On July 9, 2011 I met Ben Lillie for the first time at a coffee shop in the West Village. I got lost, because the West Village is confusing. But I wasn’t just confused about how West 12th street could possibly intersect with West 4th street. I was also confused about what Story Collider actually was.
In fact, at the time I really had no idea what this whole “storytelling” business was in general. I was in journalism school, doing important journalism things involving FOIAs and stalking people on the Internet. I couldn’t really fathom why people would get on stage to tell an embarrassing, personal story to a room full of strangers. But I was curious, and being curious is how I often get myself into weird situations, like producing a podcast of live stories about science.
The first few stories I worked on for the podcast were fun. I can’t remember what they were about. They were great dinner-party stories, the kind that make everybody laugh and think “that woman is awesome!” But my journalism-addled brain still didn’t really get it.
Then I produced this podcast.
I think about this story all the time. Probably once a week. I’m sort of obsessed with it. This was the first time I really got what storytelling was supposed to be about. It is funny. It is really funny. And it is intense. Really intense. And in the middle of everything you are totally there, right there with him. I felt all the feels.
Everybody has their own opinions about what kinds of stories are the best. For me, it’s the ones that put me in a totally unfamiliar place, in a situation I’ve never been in and will never be in. A place that I never imagined going, until I was taken there by somebody else. I think that’s why Rosenthal’s story was the first one that really struck me – we are so different, and yet in that moment (a phrase I learned from storytelling shows) I was so there.
Greg Walloch’s story was the same way. Walloch walks with crutches, and his story chronicles one night of absurdity and terror when he gets stuck somewhere, unable to hop a fence.
As a person without a disability, I don’t walk around thinking about being able to physically navigate the world. Walloch does. After hearing his story, I started seeing grates and uneven stairs and fences that I would have never noticed. This is a really obvious example of someone putting you in their very different shoes, but I was new to this and needed obvious examples.
Now, Story Collider has had a million downloads. A million! Probably from people who totally get it, but also probably from people like me who didn’t at first. Slowly but surely, I’m getting it. When I heard Tara Clancy, a bartender from Queens talk about falling in love with theoretical physics, or Christine Gentry telling her story of her Southern father, I got it a little better. They were people so different from me, but whom I could learn something about myself from.
I’m still the annoying one who complains about stories for being “too story like.” I still sometimes don’t get it. But I’m getting there. With help, of course.