a Few Words
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a Few Words

Harnessing the Power of the Six-word Memoir

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Nine years ago, I lost my job right around the same time I became an empty nester. Adrift and needing inspiration, I decided to sign up for the TedX San Diego conference. I was surprised to learn there was an application form to be turned in before being accepted as a participant. Among the thought-provoking questions was a requirement to write a six-word memoir. We would use these six word memoirs as talking points with other participants. That gave me pause. It had been years since I had written and shared my writing with others. Could I even write a six-word memoir?

It turned out to be a powerful exercise, requiring me to discern what had been the most important and interesting theme or themes in my life thus far and pointing to what I knew best.

After much debate, I settled on this: Smoking-gun Girl Cooks From the Hearth.

I hoped to stimulate conversation: Why Smoking-gun girl? What’s important about cooking? Why the word hearth?

I had a reputation for being a “finder,” earning me the nickname, “Smoking-gun girl,” and I liked this about myself. I was inherently tenacious and knew, whether I was seeking a critical piece of evidence, the perfect family vacation, or enlightenment, I was going to keep at it, paying attention to patterns and ferreting out the keystone.

I had also developed a passion for cooking — not gourmet cooking, mind you but something closer to peasant cooking. I made endless variations of stone soup and relished the sensual art of hand chopping ingredients and melding them together. The hearth was symbolic to me of gathering together and nourishing each other with good food and good stories. Plus, I love that the word hearth has the word heart in it.

That six-word memoir pleased me and in fact helped me shape the next phase of my life. Most importantly, it got me writing again. At that TedX conference as I was sharing my six-word memoir with others, my adrift and unfocused self suddenly saw a simple next step: I would start a cooking and storytelling blog. I wanted to use my favorite recipes as a springboard from which to tell stories. My blog would be my cyber hearth.

Within a year of writing my first six-word memoir, not only was I writing that blog, but I also harnessed that power to write a full-length memoir.

I revisit the idea of the six-word memoir from time to time. I still find it to be a powerful focusing exercise for my writing. A few years ago I was a “Zen Tantrika Witch Casting Writing Spells.” A few years after that, I thought of myself as a “Devoted Rock-climbing Dakini Cooking Up Stories.” Now, I reflect, I am a “Storyteller Yearning for the Storyless Self.”

I hope you’ll track me down and ask me about it. And if you do, I am going to return the favor and ask you: What is your six-word memoir? Please, do tell!



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Marijke McCandless

Marijke McCandless


Marijke McCandless is an awareness practitioner, playfulness instigator and award-winning writer. Her recipe? Listen. Play. Write. https://marijkemccandless.com