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!

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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!

Lindsey Krinks – Courage

For June 2016’s theme “Courage,” Tenx9 first-timer Lindsey Krinks tells of courage on the streets, watching her friend Ray fight off death and despair through resilience.

Dry Bones Rattling

Ray, Photo for Tenx9 Story

Tenx9 (ten by nine) is a Belfast-originated monthly storytelling night where 9 people have up to ten minutes each to tell a real story from their lives. This story was told at Nashville’s Tenx9 on June 27th, 2016.

I shuddered when I pulled out the letter from the Cobb County jail in Georgia. I was restless, up again before the sun, so I went to the drawer where I keep my correspondences. I found one of Ray’s letters and unfolded the soft, lined paper. His handwriting was distressed and the letters scrawled across the page as if they were trying to escape. I remembered the last promise he made to me frantically over the phone before he was locked up again, before he wrote this letter. “They’re not gonna take me alive,” he said. “I’ve gotta get back to Nashville. If they try to take me, it’s over.” But they…

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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.
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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!

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Sarah Fye – Alone

Tenx9 first-timer Sarah Fye took a step away from her usual standup comedy to deliver this moving story of her struggle to be comfortable alone, and the beauty she found when she gave it a chance. 

 

In the year 1990, the five year old version of me was staying the weekend at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel with my family. My mama held my hand in the lobby while she spoke to the concierge when suddenly I decided it would be a GREAT idea to jerk away from her grip and bolt in my hot pink swimsuit and cover up onto the nearest open elevator. Before she had time to realize what was happening, the golden elevator doors were closing shut and the stark realization that I was about to be all alone in a historic hotel was quickly sinking in quickly. “Sarah!” my mama cried just as the doors fell together and up the elevator shaft I flew.

Completely freaked out by my own actions but thrilled in a way by the independent and adventurous turn my five year old life had suddenly taken, I rode the elevator as the lighted sign dinged, floor to floor. Finally, it stopped on floor five. As my eyes widened and filled with tears, the enclosed space opened and I was set free. Frantic, I ran to the nearest person I could find, a maid who was elbow deep in changing the sheets of room 502. I tugged on her white apron, and as she turned to me I burst into tears. Though she spoke little English, she knew exactly what was going on. I was returned to my rightful owner who waited on me with baited breath, scolding me at first, then embracing me, happy to have me in her arms where we both knew I was safe.

Quickly, this became the formula of my life. Running away as quickly as possible from any sign of comfort only to realize that regardless of my inherent independent nature, I actually hated being alone. And of course, this has become most apparent in my adult romantic relationships.

“Ending Up Alone” was always a great fear of mine, and the idea that I was “unwanted” came around early in life. I was a huge kid, not fat, but very, very tall for my age. I hit puberty before any of the other girls at school. I started my period for the first time in the fourth grade, and I remember sobbing in the bathroom floor, asking god why he’d made me an overgrown kid who just wanted to be young and careless for as long as possible.

Often my appearance left me tortured by the boys at school.  One particular sad and lonely day, a very mean boy stood up in the middle of the cafeteria pointing at me and yelling at the top of his lungs, “Sarah, your last name is Fye, but you’re not!” I stood motionless as everyone in the room burst into laughter. He had meant that my last name was a new slang for “Hot” but that he and his friends actually thought I was disgusting.

As I finally grew out of my awkward pre-teen years and into a young adult, I found myself constantly seeking male attention…because attention felt a little bit like acceptance, and because acceptance felt a little bit like companionship, and companionship felt a little bit like love.

Fast forward to approximately one year ago, the night before a huge ice storm hit Nashville. Only recently had I ran away from the comforts of my almost five year relationship, and away from my former home of New York City, finding myself back in the arms of a guy I’d been in a tumultuous relationship with off and on for years. He was the perfect representation of the chaos my life thrived upon. He was there when he wanted to be but left me in solitude for long periods of time, generally long enough to feed both my independent spirit and my all of my insecurities about being alone, only to hurdle himself back into my heart with full force, making me crave him and then leaving me once more.

As the gentle sounds of Claude Debussy played from my ipod in my candlelit bedroom, he wrapped his long, lean arms around me and I began to wonder how much more of this erratic behavior I could handle. As a strong and independent woman as well as an extreme emotional weirdo, talking about feelings isn’t always easy for me. But for whatever reason at that very moment, I mustered up some courage. Rolling over and sitting up to face him directly, I looked him the eye and asked, “What do you think is better than me?”

He thought only for a brief second before looking up at me and saying, “I cannot think of ANYTHING better than you.” He kissed my lips and I fell asleep on his chest. The following morning, he walked out of my front door and out of my life. I haven’t seen him again.

It was in that moment I came to the realization that I needed to put myself on a dating diet. After all, it seemed I’d had some guy in my life in some way for about the past fifteen years: some guy calling or texting or not calling or texting or dating me or staying over or being my boyfriend or dumping me or taking a lot of my attention and energy for FIFTEEN YEARS! And still, there I was, single and clueless about the resolution to my problem.

I started thinking what I could do with all of the time and energy I spent worrying about men.  About finding the “one.” About not being alone. After all, if I had pursued any other endeavor with as much gusto and as little luck as I have finding the perfect person,  chances are I’d either already be famous or I would’ve given up being a performer a long time ago.

That was it. I was done with dating. I couldn’t take it anymore. And I couldn’t wait to feel what I would feel when I didn’t feel anything for anyone except myself.

For the first few months, it felt great! With no one to worry about but me, I found myself fretting so much less than usual. Detached from my cell phone and the wonder of whether or not he would contact me, (whoever “he” was at the former time), I felt an even greater sense of freedom and independence. I wanted to feel this free forever.

Then, of course, an obstacle. A very tall, very handsome man began working with me. The connection between us was palpable, but I quickly learned he was in a complicated situation with the mother of his child. While I felt a great deaI of adoration towards him, I couldn’t stand the idea of once more becoming attached to someone who didn’t have the ability to love me back. More importantly, I couldn’t stand the idea of being left alone again. So instead of allowing myself to be left alone, I did the only thing I knew to do. I ran.

Leaving my job and taking the summer to travel, I fled as frequently as possible. The times I spent alone in my one bedroom apartment in East Nashville felt like torture. I had to get out. So, I spent the majority of my summer bouncing from place to place. I toured doing comedy in Portland, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts and New York City. I took joyrides to Atlanta, Louisville, and Memphis. I flew out to Denver to stay with my best friend for two weeks, I traveled to Washington DC and Charlotte with the Chelsea Soccer Club fans of Nashville just because it was something to do to keep my mind off my single-ness, and I polished off the summer by taking the opportunity to stay at my friend’s beach house in Florida for a week.

Eventually I grew tired of living from my suitcase and was running low on funds, so the Sarah Does Summer American Travel Edition had to come to a close. I was forced to spend my time in the solitude of my apartment once more.  I wanted so desperately to reach out to someone; to have someone to hold onto. But because I had built such a big wall…because I had isolated myself and my heart for so long, for the first time, reaching out for someone else wasn’t even an option. And for the first time in my entire life, I felt a very cold loneliness.

But instead of running away again, I took the last few months of the year to ask myself what was so bad about me? Why did I consistently need to pull all my focus from myself and pour all my love and attention onto someone else? Was I so terrible to be around that even I couldn’t enjoy the pleasure of my own company? What was it about me that had grown in such disdain for me? Could I learn to nourish, protect, and love myself without the approval of an outside lover who may or may not be worthy of my attention?

The answer was yes.

On Wednesday, I’m going out on my first real date in a little over a year. And though it’s taken quite a while to get out of the darkness of my own heart, I am ever so grateful for my time alone. Because even though my heart grew dark, there was still a bit of light within my soul. After all, you only need a little light for reflection. And if you peer into the looking glass closely and for long enough, what you’ll find is beauty alone.

 

Whoops – The Understory

Tenx9 storytelling veteran Brittany Sky gave the understory a go at January 2016’s night “Whoops.” She nailed it. 

Nashville, tonight we said whoops when sleep deprivation and a train ride with big-spoon Borat led to an epic nap in the Sistine Chapel.

We said whoops when being forced to finish our peas and parsnips in England led to a 30-Whoopssemi-famous star of a mother cleaning vomit out of the carpet.

We said whoops when Beasley Sweetheart Pageant revivals led to denial, dresses, social anxiety, dancing to Tina Turner at a Baptist school, and very big confident answers.

We said whoops when searching for common ground with a left-handed math partner led to the realization that you should make sure your left-handed friend has a right hand.

We said whoops when the understudy Bob led the marching band right into chaos during our senior year…the best of times.

We said whoops when working at Sprocket meant getting a bad ass call-sign based on your life story of out running a distant relative of a raptor and forever being called “Emu.”

We said whoops when were in the “race with the devil” to create the “song of our people” when the realization that “this is not the men’s room” dawns.

We said whoops when the gray and black aura of our father accidentally got whacked by a lead pipe between the eyes and everything changed for the better.

We said whoops when kneeling in prayers of confession lead to pure farts.


Thanks to Michael B., Rob, Darcie, Paulina, Christy, Rebecca, Jeff, Lizzy, and Tony for their stories!

Join us next time for another free night of true personal stories. Our theme is “Alone.” Submit your story idea here! RSVP on Facebook here!

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