I have now heard the following bit on This American Life and the Moth probably 37 times. It’s Mike Birbiglia, a comedian, telling a funny (He is a comedian, after all.) story about an awkward comedy gig. I don’t get tired of it, because being someone who likes to think he can tell stories, I learn a lot just from the technique. I pay attention to the wording, the descriptions, the side trips and the conclusions he makes about what he did. If you’re not into that, I think you’ll enjoy it anyway. It’s a very funny story.
“The only way to find that territory is trying to keep your mind constantly open. That’s the only way that you’re ever going to see the sort of signs of where to go.” — Tom Jenkinson, musician
Angela Dice, a friend and former coworker at the Kitsap Sun, and I discussed putting together a storytelling night here in the summer. We put the idea on hold when the Bainbridge Island-based writer’s organization Field’s End hosted one. We both planned to go and participate in that, hoping to learn about what kind of process would work. Then, neither of us could go because we had events to cover for the newspaper.
Yesterday Angela contacted me again about scheduling an event of our own, so I can say that this idea is in the planning stages and I hope we will be announcing something before too long.
Angela’s timing was one of those moments where I begin to believe that some godlike force is giving me a nudge. That nudge started on Sunday as I was driving to church listening to a broadcast of The Moth storytelling program on NPR.
The speaker I heard on my drive was Janna Levin, a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. Fortunately for me her story had very little to do with what she teaches, because the most satisfying D grade I ever received was in the Astronomy class I took in college my final semester. That D meant I could graduate, so I was just thrilled to pass. And by the way, it was my only college D.
The story, which included understandable elements of astrophysics, was all about how she met her husband. That’s a story I can relate to.
I was moved, but not to tears. I was moved because it touched on thoughts I’ve had recently about how I believe I am supposed to pursue my career efforts in the near future.
Within the last couple of weeks I posted a link on Facebook to a story about a longtime sports writer who quit journalism and is now teaching English in high school. With the link I wrote, “I want to do this.” I was dead serious.
Journalism is a great love for me most days. One day, probably not anytime soon, I will quit this line of work and when I do I hope I create an opening for someone else to come in and take my place. That has not predictably been the case in our industry for quite some time. People who quit are not necessarily replaced at newspapers. My own paper saw its share of downsizing, a shame, because I know the value journalism has for the community, but also for the journalist.
More people should have the experience I have had over the past 13 years. But like soldiers and sailors there comes a day when it’s time to move on to something else. As I said, my day doesn’t appear to be coming soon. If I don’t hit it big with my side efforts, it might not come until I hit retirement age.
The journalist who is now a teacher is following an enviable path. In reality, though, I’m not sure I’d leave this line of work for that one.
What I do see myself doing is more along the lines of what Levin does in the 17 minutes she shared in the story I heard on my drive. What moved me was not so much the story itself, although that was beautiful. It was how she organized and crafted the story to include the real science with her life experience. I left my car, went into the church building, found Diana and our boys and sat next to them, continuing to consider what Levin had done. And as I continued to think about her story it hit me that she provided me the model for how I want to teach.
Someday soon you’ll see how that plays out.
In the meantime I suggest you take the 17 minutes necessary to give Levin’s story a listen.