When a story really works, it feels like surfing. You go all loose and and flexible. You adjust your tone and cadence to every ripple of breath and laughter. You see every raised eyebrow and empathetic exclamation. You have a plan but you improvise.
I had one of those nights at the Moth last night where, for six minutes, it felt like I was riding the human energy of those 150 people. And that they were riding too, right along with me. The story worked on so many levels. It was funny and it had its universal emotions and a plot twist. I told my heart out.
Then the judges had their say. And I came in third.
That’s the way it goes. The crowd doesn’t decide. Three people (or at the Moth three groups) decide. They hold up cards like the judges at the Olympics, and it all comes down to what they bring to the table. Maybe what they had to drink before you got on stage.
Mine wasn’t the only good story. It was a great night. Also, I sort of broke the rules. The theme was “hair.” I took a good story about something else entirely and gave it some hair at the last minute. The story that won definitely stuck the landing on the stick-to-the-theme criterion.
My story wasn’t for prudes. It involved more than one youthful indiscretion viewed through the mist of many years. Who knows: maybe the judges were all born again. I’ve had the most surprisingly judgmental post-storytelling questions from 20-something audience members asking whatever possessed me to take this or that risk I had just recounted.
Then too I’ve noticed a gender thing. Gender imbalance can cut both ways. The story was about a fling on a tropical vacation, and the judges were all women. I won’t even begin to guess what that means, at least not with my outside voice.
Well, I swore that was my last Moth, but I lied. I know the next time the surf is up, I will have to paddle back out into the deep water and jump on my story board again.