Fresh Ground Stories: Tiny Acts – Stories of little things that changed everything

Last year I drove past a street person who was walking up and down one of the I-5 on-ramps here in Olympia. He was yelling at people on the street below and screaming at cars as they sped past him. I edged closer to other side of ramp so I wouldn’t hit him as I drove by. As I pulled onto the freeway I thought, “Man, I gotta call that guy in. He’s going to wander in front a car and get hit.”

But then I thought, “Nah, I have this ancient flip phone that I gotta dig out of my pocket. It doesn’t have voice-activated calling. I’ll probably get a ticket for driving and talking. I’ll let the guy behind me call. He’s probably got a smart phone he can use without even taking it out of his pants.”

I always assume people with iPhones can do anything just by yelling at their crotch. So I drive off to Costco or Target or wherever I was going and forgot about the guy on the bridge.

Thirty minutes later I’m driving home and the whole freeway is backed up. I make a quick exit just before I get to the backup and as I’m driving down the access road along the side of the freeway I see what’s causing the traffic jam. It’s the guy I drove past earlier. He’s on the edge of the overpass threatening to jump. Police are there trying to talk him down. Paramedics are on the freeway below getting ready in case he jumps. Dozens of people are standing on another bridge a hundred feet away watching all of it unfold.

At this point I’m overwhelmed with guilt. I may not have put him there on that bridge but I drove past him when he needed help and in some ways that feels even worse. So I pull over in a secluded part of the access road and watch the police try to talk him down. I know if he jumps that it’s going to stay with me forever.

Every few minutes the guy turns away from the police and faces the empty space between his feet and the ground below. He waves his arms as though he’s about to step off and then a cop says something that catches his attention and he turns back around. This is how it goes. Back and forth. Over and over.

I’m scared that if he jumps it will trigger memories of my own struggle with suicide years ago. I can’t go through that again. I know I should leave for my own well being but I don’t. I’m praying that he doesn’t step off that ledge but if he does I need to pay for it. I had a chance to help him and I didn’t.

As I’m watching the guy on the bridge a pickup truck pulls over and parks behind my car. A couple jumps out and joins me on the side of the road. I suddenly get very nervous. I know what people say when they’re stuck in traffic because of a suicide attempt. They get nasty. I’ve heard all the stories where people say the most horrible things.

“Jump already.”

“Quit stalling and do it.”

“Why can’t these idiots do it at home?”

This couple standing next to me were walking cliches of everything I didn’t want to see at this moment. Giant pickup. Duel muffler pipes sticking up behind the cab. Probably had a picture of Calvin on the tailgate peeing on something. May or may not have had a confederate flag in the back window.

The woman was thin with stringy hair. She jumped out of the truck almost before it stopped so she could catch the action. The guy was tall and broad and looked like Thor if Thor listened to Kid Rock and Lynard Skynard.

The lady walked up to the fence where I was standing and I started muttering to myself, “Please don’t say it. Please don’t say it.” I was looking at the guy on the overpass but all my attention was on the woman next to me. I thought, “Lady, I cannot handle it if you say what I think you’re going to say.”

As she curled her fingers around the chain link fence she whispered, “Please don’t jump. You don’t have to do this.” Then the man walked up and put his hands on her shoulders and said, “He’ll be ok, honey. He’ll be ok.”

That’s when I had to leave. In the past hour I had driven past a man who needed help and judged two decent human beings based purely on their looks. What good was I doing anyone here? I needed to go home and think about what led me to do those things.

I found out later the police had talked the guy down and he was taken to the hospital. At least I didn’t have to live with the consequences of what could have happened. But that moment with that couple on the side of the road has stuck with me. Somewhere in Thurston county there’s a couple in a pickup rocking out to Freebird who showed me there are good people everywhere and that the world is not as cold as I think it is.

And that’s the kind of story we’re looking for at this month’s show Thursday, February 25, 7pm at Roy Street Coffee and Tea.

Tell us about about a time when someone said or did something that changed the way you see things. I have a feeling that if we look back at the turning points in our lives we’ll find that it was the little things, said or unsaid, done or not done, that sent us down a different path.

The rules for stories are below but you know the kind we’re looking for: true stories that happened to you that still mean something to you days, months or years later.

Remember to practice out loud, make sure it’s under 8 minutes and that’s it’s clean enough to tell in a coffee shop (that means you have to cut out the F, S, D, and R bombs. I’m probably missing a few letters but you know what I mean.)

Rules & Guidelines: https://freshgroundstories.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/

I hope to see you there!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

 

Thank You

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday. I think we broke a record for number of storytellers on stage. I don’t usually put up that many but I wanted to get everyone up who I bumped the month before. Thank you for your patience. I know some of you had to leave at 8:30. I totally understand. I just didn’t want to send anybody home who had been practicing their story since December.

As always, we learned some valuable lessons at the show. Carin told us what happens when you chase New Jersey’s Biggest Cheese Wheel through an empty mall. Marjorie let us know that sometimes that sexy handyman you’ve had your eye on is actually a cat burglar. And Danielle showed us that the best way to make angry people like you is to knit them slippers.

Imagine what would happen if everyone in the world knitted slippers for the person who hates them the most! Let’s face it. You cannot be intimidating in slippers. Especially knitted slippers. Even if you were still angry after putting on your slippers you couldn’t pick up a weapon because you’d keep getting shocked from all the static electricity. Danielle, you may have just saved the world.

Special thanks to the first-timers who got onstage and told stories: Gaylin, Carin, Frank and Leigh. Gaylin came to the first storytelling workshop Bill Bernat held last month and got some great feedback on the story she ended up telling Thursday. I would love to see more people show up at Bill’s workshop. It’s free, it’s at a nice little coffee shop in Ravenna and it’s a great way to work on your story with a friendly bunch of people. Here’s the link if you want to join the meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories-Storytelling-Workshop/

If you’d like to see a wickedly funny-but-also-very-touching show you can get a ticket to see Bill do his one-man storytelling show “Becoming More Less Crazy” here: http://morelesscrazy.com/

Yes, that was a shameless plug. But it’s a great show with fantastic storytelling so I’m happy to pass on the link. I’ve been twice and I might go again. If it’s worth me driving up from Olympia then it’s worth a drive across town.

Here is another cool storytelling-related thing. Six months ago a first-time storyteller named Carol got up and told a story that cracked me right across the heart. She talked about how uncomfortable she is with feelings and what that has cost her.

It may not come across in the audio but we could see her struggling onstage to say these things and open up in front a hundred strangers. I loved her honesty so much I asked her later if I could put her story up on our Facebook page. She wasn’t comfortable with that so I never put it up. I lost track of her after our correspondence.

A couple weeks ago I found out she just started a blog where she walks around Seattle solving little mysteries she finds along the way. I wrote to tell her I loved the idea and that I was happy she was starting to put her writing out there for the public. She said the reception she got from her story at FGS inspired her to start the blog.

Well, I just about dropped my coffee. Here’s a woman who suffered from debilitating anxiety attacks, found a way to work through them enough to go onstage a tell a story about it, and now, because of how supportive the audience was when she was up there she’s now going around town talking to strangers and writing about it. I don’t know what to say. Just by being kind and patient with a new storyteller you guys inspired her to go out and do something she’s never done. Thank you for making this such a special show.

Carol just gave me permission to put up the audio from her story back in June so look for that in a day or two. In the meantime, here is one of the stories from her blog:

Invisible

Here’s our Facebook page if you need it:  https://www.facebook.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories-316944020508/

Thanks to everyone who got up and told a story that night: Jenny, Elliot, Barb, Gary, Marjorie, Connie (our favorite owl whisperer), Bill, Gaylin, Peter, Randy, Frank, Danielle, Chris, Leigh, Carin, and David (I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone)

The recording from last week’s show came out fine so I can give each of the storytellers a copy of their performance if they want it. I only give them to the people who told a story and it’s just the audio of their own story. Most performers don’t want their personal stories online so that’s why I only give copies to the people who told them

I hope to see a bunch of you at our next show which is February 25, 7pm at Roy Street Coffee and Tea. The them is “Tiny Things – Little things people said or did that made a difference in your life.”

I know, it’s a little wordy. I’ll write up the official invite this weekend and get it down to a manageable length :)

See you soon,

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Fresh Ground Stories: Starting Over – Stories of Renewal

Well, once again I’ve chosen a theme for the show that in my personal life I’ve been trying very hard to avoid. Why do I keep doing this? My therapist, who reads all these invitations, is probably writing something down right now that she will casually bring up in next week’s session.

I hate starting over. I’d rather quit forever than start over. My motto is, “If at first you don’t succeed then you’ve probably already reached your potential.” Instead of thinking of it as another chance to get something right I always think of it as a failure to get it right the first time. I realize this is not the healthiest way to go through life. It’s probably why strangers come up to me on the street and ask if I’m ok. (true) Or why well-meaning co-workers walk into my cube and say, “What are you doing here?” (Only half-true. Yesterday one of them called instead of coming over to tell me that he felt I was “grossly underutilized” and that I should find a way to “monetize my skill set.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I have no idea what my skill set is.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’m awfully hard on myself. A few months ago my friend Chris said one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. She said, “If I had gone though all the stuff you did I’d be messed up too.” You might think that was an insult but to me it was like an unexpected kiss from the prettiest girl in school. She wasn’t saying that I was a complete screwup. She was letting me know that she understood where all my fears and misguided beliefs came from and that anyone else would have ended up the same way. It felt so good to hear that!

Thanks to people like Chris, Barb, John, Michael, Emily, Diane and Michaela I am going to try something different this year. Really different. I’m going to try to treat myself the way I treat others. I have no idea how I’m going to do this. It’s scary and completely foreign. This is somersaults-on-a-slackline-over-the-Grand-Canyon-while-texting kind of stuff for me. It’s emotional Parkour and Relentless Compassion Therapy. (Should I trademark that? Can I monetize it?)

Luckily, I’ve already figured out how to begin this new therapy. I’m going to start writing with pens again. Two years ago I stopped writing with pens and started using pencils. I had no idea why at the time but I just couldn’t bear to write anything down in ink. I didn’t think much about it at the time I just knew I had this strong, sudden aversion to pens. Now it seems perfectly rational. I had lost all confidence that anything I wrote was worth keeping. Every time I picked up a pen I felt like a phony, a con man. So I switched to soft pencils that smeared and smudged and made every note, joke, story and thought seem temporary and barely worth a second look. I know now it wasn’t just the writing I didn’t believe in. It was me. It was the idea that I mattered.

But now I’m back on the ink. I’ve only been using the old pens for a few days now but it feels good. I found my old Bic Velocity with the 1.6mm tip and Easy-Glide ink flow system that’s working pretty well but I have my eye on the Sanford uni-ball Jetstream that’s been sitting on my nightstand since 2012. I sold pens and pencils for eight years and let me tell you, you won’t find a pen with better action then the old Jetstream.

Every time a new storyteller comes up to me before the show and whispers that they’re not sure anyone wants to hear their story I tell them that I want to hear it and if it’s important to them it’s important to me. If I can say that to a stranger than I can say that to myself. It’s going to be weird for a while, telling myself that I belong not scribbled in pencil in the margins of people’s lives but in the center, underlined in ball point pen.

Starting Over is the theme for this month’s show. Bring a story about how you had to start over or somehow reinvent yourself. Did you move to another town? Change your look or your beliefs? If it’s true then it’s worth sharing ‘cos we’re all probably starting over or wishing we could in some way.

The next show is Thursday, January 28 at 7pm at Roy Street Coffee and Tea. The rules for stories are below but you know the kind we’re looking for: true stories that happened to you personally that still mean something to you days, months or years later.

Remember to keep it clean and under 8 minutes. And unlike this invitation, your story should have a beginning, middle and an end.

Rules & Guidelines: https://freshgroundstories.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/

I hope to see you there.

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

 

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