FGS: So long! – Stories of saying goodbye

in 2005, the right side of my body began to go numb. I got tested for all kinds of diseases and conditions, underwent two MRIs, and saw chiropractors and massage therapists, but no one could figure out what was wrong. As a single parent, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on health care, so I decided to just limp around and learn to live with whatever was wrong with me.

A few months after the problem began, I started dating a woman who’d recently been through a difficult divorce. Why she decided to go out with a man whose foot flopped about and whose arm dropped off the chair, I’ll never know.

Despite my growing affection for her, I hesitated to tell her how I felt. She had two kids who were struggling with their new living arrangements and a small business that kept her at work sixty-plus hours a week. She didn’t need to deal with my problems too.

One night we were lying in bed together, and I was in worse shape than usual. I had to tuck my hand underneath me just to keep my arm from falling over the side. Sensing my pain, she took my head in her hands and said, “You know I love you, right?”

My body suddenly went stiff, my right leg seized up, and the back of my skull radiated with pain. I felt like I had just grabbed both ends of live jumper cables. A second later, when I started breathing again, without thinking, I whispered, “I love you too.” And just as quickly all the pain disappeared. The symptoms never came back. It was one of the most profound moments of my life.

Five years later that woman was gone. I remember standing on her porch on New Year’s Day, watching her close the door as she whispered, “I can’t see you anymore.” I’ll never forget the quiet, solid click of that door.

Those two moments are more than just memories to me. They’re part of my emotional DNA. If I had another kid tomorrow she would grow up with those memories inside her without me ever saying a word. Until recently, I would have traded those memories for anything. I would have sold them for a nickel. I would have traded them for a sandwich. They were two of a thousand moments I wish I hadn’t lived through.

But it occurred to me today that it’s not the memories that hurt it’s what they represent. They represent a life I had for a while but couldn’t keep. My heart is full of moments like these and they all remind me of something I loved and then lost. What if I found a way to keep those moments but let go of all the painful things they represent?

I was struggling all day today trying to figure out how I could do that when I suddenly realized that I had just done it last Thursday. I told a story about a time I spent gasping for air in the ER thinking I was going to die. It turned out to be the most transformative story I’ve ever told. When I said the last line, 35 years of anger washed through me. I’ve never felt so clean after telling a story.

Maybe storytelling is a way to say goodbye to something without getting rid of it. Maybe stories are like little washing machines you can put all those terrible memories in and a few weeks later they come out as shiny little moments that don’t hurt anymore. I used to think of storytelling as a way to pull painful things out of my heart and give them away as stories. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I don’t have to empty out my heart to move on. Maybe I can keep all the moments that made me who I am and just say goodbye to the loss they represent.

Luckily, saying goodbye is what our next show is all about. Bring a story about a time you had to say goodbye to something. It could be a person, a place, a job, a belief, just about anything. Make sure it has a beginning, middle, and an end and that you can tell it in under 8 minutes. Remember to keep it clean, practice out loud as much as possible, and run it by friends if you can. Those are the best ways I know to tighten up a story and figure out where to make changes. And you can always call or write me if you need any help.

The show is August 23, at 7pm, at Roy Street Coffee and Tea.

Here are the rules and guidelines for telling a story if you haven’t seen them in a while. https://freshgroundstories.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/

See you on the 23rd!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

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Thank you!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday. We had a great collection of tellers including some first-timers I hope to see again soon.

Maryanne started us off with a story of all the ghosts her mother made her pray to each night before she went to sleep. They weren’t ghosts in the traditional sense with rattling chains and a Christmas turkey. They were the spirits of relatives her mother still missed. I was frozen to my chair within the first 30 seconds of this story. It reminded me of listening to my own mother call on the dead for support in moments of need. I’d never shared that with anyone. It was too weird for me to even make fun of when I was a kid. It was just something I kept to myself and hoped my mom wouldn’t do in front of my friends. That night, as Maryanne began her story, I was right back in our apartment on 29th street in Anchorage, AK listening to my mother invoking the dead. Maryanne and I have a lot to talk about in the next few weeks.

Next up was Ed, who was up from California. He told a story about going to Vietnam in the 60s but ending up in South Korea guarding the Demilitarized Zone. I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible that we were all saved from an early start to the Korean War because Ed and his buddies were too high, drunk, and full of mischief to care about crossing the DMZ. Thousands of lives may have been saved because Ed and his friends were too busy playing kazoos and stealing their commander’s underwear to worry North Korea very much.

Then Bruce told us about a mysterious newsletter that showed up at his house in Long Island, NY in the 90s. He tried to throw it away but somehow it called him to take it out of the trash and give it another look. We know from other stories Bruce has told, that this newsletter eventually brought him across the country to Yelm, Washington, where he lived behind a long stone wall, learning the secrets of the universe. I have a feeling that one of these days Bruce will do a one-man show where he shares with us everything he learned in the years he spent behind that wall.

One of our first-timers, Maribeth, hopped up to the stage on one crutch and told us about a horrific snowmobile accident she had two days before Christmas in 2016. You want to know the one thing you never want to hear after crashing your snowmobile? It’s the phrase, “Can you wiggle your toes?” Cute thing to say to a two-year-old but not a grown woman laying on her back pinned under a 700lb Skidoo. Maribeth went from posting pictures on Instagram about her life in Manhattan to wondering if she’d ever walk again. Thank you, Maribeth, for showing us how far you’ve come in the last 18 months and how far strength and gratitude can take us in life.

Elliot was next and told a story about throwing his back out from coughing. I was so glad to learn that I’m not the only one who has done that! The worst part was that it affected his workload. Elliot’s a phone sex operator and I guess no one wants to talk to a depressed phone sex operator who occasionally yelps in pain completely out of context. Well, maybe some people do but not enough to pay the rent. Fortunately, Elliot is healthy again and back to making people happy. If you’ve ever heard Elliot on the phone you’ll know that the world is a better place with Elliot back in the saddle.

Carl, one of our regulars, told a quick story about the time he demanded a Parisian bullet train turn around so he could get to where he needed to go. It’s great that Carl feels his powers of persuasion are so great that he thinks he could talk a French train conductor into hanging a U-turn and taking him to Spain. I’m not sure if Carl believes he can manifest that kind of reality or if he’s just really good at manifesting a few bottles of wine and seeing how things turn out.

Tracey, one of our regulars I’ve had the pleasure of sharing stages with around town, told us about finding something strange and unsettling in her husband’s sock drawer and how she spent years trying to accept something about her husband she never suspected. It was a relief when she finally realized that love doesn’t always conquer all. Sometimes giving up is the best way to move forward.

The teller who most touched my heart that night was 11-year-old April. April came to the show last month and sat right down front with her big sister. I could tell she loved the show but I didn’t expect her to come back a few weeks later and tell her own story. She told the story of how her parents’ marriage changed when she was 5 and how she’s learned to deal with it. After the show, one of my friends in the audience wrote, “How does an 11-year-old have more composure and acceptance than the rest of us?” I don’t know, man, but it was amazing to watch this little girl walk up to the microphone and tell the biggest story of her life. No way could I have done that at her age. I wasn’t able to do it at twice her age. Lauree, thank you for bringing April to the show. Storytelling has helped me through so many difficult times in my life. I’m glad we could be here for April to learn how to do that herself.

Thanks again to everyone in the audience for being so kind and patient with all our tellers. It’s not easy getting up there and a lot of people are doing this for the first time. Knowing that you’re wishing them the best up there makes a big difference.

Also, thanks for the amazing reaction to my own story that I told that night. It was a new story that I wrote for my friend David and two people from high school I haven’t seen since 1984. If you read my last group email you know who I’m talking about. I couldn’t have asked for a better night or more receptive audience to share that story with. I’ll get the audio up sometime this week. It’s one of the few stories I feel ok putting online so I’ll let you know when that happens.

Our next show is August, 23 and the theme is “Goodbyes.” I’ll get the official invite out as soon as possible.

The recorder did its job so if any of the tellers want a recording of their story just send me an email. I only provide audio to the people who told a story and it’s only of the story they told. Most of the stories we hear at FGS are very personal and the tellers don’t want them posted online. That’s why you see so few of them on our blog and Facebook page.

See you on the 23rd!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

See you this Thursday!

Hi Everyone,

Just a reminder that our next show is coming up this Thursday. The theme is “Wake Up Call.” From the slow murmur that ran through the audience last month when I announced the theme, I figure at least a few of you have had one of those. I’m looking forward to hearing those stories!

FGS: Wake-Up Call – The things we can’t avoid

Thursday, Jul 26, 2018, 7:00 PM

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

30 Story Fans Attending

This month’s theme is “Wake-Up Call – The things we can’t avoid” One of my favorite moments from last month’s show was when I announced the next theme and there was an audible whispering that came up from the audience that let me know I’d hit a nerve. Good to know that I’m not the only one who’s had a few wake-up calls in his life. Normally, I woul…

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Also, if you read my thank you email from last month’s show you know that three people from my past will be at this show and I’m testing my courage by telling a new story that night. Two of the popular girls from high school will be in the audience and I can only assume they are there to see if I’ve become marginally more interesting since the 80s. I didn’t have the courage to talk to them in the halls of West Anchorage High so let’s see how I do now in a coffee shop on Capitol Hill.

The reason they’re coming is because of the third person from Alaska in the audience that night, my friend David. I’ve known David since 2nd grade when we were in Cub Scouts together and he was better than me at everything from building Popsicle stick boats to field dressing an elk. David doesn’t understand fear because David is a bush pilot, mountain man, salmon catcher, and cabin builder. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t even take matches when he goes camping. He just rubs his hands over a cotton ball and suddenly everyone’s marshmallow is on fire.

Naturally, he thought it would be fun to invite Chantal and Shelly to the show. One cheerleader and one captain of the volleyball team. I’m sure they are mature, accomplished women now. They are probably leaders in their fields and get great 360 reviews from their co-workers. I’m sure they have no idea that I spent all four years of high school wondering what they had that I didn’t.

Truthfully, they were always polite to me. If I had asked Chantal to dance at the Harvest Ball she would probably have danced with me as long as it wasn’t a slow song. If I’d asked Shelly for a ride home from soccer practice she would probably have let me ride in the back as long as her boyfriend and varsity wrestler Eric Holta sat in the front. All the stories I told myself about how cool they were and how uncool I was were just things I made up in my head. They were fig newtons of my imagination.

At least that’s what I’ve been telling my therapist. Now I get to test that belief in real life. Thursday night I’m going to tell a true, personal story in front of one over-achieving friend and two women I was too scared to talk to 40 years ago. Come out and see how I handle it!

One last thing before I let you go. The wonderful and amazing Risk! storytelling podcast wrote me the other day to ask if anyone from FGS would like to tell a story when they bring their live show to Seattle in September. Risk! is a great show and you should all pitch them a story. Seriously. Do it!

Here is a short video from host and creator, Kevin Allison, with some tips on how to make a good pitch:

Details are below. All text is pasted from their email to me. If you have any questions go to http://risk-show.com/submissions or email the producers at pitches@risk-show.com.

See you Thursday!

Paul

__________________________
RISK! Live Show
The Vera Project
305 Harrison St,
Seattle, WA 98109
Show date: 9/7/18
Submission deadline: 8/3/18

Themes: The Worst, Glorious, Breakdown

Note: Stories are not required to fit under this theme. It’s just a jumping off point to help you brainstorm about stories you have. We cast excellent true stories over stories that simply fit the theme but are less compelling.

Send pitches to: pitches@risk-show.com

RISK! Is a live show and podcast “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public” hosted by Kevin Allison, of the legendary TV sketch comedy troupe The State. RISK! has featured people like Janeane Garofalo, Lisa Lampanelli, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, and regular folks from around the world, dropping the act and showing a side of themselves we’ve never seen before. The RISK! podcast gets over 1.5 million downloads each month. Slate.com called it “jaw-dropping, hysterically funny, and just plain touching.”

RISK! is not like other storytelling shows. It’s “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.” We encourage our storytellers to step out on a limb, be brutally candid and emotionally raw. This is an uncensored show where taboos are tackled and people talk about things they ordinarily might not share in mixed company, but might save for their therapist.

To hear some of our stories, go to http://risk-show.com/listen

For more information about what we look for in story pitches and how to submit, go to http://risk-show.com/submissions and send us your pitch by 8/3/18 to be considered!

FGS: Wake-Up Call – The things we can’t avoid

This month’s theme is “Wake Up Call – The things we can’t avoid”

One of my favorite moments from last month’s show was when I announced the next theme and there was an audible whispering that came up from the audience that let me know I’d hit a nerve. Good to know that I’m not the only one who’s had a few wake up calls in his life. Normally, I would include a story in the invite but since an old friend is coming down from Alaska for this show I’m going to save it for the stage and tell it that night.

If you’d like to join me onstage that night, bring a story about a time when life gave you a wake up call. Did you ignore it and let it ring through to voicemail, or did you pick yourself up and head over to the Barnes & Noble self-help section?

Remember to keep it clean, practice out loud and on friends as much as possible, and time yourself so you know it’s under 8 minutes.

Here are the rules and guidelines for telling a story if you haven’t seen them in a while.

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

I’ve had a number of people recently ask me for a good book on storytelling. This is the best one I’ve seen:

I hope to see a bunch of you on Thursday, July 26, 7pm at Roy Street Coffee and Tea

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Thank you!

Thanks to everyone who came out and made last Thursday such a great show. Half the tellers were first-timers and all of them did great. I wish you could see their faces up close like I do when they get to the end of their story and they realize they did the hard thing.

I’ve seen FGS audiences spontaneously applaud when first-timers momentarily forget what comes next. I’ve seen them yell out “You’re doing great!” when tellers get nervous and begin to stumble. It’s one of the kindest things I get to see on a regular basis. I say it at the top of every show, but it’s worth it to say again here, thank you for all the kindness and patience you show to everyone who walks up to that microphone.

We started out, as we always do, with a veteran teller and that night Rich graciously agreed to open the show. He told the story of how he recently had a UN collection of doctors helping him choose the best way to go forward with his upcoming open heart surgery. I lost track of all the different countries his doctors were from but I do remember being shocked when he revealed the terrible connection his ancestors had with the countries those 21st-century doctors came from. It was one of the most remarkable twists I’ve seen in a story and I’m glad Rich was there to share it.

Our second teller of the night was a first-timer named Claire who told us about a particularly rough morning shift at McDonald’s she had once and how sometimes the toughest bosses turn out to be the best people. Just as importantly, she revealed The Secret of the Ice Cream Machine which I can’t share but can briefly summarize as: do NOT order the M&M McFlurry! Go with Oreo. Trust me. The employees will silently thank you. I won’t retell Claire’s story here but I will say she co-produces the Nearly Sober Comedy Show at the Pocket Theater and if you go to their next show you might find out why some of those morning shifts were so tough on her.

One of our regulars, Chris, told a beautiful story about a love affair gone sideways for the most surprising of reasons. Like a lot of great stories, it was both heartbreaking and hysterical. Her ending got a huge laugh and a giant smile on my face because I know how hard she worked on that story. I remember when she told it the first time a few months ago. It was good then but the editing and rewriting she did since then turned that story into a gem. It’s exciting when a teller comes back months later with an old story that’s totally reworked. I love the craftsmanship that goes into storytelling and when I see someone putting in as much time as Chris did on this story it makes me happy that we can offer a showcase for that work.

We had two Rebecca’s at the show that night and both of them were first-timers. Rebecca #1 told a story about the ups and downs of being a writer. Naturally, I identified immediately. It’s funny how the definition of Writer changes throughout the life of the writer. Sometimes it means you’re a published author on your way to fame and fortune and some years it means you’re just slogging away at the keyboard every night after your day job. I once worked with a comic who said you should only call yourself a comic if you make enough to declare it on your taxes. I remember thinking that a little under half my income came from doing stand-up and not knowing if that qualified me as a comic in his eyes. I also know that even though I stopped doing comedy in 2007 I still consider myself a comic at heart. I put in 13 years of performing around the country in every bar, club, casino, and VFW hall that would pay me. Am I still a comic or am I just a guy who used to do comedy? I do know that I consider Rebecca a writer regardless of whether she wins another award or gets that second novel published. She writes every day and cares about doing it well. That’s enough for me. I don’t think the IRS gets to decide who we are.

Rebecca #2 is someone I’ve been trying to get to the show since we worked together last year at the FARwest storytelling conference. She usually tells traditional Filipino stories, but this night she told a personal story about how she discovered she wasn’t a white male. White male is not the first thing you’d think of if you saw Rebecca standing in front of you but that’s the kind of person she thought she needed to be in order to be successful in this world. Luckily, she got a wake-up call in 2000 and realized it was possible to be happy and successful being exactly who she was. Years later, she went on to discover that the deeper she went into her cultural identity the more successful she became. Now she’s one of the few tellers of Filipino folktales in America and audiences around the country are better for it.

The little man in the computer tells me I’m close to 1,000 words so I better wrap this up and let everyone get back to their lives. I do want to mention one special story from last week that I just got permission to put up on our website. It was a story from one of our new regulars, Bruce. (I sometimes introduce him by his full name which is Bruce From New Jersey) It was a story from 1985 when he and his girlfriend lived in NYC. His girlfriend’s adult daughter was gay and asked them to walk in one of the first gay pride parades. As Bruce told the story of walking with the PFLAG group I could hear his voice shift from nervousness to surprise to pride to laughter, and finally tears. It was a story many people talked about afterward. I’m glad Bruce is allowing me to share it with you online.

Special thanks to all our tellers, especially our first-timers who worked up the courage to do something they’ve wanted to do for a long time. Thanks also to our special guest teller, Sam Blackman who closed the show with two sweet stories that he told earlier this year at The Moth.

Here is one of the stories he told that night:


The last line of this story always kills me. It’s beautiful. The only thing I don’t like about watching this video is that I can see he only has 8 people following him on YouTube. Eight! Do you know how sad that makes me? Not only that, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only subscriber whose last name isn’t Blackman. Could we at least give this guy a couple clicks and get him up to double digits?

I hope to see a bunch of you at our next show on July 26. The theme is “Wake Up Call.” I’ll get the official invite out as soon as I can. You might want to show up because I just found out a childhood friend of mine invited two of the popular girls from our high school class to come to the show. Can you imagine how awkward this will be for me? I haven’t seen either of these women in 34 years. David and his wife are flying down from Alaska to see how this all plays out. Do I tell a story that night or play it cool and just have fun hosting? If I do tell a story, should it be deeply personal or do I keep it light and funny? Will I be able to nudge one of those cools kids from my past to get onstage and tell a story that will make me rethink everything I thought I knew about them? I have no idea what’s going to happen that night but there’s a good chance you’ll get to see me work through an anxiety attack in the middle of telling a story. If someone could bring an extra couple Lorazepam to the show that would be great. Just toss them onstage if you see me start to spin out.

In the meantime, I want to pass on some links to other storytelling shows in the area. I can’t always get people on stage at FGS because of time constraints or subject matter but I do value everyone’s story and I want to find as many places as I can for you to tell them.

Maryanne Moorman hosts a show much like ours but she allows a much wider range of stories than I do at FGS. This is a great place for the social commentary stories I know some folks want to tell. You might also get to see the amazing Ms. Moorman tell a story herself. You know those Masters class ads you see on Facebook all the time? Watching Maryanne onstage is like attending a masterclass in storytelling. So go watch her tell. Sometimes her show is on the same night as FGS but go anyway. It’s worth it. You get to tell stories you can’t at FGS as well as meet some amazing tellers who have been doing this for decades. The show is held on the last Thursday of each month (it’s on hiatus in July and August) and it’s free to attend. Details are at the link below.

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

If you want a complete list of story shows in the area go to the Seattle Storytelling Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/198209904060632/

If you’re not on Facebook this link might open up the spreadsheet for you. I’m not sure but it’s worth a try. The spreadsheet changes as shows pop up so keep coming back for the most recent info.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1jVSC9Ywl2PbEizw5aB-okPjIuEuHeWByyhs_kKinDgs/edit?usp=sharing

That’s all for now. Thanks again for making this show such a special place.

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com