Aphoristic Autobiographies via Smith

“Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response? ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ Last year, SMITH Magazine re-ignited the recountre by asking our readers for their own six-word memoirs. They sent in short life stories in droves, from the bittersweet (’Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends’) and poignant (’I still make coffee for two’) to the inspirational (’Business school? Bah! Pop music? Hurrah’) and hilarious (’I like big butts, can’t lie’).”

This is the introduction to the Six-Word Memoirs section of Smith, an online magazine designed “to be a place for storytelling, with a focus on personal narrative.” These six-word memoirs make fascinating and compulsive reading. Smith does not refer to the pieces as aphorisms, but the most moving and insightful of them are indeed aphorisms. They are great examples of the ability of the aphorism to compact so much—an entire life even—into so few words. The six-word memoirs are the bonsai trees of autobiographical writing: constrained by their miniature containers, these reflections are all the more powerful for forcing all of their blossoms into such a tiny space. Reading them, you get a very clear and poignant sense of the life behind the writing, sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, sometimes tragic. I’ll say no more. Read for yourself:

Bad beginning makes ending look good.

A smile can change a life…

Never underestimate the power of snuggling.

Born, published, now out of print.

Life-reflected in my sons’ eyes.

Not worth even six words.