I suppose we should have known it would be a kind of swanky event by the amount of security who welcomed us as we approached. There we were in our wrinkled, tourist clothing and sensible shoes. But, true to explorers in a new city (are we the nuisance species?), we wandered into a fantastic little evening. Fellow Michigan Sea Granter Lynn Vaccaro and I attended to the Moth storytelling event Monday night.
Lest you think I’m referring to the taxonomic Lepidoptera, let me clarify. The Moth is a not-for-profit storytelling organization that was founded in New York in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green. His idea was to recreate the feeling of sultry summer evenings on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin engrossing tales. It now has a home on NPR, StorySlams in places like Detroit and Chicago and a strong podcast following.
The Moth, coupled with USA Television Network, hosted a kick-off party down here in New Orleans, to celebrate their new campaign: Characters Unite.
When we entered the main bar area of the venue, it was clear we had stumbled into something. Sequins and high heels. Suits everywhere. Servers circulated with drinks and little plates of food. I could catch snippets of conversation here and there. Most were everyday, utility kind of discussions.
The event was hosted by Angela Bassett and Sendhil Ramamurthy (the actor who played Mohinder Suresh on Heroes). The theme for the evening was A More Perfect Union: Stories of Power and Prejudice.
So, why am I blogging about this? Because during my time at Sea Grant Week 2010 I’ve heard a few consistent threads that are being implanted (or extracted) in/from programs around the country. First: Social science is essential. Second: Impacts and the reporting process. Third: Tell the Story of Sea Grant. Story, story, story.
Several other things jump out at me from my notes on Sea Grant Week sessions. One person succinctly referred to “the peculiar nature of Sea Grant.” I loved this statement for many reasons, but most prominently because I think it’s something we have all dealt with frequently, if not daily. The other was that we’re only as strong as the people involved in the program (i.e. there is no laurel resting here, people). And the final was that we are a collection of so many specialties and so many personalities, we have the ingredients right here. And mixing it all up together has and will continue to create a rich, successful gumbo (or as they say in New York, mosaic).
The first storyteller relayed how in the midst of a clinical depression she took on a job as a home healthcare worker. Her first day on the job she realized, somewhat slowly, that she, a black woman, was tending to the health of a dying clansman. Another, a local guy, spoke about creating a community center within his destroyed Lower Ninth Ward. The third spoke on the conflict she feels as a woman who is Mormon as well as Mexican. Two others spoke of hope and losing and gaining the sense of home.
By the end of the telling, the vibe had changed. This sharing of stories seemed to have a rolling effect. It was like the urge to itch, a highly suggestible sensation, but one that originates from within. (Think about lice. Tell me your head doesn’t itch…) Wandering through the crowd, supported by our sensible shoes and unassuming, non-sequined outfits, Lynn and I were able to pick out pieces of conversations. Instead of the utility-based threads, people were energized. They were sharing. They were getting somewhere with each other.