I gave a speech at my Toastmasters Club last week, and during the feedback session following the speech, one of the members in the audience said my speech almost made her sick.

I took it as a compliment, which is exactly how she meant it. The speech was for a Tall Tales Contest, which is something I love taking part in. It gives me a chance to stretch my imagination, to improve my vocal variety and pacing, and to spend a little time being just plain silly. I don’t get a chance to do that very often.

In this particular tall tale, I pretend to be in a time-travel machine, shaking and rattling around as I’m being tossed and turned – after starting out the speech by saying that I get carsick and seasick easily, and that I’m afraid of flying. So I considered it a good sign when someone said she almost got sick while watching me.

A little later, someone else said that since she knows about my recent trips to Uganda, she was wondering how I overcame my fear of flying and other travel issues enough to facilitate traveling to faraway places. Her question gave me the opportunity to do two things. One was to thank her for another compliment – acknowledging that my tall tale was convincing and realistic – and the other was to set the record straight and distinguish fact from fiction. The truth is that I love to travel and have never had a fear of flying. I also have never in my life gotten carsick or seasick.

The nature of a tall tale is that it can take a germ of truth or reality, and build it up to something exaggerated to the point of absurdity. Or it can simply strain the boundaries of believability. That’s what I enjoy doing the most – in part, perhaps, because my kids used to tell me regularly that I’d make a lousy spy, since I could never lie convincingly. I have to agree – a poker face is not one of the gifts God gave me.

Not that I would ever want to become a spy, a poker player, or anyone who plays with the truth or regularly deceives others. That’s not in my nature, but it’s fun to play at it every once in a while – as I get to do in Tall Tales. Except when it backfires or requires some explaining.

In a Tall Tales Contest last year, I talked about ending up in prison, doing 15 to life for what started out as my mouthing off to a police officer when I was stopped for speeding on my way to a Toastmasters meeting. (Let me be absolutely clear on this, please: THIS DID NOT REALLY HAPPEN!)

The first tall tales speech I ever did centered on the extended labor I went through when my son was born. That part was true, by the way, but in my tall tale I said that a nurse at the hospital made me eat a stick of butter so the baby could slide out more easily. When I gave that speech, someone later asked me if I really did have to eat a stick of butter at the hospital! I assured the inquirer that the story was a total fabrication. But I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying something like, “Not at all. They use margarine.”

Perhaps my favorite tall tale was the one in which I told – in Dr. Seuss style – about the stories and adventures I shared with “my friend, Teddy Geisel,” when we lived next door to each other as children. Theodore Geisel was Dr. Seuss’ real name, and after my speech, someone asked if we really grew up next door to each other. As with my time-machine story last week, I accepted the question as a compliment to how well I interwove truth and fiction, even though the question going through MY head at the time was, “And how old do you think I am?”

Still, I enjoy spinning my stories and telling my tales whenever I get the chance. Right now, it’s pretty much limited to Toastmasters Tall Tales Contests. But you never know. I might decide someday that I want to become a professional storyteller. Or a poker player. Or a spy.

Or I might simply realize how much we can improve our lives by spending a little more time just being silly. But, preferably, without making people sick.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on March 27, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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