After I bought my tickets for The Moth story slam in Detroit, I half-heartedly went about the business of preparing a story to tell.
In case you’re not an NPR-nerd and don’t know how The Moth works, this is basically what happens:
- Two-hundred-some people show up at a venue.
- A very small percentage of those people put their name in a hat to tell a story. The story should be related to the theme of the night.
- Ten of those people are called up to the stage to tell their stories.
- There are no scripts allowed. And you can only speak for five minutes.
- After each story, a panel of judges scores each story. At the end of the night, a winner is announced. The winner receives a nifty paper certificate and an invitation to the GrandSlam, a story slam featuring the year’s winners. And, hopefully, some free drinks.
The theme for the event I was going to was dedication. As a perpetual slacker and chronic quitter, I didn’t have too many personal stories that fit the bill. But I plugged away for at least a good fifteen minutes (talk about dedication!). And then I got distracted by something shiny and, well, Netflix.
As the week went along and the day of the performance drew near and I continued to focus my energy on Netflix more than my story, I reasoned that maybe I shouldn’t volunteer to tell a story after all. I mean, it was my first time at a Moth event. Sure, I listened to the podcast all the time. But that didn’t really give me the feel of the thing, you know? Maybe I should just go and check it out first. Get the lay of the land, you know? And then maybe next time I’d put my name in the hat to be potentially called up to tell a story. Just like how I’m totally going to make eye contact with that cute guy the “next time” I see him.
When I checked the website the day before the show, I noticed the theme had changed to bravery. Phew! I was off the hook! I mean, if ever there was a topic I was guaranteed to not have a single story about this would be it! Now, I could just go, enjoy myself, have a few drinks, listen to a few stories, and not worry about putting my name in any old stupid hat.
I arrived at the venue, a jazz bar in downtown Detroit, a good two hours before the show started only to discover that a majority of the seats with a view of the stage had already been taken. I settled on a bar stool and wondered what I’d do for two hours.
And that’s when I made the mistake of talking to strangers. You guys, this is why your parents tell you to never talk to strangers. Not because you might be kidnapped or something. But because they might convince you to do something crazy like join a cult or volunteer to tell a story in front of two hundred people in a bar.
“People tell stories that aren’t related to the theme all the time,” they said.
“You should put your name in the hat,” they said.
“We put our names in the hat,” they said.
You guys, I am two days away from my fortieth birthday, and I am here to tell you that peer pressure has no age limit. And that’s how I ended up with my name in the hat and the very real feeling that I was going to puke at any minute.
When the moderator pulled the first name out of the hat, that’s when I realized that there was something worse than having your name called. It’s having your name not called, and being forced to sit through a story you can’t even listen to because all you can hear is the voice in your head screaming, “OMIGOD, YOU’RE GOING TO BE NEXT! I KNOW IT! HE’S GOING TO CALL YOUR NAME NEXT! LET’S PUKE!”
When they did finally call my name after the third story, I felt relieved. At least I could stop listening to the voice freaking out in my head and telling me to puke.
But then there was the little matter of my getting up on a stage in front of two hundred people and telling them a story I had only half-prepared about a topic that wasn’t even the topic.
Oh, yes, THAT.
But the craziest thing happened: I did it.
And then something even crazier happened: I won.
Later as I walked back to my hotel, slightly tipsy on free drinks bought for me by the strangers who convinced me to put my name in the hat, I realized that there is something worse than putting your name in the hat.
There is even something worse than waiting to have your name pulled out of the hat.
That something worse is never even putting your name in the hat at all.
And, gosh golly, you guys, I have spent a great deal of my life not putting my name in that hat for fear that I’m going to fail or people are going to laugh at me or I’m going to puke.
But when you do put your name in the hat, good things happen. Or, heck, even if bad things happen, you end up with a good story you can tell the next time your name gets pulled out of a hat, right?
So let’s all put our names in some hats this year, shall we?
When’s the last time you volunteered to do something that completely terrified you?