My parents’ marriage was a mystery to me. Luckily, they were riveting characters and left behind clues that I am still uncovering. Coming in at #9 on my 2014 Top 10 list is this audio story and behind-the-scenes look at my story crafting process.
Most of the audio story below transpired in the pre-Megan era, but it finally gave me some context to something that happened between my mom and dad in this century.
Back in 2001, my father was watching PBS and saw one of their fundraising specials. It was a reunion concert of old doo-wop bands.
The music took him straight back to the early 60’s, down to Ocean Drive, South Carolina. That’s where my father and mother used to go and shag dance. They were really good and would win contests and all that.
Bands like Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs and the Dominoes would play at these little beach parties where everyone drank rum and cokes and danced barefoot in the sand.
Back then, my mom and dad were golden Kennedy youth – all shiny and full of promise. But, over the years they fell apart like something out of a Pat Conroy novel. My mother developed MS, my father developed into a full-blown alcoholic. And by 2001, they were divorced after more than thirty years of marriage.
But, those songs…
My dad couldn’t resist. He pledged $150 to get the whole box set.
When they arrived, he called my mom at her apartment across town and said, “Hey Trish, I got these great CD’s of doo wop. You gotta listen, they’ll take you back. I’ll bring them by.”
My mother said something like, “MM-hm.” She had no intention of listening to those CD’s. She didn’t want to be reminded of the past. She hadn’t walked, much less danced, in over a decade. So, when he dropped off the 4 CD’s of 101 doo wop songs, she just left them by the door.
He called up a week later, “Hey Trish, didja listen to ‘em?”
“Because I didn’t want to, Elbert.”
His bubble was popped. He thought the music might be a way for them to have a conversation like old times. “Fine! I’m coming to get them.”
“I’ll leave them outside my door.”
“Good, I didn’t want to see you anyway.”
But, when he got to her apartment, the CD’s weren’t there. He banged on the door, but my mother wouldn’t answer it.
And so the great Doo Wop battle began.
My dad accused my mom of stealing the CD’s. She accused any number of neighborhood kids of stealing them. My older sister asked if perhaps the neighbor could have picked them up, thinking my mother was away. She was barked down by both of my parents.
My mother believed, in fact, that my father HAD picked up the CD’s, but was just accusing her in order to have a reason to call. Her bluff was called when he sued her in small claims court – think Judge Judy, without the cameras. A sheriff’s officer came to her apartment to ‘investigate’ and asked her a few questions.
My mother was distraught. She called me up, “Megan, your father is SUING me for $150. And I don’t have it!”
I used to work in public media, so I was furious. “$150?? Those CD’s only cost $70.”
“Well, he says he paid $150.”
“He better not be telling the IRS that because he made a tax-deductible contribution to his public television station and received a GIFT worth $70. He shouldn’t be able to sue you for any more than than the fair market value. Have you told him that? Have you?!?”
She hadn’t. And I think the sheriff must have discredited my father’s claims, because the suit was dropped.
Finally, my older sister decided to check next door, over my mother’s protests. “Hey, is there any chance that you saw some CD’s…”
The neighbor was totally embarrassed. “I did! Ohmigawsh, and I TOTALLY forgot to bring them back over. I hope it wasn’t any problem.”
This is how you know this a story from the South: my sister said, “No problem at all.”
She drove the CD’s over to my father, who no longer wanted them. My mother didn’t want them. And so they sit in my sister’s garage… To. This. Day. And the memory of that calamity – and all the nostalgia that drove it – could have been tucked in there as well.
But this past summer I stumbled across the story below.
originally published August 3, 2014
The Destiny City Film Festival invited me to tell a story about how I was transformed by compassion for an event called “Story Alchemy”. It wasn’t hard to think of what to tell.
My mother drilled compassion into my head. Whenever we would talk – and we talked a lot – she would always lead me to consider the other people in my life. What challenges did they face? What would motivate them to act the way they did? How did they feel about the things I said or did? Looking back, she gave me some of my best writing and acting lessons.
A couple months ago, though, I had the chance to apply that compassion to her life. I discovered a secret about my parents and wanted desperately to share the story. But first, I had to weigh the rules my mother lived by against her last request to me. It was a transformative process.
The event wasn’t taped, but crafting the story for performance created a lot of documentation, including this recording of my home rehearsal. Inspiration hits at weird times, and I was in the middle of doing laundry when I grabbed the mic and recorded this. It’s pretty close to how I told it on stage.
Although the idea for the story came easily, actually crafting the story took time. I wanted to take the audience inside the experience, but I had to figure out a way to do it in an interesting way – and without talking for hours. Writing for the eye is very different from developing an oral story.
In my work as a producer, workshop leader and consultant I offer other people an array of tools that can help them wrestle a collection of interesting events into a coherent, compelling story. Frequently, people resist spending too much time story-crafting and I always understand. I resist the development work myself – it seems like it should be easier to just tell a story about something that happened.
But, it isn’t.
I spent days trying to tell the story off the top of my head, never succeeding, often losing track of my point. Finally I had to break down and practice what I preach. That meant writing the story, charting the action, interviewing myself about my intentions, and nailing down the essential points.
Then, I had to let myself just spill out the story on tape and let my ears be the editor. The audio above is edited down from close to thirty minutes of me trying to tell the story, getting stuck, reworking phrases and pausing for long periods of time to figure out the most true way to express how I felt. I loaded the audio file into Adobe Audition and cut it back in the same way I did as a radio editor. Instead of looking at sentences to adjust, I used my ears to listen for plot and tension, timing, phrasing and tone.
The payoff for all that work was two-fold. One, I ended up with a story that I felt confident sharing on a stage in front of a crowd – without any notes. Two, I gained insights into my past that I never would have gotten if I hadn’t looked at the events in so many ways. The process forced me to question my own motivations and verbalize why the whole experience mattered enough to share it with an audiene.
In the end, the biggest reason I shared this story is because I don’t believe it’s a rare thing. I think most of us have tales just waiting to be discovered and share. While the story-crafting process is personal, sharing stories publicly helps pass on wisdom that would otherwise be lost.
Speaking of lost messages, the picture of my mother that tops this post sits beside my computer all the time. She still helps me practice compassion in everything I do. But, in order to scan the photo for this blog post I had to remove the photo from its frame. I guess I’ve never done that before because when I looked on the back of the photo I found a note on the back – for whoever she sent it to.
I don’t know if the picture made it’s way to my possession because the recipient didn’t like seeing how she looked, but it reminds me that great stories can be hiding in plain sight.