Everyone has been telling and listening to stories since childhood, but some people like Linda Grosser don't discover the extent of their storytelling talent until later in life. Since entering retirement, Linda has thrown herself into new activities, including storytelling. Massmouth volunteer and fellow storyteller Angie Chatman interviewed Linda about this change.
I understand that you recently retired. What’s it like?
After I retired, although I had a variety of interests, I didn't really have specific plans and was completely open to new horizons. But what exactly, I wasn’t sure. Initially it was summertime, my favorite season for adventures in the great outdoors - cycling, walking, beach-combing - so it was an easy time at the start. It took a while though to get used to unstructured time, not having an automatic daily social environment, and the freedom of how I choose to spend my time. One thing is for sure - every day is a new adventure.
How did you get into storytelling?
It had only been a year since I left work at Boston University. My son had given me tickets to a weekend adult summer camp in upstate NY. Timing was perfect for a personal growth adventure that the camp offered. Then, for the camp talent show, completely out of the blue, I became inspired to share a true personal story about a life-changing trip. Something I had never done before. Serendipitously, just a few weeks later, I saw a signup at my local library for a storytelling workshop with storyteller and teacher Jo Radner. Jo and her workshop was fantastic, and she was very supportive of me to just get out there.
Over the course of a few months, I told at Club Passim, then the Massmouth semi-finals, then I placed second at the Big Mouth Off. After that, I took the intro class with Massmouth’s Director Cheryl Hamilton. She has also been very encouraging. This summer, I really dove into the deep end and attended the National Storytelling Networks annual conference, where I met and heard all these famous tellers. Now it seems that new opportunities for growing involvement just keep coming.
How do you know when your story is ready for the public?
That’s one of the things I’m learning...how to craft my story. It takes hard work to tease out the essence of the story and remove the extraneous details. I am learning that it’s an art form that takes time and practice. I’m also a photographer. For me, working on a story is a little like ‘seeing’ a subject from different angles -- until I am happy with the result. I know it is ready when I feel it, that all the important elements are there.
Why is storytelling so important to you that you would invest so much time and energy when you could be...I don’t know, gardening?
In my career in business and academia, I did a lot of public speaking. Personal storytelling is different. I am connecting with my audience in a vulnerable and open-hearted way. We’ve all struggled; we’ve all suffered; and we’ve all celebrated life too. It is sharing a common humanity and storytelling helps to reinforce that we need not be alone, wherever we are. I suspect that maybe a lot of people feel that too.
I also feel rewarded when I am giving voice to some truth or wisdom that someone else might also feel, but maybe cannot express. And, I have to say: storytelling is just plain fun.
What specific lessons have you learned as you have developed your craft?
One big lesson has been learning how to adjust to the environment of different venues as well as the different audience expectations and reactions. This may sound naive but when I did the Stories to Scenes show at the Rozzie Theater, I was surprised by how different it felt from a slam or showcase. I am learning that a story telling is a living thing; it and the audience change with every telling. How do I handle, when a funny line does not get the same laugh with the next audience? It's tricky.
Your story at the Big Mouth Off was very personal and inspiring. Were you nervous to talk about overcoming fears and your divorce?
Yes and No. No, in that as I mentioned earlier, I have done a lot of public speaking in my career so I feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience. But further, in sharing the stories that I have, I sort of feel like it has become a mission for me to connect with others through personal narrative. It feels like a gift that I can give. In all those ways, I have not been nervous to share my feelings about a difficult personal situation. When I do get nervous, it has been because I want to do it well, to convey the depth of the meaning of the story, which can be hard, in the best possible way that I can. And of course, there is also always the excitement before a “performance”, even if it is a five-minute one.
What has been the biggest surprise for you so far in storytelling?
Storytelling has opened up an entirely new world for me. Who knew? Listening on the radio is an entirely different experience than live storytelling. I have met so many incredibly friendly and supportive tellers and teachers; so many brilliant styles in which tellers share their love of stories. Every time I hear another story, I am amazed by the diversity of talent out there. Frankly, I was also completely surprised to find this new avocation for myself at age 65.
To learn more about Massmouth’s classes, events and Stories from the Stage program, visit www.massmouth.org.