On Tuesday night, I told a story at a Moth StorySLAM in Cambridge, MA and won.
It was my 40th victory in a Moth StorySLAM.
When I think back to my very first Moth StorySLAM - back in July of 2011 at the Nuyorican’s Poet’s Cafe in New York City, it would’ve been hard to imagine that 8 years, I would win 40 StorySLAMs and 6 GrandSLAMs.
I like to win, so it feels great, and I love entertaining audiences with stories of my life, but there were even better, more impossible-to-imagine moments from that night:
The person who accompanied me to the slam was a friend named Kevin. Kevin and I grew up in the same small, Massachusetts town on the same street - just one grade apart - yet we were never friends while growing up. But we managed to reconnect on Facebook years later, and back in 2013, when Elysha and I produced our first Speak Up show at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Kevin surprised us by driving from his home in Massachusetts to attend.
Since then, he’s attended several Speak Up events. I’ve appeared on his podcast. We’ve become friends. I never would’ve imagined becoming friends with someone from my childhood so much later in life.
Even better, the host of the StorySLAM and two of the storytellers who made it to the stage on Tuesday night have also appeared on a Speak Up stage, and two of them have also been featured on our podcast.
Moth royalty meets Speak Up.
Even better, there were at least eight people in the audience on Tuesday night who I had taught in one of my storytelling workshops. At least six of them were introduced to storytelling and The Moth via my workshops, and at least two of them had put their names in the hat.
As a teacher, it’s always thrilling to see your students engaging with the world, taking risks, and trying new things. Sitting amongst them and performing for them was a gift.
But best of all, as I was pulling open the door to my car at the end of the night, I was stopped by a young woman who had been sitting in the audience. She told me that she’s seen me perform many times in Boston, and that my stories convinced her to call her mother after years of estrangement. It wasn’t a story about my mother or anything related to parents or children that helped her make the phone call. It was just my willingness to share so much onstage.
“I figured that if you could tell stories like that to strangers, I could call my mother.”
That was the best part of the night.
In July of 2011, I went to a Moth StorySLAM in New York City with the intention of telling one story and never returning to the stage again. Instead, impossible-to-imagine things have happened.
Recently, while being interviewed for a podcast, the host asked me where I see myself in ten years. I told her that it was a ridiculous question.
Last year I was teaching storytelling on a Mohawk reservation to Native Americans. I was substitute ministering at Unitarian Universalist churches. Elysha and I had a United States Senator telling a story on our Speak Up stage. I went to work as a storytelling consultant for one of the largest advertising firms in America.
I could’ve predicted none of this.
Just this year I’ve taught storytelling at Yale, MIT, and Harvard. I had people drive from Kansas City, Maryland, Toronto, and Philadelphia to attend my workshops. This summer two people from China and a person from San Diego will be flying to Connecticut to attend my storytelling bootcamp.
Craziest of all, a young woman living in Belmont, Massachusetts is now talking to her mother again because I told some stories onstage.
There is no predicting.
But what I know for sure of that none of this happens if I don’t find the courage in 2011 to take a stage in New York and tell a story. I won my first StorySLAM that night, and as satisfying as it was to win my 40th slam on Tuesday night, the victories are a lovely bonus to a life transformed and made immensely more interesting and meaningful thanks to a stage, a microphone, and a story..
Thanks to engaging with the world. Taking risks. Trying new things.
I can’t recommend it enough.