#64 Storytellers I Admire: Braveen Kumar Pt 2
On the power of humour, horror and being able to tell your story
As promised (because I try never to break a promise) this week I’m sharing the second half of my conversation with Braveen Kumar. I sat down with the writer, creator, marketer, (and humourist) to talk about storytelling. I got so caught up in the conversation that I had to break the interview up into two pieces. Last week we talked about his perspectives on the concept of storytelling. This week we dive deep into the impact of effective storytelling, Braveen essentially solves capitalism, and he shares some of the ideas he’s been tinkering with over the past few months. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the writer’s creative process that I found absolutely fascinating and expect you will too. What you don’t get to experience are all my exclamations of “oh my gosh,” “yes,” and “exactly!” that I edited out so Braveen’s words had room to breathe. I loved so much of what we talked about and hope you will too. Let me know in the comments what you think.
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The interview has been edited and condensed for brevity, but I tried to leave as much with you as possible. It’s long so I’d encourage you to grab a cuppa when you have a bit of time and dive into the world of one storyteller for a bit. Enjoy and let me know what you think, I have more of these planned.
Chantaie: Who is a storyteller that you admire?
Braveen: I'm a big fan of George Carlin. Not really a storyteller in the traditional sense. The way I look at it is, you get your own experience of life, observing it and finding patterns and then finding ways to package that so that the story that you see in life other people can see it in theirs. I'm a huge fan of his because he's a very engaging and persuasive speaker. But then he's so observant. The stuff that he notices and the patterns that he finds between various things that people can relate to…I'm a big fan. Because even if you were to read his stand up, it would read very well. It would read like an essay.
Which of his stand ups shows would you recommend?
B: I can't remember names right now. But I can remember bits. He has one about “soft language”. He talks about how language has softened over time. And words have gotten longer to describe the same thing. He just talks about what that's doing. I mean, that whole bit has been appropriated to say he's against PC culture. No he's not. He's talking about how we don't talk about things directly anymore.
He has a few. And what I like about them is they're all essentially arguments that he's making, just very good arguments. Some of the supports are ridiculous, but at the end of the day you get an argument. I love that. I love when you can come up with an airtight argument that gets people to see something. Before they consume it they are of one mind and after they consume it they are of another mind.
In a more traditional sense I would say Jordan Peele, I'm a huge fan of.
Okay, tell me more about that.
B: Because he made that switch from absurdist comedy to horror satire and then straight up horror. Effortlessly. Overnight he went from Key and Peele to Get Out to Us and he has another movie coming out. And so yeah, big fan of him because I think he best represents that idea of noticing things and remarking on them, using humor as a vehicle and then switching to horror as a vehicle for remarking on those things. So for me both humor and horror are great vehicles for persuasion, or they can be.
Key & Peele didn't do too much deep comedy (laughs). But it was still funny, it was absurdist, right? But he definitely has it in him to do it. But then to see him go to Get Out, which was a very smart, intelligent movie. A lot of respect for that. In terms of him and his craft. Especially because I like writing horror too. So seeing him do that is inspiring.
What's a story you've created and or share that you're especially proud of?
B: So I'm publishing one next week, actually. It's a horror story. It's about this village where over the years people just show up with their tongues missing. They would show up in the same condition, right. And they would scream or they would moan the same word. Woheha, woheha, woheha. And so they would show up without their tongues and they couldn't read or write. So all they could do is draw. So they drew pictures of what happened. And they would all draw something different. One person would draw what looked like a lion, another person drew what looked like a tall skinny old man. And so no one really knew what happened to them because they couldn't really tell their stories without tongues and they couldn't read or write. Finally this girl shows up, she could actually write. She wrote a lot in her spare time. And so she shows up, her tongue is missing, but she can actually write. So instead of drawing what happened to her, she writes it. The story jumps into her perspective and tells the story of what happened to her when she left the village to the time that she returned. And there's a reason it's called woheha. It's because-
Wait, wait. Yeah. No, I want to read it. Don't tell me. Where is it being published?
B: My blog.
Okay. So I'll ask you for the link and share it.
B: It's one of those things I wrote a long time ago, but I didn't have the talent to execute it. But I was like, this is a good premise. There's a twist at the end and I like what it's about too because it's about language. It's about stories. It's about being able to tell your story.
Yeah. Oh, I love it. I'm so excited.
B: It's about how, even if you lose your voice, writing lets you tell your stories.
I love it. I can't wait to share it. Okay, so is there a story you're looking forward to telling that you haven't created or you're thinking about but haven't done yet?
B: Yeah, I want to, it's more of an essay, but it's going to be anecdotes from my own career. It's called “Twice As.” That's the working title.
I have career chats with people a lot and the one thing that I have to constantly stress, which I had to unlearn myself, is this idea that you have to work twice as hard to be on par, especially for women and people of colour. I want to be like, don't fall into that trap because you end up allowing employers and clients to extract twice as much value from you for half the price. So what becomes more important is negotiation, representing yourself, wearing the confidence that you've earned, appraising yourself constantly. Whenever a recruiter reaches out to me the first question I ask is, what's the salary range for this role? Or I throw out a number for them. I just play The Price Is Right with myself (laughs).
And so encouraging other people to do that too. Because otherwise you can get stuck in a bad job or under a bad manager and you just feel stuck and you don't know how to get out of there. I want to write this because it's a conversation I have a lot and I feel that to package it in a blog post or something would be one way to scale the conversation so it can reach more people.
Because it's a light bulb I see that goes off in people's heads when they realize that, the same way it did for me. They're like, wait, you're right. You know what happens when you work twice as hard to be on par? You end up twice as good. And so there's no reason that you shouldn't be charging according to that and making money according to that and getting opportunities according to that. I've seen weird stuff in my career that made no sense in terms of hierarchy and “meritocracy,” who got allowed in the room, who didn't. So this is one of those things that I really want to write at some point, once I have thought it through some more.
Yeah. I really want you to write it because I feel like I've had that conversation with a lot of my girlfriends, but I've never been able to articulate it. I almost always say to people, you are worth so much more.
You need to understand your value. And I think it’s tied to that because a lot of my girlfriends I talk to are women of colour and what you just said, I think, is the exact thing. That idea of the value that you bring comes from the fact that you're working twice as hard.
And they don't deserve it unless they're paying you that amount. It's free labour.
B: It’s also that capitalism is a thing. And you can either be a resource within it or you can be a participant. And so one of the reasons I want to write this is to be like, be a participant. Because your salary is barely a rounding error to these companies.
B: So when you come into the door that's your best time to negotiate. When you're there, it's a lot harder. And just like all the levers that you have to negotiate, especially in the job market right now, it is bonkers how easy it is. That's why The Great Resignation is happening.
Yeah, yeah. Because you can find something else. I love that idea of capitalism either being, what did you say, a resource or participant?
I love that idea. Tell me more about that or any thoughts you have around it just because I've been thinking a lot of both that stuff lately and rejecting capitalism in a lot of ways, but it feels like an impossible thing to do within the current context of our systems.
B: I think the best way to reject capitalism is to play it back. So when you think about what capitalism tries to do, what capitalist systems try to do to people at the bottom is extract as much value from us as possible, right?
B: So what if we did that back? Extract as much value as possible. That includes time and money.
B: And if you don't do that, they squeeze and you don't squeeze back, you’re the one who gets squeezed. But if you squeeze back, then now you're both squeezing and you meet somewhere in the middle.
You just solved capitalism!
B: But until you do that, especially artists, artists are terrible at appraising themselves and realizing their value, setting boundaries. Whenever your employer or your job starts to infringe upon your boundaries, set those boundaries, make them very clear to be like, I'm swamped, I can't do this. Or learn how to cut things that are not important. One of the most impactful things I learned in my career was how to attribute the value of my work and my impact down to the point I could say, this blog post generated x value. And having that mindset and caring about that stuff because that is how I capitalize back. I went from writing three blog posts a week to doing two a month. Because I learned how to keep score and I learned how to work on the right things. And being able to prove that out.
I worked less and I did more for my team. Because otherwise you fall into the trap of activity as a measure of productivity. How much am I doing? How much time am I investing? Time invested is the worst way to measure productivity. Because that's not even the definition of productivity. Productivity is: what's the output? With time, you’re measuring in terms of the inputs.
You're speaking my language.
B: And so yeah, once I realized that I was like, oh, I should stop measuring my productivity according to how many hours I'm putting in or even number of articles I write. What are they actually paying me to do? Oh, they're paying me to get more customers for this business. Okay, let me just do that directly. And people don't question you when you do that and can prove it.
B: And it's the matter of just, yeah, setting boundaries and making sure that your employer or client does not infringe upon them. And part of that is also just filling your time with things that you care about. That leaves less time for capitalism to suck up as well. To make your time more scarce. There's more incentive to just live life.
You need to write this piece. People need this. The people need this. That's an essay. You need a book for that. I don't know.
B: I was actually going to do a book.
Do a book. That needs a book.
B: The book was called Sellout.
B: It's in my head. It's incubating, but one day I'm going to sit down and write it.
So what's a story that you've seen recently that you've loved? Or just what are some important stories that are being told right now? Take it however.
B: I think a lot of it’s happening in journalism. I think a lot of the stories that would typically go ignored by mainstream media are now being told, especially when it comes to the mass graves. The kind of stories that would have been buried for Indigenous peoples are now being told and surfaced and people are becoming more aware through stories. Because stories are more, in a way it's like more real than stats, the numbers, all that stuff, when you colour it in with stories of what happened, with history, those things really make you think and make it more real and tangible.
And so I'm glad those stories are being told. I'm glad newsrooms are being called out for the way they've been covering things during the pandemic. And people are just not having it any more. I'm glad people are also telling their own stories, and getting platforms to do so. Whatever underrepresented group a person belongs to they are able now able to tell their own stories and are being shared more widely on larger platforms, I think that's good. Because I work in marketing I'm always thinking about distribution. And so for me democratizing that, there's pros and cons to it, but one of the pros is people's stories that don't get told, can now be told. Yeah. I mean, conspiracy theories and all that too. But you know, pros and cons.
Pros and cons. That's so interesting to me because I’m thinking about applying for a PhD program. You're saying things that are sparking me. It's all about that notion of how our media systems have fractured and that has led to good things, but that has also led to fewer shared stories because you can sort of choose what you're exposed to. And that loss of shared stories I think, my hypothesis is, contributes to a loss of community cohesion. And so what does that do or say about society in the long-term. I could be wrong but that’s what I’m playing with.
B: No, that makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense. Because you end up with, the word that gets thrown around is “echo chambers,” but you have these niche communities that pop up and then just the way algorithms work is you just see more of that: similar accounts and content.
... your experiences get reinforced and you're not exposed to more stories.
B: Yeah. That's why I think it's so important to just talk to people in real life.
B: Meet people and all that stuff. Because then these bubbles kind of just naturally burst. With social media we're basically participants in the media now. Whenever people complain about the media it's like, no, we're part of the media. We share news, we comment on it and share headlines without the full article. We are participants in it, we contribute to the problem as consumers.
We are the media. I love that.
B: And yeah, that's something I've been thinking about a lot as well. It's almost on us just to be conscious consumers the same way that we have to be conscious consumers about other things. Fast fashion, whatever.
It's so true. Okay, so those are all the questions I had. Thank you so much for doing this.
B: Thank you.
A Story Well Told
If you didn’t click out to Braveen’s story, “Woheha,” thank you for reading to the end but you also really should give it a read. It’s a short short story that creeped me out completely, reinforced a belief of mine about the power of being able to tell our stories, and has stayed with me in the weeks since I’ve read it. I’d love to hear your thoughts so may go read it and send a note to let me know your thoughts or put it in the comments below.