Thoughts from my first Moth GrandSLAM

On Monday night, I had the honor of telling a story in The Moth GrandSLAM XXII as a result of winning a StorySLAM competition months earlier. It was an amazing night for me. I did not win, but I managed to come in third, which made me fairly happy.

Honestly, my only goal was to successfully take the stage and not embarrass myself.  In that, I think I succeeded.

Here are a few of my thoughts and recollections:

1. The Moth judges always seem to get these things right. Erin Barker told the best story of the evening and was quite deserving of the victory. It was an honor to grace the stage with such a fine storyteller.

Being the only female storyteller of the evening, it was also quite amusing and apropos when the storytellers gathered on the stage at the end of the show and she told us to, “Suck it, boys.”

Can’t help but admire everything about her.

2. Nervousness is an odd duck. I was not nervous about telling my story until I arrived at the Highline Ballroom. But having been in the audience for a GrandSLAM before, I suddenly realized the caliber of storyteller who would be on display this evening, and the butterflies erupted.

One of my friends said, “It’s kind of amazing that you are telling a GrandSLAM story. Don’t you think?”

I did, and that was the source of the sudden anxiety. I had seen great storytellers on this stage before, and I realized that I would have to somehow uphold this tradition.

Thankfully, my nervousness disappeared once the first storyteller took the stage. Listening to someone tell a story reminded me that all I needed to do was tell my story. It wasn’t exactly rocket science after all.

My nervousness returned as I waited to be introduced from backstage, but as soon as I was standing before the microphone, the nervousness was gone again. I am hoping that if I am ever fortunate enough to tell another story at a Moth GrandSLAM, I will remain calm throughout the evening.

Sadly, two of my fellow storytellers and GrandSLAM veterans assured me that this would not be the case.


3. Driving into the city from the middle of Connecticut immediately after work to tell a story sucks. Driving home at midnight sucks even more.

I am extremely envious of these New York-based storytellers.

That said, I am also exceptionally fortunate to have friends who are willing to spend hours in the car and arrive home after 1:30 AM on a weeknight in order to support me. I couldn’t be more thankful.

4. My wife’s parents, uncle and cousin attended their first Moth event last night, and like all first-time attendees, they both loved it and couldn’t believe that they had not heard about The Moth until now.

When I try to tell people who are unfamiliar with The Moth what I was doing on Monday night, it can be difficult. I often rely on The Moth’s “True stories told live without notes” tagline, but until you’ve been to a Moth event or listened to the podcast regularly, you can’t really understand the magic of The Moth.

5. Many people ask me how I prepare for an event like this.  Here’s my process:

In order to prepare for telling the story, I never actually speak the story in its entirety. I fear that if I were to practice the story verbatim, it would begin to sound too rehearsed.

Therefore my goal is to tell the story in its entirety for the first time while I am onstage. Instead of practicing the full story, I memorize my opening and closing paragraphs and the transitions that will carry me through the middle of the story, which is also the bulk of my story.

As a result, my stories are never delivered as I initially write them. This is fine. I am often adding, deleting and adjusting as I speak based upon the audience’s reaction and new thoughts that spring to mind while I am onstage.

But the drawback to this method is that it prevents me from accurately timing my story. Since I have a 5-6 minute time limit to tell my story, not knowing how long the story is going to be is unnecessarily stressful.

Last night I received a guitar strum at the five minute mark, warning me that I had a minute left, and I immediately began dumping details in order to reach the end. As a result, I may have to rethink my means of preparation in the future.

6. Elysha and I had the honor of sitting with storyteller Joshua Blau, who is also a CPA and father of five (including triplets). Josh was uncommonly generous with his time and advice. He is a veteran of the StorySLAM circuit, a former GrandSLAM storyteller, and one of his stories was featured on last week’s Moth podcast. It was great to sit and talk with such an all-around nice guy.

It was also a relief to see him fielding calls from his kids and struggling with nerves prior to taking the stage. He made me feel slightly more normal and a little less amateurish.

Josh also informed me that recordings of all Moth stories are available for purchase. I’m thrilled.

Years from now, I can play these recordings for Clara and revel in her disinterested and general apathy over her father’s glory days.

7.  The two people who host the show, Dan Kennedy and Jenifer Hixon, are remarkable people.

Dan remembered me from my StorySLAM performance months ago and was exceptionally kind with his remarks about me. He was also able to quote a line from my story verbatim the next day, which I found simultaneously stunning and incredibly humbling. The man is a true professional.

Jenifer was equally kind, taking an hour from her Saturday on the Jersey shore with her family to help me choose the right story for the GrandSLAM.  Jenifer produces the show, but more importantly, she makes the storytellers feel like welcomed members of the family. Seeing her smile at me as I stepped onstage was all I needed in order to feel confident about my performance.

The Moth is fortunate beyond measure to have these two people doing such good work for them.

8.  The Highline Ballroom is great, but it was freakin’ cold last night.