Zestful Blog Post #226
As you may know, I’ve gotten a gig teaching a class in story writing at Ringling College of Art and Design. Last week, about 15 other new faculty members and I were obliged to attend an all-day orientation session. The agenda looked tedious: presentation after presentation from department heads and support teams, speech after speech. But first, all of us had to introduce ourselves and say a few words about our background and what we’re going to teach.
I was a little more than halfway back in the room. I listened to the intro stories, which all went as expected: “I’m [Firstname Lastname], and I taught [subject matter] at [this college, that university] for [X] years. I got my Ph.D. in [subject] from [alma mater], and I’m just so excited to be here.” A few of my colleagues mumbled or spoke softly, as if afraid someone might hear them.
So you know me, right? I was like, this is gonna be a long day, and already we can use a little relief. About five people before me, I started to think about what I’d say. My turn came. I spoke clearly and deliberately, in a cheerful tone.
“I’m Elizabeth Sims. I used to run the liberal arts departments at Harvard and the Sorbonne—in Paris.” Heads instantly turned in my direction and postures straightened. I went on, at the same pace, “I was the boss of both of those programs, at the same time.” Dead, attentive silence. “But I got kicked out of both places because of a series of really juicy sex scandals.” Every last pair of eyes was riveted to me, and people started to laugh incredulously. “So here I am at this fine institution. And guess what I’ll be teaching! Story writing! Making up stories. You see how it works.” Full-on, relaxed laughter. “The truth is, I’m an author and writing authority, and I’m a contributing editor at Writer’s Digest magazine. My degrees are from Michigan State University and Wayne State University—in Detroit. And now on to [name of person sitting next to me].” That person waited a moment for the room to settle down before resuming the ordinary story format. I hoped strongly to be one-upped, but nobody tried it.
During breaks, some of my colleagues came up to talk. One said, “I want to be in your class!” Another wanted my card so she could have me come and talk about storytelling to one of her classes. Another asked, anxiously, “Did you plan that? I mean, did you plan that?” Another simply said, in a low, awed tone, “That was great.” Such a tiny little thing; such fun, positive impact! I guess one reason my performance was so impressive was that the top administrators of the college were in the room. The people you’re supposed to really behave in front of.
I had already engineered a similar success a few years ago when, after arthroscopic shoulder surgery, I was sitting in the physical-therapy waiting room with a few other patients. Everyone started discussing why they were there: knee replacement, knee replacement, wrist tendon. I nodded sympathetically until they all turned, politely, to me. I gestured to my sling and explained that my arm had been torn off in a terrible car wreck, but doctors had reattached it during a grueling 17-hour operation. Judging by their slowly widening eyes and dropping jaws, I could have gone on about how I stanched the bleeding myself and used the severed arm as a club to ward off an aggressive grizzly bear, but Marcia, who had driven me to the appointment, broke in with the truth. (I believe I posted this on Facebook at the time, so forgive me if you already heard it.)
Other than to have fun telling you about my little shining moments, my point here is to remind us that story, when unexpected, can hit people strongly. You can have a lot of fun with story, on the page and off! It’s a gift! Find your balls and give it! Look for opportunities, and then report back to us, OK?
(For more on this subject, see post 145, Lying is Good for You.)
Do you have a story about a time when you fun-lied? Tell us! To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever. Photo by ES.
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