Take five minutes to watch this
What will happen to this writing, to these stories and ideas, once they come out of your head? Well I recently heard from Derek, who was in the Starlings Flock in the summer of 2017. He was already a prolific writer — a multi-time finisher of NANOWRIMO, for instance. Here’s what he said:
I finally got the second of my two videos from The Moth, and I wanted to share with you, because both stories originated as 40 Days / 40 Writes entries (originals attached). I had really never done any autobiographical writing before 40/40, and I don't know if I would have discovered how much I enjoy this kind of writing/storytelling without it. So what I'm saying is: thank you!
And if can brag on Derek a bit: He won.
The theme for the night was “flawed,” and his story was one he first put down for the prompt, “Scar.”
Here’s his stage version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NntiSs5eIs
If you have another five minutes, here’s his first outing, which originated from the prompt “Accident”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzHIlbRsN7A
Here’s where those stories started two years ago:
The Eyes Have It
My first memory is very specific. I'm three years old. I'm sitting up in a hospital bed. I'm being wheeled away from my parents by a man wearing what looks like a shower cap and a face mask pulled down on his chin.
I look at the man and ask, "Do I have to?" He says, "Yes" with a warm, reassuring smile, and I say, "Okay."
The man, I now know, was a pediatric eye surgeon, which in retrospect sounds like the most stressful job a person could have.
The surgery had been planned for months. I had been born with a rare condition where the muscle and the nerve that moved my left eye weren't connected. There was no way to attach them, but the surgery was necessary to stretch out the muscle, so that it didn't contract and make me cross-eyed later in life.
I don't remember any pain from the surgery or any negative feelings or trauma at all around it, amazingly. There isn't even a physical scar around my eye. The mark it left is usually invisible: my left eye doesn't move to the left past a certain point.
It took me until well into my childhood to realize that I have to turn my head to look to the left, or I freak people out when one eye moves and the other doesn't.
My parents were a little concerned that it would affect my field of vision for driving, but I have always seen like this, so I'm used to compensating for it. So much so that I didn't even realize until my late 20s that my eyes operated in a completely different way than most humans.
My brilliant and loquacious ophthalmologist Dr. Hoff pointed out to me for the first time about five years ago that my eyes didn't actually work together. What happened was because they didn't move together, my brain compensated and decided to use the left eye for distance and the right eye for things close-up.
I finally knew why I had never been able to see Magic Eye Puzzles, and why 3D movies always looked blurry to me. Also, why I could never catch a ball: because it would change position suddenly when it crossed over from one eye's territory to the other's.
I don't actually see in three dimensions the way most people do. In a normal person, the brain takes input from each eye and uses the subtle differences between the two signals to create a three-dimensional field of vision. What’s known as binocular disparity.
Because my brain is only receiving input from one eye at a time, the only way I am able to create three dimensions is seeing that one object is larger or smaller or is in front of another because it blocks it from being seen.
Perhaps because I never played team sports, I don't have any physical scars (fortunately), but I do carry a remnant from my surgery—my first memory—that informs quite literally how I see the world.
23 Floors Down
My celebrity doppelganger is (or rather was) the Russian-born actor Anton Yelchin, most famous for portraying Chekov in the new Star Trek films.
The likeness is only passing, but he more than any other actor resembles me. Yelchin passed away last year in a freak accident, when the parking brake on his Jeep malfunctioned and he was pinned between the car and his mailbox. Why he got out of his car while it was running is now a mystery. It's tragic and random, but there's also an air of absurdity to it--he was run over by a car he was driving.
As a fan of his for more than a decade, the news came as that weird sad shock that comes when a celebrity dies. Someone I never knew, never met, probably never would meet, is suddenly gone. When the details came out of HOW he went, it fired off something in my brain.
My celebrity doppelganger died in the one way I fear myself dying. Disease, terrorism, natural disaster--none of these things keep me up at night--the way one thing I'm most afraid of though is a freak accident brought on by my own stupidity.
And that brings me to the story of my greatest accident, which is (as far as I know) my closest brush with mortality. At the age of 22, I moved with my girlfriend at the time to New York City for graduate school. Our apartment was on the 23rd floor of a tower along West End Avenue. My first time moving out of Los Angeles, I sold all my furniture, stored a bunch of things at my parent's house, and moved to New York with three large suitcases of clothes and some books.
We arrived in New York on Saturday morning, and my girlfriend went immediately to a temp job she had landed. I went around the city collecting various items to start our lives, picking up free furniture on Craigslist, a couple trips to Bed Bath & Beyond, all figuring out how to do this without having a car was a fun and learning challenge.
By the end of the first day, we ordered our first New York pizza and ate on the floor of our still mostly empty apartment before falling asleep. The next morning we woke up at dawn with the blinding light of the sun piercing through the 23rd floor windows. The large windows had no blinds or curtains on them.
I had volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for four years in college and had hung more blinds than I could count, so I decided to make that my morning project.
I made my way to Home Depot on the Upper East Side, bought the necessary blinds, hanging hardware, and a few tools to get me going.
My girlfriend was at work for the day, and I had literally zero friends in the city to ask for help from, but I was confident I could hang the shutters myself--I had done it many times before.
I realized as soon as I started that I had forgotten to buy a step-ladder. But I am impatient and sometimes impetuous, and I decided that I could just stack two of my three suitcases to stand on. Problem solved.
I measured, drilled holes, installed the braces. When I realized that the shutters wouldn't hang straight because of a large, ugly window guard that stuck out from the railing. It had odd triangular screws to prevent me from removing it.
Determined to leave no bad choice unchosen, I figured out I could use a small flat-head screwdriver at an angle to loosen the screws and pop the guard off. It was almost TOO easy. I felt like MacGyver. I realized I could now even open the window, except that it was pretty solidly painted shut.
I probably should have waited for my girlfriend to get home for help actually popping the six-foot long blinds into the brackets on the wall, but I was anxious to get the project done. I climbed up on my suitcase step-ladder, and put the one end of the blinds into the bracket, I then leaned over to pop the other end in, but it was a snug fit and required a little bit of bending. I put my hand against the window's handle to get some extra leverage as I pulled the blinds into place.
I forgot to mention one important detail. My suitcases were rolling suitcases. At the angle I was bending I tilted the suitcases down to where the wheels must have touched which sent the top one flying out from under me. My hand which was at that moment holding firmly onto the window's handle, pulled the formerly painted shut window open, and because the guard on the rail was gone, it pulled it all the way open, with me falling sideways in the direction of the now open window.
I reached up with my other hand to try and grab onto the sill and brace myself. My fingers caught a quarter-inch lip around the sill, on which I was able to stop my outward momentum. Had that lip not been there, I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have been able to get a grip, and I would have ended up tumbling to my death and winning a Darwin Award once the police pieced together what had happened.
The lessons I learned from this near-fatal accident are countless. Don't be impatient. Ask for help when you need it. Ask yourself before you do something: what could go wrong here? If nothing else, it makes for a great story to tell.