A possible (though not advised) replacement for heart medication

I spent a week at Kripalu Institute for Yoga and Health last week, teaching storytelling to a dozen remarkable people. 

On Tuesday night I performed my one-man show, and on Thursday evening, ten of the storytellers from class took the stage and performed.

It was an extraordinary night.

One of my storytellers had not spoken to a group of people in more than 15 years after suffering a terrible embarrassment in high school. Just standing in front of 50 people was an enormous accomplishment for her. I felt so honored to give her the space and support to help her conquer this enormous fear.

Then she proceeded to make the audience roar with laughter with a hilarious and moving story about her childhood. It turns out that she's a storyteller. 

Several of the storytellers stood before this audience of strangers and told stories about parts of their lives that they had never shared before. Hard parts. Haunting parts. The parts that require more bravery to tell than most people can muster.

There was laughter and tears. Gasps and guffaws. Hilarity and heartbreak. There were lines that I will never forget. "Golden sentences" one of my storytellers dubbed, and she was right. It was 90 minutes of beauty nestled in the quiet mountains of the Berkshires. It was dark outside, but each storyteller shone bright that night. 

After the show, a man approached me. He reached into his pocket, removed a small container, and held it out for me to see. He explained that he suffered from a heart condition, and this was his nitroglycerin. The medication he needed if his heart started "acting up."

"But I feel like I should throw this away," he said. "My heart doesn't need medication. It needs what you did on Tuesday night and these people did tonight. I've listened to all these stories, and my heart hasn't felt this good in twenty years. This is what people need. This is what I need."  

I suggested that he keep the nitroglycerin close in the event a storyteller is not available when his heart started "acting up" again, and he agreed. 

But he was right.

Stories are good for the heart and good for the soul.

My "Diet Coke and aggressive attitude" didn't exactly match the yoga aesthetic, but I somehow managed to fit in anyway.

Last weekend, I performed 90 minutes of storytelling to a capacity crowd at Kripalu, a yoga and fitness center in the Berkshires. I spent the weekend at Kripalu, teaching a weekend-long storytelling workshop to about two dozen people, but the show on Saturday night was open to the general public.

The room was crowded and hot, but it went well.  

My weekend stay at Kripalu included a room, meals, and all of the amenities that the facility has to offer. I actually participated in a sunrise yoga session and spent an afternoon hiking around the lake. Despite the fact that my workshop attendees began to refer to me as a "yogi" and repeatedly assured me that my philosophies about storytelling, productivity, and mindfulness fit perfectly into the Kripalu philosophy, it didn't take me long to realize that I didn't exactly fit into the Kripalu aesthetic.

The first thing I noticed was that I walked at least three times as fast as everyone else. I was charging through the hallways like a bull on fire while everyone around me was walking slowly and contemplatively. 

When I looked at the extensive lists of breakfast options, I could not identify a single item on the menu. NOT ONE. Instead, I left the facility and enjoyed an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke at a nearby McDonald's.

I definitely swore more than anyone around me, and I am not a person who typically curses with any regularity. However, no one spoke a single swear word in my presence for the entire weekend, but in the course of my performance and my teaching, I swore a lot by comparison. During my performance, I fired off an expletive in the general direction of a couple people in the audience, causing Elysha to shake her head and offer me a disapproving stare.    

Silent breakfast was impossible for me. It turns out that I make noise even when I'm not speaking. I sigh loudly. Hum. Laugh to myself. Tap my feet. Pound on my keyboard. Audibly scoff. Constantly. 

Also, the concept of silent breakfast struck me as fairly insane. 

But the clincher came at the end of my performance on Saturday night. When the lights came up, a long line of people approached to chat. One woman began to ask if the stories I had told were really true but stopped short, noticing the scars on my face and quickly realizing that the story about my car accident (and therefore the rest of the stories) were true. She traced the scar on my chin with her index finger and said, "You lovely man."

This is something that could only be said about me at a place like Kripalu.

Another woman approached and said, "I wasn't sure if I wanted to come for tonight's show. but you walked into the room carrying a Diet Coke, a McDonald's bag, and an aggressive attitude. These are all things we have never seen before at Kripalu, so I knew it was going to be good."

It was odd to be in a place that seemed so right for me and so wrong for me at the same time.

It's true that the teaching I do as it relates to finding stories in our lives, exploring their meaning, and bringing that meaning to bare in a performance aligns almost perfectly with the recent mindfulness movement (though the word "mindfulness" is kind of stupid and the movement tends to lack the kind of specific, highly targeted, easy-to-follow strategies that I teach). Though I didn't initially believe it, it's true that the philosophies espoused at a place like Kripalu align quite well to my own.  

But at the same time, it's also true that I am happiest and most relaxed when I am doing something. Moving forward. Making progress. Affecting change. Eating a cheeseburger. Hitting a golf ball. Shoving an opponent under the basket. Tickling my kids. Hitting on my wife.  

The quiet, contemplative, farm-to-table, macrobiotic existence is not for me. That level of quiet and thought, absence movement and action, makes me crazy.  

At least for now.  

Why I love storytelling, and why I especially love The Moth

Ever since I told my first story live back in July of 2011 at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in New York City, I’ve fallen in love with storytelling. On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to win another Moth StorySLAM, my second in a row and sixth overall.


Here’s what I love about live storytelling so much:

Back in April of this year, I completed my fourth novel. I also wrote my first short story in more than a decade.

My novel is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2014. A handful of people have read the first draft, and I expect to hear from my editor soon about revisions (though I’m sure it’s already absolutely perfect). But the vast majority of readers will have to wait more than a year to read the book. 

I submitted the short story to a literary magazine. I should receive a response in September. I have no idea when it would be published if accepted.

That’s a minimum of a 17 month wait for the novel and a 5 month wait on the short story.

On Monday I wrote a story about the time a girlfriend and I went to the Virginia State Fair to see a two-headed cow.

I revised the story on Tuesday and Wednesday and then told the story to Elysha on the drive to New York on Thursday. She assisted with further revisions, making suggestions for sections to cut and assisting me with word choice to maximize humor.

About an hour before the StorySLAM, I walked about 40 blocks over to Housing Works from my sister-in-law’s apartment in midtown, speaking and revising the story along the way. I actually removed a large chunk of the story during my walk after realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to keep the story under six minutes. I texted Elysha to see if she approved of the change, and she did. 

About two hours later, I took the stage and told my story.

When I was finished, the audience’s reaction instantly told me how I had performed. I didn’t know if I would win the competition, but I knew that my hard work had paid off. The volume of their applause and cheers instantly told me that I had done well.

The judges confirmed the audience’s opinion by awarding me with high scores, and I was fortunate to maintain my lead throughout the night.

Immediate feedback. That’s what I love about storytelling. I prepare a story over a period of a week or so and then receive immediate feedback about my performance in the form of audience response, and in the case of The Moth, numerical scores.

Having grown up playing a lot of videogames, I’m the kind of person who wants to know how I’m doing at all times. I want to know my score, my opponent’s score, the all-time highest score and everything in between.

Storytelling, and especially competitive storytelling, affords me that opportunity. When I have finished telling a story onstage, I know exactly where I stand. 

It’s the lack of immediate feedback that makes novels and short stories so challenging. Even when my next novel publishes in the fall, the response from readers will trickle in over the course of a year or more.

Granted the novel allows me to reach more readers, and in the case of my last book, in more than 20 countries around the world. but the waiting is hard. Many authors will tell you that it’s one of the hardest part of writing.

When I have a story to tell, fiction or nonfiction, I don’t want to wait to share it with my readers. I want to tell it now. Have it heard now. Receive feedback now.

Storytelling fulfills this need while I wait for my other stories to wind their way through the agonizingly slow cogs of the publishing world.