Sponsored by the Roads I Never Thought I Would Take

By Rachael Phillips, Communication Fellow '17

            How does the story begin? What is the opening line of your story? Is it fantastical? Is it long or short? What emotions can you share to draw people in?
 

This is my reflection from listening to the Public Storytelling podcast on www.hgsevoice.org. The emotional themes that should be engaged throughout the course of a spoken story are:

1. AUTHENTICITY

2. URGENCY

3. TENSION

4. CURIOSITY

I struggle with the above four themes in framing my own story. The most urgent and curious moments of my life are private. These moments have channeled my life through the work I do today. To imply story is to imply provoking another through the above emotional framework listed in four steps. On the podcast I overheard a classmate’s voice say, “there is a fear of offending someone.” I hold this fear, too. The moments of my life that are worthy of a story are most private; this is the struggle I bring to you that I will attempt to parse through in my reflection.

Authentic. I tease through my memories. I would like to pick a theme that does not evoke negative emotions, does not make my listener uncomfortable, but somehow cheers them up. I can think of moments in my life that perhaps show this endearing side, without bringing up my most present secrets that come to mind. Not all stories have to imply a secretive side of your life; this is a fresh concept to me triggered by listening to the podcast and hearing the diverse experiences of others. I think of the theme of music. Playing music has always been an authentic theme in my life.

Next, urgency. In my life the theme of music has always implied urgency. How do I evoke this emotion in my story listener? As a child I knew I would have to quickly build a catalogue of well-crafted songs in order to one day pursue a dream of becoming a songwriter in the Nashville music industry. Everyday during my high school classes I wrote songs, listening in and out of lecture and re-teaching myself academic units in the evening while I did homework assignments. My senior year I set my clock for 5:25 am and sat in front of my bedroom mirror with a guitar, writing every morning before the sun rose. All the while I knew I would go to college and never pursue my dream.

That’s where the next pillar of the storytelling framework, tension, comes in.  The theme of music in my life did carry tension. I knew I would be attending college on a full scholarship. I seemingly had no opportunity to pursue my dream (in a 17-year-old growing, narrow mind). In fact, I would be nuts, ungrateful by my family’s standards, and a follower of pipe-dreams to bypass my scholarship to pursue music; however, amongst all of these stigmas, after my freshman year I concocted a complicated plan. I sent a letter to the administration of my college scholarship asking if I could take an exploratory year, to study what? Computer Science. Why computer science and why not music? The only way the scholarship committee would allow me to return to my scholarship after leaving the university would be to study a discipline that didn’t exist at the school but could aid in academic discovery. Computer science was the only discipline I could think of that my university didn’t offer at the time. I made the case that I would only leave the scholarship for one year to pursue computer science, all the while clandestinely believing I would never return. So off I moved from New Orleans, LA to Nashville, TN to become a professional songwriter in the country music industry. A mere year later, I found myself both writing with professional songwriters on Music Row in Nashville and developing Android technologies with friends that took me to Silicon Valley…the story never leads where the protagonist thinks it will. Today, via my first computer science class, I have had lives in both music and technology sponsored by the road I never thought I would take.

Curiosity is the X-factor I have yet to tackle in storytelling. What makes a story compelling? The three factors described above + more. How do you evoke curiosity in your listener? The person who reflects in this essay grapples with the idea of telling her story. I privately and publicly have had a story of privilege. If you were to stereotype me, your aim would probably not be far off from my preferences; therefore, I usually stay silent and listen to others who share their stories. I’m self-conscious of the socio-economic demographic I fall into, and I don’t feel like imposing my time on others to exhibit where I come from. In my view the most charismatic individuals are true listeners, people who sit down one-on-one in a conversation and help another person through their experiences. I like sharing stories as I sit across the table from someone. I view the relationship of performing on stage or through a performance-based video complicated. I much prefer the written word, playing music with friends, or an intimate conversation. My block with speaking on film is one I should spend time with, so I am grateful for the opportunity to think through this challenge here.

I learned from this podcast that sometimes a crafted story takes prompts and guidance. Storytelling is a learned skill, and the practice of speaking on film oftentimes involves coaching. Most importantly, I learned that I should engage with deeper reflection of why I do not feel comfortable sharing my story publicly. This is a challenge worth overcoming with the aim of building a stronger community tied together by the bond of personal vulnerability.