Rabbit’s Foot America

An excerpt from Goat Lips: Tales of a Lapsed Englishman, taken from tale 3, America.

Lucky for some?

As a boy in England, I distinctly remember my lucky rabbit’s foot key ring. Regularly, I pulled it out and stroked the soft fur in hopes of prolonging what I thought was my lucky streak of random decision-making. I con­fess that as a boy I always struggled to justify how an object that was reputed to bring me good luck had so obviously brought such cripplingly bad luck to the un­fortunate donor of the foot. While stroking my lucky rab­bit’s foot, it was impossible for me to block out the image of the hobbled rabbit to which the appendage once be­longed. I imagined his ears laid back and nose wrinkled up in disdain while pointing an accusatory paw directly at me and grumbling caustically, “Next time cut off your own damn foot, Motherfucker.” In retrospect, the only “luck” associated with this ill-conceived charm was that I eventually lost it and no longer had to be subjected to the guilt or the scarring images of a bitter, crippled, and foul-mouthed rabbit

WHY do stories work?

Think of C. P. R. as a way to resuscitate your communication.

The C stands for Connection.

Stories connect us. They always have and always will. We are hard wired for stories, they are the corner stone of our consciousness, and telling stories is in our DNA.

If you fail to connect with your audience, you’re gonna be in for a long hard day, and the likelihood of your audience receiving, recalling and acting on your information is pretty much shot.

The P stands for Persuasion.

Stories are persuasive and are the best way to move people to action.

A famous old English playwright and director called Keith Johnstone once said,
“People are inhibited from seeing that no action, sound, or movement is innocent of purpose.”

So I was thinking about this and thought to myself, wow I think he’s right.

Every time I speak, every time I move or initiate an action it’s driven by a purpose, which is usually a want. So it just made sense to me to get really good at doing whatever it is, that will help me get what I want.

Now, I know this might sound horribly selfish but when I looked at my wants, virtually all of them were good, with the vast majority of them aimed at helping other people.
The fact that helping other people was important to me meant I had no choice, but to get good at telling stories.

The R in C P R is for Recall.

Stories make facts memorable so they can be recalled and told forward.
In fact, Jerome Bruner, a cognitive psychologist, said that a fact, wrapped in a story is 22-times more memorable!

Stories are also the original “viral” before YouTube cornered the phrase.
Stories get passed on from person to person and your message gets passed along with it.

Think for a moment, how many times today has a friend or business associate come up to you and recited a list of bullet points, or quoted their mission or vision statement?

Now think about the number of times today that someone has shared a story with you?

Getting what you want

A famous old English playwright and director called Keith Johnstone once said,

People are inhibited from seeing that no action, sound, or movement is innocent of purpose.”

So I was thinking about this and thought to myself, “Wow I think he’s right.”

Every time I speak, every time I move or initiate an action it’s driven by a purpose, which is usually a want. So it just made sense to me to get really good at doing whatever it is, that will help me get what I want.

Now, I know this might sound horribly selfish but when I looked at my wants, virtually all of them were good, with the vast majority of them aimed at helping other people.­

The fact that helping other people was important to me meant I had no choice but to get really good at telling stories, because communicating through stories is the best way to get what you want.

An Excerpt from Goat Lips: America

Ten weeks earlier, I had flown to the United States with hundreds of fresh-faced counselors, all of us eager to teach at summer camps throughout the country. I had never visited the States before and was excited to experience the American way of life. An attractive feature of the program that lured me to sign up with Camp America was that once your camp closed for the season, you had a month to travel on your own before recon­vening at JFK to fly back to your normal life in Europe. This hot, late-September day was that day—the end of our American ad­venture and a scheduled return to normality with a long flight back to the mundane.

Phil Carroll, an athletic, fun-loving twenty-year-old Aus­tralian from Sydney, had been an exchange student with a fam­ily in Norway when he signed up for the summer escapade; whereas I, at the tender age of twenty-four, had just dissolved my partnership in an estate agency near my home village of Itchenor in the south of England. I had wanted to take some time off to relax and think before jumping into another full-time job.

We had both been assigned positions at Frenchwoods Fes­tival for the Performing Arts—a well-known and respected per­forming arts camp in upstate New York nestled in the Catskills. Philip’s assignment was camp photographer. And me? I was hired to teach the well-known performing art of sailing! French­woods has a private lake with the uninspiring name of Sand Pond, and even though the camp’s focus was exclusively on the arts, they just couldn’t resist throwing a few Sunfishes, Lasers, and windsurfers into the water. Then, all they had to do was seek out a gullible, foreign sailing instructor from a small sail­ing village in England to be present on the off chance a fifteen-year-old thespian, in between blocking her role in Annie and attending her advanced tap dance class, might suddenly be overwhelmed with the desire to learn to sail. Needless to say, my summer hadn’t been busy—although “Sunbathing on the Boat as Matthew Sailed it Around the Lake 101” did prove to be a popular course for several of the young female campers.

My only success story of the summer was a young boy called Michael. I didn’t teach him how to sail, but I did teach him how to say “ready about,” “by the lee,” and “jibe.” Michael oozed with pride when he brought his parents to the water’s edge to meet me on Visitors Day. In boisterous nautical fashion, with a distinct theatrical flair and a poorly executed pirate’s ac­cent, Michael recited his six sailing-related words. His parents looked at me incredulously, telegraphing that they had expect­ed more bang for their many bucks. I offered a slight shrug. I thought it better not to point out that they had sent their son to a prestigious performing arts camp, an unlikely breeding ground for Olympic yachtsmen.

Once the last camp session ended and the campers had been safely dispatched to their homes across the United States, we were paid our meager salaries in cash and unleashed upon America. The only rule laid out by Camp America was that we were to report to the British Airways departure desk at JFK on September the 22nd by 11:00 a.m.

Phil and I divided our month of travel between Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, and New York City, staying with friends we’d made during our time at the camp. Our whirlwind north­east tour had been liberally punctuated with beaches, bar­beques, bars, baseball games, parties, laughter, and revelry.

At 10:55 a.m., still obscured by our German cover, Phil looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “I’m having too much fun in America. You?” I glanced at the mass of counselors who were now five minutes away from terminating their American sojourn.

“Yes,” I whispered. “Yes, I am,” I repeated more confi­dently, as if confirming to myself that I had indeed just said yes and that yes was indeed the correct answer. Phil’s brand new Boston Red Sox cap (a purchase he regretted a year later when Bill Buckner’s infamous blunder robbed the Sox of a 1986 World Series title), pulled down snugly, hid all but his unblink­ing eyes. I froze.

Everything around me seemed still and quiet. Seconds elongated. I felt as if I’d left the airport and transported to a li­brary. The threat of being aggressively hushed by a stern librar­ian was palpable. The enormity of the choice we were contem­plating yawned before us. Crouched down with our backpacks and sleeping bags next to us, without the slightest hint of fear, Phil said as evenly as if reciting a password, “Let’s jump ship.”

“Done,” I responded. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t question. I committed 100% to the idea. I grabbed my measly belongings and kept my head down as I slipped quietly away from cer­tainty, obligations, and my homeland.

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