Entwined

I tour occasionally, and whenever I come to a new city I make an effort to look up the local storytelling scene.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve drawn from this is that I really don’t get along with other storytellers. I mean, wow. I complain that the Rockstars get catty sometimes, but we’re incredibly high-functioning, considering how dysfunctional most of these groups are on average. I remember one particularly aggravating one — in which several members trumpeted their refusal to watch television, and their disgust with those who did — and openly expressed contempt for the fact that I still chose to live in one of the flyover states.

I attended one of their “open-mikes” (in quotes, because it was heavily juried, several weeks in advance), and was amused to note that my favorite performer of the evening was the one who they openly condemned — because he told a story about some extremely uncool pranks he’d tried (and failed) to pull on an ex-girlfriend.

The others shook their heads and tut-tutted, largely because he’d departed from one of the commandments of this kind of storytelling: Thou Shalt Create a Likeable Persona. But I love unlikeable characters! I love watching people being vile and manipulative and selfish. (I wonder if the obsession with likeable protagonists is uniquely American — I’ve detected little trace of it in Australian entertainment, and Brits seem to share my predilections — compare the US and UK versions of The Office.)

Moreover, I think there’s a temptation in the creation of memoir to gloss over this kind of stuff — to try to make yourself into the hero of your own life, or some kind of helpless victim. It’s a rare writer who can rise to what I regard to be one of the great challenges of autobiography — to share your ugliness with an audience, and that’s one of the things I’ve always admired the hell out of Amy’s writing for.

In the story she’s recounting, she makes any number of catastrophically poor decisions. A lesser writer, or a more cowardly one, would try to paint herself in a different light, but she is neither of those things. As emotional as the story is, its composition demonstrates a level of detachment and self-awareness that separates the more raw kind of confessionalism from the truly thoughtful stuff.

And we respond to it, because we’ve all made these catastrophically poor decisions, too, to one degree or another — loneliness can drive us to all manner of madness, and I spent a good portion of the show shaking my head in recognition. We’ve all ended up in relationships that we knew were terrible ideas — and how often has that foreknowledge helped us?

I do think that recognition is the key element of this show. I’ve been in any number of awful relationships, and made any number of snide jokes about them. But if you really cornered me, and if I’d had enough to drink to really be honest about it, I would have to admit that I don’t regret a goddamn one. Sure, they were manipulative and stupid and abusive — but those few moments of genuine human contact were worth everything else.

So, in answer to Amy’s question — yeah. I understand.

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