The Moth: the art of storytelling

The Moth. Edited by Catherine Burns. Preface by Neil Gaiman. Afterword by George Dawes Green, founder The Moth

Published 2014 by Serpent’s Tail, 400p


The Moth is an American phenomenon dedicated to storytelling. People who want to share their experiences go on stage and freely speak to the audience. No notes allowed, no mechanical reproducing. The purpose is to connect people through stories and the feelings related to them.

Honestly matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or in an impossible place matters more than anything. […] The Moth connects us, as humans. Because we all have stories. Or perhaps, because we are, as humans, already an assemblage of stories. And the gulf that exists between us as people is that when we look at each other we might see faces, skin colour, gender, race, or attitudes, but we don’t see, we can’t see, the stories. And once we hear each other’s stories we realize that the things we see as dividing us are, all too often, illusions, falsehoods: that the walls between us are in truth no thicker than scenery. The Moth teaches us not to judge by appearances. It teaches us to listen. It reminds us to empathise.

Neil Gaiman says in the Preface of the book.

Why The Moth? Because when founding  it in 1997, George Dawes Green wanted to recreate the nights he had in his native Georgia with his friends, when they used to gather on the porch and tell stories and moths would join them attracted by light.

This anthology includes 50 great stories told by writers, journalists, teachers, gifted storytellers that wanted to share pieces of their life, talking about love, war, death, divorce, pain, fame and misery. Dr George Lombardi tells how he saved Mother Teresa’s life, Jillian Lauren speaks about life in a harem, poker champion Annie Duke fascinatingly talks about her two-million-dollar hand, Adam Gopnik, writer, shares a funny story about the consequences of him thinking that LOL means lots of love.

Alan Rabinowitz was five and a stutter when he saw a female jaguar at the Bronx Zoo; considered a disturbed child he was put in special classes at school and had to deal with the feeling of being seen as a retarded. Hidden in his closet he could speak fluently only to his pets.

I’d tell them my hopes and my dreams. I would tell them how people were stupid because they thought I was stupid. And the animals listened. They felt it. And I realized very early that they felt it because they were like me. The animals, they had feelings too, they were trying to transmit things also. But they had no human voice, so people ignored them, or they misunderstood them, or they hurt them, or sometimes they killed them. I swore to the animals when I was young that if I could ever find my voice, I would try to be their voice.

And Rabinowitz managed to find his voice, focuse on science in his academic years, move to Belize and fight for the life of jaguars there. He is now the CEO of Panthera, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the world’s wild cat species.

Sebastian Junger talked about war. He was 31 when he went to Sarajevo during the civil war, determined to be a good reporter.

The thing about war is it does not disappoint, but it’s also way more than you bargained for. For example, this: the first time I saw a dead body, it wasn’t a fighter. Most of the people who die in wars are civilians. It was in Kosovo during the civil war. It was a girl, sixteen, seventeen years old. And I always imagined that she was probably really beautiful. She’d been taken by Serb paramilitary forces, and they took her up to a field above a town called Suhareka. And they did whatever they did to her, and then they cut her throat. And when I saw her, it was a couple of weeks later. It was summer. It was hot. And the only way you could tell she was a girl, or really even human, was that you could still see the red fingernail polish on her nails. That girl stayed with me for a while. She was more than I’d bargained for.

Being scared, being alone, being in love, being depressed are feelings that define humanity and The Moth events aim to remind people that is not wrong to feel emotional, to empathise and to want to do good.

It is difficult to choose some favourite stories in the book as they are all fascinating and special, celebrating the beauty and the meaning in our lives. I am definitely looking forward to the next The Moth event in Sydney.

The following story, Jeffery Rudell’s confession, is about him being rejected by his parents when he told them he was gay, the same parents who had taught him to value and to appreciate honesty and hope.


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