Gone are the days of Jan Potocki, when one could simply pull up to a roadside inn on a stormy autumn evening, dismount and spend the night eating, drinking and exchanging stories with your fellow travelers. I think that’s one aspect of pre-modern life I would have enjoyed immensely. A world of no phones, no TV and no radio. A world in which the only way to relieve your boredom would be your own thoughts, reading books and your fellow humans.
In such a world, a budding writer—or anyone for that matter—could go undercover and listen for the next great story. It’s something that Potocki likely did. I imagine him stopping at inns throughout Spain to just listen to stories from locals and fellow travelers alike. I imagine him filing them away for later use, embellishing and tweaking them. And finally putting them down on paper.
Nowadays, it’s much harder to connect with people in your travels and everyday life. Even if others aren’t checking their phones or just staying in to watch TV, there are these subtle cultural taboos about bothering other people or even striking up a conversation in many public spaces. There are exceptions to this rule…Some obvious ones come to mind: bars and some cafes for example. But I think there are other obvious places for you to go undercover and gather up some great stories.
Today, I want to share one of these non-obvious Taverns of the Mind: the wedding. I’ve been to two weddings so far this year and I have one more to go, so they’re top of mind.
Weddings seem to have those key ingredients you look for in an atmosphere conducive to good storytelling, places where people feel free to open up a bit and share. These venues seem to have these things in common:
- People are forced to spend time together (without the intermediary of media and devices).
- Those people are not likely to meet one another again (or not likely to meet one another for a very long time).
- Cheap alcoholic beverages are plentiful and at hand.
Weddings, somewhat surprisingly, check all three of these boxes. You won’t likely see most of these people again and there is usually a good amount of time between toasts and other activities to kill. Of course, many of these stories can be reminisces about the bride and groom, sure. And hey, I know they’re what you came to see. But there is also just catching up with people and hearing some of the experiences they’ve had.
Why, just in these past two weddings I have heard tales…And I mean real tales told to me by other humans IN THE FLESH…about bus travel in Central America, the latest scams in Marrakesh, fishing bodies out of the Hudson river (they become full of eels quite quickly, apparently), breaking into safes to retrieve wedding rings you placed there—I could go on and on. These stories vary in length and quality, just like those in any fiction magazine. But they are from real people in professions and walks of life very different from my own. I always find something in them to tuck away, remember and let stew in my subconscious for a bit. If done right, a wedding (like many other venues) is a top place to shut up, listen and start gathering story ideas. All you need to do is go undercover and listen.
Something, my fellow storytellers, to remember next time you get a wedding invite in the mail.
See you next time,