I spent the wretched month of January journaling every day, thanks to a great article and call to action from the Art of Manliness. They have some awesome journal entry prompts in that article, one of which I’d like to share here. This was by far one of my favorite entries to write for the whole month, due to the sheer uniqueness and ingenuity of the prompt. So here we go:
Continuing to work within that idea of constraints, try to write a 6-word memoir of your life so far. This idea is rumored to have originated from Papa Hemingway. The benefit is that with only six words, you really have to filter your life to what you deem most important. It may take you many iterations, but you’ll end up with something that speaks largely to who you are, if not in toto, then at least in this moment in time.
There is a touch of ambiguity to this assignment, but not enough that it makes it impossible. So I started by writing words that for some reason or another I associate with my life and my identity, and then went from there.
- play counts
- minor chords
- ping pong
- rum and coke
For an extra challenge, I wanted to do more than one, but ultimately only choose one that was the defining 6-word story, the one that was My Memoir. All of these are unique in their own way and communicate different things about me. I ended up with 10, and I almost listed them out in order from worst to best, 10-1. But after starting to manipulate the order, I realized I love how they read when written out exactly as I wrote them. You can begin to see the train of thought my brain followed as I was writing these out. Most of what follows is exactly from the journal entry almost a month ago now. So here we go.
1. Compiling life’s soundtrack after leaving family.
I might like this one the best. It contains two incredibly complex parts of my life in a very simple structure. It hits on my love for music which trumps nearly every interest or hobby or passion I have in life. And not just that I enjoy listening to music but compiling a soundtrack is finding music that fits the moment. I don’t want to just throw on whatever I want to listen to, I love playing to my audience.
For example, I’ve been working on a playlist for about a year and a half called “vacation” that I have at the ready whenever we go on vacation with Colleen’s family and I’m asked to put on some music. It’s nearly 300 songs, none of which my father- or brother-in-law will actively dislike. The reason I’m proud of this playlist is that neither of those men would really say they care what was played (and I believe them), which actually makes it insanely difficult to find music that they’ll actively enjoy listening to. This playlist is 18+ hours of music that both will, at the very least, not dislike, and at best, really enjoy listening to.
That’s a huge feat for me. And that’s why I love the first half of this statement.
But the second half ties in my upbringing, but most importantly, the breaking away from my upbringing. I have lots of complex feelings towards my family, my childhood, being homeschooled, having five siblings, how I was raised, etc. And to be honest, a lot of my identity is wrapped up in how I differ from my family.
This isn’t to be read as I have bad parents or I hate my childhood. I’ve just found a lot of strength in drawing a line in the sand of my life and resolving to be my own man. To raise my version of The Jeffrey Family, not my parents’ or grandparents’ or siblings’ version. Everybody has things about their parents or siblings or grandparents that annoy them and most often, it’s just shrugged off with “Oh well. That’s just Nana being Nana” or “that’s just <blank> being <blank>.” I reject that notion.
First off, it’s insane to think that people can’t change and it’s foolish to give up on them. Secondly, I refuse to accept that the things in my character or personality that I dislike are irrevocably ingrained in me and there’s nothing I can do about it. “It’s in my genes!” is such an easy way to justify a negative behavior in yourself that will be difficult and painful to change. There are loads of things about myself that I dislike, character traits and behaviors and what-have-you that I find negative and unproductive and dysfunctional and selfish and I want to spend my life eradicating them to the best of my ability, not justifying them with an “oh well, that’s just me!”
And that’s where a lot of the second half of this statement comes from. In my mind, the concept of leaving family meant leaving behind the child I was and becoming the man I want to be for my wife, my children, my friends and my community.
I also played with “compiled” versus “compiling” and I like the present tense better. My memoir isn’t complete yet.
2. Earbuds in, confidence comes from identity.
Another musically themed one, but I like the confidence from identity idea. I do find myself most confident when I have a fully-formed sense of identity, in an high-level perspective of my life, but also within smaller, individual situations.
3. iPod fully charged, ready to go.
This is incredibly trite, because it really only hits upon the music thing and nothing else. “Ready to go” is maybe the worst set of three words I’ve ever written and not immediately deleted.
4. Busy making lists with music playing.
I hit upon my OCD list-making tendencies and music again.
5. Eating hummus, drinking rum, iTunes scholar.
I love this one, aside from the fact that it’s not an actual sentence. It might seem odd I’d mention something as superfluous as hummus and/or rum, but both tie directly into individual memories that I remember as something that has shaped me. Hummus reminds me of a recent memory, where an older adult woman suspiciously asked what that hummus was that I was eating and I implored her to try some. After many declines, she finally took a small cracker and put on it the most miniscule amount of hummus. Barely visible. She then ate it and said she didn’t like it. It was that thing you did when you were a kid and you wanted someone to think you tried something but you really couldn’t even taste it and then you said you didn’t like it. This woman essentially confronted me with blandness, plainness, unwillingness to try new things and more importantly, the non-creativity or lack of ability to see new opportunities and take advantage of them. I got to see this unadventurous behavior manifest itself in not wanting to try a weird new food, and it made me sad because hummus is hands down one of my Top 5 Favorite Foods and this woman* had already written it off before she even gave it a go. It was a moment of character clarity for me.
The rum attests to my time in Spain, where I learned how to play ping pong, and what kind of social person I wanted to be. I will also look back on my five months abroad as the time I grew into my own as a person. Not necessarily grew up, but became a much more realized version of who I wanted to be heading into adulthood. I also saw several people go through the same sort of transformation, and I was a part of several different social circles Venn-Diagramming themselves with each other. It was educational to say the least. In particular, in the big group of American students from different parts of the States, I remember one kid who was desperate to latch onto someone else’s concept of self-assuredness and identity because he couldn’t create one himself. He literally bounced between social circles, trying on different social persona hats. Now to be clear, I don’t think it’s wrong to try different personality hats, but this kid was literally stealing them off of people’s heads to see how they fit. He had no clear notion of how to create his own hat and be his own person. He couldn’t even cobble together little bits of personality from other people and form something semi-original from them. And for some reason, all of this is associated with rum, because that was my drink of choice at social functions. I remember one evening in particular, I was having a rum and a coke, we had a group of probably 20 or 30 kids hanging out on the beach, and I noticed Unoriginal Kid begin to personality-mooch. It was the moment I realized I had an emotional gut reaction to it.
And then obviously the music aspect communicated through iTunes. What I like about this is how specific it is. It’s not just “fan of music” or something, but it’s the fact that I am near-obsessive about this music software that allows me to catalog and organize my music in a very exact way. The program has allowed me a way to interact with my music that I couldn’t through just a set of LPs or something. It speaks to my innate tendency to make lists. iTunes was definitely a slow-burn life-changer for me.
6. Reshaped idea of home in Spain.
Contrary to how this might read, this isn’t referring to any sort of eternal love of Spain that developed and desire to move back. I’ve said often since my trip that traveling abroad is an incredibly valuable experience because it forces you to redefine your sense of what home means to you. I was away from my home, my family, my friends, and my country for five months. I was away from my culture, my language, so many things that are so decidedly natural to me that I had to start from scratch and quickly find what was important to me and how to stay sane in that foreign place. It was incredibly useful to me as a human being.
7. Life intertwined with Colleen and media.
First one where I mention Colleen, interestingly enough because she is such a inseparable part of my identity. I also mention media here, which hits movies, TV, books, music, the whole nine yards.
8. Social introvert found love in Mexico.
A much more artful way to reference Colleen. The Mexico mention refers to our making our acquaintance on the Mexico trip of our freshmen year in youth group.
9. Musically-shaped worldview provided confidence, identity.
I’m just recycling stuff at this point. I wanted to bring music back in somehow though, and I like the idea that my worldview is shaped by media, which obviously it is.
10. Struggling to stand out, found love.
This references every teenager’s desire to be their own person, to stand out from the crowd. I did it through a huge afro and landed Colleen. Not bad I’d say.
This was an outrageously fun journal exercise to do. From the amount of writing on each one, I’d say I’m evenly split between numbers 1 and 5. I’m pretty proud that the very first one I wrote it one of the two best. What is your 6-word memoir?
*The woman was not Mom; Mom likes hummus. As her kids have become adults, my mom has grown leaps and bounds in trying new things and embracing new experiences. She is an outstanding lady.