Strangers – Stories of chance encounters

This month’s theme is one we did three years ago but I was inspired to bring it back because one of our tellers, Nathan Vass, just gave a wonderful TED talk on the importance of strangers in our lives. We talk a lot about stranger danger but I think if we look closely at our daily interactions we’ll find that most strangers are polite and sometimes very kind. Nathan says that we often remember the kindnesses of strangers because it’s so unexpected. We know our friends and family will be there for us, but when a stranger helps us it reinforces our faith in humanity a little bit. I think we need some of that right now.

I’d love to hear some stories about a time when a stranger came into your life. Below is the story I wrote three years ago for this theme. I’m posting it again because the couple whose wedding I wrote just announced they’re expecting their first child.

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 Benatar. 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 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, June 20, 7:00 pm at the Olive Way Starbucks

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

 

 

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Thank you :)

Big thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday. It was great to see so many new tellers! We even had a surprise new teller, Gabriel Spitzer from KNKX’s Sound Effect. Gabriel has been so supportive of FGS by putting so many of our tellers on his show. I was happy everyone could finally see him in person and listen to one of his own stories.

There were a lot of beautiful moments last Thursday. I wish I could recreate all of them in print for you. Ben, our Scone of Courage recipient, told a story about how dangerous cancer survivor camps can be. If I ever beat cancer, please don’t take me white water rafting. Take me to a camp where I get free pizza and unlimited massages. Ben, you are a survivor of more than just cancer. I’m glad you found us.

Another first-timer (whose name I can’t confirm because I lost half the slips) ended her story with an image I’m still thinking about. A few years ago she went swimming in the Indian Ocean and ended up floating quietly above a 30’ whale shark. Everyone in the audience became quiet as she described the moment her feelings shifted from fear to peace. It felt like we were all experiencing that peace with her years later on the other side of the earth.

Dave, one of our regulars, told a story about starving in the wilderness that I’m going to remember every time I order clam chowder. Mark, (another first-timer whose name I can’t confirm) told us how humbling teaching third-graders in the Bronx can be. We also discovered that Chris was the kind of kid who, when her parents went out of town, decides to remodel the kitchen. She’s the only teenager in history who was hiding paint cans instead of beer bottles from her parents 🙂

Thanks again for everyone who came out that night to support the people who told stories. Even if you never walk up to that mic yourself, I appreciate all the love and kindness you show to the ones who do.

Before I let you go, I want to let you know about some great stuff coming up.

The last Thursday of each month is our sister show, Auntmama’s Storytable. I love this show and nd recommend it to anyone who loves FGS. It’s always on the last Thursday of each month at Olive Way Starbucks.

MAY 30, 2019
Theme: MEN AND MACHINE
Time: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Featuring:
Music by Wes Weddell
Auntmama (Mary Anne Moorman), Kathya Alexander, Olubayo are joined by storytellers Siv Prince and Lance Lambert

We also have two great (and free) workshops for anyone wanting helpful and gentle feedback on their stories.

June 2:
https://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories-Storytelling-Workshop/events/261233390/

June 13:
https://www.facebook.com/events/321234631907363/

Also, North Seattle Storytelling just shifted their website to their facebook page. Be sure to like it so you can be notified up their upcoming events.

https://www.facebook.com/northseattlestorytellers

Lastly, as I mentioned at the show, KNKX’s Sound Effect and FGS are producing a live storytelling show together on June 4. It’s free and awesome. We’re getting a lot of RSVPs so be sure to get there early for a good seat and considering carpooling 🙂

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4236885

That’s all for now. Next month’s show is June 20th, The theme is “Strangers – Stories of chance encounters.” I’ll get the official invite out as soon as I can.

See you then!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Exciting News!

Hi Everyone,

Our next show is coming up on the 16th but I wanted to share some great news with you tonight. KNKX’s Sound Effect and FGS are getting together to do a storytelling show together in June!

It’s going to be held on June 4th and will feature people you’ve heard at FGS, Auntmama’s Storytable, and the Sound Effect podcast. I’m thrilled Gabe Spitzer asked me to do this with him. He produces one of my favorite radio shows so it’s extra special happy times to get to do a live show with him. I even get to tell a story! If enough people show up on the 4th we might even do another show later this year 🙂

In a strange turn of events, it’s being held in the place I almost moved our show to, The Collective, in South Lake Union. Come on down if you’d like to see the World’s Biggest Hammock, Silly Floaty Ball Chairs, and Couches That Sit 20. Luckily, we’ll be performing in the room next to the World’s Biggest Hammock because Gabe has enough sense to not do a show in such a ridiculous room.

Tickets are free but you have to reserve them because space is limited

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4236885

Be sure to subscribe to the Sound Effect podcast so you won’t miss any FGS tellers who’ll be on in the future

https://www.knkx.org/programs/sound-effect

In the meantime, if you’d like to tell a story yourself this week there are two good places to do that tomorrow. The first one is in Seattle and the second is in Tacoma. They’re both great venues to work on stories for The Moth or FGS.

https://www.meetup.com/North-Seattle-Storytelling-Meetup/events/260680190/?rv=md1&_xtd=gatlbWFpbF9jbGlja9oAJDI3ZDE5NDRhLTZhY2ItNGQzMy1hOWQ4LWM2ZGQwYzRlYzIyZQ&_af=event&_af_eid=260680190

https://www.meetup.com/Something-To-Tell/events/261234816/?rv=md1&_xtd=gatlbWFpbF9jbGlja9oAJDBiNmYyNjViLTgxZTYtNDU1OC05YmQxLTEwNGRlMjNlNTc1NA&_af=event&_af_eid=261234816

Lastly, don’t forget that Auntmama’s Storytable show is coming up at the end of the month. They had one of their best shows ever last month and I would love to keep the momentum going. This month’s theme is Men and Machine. The featured teller is Lance Lambert, who has told some great stories with us at FGS.

https://www.maryannemoorman.com/upcoming-live-events

A few of you have asked me about the free monthly workshop two of our regular tellers hold. Click the link below and join their meetup so you can get their monthly reminders. It’s an excellent way to get feedback on your stories.

https://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories-Storytelling-Workshop/

That’s all for now. See you on the 16th!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

 

FGS: Jumping In – Stories of facing the unknown

Next month’s theme is “Jumping In – Stories of facing the unknown.” The show is Thursday, May 16, 7pm, at our new location in the Olive Way Starbucks.

Let me say right off the bat that I’m not a big fan of jumping into anything. I’m more of a tiptoe guy. If you want me to jump off a cliff into the ocean I’m going to spend the next three days reading all the Yelp reviews of the cliff, and then I’m going to check out all the Amazon reviews for every tide, clam, crab, and fish.

I have this old belief I’m trying to get rid of that every mistake I make will have huge consequences. It doesn’t matter if I’m cliff diving in Cancun or going with four stars at the new Thai place downtown. I’m convinced if I commit to the wrong thing that the sky will fall, souls will burn, and a plague will come down upon the earth. And that’s just me in Fred Meyer trying to choose between Ragu and Prego.

Luckily, I have some good friends who constantly remind me that none of my mistakes have ever led to permanent, unalterable tragedy. Twenty-five years ago I moved from Alaska to Washington to pursue a dream. And even though there were times when I had to eat at the homeless shelter I’ve never regretted the move. Recently, I realized that every woman I’ve loved is still kind to me even though the relationships didn’t work out. I think anyone who can put on his tombstone, “He was not hated by his exes” must be doing ok. Three months ago I made a commitment to keep this show going even though we were losing the venue we’d been at for nine years. After two months of frantic Googling and panicked phone calls, I decided to jump in and call Olive Way our new home. Based on our first show there last week I’m incredibly grateful I made that leap.

But that’s the kind of story we’re looking for. Bring a story about a time when you said yes to the scary thing and jumped in with both feet. What happened? Did it work out for you? Were you grateful you trusted the universe or did you instantly regret it?

Remember to practice your story on friends, and time yourself to make sure it’s under 8 minutes. Keep it clean and make sure it has a beginning, middle, and end. Here are the rules and guidelines in case you haven’t read them in a while.

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

I change them occasionally so it’s good to review them now and then.

The link below leads you to a great monthly workshop if you want to get some feedback on your story. It’s low-key, casual, and free. What more could you ask for?

https://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories-Storytelling-Workshop/

See you all on the 16th at the Olive Way Starbucks!

1600 E Olive Way Seattle, WA 98102

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

 

Thank you!

It’s three days after our last show and I’m still wobbly from all the love everyone brought to our new home. Ever since I found out in January that Roy St was closing I’ve been worried what a change in venue would do to FGS. According to my sleep journal, I’ve lost 2,475 hours of sleep worrying about this. I’m happy to report that I’ve had the best two nights’ sleep of 2019 and it’s all because of everyone who showed up at Olive Way Thursday. Thank you!

Without a doubt, the best thing about our new venue is the staff. From Ben The Manager, to Craig The Shift Manager, to Tara The Barista, every single Starbucks employee made me feel welcome and appreciated. Even the district manager came over to thank me for bringing FGS to Olive Way. I was speechless when Ben presented me and Maryanne (Auntmama’s Stortytable also moved to Olive Way) a beautiful orchid to officially welcome us to his store. I’ve done shows in 20+ states and I’ve never seen staff as excited and grateful as this. I’m pretty sure you guys felt it too since one of you yelled out during the show, “Their tip jar isn’t big enough!” Yes, please, please, please keep tipping the great people who work there. They were a big part of that magical night.

Of course, none of this could have happened without all the tellers that walked up to the mic that night. I could tell every one of them practiced their story not only because they were well-told but because no one went over time. That may have been a first for us! Thank you all for the time you put into crafting your stories. During the show, I said that the most important person in the room was the audience. It’s true. Without them, we’re just talking to ourselves.

There’s no way I can describe all the stories from that night but I would like to mention a few. One of the biggest laughs we got was from first-timer Sara who told us how she discovered she didn’t have a sense of smell. She must have grown up in a family full of laughter because when her dad and brother first heard she couldn’t smell they immediately went out and brought home some Taco Bell burritos to test that claim. I’d love to send Sara her story but she left before I could talk to her. If anyone knows Sara from Chicago please tell her to get in touch with me. I’d love to get permission to put her story on our website and Facebook page.

Connie told a sweet story about how she bonded with her cousin Evan who has special needs. It turns out that patience, love, and M&Ms can bring almost anyone together 🙂

Bruce told my new favorite Bruce story about the time he staged a protest outside his Catholic grade school because of the amount of homework they were giving out. I’m always touched when we hear a story from something that happened 60 years ago. As funny as that story was, what I remember most was being happy that Bruce finally had a place to share it.

Our final teller, Taryn, told a beautiful story about how her grandmother showed her the importance of jumping into life. I was so moved by her story that as I walked onstage afterward I decided next month’s theme was going to be, “Jumpin In.” I’ll do my best to get her permission to post that story. I think it’s something we all need to hear.

Before I tell you about the special thing that happened at the end of our show I want to let you know that there’s another great show coming up at Olive Way next Thursday.

Maryanne Moorman, also known as Auntmama, is now holding her show on the last Thursday of each month at Olive Way. It’s a great place for stories, essays, poems, music, and other stuff that doesn’t fit into the FGS format. I hope a bunch of you can join me there this Thursday. Maryanne and I would love for Olive Way to be the place to go for storytelling in Seattle.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10218016803228281&set=a.1255672908571&type=3&theater

https://www.maryannemoorman.com/upcoming-live-events

In order to commemorate the first show in our new home, I asked one of my favorite tellers to close the show with his TED talk on the importance of strangers in our lives. It’s the only time I’ve ever allowed a speech at FGS but the topic perfectly fit what we do there so I decided to allow it this one time.

One thing of the most surprising things I’ve learned from running this show is how happy it makes me feel to see our regular audience members walk through the door. Even if someone has never told a story, it makes me happy to see a familiar face walk in. Knowing certain people are going to join me in listening to stories makes me feel like I belong. Until I talked to Nathan about his upcoming TED talk, I thought I was the only one who felt this way. When he told me what he was working on I knew I wanted him to share it at our first show. Judging by the cheers and applause he got I think I made the right choice. Thank you, Nathan, for sharing that wonderful talk with us.

If you’d like to see him give it live, May 4, at the upcoming TED show at the UW click on the link below:

https://www.tedxuofw.com/#/

That’s all for now. Next month’s show is May 16th, The theme is “Jumping In.” I’ll get the official invite out as soon as I can.

See you then!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com