Tell Me A Story Please

As a child, my fondest memories of learning came from the stories my teachers told. I loved fables the most, there was always a common sense lesson to be had. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, listening to their stories. All these years later, I remember those stories. They stayed with me, but more importantly, the lessons stuck. To this day, I love to listen to a good story.

John Ferreira says, “storytelling is what connects us to our humanity. It is what links us to our past, and provides a glimpse into our future.”

I recently had the pleasure of attending an evening of storytelling hosted by Tracey Segarra. Tracey is a storyteller, a Speaker and a Consultant. After listening to the Moth podcast. Tracey became interested in storytelling. She entered the Moth storytelling slam in 2016 and won. She’s been telling stories ever since.Tell Me a Story Please You Me NYC
Photo: Jason Falchook

Tracey feels passionate that stories make us laugh, make us cry and move us. Tracey has brought storytelling to Long Island. Like the Bards and Grios of old, telling stories to the community in order to entertain, educate and remind us of how we are connected.

During the evening of stories, I was moved and engaged. It was a delight to unplug, sit amongst a diverse group and listen to the personal stories of others. The entire room was still, silent and enraptured by each storyteller at the mic. The audience was getting what we all crave, a high touch, intimate experience, shared amongst a group. These types of experiences are few and far between, especially as we allow technology to invade our personal space and relationships and define how we communicate with each other.

A few days later, I sat down with Tracey to understand her passion for storytelling.

How did you get introduced to storytelling?

Well, it was actually my husband, he had been listening to the Moth radio hour on NPR. He turned me on to it. The Moth has people telling true stories about their lives. Some are funny, some are tragic, but they are all compelling because they are about important moments in peoples lives. Moments that changed them somehow, and so once I started listening to it I was instantly hooked. I am a former reporter and writer. So I used to write personal essays. Plus when I was younger I was an actress. I had dreams about being an actress. So when I heard this on the radio it married two things that I love, getting up in front of people and personal stories. So I thought OMG, I have to do this and I love this!

The Moth has these story competitions called story slams in the city.
And so I went with my niece to one of them just to check it out. People put their names in a hat and they pick 10 names randomly. They have a theme, everybody tells one five minute story on that theme. I went to one just to listen. I was hooked. The next time one came up with a theme where I thought I had a story for it, I put my name in the hat, I got picked and I won that night. I was like ok, this is a message. I had no training, no nothing, I just told a story.

When they have ten people who have won story slams, they have a grand slam. In front of 500 people at the music hall in Brooklyn, the winners have to come up with a new story. You compete against nine other story slam winners. I told a story, I won that night. Now, I am like ok, ok, I am meant to do this. I can’t remember exactly how old I was at the time, 52 or 53, but I felt like I had finally found what I am meant to do with my life. This is it, this feels so right.

I am in marketing during the day. I put my marketing hat on and I thought, there is nothing like this on Long Island, why don’t I create this. That becomes my next thing. There is a huge storytelling scene in Manhattan. Any night of the week you can go to a storytelling. I knew we needed this on Long Island.

I have never heard of this.

I know its amazing how it’s such a well-kept secret, not that anyone wants to keep it a secret

I started my show out here at a small local bookstore in Rockville Centre and within a year, I outgrew the store. The store could only hold 50 people, and I outgrew the venue. I started booking bigger venues as more and more people started coming. Then Newsday did a story on me, The Long Island Business News and then the local Herald.
People then started asking me to teach storytelling. I started doing workshops and its grown from there.

Why do you think this is becoming popular, what is energizing this?

One thing, we have become a society of people constantly looking down at their phones every two seconds, however, as you saw last night when someone is telling a compelling, true story, they have your attention; and so as human beings, we crave the connections. It forms a real connection. This is not like stand up comedy, where we are like ok, make me laugh. You know this is like wow, let me in, let me feel what you are feeling. There is something very powerful in that. As society becomes more electronic and distant, we crave the connection. We are still human beings, we still need to connect with people. Storytelling fills that need.

As I was listening last night, I was thinking about how we used to pass on our history through storytelling

Exactly, that was the first thing we did to record history we told the stories to our children and told them to tell their children

And That was a community event

Right, yes, to come together as a community to hear each other stories, that’s why I love the live shows. The energy of the people in the room changes how the storyteller tells the story, we feed off each other

When you envision this, what is your vision for storytelling on Long Island

Well, I would love to book bigger venues and have more people tell stories. Two of the people in my show last night are not storytellers, they are just people with great stories and I want to magnify their voices. I worked with them on their stories to craft them into a narrative that works. They had something important to share, and it needed to be heard. I am so excited. I want to start a podcast. I am a former newspaper reporter, so I have a knack for finding good stories. I know that I will never run out of stories on Long Island. I want to start a podcast for LI stories. There are so many stories to be heard. I also want to consult with businesses on how to tell their Story. Storytelling for business especially non-profits is a power tool for messaging. Organizations realize that in order to cut through the clutter you have to have a compelling message and story. I am going to a conference in a few weeks. I will be working with people who work in communications for non-profits. I will be talking about the power of stories in business and especially with non-profits. To be successful you need a compelling story. People connect to stories and that in itself is a powerful tool.

As I think about last night, and the theme, Through the Eyes of A Child. We had these different people, from different walks of life, some diversity in the room, but the common thread was that we have all experienced a childhood, we have all experienced pain or trauma in our lives, growing pains, personal family angst, that’s what connects us. We are much more alike then we think we are, I was really fascinated by hearing the storytellers. Taking us on a journey back to their childhoods, this was my experience and this is who I am because of it. I am sharing this with you.

Exactly, there was also a vulnerability, that the storytellers showed last night which drew the audience in.

What is the impact that you want to have?

I am still trying to figure this out. I want to continue to teach storytelling and producing shows, helping others find their voices and helping them to be heard. I love finding the storytellers and helping them craft their message and having it touch people. I would love to do that for non-profit organizations

there is a quote by a poet I like, Sahib Naiah

“You can reject peoples politics, You can reject their religion but you cannot reject their stories”

That’s why I do not get political, this is about human to human connection and what we have in common, not what tears us apart. We hear enough about what tears us apart.

We have to focus on how we are connected. Every business can leverage storytelling.

There is neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zaks. He has studied the effects of storytelling on the brain. What he found is that when someone is telling a compelling true story, showing vulnerability and authenticity, keeping you on the edge of their seats, it activates a neurochemical in the brain, oxytocin. Once this chemical is released you start to feel what the storyteller is feeling and you are more apt to take the action the storyteller wants you to take, you start to develops trust. It is often called the love hormone, the trust hormone. Storytelling does that.

What impact has this had on you?

It has given me a voice, I was a drug addict and alcoholic in my youth. I am 56 now, Up to the age 25, I made a mess of my life. It took many years to repair that. For many years I was ashamed. They teach you in the program that you are not a bad person getting good, you are a sick person getting well. For a lot of years, I was ashamed and upset at what I had done. Once I got into storytelling, I was like Oh my God these are stories I can tell these. Once I had the advantage of time I can now see how these life events have shaped me today. It helped me get over the bad feelings and guilt.

Is it cathartic?

Very cathartic, also I am a performer, so when I feel that I have the audience in my hands, and I am bringing them on a journey through my life and they can relate, it is an incredible feeling. I feel that I can take them on a journey. That is a powerful experience.

Last night when you were telling your story, about summers at your grandmothers, with all of the characters, I was transported, I could see where you were, I could feel the way the air felt, I was there with you. For me it was a simple way to relax and enjoy, just listen. That in Itself was calming.

I think anytime I tell a story about something that affected me its always something that is universal. We all had fears and insecurities and issues with our mothers every one can relate to that and eventually finding a safe haven.

What I have I know, especially after attending the evening of storytelling, is that stories connect us, like a spun thread weaving between us all.

Tracey Segarra is a Storyteller, a Speaker and a Consultant. For information about Tracey’s upcoming storytelling events or seminars, go to traceysegarra.com.

No More Poor Service

Just when did we start to accept poor service as normal? Each day I am disappointed and frustrated by the terrible customer service I receive from just about everywhere. A few years ago, I would have said my disgust was a function of my nearing 50, but each instance of poor service is leaning towards the slobberization of America. Yes, that’s right, the slobberization of America.

No More Poor Service You Me NYC

I was in Target, one of my favorite stores. I gathered all of my items and made my way to the cash register. The cashier was wide open. I was so excited, as this is a rare feat at Target. I placed all of my items on the belt. The cashier failed to acknowledge my presence. Strike #1.

He started to ring up my items while carrying on a conversation with a co-worker. Strike #2.

The topic, his date from the night before. He then packed my items, still no acknowledgment of my presence and continued to talk to his coworker. Strike #3. At this point, their conversation was so good, he forgot that I was there.

I stared at him with the intensity of a surgical laser. He finally realized that he was in the middle of a transaction. I received no apology. Strike #4

He then mumbled something to me, which I did not understand, since I do not speak mumble. He handed me a gift card. I asked him, “What is this for? “

He said, “ Oh you get it because of mumble , mumble, mumble, mumble.”

“I do not understand , why are you giving me a gift card? And why is it a used gift card.”

“Damn Gurl, you got a lot of questions.”

Oh no, here it comes, I can’t hold my tongue any more.

“I am not a girl, I could have given birth to you, Ms or ma’am will do from you. Speak to me clearly. I have not heard a damn thing you said. You did not greet me, nor acknowledge my presence and now you are speaking to me like I am one of your little friends.”

“Oh my bad, my bad, chuckle, chuckle, you get this card because you bought that thing. We have to use up the old cards first.”

I paid, took my items and my used gift card which I was afraid to use for 5 months, in case it was not legit. I left thinking, OMG, I am turning into my mother. Nothing I said to him even registered with him. I just can no longer accept poor service. I work too hard and I have worked In both retail and hospitality. Its not hard to treat people with respect and give good service.

No More Poor Service You Me NYC

When did retail outlets, restaurants and hotels stop training their staff. The minimum wage is going to $15 and no one wants to work for it. What is becoming of us. I know I am not the only person disgusted by this norming of poor service.

I am not going to stand for it any more. Who is with me?

Regular

I have one of those jobs where I office from home and travel for work. It’s convenient and nice to work from home but, I miss being a “regular”. That sounds a bit odd, what could possibly be so great about being a regular anything?

There is earned status to being a regular. I was part of an elite group of customers who patronized the Frontier Diner on 3rd Ave. Every weekday morning, I would come out of the # 7 train at 42nd street, walk over to 3rd and 39th, and cross the street to the Frontier diner.

The owner would stand his watch at the front counter and have my order prepared as he saw me at the far corner, a large light coffee and a toasted blueberry muffin with butter. We’d exchange pleasantries and he would wish me well and a good day. I would do the same. I did not have to wait in line, he knew what I wanted, needed and craved. It was an easy and affordable transaction. If I missed a day of work, he would ask if everything was alright and inquire as to where I was the other day. It was our ritual.

Now that I office from home and travel for work, I am no longer a “regular” any where, I’ve lost my elite status, a friend and someone who watched out for me. I cannot seem to find coffee that taste just right or a toasted blueberry muffin to my liking.

What’s Missing:

Perhaps what I miss is the kinship that was developing over time when I was patronizing the Frontier diner day after day, year after year. A sense of belonging and the knowledge that someone was waiting for me, with a smile. I like Starbucks, and the new local coffee shop in my village but, its not the same. With mobile or kiosk ordering, we’ve lost that sense of community that came from getting to know the folks who worked in the eateries we patronize.

Pizza, New York’s Slice VS. Chicago’s Deep Dish

If you are debating between Chicago deep dish or New York’s slice, there really is no debate about whose pizza is the best. New York wins hands down. I’m not just saying that because I am a native New Yorker. There is nothing like a “slice” from the pizzeria.

There is something so yummy and delicious about a slice of NY pizza. What is it exactly?  First, the best crust is thin, slightly charred on the bottom and a hint salty.  When you fold it, it almost cracks up the middle but it stays together.

Then its the melted mozzarella on top of the sweet marinara sauce. The best slices are hot, dripping with oil from the melted cheese and crisp on the bottom.New York Slice You Me NYCIt really is the best bite of goodness. I know Chicagoans think their deep dish is the best, but lets get real. Chicago style pizza is a casserole not a slice. I like Chicago deep dish. It has all of the same ingredients, however the experience is different.Chicago Deep Dish You Me NYCA slice, served on a paper plate, on top of a piece of tissue paper for blotting or holding, with a can of soda and a straw, good cheap, fast eats. You can eat a NY slice on the go. You can’t eat deep dish on the go, you need a knife and fork. The crust is bready and chewy and you can’t hold it or fold it.

We can debate who in the 5 boroughs has the best slice, but we can all agree that a slice is a slice and there is nothing like a NY slice.

The Black and White

There are things that native New Yorkers know that transplants don’t like what “regular” coffee means, or what a “smear” is or a “black and white”. These are just some of the best things about New York.

I remember the first time I had a black and white cookie. It was first grade, 1977. Theresa Catina carried one in her lunch box every day. One day, she shared hers with me, splitting it against the grain, so that I had an even bit of black and white.

I was so excited I never had one before. That first bite was magic, I was hooked. Let me explain for those who are not native New Yorkers. A black and white is more than a cookie, its really more of a cake. The base is a yellow cookie/cake with a hint of lemon essence. Half the cookie is frosted with a white glaze the other half is frosted with a chocolate glaze. There is nothing else like it. Each bite is soft and chewy with a delicious sweetness.Black and White Cookie You Me NYCEveryone I know has a different way of eating a black and white. I am a chocoholic, I eat the white side first and save the yummy chocolateness for last, always the best for last. Some people prefer the white side, so they eat the black side first. Others just go for it and dig in. It’s The perfect cookie for sharing as they are the size of a desert plate. They are a NYC staple.

Next time you walk by a NYC bakery, not a cupcake place, pick one up and share it with someone you love or savor every bite for your self. They are worth the calories.