I have no Idea what I am doing

I am apparently the owner of a website (that, uh… that I guess you are reading right now) – and I have no idea what I’m doing with it. I am a father since about 5 months ago (the adorable product is found here) – and I have no idea what I’m doing there, either. I have an entry level job (at a super-serious financial company that would love to make me wear a tie every day but I am actually a teenager trapped in the adult world so screw them!) – and they keep telling me to do the thing with the widget, but really I don’t know what I’m doing. I am a husband (as of roughly 4.5 years ago) – and I really don’t know what I’m doing there – I just show up every day and talk to this lady and I guess things are working out? Probably more to it than that.

So yeah. I have some pretty important things that I really don’t know why anyone would let me even act like I am properly trained to deal with them.

But.

But I know a bit about a few things: Chainmail (there are pictures of it on my photography page). Role Playing Games (which I really have no time for, considering the whole ‘husband’ thing, and the whole ‘father’ thing). People (which motivated the pursuit of my Psychology degree). Podcasting (which has a really big time-hurdle to overcome) and a handful of other things.

But.

But story is a thing that I have really taken an interest in. And I think I’ve always had this interest. Since I was very young. I loved books. I loved movies. I loved video games – and especially the video games that had really good story behind them. I would just sit and read all the little bits of the story that were scattered around whatever world I was exploring.

When I grew up and was dating, my girlfriend (now wife) and I had to figure out an issue that I was bringing to the table – that I had these stories saved up (which is good and useful), almost like files in a drawer, that I would repeat to anyone who would listen (which is bad, and drives people away). Considering she was my girlfriend, I had almost a captive audience and would just ramble on about whatever I was thinking about. Sometimes I would repeat my stories (which is worse). Sometimes I would repeat them on the same day (which is much worse). Sometimes I would repeat them verbatim, to the same person, in the same conversation (which is one of those things where I don’t even know why people in general put up with me). It really is a wonder that she kept dating me (seems like I’ve gotten the better end of the deal, honestly).

So there is this thing about storytelling. I’ve been thinking about it for a little while, and I think it holds up.

Storytelling is the oldest technology that we have. It predates the wheel – we were telling each other stories around the cook fire before the wheel rolled around. I’m pretty sure it even predates fire – can you imagine that story? The one where some otherwise uninteresting chick in the tribe comes back from an unexplained extended absence with a bit of fire under control on a stick and relates how she stole the secret of “taming the demon of light and heat” from some naive love-sick young man in the tribe 3 rivers over?

The ability to tell stories is also one of the few things that is universal to humans. Everyone does it. You cannot find a single person on the planet who is incapable of telling a story. Even if they say “oh I’m not a good storyteller,” they are lying. You just have to ask them about their day. About the best day that they’ve ever had. Or ever could have. Or how they met their girlfriend. Or where they got that scar. Or what they would do if they had a million dollars. Or what they would do if they could do one thing consequence-free.

Little kids are encouraged from the moment they can string a sentence together to tell people about their day – no adult is going to think they did anything notable that day (at least, not in the “capital -N-” notable way of saying), but here we are, training every little diaper-clad chaos engine to tell people about what has happened. And we make believe with them. From a very young age, we teach little kids that pretending to be someone else is a super cool thing to do. We’ve recently seen a social change that gives license to adults to pretend they are someone they’re not (comic-book movies, cosplaying, etc.), and then platforms on which to do it (facebook, twitter, tinder, etc.).

I forget entirely where I was going with this, but it’s been something that’s been in the back of my head for a good long while – it’s part of the reason my website has the word “story” in it in the first place.

I want to tell stories. I want to tell them with passion and I want to tell them to people who want to listen. I want to tell people stories that will leave them changed on a level so deep that they have to chew on a new truth for a month before they come back for another. I want the world to stop being okay with the same bullshit story every evening hour on the news, and to stop giving money to the people that will tell you the story you want to hear.

I want to empower others to tell the story of their own. I know people who are living a dream – and are left unsatisfied by it. I know people who have been kidnapped – and escaped by the good grace of a stranger. I know people who dropped out of college because something else was worth more – and they plan to go back. I know people who narrowly escaped death in the form of a flaming car wreck – and talk about it the way I would talk about a shitty concert I went to a long time ago. I know people who have gotten lost in thought just thinking about a leaf they hold in their hands. I know people with mental disorders that don’t have a name – but do have distinct symptoms that I’ve never seen elsewhere. I know people who take no joy in thinking of their abuser’s unfortunate circumstance – and I know people who revel in seeing them fall.

Each of these people have a story. I want them to tell it, and I want this website to be the very beginning of figuring out how to let them.

Verbal Fat

Umm.

Uhh.

Ehhh.

Well…

I like to talk a lot. If you know me, you probably know that I will just keep talking about stuff if I am excited about something.

I have noticed that the more I talk, and the more excited I am when I talk, this one thing starts to happen. All those noises I spelled out above start creeping in. I think that it has to do with my brain running much faster than my mouth, and the noises are my mouth trying to get my brain to slow down, perhaps send the information that the mouth was supposed to be conveying once more. I call this thing “Verbal Fat”, and everyone has a different expression this terrible habit.

I have seen massive verbal fat before. When I was in college I was required to take some sort of public speaking class – there were two or three options. I forget exactly the name of the one that I chose, but I remember two things from it. First, the entire text of The Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carol. Second, the amount of improvement that one of my classmates had with his stutter.

I don’t remember his name, and I don’t know the particular problem that made this classmate’s ability to speak so problematic. He had an extremely severe stutter that made it downright exhausting to speak with him. It may have been some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, or something else on the Autism spectrum. It may have been a severe anxiety disorder, perhaps a form of OCD. I am not sure. I think there was something about particular types of sounds that he just couldn’t get past.

I do remember that even reacting to his name when attendance was being called the first day, he stuttered. There is exactly one syllable in the word “here” – and he stuttered over that syllable. In a public speaking class. From day one – moment one – this guy was fighting to get his words out. I know that I was not excited to be in this class with him. I am not sure what he thought about his stutter, but he seemed determined to figure something out.

And he improved.

Considering his disability, he probably improved more than I did. I learned how to memorize a short speech, and how to present it decently well, with inflections and tone and all of that. By the end of the quarter, this guy went from a starting point of stuttering over problem sounds 5 times per sentence (and getting past these problems by repeating the sound 5 times or more) to being able to get through an entire speech only stuttering 2 or 3 times.

That is downright phenomenal! I got to watch him go from being totally burdened by his stutter to it shrinking into a relatively minor (albeit very noticeable) negative social habit. It is something that I would like to witness again. To see someone take their major issues and absolutely dominate them.

He learned how to trim down the verbal fat in his dialogue. This is something that I would love to learn how to do. At the time of writing, I have exactly one podcast episode up. Pretty much the only feedback that I have gotten from it is about how much I ramble. One of the first things that I say in the episode is that I had to edit out dozens and dozens of instances of verbal fat in the form of “um” and “uhh”.

All of that is verbal fat. Things that don’t help me. Things that annoy my wonderful listeners. Things that just generally aren’t pleasant to listen to, and everyone would be better off if I would just stop doing it.

It has been nearly 8 years since I was in the class with this guy, but I distinctly remember the particular way that he dealt with his own verbal fat. Whenever he would start stuttering, he would lift his right foot about 6 inches, bending at the knee. Then he would kick it down and drive his heel strongly to the floor. The strength of his kick was apparently expressive of how severe his problem with forming any particular word.

I am going to try something with my next recording, that I have heard other people have tried when in front of a microphone. I’ve printed out those words I typed out at the beginning of this post. I am going to be recording a discussion tomorrow with a friend and I am going to put my “umm” sign on the wall above her head so that I can just look at it instead of saying it. I’ve got a second one as well that I am going to offer to put over my own head so that she can do the same.