Is it my face? Is it because I was brought up to be polite? Does my raging curiosity show? Is there something specific and nonverbal I do to invite other people's stories?
Long before I was a storyteller, people told me their stories, often out of the blue. Since becoming a storyteller in 1988 it has happened even more, or maybe I'm just more aware of it.
A few years ago, a new neighbor stopped by to ask if I'd seen that her car's window had been smashed. I invited her in for a few minutes (I thought), and she told me her entire story, even acting out some parts. I heard all about her Jamaican boyfriend, her past as a used-car salesperson, her business selling jewelry on E-bay, her life in California and subsequent move to Kansas, and much more. She punctuated the story with a raised right hand and an emphatic "Swear to God!". Did I mention that she was wearing leather pants and cowboy boots?
A few weeks ago I was in between performances at a school and heard all about the custodian's son's divorce and the problems he was having with his kids. One of them ran away but is home now, thank goodness.
This morning I was at McDonald's having breakfast (the coffee is always better there than motel coffee). A scruffy man sat down at the table next to mine and struck up a monologue--certainly not a conversation--about finding $850 in an unmarked envelope and what he did about it and why. I also learned that he doesn't like cold weather.
It's only very rarely that I put these accounts into stories I tell in performance, and when I do, they are camouflaged. I do, however, repeat them in casual conversation.
For the most part, I don't mind hearing strangers' personal stories. We're all so odd in our own ways, all so much alike. What a world!