Storytelling at Work
May 31, 2021
The Robbers

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When I was 13, my sister was 18. She was the proverbial big sister. I was the proverbial little brother. And though she called me "twerp" and I called her "fatso", it was always comforting to know she was in the next room, especially on the nights when our parents went out. I wouldn't be alone. My sister was there.

But when she went off to college, everything changed. Now I was the only child in the house. Now it was just me.

I will never forget my first night alone. My parents, after dinner, casually informed me they were going out for the evening but would be back at a "reasonable hour." They petted the dog, gave me a hug, and were gone in a flash. I stood by the front door, listening, until the sound of their Oldsmobile disappeared into the distance. Then I made myself a huge bowl of ice cream, retreated to my room, turned on the TV, flopped down on my bed, and started doing my homework.

So far so good. The ice cream was yummy. The capital of Montana was Helena, and the Mets were leading 4-2. That's when I started hearing the SOUNDS -- very strange sounds coming from the kitchen... troubling sounds... scary sounds... the kind robbers make when looking for things to steal.

Like my mother's set of sterling silver, for example -- the extremely expensive set of sterling silver given to her years ago by my rich Uncle Herman.

The sounds from the kitchen continued -- sounds I had never heard before. And then... absolutely nothing... nothing at all... just silence... a deadly silence... the kind that could only mean one thing -- the robbers had just poisoned my dog. Or strangled her.

The moment of truth was upon me. Laying on my bed, eating the last of my ice cream, I had a decision to make. A big one. Do I turn up the sound of my TV so the robbers will know someone is home and leave on their own, or do I confront them, saving my mother's sterling silver before they get away?

It may have seemed like a choice, but it wasn't. I knew, in my heart of hearts, there was only one thing to do. So I got off my bed and began making my way, ninja-like, oh so slowly, out of my room, down the hallway, past the bathroom, closer and closer to the closed kitchen door. My heart was pounding, my breath coming faster, my mind was racing. Standing just a foot from the door, I stopped and listened. An eternity passed. The sounds from the kitchen continued. And then, raising my right foot, I kicked open the door and leaped into the kitchen, letting out the kind of scream karate guys make when they attack.

The first thing I saw was my dog, Doxie, looking up at me, wagging her tail. She was alive! Alive! I bent down to pet her, no robbers in sight, having obviously heard me coming and vamoosed out the side door. I stood up and walked a few steps to the table where the sterling silver set was supposed to be in its velvety blue box. It was there -- just a few inches away from the spice rack and the stack of Life Magazines. I open it slowly. Not a fork or spoon was missing. Not a knife. I made my way to the pantry and gave my dog a treat. Then I returned to my room, finished my ice cream, memorized the capital of Vermont (Montpelier) and watched the end of the baseball game. Then I turned on my clock radio and went to bed.

This same drama must have played itself out at least 50 times in the next two years. My strategy, I must say, worked like a charm . From the time I was 13 until I was 15, not a single thing was ever stolen from our house.

COMMENTARY: This little story of mine played out 59 years ago. For the six decades that followed, only two people ever heard about about my heroics -- my best friend, Matt, and my wife, Evelyne. And yet for me, now 72, taking the time to reflect on this story and share it with you has been a revelation. While laughable in many ways, I've gotten some keen insights into my psyche and how I, at an early age, became wired to deal with the unknown, whether real or imagined. My self-invented rite-of-passage was how I learned to deal with fear and the choices before me. First, I learned I needed to be alert to the subtle clues around me. Then I learned I had a choice. Then I learned I had to choose. Once my choice was made, everything was cool. I was no longer a victim, no longer a boy hiding in his room, but a man of action. And the danger? Gone.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution
Pet Portraits by Evelyne Pouget
Photo: Artem Sapegin

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:49 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2021
TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT

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Many years ago, with my good friend, Bill Chiricos, I drove from Denver to Miami Beach in a Ford pickup truck that had seen much better days, stars in our eyes, gas in the tank, and only one CD -- The Best of the Eagles. We must have played that CD a hundred times, never once tiring of it on our way to see the one who had showed us, just few years before, how to enjoy the ride, no matter where our destination. We barely slept. There was no reason to. We talked, we sang, we breathed, "Take It to the Limit" playing over and over and over again, many more times than made sense. But you see (and you do), when love is in your heart and you are driven by it, EVERYTHING sounds good, absolutely everything. In that divine interstate of being, there is no such thing as boredom or complaint, no such thing as lack. Birds sing, flowers bloom, and the road continues opening wider and wider, two young men singing at the top of their lungs, pounding out rhythms on the dashboard. And when, some 2,066 miles later, we finally arrived, unwashed but not unloved, we listened to the one we had driven all that distance for -- a man, it sure seems to me, the Eagles would have very much loved or, at the very least, dedicated their next song to, such sweet harmonies now being heard in between the deepening silences.

PremRawat.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2021
A Good Story, Like Perfume...

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A good story, like perfume, is evocative. Listening to it calls forth a response that moves a person from one state of mind to another, not just for the moment, but for all time -- because a story, well-told, is long remembered. And what it is that moves inside us is not just the plot, or the characters, or even the message, but the space of discovery that the story opens up.

Music is a perfect example of this phenomenon. A good piece of music is composed of pauses as well as notes. Indeed, it is the spaces between the notes that is often responsible for evoking the feeling, allowing the listener to more deeply experience what is being heard.

Amateur composers tend to do too much. They clutter their compositions with themselves, making the music more about their own proficiency than the depth of what's possible to evoke in others -- a phenomenon that led jazz-great, Dizzy Gillespie, to once confess, "It took me my entire life to learn what not to play."

The same holds true with story. Skillful storytellers don't say too much, don't clutter the tale with their telling. Instead, they provide just enough nuance for the listener to enter their world and participate. That's the goal of any work of art -- to create a space for something meaningful to be explored.

Ultimately, the storyteller's task is a simple one -- to create the stage upon which the human heart can dance -- what hearing a cello in the distance evokes at dusk or how you might feel just before opening a love letter.

"Creating a stage upon which the heart can dance" -- Prem Rawat
Excerpted from this book
Not excerpted from this book
Photo: Drew Collins, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

ABOUT THE BLOG

Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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