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…