This post is in honor of World Storytelling Day, which by happenstance was yesterday (March 20th), the same day as was arranged our quarterly live storytelling event here in town called Tell Us Something (TUS). A pairing which was entirely coincidental by its orchestrater, Marc Moss.
The TUS guidelines for storytelling are as follows: they have to be about true personal experiences, fit in the span of 10 minutes, centered around the chosen theme, and must be given without the use of notes. Last night’s theme was: Right place, right time. 8 local storytellers got up on stage at the Wilma Theater, in front of a well-packed 850-seat venue of friendly faces, ready to listen.
Here’s my account of the evening, in order of appearance on stage:
1. Alex wore an orange Marty McFly vest and jazzy 80’s decor ball cap to regale us with a story about his last excursion to ComiCon, and encountering not 1, not 2, but 3 Deloreans, one of which he got the lifelong lasting pleasure to take a ride in. With the delightful confidence I’d never seen in a 13-year-old, he kicked off the evening with a breath of hope for our future, which I’m certain translated to every member of the audience.
2. His name was Michael, which meant I liked him right away, as derivatives of that name have followed me around in droves all my life and have always treated me well. He spoke artfully of his 70 years of life in the span of just 10 minutes, somehow managing to weave together having had a heart-attack, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, when his wife left him for another man, self re-invention, and travels over-seas.
3. Sarah opened with a mention of Ani Difranco, calling her a “weapons grade feminist folk singer,” which meant I liked her right away, too. The topic of divorce also made a cameo in her story, having left her husband for a woman whom she now has a child with. I saw fit to pen these two quotes from her in my pocket-sized notebook: “Whatever you do out of love, you can’t do it wrong,” and “I can only be where I am when I’m there.”
4. Heather wore a flower-print dress and continued in comradic fashion the theme of divorce. Like the others, it wasn’t in a sad country-song accord but more of a hard heart moment mentioning that spurred a re-posturing of a life once thought figured out. She spoke about her travels to Malawi, Africa, being a dancer, and ended by saying: “The Africa I went to see was not what I wanted, but it was what I needed.”
During the intermission, I shot up from my seat and went to stand against the wall next to the aisles, to write frantically in my pocket-sized notebook. Here’s what I wrote in mildly illegible form, as the theater sprang to life with a mixture of chatter and rustling about: (NOTE: while I’m tempted to make slight edits to this bit of writing for the sake of clarity and ease of reading, I’m resisting the urge and will include it just as I wrote it, hoping it makes some sort of sense)
These stories cut like butter on the battlefield of what it means to be human – and I pulsate with electricity like a bolt of lightning tossed to a tree top, firing up the atoms of everything in sight. I listen, absorbing inspiration like ears to sound in the wake of stories being told – and it’s words that matter, maybe it’s all that really does – I’m juiced up, ready to steamroll anyone in my way like an avalanche – shoot, I’ve got so much to say that I can’t write fast enough – this freekin theater is packed with story listeners being given permission to live their lives without shame, becoming unburdened by the fact that we stand in our own way when it comes to learning how to love and be loved, unfettered and free – and I want to take up shop situated on the shoulder of every person here and listen to their story, so I can keep on learning how to be myself amid the fray.
5. I hadn’t seen Jane in quite a while, so it was nice to encounter her in-person presence on stage to start the second half of the evening. She spoke of South American travels, being a hopeless romantic, falling in and out and in and out of love, being a teacher in the inner-cities of Philly and New York, and yes, divorce – and all in such a way that left us optimistic and churning.
6. Ellie was the first not to pepper in mention of divorce and told a deeply traumatic and terrifying story with masterful delivery, that will likely rattle the marrow of my bones for the rest of my days. Out of care and concern for any reader who comes upon this post, I am opting not to go into further detail – that’s how incredibly disturbing I found it.
7. Marc – our gracious host and TUS founder – lightened things up with a story about riding in the back of a covered truck bed – amid the splay of approaching winter – from Gardner, Montana to Fargo North, Dakota to see “The Boss” in nose-bleed seats, which were suddenly turned into the glory of front-row tickets.
8. Rounding out the night was Kat, a self-proclaimed proud stereotype of her home country of Germany, who told a story about meeting her husband as a high school foreign-exchange student, who was assigned to spending her senior year in Yankton, South Dakota.
I bolted out of the theater with such might that I failed to say goodbye to my seat mates, the lovely friends who had joined me. Amped up and caught amid the sea of slow-moving Missoulians, who had deliciously packed a amply sized theater on a Tuesday night to hear live storytelling, I tumbled out into the fresh darkness of a night overseen by the loving gaze of a sliver of waning moon. Abuzz with energy and words and delight and tingling fingers urging to write and lingering terror from Ellie’s story, I sifted off from the crowd, grateful for having no one but my own person to accompany me.