Thank you!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday. We heard a bunch of great stories including ones from five new first-timers. It was one of those shows where it seemed like half the audience came prepared to tell🙂

I don’t even know how to describe the range of stories we heard that night. Do I tell you about David’s beautiful moment as a college vigilante and what he’s not afraid to do with a chocolate cream pie? Do I try to summarize the uncomfortable confrontation on the #47 bus between the World’s Sweetest Bus Driver and an angry Navy SEAL? What about first-timer Lauren and her adventure as a teacher abroad where she looked into the eyes of a stone-cold killer while sitting on the potty?

I wish you could have seen 91-year-old Claire tell us how her husband proposed to her in New York City on their first date. So charming! Sadly, there’s also no point in trying to recreate Elliot’s story of his time in Iraq and where he quietly whispered to himself over and over throughout his tour, “This is how I’m going to die.”

There’s one story, though, that I do want to talk about. I first heard it three years ago in Tacoma and it’s stuck in my heart ever since. Last Thursday, the woman who told it showed up unexpectedly and I got to hear it again. It hit me just as hard. It was about the time she traveled to Ireland and what happened to her when two strangers came into her life on the same night. It was a night where good and evil met up in the same place at the same time. I’m not going to say what happened but no one at Roy Street will ever forget the image of that young woman on a dark street in Dublin.

As I got up to the microphone after she told I saw her moving quickly through the crowd toward the front of the coffee shop. I wanted to thank and tell her what that story had meant to me over the last three years but she was gone before I could do that. I’m not going to say her name because I don’t know her personally and I don’t know if she wants her name and that story together on the internet. But I do want to say here how grateful I am that she came out and shared it with us.

Lots of love and thanks to everyone who told a story that night: Ginger, David, B, Chris, Lauren, Robert, Kat, Carol, Elliot, Kath, John, Keith, Nathan, Kenji, Erin, Claire and Carl. Apologies if I forgot anyone. It was a new record for number of stories told at FGS and I may have lost some of the slips of paper with names on them.

Thanks also to everyone in the audience who showed such amazing support for the people who got onstage. It takes a lot of courage to share some of these stories and we couldn’t do it without all the kindness and patience you give us.

The recording came out fine so if any of the storytellers want the audio from their story just send me an email. I only give the audio to the people who told a story and it’s only of their own story. Most of them don’t want their stories shared online so the only way you’ll get to hear them is to be at the show.

Our next show is Thursday, Sept 22. The theme is “You can’t always get what you want.” I’ll get the official invite out as soon as I can.

Take care until then.

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Hope to see you this Thursday

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick reminder that our next show is this Thursday at Roy Street Coffee and Tea at 7pm. The theme is “Strangers – Stories of chance encounters”

Fresh Ground Stories: Strangers – Stories of Chance Encounters

Thursday, Aug 25, 2016, 7:00 PM

Roy Street Coffee & Tea
700 Broadway East – Seattle, WA

47 Story Fans Attending

As much as I enjoy being onstage I’m pretty quiet when I’m around strangers. It’s almost impossible for me to start conversations with people I don’t know and even harder to keep those conversations going. Nothing in my life seems easy to explain and the harder I try the worse I feel. I’m only comfortable when I’m being uncomfortably honest and tha…

Check out this Meetup →

Come tell a story or just listen and support the ones who do. There’s air conditioning too so now you have two reasons to come out🙂

Hope to see you there!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Fresh Ground Stories: Strangers – Stories of Chance Encounters

As much as I enjoy being onstage I’m pretty quiet when I’m around strangers. It’s almost impossible for me to start conversations with people I don’t know and even harder to keep those conversations going. Nothing in my life seems easy to explain and the harder I try the worse I feel. I’m only comfortable when I’m being uncomfortably honest and that’s not something most people want to hear over cocktails or a Costco veggie platter. I couldn’t care less about Seahawks, traffic or Game of Thrones so I’m pretty useless at most gatherings.

For some reason, though, I keep getting invited to things and I’m running out of diseases to pretend that I have. For dinner parties I usually go with shingles but people are starting to catch on. For the last couple of birthday invites I faked bird flu but that got messed up when someone went on WebMD and found that I was the first person in North America to get it. I feel bad that my friends must think I’m at death’s door but if there’s anything worse than being alone at home it’s being alone at a party.

But then six months ago my friend Angela invited me to her wedding and she knows all my tricks. She’s also a therapist so I can’t even claim social anxiety. She’ll just say, “Do you still have that Lorazepam the doctor gave you?” She can read my silences even better than my spoken lies.

I should have started researching exotic illnesses as soon as she told me what the theme of the ceremony was. Everyone was supposed to come dressed as their greatest fear. My first thought was that I should go naked but that was probably more her greatest fear than mine.

How in the world was I supposed to narrow this down to just one life-altering irrational fear? I might be able to get it down to 12 or 15 greatest hits but then the evening turns into a Cher concert with me changing costumes every 10 minutes.

It was really putting a strain on our relationship. Not only did she expect me to mingle with a hundred strangers but now I had to dive into the dark crevices of my soul to come up with a funny hat to wear.

A week before the wedding I was torn between dressing up as dying alone and unloved or being eaten by a great blue heron. Both scenarios have a long history of showing up in my dreams so I felt like I was being true to the theme of fear and commitment. In the end I realized my actual greatest fear is showing up to a party in costume and finding out I’m the only one who thought it was a costume party. I figured no one was actually going to build an outfit for this thing so I would dutifully go in casual-but-slightly offbeat gray shorts and a t-shirt, essentially dressing up like my dad. I would do my best to grow up and fit in.

When we arrived I learned that the theme had changed to “anything silver, gold or shiny.” The only thing shiny about me are my fillings so I still didn’t fit in. But that’s when I really started getting nervous. Usually, I’m the weirdest guy in the room but now I was the dullest. Instead of feeling different because I spend my life telling painfully honest stories onstage now I’m feeling different because I’m not dressed like captain of the Martian bobsled team.

I finally get invited to an event full of people who also don’t fit in and I still feel left out. I’ve gone from too weird to not weird enough. I kinda wanted to get to know the guy dressed like a light bulb but why in the world would he want to talk to me? He probably thought I was there because the groom forgot to sign the catering contract. The bride’s parents were dressed up as the Carl’s Jr star and I had to stand there and be introduced to them feeling like Darren from Bewitched. Mortifying!

It only got worse once the ceremony began. This group of people I had written off as wingnuts, dingdongs and wackaloons created the most beautifully honest celebration of love you could imagine. The bride and groom, hooked up to wireless drive-thru microphones, stood before a six-foot homemade disco ball, dressed in purple layered gauzy toga diapers and gave some charmingly candid vows.

Gabe promised to look at Angela when she was yelling at him. And Angela promised to look at Gabe when she was yelling at him. Funny but also pretty good advice for any relationship. If you going to yell at each other at least have the courage to look each other the eye when you’re doing it.

There were other vows in there but I had already fallen out of my chair laughing and yelling, “Yes! That’s perfect! That’s exactly what we should say when we get married!”

Then after the vows each of the siblings got up and said two things about their brother the groom or their sister the bride. They each had to say one good thing and one not so good thing. Can you imagine asking people to speak an uncomfortable truth about you onstage at your wedding? After each sibling said a sweet and sour thing about their brother or sister they looked across the stage at their new brother or sister-in-law where either Gabe or Angela smiled and said, “I can live with that.”

Such awkward honesty! Who were these people dressed in silver jumpsuits and Jack-in-the-Box heads? Didn’t they know weddings are all about artifice and ritual? Was I the only wearing a mask in this place?

At the end of the ceremony the High Priestess of Love and Baubles repeated a phrase just before the couple kissed. She was speaking to Angela and Gabe but she could have been speaking to all of us.

“Let go of what separates you. Let go of what separates you.”

After the big kiss we all moved to the other end of the room for dinner and drinks but I wasn’t in the mood for chatting. What had I just seen? I’m in a room full of people I thought were here for some kind of performance art and it turns out I’m the one performing. Is it possible to be honest and authentic in front of people you don’t know even if one of you is wearing pressed shorts and a Gap shirt and the other is dressed like the Statue of Liberty?

I decided to see how honest I could be with people I was pretty sure I had nothing in common with but was beginning to feel some real affection for. I decided I would dance.

I’ve always loved dancing but I never do it outside the kitchen because my threshold for embarrassment is pretty low. My mom was a dancer and I grew up secretly wanting to be Gene Kelly. Or at least a backup dancer for Pat Benetar. But like most boys in high school, I knew that dancing could be a very vulnerable thing if you did it poorly. And I believed my dancing was more controlled hopping than rhythmic expression. So I didn’t dance in high school. Or in college. Or after college. Or almost anywhere outside my apartment. I’ve probably danced five times publicly in the last 30 years.

But last night when the music started, right after Angela yelled, “Whooooooo monogamy!!!!!!” I ran out on the dance floor and began what I’ll call my hop-slide-shimmy-bumpity-bump.

I did what the High Priestess told me to do. I let go of what separated me from the lady in the neon boob dress and the guy with a body full of tattoos and glitter in his beard. When No-Diggity hit I danced beside the aunt from New York who may or may not have been trying to do the Charleston. When the Michael Jackson medley came on I danced beside the uncle who tried to swing on the giant disco ball like Miley Cyrus.

I have no idea why it took a bunch of strangers to finally get me out on the dance floor and do what I’ve wanted to do for years. Maybe that’s the secret role strangers play in our lives. They let us try out our new selves in front of them so we can see how the world will treat us.

Thank you man in the silver onesie for dancing all around me and making me feel less self-conscious. Thank you Gabe for dancing up to me and telling me you were glad I came. And thank you Angela for not accepting my “can’t make it because I have whooping cough” excuse.

Thanks also for anyone who made it to the bottom of this email. I know it’s a long one. But if you’re still here then you’ve made it to the part where I officially announce the theme for this months show which is “Strangers: Stories of Chance Encounters.”

Tell us about a time when a stranger came into your life. What happened? Are you glad it happened? Maybe you were the stranger once. How did that encounter change you?

Remember to keep it clean, practice out loud on friends or pets, and make sure it’s under 8 minutes.

Here are the updated Rules & Guidelines for telling a story at the show:

https://freshgroundstories.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/

I hope to see you at our next show on Thursday, August 25, 7:00pm at the Roy St Cafe.

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Thank you!

Thank you everyone for another great night of stories. For the first time ever we had more first-timers than regulars. This is fantastic! It’s always a treat to watch people conquer their fears and walk up to the microphone.

One of my favorite moments from last Thursday was when one of our regular tellers stumbled in the middle of her story and apologized for not being able to remember the next line. Without hesitation the audience burst into applause. A room full of strangers wanted her to know that they were right there with her. It was a giant hug from a hundred people and just the nudge she needed to pick up the story again. I have only seen an audience do that one other time in my life.

In 1991 I got to see Richard Pryor live onstage. It was near the end of his life when he was deep in his MS and he had trouble remembering his set. He spoke much slower than he used to and there were long pauses after set ups as he tried to remember the punchline. Usually at those points someone would yell out “We love you Richard!”

Sometimes, when it was a joke we all knew from listening to his records, we would yell out cues to help him along.

About halfway through the show he began a joke we all knew by heart.

“I come from Tupelo, Mississippi.”

Then he stopped. Seconds ticked by uncomfortably. You could see in his face he was trying to remember what came next.

Finally, someone in the crowd yelled out, “Where’s that Richard?”

“Next to Onepelo, MotherF***R!”

You should have heard that crowd roar. We were helping our hero through his act. It didn’t matter that we knew all the jokes and the stories were 30 years old. It was our chance to give something back to a man who had made all our lives a little better and a little lighter through his comedy. It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.

That’s how I felt when you guys helped our regular through her story. She had been telling me parts of the story through emails and I was excited to hear her tell it live. When she stumbled in the middle trying to remember the next line I could see how upset she was. She had wanted to send the recording to the young man in the story whose kindness in a grocery store had so moved her weeks earlier. I know she thinks the recording is messed up but hearing the audience start applauding in the middle just to show their support was beautiful.

I don’t want to forget the first-timers who showed up ‘cos we heard some great stuff from them. Jessica shared a sweet story of Love & Hydrogen. Michael #1 told us how he found love on the polo fields. Kenji showed us how to make friends in Thailand. Scott gave us our very first story of inexplicable ghost-like phenomena. Vidya, my god, what can I say about Vidya? Our new friend somehow had the whole room laughing at all the people in her family who have died including herself. How did she manage to do that? I have no idea. Michael #2 gave us one of the most awkward proposition lines ever, “I would like to marry you if that’s something you’re interested in.” Did it work? Of course it worked🙂

I especially want to thank Stephanie. She shared a story with us about her son that I won’t share here but I want her to know that it meant a lot to me that she trusted us enough to hear it. In this group Stephanie you’re not alone. I just want you to know that.

More big thanks to the regulars whom I always love to see walk through the door at Roy Street: Peter, Kat, David and Lynn. I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone. It’s four days later and the scraps of paper I take notes on during the show have scattered to the winds.

The recording turned out fine so if you told a story that night and would like the audio send me an email. I only give out recordings to the people who told a story and it’s only of the story they told. Most of our tellers don’t want their personal stories out there on the internet so that’s why I don’t post the shows on our Facebook or website.

I hope you can all make it to our next show on Thursday, August 25. The theme is Strangers. I’ll write up the official invite sometime next week so look for that in your inbox.

Take care everyone,

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Fresh Ground Stories: Journeys – Stories of how you got here

Last week I took part in an international study on poverty and perception. By that I mean I attended the weeklong TED Summit in Banff where I rubbed elbows with CEOs, venture capitalists and young tech-savvy entrepreneurs wearing $300 bling jeans.

I wasn’t aware that I was participating in this study for the first couple of days. All I knew was that I felt very out of place for reasons I couldn’t identify. Was it the casual confidence of everyone around me that I was sensing? Was it connected to the wave of anxiety I felt every time someone asked me “what I did”? I thought maybe it had something to do with everyone’s impressive bio. What the hell is a digital visionary? And what exactly do you do if you’re on the board of Synthetic Genomics? I lived in LA for a year. Can I call myself a Megacities Expert? I tell you what, I have no idea what Innovation Strategist pays but I’m pretty sure it’s more than I make now so I’m going to look into it as soon as I find some free wifi.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that I finally figured it out what I was feeling. I was taking a workshop on Adverse Childhood Trauma when the teacher asked everyone in the class to stand in a circle and step forward if we had ever experienced certain types of trauma. She asked if anyone had had a parent die or go to prison. A few of us stepped forward. She asked if anyone had witnessed their mother suffer physical abuse from a husband or boyfriend. Seven or eight people stepped forward. Had anyone grown up with a parent who drank too much or used street drugs? A bunch of people stepped forward. Then she asked if anyone had experienced poverty. Only two people out of the twenty people there stepped forward. I was on of those people and to cover up my surprise and embarrassment I blurted out, “No way! Seriously? Just me and her?!?!” The other woman and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and stepped back into the outer circle.

And that was what I had been sensing all week. Almost no one at that conference had ever wondered how they were going to pay the rent. They never had to wash up in a Burger King bathroom. TANFF, WIC and Section 8 are terms they’ve never had attached to their identity. I’m not saying their lives were sunshine and stardust. Everyone in that class had lived through some rough stuff but because they had never felt the embarrassment of being homeless or standing in line to collect food stamps they all had that good-things-are-just-around-the-corner look in their eyes that I’ve never had. Each trauma you experience leaves its own special mark. Poverty’s gift is that you tend to believe that success is for other people, especially when it comes to money. Where they see possibilities I see consequences.

When you’ve spent the majority of your life hoping the tires hold out until your tax refund comes in you don’t hope that things get better. You hope things don’t get worse. When your kid has toys most people would consider garbage you don’t hope for a better day you just pray you can get through this day. After a while this seems normal. It seems foolish to believe anything else.

But here’s the thing. Deep down I want the hope those people have. I want the kind confidence that encourages me to take risks. There’s no reason that I shouldn’t have it. In many ways I’ve been blessed. Neither of my parents went to prison or used street drugs. I was never sexually abused. My dad never laid a hand on my mom. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood but nothing compared to what I could have grown up in if we’d lived somewhere else.

So what’s the deal with my poverty mindset? (yeah, that’s a phrase I learned from one my of fellow students when she followed me outside after class to see how I was doing) Everyone at the TED conference treated me like the successful, upper-class white guy I look like. In one afternoon I talked to:

1. A doctor who owned a Tesla (at first I thought he was talking about the 80s hair-metal band)

2. A guy who minutes earlier just received $2.5 million from a venture capitalist for investment in his startup (I laughed and told him that just by sitting next to me his net worth dropped by 30%)

3. A former princess from the Middle East who works to bring technology to the field of mental health. (She and her husband look like they just stepped off a red carpet somewhere. If there’s such a thing as a TED power couple it’s them. The fact that they were both enrolled in a class called Tackling Trauma gives me hope for the human race)

Each one of those people treated me as a peer. They had no idea I had breakfast sausages from the buffet stuffed in my backpack for later. The Tesla guy asked me what kind of range I got with my own vehicle. I told him about 250 miles, carefully avoiding mentioning that I was talking about my 26-year-old Toyota Corolla. He didn’t need to know that the cruise control doesn’t work when the headlights are on or that I can turn up the radio by stepping on the gas.

The startup guy gave me his card when he found out I was a storyteller and might want to be listed in his database of professional speakers. I carefully avoided telling him that a lot of my stories have car thieves, prostitutes and corpses in them.

The former Middle East princess asked if I’d be interested in helping her on some upcoming speeches. I told her I’d be happy to help her and that I would do it for free because she was trying to help people with mental health issues. I don’t know why she chose that topic to focus on I’m just grateful she’s doing that instead of sipping cocktails on a yacht somewhere.

Every single person I met at the TED Summit treated me like I deserved to be there. Like my opinions mattered. The only person in the room who didn’t think I had anything to offer was me.

After my class, and an inspiring talk with a women from the UK who understood what I was going through, I decided to try to at least pretend like I belonged at this conference with these people. I spent most of my childhood sitting in empty auditoriums watching my mom rehearsing onstage so I channeled my inner Al Pacino and started acting like I belonged there.

Somehow, instead of getting caught up in my usual spiral of unworthiness I managed to steer conversations into areas that I had experience in. The next day at dinner I met a super cool entrepreneur from Australia who said he never got enough sleep because he couldn’t stop checking his iPhone in bed. Just like me! We bonded over our shared struggle against the digital undertow.

The next day I high-fived an amazing woman from Shanghai who admitted she had worked her way into the 1% but couldn’t enjoy it because she felt guilty. Irrational sense of guilt and shame? I totally get that! I wanted to chest bump her but she was pretty slight and I probably would have knocked her right out of the dining tent.

My journey to the Land of TED and back was longer than I planned. It was 700 miles as the crow flies but 30 years as the heart flies. I ended up going back over my life and searching for all the alleys and side streets I’d gone down on my way to where I am today. It forced me to question my perception of the world and my place in it.

My next journey is probably going to be a slow one. MapQuest isn’t very helpful when your destination is a state of grace. One thing I’m going to make sure I do is forgive myself when I veer off into spiritual dead-ends and emotional roundabouts. I’ve been to those places before and I’ve always made it out. There’s no reason to think I won’t be able to again.

And that’s the theme for this month show. Journeys – Stories of how you got here.

Remember to keep it clean, practice out loud on friends or pets, and keep it under 8 minutes.

The updated rules for stories are below but you know the kind we’re looking for: true stories that happened to you that still mean something to you days, months or years later.

Rules & Guidelines: https://freshgroundstories.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/

I hope to see you at our next show on Thursday, July 28, 7:00pm at the Roy St Cafe.

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

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