The most useful book I’ve ever read (and some personal info)

For someone who’s loved social media since the birth of myspace, I am weirdly protective about what information I put online — so it’s VERY unusual that I just said all this stuff publicly, where literally anyone with an internet connection can listen. Just over a decade ago, I watched the documentary “Terms and Conditions…

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Genuinely the funniest moment of my life (up until that point)

I’m 13 years old, I’m on the couch at home, and I am HORIZONTAL with laughter. Laughing so hard I’m crying. Laughing so hard I can barely breathe.

On the screen, a man with glasses is leaping about, saying things like, “can you imagine the sheer joy of an empty bin in your kitchen, a new fresh bin liner in the swing top bin? It’d be like a bin in heaven, wouldn’t it?”

What i don’t know at that tender age is that, for the first time in my life, I’m watching observational stand-up comedy.

I love it more than I’ve loved almost anything else I’ve ever seen.

The routine was by Ben Elton on his show The Man From Auntie. It’s still on Youtube (and still holds up) on re-watch, I was once again crying laughing. His delivery! The physical stuff! The fact that he seamlessly brings the point back to politics at the end! How you can hear people SCREAMING in the audience!] And while, yes, I was being introduced to Ben Elton and to stand up in general, what I was more specifically being introduced to was one of my favourite concepts in comedy AND presentations, which is…

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One of my favourite EVER pieces of art (5 mins long)

A Youtube screenshot of Christa Couture and bekky o'neil's movie How To Lose Everything: A Field Guide. An illustration of two women kneeling

“This is what I know – first your heart will break…

You will start by staying in bed. Being awake is the first and hardest thing to get through. You may ache every minute of the hours in between the relief of sleep. The ache will overwhelm you at times. The ache will press on your chest so hard it will be difficult to move. The ache will shake through your body in uncontrollable sobs. The ache will numb you to all feeling. The ache will want to break things. The ache won’t care what does break.

Try to wait.”

The first time I read those words, in early 2020, I was in my home office, tears streaming down my face.

That quote is the opening of the final part of the final chapter of How To Lose Everything by Christa Couture — writer, musician, broadcaster and, co-incidentally, my co-parent (which is how I got to read such an early copy). The rest of her book is a memoir, each chapter about a loss she experienced (cancer; amputation; abortion; death; death; divorce; more cancer — she’s had a few). She is a INCREDIBLE storyteller; she has this gift of being able to show you these really, really hard things, in a way that doesn’t pull you under. One of the reviews of her book talked about how the reviewer didn’t want to read the book at first — too sad. But when they did, they found that it “is actually uplifting.”

The part I want to tell you about today — the part that starts with that passage above — is not the part where she’s telling stories.

right now, your not having clicked display images is denying you a picture of BOOBIES

That might seem like a strange choice, given that I’m supposed to be writing here about how to tell stories. But it’s because this passage — on the page, and on the astonishingly beautiful animation that has just been released on YouTube — does the MOST IMPORTANT thing that our stories do. The thing that I think about every time I even talk about this passage (and, inevitably, cry).

It says, to the right people, the four most powerful words in the English language:

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How to tell a good ghost story (3 essential components)

As Rico is talking, I think, Oh I am SO glad I said yes to him running through this with me first!! I’ve been doing my live storytelling show — True Stories Told Live Toronto — for 10 years. It’s currently on 4-5 times a year, but there’s one show in particular that I look…

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I beat myself up about this for YEARS

Standing at the streetcar stop, David smiles down at me and I smile back. But the pit of my stomach is clenched. I know today is the day I have to say something. **in a rush? In a VERY RARE MOVE, I’m running an open-to-the-public storytelling workshop *THIS* Weds Sep 27th 12–2pm ET (with replay…

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The most terrifying pee I’ve ever done (+ a review of Laura Belgray’s memoir)

A couple of months ago, I had one of those moments where you have to sit yourself down and give yourself a talking to.

“MARSHA.” I said to myself. “You are a FORTY-SIX YEAR OLD WOMAN. With a reasonably successful career. From the outside, it looks like you have a WILDLY successful career. People like you! They find you charming! Stop responding to this situation like you’re in your twenties with zero life experience!!”

When I was in my twenties, I was working as a radio DJ and A&R (new music) scout. This meant I spent a lot of time at radio, comedy and music industry events. There were conferences, where the heads of the stations would be schmoozing. There were late-night stand up gigs where That One Off The Telly would be stood at the bar. Then there were the music gig aftershows, where the indie band of the moment would be hanging out, being fawned over by anyone that managed to get into the party.

I hated all of those events.

I mean, sometimes I loved some of them. But mostly I just felt totally stressed out. Trying to talk to the exec, the comic or the band — even if I knew them! Even when we were old friends from before they got famous! — was a matter of hovering a few feet away, waiting until it was your turn to be spoken to, and always feeling like a fangirl. But equally, not trying to talk to them felt like wasting an opportunity. Arg!

My second career — as a Storytelling coach and trainer — has been mostly online. This has meant almost ZERO stressful events like this, other than industry conferences where, usually, I’m one of the speakers myself. But last month, I was faced with the same feeling as in my twenties:

I was going to…

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What some of the most annoying people in my life have taught me

As he starts talking, my heart sinks. I’d chosen him specifically because I thought he was different from the others. And yet… here he is, doing the same thing they all do.

I’ve been going to a boxing gym on and off for a few years, but I only started taking it seriously this spring. To be clear: I have zero interest in ever boxing anyone’s face. But after a life coach I’d worked with suggested that I find a way to express some, shall we say, negative emotions I was experiencing  — in a way that wouldn’t damage any of my relationships — I got back into classes.

I’m now going two to three times a week, and I fugging LOVE it. I have a running joke that boxing classes are my new girlfriend. When I’m in them, my internal monologue is usually THIS IS THE BESSSSSSSSST I WANT TO BE HERE FOREVVVVVVVVERRRRRR (I mean, those times when it’s not “wait! Was it jab-cross-left hook-right uppercut? Or jab-cross-right uppercut-left hook?” — I have horrible short-term memory for the sequences). When I’m not in a class, I am counting the hours until the next one, or feeling excitement when I see it on my calendar. When I’m rolling my wraps back up after a class, I think, “Soon, you’ll be back on my hands, under my gloves!!!!” This week, I was out of town in a different city. Driving around, I saw the sign for a (different) boxing gym and my heart LEAPT, in the way that only reminders of a crush can inspire.

I love everything about the boxing classes. Except for the Bro’s At The Boxing Gym…

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When you’re an expert at something, you ruin it for everyone

Reading the spines of the CDs in Mike’s bedroom, the thrill of anticipation I’d been feeling slid, instead, into confusion.

He and I had been dating for a couple of weeks. In London terms — certainly, in the mid-2000’s — that meant a lot more than it does these days. I often joke that when I lived in the UK, rather than dating, it was more like we had arranged matches — except, instead of the matches being made by your parents, they’re made by booze. You’d get drunk and then wake up in a relationship.

The getting drunk that Mike and I had done happened at a new bands live showcase. Like most of the people I dated when I worked in radio, he was in the music industry. An A&R Scout, it was his job first to go out to gigs every night looking for new bands to sign, and then to have opinions on the records being recorded for release. I was a radio DJ at a well-respected indie station. I liked him for his trifecta of being charming, funny and hot, but I can’t say I wasn’t also romanced by the idea of us being a junior-level, music industry power couple.

The first time I picked him up from his house before a gig, I was excited to look through his CD collection. Would we like the same bands? Would I learn from him about new bands I’d soon love? Would I find any guilty pleasures?? It was often my favourite part of any new relationship.

But as I flipped through the titles and artists, I was…

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Easy hack to make your stories funny

You know how you’ll have one or two short anecdotes that you LOVE telling? Or if you don’t, I’m guessing you know someone who does and you’re sick of hearing them? I’m about to tell you one of mine. First: context. If you’ve read, listened to or watched any of the storytelling lessons I’ve given, you’ll know…

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How to tell stories about other people

You have three options:

1) Get Their Permission

Where I can, I try and do this as a matter of course — and ALWAYS with former clients. Not least so that potential future clients don’t get spooked that I’ll share all their secrets! If the story subject matter something heavy, you could offer to send a draft to the person before you publish/perform it. But usually, a simple,

“Do you mind if I tell the story about [thing we experienced together] on Facebook/on my blog/in my talk?”

should do.

2) Change identifying details

As I’ve talked about before, one of my storytelling rules is “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” By this, I don’t mean “lie to make yourself sound good,” but rather, “do whatever you need to do to make the listener feel the way you felt in that moment.”

You can also use it when you need to protect someone. There are a bunch of reasons why you might want to protect them. Maybe they…

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