“What you are about to read may or may not add an extra color to the rainbow at day’s end.”
When David Nadelberg wrote those words as a teenager vying for the attention of a girl, he had no idea of the power those words, the force that unsent love letter actually had. Upon discovering that letter many years into his 20s he was faced with many emotions, and at the end of it, he realized he had stumbled onto something; something precious, something cathartic, something he needed to share. Describing himself at the beginning of our conversation as “someone who is curious”, and putting a finer point on it by saying “I like finding creative paths to a final destination”, it is no wonder that David’s fascination with the history and evolution of human emotion as it relates to our personal growth became such a large part of his life experience.
“Our trinkets, our totems. . . they’re conduits to tell stories about who we are.”
The Unsent Love Letter / The Beginning
As a teenager in love (as much as one could be without actually meeting the girl), David crafted an exquisite declaration of intention for the girl who had captured his heart. He fondly referred to it as “a cover letter for the job of a boyfriend”. The letter was never sent and eventually found itself tucked away in a place that contained pieces of David’s history until it was found many years later when he was in his late 20s. Stumbling upon a piece of your own history that has been all but forgotten carries with it a slew of emotions, the first generally being embarrassment. What David found was that, after the embarrassment, there was a reacquaintance with his younger self and a reconciliation of life experiences that led him to want to share. Mortified was born.
When something embarrassing about your past is brought to light in public, you generally feel, well, mortified. It seemed a fitting name for a project that seeks to embrace these feelings and turn them on their head. David’s goal with Mortified was not to expose people’s most embarrassing moments or shame them for being human, but rather to create a community of people who were willing and able to bring up their past in an effort to connect, reflect, share, and realize that each of these moments—the ones that bring with them the sting of embarrassment—are what contribute to shaping us as adults.
Mortified can be described, in the simplest of terms, as a multimedia storytelling project. A project that explores reflection on funny and pivotal moments through the power of humor. I was reminded of something a friend said – “If I’m not laughing, I’m learning”. It’s based loosely on Tony Robbins’ quote about not being able to be angry or upset and grateful at the same time. A typical Mortified live show consists of a number of contributors coming up on stage and reading embarrassing childhood letters, telling stories, or anything else to reveal something about themselves. It is designed to be something that connects you to these people. David playfully suggests that he’s in the confession business and is sure to clarify that it’s different from voyeurism in that the participants are volunteering the information. He says it’s not viewed as exhibitionism and is ultimately about catharsis and changing their relationship to their past self. Humor is the tool in his mission to change people’s relationship with shame and vulnerability.
“The concept of release is so vital.”
David’s mother was a collector of sorts. She held on to many things and after her passing David assumed the role of what he calls the family archivist. This only served to strengthen his connection with the idea that sharing can be therapeutic. For his own mindfulness, David practices breathwork, which is a systematic way of breathing for a period of around 30 minutes, generally with a guide. Upon realizing how this helped him, he started facilitating his own sessions, which he calls narrative breathwork, where he explores the overlap between breathwork and engaging the mind through the telling of stories that make us who we are.
Mortified has been ongoing for 16 years, is worldwide, in 5 languages, in 20 cities as an event, has 2 books, and a weekly podcast.
Dave’s Questions for Kyō:
- Does this make me a better person?
- How can I do this authentically?
- You’ll be okay.