Thank you!

Thank you everyone for coming out on a beautiful fall day and spending it inside listening to stories together. I always get worried when the sun comes out that people will run out of their homes with their arms upraised and completely forget about the show that night. Thank you for showing me how wrong I can be!

It was nice to have a bunch of first-timers in the show again and I hope they all come back. We had too many stories to me to mention individually but one of my favorite memories of the night is the image of first-timer Ana trying to explain to her mom the “scale of sexual fluidity.” I assusme it’s not quite as complicated as explaining how email works to my grandma but it’s gotta be close. Congratulations on making it through that one Ana.

Kenji told us about his first kiss and how it received an ovation from a room full of strangers. Lauren told a beautiful story about how dangerous and also heartbreaking it is to be a teacher. And Jake, one of our old-timers, came up with my new favorite line to describe the perfect relationship, “I just wanted someone to roll eyes together with.” I have to admit, even between two strangers, rolling your eyes together at the same thing is a pretty tight bond.

Thanks to all the tellers who got onstage last night: Ana, Stephanie, Brenna, Bill, Kristi, Dave, Carl, Jake, Chris S, Tracey, Manasa, Chris M, Lauren, Gus, Barb, Kenji, Paul D, Lynn, David, and Kat.

This show has surpassed every expectation I’ve ever had for it and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported us over the last six years. As long as people keep wanting to share stories I’ll keep showing up with a couple of speakers and microphone.

I do need to change things around a bit because we’re getting so many people throwing their name in Mr. Coffee. The show is only supposed to be 90 minutes long and the last couple of months I’ve been letting it go well over two hours in order to give everyone a chance to tell. Unfortunately, I can’t do that anymore. Two-to-two-and-a-half hours is just too long for a show like this and it’s not fair to ask a teller to get up there when the audience is that tired. There’s a big energy dip around the 90-100 minute mark so I’m going to have to keep the show to that length from now on.

The problem, of course, is what to do when 20 people throw their name in Mr. Coffee and we only have time for 10-12. It’s going to take me a while to figure out the best way to do this but for now I’m going to try to focus on giving preference to two specific groups of tellers: first-timers and regulars who have spent a lot of time crafting and practicing their stories.

I’ve always gone out of my way to make sure first-timers get a chance to tell because I know how hard it is to build up the courage to walk up there for the very first time. I don’t want to turn them away because of time constraints when I know they’ve been nervously preparing all month.

I decided to give the tellers who have been really working hard on their stories preference as well. Obviously I’m not in contact with everyone and can’t tell for sure how seriously they’re working on their story but I do get lots of calls and emails from people asking me questions about a story they’re working on or letting me know in some way that they’re practicing on friends, co-workers, family members, etc. I want to respect the work those guys are putting into their craft so if I know you’re really bearing down and working on a story you care about I’m going to do what I can to get you a spot in the show.

I know this isn’t a perfect solution and I’m sure it’ll change over time as I try to balance the open-mikey-ness of the show with my desire to give time to the people who need a place to work on their craft. If anyone has ideas on how I can semi-curate the show while still welcoming people who have never spoken in public before send me an email. You know how hard it is for me to bump people when we run out of time but I have to figure out something so stay with me until I find a good solution.

In the meantime, I want to let you know that there is another free storytelling open mic and it’s run by some really sweet people. The Seattle Storytellers Guild always has an open mic after their regular monthly show and they would love for people from FGS to come tell some stories. Before the open mic is a featured teller who usually does 30-45 minutes of various kinds of stories. I love performing at SSG and you guys will too. Last year they let me do an hour of personal stories and a few months after that they asked three of our regulars to each do a 20 minute story. They’ve been really good to us and I would love for all of you to check them out. It’s a great place to tell your story if I can’t get you on at our show that month.

http://seattlestorytellers.org/ssg/home.html

Another great place to tell is A Guide To Visitors. It’s not an open mic (you have to email them a quick summary of the story you want to tell) but it’s always a fun show. They were the first people I ever told a story for and I’ve been performing there ever since. They use a lot of FGS tellers in their show and it’s one of the few places in town where you can tell stories in the 10-20 minute range.

A Guide to Visitors

Another way to get your story out is to attend Bill Bernat’s free monthly story workshop. It’s hands-down the best way to work on your story and also get a chance to tell it. (I’m not affiliated with the workshop but I’ve been to it and have seen the difference it makes for everyone who goes.)

FGS Storytelling Workshop

Seattle, WA
191 storytellers

This is a free workshop inspired by Fresh Ground Stories, a monthly storytelling event open to all. The format will be simple: Bring a story up to 7 minutes long, tell it, get…

Check out this Meetup Group →

One last thing before I send you off to your weekend. I just found out that another of our regulars will be on KNKX’s Sound Effect show. Her name is Margaret and she has an amazing story. I kept trying to get her to tell it at FGS but NPR beat me to it. She’ll be on tomorrow at 10am. If you miss it live you can catch the podcast here:

http://knkx.org/programs/sound-effect

That’s all you’ll hear from me until the invite from the next show goes out sometime next week. Our next show will be Thursday, October 27. The theme is “Called to Action: Stories of being compelled to do something”. Hopefully, I’ll have catchier title by the time I send out the invitation.

Take care until then.

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Fresh Ground Stories: You can’t always get what you want

Every year I do my best to forget about my birthday. I really couldn’t care less about that day but there are a few people in my life that refuse to ignore it. Every year I tell them the same thing. Don’t buy me a gift, just tell me you love me. If you want to make a card and say it that’s fine but all I really want is to know that I’m loved.

Inevitably, someone will get me something and then I have to do all those weird calculations to figure out how long I have to keep it until I can throw it away. Trust me, a card saying “Thank you for being my friend – you’re a big part of my life” means more to me than anything you could ever put on a credit card. Connection is the only currency I accept and that goes double on holidays.

There has only been one time where someone knew me so well and loved me so much that even now, 17 years later, I still treasure what she gave me.

Angie and I had been dating for about a year when my birthday came around and I was doing my best to change the subject whenever it came up. I thought I had managed to avoid it entirely when the day arrived and she hadn’t mentioned anything about it. That night we went out to dinner and as we drove up to her house and parked Angie leaned over from the passenger seat and whispered, “I have a present for you.”

My heart sank. Angie was the first woman I had ever fallen fell head-over-sneakers for. For the first year of our relationship we were like a pair of parentheses. Everything we did became “our thing.” New books, new music, new food, it was all part of some magical world we created that no one else could see. I’m sure we made some people sick the way we walked through the world playing with each other. We were that couple who had a special phrase for everything and laughed at things no one else understood. Blech, right? Well, not when it’s you. It’s pretty damn great when it’s you.

But all that didn’t keep from worrying about this birthday gift. I couldn’t bear to think of Angie giving me something that wasn’t perfect.

I turned the engine and looked at her. “You really got me something?”

“Yes!” she whispered, “But I have to tell you how I found it first.”

She took my hand and told me this story.

“The other day I was an estate sale and this little old German lady came up and started talking to me. I said I was looking for a present for my boyfriend and I told her all about you. She had this really thick accent, like she just got off the boat, but I was able to understand everything she said.

“She told me her husband had been killed in the war fighting with the resistance. The men in her husband’s underground unit smuggled her out of Germany and into France where she hid out in a safehouse until just before D-Day. Then she snuck across the channel to England where she was brought to this place called Bletchley Park where she met a young man named Alan Turing who-”

“Bletchley Park?!” I screamed. “She was at Bletchley Park? Where they broke the German code in WWII??”

“Yes!” Angie yelled back, as excited as I was.

“And she met Alan Turing? THE Alan Turing?!?! The mathematician and cryptography genius from WWII? Are you kidding me?”

“She totally met Alan Turing!” Angie said. “He’s the one who debriefed her. She told him everything she knew about the Nazi codes.”

I could not believe what I was hearing. Angie knew I loved reading WWII histories but she also knew that I loved codes. I used to make them up when I was a kid. Meeting a German war refugee who escaped from the Nazi’s and worked at Bletchley Park was just about the most amazing thing I had ever heard. But Angie wasn’t done.

“So she’s telling me all about the war and secret codes and her midnight run across enemy lines when she says, ‘Young lady, I’d like to show you something.’ She takes me upstairs to her bedroom and over to a large trunk that was sitting in the corner of her room. She opens up the trunk and says, ‘There’s something here I’d like you to have. I believe it’s time for me to pass it on and I’d like you and your boyfriend to be ones who keep it.’

“She opened up the trunk and took out this beautiful black machine. It had buttons and dials and a little roller where it looked like paper was supposed to go. She said, ‘Angela, this is the Enigma Machine. Do you know what it is?'”

I screamed from the driver’s seat. “No way! The Enigma Machine?!?! That’s the machine they built that broke the Nazi code. It saved the Allies and won the war! Are you telling me she smuggled it out from England? And you saw it? You have it??”

Angie smiled and leaned over until her lips were just touching my ear. “Would you like to see it?”

I couldn’t even speak. I just nodded. Yes, I would like to see the Enigma Machine. The thing that broke the code and saved the free world? I most definitely wanted to see it.

“Good,” Angie whispered. “Because it’s your birthday present.”

It was dark by this time as she led me up the steps to her house. But instead of going inside she led me around the outside of the house to the back yard which had a small stand of trees in it. The moon was out and there was just enough light for her to guide me to one tree where she sat me down on the ground in front of what was probably the last Enigma Machine left in the world.

I pulled off the gray plastic fabric that was covering it and saw the greatest gift I’ve ever received. It was a 1951 Underwood typewriter. Eight of the keys had a little piece of paper stuck to them with a different letter written on each one. Angie handed me a small card she had made. Inside was a message written in code eight letters long. I typed out the message using those eight keys on the typewriter. The message spelled out, “I love you.”

Well of course I just started crying. I’d been waiting all my life for someone to know me like this but I never expected to find her. And here on this night, under this tree, I had found the person I wanted to spend my life with. She was the Enigma Machine that was built just for me.

As I sat there crying there another feeling began to surface. Underneath all the love was a great fear were rising up. I knew I wanted nothing more than to be with Angie, but 150 miles away there was someone else I was already with and could not abandon.

Angie lived in Bellingham but my son and I lived in Olympia, two-and-a-half hours away. He was eight years old and outside of Angie my life was devoted to him. He saw his mother every other weekend but spent the rest of the week with me. We were inseparable. We played, we sang, we drew comics together. We took funny pictures of each other in goofing around in Goodwill and followed stray cats around the neighborhood. I never saw myself as a parent but once Taran was born I was happy to be his dad.

Angie was living in Olympia when we started dating but her home was Bellingham and she eventually moved back. I couldn’t blame her. You know when you’re in the car and you hear the first few notes of your favorite song come on and you start bouncing up and down waiting to start singing along? That’s what Bellingham was to Angie. Every time we would visit, she would start dancing in her seat as we drove over the last hill and she could see Bellingham ahead of us. It was her favorite place in the world and she longed to return to it. It’s the windiest town in Washington and she was like a kite I could barely hold onto.

So in that perfect moment under the tree reading “I love you” from the woman I adored I knew it was all going to slip away. As much as I think I can always pull another trick out of my hat I knew I couldn’t tear my son away from his mom and I couldn’t live with the guilt of abandoning him to live far away with someone else.

Angie, I know now, understood that. We tried to keep it together, visiting each other when we could afford it. But it couldn’t last. We broke up a few months later when she realized I couldn’t be there enough for the kind of relationship we both wanted.

I still have the Enigma Machine and I think about it often. It’s the most beautiful thing anyone has ever given me. The gift I wanted more than anything, though, was for Angie to stay in Olympia.

Now, years later, I can say that I’m lucky I never got that gift. I wouldn’t be the dad I am now and have the same relationship with my son if I had left Taran in Olympia or taken him with me to Bellingham. It would have been tragic for him to move away from his friends and his mother and that would have made it tragic for me. Sometimes the thing you want most is the thing you should never get.

And that’s the kind of story we’re looking for this month. The theme is “You can’t always get what you want.” Tell us a story about a time when you wanted something but didn’t get it. How did it affect you? Did it change how you felt about the thing you wanted? Are you glad things worked out the way they did or do you still wish things had been different?

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 the next FGS, Thursday, Sept 22, 7:00pm at the Roy St Cafe.

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

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