My three greatest acts of storytelling cruelty
I like to think that I have been a supportive and positive force on the thousands of storytellers who I have performed alongside over the years, but I've also had moments when my judgment and disposition were less than ideal.
My three most despicable moments as a storyteller:
1. On Thursday night at Infinity Hall, as our first storyteller was being introduced by Elysha, I sat beside her behind the curtain and demanded that she start her first novel. "Write a sentence a day," I said. "And then make it a page a day. Write a page a day, and after a year, you'll have a novel."
"You're always berating me for not accomplishing enough," she said. "It's never enough for you."
I started lecturing her on the importance of goal setting when I heard Elysha reaching the end of her introduction, and I realized that this woman is about to take the biggest stage in her life, and I spent the last minute before her performance hassling her.
As she rose, I tried to tell her how impressed I am with everything that she does. Teacher. Storyteller. Mother. I don't think she heard a word as she stepped into the light.
She performed brilliantly. Truly. She was vulnerable and hilarious and heartbreaking. She was beautiful.
But it wasn't any thanks to me.
2. During soundcheck at a Moth GrandSLAM in New York a couple of years ago, a woman who was performing in the championship for the first time stepped away from the microphone, walked to the edge of the stage, sighed deeply, and said to me, "That was scary. This place is huge. And there isn't even anyone in the audience yet."
"Yeah," I said. "The real scary part is knowing that when it comes time to perform, you'll be standing out there on your own. Practically on an island. No one in the world is able to help you. You're entirely alone, depending on yourself to survive, while hundreds of people stare into your soul."
At that point, I had competed in 18 GrandSLAMs and won four of them, so these championships were old-hat for me. I was speaking the truth - unintentionally - but it was not a truth this woman needed to hear. I realized what I had done as soon as the words came out of my mouth. I gasped, apologized profusely, and assured her that she would be fine.
She also performed brilliantly. But no thanks to me.
3. At my most recent GrandSLAM championship earlier this year, I reached into the bag and drew the number 1, indicating that I would be telling my story first. This is a terrible position to tell a story. Very hard - if not impossible - to win. I've competed in 54 Moth StorySLAMs in the past six years, winning 29 of them, but only one of those wins came from first position.
It's an unlucky draw. And it's a number I draw quite often.
After drawing my number, I tossed it aside, stepped off the stage, and pouted like a little baby. I complained and groaned and huffed and puffed. I stalked the theater, muttering under my breath and acting like a petulant jerk.
After a few minutes, Elysha stepped over to me and whispered, "This is you're 20th GrandSLAM, Matt. For most of these people, it's their first. Maybe you could stop acting like a baby and just get ready to tell your story."
It's always good to have a spouse willing to speak the truth to you.
Those storytellers didn't need to see someone like me pouting and whining. So many of them had already expressed their admiration and respect for me and my reputation as a storyteller and competitor.
How did I repay their kindness?
I acted like an ass.
They all performed brilliantly that night, no thanks to me.
In fact, the winner of that GrandSLAM also performed on the Infinity Hall stage on Thursday night for us, and she was brilliant once again.
No thanks to me.