I was the fifth speaker and the last before the intermission. Every storyteller did an awesome job to share a bit of personality and a little glimpse inside a page of their scrapbook of life's memories. Of course Connor McGuigan as emcee was nothing short of what I imagine is his usual high level of charm and comedic delight (I have not had the pleasure of attending his performances and appearances in the past few years - nothing personal- with my schedule I just haven't been able to attend but have heard the buzz).
I was especially nervous before delivering my story on stage. It was a completely different feeling than what I typically experience before performing stand-up comedy or doing one of my Laugh to Live wellness workshops. My story meant a lot to me and I wanted it to matter to people in even the slightest way. I wanted people to know just how important the relationship I had made with my French friend is to me. I wanted my story to also grab the audiences' ears and hearts. And, being the type of person who follows rules because that is what attending Catholic School from age 5 to 17 taught me, I wanted to follow the rule of not going longer than 7 minutes. I knew for weeks and weeks what my story would be about but it was only the afternoon of Saturday, March 31 (the event date) that I finally put my story into words and practiced it a few times. I didn't want to memorize it but I wanted to be sure that I hit certain points. I wanted it to make sense so I feared leaving out crucial information. And heaven forbid I leave out my snarky lines that I thought were sure to bring out some laughs.
When I took the stage I felt ready and I just told the story. I was in the moment and I did remember to share all of the things I had practiced earlier in the day. I talked about how after 9-11 America was on edge and emotional. There was anger, bitterness, sadness, confusion, pride and I said even among all of it, I felt there was hope. I talked about how people were afraid to fly which is why there were incredible fares being offered and how that led to me taking my dream trip to Paris. I told how the anti-French sentiment was strong and recalled our renaming of America's #1 "vegetable" French fries to freedom fries. (I don't recall however McDonald's ever changing their menu boards to say that a Happy Meal included a cheeseburger, drink, cheap plastic toy and Freedom Fries.) I remember with a sly smirk the handful or more of people who asked me why I wanted to visit France. I entertained inane questions like "Why do you want to visit there, what's to see there?" I would tilt my head and say to myself "Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Brie, baguettes, beaujolais, duh!!!" And my other favorite question/comment was "Why go there? They hate us!" As if every person in France had sat down to pen a letter "Dear America, We hate you!! Signed, The French." I told the audience that I was glad I didn't get this letter because my bags were packed and I was headed to France.
I went on to tell how I was on a train to a little town called Auvers- sur-oise, where my favorite painter Van Gogh is buried, but didn't know what stop to take. I approached a petite woman to ask where I should exit the train and she held up her keys and expressed that if we got off at her stop, she would drive us there. I was surprised to say the least. She was a tiny woman. We were two strangers. Two American strangers. And one of us was a man. My traveling companion was a male friend, Chris P. As I followed her to her car I was thrilled to be speaking to a real, live French woman and getting into her tiny little French car, driving down narrow little French streets (rues). I told how I could sense that she was the type of person who was doing this to be nice and would not accept the Euros I offered her. Sure enough she would not take my money but she suggested that we exchange addresses and she would send me a postcard from Italy where she was going on vacation the next day with her husband Jean-Claude.
I further shared that nearly 10 years have passed and not only did I receive that postcard from Italy but when Marie and her granddaughter Chloe came to New York City four years ago, I visited with her and showed her the Brooklyn Bridge and her favorite building the Flatiron Building. And, I took her to Ground Zero. At the time the memorial was still under construction so we looked through fences at a big hole in the ground and a lot of construction equipment. She looked at it and turned to me with a very pained expression and said "What sadness." It didn't matter that it was the country that she and her country "hated," she looked at me understanding what a great loss it must have been for our country and how any person would be saddened by such a tragedy. I wrapped up my story by saying that I knew then even more than I ever knew that "they" don't hate "us" and that when we look at one another as individual people with not just our eyes but with our heart, hope is always possible. Anything is possible.
I was happy to share my story and I hope that people felt just a little of the connection that I have made with Marie and her husband Jean-Clause DeGuines of St. Leu La Foret, France. Two years ago I spent a week with Marie and her husband in their home while they treated me like family showing me Versailles, Monet's Garden at Giverny, a French jazz club, the Eiffel Tower in the daytime and so much more. This coming September 2012 I will fly to Marseille to spend a week with Marie and Jean-Claude in Provence. Now I get to fulfill another dream of seeing the French countryside and it's appropriate that I'll get to do it with the woman I met on my first dream trip to France.
Scranton feasted on the stories told at the first StorySlam on March 31. They did not go away full and needing a Pepto Bismol. They took in just enough to make them already hungry for more. The McNichols are hard at work putting things in motion for the second StorySlam this Summer. We hope that the stories will continue. I think it's a great way to unite people and help to make the world a little smaller as we share more of ourselves with one another in person rather than through facebook posts.
For more information, check out the newly active: http://scrantonstoryslam.com/SSLM/