For a long time, I thought there was little difference between receiving information visually and hearing it. I would zone out in class and read the textbook to get by. I would go on road trips with family and listen to an audiobook, then finish it in paperback outside the car. I would even be impartial to movies with or without subtitles.
Then a friend gave me a ticket to something called “The Moth,” a spoken storytelling event created to revive the old-fashioned spirit of the raconteur. I’d heard of it once or twice before, but somehow thought of it as kooky – it at once evoked cringe-worthy images of finger cymbal’d poetry readings and childhood memories of being stuck in front of the fire for too long as Grandpa (re)told the family long-winded tales of his fifty-year stint as a technical writer for an engineering firm in Cleveland. Sue me, I’m imaginative.
The ten featured storytellers were asked to jump from the word “Lost,” and jump they did. The five-minute tales of loss ranged from the literal, being lost on the first day of an internship abroad, to the mental, watching a beloved aunt struggle with Alzheimer’s, to the spiritual, going on shrooms at Burning Man with a teenage pop star. Did I mention the #1 rule of The Moth is truth? I didn’t realize this until the end, and had a bizarre sense of retrospective amazement when I found out. Each and every story was true.
But the event had charms aside from the storytellers’ talent. Like the host, Ophira Eisenberg, author of Screw Everyone: Sleeping my Way to Monogamy. As one could predict from the title, she was sassy, beguiling, and, well, efficient. Another fun touch was the fact that there were judges. It was like dancing with the stars with wordplay for footwork and really disoriented individuals for stars. Everyone was scored on a scale of one to ten,. The winner was a man who talked about losing a former teacher who coached him into placing eleventh in a national high school oratory contest at a particularly rough time in his life. It seemed like an appropriate choice, since it was all about celebrating creative public speaking.
That said, if I were a judge, I’d have gone with the opening act: a painfully uncomfortable guy telling a nearly plotless story about going on vacation and losing his camera’s memory card. But then, in one of the greatest plot twists ever – one, I should add, that couldn’t be so easily pulled off in any setting other than a live storytelling event – he confessed to the packed and confused audience that his story was simply a vehicle for him to publicly declare his love to his girlfriend. And then he proposed! Some five-minute stories conclude with a hint of long-ranging consequences, but this guy managed to guarantee them, ending his time on the stage with a pretty epic beginning. Next time I have to wait five minutes to catch the 2 train, I’ll remember that opening act to remind myself of how awesome five minutes can be.
If I had read his proposal on the page, I would never have heard the audience’s gasps, or seen his new fiancé’s face light up as she made her way to the stage, or even fully registered the nervousness belied by his stiff posture. Telling stories live, as it turns out, makes a huge difference. The response time is immediate, intimate, and communal. It’s a twitter feed in a sea of diaries. Now a proud follower, I am glad The Moth offered itself for the finding.
The Moth is located on Crosby between East Houston and Prince Streets
By Liv Lansdale