The great thing about teaching advanced ESL is that I can basically assign whatever I want, as long as it involves the English language. Sometimes I make it Sergiy’s assignment to read my blog and answer questions. Here is his assignment based on my recent post, An Intimidating Yoga Instuctor from Eastern Europe:
a) Why did I find the yoga teacher intimidating?
b) What did she do that made me feel belittled? (And what does the word “belittled” mean?)
c) Describe Nikola’s personality in your own words.
d) What is the balance I am trying to find? Do you also try to find this balance? Explain.
Other times I assign Sergiy a youtube clip to watch (most recently a Madonna interview), or make him listen to podcasts I enjoy (usually This American Life). And then we discuss over Skype. Ah, the life I lead!
Sergiy’s most recent assignment was to write a six-word memoir about himself. We had been reading about six-word memoirs in his ESL textbook, which explained how Ernest Hemingway famously wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” proving that a “story” can be told in just six words.
I first learned about Hemingway’s radically-condensed story back in graduate school when I was studying abroad in Madrid. A friend of mine and I decided to write six-word stories for all of the people in our Expatriate American Literature class. The only ones I remember are “Here for a year, can’t order beer,” for a boozy guy we fondly called “Sketchy Nate,” who had been living in Europe for a year but could only speak English, and “Bueno, bueno, bueno; break-o my change-o?” for a happy-go-lucky dude with atrocious Spanish who, I swear, I had overheard at the Cambio asking that very question.
The friend and I performed the six-word stories at open-mic night, and I had secretly made up one for her, too, which I read. She had not done the same for me, and I remember being a little bummed. I was curious to know how someone would sum me up in six words.
Sergiy’s textbook went on to discuss an online magazine called SMITH, which asks its readers to write six-word memoirs; instead of simply telling a story, they had to reduce their entire life into one quick phrase. Here are three of our favorites:
“Never finished anything, except cake.” – Carletta Perkins
“Afraid of everything, did it anyway.” – Ayse Erginer
“I thought I would be taller.” – Lisa Brown
Very clever, we both agreed. We wondered if the authors had scarified the complete truth for what sounded good.
When I assigned Sergiy the challenge of writing his own six-word memoir, I promised him I would write mine, too. As it turned out, neither of us could settle on just one, and I think the both of us did a little bit of truth stretching as well.
Here are Sergiy’s:
Always saying truth made him hated.
Sport, smiles, healthy food – happily retirement.
Fantasy guided to incredible, unexpected peaks.
Here are mine:
Starting talking early and never stopped.
Never stayed long at boring jobs.
Chose experience over money and prestige.
What about you? How would you sum up yourself, or your life, in just six words? You can publish your six-word memoir at SMITH magazine!