Behind the Scenes of The Memory Palace

I’ve been a podcast listener for many years, and at the beginning of my daily walk I’ll open the PocketCasts app on my phone to find an episode that will indulge my storytelling addiction. There are podcasts which live there temporarily – I’ll add and delete as my desires change – but several of them have a permanent slot in my listening rotation.

The Moth, This American Life, 99% Invisible, Radio Diaries, Ear Hustle, The Kitchen Sisters, Longform Podcast and Unfictional are on a brief list of shows that have become long-time audio companions, friends I can trust to expand and challenge my perceptions. Another member of that illustrious list is The Memory Palace, a podcast I fell in love with day one.

Created by storytelling genius Nate DiMeo in 2008, you could say it’s been around the digital block a few times. Nate’s no stranger to audio, having spent a decade plus in public radio and heard on landmark shows such as All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace.

The Memory Palace is not unusual in one sense, as it simply presents historical vignettes about people, places and past events. Its uniqueness is comes from DiMeo’s ability to pull a single thread from a complex tapestry of facts and feelings, then offer it to us as a bespoke narrative. Like a wandering medieval minstrel, he takes his audience on a magical exposition of the past, somehow condensing hours of exposition into mere minutes.

As much as I love the well-polished episodes that he produces, it was a special treat to hear this behind-the-scenes conversation with Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich on storytelling and life. It’s a conversation that revealed pivotal moments early in his career, alongside his passion for, and approach to, crafting stories that can touch people.

Whether you’re a professional storyteller or just aspire to gain a greater mastery of the art, DiMeo’s journey from nearly clueless to consummate creator will change your perspective on telling stories in the digital age.

A Conversation About the Memory Palace with Robert Krulwich

“…the lesson that it showed me, was that audio storytelling on the radio had the power to reach into your life and could change your day…”

 

“…the most profound thing of journalism is finding the real person in there, and being able to draw them out, and to find a type of truth that goes beyond mere facts…”

Learn more about Nate DiMeo in this beautiful article by Sarah Larson in The New Yorker, and this insightful piece by Joshua Barone in the New York Times.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The Modern Story of Strange Fruit, with Dianne Reeves and John Beasley

Racial discrimination is a sad reality throughout the world, and sadly, still a significant aspect of American culture. From the advent of slavery in the South, to fighting a Civil War in hopes of bringing the practice to a close, and the current state of affairs after many centuries. It is a story we wish had never been written. A story whose narrative arc still requires a remedy.

“Strange Fruit” was written 80 years ago describing the horrific practice of lynching innocent African-Americans by white people. It’s unconscionable and unacceptable that lynching is still happening today and also that the justice system failed Ahmaud Arbery. It was only after public widespread outrage followed the release of the horrific video which showed evidence of a racist father-and-son team shooting an unarmed Arbery to death.

John Beasley and Dianne Reeves collaborated on this video as a way to protest the continuing brutality and racism against African-Americans.

Directed & Edited by Anthony C. Santagati
Executive Produced by Aja Burrell Wood
Music Produced and Arranged by Dianne Reeves (vocals) and John Beasley (keyboards)
Nicolas Payton – trumpet
Terreon Gully – drums
Alex Al – bass
Composer: Abel Metropol

Black people are so tired.
They can’t go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
They can’t sleep (#Breonna Taylor+#AiyanaJones)
They can’t walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
They can’t relax in the comfort of their own homes (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).
They can’t ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
They can’t have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
They can’t leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
They can’t play loud music (#JordanDavis).
They can’t sell CDs (#AltonSterling).
They can’t walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
They can’t play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
They can’t go to church (#Charleston9).
They can’t hold a hair brush while leaving their own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
They can’t party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
They can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
They can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
They can’t break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
They can’t shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
They can’t have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
They can’t read a book in their own car (#KeithScott).
They can’t be a 10yr old walking with their grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
They can’t decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
They can’t ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
They can’t cash their check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
They can’t take out their wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
They can’t run (#WalterScott).
They can’t breathe (#EricGarner).
They can’t live (#FreddieGray).
They’re tired.
Tired of making hashtags.
Tired of trying to convince you that #BlackLivesMatter too.
Tired of dying.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but?

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

We’ve all heard this question, or something similar, asked of witnesses in television or movie courtroom scenes. And for anyone who has served on a jury, you have heard it first hand. But what does this question really mean, is it a reasonable expectation, and if so, how does it pertain to the practice telling personal stories?

While it’s true that we tell personal stories to each other all the time – every conversation can be thought of as a story – in this article I’m referring to stories that we plan to share in public; in print, on stage, radio shows or podcasts, and thinking about the nature of truth when we’re telling these stories.

Although the practice of telling such stories has been around for millennia, the desire to hear them, and the opportunities to do so, have increased dramatically in recent years. As we’ve become more connected, and technologically savvy, we’ve developed a thirst for story that seems to be unquenchable.

Millions tune into broadcasts, view videos, or attend live events with a desire to hear stories about our shared human experience. Stories about who we are and where we have been, stories about the struggles we’ve endured, and the universal hope for a better future.

In my coaching practice I’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of folks who want to tell impactful personal stories; professional speakers and novices, students and academics, entrepreneurs and CEOs, prison inmates and special forces, scientists and creatives.

During the process of developing their storylines the topic of truth often comes up when many say, “It’s impossible to remember every detail. How truthful does my story need to be?” And their difficulty in remembering the truth is especially troublesome for experiences and conversations that happened a long time ago. Our memory can be rather permeable.

That’s when I’ll bring up the The Moth. I listen to a long list of podcasts each week for story inspiration, and The Moth remains at the top of the list. I never miss an episode. They host live storytelling events, and feature the best ones on The Moth Radio Hour. When it comes to truth, they address the issue best, in my opinion, by announcing during each broadcast:

The Moth Podcast Story Slams Radio Hour

With this in mind I encourage speakers to do their homework and verify everything they can, especially any statistics, research data or historical references. When it comes to the topic of personal experience, they should reach out to anyone mentioned in their story to verify the facts, or at least hear their side of the story to be sure the essence of the narrative is true.

The reason is straightforward. If any aspect of a story is untrue, the entire narrative becomes suspect. One bad apple can, in this situation, spoil your story’s impact. When trust is broken between the storyteller and their audience it becomes difficult to repair. You need to connect with your audience from a place of honesty and integrity.

Should you ever have a desire to embellish your story as a way to make it stronger, I would counter that you don’t need to make things up in order to make a point, and if you feel you do, there’s something fundamentally lacking in your story to begin with, something that lying won’t/can’t solve. Instead, rethink your premise, and dig deeper into your narrative in order to find experiences or related information that supports the meaning of your story.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,
but not their own facts. – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

But there are other elements in personal storytelling – ideas, insights, beliefs and opinions. This part of your narrative is not based on empirical facts, but rather your view of the world, how you see things, what is true for you, which is subjective rather than objective.

An audience wants to hear your opinion – it’s how they connect to you as a person and come to understand the meaning of your story. But there should never be any confusion as to whether your words are presented as fact or opinion. Expressions such as, “It seemed to me“, “They way I see it“, “The way I felt was“, can let the audience know that you’re shifting from fact to opinion. Done well, they will come to better understand the journey you’ve been on.

You must be the guardian of truth within your story, and that becomes a reflection of you.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Why Storytelling Matters via Patrick Moreau

“Why storytelling?” It’s a question I’ve been asked many times, often preceded by the phrase, “Out of all the career paths you could have pursued.” The standard answer has always been, “Because it matters, because it expresses our humanity, because it can change the world.”

For me, it’s something that I have witnessed in my own life, and in the lives of many others. An accumulation of experiences over many years that led to a profound understanding, built like the pyramids, one block at a time. Though it’s a reality constantly evolving, never finished.

I would venture to say that Patrick Moreau‘s experience is similar in that he has spent many years honing his own craft of storytelling as the founder of Muse Storytelling, but in his case there was a pivotal moment when the telling of stories took on new meaning and purpose.

Every story is the opportunity of a lifetime and we just rarely realize it.

Many personal stories involve tragic events or circumstances that cause a shift in perspective about the world and our place in it. We come away changed, as well as conflicted and confused, yet clarity can also manifest. Take a few minutes to watch this video about Patrick’s journey, then reflect on your desire, and maybe reluctance, to share your story with others.

Transcript (with minor edits for readability)

Amina Moreau: So, I just came back from interviewing Patrick for our launch film, and I’ve got to say, we had a really great plan going into this thing. We knew exactly what we wanted our story to be. But every so often, when you’re in an interview, something so amazing, or so unexpected happens that you know you’ve got to pivot your story.

Here’s what happened:

Why does it matter to you so much that you live a life of purpose?

Patrick Moreau: That was my mom. She took her own life, and my sister and I had to go back to Midland and pack up her apartment.

I mean, for over a decade my mom struggled with bipolar, which means she’d have these manic phases where she’d fly to places like Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan and then would often come crashing down into a depression and somebody’d have to go and try and bring her back.

I went to Lebanon to try and bring her back when she became depressed, and I’ve sat on an airplane next to her for eight hours and she pretends to read, you know, because then it looks like you’re normal.

I can’t imagine the reality of somebody going through their life trying to hide their pain so that people don’t try and bother them, you know? And so, it just came to a point where she felt like she was more of a burden.

A lot of people would probably tell you that the depression killed her, but it was not having purpose anymore. It was not being able to follow her purpose. It was not being able to find it in herself to do anything that she felt would really make a difference for anybody.

It’s incredibly hard to lose somebody you’re that close to, but what allowed me to survive was having a purpose, was believing that what we’re actually doing really does matter and makes a difference.

So it’s a very deep-seated sense that purpose not only matters, it not only drives you forward, but it also keeps you going, and it also will help see you through, and it is one of the most fulfilling things that you can have. You know?

I don’t think a lot of us realize that being a storyteller truly is the greatest job out there, because not only do we get to do something, it can really make a positive difference, that we can really take things and share them with people in a way that’s gonna open their minds, let them see something different. But that we are also changed by those things.

If I have the ability to extract something from our experience and to bring together an incredible team of people who can come up with a repeatable way that different people, wherever they are in the world, can use this structure and these ideas to do what they do better and to love it more, I mean, it feels like a crime not to.

How do you not share that? How do you not take the opportunity to try and do that? I don’t know, I guess it seems bizarre ‘cuz people come up to you all the time and they go, like, why are you sharing this?

Like, why do you just give away everything you know? And I have such a hard time understanding that question. Why would I keep it? Are you gonna go and tell your best story and then go lock it in your bedroom and go, “No, no, this is for me!”

No, you share it with people. You want it to make an impact. Well, you know what? Muse is my story. It is something that I believe in that deeply, that it can be your journey, that can help you actually make a difference and that’s all it is. And so of course, I want to share that with as many people as I can. And I want them to be able to use it and take it and take whatever works for you and just do what you do a little bit better and I’m happy.

Every story is the opportunity of a lifetime and we just rarely realize it. You rarely realize that we have an opportunity to really let somebody be heard, to allow them to see themselves in a different way, and to share something with other people that could make a difference for them.

One of the last things that my mom really wanted was to share her story. It was to have it matter to somebody else other than her. For people to take her pain in her experience with bipolar and to learn something from it, to be able to live their own lives a little bit better.

And I will one day tell that story in a bigger way. And when I do, I want it to be the best damn story I’ve ever told. You know, I want to make sure that I’m not missing anything, I haven’t left anything on the table, and that’s why we’re building this. You know? Because that’s what matters to me, this story.

But everybody else, they have something that matters to them, and it’s just about creating something that allows us all to make the most of every story we tell.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Us CAN Do This by Gill Sotu

I’ve always believed that there’s an opportunity to reach inside and search for the beauty and joy which exists within the pain and sorrow of any tragic experience. It’s not always easy, and the gifts can be elusive to say the least, but they are there nonetheless.

Spoken word artist Gill Sotu is one of those rare individuals who can help us discover and celebrate that beauty and joy. In this talk at TEDxSanDiego Gill weaves a tapestry of profound human connections that form the essence of our humanity. That speaks to the power of us. To the salvation and redemption of us. Watch and Share.

Us CAN Do This by Gill Sotu

a part of me was scared to write this
a part of me was ready to analyze
each and every phrase that i uttered
so that the perfect word concoction connected us
covering every bit of our anxieties like a weighted blanket
what we are all under right now is heavy
we are isolated in ways that we never wanted
the interest of this virus is compounding in every country
they say to stay six feet apart
but this disease has no respect
for borders, boundaries, bodies, or economic wellbeing
if bread, a safe bed, being confined to a prison
or the lack of basic necessities
isn’t your primary concern right now
consider yourself really, really blessed
tonight, hold on to your loved ones
like they were your last bit of oxygen
and give thanks to whatever form of spirit
you do or do not believe in
realizing that happiness does not make us grateful
it is gratefulness that makes us happy
for instance
i am truly grateful for those on the front line
working beyond overtime
pulling themselves out of a half sleep
to selflessly shepherd us through this terror
who knew that you are so good at hiding your wings
i want to contribute all of my gifts
and a part of me is still scared to write this
but right now is not the time to be perfect
no one cares if you help them awkwardly
just don’t touch them
your job may have stopped momentarily
but the demand to add value to this world has not
we all have work to do
they say if you ask yourself the right question
you will be rewarded with the right answer
right now we all have the same concern
how are we going to get through this
and since words are my stock and trade
i’m going to ask you to change your approach slightly
instead ask what can i do to get us through this?
understanding that in the beginning
us is going to share your same walls
and be merely an elbow cough away
but once that is settled
the definition of us must spread faster than this virus
must be able to leap social, political, religious
or cultural differences in a single bound
carry more aid and support than a locomotive
in this immensely scary time in our world
our definition of us
cannot afford to believe in the word them anymore
what can i do to get us through this?
they say the mind cannot hear an inquiry
without at least attempting an answer
so i’m going to say this one more time
so that my people in london, in atlanta
mozambique and memphis
and any living in between can hear me
and repeat to themselves
what can i do to get us through this?
we are six feet apart
but this crisis is brought us even closer together
what can i do to get us through this
tree’s gift breath, the sun and the wind gift energy
nature does not give life without also giving gifts
it is what makes you so valuable to humankind
even if right now all you can give is kindness
with some, for some their greatest burden
is the constant pressure upon their spirit
you may be one phone call, one grocery run
one corny dad joke away
from relieving some of it
i know us can do this
i know us can not be the same us
once we overcome this
it is up to each and every one of us
to help where we can
while we’re still all socially cocooned
and when we are finally free from this
us can’t wait to hug you and marvel
at the butterfly you’ve become

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved