Zoom link for COVID storytelling workshop

Here’s a Zoom link to Bill Bernat’s COVID storytelling workshop (details in my last email.). You can use this if you don’t have a Facebook account.


If you have any questions about the workshop you can reach Bill at Bill@stayawesome.com

My experience is if my phone has problems logging into an online meeting then my laptop usually works fine. It would be smart to log in a little early to make sure you can fix any issues before the workshop starts.

Hope to see a bunch of you there!



We’re still here! And coming up with ways to stay connected :)

Hi Everyone,

I just want to write and say that I’m sending love and socially distant hugs to everyone in Seattle from down here in Olympia. I promise that FGS will be here when this is all over. We’re all going to have some amazing stories to share. 

I’ve been talking with some of our regular tellers to figure out how we can all stay engaged and together while we work through this. One of our tellers, Bill Bernat, is hosting a free online story workshop next Monday at 7 pm. He’s looking for people with stories about how we’re all getting through this. I love the idea and plan on participating. I pasted the details and link below.

From cookie baking accidents to finding the strength to carry on when you feel hopeless, let’s sound it out. What’s your funniest story about going stir-crazy? Where has COVID taken your depression and how you have coped? Why not ease your anxiety by workshopping a story about your COVID anxiety?”

If you miss hearing familiar voices, click on the link and join Bill for this workshop 🙂


Those of you who have been to the show know that I give away one copy of my favorite storytelling book, “Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling” to a random first-time teller at the end of the night.  


Chad, another one of our regulars, just let me know that he interviewed the author on his podcast:  https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/intriguing-interviews/id1496568509

I loved hearing one of my friends have a conversation with my favorite storytelling coach. It’s definitely worth a listen. Matthew Dicks has his own great podcast where he and his wife break down stories from their shows: http://speakupstorytelling.libsyn.com/

Here’s a story I just stumbled on and fell in love with. (I’m a sucker for dad stories)


As hard as it is to keep six feet away from everyone, I find myself laughing at how we wave and nod our heads as we subtly swerve to avoid getting close. It reminds me of one of my favorite Marx Brothers scenes. 


Please know that I’m looking for ways to keep us all connected. I’ll send out any info I get about online shows coming up. I might do one too with a handful of tellers sharing stories we’ve heard over the years at FGS. It’d be too hard to do an open mic but it might be possible to do a short show with 5-6 tellers sharing their favorite stories. If any of you are thinking of doing your own online story-sharing please let me know. I’d be happy to pass on the info to everyone.

I miss you all and am looking forward to getting back to our regular schedule when it’s possible. 

In the meantime, take care of each other. Make the calls and write the emails you’ve been putting off. They mean a lot right now.



March FGS postponed to April 16

Hi Everyone,

In the interest of keeping us all safe, I’ve decided to postpone our March 19th show to April 16th. We’ll keep the same theme so everyone can tell the story they were already working on.

Since we often get over 100 people at our shows, it doesn’t seem safe for us all to hang out together in a coffee shop. I also don’t want anyone spending even an ounce of energy trying to decide whether or not they should come. Let’s save that energy for washing our hands and learning new songs to sing with 20-second choruses.

Here are four songs whose choruses I’ve timed for maximum safety 🙂
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktpfusmXnIg (22 seconds)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ  (17 seconds so you’ll need to add a dance step)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixrje2rXLMA (21 seconds)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AfBiSZsbsw (this is the first record I remember listening to as a kid. I was probably three years old. The first verse comes in at 21 seconds. I’ve been singing that first 21-second verse in my head for 50 years. Now it’s time for you to sing it.)

Here’s something else to keep you occupied until our April show. The Washington State Ferries’ Haiku contest is back! I already submitted my three ferry-themed haikus. It would be fantastic if someone from FGS won this thing. Let’s do it!


When you’re done writing your haiku I would love for you to listen to a story we first heard a couple years ago at FGS. The version below is from last week’s episode of NPR’s Sound Effect on KNKX 88.5. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve had a lot of training at work on this subject, but this story is what I always come back to when it comes up. That’s the power of storytelling. I’m so glad Sound Effect’s host Gabriel Spitzer decided to bring Obie into the studio to talk about it.


Thank you for understanding why I’ve decided to postpone this month’s show. I love seeing all of you every month and I don’t want any of you to have to risk your health for a night of stories. The stories will still be there for us on April 16.

Hopefully, Meetup will let me change the date and everyone who already RSVP’d won’t have to do it again. Write me at freshgroundstories@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Take care,



FGS: Drowning – Stories of being overwhelmed or in over your head

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to doing a show about being overwhelmed or in over your head. It seems like a space I’ve lived in all my life. 

When I think of all the times I’ve been overwhelmed certain images always come up. I remember one night in the winter of 1998 when I pushed and pulled an old recliner up a flight of stairs because my son and I had nothing to sit on in our one-bedroom apartment. I don’t think I’ve felt more overwhelmed as a parent than when I had no one to call to help me drag that giant chair across a snowy parking lot and up the outside stairs.

I remember the day of my dad’s funeral in 2002 when I walked to the front of the church to give a speech that I knew my family would either thank me for or hate me for. Laughter was never a priority for my dad’s side of the family. Whenever I spent a weekend with dad and his wife, it took me a day and half to get them to laugh. I had ten minutes to make them laugh at the funeral. If they didn’t like anything I said it was going to be a long time before they let me forget it. I’ve played biker bars, strip clubs, nursing homes, and yacht clubs but I’ve never felt so in over my head as I did in that little church in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

In the fall of 2018, I got a Facebook message from a woman I didn’t know. Her name was Tatiana and she lived in Bolivia. I read her email and knew immediately why she’d written me. Four years earlier I’d agreed to be interviewed about my suicide attempt two years before that. The interviewer was an attempt survivor herself and was going around the country talking to people about their own attempt experiences. She was the first person I ever told the whole story to outside of therapy. Reading the stories on her website made me feel less alone so I figured if those stories could help me get through another day maybe my story could do the same for someone else. 

But I never thought I’d have to talk to anyone who’d read my story. It never occurred to me that someone might reach out over the internet and ask me what to do if someone they loved was thinking of ending their life. But that’s what happened. Tatiana had seen my story, searched for me on Facebook, and written to ask what she should do for her boyfriend who had already made one attempt on his life. 

As soon as I finished reading her email I wanted to close the laptop and pretend I hadn’t seen it. What could I possibly say to a woman I didn’t know a thousand miles away that would save her boyfriend? All I wanted to do when I shared my story was to let people know that survival is possible and that you don’t have to decide that you’ll never hurt yourself. All you have to do decide that you won’t hurt yourself today. But now I had Tatiana reaching out to me across two continents and two languages asking me what she should do. I was terrified that I’d say the wrong thing and get a message two weeks later that her boyfriend was gone. 

In spite of my fears, I wrote her back. Half of showing up is just showing up. And most of what anyone needs is just to know that someone cares. So I wrote her back and said I was happy to share what worked for me. I told her what I wished people had said to me and what I wished they hadn’t. I sent her the number of a crisis line I found in La Paz. I told her to make sure she got help for herself too because none of us can do this alone. 

I don’t know what happened to Tatiana and her boyfriend. I didn’t look her up when I was writing this because I need to believe they are both ok. That’s one of the things I’ve learned in my own recovery. I can listen and love but I can’t save. Sometimes I think that all by itself keeps me from drowning.

I hope some of you bring your own story of being overwhelmed or in over your head. What happened and how did you pull yourself out of it? Did someone lend a hand? Did an opportunity show up in the nick of time? What did you learn and how were you changed?

Remember to keep it clean, and practice out loud on friends and family as often as you can. All stories must be under 8 minutes so time yourself when you practice. Stories can be as short as you want but not over 8 minutes. Remember, if your story goes long someone else who practiced for weeks might not get a chance to tell. 

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

If you’d like help with your story, our next free monthly workshop is March 1.  It’s run by two of our regular tellers who volunteer their time. You can RSVP here: https://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories-Storytelling-Workshop/

If you can’t make the workshop, this is the best book I’ve ever read on how to tell a personal story. I always go back to it when I’m stuck on one of my own stories.

I hope to see you all at 7 pm on March 19 at the Olive Way Starbucks 🙂



Thank you! + some storytelling opportunities

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last week. I love that we had so many first-timers at this one and that they all did great. I hope each one of them comes back and tells more.

I think this was the first show where we had people who’d been telling stories for 40 years and people who were walking onstage for the first time in their life. It was a great mix. 

The theme of the night was Standing Up For Yourself and we heard stories of people standing up to bosses, Boy Scouts, a choppy sea, and timeshare salesmen. We also heard about selfish stockbrokers, drunken bush pilots, trees that won’t cooperate, and what it’s like to come out of two kinds of closets. Every month, amazing new tellers show up at FGS and remind me why we do this.

This is usually the email where I do a big wrap-up of the show for people who weren’t able to attend, but tonight I want to tell you about something wonderful that happened last week. (I also have some great new opportunities for everyone at the end of this email.)

Some of you know that I live in Olympia and work for a small state agency that does a lot of community service work. We recently developed a program to help at-risk youth avoid homelessness just as they leave programs like foster care, the juvenile legal system, psychiatric care, etc.

I had no idea we were even working on this program until a coworker told me about an event they were putting on at the capitol that day. Some of the young people in the program were going to share their personal stories with lawmakers and advocates about what it’s like to go through the system.

Of course, I had to rush up there on my lunch hour to catch it. Not only did I want to hear these kids’ stories, I also wanted to let the program managers know that I’d be happy to help out at any future events if they ever needed a story coach. 

Just as I walked in, one of the women running the event walked up and said, “Are you Paul from Fresh Ground Stories?” 

I said, “Yeah, that’s me. I’ve seen you at some of the shows, right?”

She said, “Yes, I’ve been to a number of them. In fact, Fresh Ground Stories was the inspiration for this whole event.”

I’m not usually struck speechless but I was that day. The kindness and support you have given our tellers over the years inspired someone in the government to use storytelling to help change policy. I say at the beginning of every show, opinions divide us and stories bring us together. That day up at the capitol I saw that happening right in front of me. I just want everyone to know that when you come to FGS you’re doing more than just listening to great stories. You’re also giving people the confidence to go out and do some good in the world.

Here’s a link to the story in The Olympian if you’d like to know more:

This Thursday, our sister show, Aunt Mama’s Storytable, is holding their monthly storytelling and music show in the same place we have FGS. If you love music and stories you’ll love this show. It only takes a quick click to sign up for their monthly announcements 🙂

Some of the most touching stories we hear at FGS come from people living with mental health challenges. Some of those tellers have gone to share their stories at NAMI’s annual Brainpower Chronicles. I was lucky enough to be chosen to tell my own story at their first event in 2018. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had on stage. If you’d like to be part of this year’s show please consider applying.


Anyone who is living with a mental illness or a family member/caregiver of someone with a mental health condition is welcome to apply.

Recently, KUOW asked me to let everyone know that they’re looking for animal stories to feature on their podcast The Wild https://www.kuow.org/podcasts/thewild

Here’s what they’re looking for in their own words:
“We are looking for stories of true-life experiences in the wild for our upcoming Stories from The Wild event. Share your story and information below for consideration. KUOW’s The Wild team will review all submissions. If your story is chosen, we will contact you to discuss further details and next steps. Portions of the event will be used in future episodes of The Wild podcast.”

Submission link: https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=uMFXPa70OUatsTMSrjvIJ8dxXCZ64uVPr3a6Hq33899UMzMwS1IwSUdCMlZTR1JCWkdDNkRQOUVaWC4u

If you have a story you’d like to tell at FGS but would like help shaping it, our free monthly workshop is coming up this Sunday. Click the link below for more info.

If you’re looking for more places to tell your story here are two places where I’ve told stories that would love to hear yours:

Here is a more complete list of all the storytelling opportunities in Seattle:

That’s all for now. Thanks again to everyone who shared a story last week. Send me an email if you told a story and would like a copy of your audio.

Our next show is March 19. The theme is “Drowning – Stories of being overwhelmed.” Look for the invite later this week.

Take care,