The night I was a Moth
I’m guessing you know about The Moth.
It’s a national storytelling movement with live competitions, a podcast, and a weekly show on NPR.
Two years ago, the Moth had a cameo on HBO.
In the season-five finale of Girls, Hannah live-told a story on Jealousy after her boyfriend and best friend betrayed her. Hannah (Lena Dunham) crushed it. She not only slayed the green-eyed monster, she survived the stage, which looked almost as hard.
These days, everyone claims to be a storyteller. A Google search for storytelling kicks out 32 million results in .62 seconds.
Harvard Business Review tells execs to toss the PowerPoint and create persuasive stories instead. A think piece in the Atlantic says storytelling matters because “humans want to be a part of a shared history.”
And, of course, there’s TED. Among the 2,700+ talks on the website, 126 are about storytelling.
On a whim, I showed up at The Moth’s monthly stand-up event in Denver. Typically, contestants prepare and rehearse. But I put my name in the hat anyway. After all, I’ve been Improving at Improv. I needed something harder.
The theme of the night was “Tests,” and I was going in cold.
But in case they drew my name out of the canvas bag, I had an opening line.
“Tonight”—I would say…followed by a dramatic pause….—“is a test.”
That was it. That was all I had. So of course my name was called.
For five minutes, I was all in. I wasn’t watching myself from stage left, or worrying about what anyone else thought of me or my story.
Somehow, I knew exactly what to say.
According to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, there are just seven archetypal stories, told over and over again, since the beginning of time.
Hannah’s story of “overcoming the monster” (e.g., jealousy) is one.
Others are “rags to riches,” “voyage and return,” “rebirth,” “comedy (ends in marriage),” and “tragedy (ends in death).”
And there’s mine. The story of "quest." The narrative that requires the hero to leave home in order to find what she is seeking.
With no clear denouement—where all matters are resolved—my story didn't succeed in the classic sense. But I told it as I knew it at the time.
And I’m sticking to it. At least for now.
What’s your story? Tell it out loud. Tell it proud.
And let me know how that goes!