Thoughts from my second Moth GrandSLAM

Thanks so much for all of the interest in my performance at The Moth’s GrandSLAM on Tuesday night. Sorry it’s taken all day to sit down and write about it, but we arrived home late after the show and have been running around ever since.  

Suffice it to say that it was an odd evening for me. I finished second in terms of the competition, which is thrilling considering the caliber of competition on the stage that night but also frustrating after coming so close and losing by a few tenths of a point. 

But I also felt quite fortunate considering I did not come close to executing the story as I had planned.

As I took the stage to tell the story about an anonymous person’s attempt to destroy my teaching career, I became unexpectedly emotional, almost to the point of being unable to tell my story at all. I had to stop and start at least twice during the story, and at one point I thought I might not be able to continue. What was supposed to be an almost six minute story ended up coming in at less than five minutes as I found myself dropping entire paragraphs as a result of my inability to focus and concentrate.

I never expected to become so emotional about this story. I have told it many times before, and though it is still something I live with on a daily basis, I haven’t been emotional about it in a long, long time.

For the first time in my life, I felt like a mess onstage. This is not a feeling I wish to repeat ever again. While I work hard to bring an emotional component to my storytelling, I never want my emotions to get the best of me. It was a miracle I even made it through to the end with some semblance of the narrative intact.

Thankfully, it was the emotion that I managed to convey while butchering the actual story that appealed to both the judges and the audience in general. Several people told me that they had been moved to tears while listening to me, and the overall theme of my story seemed to connect with a great many people. 

While winning would have been great, I was fortunate to have done as well as I did. I will hopefully have an opportunity to tell that story again someday, perhaps in all its agonizing detail, and while I would like to convey the same emotion as I did last night, I would also like a chance to tell the story as I had originally planned.

This was my second GrandSLAM appearance, and my sixth Moth appearance overall in my short career of storytelling. In fact, I didn’t realize it at the time, but Tuesday night’s performance came within a couple days of marking my one year anniversary with The Moth. On July 12 of last year, I told my first Moth story at the Nuyorican Poets' Café in Manhattan and was fortunate enough to win.

I competed in the GrandSLAM in October of that year and finished third and went on to win another StorySLAM at the Bell House in Brooklyn this past April and finish in second place in two other StorySLAM competitions.

The most amazing part of The Moth, and the one I least expected when I began this journey, is the number of remarkable people who I have met while participating in these events. Many of the Moth producers, hosts and storytellers are people who I now call my friends, and the relationships I have built with them have opened doors into new and amazing opportunities for me.

Fellow storyteller Erin Barker, for example, offered me advice while preparing for last night’s competition, and her words proved to be more prescient than I could have ever imagined. She knew exactly which details to include in the story and which to remove. She predicted when the audience would laugh when a one second pause would be worth more than one hundred words in terms of dramatic effect, and in each and every case, she was right. She is a master storyteller, and I have learned so much from her in such a short time.   

If you’d like to hear Erin (and Josh Blau) tell a story, you can listen here.

My next two attempts at a StorySLAM will take place on August 14 and 23, both at Housing Works Bookstore Café in SoHo. The themes of the shows are “About Time” and “Yin/Yang.” If you’d like to join me for the event or have a suggestion for a story that might fit the theme (it must be a true story from my own life, but oddly enough, my friends are better at suggesting stories than I am at choosing one on my own), please let me know.