Tag Archives: mind

Telling a story about telling a story…

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Look Comrade! I’m speaking! I’m speaking!

Last month I finally got up the nerve to get up in front of actual, non-cat, people and tell a story. I went down to a function called Speak Easy, got up on stage, and told a story about a closet case me stumbling into a donkey show at a cinder-block brothel a few miles outside of Ciudad Acuña, MX in 1991. People seemed to find listening to my Psychosexual Corn Maze™ somewhat amusing. And, really, what more can you ask for?

A day later I was on the phone with my ex-fiancée and part-time muse Lynda. After the requisite convo about politics and cats and the politics of cats, I told her about my experience.

“I like it. It’s an other-directed activity, but it’s still all about me.”

“I don’t think you understand what is meant by ‘other-directed,” said Lynda.

Normally, I concede all matters of semantics to Lynda because she is so much brain-having. However, I think I’m right. Storytelling is too other-directed. For five minutes or so last Thursday I took a break from skating on the Möbius Strip that passes for my psyche and interacted with people in a manner that didn’t involve me standing off to the side with my arms akimbo at them.

[Actually, my arms moved way too much; I need to work on that.]

For the first time since I moved to Columbus, I actually felt like I was doing “something.” I was putting something out into the world instead of reacting to things. I did something concrete, and people did something concrete in return.

Whenever I’m feeling all cranky and Gen-X, I imagine snarky listicles in my head on the subject of why popular music sucks now. (And how Millennials are ruining it, natch.) Number one reason is always the fact that pop music now seems to consist of notes that never existed out in the wild, in the actual air, as vibrations. It goes from machine to machine. It never breathes.

It’s been the same with my writing ever since I moved to Columbus. When I was in Brooklyn, it was easy to find writing workshops full of like-minded women interested in Creative Non-Fiction. (More often than not, I would be the sole male. I hope I represented properly. So many stories about doulas!) I would work on a story up until the time I would have to print out copies. It’s that finalizing of output that was so satisfying. It’s done. Do what you will with it, world. But lately, my wordsmithing has only existed in some Tron-ish (yet sadly Jeff Bridges-free) hellscape. It is never more than ones and zeros battling against all the other ones and zeros. My printer broke over a year ago. I haven’t needed it. There’s been no opportunity to print something out and feel that sense of pride that comes with using a stapler for a concrete purpose. I am stapling things for other peoples’ convenience. I am part of a society! All my output recently has gone up on the blog to wait and wait and wait for little red notification numbers to appear. Or I enroll in online workshops, and all that changes is that the little numbers sometimes are blue or green.

It took me a long while to get up the nerve to try the storytelling thing. It’s not stage-fright. I actually have no problem with getting up in front of people and opening my mouth. I’ve acted before, done improv, even some stand-up. I’ve taught college students. There’s been retail. Nothing like a nice fourth wall. Put me in a structured setting where the roles are defined and I’ll sing. (I won’t actually sing. I suuuuuck at singing. It’s important to know one’s limits.) Teacher/student. Dillard’s associate/creepy guy who needs his inseam measured to get jeans. Storyteller/audience. I’m good, thank you.

However, I’ve never had a comfy time with free-range conversation. I am certain that the only reason people engage me in small talk is to humiliate me:

What do you do?

I have become very isolated in Columbus because I fold under the withering onslaught of “What do you do?” I have no good answer to this. Thanks to the “interesting” way my brain likes to interpret most human interaction as an existential threat, I’ve never really cottoned to a recognizable career path.

What do you do?

I disappoint. Professionally.

Self-deprecating snark is not an effective socialization skill. But sometimes it’s all you have. I would say it beats shame, but that’s like saying a pugilist’s right cross is more effective than a boxer’s uppercut. Either way, you’re getting punched in the face.

So you close down. It’s gets exhausting dealing with the linear trajectory of most small talk when your brain is decidedly non-linear.

[Earlier this year, at a homosexual dancing event, a young man with facial hair AND nerd glasses shimmied up to me. He was wearing a hooded vest made of some sort of white mesh. The hood was up. Smile. Respond to smile with mouth. Eye contact. Look at nose because it’s close enough to the eyes that people tend not to notice. “So, daddy, what do you do?” “You look like a futuristic bee-keeper.” And he shimmied away.]

My therapist likes to tell me I’m under-stimulated. Under-stimulation is the devil’s DMV. I need to seek out the non-linear. Instead of “What do you do?” I need “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra much?” [It’s a cromulent Star Trek reference. Deal.]

Stimulation means actually doing something. So, after a year of excuses, I rushed out to Speak Easy.

At the Speak Easy, before I even told my story, I was waiting in line for the restroom. On the wall near the queue was a black velvet painting of a wonderfully plush woman in a loving post-coital cuddle with a swan. And to my delight, I got into spontaneous banter with the woman in line behind me about the finer points of the myth of the Leda and the Swan and whether Leda would cuddle the swan. I said it might be a different swan,a nd that’s how Zeus knew Leda had a thing for waterfowl. Greek myth riffs are way better than “What do you do?”

[What do you do? Oh, thanks for asking. I’m trying to disrupt the whole transforming into a rapey swan UX.]

This interaction put me in the right headspace to tell my story. I knew the audience would understand me, could follow my shaky relationship to the conventions of linear storytelling. [Don’t worry… there was a beginning, middle, and an end. There was a hero’s journey.]

When I was finished, I didn’t have to wait for little red push notifications. There was immediate applause and laughter, not to mention the occasional AWWWW.

I drove somewhere, did something, and people did something back to me. And I did things in response to the things they did. I am stapling things for peoples’ convenience. I am part of a society!

Then last week, I returned to Speak Easy. The subject was Roommates. I’ve lived with people. A long time ago. I could handle this. I made non-linear small talk. I told another story from the Psychosexual Corn Maze™ I managed to squeeze four roommates into the telling. I need to edit. There were positive responses which I believe were free from ulterior motives.

I will be back again.

What do you do?

I’ve been trying my hand at storytelling. It’s something that I’m actually doing.

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I’m moving my hand so much, it’s a blur. Work on this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

Please note: For the piece itself I will forgo the exclamation point after Jeopardy. It is stupid. If they had one of those Spanish upside-down exclamation points before it, too, I would happily reconsider.

This morning I’m in a coffee shop writing. I forgot my earbuds, and I’m way too lazy to walk out to the car and grab my “emergency” pair. Then I remembered that I auditioned for Jeopardy three weeks ago, and, as parting gifts, they gave me a set of Jeopardy! earbuds and a Jeopardy pen. “Please do not use the pen as a ‘practice’ buzzer. We do not travel the country to hear people click pens.” Noted. The earbuds came in a little Jeopardy blue pouch –Pantone 2935 U, because if you want to be on Jeopardy, you need to know these things. I took the pouch out of my bag, removed the buds, and flopped the pouch on my table. It landed logo-side-down.

IMG_1183That would not do. I flipped the pouch over. Now folks coming through the front door of Luck Brothers Coffee can see the blue of the pouch highlighted against the black of the café table. This is by design. When the eye is fully adjusted to darkness, blue stands out against a black background more than any other color. This is why railroad signals and those little reflectors people in the country use to mark their driveways are blue. Yes, it’s bright sunny out today, and everyone’s eyes are adjusting in the opposite direction, but if someone does ask me about the pouch I can tell them all about blue reflectors. And they will say, “Wow! You certainly do belong on Jeopardy!”

In my time as a Jeopardy Auditioneer™ (I figure I should start trademarking various aspects of my upcoming fame and icon-hood), I have been amazed at how many people are interested in the audition process. As luck would have it, my audition coincided with a visit to NYC to see friends that I was already planning. (I used to live in NYC. If someone asks about the blue pouch, I can also work in that I used to live in NYC. Moreover, I will tell them I lived in Brooklyn because that’s more specific, and people crave specificity –especially specificity that involves the word “Brooklyn.”) So in NYC, instead answering “Why are you visiting?” with “Columbus is boring.” I could proudly say, “I had a Jeopardy audition.”

Then they would inhale a little bit, maybe subconsciously stroke their hair or beard with a couple fingers. “You did?!? Please do tell me all about it? This will certainly be enlightening and fill an intellectual void I did not know I had.” Continue reading “The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

CLEAR YOUR MIND! NOW! DAMMIT! BOWL! SWING HEIGHT! SWING HEIGHT! DON’T THINK ABOUT KITTENS!

gutter-ballThe ball veered left. It went into the gutter. Less than halfway down the lane. The bowler turns around for the sad Charlie Brown shuffle back the little step at the beginning of the approach. Those strips of wood are so narrow; why don’t they use wider strips, or even narrower strips? He makes it all the way to the little fan. Can he pretend to dry his hands long enough for the ball to return without looking up and seeing the disappointed looks on his teammates’ faces?

Every pin fucking matters, and you’ve just fucking missed ten of them you fuck! This is important stuff, this Monday night league of bowling homos. People aren’t giving up their MONDAY nights to watch you throw gutterballs.

He wants to punch his head so bad, but he knows how much that scares people.

But it feels so good. In a hurtful way.

He takes a deep breath, and, in doing so, makes the mistake of looking up. One of his teammates, the one who takes care of the paperwork because no one else understands it, looks right at him. The bowler knows a lesson’s coming. He knows it’s coming from a pure place of respect, concern, and brotherly love, but he dreads it nonetheless.

The team mate, the one who does the paperwork, delivers the lesson. From back at the table he holds the back of his hands to his head and flicks his fingers out in a poof moment. It’s reminiscent of the “you just blew my mind” gesture, but the bowler knows it means “Clear your mind!” Continue reading CLEAR YOUR MIND! NOW! DAMMIT! BOWL! SWING HEIGHT! SWING HEIGHT! DON’T THINK ABOUT KITTENS!