“What keeps me here is the pure joy of consuming everyone’s thinking condensed into such delicious morsels. I’m constantly amazed at the degree of wisdom, emotion, humor, love and life that can be communicated in so few words. ”
Place: Suburbs of Seattle, Washington
SMITH member since:
Ellis Reyes’ memoirs are much like the monkey in his profile image: funny and facetious, bold and unapologetic. Posting as Ellis_Reyes, he crafts cleverly told tales (“She sold Grandma’s ring. Bought boobs“) and can be sarcastically ironic (“Cynicism sucks, just like everything else“) or poignantly sentimental (“Invincibility died with my friend John”). His Sixes and backstories about service (“Don’t ask if I killed someone“) and education (“Kids are more than test scores“) are particularly powerful. Our congratulations to Ellis Reyes as our Memoirist of the Month for August. He can put the Six-Word Memoir of his choice on a first-rate T-shirt from our friends at Spreadshirt. Read more about Ellis Reyes: veteran, teacher and writer as he answers these six questions.
How did you first hear about Six-Word Memoirs, and what influences your creative bursts here?
I don’t remember exactly how I heard about Six-Word Memoirs; I believe it was through another writing website. I stepped away from SMITH Mag while completing my Ph.D. and returned once I had more time to write for fun. As a teacher, my posts are more sporadic during the school year due to family and classroom demands. During those months, I typically write while at our beach house, away from the noise and distraction of daily life. During summer, I visit the site far more often—Six-Word Memoirs provides me a place to create out loud. What keeps me here is the pure joy of consuming everyone’s thinking condensed into such delicious morsels. I’m constantly amazed at the degree of wisdom, emotion, humor, love and life that can be communicated in so few words. I comment on others’ writing occasionally and do my best to respond to those who are kind enough to comment on my memoirs.
When did you start writing and what have been turning points in your creative life?
I have always been fascinated by words and began stringing them together in high school. During those years, I enjoyed using ridiculously complicated words to communicate simple thoughts because I thought it made me sound erudite.
I wrote only in fits and starts for 20 years as work, work, and work got in the way of using words to communicate anything more than transactionally necessary. When I left the military and became a teacher, my schedule became more predictable, and I settled into writing for myself more frequently. Now I write as frequently as time will allow, both in six-word bursts and in longer form.
One turning point was having one of my first memoirs published in Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak: “She called. Friend answered. Lost both.” I witnessed this story in college. Several of us were watching a ball game at a friend’s apartment and the phone rang. The guy closest to the phone answered and began chatting up the caller. Nothing unusual, any one of us would have done the same had we been beside the phone. As everyone else’s attention returned to the game, the guy took the phone into the bedroom and continued the conversation. Some time later he emerged and left a message for his friend that his girlfriend had called. As the Six reveals, that call led to a relationship between the girlfriend who called and the guy who answered the phone, and the demise of the friendship between those two young men. It was the absent boyfriend’s first serious relationship, and he was crushed. The upshot—that phone connection led to a marriage which has lasted nearly 30 years.
Regarding my writing on Six-Word Memoirs—my family, friends, and colleagues are going to be very surprised. Few of them have any idea that I write anything other than quirky math problems. The only person who might not be surprised is my eleven-year-old daughter—a beautiful writer in her own right. She understands, more than anyone else in my world, the nuance of language that I find so compelling.
Can you share a favorite Six-Word Memoir, moment or other backstory of yours on SMITH and tell us whether someone’s writing here has especially moved you?
“Conventional failures are sometimes rockstars incognito.” My son will enter eighth grade in the fall. By objective public school standards he was a failure. He didn’t meet standard on any state tests, his classwork was determined to be below grade level, and his work completion was near zero. But instead of feeding him to the machine to be re-tooled into their ideal student model, we enrolled him in a school where his interests could fuel his talent and reveal his potential. He is a programmer. He loves code and what he can do with it. He is flourishing because the System did not define him, he defines himself—every day.
My son’s path as a student has been transformative for me as a teacher. From him, I have learned to meet students where they are and guide them to where they want to go, rather than dictating their destination and force feeding them undesirable content to get them there.
Which authors do you enjoy or admire, including writers on Six-Word Memoirs?
Some of my favorite writers are J.K. Rowling (imaginative to the max and great fun to read too); Suzanne Collins (I was a fan pre-Hunger Games); and James Altucher (his blog is insightful, funny, and self-deprecating). Earlier in life, I read a ton of William F. Buckley, P.J. O’Rourke, and Tom Clancy and I’m sure that they influenced my writing in both content and composition.
On Six Words, I look forward to reading notjustagirlintheworld, BanjoDan, JAD, jl333, and recently theLotLessMonster. These memoirists engage emotion and insight brilliantly and rarely fail to make a connection.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time and what do you enjoy doing?
I love provoking laughter, making food with my kids, and walking the beach with my wife. I also teach math and technology in middle school and enjoy motivating kids to think creatively.
Finally, Ellis Reyes, what are your Six Words for today?
The secret’s out. I’m a writer.