You are three years old. You’ve just had a good dinner and some milk and cookies, brushed your teeth, been tucked into bed, and now Mom or Dad pulls up a chair: story time.
You are in kindergarten. It is a cold and rainy day outside, but your kindly teacher arranges you into a ring of children at her feet: story time.
You are 10 years old and at summer camp. You just had a cookout and roasted marshmallows; darkness surrounds you, full of monsters and goblins, and the counselor gathers you in around the campfire: story time.
You are a grownup, and just encountered a friend at Stop & Shop, or outside town hall, or at a local watering hole, and she just wants to share the highlights of her new relationship, or the hilarious details of her trip to Florida, or the terrifying news about her recent diagnosis — maybe all three. Story time.
We are a species that lives on stories. The ability to hear them and tell them is in our blood. Stories appeared well in advance of the written word. Indigenous peoples hand down traditional tales from generation to generation, unchanged. It is said that Homer (or a string of Homers) recited the thousands of words of the Odyssey verbatim over many years, long before they were recorded in writing. Stories have a special place in our hearts.
While we all tell stories to each other (and to ourselves) every day, there is another way that stories get told on the Outer Cape: it is called the Mosquito Story Slam, and it happens periodically in Provincetown and Wellfleet — and has been happening for seven years. Inspired by NPR’s popular “Moth Radio Hour,” creator Vanessa Vartabedian, along with co-host William Mullin, creates a space and an opportunity for any of us to share, in a few short minutes, a story: some portion of our lives. The space is safe, the atmosphere is supportive, the experience is profound — for both listener and teller. There is structure to the event, there are rules: your story must be true as you know it, the words must come from you, not a piece of paper, and there is a time limit. There is also a set theme. Some examples of past themes are “Reunion,” “Home for the Holidays,” and “Leap of Faith.” Just how your story fits into the theme is enforced very loosely if at all.
The Mosquito differs most from the Moth in that there are no submissions or auditions. It is a very organic and democratic process: anyone can participate. The quality of the offerings thus varies wildly. There are those with the gift of gab, easy with the crowd; there are those who look like they are standing in front of a firing squad. But there is a truth in every tale, upon reflection. Some revelations are intimate and painful and sad, but the majority fall onto a more hilarious “Life is a trip” place on the spectrum. There is a major appearance of coincidence in many stories, as Fate still baffles us.
I have twice presented a story in a Mosquito Story Slam. In one story I shared the details of almost getting killed on the island of Bali almost 30 years ago (quite humorous — take my word for it); in the other I offered the details of my teenage reaction to racism more than a half century ago (sobering — at least to me). Both times I felt the genuine feeling of connection with the listeners, of my story now belonging to them, of being a part of a community.
Who couldn’t use a bit more community? The next opportunity to do so is this Saturday evening, March 7, at the Provincetown Theater. The theme will be “Locals”: we will see what that means to people. Sharing will be the thing.