The Wild Unknown

Since August of last year, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting a monthly storytelling event at an art gallery in Brooklyn. This is the show’s sixth season. It was started by a poet who has a love of the oral tradition, of the magic of stories around the campfire. Every year, he selects a pair of hosts, and every month the hosts bring two storytellers in to share 15-minute tales with the always-appreciative audience.

Three years ago, a friend of mine was hosting and he invited me to come tell a story. OMG, but that was fun! I was crazy-nervous, but it was also great to get to share some of myself in that way.

When I was asked to host, I was excited to give it a try. I had, however, no idea what I was getting myself into. Finding storytellers is hard. But really hard. Sometimes people say “Yes!” right away, but sometimes I ask one person after another and come up empty again and again. And even once I have people, I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t asked people who are storytellers, and everyone is super nervous about having to tell a story — not read something they’ve written, but stand in front of people and tell. I’ve asked people who are interesting to me, people who I know have a lot of interesting things about them. These things don’t mean they’ll tell a good story, but I am lucky: they always do tell good stories! The challenge of coming to be a storyteller unlocks a new door for them, I think. I mean, many of the people I’ve invited are writers, so they definitely understand a lot about how stories work. But writing a story isn’t really as much like telling one as you might think.

One pure joy of this hosting journey has been my completely delightful co-host, a young woman who is an artist and an actor and who creates in so many amazing ways, and who is full of energy and light. We connected as soon as we were introduced, and are already planning future projects to work on after our hosting year has ended. I can’t wait to see what our next adventure will be!

We’ve been having a lot of fun on this ride … and then COVID-19 hit. Our little Park Slope gallery with barely enough space for five people to distance themselves socially wasn’t going to be open for this month’s event. So … we did what half the world has done lately: we went on Zoom!

I was nervous: what if no one showed up, what if my computer froze (it’s done that in a few of my meetings this week), what if someone noticed that my house is a mess?! You know, all the worries.

But … all the worries were over nothing. Tonight was so much fun!

A — People came. As we approached start time, my computer screen started to do that intro-to-the-Brady-Bunch thing with all the squares popping up to show who’s joining the meeting. Not only did people come, but they came from places they wouldn’t normally be able to join from! We had folks joining from Long Island and Colorado. My cohost is Australian, and her mom zoomed in from outside Melbourne! So tonight was our first international showcase!*

B — People were so nice. This is one of the things I love about our in-person event, the way the audience is always ready to embrace the storytellers. And that was definitely true tonight.

C — The storytellers were sweet and open and wonderful. It’s such a gift to have people give you their stories, to trust you to hear them. I feel so lucky every time.

Every month, we have a theme for the evening. We’ve tried to have our themes connect to whatever show is up in the gallery. And we pick them well in advance. This month’s theme was “The Wild Unknown,” picked when we had no idea we were about to be plunged into the wildest of unknowns. Couldn’t have had a better theme for tonight.

COVID-19 didn’t beat us, couldn’t keep us down! We laughed and cried and laughed together. Which is maybe a good thing to remember as we shelter in place and pray for safe passage through this unsettling and straight-up terrifying time.

Storytelling can move us. Storytelling can connect us. Storytelling can make magic even when we’re not in the same physical space together. Storytelling is how we weave ourselves and our worlds together. I am so lucky to be a part of this. And I can’t wait to do it again in April!

__________
* I really just want to say, “Wicked cool!” when I’m this happy and excited. I’m trying to rein it in …


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

The Cure for Cabin Fever

(I just keep hearing the Styx song, “Too Much Time on My Hands” …)

The folks who work at the management company for my apartment building may have watched or read The Shining recently. They’re worried about all of us cooped up in our apartments day after day, slowly losing our minds.

How do I know? They sent out an email yesterday: “At Home Activities List for Residents.” This email is HUGE, full to bursting with ways to use your “corona-cation.” So many kinds of time-drainers, organized into categories like cooking, reading, games cleaning, crafting, creating … and on and on and on. There are activities for kids, ideas of things to do with your pets, online fitness classes, series to stream …

They are worried! They want to keep us focused and sane. No “Here’s Johnny!” meltdowns for us!

I can’t be mad at that. But I’m amused.

__________

Meanwhile, we seem to be pretty okay so far. Thank goodness, since these few days are just the opening beats of a long, complicated symphony. We’ve got several intricate movements to get through.

Today I went for a walk. A zoom meeting I had at lunchtime was canceled, so I took advantage of my surprise freedom and got out into the sunshine. It was lovely.

I walked up the hill to the park, then down the much steeper side of the hill to the grocery store (this is the second of my two grocery stores, not the store I visited last week, the one that was in apocalypse mode). And the store pleased me by having most of what I looked for, particularly toilet paper … not a lot of it, but some, and no one was fighting anyone else to get at it. None of my yogurts of choice, however. Sad times.

After the groceries, I walked a few blocks down … to. the. liquor. store … and picked up a couple of bottles of wine. Finally, my house is fully prepared for lockdown.

I’m glad I went out. it was only an hour out of the house, but it was welcome. It was great to feel the sun on my face, great to see just how carefully so many of my neighbors are observing the PAUSE. Good on them. Good on all of them. Grammarly says my writing in this post is mostly sad and gloomy. I don’t see that. I see caring in that comical email from the management company. I see pleasure in my walk in the sun. I see appreciation in my gratitude for my neighbors not being out on the street. Yes, all of that. Something else for me to remember: get out of the house! Go be in the sun for a few minutes. Be socially-distant but also breath fresh air.

Yes,


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Long Day’s Journey into … Tears

Had my first crying-on-the-job moment at the new job today. I guess that’s one of the perks of working from home, right? No one had to see it. I could click my camera off during the zoom meeting and just focus on keeping my voice together. And then when we were done, I could just put my head in my hands and sob for a few minutes.

… Not too many minutes, though, because I knew my boss would cal to make sure I was okay, and I needed to have a normal, not-sniffly, not-weepy voice for that convo.

Sigh.

Not the first time I’ve realized that my stock-up plan for sheltering in place was deeply flawed in that it didn’t include any wine.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 5

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! This will be, at last, the final story. It’s a little different from the others. It might also be a little more alarming for readers. Just remember that I’m right here, writing this blog post. This story happened a long time ago, and I’m totally fine. Nothing terrible befell me back then, I just made some foolish choices … and — as has often happened in my life of foolish choices — I had the gift of divine intervention and people turning out to be as worthy of my trust as I believed them to be.


In the mid 80s — 1986, I think — I went to Prague. It was my second trip there. The first trip had been magical but super short, and I’d been hoping to find my way back. (Comical aside: As I prepped for my trip, one of the men I worked for asked if people in Czechoslovakia would notice me, would recognize me as not being one of them. At first, I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t a particularly jokey person, so I thought I’d clarify and asked, “You mean, other than the fact that they will all be white, and I’m … not?” If ever there was an indicator that we needed better geography and world history in our schools …)

I got to Prague. I hooked up with my old friends. I made new friends. I wandered the beautiful streets of that beautiful city. I sat in coffee shops, ate excellent ice cream, went to wine bars.

In one wine bar, a favorite spot of the new back of friends I’d made, I met two guys whose names I no longer remember … and maybe I only knew one of their names in the first place? The guy whose name I knew got chummy really fast and spent the rest of the evening hovering too close. At the end of the night, he invited me to meet them the next day for sightseeing. That seemed harmless enough, so I agreed.

I met them at the astronomical clock, and we started walking around the Old Town. And then the guy — let’s call him Miloš, though that was definitely not his name — suggested a trip to … I don’t know, some beautiful attraction. When I agreed, we walked to the train station, not the metro, but the trains that went out of the city. That should have been the point where I demurred, the moment for me to end our encounter. Instead, I got on the train.

The whole way out, Miloš talked about his hard life as a writer and philosopher and how awful it was that his ex-girlfriend had smashed the windshield of his car and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. The other guy — we’ll call him Honza — never said anything. He was a big, shaggy presence beside Miloš or me wherever we went.

We got off the train at Černošice. Right. Who knows where that is? Certainly not me. I mean, I can find it on a map now — it’s about five kilometers outside of Prague — but that doesn’t really help 34-years-ago me. We got off the train and started walking.

We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more. Was it pretty? Maybe. Did there seem to be any reason at all for us to have left Prague to be there? Yeah, not so much. We were well out of whatever counted for “town” in Černošice, walking through a sparsely-residential area, occasional houses carved into the forest that surrounded us. We went to a house and were let in by a guy who seemed surprised but pleased to see us. Inside, there were three more men. There was a lot of conversation in Czech, a couple of phone calls, and then Miloš said we should leave our things in the house because we were going for a walk in the forest.

I had no “things,” since I’d left my house that morning for some casual sightseeing. Miloš said I could leave my purse because I wouldn’t need it, but that seemed silly.

Now here, of course, is yet another moment when I should have extricated myself from the situation. Somehow. I was who knew where, with a growing number of men I didn’t know. I wasn’t being invited to leave my identification behind before wandering off into the forest with the unknown men. I think about this now, and I marvel at how unbelievably stupid I was as a young woman. At the time, however, I wasn’t apprehensive. I was annoyed. I had a limited number of days in Prague, and I was annoyed to be wasting one of them — no beautiful attraction, no time spent with my friends, and no end in sight for this unplanned side trip.

We set off into the forest. There was a clear path we were following, so we weren’t lost, strictly speaking. I include this story in the “into the woods” series because I was lost. I had no idea where I was or how to return to anything familiar. I didn’t speak more than a dozen words in Czech and no one other than Miloš seemed to speak English. The men with me weren’t at all lost, but I most certainly was.

At one point in our walk, we came out of the trees into a pretty field of tall grass and wildflowers. We were on the crest of a hill and below us was a beautiful ribbon of river winding through a valley. That was lovely … though no one stopped to make note of it, and it was pretty far from where we were, so it was surely not our destination. We crossed the top of the hill and went back into the trees and didn’t see the river again.

After more walking, we were suddenly at a little beer garden. There were maybe ten people — including women! — waiting for us there. We got a big table and had drinks and sausage, cheese, and bread.

It was nice enough, but I couldn’t speak to anyone, the sun was going down, and I had no idea how to get back to anywhere. I asked Miloš how long before we headed for the train, and he looked shocked. He said he thought I’d understood that we’d be staying the night. He said there were no more trains to Prague at that hour, and the house where we’d stopped was where we’d sleep.

This story took place a lot of years ago, long before I began developing my rich and healthy relationship with my anger. I was still, at that time, afraid of expressing anger. But not in that moment. I was instantly furious, and — unlike most of the times I got angry back then — it was immediately obvious to Miloš, Honza, and everyone else sitting near me that I was furious. Miloš was apologetic but kept saying it wasn’t serious, that I’d get back in the morning and not to worry about it. This didn’t do anything to blunt my rage.

it was decided that, since I wasn’t enjoying myself, we should go. We started the walk back through the now-entirely-dark forest. Two of the women came with us, which was good, as both of them had flashlights. Miloš kept trying to apologize and assure me that there was no real problem and I shouldn’t be upset. Finally, one of the women made him shut up and walked with her arm through mine the rest of the way.

We made it back to the house, and it was decided that the two women and I would share the bedroom and the men … I don’t know, they slept somewhere else.

In the morning, Miloš, Honza, and I walked to the station and got the train to Prague … and Miloš spent the whole ride asking me to give him $500 so he could fix his windshield. Ugh.

Back in the city, I walked away from them at the station and went home, furious, grubby, hungry, exhausted.

Two nights later, I saw Miloš in the wine bar. He came right up — his face a dramatic display of distress — and told me that the most awful thing had happened, that some crazy person had smashed his windshield, and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. Could I give him $400? It wouldn’t be a problem for me, such a small amount, and he’d get it back to me someday.

I kid you not.

 

In the years since that crazy experience, I’ve wondered what Miloš had actually planned for that day. Was he hoping to rob me — assuming I’d have crazy amounts of money in my wallet because I’m American? Was he hoping to seduce me so I’d feel inclined to give him lots of my American money? Or was he just an idiot? I also wonder about the women who slept with me that night. What made them come back to the house with us? What had they heard or seen that made them decide to stay with me until morning? Neither of them could speak to me, but they stayed with me, and I felt comfortable with them, having them around me.

See? I came through it all unscathed. And that’s the last of my into-the-woods stories. I’m glad I’m here to tell it, and hopeful that I won’t have any (many?) future ones to add to the list!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 4

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! In my last tale, I told a story about summer camp. And, this story is about summer camp, too!


The summer after high school, I had snagged for myself what I thought would be the perfect job: counselor at the beloved camp I’d attended as a child. It didn’t turn out to be the worst job I’ve ever had, but seeing behind the curtain took some of the shine off for me.

Before camp started, counselors and staff had lots of work to do: setting up tents and bunks, organizing the craft, ceramic, and wood shops, anchoring floating donuts in the lake, cleaning the barn and getting all of the animals in kid-ready condition …

And while all of those chores were team activities, there were also specific team-building activities. Counselors went off on day trips to get to know each other and the area. I went on a hiking day trip, a climb up Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Just a little backstory on Van Hoevenberg. It’s 2,940 feet tall — not one of the high peaks of the Adirondacks (the 46 highest mountains in the range, all over 4,000 feet). It’s considered an easy hike, good for kids. It’s named for Henry Van Hoevenberg who build trails in the high peaks decades before the creation of the Appalachian Trail (no competition here, just a time marker for historical context). It’s home to the Olympic bobsled runs from both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics.

It’s also the first mountain I ever climbed. As I said in my last into the woods post, most campers’ first climb is the tiny, not-a-mountain-really that The Boy and I snuck away to climb. My first trek, as a seven-year-old, was Van Hoevenberg. So it felt only right to go on the counselor hike and start my life as an adult at camp on the same mountain.

I have no memory of my childhood climb other than walking down the bobsled run on the descent from the summit. I didn’t really know anything about the Olympics then, and certainly not a single thing about bobsledding, but I thought the runs were cool.

Our counselor crew set out, led by a man who’d been a counselor when I’d been a camper, a really funny man who made everything seem possible and fun, a good leader for a day hike that would have some rough patches.

There was a lot of singing and laughter. There were discoveries of wild raspberries and bear tracks and a field of Indian Paintbrushes. There was even a stop in a clearing for some impromptu square-dancing and the high drama of crossing a rushing stream by waling across a tree that had fallen and created a bridge to the other side.

For a person who has no relationship with her center of gravity, walking over that fallen tree was a trauma. I was certain I’d end up in the water, which would have been embarrassing and also painful because it was full of small boulders and about 8 feet below. But I had divine intervention on my side and I made it across just fine. I didn’t look forward to doing that on the return trip when I’d be tired, but I needn’t have worried: there was no way we’d find our way back to that path!

In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that crossing that tree was the start of our problem. There are no hiking trails that include such an unstable and impermanent feature. And yet, no one expressed any concern about learning the for-real path. Maybe we thought John’s good mood would steer us true. You know, or something. Turns out, this is really not a thing. Quel surprise.

We’d been hiking close to two hours when we acknowledged that we weren’t on a trail and no one knew where we were. Someone made up a song about bushwhacking and — as The Boy and I did on our hike — we decided to keep trying to find the summit rather than immediately trying to find our way back to the base. Maybe it’s something in that not-at-all-thin mountain air that inspires this ridiculous decision.

We made a weird, stair-step path — hiking sideways, hiking up, hiking sideways, hiking up. We had another impromptu square-dance in another clearing. We ate our cheese and crackers and PB&J lunch.

I don’t know how long we stayed out there, scrabbling around the side of that mountain. We probably would have stayed longer. John kept us in good spirits and seemed perpetually convince that we’d magically find the trail if we just pushed ourselves a little further, convinced that we could come down the train if we just made it to the summit.

We never reached the summit. Instead, we reached the top of a bobsled run. Seeing that formal structure, we knew we could get back to camp, and the decision to head down the shuttle was unanimous and made without words. We all just stepped into the track and started walking down.

Walking the bobsled run was as fun to me as a 17-year old as it had been to me as a 7-year-old. At the bottom, we poured out into the stadium. In one of my photo albums, I’ve got snapshots of counselors walking onto the field with their arms raised in a victory V. 🙂 We left the stadium and finished our hike the same way my sister’s Girl Scout troop did: on the road. We walked up that quiet road back to the entrance to camp, still singing, still laughing, and with a little bit of impromptu square-dancing. Lost and then found.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Enjoy the Silence

Most of the traveling I’ve done has been solo travel. When I was young and would quit whatever job I had so that I could travel for as long as I wanted (or until the money ran out), I would spend long stretches of time in silence. Sometimes I would miss casual conversation, the easy talking that could be done with someone who spoke my language, with someone who spoke my language as their first language.

I am thinking about those extended periods of not talking because the shelter-in-place order I now live under creates something like that for me when I’m not working. During my work-at-home days, I have meetings and meetings and meetings. I have anything but silence. Come the weekend, however, I have to conjure up some activity if I want to speak — a phone call, a zoom date.

At the same time, it’s hardly true that I’m silent in my downtime these days. I’m a talker, and there always seems to be some chatter of one kind or another around here. I talk to myself. I talk to my cats. I am that crazy spinster lady you’ve heard tell about. I talk. 

On a call with a friend this morning, she mentioned how hard the silence has been for her. Like me, she lives alone. Unlike me, she has been working at home for a couple of weeks now, and the quiet is getting to her.

And so I thought about my travel experience and the enforced silence of having neither a companion nor enough language to make real conversation easy. And that silence went on sometimes, went on for one week, for two weeks, of me really not speaking at all. And it was hard sometimes, but it was also okay. I was writing in my journal, I was having an adventure. Silence wasn’t a weight I was carrying.

And we have tools now that I didn’t have when I was traveling. We have the ability to be in contact no matter how physically isolated we are. We’re just at the beginning of sheltering in place. Now’s the time to figure out how not to be driven crazy by things like not talking. We have a much longer period of aloneness ahead.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Clean up in aisle two …

I’ve been working from home. I’ve been putting together distance learning plans. I’ve been listening to the news. I’ve been talking about the pandemic. I’ve been looking at articles about doomsday hoarders. I’ve been looking at people’s pics of the chaos in their stores. I’ve been seeing my neighbors swaddled in face masks and blue nitrile gloves.

What I’m saying is that I haven’t been asleep. I’ve been fully aware of the state we’re in.

But … It seems I wasn’t really aware, wasn’t really paying attention, not real attention.

Today when I took a break for lunch (I finally remembered to take a break for lunch!), I thought, “Oh, let me just place a grocery order.” I’m not out of anything, just figured I’d set up a delivery for early next week so I wouldn’t have to think about it.

(And yes, I’m a person who gets her groceries delivered. Neither of my “neighborhood” grocery stores is in walking distance of my house, and the cost of getting Peapod to come to my door is about the same as getting a cab home from either market. I don’t think I would have become a gets-her-groceries-delivered person if I hadn’t torn my rotator cuff in late 2017. Rolling into 2018 not being able to use my left arm for anything and knowing I was going to be even less able in the immediate aftermath of the fix-it-up surgery I had planned was what introduced me to Peapod in the first place. I’ve been a devotee ever since.)

Yeah, so I went on the Peapod site. There’s a pop-up message warning of diminished delivery options and the new COVID-conscious ability to have “contact-less delivery” and what-all. I clicked past it and filled my cart. Then I went to check out.

And discovered that there are no delivery days or times available before some time in April.

WTF?

Yes, every delivery slot was sold out, and the customer service line is down because everyone’s been sent home to shelter in place.

Oh.

Oh, you mean all this pandemic stuff is impacting my life, too? Really? Oh.

Yes, I am this ridiculous. Apparently.

 

I finished working around 6 tonight and figured I go to my favorite of the two stores in my area. I took a cab because … well, because I’m obviously a pampered little so-and-so. The driver and I talked about what his work week has been like — awful, hardly any fares 😦 — and then I went into the store … to find it almost completely picked-over bare.

I didn’t take pictures because we’ve all seen the pictures. I mean, I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve talked about the pictures. But I’d also been to the store as recently as last Friday, and the store was totally full of food, was totally fine. What a difference a week makes.

I kept wheeling my cart through the aisles, looking, thinking surely I’d find some little something to bring home. And yes, I did find a few things to bring home. But not the things I had on my shopping list. No yellow or orange peppers, no bananas, no grapefruit, no honey-wheat pretzel twists, no hummus, no Chobani Key Lime Crumble yogurt, no, no, no, no. no.

(Don’t be alarmed: my house is full of food. Full. You know, of food I actually have to put some effort into preparing, as opposed to food I can just unpackage and eat. I’ll be just fine.)

But, yeah. In the last few days, the craziness came right up to my door and swept past me in a tidal wave, and I was so busy navel gazing that I didn’t notice.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot