One. The Moth
No one wants to speak. The organisers are walking the rows, hustling the audience for storytellers because the audience is also the act. Five people must agree to tell a true, personal story for the night to proceed. The month is February and the theme is ‘love hurts’. The host provides encouragement as the room fills up and a nervous energy builds. People grab drinks from the bar before things start. One by one, five people sign-up to tell a personal story of love to a room of strangers. The stories are intimate, surprising, rough around the edges, and brilliant.
Moth Club takes place monthly-ish around the world, with a regular slot at the Rich Mix in East London. A host, a location, and a theme are provided by the organisers but members of the audience provide the entertainment. Moth Club is a celebration of storytelling in its purest and simplest: entertaining people by taking a true, personal story and spinning it into a yarn. It’s also a chance to get immediate feedback on a story. If you’re writing a short story and want to improve it, there’s no better way to do this than by reading it out loud to people and seeing their reaction. That’s the lesson that I’m going to take from Moth Club when writing my book.
I’ve got a baby, I’m back at work, and we’re in lock down. I’m not going to do a lot of writing for the next couple of months, and I’m not going to put myself under pressure to do so. But writing my book is the last and the smallest aspect of creating my book. I can share my ideas out loud, see the reaction, and improve them before I document them in the book. I’ve helped people with their own writing. They often want a chance to talk about their ideas out loud, and for me to listen to them and share what I took from them. I’ll try the same thing for myself. Right now, making time to speak with like minded people sounds pretty good. The moral here is that I can develop my book by talking and sharing with others.
Two. Pride and Prejudice
I fell out of love with a topic half-way through a postgraduate degree in it.
I studied for a Master of Arts in critical theory, which aims to reveal and challenge our power structures by assessing our society and culture. I’d taken a Bachelor of Arts in English Studies, loved the critical theory modules, and gone straight into a postgraduate course specialising in the topic. This was my error: I should have taken a break between undergraduate and postgraduate study instead of going from one to another. As it was, I became jaded by such academic, abstract language* being used to describe such immediate, pressing issues happening in the world today. I started to use my essays as a way to argue against my chosen subject and in favour of a more accessible, emotionally-ground way of talking about power.
In one of my essays, I started with a book about power** and found it was excellent at calling-out power structures that tell us who we should be to the point where we internalise these labels. What I didn’t find was hope. There was no means of resistance to these power structures. I then moved onto another book** and found hope through resistance. It suggested that when we’re told that we are something or someone and we don’t recognise ourselves in that pigeon hole, we are resisting a power structure. However, it took me around a month to understand just one of the key chapters in this book, so dense and almost mathematical was the language. I ended by looking to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin and finding that it achieved something similar to the two other books, highlighting power structures and offering ways of resisting them, but did this through an accessible and emotionally grounded-story.
I did a few talks in 2019 and spoke with people for ideas for talks in 2020. Feedback from event organisers and attendees was that my personal stories worked well. They made abstract concepts personal by providing a real life context. Personal stories also worked well because they showed that I was making it up as I went along. They helped me curb the urge to present tidy packages of knowlege when in reality it often took me years to figure something out and it was only useful for a few months. I’ve also learned that sharing how I figured something out can be more valuable than the thing I figured out. The moreal here is that there’s always room for abstract thought but a little humanity will bring it to life.
Sat here in 2020, * I don’t believe that critical theory is flawed because it uses academic language to describe abstract concepts, I’d just been doing too much of it for too long and needed a break from it. The two books were ** Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison and *** The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. I’ve massively reduced their arguments to fit into a few lines in order to cram them into a post about writing a product management book.