Please explain what just happened.
I woke up, put water on for coffee, and changed my son’s diaper while it boiled.
What is your earliest memory?
I’m four years old and lying on a couch at my grandparents’ house with my grandfather in his reclining chair a few feet away. We are kicking it (old school, I suppose).
If you weren’t a writer and editor, what other profession would you choose?
My current profession but with a twist, which would be to have a Six-Word Memoir radio show on someplace like NPR. Further from home, I’d want to do trailers for films.
Describe a typical work day.
Our community is very passionate, and as such they get grumpy if they wake up and the site hasn’t been updated. So the first two hours of the day, starting at 7:30 or so, are a sprint to update the site—picking the featured Six-Word Memoirs of the Day on SMITHmag.net (my one other editor, Meredith, who is their age, picks the featured memoirs on SMITHteens.com); posting the best one on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr; answering emails from the community, from tech troubles to teachers asking for our free teacher’s guides, which I really try to stay on top of. I often do this at Gorilla Coffee, a loud café near my apartment in Brooklyn with great, strong coffee.
Then I go to my shared office space in Manhattan, where I’ll usually be working on spreading the word on a new book we have out (right now, The Moment), putting together our next book (Six Words on the Jewish Life), and usually have a bunch of calls during the day. The calls range from new partnerships (with places like O Magazine or a nonprofit like the Drug Policy Alliance), about our next few live events (The Moment book readings and our annual Love & Heartbreak Six-Word Story Show at 92YTribeca in NYC on Feb. 14).
I often have an intern working with me who will do everything from excel spreadsheets to tracking book submissions to writing blog posts to searching for memoirs to post inside the bathroom of the next place we’re doing an event (e.g. “Laughing until I pee my pants” or “Bathroom stalls keep all my secrets.”). When we have a live show coming up, I might meet a storyteller to go over the story she’s working on. It’s all a bit chaotic and usually really fun. I head home by 6 p.m., in time to play with my one-year-old son and put him to bed. I’m trying to get better about not working after dinner.
Is there a time you wish you’d lied?
In the last question. I’m not trying that hard not to work after dinner. I love my work.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?
Relax, the baby fat will go away.
If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?
Live in London: Leonard Cohen.
What are three websites—other than your email—that you check on a daily basis?
The sports section of Philly.com.
The schedule for a yoga studio that I probably won’t get to.
From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?
My grandfather, whom everyone called “Smitty.” He was a Russian immigrant who arrived with his family at the age of three and found his American dream through hard work and unwavering optimism, opening up a pharmacy in a small New Jersey town outside of Philadelphia. He was a wonderful storyteller—but he actually told the stories of others more than his own. At some point in early 2003, I realized I didn’t know his full story. I knew the basic overview (Russia, Philly, pharmacy) but not the real details, and I was kind of embarrassed by that. I had just bought a video camera and asked him to tell his story for the camera. He said, “My story? Who would care about that?” I asked him to just riff for a few minutes so I could practice using the camera—and then he talked for two hours. That was a light bulb moment: everyone has a story, you just need to remember to ask.
Name three books that have impacted your life.
Howl, by Allen Ginsberg (I have my mother’s copy).
Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott.
The Rolling Stone Interviews.
If you could relive one moment over and over again, what would it be?
I should say the birth of my son, which was the incredible culmination of an insane day (my wife went into labor during a blizzard; we hitch-hiked to the hospital; then there were complications). That was a moment I’m glad I lived just once. A moment that was pure fun that could bear repeating was walking into my wedding reception in Pt. Reyes, CA and having all these awesome, joyful people there. And then being handed a drink.
How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?
Two. Me > Dr. Frank Lipman > Kevin Bacon.
What makes you feel most guilty?
My mother. Close runner-up: Not getting SMITH Mag updated with “Editors’ Favorites” early in the morning.
How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?
Others help me create artful storytelling projects by sharing their stories on the Six-Word Memoir project, The Moment project, and other sections of SMITH Magazine and SMITH Teens. And then across the world, especially in English classes and art schools, projects that start on SMITH take amazing new directions, forms and functions. We have hundreds of stories coming in every day, largely in six words, and it’s all kind of one weird, wonderful performance art piece.
Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind The Moment.
I launched SMITH Magazine in 2006 with the idea that if you treated non-professional writers like professionals, and gave them a compelling, well-designed, well-curated place to share their stories, they would rise to the occasion.
The site started as a series of story projects (many of which still exist), and then we started doing webcomics as well. We launched the Six-Word Memoir project in late 2006 and the site really took off. Traveling across the country for readings from our Six-Word Memoir book series, I heard one refrain again and again: “I have the most amazing story to tell you.” These stories often revolved around a very specific event that had made a very big impact on the teller’s life. It made sense to carve out space on smithmag.net for what we called “The Moment,” which was really getting back to the original notion of SMITH being a place for longer storytelling. The stories started coming in, and they were weird and wonderful and like six words, some version of self-expression with a touch of therapy tossed in.
What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?
Write drunk, edit sober.
List your favorite in the following categories: Comedian, Musician, Author, Actor .
Comedian: George Carlin.
Musician: Leonard Cohen.
Author: Shel Silverstein.
Actor: Jeff Bridges.
If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?
Start a space/center that’s a combination of the 92nd Street Y and the Russian Baths.
What do you want to know?
What’s your story?
What would you like your last words to be?
Please explain what will happen.
My son will poop again.