Stories Told

Why I Love The Moth
When I was about seven or eight years old, I got fixated on the idea of creating a neighborhood newspaper. I would gather stories, write them, publish them using my parent’s typewriter, and deliver them to my neighbors’ mailboxes.

So I did. I went around interviewing my family, and Mr. Petty across the street, who was building a house. I asked Mrs. Pederson about her Irish Setters Gretchen and Casey, and told other stories about the tiny block I lived on.

It was really tiny… we lived on a dead-end street, a kind of pre-suburban cul de sac, with 8 houses and one “warehouse” — an ancient house used by a neighbor for storage in his upholstery business.

At the end of the street there was a big wild empty field, with tall grass, knotty and untended apple trees, and one tangled mulberry bush that was only real fresh fruit I would ever eat as a kid.

I published two issues of the Adams Street Gazette (the second one was handwritten because the typewriter took too long) before I stopped. The stories I wanted to tell, those which I imagined in my head — drama such that Tom Brokaw conveyed on the Nightly News over dinner– just wasn’t there on my little street. It was BORING to talk about Mr. Osterburg parking in the carport instead of the garage, or reporting on the latest results of Kick the Can.

Where Stories Tread

Recently I discovered a podcast called “The Moth”, where regular people like you or me get up on stage and tell true stories from their lives. It has reminded me about my own desire to tell stories. And it reminds me that not everyone tells them the same way.

The Moth stories are told “live and without notes.”¬† The stories roll out from a single person on stage, into a microphone, and are delivered to a waiting audience. The storytellers, I’m sure, practice before they come to stage, but like any live performance, there are nerves and stage fright that add a delectable tension to the stories. Nervous laughter cuts in and interrupts often.

Then there’s the voices. I have not been to a mainstage live show– I experience The Moth from earbuds, injected directly into my head, with the voices of the storytellers as my only link to their reality. The Moth podcast is radio— not, of course, broadcast over the airwaves as technical “radio” demands. But it is the essence of what good radio always is — resonant voices of humans, disconnected from their corporeal bodies, but as whole and flawed as any soul you will ever meet. There are cracks in the voices, that let you enter in. As a listener, that is when you know you are safe.

Stories selected for The Moth are well-crafted, usually with a fine narrative story arc that includes minor and major climatic moments, thick suspense punctured by sharp wit, or the opposite… a riot of hilarity crushed under heel by some pure and detailed grief.

Some stories are wretchedly rambling– with the teller heaving and panting for breath, gasping for response from his audience.

And yet, they too arrive somehow to that place where the listener pauses hopelessly:¬†stranded at that moment, abandoned and waiting for the storyteller’s promise to carry them home.

Why We Listen

Lately, as I told Ellen, I’ve been listening to stories like those told on the Moth more than I have to the news of the day. I have a deep need, now, to feel and hear the details of human experience– Jon Levin riding a body as a graveyard-shift orderly or Doreen’s smoking Thanksgiving.

It is gulping water in the desert of “reality.”

  2 comments for “Stories Told

  1. March 20, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Erica and I went to the Moth Ball in NYC back in November. It was a fundraiser and we got to see Salman Rushdie, John Turturro, and Garrison Keilor (and many others) tell stories. It was fun. We also won an auction item–drinks at the Players’ Club with NYTimes ethicist ? Cohen. Haven’t had the drinks yet, but looking forward to it.

    We LOVE the Moth. You know, they come to New Haven and do shows sometimes?

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