Next month’s theme is “Hidden Strength – Stories of surprising yourself.” The show is March 21, 7pm, at Roy Street Coffee and Tea.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do lately is give myself credit for surviving some things I never thought I’d get through. I don’t know if any of you have noticed that there’s always an arrangement of flowers on a particular table in the back of the cafe where we have our show. It’s almost always made of wide fronds called Monstera, and filled in with taller flowers like gladiolas or birds of paradise. Sometimes I’ll see an alstroemeria or amaryllis poking their petals through the foliage.

Each time I walk onstage between storytellers I look out over the audience and see those flowers framed by the windows in the back. Every time I catch a glimpse of them my heart starts to beat a little faster and I feel like I’m in a plane that’s just taken off. Take-offs are always the scariest part of a flight for me. I always have to trick myself into relaxing by pretending that I’ve just escaped being captured by the KGB and once the plane leaves the ground I’ll be safe.

I’ve been hosting FGS for almost nine years now and every time I walk up to the microphone I look at those flowers and remind myself that once I start talking I’ll be safe. Those flowers bring me back to the day a part of me died and what was left was reborn.

In the early 2000s, I met a woman who ran a flower shop just down the street from where I worked in a little mom-and-pop office supply store. She was a quiet woman who was as graceful and beautiful as the flowers she sold. At first, the only interaction we had was when I’d walk in to get flowers for whoever I was dating. But over the years, as our friendship developed, I realized the only person I wanted to give flowers to was her. A few years later she became single and we started dating. For a short time, I worked with her, learning the names of all the flowers and helping deliver them.

We spent seven years together and it was the only time I’ve ever fallen in love with someone a little more each day. Not only was I in love, I spent my days surrounded by beauty. I loved her life as much as I loved her.

Toward the end, I could feel her pulling away. I’ll never know exactly why she fell out of love with me. All I know is the more I tried to love her the less of her there was to love. In the last few weeks of our relationship, it felt like I had left everything I owned on a bus and I was watching it leave the station. I’m waving like crazy to get the driver to stop but he doesn’t, and I just have to stand there watching those tail lights get smaller and smaller in the distance.

After she left, I went into a tailspin. Every day was like falling down a well but never hitting the bottom. For a year-and-a-half, I lived with the hopelessness of a man falling out of the sky and wondering why it was taking so long to die. Finally, one night in 2012, I decided to end my life. To me, it was the most merciful thing I could do for myself and everyone else. That’s what depression does to you. It tricks you into thinking nothing will change. It convinces you that everyone will be better off without you.

Luckily, I didn’t succeed. I woke up the next morning angry at myself for failing but knowing I didn’t have the energy to try again. So I called a therapist. And a doctor. And a psychiatrist who put me on antidepressants. Twelve days later, I drove up to Roy Street and hosted the show.

My doctor wanted to put me in the psych ward but instead, I drove up to the only place I had in my life that made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

I don’t know how I got through that night. I have no memory of it. One thing I know I saw that night were those flowers. They’ve been there every night we’ve had the show. I spent seven years in a flower shop falling in love, and now seven years looking at flowers while telling stories of my recovery. I know I could have moved those flowers so I didn’t have to see them but I never did. It felt like moving those flowers would mean that I was running away from something that I needed to keep near me. I understand now that I needed to look at those flowers every night until they didn’t bother me anymore.

This show coming up will be our last one before we move to our new location. There won’t be any flowers there unless I bring them. I think that every now and then I will bring some. The woman I fell in love with is still in my heart but I’m not scared of those memories anymore. Now when I walk by a flower shop I’m not reminded of everything I lost. I’m reminded of everything I’ve learned and how much beauty there is in the world.

And that’s the kind of story we’re looking for. Bring a story about a time when you surprised yourself. What hidden strength did you discover and how did you discover it? Did it help you escape something? Achieve something? Face something?

Remember to time yourself out loud at home and make sure it’s under 8 minutes. Keep it clean and be sure it has a beginning, middle, and end. Here are the rules and guidelines in case you haven’t read them in a while. I change them occasionally so it’s good to review them now and then.

This is a great workshop to get feedback on your story. It’s low-key, casual, and free. What more could you ask for?

I hope everyone is having a good week 🙂

Email me if you have any questions.