Saturday February 21, 2009
Summed up in six words
By FOO YEE PING
‘Married a hottie. Divorced a hothead’; ‘Met him online. Blogged our divorce’; ‘I cleaned. He cleaned me out’ – from the blissful to the brokenhearted, a story can be told in just half a dozen words, no matter how how deep your love is.
IT is that famous four-letter word that makes the world go round. When a New York-based online magazine embarked on its mission to find good storytelling, believing that a real-life story could be told in just six words, the editors were swamped with mini-memoirs that were mostly about love.
The outcome was Six-Word Memoirs On Love & Heartbreak, edited by Smith magazine, the second in the six-word series from the publishers of last year’s “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure”.
That first book became a New York Times bestseller, went back to press six times and, according to founding editor Larry Smith, it spawned an international six-word memoir phenomenon.
The success, he said, showed there was a real thirst for short, meaningful storytelling.
“We received around 8,000 six-word memoirs on love and heartbreak, but many of the contributions submitted to the first project were also about love and/or heartbreak. We chose the 459 that are in this new book from probably 15,000 six-word memoirs that touched on love in some way, shape, or form,” Smith said in an e-mail interview.
The introduction to Love & Heartbreak borrowed a quote from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, something which Smith editors believed to hold true for relationships as well.
“It’s really tough out there; I’d estimate that 70% of the submissions we received were about heartbreak,” Smith said.
It was, to him, an exhilarating and intense experience putting out the book.
“So many of our favourite memoirs, from ‘Ex-wife and contractor now have house’ to ‘Girlfriend is pregnant, my husband said’ are about break-ups and losses,” he said. “And yet those heartbreaking ones remind us that love, when it’s working, is even more powerful, important and rewarding than we think it is.”
Indeed, there are happy stories everywhere.
“Many of the memoirs addressed the notion of staying with love no matter what turns the universe brings you,” he said.
Examples from well-known writers such as Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying who wrote: Much married, fourth time is charmed; and Armistead Maupin (of Tales of the City series): “He still needs me at sixty-four.”
So what’s the message from this second book?
“The heart feels a lot, but doesn’t always have a lot of places to go with all those emotions, aches, pains, and pleasure. So the chance to express yourself even in just six words means a lot to people.”
Readers and contributors to the six-word series ranged from children aged nine through 90, Smith said.
“We are all bound by the love of storytelling in this magical little way. This book is really for anyone who has felt love, felt loss, are in love, are out of love, are longing for love, and maybe some readers who still don’t know when they will have their next kiss or their first one.”
Smith, 40, who previously worked as an editor at Men’s Journal, has an enthralling love story himself.
In his own six words, he wrote about his wife Piper Kerman: “Our prison visitations were surprisingly romantic.”
According to him, “Piper pleaded guilty, at age 29, to a crime she committed at age 21, and at age 35 went to federal prison for 13 months. She was incarcerated at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, which was fortunately just a few hours away from our home in New York City.”
“I visited her nearly every week, usually for three or four hours, and in an odd way, we were never closer. We didn’t have conjugal visits, those weren’t allowed at Danbury and at the time we weren’t married anyway. Yet the time spent together – in the visiting room, drinking soda and eating microwave popcorn from the vending machine, and talking about how she was doing and our future together once the mess was over – was surprisingly romantic.”
Kerman, whose own six words were “In and out of hot water”, has written her own full-length memoir titled Orange is the New Black: My Year in Federal Prison which will come out in July.
Most of these six-word memoirs have fascinating stories behind them, too, and usually not at all what you thought it was at first.
“For example, ‘I still make coffee for two’ wasn’t written by an elderly widower, but rather by a 20-something hipster who had just gone through a break-up with a girlfriend,” Smith said. That guy has since found another woman.
Smith magazine had asked its book contributors to tell their stories behind the stories; these tales would soon be retold in book readings across the United States, as well as at sixwordmemoirs.com.
But on a most unromantic note, what has famous American divorce lawyer Raoul Felder learned about love?
This is the man who is supposedly known as The Lion King of Splitsville and Dr Estranged Love, whose past clients included former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani and Robin Givens (who divorced Mike Tyson), and who reportedly won huge settlements for the former wives of Mel Brooks and Martin Scorsese.
“Love almost always leads to heartbreak,” Felder wrote.
And that was heartbreaking indeed, as Smith magazine summed it up.