I’ve just finished my second week at The Moth in NYC. I’m still getting used to the pace of life here: fast-paced and, for the most part, solitary. That’s not to say my co-workers at The Moth are an unfriendly bunch: they’ve made me feel incredibly welcome and I already feel I’ve been here for much longer than a fortnight. It’s when I wander around the streets after work has ended that I realise just how single-minded the New Yorker existence is: I’ve given up smiling at strangers already, a difficult sacrifice for someone with such a small town mentality to make. Subway journeys are horrendous for me: I essentially spend them trying to subdue my innate urge to people-watch. Kit and Julia spent some time this week trying to teach me how to stare at people without looking straight at them. ‘See, look, I’m just looking out the window. But I’m also watching you in my peripheral vision.’
It’s a wrench because I’m so excited by the sheer amount of human drama I’ve seen so far played out on the subway: a couple clearly about to break up giving each other sidelong looks of disgust, foreign families battling with street maps, young children still getting excited about the speed of the train. I was listening to one of the Moth stories yesterday and the storyteller spoke about how, in New York, everyone is solitary but it’s such a public city that you’re never alone from one end of the day to the next – you’re either travelling with other people or surrounded by them at your workplace – so your dramas happen very publicly as a result.
I’ve had the most exciting first few weeks here: I’ve been to two StorySLAMs, both very different from each other. The first was, for the most part, a hilarious evening of comic stories around the theme of Short Cuts. This week’s SLAM was a much more sombre, thoughtful affair, with some beautiful stories emerging around the theme of Fathers. One that particularly stayed with me was a small bespectacled man who stood up and, barely concealing his emotions, told the story of how his father had spent weeks teaching him to play baseball. Being involved in the Moth from the beginning of the production process, through the events themselves, and then in the collation of the story recordings following the SLAMs is enabling me to see the way the company functions as a whole – and also to witness first-hand just how passionate the team are. I’ve never experienced a workplace so focused and enthusiastic about what is produced there.
I was also lucky enough this week to get the chance to experience some of the MothShop workshops – storytelling workshops that we run for schools and for disadvantaged adults. I went to two: one with 1199, the Healthcare Workers’ Union, and another with a charity called SAGE. The people attending and the stories that are emerging from the sessions were just phenomenal. A lady started to tell us stories of her youth in the segregated south; many spoke with huge passion about the weeks of canvassing prior to Obama’s first election and their elation when he was successful. An elderly gentleman at SAGE told a beautiful story about his relationship with his father and another told us about his mother’s death and how it had reminded him shockingly of his own loneliness.
With the company running so many events and workshops all the time, I am trying to throw myself into everything and experience as much as possible in the short amount of time I have here. Nine weeks doesn’t really seem like enough when there is so much happening and so many projects in the pipeline – and also so much of New York to see and experience while I’m here. I’ve been trying to do as many things as possible on my evenings and days off: free Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park, music sessions on Staten Island and trying as many new foods as possible (so far I’ve had clam chowder, Chinese dumplings, crabcakes and banh mi). And, hopefully, I’ll be telling a few stories along the way.