Other than having someone read to me when I was young, my favorite memories of listening to a good story go back to hearing Ernie Harwell call a Tigers game. With the exception of the night the Tigers lost the pennant to the Twins on the last game of the season – shut down by former Tiger hero Jack Morris on a night when I had been called in to work a double dishwashing shift and we all, the cooks, waitstaff, managers, and busboy crowded in the noisy restaurant kitchen to hear our hopes go down the drain in those last innings of that year -– there’s no particular game that I remember. Having a game on was a weekend afternoon distraction for my dad while he did yard work, cleaned the garage or fiddled with the cars, and I suspect as much as anything that the work he did got done because it gave him the excuse to be outside and listen to the radio away from the stresses and hassles that might have consumed his thoughts throughout the week.
Clearly a ballgame and a story are two different things. Harwell’s play call blurred the difference. His pacing and his familiar folksy tone of voice imbued games with a literary sense of tension, conflict, and resolution. Ballgames have this anyhow, of course. And of course the players themselves, the characters. Working in that “It isn’t over ‘til it’s over,” structure that suits itself to the feeling of an endless summer day or a long novel, Harwell knew how to leverage all these elements with his voice.
That was years ago, and I haven’t listened to a ball game on the radio for a long time. But I thought about it one warm afternoon late in this summer when I was out in the garage working on my bike. My habit has been to do that sort of thing with my ipad by my side and a podcast playing. This particular day, the battery was dead. It was quiet, and I missed the sound of someone’s voice telling a story. The way that I listen to stories has changed. The types of stories that I listen to have changed. I would like to say that my appreciation for hearing a good story told well has stayed the same, but it hasn’t. If anything, it’s grown.
If there is a point to my thoughts on this topic, it’s that there is a lot of good storytelling out there in the world today. And where a ballgame might make me feel connected to my city, my team, my fellow fans, listening to these stories makes me feel connected to my past, my fellow human beings, and myself. This past winter, a colleague I met at a conference recommended that I listen to an episode of 99% Invisible. Listening to this brought me back to Serial for season 3, and then to The Memory Palace. I feel like these only scratch the surface of what’s out there, but I love them so much it’s hard to branch off into more. I don’t have that much work to do in the garage, and I’m already addicted to books.
Today in my classroom we were going over the rubric for argument we will be using throughout the year. It was, coincidently, a rubric I learned about that the conference where I met that colleague. At one point, as we discussed the upcoming project, I asked students to describe what might constitute ‘evidence’ in an argument based on personal experience. The first response was ‘stories.’
I can give no better reason for why we should surround ourselves with stories than the fact that they are evidence the things that make us human. If you haven’t yet, check out these podcasts. If you have other good storytelling to recommend, please do so in a comment.