At our reading at the Burnside store
last week, someone asked us, mostly in jest, "So, are you destroying creativity with your six-word memoirs
I, of course, deadpanned: "Yes."
Yet it's a question that comes up, at SMITH and elsewhere, lately: is this Twitter-y, text-message, "25 Random Things" culture turning us all into short-form zombies, spilling our guts in 140 characters (or less) and then falling asleep in front of reality TV? Of course not.
Our need to tell stories and express ourselves goes back to the time of the cavemen and extends to the dinner-table conversation you'll have tonight. We really want to tell stories, and we're drawn to storytellers, and technology has made it easier to tell our stories. And so what if they're short? Short is a start. The woman who wrote the six-word memoir that begins our first book, "After Harvard, had baby with crackhead" has never written about her intense life. Now she's working on a full-length memoir. That, for us, is the idea.
Many people really don't think that their own story is valid. They say, "Who would want to know that? I don't have a story." A lightening bolt went off in my head when I realized I didn't know all that much about my own grandfather's story about coming over from Russia when he was three years old. So I asked him, and he said, "Oh, there's not much to tell." I prodded him a bit and finally he started talking — and didn't stop for three hours. So everyone has a story and sometimes, sadly, no one asks them for it. I decided to put our last name — the most common surname in America — in all caps and start a magazine with the hope that SMITH Magazine's infectious, addictive and passionate spirit will spread to all of us: one person, one story at a time.
While my grandfather and many of us need encouragement to start talking, many of today's new generation of storytellers can't imagine a media world in which they're not part of the process — they refuse to passively take in the world and its media, but rather demand to shape and tell the culture narrative of their time.
A six-word memoir is one good way to start because it's not a novel, and it's not a 2,000-word column. You're done in six words, which makes it a very unscary thing to try. And then after you try it, you're like, "Hey, I can do this...just like Dave Eggers or George Saunders, or Elizabeth Gilbert," and then you get the bug. That's one simple way to tell your story. There are many others, which play with the form many different ways. In the spirit of today's list mania, here are seven of our favorite short-attention span, largely crowdsourced personal storytelling sites, with a few nods to love stories in their varied shapes and forms.
Cassette From My Ex: The mixed taped of your life, digitized and annotated with the stories behind the songs.
Mortified: Where grown men and women confront their past with bravery and wit. The videos are cringe-worthy, hilarious, incredible.
Why Do You Do What You Do?: A project in which people are asked the simple question that defines such a big part of most of our lives, answering in just a few well-chosen words (and sometimes images).
To-Do List: Our lives, in all their insane, obsessive, glory, as described in lists.
FOUND: Lost letters, displaces sticky notes, piles of amazing Polaroids, and other detris that we find and morph from trash into stories, one post at a time.
Other People's Love Letters: From a Western Union telegram from the 1940s to an "I Love You" scribbled in red pen on a book of matches and a million saved IMs, this site and book is a look at love letters through history, and a chance to submit your own for a future book...and posterity.
PostSecret: The granddaddy of what's been called "the intimacy revolution," needs no explanation. PostSecret remains an inspiration as to what people are capable of expressioning, and why they need to do so — and how the passion of one person, Frank Warren, means so much to so many.
— Larry Smith