Using Storytelling to Connect

This weekend I’ve been working on writing lesson plans for a course I’ll be teaching this fall at Bellevue College on Land Titles.  For extra credit, I’ve assigned watching the movie “The House of Sand and Fog” and trying to find all the land title issues that come up as the film unwinds.  Other extra credit choices are a chapter from “By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie, “Far and Away.” I’ll tell you why in a minute but first, a memory.

I remember when I was first asked to join Toastmasters by a friend. This was pre-marriage, pre-kids, a long time ago back when I was a mere 20-something and thought I knew everything, including that I wanted to be a public speaker (cue the applause!) I took Toastmasters very seriously, tried to show up at all the Friday morning meetings, even though 7:00 AM was murder.  I wore my 1980s-style suits in jewel tones, and had a perm and an attitude. If you’ve never been to a Toastmasters meeting, it’s a great place for anyone who wants to improve his or her public speaking skills.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the variety of different people I’d meet who would “need” Toastmasters.  In our group we had a police chief, a new Swedish immigrant, several business owners, salespeople, business men and women, stay-at-home moms, and one or two Realtors.  The person who impressed me the most was Robert. I can’t remember his last name, but I remember him.  He owned a plumbing company and specialized in cleaning out sewer drains and septic systems. He always came to Toastmasters dressed in coveralls that, although probably clean, still had the faded stains of greasy jobs long past.  Robert grew up in the deep south and had a deep southern accent. He was tall, with light brown hair and blue eyes.  He was neither fat nor thin but not stocky either. I could never quite tell because the coveralls were alway loose.  Though not in a crisp policeman’s uniform or a business suit, Robert was by far the best Toastmaster because he always told a story. His stories twisted and winded and you’d wonder how he was ever going to connect a pig, a maple tree, his cousin Vinnie, and an old truck with some kind of moral but he would always do it.  His stories weren’t funny or sad, they were mostly stories that taught us something.  I can’t remember the stories but I will always remember how he made me feel.  Somehow Robert’s stories touched me, a young woman who thought quite highly of herself, the power of how to connect with others through storytelling.  I no longer wear the jewel tone suits but I still carry around the way Robert made me feel. 

Any real estate investor wannabe should first watch the movie “House of Sand and Fog” to understand the full force of how people in danger of losing their home to foreclosure go into denial. Even though Ben Kingsley’s character bids on Jennifer Connelly’s home at the auction, following all the protocols, it’s extremely difficult to try to foresee all the possible consequences of our choices. 

I’m currently re-reading all the Little House on the Prarie books with my daughter. Although Farmer Boy is by far one of our favorites (how did Almanzo eat all that food? Do boys really eat that much?) now we’re on The Long Winter, where Pa has staked his land claim.  These stories are a terrific way to re-live how America settled the West after overpowering the Native Americans. (We could call this the very first American real estate fraud case, couldn’t we?) 

Far and Away is a great all-around tale of an Irish immigrant who dreams of owning his own land, has to work hard to save up enough money to travel west and ends with a fun land-rush scene. 

Tonight, it would have been Norma Rae, but my eldest is at Bumbershoot. I hope you all had a great weekend!

10 thoughts on “Using Storytelling to Connect

  1. I loved reading this post, Jillayne. It just touched me–good timing. I was discussing title issue regarding the recent Ticor/Countrywide lawsuit in the Chicago area…which unfolds like an amazing fiction novel w/my hubby earlier today…and my son was BEGGING to go to Bumpershoot tonight…he went Saturday…and I’m trying to take it easy until my stitches come out.

  2. During week 9, we’re going to use that exact case. The room will be divided up into different teams; judge, jury, prosecution, defense, and I’m going to have them present the case in class and make the jury come up with a “verdict” before class is over.

    Here’s a link to the Ticor v. Countrywide story. Hat tip to Cindy Zetts:

    The story of how you ended up turning yourself into Frankenblondie is a good one. You should tell it.

  3. Nice post. The Toastmasters is a nice touch. A dear family friend was a lifetime member, and when I delivered his eulogy, several other TM members showed up, and made the tribute even more special with their memories of Wally and his “gift of gab”.

    I worry a little about stories.

    While many are morally illuminating and entertaining, they are often used to obscure or distort the truth.

    Thanks for the link to the Countrywide vs Title co. heavyweight battle shaping up. This ought to be a “Thrilla in Manilla Envelopes” epic. More than enough shady dealing going on here to fill a courtroom.

    So for once, the title companies have to pay up on a fraudulent title, and they balk?

    They will both come away bloodied and tarnished, and I suspect the title companies will come out worse, since up to now, they have largely been able to stay above the street fighting in the recent lending debacle, while CW has already got a “Mike Tyson” reputation.

    I’d love to see a post on this subject alone:

    “Are Title Companies Responsible for Ensuring a Clean Title?”

    Their actions here suggest they do not think so.

  4. I finally got caught up enough to read your post and I LOVE it. I too was a Toastmaster then and now. My most memorable speech was to a bunch of male engineers, a passionate one about the surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead, and Baby M. Talk about “knowing your audience” 🙂 I re-joined Toastmasters in Redmond/Bellevue a few years back, and they haven’t changed much, nor have I.

    I love “My Cousin Vinnie” the real one AND the movie. I’m going to get House of Sand and Fog ASAP.

    I just saw Mad Hot Ballroom and highly recommend it. I smiled so much my face hurt and cried with the kids and the teachers. I felt like I was in the room with those kids. It’s an amazing “movie” (actually a documentary). I love REAL and I love KIDS and this movie was so both.

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