So last night I told a story at The Moth. And ladies and gentlemen, I killed it, I really did. If you haven’t heard of The Moth, they host “true stories, told live without notes.” I first became familiar with them through their podcast, but they also have a radio program, and they’ve been doing live shows since 1997 in NYC and beyond. I’m a huge fan. Huge. When I realized we were really going to move to NYC, one of my first thoughts was that I could finally go to a Moth show.
Basically, it works like this: Each of The Moth’s StorySLAM events has a theme, which they post in advance. If you want to tell a story, you show up early, sign a waiver, and put your waiver in a hat (actually it was a bag), which they draw from throughout the night. You get five minutes to tell your story – without any notes – to a standing-room only crowd. A few members of the audience serve as judges, and the night’s winner gets to advance to the next round at a later date.
The thing is, while I’m a pretty good public speaker, I’m actually not the best story teller. I ramble. I forget my point completely. I partly decided to do this because I wanted to force myself to be a more mindful speaker, to think about the way I put my ideas together verbally, and to follow through, even under pressure. Let’s talk about the pressure. This was what the line looked like when we walked up to the Housing Works bookstore an hour before the show. By 7 p.m., it was standing room only. Seventeen people put their names in the hat, and there were 10 story slots, so the odds were pretty good. But for the first half of the show I couldn’t decide if I wanted them to call my name or not. It was nerve-wracking. The other thing I didn’t realize until this week is that most of the people who tell stories at The Moth are regulars if not outright professionals. Aparently over the years The Moth has developed a reputation as a career builder, a place where writers hope to find agents and actors look for someone to produce their one-woman-show. For example, the night’s only other female reader was Diana Spechler, an established writer and previous StorySLAM winner who I’d heard on the podcast just the week before. She was amazing and hilarious, and she went on to win last night’s slam as well. She was also the person who immediately preceded me. As she read, I told myself, “I’ve come all this way, I’m ready, I’m doing this. They will call my name next.” And they did.
At that point a small animal started to convulse inside my chest. I walked down to the stage and waited. I stepped up to the mic. When my voice came out it was smooth, and it kept moving – the words kept coming! Pretty soon I realized – oh joy of joys – that I was not going to mess this up! It was one of those lovely moments in life where the thing you imagine actually comes to pass; when you craft a moment start to finish, and it actually looks and sounds just like it did in your head. My score for the night was a very respectable 8.9, putting me in 4th place!
The other great thing about this experience was that it forced me to spend time with my own stories. Too often I fall asleep with a book in my hand and walk with a podcast in my ear. I fill the quiet spaces in my day with other people’s words. Now I’m more determined to find my own.