The Art of Storytelling

So I'm beginning to like the format of writing a summary of things that are going on in my life and then writing about something that has been marinating in my mind recently.

Lately I've been feeling like one of the characters on the TV Show Heroes (not the horn-rimmed glasses dude – come on now!). Slowly things are becoming more clear. I'm realizing things about myself and about how life works. I am not even close to any definitely answers but slow clarity is a good thing nonetheless. Telling others about my faults and insecurities used to feel like a sign of weakness to me. What would they think about me? What would they say about me? A lot of people probably think this way. But that's not the point. The point is bettering yourself. I am quickly realizing that being honest and in tune with your faults is the best way towards evolving above those faults. One of the most powerful things you can show someone is your vulnerability and then your ability to overcome that weakness. I feel like we are constantly wearing masks. We try to shield ourselves from the world around us in an attempt to hide our vulnerability, when in actuality the world around us is going through similar tribulations as our own. With that being said, I would like to lose more weight. I have no discipline with the things I eat. In 2006, I gave up beer and most things unhealthy and lost about 30 pounds only to move to Chicago and basically live inside a beer vat and eat all sorts of unhealthy creations. I'm telling you this not to complain or be sad about it. I'm telling you this because I think (I actually have no idea who reads my blog) some of my readers might be in a similar situation. Well let's work together then. How bout you email me every time you work out or every time you pass on eating something that's bad for you? I could do the same and we could motivate one another. Mangster and I used to do that and it worked in such a positive way! Just think of me as your Richard Simmons.... errrr how about the Tae Bo guy instead. On to Word Life. Part II


Word Life. Part II

I ended the last section on language somewhere in the middle of written text. Oh baby, it's time to jump right off the page into oral communication. I am extremely intrigued with the spoken word because to communicate even the simplest idea we have basically unlimited word choice. People we all wear a toolbox of words around our waists throughout life. Too many people view speech as a means to get a message across to someone or a way to pass on information to an audience. That's not how it works at all! Your words are the tools that allow you to mix and interact with the audience. Your words and an audience are in constant motion with one another. It's a constant back and forth relationship. You say a few words and immediately the listener interprets those words and communicates back to you either verbally or with their body language and from that communication you adjust your message. In informal settings, we do this subconsciously all the time. Think about the last time you almost ruined a surprise or starting saying something you weren't supposed to. You saw a reaction from the listener and quickly tried to cover up your blunder. For some reason people forget about this all together when giving a formal speech. Speeches more than anything are a verbal relationship you create with a given audience. You can inspire them or make them feel the way you feel and in return you are able to understand how they feel.

A while back I became really fascinated with storytelling. We began teaching a unit in my class about how to tell a good story. Students starting coming back to us and saying that they were not only better at telling stories but their jokes were funnier and their friends were impressed at their timing. I started to think about people I consider great storytellers. Lots of people came to mind but a high percentage of them happened to be friends in India. Their tone variations and ability to mimic other voices and use imagery are very strong. So why are they so good at telling stories? Well most of them happen to be Konkani. Am I saying that my people are just naturally charismatic? (actually we're quite awkward). No, actually I think it's because Konkani does not have a written script. Ask most Konkani kids here about the story of the pigeon and the crow. The voices people make are similar and the story is basically the same. So over the years culture and traditions had to passed solely through oral tradition. The result is an inherent ability and comfort in varying tone and voice volume. I was telling some of my Nigerian friends about this the other day and they said the same thing about their family in Nigeria. They're part of the Igbo (pronounced EE-BO) tribe, which also has no written script and apparently their families also have an uncanny ability to tell good stories. Regardless, good storytellers have a great feel for the relationship I spoke about earlier. They are able to read their audience and adjusting on the fly. They read peoples' eyes and body language and through these cues are able to build a relationship. Just watch someone next time they're telling a good story. They're absorbing all sorts of cues from their audience. Comedians are a great example of this absorption process.

The other fascinating thing to me about spoken language is the barriers we create for ourselves. Formal language for example drives me nuts. I was talking to Ajay about this one day. You ever notice how super proper language is very barrier heavy. Lots of “excuse me” and “pardon me” and words that we don't normally use. Why do people feel like public speaking or any speaking for that matter needs to be formal and fancy? Isn't the point to get your message to the most number of people? Think about people from urban areas or from very dialect heavy parts of America. They way they speak is MUCH more inviting and in a way loving. It's not emotionless, instead there is lots of tone variations and almost a sense of warmth in every line. I have never seen the informality of spoken language as an inability to be articulate or a sign of ignorance. To me the spoken word is all about connecting with your audience and down home folks connect with me instantly. Ritzy folks, on the other hand, sometimes make uncomfortable. That amazes me though that word choice and tone alone can break these invisible barriers and create connections between a speaker and the listener.

We can't escape language because it's part of life. Perhaps we all could take one more minute to marinate on who we're speaking to and rather than telling them what we think, directly interacting with that audience. I think you would find that more often than not you would make connections with whomever you were speaking to. After all, isn't the point of written and spoken language to express ideas and express emotion? So why not think of it less as talking to someone and think of it as talking with someone. Now if I could just apply these principles at every bar I went to..... but that's a whole other blog entry.

They Thought I Was a Zero

During a rough couple days last week, this commercial made me smile many, many times. I love when people in the media spotlight are honest and I have really come to admire the way certain athletes seemingly have no fear and believe in themselves in any situation. (I also love Gilbert Arenas - even though I hated him when he was at Arizona). "The reason I wear number zero is because it lets me know that I need to go out there and fight every night." I feel like we all have something (or many things) that we see in ourselves that other people might not and sometimes it's just a matter of staying true and believing in yourself.

Word Life.

Last week was one of the loneliest weeks of my life and I'm happy about it. Instead of continuing to push things away and postpone thinking about them, I brought all my thoughts inward and came to terms and made some important decisions. It was almost like I finally digested the reality of things, which felt really good. I felt much more aware and at peace this week. A certain edge that I used to have years a go is starting to come back I think, which could be exciting. I've also realized recently that I enjoy language very much. Not just different languages (which are great) but accents, word chose, intonation, and generally just the way different people choose to same the exact same thing. So this post is the first of a multipart post on my thoughts on language and word chose. The theme of this thought flow is written language.

Sometimes I feel like I was meant to be a product design major. I've always thought about the way that I package things. One of my teachers in elementary school once told me, "I enjoyed your paper but you always sound like you're trying to sell something." I actually took that as a compliment, although she definitely meant it as a bad thing. I think you need to think about your reader and what they're going to get out of your writing. This blog is a perfect example. If I didn't want the reader to get anything out of it, it would be a Hello Kitty Diary underneath my bed. I think a lot about what people might take away from everything I write (even party invites, personal emails and notes). For every blog post I actually publish, I have about 2-3 post I just sit on. I think of every one of them as a piece, a product. Anyway before I weird you out with my idiosyncrasies, let's move on.

I've always been preoccupied with the way writing flows and making sure the way I start something I write keeps the same personality and somehow ties up loose ends and surprisingly returns to the opening sentiment in a Magellan like voyage for the reader (when we used to freestyle in college, I would call myself MC Magellan sometimes because when I would try to come back to the same line I started with when I passed the mic. People thought that was pretty stupid but I guess, a little funny). That's why speeches were entertaining to me. Speeches have a clear objective and you plan on giving the audience something, whether that is a feeling or a message (or if you're really on your game, both).

Now let's truncate this idea of written language down into a simpler form: Quotations. I have always been somewhat obsessed with quotations. In high school, I had a binder with two clear plastic openings on both sides. Everyday I would have a new quotation on each side and it became something that everyone in my class would walk over and read. I started out with famous quotations and then started making up my own. If you want a quotation that you write to seem famous, just put quotation marks around it. So in my room now I basically have an entire binder of quotations about everything from life, to girls I was into at the time, to what was going on in the world. I love the ones about girls because I would make them all cryptic and good friends would understand them but other people just took them as actual quotations about life. ZINGA! I got them!

Today I am basically out of the quotation game and have shrunken the scope down even further to a Rick Moranis size level. One day I was thinking about where I want to be. I thought about characteristics I would love to embody and about where those characteristics could someday lead. What I basically drew up for myself was a character map (not to be confused with a "character map" for computers you technophiles). It was four words/characteristics that I want to always hold on to and the fifth characteristic is where they would lead. Another way to think about it would be four corners and the fifth characteristic is the center of the rectangle. Physically drawing it out helped quite a bit too (I need to see things to properly absorb them). So if you had to do the same thing, what would your four corners be? What would be the four steps on your path to the fifth? The plan is to have the four words framed between my bed, the bathroom and the kitchen with the fifth above my door, so every morning I have to walk through the set. I think about the words a lot and in some ways I think they have helped me stay on track. It's nice to think that in such a goal oriented society, you can break larger goals down into words and act upon them.

People absorb the words you use. I realize that more than ever now at a company where basically everyone reads every word of everything I write. People don't skim but rather break apart every line. That's not to say that people should freak out about writing or get nervous. It's more to say that in a language where you can say any sentiment in a hundred different ways, shouldn't you choose the words that best represent you? And if you do draw out that four corner diagram of yourself, you'll find that you get a warm fuzzy feeling anytime you use one of those five words maybe because subconsciously you've become that way.