Sunday, November 9, 2008

and then I found five dollars or TMI

So I find that there's a widespread phrase used when someone is telling a story to another person or to a group and then suddenly the storyteller perceives that the climax of the story isn't quite as interesting or funny to the audience as he or she originally though it would be. The phrase is, of course, "...and then I found five dollars." The storyteller says this almost as an apology. The idea being that he or she recognizes that the story isn't so great and is attempting to justify its telling by altering the ending to something more "exciting."

There's also the too-much-information story, where how much is too much is determined by the audience and then expressed with the acronym TMI. Sometimes a storyteller will self-edit or throw out the caveat of TMI.

I've been thinking a lot about stories and snapshots and vignettes recently, as well as the act of storytelling and I've come to the conclusion that the "and then I found five dollars" or "TMI" self or external edit is completely bogus for me much of the time. The only exception to this rule is if you've made it clear that a certain topic or word or something offends you, scares you, or brings up hurtful feelings in some way, and the storyteller proceeds regardless.

Especially in person, the telling of stories is often the most exciting part to hear and watch. Think of puppet shows, or people telling stories to children. Better yet, think of children telling stories. They're so animated and excited. They imitate mannerisms, facial expressions, voices, and they use varied volume. This is sometimes true of adults - however, oftentimes it's muted or subdued. Even if the story is inane to me, I like to share in the excitement or wonderment that other people must've felt to think that the experience warranted storytelling. Furthermore, I often feel privileged to be allowed a peek into the emotions and experiences in other peoples' lives. Like I said, I really like snapshots and vignettes. I feel like these stories are most telling about peoples' personalities and ways of thinking, and that if there were a way to collage them, it would form a crazy, soulful, multi-faceted autobiography. A jewel. What is with autobiographies being linear and narrative anyway?

In my head, I imagine a grade school project: a paper mache orb. Peoples' lives are this balloon, and as they have experiences, these snapshots and stories are glued to this balloon and when their lives end, the balloon is gone, and what is left is a somewhat spherical - after all, whose lives are perfect and symmetrical? - delicate, airy bark or carapace. That is how autobiographies should be presented: crusty orbs, crinkly spheres, crannied globes, smooth eggshells, warped melons, feather-light balls, sonorous hollows on which we knock and hope for an answer.

Anyway. Rule: Try not to self-censor or discourage others from telling their stories.

As a show of faith, here's my tmi/found five dollars story:

When I was little and I was being potty trained, my mom used to have me sit on the toilet and sing a song, most often "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in order to get me to at least pass the time on the toilet if I wasn't passing anything else. As a result, I have a strange habit of singing while on the toilet at home, or making an effort to resist belting out 80's tunes while poopin' in public restrooms.


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