One of the things I’ve always tried to do at the Dish is to be up-front with readers. This sometimes means grotesque over-sharing; sometimes it means I write imprudent arguments I have to withdraw; sometimes it just means a monthly update on our revenues and subscriptions; and sometimes I stumble onto something actually interesting. But when you write every day for readers for years and years, as I’ve done, there’s not much left to hide. And that’s why, before our annual auto-renewals, I want to let you know I’ve decided to stop blogging in the near future.
Why? Two reasons. The first is one I hope anyone can understand: although it has been the most rewarding experience in my writing career, I’ve now been blogging daily for fifteen years straight (well kinda straight). That’s long enough to do any single job. In some ways, it’s as simple as that. There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen.
The second is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.
I want to spend some real time with my parents, while I still have them, with my husband, who is too often a ‘blog-widow’, my sister and brother, my niece and nephews, and rekindle the friendships that I have simply had to let wither because I’m always tied to the blog. And I want to stay healthy. I’ve had increasing health challenges these past few years. They’re not HIV-related; my doctor tells me they’re simply a result of fifteen years of daily, hourly, always-on-deadline stress. These past few weeks were particularly rough – and finally forced me to get real.
We’ll have more to say – and we’re sure you will as well – in due course. I particularly want to take some time to thank my indispensable, amazing colleagues in a subsequent post. For the time being, auto-renewals have been suspended and the pay-meter has been disabled. While we’re in this strange, animated suspension, I just wanted to take one post to thank you personally, the readers, founding members and subscribers to the Dish.
It’s been a strange relationship, hasn’t it? Some of you – the original white-on-navy ones – went through the 2000 election and recount with me, when I had to explain the word “blog” to anyone I met; we experienced 9/11 together in real time – and all the fraught months and years after; and then the Iraq War; and the gay marriage struggles of the last fifteen historic years. We endured the Bush re-election together and then championed – before almost anyone else – the Obama candidacy together. Remember that first night of those Iowa caucuses? Remember the titanic fight with the Clintons? And then the entire arc of the Obama presidency.
You were there when it was just me and a tip jar for six years, and at Time, and at The Atlantic, and the Daily Beast, and then as an independent company. When we asked you two years ago to catch us as we jumped into independence, you came through and then some. In just two years, you built a million dollar revenue company, with 30,000 subscribers, a million monthly readers, and revenue growth of 17 percent over the first year. You made us unique in this media world – and we were able to avoid the sirens of clickbait and sponsored content. We will never forget it.
You were there when I couldn’t believe Palin’s fantasies; and when we live-blogged the entire Green Revolution around the clock for nearly a month in 2009. You were there when I freaked out over Obama’s first debate against Romney; and you were with me as I came to realize just how deeply wrong I had been on Iraq. But we also fought for marriage equality together (and won!), and for a new post-Iraq foreign policy (getting there), and for legalizing weed (fuck you, Hickenlooper!). We faced the brutal reality of a Catholic church engaged in the rape of children, and the bleak truth about the United States and torture. And I think we made our contribution to all those struggles. The Dish made the case for Obama in a way that actually mattered when it mattered. I think we made the case for gay equality in a way no other publication did. And we lived through history with the raw intensity of this new medium, and through a media landscape of bewildering change.
I want to thank you, personally, for the honesty and wisdom of so many of your threads and conversations and intimacies, from late-term abortions and the cannabis closet to eggcorns and new poems, from the death of pets, and the meaning of bathroom walls to the views from your windows from all over the world. You became not just readers of the Dish, but active participants, writers, contributors. You trusted us with your own stories; you took no credit for them; and we slowly gathered and built a readership I wouldn’t trade for anyone’s.
You were there before I met my husband; you were there when I actually got married; and when I finally got my green card; and when Dusty – who still adorns the masthead – died. I can’t describe this relationship outside the rather crude term of “mass intimacy” but as I write this, believe me, my eyes are swimming with tears.
How do I say goodbye? How do I walk away from the best daily, hourly, readership a writer could ever have? It’s tough. In fact, it’s brutal. But I know you will understand. Because after all these years, I feel I have come to know you, even as you have come to see me, flaws and all. Some things are worth cherishing precisely because they are finite. Things cannot go on for ever. I learned this in my younger days: it isn’t how long you live that matters. What matters is what you do when you’re alive. And, man, is this place alive.
When I write again, it will be for you, I hope – just in a different form. I need to decompress and get healthy for a while; but I won’t disappear as a writer.
But this much I know: nothing will ever be like this again, which is why it has been so precious; and why it will always be a part of me, wherever I go; and why it is so hard to finish this sentence and publish this post.
Yesterday in class, my students and I discussed the function of memory in multiple modes of storytelling: fiction, nonfiction, and metafiction. One of my students, experiencing the lovely disequilibrium of learning, said, “Miss, my brain hurts from this. I don’t know what’s real anymore.” I love those moments of learning. Sometimes, though, discussions in the […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
Liu Tao, a 32-year-old water meter reader in the Chinese city of Hefei, has gained almost overnight fame as an amateur photographer. After a set of his photos went viral on Chinese social media earlier this year, Liu has been the subject of various profiles in Chinese (link in Chinese) and Western press and gained millions of followers (link in Chinese) online.
Liu says his initial inspiration was the Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama, though some of Liu’s fans say his work is more reminiscent of photographer and documentary maker Elliott Erwitt. He taught himself the craft by reading photography books and magazines and using a VPN to watch talks by photographers on Youtube, which is banned in China. Liu roams the streets of Hefei during his lunch breaks and in the evening to take photos.
His photos feature ordinary moments—an elderly man fanning himself, a couple arguing on the street, food stall operators—but from different perspectives. Liu told the Chinese publication Global Times, “I want to remind people of the touching moments in life.”
Liu’s not all that comfortable with his newfound fame. “I really hope the wave of media exposure can pass by soon so I don’t have to worry about who will like my photos. What I need is to grab a camera and take photos freely on the streets,” he said.
A note, before I start: I had to do research and learn what the hell the difference is between Holland, the Netherlands and Denmark before writing this post. So obviously I am supposed to be writing right now. Anyway. This picture’s making the rounds: Here’s what you’re supposed to do: you’re supposed to look at this picture and […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
My new year’s resolution for 2014 was a fairly complex one, but in essence it boiled down to two words:
…and it has felt like I’ve drawn a lot this year. Not as much as someone who doesn’t have a day-job and a child, of course, but a steady stream of stuff nonetheless.
Some of it I was pleased with. Some of it I was not – and I’ve learned to call that stuff part of the learning process, rather than a failure.
It was my husband’s birthday and I made him this card:
February first is Hourly Comics Day! I entered into the spirit of things, and tried not to care about putting out unpolished work – after all, that’s what it’s all about.
I’m quite looking forward to the next one already – and let’s face it, February is not usually a month to look forward to.
I made another collage in my series of birds’ eye views, this time featuring lots of very small roofs made of stamps:
In April, I really enjoyed doing some life drawing.
This was also the month that we went to Bath for our family holiday, and I made a holiday sketch diary. Of course, sketch diaries are another form where, if you share them, you have to put out the pages you’re pleased with as well as the ones that didn’t work out quite so well.
Straight after we got back from Bath, work sent me to Santiago in Chile! I was working, so keeping up a sketch diary was a bit more of a challenge, and I finished a good bit of it after I got home.
It looks like I had a month off from drawing in June! In fact, I was starting work on my 4-page graphic short story for the Cape/Comica/Observer competition: you have to start early if your time is limited.
In July, though, I started a series of pictures of the plants that grow alongside Brighton beach, where I go running and also spend a lot of time with my daughter:
Those sunny days seem far away now – hard to believe I was sitting drawing on the Level (our local playground) while my daughter mucked about in the fountains.
The weather turned, naturally, right before our week in Jersey – fortunately there was plenty to do there anyway. Not least, drawing another sketch diary:
I shared my graphic short story competition entry:
I’d entered it, all the while knowing it wasn’t quite the right thing to get placed – not polished enough (but I was very pleased, later on, to discover that my friend Beth had been awarded runner-up prize).
Never mind, I waded straight into another comic strip, this time based on recent experiences with a community archaeological dig:
– and, at very short notice indeed, I threw together a collage for the Association of Illustrators competition:
That was also the month I created the Hashtag Underdog strip. October must have been the peak of my productivity! I should scrutinise what the prevailing conditions were, and try to bottle them.
I didn’t do Clovember but I did paint my daughter in her lovely bright clothes – right at the prescient moment, it turns out, as she’s recently announced a desire to wear only black:
I also made a short comic strip about working from home:
Close friends and family had one of my linocuts bestowed upon them:
- and I moaned a bit about how long they had taken to make. I must say though, that everyone has been very nice about them, which is what every homemade card creator really wants – so it was all worth it.
Clearly, the effort of all that lino-printing has taken it out of me because, other than a couple of sketches of my daughter and husband, I have not drawn since.
I’m hoping that a similar resolution for 2015 will result in just as much artwork – but I need to do some careful thinking as well, about just what I want out of all this endeavour.
This year brought a couple of commissions. I find these quite stressful, and it made me wonder whether to refuse all commissions from now on (on the other hand, that means relying only on my own inspirations to drive me forward, a situation which, of course, many artists would be envious of, but which may well narrow my horizons).
This was also the first year that I’ve sold my prints online, as well as in Brighton’s Open Houses. While this was not stressful, it did bring home to me how narrow the margins are – at the scale I was operating, and with the time I have to dedicate, you can’t earn much. It can only really be done as an exercise in spreading your name about a bit.
And as for that – spreading my name about – well, I haven’t done as much as I hoped. Reader numbers on this blog are pretty low (though boosted greatly every time someone tweets or shares the link on Pinterest or Facebook, so thank you very much to everyone who did that).
In 2015, I think I will have an additional resolution to get some strips published in existing comics: that means that someone else is doing the distribution and the marketing, and probably doing so far better than I would have time to do myself.
Sounds like a plan…
Remember the transformation of fail and win 5–6 years ago? Fleeting online slang phrases like bucket of fail and made of win may sound dated now, but terms like epic fail/win and FTW (“for the win”) and the words’ use as tags and hashtags remain popular. Fail and win have firmly, if informally, extended their grammatical domains, having been converted from verb to noun, interjection, and other categories.
A word undergoing comparable change is nope. Its metamorphosis over the last few years has in some ways been more impressive, but it seems less remarked on than fail and win – maybe because of its more limited distribution. For instance, this cartoon on Imgur (pronunciation note here), which shows Spider-Man shooting spiders from his hands, drew comments that use nope as a verb, adjective, and noun – mass and count – as well as duplicating, lengthening, and adverbifying it.
Some of the comments are listed below. A couple have swear words, so you might prefer to skip ahead if you’re likely to be offended by those:
NOPE. ONE BIG NOPE.
Just would be a whole lot of nope.
ive never seen this much nope in one gif
Nope train to fuckthatville
Spider Nope, Spider Nope, Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope.
Oh look, it’s Nope O’clock
NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPENOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE ABANDON THREAD
scientifically those are not “spiders”… nopefically those are “nopenopenopenopenopes”
well he noped the fuck out and I don’t blame him
NOPE NOOpEo eopeOepeoopepeooepoepoe.
The last string, with its deliberately warped duplication, can be seen as an expression of repudiation from someone so bothered by what they see that they pretend they can no longer control themselves enough to calmly spell nope. It’s analogous to the can’t even constructions popular in communicating stupefaction or powerful emotion online.
The verb phrase nope out, seen in the second-last item above with an intensifying swear, is a spin-off of the new nope. It can mean wimp out, especially in a gaming context, or just flee or get the hell away without implying cowardice or timidity. Lucy Ferriss at Lingua Franca sees noping out as “a front-runner for slang ubiquity in the next two years or so”. But plain nope is already at that stage in some quarters.
These newish uses of nope typically appear in replies or comments to distressing material (e.g., images and gifs of spiders, insects, snakes, or other dread-inducing creatures), often as variations on memes and catchphrases, playful noun phrases, or other innovative expressions.
Nope is also common in “reaction gifs” that show an animal, actor, or animated character making a dramatic or amusing escape from a bad situation. Like the nopetopus:
To return to the text-only types, below are some further examples categorised by grammatical class, along with brief observations. All were found on Imgur; swear warning re-applies.
The firefighter just calmly noped away.
Noping all the way home.
I noped so much that I quickly tried to change to the next page
I’d nope the F out of there, if I were you
Did not take me long to nope it the fuck off this page.
I NOPED myself.
That’[s] exactly where I noped away from that movie.
The nopes just keep noping out of the nope hole…
Note the synonymous use of nope [out of there] and nope it [off this page], and the recurrence of nope away (cf. nope out). Different senses of the verb nope, including the reflexive form nope oneself, are described further down.
I can’t even express how nope this is
It’s like a puppy stampede except noper.
What is so nope about snakes?
The nopest book art that exists.
Very poisonous. Very beautiful. Very nope.
Sometimes so nope, very nope, much nope and the like are examples of doge, but the last item above seems a straightforward adjectival use, given the pattern that precedes it.
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Noooooopppppee.
“nope” – Everyone ever
oh ha ha i see he’s playing with iOHFUCKNONOPENOPENOPE
Nope freaking nopity nope nope!
ahem *clears throat* NOOOOOPE! Nopedy nope nope!
NOOOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NUUUUUPE
Some of these interjectional uses show how nope is often repeated or lengthened to intensify the effect of rejection that it conveys.
This should be retitled “The Nope Album”
Straight from the country of Nope.
Also know[n] as the Nopen Nope Noper nope, genus Nopeila
why aren’t you on the fuckthat train to nopesville?!
HOLY FUCKING MOTHER OF NOPE!
Loch Nope Monster
Yup, that’s definitely Lake Nope in the Holy Shit province of Fuck-that-istan
So much nope
so many nopes
My god, look at all that nope!
For the sea is dark and full of nopes.
and here we have a nest of Nopes in their natural environment of the Fuckthat tree
The level of nope is too damn high!
You have a nope as a pet??!
That’s a giant cup of NOPE right there.
You may have all of my nope.
That’s eleven gallons of NOPE in a ten gallon hat.
Favorited for future nope.
And here you will see the 8 limbed NOPE
Honestly the water color is enough NOPE for me.
It should be A Game Of Nope And Fire.
The first two show succinctly how nope has become both a mass noun (so much nope) and a count noun (so many nopes). The Game of Nope and Fire quip, as well as combining Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire with the “game of nope” in the thread title, also alludes to the Kill it with fire! response common with this kind of material. You can also see the recurrence of playful combinations with fuckthat.
As some[o]ne who can science, i can positively identify this as a nopefish
That is a nopesnake.
that’s not morning, it’s nopetime.
Ah, the infamous Nopetree, growing in certain parts of Nope-istan.
NopeCreature in Nopehouse in Nopeland.
Oh, that’s the nopespider. It lives in noperica.
Assorted affixation and wordplay:
The nopification process.
Nopely nopent noping spider
It’s moving because NOPE
The morning dew really accents the nopeness on this Nope Bush.
This exuberant extension of nope is not limited to Imgur (though it’s a good place to browse examples: some pages have 100+); it’s also popular on Tumblr, Reddit, 4chan, and other image-heavy forums.
Some nope memes have been around a few years, and the word features in all sorts of image macros, often mixed with other fads and in-jokes. Archer’s use of nope is more like normal no, but the particular intonation there may have influenced some of the spellings elsewhere.
Given its frequency, some people are understandably tired of nope. One Imgurian protests, “Can we stop using the phrase ‘nope’ to refer to bugs and shit? It was funny in 2011, now it’s just annoying.” While it may be a subcultural cliché, nope is a rich source of both lexical and grammatical experimentation, which makes it pretty interesting linguistically.
As well as its morphological and syntactic versatility, the semantics of nope have also spread to encompass a range of referents. As a noun, it can refer to the object of dread (“baby nopes are kinda cute”; “much nope is contained in these books”), and to a person’s negative reaction to that object (“You may have all of my nope”; “it took ignoring the majority of my nopes to put my finger there for scale”).
In one example of the latter sense, a creepy lock of hair prompted a remark about Asian horror films (probably The Ring), to which a commenter replied: *NOPE INTENSIFIES*. This throwaway remark inadvertently sums up an aspect of the nope phenomenon; the ambiguity of my post title might make more sense now. I’ve also seen similar phrases such as noping intensifies and nopes intensify.
As a verb, nope can refer to getting quickly away (“He noped so hard, he was never heard from again”), scaring other people with a “nope” (“DON’T NOPE ME THEN TRY TO EARN MY TRUST WITH YOUR PET!!!!!”), soiling oneself with fright (“I think I just noped myself”), declining something nopeworthy (“I’m just gonna nope the link and believe you, and move on”), to something a “nope” does (“a giant herd of nopes noping at my heels”), and so on.
In his 2009 Word Routes post about the transformation of awesome, fail, win and co., Ben Zimmer noted a common thread in these “mass-nounified words”: that they “can have the force of an interjection”. Nope wasn’t a verb to begin with, and it already had interjectional qualities, but its use has broadened similarly and its sound and structure make it very open to inflection, affixation, and other kinds of creative mutation.
Used to reject utterly and forcefully an upsetting image, scenario, or idea, nope has manoeuvred itself into an endless array of grammatical and lexical forms. No category leap seems beyond it, no catchphrase safe from potential nope-jacking. In the infectious, rapid-fire wordplay of web forums like Imgur, nope has quickly established itself as a signature term and one spawning constant novelty and repetition.
Whether it declines like an old grey spider, or spreads further like a brood of baby ones in the wind, remains to be seen.
Filed under: grammar, humour, language, morphology, slang, syntax, wordplay Tagged: affixation, communication, gifs, grammar, image macros, Imgur, internet, internet culture, internet language, language, language change, linguistics, memes, morphology, nope, reaction gifs, slang, syntax, word formation, wordplay, words
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
I’ve been writing The Mindful Reader column for The Concord Monitor since April 2012. Thirty-three columns, one a month on the Sunday book page, reviewing dozens of books, all by New Hampshire or northern New England authors, many published by small presses. It’s been a wonderful experience.
People often stop me when I’m out and about to tell me how much they liked a column, or to ask my opinion about some aspect of one of the books I read. They come into the library, where I am the librarian in charge of adult services, and our local indie bookstore, where I was once event coordinator and bookseller, to ask for the books. That’s been a thrill — there is nothing better for a writer than knowing your work not only reached someone, but moved them enough that they wanted to participate in the thing you’ve written about. And the authors I’ve heard from who are so grateful to get a published review, when so much book publicity is focused on a handful of “it” titles — that’s been great too.
This week I received a brief reply to my monthly invoice from the Monitor’s editor, who has been with the paper a few months and had never communicated with me previously. He let me know my column is discontinued and invited me to chat with him about the direction the paper would be taking. I cried — I admit it. But the next day I called him and he called me back and we had that chat.
Here’s what I learned: he told me the paper needs to stop hiring freelancers in order to pay reporters. I was with him so far. I work in a public library, I get budget cuts. And he then went on to say he was hoping to have more reader generated content on the book page, and to ask me if the library has a book club or if I knew of other book clubs whose members might like to review books for the Sunday book page. Which floored me to uncomfortable silence.
When I recovered, I wished him good luck with getting readers to write for him. I noted that I would have liked to have had the chance to thank my readers and say goodbye, because I do have readers, who I hear from regularly. He suggested that if I wanted to keep writing my column for “personal gratification” he’d make space for it, I just couldn’t be paid. Which floored me even further. I explained I was needed at the reference desk and I excused myself.
I’m a librarian — we don’t just rearrange books and check them in and out, we learn how to classify, organize, and access information, how to help readers access it, and yes, how to evaluate the quality of all kinds of information, including books. I’m a professional reviewer — a member of the National Book Critics Circle, who has made contacts in the publishing world with other reviewers, editors, publicists, authors, librarians and booksellers. I’ve reviewed here at bookconscious for eight years, and my reviews have often been quoted in publicity materials and on book jackets, and former Monitor editor Felice Belman checked out my reviews here before offering me the column (for which I am still grateful). And I’m a professional writer — published in a lot of obscure little literary magazines that often only pay in copies, but which have never, ever made me feel I was merely servicing my personal gratification by sending in my work.
Because that’s what writing is. Work. An editor, even at a cash-strapped newspaper, should know this. Each of my columns went through 10-15 drafts. I cut, and honed, and read aloud, and clarified. I also read every word of every book I reviewed, 3-5 a month. And many words of books I didn’t review for one reason or another. And frankly, although I was paid and appreciated that, it was certainly not enough to pay a reporter, even a part time reporter.
Over the last couple of days as I’ve talked to colleagues and friends I’ve learned that so far, none of the other freelancers I know have had their columns cut. I think there is a perception in this Age of Amazon that anyone can write a book review, just as there is a perception that anyone can check books out. Granted I am aware that writers of all kinds are asked to work for free all the time, even for established media companies, especially online. And I would hate to see anyone else lose their columns.
But I’m smarting. Everyone I’ve described the situation to has had the same reaction — it’s in pretty poor taste to fire someone and then ask if they could recommend somebody to do the same work for free. One friend in the publishing world sent me her list of contacts at newspaper book pages around the country, as a way of assuring me I have something to offer, a kindness I really appreciate. Another suggested there might be a way to keep publishing locally. I don’t know what I’m going to do with The Mindful Reader yet. I need time to think about my options.
In the meantime I’ll be here at bookconscious. A co-worker has graciously offered to teach me how to knit an infinity scarf, and I’ve got a stack of books I haven’t had time to read that I want to get to now that I don’t have homework. Teen the Elder is going to be home from college before heading off to South Africa for the spring semester. Teen the Younger and I have some serious baking to do.
But first I’d like to say what I wasn’t given the opportunity to say in print: thank you. Thank you for reading. For stopping me at the Farmers’ Market, in the library, at Gibson’s, in restaurants, on the street, at church, at Red River Theatres, and lots of other places to tell me you’d read my column. Thank you for supporting our region’s many talented authors by reading and buying their books and going to hear them read. Keep doing that, keep reading my reviews — please let your friends know about bookconscious — and keep stopping me to talk. I’m still here.
The sun rises over the hills surrounding Cisarua – a small town just over an hour’s drive south of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. “It’s too early, they [asylum seekers] still sleeping”, an ojek driver tells me. The ojek (motorcycle taxi) is the easiest way to navigate through the narrow back lanes and the ojek drivers that loiter out the front of the supermarket on the main street know the back streets of their town better than most. Many of the asylum seekers that are in Indonesia have ended up here in Cisarua. Many are waiting for their cases to be processed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some are waiting to board a boat for Australia.
Homes are built close to each other on the side of the hill and within the labyrinth of narrow alleys, there are pockets of asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, that live amongst the locals. It’s almost 10am but there is little sign of activity. “Maybe come back after 12?” the ojek driver tells me. With little to do each day, many sleep through the morning. Most do not know how long they are going to be in Cisarua and with long waiting periods for their case to be processed, the days start blending.
“Afghans live here”, the ojek driver says. In a barbwire enclosed two-building compound, it appears the dwelling could perhaps have once belonged to an affluent resident. The swimming pool has been drained and graffiti adorns the walls however the small garden is well cared for as is the fish pond with about a dozen healthy looking koi swimming in the clean water. Today, it is home to a few Indonesian families, a few Iranians and an Afghan couple.
On the ground floor of the compound, Shahir Safi has been up for the past few hours baking. For a modest wage, he spends most of his week baking well into the afternoon baking the traditional Afghan flatbread.
Shahir makes hundreds of the traditional Afghan flatbread everyday and it is popular with many of the asylum seekers living in Cisarua.
Shahir and his wife, Wida, share a room next to the bakery. They both left Afghanistan seeking a better life, hoping to make it to Australia. Like many of the asylum seekers in Cisarua, they only have the clothes on their backs and can fit the rest of their worldly possessions in a small bag. Soon they will have an extra mouth to feed. Wida is nine months pregnant and due any day.
“My life was in danger. I just want a better life in Australia and be safe. Have a normal life.” – Shahir Safi, 28, Afghanistan
“My life, my child’s life and my husband’s life was in danger. I am looking for a better life.” – Wida Rockay, 19, Afghanistan
“Please join us”, said Behrad* as he sat out the front of his room and began to have lunch. Most of his meals consist of either flatbread or rice. Today, he has some fried eggs to accompany his simple meal. In broken english, he tells me he left Iran because of religion. “My life in danger. I Muslim before but not anymore”, he tells me.
“It’s quite a view”, I tell Behrad* as we gaze at the hills in the background from the balcony of his room. “Yes, but when you look at it everyday, no”, Behrad* dryly replies. He has been in Indonesia for almost four months but does not know how much longer he is going to be in Cisarua. It could be months, it could be years, he has no idea at all, but he does not want to stay here anymore. All his belongings fit in a tiny plastic bag tied to a railing on the balcony. He lost most of what he had on a previous attempt to get to Australia by a boat that sank. He wants to go to Australia. His wife is already there and he can’t wait to see her again.
“I want to join my wife. She is already in Australia.” – Behrad*, 36, Iran
The adhan, or call to prayer, can be heard from a nearby mosque.
“Please excuse me, I go pray”, Ahmad Shoaib tells me as he steps into his room with a copy of the Koran hanging in the doorway. Shoaib left Afghanistan with his father, mother, brother and sister. He recounts his ordeal with the Taliban earlier this year when he was kidnapped by them. They wanted him to work for them and after three days of torture, he told them he would. Once his captors wrongly assumed they had him on side, Shoaib fled.
“I was kidnapped [by the Taliban] earlier this year. It was very bad. Beating me. No drinking for three days. They ask me work for them but I run.”
- Ahmad Shoaib, 20, Afghanistan
For Hosnia Banai and her mother Lailuma Banai, the kidnapping of Shoaib was perhaps the last straw. They felt staying in Afghanistan was no longer an option and they feared for their lives.
“I just want to be with my family. Where my family go, I will go.” – Hosnia Banai, 15, Afghanistan
“I want my family in a place where my children will be safe.” – Lailuma Banai, 49, Afghanistan
Wakil Ahmad, the patriach of the family beckons me to join them for lunch. Its simple fare of rice and flatbread but they are keen to share the little they have. He doesn’t speak english so his son Shoaib translates for us. He emphasises the danger of living in Afghanistan is too great and he doesn’t mind where his family is resettled, however he has heard that Australia is a good place.
“We want security, a future, education for my children. Australia is good.” – Wakil Ahmad, 59, Afghanistan
“Doesn’t matter which country, as long as I am with my family. Just not Afghanistan.” – Shabir Ahmad, 14, Afghanistan
Just down the road, there’s another house. I start speaking with a few of the men sitting out the front. Quickly the group grows to about a dozen. Bleary-eyed men start wandering out the front door curious as to what was going on. The house was occupied by single men from Afghanistan as was the house next to it.
“I never want to go to Afghanistan back, ever.” – Mirza Rahimi, 17, Afghanistan
Within minutes, the group quickly grows to over 20 men, tightly huddled around me keen to know what was going on. One of the men tells me that to save money on rent, they try and accommodate as many as they can in each house. “The owner know we Muslim, he put this here”, one says while pointing towards a photograph of Mecca on the wall. “Are you helping us?”, another asks. I respond by telling him I work for a newspaper would like to tell their stories. He quickly loses interest and walks off and is followed by another man.
Many were keen to tell their story but spoke poor english. The one thing they all wanted to show me was their certificate from UNHCR stating they were asylum seekers. Mohammad Arif Sardar from Nowabad, Afghanistan who was born on 1 January 1997 and entered Indonesia on 19 May 2013 and now only has the clothes on his back and a pair of thongs, was now file number 186-13C02592.
“The Taliban killed my father.” – Mohammad Arif Sardar, 16, Afghanistan
The spartan rooms are deceptive. There is little clutter as most have little to put in their rooms. By nightfall however, the accommodation is shared in order to save on rent. Thin mattresses are strewed across the floor. The stories I hear from the men start becoming familiar. The persecution of Hazara people. They are discriminated against in their own country.
“Hazara genocide. There was a suicide bombing only 500m from my house.” – Ruhulla Karimi, 27, Afghanistan
Leaving home was not easy for all. Ruhulla shows me a photograph on his mobile phone of his 4-year-old son Mahd Karimi. Like many asylum seekers before him, he’s heard Australia is a good place where he can find work and hopes to eventually bring his family across, if he eventually makes it.
Mohammad Paiman works at the bakery as well. He was a driver working for the Japanese embassy in Afghanistan but left the country two months ago with his wife and two young children. He says he doesn’t mind which country he and his family get resettled in, but the people who helped get him out of Afghanistan have advised him that Australia was the easiest country to get to. Paiman and his wife Nabila Amini say they do not have the money to take a boat to Australia, but even if they did, it is not an option they think they will risk with their children. “Australia is not important for us but our children is important”, says Nabila, “UNHCR will decide”. For now, they will wait for the bureaucracy to run its course.
“Our children is important and Australia is safe for us.” – Nabila Amini, 28, Afghanistan
“I don’t know why I have left [Afghanistan]. My father has not told me why.” – Muskan Amini, 7, Afghanistan
“Any toys?”, I enquire as I look at at Muskan’s belongings? “No”, says her father, Paiman. The only hint that these are the belongings of a child are the Spongebob Squarepants pyjamas. Her younger brother Sohail owns an identical set. “I haven’t told them why we are here [Indonesia]”, said Paiman despondently. They have already been in Cisarua for two months and his children are starting to wonder. He can’t bear to tell them the truth.
“I’m here [Cisarua, Indonesia] on holiday.” – Mohammad Sohail, 6, Afghanistan
Here is Cisarua, they wait.
* Not his real name
Really? Even if people won’t want to date you ever again for fear that you’ll one day talk about them on stage? You’re sure?
Okay. Welcome aboard.
Here’s a cheap glass of wine. Where we’re going, you’ll need it.
I’ve got to tell you – I think you’ve picked a great time to get into the story game. I mean, with the success of storytelling podcasts like The Moth, RISK!, Definitely Not the Opera, Snap Judgement and This American Life millions of people are now aware of the phenomenon of modern storytelling. Just about every city in North America now has a regular storytelling event, and there seems to be more opportunities for storytellers than ever before. For raconteurs like us, the getting has never been good-er.
But before you start speaking your heart into the crackly microphone at the local roti place’s storytelling event (at which no one is there to actually hear stories [they’re just there for the roti]), there’s a few things we need to talk about.
Firstly: Storytelling is magic. It is capable of changing people’s lives in a way that few other forms of expression can. A well-told story will make a room laugh as one, cry as one, breathe as one. It can bring people together in a way that almost nothing else can. It is truly a special thing.
Alternately, storytelling is also capable of being the fucking worst.
Being held captive by a terrible, meandering, long-winded, self-indulgent piece of shit story is worse than anything imaginable. When a bad storyteller is at the mic spinning their self-satisfied yarn, weaving in and out of tangents that lead nowhere, there is nothing more painful to sit through. Your blood pressure rises. Your eyes roll so far back they might never come back. You’re stuck in your seat helplessly longing for a happier time – like the time you were on hold with your cellphone provider and a knife hit you in the eyeball. You’re a hostage! You’re THIS GUY!
And unfortunately, pretty much every storytelling event will have at least one hostage-taking situation a night (if we’re lucky), and I don’t want you to ever be the one at the microphone when it happens.
That’s why I’m here to help.
When you tell a story onstage at your next live event, I want you to crush it. And if you let this advice sink in, I promise that you will.
1) If you’re running long, you’d better be KILLING, buddy.
Thing I’ve never thought after a story: “I wish that story went longer“
All storytelling events have time limits. Most are 10 minutes. And I’m telling you, if you’re going to be a storyteller, keeping your stories within the time limit is the single most important thing you can do when you are starting out. Because it will make the producers trust you and like you and want to invite you back. Not only that, but learning how to make the required cuts will make you a better writer, it will make the audience more comfortable and your story will be WAY stronger. Trust me. The worst stories are ALWAYS the longest. ALWAYS. Because who tells a story that goes way over the time-limit? Someone who doesn’t think our time is valuable. Time it. TIME IT. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TIME IT. I would rather sit through a 10-minute piece of shit than listen to a middling story that runs 5 minutes over the limit. Because the 10-minute story had more respect for its audience.
You don’t need to write out the whole story, but you do need to have a road map. Some of my favourite storytellers like Martin Dockery and Peter Aguero don’t write down their stories at all because they are freaks of nature. BUT! That doesn’t mean that they don’t know exactly where they’re taking us. Know your structure. Know where and why and for how long you’re taking us. Basic story structure is a beautiful thing.
Know exactly what your story is about. Then, get your Michelangelo on, and chisel away everything that isn’t David.
3) Punch it up.
There’s always a more unique and interesting way of saying things.
How happy were you that week?
“When I walked down the street that week, my gait looked like end-zone dance.”
How did you feel when you told her that you loved her for the first time?
“Vulnerable. Like I was bungee-jumping naked over shark-infested waters while being broadcast live on TMZ.”
Find a way of saying things that no other human except you would come up with. Be a snowflake who marches to the beat of your own synth.
4) That opening sentence or two is crucial.
Get us! Grab us! Right now! As soon as possible – and by whatever means necessary. Whether by using a joke or a cryptic hint or a surprise or by simply taking us to the opening scene as quickly as possible. Have an opening line that makes us put down our phones and lean in.
“It was one of those breakups where all of your stuff ends up in trash bags and you have 5 minutes to find a new apartment and once you do, the last thing you want to do is unpack those trash bags because they contain a lot of raw emotion.”
5) Oh, there’s a moral? Yeah. We know.
I’ve seen so many storytellers totally stick the landing on the climax, but then instead of winking at the judges and walking away triumphantly, they will inexplicably start ham-fisting their way through the moral(s) of the story. Dude! You were so close!
Tying a nice bow to the end of the story can sometimes be the exact right thing to do. But if you do, just keep it clean, concise, and make sure you’re giving us something that we haven’t already deduced on our own.
Remember at the end of Full House when Uncle Jesse and Uncle Joey would sit next to Michelle on the bed as the cheesy music swelled and they’d teach her about all the life lessons she’d learned from the episode we just watched? Don’t do that.
Just give Kimmy Gibbler one last zinger and hit the music.
6) Don’t get hung up on the theme.
Lots of storytelling events have a monthly theme. I always love reading what the upcoming themes are because very often a theme will dislodge a long-forgotten story from the back of my brain. “Oh yeah. I DO have a story about GARBAGE.“
The unfortunate side-effect of themed events is that lots of storytellers feel the need to explain to us in excruciating detail why their story is appropriate for the theme. Or they’ll tell us the story of how they decided which story to tell us, “When I first heard that the theme this week was Freedom, I thought of blank, blank and blank.” JUST TELL US THE STORY!
The theme will be a dot and your story will be a dot and then we’ll connect them with our minds.
7) Sometimes it’s too soon.
I’m guilty of making this mistake before. All of my favourite stories are always ones of pain and finding the light in life’s darker moments. Sometimes as a storyteller, we’ll be going through something very challenging and will want to take it to the stage – like losing a loved one or having our heart broken or surviving a trauma. If you’re taking it to the stage, though, remember: It’s very difficult to paint a picture of a whale when you’re still trapped in its belly. Make sure you’re in a solid emotional place and you’re recollecting from a safe distance if you’re talking about the tough stuff. A good rule:
If you’re not ready to laugh about it, then we’re not ready to be sad about it.
8) Keep it fresh.
One of the biggest challenges of being a storyteller or comedian is that you have to take this thing that you’ve obsessed over, written down, rehearsed, outlined, said hundreds of times and then make it seem spontaneous and off-the-cuff every night. One trick that I find helpful when I’m running a story alone or with a friend is that I’ll challenge myself to tell the same story using slightly different language each time. Sprinkle in a few moments where you have to grasp for the words. Have a different way of describing the smell of the car every time. Set some booby traps for yourself along the way so that you’re forced to think on your feet in the present moment.
Sometimes when I’m trying to find the 20th new way to describe the smell of the car, is when I’ll find the perfect one and keep it.
9) “Look ‘em in the eye and speak from the heart.” -Louis CK
Storytelling has one gimmick: Heart. Use yours.
Be vulnerable with us.
10) Become a story aficionado.
Thousands of the best stories you’ve ever heard in your life are available. FOR FREE. RIGHT NOW. The Moth storytelling archives are staggeringly good. Listen to: This American Life, DNTO, RISK! and Snap Judgement. They’re all free. FREE! Listen to as many as you can. Listen to brilliant storytellers like Mike Birbiglia and Tig Notaro and Elna Baker and Adam Wade. Dismantle their stories. Why was this one so effective, and this one not so much?
Become a student of the game.
11) Pet peeves and things to avoid.
My friend Peter Aguero has hosted his fair share of story events in New York and has probably heard more live stories than anyone I know. So I asked him for some of the things that irk him as a listener. Here’s what he said:
I don’t like when someone strings together a series of representative anecdotes to make a point in trying to tell their whole life story in 10 minutes. Everything ends up on the surface and there’s no detail. They end up not telling us ten stories instead of telling one.
I cringe at the phrase “…and in that moment, I realized…” – I don’t know why, I just hate it.
I don’t like when people say, “if you’re not familiar with (whatever), it’s (explanation). Just explain it or don’t. Asking rhetorical questions reminds the listener that they’re listening to a story. It takes me out of it. You were going to explain it anyway, just explain the thing
To add to Peter’s list, here are a few of my own:
Defining words in a reading-from-the-dictionary-type fashion makes us feel like we’re at a commencement address or like the bride’s childhood best friend is at the mic. Steer clear.
Soapboxing is the worst. We’re here for stories, not to hear you plagiarize a conspiracy theory website.
The microphone is your friend. Talk into it. If your voice sounds loud, that’s good – it means it’s working.
Know how to ride a laugh. Let the whole laugh happen before you continue. You’re doing great.
Never start by saying “My story is…” or end with “That’s my story”.
12) Some tips from the PROS.
I asked a few of my most accomplished story buds for wisdom that they’d like to pass on to storytellers who are just starting out. Here’s what they said:
Kevin Allison; Creator/Host of RISK! Podcast
Zero in on an especially emotional moment you had and begin to reconstruct what you recall seeing, hearing, thinking and feeling.
TJ Dawe; Legendary Canadian Monologuist
Make your story specific. You might want to make it general, so that people will relate to it. Strangely enough, the more grounded it is in the specifics of your life, the more universal it will become.Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Your weaknesses, your failures, your sillinesses, your anxieties, your contradictions, your self-sabotage – this is the stuff of good stories.If your natural conversational rhythm is fast, pauses are your friend. And vice versa.
Be willing to cut a good line, or a good paragraph, or a good story altogether, if it isn’t working, or if it doesn’t add to the whole. The fact that you wrote it, and that it was hard to write isn’t justification enough to keep something. You’re not in this to avoid work.Watch and listen to the audience. You’ll learn from every audience. Their laughter will cue you. Their silence in dramatic parts will cue you. Their restlessness and inattention will cue you. A good solo performance isn’t a monologue, it’s a conversation with the audience.Notice which incidents in your life you keep thinking about, or telling friends about. There’s probably something there that reflects what you’re going through now.Use contractions when you write. Don’t dress up your sentences in Sunday clothes. Talk the way you normally talk.Have a specific person in mind when you create. Develop your material with that one person in mind. It could be a friend. It could be your partner. It could be someone you wish was your partner. It could be one of your parents. It could be you. It could be a younger version of you who might have needed to hear this. People can be fabulously expressive in an email, because they know exactly who they’re talking to, and they calibrate their vocabulary and sense of humour and references to that person. And they often become vague and general and clunky when trying to write something for an audience of everyone in the world.
James Gangl; Canadian Comedy Award-Winner; Moth StorySLAM Champion
Write as if no one will ever read your work. When I write like this, I stop worrying about my work being good or bad; I just write. I go for quantity over quality. I like to write fast, write forward and I don’t look back until my first draft is done. Quality will come in the edit.
Write stuff that you plan on burning later. When I hit upon a subject that scares the shit out of me, then I know I have something worthy of writing. Write stuff that scares you… that’s where the gold lies.
Tell the story as if you’re speaking to your friend in a bar. No pretention. No gimmicks. The simplest way from point A to B will become the bones of your piece. The rest is just window dressing and if you have a good enough story it will support all kinds of fun dressing.
Martin Dockery; Award-winning monologuist, Moth Mainstage Performer
Just to get up on stage and do it. And do it as often as possible. It’s the only way to get a sense of how to tell a story, how to find your authentic voice, how to judge pace, timing, and impact. Every single time I’m on stage I learn something, even now, more than a decade into doing it.
And that’s it. That’s pretty much all the wisdom I (and my story buds) can think of.
And y’know what?
You’re going to be great.
Lucky for us, storytelling audiences are the warmest, kindest, best-est audiences of them all. They came to listen. To you. You don’t have to fight to get them or win them over or trick them into listening to you. They’re already on your side as soon as you walk up to the microphone. You have their undivided attention.
Don’t waste it.
Violent winds swirl the dark, ominous thunderclouds overhead. The pounding waves crash onto the rocky shore and the roar of the Pacific Ocean makes its intention clear: thrash anything in its path. With electricity in the air, I am oblivious to everything except the power coming my way as rain beats against my face, sucking […]
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