Sunday, November 21, 2010


A couple items of interest from the past week. 

In the video above, Murray Nossel speaks to a NYC storytelling about his view on listening. A playwright and psychologist, Nossel is co-founder, with psychiatrist Paul Browde, of Narativ, a New York City-based group that "uses a proprietary methodology to foster self-advocacy, collaboration, and leadership in diverse businesses, community and educational organizations." 

The Storymatic is a sort of parlor game, teaching tool, or writing prompt that consists of 250 gold cards and 250 white cards. As the website says, "Each gold card contains a character trait or occupation. Each white card contains a situation or object. Wild cards contain instructions about where and when your story takes place, and how it must be told." A player draws two gold cards and two white cards, and must tell a story based on the information in those cards -- the only other rules being that you can't kill off your character, and your character must change from the start of the story to the finish.

Each in its own way, the Narativ workshops and the Storymatic point to the skills involved in listening to and telling stories.  Both are disciplined acts of the imagination. If a listener is, as Nossel suggests, like a bowl that receives and therefore shapes the "liquid" of a story, then what questions you ask and what physical signals you send to the speaker are creative choices. Likewise, as a storyteller prompted by the words and phrases on Storymatic cards, you are forced -- or rather, this being a game, encouraged -- to forge a narrative path beyond where the cards leave you off. We may learn the technical skills of listening (nodding, asking questions, restating what someone has said) and telling (clear presentation, character development, rich description), but there is nothing rote in them. Since they necessarily involve other people, they must always be approached anew.   

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