One Thousand Words on Six Words Memoirs (Ironic, huh?)

My mother retired five years ago from a job she worked for thirty years. A job she didn’t always like, truth be told.

But do I just let her relax and enjoy her well deserved break? Nope.

While she’s perfectly happy puttering around the house, reading and going out to lunch with friends, I’m always coming up with things for her to do. I suggest classes, volunteer jobs, craft projects and trips.

I’ll say “you should take up painting” or “why don’t work at the hospital book cart?” At one point right after she retired, I even offered to send her to college.

It’s not that I think she doesn’t deserve to do what she wants with her time. There is just so much that I would want to do if I didn’t have to work, that I’m trying to live vicariously through her. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t want to take a class or a cruise to Alaska. I do.

Tonight I came up with the best idea yet, though. I suggested she write a memoir.

Her immediate reaction included eye rolling and the f word. (Sometimes living with a retiree is like living with a teenager.) But I was serious. I think my mother’s life story is an interesting one, even if she doesn’t. I’m fact, I’m planning to write a post about her life, but that’s not for today.

Since I know she won’t actually write a memoir, I decided to make it easy and suggested a six word memoir.

I had heard about these somewhere, probably public radio since that’s where I get most of my information, but didn’t really know the story behind them. So I googled.

It seems that Smith Magazine put out a call five years ago asking people to sum up their life story in six words. Since then they’ve published whole books of six words memoirs and the website is still actively accepting submissions.

It’s in interesting concept. How do you sum up your life in six words?

And wouldn’t those six words change all the time? Any six word memoir I wrote would be quickly out of date.

For instance, when I was a child my six word memoir would have been “fat girl playing with Barbie dolls” or “smart kid at front of class.” (Those make me sounds like a loser, but I wasn’t. Really.)

As a teenager, my memoir would have been “blissfully unaware of high school hierarchy.”

College could be characterized as “least dramatic drama student in history” or “theater degree is fun, not practical.”

Right after college my memoir would have most definitely been “I worked so hard for this?”

And a bit later, “community theater saved me from insanity.”

You get the idea. Life changes and I’m challenged to think of six words that express it all.

But I guess the 241,121 people on the Smith website don’t have the same problem. Or else they don’t mind that their memoir will change over time.

Actually, now that I look at the site closer, lots of people have posted more than one memoir. That doesn’t seem fair. Six words is six words. You can’t have four. That’s a twenty four word memoir.

(Maybe mine should be “can’t learn how to spell memoir.” I’ve written the word ten times already and I think I’ve misspelled it every time. I keep putting the I before the O. Thank goodness for autocorrect.)

There may be a couple of themes that run through my entire life that might work.

First is my mother’s love. I’m blessed to have such an incredible, strong woman as a mother, someone who has always encouraged me and loved me unconditionally. “A mother’s love makes anything possible” (too sticky sweet?) or “mom and me against the world” (too combative?) are both true. So is “lucky to have best mom ever.”

Sadly, the other theme of my life is my inferiority complex. I never feel like I’m quite good enough, in anything I do. If I got a 99 on a test, I’d wonder why I didn’t get 100. (There’s a memoir for you: “what happened to the other point?”)

I think everyone is better than I am. At everything. Someone else would be better at my job than I am. Someone else could be a better friend to my friends. “Always worrying I should be more” says it all.

I could lie and say it was “always striving to grow and learn” or some such inspirational sounding bull, but worrying is really more accurate. I’m good at worry (Here’s a good one: “I worry I worry too much.”)

So back to my mom. I don’t think she’ll ever write even a six word memoir, so maybe I’ll take a stab at it for her.

The first thing that comes to mind is “worked whole life to support Heather.” Before you think I’m an egomaniac, let me explain.

My parents divorced when I was two so it’s always been just me and my mom. She actually did work her whole adult life to support me. I’m sure there were many times she wanted to quit her job, but she didn’t because she had decided I came first. A lot of single parents don’t do that. Mine did. I’m lucky.

“Made tough decisions for better life” fits too. The decision to divorce my father couldn’t have been easy. It was the early seventies and her parents encouraged her to go back to her marriage even though my father was an alcoholic. But she made the change because she knew her life, and my life, would be better.

I think that her memoir after retirement would be a bit more upbeat. “Love being at home. Happy now.” Or “I can do whatever I want.”

But no one can write an accurate memoir about someone else, can they? So I’m challenging to my mom and everyone reading this post to try it themselves. But be warned… “Short memoirs are hard to write!”

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