Could baring your soul to a roomful of strangers be the cure for our disconnected lives? Edith Gonzalez worked up the courage to give it a try
found myself attending what I thought was a writing workshop. When the organizer informed me that it was actually a workshop about telling a personal narrative, where the teller is emotionally vulnerable and creates a deep connection with the audience, I tried to back out. I don’t even like being emotionally vulnerable with myself. (Note to self: don’t sign up for things online, using an iPhone 5, without wearing your reading glasses.) The stories were supposed to be on the theme of divorce and I was going through a doozy. She convinced me to give it a try, making the reasonable argument that I am a scientist and professor, so should have no problem delivering a talk in front of people. She forgot to mention there is a “no notes” aspect to this kind of storytelling. There I was, without presentation slides or lecture notes, talking about my feelings about my recent heartbreak to a room full of strangers. I was so clearly uncomfortable with my emotions that one of the workshop participants, Lauren, started calling me the “Puerto Rican Mr Spock.” Lauren and I had bonded over our shared love of Star Trek at the break. Despite my resistance, I found standing there in front of an audience, about to reveal something true and heartfelt, exhilarating. Like the deep breath you take at the top of a roller coaster, just before the plunge.
EDITH Dr Edith Gonzalez is a native Nuyorican with four graduate degrees in various sub-fields of anthropology. She has a “slight” obsession with Lord of the Rings and you can catch her as the host of W42ST’s Public Display of Affection Storytelling Show at Ainsworth Social on the second Tuesday of the month. As a two-time Smut Slam champion, she enjoys telling dirty stories to a room full of strangers.
After that, I made a few attempts to get tickets to see a live Moth Story Slam. I wanted to see people in action; see how they went about being vulnerable. But the Moth was always sold out. Then I heard about a show called Smut Slam – same rules (live, no notes, true story, first person, five minutes, no hate speech, on theme) – except all the stories had to be about sex. I convinced an introverted, voyeuristic friend to come with me, and as we walked down the dingy staircase to the Under St Marks Theater, the door warden said: “Are you signing up to tell a story tonight? If yes, you get in free.” My friend said: “Never in a million years,” and paid the entrance fee. I like to get in free, so put my name in the bucket, not expecting to be called. But, sure enough, I was. I told a story about giving my first blow job, and I won! As we walked out, my friend looked at me as if he’d never seen me before and said: “You were really good.” I tried to brush it off and he insisted: “I mean really good. You should keep going with this.” In 2019, I committed to storytelling. I started by performing at random open mics, but found if the open mic wasn’t specifically for storytelling, the audience wouldn’t quite know how to react. If I told a sad story, they’d think: “Are you supposed to be a comedian and just not that funny?” But at story-specific shows,
the audience leans in and says: “Tell me a story,” rather than sitting back and saying: “Make me laugh.” They want to go on the journey with you. I learned that it isn’t as easy as it seems to tell a good story. It usually starts with an event that is tantalizing or engaging, but anecdotes can be exciting too. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A good one also has an arc in which the teller undergoes a change. A well-told story needs the performer to really go there, to bare their soul and expose their humanity, their grief, joy, embarrassment, triumph, heartbreak, or long-lost love – whatever is driving the change. I’ve told stories about really personal things – about sacrificing a virgin, leaving my second husband with a police escort, driving my mother across the country when she was diagnosed with cancer, attempting to give a lap dance after learning how on YouTube, and my most heartbreaking rebound relationship. I am constantly working on a story in my head. As the story development process moves forward, I discover the emotional thread that connects me with others – something that is hard for me in my everyday life; something that I think is difficult to do in New York City at large. If you are feeling disconnected from your feelings, go to an open mic and give it a try. You might discover your own emotional depth and a new community.