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TALKING STORY

TALKING STORY

The Light of My Life teases me.  He says my eyeballs are getting square.  A Luddite of the most determined kind – the man doesn’t even own a phone – he worries that this one-eyed monster, my computer, will eat my days and steal me away from Life-Its-Own- Self.

THE SOUND OF AWKWARD

Apparently, he has cause for concern.  A couple of years ago, teacher Paul Barnwell wrote a thought-provoking article in The Atlantic magazine. He noticed that his students (juniors in high school), didn’t know how to have a face-to-face conversation.

I have a hard time imagining this.  I come from a culture that values connection and takes for granted a certain gracefulness in our encounters-of-the-face-kind.  Every so often I’ll meet an old friend who will bust out the pidgin and exclaim, “Ho, Netta!  Some long time I nevah see your face!”

We laugh and fall into catching up with each other’s lives again as easily as walking into another warm hug.

That ease of communication is partly due to history and familiarity.  Old friends don’t need to spend a lot of effort falling into Friend-Space.  You know you’re accepted for who you are because the two of you have done a heck of a lot of silly, possibly embarrassing, things together.

talk-story
“day 249 Talk Story” by Makena Zayle Gadient via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

PRACTICE HELPS

Skilled conversation is also due to practice, I am thinking.  People who are good at talking tend to talk a lot.  They may be opinionated or dramatically expressive or grand storytellers. They might just like hearing themselves talk and, if they’re really good, they know how to make that interesting for their listeners as they do it.  That takes a lot of practice.

Those who are good at being silent don’t talk so much but they don’t really have to.  There isn’t that unattractive, overweening need to “audition” and to fill the air with noise just to prove they are there.  Because they are comfortable in their silence, the quiet ones allow others to be comfortable with it too.  That takes practice too.

GROWING UP TALKING STORY

I grew up in a large extended family on a very small island where ignoring other people was the height of rudeness.  Going shopping along the main street of town could take hours.  You pretty much had to stop and talk story with everybody you passed on the street (as well as wave or acknowledge the other people who were farther away) or run the risk of being considered arrogant or stuck-up.

shaka
“Shaka!” by Kanaka Rastamon via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
As youngsters, we learned how to talk story.  We hung out with each other and we talked.  We learned how to be quiet together.  We learned how to throw quick quips and exit on a laugh.

We learned to smile and wave to all the aunties and uncles and ask after their families.  We talked to the neighbors, to assorted salesclerks, and to everybody else we met on the street.  We were good at talking story.

Even though our world has gotten full of other folks who just got off the plane or who come from other less communicative places, we can still do face-time pretty well.

ENCOUNTERS OF THE FACE-KIND

If your whole world is made up of texting and words scrolling across screens, and all that, sometimes your mouth goes into sleep mode. It’s good to practice the face-thing and try to develop better skills at talking-story.

(Hey…it can even help you get a job or put together collaborations and projects and other good stuff like that.)

Family is a good place to start.  So are familiar strangers.

Think of the people you encounter across sales counters.  Acknowledge them, laugh with them, take a moment to pay a compliment or give them a kind word and it opens a new level of comfortable.  You become a person, not a number.  How cool is that?

One of the best YouTube videos I’ve seen on this is radio host Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk, “10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation.”  In it, she says, she’ll teach you how to “be a good interviewer.”

It is, she says, what good conversation is.  When we talk-story, we try to step into each other’s worlds and find out more about them.

To reiterate Headlee’s tips:

  • Don’t multi-task. Be present.
  • Don’t pontificate. Assume that you have something to learn.
  • Use open-ended questions that can’t be answered by a “yes” or “no.” Say, “What was that like?”  Say, “How did that feel?”  See where that takes you.
  • Go with the flow. Follow where the conversation leads you.
  • If you don’t know, say so. No shame.
  • Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Your story may be nothing like their story.  (Good conversations are not scar and wound competitions.  Nobody gets a prize for being the most hurt.)
  • People don’t care whether you get every single nitpicky detail right. What they care about is you – who you are, how you feel about something, what you’re doing and so on.  That’s the same stance you need to take too.
  • Pay attention.
  • Be brief.

The best conversations are the ones that take you into other worlds that give you new insights and inspire you.  They happen when you are prepared to be amazed by all the heartful people around you.

ONE CAVEAT – TAKE IT SLOW

You do have to make allowances for your own innate limitations.  If you tend to go into severe overwhelm when surrounded by crowds of people, it might be better if you stick to one-on-one talks when you’re in analog world.

Here’s a poem that grew out of a weekend of me doing the networking dance at some industry conference or other.  All the small talk and inane posturings and glad-handing got to me after a while.  By the second day, my brain just sort of lay there, gasping, slumped over and drained.

social-network
“Social Network” by Kevin Dooley via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
(I did get a poem out of it so it wasn’t a total waste of time….)


SHE HAS NO CONVERSATION

Sometimes I cannot speak.

The words I need are dreaming

Deep down below the sea inside me

And it takes time to retrieve them.

 

I need stillness to get to them,

To dive down and find where

They are clinging to the rocks

In underwater caves.

 

It makes for sporadic conversation

And long, long pauses.

 

If I try to force it, churning and

Floundering all around,

What comes out sounds stupid –

Childish, incoherent.

 

Nothing hangs together right.

(Sigh!)

 

I have always envied the ones

Whose words are all

Laid out in neat rows on long shelves

(Probably categorized…and labeled, even.)

 

All THEY have to do is grab them up

And gift them to people easily.

They can do the small-talk game,

Easy fitting-in among any crowd.

 

Maybe they even have some neat

Pyrotechnical wonders

They can grab up and shoot off

To wow the Peanut Gallery.

 

Their words always seem to make a lot of sense.

(Until you think about them some)

And then they turn out to be breaths of air

Manipulated by clever tongues and teeth.

 

At their worst, the words are little more

Than those pressed-lips farts we used to make as kids.

 

Hmmm…

Talking slow and deep is not so bad.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit: “Talking Story” by Georgia via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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REVIEW: A Curious Mind

REVIEW: A Curious Mind


PRODUCT (Book):  A CURIOUS MIND:  The Secret To a Bigger Life

Authors:  Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster [2015]


TALKING STORY

Brian Grazer knows how to “talk story.”  So does his collaborator on this book, award-winning journalist Charles Fishman.

Talk story” is a Hawaiian-style way of turning one-on-one conversations into an art form.  It is not “small talk.”

When you “talk story,” you ask questions, and then you listen to the answers.  Every answer and each question becomes a part of a bridge that you can use to enter into somebody else’s world-view.

listen
“Listen” by Andre Vandal via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The conversation becomes a tour of another person’s mind and heart.  At the same time, you open up your own world to the other person.  Together you can play.

Talking story” is a way of making deeper connections with someone else and it turns the ordinary into something that is richer and more layered than just a news report or an annual Christmas brag letter.  It is a way of tapping into the realities of someone else’s life.

Old friends who are used to wandering together in each other’s worlds can hold hands and cross their bridges into each other’s lives in less than five minutes of talking.  All the memories come back in a rush, even if the friends have not seen each other for years.

hanapepe-swinging-bridge
Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, Kauai, by Wally Gobetz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Two strangers who are adept at ‘talking story” can be holding hands and skipping through each other’s worlds in no time at all.

It is a lovely thing.  According to Grazer, it is also a way to deepen your understanding of life and the world, and is a very good way to tell better stories.

HE’LL PUT YOU IN THE MOVIES

Brian Grazer is a professional storyteller.  With his long-time friend and partner at Imagine Entertainment, Ron Howard, Grazer has been making movies and television programs for more than 30 years.

As both a writer and producer Grazer was personally nominated for four Academy Awards.  In 2002, he won the Best Picture Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, the amazing film about the life story of John Nash, a Princeton-educated mathematician who won the Nobel Prize and who was plagued by devastating schizophrenia.

Glazer’s films and television productions have been nominated for a total of 43 Oscars and 149 Emmys.  His movies generated more than $13 billion in worldwide theatrical, musical and video grosses.  In 2001, the Producers Guild of America honored Grazer with the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award for his artistic and commercial accomplishments.

A CURIOUS SORT

Grazer credits his successes to just one thing:  following where his lively, active curiosity leads him.

curiosity
Curiosity by Georgie Pauwels via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
For as long as he has been in the film industry, Grazer has made a practice of setting up what he calls “curiosity conversations” with “interesting and accomplished strangers.”  The list of people with whom he has shared these conversations spans more than 27pages in the book.  He apologizes for any omissions.

The list includes people from almost every walk of life.  There are luminaries and superstars, scientists and renowned artists, villains and heroes as well as more ordinary sorts.  Each person Grazer spoke with was pursuing some passion or walking a path that engaged them completely.

The talks helped to inspire and inform the films Grazer has successfully produced as well as many other stories that he pitched to various investors that were ultimately rejected.

CURIOUS IS AS CURIOUS DOES

In this book Grazer explores what curiosity is and he explains how he uses it to expand his own world-view.  In the process he also points out how you, too, can use your own innate curiosity to do the same thing.  It is fascinating reading.

In one of the earlier stories in the book, Grazer tells about his curiosity conversation with former L. A. police chief Daryl Gates.  After months of trying to set up an meeting with the guy, the producer finally got in to see the police chief…just as the city of Los Angeles was on the verge of exploding in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating by L. A. police officers.  It was a tense time.

daryl-gates
Official LAPD picture of Daryl Gates via Wikimedia Commons (circa 1978 – 1992)

[Clicking on the following link will take you to a CNN documentary that was posted on You-Tube in 2011.  The documentary was made 20 years after the beating and the riot that ensued when the police officers who were involved were acquitted of wrong-doing by a jury:  https://youtu.be/tWhYmb1sANM.]

Grazer says, “My visit with Darryl Gates was strange, memorable, unsettling.  In other words, it was perfect.”  Grazer’s mission when he met with the beleaguered police chief:  “I wanted a sense of the personality of someone who wears the chief’s uniform with absolute confidence, who commands a miniature paramilitary state.”

Grazer accomplished his mission.  The conversation took him entirely out of his own everyday world.  It helped him to understand that even though he lived in the same city as the police chief, even though he was as successful and in a position of influence in his own way like the police chief, their worlds were “so different they hardly overlapped.”

The police chief and the movie producer looked at “the very same city from completely different perspectives, every day.”

Grazer explains, “One of the most important ways I use curiosity every day is to see the world through other people’s eyes, to see the world in ways I might otherwise miss.  It’s totally refreshing to be reminded over and over, how different the world looks to other people.”

THE RESULTS SHOW

Developing this ability of using his curiosity to step into other people’s world-views has allowed Grazer and his partner Ron Howard to produce 17 movies that are very different one from the other.  Each film explores different very human points of view and different sets of real-life circumstances.

The films have allowed us movie-goers glimpses into where other people’s heads have taken them.  The movies are an impressive array of human experiences.  They include:

[picture credits: via Amazon.com]

FINAL WORD

Grazer’s thoughts on curiosity, asking questions and listening for the answers, and the ways one can use these things to broaden your own repertoire of ways of seeing and moving in the world is a fascinating study.  The book makes a useful manual for anyone who is cultivating a life that is rich and deep with meaning and mana.

I do highly recommend this book.  It is a most interesting read because, as I’ve said, Brian Grazer is a storyteller.  He knows how to tell good stories….

Here’s a poem….


WHEN THE OLD ONES TALK

Watch when the old ones talk.

Listen.

Their eyes wrinkle, dart and dance.

Their words murmur like a stream.

Their hands dance patterns matching their words.

The laughter bubbles up.

 

When they tease, it is a test, you know.

If you can laugh at the world and laugh at yourself

What a joyousness there is!

All the pain of the world is understood

In the laughter of old people.

All the heartaches, all the mistakes,

Forgiven in one burst of gladsome rebellion.

 

Pettiness gives way.

Understanding comes.

We are all together and one,

Despite the anger, the arguments,

The pain, the despair.

We are one because

We can laugh,

We can sing,

We can dance,

We can love,

We can tease

And the layer on layer on layer

Delicate placement of every glistening, golden sound

Resounds as laughter reverberates.

by Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  via Amazon.com

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