Six-Word Memoirs help provide focus and inspiration

six-word memoir

For this: “I love you, Dad.”

There’s a legend that the Hemingway wrote the greatest short story ever using just six words:

“For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”

There are many indications that Papa didn’t pen those words or— if he did— was not the first to do so. But the Hemingway attribution persists, as these things often do.

The baby shoes story is illustrative of trying to tell a story with the absolute minimum of works. Generally referred to as flash fiction, the six-word limit led to the idea of the six-word memoir, including a collection published in book form by Smith Magazine in 2008.

Regardless, the point remains: you can say a lot without saying much at all. Which brings me around to my question today.

Why are you doing what you’re doing? Or, put another way, when you’re gone, what do you want people to remember about you? 

Recently, my CEO group was tasked with considering these questions and writing our own six-word memoirs. It’s a great exercise that will help you hone in on the things that really keep you going, enabling you to marginalize all the noise and trash that just interferes with clear thinking.

It was also surprisingly difficult to do. In the end, I finally settled on:

For this: “I love you, Dad.” 

Do you have your own six-word memoir? If so, I’d love to read it; share it in the comments below. If you haven’t written one yet but want to try, Smith Magazine has some great examples and good inspiration.

Heartbreak leads to a tiny, lovely tribute from a worldwide community

rebeccapurple

Rebecca Alison Meyer
June 7, 2008 – June 7, 2014

Eric Meyer is an expert in what we call Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which are used to control how things “look” in your web browser. Truth be told, he’s a bit of a legend who has spearheaded the development of making it easier for us to build beautiful things. At Rare Bird, we’re all familiar with his work and some of us have either heard him speak or read his books (or, in a few cases, both.)

A couple of weeks ago, on June 7, his daughter Rebecca passed away. She was six.

Eric and his wife, Kathryn, requested that those who attend the services and are comfortable wearing purple do so in honor of Rebecca and her favorite color. Upon hearing this, a member of the WC3 staff, Dom Hazaël-Massieux, requested that a purple in the CSS color list be named “Becca Purple” in her memory. Eric suggested that it be named “rebeccapurple” instead, because his daughter wanted everyone to call her Rebecca after she turned six, and – after all – she was six for almost 12 hours.

On Saturday, June 21, Rebecca Purple (#663399) was officially added as the 141st color to be recognized by name by all web browsers.

And so, from this tremendous heartbreak, a color is born.

This is why I write things down (and why you should, too)

Keep a Journal

Remembering what they say is the best reason to keep a journal

I was glancing through recent entries in my journal and found this gem from March 9, 2013:

Grace: “It’s been soo long since I was swimming in a pool!”
Char: “I know, it’s great.”
Grace: “It’s so much better than trying to do it in the bathtub!”

I had no memory of this. If I hadn’t written it down, it would have been lost forever. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me.

It’s happening to you, too, whether you know it or not. So start writing things down.

For simplicity, I’m using Day One, a Mac-based digital journal that makes it simple to record little items like this and longer form entries. I highly recommend it.

I also found this tip from Michael Hyatt the other day and I’ve been trying it since I read it. I think he’s definitely on to something. His advice? Use a template to prompt your entries. Here’s the (short) article where he lays it out and provides the template he uses. Try it, it works.

What can Brown do for you?

Scout has her own reasons for liking the UPS man

Scout has her own reasons for liking the UPS man

Char told me a story yesterday that I hadn’t heard before. It goes like this:

A few years ago, my Mom sent the kids a bunch of cookies for Easter. They arrived by UPS truck. The kids were ecstatic and over-sugared for days. Score a point for Grandma (and, apparently, the UPS man, because after this delivery they’d shout “Cookies!” and head for the door every time they saw the UPS truck.)

Funny enough, until you imagine how their little hearts broke each time it just drove on by – or worse, stopped to deliver something entirely NOT cookies. Still, they associated the sights and sounds of the big brown truck with cookies just as they did the sights and sounds of that creepy van with ice cream of questionable value and provenance. (An aside: I’m not sure where they get the die for the popsicles coming out of the back of the ice cream truck, but let it touch anything and it will stain for life.)

Fast forward to this week, when Char is out walking Scout and the UPS truck comes around the corner and stops at a neighbor’s house. Scout starts dragging her in the direction of truck. As the tug of war continues, Scout stops dead in her tracks and sits in the street. It takes some amount of coaxing to get her moving again.

As they continue their walk, the UPS truck catches up. Again, Scout starts pulling in the direction of the truck. Char’s mystified… until the truck stops, the UPS man hops out and says to Scout, “Aw, good girl, so good to see you again…” and tosses her a treat.

Score another point for the UPS man, who now apparently only delivers dog cookies.

(The kids are looking at you, Grandma.)

A how-to guide to have the most important conversation of your life

Photo: Corbis

Photo: Corbis

Even in this age of hyper-communication, where people are willingly sharing all kinds of things with each other on social networks, there is one area of our lives where we quiet down completely. On the one hand, it’s not surprising. The topic is uncomfortable and the potential for misunderstanding is large. On the other hand, it’s shocking, because this is one of the areas that almost everyone agrees that more conversation is absolutely necessary. The topic is end of life care.

If we honestly assess ourselves, I’m guessing your reaction to the topic was to immediately think about other ways to spend the next few minutes. But hang in there, stay with me: I’m going to give you the tools to make this as easy as discussing any other important issue.

First, some context. If you haven’t yet had to deal with a serious illness– yours or someone you love– it may be hard to understand why this issue is so important. If you have, then you’re likely among the 60% of people who think it’s “extremely important” that their family members aren’t burdened by tough decisions (yet 60% have not communicated their end of life wishes.) Or consider this: 80% of people say that if seriously ill, they would want to talk to their doctor about end-of-life care, but only 7% report having had an end-of-life conversation with their doctor. Finally, 82% of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing, yet only 23% have done it. In other words, you too have probably avoided this tough issue and you’re definitely not alone.

Most people, it seems, have trouble knowing where to start. We’re concerned that our loved ones won’t agree or even understand how we could feel a certain way. The key, says Ellen Goodman, co-Founder of The Conversation Project, is simply talking about it. And the best place to begin is at your kitchen table– not an intensive care unit– with people you love, before it’s too late.

Why is this important?

Imagine, for a moment, being seriously injured or ill, unable to speak for yourself, or facing the end of your life. Who do you want standing at your bedside, speaking for you, making tough decisions about your care– perhaps even disagreeing with other family members or medical professionals about how you should be treated? Now that you have that person in mind, do they know how you feel? Do they know what’s important to you, how you want to be treated?

Or maybe you’re in a position to make these decisions for someone else… do you know their wishes?

In either case, The Conversation Project believes that the key is communication. They’ve put together a ‘starter kit’ with a list of questions to first ask yourself to be sure that you understand your own feelings on the issue. The starter kit is available online and as a downloadable file. The questions are simple but thought-provoking.

Once you’ve completed the preparation, the next step can be the hardest: you have to talk with someone, tell them what you think, how you feel, and ensure that they are brave enough to adhere to your wishes in the midst of a challenging, emotionally-charged situation. Starting this conversation will be the most difficult step. It’s hard to bring these issues up (I’ve found that it’s tough writing about it, even in an abstract sense.) But having this conversation can be liberating for you both. It will give you the peace of mind that someone will be prepared to make your wishes known, and you will have the information you need to reciprocate. What could be better than having full confidence that you’re doing exactly what your loved one would prefer at that crucial juncture?

The starter kit is really the crux of The Conversation Project. This 10-page document will equip you to have this conversation with all of the important people in your life and will prepare each of you for the acceptance necessary to make it work. Following the conversation, the starter kit provides some valuable next steps: documents you should have on hand, further clarifying questions to deal with specific cases, and more.

If you’re still on the fence about whether this is important, consider one more item: 70% of people would prefer to die in their homes. The reality is the exact opposite: 70% die in a hospital, nursing home, or long-term care facility. Wherever you are on the spectrum, whatever your wishes for your own care, however you’d like to be treated, make your wishes known. The Conversation Project can help you do just that.

[Note: I realize this isn’t something that rises to the top of your mind when you think of things that need to be done, especially if you’re ranking them by magnitude of enjoyment. It’s tough; I get it. But it truly is important. If you still need convincing, spend a few minutes with Judy MacDonald Johnson as she tells her story.]