The Art of Storytelling: How to Be a Good Storyteller- Start in the Action or Plot, Note the Irony and Comedy, Then Do a Quick Recap

I’m not good at it.  I just follow a formula I made up.

Last month my Italian second cousin Phyllis from Kenosha, Wisconsin left me a comment on my post People Watching in Nashville Traffic, saying, “I love your stories!”  Until then, it had never crossed my mind that I even told stories.  I’ve always seen myself as a younger Grandfather Time- the voice of a man who keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, in order to keep a nostalgic feel on everything “new” idea I write.  Just an involved narrator.

I’ve always thought of myself as a commentator on life.  A writer of nonfiction.  There’s no hesitation in me admitting I’m no good at making up stories- fiction is something I am only a spectator of, not a creator.  What I can do is embellish the story that is already there.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

By connecting the facts to old school pop culture references with a subtle smart Alec touch.  Finding ways to make the ordinary occurrences of life seem more interesting than they are.  My favorite author, Michael Chabon, refers to it in his book Maps and Legends, as “the artist’s urge to discover a pattern in, or derive a meaning from, the random facts of the world”.

 

And that’s basically what I’m doing.  And I get so much out of it.  It makes me feel like, in a sense, I’m about to prove the world’s wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrong, when he said there’s nothing new under the sun.  (Though he’s still obviously right.)

Because everyday life events actually are more interesting than they seem.  They may just need to be seen from a reversed diagonal angle.

So now I’m embracing the fact that intermittent in all my quirky observations are actually little stories.  The tag “storyteller” became even more real to me yesterday as I was conspiring with my sister to write Which Role Do You Play in Your Family? When I asked her what my roles are, the word “storyteller” came up write away.

There are certain things about yourself you can only learn from other people.

Frank Lapidus

Maybe my surprise in all this is the connotation that the word “storyteller” conjures up in my head.  Some eccentric, animated man looking like Frank Lapidus from LOST (for some unknown reason) telling a corny ghost story to a bunch of kids gathered around a campfire who all gasp at the end of the tale when he says, “And the ghost of Tom Joad still haunts this campground today in the form of the wolf that killed him…”  And of course, right as he finishes that sentence, the storyteller’s buddy, who has been hanging out in the woods waiting for his cue, howls at the top of his lungs, for dramatic effect.

 

But now I get it.  Storytellers can also recite true stories.  Nonfiction.  That is my specialty.  And now that I better understand who I am as a writer and communicator, I am starting to realize my frustration when people don’t tell stories the way I like to tell them (and hear them).

Like the guy at work who drags out the end of the story until the last sentence.  And I think to myself, “You can’t do that!” Because I get annoyed waiting to find out the point of the story and I stop listening and start thinking about something else, and whatever I start thinking about instead ends up becoming a new post on this site a few days later.

Or the friend of a friend who uses the punch line or climax of the story as the opening line.  Again, “You can’t do that!”  Because then I feel like there’s really no point in sitting around to hear all the details.

What that tells me about my own form of storytelling is that I have a formula for it:

1)     Start the story in the first moment of action and/or the plotline.

2)     Get to the resolution of the story by the second paragraph, approximately 1/3rd or halfway through the length of the post (or if the story is being told orally, 1/3rd or halfway through the time set aside to tell the story).

3)     Spend the rest of the time or page space picking out the irony and humor of the story’s events.  By not ending the story when the story actually ends, but instead, ending on an provoking or comedic recap note, it opens up the door for the listeners to share in the story- because the story is resolved, yet left open-ended.  (Like the finale of LOST.)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on storytelling, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

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When History Becomes Folk Lore: At What Point Does Abraham Lincoln Become as Hard to Believe as Abraham of the Old Testament?

To some degree, when enough time goes by, the credibility and “realness” of a once-living person or actual event diminishes.  I was born 4 months after John Lennon died.  There’s no doubt in my mind he existed- I own most of the Beatles’ albums and my favorite song of his is “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”.  However, I was never alive while he was.

But going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln, there’s less information available.  None of us were alive while he was.  Books are written every year about this interesting American hero, yet ultimately anything new we can learn about him is educated speculation.  He becomes more of a mystery as time goes by.  Did he truly derive from English Jews, as some believe?  Was he really 6’ 4”?  Despite his large stature, is it true that he had a high, squeaky voice as some historians have written?

Now go all the way back to over 2,000 years ago to the life of Jesus.  Even most atheists admit that he was a real person who actually lived.  What’s up for debate are his claims to deity and the miracles the Bible states that he performed.  If Christ had lived even 100 years ago, perhaps many people would find it easier to believe in his claims.

Go all the way back to King David and King Solomon.  The Bible records all kinds of details of their lives.  At what point in time do skeptics stop believing in historical accounts? How much does the religious association affect the credibility of their lives, when seen through the eyes of skeptics?

And if we truly rewound the history of time all the way to Adam and Eve, how many people would still be on board as far as believing they both were actual people, and not a symbolic duo representing the origins of mankind?

Time fades the mainstream belief of actual people and events, at least a little.  Once a person dies or a historical event occurs (September 11th, for example), the timer begins.  The more time goes by, the more romanticized or fantasized the person or the event becomes.  Whether or not there is written evidence.  Key example, the events of the Bible.  Or if a more recent event needs to be cited, the Holocaust.  It sickens me that there are people out there who doubt it actually happened.  Despite the video footage that is available.

For many skeptics of Christianity and the Bible, Adam & Eve and Jonah and The Tower of Babel are just moral stories.  Only as real as fairy tales.

I think the exception to the rule is the invention of video cameras.  It’s hard to deny the existence of something we can see and hear, despite it happening before our own lives began.  (Though as just mentioned, some deny the Holocaust.  And there are still plenty of old timers who believe that the 1969 moon landing was a hoax.)  But the historical content of my religious beliefs were not recorded on camera and can not be found on You Tube.

A hundred years from now, we won’t be here anymore.  And that is sad.  Our lives are most relevant to others while we are still alive.  Because a hundred years from now, what proof will be left of us other than our own ancestors?  What good will we be to some random stranger?

That train of thought leaves me with no option but to believe in a life after this.  Not only to believe in it, but to seek it out.  Not only to seek it out, but to know why exactly my religious beliefs are the most believable, the most secure, and most importantly, the only truth.  And by that point, it’s not simply a religious belief, it’s faith.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on history, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

 

People are the Meaning of Life, Part 6

“Americans spend an estimated 20 billion dollars annually on ice cream.  An amount that could feed 83 million hungry children for a year.” -State of the World 2004 Worldwatch Institute

“…I bet my whole checking account because it all amounts to nothing in the end.” -Jason Mraz, “Curbside Prophet”

Suddenly, the thought of being filthy rich is less intriguing than ever. I’m not talking about turning down the chance to make $100,000 a year. I mean stinkin’ rich. Multi-millionaire. Completely set for life. So rich that it would be expected of me to drive a new Jaguar and live in a mansion with a kidney-shaped swimming pool and speak with a Connecticut dialect and be on MTV Cribs. Set for life.

I came to the realization that I already have everything I need and want.

Aside from paying bills and getting out of debt and buying food, the only money I really spend is on non-fiction books off the discount rack at Borders. So that means the only thing I can’t get enough of that money can actually buy is knowledge. I can gain knowledge through my own life experiences. The other way is to buy it through books written by people who save me the time of living out the experiences they’ve already learned from.

So once I get out of debt, which I eventually will since my wife are strict followers of Dave Ramsey, what would I continually spend a large income on if I ever had it?

More expensive, impressive cars? A huge house, with its higher insurance rates and utilities and more expensive overhead and all the nice furniture and fixin’s to make it look nice?

It all goes back to Forrest Gump: “Now, Momma said there’s only so much fortune a man really needs… and the rest is just for showing off.”

So I imagine having the house paid off, being debt free, happy in a small but nice house, driving decent cars. What do I need a lot money for?

For me, it would be to travel the world. I’ve only been to 4 other countries in this world (not counting a layover in Japan or driving to the Canada side of Niagara Falls). There is so much beautiful landscape to see and so many interesting people to meet and all that weird foreign culture to be exposed to. I could never get enough of that, yet with money I could try.

But.

Instead of sending myself across the globe, treating it and its people as my own real-life Epcot Center, what if I helped them with my time and money ?

Because after a few awesome trips to Norway and Sweden and Switzerland, it’s gonna hit me: This is fun, but ultimately it’s all about me. And I’m not that big of a deal.

And I think that’s why so many big movie stars and rock stars are often so much more aware of the needs of Third Word Countries. They “get” this high concept more than we do sometimes. Because they are set for life, unlike us. They have the time and the money to see the rest of the world. And before too long, they see a need to help the millions of people currently living in slavery and poverty.

It’s inevitable there will always be poor people and therefore there will always be a need to give our time and money: “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'” -Deuteronomy 15:11

So if I was so rich I could just retire now, and still have plenty of cash to blow, where would my money go? How would I spend with my time?

Other people. With them and for them. That’s where all the extra would go.

How would it be fair that I had too much while most of the world had way too little? How would I not be a hypocrite to live a life that acknowledges that true religion is caring for the orphans and widows yet I lived a lavish lifestyle? I just don’t see how having that much money could ever make me happy.

To have too much of anything ultimately means that someone out there isn’t getting enough.

http://www.worldvision.org/

https://www.hopeforhaitinow.org/Default.asp

Strip away food, clothes, shelter, and faith. It’s safe to say that anyone reading this on their computer has all those things. What’s left that actually matters to us?

People.

Family and friends.

And complete strangers that need the extra money we have to get a much smaller version of those things we already have.

Life really is that simple.

So if by writing this I jinx my situation and become filthy stinkin’ rich so fate can test if I really mean what I say, I’m not afraid. Because speaking of learning from other people’s life experiences, it’s often those same movie stars and rock stars that “get it” when it comes to poverty in the rest of the world that are also the same ones that prove that having too much doesn’t make them happy.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” -James 1:27

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

People are the Meaning of Life- Table of Contents

Part 1 http://wp.me/pxqBU-2h

Part 2 http://wp.me/sxqBU-289

Part 3 http://wp.me/pxqBU-7M

Part 4 http://wp.me/pxqBU-8r

Part 5 http://wp.me/pxqBU-j2

Part 6 http://wp.me/pxqBU-tm


John Mayer’s Battle Studies: The Newest Installment from the Half-Jewish, Tattoo-Sleeved Guitar God

There are certain male musicians who while they seemingly have a unisex audience, it’s mainly women who are openly proud fans. Key examples: Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban.

Then there are those male musicians who seemingly have a feminine audience, yet they also earn the genuine respect of men who recognize their talent despite their charm. Key examples: Michael Buble and Jason Mraz. But the epitome of this category is none other than the 6’ 3”, tattoo-sleeved, half-Jewish, Connecticut native, John Mayer.

His most romantic songs are typically my least favorite- “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Come Back to Bed”. What draws me most to his music is a quality found in his lesser hits like “83” and “Something’s Missing”. Half nostalgic, half philosophical.

In reviewing any genre of entertainment, I can’t say any one thing is the best. I can only say what is my personal favorite. Because my favorite is simply an opinion; I am not qualified to declare what is best- that would go beyond a matter of opinion.

That being said, my favorite John Mayer album is his 2003 Heavier Things. It features the hits “Bigger than My Body”, “Daughters”, and “Clarity” (“ah whoo-ew… ah whoo-ew”). Along with its less featured songs “New Deep”, “Home Life”, “Split Screen Sadness” and “Wheel”.

The cover of this album itself perfectly captures the style and direction of the music. It represents a simple sense of timelessness, yet at the same time somehow reminds of me of Eric Clapton and/or Sting between 1988 and 1993.

I say that to say this. John Mayer’s newest album, Battle Studies, is a hybrid of two of my favorite things of his: 1) The album Heavier Things and 2) his very much underappreciated song “I Don’t Trust Myself with Loving You” from his 2006 album Continuum.

Very bluesy: “Fell down on my knees, asked the Lord for mercy, said ‘help me if you please’” (“Crossroads”).

Very jazzy: “Who says I can’t get stoned?” (“Who Says”)

Very soft rock: “I’ve got a hammer and a heart of glass- I gotta know right now which walls to smash” (War of My Life).

I decided half-way through this decade that John Mayer is incapable of releasing an album that isn’t good. I stand by that. Battle Studies is completely up to par with all his other recordings. But just like how Dave Matthews Band will never be able to top their Crash album, in my mind John Mayer will never be able to top Heavier Things.

Actually I see Battle Studies as a direct sequel (yet not necessarily a continuation) of Heavier Things. So in other words, I love it.

A year ago I posted a review of my favorite albums of 2008, and in a prophetic moment, I praised the then unknown song “People are Crazy” by Billy Currington. A few months later it was released as a single and went to #1.

Therefore, I will predict the soon-to-be hits from Battle Studies. The most obvious is the industrial-infused groovy tune “Assassins”. John has never sounded more like an African-American lead singer of an alternative rock band than he does in this song. Maybe it’s because this song has so many Michael Jackson qualities about it.

Like it was written with “Smooth Criminal”, “Dirty Diana” and “Give in to Me” in mind: “I work in the dead of night when the roads are quiet and no one is around… I’m an assassin and I had a job to do… Little did I know that girl was an assassin too.”

Another song destined to be a radio favorite is “Half of My Heart”. Perfect catchy melody. Perfect opening line: “I was born in the arms of imaginary friends.” Perfect choice of a female vocalist to do a song with: Taylor Swift.

The only downfall is that there’s not enough Taylor Swift in this song. She just does background vocals towards the end. Every time I hear it, I keep hoping the song has magically changed since the last time I heard it and that the song has become a true duet like the immaculately crafted “Lucky I’m in Love” by Jason Mraz with Colbie Caillat. Great song though: “Half of my heart is a shotgun wedding to a bride with a paper ring.”

Often when a musician or actor becomes a superstar, showing up in the tabloid magazines, the authenticity of their art suffers. Despite dating Jennifer Anniston and Jessica Simpson (to name a few) , his art hasn’t suffered (just his personal reputation). He’s still got the talent. Just as much as ever. Going beyond the rut of “the same three chords” compositions and “I miss you baby” lyrics.

And not that this takes away from his music at all, but this lifestyle definitely shows up in his song content. Like in “Perfectly Lonely”- “Had a little love but I spread it thin. Falling in her arms and out again. Made a bad name for my game ‘round town.” It’s also evident in the future hit which will inevitably be featured on several romantic comedy soundtracks, “Heartbreak Warfare”.

Gone is the charming, mysterious John Mayer from the beginning of the decade. Gone is the gentleman. Apathy and aimlessness are starting to show up in his attitude and lyrics. I don’t like his music any less because of it. But I do recognize the change.

Though this may actually be hurting him with his current single, “Who Says”, which is his lowest charting single, breaking his string of 5 consecutive Top 10 singles. This song much departs from his former classy charm, containing lyrics like this: “Call up a girl I used to know, fake love for an hour or so” and “I don’t remember you looking any better. Then again I don’t remember you”.

Not to mention the song’s constant references to marijuana use.

John Mayer is suffering from what I call “King Solomon Syndrome”. King Solomon had it all: Extreme wealth, fame, and wisdom. And 700 wives. And 300 concubines. But by the end of his life when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, he said it was all meaningless. None of it made him happy.

At least at an early age, John Mayer recognizes something’s missing.

Related Post by the Same Author:

John Mayer’s Stupid Mouth  http://wp.me/pxqBU-wz

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on John Mayer, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one