No Regrets – Stories of unexpected gratitude. Or…

November’s theme is “No Regrets – Stories of unexpected gratitude.” You could also go with, “Things you should regret but don’t.” They’re sorta the same but also kind of the opposite. I like that.

For the last few years, I’ve spent a good part of every week at the local gym trying to keep age and decay at bay. I know it’s futile, but self-delusion is an important part of my personal maintenance routine. Going to the gym has also had an interesting effect on how people treat me. There’s a big difference between how I’m perceived when I weigh a slender 170 lbs compared to a muscular 210 lbs.

For the first time in my life, I look like a guy you’d call when you need to move a couch. Even my close friends treat me differently. Men and woman both grab my arms and shoulders to see how thick they are now. I don’t mind it but it’s always surprising because for most of my life no one paid any attention to my body. You could make the case that one of the reasons I learned to be funny was to keep people from focusing on my physical shortcomings. I don’t know what playgrounds are like these days but when I was growing up being a skinny male in any grade was no treat. High school was the worst but college was similar. Being physically strong plays a big role in where you stand in the male landscape.

Now that I’m physically bigger, even alpha males are giving me respect. Last year I was working out in the gym one day when one of the biggest guys in the room motioned me over to the bench press. Just for a second, I flashed back to high school and half-expected him to put me in a headlock. When I got up to him, he said something no one had ever said to me.

“Can you spot me?”

It felt like the clouds had parted and Zeus and flown down from Mt Olympus to place the Pelt of the Gods on my shoulders. Is there such a thing as the Pelt of the Gods? I have no idea. If there is, then I was definitely wearing it. Having the biggest dude in the gym ask me to spot him was my testicular Bar Mitzvah. I was now a man.

I didn’t realize it at the moment but when I got into position, I saw that he had 315 lbs on the bar. I’ve never moved anything that weighed over 300 lbs that didn’t have the word Steinway on it. This was a metal bar with six iron plates on it that would be moving up and down over this guy’s head. My job was to keep it from falling on him if he ran out of steam. Before I could figure a way out of this, he let out a giant grunt and started pushing the bar up and down over his chest. Ten reps later he set the bar back in the rack and sat up. He was so strong I didn’t even have to touch the bar.

I muttered “good job” and stepped away from the bench heading back to the human-sized weights I was using on the other side of the gym.

“Hold on,” he said. “I got another set to do.” Then he got up and added two 25 lb plates on the bar. Now he was up to 365. Dear god, if this guy needs me to lift 365 lbs off his neck he’s a dead man. I finally get my man pelt and now I’m going to lose it because Spartacus wants to set a new PR?

So I get in position again. He lifts the bar off the rack and gets all the way to the sixth rep when he starts to shake and struggle. I reach down to grab the bar and he yells, “DON’T TOUCH IT!” I yank my hands back and he barely gets the bar over the hooks to rack it.

“That was good, man,” I said as I backed away from the bar that was still vibrating.

“One more set,” the guy says and he gets up and replaces the 25 lb plates with 45 lb plates. WE ARE NOW UP TO 405 LBS! This guy thinks I can save him from being crushed under a 405 lb barbell and I can’t say anything because I finally have the Pelt of the Gods! I’m pretty sure if you walk away from a spot request they take your pelt away. The question is, will they take the pelt away if the guy you’re spotting just flat out dies during the lift? This question seems both ridiculous and incredibly important. Because I still remember the name of every bully who pushed me into a locker or knocked me to the ground, I puff out my chest, walk over to the bar and say, “Whenever you’re ready, man.”

They guy does two reps, gives me a “thanks, brother” and starts putting the weights away. I walk to the locker room feeling proud, strong, and a little ashamed. I had just put a guy in danger because I couldn’t admit that I wasn’t strong enough to lift a bunch of metal off his chest if something went wrong. Is that what it means to be a man? Are we willing to die or let people get hurt to save face?

The locker room was pretty full and I had to walk around a few guys to get to my locker. I had just pulled my shorts off when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and was face to face with a chubby sweaty guy who said, “Hey, who’s the English guy that sings-” and then he started singing “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone.”

Everyone in the locker room froze. I don’t know if this is common knowledge but you’re not supposed to sing to anyone in the locker room. At least not the men’s locker room. The cast of Glee could be serenading each other in the woman’s locker room but in the men’s locker room no one sings. Especially not to each other. Especially not when one of you is standing there in his underwear.

I could sense the tension in the room. How I reacted to this guy singing “It’s Not Unusual” directly at me was going to affect how I was treated in the gym for as long as I went there. I thought about Zeus. I thought about the Pelt of the Gods. I thought about how long I’d wanted to look like a man in front of other men.

And then I thought, “I love that song.” So I puffed out my chest and said, “It’s Tom Jones and actually he’s Welsh.”

Then I belted out, “What’s new pussycat, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa…” And the guy answered with, “She’s a lady, whoa, whoa, whoa, she’s a lady. Talkin’ about my little lady….”

Not only did we sing Tom Jones’ greatest hits we also danced like Tom Jones which means anyone under 30 probably thought we were having separate but simultaneous seizures. It was one of the best times I’d had in months. By the end of our medley, we were the only ones left in the room.

I have no idea who this guy was but he taught me more about strength and the importance of being yourself than I’ll ever learn from pushing bar loaded with iron over my head. I still don’t know what it means to be a man but I know a little more about what it means to be myself.

And that’s the kind of story we’re looking for at our next show, Thursday, November 15, at Roy Street Coffee and Tea. Tell us about a time when you were unexpectedly grateful for something that happened to you. How did you go from being embarrassed or ashamed to being grateful? Did it happen immediately or did it take years to finally be glad it happened?

Remember to keep it clean and under 8 minutes. Practice out loud as much as you can. Here are the rules and guidelines for telling a story:

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

Feel free to email me if you have any questions or want some help on a story.

If you want to see some of the sweet dance moves we were doing in the locker room of the old Gold’s Gym in Olympia, Washington you can check out this Tom Jones clip.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGRZBa4cKWA

Take care everyone. I hope to see a bunch of you on the 15th 🙂

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

 

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Thank you!

Thanks everyone for making last Thursday’s show a memorable one. Not only did we hear some great stories, we also got to meet 18 high school kids and their teachers who came all the way from Bellingham to see live storytelling for the first time. One of those teachers wrote me this afternoon to say how impressed he was with the craftsmanship of the stories he heard that night. So there you have it. Unbiased feedback confirming how great you all are 🙂

Before I tell you more about the show I want to let you know that there is some important info at the bottom of this message. If you don’t want to read the wrap-up, just scroll to the bottom and check out the links to upcoming shows and opportunities.

Most of you have probably figured out that my favorite part of FGS is getting to know each performer through the story they tell. There’s a connection I find with storytellers that I’ve never found with actors, comics, singers, or any other performing artists. I love those art forms but storytelling is the thing that makes me feel like I’m not alone in the world.

So when David K told a story about being overwhelmed by his two granddaughters, it made me feel better about all the memories I have of getting overwhelmed when my son would have a bunch of his friends over to play. When Bruce told a story about how relieved he was to finally find a group to belong to, it made me feel a lot better about all the times I tried desperately to fit in and failed.

John’s story about how important it was to find a certain album on eBay that contained the only song he and his good friend Stewart ever wrote together took a turn at the end that surprised me. You see, Stewart died a few years ago. What John wanted most was to hear his friend’s voice one more time. I don’t know John very well but I can picture him at home on his couch, putting that record on the turntable and feeling just for a moment that he was right there in the room with his old friend

Chad told a perfect Chad story about being 11 years old and discovering Tony Robins, the motivational speaker. I’m pretty sure he was the only kid in his neighborhood walking around muttering “If you can believe, you can achieve!” Chad’s story makes me think that we would have been great friends if we had been 11-years old at the same time.

One story that makes me want to find out more about who comes to FGS is the story David S told. I can’t repeat the story in a few sentences so I’ll just tell you that it was about how childhood trauma often affects your health as an adult. I learned about this at a TED conference I went to in 2016. I attended a workshop where the teacher asked us to calculate our ACE scores. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The test is 10 simple questions you can answer in a couple of minutes. Your 1-10 score indicates how much trauma you lived through or witnessed before the age of 18.

I know I’ll never be able to find out, but I’d love to know the average ACE score of the people who come to Fresh Ground Stories. Everyone in the audience is always so kind and respectful of storytellers who talk about the truths they’ve learned from a hard life. I get the sense that most people at FGS know how difficult it is to dive into your past as a way to understand the present. Maybe that explains why this show is one of few places I feel accepted and understood. Whenever I write a new story, the place I most want to tell it is at Roy Street.

That night we also heard from some of the teenagers who came down from Bellingham. What came through most in their stories was how hard it is to be a kid. I told their teachers that I would be happy to go up to Bellingham one day and do some kind of show with them. If I had seen a show like FGS, where grownups are this honest and vulnerable, I think my life would have turned out a lot differently. Hopefully, those teachers can figure out a way to get a show together so I (and maybe a few of you) can drive up there and tell some stories with those kids.

If you’re curious what your ACE score is, you can take the test here: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean

I’d love to tell you more about the show but I need to wrap this up so I can start writing the invitation to the next show which will be on Nov 15. The theme is “No Regrets – Stories of unexpected gratitude.” If that one doesn’t jog your memory then you can think of it as, “Things you should regret but don’t.” When I say it that way people seem to get this mischievous look and start laughing quietly to themselves. Have you ever been grateful for something you didn’t expect to be grateful for? That’s the kind of story we’re looking for.

Before I let you go I want to tell about some great shows and opportunities coming up in the next couple of weeks.

One of our regulars, Renata Lubinsky, just wrote a book called, “Around Seattle in 80 Dates.” I’m going to be interviewing her about some of those crazy nights on Sunday, Nov 4 at the University Book Store. I haven’t gone on 80 dates in my entire life but Renata managed to do it in a  year or something. If you want to know what she learned and what happened on that 80th date come hang out with us at the UW bookstore 🙂

http://www.ubookstore.com/events?evmonth=11&evyear=2018&eventid=2018061908200100&pre=20181101&pst=20181112?evmonth=11&evyear=2018&eventid=2018061908200100&pre=20181101&pst=20181112

Bill Bernat, together with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), has put together a very powerful show with nine amazing women who are sharing stories of how mental health issues have affected themselves or their loved ones. Bill and 3 tellers from FGS spent a big part of this year helping these women shape their stories for the stage. The stories they’re telling are some of the most triumphant and courageous I’ve ever heard. I’m taking my son to the show because I want him to see how strong people can be when they have to. I hope some of you can make it. You can catch the show on either Nov 10 or 11. It’s a fundraiser for NAMI so the money is going to a good cause. If you can’t afford the listed ticket prices there are scholarships available. Please don’t feel bad about contacting Tom at tlane@namiwa.org and telling him what you can afford.

https://www.namiwa.org/index.php/programs/brain-power-chronicles

Below are two new shows that just contacted me. Both of them offer stage time to anyone wanting to tell a story. The second one has a featured teller as well as an open mic. I can’t get to either of these shows this month, but if anyone does I’d love to hear what your experience was. They both seem like good shows run by good people. So many of you have great stories and I only have so much time at FGS to get people on stage who deserve to be heard. Any time I hear of an opportunity for you to tell your story around town I do my best to get the word out.

http://www.connectloungeseattle.com/events/

https://www.facebook.com/events/468899476850001/ Bearing Witness a Story Salon Hosted by Chad Goller-Sojourner
Featuring Kacie Rahm of The Moth in Seattle
@ Atticus inside Mama’s Cantina, 2nd & Bell
Thursday, October 25th 21 + FREE
Sign- Up 8:30 Show 9:00
Theme “Open Topic”
Come out and tell a five-minute story, or just enjoy the show!

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be out of town next week for work so if you write me and I don’t get back to you right away that’s the reason.

Take care. See you on the 15th!
(don’t forget that we’re doing the show on 3rd Thursdays now instead of 4th Thursdays)

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

See you tomorrow!

Hi Everyone,

I hope to see a bunch of you at the show tomorrow. The theme is “Not getting what you want – Stories of coming up short.”

Not getting what you want – Stories of coming up short

Thursday, Oct 18, 2018, 7:00 PM

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

27 Story Fans Attending

As a frequent reader of inspirational sayings, I’m constantly amazed at how many people are able to convince themselves that not getting what they wanted is just what they needed. Who are these people who are always finding another door opening while the one in front of them is closing? I’ve smashed my foot in dozens of doors that I should have let…

Check out this Meetup →

I was poking around YouTube tonight looking for a good story to get you excited about the show and I found one from a fellow right here in Seattle. It wasn’t until I watched it that I realized I’ve never told my own story about a similar experience I had with my son. It made me wonder what’s been keeping me from doing that.

I’ve don’t know the guy telling this story but he’s the kind of person I’d probably enjoy talking to. I’m going to contact him and see if he’d like to tell a story at FGS one day. Until then, enjoy the story he told at The Moth in Seattle a couple years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXMBkrDbnsc

I hope you’re having a good week. See you tomorrow at Roy St 🙂

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Not getting what you wanted – Stories of coming up short

As a frequent reader of inspirational sayings, I’m constantly amazed at how many people are able to convince themselves that not getting what they wanted is just what they needed. Who are these people who are always finding another door opening while the one in front of them is closing? I’ve smashed my foot in dozens of doors that I should have let close because I was convinced that another one would never open. That conviction is why it takes me years to get over my failures.

I stopped doing comedy in 2007 but it wasn’t until 2014 that I finally began to be grateful for everything I learned playing those horrible rooms around the country. Dying onstage at the Chucklehut in Bupkes, Nevada, or bombing at the Shangri-Laff in Goiter, Wyoming, taught me more about writing and speaking than anything I could learn in an MFA program. I just wish it hadn’t taken me seven years to finally stop beating myself up for all those nights of public failure.

When I discovered I was going to become a father at 23 I thought I was going to have to give up all the dreams I had carried with through my childhood. It wasn’t until my son was well into grade school that I realized how lucky I was to have this little person teaching me about the joy of commitment and the sense of composure that comes with humility. Why wasn’t I able to see that sooner? Why did I spend almost a decade berating myself for making a kid before I was ready?

A few minutes ago I was telling a friend that nothing I’m grateful for has come to me through my intellect or ability to reason. I’ve never been able to think myself into forgiving someone or reason my way out of anger. All the things I’m grateful for have come from not getting what I wanted. That’s probably not the best thing to bring up in a job interview or a first date but it’s something I think about a lot. It’s one of those things you can’t really accept until you’ve been through it. I can’t tell my son that one day he’ll be grateful he didn’t get the job he applied for. But I can make sure I’m around a few years down the road when he’s ready to talk about it. It’s one of those things that seems like complete nonsense until suddenly it isn’t. It’s good to not always get what you want. It just sucks that it doesn’t feel that way when the thing you desperately wanted is flying out the window.

And that’s the kind of story we’re looking for this month. Tell us about a time when you didn’t get what you wanted. How did it happen and what does it mean to you now? Are you glad you didn’t get it? Are you still upset about it now? What did you tell yourself then and what do you tell yourself now?

Make sure the story 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 October 18, 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 18th!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Thank you!

Wow, what an amazing night last Thursday was. Lots of great first-timers. Lots of beautiful stories. We even managed to end on time without me having to bump anyone. My heart is full when Mr. Coffee is empty and everyone who practiced their story that month gets to tell it 🙂

We started off with David T telling us a story about walking across America to support nuclear disarmament. Did he stop when he found himself in a nudist colony? No. Did we take a week off when he found himself in Las Vegas? No. This is top-tier commitment, folks. I personally would have stayed a little longer in the nudist camp and that is probably why the world is the way it is. I start out trying to do something important and then I get distracted by something shiny.

Our next teller was a woman I met at a storytelling open mic in Tacoma called Something To Tell. I asked her to tell the story I heard that night at our show. She had to change a few things to stay within the rules for FGS but I’m really happy she showed up and shared her story. She told us what it was like to be diagnosed with an STI and how she decided to face it head-on. I was blown away when she told the story in Tacoma and just as impressed when she told it at Roy St. If we’re lucky, we’ll hear this story on the radio later this year. It’s exactly the kind of story a lot of people need to hear.

Jonathan went next and told a story he had prepared months ago but got bumped on a night when we had too many tellers. I don’t want to try to retell it here but it was a story of love and lies and it started right there at Roy Street Coffee and Tea. Who knew our little cafe was such a hotbed of love and intrigue? Next time I get up to Seattle I’m going to hang out at Roy St just to watch the mating rituals of Seattleites in the wild.

First-timer Lance told a story that brought me right back to Alaska in the 80s. I was a teenager back then and blowing up cars with just as much regularity as Lance apparently. What is it about teenage boys and wrecking cars? And how did so many of us live to tell the stories? If I ran Allstate I would never insure any male under 25.

Another first-timer, Brooklyn, somehow managed to take up the entire stage with her energy. She was amazing to watch. Technically, her story was about a crazy cab ride in France but she could have told us about eating a bowl of Lucky Charms and she would have made it just as exciting. Brooklyn is one of those people you hope you end up in a cab with one day because you know you’re going to remember that ride forever. I’m looking forward to hearing more about her life 🙂

If you’re counting words, you know I’m running out of space so I’m going to end with this one memory. In December of 2016, a woman named Susan wrote to tell me that she caught our April 2016 show and really enjoyed it. She said that she and her husband were moving from Cleveland to Seattle in 2017 and looked forward to coming to our show more regularly when they settled in. From her story last Thursday, it looks like Susan From Cleveland has definitely settled in. She told us about a Seattle bus driver named Bonnie who is possibly the friendliest person in the entire city. The weird thing is that after experiencing the most uplifting mass transit ride of her life, Susan never saw Bonnie again. She’s ridden the bus a bunch of times since then and Bonnie has never reappeared. Does route 545 have a lovable ghost driver that you only see once in your life??

After her story, I asked a Metro bus driver in the audience if he’d ever heard of Bonnie. He said he had but he had also only seen her once. Who is this mysterious Bonnie?! Susan gave me permission to share her story online so I’m going to post it in the hopes that we can get to the bottom of this Bonnie business. Was she a driver from fifty years ago who died during her shift and now shows up occasionally to take people for a spin? Is she the Loch Ness Bus Driver of King County? The Ghost of Transfers Past? Nathan Vass, hall of fame bus driver and FGS regular, has already agreed to poke around the haunted bus terminal downtown to see what he can find out. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, you can get hear more of Susan’s storytelling in her TEDx talk at WWU. It’s a great example of using storytelling to teach:

Before I let you get back to your weekend, I want to make sure everyone knows that FGS will now be held on the third Thursday of each month and not the fourth. I’m changing it to third Thursdays for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I won’t have to change the dates every November and December to schedule around the holidays. The second and more important reason is that everyone will now be able to attend Maryanne Moorman’s open mic. Her show is held on the last Thursday of each month so it usually conflicted with FGS. But no more! Now we can all go to her show and not have to miss FGS 🙂

You can tell a much wider variety of stories at Maryanne’s show so if there’s a story you’ve been keeping in your notebook for a while this is the place to bring it. I’ll be driving up from Olympia as often as I can to be there.

Auntmama’s Storytable
Last Thursday of each month
6:45 pm to 8pm
Madison Park Starbucks
4000 East Madison St
Seattle, WA 98112

Also, did you know that Snap Judgment is coming to Seattle? It is!

https://www.thestranger.com/events/30510333/snap-judgment-live
https://www.stgpresents.org/tickets/eventdetail/4140/-/snap-judgment-live

Our next show is October 18 and the theme is “Not Getting What You Want.” I’ll get the official invite out as soon as I can.

Thanks again to everyone who shared a story last Thursday. I’m sorry that I didn’t have the time and space to write about each story here. I’m already over a thousand words and we all know the average attention span is about 75 words. There are probably four people still reading this. But to those four people who made it this far, you missed a great show.

See you all on the 18th 🙂

Paul