I’m a slave to good story telling, so a few months back I went to a Theatre with a friend for “an afternoon with Ira Glass”. It was kind of weird seeing everybody’s favorite radio show host as a real person, with eyes and a smile and an impeccably fitted suit. His voice was the same, big surprise, he actually talks in that chatty conversational way, the way every radio host wishes desperately to resemble. He's good at making us all feel a little smarter, until we find ourselves telling the same story as everyone else at a dinner party as if it was new information, how embarrassing.
As he does, he had his listeners bewitched, motionless in anticipation. He captivated them with beautiful music behind a fascinating story, a moment of narrative suspense or sometimes at it’s bones, a really mundane story. A true storyteller can find humor in the normal, and interest in the every day and somehow rope the listener in to loving the basic too.
He played an interview with a woman called Prevon whose job it was to refill vending machines on a Navy Ship off the coast of Iraq after September 11th. As you might suspect there are loads of gripping stories, jobs and lives on that ship that are a lot more complex than stocking a vending machine, many of which were included in the episode. But first they told her story, and it was a really good one. It was funny, and they interviewed her for a long time, about the bonkers fruit chews that no one will buy. It was sort of any everyday experience turned interesting and funny. Ira made a good point, that if the everyday of our lives are anything, they’re stories, really good ones when we look at them closely.
The second thing that stuck with me was their purposeful decision to allow someone to talk long enough for their listener to feel they had a moment in the interviewees shoes, a split second in the shadow of their reality.
I remember an episode where they told one story about a toast trend starting in San Francisco. Artisanal toast, is apparently the “Tip of the Hipster Spear” and therefore capable of making someone feel lucky to pay sky-high prices for irony and a cup of coffee, because really it’s just butter and cinnamon on crunchy bread. But the story was really about a heroic woman, Julietta who started the first toast shop that influenced what is now the new maple bacon doughnut. She has schizo affective disorder and she is enchanting, she states"nobody can be mad at toast, it's cinnamon toast, everybody's stoked." I was enthralled to learn from someone who is mentally ill, in a moment of clear thinking talk about the pain and reality of delusion. I can’t envision how scary it must be to have delusions. I always imagine it would be like living in a dream, where everything feels real and solid in the moment and simultaneously blurry and confusing, only to wake up and realize you were a fool to the power of your own brain. Your mind deceived you, it played a mean trick and you had no choice but to fall for it. Julietta made all these ties and consistency in her life by creating a toast shop called 'trouble' and it sort of saved her.
So the story was about toast shops, but in the end the listener had a connection, a moment of empathy with a women whose mind had betrayed her. I think if we look all around us we’ll find that there are stories worth knowing and telling in the everyday monotony of life and we only get there by listening long enough to know.
Image Courtesy of Jesse Michener