“What would your six-word memoir be?” my friend inquired one Sunday morning. A simple question, sure, but I remained uncharacteristically quiet, hesitating.
The six-word memoir challenge originates from a legend about Ernest Hemingway: he was once dared to tell a story in just six words, to which he responded, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Genius. “How about ‘I am bad at counting,’” I joked.
Although I brushed off the question initially, it soon came darting back into my mind, dancing around my other thoughts, demanding my attention. Could my own story be summarized in a mere half-dozen words? The more impossible it seemed, the more I knew I had to try.
“I only believe in silver linings.”
Today, I pride myself on my optimism, thanks to the influence of my perpetually positive dad. I now know how to appreciate the good and roll with the bad. But I wasn’t always such a strong believer in every cloud’s silver lining. Five years ago I believed only in the clouds. I only appreciated efforts that rewarded me with instant gratification, and it goes without saying that very few things in life fit under this rather small umbrella. I have grown since then, but not in one defining moment, sudden epiphany, or life-changing experience. I have simply changed to be the person I am today. And although these six words identify a growth that I’m proud of, I can’t help but feel as if they characterize me as a chipper but flat character akin to Pride and Prejudice’s Jane Bennet – somebody I surely cannot be.
“Chopsticks make surprisingly good marshmallow-toasters.”
I use chopsticks to toast marshmallows, but I only know how to eat rice with a spoon. I memorize Po Chu-I for Chinese class and then read my favorite American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, at home. I am the living juxtaposition of Chinese culture and American traditions. In Chicago, where I was born and raised until age 12, I never saw myself as different from my Caucasian friends. The fact that I went to Chinese school when my best friend was at Sunday school was just a fact of life. Upon moving to Taiwan, I realized that I was not as in tune with my ethnic background as I’d thought. After living there for five years, that changed significantly. While I’ve realized that I am not confined by this cultural amalgamation, by the same token, neither am I defined by it.
“Writing: I never liked math anyway.”
My affection for words first surfaced in fourth grade. I was asked to write a poem about a field trip to Lake Michigan. I was nine years old and had never written a poem before. Pencil in hand and brows furrowed, I cautiously began, “Splash!” Ever since that fateful exclamation I have harbored a deep love for writing and for the feelings, imagery, and clarity that streams of carefully chosen words can convey. The colorful marginalia that decorates my copy of my favorite book, The Great Gatsby, can attest to my admiration of Fitzgerald’s tight rein on diction. I admire words for their ability to ascribe specificity to our inherently variegated world, to “name the unnamed,” as Jonathan Safran Foer once said. Nevertheless, I would like to believe that the “unnamed” potential in me is too much to describe in a meager six words.
And then I thought of it. Six words were exactly enough – six syllables, in fact. My optimism and growth, mixed background and global perspective, literary interests and love of writing, aspirations and potential could be summarized simply:
“I am more than just words.”