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!


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!



Alone – The Understory and Next Theme

Rob McRay delivered another most outstanding understory at the end of February 2016’s night “Alone”. 

Tonight, in an apparent act of protest against Hallmark’s forced romanticizing of Valentine’s, we chose to spend this evening alone.

We went to a boring silent film with a hot chick, became possessed by the spirit of the 31-Alonefilm, and started a revolution all on our own—but we made permanent friends with a giant and his family.

We spent a last night alone in the city of love, crying over the quiche splattered on our fancy lady shoes, and Charlie Brown walked toward the Eiffel Tower…through the golden arches.

We went alone to a Tay concert, feeling creepy but excited, and lost our minds with an enthusiastic crowd worshipping an idol floating on a pedestal.

We went on a lonely bike ride, looking for someone with skin, and remembered the kindness of a German stranger, and paid it forward to a lonely woman looking for shelter…and answered each other’s prayers.

We entered the field of battle with our mighty talon, emerging victorious…only to lead our team again into enemy territory—and found ourselves alone, mortally wounded by friendly fire.

We sat alone, rewriting Anakin’s love story, compelled by some inner Darth Vader to make his story yet deeper—and found the words to our own primal scream.

We rode an elevator alone, running away again and again, seeking attention as a poor substitute for something more—but we finally found enough light to see our own beauty.

We took our first family vacation to the Disneyland of the North, anticipating the screaming nausea, but finding ourselves alone in the midway, lost in the strange world , finally finding our family in the fog, only to feel we are still in the fog.

We waited in line to destroy space nuggets at the skating rink, wishing for a date with our 8th grade crush…and contemplated the relative value of video games and coloring books.

This was our evening alone.


Thanks to Michael B., Bayard, Kate, Luar, Michele, Emily, David, Sarah, and Whitney for some excellent storytelling.

Join us next time on March 21st for our theme “Yes or No.” Have a story? Submit your proposal here. And bring a friend! It’s always free.

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Family – The Understory

Rob McRay delivered a delightful understory at December 2015’s theme “Family.” He even poked fun in the final section at his daughter’s story about when he destroyed a light fixture with a ketchup bottle, a story he truly wishes was “fictitious.” 

Tonight we spent time with Family.

Family time is a holiday encounter with Mom and her “hippy-ass 29-Familyboyfriend,” when life becomes clear through the purple haze.

Family time is moving from big city to small town to big city to the home of a distant past—surrounded by a dark cloud, only lifted by poinsettias, polish, and the love of family.

Family time is a long, boring, car-sick ride to a camping trip wedding, where an exhausting swim ends without Pocahontas or Grandmother Willow or the smiling bobcat—and not even a consolation smores.

Family time is an entire day spent moving all our stuff with the rare undivided attention of a father who is normally but a breeze.

Family time is calling Santa from a room that looks and smells like Christmas, and holiday shopping at the mall, and proudly killing Christmas for our parents—and resolving never to do it again.

Family time is a short-distance truck rental to the magical world of Disney, where a dinner of cheap burgers and a stay at a cheap motel was interrupted by a knock at the door—and a lesson in love.

Family time is a long car ride with Father Fidel Hussein and the long brown arm of justice, and threats regarding Santa and Swift and Madonna—and winning arguments in strangely hollow victories.

Family time is a moment in a hospital when a drunk monster becomes a sick human…and realizing that we now love the one we once wouldn’t save.

Family time is an entirely fictitious experience of a Dad who knows many helpful things, and who tries in vain to teach us something useful in life…and lives to regret it.


Join us Monday, January 25 at 7:30 for 2016’s first theme: Whoops. Sign up here!



What I Missed: The Understory

Nashville, here’s what we missed.

We miss travel and the sights and experiences…and the suspense, and drama, and frustrations, and disappointments—no, actually we don’t miss it. But it can make a story to tell.

We miss Grandma. We miss the house, the giggles, “shooting rabbits.” Sometimes we have nothing to say, but we learn that you never forget the rain. Mostly we miss being there.

We miss our soulmate, and the life-changing relationship. We miss reading books and learning something new, and our link to the outside world. And we miss saying goodbye…and that voice saying “I love you.”

We miss our childhood and the sibling rivalry—the cruel, vengeful sibling rivalry. We miss digging for explosives, playing with weapons, and begging for our lives. But we are grateful that the past is the past, forgiven and forgotten—right Mom?

We miss smiling roommates in the morning, and real coffee, and the land of our faith. We miss spiritual experiences, even as outsiders. And sometimes we miss the very thing we wanted most to see.

We miss family drama, and going home, and echoes of small town in the big city. We miss taking care of personal needs, and stories of Mammy’s filter—or lack thereof. We miss awkward calls from the past, and conversations with Dad. And we miss funerals, and sharing precious life.

We miss years of freedom and intimacy, imprisoned by fear of the inspectors, looking for safety, normality, and survival. And we hope to find fellowship, and love…and ourselves.

We miss what we missed because of how we looked.  If only we weren’t what we see in the mirror, life would be different, better…or would it? Now we want “if only” not to be the last word.

We don’t really miss isolated summers on the farm, the hard work, awkward goat encounters, acres of wire and posts and landfills and bonfires. But we do miss stories of deep pain, and opportunities to be a part of a moment of healing.

Nashville, this is our story.

The Understory – Dates

Rob McRay brought us the understory of Tenx9 Nashville’s February theme “Dates”. 

Nashville, tonight we remembered some special dates in our lives.

We remembered green bears who showed us new dates to celebrate, and we experienced near tragedy and unrequited love from a Valentine’s kitten on a very special Spring holiday.

We remembered a great adventure that started with ice cream sundaes and ended with hives in the principal’s office in a moment of important self-discovery.

We remembered a dream house and wonderful vacations and constant chatter, followed by rebellion and pain…and a moment of terrible abandonment that led to court dates and years of silence—and profound transformation.

We remembered the 20th birthday of a cute choir girl with purple chapstick, and sophomoric sweetness and always ascending, till we found ourselves experiencing sunrise in the park in a moment of being truly vulnerable—truly, totally vulnerable.

We remembered looking marvelous—or so we thought—for a first date with a self-absorbed surgeon who gave us the finger; and after an encounter full of internal conversation that was better than the actual conversation, we realized we looked better to start with.

We remembered a time of scripture-filled dating on one-way streets, watching Lawrence Welk, and bleeding fingers that scarred us both for life.

We remembered planting sweet peas on Valentine’s Day, March Madness, lawn mowing, blooming roses, book shows, swimming pools, baseball games, and kindergarten schedules, beautiful fall wedding days, Thanksgiving at the cabin, Advent tea with triffles, cold nights with the cats…and noticing that we are already home.

We remembered dating a drama queen in the age of dinosaurs at a double bill of awkwardly silent movies overwhelmed by a spontaneous, contagious concerto of laughter, in which we were each a unique instrument of joy.

We remembered computer dating that made us feel very desirable…until we exchanged compliments over a chicken dinner with a bad comb-over in plaid green pants, and decided that maybe honesty—maybe—is the best policy.

At Home – The Understory

Our beloved Cary Gibson couldn’t be with us for November’s Tenx9 event “At Home” and so Rob McRay filled in to provide the understory. This was our night…

Nashville, tonight we were “At Home.”

Home is a place you make your own, sometimes in a new place, with new flowers and pillows, new friends and puppies…and sometimes with puppy poop in unwanted places.

Home is the wonderful world of Mamaw’s place—a place of plastic pink couches, 2-holer outhouses, and homemade security systems on the porch…and, hopefully, a place you could die in your own bed.

Home can be fire halls, or P.O.W. camps, or split-level ranches, or small apartments. But mostly it’s a place that holds our treasures…and the most precious treasures are our memories.

Home is the whole “fam-damily”—and the fam-damily is forever (even if we’re not sure we want it to be), with our demons and our saints (and we don’t always agree on who is who)…but sometimes it’s a place where our prodigals try to return.

Home may not have enough bathrooms—but hopefully it’s a safe place to care for our loved ones, and has a great farmhouse table spread with memories, and a bathroom like the great outdoors…and best of all, it’s our own.

Home has a garden, with a dog with tomato mouth, and mud wars on ballet night…and a dream of one day planting our seeds in a new garden in a new home.

Home is sometimes a place of mildewing clothes, and a bathroom where we have to hold our breath, and relatives doing things we don’t talk about…and you wonder if anyone else will remember where it was—but you will.

Home may be a place where it turns out we don’t know if we fit in, or streets with strange new friends, or a new small fellowship…and maybe home is where we make it.

Home is sometimes a place of black humor, and sadism from someone the rest of the world loves, and thunderstorms, and snapping belts, where we all put on Oscar-winning performances…or maybe it’s a place of imperfection and flaws and, hopefully, a place of happiness…and that’s the way we want it.