When folks ask me why Gene and I do tandem storytelling, I usually pop back with some smart-aleck response like, “I enjoy putting our marriage to the test.” That’s usually because I know the inquirer really doesn’t want the dissertation that question really deserves.
Now, there is no denying that tandem storytelling can lead to us being a bit snippy with one another. When I come up with a great zinger line that would fit better in the story if said by Gene, that might be a tad needling for me. Or even worse, if Gene keeps coming up with fantastic lines that ends up leaving me sounding as dynamic as a bowl of plain oatmeal, I’ll most likely start feeling a bit put upon. (Please, I love oatmeal and really don’t need any oatmeal defenders here!)
The greatest challenge for me is when it feels like Gene has ended up with all the dynamic lines or gets to tell the exciting or hilarious part of the story that I wanted to tell. Now, in defense of Gene, he really is absolutely in no way a story hog. Sometimes, just in the nature of how we put the story together or more likely how the story tells us it wants to be put together, he just ends up with the best parts—and sometimes I do. Which occasionally may mean that for the other, the story is not as much fun to tell.
Quite often it is these same negatives that demonstrate why I love tandem storytelling so much. When we can move past these moments, we not only strengthen the stories, we also strengthen our relationship. It is so much fun to be able to say, “Ooh, it would be really funny, if after this line you would say….” Or “You really are better with this part than I am, you should do it….”
We learned early on that when we tell Orson Scott Card’s Middle Woman (with his permission) that Gene does the best dragon voice ever! But when he tried to bleat like a goat for our version of The Lion and the Goats, he ended up sounding more like a choking snake. But I do a great goat voice, if I do say so myself, so I ended up with the best line in the story. And after all, isn’t a great relationship about learning to play to each other’s strengths and talents—even if that’s sounding like a goat.
But maybe the best thing about tandem storytelling is that it gives each of us the opportunity to help each other out. At any given storytelling performance, at least one of us will screw up something, and often we may not even realize our error or know how to dig ourselves out of the mess we just made by doing something dumb, like reversing the order of events in the tale. But invariably, the other will have caught the mistake and be able to slide a solution in, usually unnoticed by the listeners.
Then on the ride home, while we assess the stories and our telling that day, there is always at least one “Thank you for saving my butt in that story.” The tandem storyteller hero’s journey indeed!