doc w/ pen

a journalist becomes a doctor before your eyes

Category: Six-Word Stories

Missing New York City, for an unexpected reason

Brevity is not my strong suit. Just ask my editor at The American, the online magazine for which I write a monthly column called Bio-Lingual.

But I’m working on it. And Uganda is helping.

A week and a half ago, a surprise reptile encounter inspired another one of my six-word stories, Hemingway style (only my second ever; I penned the first in January).

Today, I find inspiration for another brief burst of prose from the local schoolchildren:

I miss NYC. It’s quieter there.

One of the chickens that roam the yard in front of the guesthouse here in Naggalama, scurrying away as I snap a picture. A sign of a peaceful countryside, right? Sometimes, yes. But not this week.

I never thought I would call NYC “quieter” than anywhere else, much less rural Africa. For me, the countryside in any country connotes the cheerful sounds of birds chirping and bugs buzzing. Naggalama has these. Here I also hear roosters crowing in the morning, and the tap-tap-tap of hammers as men build a new home for the nuns. (I don’t mind the hammering; it’s an improvement over the jackhammers the workers are using at my New York apartment complex right now.) Sometimes the sounds of choir practice waft over from the church down the road. Or I will hear the voices and laughter of children from the secondary school nearby.

This week, it’s been more than their voices and laughter. Much more.

I think it started Monday morning. I was awake, but enjoying the fact that I didn’t have to jump out of bed. I could lie there under the sheets, in peace, and just be. This is a luxury when you’re a medical student.

Then came the bass.

thump – thump – thump

I rolled over and checked my phone. Just after 7 a.m. What was going on?

I closed my eyes again, hoping the sounds of music and exuberant singing would fade. They did not. They got louder.

After 5 minutes, I got up. It was too much, even wearing my earplugs, which I sleep with every night.

The music and singing were almost constant that day. When I last checked the time, it was 11:50 p.m., and they were still going at it.

Yesterday, I learned that this is the last week of the term for these students, which means they have a full week of singing, worshipping, and celebrating. Essentially a week-long party. I’m sure it’s loads of fun for them. Not so much fun for those of us living next door.

In New York City, I frequently bemoan the noise. The cabs constantly beeping, the clamor of construction and traffic. But my little 1-bedroom apartment, which faces an inner courtyard rather than my busy street, is surprisingly peaceful. This week, I’ve been reminded just how peaceful.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the kids are having fun. I remember how excited I was at the end of a high school semester, so I don’t begrudge their celebration. Heck, my friends and I certainly made plenty of noise in our day. And sometimes I still do, like when I’m listening to a new album from one of my favorite bands.

Thankfully, I’ve figured out how to manage the noise while the party continues. When it’s too loud for me to concentrate on my work, I shove in those purple foam earplugs, even during the day. I’m wearing them now, as a matter of fact.

Even so, I do anticipate a sigh of sonic relief when I get home. After I’ve lugged my two overstuffed suitcases up the stairs, and after my heavy apartment door clicks shut behind me.

Then I will close my eyes, and as Depeche Mode coos: Enjoy the silence.

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Lions, tigers, and … lizards?

Some time ago, I wrote a post about Ernest Hemingway’s use of the so-called “six-word story,” its explosion on the Internet, and my own attempt at a tiny tale. Good six-word stories, like Hemingway’s, convey an entire world with only a few strokes of the pen (or keyboard). Writers accomplish this by what they do say – the imagery and feelings they conjure directly – as well as what they don’t – the questions and curiosity they raise.

You want to know more. But there is no more. It’s delightfully frustrating.

Here is my second attempt at a six-word story. After you take in the words, think about your own interpretation. What do you think the backstory is? Then scroll down to find out what it’s really about.

There’s a lizard in my underwear!

 

 

 

 

So. Where did your mind rush to when you read those words?

Those of you who know me well may have guessed that like all of my writing on this blog, this, too, stems from reality.

I fail at fiction. Trust me. I’ve tried.

This is truth.

In fact, these very words flew from my mouth in a gasp (or maybe a growl?) of surprise this morning as I was about to sit down and drink my morning coffee.

I’m in rural Uganda. There’s a washing machine here, but no dryer. I’d gone out to enjoy my coffee on the back patio. Where, I discovered, my recently laundered undergarments were hanging, ruffling in the breeze. One had slipped to the brick floor of the patio. I stooped to pick it up and lay it across the bars of the metal clothes rack. As I did so, something small and black flopped out.

“A stick,” I postulated.

And then the stick moved. Darted is more like it.

I saw it in one spot, near my foot. Then a quick black blur, and my black stick was suddenly 6 inches away. And then another 6 inches. And another.

I realized my so-called “stick” had legs. I know it actually did have legs because when it paused briefly, and I counted them: Tiny. Four.

I grabbed my phone, the journalist in my dying to capture the evidence. In a stroke of pure luck, my hurried snapshot caught the critter next to an actual stick (a brown one) that was the same length as the lizard. That picture, and a picture of my left hand next to the same stick to provide scale, are below.

These two words, “lizard” and “underwear,” are words I never thought I’d hear in the same sentence. This is certainly not an autobiographical tale I ever planned to tell. Or yell. Or think! Not anywhere. Not even in Uganda, where I’ve learned that anything can happen.

In these anything-can-happen environments, people always tell you to “expect the unexpected.” But if it’s unexpected, how can you expect it?

After today, I know that you really can’t.

Six-word stories: doing more with less

When you have limited space for your words, you choose those words very carefully. I learned that lesson well when I was working as a reporter for the weekly newspaper The Forest Park Review. Each week, I was given a newspaper page plan with allotted space for my stories — space that was, for the most part, set in stone. I learned to condense my thoughts into 500- to 750-word stories without compromising the content.

Ernest Hemingway set a much higher (or lower, depending on how you look at it) bar for word precision with this famous six-word story.

For sale:
baby shoes,
never worn.

In a half-dozen words, Hemingway conveyed a grief and emptiness that are all the more profound and affecting because of how short the story is.

I came across the six-word story concept recently while toodling around the Internet. Apparently, it became quite the sensation on Tumblr and reddit awhile ago. (I’m a little behind the times, I know.) I recommend doing a Google image search for “six-word story” — it’ll make you smile, laugh, think, and sigh, all in a few seconds’ time.

Here is my own attempt at a six-word story. Note that I am not a fiction writer. This is an autobiographical piece based on something that happened to me this past summer.

Manhattan morning stroll:
sandals, pigeon diarrhea.