“Real people. Real stories. Live, on stage.” That’s the banner for Mudrooms, a monthly story telling venue that is finishing up its first season in Juneau. Seven people tell a seven minute story around a common theme. All proceeds go to a local non profit. It could be as simple as a night of local entertainment. Or there may be a story we hear that reveals the clues to our own individual character and nudges our future in a new direction.
Last week’s theme was transitions. Clint Farr was one of the seven storytellers. He talked about Lassie, the family dog from his childhood, and how his memories of her helped him decide to give his daughters the experience of having a loyal pet in their lives.
It was a simple story peppered with moments of humor. The most moving part came when Farr’s voice cracked as he recalled Lassie’s death. Then he explained that the end of her life marked his transition into adulthood. In sharing the deeper meaning of an experience filled with sorrow, Farr gave the audience a glimpse of his unique character.
The word character has many meanings. The one I’m interested in here isn’t the role people play in the stories we read or watch. Rather, it’s from psychology, defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person.” It’s derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktê which meant “imprint on the soul.” It is the essence of who we are as individual human beings.
This is what Mudrooms is about. It’s a chance to see beyond the outer appearance and daily persona and into the core of what makes us human.
“I think it can only make us closer” co-founder Amanda Compton told The Empire as Mudrooms was about to debut. “Some people are afraid of that, but I think it can only be a good thing.”
Compton is right. The depth which we get to know people in our own community has diminished in our modern age. It’s often superficial. This is partly due to the storytellers we’ve allowed into our lives since the advent of television. While there can be some redeeming value to the programming on TV, the popular drama and situational comedies are stories about fictional characters created by total strangers. It not only distracts us from knowing our neighbors better; the time we dedicate to watching them leaves us less time to discover our own unique character.
This is no small mistake if we consider what Bronnie Ware learned after spending several years caring for dying patients during the last few months of their lives. In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” she wrote that one of the biggest regrets her patients expressed was their lack of courage to live a life that was true to themselves. Many believed they had “settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.”
If “character is fate” as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with saying, then our defining character makes us the masters of our own destiny. This is what the writer Paulo Coelho called our “personal legend” in his international bestselling book “The Alchemist.” The story is about a young boy named Santiago who crosses the North African deserts in search of gold only to find that his personal legend was waiting for him closer to home. And it wasn’t riches he discovered. Santiago learns who he was meant to be.
Now I’m not suggesting Mudrooms should have such lofty goals as to redefine our futures. But by listening to someone from the community expose their inner self, we’re given an opportunity to ponder our own similar experiences. It can stir up complexes of our own stories, and the more we become aware of these, the more our character is drawn out for us and for others to see.
We would all be better served by local stories like Farr’s as opposed to the popular culture of mass entertainment. After all, we are the real people. And Mudrooms is offering us a small step to restoring how we look at our lives and define our future.
• Moniak is a Juneau resident.