Vulnerability & Empathy in Story-Telling: A Night at The Moth

This Tuesday night, I attended The Moth, a platform for artists & writers to share personal stories based around this night’s theme of Distance. With eleven speakers to share a 5-6 minute story relevant to the topic of distance, each came with a different approach to their tone, content, and usage of comedic relief for their stories. Complemented by a highly interactive audience of 200+ people, the speakers and audience became ingrained in the same experience of vicariously reliving the stories.


With a plethora of genres intersecting with one another, all shared the features of being non-fictitious and personally experienced narratives. Although some stories may have been performed on-the-spot whereas other pieces may have been carefully tinkered with prior writing preparation, all pieces shared the story-telling aspect. Just like any form of writing, being able to convey your primary meaning to your audience is the most valuable component to any writing. With story-telling, the composition of the audience is highly variable, so being able to communicate fluidly is crucial. Despite the importance of clear communication at The Moth, several performers often had unclear stories which made me feel lost about what was happening. This was probably one of the worst feelings: when you know the artist has a phenomenal story, but you just don’t understand.

Nonetheless, a lack of clarity was a rarity. Many performers spoke compelling stories, driven with emotions. The comedic stories gave a lighthearted and funny narrative, whereas the more serious stories honoured my presence and allowed me to put a face to social issues. For instance, the judged winning speaker that night discussed the conflicting intersection of child molestation and family, providing me an outlet to empathise with the speaker’s experiences. Not often do we have individuals able to willingly talk about such personal and traumatic experiences in public.

Experiences like The Moth need to be experienced by everyone, and at least several times. Story-telling is an opportunity for us to share personal experiences and thus bring awareness to issues that often go hidden. By creating a vulnerable and open space with an inclusive audience that is excited to listen, speakers also can find a unique opportunity to share with a highly supportive audience. All in all, The Moth is a phenomenal way to spend a night, not only learning but also being entertained.


Moth Radio Hour

While I spent my Tuesday night listening to an informative, yet noticeably long, two hour speech on risk management throughout a business career, a weekly edition of mandatory sessions for all Ross BBA Sophomores, I’m sure my peers were enjoying the interesting stories being told at The Moth Story Slam at Zingerman’s Greyline. I had to opt to listening to The Moth Radio Hour podcast. I listened to the episode “Something Borrowed, Something New” which consisted of four stories, each revealing personal hardships faced by an individual, which appears as a common theme for this medium.

Nacho Challenge by Omar Qureshi

Omar shares his story of growing up as a Muslim in Missouri, and the complex relationship that formed between himself and his home, dealing with both good and racist people. He speaks towards the difficult situation his father was placed in, as his main priority was to keep his family safe, and in certain restaurants or barbershops the animosity was apparent. Omar faced racism himself while attempting the Nacho Challenge at his favorite restaurant, as the waiter doubted his ability to eat 8 lbs of nachos since he was “an Arab.” This fueled Omar to accomplish this challenge. Omar then dives into the growth of the Muslim community during his time in Missouri, and how they even built a mosque for the community. When that mosque then was burned down, Omar fears for his family, who he knew were worshipping there the prior evening. They were okay but he doubted if the Muslim community as whole was safe in his town anymore. This doubt was relieved when he got a letter from a stranger mentioning how the Muslim community was there for the rest of the town after a tornado hit, yet the town wasn’t there for them after the mosque was burned down.

Love You Like a Hurricane Etsy Wedding by Kari Adams

Kari shares the story of her disaster wedding in which everything that could go wrong practically did. She planned so much and cared about every little detail, but then a hurricane came and destroyed those plans. Still, they ended up making the most of the wedding, and she realized the little things aren’t as important as the people there. Her story then counters unexpectedly as she reveals a divorce followed, and her distraction with the wedding probably kept her from realizing her ex-husband and her were not ready for marriage.

Tantric Body Paint by Donna Otter

Donna’s story also involves divorce, this time after 21 years of marriage. To try to put herself back out there she accepted an invitation to a naked body paint party with complete strangers. When she got there, however, her ex-husband was also in attendance. She describes the awkward, yet spiritual experience of being forced to connect with her ex-husband for the first time intimately. In a series of exercises before the party began, each woman had to connect individually with each man. When she was forced to come across her ex-husband the moderator asked the couple to pretend they had a complex past and embrace each other to move towards the future. It was fitting, and emotional, and she gained a sense of closure to move on.

Pregnant Man by Trystan Reese

Trystan shares the story of his journey of giving birth as a transgender man. It’s a story of great difficulty, as after his story went viral, his facebook messages and twitter feeds were filled with hateful attacks from strangers. Still, Trystan overcomes the doubt and fear he felt throughout his pregnancy to successfully give birth to a baby boy.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these stories as they were heartfelt, personal and surprising. It’s easy to forget how everyone we encounter, every stranger we walk by, has their own story and has gone through their own challenges in life. From listening to these four stories I realized some common elements of a powerful moth story. First, all of them are very therapeutic, as the storyteller is opening up to complete strangers. It’s an opportunity to vent to a group that won’t judge and is eager to listen. This aspect of the moth story-telling format makes story-tellers more comfortable and raw. Another common theme is the use of humor. All four of these stories were about hardships and emotional challenges that took a toll on the story-teller, but, like any human, the authors often times resorted to humor to poke fun at a certain situation or person. This relieved the audience during some difficult topics, and again, made all the stories feel more real and raw. Finally, these stories all shared a similar ending in which the story-teller reaches a lesson to be learned, or a takeaway they now carry with them. For Omar it was the need to continually make an effort to understand others and for them to understand you; for Kari it was that the details aren’t as important as the people, and people’s actions matter greatly; for Donna it was about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and moving past pain; and for Trystan it was about facing your own fears and maintaining focus on what you believe in.

I’m glad for this introduction to Moth stories and I plan on listening to more.

Sweetland Writing Center

Last week, I went to my first appointment with a Sweetland counselor and found it very, very helpful.

Instead of jumping straight into my pieces, we talked a long time about background, the purpose of the assignment, and where I was coming from. Only after that did we begin to go over the pieces, in which he pushed me to think of all the different possibilities that a story could present. Wanting to turn my memoirs into fiction, he showed me ways the story could develop and allowed me to question myself on how much I wanted to develop it in certain directions.

He also gave an incredible tip in setting up characters. I was finding it difficult to write in new tones or voices, and he said sometimes that is most true for particular characters in a story. As a suggestion, he recommended basing those characters off someone in my life that I was very familiar with, someone who’s personality I understood quite well, and to use their thought process for my characters, allowing creativity to make its own changes. This was a way to build distance between me and my writing and to allow for the opportunity of multiple voices from one author.

The appointment allowed me to go back and revise my stories, radically, again. I think this repurposing assignment has been the single assignment where I’ve done such comprehensive, completely new revisions every time. My stories come out looking almost heads over tails new, but somehow, I’m not upset that it’s changed so much, rather, excited that I can see it becoming more well-rounded and can only hope that the development continues.

Break and Social Media; Or Why I Never Left High School

Break is a time for reconnecting with old friends one has been separated from by the cruel forces of colleges in other cities. It is for catching up, meeting up, and making time for the old high school gang. Of course, this gathering is probably less absolutely vital since the advent of social media; I can keep track of Emily, Clayton, and Jen from my own computer every day I’m in Ann Arbor. And for this I am thankful. New media is excellent for staying connected (Thanks Captain Obvious). But it is also excellent for pettiness, gossip, and fighting.

In my new media essay, I talked about how new media enables a constant stream of conversation, and how that would be great, except sometimes the conversation isn’t worth having; like when a whole bunch of commenters use the space under a kitten video on YouTube to hate on Justin Beiber. I don’t like Justin much myself, but seriously guys, his fans should not all be shot along with everyone who clicked the “Dislike” button. As much as those conversations frustrate me, they are nothing compared to drama created online by people I actually know.

For example, one friend, who shall remain anonymous, told me that she uses her Twitter account to talk about how she really feels; stuff she can’t put on Facebook. I would love to explore the norms that have evolved around which statuses belong on Facebook, and which make better Tweets, but for now I’ll stay on topic. She has been having  a conflict with another girl who is a follower of her Twitter. So Girl 2 can see everything Girl 1 posts about her, all in the spirit of catharsis. Why does my first friend feel the need to express her annoyance with people on Twitter? Why does the Internet need to know? (Asked the girl currently writing a blog post about her high school friend drama)

These same friends had an all out battle on Google Plus a few months ago, like full on Cyberbully nonsense. Foursquare, that inexplicable Smartphone mechanism which allows you to “check in” to various locations (so people can track your every move?) has also played into their fights. When one girl claimed to feel ill to avoid seeing the other, she checked into places on Foursquare, contradicting her earlier assertion that she was staying home. When these two make up, Facebook is full of back and forth Wall Posts saying “I HEART YOU BEST FRIEND” and such.

Why am I chronicling such utter nonsense? Well, honestly, because I’m frustrated, and like Girl 1, I feel better when I put my frustrations on the Internet (Someone should study this. Seriously.) and I know neither of my friends are likely to stumble upon this particular corner  of WordPress. Also, I think examining what new media is being used for, and the new ways people can fight, and express themselves, is interesting. Before all of this media, would my friends even be fighting? Probably. But maybe they would have to confront each other head on, rather than resorting to the cloak and dagger dance of social media.