In 2017, I stumbled beyond the world of writing and into the microcosm of storytelling…as in, stories delivered out loud, to an audience.
It happened innocently enough, when I thought “why not” to a storytelling class that popped onto a literary arts center schedule in nearby Boston.
Six weeks later, I found myself climbing with shaking legs onto the Oberon stage in Cambridge to tell my first story, “Boy Mom,” after Moth host Steve Almond pulled my name from the bag.
By the end of the evening, I could think of little beyond the adrenaline high and how soon I could return to the stage. I needed another hit of that communal human connection, the thing that hummed in the room as I spoke. I’d felt it as tangibly as a quilt laid over my shoulders. I hungered for another opportunity to squint into the bright lights and spin my vulnerabilities out over a roomful of strangers.
In hindsight, my journey into storytelling makes sense for I’ve always been telling stories, to friends and family, pretty much anyone who’d listen. I’ve done some perform-ancey things here and there.
As a kid, I dabbled in theater and it’s proven useful at the most random of moments. For instance, if I’m out of patience for my children, I simply ignore my seething insides and continue “performing” like a patient person. I swear it works.
Or, if I need to deliver a high-energy cycle class to my riders, but I’m feeling less-than, BOOM! Bring on the performance! Never let them see you sweat…or, in my case, get that sweat on but never let them see you yawn.
My husband Jason jokes that whenever I open my mouth, storytelling creeps into our everyday. Sometimes, he’ll even roll his eyes or wave his hand, urging me to get to the point faster. He’ll tell me that he doesn’t need stakes, a backstory or character bios just to hear how the oil change went, but I provide them anyway. Sure, a more concise person might use less words, but I like to think I achieve more meaning.
Here’s the thing. Stories are the paste that tacks us all together. Even more, well-told stories can transport us places, make us feel things. They are a peek through the window of another’s eyes. They help us imagine experiences we might never otherwise have. They make us cry and laugh and cringe and think.
In the space of three years, I’ve managed to do some cool things with storytelling.
I won a MassMouth story slam and semi-final, then claimed second place in the 2018 Big Mouth Off.
I’ve told for the PBS televised series, Stories from the Stage, as well as the first SFTS FB Live Valentine’s Day edition.
I told at the last Moth Story Slam to be held at Laugh Boston in 2019, and even though my story lost by the smallest margin, a tenth of a point, my friends showered me with margaritas which definitely took the sting out of losing.
I even appeared in two virtual story-telling shows during social-distancing.
For me, there are two utterly amazing things about storytelling. The first is that anyone and everyone has stories to tell.
There aren’t any rules about who can and can’t be a storyteller.
The second is that stories, once told, act almost like living things. They can survive long after they’ve left their teller, embedding into our consciousness and resurfacing unexpectedly. I love it when an experience I am currently living suddenly connects to a previous one or to a story that I’ve heard. My mind threads those things together and suddenly, I’ve got something new. Perhaps it’s a fresh story or an old story with a new meaning.
Regardless, I imagine myself adding them to that metaphorical quilt of connection I felt atop my shoulders at the Oberon in 2017, giving it more texture, more comforting fluff and down.
I tell stories because humans need stories. I listen to stories because stories need humans.
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