"In these pages many mysteries are hinted at.
What if you come to understand one of them?"

"Words let water from an unseen, infinite ocean
Come into this place as energy for the dying and even the dead."

"Bored onlookers, but with such Light in our eyes!
As we read this book, the jewel-lights intensify."

- Rumi

Friday, May 6, 2011

More on Storytelling in the Modern World

It amazes me how often people give us information about themselves we'd rather not have, or about other people that they really have no business giving us.  Again I'd like to delve into storytelling as communication and communication as storytelling, but this time around, let's look at our responsibilities as a storyteller when we finally do find someone willing to listen to our stories.

The big rule here is, as I'm sure it has been since the very beginning of the first language, know your audience.

I recently had a companion for my return journey from a Renaissance Faire.  This young lady had been stranded, as her ride to the faire had overbooked his or her car at the end of the weekend.  This young lady lived on my general area and offered me ten dollars in gas money, so I decided to go against my solitary nature and perform a good service for the universe.  Well, you know what they say about no good deed going unpunished.

Let's get one thing straight right now:  I am not a people person.  I fake it really well at Ren Faire, especially just before and after my shows.  After a weekend of being surrounded by crowds, and 3 times a day at least putting myself in front of them and making a spectacle of myself, I like to have some quite time on the way home.  I listen to my audio books, or just the wind as I drive along.  This helps me unwind before returning to the zoo that is my home.

Now, throw this young lady, who I believe mentioned she was twenty-two, new to fair, and desperately trying to make friends.  And, oh, she sure did want to be my friend.  She kept asking my things about myself, and telling me things about herself that I didn't want to know.  I'll spare you the details.  Also, it's not my place to tell you her story.  Now, I'm not disparaging her as a person.  She seemed like a sweet girl.  I'm sure she will make lots of at faire.  Faire is like that.  But she doesn't want me to be her friend.  She may thing she does, but she doesn't.  I'm hard to be friends with, and she, like most people, is not ready to deal with the blunt honesty I bring to a friendship.  I told her this.  She didn't get it.  Well, until I let her know why.

First, I told her that I didn't want to know most of the details about herself and her life experience that she'd decided to share with me.  For the record, I know more sorted details about the intimacies this girl has shared than I do my own wife.  And that's including the intimacies I've shared with my wife.  She didn't read her audience well enough to know that my part of our shared storytelling got smaller and smaller as she shared.  Contrary to what we learned in Kindergarten, sharing is not always good.

Okay, I kind of lied.  Sort of.  I'm going to tell a story about her, but it's my story, because I'm one of the principle characters.  Someone who is very close to this girl was adopted.  This adopted person knows their name from before the adoption.  The girl I gave a ride to has not been given this piece of intelligence.  She informed me that she's been trying to discover this adopted person's real name, because she wanted to know this special person better.  I told "Ride Girl" that she was being selfish, had no business asking for that part of another persons story, and she should butt the hell out.  Things in the car got very quiet.

Just in case people reading my blog hadn't noticed yet: I consider stories sacred things, most especially our personal stories.  If someone decides to share a special story about themselves with you, cherish it.  But I've gone into that previously.  On the flip side of that, don't squander your stories either, especially to people who don't want them.  You'll only alienate them, and, whether you realize it or not, you will embarrass yourself.  Yes, I'm aware most of the people that suffer from this story sharing problem do not have the good graces to be embarrassed, so those of us around them wind up having to carry that burden as well.

Anyway, the above is only one of three or four times I called this young lady's storytelling etiquette into question.  One indecent earned her a twenty minute no-talking penalty.  Twenty whole minutes of not a single vocalization.  I thought by about eleven minutes her head was going to explode.

I have met many other people like this over my life.  For some reason, people gravitate toward me and want to share their stories with me, usually at the most inappropriate times.  I had an interviewee share too many details about his recent weekend at a dancing retreat and the various conquests he'd managed due two copious amounts of alcohol.  He did not get the job.  I've had friends without kids telling me things that are fine to share with me alone, because we are actually friends, begin to share these things in front of my kids, adult things, that I don't want my kids hearing about quite yet.  My friends are not considering the audience in earshot.

Keep these things in mind the next time you have a story to tell.  Are the people not listening because we've just forgotten how to listen to each other's stories, or are then not listening because they have listened before, and they don't like the kinds of stories you have to tell?

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