Willa Paskin: Before we begin, just a heads up. This episode contains a bit of foul language. Once upon a time, I knew a storyteller.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: My name is David Paskin and I’m Willa Paskin Stead.
Willa Paskin: So who are Emil and Sarah?
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Amelia. Sarah. Gloves that lived in the top of our closet.
Willa Paskin: When I was little, my father would tell me stories about Emil and Sarah, a pair of make believe gloves on the walk to nursery school. It started as a way to get me out of the apartment and into the stroller, but then it just kept going. A new adventure every morning. I remember that they were leather and there was one where they fell in a bathtub. Is that right?
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Do you remember that? I think so. They kind of mushed together. I certainly remember one under the radiator, I think. I think they had been scared somehow. You know, there was the hardest time trying to convince them to come out.
Willa Paskin: With it hard. I find it really hard to tell the stories of the girls.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: What’s surprising is it wasn’t hard. You enjoyed them so much and I enjoyed inventing them. Your expression on your face. When I was telling the stories, you were so engaged. You were in the story.
Willa Paskin: The stories faded out after I started elementary school. We carpooled in the mornings and there was always other people around. But I remembered them. And I think four years after, if someone had asked me what a storyteller was, the first thing I would have pictured was someone like my dad. By which I mean someone telling a story, a fiction to children. Frankly, though, I didn’t hear the word storyteller all that much until about a decade ago. But by that point, something about it had changed.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Do you want to know what the oldest marketing technique.
Willa Paskin: Out there is?
Speaker 3: It’s storytelling. The very act of telling a story makes people trust you more.
Willa Paskin: The people who.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Have the most influence on this planet are good storytellers.
Willa Paskin: These are just some of the countless videos on YouTube which you’ll be hearing from throughout this episode about the power of the story and its effectiveness as a tool for grown ups. Marketers, publicists, influencers, journalists, CEOs, entrepreneurs, activists, architects, doctors, bakers and winemakers all call themselves storytellers.
Willa Paskin: Now, storytelling has become a buzzword, and I wanted to figure out what’s the story with that? This is decoder ring. I’m Willa Paskin. I love stories and I’ve always loved story. And yet I now view someone describing themselves as a storyteller with a certain amount of skepticism and impatience. What do you really do, I think? And why not just say that something we have done for our whole existence as a species has become very trendy. And so in this episode, we’re going to look at where that trend comes from and where it’s going. It’s a streamlined, near history of a vast, ancient practice, and looking at it changed the way I think about stories, and I hope it might do the same for you.
Willa Paskin: So today on Decoder Ring, how did storytelling become a product? So the story of the storyteller begins a long time ago.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Since the dawn of man. We like to get around the fireplace and commune in story together.
Willa Paskin: I’m kidding. I mean, it’s true as far as it goes, but I’m not trying to go all the way back to pre-history. Besides, you probably know this that since the dawn of man, we’ve been telling stories around the campfire to help make sense of the world and each other to share meaning and myth. Because we are storytelling creatures who tell ourselves stories in order to live and who have evolved to respond to narrative in all of its primal power. And where I want to start is with one of the things that popularised these very ideas. The first Star Wars movie arrived in theaters in 1977. It was obviously not the first movie to tell a story, but its creator, George Lucas, spoke frequently about where his story came from.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: My last mentor probably was Jo Jo Campbell, who asked a lot of the interesting questions and made me very interested in a lot more of the cosmic questions and the mystery.
Willa Paskin: Campbell was an English professor and mythologist who in 1949 wrote The Hero with a thousand faces. In it. He put forth the idea that there was a recurring story in Western mythology The Hero’s Journey. Lucas followed its structure beat by beat in writing Star Wars. Campbell himself came out of the academy where the study of story had been growing since the 1920s.
Willa Paskin: In the 1960s, the French structuralist founded the field of narrative ology, the study of narrative structures and their connection to human response. Led by theorists like Roland Barthes, it rapidly expanded its influence beyond the literary disciplines in the 1970s and eighties. But it was Star Wars that was the pop base of the idea that we might be hardwired to respond to stories and to certain story structures in particular, ones that would just work on people, move them, captivate them, sure. Make billions of dollars in the process. And as this idea that there might be a story cheat code was percolating through the 1980s, there were two men telling stories to the public whose skill in doing so was becoming their defining characteristic.
Speaker 3: Steve Jobs I think really what set him apart, he was extremely good at telling a story.
Willa Paskin: Margaret O’Mara is a historian and the author of A History of Silicon Valley called The Code. One of the chapters about Apple is called Storytellers, and it’s become a commonplace to hold jobs up as a master corporate storyteller. Part of the reason for this is that Apple is one of the first places to be self-aware and strategic about telling its story. Just compare it to its early competitors, a computer maker selling to other businesses using ads that were dense and technical. While Apple was trying to reach individual consumers with flair.
Speaker 3: You have this new sort of awareness of if we want to sell to people, we tell them a story about how this product is going to make you better, make you more creative, make you more fulfilled.
Willa Paskin: The company ran a number of playful ads to get this point across, but the most famous is a Ridley Scott directed commercial that aired during the 1984 Super Bowl. In it, gray men in gray clothing are rescued from their mindless, Orwellian existence by a young woman who hurls a sledgehammer through a screen blasting Big Brother’s commands. He shot. Only then is it revealed to be an ad for Apple.
Speaker 4: On January 24. Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.
Willa Paskin: Apple isn’t just selling you some other computer. It’s setting you free. That’s its story. And while Apple is doing that, there’s another rack and tour around.
Speaker 5: And I could say that it reminded me of a story, but actually I wanted to tell the story. Whether anything reminded me or not. It was about a fella that was driving down a country road, and.
Willa Paskin: That’s President Ronald Reagan speaking at a fundraising dinner in 1985. You can hear from those indulgent laughs that he’s famous for telling folksy anecdotes and as they did for Apple computers, these stories distinguished him from stiffer politicians who just talked about policies and laws. They made him seem to a majority of the electorate more authentic. And yet, Reagan was not called the great storyteller. He was called the great communicator. Storytelling was in the air, but it wasn’t a buzzword just yet. In the mid 1990s, though, a TV show would help make it one. Michael Simon, a director, was walking around the Brooklyn Botanical Garden some years ago with a friend.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: And it was a rainy May Day. And we saw this guy in front of us with like a long flowing white beard. And I remember I remember elbow my friend, to go. He’s going to tell us when there is tails. And that in my mind, he was a storyteller.
Willa Paskin: In 1996, Simon directed a concert movie for the Music Channel, VH1. It featured Ray DAVIES, formerly of The Kinks, who had just released an album called The Storyteller and was on his storyteller tour. DAVIES had started telling stories while performing a few years earlier.
Speaker 5: It started off as a prank, really. I had a book out and it was an autobiographical thing and I did readings. Then I did readings with songs.
Willa Paskin: And when the network decided to turn this one off concert into an ongoing series with Simon as the director of many, they decided they ought to keep the name. The series was called VH1 Storytellers and.
Speaker 3: A Traveling Just One Thing.
Willa Paskin: Okay. Each episode was a concert in which famous musicians perform before a small, intimate audience and told stories usually about the lyrics of their songs.
Speaker 3: My grandfather passed away recently and he was up in Alaska and I couldn’t make it up there because I had to do a video shoot, which sounds really, really crummy, and I felt really crummy.
Willa Paskin: VH1 storytellers would air for nearly two decades in heavy rerun, featuring artists like Billy Joel, Melissa Etheridge, Jay-Z and Jewel, who you just heard.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: I think it elevated a term I really do believe for me, at least for me, was this almost silly term, which then became, Oh, but look who’s doing it.
Willa Paskin: The show helped spring the word into the cultural echo chamber. But was that a moment the culture was ready to hear it?
Speaker 3: I think about storytelling as a reaction to something.
Willa Paskin: Francesca Polletta is a sociologist at UC Irvine who studies how storytelling affects social movements.
Speaker 3: And to me, it has to do with something that sociologists have talked about a lot, which is the growing power of numbers and comments, oration and rankings.
Willa Paskin: In a world where everything is test scores and automation or computerization is on the rise, and data rules, stories feel like the opposite, like a reprieve. And in the years around the premiere of Storytellers Through the New Millennia, you see a burst, not just in the use of the word, but in storytelling itself, with special attention being paid to the person doing the telling.
Willa Paskin: This is one This American Life and the Moth get started radio shows and live shows that foreground the tellers of stories in the most case by putting them in front of an audience. It’s when Ted talks, which have been taking place since the 1980s, get a new owner and start expanding and eventually going online. It is also not for nothing when we all start going online where new publishing tools make it easier than ever to tell and distribute our own stories. And it’s also when something new begins to happen on TV. Not only are adults falling head over heels for a set of serialized dramas, they are paying closer attention than ever to the person behind the scenes telling that story. The showrunner. So just a start.
Willa Paskin: Can you tell me your name and what you do?
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: I feel like that’s a trap. My name is Damon Lindelof, and I’m a storyteller. No. Yes.
Willa Paskin: What would you say if I wasn’t asking you for this episode?
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: I’m a writer. Producer.
Willa Paskin: Damon Lindelof. First big show Lost premiered in 2004. I reached out to him because I distinctly remember him describing what he did on that show as storytelling. One of the first times I’d seen the term in that context.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: There’s a weird, surreal quality to any writer who is suddenly like having to kind of describe how they see themselves beyond just, I’m a writer. What I would say is that I am much better, in my opinion, verbally, that talking process. You know what we refer to as the writers room. That’s where I’ve always felt that I am best. And so there’s a direct sort of synonym between telling and the verbal action of speaking. You know, storytelling, the oral tradition that I find very romantic.
Willa Paskin: Think about being in this position. You need a good word to explain what you do. And at this time, storyteller had a lot going for it. It’s unassuming and approachable. It’s easy to understand, but it does have these romantic, mythic associations, plus all these connotations of intimacy and authenticity and connection and fun. And when a word when a concept is capturing all of this, when it’s being used by famous musicians and TV makers, when it seems to be something people crave, you know who notices capitalists? That’s who.
Willa Paskin: So imagine it’s the turn of the millennium and you run a big global company. You have a giant, far flung staff, and you need them to be on the same page to get the company culture and care about it. Maybe you also want your company to feel like and even to be more than a giant moneymaking machine. So you bring in a bunch of consultants to address these problems and they return with a solution. Storytelling. Nike had used storytelling to onboard new hires for decades. But in 1999, they did some press about how they had storytellers on staff, including a chief storyteller and other companies followed suit.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: My name is Steve Clayton and I am the VP of Public Affairs at Microsoft. But also chief storyteller.
Willa Paskin: Steve Clayton has worked at Microsoft for the past 25 years. When he started, he could tell people didn’t think it was particularly hip.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Other companies were being seen as the most innovative tech companies. And I’m sat inside of Microsoft saying, Wow, there’s a ton of amazing things in I wish people knew about the company. And I thought, well, I consult that. I’ll write some stories.
Willa Paskin: So about 14 years ago, he started a personal blog as a hobby about the place he worked. Eventually, the communications team asked him to start doing it for the company. He now oversees a team that publishes stories about what’s going on and Microsoft for internal and external consumption.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: My team of storytellers, our job is not to sell products on jobs, to sell Microsoft. Increasingly, I think we’re in a world where people are identifying with companies. People are saying, Do I have a values match with this company? Do I believe in this company? My job is to help people believe in the company.
Willa Paskin: And while more and more companies were drawn to the potential upsides of storytelling, the way those companies used to communicate with the outside world was imploding.
Speaker 4: So advertising was a magic trick for 100 years.
Willa Paskin: Seth Godin is an entrepreneur and teacher. He is also the author of a number of books, including 2000 Fives All Marketers Are Liars, which has since changed its title to all marketers tell stories.
Speaker 4: No matter how bad your ads where they work. If you spent enough money on and advertising when there were three TV networks and 20 magazines was a miracle because you just bought a lot of ads, you would make money so you could buy more ads. And 20 years ago, that stopped working.
Willa Paskin: What happened 20 years ago, of course, is fragmentation. First, with the arrival of cable and then with the arrival of the Internet, suddenly TV advertisements couldn’t be relied upon to reach most Americans. You had to reach them some other way with a message they would hopefully not hate. And one thing people don’t hate that in fact they love and spend lots of time and money on is stories.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: When it comes to getting your message across and connecting with your audience. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools available.
Willa Paskin: That’s just one of the videos aimed not at big corporations, but at small businesses and individuals. It’s part of a cottage industry that pushes storytelling as the ultimate marketing strategy. Would be entrepreneurs are being sold on the idea that they need to learn how to tell their story in order to sell that story to other people. By the mid 20 tens, the pitch about the power and effectiveness of the story has become pretty well formulated stories.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: And for centuries we’ve told them. We tell stories around the campfire. We write plays, we write novels.
Speaker 3: When you listen to a story, your entire brain starts to light up.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Good storytellers are seen as significantly more attractive and are even considered more important.
Speaker 3: There’s a Native American proverb that says The one who tells the story rules the world.
Willa Paskin: And if you buy into this at all, then you absolutely should employ a storyteller. On LinkedIn, the number of people describing themselves as storytellers jumps from about zero in 2011 to half a million in 2017. And one of the people who started describing themselves this way. Was Everett Cook.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: I remember the day that I woke up and was like, Oh my God, I’m turning 25. Like, I have to get my own health insurance. Like, that was a very real problem for me.
Willa Paskin: Ever had this problem? Because after graduating from college in 2014, he’d gone to work at a newspaper. He loved it, but the pay was bad. So he started looking around for writing jobs in the business and startup world.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: I applied for stuff for a couple of months and just nothing. These were like entry level content writing jobs and I wasn’t getting any feedback back at all.
Willa Paskin: He didn’t know what to do, and then he remembered something a newspaper editor had said to him.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: No matter what issues you have with the industry, if you can tell stories, you’ll be fine.
Willa Paskin: Now, he wasn’t fine, but he had been seeing the. Word storyteller all over job listings.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: I changed the word journalist on my resume to storyteller and I got a job like four days later.
Willa Paskin: He was hired to be the chief storyteller at a startup in San Francisco that was like a Kickstarter for investments, raising money for companies through the crowd.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: That would help some of these companies tell their story, basically. Right. So there was like a like a nuclear fusion company that wanted to raise on this platform. So it was like interviewing them a couple of times and then creating a narrative arc of their company, what challenges they had to go through to get here, and like who doesn’t believe in them and who their doubters are?
Willa Paskin: 20 years ago, the story of how a nuclear fusion company had to fight through various challenges would have mattered less than the question Can this company do nuclear fusion and cannot make money doing so? But by 2017, they needed to have a story to get anyone to give them money. Everett, who has since returned to journalism, had been hired to do something that had become necessary and crucial to raising funds. But that also meant that storytelling had become another box to check.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: You’re basically just writing content, right? And I think content that isn’t particularly deep because it doesn’t have to be.
Willa Paskin: These stories that are supposed to be humanizing and authentic and persuasive. They’re starting to feel pretty canned.
Willa Paskin: So where are we in this story? It’s the mid 20 tens and we’re as story mad as ever. We’re thinking of everything from Oscar races to presidential elections in explicitly narrative terms and beginning to binge TV shows in earnest. Every company website now has a page for our story. And Snapchat and Instagram rollout stories, features. And these are just two of the many social media platforms enabling us to tell our stories more easily and directly than ever before. Stories that are often viewed as little engines of connection.
Speaker 5: The children’s television host, Mister Rogers, always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said, Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love. Once you’ve heard their story.
Willa Paskin: I’m not sure this is true, but it’s a lovely sentiment. It comes from a 2012 TEDx talk about stories given by Andrew Stanton, the Pixar director. Google liked this TEDx talk so much they used it for a 2014 commercial.
Speaker 5: We all love stories. We’re born for them. They can’t be artificially evoked.
Willa Paskin: This commercial is called We’re All Storytellers. Think about this assertion for a moment. We’re all storytellers. Not only are stories an innate, fundamental way for humans to connect with one another, not only do we all have our own. We’re all capable of telling them. And if you believe, Mr. Rogers, that can make people love you. Of course, everyone wants to be thought of as a storyteller. But just because we want to be storytellers, just because we all are storytellers, does that mean we’re all good storytellers?
Speaker 5: Recently I read an interview with somebody who designs rollercoasters, and he referred to himself as a storyteller.
Willa Paskin: This is an Austrian graphic designer named Stefan Sagmeister in a video with 300,000 views.
Speaker 5: No fact. You are not a storyteller. You’re a roller coaster designer. And that’s fantastic. And more power to you. But why would you want to be a storyteller if you’re design roller coasters? Or if you are storytelling, then the story that you tell is bullshit.
Willa Paskin: It’s like this video is from 2014, which was around when what I think of as the storytelling backlash begins, a backlash that has only grown as the storytelling craze has continued.
Speaker 3: I think, you know, the term has been co-opted by basically every industry at this point.
Willa Paskin: Rachel Handler is a writer at New York Magazine.
Speaker 3: It feels like this really, really transparent way to try to be like folksy or something. They’re selling you something, but they’re pretending that they’re not. And it’s just I just find it really more than most sort of like euphemistic weird advertising, whereas I just find it incredibly like repellent.
Willa Paskin: Even Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s chief storyteller, is a little down on the word these days.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: I think the term has become incredibly diluted to a point where there is definitely some skepticism and some cynicism around it.
Willa Paskin: What’s the version that makes you roll your eyes?
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Just the one that has no substance. You know, when you see somebody like I’m a storyteller for X or Y and you go, Great, well, tell me the best story. Well, either they can’t really answer that immediately, or it immediately becomes a sales pitch.
Willa Paskin: Stories are magical, but they’re not a magic trick. Just using the word story doesn’t cast a spell. The story has to cast the spell, and a sales pitch is not enchanting. But the problem, if you’re in the business of storytelling, is that as we’ve become more familiar with this technique, a story might not be enchanting either.
Willa Paskin: This was underscored for me when Steve said he was going to tell me.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: The best story I’ve ever been involved in at Microsoft. And it happened on July 29th, 2015. If I’m getting my day right was the day that Microsoft launched Windows ten. That day I was stood in a village called Nanyuki in Kenya, and I stood there with our CEO, Satya Nadella, and we were stood at a school called The Good Cow, a public school. And there’s a photograph of two, two women at the school. One is the principal of the school. And the other lady in this photograph is Tabitha, who is one of the students at the school at the time. And next to them is a piece of technology or behind them sort of sets a green against this backdrop and is basically brings wi fi to a space.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Now, if you think about the wi fi you have in your home, you have a little box called a router or a, you know, a gateway. And that probably gives you wi fi in your house and that wi fi acknowledge it has. And the impact is this, that the day that technology was switched on, it changed 30,000 people’s lives because 30,000 people in the community of Nanyuki suddenly had access to the technology that we take for granted. They certainly need access to three months ago. Of the people I met on the trip and I stayed friends with. Send me an email. And they said, Hey Steve, I just thought you might like to know that Tabatha graduated from university, but that that to me is, is, is a story. You know, I read it. It’s actually a very.
Willa Paskin: Good business story.
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: Like, why is it a business story?
Willa Paskin: Why is it not? What is is that story not just about how about a great accomplishment of Microsoft’s?
Willa Paskin, David Paskin, Damon Lindelof, Steve Clayton: No. It’s about the mission statement of this company. The reason I say that’s the best story I’ve ever been involved in is because that day illuminates that the mission of the company to empower every person in every organization on the planet is to achieve more.
Willa Paskin: This story clearly meant so much to Steve. It was personal for him, as is Microsoft, but to me it was just a thing a giant company did. And it does sound pretty good, though. Who knows what Tabatha makes of it all? But it didn’t get me excited. And to be honest, I don’t know that there’s any story about Microsoft or any giant business that could. Another way to say this is I did not find Steve story persuasive, but as it turns out.
Speaker 3: Often stories are not persuasive. They don’t work. The research on how effective stories are is really, really mixed.
Willa Paskin: Francesca Polletta the sociologist. Again.
Speaker 3: This kind of faith in the power of story rests on the fact that we’ve all heard terrific stories. We’ve all been moved, inspired, persuaded by a story. What we forget is how many stories we’ve heard that we ignore, that we don’t believe, that we reject.
Willa Paskin: And so much of what we reject has to do with what we already believe, the stories we’re already telling ourselves. You just heard that happen. My personal belief, my narrative that companies are only out for themselves. Matt Steve story of a school in Kenya. But sometimes the stakes are much higher and prejudices lead people to judge the tellers and subjects of stories quite harshly.
Speaker 3: It’s often easy to blame people for the problems they face. And so hearing a story about an individual who’s become homeless or is addicted to drugs or been raped, it’s really easy for an audience to blame that person rather than as that. Tell us what lead them to feel a sense of empathy.
Willa Paskin: Unfortunately, Mr. Rogers might not have this one right, just as stories aren’t always persuasive. They aren’t always engines of empathy, and they also aren’t always benign despite all their good connotations. You only have to look around to see some stories that are really pernicious.
Speaker 5: I’ve been doing stuff on Conspiracy Theory and COVID for the past two years.
Willa Paskin: Ian Brody is a professor of folklore at Cape Breton University.
Speaker 5: And, you know, one of the basic things is that no matter how preposterous, no matter how amoral, though no matter what the flights of fancy that are required. Conspiracy theories are awesome stories because it’s good and evil.
Willa Paskin: Conspiracy theories of all kinds are conspiracy stories with every piece of information made to fit into a riveting narrative, a narrative that is totally insensible to things that don’t fit its arc. If the story of Q and En is the way you organize the world, every new piece of information is just another plot point in that story, or the story of a stolen election, or story about how COVID is a scam. Life isn’t actually a story, and treating it as such can take one to some pretty frightening places.
Willa Paskin: I talked to a lot of people to try to tell this story. The story of storytelling. And my sense from pretty much all of them is that storytelling as a tool isn’t going away anytime soon. But the craze has definitely crested. A team of political scientist at the University of Cincinnati just did a study this year on the perception of the word storyteller in a TV news context. They ran a survey that in part asked people what they thought of the word. 70% of respondents felt negatively about it. It made them feel like journalists who called themselves storytellers were untrustworthy telling tales. So a lot of people actively don’t like it, at least in certain contexts. It seems inevitable that we’ll move on to some other word, that some other idea will take hold. Whether it’s data straight up sales pitches or vibes, as I saw someone suggest, no buzzword buzzes forever.
Willa Paskin: So much of what bugs me about the contemporary fixation on stories is the focus on outcome and what stories and storytellers can accomplish what they can make the person who hears them do by feel believe. We might even approve of the things a storyteller wants their story to do. But it’s such a narrow way to think of stories as a tool. When I think back to say those moments with my dad, what’s meaningful about those stories is not that they got me into the stroller. It’s the connection between me and him, the moment he invented this new way of looking at the world. These stories about gloves who go on adventures told to a nervous little girl.
Willa Paskin: Another way to say this is my cynicism about storytellers as a business strategy is just the flip side of my idealism, my gut feeling that storytelling is about more than making us do stuff, that they are this ancient, genuine, unruly, unpredictable thing that can bind us all together. And part and parcel of that idealism is that I also believe telling good stories is really hard.
Willa Paskin: Sharing you guys a story?
Speaker 3: Yeah, I think definitely that.
Willa Paskin: With friends as a leader. A few years ago, my older daughter split her chin open on the sidewalk and we were in the emergency room to distract her. I made up a story about Princess Alida, who had to solve the mystery of who stole all the candy in her kingdom. It worked. She held it together through the stitches, and she has been asking for Princess Alita stories ever since. And I wish I could say I told them all the time, but I don’t because I find making them up really hard. Stories are magical, but they are also a minefield. When they’re done well, they can seem effortless and they feel authentic, but they are crafted and they take skill and hard work. Most nights we read other people’s stories to her and her sister instead. Okay. Do you wanna pick a book.
Speaker 3: I want to do If You Come to Earth? Oh, I like that book.
Willa Paskin: Those stories are also toiled over, edited, revised and revised again. Thank goodness for the people who made them. Thank goodness that every night we can take their words and be storytellers to most. All right. Go ahead. You want to read it?
Speaker 3: People mostly live in big cities and small towns or tiny villages or just in the middle of nowhere.
Willa Paskin: This is Decoder Ring and Willa Paskin Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was edited by Dan Kois and produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is senior supervising producer of narrative podcasts Merritt. Jacob is our technical director. So many people took the time to help me muddle through and clarify my thoughts about this topic.
Willa Paskin: Thank you to Brian Califano, Sonal Choksi. Bill Baker. Adam Fisher. Marilyn McPhee. Linda Kaplan Thaler. Peter Brookes. Josh Glenn. Leo Marks. Lisa Miller, Brad Ricca, David Bogie and Grace Anne Rochelle, Melanie Green and everyone else who talked this one through with me. You can find me on Twitter at Willa Paskin. And you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode? You can email us at Decoder. Ring at Slate.com. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe and rate our feed on Apple, Spotify or ever. You get your podcasts even better. Tell your friends. That’s it for this season. Thank you so much for listening.