Top Literary Sequels in Six Words

Go Set a Watchman finally debuted this week as the unexpected second book from Harper Lee, beloved author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Since summer is the season of sequels, for SixContest #56 we asked you to take cherished books and create the next installment in just six words. You crafted second acts to classics and favorite childhood stories (“The Giving Tree Gets Her Groove Back.” —HeyMama), and used wordplay to draft books that don’t exist, but should (“More Deep Sixes, by Jack Handey.” —Anodyne-o-mite). Read through the contest comments for a plethora of fantastic teaser backstories. We hope the next book you read is as appealing as these sequels sound.
—Abbie Martin Greenbaum

The Top Six sequels we want to read:

6. “That River Doesn’t Run Here Anymore.” (A River Runs Through It)
RaisedByWolves [Backstory: A Native American Gambling Casino threatens a pristine Trout Stream in America.]

5. “We All Faked Our Own Deaths.” (The Virgin Suicides) —Lizasighs

4. “Wilbur And The Chronic Arachnophobia Nightmares” (Charlotte’s Web) —AnchorBoy

3. “Mediocre Expectations: Where Everyone’s a Winner.” (Great Expectations) —MelB

2. “The Phantom Tollbooth: Now Accepting EZPass.” (The Phantom Tollbooth) —@indybrendan (via Twitter)

And the most timely sequel is: 

1. “Confederate Flags – Gone with the Wind.” (Gone with the Wind)Audrey Jordan (via Facebook)

Congratulations, Audrey Jordan, and thanks to everyone who joined in the fun! Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at—keep on Sixing!

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Classroom of the Month: Amy O’Meara’s 4th Grade Writing Class at Temple Terrace Elementary

Amy O’Meara brought Six-Word Memoirs to her classes at Temple Terrace Elementary in Florida after being introduced to the concept by Cathy Dyer, a nearby teacher whose high school students were a recently featured Classroom of the Month. As a writing coach to her students, O’Meara wanted them to focus on the importance of choosing the right words: “I can’t think of a better way to teach a child how powerful words can be when you can only use six of them.” The Six-Word form was a simple way to demonstrate how word choice can evoke a specific emotion or reaction from the reader, especially when writing memoirs.

O’Meara’s students also experimented with the form and structure of their Six-Word Memoirs. Students chose a noun that strongly described themselves and were then tasked to begin their memoirs with that noun. O’Meara also asked them to see if different punctuation impacted or changed their story. “After that,” O’Meara explained, “they just start writing, talking to each other, laughing and helping each other. It becomes engaging and interactive.” These young students crafted many thought-provoking memoirs, including:

“Six thousand miles away from normal.”

“Trying hard, doesn’t succeed, keeps going.”

“How will I make it now?”

O’Meara was especially impressed with the work done by her struggling students, who initially needed a little more help, but ultimately produced some of the most powerful Six-Word Memoirs. “Some of the most beautiful ones came from the students who struggled the most because it came from the heart,” O’Meara revealed.

The fourth graders developed an Animoto video (reposted below) of their Six-Word Memoirs, using technology as a way to engage and share their work with the world. Six-Word Memoirs has provided O’Meara’s students with an opportunity to put their personal experience to words, while giving her the chance to glimpse into their hearts and minds. This fall, O’Meara will relocate to Bahrain to teach at Riffa Views International School. She hopes to introduce Six-Word Memoirs to those students as well.

Teachers! Since we first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, educators across the spectrum have found Six Words to be a terrific classroom assignment and catalyst for self-expression. At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work from classrooms around the world. Our Six Words for Schools workbook is the first in our suite of school-based teaching tools, and launched our Six Schools website, a place solely for teachers to share their classrooms’ work with other educators globally. Check it out! Let us know what your classroom is up to and we might feature your students’ work on our blog.

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Top Pride Memoirs In Six Words


Tremendous strides have been made recently towards marriage equality for all. In honor of LGBT National Pride Month, for SixContest #55 we asked you to share expressions of pride in Six Words. Many memoirs lauded the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, while others shared their personal stories and the journeys of loved ones. As our nation celebrates Independence Day, what a great way to also celebrate progress towards equality! —Abbie Greenbaum

Our Top Six memoirs about Pride:

6. “Red. White. Blue: Finally a rainbow.” –takemeup15

5. “Facebook going viral cheering pride righteousness.” –toocooltobeme

4. “My sister is now my brother.” –McK_Merr
Backstory: “And I love him.

3. “Open house and two moms, unflinching.” –Redx3

2. “Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Britten, Bernstein, Barber, Menotti.” –@BPOrchestra (via Twitter)

And the Six Words and powerful backstory that get to the essence of pride in 2015: 

1. “He’s still my pride and joy.” –ADHDean
Backstory: “When my son came out to me, my response was pretty much ‘And…?’ I’d known he was gay before he figured it out. Sonny has always been a curious, enthusiastic and kindhearted person, and nothing has changed. He’s still my kid, still my firstborn, still my heart. His mother has pushed him away. Other family members have distanced themselves from him, and the pastor he had his entire life told him that God may choose to kill his little sister as a result of his sin, like God took King David’s son by Bathsheba (yes, people actually say things like this). Through it all, Sonny has maintained a positive attitude and has remained true to himself. If there is anything I’m proud of as a father, it’s that I have somehow managed to teach my kids to be themselves, no matter what other people think or say about them. What took me decades to learn seems natural to them, and for that I’m grateful.”

Congratulations to ADHDean and thanks to everyone who joined in the fun! Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at—keep on Sixing!

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Memoirist of the Month—July 2015: Guy Austin

Now I write regularly and have actually submitted short stories to publishers — nothing published, but receiving rejection letters actually makes me smile. It means I’m trying. I would never have done so without having been involved on this site.

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Name: Guy Austin

Place: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

SMITH Member Since: March 2014

Guy Austin has an affinity for connecting the dots and connecting with others (“This blackboard never lacks chalk pieces”) so it’s no surprise he was immediately welcomed by our community. Barely a year later with more than 800 memoirs to date, G_Austin has become a central player in the Six Words sandbox. Guy’s contributions are well-loved and much appreciated, from his regular Teen Tuesday, Throwback Thursday, and Friday Favorites posts, to his own memoirs (“Tried raising the bar, too heavy”) and nods to others on the site (“Keeping a little room for sympathy”). Whatever the topic, his words reflect a caring man who can be humorous and self-deprecating (“Mirrors reflecting some old fat guy”), as well as courageous (“This is not a love song”). Join us in congratulating Guy Austin as our Memoirist of the Month for July 2015. Learn what makes Guy such a thoughtful memoirist as he answers our Six Questions:

How did you first hear about Six-Word Memoirs?
I used to love Three-Minute Fiction on NPR and when that went away, I somehow fell into SMITH Magazine and Six-Word Memoirs. I thought, “Six Words? I can put six words together.” It is harder than it sounds. I am still surprised anytime I get featured — I hope I never lose that feeling.

I really wanted to learn to write, to exercise that muscle and express myself. At first, I read others’ memoirs, especially the “Featured Backstories” — if you only read from the feed you are missing out. Soon I summoned the courage to share more, and when others commented and responded, I was encouraged to continue. It can be deeply personal; I never dreamed of sharing this much. But if my writing reaches one person, as in “wow, I am not alone,” then all is well. Over time, folks have sent me private messages and words of support, including a few grammar and spelling suggestions — I appreciate it all. Once you get plugged in, Six Words really does feel like a small village. I click the “heart” a lot and “Comment” more than I write now, as encouragement for others. I want to let folks know, “Hey, this spoke to me. Keep on Sixing my friend!”

I usually post something daily, but I love reading what everyone has to share, so sometimes I just browse the site. With the Six Words app, I can enjoy SMITH and Six-Word Memoirs from anywhere.

When did you start writing and what have been turning points in your creative life?
I wrote a lot of silly love songs as a young teenager, typical teen observations, and kept a journal on and off. I was very close with my dad, but he left us completely when I was 14. I could talk to him about anything, so when he left, I didn’t have anyone to talk to, or so I felt. The next ten to twelve years were hard on me. It was during this time I started writing. Later, in the Army, I had a bit of an intense bout with depression and that triggered a creative moment while trying to figure things out. I wrote a little something that a friend found, and read, and then told me to write more.

Six Words has been probably the most significant turning point since my mid-twenties, when I started having kids and writing fell away. My sisters and Mom always told me to write more, and a few years ago, when I told my wife that I’ve always missed writing, she told me to just have fun with it. Now I write regularly and have actually submitted short stories to publishers — nothing published, but receiving rejection letters actually makes me smile. It means I’m trying. I would never have done so without having been involved on this site.

When The Best Sixes of The Week feature stopped in December, I thought perhaps you took a break, so I’ll just post my favorites instead. Sixes of the Week often introduced me to folks I did not know, exposed me to different expressive styles, and educated me when you pointed out things like “Best Narrative Arc.” I feel obligated to continue, although I gained some understanding as to the possible reason you stopped —it’s a lot of work! If you start Sixes of The Week back up, I’ll retire “Friday Favorites.

There are several memoirists from the Teens section who post on the Main Site, and some go back and forth. I created “Teen Tuesday” to shine a light on their obvious talent and lend an ear, especially when teens convey distress or hopelessness. The folks here are very supportive, I also thought it might draw some of them into the Teens section. So many youth struggle in the petri dish of high school social life. Encouragement is my goal, to let them know someone is listening and acknowledging them, just as you all did when you shared the suicide outreach information in a blog post.

Can you share a favorite Six-Word Memoir, Moment or other backstory of yours on SMITH and tell us why it’s meaningful to you?
We’re painting dreams with stories told” was one of my first memoirs with a backstory and an image. My youngest daughter is such a joy — this memoir and its backstory really captures her expressive spirit. Reading to her each night, at the end of a long day, started as a job and has become such a great bond between us. My post led to many book recommendations from the Community. Solstice22 suggested The Secret Garden, now one of my daughter’s favorites, and we’re currently reading Mary Poppins. She tells me about her dreams from these stories and — bonus — she has excelled at school in areas where she was really struggling. Her writing journal is so expressive; I like to think it has something to do with our bedtime stories. My reflections on the site helped me realize what an impact it was having. [Ed. Note: check out the links to Guy’s memoirs, his backstories are worth a read].

Which authors do you enjoy or admire, including writers on Six-Word Memoirs?
Kurt Vonnegut has such a unique way of telling us about ourselves, such as this excerpt from his Breakfast of Champions:

“Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.”

I’ve been influenced by Hemingway and Steinbeck. East of Eden’s tales of California’s Salinas Valley grabbed me — pretty sordid and puts any telenovela or reality TV to shame. Also David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Ron Chernow because I’m a bit of a history nut. The more history I read, the more I realize we have learned little about ourselves as a people and country. We fight the same battles repeatedly and things haven’t changed as much as we believe they have. We just didn’t have tabloid news shows thirsty for ratings to exploit every detail of our lives.

Inspired by ADHDean’s Random Word of the Day, I posted a memoir and backstory, “Sixers: A multiplicity of discursive styles” about many here who have influenced me. Solstice22 has been the most supportive, I love hearing about her day and life journey: “Watching my thoughts. Hoping for high-ratings.” BanjoDan reminds me of a modern day Twain or Will Rogers: “Swallowing my pride upsets my stomach.” notjustagirlintheworld has awesome backstories and a great way with words: “Mistook hopscotch for the twelve steps.” JAD, J3nny, and Neesha101 have grabbed my attention of late — they are very positive and uplifting and I need that. And I can’t forget our Teens: love me some Typewritergirl, SakiMerp, and TheNamesNuwanda.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time and what do you enjoy doing?
We live in Florida, but I’m originally from Southern California and will always be a Californian at heart. I choose Palm Beaches because feels more like home with the ocean so close. If they could do something about the humidity I would appreciate it. Besides my military stint, I have worked in the movie theatre business since age 15. I started as an usher and have since fooled my way into a V.P. title with a small family-owned circuit in the Southeast.

A Pic 2I love being outdoors in any manner possible. Watching and playing baseball is a favorite pastime, but listening on the radio brings me back to childhood, sitting next to the radio with my brothers in my parent’s room. The announcers are great storytellers — Vin Scully of the Dodgers is a master — and the game really comes alive through their voices (“No two prettier words: Play Ball!”). Reading and films also are high on the list, when I find the time…rare these days. I love being around my five children and my wife is my great joy. I still stare at her and think, “Wow, how’d I get so lucky.”

Finally, what are your Six Words for today?
Humility has taken the day off.

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Six in the City: Columbus at Columbus Arts Fest

Six in the City- 6logo-NSSummertime in Columbus means festivals, parades and celebrations. What better event than Columbus Arts Festival to kick off Six-Word Memoirs‘ most recent project, Six in the City: Columbus With a big thank you to our Columbus-based corporate sponsor, Express, people were invited to come up with their six words on Columbus, write it down, and jump in the photo booth to become a part of the big picture. As each individual photo was printed and posted to the “Express Yourself in Six Words” wall, a collective story about one city was told.


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Top Six Words My Dad Says

954186On the third Sunday of each June, we take time to appreciate and celebrate Dads everywhere. For #SixContest54, we asked you to share those memorable quotes that say “Father knows best” (whether or not he really does). There were adages galore (“Have fun. Just don’t get caught.” by CuzinVin), and words of inspiration (“Go out and raise the bar.” by G_Austin), with plenty of Dad-isms to keep you in check (“No, we’re not rich. I am.” by Jugggler). Be sure to share these #SixMyDadSays memoirs with the special fathers you know!
McKenzie Merriman

The Top Six Dad-centric quotes:

6. “You’ll always be a huge disappointment.” —@taradublinrocks (via Twitter)

5. “Look it up in the dictionary.” —zsuzsu

4. “No one confirmed the DNA results.” —@bretgunter (via Twitter)

3. “After six, you could’ve done anything.”* —LotLessMonster

2. “You’re gay? Pass the salt, please.” —@emilygfeld (via Twitter)

And the fatherly words that took first place:

1. “Always study the other player’s game.” —Midnight

Congratulations, Midnight, and thanks to everyone who joined in the fun! Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at—keep on Sixing!

*Editor’s Notea backstory we love from LotLessMonster: “My father said this to my older brother and I when I was in sophomore year of high school. My brother and I have six older siblings. He had grown tired of laying down the law for our older brothers and sisters, only to see all his laws challenged and broken. He realized that the examples he and my mom set were more important. He watched the first six grow up and figure it all out just fine. We had been free to do as we pleased, and he was telling us that we had already proved him right and that he was very proud of us.”


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Top #SixWordsThatChangedMyStory


Six Words can be a game changer. For SixContest #53, we challenged you to capture those life-changing junctures in just six words. From first dates and transformative diagnoses to major moves and startling losses, honest and intimate stories were shared across our community. There were so many powerful backstories submitted—we couldn’t highlight them all, but a few are included below and you’ll find many more if you scan the contest comments.
—McKenzie Merriman

Here are the Top Six memoirs about changing your story:

6. “Hi, I’m Bren; I’m an addict.” —@RadBren13 (via Twitter)

5. “Whitewater rafting trip flowed into marriage.”L2L3 (*see below for backstory)

4. “Remove your leg, you will live.” —Sandi Guida (via Facebook)

3. “Drove across America with little brother.” —Mike White (@TheMikeWhite via Twitter)

2. “Can I buy you a taco?”Solstice22 (**see below for backstory)

And the top honor goes to:

1. “I think I’m really a boy.”BecomingLuke

Congratulations to BecomingLuke! And thanks to everyone who joined in the fun! Read on for the backstories from our Top Six, plus a few honorable mentions:

*“I married our raft guide.” –backstory from L2L3

**“These six words were offered to me because he wanted to get to know me better. I was working temporary during the summer at the company he worked at and he knew I was not able to get out for lunch that day. I said no, thanks, but the he started always being outside when I took my breaks and we got to talking. He invited me to watch him play soccer and meet his friends. That pretty much sealed the deal. Because of him, I went places I’d never thought to go and do stuff that was out of my comfort zone. Things like hiking in Yosemite, fishing and camping along beautiful California beaches, canoeing, bicycling. Eating food I’d never tried before, reuniting with a relative I’d lost touch with for decades because family was so important to him. And, the biggest thing of course–without him I wouldn’t have had my beautiful daughter. Although he and I as a married couple were not able to stay together, his first six words to me changed my life for the better.” —backstory from Solstice22

Six Honorable Mentions and their backstories:

“15th foster home. Here goes, God.”Maeva
After a search lasting my whole life, I came to a place where I wasn’t seen as broken shards of a life that might have been. I came to a place where I was broken, but pieced back together into something greater. Family at last.

“Sexy diver and a lucky zombie.”quantumd0t
My husband and I met at a Halloween party. He was a real US Navy diver dressed like a gentleman and no costume; and here I was, dressed as a zombie, bloody face and all. Five years later, I am no longer a mathematics teacher, but an Instructional Designer; I am no longer in NY, but now in California. I am no longer alone, and now I am in love.

“Jim McKay: ‘They are all gone’”Ellis_Reyes
September 6, 1972. ABC sports reporter Jim McKay sadly informing the world that 11 Israeli Olympians had been killed by terrorists. I was just a kid, but this was shattering to me. I don’t really know why. These words, and the events surrounding them, set me on the long path to becoming an Army Ranger. My dad tried desperately to convince me to go into business or law, but the blood red dye was cast a decade earlier in a country thousands of miles away.

“Your mother is on her way.”Ms.Nan
When my father died, well meaning neighbors did not know how to communicate the death in a downtown hospital. Perhaps saying that our mother was on her way was a manner of delaying the information. But even to a nine-year-old like me those few words spoke volumes. My mother was coming home. Alone. If there has been anything that has changed the course of my life, it has been those few words. They meant my father was gone. My mother was alone. And so was I.

“I’m so sorry. Your son died.”Jugggler
March 1, 2000. The doctor was devastated. He and his staff had done everything that they could, but our son Daniel only lived for an hour. We imagine what he would be like every year on his birthday.

“No Dad, I will do designing.”ScientistX
My Dad had a wish, that i do engineering…but i wanted to be a graphic designer and here I am, became a graphic designer, working as a visual and motion designer in a startup IT company.

…and our special thanks to longtime Sixer, Staraj, who used our famous tagline, “ONE LIFE. SIX WORDS. WHAT’S YOURS?”™ to capture the transformative power of community:
“EVERYTHING changes our lives. Whether or not those changes can be expressed in six words. Precipitating words. Concomitant words. Climactic words. Most changes are very minuscule. Some imperceptible. Others profound . . . tragically . . . joyously. This website provides me with an outlet to vent, debate, preachify on a soapbox, endeavor to write witticisms, and often just be a goofball (which comes easily to me). SMITH is a “community organizer.” It’s good to be part of a community. An expressive community. A community that changes lives.”

Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at—keep on Sixing!


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Memoirist of the Month—June 2015: Amber H.

“I was searching online for creative writing outlets when I discovered Six-Word Memoirs. I could never commit to blogging daily or maintaining a website, so Six Words was perfect because I could submit whenever the spirit moved me.”

Name: Amber H.247159_805007096260383_6254309671388533998_n

Place: Philadelphia, PA

SMITH Member Since: November, 2013

Amber’s Six-Word Memoirs sound more reminiscent of a tribe elder than a coming-of-age teen (“Don’t mistake lessons for soul mates.”). In 2013, on the day she joined Six-Word Memoirs as tsalagirl, Amber posted four memoirs that show she can be outspoken (“Governments start wars; people fight them.”), poetic (“Even the trees undress for you.”), reflective (“Forever missing what I never had.”), and vulnerable (“My heart’s covered with stretch marks.”). With more than 1,000 memoirs in her repertoire, she continues to dispense her insights in six-word doses (“Not letting go. Just adjusting grip.”). Congratulations to Amber H. as our Memoirist of the Month for June 2015. Learn more about Amber’s seasoned sensibilities as she answers our Six Questions.

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Classroom of the Month: Debra Freedman’s Creative Writing Class at Burlington Township High School

After eyeing the book Not Quite I Was Planning at a bookstore and giving it a browse, Debra Freedman decided to start using Six-Word Memoirs in her classes at Burlington Township High School in Burlington, New Jersey.

On the first day of class, Freedman asked students to write a Six-Word Memoir about themselves— a seemingly inconceivable assignment because they were used to writing multiple page essays and research papers for their AP English Literature and Composition classes. Freedman told students: “This is a different course, I want you to condense and look at your diction.”

When they got over the shock of using only six words, Freedman says students rose to the challenge. Freedman’s creative writing class collaborated as a group on a Six-Word Memoir about their classroom environment: Our creative minds illuminate our diversity.”

As the students went on to write historical fiction pieces for the class, Freedman had them craft Six-Word Memoirs from the perspective of the characters they were examining. She emphasized the importance of writing quality six-worders, stating, “Students were able to do it because they knew them (their characters) so well.”

Here are a few of the insightful and evocative sixes written by Freedman’s students:

1880’s Ireland

“Brotherhood’s bond can break oppression’s bind.” —K.P-M.

1920’s New York, NY

“Electric age filled with dancing strangers.” —B.L.

 1920’s  San Francisco, California

“Women are empowered; maybe that’s me.” —P.S.

1960’s Russia

“Whispered lullabies soothe the troubled soul.” —G.D.

1969 Woodstock Bethel, NY

“Through round glasses, love is clear.” —H.F.

In just six words, Freedman’s students captured moments in history, as well as the unique stories of the characters they were studying. Her students truly grasped the concept of how Six-Word Memoirs can condense stories and capture them at their core. [Editor’s note: Speaking of history, Six-Word editor Larry Smith’s parents both hail from Burlington, NJ, where years ago his mom also taught English.]

Teachers! Since we first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, educators across the spectrum have found Six Words to be a terrific classroom assignment and catalyst for self-expression. At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work from classrooms around the world. Our Six Words for Schools workbook is the first in our suite of school-based teaching tools, and launched our Six Schools website, a place solely for teachers to share their classrooms’ work with other educators globally. Check it out! Let us know what your classroom is up to and we might feature your students’ work on our blog.

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Top Lucky Charms in Six Words


A penny may not be worth much anymore, but it’s still valued for the good luck it brings. For SixContest #52, inspired by National Lucky Penny Day on May 23, we asked for your six words on luck in its many forms. From lucky numbers (“8 is great: there’s no debate!”) to charmed gestures (“Lucky spirits lie between crossed fingers.”), you shared a bounty of strategies that bring good fortune your way. Whether you prefer shamrocks, sage, or silent prayers, we wish you luck as you keep Sixing with us!

The luckiest Sixes of the bunch:

6. “Remembering to avoid Mercury in retrograde.” –zsuzsu

5. “Knock wood. Throw salt. Silent prayer.” —FloChamber

4. “Your cancer is still in remission.” —DynamicDbytheC

3. “The two beautiful souls I birthed.” —BigMammaPetunia

2. “Rolling the dice more than once.” —@FanaticalFrog (via Twitter)

And the lucky winner of this contest…

1. “Mantra: Don’t give up on yourself.” —paristexas

Congratulations, paristexas, and thanks to everyone who joined in the fun! Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at—keep on Sixing!

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