By Bobby Panza
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Shakespeare’s maxim is at the heart of a writing genre devoted to telling stories in exactly 100 words. This week, seven devotees of that genre shared their work and their enthusiasm for writing short, when an audience of about 100 — friends and family, students and literature lovers alike — gathered at the Upper West Side’s Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan to hear a collection of 100-word essays — before being invited to write one of their own.
“From New York’s five boroughs to the Island of Madagascar, we’ve written about partners and offspring, meditation and malaria, triumphs and tragedies, pets, poetics, politics, and wildlife,” said AnnaLee Wilson, a member of the 100-word ensemble, which has been writing together – one new essay every day — for 14 years. Like the rest of the ensemble, Upper West Sider Wilson has a day job: president of the marketing communications firm, Kaeser & Wilson Design.
From the podium, Catherine Dentinger shared a personal anecdote, recounting in 100 words, a challenging day driving her mother with Alzheimer’s to the doctor. With humor, she described a “tussle with the GPS lady,” emphasizing the stress of managing both her mom and the assertive GPS, labeling them as “two strong-willed women” vying for attention. Dentinger, speaking to West Side Rag, highlighted the importance of expressing such challenges, citing a nurse-practitioner friend’s advice that “everyone needs a creative outlet.” She asserted that creativity is crucial for health and mental wellness, comparing it to the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. “There are lots of ways to be creative,” she said.
Stu Morden, an Upper West Side resident since 1971, regaled the audience with nostalgic tales of Tecumseh Playground on the corner of West 78th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Morden recounted how the current metal structures, where the kids play today, were once wooden, earning the park the moniker “wood splinters park.” It was a symbol of community spirit, splinters and all.
Following the 100-word essays, the seven essayists engaged in a brief Q&A. In the current era of digital media with slang and emoji, WSR asked if the task of making their essays fit the perfect 100 words necessary ever prompted anyone to create new slang words. Morden recalled a time he needed to shorten his write-up by just a few words, so he combined “grandpa” and “grandma” as “gramping.” While the audience chuckled, the other six writers remained steadfast in upholding proper English and syntax. The moment brought a glow to the room, feeling like the writers shared a long-running inside joke about slang and emoji use in their work.
Then, the audience eagerly embraced the challenge of crafting their own 100-word essays, armed with yellow pads and pens provided pre-show. With the announcement of a 10-minute window to prepare, participants dived into the creative process. The room buzzed as individuals shared their creations, offering a spectrum of reflections — from whimsical musings on having breakfast for dinner, to poignant narratives about grappling with heart palpitations. As a microphone circulated among the participants, one young man stood out, channeling the weight of the world that defined his challenging family upbringing. He eloquently recounted his journey of finding solace and strength through the transformative power of reading literary works. “Books did not change my life. They saved my life,” expressed the man. The room gushed in jubilee. A perfect segue to the post-show reception.
At its essence, the writer’s group is a collective hobby. Other members contributing included: Ellen Azorin, a former creative executive at Ogilvy, now managing a music booking agency; Jo Ann Miller, who edited a book for Senator Elizabeth Warren; Brian Gerber, a retired engineering librarian for MTA Bridges and Tunnels; and Mitch Levenberg, who teaches writing and literature at Brooklyn’s St. Francis College.
Can you guess the one word most commonly used by the seven writers to describe their relationship?
Monday celebrated the fifth public 100-Word Happening event, the first at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, during the second annual Books That Changed My Life Festival. The festival spans from January 4 to the end of February, showcasing distinctive literary events. For details and tickets click here.
“If I had had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
Try your hand at a 100-word essay in the comments below!
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