short short short stories

There is an anecdote that gets passed around about Hemingway which may or may not be true. He wrote what he (supposedly) called a six-word novel, (supposedly) on a bet. And henceforth considered the six word novel his most accomplished piece of work. And here it is: For sale: baby shoes. Never used.

For some reason this popped into my head the other day and I haven’t been able to shake it. So maybe if I write a little about it I can free myself of those six words.

My first observation / opinion: if this mini-novel had been written by a woman, it would have been dismissed as sentimental slock.

Next: A hundred different nouns could be substituted for “baby shoes” and some of them would be far more evocative. Wedding dress comes to mind, but of course that would be equally as melodramatic. For sale: wedding dress, size 22, never used. The size gives this what little punch it’s got. And yes, I know it’s eight words instead of six.

If I had the energy, I would try to come up with a long list of nouns that could be substituted for baby shoes, and see what happens. Most of them would fall flat, some would be melodramatic and/or sentimental, some would be funny, and a few might really be evocative.

For sale: AK47, never used.

For sale: typewriter, never used.

For sale, bowling ball, never used.

I think it would be far more interesting to try to make a story out of a bowling ball than out of unused baby shoes. The baby shoes have a very simple and straightforward backstory, all tragic, no complexity. The bowling ball you could a lot with.

You could go all quirky: For sale, sense of humor, never used. Or: For sale: PhD in Theoretical Physics, never used.

Any ideas for other revisions to Hemingway’s six word novel?

Harry who?

Around here things are pretty quiet. I’m trying to keep focused on writing and everybody else is reading. The Mathematician is reading the sixth HP while the Girlchild is reading the seventh. He’s just tiding himself over until she’s done and he gets his turn. I’m not worried. I don’t need to read it — the day after it came out, I read the whole detailed summary on Wikipedia. This is how I’ve handled all the books. I read the first one with the Girlchild, and after that the Mathematician took over and I was no longer obliged.

The thing is, I’m just not all that interested. Rowlings has an incredible imagination and she tells a fantastic story that has caught the interest of millions of people — not just children — around the world. But not every story is right for every person, and this is just not the story for me.

When I was teaching, we’d talk about this quite a lot. Students would be puzzled by their own lack of response to some story or novel with a stellar reputation. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, a college freshman said to me one year. But these Chekov short stories are boring. I don’t get anything out of them at all.

It’s not a crime to pick up a book and then put it down again. If it isn’t what you need to read at the moment — if it’s not what satisfies your need for a story — then by all means, set it aside. You may find that a year from that point, or two years or twenty years that you adore the story.

Or you’ll still dislike it. You may hate it. You are not the right reader for that book.
In fact that particular novel may not have many readers at all, but somehow or another it has got on the canon and so people of a certain mindset feel they are obliged not only to read and understand it, but to value it. Continue reading “Harry who?”

An open letter to Steve Jobs

Dear Steve,

You should understand first of all: I have no intention of filing for divorce. We’ve been together too long to even contemplate the horrific alternatives. However, I do think we need to see a counselor. Someone who can help us communicate, because I’m feeling ignored and disregarded.

In your current incarnation, you sit on my lap pretty much all day long. There’s a lot of heat between us, but you do your best to keep things cool while I’m working. Together we have written (over the years): one doctoral dissertation, a couple dozen academic articles, two full length academic books, numerous class plans, evaluations, recommendations; newspaper editorials and magazine articles and letters to the editor; short stories; seven novels currently in print (more than a million words, please note); two more forthcoming. You were with me every step of the way when I wrote Homestead, which won the PEN/Hemingway award. You are the keeper of my family history, my banking records, my daughter’s childhood memories, all my music, my entire calendar and all my contacts. If I had to estimate, I would guess that I have written or received a million emails in the last ten years.

You are indispensible. I am very happy to admit that. We make an excellent team. But recently I note you are distracted. Or should I say, more distracted than usual.

I am technically monogomous, but you are not and have never been. For many years this arrangement worked very well. On the rare occasion I had to call you at work, your assistants answered promptly and made sure that you understood what was needed. We functioned so well together that we never had the little hiccups that send other couples for advice. I have a neighbor who has had a partnership with a Windows computer for a long time, but even now I still hear her screaming obscenities in her frustration and anger.

You’ve come a long way, and I appreciate the effort that has gone into the advances. But your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have time for your loyal, long-time relationships. And it shows. For example: for three weeks now I have been calling you at work and talking to people at the technical assistance office.

By the way, the telephone number to call for technical assistance is well and truly hidden. I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to avoid my calls.

I have spent at least three hours on hold. While I am on hold, there is the most horrendous music. You force me to listen to 80s big hair bands, and to add insult to injury, the quality of transmission is very poor. It fades in and out, full of static. Having to listen to this hold music is more than most people can bear.

I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to get me off the phone once I’ve found the number.

That first call I spoke to a young man who was helpful, but curt. Very well, I understand you are busy. I explained the problem thus: Please tell Steve that the plug that inserts into my PowerBook G4 is frayed and breaking, and could he please bring me a new one on his way home? Specifically, I am talking about the end of the cord that plugs into the computer. The young man went away; I waited another twenty minutes listening to that horrendous noise you call easy listening. He came back, and at that moment we were cut off. I hoped he would call me back, or complete the work order on his own. A week later I gave up this childish idea and called again. Again I waited at least a half hour, and again (it’s painful to recall this) I was subjected to torture by Van Halen and Nirvana. The young woman who finally came on the line looked up the record of my earlier call, finished writing down whatever it was she needed to pass on to you, and promised that I would have the replacement part within a few days. All my doubts about our relationship disappeared this morning when I found the box propped against my door. You do still care! I opened it immediately, and stood there, shocked. You sent me the wrong cord/plug. I asked for the part that plugs into the computer, and you sent me the part that plugs into the wall.

Your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have any time for your loyal, long-time friends.

On the website there was no place to record this mistake or ask for a solution. With trembling hands I dialed the support number again. That was at about 3:30pm today. After a half hour on hold (nails on a blackboard? child’s play) I spoke to a polite young man who looked at the history of this problem and told me that the new part had been dispatched. Yes, I said. I received it this morning. It is the wrong part. You received the power cord? I received the power cord, but what I need is the other end of the cord. The end that plugs into the computer, that is what I need. After five minutes of discussion about the difference between the plug that fits into the computer and the plug that fits into the wall socket, he declared himself prepared to send me to dispatch where the problem could be rectified. I pointed out that dispatch had sent the part they had been told (erroneously) to send. Really, it made no sense to transfer me to dispatch. Could I speak to a supervisor? Please?

I was on hold for twenty minutes, waiting for dispatch. Finally I was connected to Jay, who was not from dispatch at all. He works in one of the Texas offices as a parts specialist. Jay was very helpful and polite. He promised to send me the right plug immediately. He did need my credit card number, in case I didn’t send the old part back. (And why would I want to hold onto a fraying, overheated plug?

I can’t believe you’d use such a weak excuse to get my credit card number. I can’t believe you NEED my credit card number. I have bought at least a dozen computers over the last fifteen years, as well as every other kind of hardware and a rich selection of software — and, most relevant of all: I have bought the extended Apple Care protection for every computer. Including your current incarnation, with the fraying plug-that-goes-into-the-computer. Steve, love of my technical life, you should know my credit card number by heart.)

It is now 4:41 and I just got off the phone with Jay. I hope you understand that I open this discussion out of affection, respect and appreciation. It is not my intention to hurt you, but please. Can we please have a return to the days when you didn’t keep me waiting for hours at a time? When I didn’t feel like one in a harem of a thousand? Your little i-friends are very cute, but do they write award-winning novels? Or novels of any kind at all. When people say to me that you only have twelve percent of your market, I always respond the same way: you can say the same of Mercedes-Benz. You are excellent, but you are also drifting away from me.

Would you like to make an appointment with a counselor, or should I?

Your affectionate partner Rosina Lippi

Saint Johnsbury? And a question for you.

I don’t often look at the statistics for this weblog, because… (1) it doesn’t occur to me (2) it occurs to me but I don’t have time (3) lazy lazy lazy (4) this ain’t a competition (5) I’m an addictive personality, and why put myself in harm’s way? (6) I’ll keep on with the weblog as long as it feels right to me. Even if I’m just babbling to myself.

Having said that, today I did have a quick look and the first thing I noticed was that I had a huge influx of visitors from Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.

So this is me waving at y’all over there on the other side of the continent. Can’t imagine why you’re all here at once, but you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.

On other fronts, I have a question for you. Are you actively trying to write short stories or a novel? If you are, could you say so in the comments? You don’t have to go into detail. I’m just curious how many people who stop by are just readers, and how many are writers/readers.