There is a legend—I can’t decide whether it’s true—that Earnest Hemingway once won a ten-dollar bet by writing a six-word story:
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
Hemingway reportedly considered the story some of his best work. Whether the legend is true or not, the idea is intriguing. Can one write a story with six words? I shared an article that explores this with some friends and said, stupidly, “I think we should all try this.” I didn’t expect that anyone would take me seriously. But MCF, as is his wont, took it as a challenge. I figured I should at least try, since it was my idea in the first place.
The challenge with such a short story is to inspire creative thought in the reader. You can’t say much with six words, but you can suggest a lot. A single sentence can begin a story or end a story, or even hint at what came before as well as what might yet come. James Thurber used to draw single-panel cartoons of people in bizzare situations just so that readers would think, “How did this predicament come about?” Of course, since Thurber used pictures he was working with the equivalent of a thousand words as opposed to my six. I don’t know how successful my attempts may be, but here they are:
After all that, I quit coffee.
Emerged. Loved. Married. Procreated. Died. Loved.
I’m still pretty much a virgin.
It’s six fifty-nine, and all’s well.
It’s only a story, he thought.
Curious things happen when I dream.
Most people are words. I’m punctuation.
The piglet controls his bloodlust, usually.
I don’t think I’ve ever solicited advice from other parents on keeping a marriage healthy. It’s not that I don’t need any—it just doesn’t usually occur to me to ask for it. Maybe I don’t know an awful lot of parents I would value such advice from, or maybe I’m just too proud to think I need it. Sometimes I do need it, though. It would be great to know an older couple who could be role models for us, but such strong relationships are rare in this world.
Conversely, the unsolicited advice that usually comes in torrents on any other subject has failed to materialize when I tell people I have a nearly-one-year-old baby and another due in February. I have had people tell me that kids are what drive couples apart, but that’s not usually helpful. I can say from experience that the presence of a child tends to shine a high-powered spotlight on every flaw in a relationship, but that needn’t drive a couple apart.
I’m writing about this because I received some unsolicited advice from a long-time reader recently. I usually resent it when people presume to tell me how to be a good husband, but this message seemed full of concern, kindness, and hard-earned wisdom (she is the mother of four, and the first three came within 36 months of each other):
Babies can fill your life in a wonderful way, but please guard your marriage more than ever as you become consumed with wonder over the new lives God is entrusting to you. Your wife needs your love and thoughtful care and concern more than ever at this time-I know because I was pregnant once while caring for a one year old and once while caring for a baby and a two year old. Help her as much as you reasonably can and put her needs (especially for sleep) ahead of your needs for other things. She will be better able to meet your needs if you do this. Pamper her when you can. Now and then, instead of taking care of the baby for her, arrange for somebody else to take care of the baby (at their house) and bring home her favorite take-out and a great movie and give her an I-love-you-and-I-don’t-expect-anything-from-you backrub. Babies take a lot out of their moms physically (both before and after they are born). The more you care for her physical needs (read: sleep), the more she can care for yours. That’s the best advice I can give you. Like you wanted it. I just so remember how I felt and what I needed, I want your wife to get the advantages of our hindsight.
If any of you have other great advice like that, please share it.
Recently, MCF asked his readers to alter a photo of himself holding a sign. He framed it as a contest, so I entered and won. The prize was any sort of reasonable design or Photoshop task that was within his means, so I had him paste Tater’s face onto the body of the Golden Age Green Lantern (aka Alan Scott) and mine onto the Golden Age Flash (aka Jay Garrick). I didn’t look too good as the Flash, but that’s not MCF’s fault. Garrick was tall, stocky, and muscular. I’m medium height with a small frame, and my face is really too thin and angular to be anything but disconcerting in that context. Tater ended up making an awesome GL, though. Personally, I think they should let him into the GL Corps, but maybe that can wait until he learns to walk.