I am your audience

Although I am a huge fan of telling stories (as if this were not obvious), I am probably an even bigger fan of hearing stories. I mean, it’s probably my favorite thing in the world, if you want to know the truth.

And I wonder: do people know this about me? Perhaps this is why just this evening, when I was standing in the middle of our local food coop, wondering where the boxed organic mac and cheese was (something that I swore never to buy again a few years ago and yet find myself buying again these days), a man suddenly turned to me and said, I just taught Latin to these kids today and it was terrific! And when he saw my delighted face, he continued on, as I scrambled to ask as many questions as possible in order to get him to tell me more about it. Not so much the specifics of what it’s like to teach Latin to some kids, but why, exactly, he liked it so much.

This is pretty much typical for me. It’s been happening most of my life. I suspect it happens to a lot of people, but maybe they don’t pay attention to that sort of thing. And yet, that’s all I’m trying to do: pay attention.

I ask a lot of questions. When I was a little girl, adults said this about me constantly and I wouldn’t say it was really a compliment. My, you ask a lot of questions! they might say, without actually answering any of them. I was curious, of course, and still am, but I was also desperate for stories, desperate to pull out something interesting from every single person I talked to. This feeling has never gone away. You can tell me anything and I’ll want to know more about it. There must be something, I will think, that will lead to a good story.

So, for instance, today. I asked a new coworker if she had kids (I knew she had twins). When she said she did, I asked how old they were. Seven, she said. Are they twins? I asked, coyly. And when she confirmed this was true, I said, Identical? (ever so hopeful) Yup, she said. Well now! (The voice in my head: Are you tempted to do, you know, simple experiments with your twins?) What I actually said: Are they really a lot alike? What makes them alike? And just like that: stories. (Note: stories about twins are always good. Always.)

Perhaps this is a gift of mine: the ability to find something interesting about pretty much anything, but I think it is more like a survival technique, the way I have tried to keep myself from being bored my whole life.

Every now and then I will come across a true storyteller, someone who gives me exactly what I am looking for, occasionally when I don’t even look for it. Like last month, when my girls and I were in an airport shuttle van, riding from Phoenix’s airport to our hotel. This was one of those vans that holds maybe eight to ten people and has racks for luggage and takes you to airport parking lots as well as nearby hotels. Not long after we got on, a middle-aged man, who had been chatting to someone else, suddenly turned to my younger daughter and asked where we were going. My younger daughter is a pretty good storyteller herself and it came out that we had just been to the Grand Canyon. Well! For however long it took the van to reach his parked car (10 minutes?) (not long enough) the man proceeded to tell us all about his experiences in the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t just a monologue; he asked questions. But every answer reminded him of something else he wanted to tell us and so he did. He was that rarity: a true extrovert. Plus the man spoke in the well-paced, excited tone of someone who likes to tell stories. And while everyone else on the van sort of looked on politely, my girls and I were captivated (I have taught them to appreciate a good storyteller). Later on, we agreed that we would never forget him, this random fascinating person in an airport shuttle van. In us, he had found what he might not have expected to find, what he could have only hoped for: his perfect audience. And that is really all I’m hoping to be most days. Even when I’m just buying boxed organic mac and cheese. I’m always looking for a story.

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