Published on April 12th, 2011 | by Ann Rickard0
I don,t want to start a new year on a negative note but there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s a people problem. Something needs to be done about the story highjacker. Once I explain what a story highjacker is, you will instantly recognise one in your own circle of family and friends.
The story highjacker lies in wait everywhere. Here’s how she operates. (It could be a he, I’ve just used the feminine because it’s easy.) You start to tell a story, no doubt a riveting one, for you are an amusing raconteur. The story highjacker listens attentively for a minute or two and when you get to a really good part, she leaps in and says: “Yes, I know exactly what you mean, that same thing happened to me,’’ and before you realise it, she has nicked your story, claimed it for her own and is telling a most dull version of it. You are sitting there left high and dry without chance to finish your story.
The highjacker doesn’t notice this of course. The highjacker doesn’t intentionally do it, it’s just that your story is so entertaining she can relate to something in it and thoughtlessly pushes in to recount her own similar experience. It happens to me all the time, for I am a good story teller – as you are well aware. Just recently, my daughter from Cairns was visiting with her beautiful new baby. I wanted to hear all the details of the birth as I wasn’t able to be there. I am close to my daughter and was disappointed that I couldn’t share the experience. We were in the company of several women. “Give me every tiny detail, right from the start,’’ I told my daughter and off she went with her birthing story. We got through the contraction bit, and then went on to the frantic- drive-to-hospital bit, and then it came to the all important crowning of the head bit. That’s when a highjacker in the room leapt in, shouted ‘you think your baby’s head was big, you should have seen the size of my baby’s head, a water melon it was, ripped me apart it did,’ and off she went, stealing the birthing story, making it her own. And a rather gory story it was too. I never did get to the end of my daughter’s story.
I have had acquaintances (not you) who have pleaded with me to tell them stories of my travels on my return from a trip. “Come around, we’ll have coffee, I want to hear all about Italy,’’ this fictitious acquaintance will say. And around I go, not armed with several hundreds photos and videos of me throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, for not only am I a good story teller, I know when to stop. “Tell me everything about Italy,’’ the fictitious acquaintance says when I arrive. “I want to hear all the details. It’s my favourite country. I was there in 1974 and I loved it, I toured with a group, it was an Italy history tour, I learnt so much, I was the star of the group, I visited all the ancient sites, the museums, oh, the Italian men loved me, called me bella donna and pinched my bum and then I …’’ And the evening labours on and ends with her getting out musty 1974 photo albums to shriek with delight over curled old pictures of herself standing by David in Florence (looking up at his willy and giggling), posing in front of the Colosseum and sitting in intimate Tuscan trattorias drinking Barolo. I always go home from these evenings with a feeling of unfullfilment, a hollow emptiness.
“I thought I was invited around to talk about my trip to Italy,’’ I say to my husband. “You were. You were story highjacked,’’ he replies. Months later the highjacker runs into you in the street, and gushes: “You’ve never told me about your trip to Italy. Come home with me now for coffee and tell me all about it.’’ You are at the other end of the street by the time she has finished. I am so fed up with this I am determined to let 2011 be the year of foiling the story highjacker. I’ve done it twice already this past week. “Whoa,’’ I’ve said. “You just highjacked my story. Back to me. Back to me.’’ Both times the highjacker has looked at me with complete surprise. She has not realised the dastardliness of her deed. (She does now.)
As a reader of this column it goes without saying you are not a story high-jacker, you are a courteous and attentive listener. But if you have a highjacker in your friendship circle, let this be your year to do something about it. Let us unite and highjack the highjackers.