“Let me tell you a story.” That’s how my talk began last month at Furman University’s TEDx conference. The topic was “Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.”
I’d spent almost a year prepping for those 16 minutes. Writing, editing, and rewriting my talk. Memorizing it and rehearsing it morning, noon, and night for months till my husband, my dog, and my best friend had just about memorized it, too. A kind friend even gathered 30 generous souls in her living room to listen to it, so I could get the feeling of an audience in my bones. Then there was picking out the right thing to wear, a particularly arduous undertaking for someone like me who hates shopping and basically wears the same thing every single day.
It all came together beautifully. When the day finally arrived, sure I was nervous. But as I stepped onto the stage, the audience looked up at me, the camera started rolling, and voila! the presentation went perfectly.
Boring, right? There’s no real story there. It’s just a bunch of things that happened. Who cares? Plus, it sounds kind of like bragging. And like maybe I’m hiding something. Could it really be that simple and straightforward?
[pullquote]One thing is for sure: the party line is always boring. Why? Because there’s nothing for us to be curious about, nothing to anticipate. No inside intel we could use, no surprising revelation, no unexpected moment, nothing that takes us beneath the suspiciously smooth surface.[/pullquote]
If only! But it’s so tempting to tell it that way. Even though it then comes across as just another version of that sugar-coated story we’ve all heard a gazillion times: “I had a goal, I worked hard, I succeeded.” Yadda, yadda, yadda, in other words, the party line. And we all know that when it comes to party lines, the defining factor is that at best they’re a gross oversimplification, and at worst, a downright lie. One thing is for sure: the party line is always boring. Why? Because there’s nothing for us to be curious about, nothing to anticipate. No inside intel we could use, no surprising revelation, no unexpected moment, nothing that takes us beneath the suspiciously smooth surface. And that’s not what we come to story for. The surface world? We’ve got that covered! Because that’s what the surface world does, it covers up the far more messy, challenging, juicy, and intriguing world going on underneath. We come to story for a glimpse of exactly that: what goes on beneath the surface.
Which can be really hard to write about, whether it’s fact or fiction, because it’s crazy scary to step out of “never let ‘em see you sweat” territory. But that’s what stories are about. Sweating.
So, what if instead of the tidied up version I just told you, I went on and revealed . . . the truth. (This is really hard.) [Read more…]