Go for broke. Always try and do too much. Dispense with safety nets. Take a deep breath before you begin talking. Aim for the stars. Keep grinning. Be bloody-minded. Argue with the world.
And never forget that writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things–childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves–that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers.
― Salman Rushdie
Other Ways I’m Leaping
- Entering lyric contests
- Writing a novella
- Writing children’s book series
- Taking photos (all you see here except for the clip art is mine)
- Learning about Joro Spiders
How I Leapt Into the World of Spoken Word
I sat next to Tom Smith in a political science class in college who once was an incredible high jumper. Third or fourth row, right of center. An actual leaper, not just a metaphorical one. He’s not especially tall or muscular (though remarkably fit). During one competition, one he had already won the year before, he decided to set the bar at 7 feet, seven inches. 2.33 meters, to be exact.
That’s higher than he had ever jumped.
He stepped back to his mark, looked at the bar, and began his run, calculating every step. In the zone, he was focused his goal. Then, in classic Fosbury Flop fashion, he lifted his leg, threw up his shoulders and… whack! Nailed the bar and fell gloriously into the mat having not succeeded. He blew it.
I asked if he thought, if, under better conditions or better execution, he could’ve made the jump. He responded with maybe, explaining some technical things. Then, he pulled back, and acknowledged that it was conjecture. On that day, things were the way they were. He gave it his best and his best wasn’t good enough for the goal. He gave it a shot. He leapt figuratively and literally.
Except I’m actually fudging the details. He had two more chances, tried again and made it the jump. He won the NCAA Championship for the high jump a record second time.
That’s all we get. That moment under whatever conditions to do our best. There may be other moments with better conditions, but that’s how things are now. There are times to wait and prepare, certainly, but, as with my track and field classmate, sometimes you need to choose now whether or not to risk.
I leap often. I’m not beyond flopping. My recent leaping involves recording spoken word songs. They aren’t stories or poems, nor are they songs in the usual way, but something else altogether. On one hand, they are standard spoken word with some sort of soundtrack. What makes them something difference is the performance element. I’m not just delivering my lines, but I’ve created a character for each one. The soundtracks are bits and pieces I’ve intentionally mixed. Some might have me whistling, sipping coffee or breathing. Other bits mixed in are loops and effects to achieve the integrated ambiance I want.
Storytelling to Spoken Word
I recognized I could do this in college, during a graduate level storytelling class.
In college, as an English major, I took a summer graduate class in storytelling. We had to deliver a story each day, four times a week. Or was it five? Each story was 5-20 minutes.
We learned how to quickly write with a strong sense of structure, then learn the modules and key passages.
We had some outstanding students who would have us in tears, laughter, or the edge or our seat.
I focused on American and Slavic tall tales, with a dash of Rudyard Kipling through in (his Just So Stories are brilliant).
Since then, I tell stories everywhere I go. I brought a stack of tales when I was a substitute teacher having to cover a sick physics teacher’s class. I never took physics, so I worked with what I could.
I taught a weekly class in a jail. I’d convert some lessons into stories.
A couple art shows, coffeeshop open mic nights, and a festival for the hard of hearing — I cut my teeth on folk tales, working in my own stuff along the way.
I listen to what’s out there (I’m not impressed for the most part), and learn what I can. Got a good mic and related equipment, and continue to grow. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook and you’ll hear a few pieces along the way.
Along the way, I’ve recorded serious, spooky, and silly pieces. Sometimes with music behind them (like a cool version of Ravel’s Bolero), and sometimes sound effects. I’m often layering and texturing my own voice, giving an ambience to the words.
Where’s the risk? I write speeches for a living and coach my clients to a better delivery. They, or potential clients, might judge me for this. They might find my delivery too unusual. I get it. While I never want to unnecessarily lose a client, I’m OK with it.
For me to be better at my job, I need to continually push the edges of myself and my craft. Writing in this manner is my craft.
I could’ve reduced the risk. I could’ve hired musicians. I could’ve gone to a studio and had my work professionally produced. Instead, I bought a good quality microphone and mixing software. I hired the manger of a music shop to quickly tutor me in the basics. I played a lot. You can hear two pieces, “Chicago” and “The Whistling People of Kildeer.”
I don’t esteem to become an actor. I’d love to professionally record my work with the help of someone who gets my vibe, so if you’re out there, find me.
Oh, and I risked further. I entered them in a contest. I leapt. I lost. I’ll keep at it.
Subscribe for Leap Updates
Newsletter may include updates from Tree Fort Books, American Speechwriter, Joro Spider Appreciation, and other Trendl Communications projects. No spamming and always interesting.