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.
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.
I 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.