I have to confess that I took the title of this post from an article in the current (September) issue of Oprah Magazine. The article is by Amy Hempel. I just googled her, hoping there might be a copy of Life Is Short. No such luck, so I will have to type the entire thing…
“Life Is Short—Especially when you compress it into a single magical sentence.
By AMY HEMPEL.
The most revealing story I’ve ever written is also the shortest. Here is ‘Memoir’ in full: “Just once in my life–oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?”
If the short, short story is “like a short story, only more so,” as one writer put it, then the one-sentence story is the defining moment, the thing that encapsulates a person with precision and efficiency, memorably. The defining moment is about recognition, and sometimes recognition can inspire a call to action, make a case for change. Or not. Maybe it just conjures reflection, even resignation.
A new friend told me a lot about herself when she proposed that her epitaph read SHE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN MORE DONE, BUT SHE HAD DOGS. An old friend, an improv comic, wrote the story of his show-biz career: “He started at the bottom; aimed for the top; he ended up somewhere below in-between.” Succinct, aphoristic, the one-sentence story that illuminates a life can be a punch line, an epitaph, a proverb or an actual memoir (the standout for me from the collection Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs: “Found true love, married someone else.”)
I also see stand-alone life stories within longer works. From the novel Lights Out in the Reptile House, by Jim Shepard: It was possible to have kinds of homecoming without home.” And from the Mary Robison story “Pretty Ice”: My father had been dead fourteen years, but I resented my mother buying a car in which he wouldn’t have fitted.”
The sentence is the basic unit of construction in a story, and when the sentence is the whole story, the story of your life, you can find clarity, bite and a spotlight turned on the person you are, or were, or someday want to be. As David Mamet once wrote, “Omission is a form of creation.” So much is said in these sentences, amplified because the authors left out all the right things.”
I loved this article, for the simplicity and, of course, the challenge for me to write my life story in a single sentence. You may remember back in July of 2014, I did a post on writing your life story in 100 words. If I thought that was difficult, this was a whole other thing to attempt to do. This was my 100 word life story: A happy, healthy, loving, kind, silly, adventure-seeking, funny, mostly intelligent, sometimes wildly irreverent, forward-looking spirit having a very human experience. Have faced many life challenges with grace, and survived. Have fought hard to stick around to see what happens next. Looking to make a difference in my life so that I am able, by example, to encourage others to do the same. Believe that one person CAN make a difference, and if we all live with this uppermost in our minds, think of the awesome transformation the world would see. Am ready for blessings that are no longer in disguise.
After much thought, my Six-Word Memoir would be:
Never gave up, found true love.