Guest blogger Dan Kennedy is the author of three books and a regular host of The Moth storytelling series and podcast. His debut novel, American Spirit, takes us on "a full-throttle, white-knuckle adventure into a land of destroyed dreams" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
The first time I told a story on The Moth mainstage was either 1999 or early 2000. I have no idea how that much time got behind me doing this storytelling stuff; it was this thing to try for one night in hopes of feeling better about how my life was going in my tiny unfurnished downtown New York apartment (girlfriend left and took her couch and table). And it worked, it clicked, something changed for me, and the next thing I know it’s 2013.
Right around the same time, I met the people who started The Moth, I quit drinking and spending all my money on the New York party scene (what I mean by "all my money" is nine thousand dollars, and what I mean by "the New York party scene" is drinking alone in chain restaurants and really bad stripper clubs from about 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.) I’m never quite sure which thing saved my life, stopping drinking or starting to hang out with The Moth, but something changed. Home was a long way away during this time in my life, it still is. I moved to downtown New York 15 years ago and the folks at The Moth instantly felt like family, and I haven’t been alone in the Big Apple since the day they took me in.
I haven’t stopped to count, but I know over the years of hosting and performing from 3rd Street to Australia to Cannes to North Carolina, Portland, and everywhere in between, I’ve heard more amazing true stories from people than I ever thought I would in my lifetime. And somewhere along the line, someone out there invented these podcast things, so now millions of people hear them, not just the folks in the club or theater that night.
So, after spending well over a decade surrounded by beautiful true stories and loving people, why have I gone and written fiction full of sex, drinking, drugs, a secondhand gun, and a protagonist who is fortysomething, almost divorced, suddenly unemployed, and buzzed enough to think it’s a good idea to burn frequent-flier miles traveling all over the country and then to Indonesia on a stumbling, gonzo, personal vision quest? I know, I hear you. But there are beautiful stories in this novel, a whole bunch of them, I’m certain. Sure, they come in the form of a man on an odd, darkly comedic downhill slide. But isn’t that life in America sometimes, and don’t we all end up looking back and laughing eventually? Well, for once it’s the other guy, the character in a novel, so maybe we can laugh a little sooner, maybe we can laugh right away.
The thing about fiction writing is that it oftentimes brings us the truth. Stepping up and unveiling one’s biggest fears, secrets, shame, and missteps and watching people laugh is the secret to healing and getting one’s life back on track. It might be the only way, in fact. I’ve seen it work since the first night I stepped onto a stage and tried it.
Wait, I think I may have just blown my cover. This is a novel. It’s, you know, not my journey; it’s fiction. I’m still the normal well-adjusted calm public radio–ish voice you hear on The Moth podcast. All right, the scene where the character wakes up in a car in front of a stranger’s house in Connecticut, then sneaks up to do that thing with the garden hose, and then the blood and the vomit, that part is true. That’s me. Or at least it was me, but then everything changed.