Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A flock of one-minute reads

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, collections, short essays

There are a number of ways to have a chance at getting some of your writing into print. Most cost a few bucks, such as various "poetry projects". I've just run across one that specializes in short essays and in what the editors call "Six-Word Memoirs": Smith Magazine. With free registration, you can enter your own brief memoir, or a 2-word one-liner, where it is made available online, and may just be published in one of their books.

I haven't seen the earlier book on the 6-word pieces (it must contain hundreds), but just finished reading The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories From 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure, edited by Larry Smith.

The book is composed of 125 short essays in which the writers describe a moment that changed their lives, in 100-500 words, sometimes a bit more. A few of the writers are artists who submitted drawn pieces or cartoon panels. When you are going to capture a meaningful event in a page or two, brevity is pure gold. The best pieces have an arresting first line, as this page shows.

Here we read of the tension between being a journalist and being a feeling human ("Checkpoints" by Alaa Majeed); of turning points such as a murder conviction ("The Verdict" by Byron Case) or seeing in your infant's eyes a choice to turn away from your own failures so she'll have a chance at her own successes ("Trusting Eyes" by Jami Kempen); of a career changed by hearing a new kind of music ("Maiden Days" by Judy Collins); and the devastating effects of being raped (the first half of "Forgiven" by Jennifer Thompson).

Right in the middle, we learn where the "war on drugs" really came from. Quoting John Ehrlichman in 1992: "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. … We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. … Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did." ("Truth, Lies, and Audiotape" by Dan Baum). This is the single biggest reason for more than half of the 2 million or more people who now inhabit American prisons. It is time this fact was more widely known. Call this my moment, from reading the book. I have been against the "war on drugs" from the beginning, but now I have a more concrete reason (and I am quite aware that there was an earlier drug war, with its signature piece the wildly overdone film Reefer Madness).

Just to whet our appetite for the earlier book, a few pages such as this one contain some of the 6-word items. The web site must have thousands of these. They are the original concept upon which the e-mag was based. Larry Smith calls them "American Haiku". They are even briefer than haiku, which contain 17 syllables; these have from 6 to 12, typically.

Two of my own, topical of course:

I write so I can read.

I read so I can write.

They go together, and readers of my blog will know why. Y'wanna write your own story? Go to Smith.

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