Friday, October 15, 2021

A TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD YEAR: Hundreds of Stories on the Pandemic by Teachers, Students & Parents by Six-Word Memoirs

A TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD YEAR: Hundreds of Stories on the Pandemic by Teachers, Students & Parents by Six-Word Memoirs

Six-Word Memoir (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$13.99 tree book, $2.99 ebook editions, available 15 October 2021

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: The tenth book in the Six-Word Memoir series tells the story of a world we never expected to be in and can’t stop talking about. Told through the lens of students, teachers, and parents around the world, A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year offers hundreds of inspirational, playful, and profound takes on life during the pandemic. For some, this book will be a window. For others, a mirror of their own experience. For all of us, A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year is a time capsule to be read, shared, and discussed and is certain to prompt friends, family, and neighbors to ask each other: “What’s your six-word pandemic story?”


My Review
: November 2006...a date that should live in...whatever the opposite of "infamy" is...that's when Larry Smith started, and unleashed the haiku poet in every English-speaker's soul. My own first one: "Not quite what I had planned" submitted on Twitter in 2013.

Six words doesn't leave room for prolixity and overdramatization. It's what makes the idea so irresistible. It's what makes the original challenge, issued legendarily to Ernest Hemingway, to tell a six-word story (his, if you need refreshing, was "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn") so deeply memorable. We're creatures of story and we love to immerse ourselves in language. When we take a short, sharp plunge into the Otherness of others, we're happy, happy souls. As witness to this truth, the collection I'm reviewing is the tenth brought into print! This is like that delicious, anonymous, yet public confessional, PostSecret. It's similarly public, it's more concise, and it's possibly even more revealing...but it's all part of the same urge, the need I know so many feel to unburden themselves, to celebrate their milestones, and to be seen and heard where it feels safe, especially when it doesn't feel safe to be any of those things in their community.

So here we are in a pandemic. Over a year without anything like normalcy. I guess it's no surprise to anyone that there were some feelings that needed to be bled out, and SixWordMemoir was exactly the right tool to lance the thing. The choice to direct this collection at educators, students, and parents trapped in the nightmare of too much togetherness plus too little social contact was inevitable and also genius. I read these wondering how the hell I would even begin to cope with kids, job, spouse, house, and the free-floating anxiety of not knowing what the hell was happening and how soon it would kill someone I love!

For a measly $2.99 on your Kindle, get one for yourself. But if you want to give a paper copy to someone special, ORDER NOW! (And the tree book would be great because illustrations are just *better* on a paper page.)

Some SixWordMemoirs to show you what I mean:

Six feet never felt so far. — Ava Russ, 15
A young woman whose entire adolescence was interrupted by this awful event makes her private pain part of a national conversation. I admire her. I know many, many young people will relate to her.
It goes over your nose, pal. — Stina Perkins
Yes. Yes, it does.
Getting handle on pandemic. Need lid. — Krystyna Fedosejevs
Budding philosopher. Also comedian. Needs job.
For sale: prom dress, never worn. — Caroline Richardson, 19
Extra poignance points for emulating the Hemingway original. Brava. Now go get your MFA.
How can emptiness feel so heavy? — Lincoln H.
Turning friends to strangers...all alone. — Chelsea P.
Not happy. Not sad. Just empty. — Tristan N.

These are all culled from the same elementary school. No one ever gets to tell me how kids aren't ready for the way the real world works, or that they don't have the skills to process the adult world. This gives those lies their brightest exit sign.

I was very touched by the essays written by teachers and other education professionals. They're not long, maybe 500 words at most, but they pack a wallop in their palpable grief and frustration at not being able to do what they love doing. One librarian here in New York shared that their students were able to come together to have Zoom sessions (and may I just say that Zoom has earned my undying gratitude for keeping me in touch with my Young Gentleman Caller on the regular?) with writers and poets after reading their work. One such writer was Luke Dani Blue, whose story about a trans person crossing the country (Canada, one presumes, as they're based in Alberta) by Greyhound bus elicited this question from a student:
"You and your characters seem to thrive and dream of uncertain circumstances because they hold so much possibility, yet very often in life we are disappointed and miscalculate the trajectory of our new paths. What would you say is your margin of error when it comes to dream versus actual trajectory?"
Blue was so stunned by the question, all they could say was, "Woah, I feel so seen by that question. I'm going to have to think about that one."

Yes, "seen" is the right word for it. Seen, seen through, seen off, seen! Seen indeed. Teenagers are, and we forget this at our societal peril, adults without perspective or impulse control. Their intelligence will never be sharper. Their training in how to use it is all we have left to offer them...and this goddamned plague means we can not offer it to them in the same, personal way. But, and this is the reason I bring it up, permaybehaps this new, screen-intermediated way will offer the young learners some advantages. I doubt that question would've come out of the asker's mouth with that level of fluency. A chance to think about it, try different ways of phrasing it, probably made that the best question it could possibly be.

So there's a hopeful side to this misery after all....
Now I'm a barber. Who knew? — John Tehan
Golden lining. Career opportunity? Probably not.
Masks protect us from farts, too! — Ruby Bryan
Special Ed teacher whose kids are profoundly disabled. But still kids...farts are hilarious to kids.
Numbers rose, but SUN did too. — Paloma Lenz
Yes. It did indeed. And it rose a little higher for me today. Thanks, Paloma, although we'll never meet you've made an old, disabled stranger a lot happier than he was before he read your words.

That, in a nutshell, is the magic of the internet.

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