Full disclosure: I am a sucker for silver-lining stories. You know the sort where something terrible happens but then actually it turns out to be the impetus for the Best Thing Ever.
Like your friend who goes through a terrible breakup and starts baking cookies as a distraction. Then smash cut to three years later: they have their own bakery! A published cookbook! A disposable income from a job that they love! Obviously this is an extreme example but the point is these stories exist. And I for one am very reassured by the idea that every once in a while the universe conspires in our favor and opens a window next to where some jerk just slammed a door.
It seems this is exactly what the universe did for Shannon Cason. Cason is an incredible, prolific storyteller. He is host of the Homemade Stories podcast with WBEZ, The Moth GrandSLAM champion, and a contributor to NPR’s Snap Judgment. Yet none of this would be true had Cason not once been fired from a job. His freedom post-firing gave him time to read and write which, in turn, led him to discover storytelling: “I went to an open mic called Story Club on Chicago’s North Side to read one of my short stories, and I saw the host, Dana Norris, just tell a story about a jazz club in New Orleans. She didn’t read it off paper. She just told it to the small audience in the backroom of the bar. That’s when I noticed storytelling.”
For Cason, storytelling is meaningful because it is an honest and imperfect practice. “The person on stage telling the story should be sharing their real self, as far as storytelling goes. I tell on myself. I’m not always the greatest guy in the world. I lie. I cheat. I steal. I do bad things. I do good things too. I care about people. But it’s funny because the bad guy stories are always more interesting.”
The ritual of storytelling also impacts Cason’s life off the stage. His focus is not on sitting in a room and churning out stories. Instead he lives and therefore gathers the experiences necessary for good stories. “[Storytelling has] allowed me to respect all the moments in my life. The tougher times and the happier moments. When I spend time with my children, I know the stories we create together are the stories that will outlive me. The stories [my children] will share about me. I’m aware of that.”
One of Cason’s goals as a storyteller is to broaden the reach of the storytelling community. He admits that even he is not, perhaps, the typical audience for his chosen craft. “It’s funny because I wasn’t a big public-radio listener either. I remember Peter Sagal hosted The Moth GrandSLAM I won in Chicago. I had no idea who the guy was, and everyone seemed to know him. I’d ask, ‘Who is Ira Glass?’ I still have to force myself to listen to public radio or storytelling podcasts because I naturally gravitate toward listening to the Wu-Tang channel on Pandora.”
And yet Cason’s success in storytelling reveals just how inclusive and malleable it is as a craft. “[It] doesn’t matter if you love The Moth, Wu-Tang, NPR, slam poetry, WBEZ, or comedy, we all connect with real-life storytelling.” (Kim Steele)
May 5, Homemade Stories Live! at Mayne Stage, 1328 West Morse, (773)381-4554, 7pm, $15 for general admission/$12 for WBEZ members. For tickets: wbez.org/homemade-stories-live-111449