Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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Becoming Myself Again

When I was young I was soft-spoken and introverted. I suspect this was partly because I had a speech problem. I slurred my words so badly that most afternoons I met with a special speech teacher. Though I progressed, it was slow work. An afternoon felt like a century. I kept mostly to myself, and talked as little as possible.

Around that same time I began studying music. Keyboards at first, and then trumpet. I composed and I played, and music became my new persona ... a way of expressing myself that took little speaking. I also began writing, another non-vocal way to satisfy my creative spirit.

Eventually, writing led to readings. Yikes! For me, it made personal that fear-of-speaking adage that says, "Most people would rather be in the coffin than deliver the eulogy." But I managed to keep my shy self hidden in the wings by creating a poet character who chanted his lines loudly. His mesmerizing voice filled the room! And somehow, when I did this, my word-slurring disappeared.

In high school, when it was recognized that I had a "voice," I was chosen to read out loud in Shakespeare class. My favorite part was Falstaff. I could be as loud and as boisterous as I wanted. Folks ate it up. When I discovered that I could take that Falstaff voice into conversations with friends and family, my introverted self got buried.

By college, I was constantly speaking in character. I became known as a smooth talker full of stories -- and "myself" -- always ready to dominate a conversation. The quiet kid who lurked in the shadows and preferred to listen rather than talk became invisible even to me.

As a storyteller, this pattern continued for 39 years. I reveled in it, having now a multi-voiced multitude of characters I could become -- Storyteller, Coyote, Bear, and on and on. I was in the spotlight in theaters, coffee houses and pubs.

I talked for years.

In conversations, rather than truly listening to the person speaking, my character was plotting ... waiting for that split-second gap between words when he could leap in and interrupt with a loud-mouthed opinion.

Over the years, relationships have been, well ... interesting.

And now? "No more blathering," I whisper to myself. "No more."

At 66, it's time to try to become myself again, to peal away years of protective layers, to reveal that vulnerable child that still lives inside this hopefully wiser elder, to be a semi-quiet talker, choosing my words carefully, and without the speech problem. Most of all, it is my desire to become such a good listener that I inspire folks to share their stories in ways more wonderful than they ever thought possible. I'm progressing, but it's slow work.

As I try this out, lifelong friends at first widen their eyes when they hear the edited me of my childhood reemerge. But soon they recognize that the heart and spirit of who I am is still present and familiar -- even more accessible -- and they appreciate the change.

And it's good for my soul.

As for those larger-than-life characters with their carefully-crafted, well-projected voices, they still thrive on stage in my storytelling. And when each performance is over, that's where I leave them ... until next time.

That's the plan I'm working on. It's easy to write down, I know. At this point, if my soft-spoken Grandpa Roscoe had been listening to me go on and on about this, he might have responded with one of his favorite sayings, "Too much talk. Not enough doing."