A Story is Not an Essay

I ended up listening to the podcast, and I think I didn’t do exactly what the assignment dictated and listened to individual stories instead of a single episode. They were from different themes and regions, I believe, but they were all very interesting.


I think one thing I wasn’t expecting was exactly how I would negatively react to some of the stories. I don’t really want to go into detail because it’s a bit personal, but there was one particular story which bothered me. The reason that it bothered me stuck with me throughout the entire story, but there wasn’t really a way for me, as a listener, to voice this and get it off my chest. I listened to the whole story (which was around 10 minutes) and couldn’t get my mind off this one thing. Whenever the storyteller said something pertaining to this problem, I just felt angry.


This initially pissed me off and I almost didn’t want to finish listening to the story — I think going into listening, I had this mindset that all the stories I would listen to would move me deeply and emotionally, in a good way. They would open my eyes up to the world, connect me to humanity, etc, etc. My experience was honestly anything but.


I ended up finishing the story and thinking on it, and although it still doesn’t quite sit right with me, I realized how brave it is to tell stories as personal as it was. I’m sure the storyteller realized that this story would garner some negativity, simply because of its subject, but they still told it, and they told it in its rawest form. The point of storytelling, I realize, is not necessarily to gain an audience’s approval, but to bring something personal into the open and to reflect.


The other stories I listened to were much more lighthearted, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. One of them was about a young man’s experiences with his family in an airport, and I laughed aloud for a few moments — he describes how his family always forces him to carry baggage, and to take advantage of certain airport loopholes to bring as many bags onto the plane without paying for carry-on as possible. The story didn’t necessarily have a deeply stirring message for the audience — it was more of a reflection than anything else. In the very end of the story, he states his realization that he had inaugurated into adulthood in his family’s eyes because of the latest airport incident. The story was refreshing because it didn’t try to bring me into the light or elicit any particular emotions from me — it was just one individual’s story, and it allowed a listener to glean their own shared experiences from it.


I think that throughout my academic writing career, I’ve always been taught that my pieces must have some particular meaning, that they must persuade a reader, or come to some clever conclusion. I realized that I hadn’t made sure to check this attitude at the door when beginning to listen to the Moth — the entire time I listened to the stories, my mind was perpetually trying to gather evidence on the piece’s essayistic qualities. By the end, I realized that there were little to none essay characteristics in all of the pieces, and that this was intentional. Stories are not essays. Essays can be told in stories, but to boil a story down to simply an essay is to do it a great injustice.


I think I’m going to listen to an episode again this weekend, and this time listen solely for the sake of listening. Reactions, however negative, aren’t bad — essays may require some objectivity, but stories do not, which is something I’ve picked up on from listening to the audience’s reactions.

One thought to “A Story is Not an Essay”

  1. I like your very subjective perspective of story-telling. Because everyone has different experiences, there will definitely be clashes in how you perceive someone’s personal narrative. Whether that conflict arises because the speaker generalised a concept or perhaps had a moral or belief that did not align with your own values, this is somewhat inevitable and it is important that you are aware about this. Whilst attending The Moth, there was at least one speaker who, in my opinion, had a unethical story that not only failed to address the prompt but was morally controversial.

    With such a diverse set of speakers however, this conflict in your agreement might actually be, in a way, ‘culture shock’ to their experiences. Perhaps you have never heard about these stories before, and it is worthwhile to explore why you disagree or found some storytellers to be irritating as a way to learn more and empathise.

    Thanks for sharing and keep listening to more stories!

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