5.32 Storytelling

Listen, I know I’m going on and on about this whole live storytelling thing, but I’m telling you, it’s a pretty wild scene. I’m just coming off performing at two storytelling events in three days and am left feeling quite exhilarated by the experiences. It feels good to be a part of this growing community and I’m proud of the work I’m putting out there. This past Saturday was the third Stories We Don’t Tell, a monthly event that brings together people sharing vulnerable stories. Sometimes funny, sometimes intense, the stories ranged from exploring family history, teenaged experiences, breakups and what happens when you shit yourself on a beach in front of a group of people. I felt very privileged to be on the roaster alongside Stefan Hostetter, Gillian Burt, Brianne Benness, Will Mattfeld-Sarbaugh and Wafa Ktaech.

I shared a story about a break up of mine from two years ago. The story is from my upcoming book The Walking Man and I think it went over well. When I was working on this story, I kept wondering to myself, “Why is this relationship and the ending of it, so important to me? Why am I still so affected by it? Why am I still thinking about it?”

I don’t know if I got any answers, but the piece ends with me speaking to this person I was in a relationship with. I was able to talk to her, to tell her what I wished I had two years ago. When I was reading the story to that roomful of people, I imaged that she was standing at the back of the room. No one knew who she was, no one knew she was who I was talking to. And I imaged that when I finished, she quietly walked out of the room. And I imagined that she finally heard what I’ve been holding in my heart for two years. I could let it go. Here is what I said. To provide context, the story took place in Cuba after the relationship ended. This was my last day there when I went into the ocean:

What would you say to someone knowing that this was the last time you would ever see them? There were high winds making big waves. The waves started coming one after the other, and I jumped through them and over them, until one hit me like a fist, pulled me with it.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t be the person you wanted. What is making this difficult for me is that there is nothing to point to, no one cheated, no real fights, no throwing of things. Nothing to focus my anger or hurt at except that you’re gone.

Under the surface, my mouth filled with water, the wind was knocked out of me.

I’m not here to convince you to stay if you are not happy. This is what I try to do: make people happy. But I can’t control someone else’s happiness. There is more to a relationship and who I am as a person is not what you want. I tried to adapt and fit into what you desired, but in doing this, I didn’t give you what was important. I couldn’t give you what you needed from me. And I understand that someone can fall silently, and incrementally, out of love, one day at a time. And it’s not their fault. It’s no one’s fault.

I decided to move with the water instead of against it. I let the waves carry me into shore a bit and then I stood, allowing them to crash into me. I stood until the wind died down, and the waves slowed, settled, gracefully touched the palms of my outstretched hands. And I let the water flow around me, and I let go, I want to let go, I want to let you go…

The second storytelling event I did was about online dating called Tinder Tales. When I walked into the bar, I knew this was a very different audience then I was used to and immediately my anxiety level shot through the roof. As the night progressed, my blood pressure was getting higher and higher. But also, hey, I’ve done this before and I can figure out the room. Right?

A strange thing happened and I learned a great lesson. I was performing near the end and while the other people were going on, I kept thinking of ways I should adjust my story to suit the crowd. But then I realized that I needed to stick to my story, that it’s a good story and I should get them to come around to me. So, I got up on stage and looked out to the noisy crowd. I waited for them to die down. I started speaking in my slow, deliberate way.

I trusted my words and my story.

About halfway through the story, I felt myself watching what was happening. I noticed that everyone was really quiet. My immediate reaction was, “Shit, why’re they being so quiet?” And then I realized that they were quiet because they were listening to me. I quickly grabbed myself floating above my head in this out of body experience and kept the story on track. Again, I think it went well.

I don’t know if I’m getting the hang of this storytelling thing or not. What I do know is that it’s a damn fun time. I had to start somewhere and I hope to be getting better every time out. So, yes, I know I’ve been talking about this a lot lately, but you’ll probably be hearing even more about it in the future.