The stories in The Moment take many forms: written
narratives, photographs, comics, illustrations, handwritten letters,
tweets, and more. Contributors include bestselling authors Jennifer
Egan, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gregory Maguire, musicians
Melissa Etheridge and Judy Collins, 100-year-old journalism legend
Ruth Gruber, up-and-coming new voices such as Benjamin Percy, Tao Lin
and Said Sayrafiezadeh, and many people published for the first time
Give The Moment as a gift and then ask the best question in
the world: What's your Moment?
I tell Archer about my first day of kindergarten. I was wearing a white dress with blue stripes and my teacher’s name was Ms. Parish. Hal tells him about his first day of kindergarten and Archer nods, sort of listening, mostly studying the new route from our house to school.
“Daisy, F3,” my son Archer says as we pull into our parking spot. Disneyland’s about to open and we’ve arrived, just the two of us, our last hoorah before school starts.
The alarm goes off and I pull the pillow tightly over my head. My husband, Hal, offers to wake the kids so I roll over, fall back asleep until Archer’s voice wakes me, this time for good. “Hi, Mommy. It’s kindergarten day.”
Before we go on any rides, Archer tells me he wants to watch “the rapids coaster.”
“It will only take a minute,” he says, but an hour passes and we’re still watching. He points and studies and tilts his head, trying to understand why one raft is here when another is there, tracing time with his finger as he calculates distance and studies the faces of the hundreds of people screaming down the falls. Every few minutes I ask Archer if he’s ready to get on the ride.
“Not yet,” he tells me but I’m getting impatient. Bored. I cross my legs and watch him, pick my fingernails and wait.
“My first thought was of Ronald Reagan. He died of Alzheimer’s disease, an incredibly long and drawn out process (from what I remembered). Could my mom have this disease? No. Absolutely not.“
Around the turn of the 20th century, controversial psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud first posited the existence of denial as a human defense mechanism. For example, we deny that the reason for our poor performance on an exam was our own lack of preparation; we believe instead that the questions were unfair. We deny that lax gun control laws affect the number of fatal shootings in America; we believe instead that these shootings are unpredictable outliers, impossible to prevent. Denial is what occurs when we are trying to protect ourselves from an unsavory reality, and it is also what writer Kathy Ritchie explores in her piece from The Moment, which details her mother’s difficult diagnosis with dementia. Watch and listen to her story here.
“Later it would seem fitting that my turning point arrived the way a revelation should: with a great flash of light.”
When I was eight-years-old, I was the only girl on my Little League team. For an entire year, I wore a dirty, backwards A’s cap to school every day. I spent recesses discussing the benefits of Mark McGwire becoming America’s next president with any of my male classmates who’d listen. I rarely smiled in public, refused to be dressed in anything “poofy,” and when my mother brought me home an issue of Girls’ Life Magazine, I returned it to her—I was not interested.
Call it being a tomboy, or call it plain, old-fashioned stubbornness. At eight, I believed that being labeled a “girly girl” would be the end of me. Many children (girls and boys) go through similar periods of figuring out exactly where they’re comfortable standing on the gender scale. To some it’s important, to others less so. But for former female firefighter turned writer Caroline Paul, proving tough in front of her male counterparts at the San Francisco Fire Department was the most worthwhile thing she could do—until her attitude almost got in the way of her job, a Moment she’d never forget. She narrates her story in this audio recording.
When I first put out the call for “Moments” on SMITH a few years ago, I kept the prompt fairly vague. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about a community of storytellers it’s that when the community starts responding to a prompt, they’ll define it in a way that the prompter often hadn’t imagined. That said, when people asked for guidance I told them this: a life-changing moment should be something quite personal and specific to your life, but conveyed in a way that connects to a universal feeling, truth or idea. “And, btw,” I told people, “please no births, Bar Mitzvahs, Sweet Sixteens or weddings”—we’ve all read plenty about those life passages by now. So it’s an irony not lost on me that one of the Moments I keep coming back to is about the thing I discouraged the most: life’s very beginning.
I met legendary Popular Science staff photographer John B. Carnett in 2006 while reporting a story on a Jetpack inventor in Cuernavaca, Mexico. We became friends, and years later as I started to put this book together I asked John to share one image and a few hundred words to reflect a moment that rocked his wild range of experiences. It’s no exaggeration to say that John has taken thousands of photographs of some of the most inventive people, places and things in the world. And yet John’s life-changing moment was about the photo he idn’t take. He narrates his story below.
“I looked at her wide-eyed, took the envelope and opened it with care and caution.”
When SMITH Magazine began collecting stories for The Moment, it was important to us to represent a vast array of writers from famous and experienced to obscure and never before published. Lucky for us though, Moments don’t happen strictly to writers– everyone has the capacity to take in and be affected by events in their lives. We were especially delighted to see Moments submitted in all sorts of forms (including illustrations, comics, photographs, hand-written letters and tweets, among others) that reflected the immense diversity within the SMITH creative community.
Nadja Cada is not only a writer and The Moment contributor, but also a student in New Media at Ryerson University’s School for Visual Studies, where her instructor, Ramona Pringle, assigned students to recall a life-changing moment in multimedia form. Here, you can listen to Nadja reading her story, “Just a Man” (published in The Moment) about discovering a letter from her biological father when she was thirteen.
“My wife was ready to have a baby. I was not. Sure, I supported the idea in a vague, abstract way–I wanted to have kids just as I wanted to retire to a house on a lake. Someday.”
Recently, Obamacare’s preventive care mandate has reignited major controversy over female reproductive rights. It really wasn’t all that long ago when active family planning was more of a dream than a reality for Americans (Griswold v. Connecticut—the landmark case that upheld the right to martial privacy—wasn’t until 1965!) Perhaps because of this struggle, modern tales about adults waiting until just the right moment to have children are common. We hear fewer about children who come as surprises to their parents and whose births are unexpected. But as Michael Forster Rothbart explains in his piece for The Moment, sometimes children just happen, and sometimes that turns out just fine, too.
“None of this would have happened if we’d not hit the rails in 1982. That hobo trip dictated the course of the rest of our professional lives.”
What is somewhat magical (and also frustrating!) about the events that affect the paths of our lives is that they are impossible to predict. Sometimes we don’t even know they’ve passed until years later. When we’re young, this can be hard to imagine. Growing up, many of us are molded to believe that careful planning will guarantee achievement, success and ultimately happiness. In high school, counselors encourage extracurricular activities that will increase our chances of getting accepted into college. In college, we are expected to declare a major that will lead to the right internship, which will in turn land us that first perfect job after graduation. We are told to calculate the exact trajectories of our futures again and again.
But life doesn’t always work that way. Looking back, journalists Dale Maharidge and Michael S. Williamson never predicted that one random assignment for The Sacramento Bee would dictate the rest of their lives. When the two young men hopped on the back of a freight train for a story in the 1980s, they had no idea that this was their Moment, the event that would singularly shape both themselves and their careers. In fact, if you’d asked them back then what their life-changing Moment was they probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you—which reminds me, have you had your Moment yet? Share yours on The Moment project.
“When we got to the palace our group lined up to enter the building. I found myself last in line, and as we climbed the stairs, I noticed a bathroom just inside on the left. Swiftly, I walked in alone.”
In 1989, the people of Romania overthrew Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. For Romanians, the ousting of Ceausescu, known for his brutal and repressive regime, was a drastic change in a country that for half a century had been shut off from the Western world. Ten years earlier, however, during a cruise down the Danube River in 1979, writer Attila Kalamar discovered at the young age of 17 that he’d already had enough of his native Romania. In that moment, he decided to make his own drastic change. Listen to the story here.
The Moment on Tour The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure starts in the middle of a blazing fire and ends at Disneyland. In between are 125 moving, personal pieces about opportunities, epiphanies, and calamities that had a profound impact on a single life, from famous folks like Dave Eggers and Melissa Etheridge to dozens of never-before-published writers. Our book tour continues with a reading at Brookline, Mass’s Booksmith on June 14 with eight authors from the book, and a live story show in Portland, Maine on June 15 at Space Gallery, a presentation with the nonprofit writing center The Telling Room. For a preview of both evenings, check out Kim Smith’s “Photo Finish” and Cheryl Della Pietra’s “Gonzo Girl” (that’s Cheryl and her mentor in the picture).
Plus: Larry will be talking about The Moment book and hearing about callers life-changing events on The Emily Rooney Show on Boston’s WBGH on June 14 at 11am est.
“It began with the 39-year-old actor, impressively made up to look ancient, staring out at the audience from behind a desk that held a tape recorder. Above him a lone light bulb dangled. This was succeeded by ten wordless minutes of banana eating that was absolutely hilarious. I laughed aloud in the empty theater.”
When I graduated from college my father congratulated me with a Hallmark card. Inside the card, my father had written a single quote by the late German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.” It isn’t always easy to start shaping the lives we want for ourselves; it takes boldness. In his Moment story “Stage Direction,” a young Said Sayrafiezadeh realizes while standing in the wings of a small Pittsburgh theater that he cannot keep waiting on his dream of building a creative life in New York City. He decides, in that moment, to be bold. He decides to begin. Hear him read his story here.