Tuesday, October 9, 2012

the stories

this post aims to answer some frequently asked questions about storytelling. I hope this connects you to some good listening or even a live show. people throw around the term around 'this will change your life' until it's d-e-a-d, but storytelling will change you. it takes every aspect of life- pain, loss, embarrassment, love, joy, the whole deal, and gives it all a purpose. a tool to connect with others, or at the very least, entertain.

inspiration:: story swoon

I listen to stories constantly. Way more than I read, at least these days. There are the obvious radio offerings, the trifecta of american storytelling....

this american life.

radiolab. (start with memory. than placebo.)

the moth. 

You should also listen to the brilliant show selected shorts, where famous actors read aloud from pieces of short fiction. I've made it easy to begin by choosing a recent show I enjoyed, The Private Paradise. Andrew and I caught the middle of this while driving home from downtown, and we ended up sitting in the driveway in his car, unwilling to turn off the radio till it was over. Most notable is the Dave Eggers piece read by the late David Rakoff. Listen to that and then listen to the This American Life dedicated to Rakoff, our friend david. 

Rakoff is a storytelling icon, and it's not too late to get into his work, even though he died 2 months ago. In 2013 his final novel will be released. It's written completely in rhyming couplets and it's titled: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die; Cherish, Perish, a novel by, David Rakoff. (Isn't that great?)

If you do listen to Ira Glass's tribute, a box of tissues will serve you well.

Fitz Cahill's the dirtbag diaries are all stories of adventurers and people who make their living in the outdoors. I wholeheartedly recommend checking this out, whether or not you're of the outdoor persuasion. To be honest, I haven't listened to many of these, probably because the stories are so similar to mine and I get envious. Could be.

The list goes on: the vinyl cafe, storycorps, a prairie home companion, snap judgement and even the savage love podcast.  Storytelling is a huge and magnificent realm which also includes comedy, which I can't go into now because it would be like trying to throw two big parties at once. so instead I'll just say this- sleepwalk with mike birbiglia as soon as you can.

The american storytelling tradition is irreverent, personal, relaxed, intense, raw, funny, and modern.

my stories::
I've been telling stories live for about two years. most of my stories are adapted straight from this blog. so far, everything I tell is autobiographical. the stories are about 98% true. Sometimes I add or subtract (mostly subtract) a few details.  I might rearrange dialog or the order of things for the purposes of  condensing a scene- it's worth it to keep a story short and tight. The intent of storytelling is to connect and entertain and enthrall- it's not journalism.

there are a few stories I perform that I have chosen not to write (so far.) They are mostly adventure stories gone awry, and they would call into question the decisions and motives made by others. it's one thing to call myself out for being an idiot, quite another to bring someone down with me.  sometimes i choose to do it anyway. I always change the names of people when I do that. but that's what everyone assumes I'm going to do. so, in an unexpected twist, i change the names back to the real ones. that way, no one knows what's going on.

oh yes, i've attended legality seminars for bloggers. and i think for a long time (and write many drafts) before publishing pieces about my job, like this one.

there is one story I haven't written because it's just too embarrassing. It involves getting really sick in the sleeping bag of a beautiful boy on the grand canyon. I can't bring myself to write it, but for some reason telling it to strangers is no problem. Counter intuitive perhaps, but I'm keenly aware that whatever goes on the internet is there forever. I recently told this one at the moth (the theme of the evening was surprise!) and it was a big hit.

there is a growing storytelling culture in seattle, including the seattle moth where I performed my first moth story on a first date. a guide to visitors is similar, only more vetted (and now it's a radio show!) most recently I performed at the storytelling southeast festival in Ireland. I've studied improv with unexpected productions, and the best advise I can give to anyone, hands down, is to take at least one improv class.

but the best part of storytelling for me is just the informal stories we tell amongst friends. it's my favorite thing to do. my life has been full of campfire tales, stories shouted over beers in raucous bars and whispered between crewmembers, belowdecks on the boat where there was no tv or radio.

there is a particular cave that I discovered on a particular trip to goldmeyer hotsprings, where wild storytelling is at its finest. the cave is filled with hot water and steam, dark and sunless but illuminated by candlelight, and there you can tell stories to friends and whoever else happens to be having a soak.  (and it's naked, which does not detract from the experience.) I'm lucky to have friends to like to wander up there in the winter, or to island cabins for the weekends just to hang out and tell stories.

Ireland was absolutely the highlight of my storytelling 'career' (that's just not the right word) and first time I've been paid to perform. I told three stories to four different audiences. The last two shows were sold out, with a crowd lining the walls and sitting on the floor up front. I signed autographs, had my photo taken with audience members and had radio interviews. there was nothing cavalier about the experience- I was so excited and pretty amazed to be there. the whole thing was a bit dizzying. 
This group was from a local kid's book club 
my sister and I at the local radio station
I have a l-o-n-g way to go with storytelling. I recently heard a story on the Moth about a man and his cubicle mates getting addicted to 3-D Tetris. that was the whole story and it was hilariously engaging. I have to learn not to lean so hard on the 'big' events in my life (freezing, drowning, death) and instead learn how to take ordinary things and make them relatable. 

I suppose that's what this blog is for. and by the way, happy four years, blog! celebrate by sharing your favorite posts and joining the wilder coast facebook page. it's really helpful for me, and it's full of photos you won't see on the blog. 

Happy listening!  

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