"Engagement ring paid for grad school." "My mom had beer flavored nipples." These were some of the stories of the crowd sitting in the warm, paper-smelling basement of Brookline Booksmith Tuesday evening when they were asked to tell about love and heartache in their lives in only six words. The exercise in brevity was part of a talk given by Smith magazine editors Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser as they travel around the country promoting their new book "Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak."
The history of the six-word story is distinguished. After being challenged to tell a six-word story, Ernest Hemingway replied, "For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.." Smith and Fershleiser collected memoirs of that length for their first book, “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure," and after noticing the commonality of love in the submissions, decided to create the new book with just that theme.
After braving a frosty Boston winter to reach the bookstore, it was fun to hear both the love stories themselves, and the stories behind the stories. Smith told the group about how people usually assumed his story "Our prison visits were surprisingly romantic," was about a conjugal visit while he was in jail. Quite the opposite, as there is no such thing as conjugal visits. "These are little facts you pick up when your fiancée is in federal prison," he commented.
When it was my turn and Fershleiser held the microphone to my lips, I was still unprepared, but my subconcious crystallized what suddenly seemed a perfect comment on my entire romantic past. "She only loved me from afar," I said. There was a sympathetic murmur from the rest of the crowd but I was too busy wondering how on Earth I had come up with that to take much notice. Regaining my composure, I noted that others seemed to find satisfaction with their own six-word stories. There is something viscerally pleasing about condensing what might be months or years of emotional turmoil into barely enough verbiage to fill three seconds.
Smith and Fershleiserhave taken their ideas on six-word memoirs to many locales, including a lot of classrooms. In a second-grade classroom is actually where some of the best stories were created Smith said. One or two were the kind that just arrest the brain with their power. He told of one young student coming up to tell him and the rest of the class her story and how she looked in his eyes and said," Nine years stacked within my soul."