Monday, February 13, 2012

Afraid to be wrong

One of the problems with writing this blog is that if I let too much time go between posts so much cool stuff happens that I would like to write about that I can't possibly write it all. Then there's the anxiety - of all the cool stuff that's happened in the intervening time which should I write about? I don't know, I want to write about it all, to catch up, but sometimes we have to let some things go. Even the really cool stuff (but it's all really cool stuff).


Recently I helped my wife at a Tastefully Simple Home Party. While I helped out in the kitchen, and the adults taste-tested in the living room, a half-dozen kids between five and seven played in the front room. As soon as my duties were finished, I joined them.

I asked them if they'd like to hear a story - they said yes, and I gave them the goods. Everyone had fun and some of the parents joined to listen.

But then it happened, one of the kids asked me to tell a story about all of them, and a vampire princess! I was like a deer in the headlights.

I perform stories - I research stories from various source materials, modify and elaborate, cutting and editing, working on character voices and personalities, and adding music, until I have a completed work of performance art. But, I don't make up stories on the fly about vampire princesses.

"But", I say to myself, "you're a professional storyteller, what do you mean you can't come up with a story about six kids and a vampire princess that's good enough to entertain a five year old? You're some kind of lame storyteller."

Then, because I couldn't come up with anything, the kids started telling me stories - and they were amazing. I heard five stories that night, two of them were totally workable into performance pieces.

That night I stayed awake trying to figure the whole thing out.

I couldn't come up with a story because I didn't know how - or rather I had forgotten how. When I was a kid I made up stories just like these kids. How is it that I know so much more about language, story structure and performance art, and I have all these life experiences to draw upon and I can't make up stories anymore?

More than likely it's because I was afraid to be wrong, to be less than perfect. I just stunned myself into silence.

Don't get me wrong, I write stories all the time, but just like a performance piece I spend a great deal of time crafting them before calling them done. The stories these kids told were done the instant they left their mouths - that takes guts!

I'm currently reading Sir Ken Robinson's the Element, and he talks about this sort of thing, saying kids aren't afraid to try new things, they don't know that they can be wrong, so they create totally original works without effort. Ken says, "If you're not prepared to be wrong you'll never create anything original."

I thought back about the way the kids came up with these amazing stories. They just sort of meandered (kind of like this post), "this happened and then this happened", and, "oh yeah, I forgot to tell you this happened before that!" They didn't know the beginning, middle and end, they only knew what just happened, and then something else happened - just like real life. And they weren't afraid to come up with something completely outlandish.
In the weeks since I've just started making up stories whenever the mood strikes me. And, I have been completely pleased with myself, even when I turn out a total piece of weird garbage, it's just so much fun to create something so wildly out there. And I've even come up with a few pieces I can use.