Baby shoes

Classic_baby_shoesSome years ago, I stumbled across a concept that still holds my fascination. It’s called six-word stories, and the idea is to tell a story in–you guessed it–exactly six words.

The idea supposedly originated with a bunch of writing cronies who got together and placed a bet about who could produce a short story that was only six words long. Or who could write the shortest story that could make someone cry. Or who could write the shortest story. The details are nebulous, if they’re true at all, but supposedly Ernest Hemingway won hands down with this:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

Pretty powerful stuff, those sentences.

Its origin notwithstanding, the idea fascinates me. It offers a clear illustration of the power of words, thoughtfully and carefully chosen–one of my favorite topics.

Six-word stories are tough to master; if you thought staying within Twitter’s 144-character limit was hard, it’s nothing compared to this. Succeed in six words, and you’ll feel like a genius. It’s a great brain exercise, and your “regular” writing will be better for it.

Here are a few of my favorites from sixwordstories.net*:

Painfully, he changed “is” to “was.”
—Icantusemyimgurname

Smoking my very last cigarette. Again.
—Seablood

Born a twin; graduated only child.
—kconz21

Sorry, soldier. Shoes sold in pairs.
—Independent

Amazing how six words can tell you all you need to know. Try it; I dare you. You’ll be better for it.

Every word matters; choose each thoughtfully.

*The sixwordstories.net website and its corresponding Facebook page haven’t shown any activity for more than a year. They’re still fun to poke around, though.

Special note to JHS, TJT, RDH, and CC: you wordsmith/writer types are on notice. I want to see what you can produce in six words. I promise, this will be better than the ice bucket challenge!

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Silent weapons

weaponsAs I contemplated what to write today, my mind repeatedly drifted back to a concept I played with some time ago: the power words carry not only with their presence, but also with their absence. Perhaps particularly with their absence.

I know how to deal in words. I can use them to soothe, intrigue, challenge, impress, or offend. I can pummel people with them or use them to deflect their targeted blows. Words celebrate, congratulate, contemplate, and correlate. They accuse, defend, justify, and exonerate. They empower and emasculate, deify and humble, elect and depose. Words can do anything.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the silence left in their absence to be absolutely crushing. Like the heavy air that builds before a storm, the intentional withdrawal of words oppresses me.

ArturSchnabel

Few people will argue that words can be weapons. But many forget that withholding them can be deadly, too.

Use them wisely. And don’t use them wisely.

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides!”. – Artur Schnabel

***Apparently I’m riffing on an old theme. For more of the same, read my 2011 post, The sound of silence

One little word

red squareYears ago, I often brown bagged my lunch and ate in the office canteen. A few of us eventually found ourselves eating together more often than not, and we got to know each other through conversation. One of my lunch buddies, who later became a good friend, was a woman who had emigrated from Russia. Her English was outstanding, and if her accent hadn’t given her away, no one would have been able to discern her nationality from her command of the language.

Most of the time.

In one of our lunch sessions, another colleague asked my friend about her husband. Somewhere along the line, the colleague asked how the two had met, and my Russian friend breezily answered, “Oh, at the wedding.”

We all sat in stunned silence for a few seconds. Finally someone piped up, “Was it an arranged marriage?”

“No, no, no!” my friend exclaimed after her grammatical foible became clear. “We met at someone else’s wedding!”

And there you have it: the power of one little word. Even a word as simple as the can make a big difference to the meaning a speaker is trying to convey.

You see, the Russian language doesn’t employ the use of articles. In fact, it doesn’t even have them. There’s no translation for words like a, an, and the. My friend, who did a bang-up job with our language, knew she needed to put one in her sentence, but she grabbed the wrong one. She chose the definite article (the) instead of the indefinite article (a), and consequently implied that she and her husband had met at their own wedding.

After she clarified, we all laughed at visions of a stoic Russian bride and groom shaking hands on the steps of some imposing Soviet-era building before heading inside to tie the knot. We should have known better.

This story still makes me chuckle, but it also serves as a powerful reminder of the power of words. Choose wisely, my friends. Not every misstep will leave people laughing.

War of the wor(l)ds

Whoa, Nellie. This morning I received the following text message from a local news outlet:

97.3 WMEE: BREAKING NEWS: All Southwest Allen County Schools are on lock down due to shooting in the area. Stay tuned 4 more details on this story as they break.

As a parent with kids in two different SACS buildings, my mind started racing immediately. My first thought was that the odds of my kids being specifically involved were fairly slim, but mom hormones took over as my brain churned through possible scenarios. It took about 36 seconds for me to go into oh-no-what-happened-I-need-more-information-are-my-kids-safe mode.

Unfortunately, other than that singular, sensational text message, I heard nothing further. No follow-up text, no further details as promised. Nothing to quell my fear nor push me into rescue action. Nada.

Fortunately, I was able to learn a few details from a trusted acquaintance on–of all places–Facebook. It turns out that the seeming crisis occurred some distance away from the locations of my kids, near one of the other schools in the district. And actually, the crisis had nothing to do with the school itself; it just happened to have occurred in the adjacent neighborhood. The lockdown was purely precautionary until the police pronounced the situation all clear. *breathe easier*

Still, I never would have known that from the news outlet. Although it promised details to follow, the only subsequent text message I received was this:

97.3 WMEE: The lock down for Southwest Allen County Schools has been lifted. Suspect still at large. Stay tuned to WMEE for more details as this story unfolds.

Well, that didn’t tell me anything. If I hadn’t investigated on my own, I would still be wondering what happened and whether my kids were affected. I would almost prefer NOT to have received the original message given the lack of context or explanation. Without providing more information, the original text message was actually too much information.

This situation offers a fantastic illustration of the far-reaching power of words. They can incite, calm, inform, soothe, panic, entertain, comfort, anger, tease, bore, or mock. Whether a sentence is well- or poorly-constructed can change its very meaning. What words someone chooses to share or withhold can change behavior. Even delivery matters. If you don’t believe me, think about the panic and outrage incited by Orson Welles’s radio delivery of

Words have power. Choose them wisely and make them count.

P.S. My kids are fine, as are the kids at all the schools.