Posts tagged “storytelling

STORYCORPS helping us muster the guts to talk about what really matters

Screen shot 2015-05-04 at 11.42.59 AMI’m a little worried about the future.

To be specific, I’m a little worried about technology.

Forgive me for indulging in a moment of cultural angst, but I’m fairly freaked out by the notion that the more we plug in to our screens and devices, the less we’ll tune in to our relationships, sense of empathy, and higher consciousness. The more we are distracted by virtual reality, the less we will engage in, well….real reality.

So I’m always thrilled to discover ways that technology is actually helping people feel connected, respected, and understood – it gives me hope for the future.

StoryCorps  is one such bit of hope.

When I first heard about StoryCorps, it reminded me of The Moth. “True stories told live” is the Moth motto – and boy, do they deliver. The Moth reminds us how powerful the simple act of telling your story, and listening to others tell theirs, can be.

Just like The Moth, StoryCorps reveres the story, but then adds an element of interaction. StoryCorps invites people all over the country to grab a friend, loved one, or unsuspecting stranger and interview them. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews from more than 80,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The StoryCorps mission is to “…spark a global movement to record and preserve meaningful conversations….that result in an ever-growing archive of the collective wisdom of humanity.” (For a moving overview by its founder, Dave Isay, and a sampling of choice interviews, watch this StoryCorps TED talk.)

Typical StoryCorps interview questions can be more straightforward, like Can you tell me the story of your first kiss? or What’s the worst thing you ever did as a kid? But they can also be as delving and complex as How has your life been different than you imagined? or If you were to die suddenly this evening, what would you regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet? and Tell me about the first time you saw me.

Whoa. Pretty deep stuff, certainly not fluff. It ain’t easy being intimate, and each StoryCorps interview is an act of courage that elicits raw honesty and beauty.

How often do we do this in real life – share deep, meaningful stories with each other? Talk about Things That Matter? Ask our friends, our family, or perfect strangers “Who are you? What have you learned in this life? How do you want to be remembered?”

Well, here’s your opportunity. Take a break from social media and turn your phone into an instant mobile interview device by downloading the StoryCorps app. Throw caution to the wind, put your fears into your back pocket for the moment, and get out there. Share an interview with your Mom, your best friend, your son, your hairdresser, or even the guy who mows your lawn every week.

Because the potential payoff is infinite. StoryCorps interviews give everyone at the table permission to go beneath the surface. And you might be amazed at how little you really know about the person you thought you knew the best in the world. And how much closer you can feel after coaxing to the surface their previously hidden depths.

Both parties, and everyone that hears your interview will be forever changed – whether slightly or monumentally – for the better.

Your words will ripple out to the universe (or at least as far as the Library of Congress), reminding us all:

I mean something, I have something to share, I exist.



THE POWER OF STORY – The MOTH on Martha’s Vineyard

I’ve never thought much about storytelling. I can spin a decent yarn on paper, but don’t ask me to tell a story in person. I fluster and flummox, incapable of delivering the basic facts or (god forbid) a punch line. I’ve never considered my life in terms of stories – just clumps of events, thoughts, compulsions, relationships and biological necessities.

All of that changed last month when I discovered the subtly subversive subculture of The Moth. The Moth is an “acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Since its launch in 1997, the Moth has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.”

I happened to be on Martha’s Vineyard when The Moth came to town a few weeks ago. The live storytelling event was held in a small chapel. I had no idea what to expect when I went in, but I was surprised and changed when I came out.

That evening, I heard stories from six decidedly different people, from the “fame-ish” former children’s TV star struggling with his true identity to the eighty-year-old murder-mystery author relearning how to love.

Each story was limited to 10 minutes, but the clock was the farthest thing from my mind. Time and space fell away and nothing existed but me and the storyteller. I could not tear away my eyes and ears. I didn’t even want to sneeze or scratch for fear of missing something.

Suddenly I felt deeply connected to these people that I had “nothing” in common with.  The illusion of separation evaporated. The assumption of difference disappeared. And we were all just a bunch of people in a room with stories to hear and stories to tell. The details of these stories may be unique, but the themes are universal.

The next day I signed up for a week-long The Moth for Writers workshop that was offered as part of the roving Moth event. Once again, I didn’t really know what to expect, I just felt an overwhelming compulsion to participate. There were eight writers in the group from various literary disciplines and persuasions.

Over the course of the week, it became apparent that we were all feeling the same way: freaked out to high-heaven, but determined to push our envelopes and mine our internal story-laden caverns.

I was under the impression that we’d have an opportunity to present our stories at the end of the week, not an obligation. I assumed my story wouldn’t be worth telling. But as time passed I realized that I owed it – out loud – to myself, to the others in the group, and to whoever might be listening.

On the last day of the workshop, we all got up and told our stories. In front of a microphone. On a stage with nice lighting. Not for pretense or fanfare, but to elevate our sense of doing something meaningful. And for just a moment, we let everyone in the room behind the curtain.

We told of first communions and unrequited love. Childhood shame and family drama. Excruciating loss and staggering growth. Stories of realization, integration and transformation. Pretty big stuff for a little five-minute story.

Since then, I’ve tried to listen to one Moth story every day. It’s like a daily prescription for perspective and hope. A handy reminder of our shared humanity.

Catch The Moth Story Hour on Public Radio, download the podcasts, or find live events in your area. You might even surprise yourself by submitting your own story for consideration…