Three more places to tell stories or just listen :)

Hi Everyone,

One last email to let you know of three great opportunities to listen or tell your own story. The first two are A Guide to Visitors and Drunken Telegraph. We’ve had lot of FGS tellers work with these shows when they want to expand and deepen their stories. Send them an email describing your story to see if it will fit with what they have coming up. Neither show has advertized these themes yet but I talked with the producers and they told me what their next topics were going to be.

Theme: “Don’t Call it a Comeback”

Theme: “That’s All Folks! Stories of Endings, Goodbyes and Moving On”.

Below is a meetup that I think would be a good way for people to ease their way into storytelling. It’s more casual than our show and they only have room for a dozen or so people. It’s not a storytelling show but it will give you a chance to speak and share a story without being onstage. It sounded like a good thing so I’m including it here. Below is the description they sent me. Send them an email for more information.

“In the style of Fresh Ground Stories meets Conversation Cafe we’ll be starting a monthly storytelling meet-up that centers around a central theme/question and begins with a brief icebreaker before we give people time to then tell their stories (optional of course). We will end with sharing insights based on what was shared by others. This meet-up offers a chance to meet new people, practice listening, and learn from others by sharing stories of personal experiences.

Listeners and Storytellers welcome. We have room for 12 (this time) and a bigger space to grow into (next month) in our conveniently located Eastside Venue near the Whole Foods in Bellevue. RSVP if you can really make it this first time or another.”

Fresh Ground Stories: Fish Out Of Water – Stories of not fitting in

I can’t believe I thought this was going to be an easy topic for me to write about. There are so many ways in which I feel separate from the world I figured I could choose any of them and bang out a quick couple of paragraphs. But you know if you sit with the feeling separation and loneliness long enough you’ll start thinking about the roots of those feelings.

I’ve talked a lot about how my mom was a New York Jew (I’m pretty sure they have their own genus and species) and that she was very much an anomaly in Alaska where I grew up. What I haven’t talked about is the religion she joined in her mid 30s that brought her to Alaska.

Two years before I was born my mother became a member of the Baha’i Faith. She was living in Beverly Hills at the time and making her living as an actress. For some reason she gave up her career in TV and moved to Alaska to be a pioneer for the Baha’is. She met my dad the day she arrived and they were soon married. But that didn’t lessen her zeal for bringing the faith to the Last Frontier.

She spent the rest of her life flying around the state in tiny planes bringing her religion to Aleuts, Inupiats, Athabascans and the occasional white person. Naturally, she would drag me along with her as we knocked on doors, hosted meetings in remote fishing villages and basically coordinated the statewide shock-and-awe treatment for the Alaskan wilderness.

All of this was incredibly embarrassing for me. Even as a kid I knew how annoying we must have been. What made it even weirder was that mom always managed to combine her love of acting with her spirituality. As an icebreaker in these little towns she would often perform one-woman shows that included bits of Shakespeare, a few Greek Tragedies, and then wrap it all up with a monologue from Faust. In 19 years I don’t think she made a single convert. On the positive side she did manage to introduce the people of Alaska to the art of absurdity.

Bringing friends over to the house was equally embarrassing. When David Mason walked by the big photo of Baha’u’llah we had hanging in the living room I told him it was a photo of my grandfather. When Doug Sherwood saw the Arabic writing on the wall in the hallway I told him it was an art project my mom did in college.

I desperately wanted my mom to go back to being Jewish because at least the kids at school knew what Jews were. I wanted to be able to point to Mel Brooks and Joan Rivers and say those are my people. I loved the Jews my mom made me read and watch in the movies. Culturally she was still Jewish. But spiritually she was a Baha’i and it made me hide that part of my life from everyone outside the faith.

As I got older I slowly pulled away from religion in general. Mom died when I was 17 and that was the last thing keeping me connected in any way to organized faith. Aside from a few close friends, I’ve never told anyone how deeply embarrassing it was to knock on people’s doors and talk about religion. I was always a shy kid but this made me go even further into my shell and those feelings of not wanting to bother anyone affect me to this day.

One of the few places I do feel comfortable opening up is at this show. You guys have been so supportive of mine and everyone else’s stories that I’m hoping some of you will share your own experiences of not fitting in.

Tell us about a time when you felt alone and out of place. How did you deal with it? Did you come to terms with being an outsider or did you finally figure out a way to join them?

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 on friends or pets and keep it under 8 minutes.

Rules & Guidelines:

I hope to see you at our next show on Thursday, May 28, 7:00pm at the Roy St Cafe.


PS – I’ll be sending out another email right after this one with three other places for you guys to tell stories. Stay tuned!

Thank you!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday. Almost half the storytellers were first-timers! I love it when new people get up there so nervous at first and by the end of their story they can’t wait to do it again.

Now that Barb has told us about how she came to Seattle I am now going to drive as slow as I can past that little bridge house and hope to catch a glimpse of her practicing her next story. I can’t believe I forgot to ask her how you get a job raising and lowering bridges. I can raise and lower my hopes and self-esteem about 45 times a day. Does that count?

Zoe told a great story about hanging with Bella Abzug in NYC in the 60s and 70s. She doesn’t know this but I use the name Bella Abzug about once a year in the hopes that someone recognizes it. I heard Johnny Carson use her name once in his monologue and I thought, “What a great name! I have to know who that person is.” Then I found out who she was and was unable to use that information for the next 30 years because I never met anyone else who had ever heard of her. But now I have Zoe and she can fill me in on all the social activists I’ve heard of but never knew much about. See what this show does? I’ve talked to Zoe a bunch of times and had no idea she was such a rabble rouser.

Peter, another first-timer, told about how he got out of his car to talk to find out why this one homeless man he drove by day after day seemed so happy. He was so struck with the man’s story that he ended up making a film about him. Peter promised to give me the link to the film when he’s done with the final editing. I loved Peter’s story about it and I can’t wait to see the video.

Right now I’m looking at a little scrap of paper where I wrote, “Use your pain to do something good.” It’s a quote from Peter’s story. It reminded me of what this show is all about. There’s always at least one moment during these shows where I write something down that I want to remember long after everyone has gone home. Thank you Peter. And thank Shadow for me next time you see him.

Jonathan, that was the best Jewish, vegan, Christmas story I’ve ever heard :) Lleyn, we definitely need to hear more about Miss America. Marjorie, you make me wish my parents had named me Ramon. I’m pretty sure my life would have been a lot different. David, Jill, Taran, Connie, Ginger, Kevin, thank you for all your stories that night. I could write another 500 words about each of them but my doctor says it’s important that I spend at least 20 minutes a day away from the computer so I’ll wrap this up here and see if I can remember where the front door is.

The recording came out fine so I’ll be able to give the storytellers a copy of their performance if they want it. I only give out the audio to the people who told a story and it’s only the audio of their own story. Most tellers don’t want their personal stuff online so that’s why I only give copies to the people who told them.

I’ll be writing up the official invite for next month’s show in the next few days. The theme is Fish Out of Water – Stories of not fitting in.

Thanks again to everyone who shared a little bit of their lives onstage and to everyone in the audience who supported them.

See you on May 28th!


Fresh Ground Stories: Who Do You Think You Are – Stories that define you

Twenty-nine years ago I went in search of my mother’s ghost. Three years after she died I packed up everything I owned and moved from Alaska to Beverly Hills to find the friends she had left there 20 years earlier. I wanted to find out why she gave up her career in Hollywood to become a missionary for the Baha’i Faith. I also wanted to know what she was like before she met my father and had me. I wanted to know if she had been happier. There was no family left on my mother’s side so her old friends in LA were my only link to her.

This was before cell phones and the internet so it took months of driving around checking phone books, calling old numbers in a faded address book, and trying to remember the names of the old friends she would talk about when I was growing up. When I was a kid and the Rockford Files would come on she’d point to the screen and say, “Oh, that’s Leo. We used to lay on the beach together and wait for our agents to call.” Sometimes I’d be watching the Love Boat or Charlie’s Angels and she’d say, “That’s David, we used to love to go dancing together.”

As desperately as I wanted to find someone who knew my mom I couldn’t just walk the streets of Los Angeles asking strangers if they knew the guy who was in that one episode of Barney Miller. After months of couch surfing and living in my car I finally found her best friend from those days, Mrs. Quigley. Mrs. Quigley was the person who introduced her to the Baha’i Faith and inspired her to move to Alaska to become a missionary. When I got her on the phone I told her who I was and that I’d like to meet her to find out more about my mom. She gave me her address and I drove right over.

A short Latino woman opened the door and I thought I had the wrong house. I knew Mrs. Quigley wasn’t Latino. That’s when I realized I was talking to her maid. I had never seen a maid before. I had never seen any kind of servant. But Mrs. Quigley lived in Beverly Hills and her husband produced Hollywood Squares so they had servants.

Mrs. Quigley made her entrance from the top of a curved stairway and brought me into the dining room to talk. The house was full of expensive art and antiques. And Emmy Awards. It was full of those too.

We sat down at the dinner table and I began asking her questions about my mom. What was she like? Was she happy with her career? Did she get along with her parents? Did she ever talk about having kids? She was so angry and miserable in Alaska. Was she always like that? She grew up Jewish in The Bronx and made her living as an actress in LA. Why did she become a Baha’i and move to the north pole?

You know what Mrs. Quigley told me about my mother? Nothing. Not one thing. She barely remembered her. It was devastating. All this for nothing. At one point she asked me if I had plans to go into show business. I said I hadn’t decided yet. She leaned over closely and whispered, “It’s very hard this business. Almost impossible to succeed in. Give it five years. If you haven’t made it by then you should move on.” She leaned back, satisfied she had given me something far more valuable than anything I could ever find out about my mom.

As I looked up I could see the Emmy Awards shining under the lights behind her. The servants came and took away our plates. The chef came out and asked if we wanted creme brulee or tiramisu for dessert. I wondered if this was the speech she had given my mom. Show business had worked out for Mrs. Quigley so she didn’t have to go to Alaska and fly into fishing villages to teach Aleuts about the Baha’i Faith.

I left LA with more questions than I arrived with and decided I would just make up what I wanted about who I was and where I came from. I wasn’t mad at Mrs. Quigley. She seemed genuine and I never felt anything but disappointment that my mother thought they were closer friends than the actually were.

That year in LA made a big impression on me. It drove home how truly alone I was. I had no relatives than I knew of and a father who cared for me but I had not yet forgiven for leaving years earlier. So I went back to Alaska, got a job, got a degree, and slowly created a life that included vague second-hand memories of my mother growing up in New York and occasionally watching her on TV in episodes of Dennis the Menace and Bewitched.

Until last Friday when my cousin Bernie found me on Facebook. Who is Cousin Bernie? Who knows? You know him as well as I do. It turns out my mother’s sister Mona is still alive at 89 and her two sons, Eric and Bernie, have found me online.

Bernie and I have been writing back and forth every day and I have already found the answer to the question I’ve thought about since I was a kid. Why was my mother so angry?

The answer is, as Bernie says, “It’s in our genes!” Apparently my grandfather, while capable of great acts of love, also had a temper and this lovely bit of DNA was passed down to my mom. It skipped Aunt Mona, me and thankfully my son but the gene for volcanic temper is what’s responsible for how I grew up. That’s why nothing I did ever made it better. It’s taken all these years but I finally believe that her anger had nothing to do with me. It had nothing to do with my dad or Mrs. Quigley or Alaska or the Baha’is or anything else. It was just how she was built. Bernie doesn’t know it but those words changed everything. I get to move on now.

And now you know why I don’t tell my own stories at this show. We’d be there till midnight, right? This show is about you guys and I can’t wait to hear your own stories about the things that made you who you are today.

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 on friends or pets and keep it under 8 minutes.

Rules & Guidelines:

I hope to see you at our next show on Thursday, April 23, 7:00pm at the Roy St Cafe.

Attendance has been fantastic lately but the cafe is getting a little worried about fire codes and safety and such. I’ll probably have to limit attendance to around 110. Of course there’s no way for me to actually do that so just be mindful when the RSVP list gets close to 100. I hurts to tell anyone to wait for the next show to roll around but until I can convince Roy Street to take out the wall they share with the FedEx next door we gotta make sure we don’t upset the fire marshal.



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