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Kerry Cue says she always wanted to be Annie Oakley and now she knows why (Image via Kerry's blog sibylesque.com)

Last week, Kerry Cue almost overdosed on Melbourne. You do need to be careful!

ONE DAY last week, I overdosed on Melbourne: 17 TEDx Melbourne talks and performances at the conference centre, South Wharf, and then 10 The Moth Melbourne open mic stories hosted by comedian Cal Wilson at the North Melbourne Town Hall. Throw in some single-origin coffee, boutique tea, smashed ava, mini-chirizo burgers, wine in tumblers, and whinging about the weather and I experienced that singularity moment: Melbourne’s unique, edgy, bookish, intellectual, artsy vibe condensed into one day.

Spasming vaginas, erotic IQ, buying drugs on the dark web, playing soccer on top of Mt Kilimanjaro. These are parasitic stories that invade your thoughts and colonise your brain. But of course, I’m getting them all mixed up together when they are quite distinct. The TEDx talks cover the intellectual turf. They promote edgy ideas. 

The theme this year was 'Rebels, Revolutionaries and Us' and criminologist Dr James Martin put a convincing case that buying drugs on the dark web improves safety. It’s a sort of eBAY for ecstasy, with supplier ratings and product returns. Laura Youngson organised 60 women from 25 nationalities to play soccer on top of Mt Kilimanjaro for gender equality. My favourites were architect Mond Qu who invented an island off Mexico and now has it recognised by Wikipedia with maps and pics. That’s fake geography, I guess, and Lisa Leong – the rapping, ABC DJ corporate lawyer, who wants to make lawyers less robotic – fake optimism, perhaps.

The Moth open mic sessions, which have been popular in the states for some years, delivers personal – very personal – stories. Participants tell true stories from their lives in five minutes. Could you imagine standing in front of an audience talking about discovering you had a spasming vagina via awkward moments dating through Tinder? Then there was the girl who dated boys always waiting for her kiss-bliss moment to discover she was, happily, a "massive" lesbian. Is The Moth a platform for over sharing or authenticity? 

I asked one participant what she gained from the experience. She had suffered a break down, driving for Uber while she recovered. "It’s a sort of therapy" she explained. So telling your story to people who listen is, perhaps, the therapy you need when you are not having therapy.

My fascination with these two events is linked to an interest in starting a deeper conversation. Four years ago, I started a salon with a psychologist friend, Dr Doris Brett. We called it the "Sibyls’ Salon", after the Sibyls who had wisdom and insight, and predate Plato. We devised some questions and asked ten strangers to share their stories in a non-judgmental, non-competitive space. That’s when the magic happened. Women who hardly knew each other dropped their usual defenses and told stories, wonderful, hilarious, sad, heroic stories about their lives. Energy filled the room and the buzz remained with all of us for hours. Indeed, research is now showing that connecting through face-to-face conversation is as good for our physical self as it is for our psyche. 

Meanwhile, research by University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl found that people who engaged in deep conversations, rather than endless small talk about the weather or TV shows, rated higher for happiness and life satisfaction. You know how much weather small talk we do in Melbourne? If it’s not the weather, it’s football. Melbourne, we need to go deeper. Ditto the rest of Australia.

But how do you start a conversation? The TEDx Melbourne talks will be posted online. The Moth sessions are continuing in Brunswick.

Or you could try one of the openers from the Sibyls’ Salon. These questions get taken home and raised around dinner tables and even ten year olds have chimed in.

A sample question, for instance, is:

'The Fairy Godmother is able to make it to your birth, has remembered to bring her magic wand and can bestow upon you one gift and one gift only. It can be a talent, a life circumstance or anything you choose. What will it be?'

Ask someone today, even a ten year old — you might be surprised at the answer.

Kerry Cue is a humourist, mathematician and journalist. She is the best-selling author of 20 books. Read more by Kerry at mathspig.wordpress.com.

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