FGS: Keep on Keeping On – Stories of not giving up

This month’s show is going to have two themes because I apparently I can’t keep track of even the simplest things in my life. But that is ok! Mistakes lead to stories so I’m not going to worry about it.

Last week at the show I couldn’t remember the theme I had chosen so I told everyone at Roy St that the theme was “Courage.” When I got home that night I found my notes and discovered the theme was actually, “Keep on Keeping On – Stories of not giving up.” So we get to have two themes this month and you can tell a story on whichever one you like.

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.

Also, meetup.com didn’t send the thank you & wrap-up email I wrote to you guys earlier this week. I sent it three different times and wrote the help desk twice but nothing has changed. So if you’d like to read my wrap-up of last week’s show you can find it here:


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


I hope to see a bunch of you on Thursday, May 24 at Roy Street Coffee and Tea



Thank you!

Thanks everyone who came out to the show last week on such a sunny day. We had way more people than I thought we’d get and I’m grateful to every person who came out.

I was trying to explain to someone the other day why it’s more fun for me to host than to tell my own stories and all I could say was that your stories keep me company. The next time I’m walking through the woods I’m going to remember David K and his story from Thursday about the time he and his brother found a pit full of snakes in the forest. They couldn’t understand what the fuss was about when they walked back to their family with handfuls of live snakes. I’m also going to remember what he said to me in an email this weekend. He lost his brother a few years ago and telling stories about him is one of the ways he stays connected to his memory. Thank you, Dave, for giving me one more reason to keep this show going.

Today at the grocery store I was putting a bag of apples in the cart and I thought back to Chris’s story about bonding with some friends in high school by passing an apple around in a circle and each one taking a bit until it was gone. The sisterhood of the traveling apple! It made me think back to my early 20s when the only bonding I did with my friends was by sharing bottles of whiskey. Those nights definitely had an aura of ritual and bonding to them. Maybe if we had shared apples instead of alcohol those bonds would have lasted longer.

David Schumer’s touching story of holding support groups for the young doctors in his hospital began and ended by quoting the title song from the musical Camelot. I’ve never told anyone how much I love that soundtrack. Camelot was a huge part of my childhood. Why did David choose that song to put in his story? I have no idea, but now I have something to ask him the next time I see him. Tonight I’m listening to that soundtrack for the first time in years and wondering why I ever stopped.

One of the most surprising stories of the night was from Lauree. It was a wonderfully honest story about how she finally learned the reasons behind some behaviors she’s lived with all her life. She talked about how she went from feeling alone to feeling like she belonged to this group of people who shared her experiences. At the end of her story, she said she felt like she had found a family even if that family was very different from the rest of the world. Man, who hasn’t wished they could find that family? How many of us grow up in biological families we had nothing in common with and don’t find our real families until decades later? Maybe instead of paying 23andMe to find my family I should have gone to WebMD. Actually, you want to know how I found my true family? I started going onstage and telling stories. After a while, people starting coming up to me after shows and saying that they had the same feelings about stuff that I did. I’m a little sad that it took me until I was in my 40s to find those people but I’m glad I can finally say that I may be weird but I’m not alone. If I ever write a memoir I will probably call it Weird But Not Alone.

Special thanks to everyone who told a story that night: Bruce, Connie, David K, David S, Chris, Morgan, Michael, Lauree, and Marjorie. The tape recorder did its job so if any of the tellers want the audio of their story just send me an email. Most of the stories we hear at FGS are very personal so I only send audio to the people who told a story and it’s only of the story they told.

We have an unusual circumstance surrounding next month’s theme. I left my notes at home that night and I couldn’t remember the theme I had settled on by the time I had to announce it. So told everyone at the show that May’s theme was “Courage”. When I got home I discovered the theme I’d been trying to remember which was “Keep on Keeping On – Stories of not giving up.” So for the first time, we’re going to have two themes next month. You can choose whichever one you want to tell a story about. I’ll get the official invite out as soon as you can. The show will be May 24.

Thanks again to everyone who came out. You’re all on my gratitude list this week 🙂


See you Thursday!

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick reminder that our next show is coming up this Thursday. The theme is Being Different-Stories of not fitting in   https://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories/events/249288586/

I hope you can make it. Remember, Roy Street has air conditioning!

In the meantime, here is a beautiful story from The Moth. This lady is my hero. I hope one day I have the grace she does 🙂

See you Thursday,

Paul freshgroundstories@gmail.com

FGS: Being Different-Stories of not fitting in

I’ve been thinking about this theme for a week trying to come up with a story of how I discovered my own weirdness as a kid and I’m starting to realize there are just too many moments to choose from. Some of them are obvious. My mom was a New York Jew with an accent and strange vocabulary (no one in Alaska knew what a shmuck was.) And some are more subtle. I would spend hours alone in my room memorizing both heavy metal lyrics and Broadway show tunes.

The thing they all have in common, though, is that for most of my life I hated those memories. I hated that I felt different. I didn’t like growing up with a mother who was an atom bomb compared to the scented candles who were my friends’ mothers. I wasn’t happy that I liked reading more than baseball and Blazing Saddles more than Star Wars. The first 25 years of my life were spent feeling like that little black speck in a bag of white rice that the instructions said to sift out before cooking for rest results.

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’m starting to see the benefits of being a little different. Last week in a meeting, one of the managers in the agency I work for said that he needed help explaining to employees that they had the “autonomy to do their jobs.” No one knew what he was talking about. Was he saying that we had permission to do our jobs? The authority to do our jobs?

So I raised my hand and said, “I think what’s confusing is the word autonomy. Maybe you should use the word ‘trust’. What if you said that you trust people to do their jobs in the best way they see fit.” He looked at me for a second and said, “Yeah, trust. That’s a good word. I hadn’t thought of that.”

I could see people around the room nodding to themselves and slowly starting to see how we should have been using “trust” all along because it’s a word we’re all more familiar with. What surprised me was that there were so many people in that room with more education than me. They also had a lot more experience writing for the government. The only thing I had on them was 20 years experience talking to strangers around the country. And the only reason I had that experience was because I had this crazy idea once that I wanted to be a comedian. The reason I had that crazy idea was because my mother was an actress, and going onstage and talking to strangers was a perfectly reasonable career move.

But that was the weird world I grew up in. Listening to my mom practice her lines for Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit in the kitchen was mortifying when my friends were over but strangely comforting when it was just me and her. It all seemed perfectly normal. Actors rehearsed their lines. Future comedians sat on their bed and wrote jokes they would tell the next day in math class. I knew better than to tell anyone I wanted to grow up and do it for a living but I also knew better than to pretend I didn’t have that dream. So I kept that little bit of madness inside me until it hurt more to keep it inside than it did to walk onstage and finally accept it.

Many years later, after realizing I couldn’t live the life of a comic anymore, I quit and got a real job. It was a job where comedy and storytelling were not part of the position description. Except that slowly, people started noticing how well I was able to connect with anyone who walked in the door. Sometimes it was a street person and sometimes it was the governor. Whoever it was, I seemed to be able to talk to them in a way that made them want to listen. The reason I could do that was because I spent all those years trying to figure out how to talk to coal miners in Butte, dairy farmers in Wisconsin, cowboys in Abilene, and wealthy executives in whatever golf club was crazy enough to hire me.

That weird little desire I had to write the perfect sentence led me to be able to raise my hand in a conference room and tell a powerful guy in a suit to use a different word if he wanted to be understood. While everyone around me in that room was getting masters degrees in public administration I was learning how to tell stories to truckers, teachers, cops, and doctors. All my life I just saw myself as a guy who told stories in a corner somewhere to people he’d never see again. I did it because I had to and if I stopped it would kill me. But last week, a bunch of people wearing clothes I can’t afford who drive cars I’ll never own looked at me with a respect that I always thought I deserved but never thought I’d get.

I was the kid who wrote stories and jokes while everyone else was studying math or building something in shop class. The kids in my school grew up to be engineers and lawyers, construction workers and auto mechanics. No one I knew grew up to be a writer or a comedian. Despite my mother’s success, I figured the best I could hope for in life was to work in a bookstore and have two close friends who liked my stories. Now I realize that what I thought was a curse was only a curse because I never thought it could be anything else.

No one outside of a comedy club or theater ever cared about the hours I spent figuring out the best way to say something. Most days I assumed the world would be a better place if I had turned out to be a welder. Now, I guess, I’m seeing things a little differently. The managers I talked to in that meeting had spent months trying to craft that one sentence. But they had never bombed on stage in front of a room full of dairy farmers in Madison, Wisconsin. They never had to go back to their hotel room and stay up all night trying to figure out a better way to get their ideas across.

My lonely desire to write and perform has transformed into a way for me to help people be understood. One of the greatest surprises of my life is finding out that this thing I care so much about is somehow valuable to others.

And that’s the kind of story we’re looking for this month. Tell us about a time when you realized you were different or didn’t fit in somehow. Did you forge your own path or try to assimilate? Did you figure out how to make it work for you or did you spend years wishing you were like everyone else?

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.


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


Thank you

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday and made it the best night of the week for me. We heard some amazing stories and got to know a bunch of first-timers. Some of you know that I never advertise FGS because I only want people showing up if someone personally told them to come. That means most of the folks who come out are there because someone in their life thought they’d be a perfect fit for what we do. I think that’s a big reason why each show feels so special to me.

As usual, we learned a lot that night. We learned that Arlene will risk her life to search for her iPhone in near-blizzard conditions. We also learned that Siri really isn’t our friend since she never once yelled out from that snowbank, “Turn back Arlene! Save yourself!” No, Arlene kept plowing through hip-deep snow searching in the dead of night for her electronic friend. I’m pretty sure if she had dropped her phone in the Mediterranean she would have found the Lost City of Atlantis on her way to rescuing it.

We also learned that Leonard, a psychotherapist for 55 years, isn’t afraid to turn the tables on himself. If a therapist isn’t afraid to dive into his deepest fears and insecurities and scream “Please accept me!” on the radio with thousands of people listening then why should the rest of us have such a problem doing the same thing? If you hear a news report next week of a guy in the food court of the Northgate Mall screaming, “Why don’t you people love me?!” it’ll probably be me. Usually, I’m more subtle in addressing my darkest compulsions but Leonard has inspired me. We’ll see what happens.

Obie, one of our regulars, told an amazing story of the time he spent in Namibia working for the Peace Corps. His story wasn’t just about the work he did in southern Africa it was also about the natural biases he discovered within himself before, during, and after his work there. It’s a story that I believe should be told far beyond Roy Street and FGS. I’m going to do what I can to get him an opportunity to tell it before a wider audience. If anyone is interested in learning more about what Obie was struggling with, do a search for “Harvard Implicit Bias Test.” I’m not sure I have the courage to take it myself right now but I’d love to hear what other people’s experiences are.

Our last storyteller of the night was referred to me by one of our regulars and I am so grateful she thought to introduce him to me. Kent Whipple is a treasure. If you see him tell him I said that. I asked him to tell a particular story that he told last year at a Moth grand slam and it was just as wonderful as I thought it’d be. Thank you, Kent, for staying to the end of the show to tell that story since I know you had another show to get to across town.

Thanks again to everyone who told that night:

David, Arlene, Marty, Gus, Debra, Obie, Vidya, Andrew, Leonard, Aimee, Karen, and Kent

Our next show is April 26. The theme is “That’s different – Stories of not fitting in.” Bring a story about a time when you realized you were different or somehow didn’t fit in. I’ve been sitting on the couch all night trying to think of a time when I did fit in and I’m still sorta struggling with it. I’m sure I fit in somewhere. I must, right? Fortunately, we’re looking for stories about not fitting in so we should have a full lineup for April’s show. Telling true stories to strangers in a coffee shop isn’t exactly the national pastime so if you’re reading this email you’re probably someone like me who’s spent a lot of time wondering where they belong in this world.

I’ll get out the official invite as soon as I can.

In the meantime, you can check out the Moth version of the story Kent told at our show Thursday.

Take care. I hope to see you on the 26th