FGS: Failing – Stories from the ashes

Sometimes for fun, I like to list all my failures to remind myself that I’m tougher than I think I am. I’m not sure this is a therapist-approved activity but it does seem to work. Inevitably, I end up laughing about something and sharing it later with friends.

A few days ago my son reminded me how important it is to share those stories for more than just laughs. He asked me over dinner if I ever felt overwhelmed. I knew he was really asking if it was ok for him to feel overwhelmed. I was happy to admit that I feel overwhelmed at least twice a week and sometimes every day for months at a time. I think he was genuinely surprised at how often I felt that way. I could see that by admitting this it changed his perception of me a little bit. Hopefully, it changed his perception of himself too. 

It made me wish that more of us talked about the times we failed or didn’t measure up. I know intellectually that it’s ok to fail, but I don’t really believe it until someone stands right in front of me and tells me how bad they screwed something up. What would happen if we shared more stories about the times we fell flat on our faces? How would our perception of ourselves change if we knew about all the times the people around us failed? 

That’s the kind of story we’d like you to bring this month. Tell us about a time when you tried and failed. How did the experience change you? Did it change the way you treated others? Is it something you’ve never told anyone or something that you’ve been laughing about for years? The best stories are the ones you’re a little nervous about sharing. You don’t have to bring your darkest secret, but hopefully, it’ll be a story that means something to you. What a great night it would be if we could all go home feeling a little better about all the times we came up short.

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. We’re getting more names in Mr. Coffee and some folks aren’t getting to share their story because we run out of time. Thanks for understanding.

Here are the rules and guidelines for telling: https://freshgroundstories.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/

If you’d like help with your story, our next free monthly workshop is January 5. 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/

I hope to see you all January 16 at 7 pm at the Olive Way Starbucks 🙂


Thank you

Extra special heartfelt thanks to everyone who came out in the record-setting rainfall we had Thursday night. It was a perfect night to stay home and so many of you came out anyway. It took me two hours to get there from Olympia that night and I was ready to do a show with a handful of us sitting in front of the fireplace. Instead, almost 50 of you showed up at the last minute and made it a show. Thank you!

We had so many beautiful stories that night from beginning to end. Sue led us off with a story about the last days of her father’s life. One of my favorite things about storytelling is how we can find laughter in tragedy. Even though we could hear the sadness is Sue’s voice as she talked about her dad, she also blessed us with some really funny moments that made it a truly rich story. Thank you, Sue, for all the work you put in on that story.

Pykasu, one of our newer tellers, told a story that had so many lines that went right into my heart that I could feel myself rocking back into my chair trying to take them all in. There were two that I woke up this morning thinking about, “You don’t move on from loss, you move forward with it” and “loss is a monster that feeds on isolation.” The most amazing part of Pykasu’s story was she didn’t intend to tell that night. Thirty minutes before showtime there were seven people in the cafe and none of them were there for the show. Twenty minutes before showtime, Pykasu walked in and I asked her if she had any story about anything she’d be willing to tell. I figured the show was going to be me, her, and a few other people sitting on two couches trading stories. She graciously pulled a notebook out of her backpack and started working on something she’d been thinking about but hadn’t worked out yet. Thank you, Pykasu, for stepping up on such short notice. My advice for the rest of us? Add Pykasu to your Grammarly dictionary. You’ll be telling your friends about her one day.

Neal was our only first-timer that night. He told a touching story that had us all leaning forward in our chairs until the very end when the room exploded in laughter. I love stories that remind me of how ridiculous life can be sometimes. Sometimes we do something so unbelievably goofy that the only way we can deal with it is to share the story with someone. Thank you, Neal, for sharing that one with us.

Mike, a teller we haven’t seen in a while, shared the story of how he and his wife came back together after a year and a half of thinking they were done forever. So many of us have stories of leaving people who weren’t right for us, it’s good to hear a story about a couple who managed to work out their differences and stay together. Stories like that give me hope. Thank you, Mike. 

Colleen, one of our new regulars, shared the story of her mom protecting her from a house fire four months after she died. Was this a story about ghosts or the afterlife? No, it was a story about a mother’s love for her daughter. Would Neal deGrasse Tyson dispute the cause of Colleen’s photos and baptismal gown being the only things not destroyed in that fire? Yes. Does it matter? No. Faith is what gets us through the hard times. Sometimes, in spite of all the facts, we just have to believe that the universe is going to take care of us. 

That night we also had a rare appearance by Afifi. Afifi, who is Lebanese, told us the story of escaping from Tehran during the hostage crisis in 1979. I always look forward to Afifi’s stories. They come from places I’ll never see and a life I’ll never have. If you’re ever wondering if we’re living through a civil war in this country, I would ask you to sit down with Afifi and let her tell you what it’s like to live in the Middle East. Next time I get all worked up about the state of affairs in this country, I hope I can pause long enough to remember that I’ve never had to worry about my house being bombed, or had to talk my way onto the last plane out of Seattle to save myself from being shot. Thank you, Afifi, for the perspective you always bring to your stories.

Chris, one of our most regular regulars, told my new favorite Chris story. There’s something about the stories she tells about her parents that always resonates with me. That night, she had this amazing line, “We both knew it was a lie, but there was nothing he could do about it.” You don’t need to know anything about her story for that line to mean something to you. That one line says so much about how people interact with each other. Next time I see Chris I’m going to ask her if that line meant as much to her as it did to me.

Kris-with-a-K told a super sweet story about her parents which was almost the exact opposite of Chris-with-a-C’s. We got to meet Kris’s parents at an FGS show a few months ago and I can totally see why she turned out the way she did. It was wonderful seeing them smiling in the audience as their daughter told a story. There’s a lot of love in that family. If you want to know what that love looks like around the holidays you’ll have to talk Kris into telling that story again. If we’re lucky, she’ll let me post it online 🙂

Our last teller was Bill Bernat. Normally, I get nervous when someone tells a story about something that just happened. But Bill is an exceptional writer and teller and I knew it was going to be ok. His story of love and loss was one of the most touching I’ve ever heard him tell. He almost told it last month but neither he nor the story was ready. Last Thursday they were both ready. Storytelling allows us to make something beautiful out of something painful. Watching Bill do that after a recent heartbreak was inspiring. I’m grateful we have a place where we can do that.

I’m going to do something I don’t do very often. I’m going to ask you to visit Bill’s website, https://stayawesome.com/. He’s a speaker, coach, and storyteller. In all the years he’s been telling stories with us at FGS he’s never asked me to promote his business. Not once. He doesn’t come out to network or sell himself in any way. That’s why I’m deciding to tell everyone now what a great speaking coach he is. He really is one of the best. You know what would be a great gift for someone? Hire Bill to do a storytelling workshop for you and your friends. Is your workplace trying to figure out how to talk about mental health issues? Hire Bill to come show you how to do that. 

Here’s his TED talk that’s been seen 1.6 million times: 


That’s all I have for now. My apologies for all the electronic problems we’ve been having during the shows recently. The PA system and the audio recorders have been acting up lately. I’m doing my best to figure out what’s going on. Thanks for your patience. 

Our next show is January 16. The theme is “Failure – Stories from the ashes.” I’ll get the invite out as soon as possible. See you then!


See you tomorrow night!

Hi Everyone,

I hope to see a bunch of you tomorrow at the show. The theme of the night is Crossroads – Stories of choosing a path. https://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories/events/266881499/

Here are a couple of sweet stories to get you in the mood. The first is a funny one about a young man in the Bronx who lets his cousin cut his hair.

The second is from the Moth Story Hour that aired last weekend. It’s about a young woman who called a stranger in the middle of the night when she needed help. It reminded me that sometimes our show is like that phone call. It’s a place for a few of us to share a story we’ve been living in and for others to simply listen.

See you tomorrow at the Olive Way Starbucks 🙂



FGS: Crossroads – Stories of choosing a path

Come on out to the Olive Way Starbucks on December 19 and tell a story about a time when you were at a crossroads. What brought you to that intersection in life? Did you see it coming or did it sneak up on you? Are you happy with the path you chose going forward or is there a little part of you that wonders what if? What was at stake? Were people in your life pulling you one way or another?

I did my best to write a story out for this one but couldn’t get it together in time. Last night I sent drafts to four friends and they all agreed the story wasn’t quite ready. The best friends are the ones who gently remind me that I have no idea what I’m talking about 🙂

Here are some of the comments I got back:
It seems a little philosophical
Are you sure this is about crossroads?
Rhinos are solitary animals whose skin is 1.5 – 5 cm thick. They are often susceptible to parasites such as ticks.

Clearly, I still have some work to do. I’ll try to have it done by next month so you can find out what a rhinoceros is doing in my life.

Hopefully, some of you will have a story about your own crossroads in life and will throw your name in Mr. Coffee. Bonus points for anyone who has a crossroads story about African megafauna.

Make sure you practice your story out loud on as many friends as possible and also to make sure it’s under 8 minutes. Rules for telling are below:


Hope to see you all on the 19th!



Thank you :)

Thank you all for coming out last Thursday for another night of stories. We had close to 120 people. It was great looking out over the audience and not recognizing half of them. I love our regulars but I’m especially touched when they bring someone new to the show. That means more people need storytelling than we have shows for. If anyone is thinking of starting their own show please do. I would love for Seattle to be a city where we can go out every night of the week and listen to personal stories of the people we share this place with.

Here are a couple of places to start if you’re looking to listen or tell your own stories:


https://www.facebook.com/groups/198209904060632/ (click the join button to get access to the monthly listing of storytelling shows in the area)

This email will be shorter than my usual thank you/wrap-ups mostly because I’m sick, but also because Thanksgiving is coming up and I still have to go get stuff for the trip north to visit my family. The story that most got under my skin that night was Kris’s. She told us about a day 20 years ago when she was walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and witnessed something there that shaped her life from then on.

Kris wrote me a week before the show and asked if a story about a man ending his life would be appropriate to tell at FGS. I told her it was but that she had to be very careful in how she told it. Stories like this are so delicate. We need to hear them but we need to hear them in the right way. The main thing I asked her to do was to make sure the story was about her and not him.

Kris ended up doing an amazing job. She told me she had been practicing and rewriting until a few minutes before she arrived. That’s how much she cared about getting it right. She told the story with honesty, compassion, and vulnerability. There were no judgments or opinions. It was all about what she learned about herself from that singular moment in 1993.

Last night, I listened to the story again. I heard her get choked up in the middle and whisper, “I don’t know what to say next.” A few seconds later I heard someone in the audience say, “It’s ok.” And that was all Kris needed to move on and tell the rest of her story. That’s the kind of person who comes to FGS. No matter how much someone is stumbling and shaking, you’re there for them. Thanks to all the audience members over the years who have stayed with a teller while they struggled to get through something big.

Before I let you get back to your evening, I want to let you know that the teller who went way overtime that night wrote me the next morning to apologize. She felt terrible that went that far over and promised it would never happen again. She also said it was ok for me to tell everyone that in this email. I was touched that she reached out to me before I contacted her. That means a lot.

The main reason tellers go over time is that they don’t practice out loud and time themselves. It usually happens with tellers who have told some good stories in the past and don’t think they need to practice anymore. I know tellers with decades of experience who still practice out loud with a timer. One of the reasons the audience at FGS is so good is because they’ve learned they can trust us to practice our stories as much as possible before we go onstage. We all make mistakes and go long sometimes. None of us are professional speakers and most of the time we’re telling stories for the first time in front of strangers. The best way to make sure we don’t go over 8 minutes is to practice on as many friends, coworkers, and family members as possible and time ourselves. The second best way is to join our monthly workshop 🙂


This is a great place to get feedback on stories you’re working on. It’s run by two of our regular tellers who volunteer their time for us. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to get feedback on your story before you perform it for strangers. The audience graces us with their patience and attention. We gotta do our part and make sure we’re giving them our best storytelling selves. I corner people at work all the time and try out stories on them. They love it. Even though they’re getting the raw version they still encourage me to keep practicing on them. Once you find half a dozen people you regularly practice on you’ll notice how much better your writing and performing is onstage.

If you can’t make it to the workshop you can always email me and ask for help and feedback. There’s nothing easy about what we do up there so don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have people I talk to for every story I tell. I’ve never told a story that I didn’t first get feedback on from friends.

One last thing. Thank you to the stranger who gave me two copies of Matthew Dicks’ books to give away! I love you! The books were given to me through someone else and they didn’t tell me who it was. Whoever you are, thank you thank you thank you.

If you’re wondering what book I’m talking about it’s this one:


I give one copy away to a randomly chosen first-timer at the end of each show. It’s the best book on storytelling I’ve ever read and I try to share it as much as I can.

Thanks again for another special night. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

Next month’s show is on December 19. The theme is “Crossroads.” I’ll get the invite out as soon as I can.

Take care,

Paul f