Friday, April 24, 2020

Story Slam: Five Minutes Or Less

Local Dirt Productions "The Unexplained"
Spooky Concert and Story Swap, Oct. 2019
 I fell into story slamming by accident when I was a creative writing instructor. I was about to start a new eight-week session, and I was searching the Internet for topic ideas. I came across a call for auditions for the Valley Voices Story Slam, hosted by New England Public Radio and Academy of Music

I clicked the link. A theme was presented, and to audition, you had to call into a phone line with the first line (only) of your true story. If you were chosen, you had to perform on stage with no script or prompts. And you only had five minutes maximum!

What a perfect premise for the next eight weeks of writing, I thought. I chose an upcoming theme for the Valley Voices audition line that coordinated with my writing session timeline and presented it to my students.

"Here's the catch," I said. "We're going to perfect those stories, and then perfect those first lines, and then you're going to actually audition." I explained we'd also hold our own story slam on our last writing night of that session with their finished stories.

My students are clever. They all agreed that if they had to audition, I had to audition. "Fine," I said. In my mind, I added, What are the odds I'd get chosen?

Who knew? One of my students got in as well. Proud teacher moment!

I didn't win that story slam, but it was the first time I ever performed on stage in my life. I had no idea how exhilarating it felt to perform! I fell in love with the rush of nerves, the energy of the crowd, the captured attention of an entire room—even if only for five minutes. I was hooked!

Valley Voices Best of the Best Story Slam
on the Academy of Music Stage, April 2015
Since that first show in 2014, I've performed in multiple Valley Voices Story Slams, twice making it to the Best of the Best competition on the Academy of Music stage. I've also had the honor of performing at other events, such as a Halloween storytelling event that Local Dirt Productions hosted at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, The MOuTH storytelling event at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and a few other local events. I even got into the filming of Stories From the Stage, and I felt like a celebrity for an evening. My story wasn't chosen for the aired show, and I'm okay with that. You can't win them all. For me, it's about the experience of performance more than the win. Though, I can't deny it feels incredible when my name gets announced as one of the winners!

The writer in me really enjoys the writing aspect of story slams. It's a lot harder than it might look to tell a complete story in just five minutes. A story must have a strong opening hook, a meaty middle that's compelling enough to keep the audience engaged, AND a complete story arc that ends with a punch—all that in about 700-ish words! Every single word counts. Text for speech is written differently than text for reading. It's quite a fun puzzle to put all the parts together and rearrange-rearrange-rearrange until the words magically snap together. I'm often editing in my head until the very last minute as I practice out loud without a paper in front of me—sometimes I'm even editing on stage as I'm telling the story live! Yes, I'm a word nerd, and proud of it!

Valley Voices "Sweet & Salty" Story Slam,
March 2020
Right before social distancing was placed in order, I won second place at the "Sweet & Salty" Valley Voices Story Slam competition at Hawks & Reed. I'll be heading back to the Academy of Music for my third shot at the Best of the Best title when it's safe to gather again. Here's hoping that's sooner than later.

I'll admit, I've been bummed that the next two Valley Voices Story Slam for this season were postponed due to COVID-19. I love attending shows as much as performing in them. I get sucked into someone else's world, five minutes at a time, and it mesmerizes me. But it's for the best that we all do our part to stay home to help save lives.


When the producers of Valley Voices asked me to participate in a virtual story slam, I jumped at the opportunity. What a great idea! It definitely made for an exciting week of putting a story together, figuring out the lighting and staging of the kitchen, and recording a story—over and over and over again—until it felt natural. Talking to a camera feels so bizarre. I can't gauge the energy like I can with a live audience, so I focused on my own excited energy, like when I tell a story to a friend. The nerves remained so hopefully my story feels alive and fun. Thank you to the Academy of Music and New England Public Radio for continuing to bring joy to our community during this unprecedented time.

The Game Plan virtual story slam, April 2020
I hope you take the time to watch the stories on Around the Dinner Table this week. Stop by a different storytellers home, virtually of course, to see what story they've cooked up for you. My story The Game Plan was aired on Monday night, but it's still up for you all to see. And you can VOTE for me starting Sunday, April 26th!

Welcome to my kitchen! I can't wait for you to hear my story The Game Plan. If you like it, please vote for me at SURVEY MONKEY! Voting is open through Tuesday, April 28th and it literally is just two clicks!

And hopefully someday soon, I'll be able to see you from the stage at a live event.

What new can't-live-without hobbies/projects have you accidentally discovered during this time of social distancing? 

Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear!


Friday, April 3, 2020

Overwhelmed: COVID-19 Is Not the New Normal

Grateful for the sun while I work remotely;
though it's mighty chilly in this room lol
It has been three weeks since I started working remotely, and two weeks since I've stepped foot in a store or have seen a friend or loved one outside of the house. I'm so grateful to have Mike, and we've done our best to keep to as normal a routine as we possibly can with us both working from home. We set boundaries on work time, we take daily walks, we make meals together, and we have alone time and virtual time with friends. But despite this new routine we've settled into, I am feeling vastly overwhelmed. And I know I'm not alone.

Friends and colleagues have shared how overwhelming this "new normal" is, and one person this week said something so profound; it hit me right in the gut. It was something like:

"We're going about business as if everything is normal except for the fact that we're working remotely. But everything is NOT normal. This new normal is NOT normal. People are really sick. People are dying."

"Kindness counts;" "Spread love;"
"#bethechange"
I know people whose loved ones have fallen ill with COVID-19, some have lost lives. I have friends who are essential staff, many in the medical field. I worry about them and their families every day. It is a thankless job, and I appreciate their dedication to caring for sick people on a regular basis.

This is a serious pandemic, and I'm shocked at how many people are still carrying on as if this isn't a big deal. I'll admit, way back in January (god, that feels so long ago), I was one of them. I thought COVID-19 was all media hype. These days, it's hard to believe what's real and what's fake news. But, by this point, we should all recognize that this is serious.

I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the amount of time I'm spending on my computer, not just to perform the everyday functions of my job, but also for Zoom meetings, messaging with friends, virtual visits with my son who is isolated (safely) in another state. Then there's texting and phone calls and personal emails and social media, and I feel like my eyes are glued to a screen every waking moment of every day.

I've become that friend who flakes on people because I'm in the middle of something when someone contacts me, or I'm mentally drained and just can't handle anything other than the task-at-hand, and then I forget to message back—for days, weeks (what is time right now, seriously?). Anyone who knows me knows this is not my norm.

But we are not living in normal times, right now. So, I am being extra kind to myself. I am not beating myself up for needing to sleep in, even though that may mean not writing in the morning. I'm forgiving myself for not texting someone back in a timely manner. And yes, I am eating more chocolate. It's the comfort I need right now.

Thursday night "Cocktail Hour" with running friends
I don't mean for this post to be all gloom and doom. I have seen many wonderful things in my brief moments away from this virtual world.

I have seen sidewalk chalk messages and "bear hunts" in the neighborhood that let me know we are all in this together.

I have had meaningful "visits" with my friends on Zoom

I have had silly moments with my son on FaceTime.

I am reading Stephen Chbosky's newest book Imaginary Friend (though, it's beginning to feel like a premonition to COVID-19).

I am enjoying quiet moments on the couch with Mike drinking coffee before the world wakes up in the morning.

And I'm enjoying family dinners together every night, sharing highlights of our day, to remember that we can still communicate in real life.


Our first picture together as an official couple!
But I realized I need a bit more. I need to reset. Mike and I are taking Monday off work to celebrate our one-year anniversary. HOORAY! This seems like an opportune time to break from the virtual world to just live in the real world, despite how small "my world" is right now. So, I am signing off social media, the internet, my computer—hell, even my phone—until Tuesday. I want to take the time to celebrate the love we share with no distractions. I want to live in the here and now—even if it's just for three days—to focus on what's most important in life.



Our last picture together: working remotely!
(yes, I might be wearing pajamas)

Are you feeling overwhelmed? How are you managing during this stressful time? 

What will you do this weekend to recharge? Please post a comment below.

And please, stay safe, be well, and practice social distancing. Let's help end this pandemic!

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 139: Where Have All the Masks Gone?

Even the trees are shocked! When the pandemic first started, right before we went into quarantine, Mike and I went to the supermarket a...