Stories Worth Telling

Public radio and recent academic assignments have lead me to public speaking and storytelling from a variety of topics. I can remember taking speech years ago and finding joy in the emotions that are involved in delivery and getting a point across. If you have met me before, this may come as a surprise given my introverted personality.

I have stumbled on various programs that have people sharing stories in front of a live audience. Some about scientific discoveries, other involving journalism and others simply sharing a story that felt near and dear to them. The last of the three had a strange sense of tangibility to me. I’ve been thinking that I have what it takes to do something like that. So recently I finally got the courage to look into just what exactly it takes to be on a program like that.

First, you need to pitch a two minute summary of your story and follow a few simple rules such as being able to recite your story from memory; no paper or notes (it sounds more natural that way. They want it to sound like a dinner party among friends.) No rants, no standup routines. The story must be free flowing and fluid in development. The story must be yours, (not your friend’s) and must be completely true. The goal is to capture the audience and take them on a ride where there is a risk involved, and a solid ending. This according to the moth radio program, makes for a good story.

My first obstacle was first remembering a story worth telling, then seeing if it followed all the rules that were given. Just last night I figured out such a story.

When I was in elementary school, I’ve had relatives forget to pick me up once school was over. This is a big deal for someone who has a very little attention span, let alone a sense of direction. It involves critical thinking on whether to stay, or to let other staff know. On one occasion, I told my fourth grade teacher what had happened and out of the kindness of her heart she offered to drive me home. Looking back in retrospect this may not have been the smartest choice to get in the car with a stranger when at this point in time you’re being told to do the exact opposite. Then again the choice to walk home wasn’t the wiser of the two, and that is where the story begins.

During my fifth grade year, the same predicament happened. This time a different relative and a different destination; a much further destination. Once class was over time went by and about a hour or two passed with no phone call or any type of message saying my grandpa was going to be running late. So after so long of waiting for something to happen, I had decided to walk home. To further clarify the journey ahead I need to explain my surroundings. I went to school out in Culver city near the 405 & Jefferson. I was living with my mom’s side of the family in the Baldwin hills Crenshaw area. That’s roughly five miles through a colorful neighborhood. Me being tired of waiting, I made the executive decision to walk home.

I didn’t realize what I was getting into until I started seeing little signs that I was no longer in the immediate vicinity of my school. Little things like noticing the sidewalk ended and I had to walk down the gutter of the street during rush hour when other families are headed back home with their kids that patiently waited for them outside of school. I kept thinking to myself, “I can do this. When I get there I’m going to surprise them!” Surprised is an understated emotion in comparison to how my family would react.

So I’m walking and walking, and finally found some more familiar surroundings. By this time ( I didn’t know it at the time) I had about another mile or two to go and I realize that I have no food or money with me. I had walked most of the day in the sun, wearing some uncomfortable multi-colored Chuck Taylor sneakers and realized that I need to get home and to eat; for the sake of my own survival. Just when I came across the liquor store my grandpa and I used to go after school to get snacks (and his to-go sized bottle of gin) what would I come across but a single cash dollar underneath the wheel of a minivan. My parents didn’t know very much about religion and never pushed for me to go to church. When I saw that dollar, something (call it faith, luck, a sense of being connected with the universe, whatever) came over me. Without hesitation, I rushed to this car, picked up the dollar, and bought a bag of Durritos which were probably eaten entirely in between leaving the liquor store and approaching the nearest cross walk.

So now I’m back to being the big boy I thought I was, showing my parents that I knew how to get home and that I could do things on my own. At this time my feet are pretty sore and for some strange reason my white socks had turned the color of the shoes I was wearing (they must have been new shoes which would explain my sore feet.) I had made it a half mile from my house when I hear my cousin yelling my name. This was not the reaction I was expecting. Here I was having ventured miles to show that I was grown-up and I was being yelled at by a car full of my family looking for me. It was then I realized I may be getting in trouble for this. From this point on, the fun I was having had instantly ended and I now had to face the music of the family and my mother.

To my surprise, they were already too worried to be upset with me. After explaining to them what happened and why I did what I did, they told me they had called the police to help find me because they thought I had been kidnapped. I don’t remember what type of punishment my grandpa had coming to him, but despite all the yelling and crying, we were happy to see each other and glad we all made it home safely.

All my life I have been free spirited in this way. My mom loves telling this story and the things I was thinking at the time. From the change in scenery, to the dollar I found, to everyone’s overwhelming reaction to the event. Events like these build character for both the parent and the child. I haven’t changed much in my executive decision making. Having crossed a long path with a high head, I know I can get by when the going gets tough.

This is my story and no one elses. Wish me luck

-DFJ

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