Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Can You Tell Your Story in Six Words?
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Slice of Life: Can You Tell Your Story in Six Words?


I was using a writing exercise this week with a group of teachers –Describe Your Life in Six Words. Ernst Hemingway inspired this exercise. He was once challenged to write a story in six words. He wrote “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Legend has it that Hemingway called it his best work. Hemingway’s story spawned the six-word story popularized by Smith Magazine, which celebrates personal storytelling.

I had not planned on using this exercise, but something in our session inspired this idea. When I went to find the six word story I use to model in my file, I immediately realized this wasn’t going to be easy…

It’s a girl! She is 71. 

I’ll never forget the day when I first came to terms with my role reversal with my mom. She had early on-set dementia. She lived with me for two years before she moved to an assisted living residence. I had a two and four year old when she moved into my 1500 sqft home with one full bath. I was working part time and trying to juggle taking care of my kids and my mom.

We had planned for my mom to visit my brother and his family for a week over the summer. She missed them and they were looking forwarded to seeing her. They had lots of plans and she couldn’t wait to get there. I dropped her off. I would pick her up in a week.

Come get me. I want to come home.

Come get me now.

I called my brother to figure out what was wrong.

I don’t know. She refuses to come out of her room. She won’t eat. She won’t talk to us.

I asked to speak with Mom.

Mom, you have been asking to see them. What is wrong?

They won’t let me out of my room. They don’t feed me.

Mom, I know they are feeding you. Just give it a chance. You will have a great time.

2:30 am

I think you need to come get her.

I drove the three hours to get my mom. When I arrived she was waiting on the front steps for me with her suitcase in hand. I walked past to check in with my brother.

I’m so sorry.

No. I’m sorry. We really wanted to spend time with her.

I know.

We were feeding her.

I know. This is just what she does. She is confused by the new surroundings.

My house isn’t new. I am not new.

I know but change is hard for her. I think she is just stressed.

I am sorry it didn’t work.

Me too.

We hug and I leave.

Let’s go Mom.

Are we leaving? I want to leave.

Yes. Just get in the car.

I really want to leave now.

I know. Just get in the car.


She made her way into the car. I began to reverse out the driveway as she buckled her seatbelt. I took a deep breath and prepared for the three-hour trip home.

It was awful. I am never going back there.

All I wanted to do was scream, cry, and bang my head against the steering wheel. I took a deep breath and remembered this is not my mother. This is dementia. This is a disease.

I felt like I was picking up my mom from a bad play date and bringing her home. Feeling the same embarrassment and empathy I would for my children. I realize in this moment that our relationship is forever changed.

Not to worry Mom, I don’t think they are ever going to invite you back.

While I knew that wasn’t true, it was how I felt. Responsible for her actions, behaviors, well-being and safety. We drove home together and with each mile I feel this sense of responsibility building. I am in this for long haul. I pull in our driveway. My husband and children bound out to meet us at the car. My kids drag Grandma Peg into the backyard to play and my husband goes to get the bags. He sees my face and understands. He drops the bag and gives me a hug.

Careful what you wish you. It’s a girl. She is 71.

Our life in six words! We laughed and knew that we would need to keep our sense of humor to get through this next stage of our lives.

I think I need a new story now. It is hard to let this one go, but I will have to think about which six words I will choose to represent my life now. It is really powerful to experience the vivid image six words can create — a snapshot of a person or a slice of life. As the teachers share their stories I am always amazed at how much you can learn about a person in just six words.

I think this is a great exercise to do with kids and with a faculty. It helps a writer understand the importance of word choice and builds community. If you want to learn more about 6 Word Memoirs check out this website for more information. What would your story be in six words?


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for us to share our stories each day in March.  Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts and consider joining this community.

  • Avatar
    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 10:36h, 18 March Reply

    I do not know how you do it! I am pulled in to your pieces almost immediately, often surprised, always amazed! This piece is a roller coaster of emotion, Clare. Humor, anger, sadness, embarrassment, happiness, caring – everything! At first, I reread your six-word memoir. “What is Clare saying?” I thought. Then it hit me. What a tie with this kind of writing! I like your final question. With two weeks left in Slice of Life, I would say my current six-word memoir is: Always looking for the next story!

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    Posted at 10:59h, 18 March Reply

    Your posts are so poignant, Clare. You said so much in those six words, and the anecdote you used to explain their meaning was perfect. I am glad you are a part of this community.

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    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 11:19h, 18 March Reply

    When I read your 6 words, I thought you’d made a typo–that you meant 17 not 71. I was immediately drawn in.
    Your story is so well constructed and fills me with emotion. I make connections to my mother-in-law and the time she lived with us before she went into assisted living. I can see your love for your mom in this story.
    As for telling my story in 6 words–that’s quite a challenge. I’ll have to think about that later–after we get our taxes filed this morning!

  • Avatar
    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 12:09h, 18 March Reply

    Clare, I am crying as I read this post. How touching.
    More importantly, I agree that this is a great exercise for us all. I will be thinking about my 6 words – maybe as baby Baldiga arrives in a few days I will find it easier!
    Thank you again. I do want to try this with my teachers!

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    Paula Ruedebusch
    Posted at 12:26h, 18 March Reply

    Clare, Have you read Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healy? My mother has dementia. This novel made me laugh, pause to consider my relationship with my “now” mom, and in the end, appreciate her way of thinking much more – all the while enjoying a good read.

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    Erika Victor
    Posted at 12:27h, 18 March Reply

    One of my students (3rd grade) has been experimenting with 6 word stories this week- having it be the story of your life makes it even harder. Your story was beautiful- so filled with love!

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    Karen Szymusiak
    Posted at 13:02h, 18 March Reply

    I just can’t miss a day of your posts. They are so eloquent. This was a beautiful post. I clearly understood the emotions running through your life at that time. I have never tried to write a six word memoir but I may have to give it a try. Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us.

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    Posted at 16:31h, 18 March Reply

    What a tribute to your love and care for your mother! Sharing your stories allows us to laugh and cry with you as we also attend that “bad play date” in our minds!

    Mine: New shoes. Walking. Short and tall!

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    Posted at 20:43h, 18 March Reply

    That was a masterfully written slice, Clare – there was sadness, humor, and wisdom.

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    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 23:19h, 18 March Reply

    Someday, we will sit down and laugh, cry, console, and cherish the memories we have of taking care of parents during their struggles with dementia. Your posts are like therapy to me. I find myself nodding and remembering. That’s powerful writing.

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    Karen Terlecky
    Posted at 01:00h, 19 March Reply

    Like Karen, I am drawn in each day to your stories. You might need a new 6 word life story sometime, but it feels like you have needed this time and space to explore this difficult writing territory.
    Dementia in a parent breaks your heart over and over, doesn’t it? Even when you know they aren’t in control, it still hurts.

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    Leigh Anne
    Posted at 01:14h, 19 March Reply

    I feel like I am on the edges of this post looking in at my life in a few years. My 90 year old grandmother has dementia and my mom is beginning to show signs at 72. This is filled with so many emotions and I clearly felt all of them.

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    Posted at 02:56h, 19 March Reply

    Thank you for sharing such a moving post. My mom is approaching 87 and although she does not have dementia, her reasoning is becoming ever more childlike. I too think that the 6-word life story would be an interesting writing challenge for both students and staff. I will visit again!

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