of learning are highly celebrated. Adler exemplifies the school’s overall mission by exuding an optimistic energy, love of writing and a Six-Word Memoir teaching force to be reckoned with. This conductor of masterfully brief creativity works with five bright students enrolled in a Performing Arts Elective. Adler and her students recently embarked on a journey into literary world of Six-Word Memoirs, divulging everything from Six-Word secrets to short, sweet odes to San Francisco. "Twice a week for 50 minutes, I meet with 6th and 7th grade poets in a class called Poems, Poetics and Poetry," says Adler. "We study forms, poets, and write our own poetry. My students especially love the six-word format because they love structure. Somehow the rules create and allow a structured freedom of sorts. For the shy poets, taking a risk in six words to share a secret, a memory or a fear is easier than delving into a longer poem. Of course later, they may be inspired to keep going, but the six-word prompt helps them enter. I am so grateful for this form that's helped my poets take risks, share, create, and take real pride in their work." These San Francisco students were generous enough to share their sixes with the SMITH community. "One of my students started to have so much fun with the exercise that he came up with one for me as he watched me try to untangle some jewelry: 'Middle-aged woman strangled by necklace.'" Get ready to laugh, lament, be inspired and laugh some more as Adler’s students take you on a delightfully youthful, slightly self-conscious and wonderfully witty literary ride. Six Words On Life Ollie (6th Grader) Am I too old for that? Jamie (6th Grader) Life never stops even when asked.
The beauty of the Six-Word Memoir form is that it’s universal. No matter who you are, where you’re from, whether you love or loathe writing, are 7 or 53, anyone and everyone can write the short, short story of his or her life. This month's featured classroom is a small writing workshop based in Texas. The students of Rawson Saunders School—a full curriculum school for first grade through eighth grade in Austin, TX dedicated to the education of children with dyslexia— are bright, out-of-the-box thinkers who have struggled with reading and written expression. Historically their writing (mostly spelling and organization) has not been indicative of their intellect often causing them frustration and defeat. Kat DeWees and Lisa Laville teach the workshop, comprised of eight middle school students recommended by an Academic Language Therapist. Daily workshop activities include listening to a short published work of writing and being guided through a mini lesson on a variety of literary genres. “The workshop is designed to give the students ownership of their writing but most importantly an uninterrupted block of time in which to write,” DeWees says. A couple of the students had some heartwarming sentiments to add: “It’s like writing yoga…so peaceful." “Two teachers + eight students = enough personal attention…finally!” Dewees found that the students absolutely loved the simple Six-Word Memoir writing format. “They feel liberated by having to only produce six words in a concise, poetic format. This is especially important to dyslexic students as they have experienced angst and ridicule surrounding written expression and quantity has been an encumbrance,” she says. As the students write, edit and revise their sixes, they begin to gain confidence in their stories and themselves. Throughout the year, the budding young authors also get a chance to share their work with faculty, peers, family, and the community. “They begin to believe they are a valued member of a much greater literary society—something they had never dreamed possible…” Check out some of the students illustrated Six-Word Memoirs below.
Eat like an elephant, feather weight.