This is the sound of my soul.
Tuesday night I went on stage at an event called This Much Is True, and it was awesome.
This Much Is True ("TMIT" hereafter) is a storytelling event not unlike Story Lab, about which I've written before (there's a recording of a performance I did at Story Lab here). Telling stories is an important thing for me, and has been for some time. I'm not sure exactly when, but at some point in my life I realized that I could get the attention of a large group of people if I remembered an interesting-enough story and told it in a gripping way. Indeed, without stories to tell (or an audience that will listen), I'm typically lost in large group settings.
I'm always excited to tell stories to a new audience, but what made me extra excited to do TMIT was that, unlike most other events I've performed at, TMIT is invitation only. I had no way of signing up or requesting a slot. Instead, I had to wait for one of the show's hosts to see me do my thing and invite me to perform. I was also excited because I knew that most people invited to perform at TMIT are thoroughly talented. I was going to be performing alongside seasoned storytellers, actors, and others who've been in this game or related ones for a long time.
Given that fact, I felt oddly unintimidated. Honestly, I was a bit cocky: up until this show, I'd performed with lots of people with less experience than me or just less audience appeal, so it was always easy to feel like I'd done a great job by simply comparing myself to my fellow performers. And, now that I think about it, I totally expected to keep doing that. I went up first, and afterwards, I was all set in my chair, ready to rate myself against my fellow performers and feel great about myself because I was as good or better than they were.
So it was a shock when everyone else did either really well or fantastically well. Almost every other story was more emotionally fraught, more engaging, or funnier than mine, sometimes all at once. I slowly realized how un-unique my talents were in this context. As my roommate pointed out to me later, it was not unlike the transition I talked about briefly in the story I'd told on stage: in high school, I believed I was an intellectual all-star because I compared myself to my peers, but college put me in my place. I was similarly taken down a few notches here.
Thus, I was a little dazed when intermission rolled around. I got up and walked around a bit, eventually bumping into one of the show's co-hosts—the one I'd never met before. I complimented her on her story, noting that she had taken a universal experience and used it to describe something very personal. (I'm still not sure if this was a profound analytical comment or the merest pseudo-intellectual fluff, but she took it in the spirit it was meant: I was trying to say I'd paid attention to her story and liked it.) I then half-complained about being put first in the show's lineup, saying that her co-host tended to put me first in shows and I wasn't sure why. (This is a little annoying if, say, you have friends who tend to show up late to things and they miss your material because you were first.) She responded that she knew why her co-host tended to put me first: I had great energy, the kind that makes people laugh from the get-go. It's exactly the kind of thing you need to start a show off right and draw people into the experience. It's typically thought of as a place of honor, she said.
So I sat back down for the second half of the show, my confidence in my uniqueness restored. And then I was blown away again by three amazing storytellers. The last of the three was a nationally recognized storyteller and musician, who told a gut-bustingly funny and simultaneously affecting and warm story about cleaning out his parents' house after his mother passed away. He brought the house down, and I was put back in my place. This time, though, I felt happy to be there, because it felt like a place to grow from and aspire to be as great as others had been that night.
Ahem. Because this is stuck in my head and needs to be let out somewhere:
Ah, hah-hah, HAAAH HAAA, I KNOW this MUCH is true...Ah, hah-hah, HAAAH HAAA, I KNOW this MUCH IS TRUUUUUUE....