On Friday, February 10, 2017, PAMM hosted its first ever CreativeMornings, an international breakfast lecture series for the creative community. February's theme was moments and featured guest speaker Virginia Lora, a freelance radio producer with a passion for storytelling and community engagement.
For several years I worked as an Interview Facilitator for StoryCorps and traveled around the country recording conversations of people from all walks of life as they participated in the nontraditional oral history project. As a “Professional Listener” (as someone during the talk called me), I have had many “moments” in a small recording booth with complete strangers, sharing in a fly-on-the-wall kind of way, the moments they shared with one another as they reflected on their lives. Often in those situations, I’ve been caught up in a moment all my own, whenever something they said resonated with me. But, what are these “moments”? How to describe them accurately? In preparing for this CreativeMornings talk at PAMM, I was forced for the first time, to flesh out a definition.
Here’s what I came up with: Moments are brief periods of time that for some reason have become important. They are emotional reactions to our daily experiences, links between our internal/emotional world and the outside/physical world beyond us. These may be moments of surprise, revelation, recognition….or an infinite number of emotions we are capable of feeling. That’s nice, you might think. But so what? Who cares about them?
I’d argue that moments are important because they are the building blocks of stories. Moments are what elevates bar stories into something memorable with a larger meaning. I’d also argue, the reason you care is because you like listening to a good story. And - real talk now - deep down, you want to be able to tell a good story.
Has this ever happened to you: You’re trying to describe a significant situation in your life to someone who didn’t experience it with you, and you can’t convey quite what it meant. You describe details, try to recreate the sequence of events, your reaction, and the aftermath. Somehow it’s just not landing well. You can tell. The eyes of the person you’re talking to are glazing over. You’ve lost them. Frustrated and disappointed, you resign yourself to the harsh reality that there will be no follow-up questions, no exchange of ideas, no engagement, or connection. Nothing. Maybe you just can’t tell a good story. Maybe what you thought you were remembering wasn’t a story worth telling after all. Perhaps none of your experiences are worth talking about. What if loneliness and isolation and small talk is all you get to have, all you have to give?
"Moments are brief periods of time that for some reason have become important."
It’s not, of course. I’ve learned over the years never to believe anyone who says “I don’t have a story to tell.” Chances are, if you have the good fortune and privilege to get anyone who says that to actually sit down with you, open up, and talk, their tales will blow you away. I’ve had this experience with people I’ve met through StoryCorps, at the Moth’s live storytelling show; through the podcast Writing Class Radio, as well as in previous projects doing outreach and engagement for community organizations, as well as in my own personal life. I imagine you might have too. If however, as the saying goes, we all have a story to tell (and we do!), why is it that we are so awful at identifying our own repertoire of stories?
I think it’s because we have the raw material all wrong. We tend to focus too much on particular experiences, events, and “facts that happened.” Instead, to find our most compelling stories, we would be better off focusing on significant “moments” that stirred us up and made us feel something. Where did those feelings come from? What happened before, during, and after that one moment that so moved us? That’s your story. Or at least, that’s where it begins. We all have feelings, so we all have stories. The “moments” we live through, whether we experience them alone or with other people, guide us towards our stories. And our stories matter because they help us create a connection with one another, which in turn can lead to more meaningful dialogue and deeper understanding. We need more of that.
As we found out at CreativeMornings last week, it’s not about the favorite concert, the object you won’t throw away, the best friend you had in elementary school, or the first person you kissed who kissed you back. It’s about what all these experiences made you feel, and what you’ve come to say about them. You had a human moment - that’s why we care.
About Virginia Lora
Virginia Lora was born in Peru and raised in Miami, FL. In a past life, she conducted intake interviews with kids in immigration detention, traveled all over the U.S. collecting oral histories with StoryCorps, and did community outreach for a local homeless shelter. In 2016, she was New Leaders Council Fellow. Eventually, she found radio, trained at Transom, and came home to Miami. Virginia is currently producer with the Miami-based podcast Writing Class Radio, and also produces the Miami StorySLAM for The Moth. More of her work lives here: www.virginialora.com