Zen and the Art of Sucking at the Moth

moth the thirdOver the past two weeks, I had a crisis of storytelling confidence.  I hope I’ll come out of it on the path towards being a good storyteller.

The second week of April was to be a banner week for me.  As part of The Thread, I’d tell four different stories at four venues over the course of five days.  Monday would the at The Moth storyslam in Brooklyn.  Tuesday would be my open mic.  Wednesday would be Other People’s Stories.  And Friday would be The MoUth.  Four stories told over five days.  It would be epic — like nothing I’ve never tried before.

It started out epic…ly bad.  I knew I needed to write and practice for this.  However, work stress and the resulting two-week sleep disruption made me not in the mood to do either.  I panicked as the day approached, but still didn’t put myself into preparing.  On the Monday after Easter, I told an abysmal version of my finger story at The Moth, netting ninth place with an unheard-of 73 from one of the judging teams.

On the next night, I tried the story out again at my open mic.  I took out an improvisation that I thought helped tank my Moth performance.  There, too, I met with a lukewarm audience.

At least on Wednesday night, I could redeem myself at Other People’s Stories.  However, after failing to sign up until I walked in the door, I wasn’t picked to tell a story due to lack of time.  In my mind, it felt like J and Josh didn’t want me to tell a story, that I wasn’t up to their standards.  Such was the amount of down-in-the-dumpsness I was in by this point.

On the way home from OPS, I planned to announce that The MoUth on Friday would be my last storytelling performance ever.  After two years, three workshops, and somewhere over two dozen performances, I felt like I shouldn’t be having a week like this.  I sucked t storytelling, and all that I had done up to this point wasn’t changing that.  I decided to do the MoUth two days hence, and then stop.  Maybe I’d woodshed for a year.  Maybe I’d find something else that I’m good at.

I suppose the best-laid schemes of mice and men went awry on a Friday night, as Friday night did so for me.  My performance at the MoUth (with the letter story) was well-received by the audience.  It took off a bit of the sting of the pervious days, though I still felt like I wasn’t as good as I want to be — Christine Kalafus’ cake story awed me something horrible.

Tonight, I went to the Best of the Valley Voices show.  Though I must admit to feeling a bit crappy for not making it to the finals, I listened to these great performances, and again reminded myself that I’m not there yet.

So… here I am.  I so want to be on stage behind that microphone, yet feel too inadequate to claim a spot.  It’s frustrating.  It’s discouraging.  It makes me question why I continue doing it.

It just so happens that I’ve been reading a trio of books that together make me think of a way forward.  I’ve read Word Freak, Japanland, and Look Me in the Eyes over the course of the past few weeks (I’ve been reading far more than usual lately).  Each of them have moments discussing a person who is an expert in what they do.  The one thing they had in common was intense interest and intense practice.  This made me think of Ira Glass, who said that when you start out doing something you love, you suck at first, and you know that you suck.  They key is to not let the frustration stop you before you stop sucking.

What this means for me is that if I want to do well at The Moth, if I want people to seek me out to tell stories, if I want to be on stage at the Academy of Music and Arts, I need to work at it.  I need to start practicing.  To write regularly.  To listen to my stories, as opposed to tell them and think about them.  To seriously review other folks’ stories that I admire.

Essentially, I think I need to do what Matt was trying to teach me in those workshops.  LOL

There’s part of me that says that if I wasn’t practicing so much already, then I must not want to do it at all.  On the other hand, I would think that to be on the stage and to tell a compelling story consistently should be the motivation I need to work hard at this.  I need to remember:  everyone who got there already did it through hard work.  Why would I be so different as to walk out on stage fully-formed without any practice?

If anybody out there is reading this, I ask you now for your help.  The next time we meet, ask me how my storytelling practice is coming along.  Thanks.

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