In between Aspen and the rest of America I found a road that led to a farm that led to horses and hills and snow and trees. The road curved often, weaving through the wild landscape. The hills turned to mountains. I drove slowly, the radio turned off, observing the scenery in silence.Read More
Put your name in the bag. That's what you do at the Moth Storytelling events if you want to be selected to tell a story in front of an audience, have it recorded, and, if it's really, really good, maybe have it shared on The Moth Podcast.
I put my name in last night at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. The theme was "BUSTED: Caught red-handed by THE LAW, your mama, your boss or the security camera! Tell us about being sent up the river, to the clink, the principal's office or..." you get the point. I planned to tell a story of a time in college when I got caught climbing the Lincoln Memorial.
I really wanted to tell it. See, I'm a huge fan of the Moth and told a story six months ago. The whole experience was a rush, nerve racking and--standing on stage, under bright lights and in front of a few hundred people with no notes--terrifying. I did OK. The story got a lot of laughs, a big round of applause at the end, and I learned a lot about my responses to stress. I know that the more times I get up there the better I'll get. And if I can learn to overcome fears in this arena, I know it will pay off elsewhere too.
This night though, it wasn't meant to be. I had a great time listening to everyone else's stories, but when the tenth and final name was called and it wasn't mine, I slunk down in my chair a bit. "Next time!" my wife said.
On our way home, our Uber driver, Rocco, asked what show we'd seen. I told him about the Moth, that I'd put my name in, wasn't selected, and about the nerves and all that.
"Why don't you tell it now?" he said.
"Nah, you don't want to hear it."
"No, I do," he said. "I love stories. Let me hear it."
My wife and sister called out from the back seat, "Oooh! No pressure! No pressure!"
I looked at Rocco, liking him immediately, and laughed at the situation. Then, I let out a deep exhale and for the next 5 minutes of our ride, recounted to Rocco the Uber driver, my wife and sister, how I was busted for climbing into good old Honest Abe's lap.
The experience was just as satisfying as if I'd told it at the Moth, almost more so because of its intimacy. It's one thing to be on the stage but another to be one on one, on the spot with a stranger.
And the best part? Rocco gave me 5 Stars.
A stout man in khaki cargo shorts and a red t-shirt emerged from his group and approached me on the boardwalk at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. His nametag said, “Jason.”
“Anything good up there?” he asked.
I stopped, noticing the reflected mix of thermal pools and forest in his tinted Oakley sunglasses.
Anything good up there? You mean like this? Like everything around you? Like the fact that you’re walking on top of a super volcano right now? Do you mean in this eternally changing cauldron of travertine, with bubbling waters, broad, blue skies overhead and a breeze blowing from snow-capped peaks in the distance? Anything good in these 2 million acres that Ulysses S. Grant designated as the first national park in the world?
“Anything good up there?” is something you ask a store clerk stocking the top shelf.
Have you seen the bison roaming on the plains? The black bears and grizzlies in the forests? Have you felt the prick of pine needles from trees that Native Americans once used to build teepees? Christ, there were elk in the parking lot. Unless you drove here from Narnia, I’d say it doesn’t get better than this
I took a breath, put on a smile.
“Yeah. Everything’s great up there.”
And I got as far away from the place as I could.
In between Aspen and the rest of America I found a road that led to a farm that led to horses and hills and snow and trees. The road curved often, weaving through the wild landscape. The hills turned to mountains. I drove slowly, the radio turned off, observing the scenery in silence. My body rocked with the weaving of the road and soon the thoughts of where I had come from and what I had come to find had left me. All I knew was that I was driving down a lonely farm road, that I hadn't yet reached the end, and that was fine with me.
A week after I returned from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia I found wood shavings on the floor of my Brooklyn apartment. Ok, my wife found them. I put them there. I had been teaching myself to carve while she ran errands.
“What are you doing?”
“Yeah, whittling. I’m teaching myself to carve like the guys in Haida Gwaii.” I took another notch out of the wood in my hands.
“Where did you get the tools?”
“Hardware store on the corner.”
“Where did you get the wood? It looks like a bunch of sticks.”
“It is sticks. They are sticks. I found them in the park.”
By now, my wife had already thrown a pile of wood shavings in the trash and was heading towards the closet where we kept the vacuum. I put my blade down on the coffee table.
“I want to learn to carve like Jim and Christian,” I said. “You should have seen it. They make giant totem poles, like fifty feet tall. Eagles and ravens and bears. All sorts of designs. They’re amazing. And Jim doesn’t sand his pieces when he’s done. He finishes them all by hand and they are completely smooth. It’s incredible!”
“Marc,” she said. “I love you. But it looks like you’re making a bunch of wooden knives.”
To her credit, the couch was covered with a handmade wooden arsenal befitting Lord of the Flies. They were supposed to be finely carved miniature totem poles with whatever designs I could muster. But the round sticks kept getting slimmer with each cut and eventually tapered out to a flat, sharp edge. I could have gutted a deer with each creation.
“They’re…letter openers,” I said.
I stood up to help my wife pick up the shavings, which caused even more to fall from my lap.
She watched, dumfounded. “Is this going to be your new thing?”
“Maybe,” I said, eyeing an untouched stick. “I think I need to go back and apprentice.”