Courage in Storytelling: A Look at TenX9 Lubbock
Art requires three forms of courage.
The first is the courage to create your heart’s work behind closed doors, to dream it into being, to believe in it enough to breathe it to life.
The second is the courage to share it with others, to open oneself to vulnerability, exposure, and others’ acceptance or rejection of your work.
The third is the courage to come back to your art – again and again – despite the world’s opinions of it.
This third type of courage is often the most difficult.
This past September, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural TenX9 Lubbock event, a night of oral storytelling in which people shared a personal, true story in front of strangers. The night’s theme was courage, and boy, did it take courage for me to not only agree to do it, but actually get up on a stage and share something personal from my life in front of a room of strangers.
I told a story about the first fiction contest I entered and how, during a panel critique of the opening chapter of a novel that is now defunct, a panel member starting laughing at my pages. I was not, sadly, writing a comedy, but I was a very new to writing genre fiction, which is a world away from what I wrote in college. The room was full of other writers, and I made some very naïve mistakes, which I paid for quite openly.
Even now, I cringe when I think of that experience. I don’t know what was going through that panel member’s mind when she behaved like that, but she inadvertently spurred me to be a better writer, learn more about the craft, and try again.
Eventually, I wrote something that was accepted, but sharing memories of that public critique with strangers for the TenX9 Lubbock event meant reliving my humiliation not once, but twice: first, by writing it down, and second, by reading it aloud. I wasn’t sure how my story would be received, and honestly, I dreaded revealing my embarrassment to anyone.
But I am convinced that as artists who want to share our work with others we have to be brave and open to everything that can go wrong and see it all as an opportunity to learn how to be better in our work.
I didn’t die on that stage telling my story, but I did develop that third type of courage a tiny bit more. This was the unexpected magic of participating in a TenX9 storytelling event.
I encourage everyone reading this post to attend or even participate in a Tenx9 event near you. I was humbled (and, if I’m being honest, slightly terrified) to participate, but the night was full of powerful stories: some funny, some poignant.
And if you’re interested in the history and purpose of Tenx9, read on for my Q&A with one of TenX9 Lubbock’s co-founders, Jordan Kirksey, who convinced me that I needed to share my own story on courage!
Jordan, tell me a little bit about the history of TenX9. How did you learn about it? What made you want to bring it to Lubbock, TX?
Tenx9 (pronounced “ten by nine”) is an international storytelling event that was started in Belfast by Paul Doran and Pádraig Ó Tuama in 2011.
Sarai [Brinker] learned about this event through her friend Michael McRay, who runs Tenx9 Nashville. In May of 2015, Sarai founded the Lubbock Story Project with the event Motherhood using a similar structure to Tenx9. In the fall of that same year, she asked me to share a story I had shared with her in a class at an event with Sound being the theme.
At the time, I felt nervous and scared because I had no idea what I was getting myself into (similar to how our first-time storytellers feel). Long story short, while my story was awful, I fell in love with the event. There’s just a magical feeling you can’t describe, listening to these stories… So, hoping Sarai would say yes, I asked if I could help her with this project.
Our intent was always to eventually make this event Tenx9, but because of the work required, I think we wanted to wait and see if these events would be successful. Eventually we planned a trip to Nashville… and attended Tenx9 Nashville’s event themed People Move … After meeting with them and attending the event, Sarai and I knew this was something we wanted to bring it to Lubbock.
Oral storytelling is a powerful tool. I remember my great aunt, Marie, used to spend hours telling me stories about everyone in our family when I visited her farm as a child. She told me people's secrets, shenanigans, histories, and heartbreaks, and these are some of my best childhood memories. How has oral storytelling played a part in your life? And in your opinion, how can we build more of that oral storytelling tradition into our daily lives?
For me oral storytelling has been a way for me to connect to people. When I was in middle school and high school, I began the process of allergy shots, which meant I would constantly be pulled out of school so I could get these shots. Since my mom loved to spoil me, we would always go to Sonic for a drink or food and would play hookie from class. Part of that time was filled with her telling me stories, and it was a chance for me to either escape far away from my life or to help process the things going on in it. Perhaps that’s why we keep telling stories? Even though it seems every story sounds like another, hearing them through a different person can make you listen differently.
TenX9 has an interesting structure: 9 people have 10 minutes or less to tell a true story that relates to a theme. Why the 9 people? Why only 10 minutes?
I’ve asked one of the founders this question, because I wasn’t sure myself, and here’s what he gave me:
“We chose 9 people because we thought we could do 3 sessions of 3 storytellers, thereby getting some custom to the bar/café in the in-between sessions. And 10 minutes is a good length because it’s not too short and not too long. It’s about 1400 words, and if someone can’t tell a good story in that length of time, they’re not going to be helped by it being 15 minutes, or 20 minutes! Some of our best stories have been told in under 6 minutes, so 10 minutes isn’t a target for us, it’s just a limit.
We also say that if you’re uninterested in a story, then you know that it’s only going to be ten minutes maximum, so that’s never too long to switch off until you hear a different story. But our experience is that no matter where the story comes from it’s always interesting to folks. For a public event in a bar that’s an arts night, having an evening that has a format and pace is important - people need to know when an arts night is finishing, and the format gives a clear outline and helps the pace move along.” - Pádraig Ó Tuama
I have to admit I was very uncomfortable preparing for TenX9Lubbock. It was a challenge to agree to the event, write my own story, and then get up on that stage in front of everyone and share it. But once the microphone was in my hand, everything took on a sort of magical quality. Time slowed because here were all these people listening intently to what I had to say, and suddenly, I didn't feel so alone in my experience. What is it about telling someone else a true story that is so powerful for building a sense of community and belonging?
Well, I think it’s the power of stories. As my old creative writing teacher told me: stories build empathy. It goes with the old adage of putting yourself in the shoes of others, as we’re able to live this story through the speaker’s perspective. When we’re able to sit there and absorb what the speaker is saying, we’re able to live another life we’ve never lived before. If you put this with a large mass of people, suddenly you’re amplifying the effect. I don’t think anyone can feel out of place in a story, because at the core we are all human beings who experience conflict. It’s the reason I love the format of Tenx9 too, because we get such a wide range of stories even though they share a common theme.
How often will TenX9Lubbock events happen? And if someone wanted to participate or attend, where can they find out more?
[I]t’s safe to say that Tenx9 will happen at least once a month. We will have an event in November, but will likely take a break in December before resuming in January. All of our events will be at Sugar Brown’s Coffee. Check our website for updates!
One thing that is important to note is that we have specific guidelines (found on our website), and do not function on an “open mic” basis. Every story is approved by either Sarai or myself, and we do ask for drafts or detailed outlines from every single storyteller a few days before the event. It’s not to only pick stories that appeal to us, but rather to make sure that these are in fact stories with a beginning, middle, and end. After that we use these to help develop a flow with the order of the stories.
If anyone would like to tell a story, they can find out more at www.tenx9lubbock.wordpress.com.
Follow our Facebook page to keep up with our events!