Having lived in extravagance since arriving in NYC, I thought it’d be nice to do a little volunteering on my day off. For the record, I didn’t seek out a cause, but saw a note from The Moth on Facebook stating that they were looking for volunteers. I emailed immediately and, in communication with their director, agreed to come in to their office in Soho after I’d finished writing.
Have you heard of The Moth? It’s incredible. Founded by my friend and native Georgian (also, poet and NYT bestselling novelist) George Dawes Green, The Moth is a not-for-profit live story telling organization. At it’s essence, the foundation focuses on the art of story telling: raconteurs, drawn from the audience or selected by the organization (depending on the performance tier), tell true stories without notes or props. When he lived in Georgia, George and his friends would gather on friend Wanda’s porch and share stories; above them, moths fluttered in through a rip in the screen, flocking around the light. The group therefore called themselves the moths. When George moved to the city, he invited friends for storytelling sessions at his apartment, because he found it hard to give and keep people’s attention at cocktail parties. Word grew, and the events moved to cafes and clubs and organically became the phenomenon it is today.
People will line up around the block hours ahead of time to get into a Moth storytelling event. You may download the popular podcasts here.
I finished writing and took the train down to Soho. “Please tell me you’re here to help with mailing,” said their director, when he opened the door. The offices, a loft space in tones of green, was airy and and messy and quiet. I settled in and set about folding and labeling the fundraiser mailings. Towards the end, George made and brief and unexpected appearance–we didn’t expect to see each other, and I don’t think I’ve seen him since April, in Savannah, so that was a treat. I was lured here not by my personal connection to The Moth, or my positive experiences as audience, but because I thought I’d meet other good literary types. I did.
The Moth has been host to a series of interns, students or early career types pursuing positions in radio, production and media journalism. I spent the later part of the afternoon in conversation (listening, mostly) to one former intern, Kit, explain his perception of New York City and the changes that have occurred throughout his life. A native of the UES, he would wander through the condemned stretch of over-grown highway before it became the tourist-luring High Line park it is today. Though it’s hard to argue the disadvantages of a dilapidated stretch of highway (that originally claimed people’s homes for it’s construction) transformed into a public park, he shared with us the covert sense of excitement he had about trespassing there. “If you saw someone else there,” he said, “It was like this strange thing that you shared, because you weren’t supposed to be there.” It was, in essence, a secret part of the city that he could go to to get away. (This native NYC writer questions the present line between past and future of the city, and when he can focus the subject into a coherent piece, I will post a link for you here.)
The High Line park is another NYC model of transformation in other communities. But at the heart of our discussion was this: does all of this progress and city planning reduce New York City from the culture that it’s known for? Does cleaning up the LES and ridding it of it’s herion-addled artists revoke an artistic progression on the city’s forthcoming history, or does it actually make it a better place? Now that NYC is a glittering playground for the super-rich, how will the city continue to supply the world and those now living with inventive artists and musicians and cultural-icons when those creative types can hardly afford to live here. Will all of Bloomburg’s plots make this city into a Disney-like version of its former self? Or will we artists and writers survive here, maintain some of these traditions, make history? Can you still buy heroin in LES? As a new resident, I value the insight and opinion of people who’ve spent their lives here. I look forward to learning and experiencing more. I am not the sort of writer delusional enough to believe she can change the city, but I’m here to participate, to be a part of its history.
As Gandhi said, you must be the change you wish to see in the world.