Thursday, January 10, 2013
This is a piece I'm working on for The Moth StorySLAM this upcoming Monday. The theme is Outgrown. Here's the first little bit . . .
I was standing in the women’s restroom of my hometown Wal-mart, wearing latex gloves, changing the liner of the metal feminine hygiene trashcan in stall number two. This was the end of a pretty shitty day. A couple of weeks before, I had broken up with my high school girlfriend of two years, Angela, and she couldn’t let go. She had come to the store that afternoon. She wouldn’t engage me in conversation, but she seemed to pop up at every corner I turned, staring at me with sad, “how could you?” eyes. Meanwhile, a few days ago, I had gone on a date with this other girl, Nicole, who I had met doing a musical revue at the community college I was to attend in the fall. She still hadn’t returned my calls asking for another date.
And now here I was at the end of my eight hour day, the worst part of my day: Rounding up the stray shopping carts from the parking lot, taking out the trash from around the store, and finally, cleaning the restrooms, including the most disgusting part, emptying the tampon trash. This is why when my buddies, Jason and Phil, poked their head through the door, pushing the trash can I used to prop it open out of the way, and said, “Hey, Big D, what’s up?” I turned to them and said, with all the world weariness an 18-year-old kid can muster: “I hate fucking women.”
Phil was standing behind Jason. And when I said what I said, he got this look of panic on his face, started waving his hands and shaking his head. He pointed at Jason, silently mouthing something I couldn’t understand. I looked at him confused. He mouthed the words again, and I got it:
“April broke up with him.”
Jason turned around, saw what Phil was doing, and turned back to me. “Yeah, man, we broke up.”
My buddies and I, we were always playing jokes on each other; sometimes we just made up stories to see if we could get each other to fall for them. And I didn’t believe Jason’s story for a fucking second. April and Jason, man, they were The Couple. They were solid. They had been dating, like, a year.
Jason and I played football together. A few months before, on the night of our last game, ever, we sat on the tailgate of his truck in the high school parking lot. We bullshitted for over an hour simply because once we got in our cars and drove away, it was over. Our football days were officially behind us. The only thing that broke up our bro-love fest was April pulling up in her car coming to find him. Jason shooed me away, hoping he could parlay our winning our last game into another very important win - in April’s pants.
“No way,” I said to Jason. “No fucking way, I’m not falling for it.” Phil began nodding his head, and Jason said, “No, man, we really broke up.”
“Shit, man, I’m sorry.”
“Fuck her. We’re going to get some pizza. Wanna come?”
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Stories I have told in the last three-and-a-half years of storytelling:
- A pivotal night that began the end of my marriage
- The events in the weeks leading up to my mom’s passing, and my siblings and I being in the room when it happened
- My siblings and I being in the room when our dad passed, and the nightmares they caused me for a couple of years after
- A cruel April Fool’s joke I played that blew up in my face a year later when my dad died on March 31
- The night I dreamed I was punching a burglar, and actually punched my sleeping girlfriend in the face
- Being a 16-year-old boy, confronting a 60-year-old man for assaulting my girlfriend
- Getting second degree burns from having scalding water accidentally poured on me when I was six, and my primary memory of it being my dad getting angry and yelling at me for crying about it (a typical response from him when my siblings or I got hurt.)
- A huge fight my ex-wife and I got into the night before we got married, and I how I came within a hair’s breadth of calling off the wedding
- The unlikely way I met my best friend
- How Betsy’s and my first date – something we both thought would a polite, couple of drinks, courtesy date – blossomed into us moving in together
- An open letter of apology to the first girl I dated after my divorce
Eleven stories, that I can recall - Many of them very sad, though I try to inject any humor into the pieces that I can.
Several months ago, I began shying away from the storytelling scene because I realized that, for me, storytelling had largely become an unhealthy exercise in living in the past. Keep in mind, I didn’t just tell these stories once; I presented most of these at least two or three times at different live lit events in Chicago. A lot of time was spent writing, editing, and performing, and performing again sad chapters from my life.
In the last few months, I’ve slowly began reentering the storytelling scene, and most of the stories I’ve shared have been a little lighter and not so damn morose.
But here’s the catch: When I go to a live lit event, it’s those stories I crave. It’s those stories that touch me. I want high stakes. I want to see storytellers expose a raw nerve and be vulnerable. I’ve heard some declare these kinds of stories – and honestly, in my most cynical moments, I have agreed – as free therapy for the teller, unloading personal traumas onto the audience. So be it.
A few months ago, I gave myself a challenge to present stories that didn’t dig up painful memories from the past, to tell stories that take place more in the present, and were more or less more positive. I’ve found that actually excites me very little.
My new challenge to myself this year is to feel free to write and talk about my tragedies, but present them from the perspective of how it’s shaped me today and lessons gleamed from them – something that is very often missing from my stories as I’ve presented them. I want to take this approach because, like I said, it’s the stories where the teller is incredibly vulnerable that touch me the most.
“Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.” – Thornton Wilder, The Angel That Troubled the Waters