Thank You

Thank you everyone who came out to the show Thursday. We had some amazing new people show up and tell stories and I am always touched when that happens. Where do they come from? How do they find us? I have no idea. But I’m glad they do.

Jake, I hope I never have to find out what’s it like to be robbed at gunpoint. Walking us through those moments and telling us how you coped with it afterward meant a lot to me. Thank you for having the courage to relive that day on stage for us.

Jude, I was honored to give you the Banana Bread of Bravado. Thank you for reminding us never to get sick on Vashon Island and that sometimes a green smoothie is the best medicine. I am getting the Vitamix out of the cupboard this morning and dosing myself with berries and kale.

Paul M shared a story about how he always wanted to be pecked to death by ravens and how an encounter with a bear changed his end-of-life plans. Don’t take this the wrong way but I hope I never see you in a National Geographic under the headline, “Bear Eats Man That Looks Like Bear.” Try not to go camping dressed like a berry or smelling like a salmon, ok?

Jenny, my friend, thank you for coming all the way up from Olympia to share that story with us. I’ve known you for years and have always wanted to know you better. Now I feel like I do. At least a little. You know I’m going to do my best to get you and Amy to make that drive and come back again.

I can’t thank everyone individually but I want to take a minute to thank two regulars who came out and told two fantastic stories. They couldn’t have been more different but they were each beautiful in their own way. Ginger, thank you for showing me how little I really know about the people in my life and what they carry with them as they walk through their days.

Nathan, that was one of the funniest stories we’ve ever heard at FGS. Not only was it funny it seemed completely effortless. I felt bad that we ran out of time last month and I had to bump you but the wait was worth it. Thank you for coming back and throwing your name in Mr. Coffee!

Before I let you guys go I want to apologize for having to bump three tellers this month: Marjorie, Cavan and Sea. I’ve heard them all tell before and it hurts to end any show with names still in Mr. Coffee. I hope your stories can fit into next month’s theme or the one after that. I managed to get two more tellers than we usually have up there but there was just no way I could fit everyone in that night.

Thanks again to all the people who told stories: David S, Bill B, Nathan, Jake, Jenny, Paul M, Ginger, Paul B, Kauni, Deborah, Jude, and Margaret.

I’ll get the invitation for next month’s show out as soon as I can. It’ll probably hit your inbox sometime next weekend. The theme is Comfort Zone – Stories of making yourself uncomfortable. Or something like that. I’ll make it clear in the invite :)

See you at Roy Street on September 24!

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Fresh Ground Stories: Dusting Yourself Off – Stories of Getting back up

I used to hate it when people would tell me about some horrifying trauma they went though and then at the end say, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” It sounded crazy. How could a triple hernia with a side of shingles be the best thing ever?

One time a friend sent me a video of a guy shouting into the camera, “Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me!” I remember thinking, “Pal, you need to raise the bar a little bit. If cancer is the best thing I’d hate the see what’s 23rd on your list. The time you went skinny dipping in the piranha tank? The night you did all those shots of tequila and chased them with expired milk?” I mean, what didn’t make the list?

Some of you know how my stories go so you won’t be surprised to hear that tonight, about 30 minutes ago, I turned into one of those grateful-it-happened guys.

In 2012, my girlfriend left me and I came very close to ending my life. You know those Palestinian women who scream and wail at their son’s funeral and throw themselves into the grave? I was like one of those women except the grave was my heart and I almost didn’t climb back out.

After months of intense therapy, countless late-night walks with friends, and some pharmacological wizardry, I started to pull myself together. Little by little I started leaving the house more. I began talking to people at work about the weather and the state of the lunch room fridge. I started eating again.

But there was one thing I needed to do before I could honestly say I was solidly on the road to recovery. I had to stop being afraid. I wasn’t afraid of one thing I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of talking to strangers in a coffee shop and I was afraid of dying alone. I was afraid of coming back five minutes late from lunch at my day job and I was afraid of telling people I went to support groups so I wouldn’t hurt myself when I went home. The world was a dangerous place. Nothing and no one was safe.

The most embarrassing memories I have are how I handled the breakup. I was a wreck. The level of self-harm I reached astonishes me even now. It had nothing to do with her. It had everything to do with me. In the history of love, there have been far worse ways to end a relationship. There were no fights. No yelling at each other. There was just an ending to something I never thought would end. The pain went through me like the Wehrmacht through Warsaw.

I knew the only way to make sure I wouldn’t crumble like that again was to build inner strength by doing the scariest things I could think of. I don’t mean skydiving or alligator wrestling. I mean the stuff that shakes your soul and rattles your will.

I asked the World’s Angriest Yoga Teacher out on a date

I unfriended my ex so I wouldn’t be tempted to check up on her

I started telling people at work that I was no longer with The Woman Everyone Adored

I got onstage in a little room in Tacoma and told the story of my recovery

I asked that girl on the second floor if she’d like to go out for coffee

I told my son about the night I almost left him without a father

You know what happened when I did all that? I got stronger. Even when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted I got stronger. I broke up with the World’s Angriest Yoga Teacher when I decided I’d rather learn to be alone than learn to ignore insults. I knew after that cup of coffee with the lady on the second floor that we wouldn’t be a good match and I quietly stopped flirting with her. I began accepting invitations to share my story at shows about mental health issues to let people know they weren’t alone.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it until yesterday. Yesterday I did something that almost made me pass out. Tonight I did something even scarier.

Yesterday on my lunch hour I walked to the library. While I stood in the magazine section I saw my ex checking out books at the counter. I hadn’t spoken to her in over two years. I started hyperventilating.

When I was a kid I read about acts of bravery the Lakota Indians called counting coup. The greatest act of bravery was touching an enemy warrior in battle and escaping unharmed. I knew immediately this was what I had to do. The ultimate test of courage. Walk up to my ex-girlfriend and say hello.

I walked up and gently touched her elbow. I said, “Hi.”

And then I ran to the self-help section. I could barely make out her, “Hey!” as I dove into the stacks and grabbed a random book off the shelf. I was hoping it would be, “What To Do When She’s Right Over There” or “Counting Coup for Dummies.” I have no idea what book it was. I couldn’t focus my eyes and my hands were shaking. It’s possible I wasn’t even holding it right side up.

I snuck a look over at the counter where she had finished checking out and and saw her smile and wave. And then she left.

Tonight, I was feeling pretty good. Pretty damn good. I had touched the enemy in battle and escaped unharmed. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t really the enemy and that I was more in danger of passing out from not breathing than I was from being wounded in battle. I did the hardest thing I could think of and survived.

Then I went to Costco. You may not think of Costco as place of spiritual growth but there are things that happen in the aisles of America’s biggest retail membership warehouse that cannot be explained through price points and volume purchasing.

The first thing I headed for the was the balsamic vinegar. I eat a lot of salad and I buy oil and vinegar in bottles the size of a water tower. As I turned the corner and headed down the aisle I saw her. She was standing by the almonds. Five feet from the vinegar. Her back was to me and I could have turned and run but instead I stopped, took a breath, and walked forward.

I was a few feet away when she turned and saw me. We walked up and touched each other on the arm. She asked how I was doing and I said great. I asked how she was doing and she said good. We talked for a minute or two and then hugged. I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too.

When I got home I wrote her an email thanking her for everything that happened. She was the only one who could knock me down hard enough to change my life. She has no idea what I went thought after we broke up and there’s no reason for me to ever tell her. Tonight I got a chance to apologize for things I needed to apologize for and to let her know that I wouldn’t change a single thing about that night in 2012. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

And that is what I’m hoping you guys will come and tell a story about. “Dusting Yourself Off – Stories of getting back up.”

When was the last time you got knocked down and climbed back to your feet? How did you do it? Are you grateful or angry? Was it long ago or last Tuesday? There will definitely be people in the audience that night who are still down. Maybe your story will help them get back up.

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

I hope to see you at our next show on Thursday, August 27, 7:00pm at the Roy St Cafe.

Paul
freshgroundstories@gmail.com

David’s story

Here is David’s story about his father. There’s no way to capture the magic of seeing it live but I wanted to put it up here anyway as a way of saying thank you to David for putting so much of his heart onstage.

As he told this story he was holding a lighted yahrzeit candle. It’s a small memorial candle that Jews light in memory of the dead. At the end of the story he said good-bye to his father and blew it out.

I never met David’s father but it was a special moment for me knowing that there’s a bunch of people I get together with once a month where this can happen.

Paul

 

Fresh Ground Stories: Figuring it Out – Stories of Discovery

We have this machine at work where you put in a quarter, turn a knob, and a handful of trail mix comes out. The other day I put in a quarter, turned the knob, and got one nut. Do you know what it’s like to expect a handful of candy, raisins, seeds and almonds and end up with a single peanut?

A few years ago I would have considered this a Sign From The Gods. I would have spent the rest of the week wondering if it meant a) I would always be alone, b) no matter what I did I would never get what I want, or c) the universe considers me a lone nut on the grassy knoll of love.

This time, though, I didn’t slip into any of those emotional sinkholes. I still think of my little peanut as a metaphor, but I choose to think of it as a reminder that I already have everything I need.

This is a big change for me. I can twist the most innocent coincidence into believing I’m living under the influence of an irreversible Gypsy curse. Can’t find a parking space? It means there’s no place for me in this world. Break a shoelace? It means I need to loosen up and I’m not going anywhere until I do.

It’s hard to tell when all this started but I know when started to end. It was the day I met Heather.

I had been dating off and on for a couple of years after a long-term relationship ended but hadn’t found anyone I really clicked with. I’d met a lot of wonderful women but I didn’t connect strongly with any of them. It was getting depressing. I started to feel like the last slice of pizza in the box. The one nobody wants to take. I could feel myself slowly slipping into that emotional quicksand.

Then one day I read an article about a lady in Portland who was a professional cuddler. She had set up shop with three other woman in a little place on East Burnside and was charging $1/minute to snuggle up to people. I knew immediately I was going down there.

I don’t have a lot of memories from growing up but there is one I have from when I was around 12 that has always stuck with me. I was sitting on the couch with my mom watching TV one night when I leaned over and tried to snuggle up to her. As soon as my head touched her shoulder she pushed me away and said, “Get off me.”

My mother wasn’t a warm, cuddly person and it wasn’t the first time she had pushed me away. But it was definitely the last time. I didn’t say anything or make a big deal out of it. I just quietly decided never to ask for another hug. “Get off me.” How many times do you need to hear that before you decide to do whatever it takes to never hear it again?

This was the memory that flooded back when I saw the story about the lady in Portland. So I booked a session before I could talk myself out of it. It was going to be the first time I asked for a hug in 35 years.

A week later I found myself standing on the sidewalk outside a little shop on East Burnside with a drawing on the window of a big heart with arms wrapped around it. Was I really going to do this? Was I really going to walk in and ask a woman I’d never met to lay down on a bed with me in a little room and hold me for an hour?

I heard a little voice in my head say, “Get off me.” Then I walked in.

Samantha, the woman from the article, looked up and smiled and said, “You must be our three o’clock!”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” I said.

“Can I give you a hug?” she asked, getting up from her desk.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” I said, suddenly worried that I was out of practice. This is a professional hugger. What if I didn’t measure up?

She walked over to me and gave me one of the biggest hugs I’ve ever had. You know how toddlers run up and give you a hug with all their strength? That’s how Sam greeted me. Full body power hug. It was awesome. If Starbucks gave me a hug like that every time I walked in I would be up to 17 cups a day.

A moment later Heather walked up and said, “You must be Paul. Can I give you a hug?”

A free one? Just for walking in? Yes! After the hug she took me by the hand and brought me into the back of the shop for my screening session. Every person who comes in gets screened for, well, I don’t know. General creepiness? Overactive sweat glands? They make a copy of your driver’s license while you’re being interviewed so my name was probably being run through the FBI database to see if I was on some kind of No Hug list.

At this point Heather could sense my nervousness. It might have been the uncontrollable leg bounce I couldn’t hide under my coat or the terrified stare I was giving that copy of the “Cuddle Sutra” on the table in front of me. I had no idea there were so many ways to cuddle. I only knew two, “The Spoon” and “I Love You But I Can’t Feel My Arm.” How was I going to get through this?

I must not have been the first person to show signs of performance anxiety because Heather sat down next to me and looked me in the eye like a skydiving coach talking to a student before their first jump. “It only seems like we’re hurtling toward our death. I promise you the chute will open.”

Actually she said, “It’s going to be ok.”

“I guess I’m a little nervous,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “We’ll be all right.”

She had me read a long list of rules that made it very clear was acceptable and what was not. Everyone keeps their clothes on. No touching parts of the body highlighted in the drawing on page two. Nothing is given with a sexual intent. The cuddler can ask you to leave at any time if you make her feel uncomfortable. After I signed the list showing that I had read it she led me into a cozy room with a bed, a nightstand and a small lamp.

We laid down on the bed together and for the next hour we talked quietly and held each other. Because I knew we would never be romantically involved I was able to quiet the fears I always have when I’m with a woman. Does she really like me? Will I disappoint her? Is she only here until someone better comes along?

None of those things mattered because we were never going to see each other outside that room. She was there to hold me and make me feel like I was worth being held.

It was one of the best hours of my life.

Since then I’ve gone back three more times. I always see Heather and each session is as good as the one before. I understand that I’m paying for her to do this but there are benefits to that. Any other time I am this intimate with a woman it’s because we’re in a relationship. There are expectations with that as there should be.

Heather is the only person in my life who allows me to simply receive. And in learning to receive without guilt I’ve learned how important it is to give without expectations. I know it’s crazy to say I pay someone to teach me about giving without wanting anything in return. But that is what I’m doing. The heart is a funny thing. It grows under the weirdest conditions.

It’s hard to explain everything I’ve learned on my trips to Portland. All I know for sure is that there’s a lady on East Burnside who knows a lot about the heart. I pay her to show me what it feels like to be loved.

If any of you have a story about discovering something about yourself or the world I’d love for you to tell it at the next Fresh Ground Stories. Do you have a story about figuring out what you wanted to be when you grew up? Did you discover something about your family that led you to believe you’re the lost monarch of a small eastern European country? Maybe you figured out how to make a good omelette after 20 years of burned eggs. It doesn’t have to be the meaning of life. It just has to be something you care about. And it has to be in the form of a story which means you’ll need a beginning, middle and an end :)

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

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

Paul

freshgroundstories@gmail.com

Connie’s story

This is Connie. She’s never been onstage before but she somehow found to courage to get up and tell this story. It was a big step for her to talk about this in public and I’m proud of all the people who talked to her after the show and wrote her later on to say how much her story moved them.

This is her blog where she talks about what it meant to find a safe place to tell her story: https://natureofconscience.wordpress.com

At FGS the audience is as important as the storytellers. Without the love and patience you give each teller these stories would never come out.

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