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The Moth: Bashing My Way to Beauty

April 9th, 2008 by Jeff Simmermon



You’ve noticed a bit of a posting drought here lately, I’m sure. It happens to the best of us, and also to me, all the time. I get tired, or cranky, or things just don’t seem worth posting.

Or, I get involved in other projects. Projects like The Moth.

The Moth is a non-profit storytelling project that encourages people just like you and me to get up on a stage in a bar somewhere, grab the microphone and tell a story. It’s like blogging with your mouth and the audience can actually see you.

Or, in their words:

The Moth StorySLAM provides a stage and a microphone, a theme to inspire and shape the evening, a lively and supportive audience, and a host to guide the festivities. Stories are limited to five minutes, and ten stories are heard.

The stories are scored by three teams of audience-member judges, and a winner is announced at every SLAM. SLAM winners later face off in a Moth GrandSLAM. Since 2001, the raucous, moving, funny and wild quilt of themed stories that emerge during each show has kept the crowds coming back again and again. SLAMs are now held on both coasts, in New York City and Los Angeles!

I’ve been a bar-room yarn-spinner for years, a porchfront pontificator in fine style, and this blog kinda grew out of that. My friend Eliza has been encouraging me since I moved here to get involved with The Moth and other storytelling shows, and I figure I don’t really have a right to moan about my own writing (which I do a *lot*) unless I give this a good go. Also, by some strange coincidence, my entire back is covered with a gigantic moth tattoo. I’m pretty much cosmically mandated to get as deep into this as I can for a good long while.

And man, it’s been exciting, as exciting as it can be without having actually told a story yet. This thing is fairly popular, and far more than ten people volunteer each time. Names are picked at random, and I’ve not been called upon yet.

But just preparing is electric, invigorating, and nerve-wracking. I’ve written my past few stories out ahead of time, edited, gotten some great criticism, practiced again, and on and on. I find the process alone thrilling. A well-written story is very, very different than a well-told story. Someone who can say, give the dog-shit out of a wedding toast is not necessarily a good storyteller. Good writers are not necessarily the most entertaining folks in the world, either.

But a good writer AND a good storyteller — that’s something else. If you’ve seen Sarah Vowell or David Sedaris read, you know what I mean. Learning an actual narrative arc that uses strange anecdotes to support it, using color and style and description to serve a greater purpose rather than as ends unto themselves … that’s something I want to master, but it’s not coming easy.

Nor should it. Getting something easy early on sets you up for a lifetime of bad habits, if you’re not careful. I’ve coasted on talent before and felt entitled to stuff other people worked hard to earn. And boy, does that ever feel great.

Sarcasm, obviously.

I’m out of my element here, dwarfed by people who are better writers, better practiced, better performers. It’s tough. But it’s another cocoon to claw out of, another bright, shining bulb to bash my head against. In time, I’ll bust in there and ignite, burning brightly, becoming a brilliant, glowing thing of beauty.

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