Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from Tenx9’s 3-year anniversary theme “Nashville” in September 2016. 

Tonight we visited Nashville.

In Nashville we met Chainsaw, an English major who couldn’t understand Twain, who would be singer but couldn’t sing, and who used his body with its underlying text to meet39-Nashville his idol.

We moved from Manhattan to Music City, lured by the magic of honky tonks and amused by the cute traffic, till we found ourselves house hunting while the joys of pregnancy overflowed all over town.

We came to Nashville pursuing an opportunity at a major publishing house—excited about the life-changing, dream-fulfilling possibilities. We raced in a toy car to an interview with a team of quirky grandmothers…and now we are where we belong.

We encountered Music City’s fiddle-wearing monsters in the walls. We imagined a poltergeist of thousands of jumping spiders—but we were somehow calmed by research that revealed that the nightmares were true…but rare.

We attended church in Nashville in a large, dark sanctuary with a small gathering, listening to the endless sing-song intercession, gripping the pew and awaiting the impending peril of the silence-shattering shout.

We moved suddenly to Nashville, landing amid CMA crowds, finding southern hospitality despite the lack of room in the inns, dazzled by the fireworks of the Fourth and the glittering diamonds of downtown, and stepping outside our comfort zone to find the comfort of our new home.

We attended a wedding in Nashville between the most wonderful little girl in the world and a young man who did not follow a wise father’s advice…but who better remember some of it.

We lured our homebody parents from the cornfields and reality-show dates to their first trip to Nashville. The highlight of their adventure was encountering a real-life reality-show celebrity and watching him…leave the store.

We moved to Nashville to relive the grief of the river of tears, now flooding our daughter’s life as it once flooded our own, and moved to a new home too close to another river of tears. But, for all the tears, we would choose it again because we choose to love.

Many thanks to Brittany, Joe, Rob, Jacquie, Chris, Anne, Stephen, Laura, and Gail for telling such excellent stories! Our next night of true stories is October 24, and our theme is SecretsGot a story? Tell us here!


Strangers – The Understory and Next Theme

Here is Rob McRay’s Understory from August 2016’s theme “Strangers,” in collaboration with the
excellent Porch Writer’s Collective

Nashville, tonight we encountered strangers.

We teetered the line between strangers and friends with an awkwardly younger neighbor, till we cried in his hair as he said good bye to his puppy…and we discovered we had crossed the line before we knew it.

We over-analyzed a comment about movies we like and discovered that we were more strangers than friends, even though we once loved each other—or did we? But now we know ourselves better, and we don’t know him…and we like it that way.

We sifted through pictures, listening to gossip about town folk and mailmen, and discovered that the stranger in the old cherished locket was a first love…once forsaken for true love…leaving a pain for which we hope we have been forgiven.

38-StrangersOur tranquil day at the beach was invaded by strangers—an angry mother with a rhinestone phone, a Baywatch lifeguard administering first-aid, a mysterious, fungus-toed, 60-year-old advisor, and a woman with a baby spared by the injury of the boy who now seems one of our own.
We encountered strangers with strangely familiar connections to our past—a wedding on our old block, and a child of dear friends who quickly moved from being a stranger to a friend—all from a few simple questions.

We journeyed from the Old South to San Francisco, worked on antique computer equipment, and traded our problems for cable. And we encountered strangers from strange lands, who held strange affections for those we thought surely they would despise.

We met a stranger over cider in a quaint wine bar. Our inspiring friendship led us to fighting enemies in her defense, only to lose her to an enemy we cannot defeat. But we said goodbye with a blue stone under a blue sky, and we remember her with each sunset.

We encountered a creepy old man in a Gucci ball cap on a crowded Moroccan train car, whose magic prayer book failed to heal the coughing Armenian, but who taught us a song of life.

We encountered a family of strangers with dancing children, refugees of a war-torn homeland. And though we had lost our own father, we gained a new one…and learned to say yes to the hospitality of strangers.

Thanks to all our storytellers: Jacques, Cherie, Judy, Rose, Jennifer, Leah, Laura, Tessa, and Keith! And thanks to The Porch for partnering with us on such a lovely night of stories. Join us next Friday (9/2) for our 3-year anniversary fundraiser at Black Abbey Brewery at 7:30 for 9 retold stories from the last 3 years. And we hope you’ll come for our next regular storytelling night at Douglas for our annual “Nashville” theme on Sept 26. Pitch your story here! See y’all soon.

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Change – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s excellent Understory for July 2016’s theme, “Change.” 

Nashville, tonight we were changed.

Life changed in a moment in a gym full of grunting and bending and dancing—terribly exposed. But suddenly we felt in control…no matter what the crowd of mechanical gazelles thought.

We have changed from the self-absorbed 19-year-old in a half-way house. Now we are 37-Changehealthy, at home with our family…but she lies somewhere alone with an apology on her back.

After a long line of potential wives, and unfulfilled dreams of proposals, we saw her across the room…and pursued her, sometimes too confidently, till everything changed…and she said “Yes!”

After online dating apps led to a date with a green-eyed guy who applied for a loan, and ultimately to a moment of dating honesty—a month too late—our life has changed and we are happily dating-app free.

We hiked the 200 ft. block of mystery, till we crouched on the ledge, serenaded by a lotus-sitting flute player…and gave up. A second try revealed something had changed. We found we did not lack the courage—we had too much to live for.

Life changed when a frustrating, troublesome young woman, whose life had led from pregnancy to addiction to rape to desperation, told us “you don’t want to know.” And she was right…but now we do.

After a 10-year relationship, violating FAA regulations, offering lights to attractive ladies, and contemplating the possible benefits of eye patches, it all changed when we realized that Mom could outrun us—and we dumped our love.

We have loved passionately and lost, again and again, until after two weeks of solitary confinement we realized that we could see inside him, and everything changed. We have found mythic love with one we may never see again.

We had terrible visions—that came again and again—of crack and pleading and death and violation and hate and revenge. But that changed when the monster became a six-year-old boy whose mother tried to drown him. And we pray that Patricia rests securely…and that Ivan will find peace.

So many thanks to our storytellers–David, Jeremy, Amanda, Deepak, Jeannie, Michael, Veronica, Tony, and Hector. We hope you’ll join us for our next FREE night true stories when we partner with The Porch Writer’s Collective for “Strangers” on August 22. If you’ve got a story, pitch it here!


Gayathri Narasimham – A Newbie in the US

For June 2016’s “Courage,” Tenx9 newcomer Gayathri Narasimham told of coming to the US from India for school and having to borrow a little courage along the way. 

I have enjoyed living in Nashville – this beautiful city is truly a home for me now, more even than my home in India. This story though, is about my first time in the US, before I arrived here, and my experiences interacting with Bruce H. who was and still is faculty, at Western Carolina University.

Several winters ago, I traveled from Chennai India, to Western North Carolina. The journey is memorable: it was my first flight anywhere; and an international flight at that. I think the excitement and newness of it all downplayed the fear I might have felt. Anyway I reached Chapel Hill, North Carolina, first, where my cousin lived and he was showing me around for a few days.

Again, the only things I remember about Chapel Hill in the company of my cousin and his many Indian friends are:

  1. Walking in Franklin Street.
  2. Drinking tea in an Afghan tea-shop which was so cozy that cold winter; and 3. Going to Barnes and Noble. I was acclimatized, and a little acculturated but still not prepared for the more homogeneous culture in Cullowhee, which was where I was going to school in Western Carolina University.

That year, they had had record snow in the mountains – so, when I arrived, everything was white, literally. I met a few international students but very few Asians; later I came to know that there were three Indians on campus including me, and that was it! A complete change from Chennai!

My new community was the graduate students in my department, and the faculty with whom I took classes; did research; assisted with their classes etc.  As much as they were novel to me, I was novel to them too. Their conversations with me, would center around arranged marriages (really how do those work?), language, food and of course, religion.

I shared an office with Sally, a grad student in the Clinical Psychology program. She was this really brisk, bubbly person, no-nonsense type; it was fun to just talk with her, she had opinions about everything. Once when I was eating some tapioca pudding she said, outright, “Gayaaathri, how can you eat that? – its just like snot, so gross!” Whoa, shocking! But that’s Sally: you have to get used to her. I never ate tapioca pudding after that, in front of her.

I first met Bruce in the Research Methods class. Of course, Sally had warned me about him. The vibe among the grad students was that he was one of the most respected faculty, kind of more formal than the others; and extremely choosy in his grad students and research assistants. Well his opening lines in class were, “They are saying women are from Venus, but I’m really from Mars.” Which made us laugh, and I probably laughed the hardest, more when I found out he really was – from Mars, Pennsylvania. He was strict, yes, but always with a twinkle in his eyes!

The second semester, all of us who wanted to do anything further, like, um, get a PhD, had decided to do the GRE.

Bruce was teaching a class on General Psychology, which would be great preparation for the Psychology subject test. So we all decided to take it. In our first class meeting, Bruce said, “Folks, this is a review of many general psychology concepts; I have the syllabus designed so each of you will be responsible for covering 1-2 modules…so sign up for the modules you would like to teach in your order of preference.”

I think my first choice was cognitive psychology, but Brain & neurology was my second choice. The brain module was the first module in the syllabus, and I figured I’d have some examples from others to go by before it was my turn. Guess what? I got the Brain module – Bruce told me later no one else had even selected it.

This was daunting: I had never taught anything before; not in the US anyway; and then I had no idea of the scholarship I needed. No examples to fall back on, even if I made a faux pas, it’ll be like “Don’t do what Gayaathri did!” Nerve wracking – I talked to everybody I could – faculty, “Oh you’ll be fine,” and grad students, “Great! You’ll set the model for us! Yeah, you’ll be fine!” That was very helpful!!

Anyway, the day came and went; It was an 8am course; two of my best grad friends with whom I used to hang out, completely missed my class; nevertheless I continued. They came after the class ended, and reported to Bruce sheepishly: they had slept through their alarm! Bruce told them to apologize to me! I laughed, but breathed a sigh of relief, now it’ll be like, “Don’t do what Bryan and David did!”

So the semester was ending; we were talking about who to ask for letters of recommendation. Sally told me, “You know you cant ask Bruce – he never writes letters for anyone!”

Two faculty I asked for said yes, also said I should try asking Bruce for the third letter. So I mustered my courage, preparing myself mentally for a denial, and approached Bruce.

“Hi Bruce! I was wondering if you would write me a letter of recommendation.”

“Where are you applying?”

I mentioned a few places, Georgia, Carolina, Vanderbilt, West Virginia (one of my letter writers wanted me to go there), and then said, “But not Harvard.”

See, at this time, my uncle had gone to Harvard and was a legend in our family; my decision to not apply was fear I would be rejected; rather than face the shame from my family, I decided to just avoid. Bruce, said, “Of course not! Harvard is heavily theoretical – you would not like it there. But you should apply to Minnesota.”

Minnesota?! In my solid defense against Harvard, I had completely ignored the top universities for Child Development – the field in which I wanted to do my doctoral work. I blabbed, “But Minnesota? You mean the Institute? That’s like the top school!”

Bruce was calm, “Yes, so you should! What’s the worse that could happen? They can tell no, and that’s fine! Plus, I’m writing you a letter, so you should!”

I nodded meekly, mumbled thanks and walked away! Back in the office Sally the wise was in, and I blurted the whole to her. “Wow! So Bruce agreed to write you a letter? That’s a first!” Then, without missing a beat, “But you know, Gayathri, if he does not write a strong letter, nothing could be worse. Did you ask him if he’ll give you a strong letter?” I looked at her stupidly: there are such things as strong and weak letters? I was NOT going back to Bruce.

I prepared my applications, including to Minnesota; it was winter break and I was invited to Syracuse by said uncle. In the course of our conversations about future plans, he asked to see where I was applying. When I mentioned Minnesota, he burst out laughing. “You can’t stand the winter there; what’ll you do?!” And he looked at the brochure from Minnesota and I swear it said, “Minnesotans pursue an active lifestyle, including, hiking; biking, swimming and other sports in the warm climates of Florida!” More laughter. Then came the worst part: he asked to read my statement of purpose; Now, I have to tell you I was feeling good about the statement – I had written about 3000 words and all I needed to do was edit it down and I’ll be done. My uncle though, took a quick glance. He said, “ok you can keep the first sentence – the rest is drivel!” and took a red pen and scored through. My aunt who was watching this, gave a smirk. “Oh he does this with my writing all the time! Don’t worry, you’ll be fine!” Those dreaded words again!

Anyway, I managed to write a satisfactory statement; and sent in my applications; ended up here in Nashville. I was, apparently, fine!

Did I tell you I never regretted coming to Nashville? But some months after I joined the program here, my dad died and my grad school mentor moved to a different university, there were lots of uncertainty and things were falling apart in every way. A kind person in the department took pity on me and showed me Bruce’s letter – she must have had good reasons to pick that from my file. I don’t remember all or even most of it, but the first sentences said, “I have written exactly two letters of recommendation before this one, and both for students who held a lot of promise and ended up as faculty in top universities. This is the third letter I’m writing….”

And this from Bruce, a graduate of the Institute for Child Development in the University of Minnesota; at the time he wrote that letter he had been faculty for about two decades. Legendary for never writing letters! And he had known me for less than a year!

That day, dear all, Bruce just allowed me to borrow his courage!

Show and Tell – The Understory and Next Theme

Rob McRay delivers another excellent understory at April 2016’s theme “Show and Tell.” 

Tonight, Nashville, we had “Show and Tell.”

33-ShowandTellWe learned what happens when a radioactive Southern girl goes through TSA with fresh fruit, mysterious powder, and explosive perfume…and almost gets engaged.

We learned about providing a home for abandoned cats and rescued kittens, even though they clutter your house with toys and make you sneeze.

We learned about pieces of the Titanic on late night TV, in worldwide museums, and in a genuine, authenticated, 100% pure plastic locket.

We learned about listening to cool sounds…and murmurs…and making hard choices…and unplugging machines…and watching the lines go flat.

We learned about hiking in some foreign land at some unknown point in time, and about ironic dog collars, and marking territories—which may or may not be useful information.

We learned about bizarre students at a hippie school gambling illegally on a boxing exhibition between Boom Boom and the Quickness.

We learned about misogynist snake-handlers, and boas in our hair, and metaphorical life-threatening serpents…and venomous systems that keep breathing in our ears.

We learned that you can’t make a short-wave radio out of a toy jumbo jet—no matter what an idiot with a flaming crew cut tells you.

We learned about stressful election nights, and frantic newsrooms, and the pride of earning a pith helmet from a masterful editor, whose bear hugs we will miss.

That was our “Show and Tell.”

Our next night of true stories at Tenx9 will be May 23. Our theme is “LOL.” Got a funny story about your life? Let us know here.

Yes or No – The Understory and Next Theme

Our March 2016 theme was “Yes or No.” Rob McRay delivered yet another fantastic understory. Read it here and look below for April’s theme. 

Tonight, Nashville, we said “Yes” and “No.”

We said “yes” to a bicycle-riding urban farmer—thanks to St. Wendell—but then said “no” to a Marvin-Gaye-playing  conspiracy theorist with a strange voices and a toxic meteor in his dining room.

We said “no” to the humiliation of Little League try-outs—but then said “yes” to dropped32-Yes or No flies, and dribbling ground outs, and one triumphant triple that brought clarity to life.

We said “yes” to a walk sign that wasn’t a sign, and learned that we must say “no” to driving, and to bowling, and to seeing faces…until they cured the incurable and we learned to say “no” to scaring the driver and “yes” to driving.

After drinking and shopping up and down Broadway till we were out of money, we returned to Nashville without our fiancé, saw our mystical number, and left our life in Jersey—and we said “yes” to an adventure in our city.

We tried to say “yes” to addiction, then we said “yes” to marriage with an addict—an addict from a different planet—till we finally said “yes” to therapy and boundaries and separation…and forgiveness.

We waited and waited for a “yes” or “no,” and after an interview with tall and short librarians, we wrote our obligatory thank-you notes and waited still longer…till a confusing “no” that was really a “yes” led us to our dream job.

We said “no” to fights over video games and laundry and Southern Living and a life that was not going to be ok—and we said “yes” to a cruel ending that we chose, and “yes” to a new beginning, and to a life that will be ok.

We learned to play guitar on a cheese grater, and graduated to a Japanese lawn sculpture with a hair-drying amp—till we said “yes” to a life of “crazy lady” collecting, fleeting fame, and a little beer money along the way.

Our M.A.S.H.-inspired dream of the perfect proposal was nearly spoiled by an argument over packing light, an eager aunt waiting the news, and a bag left on the platform—but we found ourselves on that hill with that view and that person…and we said “yes”!

Tonight we said “yes” and “no.”

Thanks to Magda, Michael, Melanie, Emily, Jen, Doug, Leah, Darcie, and John for their most outstanding stories. 

Join us in April for our next night of true stories. Our theme is “Show and Tell.” Bring an object. Tell the story (as long as it’s about your life of course). Pitch your story here!



Nashville, pt. 2 – The Understory

Rob McRay delivered another powerful understory to the crowd at September 2015’s Tenx9 event “Nashville.” 

Tonight we were in Nashville.

We moved here from a small town, to the land of “buggies” and “shar tal”; and found 26-Nashvillepeople who are trendy and chic, and kind and hospitable, and “totes inappropes”—but mostly we found family.

We took Papaw to the city—well, mostly it was a tour of radiology labs where we answered questions about treating venom with whiskey and flirted with nurses—and it ended with line dancing in puppy poop.

We took a vacation to Florida, where we had dinner with an overly chatty lady, and a quiet stranger; and we returned to Nashville to unemployment, a hurricane, illness and divorce—but the messenger had assured us we’re in good hands.

We visited the ICU of venerable Baptist hospital where cancer was killing his kidneys—and we saw that look…and we heard the alarms…and we made that choice…the choice we all wish he had made.

We were stunned to meet a huge celebrity among the CDs and albums and 8 tracks—and we risked dying, and lost our indoor voices—but that’s why we live in Nashville.

We considered leaving, but a kind older woman helped us at the store, and we got a bluebird tattoo, and we felt comfortable in our own skin—and we decided to stay.

We visited a couple of bars downtown where we were recognized by school teachers and church relations, and we went the wrong way with drag queens while feeding mints to a man in a coma…and we wound up back in the closet.

We toured the Opry, and the Hall of Fame, and the steamboat, and churches and universities, and Nash Trash—and at the Veterans Hospital we discovered celebrity volunteers, and all around us we found another Nashville.

We ran errands for our big Disney trip and had a Nashville lunch of hot chicken; and then we road rides, spinning in every direction, with flashbacks of giant spinning tops and lots of pickles—before riding home naked.

And this is why we live in Nashville…and why some of us don’t eat hot chicken any more.

Join us on Oct 19 for our next night of true stories. Our theme is “Ghost” and you can submit your story idea here! For more on the theme, visit our event page or the Facebook event page

Jeannie Alexander – A Bee’s Dream

At Tenx9’s “I Remember” night, Jeannie Alexander spun a masterful narrative about remembering her grandfather–his grace, words, and beekeeping. 

I remember my grandfather’s smell. It is my first memory. My second memory is of being carried by my grandfather through his backyard. So carefully we considered the apple trees, muscadines, figs, and plums, but far back in my memory we first considered the mud puddles.  My grandfather was a brick mason and he and my grandmother made their home in Stone Mountain GA where both of their families for several generations before had planted their homestead; the modest dreams of sharecroppers. Their plots of land were stitched together like a quilt: my great grandmother Annie-bell’s home, my great aunt Irene’s home, my great grandfather Doc’s home, my grandparent’s home, my great uncle R.L’s home, and Uncle Pete’s home. One winding twisting piece of property divided into artificial plots. A geography of tragedy, toil, love, and grace. Why is it that we think the modest dreams of the poor are any less grand than those of the wealthy? Surely they are no less holy.

When my parents were first married they lived in a small trailer that my grandparents had moved to the back of their property behind the main house.  When I was two I would kneel on the bed, my face pressed against the window screen of my parent’s bedroom window each afternoon, waiting for my grandfather to return. His old burgundy car would pull in and before his feet could hit the deeply rutted dirt path I would begin shouting “Papa come saaavvveee me!” This was our daily game. He taught me how to unlatch the screen and push it out so that he could then lift me through the window.  This is where my first memory erupts, the smell of sweat, and the taste of masonry dust stuck to the roof of my mouth as I pressed my nose against his neck to identify his scent every afternoon. His hands were the roughest gentlest hands I have ever known.  And each evening as he pulled me from the window he did so with the purpose of connecting me to the earth in the daily baptism ritual of dunking me into the dirty muddy water that always seemed to exist in the large rut in the middle of the driveway. It was a child’s ecstasy that I experienced in those moments. I would not undergo true baptism again until many years later when I tried to drown myself.

As a teenager embarrassed by rural ways and honest poverty I immersed myself in the alternative political and drug culture of Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood.  Heroin, cocaine, LSD and the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade ironically threw me into the intellectually bourgeoisie disaffected punk rock culture of angry youth, often from wealthy families, supposedly fighting for the rise of the proletariat peasant class, a birthright I had abandoned.   Sometimes the universe laughs.

But in the early hours of barely light mornings following nights of insanity, I would pull myself together and return bruised and disoriented to the gardens of healing, the waters of remembrance, my grandfather’s section of plowed earth.  I was 19 hungover and standing by my grandfather’s side, a cup of coffee in my hand, watching his honeybees swarm in and out of the hive in the already hot humid air.  “Aren’t you afraid of getting stung?” I asked. “No never” he replied, “you just have to learn to think like a bee.” As we moved from bees to fig trees to chickens I knew to my shame the truth; that the sacredness of connection was to be found here or nowhere on this earth, and all of my endeavors to find truth through separation would lead me back to this yard.

My grandfather died while I was in law school and I was so furious with grief that I refused to leave NY and go home to GA to attend his funeral. The fury has long since turned to peace and gratitude and my grandfather keeps speaking to me, slowly softly tracking my often tumultuous life. My friend Bill has bee hives now. A few weeks ago he removed the top of the hive so I could look inside the secret world into the feeding tray on top. The bees are fed sugar water. They moved slowly in the cold wet morning air and most stayed inside the wooden hive box, but a few came cautiously out of the small entrance hole in front and moved slowly, their thick stout golden honey bee bodies covered with fine hair, so very beautiful.  I hear my grandfather’s voice “The entire source of food for the whole world rests on the backs of these bees. All of this, everything around you is connected so you can’t do nothing to these bees this land that don’t affect you. These bees are you and you are the bees.” I think about this when Bill shows me the old feeding trays that he had discarded because they were death traps for bees, too deep, the bees drown caught between metal screen and water. A simple mistake, but the cost was dear and I ran my finger over the screen and over the tiny hairy corpse bodies trapped inside.

One of my last conversations with my grandfather was about bees.  We stood staring at the hives while I ate a fig pulled from the tree. I had focused on the bees to avoid the truth that his once robust body was being wasted by the cancer growing inside of him.  “Pa-pa What do bees dream? Do they dream together as one, a collective sigh? What happens when the light goes out inside of a bee? Do they have souls, and if so are they little golden sparks of light that make a snapping pop noise. Do trees breathe in the souls of bees?” He put his arm around me, pulled me to him, and I kissed his cool cheek.  I still do not know these things.

So I am buying a house and planting a fig tree. Both acts of faith.

Wendell Berry writes that “The relentlessness of the tragedy is redeemed by the persistence of grace.” My grandfather did not trust books he trusted lived experience and his life was the embodiment of the persistence of grace. Our ancestral ties are reinforced through daily lived sensory experience; the way light changes slowly through the progression of a year, the sounds of animals, birds, bells. The way the smell and taste of lake water and river clings to the air and shrouds us after a storm. What my grandfather tried to teach me throughout my whole life is that this lived experience cannot be purchased or owned, and if we tend our imaginations and memories properly, then home in its deepest truest sense is always accessible to us, for it is us, dwells within us. It is old memory. It is what is meant by living a good life. Its roots plunge deep into the waters of love, and nurture within us an affection and tenderness that I think perhaps can only be lived not described; one can only point and nod and say “Ah yes, that.”

Beginnings – The Understory

(The “understory” is a thematic weaving together of the 9 stories, written live as they are heard and then performed as a  summary of the night.)

If it begins with, “Oh boy, stage fright!”, it ends with finding your voice.
What begins with chapstick parties on the school bus, with a dinosaur thrown in, becomes twenty years of friendship.

The firsts of a new relationship are an all-too perfect beginning that ends in a phone call. And with the douchebag gone, becomes you, just you, saying, “Yes!”

When it begins with a naïve, if confident, traveller in 1971, be glad it didn’t end up in Turkish prison like it could. But if it begins with, “I’m just dead to the world,” you just know an obituary’s coming. And a very awkward funeral.

What began in Vermont on September 12th, 1983 became a new start: a path of creativity and identity lived stitch by stitch. Meanwhile, the feminist collective that began in Knoxville in ’94 did not end well. But it birthed its own legacy of voices & creativity, of thriving beyond surviving.

However it begins, and however it ends, peacefully, loved & cherished we hope, it’s always a new beginning for those you leave behind.

Remember: if you begin as Linda, you might end up as Mae. You can end up whoever you want to be. Even if that means re-beginning as Linda.

tenx9nashville, this was your (under)story.

Big thanks to our storytellers. You made this another great night. – Cary.

Davey Shephard – Hindsight

Tenx9 newcomer Davey Shephard recounts a firework mishap and wonders whether it truly was a catastrophe. 

In hindsight yes, I should’ve never picked up that mortar tube, but you know, in hindsight, twenty year old me should have never been put in charge of a fireworks display. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and as I had done for the last five years, I spent three weeks of my summer at a camp in Gore, West Virginia. I had grown up at this camp, and had made the fabled transition from immature camper, running around scaring staff members, to immature staff member running around scaring campers. It was my favorite part of summer and this particular week had an added bonus. For the first time since I had begun working there, the Fourth of July was going to fall during a week of camp.

At our normal pre-camp staff meeting I heard our Director discussing how the night would unfold. The sports team (which I was a part of) would be responsible for putting on the fireworks show, while all other staff members stood with the campers across the large sports field in the designated safe area. Following the meeting I was handed a couple hundred dollars cash that had been budgeted for the show. I was on cloud nine. Not only was I getting paid to put on a fireworks display, but I was in the middle of possibly the best place in America to buy fireworks, Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. Myself, the Sports Director and the Head of Security piled in a pickup and took off down the dirt road headed for the Holy Land. Our discussion was focused on the pageantry that we would present to the Campers. There was talk of choreographed explosions, a separate light show, and whether or not any of the kids would know Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. A few hours later we returned with the goods and packed them away safely until the big night had finally arrived.

The first few days of camp went by slow. It was our last week there, so some sleep deprived hysteria had set in, but it felt like the entire staff was in a lull just waiting for the fourth to get there. And it wasn’t just waiting on a day to arrive…there was a palpable anticipation that something was going to happen. Jokes were tossed around about someone blowing their hand off, or burning the gym down, or the camp getting sued, but despite the naysayers, the fourth arrived and the show went on as scheduled. Myself and my teammates had everything in place. Our stockpile of explosives set off to the right, some sheets of quarter inch plywood to make a nice balanced launch site, and we had even placed all of the mortar tubes inside of cinderblocks to make sure that they didn’t fall over. We had crossed our T’s and dotted our lower case J’s. We were going to put on a show that would make the founding fathers proud.

As the campers made their way down the hill to the sports field, we had the kiddie stuff out. A few bottle rockets twisted together, some roman candles, a box of Saturn missiles, your basic backyard fireworks. The idea was to slow play them into thinking we didn’t have anything good, and then as soon as the music kicked in, fire up the big guns. As the students arrived into place, a small crowd of staff members had formed around us. It is important to note, that they were not in the pre-approved safe areas that they were supposed to be in.

This is also probably a good time to mention that as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a showman. I do this thing where I get a mental image in my head of how something should play out, and then spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to make that happen. That being the case, things got off to a terrible start. The first song that came out of the sound system was Lee Greenwoods “proud to be an American” instead of James Browns “Living in America”. No disrespect meant to Mr. Greenwood, his song just lacked the excitement level we were going for that night. To make matters worse, we were forced to face a harsh reality: Every one of us lacked the mental capacity to time fireworks to music. This is an extremely difficult job, and I am still impressed every time I see it successfully done. So, my well timed fireworks show, that I had planned on being similar to Apollo Creed’s ring introduction before his fight with Drago, had turned into alternating mortars exploding while Lee Greenwood passionately sang in the background. I was soon pushed to the brink. One of the guys accidentally loaded a mortar upside down, exploding two tubes, the cinder block and almost his leg. He escaped physical injury, but I knew something greater was at risk, we were about to lose the audience.

Down to two tubes, and with more than half of our fireworks still awaiting their destiny I knew something had to be done. I opened a package that was marketed to me by the salesman as “The baddest thing we got”. He assured me that it would be bigger, brighter and louder than anything else in the store. I picked the tube up and placed the mortar inside. However instead of sitting it back on the ground, I held it out in front of me at an angle of about 55 degrees. The idea was simple, I’ll shoot the best mortar we have, a little bit closer to them, so that it’s even bigger, even brighter and even louder than it would’ve been. I could hear the gasps and groans of “no Davey!” behind me, but it was too late. I was married to this idea. I lit the fuse, and awaited the results.

It was at this precise moment where everything turned to slow motion. I watched as the fuse burnt to the halfway point and decided to place a second hand on the tube for more stability. This was my downfall. The sparks from the fuse got in my arm hair, and I immediately dropped the tube in what was surely the least masculine way possible. I watched the mortar tube tip and tilt for what seemed like an eternity. Would it point directly at me? Behind me at all of the staffers? Harmlessly over the hill? The answer is none of the above. It pointed directly at our stockpile of fireworks. A second later our biggest, brightest and loudest mortar screamed 15 feet directly into several hundred dollars’ worth of live fireworks. Carnage ensued.

The next two minutes were a blur. Booms and bangs, hisses and screams, flashes of every color, and the smoke, so much smoke you could hardly breathe. I saw grown men scream and sprint down the hill. I saw four people dive out of a golf cart like they were cartoon characters. And without being melodramatic, I think I saw my own life flash before my eyes. As the last of the fireworks went off and the smoke started to clear people began to get back on their feet. All eyes were on me. But before anyone could start yelling, what can only be described as a deafening roar came from across the field, culminating in a classic chant of “USA, USA, USA”.  We checked all of the staff members to see if there were any injuries, and somehow there were none. The field was cleared, and I was lectured for over an hour for my stunt. But despite the cries from the administration there was only one topic of discussion for the rest of the week: the fireworks show. In hindsight, yes I could’ve killed someone, or myself. But I didn’t. To this day, on the fourth of July I still get texts or Facebook posts bring up that night. So, I’m gonna go on the record and say I did a pretty damn good job, even in hindsight.