Sometimes adventure is chosen, sometimes it's thrust upon you. In this episode of the Tell Us Something podcast, we delve into the journeys of four remarkable people: A mother and daughter in Belize work together to navigate the challenges of entering the country with an expired passport, a determined diver confronts the depths of the ocean swimming against sudden swells and learns some harrowing news the next day when she returns to the water. An artist wrestles with self-doubt and the meaning of success. And a woman on a wilderness adventure faces a grizzly bear encounter, wolves and swarming bees on her ordeal to get out and help with a family emergency.

Transcript : Close to the Edge - Part 1

Marc Moss: We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Going Home”. This event is a collaboration with Missoula Pride and we will favor folx in the LBGTQ+ community as we listen to story pitches. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected].


The pitch deadline is May 4th. I look forward to hearing from you.


Another important date is on the horizon, too. Missoula Gives & Bitterroot Gives, is an initiative of the Missoula Community Foundation, is a 26-hour celebration of the Missoula and Ravalli communities. It connects generous Missoulians and Bitterrooters with the causes they care about. Causes like Tell Us Something. It is a day to celebrate and support the role nonprofits and donors (like you) play in making our Missoula & Ravalli communities great. Mark your calendars for May 2nd and 3rd and tell your friends about this opportunity to support Tell Us Something during Missoula Gives. May 2nd and 3rd.


Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast. Tell Us Something is a nonprofit that helps people share their true personal stories around a theme live in person and without notes. I’m Marc Moss, your host and Executive Director of Tell Us Something! We acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional lands of the Salish, Pend Oreille, and Kalispel peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.

As spring unfolds its vibrant colors and rejuvenates the earth, we recognize the interconnectedness of all life, and the importance of honoring Indigenous knowledge and practices.

In this season of renewal, let us commit to fostering a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture and history. Take time to learn about the traditional ecological knowledge of the original inhabitants of this land, and incorporate sustainable practices into our daily lives.

Together, let us strive to be mindful stewards of the land, fostering harmony and respect for all beings who call this place home.

A tangible way that we can do this is to practice leave no trace principles when we are outside recreating. Pick up our dogs’ waste when we are out hiking — don’t “get it on the way back” from your hike, get it when it happens, and carry it with you. Pick up trash where you see it, observe wildlife from a distance and avoid feeding them. By practicing some of these leave no trace principles, we can be stewards of the land that we claim to love so much.

We take this moment to honor the land and its Native people, and the stories that they share with us.


Sometimes adventure is chosen, sometimes it’s thrust upon you. In this episode of the Tell Us Something podcast, we delve into the journeys of four remarkable people:


A mother and daughter in Belize work together to navigate the challenges of entering the country with an expired passport, a determined diver confronts the depths of the ocean swimming against sudden swells and learns some harrowing news the next day when she returns to the water. An artist wrestles with self-doubt and the meaning of success. And a woman on a wilderness adventure faces a grizzly bear encounter, wolves and swarming bees on her ordeal to get out and help with a family emergency.


Traci Sylte: He opens the door and said, you’ll need to go to the U. S. Embassy right away. And talk to the consulate.


Ren Parker: I fight like hell to get up. Everything starts going really fast. I’m breathing air out as fast as I can, and I’m moving and swimming as hard as I can to get to the surface.  When divers dive, they need to decompress as they go to the surface.


Mark Matthews: And I  admitted for the first time that I’d given up the thing I loved. I’m Because I thought I was a failure, because I couldn’t make a living from it.


Kat Werner: I enter Pain Cave. Which is really just  alright, like, suck it up. Full on autopilot,  and I just, you know, one paddle stroke and one step at a time  trying to make it out of there. 


Marc Moss: Four storytellers share their true personal story on the theme “Close to the Edge”. Our stories today were recorded live in person in front of a packed house on March 26, 2024 at The George and Jane Dennison Theatre.


Remember this: Tell Us Something stories sometimes have adult themes. Storytellers sometimes use adult language.


Our first storyteller is Traci Sylte. An expired passport throws mother-daughter vacation into chaos! Listen to their dramatic encounter with immigration and how they turned a mishap into an unforgettable experience. We call her story “The Trip of a Lifetime”. Thanks for listening.


Traci Sylte: Descending from 30, 000 feet comes the following across the loudspeaker. Good afternoon. This is your main flight attendant speaking. Soon we will be coming through the aisles to pick up any unwanted items.


Please also have your, your custom form and your declarations formed, picked, filled out because we will be picking those up as well. Thank you for flying with us. We will be landing in Belize City in approximately 30 minutes. Beside me sat my daughter Becca, and it was just the two of us. She was 14 at [00:01:00] the time, and that was five years ago.


Old enough to begin filling out the customs form herself. And so I gave her her own form and she started filling it out. I began filling out the declaration form, making sure we had no, no unwanted fruits, no unwanted plant parts. Certainly nothing over 10, 000 in cash that we were bringing in. And then I started looking down at Becca and she was hesitating.


And, um, she’s sitting right here to the side of me and I’m, she’s, like, not filling out her form. And I look down and I said, Sweets, what’s wrong? And she says, Mom, my passport has expired. Yeah, right? And I say, that’s not true. Uh, let me see it. I look down, and sure enough, it had expired four months prior.


Four months prior, thirty minutes before we were to land in Belize City. Yeah. [00:02:00] And so I thought for a moment about like this, and I looked down at her, and I said, Okay, Becca, I need you to follow my lead. Can you do that, sweets? Just follow my lead. And she goes, Yeah, Mama, I can, I can do that. So we land, the customs line is long, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, because it was long enough for me to think about all the different things I could do to get us through this.


And it came down to one thing. I needed to be an actress, and I needed to be Meryl Streep. And I, oh, no, Jodie Foster. Jodie Foster is really hot right now, don’t you think? Yeah, Jodie Foster. So I had to be my best Jodie Foster. And so we are, we are coming up, and here’s the, up to the time where the, you see the official.


And I give the passports to her, and she looks at mine, asks me the questions, and then she hands it back, stamps it, and hands it back to me, and then she looks at Becca’s. And she looks at me and she says, Ma’am, her passport [00:03:00] is expired, did you know this? And I said, that can’t be. And, and I said, that’s just not possible.


And she says, it’s expired. And I said, that can’t be. Can I see it? So she hands it back to me, and I immediately start sobbing. And if, if, and I’m not an actress, but let me, and you guys probably like me watch movies, how do they do that? Let me say it’s possible you can, you can cry, you can cry. So I’m crying and I’m saying this is not true.


It can’t be, but it is. I don’t know how this has happened. Her dad just gave me the passport last night. We’re divorced. They went to, I didn’t think he’d laugh at that, that part, but yes. Okay. Yes. But yeah, we’re divorced. There’s, there’s clunky things, right? He, he handed me the passport last night. I’m telling the woman this.


And. They just went to Costa Rica last year. Passports don’t, they need to be renewed every ten years, right? And she’s not old enough. And she goes, ma’am, ma’am, [00:04:00] ma’am, calm down, calm down. Passport, and I’m crying, um, Passports need to be renewed for children under 18 years old every 5 years. And I said I didn’t know that.


And then she looks at me really sternly. And then she looks at Becca. And the interrogation begins. Who is this? This is my mama. What are you doing in Belize? We are in spring break. Where’s your dad? Why is your passport expired? Bang, bang, bang, bang. She asked Becca all these questions and Becca did not look up at me.


She just very calmly addressed this woman and after her interrogation the woman signals for another assistant to come and he comes and asks us the same exact freaking questions. Same thing, same response and I’m, I’m still trying to cry although the tears are starting to go away and Same thing, and Terry gets back, uh, and then he makes a phone call, [00:05:00] and he says, come with me.


And so we follow him down this long corridor, and then it turns, and I’m thinking all this time about spy movies and corrupt governments, and And cartels, drug cartels, and, and how vulnerable we are to these people at this time. And then we get to this door, and the door says, Director of Immigrations. And the door opens, he knocks, and the door opens, and this gentleman, let’s call him Raul, um, Raul, um, opens the door, and then he gestures for us to come in.


and sit down at these two chairs that were by his desk, and then he sits behind his desk and he looks at me, and I’m looking at him and I can see on the wall behind him, literally, no joke, there’s a picture of Jesus, and then on top of his file cabinets there are praying hands and I thought, I hope this works in my credit, or to my benefit, but drug cartels and corrupt governments, they’re religious too, so how is this going to work out?


So, he starts interrogating me the same questions, and I answer all of [00:06:00] those, and I’m not crying at this point. And at the end of these questions, I add. I said, I know it seems really stupid. Her dad and I were reasonably smart people, we just made a mistake. And I can tell you this also. Look at all of the consent forms, look at, we’ve got everything in line, and I can tell you that on the customs form it says, it asks you for the date of issue.


Thank you. Not the date of expiration. I never looked at the date of expiration. Neither did her dad. So then he turns from me to Becca. And he starts interrogating her, literally, with all the same questions. Who is this? And, and, and, then it comes, they think that I’m trying to smuggle my daughter in. It’s like, I just want to go out on the island and be with the sun and the sand.


And, and, I look at her and I think. She’s, she’s not looking at me, and she’s answering his questions with such poise and such grace, and it’s like, wow. She’s doing better than I am. And when she’s done with her interrogation, he looks back at [00:07:00] me, and his eyes had changed. At that point, I thought, Or maybe I knew that I was looking into the eyes of a father or perhaps a grandfather.


He literally, he turned and he went to a stack of papers on his desk. Oh, I forgot to tell you, at this point he was on the corner of his desk and he was looking over his eyeglasses like this at me. But he turned and he grabbed this, this, this piece of paper. And he literally ripped, I’m not joking, he ripped off a quarter of that piece of paper and he said, and then he put some of Becca’s passport information on it, he signed it and then he stamped it.


He said, this is your 14 day visitor pass to Belize, don’t lose it.


Yeah, he opens the door and said, you’ll need to go to the U. S. Embassy right away. And talk to the consulate, and don’t lose that piece of paper. So, I [00:08:00] also have to say that in my defense, I had this trip choreographed to the hour. I had two days on the mainland before we went out on the five day island excursion, two days afterwards, and I had to cancel all of that.


All of the mainland excursions that we were going to go on. And in that time, we got the passport application renewal, we got passport pictures, which is not easy to find all this stuff in Belize City in a third world country. It took a little bit of time and it was great for Becca and I, we really got to experience Belize City trying to find these things.


We called, we called her father, um, and got the, um, the, her birth certificate. FedExed overnight, we got, we got out on the island, we had a lovely time out on the island, did a lot of things, Becca snorkeled, and then she learned to dive out there. And while we were in the dive shop, the host of the dive shop said to us, I’ve never heard of such a story.


I can’t believe you’re here. And he said, you are likely going to have trouble getting back into the country.


[00:09:00] And he said, and just know that you can demand with the U. S. Embassy a 24 hour emergency passport. Just remember that. So, fast forward, I don’t have time to tell you all the things about the U. S. Embassy, that would take another ten minutes or more, um, but it was about as daunting. There were long lines, there were glass doors that I swear were three to four inches thick, um, There was, at one point, we heard a gentleman yell and say, if somebody doesn’t do something, somebody’s gonna get shot.


And we are getting the full, full experience here, this 14 year old here listening to all of this. And I also have to tell you that I put my mama bear on, and I, I had to, and I asked for a supervisor and another supervisor, and I demanded that emergency passport, and we needed it. It was, it was daunting.


But I’m here to say that the, but, and we got a private, we had a private host that helped us getting back and forth between [00:10:00] the, the, um, the consulate or the American embassy in Belmopan, which is an hour and a half away from Belize City, and we had to go back and forth several times, but we got to go in caves and visit his family and experience things that we normally would never have experienced.


And we made it. To our boarding gate 30 minutes before departure. Now we got on the plane and then we fly back in and we’re getting back into Missoula. And a lot of you guys can probably attest to this. The smell and the clear, the clear, cool air of Missoula was just really welcoming. And on our drive home, we were talking and reminiscing about the trip.


And, and Becca said to me, she goes, mom, that was the best trip that we’d ever been on. And, and she said. I think it was probably the trip of a lifetime. And I said, well, it was for me. You’re only 14, but yes. [00:11:00] It was a trip of a lifetime. It was epic. And she said, Mom, I gotta tell you something. Can I tell you something and have you not get mad at me?


She’s like, oh, here we go. She has a way of diffusing me before she even says something. And she said, Mom, I knew that the passport was expired before we left.


Thank you.


Marc Moss: Thanks, Traci.


Traci Sylte is a civil engineer and hydrologist who has worked for the U.S. Forest Service for nearly 34 years, and is currently the watershed program manager for the Lolo National Forest. She has a passion to maintain healthy watersheds, valley bottoms, rivers, streams, and wetlands. Traci is the product of two very loving parents.Her father taught her to operate a chainsaw and her mother facilitated dresses and piano lessons for her. The love of her life is her daughter, Becca, who is currently in her first year at the University of Washington. Traci continues to grow deeper in love with Missoula each year, because if one wants to learn to weave a basket with pink polka dots on a Tuesday, there’s someone probably doing it here. When Traci is not working, she is grounded by spending time with beloved family and friends, all things water, fly fishing, hiking, playing hockey with amazing Missoula women, fireside guitar serenades, sunrises, sunsets, all things music, and leaving things better than she found them.


In our next story, Ren Parker embarks on what was supposed to be a relaxing dive off Catalina Island that takes a terrifying turn. After fighting for survival in a desperate ascent, Ren knows that she must get back into the water the next day, and is met with devastating news upon surfacing. Ren calls her story “Deep Blue”. Thanks for listening.


Ren Parker: I am anchored on a small boat on the backside of Catalina Islands.  I’m getting ready to do a salvage dive with the two Johns.  And we’re standing there and looking around. It’s a beautiful sunshiny day.  Um, and we peer down the thing about the back side of Catalina Island is it’s open ocean. And for those of you who haven’t experienced open ocean, there’s nothing to stop the energy from the ocean.


When you are on the shore and you see a wave,  That is stopping all this force, but in the open ocean, it’s just there.  But everything seemed good for the dive that day, and we were about to drop down and get a lobster trap for a friend who had lost it during the lobster season.  As I slip into the ocean and slowly start ascending, descending into the depths, I look around and orient myself. 


On the backside of the island, there’s a shelf that’s about 120 feet.  There are these pinnacles that are about 60 feet that rise up like needles.  It’s very beautiful. If you look out the shelf, it drops down. And often when we speak of the depth, we use the word miles instead of feet. That’s how deep it is there.


You can see shadows moving and you never know what they are.  And as I go down, it gets a little darker and I touch the bottom of the ocean floor. It’s Sandy there.  We have only a few minutes to tie off the flotation device to get our lobster trap up. And, uh, that’s because the deeper you dive, the less time you have on the floor.


So we get that going and we, we, uh, light it up and it starts going up and up and then suddenly the surge hits.  I’m thrown 30 feet back and forth. I’m dodging pinnacles. I’m trying not to get smashed with rocks. I’m completely absorbed in the moment of trying to right myself and find some sense of balance.


For those of you that are unfamiliar with surge.  It’s like an underwater  river, but it goes back and forth and it’s very hard to swim against it. And this one was extremely strong.  By the time I had my wits about me and I’m trying to move around, I realized I’ve been breathing much heavier than I normally would.


And I’m starting to run out of air.  So I look around, I see the Johns. We all make the sign. We need to get out of here. And we start ascending up.  But it’s been really hard to swim and I’m exhausted and I look and I still have quite a ways to go and I’m almost out of air.  I look five minutes, five. Five, four, three, two,  and it’s gone. 


I fight like hell to get up. Everything starts going really fast. I’m breathing air out as fast as I can, and I’m moving and swimming as hard as I can to get to the surface.  When divers dive, they need to decompress as they go to the surface.  Air expands and gases expand in your system as you start going up. 


And if you don’t have enough time to off gas it out of your system, the ones that are stored in your tissue and your lungs, then it can create bubbles in your bloodstream and in your arteries and affect your organs.  I knew all this because I had worked at the hyperbaric chamber. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, it is a capsule that you go in when you get, um, decompression sickness from going up too fast or not fully getting the gases out of your system. 


And they put you back in pressure at depth so they can slowly bring you back up and you can off gas it the way you’re supposed to.  Um, I, this is in my mind, I break the surface  and there is foam and waves and I’m getting thrashed everywhere and I just keep dipping down and there’s no air in the, my vest and my BC.


So I just keep going under and I’m fighting to breathe and to get to the boat and somehow I do.  And I’m thinking about all these things and realize that I may be in some serious trouble.  But I wasn’t. I had done the emergency ascend apparently good enough that everything was okay. And, uh, I didn’t have to go into any sort of treatment.


And the next day, being a good cowgirl, I knew you gotta get back on that horse. And that’s how I was always raised. If something scares you, you go back and you try it again.  So I had decided I was going to go to the front side of the island where it was much calmer, where I had a lot more experience and just drop, drop down about 20 feet, just feel it and then drop back up and get the nervousness out of my system. 


So I walked from the back Harbor cat Harbor over to the front Carver. There’s a little isthmus there.  And as I’m walking there, I run into my friend, Linda.  There’s only about 40 of us that live on this part of the island year round. We’re all really tight. Linda was one of them. And was a good friend of mine.


She was witty and had this fierce sense of humor. She always had these beautiful long nails. Like, we were in the middle of nowhere and that girl looked fierce. Like, no matter what. And she would roll, she rolled the best joints with those long nails. She’d be like, oh, I got it. Just like, fabulous, you know.


I could never.  So I see her, and she’s looking fabulous, and she’s going, and she’s going to, um, get on her paddleboard, and we give, I give her a hug, I tell her what she’s doing, she’s all crazy girl, and I go.  So I get in my dinghy, and I motor out into this little lagoon,  drop the anchor, I have one of the johns in the boat to keep an eye out for me,  and I, I slowly go down into the water.


This area is about 25 feet, and it’s full of kelp, and it’s beautiful. And as you drop down, it’s the, the lighting becomes like a cathedral, or a redwood forest. It’s all dappled, it’s stunning.  And I get to the bottom, And the minute my feet touch the ground,  something is wrong.  I can feel it so deeply. It’s, it’s very upsetting.


So I immediately come back up and shake it off, you know, like I’m probably just still got the nerves.  And I come back and get back in the dinghy and we head to shore.  As I get to shore, I see the dock and.  I see my friend Lori running down it. She’s screaming and crying and she’s so upset. She keeps tripping and I had never seen anyone look like that before. 


So I quickly tied my boat up, walked up to her as fast as I could, and kind of caught her. And she was saying these things to me, but I, I didn’t understand what she was saying.  I kept repeating, what are you, what are you talking about? Finally, she said someone had died,  and I couldn’t understand the name, and finally she grabbed me, and she said, Rin, Linda has died. 


I had just seen her. 


Due to the  respect  I have for the,  for her life, I’m not going to go into details  of her passing, but one thing I will say, I worked in her ritual and I had to be a part of all of it.  So about 30 minutes later, everyone, all 40 of us were gathered  On the shoreline, in silence, nobody knew what to say, looking out at the ocean where we had lost our Linda. 


A woman started walking from the back. She was a local artist. She was slowly taking off her clothes to her bathing suit, and she had a handful of flowers. She started swimming out into the ocean and scattering them, and silently, we all started doing the same.  We got out there together.  And we all just swam in a circle  and spread flowers  and some people came from their boats and started pouring liquor into the water.


I’ve never heard silence like that before.  The next few weeks were a blur.  There was a lot of preparations and plans and trying to figure out this and contacting family and transportation.  I’ve always been the mother hen of everyone around me, and so I was just looking after, looking after, cooking for everyone, checking on everyone, but I had forgotten to check in with myself. 


And I got a call from my friend Chelsea. She had heard what happened,  and she said, Do you need to get out of that town? And I said, Yes. She said, Get on that ferry, and I did.  And she met me in Long Beach.  Got in her car and started driving up highway one up towards Big Sur. And slowly  I started my emotional decompression, which took a long time. 


And looking back, as I tell this story,  I realized that this was this moment, this critical moment in my life that took my trajectory and threw it into this chaotic space that I didn’t know was coming.  But when I look back, I see that that was the thing that brought me here. That was the thing that brought me  to many places within myself and in the planet. 


And I think that moments like that are only truly valued in retrospect.  And when I think back now to that time, what I remember  is how close we all were, how beautiful Linda was and how much we all love the sea. Thank you.


Marc Moss: Thanks, Ren.


Ren Parker is passionate about fostering a sense of community, and brings that enthusiasm to all of her endeavors. Ren grew up in Hawaii and lived on sailboats that she restored on the Pacific Ocean for seven years. She gave up her nomadic ways and moved back to Missoula to be close to family, and has been growing roots here ever since. Ren loves to dance and hike with her faithful dog, Poet, and spend time with her remarkable Missoula friends. She is a regular storyteller at the weekly storytelling event Word Dog, and hosts a weekly storytelling radio show on KFGM Community Radio where she is station manager. Her show is called Once Upon a Radio Wave.


Coming up after the break:


Mark Matthews: And I  admitted for the first time that I’d given up the thing I loved. I’m Because I thought I was a failure, because I couldn’t make a living from it.


Kat Werner: I enter Pain Cave. Which is really just  alright, like, suck it up. Full on autopilot,  and I just, you know, one paddle stroke and one step at a time  trying to make it out of there.


Marc Moss: An artist’s life takes a dramatic turn on a snowy night and a woman stranded in Alaska, grizzly bears on one side, a father in crisis on the other.


Stay with us.


Thank you to the Good Food Store who, as the Story Sponsor, helped us pay our storytellers. Learn more about them at Thanks to Spark Arts who provided childcare for the performance. You can learn more about Spark at Thanks to our Stewardship sponsor, Blackfoot Communications, who helped us to give away free tickets to underserved populations. Learn more about Blackfoot, celebrating 70 years, at


We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Going Home”. This event is a collaboration with Missoula Pride and we will favor folx in the LBGTQ+ community as we listen to story pitches. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected]. Learn more and get your tickets for the June 11th event at


The pitch deadline is May 4th. I look forward to hearing from you.


Another important date is on the horizon, too. Missoula Gives & Bitterroot Gives, a 26-hour celebration of the Missoula and Ravalli communities. Mark your calendars for May 2nd and 3rd and tell your friends about this opportunity to support Tell Us Something during Missoula Gives. May 2nd and 3rd.


You are listening to the Tell Us Something podcast where people share their true stories around a theme live in person without notes. I’m Marc Moss. Storytellers in this episode shared their stories in front of a full house on March 26, 2024 at The George and Jane Dennison Theatre in Missoula Montana.


Our next storyteller is Mark Matthews. Mark’s life takes a dramatic turn on a snowy night. He’s a struggling sculptor with seemingly nowhere to go. Listen to Mark’s story of passion, resilience, and rediscovery of the thing that he loves. Mark calls history “Thanks for This Wonderful Gift”.


Mark Matthews:

Um, on January 1st,  1992, I abandoned a career in art.  About a decade earlier, when I was 30 years old,  I started sculpting full time after quitting a job in Boston and moving to a small coastal village in Maine where everything was wicked good. 


I started my career carving wood, and I loved it. The entire process I would walk through the forest looking for broken limbs from trees or I would salvage a log that was destined for the firewood pile.  I carved many images of dancers. Ballet dancers, uh, dressed in, uh, tights and leotards. Modern and flamenco dances with, um, flowing skirts.


Couples doing a contradance swing or, um, the Cajun two step.  I also did musicians playing fiddles, violins, accordions, and guitars.  Sometimes I would liberate a figure from a single piece of wood, and over time I started constructing  sculptures. For instance, I would carve one leg, the torso, and the head out of one piece of wood, attach the arms in different attitudes, and the other leg could be jutting out in any angle. 


I had a lot of luck showing my work in galleries, and in fact, the gallery owner said,  your work entices people to come in.  And sometimes I witnessed that  after delivering a new piece, I would hang around talking to the director,  and people would come in the gallery and go from sculpture to sculpture saying, look at this, look at this.


And then they’d come up to the owner and they’d say,  We want to buy that painting, it fits the decor of a living room.  And I realized early on that not many people know how to live with sculpture.  But I made enough money, uh, to keep out of the starving artist, uh, category.  And many a day at the end of,  many times at the end of the work day,  I would just say thank you for this wonderful gift. 


In 1989,  I moved from Maine to Montana.  And, at that time, Missoula was a soft landing place for artists, writers, dancers, musicians. There weren’t many jobs, but the rent was cheap. For instance, you could rent a room, uh, a studio apartment at the Wilma Building for 150 a month. 


And, when I started exploring the Rocky Mountain West and the Pacific Northwest, I got my work into galleries in Seattle, uh, Kalispell, Big Fork, Truchas, New Mexico, and Palm Desert, California.  And also, um, a lot of my work was, uh, rather large, from five feet, uh, and I had one ballerina that was on point with her hands overhead that was eight feet tall, but they were very thin. 


But I had to transport them in a, uh, cargo  trailer.  And I wanted to make things that I could just put in the back of my Ford Ranger pickup.  and deliver it to a gallery. So I enrolled in a one credit independent study in ceramics at the university.  In fact, many people enrolled in one credit independent studies in a lot of subjects at that time so that they could get the health insurance. 


Um,  Where was I?  Oh, so I took my portfolio to Beth Lowe and Tom Rapone, and they looked at it and said, Oh yeah, you can work here as much as you want, uh, use as much clay as you want, as long as you mix it yourself. And it was a beautiful community of people, welcoming, supportive people. Uh, Bill and Cheryl West were there from Idaho, working on their graduate, um, degrees.


Uh, Joe Batt, was also working on his graduate degrees. He was the, um, lead singer in stand up Stella and, um,  Glenn and Amy parks was frequent, uh, visitors to the studio as was Jeanette Rakowski. We used to work at the downtown bakery before it burned down. 


There was one thing wrong though. The galleries weren’t selling my work  by the fall of 1991.  I found myself sleeping. And the camper on the back of my Ford Ranger pickup truck is one of those campers with the fold up doors.  And I would park just off campus. It was illegal to park without a sticker. And get up early, shower in the men’s, the old men’s gym, and cook my meals on a camp stove in the ventilated kiln room. 


But still, life was wonderful. I was making art.  And the weather was beautiful. No snow. Uh, no freezing temperatures all winter long.  Into the fall. In the early winter.  And, at the end of the day,  especially when I finish the piece, I would say thank you for this wonderful gift.  Oh, I forgot one little story.


Uh, Tom Rippon invited me to  sit on his sculpture class.  And, you know, I wanted to make these small things. And the first thing Tom said in class was, Everybody’s going to make something over six feet tall this semester.  I ended up making a statue of Hank Williams playing his guitar, seven foot tall, and a Lady Grizz basketball player holding a ball on her hip, and a couple of other pieces. 


So, um,  during winter break, my parents sent me a plane ticket to go visit them, and I got back to Missoula the afternoon of January 1st, 1992. Phew.  You deplaned on the tarmac at that,  at that time. And I walked out into warm sunshine, still no snow in the valley, and  thought, what should I do? For the rest of the afternoon.


Um, I didn’t feel like going to work at the studio. Uh, I usually camped up in, um, Deer Creek on the weekends and I didn’t feel like going up there. I thought I’ll go see a matinee movie.  So I went to the old triplex cinema at the end of Brooks, just before you head out to Lolo. And I chose to see dances with the wolves  about 20 minutes into the film. 


The screen went blank, the house lights came on, and an usher came down the aisle, and he said,  You may want to head home. There’s a wicked winter storm blowing up the Blackfoot. We’re going to get about two feet of snow and freezing temperatures.  I walked out into the lobby, and the wind was blowing so hard it was holding the exit doors open, and I could see the snow blowing parallel to the parking lot. 


Reached the Ford Ranger, got some winter clothes out of the back, and got in and instinctively drove to the ceramics studio, which shares the Quonset Hut with the Grizzly Pool,  intending to sleep there overnight.  I parked right in front of the door, even though I had no parking sticker.  Grabbed my sleeping bag out of the back. 


Reached for the door handle and for the first time in two years it was locked.  Got back into the Ford Ranger. Slowly drove off campus. Came to the intersection of Madison Street and there was a pickup truck.  Just sitting there in the middle of the intersection.  And I left the ranger idling and I went out and, to see what was going on.


And a woman rolled down her window and said, I can’t see anything. And the ice was encrusted on her front, front um, windshield. About a half an inch. So I took her scraper, uh, cleaned her window off. And as I’m doing that, I’m thinking, Hmm. How can I get this woman to take me home for the night? 


I couldn’t think of anything, so I handed the scraper back to her and she thanked me profusely  and drove off.  And I got back into the Ford Ranger and just sat there.  And when you’re homeless, you kind of lose contact with your friends.  And I’d heard of the Parvarello Center, but I didn’t know where it was.


And, and I didn’t feel right. My motto had always been, artists make art, they don’t wait on tables. So I had gotten myself into this situation.  And then I heard a voice. And it wasn’t inside my head. It was coming through my ears.  And it was the voice of Jeanette Rakowski. And she had said, If you ever get in trouble, you can stay at my place. 


So I made it over to her humble abode on the west side  and grabbed my sleeping bag and knocked on the front door and Jeannette came to the door, wrapped up in her bathrobe, opened the door and said, what the hell are you doing out there? Get in here.  She made me dinner. We chatted a while.  She went off to her bedroom to read and sleep.


And I spread my sleeping bag out on the sofa.  And for a while, I just stared at the ceiling.  And came to the conclusion that I can’t do this anymore. And I gave up. Heart. 


Twenty years later,  I’m working as an adjunct professor at, uh, Montana College of Technology when it was out by the, uh, county fairgrounds,  uh, teaching English comp and creative writing.  And I used to go over to the old Salvation Army store, which was also across the street from the fairgrounds.  And I’m going through the VHS  tapes, and I see Dances with the Wolves. 


I said, I’ve never saw the end of that film.  So I take it home and watch it.  Stopped it about half an hour in. And went downstairs to get a snack. And halfway down the stairs, I started weeping.  I’m like, what the hell is going on? The movie isn’t even sad.  And at that moment, all those memories of January 1st, 1992 came descending upon me. 


And I  admitted for the first time that I’d given up the thing I loved. I’m Because I thought I was a failure, because I couldn’t make a living from it.  And as abruptly as I gave up art, I decided I would take it up again.


Marc Moss: Thanks, Mark. Throughout his adult life Mark Matthews has worked as an artist, author, freelance journalist, wildland firefighter, and dance caller and instructor. He currently shows his sculpture and oil paintings at the Roosevelt Arts Center in Red Lodge, and at Manifestations Gallery in Eureka. Over the past dozen years he has visited scores of schools across the state of Montana, for Humanities Montana, teaching children of all ages how to contra and square dance. For more information about Mark’s art, and to hear an epilogue of Mark’s story, visit

In our final story, Kat Werner is stranded in Alaska, grizzly bears on one side, a father in crisis on the other.  In the face of fear, and with the help of her hiking crew, a community rallied and shared burdens. Kat calls her story “The Arctic Pain Cave” Sensitive listeners be aware that Kat’s story discusses someone who has suicidal ideations. Please take care of yourselves.  Thanks for listening.


Kat Werner: Kat Werner

I am on the Koyukuk River in the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  I’m with my husband, Curtis, and my friends, Samson and Cody.  For the last four days, we hiked hauling 80 pound packs to get to our river put in.  And it’s our first day on the river,  and we’re about two miles down. And when I look ahead,  everything happens really fast. 


I see a giant grizzly bear covered in blood,  and it’s charging at Samson, who’s the first in line.  And before I know it, something catches my eye on the left, and I look over, and there’s a wolf.  And as I start screaming,  the grizzly bear must get confused because it backs, backs off, and it hauls a massive caribou caucus. 


up the shore,  which gives us a much needed break to get the hell out of there,  take a deep breather,  because that was a close call.  And it was one of seven grizzly bear encounters in a 24 hour period. 


It’s our third morning on the river, and it’s one of those beautiful, sunny camp mornings.  And it’s, you know, it’s, I vividly remember it because the sun is shining, everybody always says, oh, Alaska, there’s all these bugs and it’s raining, but it was just beautiful, and I’m in a tank top, I’m hanging out with my friends, we’re really not in a rush, because we’re in the Arctic, and we have 24 hour daylight.


So we’re just hanging out, we’re sharing stories, we’re drinking tea,  and eventually, we’re like, alright, we should probably get going, it’s like noon.  And so, as we start packing up our stuff, I’m thinking, oh, I should turn on my Garmin inReach. And check if I got any messages.  And so if you don’t know what a Garmin inReach is, it’s a communication device.


It’s a satellite communication device that allows you to send and receive messages and it has an SRS function, but you’re not able to make or take calls.  And so I turn on the inReach and it takes a couple minutes to connect to the satellite  and within quick succession, I get two messages.  The first one is from my mom. 


And it says, bitte ruf mich an,  please call me.  The second one is from my mother in law Michelle.  Cat has to call home. It’s an emergency.  And my stomach just drops.  And I wish I could tell you  that the story I’m sharing tonight is just a good old adventure story.  You know, it’s really challenging physically and mentally, but overall, it’s a really good time. 


And that’s not the story that I’m telling. 


And so, to give a little bit of context to those text messages,  I have to look back at that year, and my dad, back in Germany,  who was having a really challenging year.  Despite any prior mental health issues.  He, pretty suddenly, and within a really short period, developed a really deep and severe depression. 


And so the morning of the day before we were set to leave for Alaska,  I remember calling both of my parents  and they didn’t answer.  And I got this standard, you know, Apple text message that just says, we’ll call you right back. And I’m, I’m already like, that’s weird. Like something’s going on. What’s going on?


I don’t know.  And so,  when my mom FaceTimes me, a couple hours later,  my dad is sitting right next to her and, you know, he doesn’t look, he doesn’t look at me at all, and he’s just in a pile.  And my mom says, you know, we just spend  some time with a crisis therapist who assessed your dad for suicidal thoughts. 


And, right away in my mind I’m thinking,  I can’t go on this trip, like,  what am I going to do?  And my mom says, you know, it’s, it’s okay. We have the support that we need, and we have the services, and you should go on this trip. 


And I do. And Kurt tells Cody and Samson what’s going on, and they’re great.  And the next morning, like 5am, red eye flight out of Missoula, before we leave, last minute I grab my passports, my German and my American passport, just in case.  And so, we head out, we get to Fairbanks,  and I’m just in a really weird headspace going into this trip. 


I’m really, yeah, I’m really just struggling to stay present and, you know, engage with my friends and soak up the beauty that is the gates of the Arctic National Park, one of the most remote places in the world.  And I’m really just worried the whole time.  And then I get those text messages.  Your dad tried to end his life today  and he’s at the hospital. 


And I respond to my mom and I say, I can’t call you.  At a minimum, I’m five days out from calling you.  And that’s five days of  hard, hard, hard back breaking work, trying to make it back to Coldfoot, the last truck stop, about six hours away from Fairbanks.  And so I’m like, well, alright, what do I do? I can’t curl up here on this sandy shore.


I can’t call a heli evac. I have to keep moving.  And, at that point, I enter  what my husband refers to as the pain cave. Which is really just this, like, alright, like, suck it up. So like, just go inside, and And just full on autopilot,  and I just, you know, one paddle stroke and one step at a time  trying to make it out of there. 


And I don’t talk, and I don’t engage, I just function.  And we all come together that morning on the river, and we basically brainstorm. How can we get out of here as fast as possible?  And we put in a massive day on the Koyukuk that day.  We finish the next morning,  and we make it to our exit, the Rock Creek exit. 


And,  I wonder if anybody has ever planned a trip following a blog post?  Especially if that blog post said,  This is not recommended.  It’s actually strongly discouraged.  That was the Rock Creek exit.  And it started out with a hike, well, a hike up a flowing creek.  My left little toe was literally numb for six months after that trip because the water was so cold. 


And you know, eventually the canyon gets really narrow and we get forced up the bank, um, this left, shitty side hill slope, the thickest alder bushes you can imagine, um, we labeled it the schwagadoom because it was, it was such thick alder and it’s hot and it’s humid and, um, We are hauling these heavy packs, and really, any time you needed a break, all you had to do was just go, uh  huh. 


Because it was so thick, you couldn’t go anywhere.  There is miles of muskag, so we’re just sinking into the slimy, muddy water. There’s bugs, there’s bees nests on the ground.  At our best, we’re moving a quarter of a mile an hour.  It was a full on sufferfest. I’m in my pain cave.  We make it. We get to Coltsfoot. 


I call my mom.  And I knew the whole time, really, that I’m, I need to go. I need to get home.  And so, you know, this whole time I’m just consumed with worry. Am I going to lose my dad?  And so after, you know, a pretty long, restless night, the next morning I flagged down the first person that walks.  Out of the Coltwood truck stop, and it happens to be a German dude, and I’m just like hey Can’t make mid name in each most of the house.


I have a problem that I’m yep. All right jump in the car I Get I get to Fairbanks There’s a six hour stretch from Coltwood to Fairbanks where you do not have cell phone reception I get to cell phone reception my phone blows Up hey, did you take the rental car keys with you by chance?  Yep, yeah, I did So I get to Fairbanks Leaving my crew stranded, but it is a trucker route, so thankfully, I’m just like, telling the German guy, hey can you pull over, I need to flag down this trucker, trucker takes the keys back up the road, that all worked out. 


I sleep at the Fairbanks airport, I get to Seattle, I fly to Frankfurt, I jump on a train, I get to my hometown of Nuremberg, my friend picks me up, I get to the hospital, I see my dad.  And the first thing he says, he’s just like, well.  What can I even say?  I just say. I don’t have to say anything.  I just give him a big hug and just,  Hey, I’m just so thankful I get to see you. 


And so when I look back at that experience in Alaska, but really that whole year,  it’s safe to say that that was the closest to the edge I’ve been in my life  physically and mentally and emotionally.  And here is what, over and over again, pulled me back from that edge.  It’s my oldest childhood friend back home who dropped everything  that weekend and that night to be with my mom and support her. 


And it’s my friend here in town who hand bedazzled these solar shields, if you know what they are. They’re these giant grandma sunglasses you can put on over regular glasses.  They’re styling.  Because I was so stressed out that I had a really bad eye infection,  and it’s my friend who left a care package with a note on my patio that said, this fucking sucks. 


I’m here for you.  And my therapist, who reminded me that there’s a lot of hardship and grief that can’t be solved,  but it can be shared.  And Curtis, who keeps planning these miserable epics,  despite everything.  And really, there’s a dozen more people and a dozen more acts of love and support.  And I think, for me, that’s really the beautiful thing about this story, that it’s my story,  and it’s my dad’s story.


And this community of people. that came together for me to rally around me.  That’s my community,  but it’s also my dad’s community.  And you know, his path,  um, wasn’t, wasn’t straightforward. It actually got a lot harder before he got to a better spot, but he is planning his next visit to Missoula this spring. 




He loves Missoula.  Ever since he first came here, he loves going to the break to read his German newspaper.  He loves taking his Harley with a German flag on the back to the locks a lot for a late breakfast.  He loves having a blue moon. I know there’s better beer, but he loves blue moon.  Having a blue moon on the patio with me. 


And so,  if you see him this year, wandering around,  Downtown Missoula, likely wearing some German shirt with like some German phrase or reference to the German national football team.  Please say hi, welcome him back, give him a high five, and tell him, Archie, you’re awesome. Thank you. 

Marc Moss: Thanks, Kat. Kat Werner was a German high school exchange student in South Dakota — some of you might remember her last Tell Us Something story about that experience and meeting her husband there.She has called Missoula home for almost 15 years. Kat is a licensed clinical social worker and faculty member at the University of Montana School of Social Work. Things that fill her soul are: any outdoor or wilderness activity, traveling the world, genuine human connection, cooking and eating good food, and creating and checking off a good to-do list.


Tune in next week to hear the concluding stories from the Close to the Edge live storytelling event 


Kathleen Kennedy: And I was simultaneously indignant  and sympathetic. 


But I also had this I was feeling like I would love for squatters to come there and, and light a fire and burn it down, like problem solved.


Susan Waters: And the voice said, do you want to stay or do you want to go?  And without even thinking about it, I said, if I still have work I need to do here, I want to stay.  And the voice said,  okay.


Annabelle Winnie: I do wonder if what we think of as traits for neurodivergence, if they’re really adaptations, there are ways that the body adapts. 


Behaviors adapt, and even the brain itself adapts to a world that often feels too, too bright, too loud. It’s just too much. 


Amanda Taylor: we were texting each other every day, morning to night. We called them play by plays, which I also loved cause it made me feel sporty.  I’m like, yeah, we’re sending play by plays.


Marc Moss: Listen for those stories at or wherever you get your podcasts.


Remember that the next Tell Us Something event is June 11th. You can learn about how to pitch your story and get tickets at 


Thanks to our media sponsors,, and The Trail Less Traveled, Missoula Broadcasting Company including the family of ESPN radio, The Trail 103.3, Jack FM, and Missoula’s source for modern hits, U104.5 


And thanks to our in-kind sponsors Float Missoula Joyce of Tile.


When you patronize these businesses, thank them for their support of live storytelling in Missoula.


Please remember that our next event, in partnership with Missoula Pride is on June11 at the Glacier Ice Rink at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. The theme is “Going Home ”. You can pitch your story by calling 406-203-4683, and we encourage our friends in the LBGTQ community to pitch a story.

Learn more about Tell Us Something including how to pitch a story and get tickets for the next event at

This episode of the podcast was recorded in front of a live audience on August 31, 2022 in Black Rock City at Center Camp at the Burning Man event. 5 storytellers shared their true personal story on the theme “Waking Dreams”. Today we hear from three of those storytellers.

Transcript : Waking Dreams

Marc Moss: Welcome to the Tell Something podcast. I’m Marc Moss. We are currently looking for storytellers for the next tell us something storytelling event. The theme is, it’s the Little Things. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 4 0 6 2 0 3 4 6 8 3. You have three minutes to leave your pitch.

The pitch deadline is November 7th. I look forward to hearing from you. This episode of the podcast was recorded in front of a live audience on August 31st, 2022 in Black Rock City at center. At the Burning Man

Jack Butler: event, the artist, the writers, the creatives, those were other people. That’s what other people did.

Marc Moss: Five storytellers shared their true personal story on the theme. "Waking Dreams"

Ranger Sasquatch: My wife and I had spent 42 grand in cash on in vitro. That didn’t work.

Marc Moss: Today we hear from three of those storytellers.

Katie Condon: And I wasn’t just surprised, I was shocked, like there wasn’t enough room in my body for the blood. It was amazing.

Marc Moss: Citizens of Black Rock City hold 10 principles to be true, including radical inclusion, radical self. Radical self-expression, civic responsibility, leaving no trace communal effort, Immediacy, and the three that I’m interested in today are participation, gifting, and decommodification. The storytellers participated in a magical night of deep vulnerability.

The listeners participated with their active listening. Gifting. The storytellers gifted us with their stories, and the event was also free to listeners, Decommodification. There were no sponsors. And so for this episode of the Tellus So podcast, there are no sponsors To thank, our first story comes to us from Jack Butler, who recounts the story of his first burn and how it inspired him to write a novel set in Black Rock City in a story that we call the Virgin.

Thanks for listen.

Jack Butler: So when I was about four years old, I had a reoccurring dream and I thought it was a nightmare. So we’re back in about 1977, So this is how the dream starts. I’m on a desert plane and it’s nighttime, and there’s this huge arch of earth. From the center of the arch growing back down towards the ground is this beautiful tree.

It’s inverted behind the arch and behind the tree, there’s something glowing in the sky. And so the dream starts to shift and this thing starts to rise in the sky and I become frightened. So I woke myself up and the next. . I went to sleep and I was again on this desert plane cracked earth, nighttime arch tree glowing thing in the sky, and it started to rise into the sky a little bit more, and I was frightened, so I woke myself up.

And I probably talked to my mom about it the morning, but you know, it’s the seventies. So put on your corduroy shirt, drink your tan, go to go to school. They’re not really big in, uh, getting self involved in there. So the next night I told myself, Well, I know I can wake myself up, so I’ll go ahead and see what what happens.

And cracked desert, plain arch tree rise in the sky. And what I saw was this glowing wolf. That just looked at me and it looked at me with just this kindness and intensity. And then the dream was over flash forward about 20 years, I like to go to new age conferences and learn about all different types of things.

And they had a, a break period where they said, Well, does anyone have any questions? And no one did. So I said, Well, I had this dream and I. And there were a lot of answers and things from people, but this one lady said, you know, shamans would meditate at the base of a tree, and then they would send their spirit down the roots of the tree to this lower level, this place of lower vibration to do whatever work they needed to do.

So with the tree inverted, it’s a pathway to a higher level of existence, a higher level of vibration.

2019 is my fourth year out here. We, we were finishing up building a theme camp and I was looking around and just. Taking it in and, you know, something fantastic just drove down the road and I just said out loud, it was like, someone should write a book to explain this place, why people come here. Why do you come to this hellish place, which nothing but heat and, and all the environmental stuff you have to deal with.

Of course, one of my friends was like, Yeah, you should do that. You should go ahead and you should write that book. So I went home and, and stared at a document and opened the word document. It’s like, well, what do you say about. Place. Well, you write a book to find out what you know not to tell what you know.

And so I thought about the first time I came here as a virgin and I’d heard about it and heard about it from friends and it was, it sounded fantastic. And I came out here and just worked to death for like three days cause I could know how to work. And then I ventured out on my bike and I went out to the Esplanade.

And there’s just madness and there’s sound, and there’s music, and there’s lights, and there’s art cars, and there’s people zooming by. And I could take that for about five or 10 minutes, and then I just need to go out to the trash fence. You’ll be by myself, and I’m sitting out there, my back to the trash fence watching all this stuff go on.

And I’m thinking about my emotional turmoil and my baggage and things I have, and one voice is saying, It’s time to go. You just gotta get outta here. This is too much. It’s too different. And the other side is like, Well, you’re here. You came here. It took a lot to get here. So why don’t we sit for just a minute, and when I looked out, I realized there were 70,000 people who didn’t care about my problems.

So maybe I should put ’em to the side for a minute. And then I thought about what else could I put in into a book I could put in the art out here. This is the largest art festival anywhere, and I’ve seen art that I couldn’t believe and I got to meet the artist. Because for me, in my background, the artist, the writers, the creatives, those were other people.

That’s what other people did. That’s not what I did. I couldn’t do that. I, I lived in a different world, but then I got to talk to them and they were just people, and that slowly became the theme of the book. People are just people. And this art will push you out here. The first art project that really kind of knocked me was the Barbie, uh, death camp.

And if you’ve never seen it, it’s, it’s an incredible offering. Been out here a long time, but it’s, it’s these Barbie dolls who are nude. Ken and Barbie dolls being marched into ovens by other Ken and Barbie dolls dressed as Nazi. And it’s, and it’s a very serious subject and it, it will knock you in your tracks and make you think, But that’s the what art out here does.

It makes you think, and it made me think, and when I started talking to these creatives and I realized they’re just people like me, then maybe I can create and maybe I can write a book. So I sat down. This is how you write a book. You sit down every day and you start typing words. If you write the first line, you can write the last time.

90% of the people who write a book do not finish it. So I started to writing and, and very much believe that there’s muses, there’s these creative energies that swirl around all over the place, and they’re just looking for a place to land. I did not write this book. This book wanted to be written. I know that because it just started to flow and characters come out of the woodwork and situations happen, and suddenly you’re telling a story and I want to read the story that I’m writing.

And people. Just started to define what Burning Man is through the little vignettes that we’ve all had, these little moments that we all have. And that’s the important part, is the little moments we have, no matter what else is happening, where we see kindness and we see love and we see hurt and heartache and struggle and we get through it.

So I wrote the book and it was finished and I found an editor, which every writer needs, which I found out you really need an. And it. And it got better. And it got better. And finally one day it was done and I needed a cover. So I thought, well, I’m gonna put the words into the dust, The Virgin of Burning Man’s story.

So I contacted the org and they were great. And they let me use the words Burning Man on the front covers, like, What do I put on there? A man? Do I put a burn? Do what do I put? And none, none of it felt right. So I just sat and I thought, and I thought, A dream I had when I was a little boy and it was an arch of earth and it was a tree growing upside down and it’s a path to a higher level of vibration existence.

And I commissioned an artist and the artist drew it, and it wasn’t till I saw the picture that I knew where I was in 1970. I was on the playa. This place has been here waiting for all of us. This place is a porter to our higher selves and our higher journey if we want to take that journey. Now you begin with the ending in mind.

But I didn’t know what the end would be. So I will end with the first line of the book. So you have to write the first line. And it’s Kamal you fractured souls. Society’s lost and discarded vessels. Lonely children in adult skins. Bring your art, your love, and your wonder. Find solace in the dust. And I like that ending.

But there was something more. I came out here to Renegade Burn, and I wrote a poem, and I’m gonna take just a little piece from that. That really resonated with me. I know that this body and this vessel will die, will pass on as my loved ones have died and passed on before me. And what will. Is my love and the memory of my love for each and every one of you.

We who are so blessed to have come to this place and to be able to raise ourselves up. We are the holders of the flame and we will guide the others home. We are the burn. Thank you.

Marc Moss: Thanks Jack. Jack Butler was raised in Kentucky and found the outdoors and forests to be a great playground. He developed a love of reading at an early age and would lose himself in the adventures and stories. Jack spent six years in the military after high school, and then another 25 years bouncing around the world as a merchant marine on ships.

Jack’s first burn was in 2016, and it began a process of opening his eyes to another world, a different life. To learn more about Jack and hear a sample from his book visit, tell us In our next story, after a long overnight shift, patrolling Black Rock. Ranger Sasquatch is tasked with delivering an exciting message in the days before cell service on the play Ranger.

Sasquatch must find his intended recipient the old fashioned way by interacting with his fellow citizens in a story that we call special delivery. Thanks for listening.

Ranger Sasquatch: As he said, I’m Ranger Sasquatch and I’ve been here a good long time. And, uh, there are some things that are constant burning. One of those things is the learning cliff.

You either fall off it when you encounter it, float to the ground, or you run into it like the coyote in a Warner Brothers cartoon. This is a story about how I ran into it like that coyote

back in 2005. The city was a different place. The term wifi, if it existed at all, was just circulating in technical magazines. It really hadn’t circulated to the general population. We didn’t have any contact out here with the greater world, not in any significant sense. Emergency messages for people here at Birdman.

Came into the Garlock office, were written down on a piece of paper, placed on a spindle, and picked up a couple times a day by an individual who then drove them into the. Where they were delivered to the ranger department for delivery to the individuals who they were intended for. In those days, Rangers worked eight hour shifts.

We had three shifts a day, and, uh, having a working brain, I worked the graveyard shift, midnight to eight in the morning, and, uh, In those days, there were less rangers, and in those days people really knew how to mess themselves up. So an eight hour shift could require that we ran from one scene of carnage to another on our bicycles, and I was a beautiful young squirrel who could really speed on my bicycle.

So I would do baby 25 miles in an eight hour shift here, just within the city.

Needless to say, at the end of one of those shifts, you are really ready to go back home to your. And get ready for your next shift, which was a mere 12 hours away, and at least one of those hours, maybe two of those hours, were you getting back to your camp, forcing down the carbohydrates and, and the water, and, and then finding a cool place to sleep while the day star crossed through the sky, you were ready to go home.

This particular. Coming off my graveyard shift khaki, which is what we call the shift leads for rangers on our radios, we’ll say khaki Sasquatch, and they’ll answer us and khaki our shift lead. The authority said Sasquatch, would you and your partner like to deliver an emergency message? And you know, I was really beat, you know, even though I was a energetic young squirrel with his natural hair.

I, uh, I said, Well, what, what is the message? You know, what’s the content of it? And, and Khaki said, The message is, Congratulations, daddy, you’re a father. I thought, Oh man, this is so my message to deliver because my, my wife and I had spent 42 grand in cash on, in vitro that didn’t work. In the previous three years and, and I thought to myself, Man, I want to be here to deliver this message.

I want to see this guy’s face. I want to share the joy of telling him that this had worked out for him, where it hadn’t for me.

Anyway, ,

Sorry. I’m

so sorry. Anyway. I said, I’ll take that message. And my partner, Mongo, I said, Mongoose, are you up for this? And Mongoose said, Sure thing. And I don’t know if any of you know Mongoose, but that particular year, 2005, he built this art project that scared the live shit outta me. It was a ladder, 300 feet tall that went nowhere.

And it was guide all along. It just all, all along, You know, the ladder was never going to fall, no matter how many people were on it, but it didn’t go anywhere. And people would go all the way to the top and go to the other side and, and then climb down. And I would sit on the ground and mentally shit myself,

So Mongos was a really particular fine individual and he said, I’m totally. So we got the name of the individual and we got the theme cap he was associated with. And we, in those days, again, people partied hard, burners, really knew how to hurt themselves. And, uh, at, at eight 30 in the morning, on a Thursday in 2005, the only people awake were folks streaming back from this cafe.

or going to the porta potty. And so we went to where we knew his actual art project was about 300 yards off of the 10 o’clock radio and it was a, uh, drive up. I’m changing this because I don’t want to expose personal details, so I’m going to say it was a drive up. Egg and cheese sandwich booth and it, it was closed when we got there and, and there was no one around but there was a box truck.

So Mongoose and I knocked on that box truck and, and a guy came out and he told us that they didn’t actually camp around there. And we knew that. And he said, We’re back at eight and f and it’s tense right there. It isn’t Marced, but all you need to do is ask around. We knew how that. So we hopped on our bicycles and we, we raced over to, uh, eight and f and, and, uh, we waited until somebody came out of a tent going to a porta potty, and we just pounced on ’em.

And after about three of those, we found where their camp was and, and where his tent was more, most importantly. Okay, so we get off our bikes and, and I go jam mon goose, and he’s standing there and, and I get down on my knees in front of the door and I say, Hello, hello. In there it’s Ranger Sasquatch with an emergency message and I hear some stirring.

And I, and, and I wait, and a, a fellow comes to the door, kind of grizzled, looking at the door of the tent and he unzips it and he sticks his face out and he’s got a few days growth of beard. And he’s, you know, looking frazzled. And he, and, and he says, What’s the message? And I say, the message reads, Congratulations daddy.

You’re a father. And then I waited and I watched his face because this was the moment, I mean, I’d modeled this in my mind. I was gonna cap some joy from this guy. And, and as I watched he scowled and his face darkened and I said, This isn’t a good thing. And he, he shook his head and he goes, She’s basically a stalker.

And I, it was like my mind. Was a bug running into a windshield. Just one. Nothing actually hit me, but there was an almost physical impact in here.

And I, uh, I, uh, I, uh, I, uh, I started trying and, uh,


I knew it, he’d crawl out his jet and he was patting me on

the back. Comforting me

and, uh, he was so kind and uh, And

I wanna tell a lot about how the chorus in my mind, there was like a voice and there really was, because that’s how my mind works and I internalize things and, and sometimes they’re the voices of friends. And when my mind, for instance, gets in a compulsive loop, which it does, I hear an old roommates go.

Say the thing he used to correct is German short-haired pointers. When they got into something he didn’t want them to, he would say, Leave it. And, and, and that, that’s something that my mind at society used to stop those loops. And, uh, but this time I hadn’t met that roommate yet, but this time another roommate, I could hear his voice and his, his voice said, Ha, you got fucking used.

You got used to attack this guy. Fucking preconceptions are garbage. And I, it just crushed me. I got a lot of comfort from him. And, but it was a lesson, you know, there’s good, there’s bad here, and it’s not bad to invest yourself in a thing. And it’s not bad to believe in a thing, but you gotta be careful.

You gotta be, you gotta be flexible like a willow. You gotta, you gotta know that. So, It’s gonna be really hard to handle what is presented.

Marc Moss: Thanks, Sasquatch. Ranger Sasquatch has been a ranger since 2000 and has seen and experienced so many singular things, events, and people in his life, which he thinks is the point of it. Sasquatch is also one of the DJs at Radio Electra 89.5 on your Dusty FM dial. Rounding out this edition of the Tele something podcast, Misso resident Katie Conan shares her psychic journey of love with us in a story that we call discovery.

Thanks for listening.

Katie Condon: When I was eight years old, I prayed to God to please take away my psychic powers. I would have these vivid dreams. I knew exactly what was gonna happen the next day, and it was fun for a while. People thought that I was smarter and Whittier than I actually am. I just had time to prepare for the conversation.

I knew what folks would say before they said it. I knew what I was getting for Christmas. I knew Santa wasn’t real. There was this Christmas Eve, my dad spent all night setting up a trampoline for us to enjoy on Christmas day, and I remember just kind of like bouncing along on the trampoline while my siblings around me were literally jumping for joy, and I was fighting back tears because I already knew it was gonna happen.

I think that’s when my mom kind of thought that I was depressed and she was right. I was. I was envious of kids who didn’t have to unwrap presence with forced curiosity and false excitement. This psychic power became a curse. And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed for God to take it away and it was gradual, but she did.

It was my ninth birthday. I received a bouquet of flowers from a secreted meer

and I wasn’t just surprised. I was shock. Like there wasn’t enough room in my body for the blood. It was amazing. And I knew I’d lost my powers. God had answered my prayers, and I spent the next decade and a half living this wildly unpredictable, incredible life. I. Wasn’t alone anymore. There was a weight that was lifted.

I took risks

until my late twenties. I was with the Man of My Dreams, Ryan Silsby. We met when we were 14 years old and we just click. I always felt like I met him too early, you know, like, I’m not, I’m not ready for this kind of feeling, this kind of commitment. So when we graduated high school, he was ready to just settle down, moving together, and his family had moved to the East coast and my son sent him there.

I needed to travel, I needed to do me, I, I wasn’t quite ready for. A couple months later, he hitchhiked all the way from DC to Montana. Surprised me. Then I had to tell him I wasn’t ready, and I sent him back to dc. Then a couple years later, he rode his bike all the way across the country to Montana.

Surprised me again, and it was hard. I had to tell him again, I’m not ready.

Couple years later, I became ready. I was fully available for him, and I called out to the universe and I sent a Facebook message. And this man was in my arms, in my bed, in my apartment as soon as he could get there, , and it was incredible. Our relationship was passionate and full of romance. We went to Paris for Christmas.

We read lonesome Dove out loud to each other. He did all of the character voices you. He was consistently surprising me, challenging me. He was tall, stringy, brown hair, bright eyes. We were pretty happy.

And then one day I couldn’t find him

after a bit of sleuthing thing. I discovered his car at the trailhead, uh, bla canyon outside of Missoula, Montana, and a bitter at National Forest. Within an hour there was a helicopter in the air search and rescue. After a couple days, his family and some of his friends had traveled from all over to come help find.

Police dogs, man trackers. I even spoke with a psychic,

and after a week, Ryan was found dead at the base of a cliff. It was a night.

And that’s when I got back on the telly with the Lord Almighty. I was convinced that if I didn’t get my psychic powers back, if I didn’t know what was gonna happen. That I would not survive. Another surprise like that. I needed to be prepared. I needed to know. I prayed away these powers and I needed them back.

A couple months after Ryan died, a friend asked me if I wanted to drive to Belize from Montana, and I accepted his invitation. I. If I put myself in this situation where I have no idea what’s gonna happen, if I open myself up enough, if I become vulnerable, then God will give me my powers back. And after six weeks on the road, four countries, countless stories for the campfire, my friend dropped me off at home and I was devastated.

It didn’t work. I still couldn’t see my future. There was no way to prepare for anything. I had to figure out how to keep living without knowing what was gonna happen

eight years ago today, exactly.

I started the search for Ryan eight years ago. Exactly. I found his car in that parking lot. My life changed eight years ago.

The man who found Ryan did not mean to. He stumbled upon the situation. He was probably one of the only people within a hundred mile radius who wasn’t actively searching for Ryan. He was on a rock climbing trip. He was from New York.

He ended the nightmare.

I had no idea that the surprises that I prayed for and the ones that traumatized me were actually preparing me for the man who found Ryan,

the man who found Ryan has become my best friend. My. We’re engaged to be married. We own a home together. We’re enjoying our first burn together.

The man who found Ryan, he and I share this life full of possibility and opportunity. I feel like the nine year old receiving that bouquet of flowers consistently, there’s not enough room in my body for the blood. I don’t know what I’m getting for Christmas. , I believe in Santa.

My name is Katie and I’m a recovering psychic. Thank you.

Marc Moss: Thanks Katie. Katie Conde is humanitarian at heart. She believes in the connection of all things. Katie is a lover of art and the simple, beautiful things this life has to offer. 2022 was her first visit to Black Rock City podcast production by me Marc Moss.

Next week on the Tele so podcast, we looked back at a story from an event that helped inspire, Tell us something,

John Engen: and it

was there. I learned how to fix stuff cuz I had to.

Ignore other stuff cuz I could

fix it later because I got caught ignoring it.

And learned how to take time. .

Marc Moss: Tune in for a special edition of the Tele Something podcast honoring John Ein longtime Missoula resident who has passed along from this moral coil. Tune in next week for that, and remember to subscribe to the Tele Something podcast. Remember to get your tickets for the next Tell us something storytelling event.

The theme is it’s the little Things Tickets and more information is available at to learn more about, tell us something, please visit, tell us


Neil McMahon shared his story in front of a live audience at The Wilma Missoula, MT in September of 2016. Neil is working as a carpenter on a construction site in a remote part of Montana when the call comes from his New York City publisher. Neil calls his story “Deus ex Buick”. Stay tuned after his story to listen to our conversation. I caught up with Neil in July of 2020.

Transcript : Interview with Neil McMahon and His Story “Deus ex Buick”

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;25;06
Marc Moss
Welcome to the Tell US Something podcast. I’m Marc Moss. We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell US Something storytelling event. The theme is didn’t see that coming. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 4062034683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. The pitch deadline is May 27th. I look forward to hearing from you this week in the podcast.

00;00;25;07 – 00;00;35;12
Marc Moss
I sit down with Neil McMahon to talk about his story. Deuce X Buick which he told live on stage at the Wilmer in Missoula, Montana on September 20th. 2016.

00;00;35;20 – 00;00;54;27
Neil McMahon
At that time, believe it or not, young folks, nobody had cell phones yet, and there was no way for me to get this information. I couldn’t afford to take the day off work or just hang around. So it came down that the only way we could do this was that my and my wife, who was working at home at the time, would feel the call.

00;00;55;22 – 00;01;04;05
Marc Moss
The theme that night was the fork in the road. After his story we talked about his friend and fellow author Kim Zupan. His day job and the life of a writer.

00;01;04;09 – 00;01;05;15
Neil McMahon
Go into some kind of line.

00;01;05;15 – 00;01;05;29
Neil McMahon
Of work.

00;01;06;15 – 00;01;10;06
Neil McMahon
That would give you much more material you know, whether it’s like.

00;01;10;06 – 00;01;11;00
Neil McMahon
Michael Connolly.

00;01;11;00 – 00;01;11;24
Neil McMahon
Was a journalist.

00;01;11;24 – 00;01;14;04
Neil McMahon
Obviously physicians, lawyers, whatever.

00;01;14;27 – 00;01;16;13
Neil McMahon
Something besides swinging a hammer.

00;01;16;29 – 00;01;40;22
Marc Moss
Thank you for joining me as I take you behind the scenes at Tell US Something to meet the storytellers behind the stories. In each episode, I sit down with a Tell US Something Storyteller alumni. We chat about what they’ve been up to lately and about their experience sharing their story live on stage. Sometimes we get extra details about their story and we always get to know them a little better before we get to Neil’s story and our subsequent conversation.

00;01;41;02 – 00;02;02;03
Marc Moss
Please remember to save the date for Missoula GIBS May 5th through the sixth. Missoula Gives is a 24 hour online giving event remember to support Tell US Something during Missoula gives May 5th through the sixth. Learn More at Missoula gives dot org. Neil McMahon shared his story in front of a live audience at the Wilma in Missoula, Montana in September of 2016.

00;02;03;01 – 00;02;10;07
Marc Moss
Neil was working as a carpenter on a construction site in a remote part of Montana. When the call comes from his New York City publisher.

00;02;12;28 – 00;02;33;27
Neil McMahon
I started working as a carpenter back in the early seventies actually started as a union apprentice in 1973 and in a few years later I started getting interested in writing and you know along the way I started thinking, you know, really I’d kind of rather make my living as a writer than a carpenter and this is easier said than done.

00;02;33;27 – 00;03;00;02
Neil McMahon
So I kept swinging and a hammer and trying to buy time to write and so on and you know, lots of ups and downs There was a brief little peak in the late eighties when I managed to publish three horror novels. I was trying to kind of ride on the coattails of Stephen King and The Exorcist and all that stuff, and they vaporized and that little bubble tanked very quickly and I was back out on the bricks again, so on.

00;03;00;02 – 00;03;26;18
Neil McMahon
And so forth. So we fast forward to 1998 on a rowboat and by this time I have managed to cobble together a draft of another novel. This time a mainstream thriller. I’m trying to reinvent myself as a writer. I get it to an agent in New York. And then astonishingly, we get word that there is an editor at HarperCollins who is actually interested in this This is kind of a big deal.

00;03;28;07 – 00;03;47;27
Neil McMahon
On the other hand, it’s kind of not because I’d been through so many of these deals already where it was a, you know, a near-miss and somebody is interested and yet peters out and so on. Couldn’t take it too seriously, but you can’t not take it seriously. So the deal was anyway, the way it came down this was a Thursday in July that we got this news.

00;03;48;17 – 00;04;15;17
Neil McMahon
And this guy was going to call the next day on a Friday. And I had to actually be there to talk to him on the phone to formally confirm if he made an offer. It was a yes or no deal. If he did not call, you know, if he didn’t call and nothing was going to happen, if he did, I had to be there, talk to him, confirm it, a kind of a handshake over the phone, you know, make contact and all above all, not give him the weekend to change his mind.

00;04;16;09 – 00;04;33;13
Neil McMahon
So the wrinkle with this being this day and the crew online, we’re working with Brother Creek Road past the airport and then up in the Master, the New World, that’s about three miles past where the pavement is, this rutted dirt road and so on. And at that time, believe it or not, young folks, nobody had cell phones yet.

00;04;35;09 – 00;04;52;22
Neil McMahon
And there was no way for me to get this information. I couldn’t afford day to day offer. It could just hang around. So it came down that the only way we could do this was that my and my wife, who was working at home at the time, would field the call. And if it was a no, then, you know, that was their Tuesday home.

00;04;53;06 – 00;05;14;23
Neil McMahon
But if it was a yes, then she was going to have to drive up there and find me. And I didn’t even know, you know, to tell her where the place was. It was just a few miles up past where the pavement is. And there’s this kind of shelter like house up there. And the only thing I could say was, honey, you’ll see our trucks because the crew I was working on our trucks looked basically like a mobile junkyard.

00;05;15;06 – 00;05;23;07
Neil McMahon
And we actually we actually had a client call the sheriff’s office one time the first day we showed up on a job. This is true.

00;05;26;24 – 00;05;48;18
Neil McMahon
And on top of everything else, he’s driving his little Buick’s a little bit eighties white Buick that has a wheel clearance on the back. You know, this much in the ruts on the road or about this. And the top of it was peeling off, looked like it had leprosy. But OK, that’s another story. So I’m up there with the crew and the day goes on and on and on and nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens.

00;05;48;18 – 00;06;14;15
Neil McMahon
It gets to be about 230 in the afternoon, which is 430 in New York time. And by this time I’ve ridden it off I figure, you know, this guy’s forgotten all about this. Forgotten all about me. He’s in a bar or someplace, drink a $20 martinis in midtown Manhattan and I was in Europe for this. But on the other hand, this is kind of a big deal.

00;06;15;06 – 00;06;36;27
Neil McMahon
Again, I was trying to reinvent myself, and writers know that when a novel goes out like that, if it doesn’t sell in the first few passes to an editor, chances are it’s not going to there are exceptions to that, but usually they’re looking for pretty much the same thing. So this was kind of the handwriting on the wall because of that deal, you know?

00;06;36;27 – 00;07;06;03
Neil McMahon
And so anyway, I remember I was on the side of the houses mid afternoon at that point where there’s drag and things are getting heavier, and I was on the side of the house hanging a door and I heard my friend Kim Zubair, who was working with me, I heard him yell at me and I looked over. He explained, It’s still hard for me to get through this point and down the road and I see this little white car and up there, my wife behind the wheel, you know, kind of looking around.

00;07;06;03 – 00;07;35;23
Neil McMahon
But I would like to say that that was the start of a New York career. And a wave that I’ve been riding the crest of ever since. In fact, it was more like a little ripple in a child’s wading pond that toddler in a rubber duck inner tube could very safely negotiate with. Then a lot more trust and trust and so on and so forth.

00;07;36;19 – 00;08;01;26
Neil McMahon
But but still, that was the start of everything, you know, that was that moment when everything changed. And it has made all the difference. Anybody, you know, it’s cliched, but to say anybody who’s chased the dream and for years and wants to slip away and then you get that moment where you get a piece of it you know what that means and how it changes your life in the way you see yourself and the world and all that sort of thing.

00;08;01;26 – 00;08;27;22
Neil McMahon
And when I think about it, that’s what I think of as looking down. I see that little white car jam behind the wheel. So if I got another vintage tumor I assume I do I’ll add one more connection there. And that’s my my great old friend Jim Zupan, who was the guy who yelled at me there and very much in the same situation as me.

00;08;27;22 – 00;08;56;09
Neil McMahon
He was also a carpenter, an aspiring writer. It took him way too long to get his own break, but eventually he did with the publication of a novel called The Plow. Man. Some people might be familiar with his extraordinary. Oh, yeah, OK. The editor at HarperCollins, who bought my book that day, a guy named Dan Conaway, then went on to become a literary agent, and he was the agent who took on Kim Zoop, Dan’s book, The Plowman, and handled it and sold it and so on.

00;08;56;09 – 00;09;08;13
Neil McMahon
So kind of a little triangle there. That was that was kind of cool. Yeah. If I may just I’ll finish this off with one more very brief story Hey, I’m Irish.

00;09;10;29 – 00;09;32;04
Neil McMahon
This is this one. This was this was really pretty good. It’s actually, it’s it’s it’s Zoop story. Kim Zupan, a story talk about a fork in the road his grandparents immigrated here from Slovenia in the early 1900s. And the deal was that the old man came across a typical deal. The husband came across first and he got a job as a miner in Nevada.

00;09;32;20 – 00;09;58;07
Neil McMahon
And he sent back for his wife and a couple of her brothers to come and join him. So they took off and made it across Europe. To Cherbourg in France. And they were just about to cross the Atlantic the last second. They get a telegram from him saying, hold off. He was going to go up and work in the mines in Butte, which, believe it or not, apparently was a step up so he needed time to get up there and get settled and so on.

00;09;58;25 – 00;10;10;11
Neil McMahon
And so they were forced to cancel their transatlantic passage and sell their tickets that they had bought on a ship named the Titanic. True story. Thank you all again.

00;10;15;29 – 00;10;34;00
Marc Moss
Neil McMahon grew up in Chicago and moved to Montana in 1971. He’s the author of a dozen thrillers. His favorite is Lone Creek, set near Helena, Montana. To learn more about Neil and his work, go to tell us something Georgie. I caught up with Neil in July of 2020.

00;10;34;27 – 00;10;56;10
Neil McMahon
The manuscript I’m steering it until drops of blood form on my forehead are you reinventing yourself again? Oh, kind of. I guess I’ve been working on this for years, so not really. But it’s not the same vein of stuff I was doing earlier. Well, you first. You did horror, right? And then you did some thrillers, right? And what’s this?

00;10;57;11 – 00;11;47;08
Neil McMahon
This is maybe kind of somewhere in between the two. It’s it’s medieval. It’s actually set if you’re familiar at all with the Templars, that whole mythology and some historical mythology, they were there was a mass arrest of the entire this great order of knights and 1307. And the sort of springboards off of that, I would imagine there’s a lot of research involved uh, yeah, I guess I’ve been fascinated by them for years anyway, so I know enough to kind of gloss it over, but uh, it’s actually more, I don’t know, it’s, it’s not really historical novel, it’s not really fantasy.

00;11;47;08 – 00;12;06;29
Neil McMahon
It’s got some kind of magical elements and horror elements involved in that sort of thing. So I don’t know what to call it. We’ll see, but we’ll see when an agent picks it up and says, this is incredible. Yeah, well, you’ll be the first to know when that happens. Oh, great. You hope you’ll tell another story about it, I’m sure.

00;12;07;08 – 00;12;27;24
Neil McMahon
Absolutely will have. You bet. Hey, let me just say, I don’t I don’t want to blow smoke or anything, but I just want to say, you know, this is really a terrific program. Tell us something and I think a lot of people realize that you put a lot of work into it and there’s great appreciation for that. So thanks for saying that, Neil.

00;12;27;25 – 00;13;02;17
Neil McMahon
I hope that it survives this pandemic. Well, we sure hope so, too, but it’s going to be tough. Well, the last time I put out a call for stories nobody called the pitch line. And I had a I did a intensive workshop. So five days, 2 hours a day on Zoom but the idea that the participants would then tell a story at a livestreamed event and right out of the six people, only two wanted to tell a story and can’t really have an event with two people.

00;13;03;11 – 00;13;27;22
Marc Moss
So that’s really do you think that’s just because of the pandemic or. I think people are just torn in so many different directions right now and they don’t have the bandwidth to think about things like this. I was kind of dug in to well, you know, especially parents who have kids and they’re having to not only work from home, but also help them help their kids with school and will and worry about whether the schools are going to open.

00;13;27;22 – 00;13;52;14
Marc Moss
And so, yeah, I mean, I can’t imagine being a parent right now or even a teacher. Well, exactly. It’s a health worker. Yeah, all of it. And or or even a carpenter. Well, that’s true, too. I’m I’m glad I’m out of it for a lot of reasons. Yes. Some days I’m so hopeful and so full of optimism and so excited about the future.

00;13;52;14 – 00;14;09;19
Marc Moss
And other days, I just want to crawl into a bottle of whiskey and call it good. You know, I kind of do both you but, you know, I do think eventually this virus is going to get down. I mean, they’re going to come up. We’re going to we’re going to be living with it for years in some form.

00;14;09;19 – 00;14;28;09
Neil McMahon
But there’s going to be vaccine and treatment and so on and so forth. But I’m sure while you have been working from home for years. Yes. This really hasn’t changed much for you in that perhaps. It really hasn’t. You know, I’m kind of you know, I’m I, I discovered that I that I work best when I really hunker down.

00;14;28;09 – 00;14;30;00
Neil McMahon
And I tend to make lists.

00;14;30;00 – 00;14;31;01
Neil McMahon
Of errands I have to.

00;14;31;01 – 00;14;47;06
Neil McMahon
Do and then try and go out and get them all done at once, more or less, rather than kind of constantly popping in and out. You know, it makes me sort of a recluse, but on the other hand, it it gets you up the hill. Yeah. And I’m looking forward to busting out of that, I hope, by hoping to have this thing done pretty soon.

00;14;47;14 – 00;15;07;12
Marc Moss
What’s pretty soon months? Three months? Oh, I’m actually looking to try and get it out of the house here in another week or two. Oh, that’s great. After several years, well, but then we’re going to find out, you know, that’s the day of reckoning is coming. So but that’s, you know, the sword is hovering over the head and all that stuff.

00;15;07;12 – 00;15;28;25
Marc Moss
So well, at least Kim’s not having to drive the shitty Buick up the hill. Well, there you go. There you go. She knows where I am right now, you know? Yeah. Yeah, I remember you well. I listened to it this morning when I was picking raspberries. And I loved your description of the the top of the car peeling off.

00;15;28;25 – 00;15;30;01
Marc Moss
It looked like it had leprosy.

00;15;32;13 – 00;15;54;24
Marc Moss
Oh, well. Well, I think we’ve all had a car like that. And that was all I had for the first, you know, until till I was in my forties. You know, finally. But, yeah, well, there’s, you know, it was, I have to say, which, Jim, this point we were talking about, if for some reason it was a good little car, you know, I mean, it had 100 and change on it and it lit right up and all day long.

00;15;55;04 – 00;16;22;18
Neil McMahon
That’s great. What year was it? Was it mid eighties. I’m not exactly just one of those little nondescript, you know, it ranges that you saw all over the place at the time you were working on a crew with Kim, Kim Zupan. And he did he had he been published at the time, stories but not a novel. Yeah. So he was cheering you on.

00;16;23;17 – 00;16;58;11
Neil McMahon
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. He’s been you know, he’s been a great supporter. And I must say, conversely, I got him in touch with my then editor, Dan Conaway. Right. You mentioned that, who’s now an agent and Dan loves Kim stuff right from the get go. This is back when I first hooked up with them in the late nineties. You just couldn’t you know, you got to persuade what’s known as the X Committee at the publishing house acquisitions, but they call it the S committee with several other people who oftentimes are, you know, trying to keep you from, you know, getting your stuff done.

00;16;58;11 – 00;17;18;12
Neil McMahon
And anyway, it was way too long before before Zoop finally got over the, you know, the hump there. But thank God he did yeah. It was a great book. Terrific up. So good. Well, yeah, you mentioned that at the end of your story when you finished up your story and then you said, do I have time for work?

00;17;18;14 – 00;17;34;16
Marc Moss
And I was like, I mean, I remember being backstage doing No, you don’t. And you said, well, I guess I I’m assuming that I do well, I was waiting for I was waiting for the cane to come out and hook me around the neck, drag me off. But I’ve never I didn’t do that. I didn’t go on too long.

00;17;34;23 – 00;17;59;11
Marc Moss
No, you didn’t. I didn’t time it when I was listening to it today. But I think you maybe you were like 90 seconds long, longer than that time. That’s fine. I’ve never told anybody off the stage with a cane or whatever. You know, there have been times where I’ve wanted to believe it and I’ve had to have hard conversations after the fact with people who sort of went off the rails.

00;17;59;11 – 00;18;26;21
Neil McMahon
And, yeah, well, it’s a temptation for everybody. And, and writers, you know, writers like to talk. Yeah, well, you’re Irish, too, so, you know. Well, there’s that. Yeah, I didn’t. I didn’t drink until afterwards. There you go. So had you ever done anything like that before? Because, I mean, telling a story on stage like that is much different than doing a reading though I don’t think I have.

00;18;28;08 – 00;18;52;26
Neil McMahon
That was you know, that was the first time I the only thing about sometimes, you know, in readings when I do them, my tendency is to keep the reading itself real short, you know, like 5 minutes max and then get questions because they people get a lot more, you know, stay a lot more interested, you know, when it’s interactive and so on.

00;18;53;12 – 00;19;15;02
Neil McMahon
That’s what I’ve always found as an audience member and. Sure, yeah. But so I mean, that would be kind of those would be the times when I would, you know, was talking more or less off the cuff. So a little bit of that. But I don’t I don’t recall ever ever doing a sustained monologue like that. So what what was that like for you?

00;19;18;03 – 00;19;42;14
Neil McMahon
It was fun. I remember you and I rehearsed it first and, you know, I felt OK about it. I I’m I’m reasonably comfortable I guess in a situation like that, just, again, you know, maybe because of readings out there and all that many of them. But, you know, on the one hand, I was, of course, a little nervous that I’d screw it up and then on the other hand, I thought, well, so what if you do you know who’s going to know what’s what are they going to do?

00;19;42;14 – 00;20;04;11
Neil McMahon
You know, then, you know, anyway, so and it was it was wonderful, you know, I mean, a really good audience. And, you know, and you could tell that. And of course, you know, coming up, being up there with John and and all that, it was it was, you know, it was it couldn’t have been better. It was a fun night.

00;20;04;11 – 00;20;36;01
Neil McMahon
I remember it was also he gave a great talk. He did. And it was also packed. Yeah, it was. We had no I mean, as far as the roster, we had 11 storytellers that night. Right, right. Right. And, you know, eight is the sweet spot. Hey Storytellers is about what people can tolerate as far as attention span goes and it was part of the festival, the book right then it was like, oh, another, another author wants to do this.

00;20;36;03 – 00;21;02;23
Neil McMahon
Okay, now. Okay. Yeah, it’s buried my mind somewhere. I remember if I could ever think, yeah, electrical and what’s that? Spoon it out of my memory. Yeah. Well, is there anything that you want listeners to hear or to know about your story before we wrap it up? I don’t know what what I would say about about the new book or the or the old stuff.

00;21;02;23 – 00;21;20;21
Neil McMahon
Just if you’re going to see if you’re going to write, you’re going to write and, you know, write try to be smart about it. If you can make some money, great but you’re going to write what you want to. It’s going to come out somehow, you know what’s in it. Oh, here’s how about if I ask this question.

00;21;21;17 – 00;21;30;08
Marc Moss
If you could tell your 20 year old self some advice from you. Now, what would you tell him?

00;21;40;29 – 00;22;08;00
Neil McMahon
If I knew that I wanted to write, which I didn’t by that age, by the time I was 25, you know, my late twenties, I started getting more serious about it. I would certainly get some kind of go into some kind of line of work that’s a lot more conducive. That’s not the right word. But you know what I mean?

00;22;08;29 – 00;22;39;03
Neil McMahon
Would give you much more material, you know, whether it’s like Michael Connolly was a journalist, a lot of people have done that. Obviously, physicians lawyers, whatever something besides swinging a hammer, you know, which I did for much of my life. So just so you’d have that experience to draw and then maybe be smarter about money and some other things like that, smarter about money, isn’t that always the truth?

00;22;39;26 – 00;23;04;29
Neil McMahon
Yeah, it really is. It’s some of that was generational because, you know, I think, you know, in the seventies, as you know, kind of when I was coming up, it was, you you know, we didn’t have this atmosphere that we do know about, you know, sort of everything being contingent on that and, you know, students being swamped by loan debts and you know, the markets as all you hear about Wall Street and so on, that stuff was pretty well muted.

00;23;04;29 – 00;23;20;13
Neil McMahon
And it was you know, you went out and worked and drew wages and, you know, put your money in a savings account. And so it kind of snuck up on me. I wasn’t paying attention. But nowadays I think you’ve got to pay a lot more attention to it. And just to get by, what’s the savings account. Yeah, exactly.

00;23;21;06 – 00;23;41;08
Neil McMahon
Yeah. That’s you know, nowadays, you know, that really was the way it was. You put it in and it was, you know, three or 4% and it was steady and you know, it didn’t disappear overnight, you know, because Wall Street went crazy and so on and so forth. But those days are gone. Yeah. Anyway, so it seems like there are a lot of writers and Zoeller who swing a hammer.

00;23;42;23 – 00;24;02;20
Neil McMahon
Well, a lot of us did. Zupan, I of course. Yeah. And I remember thinking, you know, Mark Gibbons worked as a mover and Bob Reid was a cop all those years. And, you know, I keep going down the line of thinking of a lot of, you know, a lot of different people from the women to, you know, gooks or whatever.

00;24;03;07 – 00;24;19;26
Marc Moss
Yep. When are you going to get up there and tell us something? I did one, I don’t know, a couple of years ago. I, I try not to make it be about me. You know, I want to focus on other people, but I can’t remember what the theme was, but it was just too good to pass up the story that I told was about.

00;24;20;17 – 00;24;49;28
Marc Moss
I lived in Gardner, Montana, and I didn’t have a car and also a big Bruce Springsteen fan. And he had just done the E Street Band reunion and was touring and the closest he was going to come was Fargo, North Dakota. And so I I bought for tickets and didn’t have a way to get there. And so I’m not paying attention to the time.

00;24;50;26 – 00;25;12;03
Marc Moss
And all of a sudden I look down and I see that it’s like 2 seconds left and I’m not anywhere near done. And the gong person is a friend of mine, Marissa. She’s standing up like a like a batter about to hit a home run, and she’s just wound up the gong and she plays into it as loud as she can.

00;25;12;15 – 00;25;33;06
Marc Moss
She’s laughing her ass off. Everyone in the place is cracking up because they know I’ve broken my own rules. Exactly. Is this a heal thyself? Yeah. Yeah. So it was that was the last time I did one. It was pretty fun. Oh, that’s a great story. Yeah. I don’t know. I guess we’ll see what themes pop up then.

00;25;34;22 – 00;25;54;26
Marcf Moss
All right, we’re we’re we have just as much talent in this town as L.A. or New York or anybody else. Austin? Yeah. Yeah, so that’s been a lot of fun. It’s a great town. We’re lucky to live here. We are. We’re we’re very blessed. And I can’t imagine living in a big city right now. God, I grew up in Chicago.

00;25;55;02 – 00;26;18;12
Marc Moss
I know fast enough, right well, I won’t keep you. I know you’re cool. Instead of swinging a hammer, you’re swinging at those things. Swinging my fingers it’s a pleasure to talk, Mark. Hey, it was great talking to you, Neal. Fantastic. You’re my best to Joyce. I will say hi to camp, OK, my friend. All right.

00;26;21;05 – 00;26;26;13
Marc Moss
Thanks, Neal. And thank you for listening today. Next week, I catch up with melody rates.

00;26;27;05 – 00;26;41;04
Melody Rice
I walk into this barber shop, and I say, hey, I’m wondering if you’re interested in hiring somebody to be in that second chair. Yours. And the guy turns and looks at me and he says, I don’t hire women.

00;26;41;29 – 00;27;02;00
Marc Moss
Tune in for our conversation on the next Tell US Something podcast. Please remember to save the date for Missoula. Gibbs May 5th through the sixth Missoula Gibbs is a 24 hour online giving event. Remember to support Tell US Something during Missoula. Gibbs May 5th through the sixth. Learn More at Missoula gives dot org thanks to our in-kind sponsors.

00;27;02;07 – 00;27;16;28
Joyce Gibbs
Hi, it’s Joyce from Joyce of Tile. If you need tile work done, give me a shout. I specialize in custom tile installations. Learn more and see some examples of my work at Joyce of tile dot com.

00;27;17;20 – 00;27;18;26
Gabriel Silverman
Hey, this is Gabe from.

00;27;18;26 – 00;27;21;18
Gabriel Silverman
Gecko Designs. We’re proud to sponsor. Tell Us Something. Learn more at

00;27;22;15 – 00;27;47;18
Marc Moss

Missoula Broadcasting Company, including the family of ESPN Radio The Trail one, two, 3.3. Jack at them and my favorite place to find a dance party while driving you on a portable five float measure. Learn more at float MSL, Laikum and Missoula events dot net thanks to cash or drunkards who provided the music for the podcast, find them at Cash for Junkies band dot com.

00;27;48;02 – 00;27;59;09
Marc Moss
If you’re in Missoula, you can catch them live at a union club on May 14th. Find them at Cash for Clunkers Bandcamp to learn more about. Tell us on. Please visit.


In this episode of the podcast, Brian Upton sits down with Tell Us Something Executive Director Marc Moss to talk about his story “Parting Ways with Henry Miller in Egypt”, which he told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT in June 2015. The theme that night was “Oops! I Changed my Mind!”. They also talk about his extended family in Egypt, about Henry Miller and separating the art from the artist, and about the atmosphere at a Tell Us Something live in-person event.

Transcript : "Parting Ways With Henry Miller in Egypt" story and Interview with Brian Upton


Brian Upton: My stress just was on a huge upward trajectory about that book and who may find it or how I can get rid of it before somebody nails me for violating Egypt anti-pornography laws.

Marc Moss: Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast, I’m Marc Moss.

This week on the podcast, I sit down with Brian Upton to talk about his story “Parting Ways with Henry Miller in Egypt”, which he told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT in June 2015.

Brian Upton: one thing I’m appreciating about this conversation is that I can also set the record straight because that was, that was definitely kind of traumatic for me. , but really the defining, , Aspect of that trip was getting to meet my wife’s family and the relatives.

The theme that night was “Oops! I Changed my Mind!”.

We also talk about his extended family in Egypt, about Henry Miller and separating the art from the artist, and about the atmosphere at a Tell Us Something live in-person event.

Thank you for joining me as I take you behind the scenes at Tell Us Something — to meet the storytellers behind the stories. In each episode, I sit down with a Tell Us Something storyteller alumni. We chat about what they’ve been up to lately and about their experience sharing their story live on stage. Sometimes we get extra details about their story, and we always get to know them a little better.

Before we get to Brian’s story and our subsequent conversation…

I am so excited to tell you that the next in-person Tell Us Something storytelling event will be March 30 at The Wilma.

The theme is “Stone Soup”. 7 storytellers will share their true personal story without notes on the theme “Stone Soup”.

We are running at 75% capacity, which allows for listeners to really spread out at The Wilma. Learn more and get your tickets at

Brian Upton shared his story in front of a live audience at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT in June of 2015. The theme was “Oops! I Changed my Mind!”. Brian Upton buys Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France. He begins reading the book in Alexandria, Egypt and discovers that the book is considered pornography in Egypt. Thanks for listening.

Brian Upton: It started out in Arab spring 2011 and the Tahrir square revolution in Egypt, my wife, Dina, and I decided that it would be a good time to take our kids are eight and 10 year old kids to Egypt to see the country and to see their family and relatives. My wife’s parents had come over from Egypt and she was born here, but her mom actually brought her to Alexandria, Egypt to go to an American school.

So she has dual citizenship and she actually had an Egyptian passport at the time. She’d met her relatives and family, but I’ve never been to Egypt. Our kids had never been there and they’d never met the family. So it was a really exciting. When Deena booked the tickets over there, she got lucky and she was able to get a three-day layover in Paris on the way to Egypt.

So how great was that? I was excited because there’s a spectacular bookstore there called Shakespeare and company that I’d never been to. I don’t know how many of, you know, Shakespeare and company, but for those that don’t, it’s a hundred year old bookstore. That was a favorite haunt of the lost generation and all sorts of cool characters.

And I wanted to check that place out. So we take our trip, we get to Shakespeare and company. It’s fantastic bookstore. I wanted to find it a cool book, a great souvenir of that bookstore to take with me something I can’t just find anywhere I was coming up dry. So I thought, well, I’ll just come up with a book by somebody that had a connection there.

And I thought Henry Miller, I’ve never read any Henry Miller and Tropic of cancer is supposed to be a big deal. So I’ll get that. I go to the Henry Miller section. Of course there’s no Tropic of cancer. So, I don’t know any other Henry Miller books. I just look at the shelf and I see a book called Tropic of Capricorn.

So good enough. It’s a Tropic. So I picked up Tropic of Capricorn. That’s my souvenir of Shakespeare and company stuff. It in the suitcase, we finish up Paris, go to Egypt, go to Cairo, go to Alexandria, fantastic trip meeting my wife’s relatives, my relatives now. And, uh, it was just super, I started reading Henry Miller for the first time in Alexandria on our last night there.

Our next stop was flying up to upper Egypt in Luxor where the valley of the Kings are in a number of temples. Luxor in the nineties was the site of a terrorist attack on tourists at one of the temples there. And as a result of that, Egypt has co-opted the military to be security for the tourist infrastructure down in Luxor.

So what that means is when we get to our hotel in Luxe, We go through a metal screener and there’s military people acting as security in the hotel lobby, which is kind of unusual, really nice lobby, very comfortable lobby. So actually that night after we’d gone out in the town and we got back to the hotel room, everybody was ready to go to sleep except me because I’m still jet lagged.

So the kids in Dina want the lights out and going to sleep. I told Dean and I’ll just read down in the lobby. And so I get my Henry Miller book out and I say, I’m going to go down the lobby. And Dina says you can’t do that. I said, why can’t I do that? I’m just going to go down to the lobby to read. And she looks at the book and she says, that’s pornography.

And my face is all wrinkled up. I look at the book and oh, and the cover of the book, which I didn’t really think about when I grabbed it in Paris was a very tastefully done, black and white photo of a woman. From the knees up to the neck, which was all Henry Miller cared about. If any of you have read Henry Miller, it all makes sense.

But did I say it was tastefully done because it was tastefully done very skimpy panties, no top. So in Egypt, absolutely. That qualifies as pornography. So I put the book away and got another book, went down to the lobby, read that and everything. I watched the military men go up and down the lobby hallway while I’m sitting on my comfortable couch.

I go back up to the room to get to sleep. And you know how nighttime is the time when all the great worries come out? Well, I I’m trying to get to sleep in, uh, the gravity of this situation has impressed upon me that I am sitting here in Egypt with pornography, with contraband and. I was dialed right back to high school.

When I was in high school, I was in model UN and I remember reading a whole bunch of accounts of primarily Westerners that were caught in developing world countries with contraband, usually drugs and the things that happened to them in prison. And it terrified me. And I remember vividly thinking, I will never go to a country where I could even conceivably be caught with contraband and have something like that happen to me.

So I’m on my family vacation with my children in a country like that, carrying contraband, and now I’m stressed. And I’m also remembering by the way, for anyone that remembers midnight express the movie, not midnight run the Robert DeNiro movie, but midnight express about the American that got caught with contraband and Turkey and sentenced to life in prison and a Turkish prison, not an uplifting movie.

And I remember when I saw that in college. It reinforced. I will never go to a country like that and be caught with contraband. It’s not going to happen. I will avoid those. So that was my thinking for the night. And the next morning when we got up, I was concerned at that book is sitting in the room and whoever’s going to clean the room.

I’d come across this pornography, be alarmed, contact the military, my pipeline to prison. So I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t throw it away. I would, I didn’t feel like I could stuff it under a mattress. Cause I thought. Maybe I might look under the mattress for things like this and B if they’re just making the bed, they might come across it.

So I did the only thing I could do, which was just wrap it up in a shirt, stick it in a bag, wrap up the bag and some more clothes and put it in the middle of my suitcase and hope my suitcase doesn’t get ransacked by. And it worked. We went out, saw valley of the Kings, had a great day, put it out in my mind, all was well.

And same day or next day, same thing. It was pretty much out of my mind for the most part at night, I was still worried about midnight express, but where everything amped up was our next leg of the trip. And our final leg of the whole Egypt vacation was to go to Sharmel shake on the Sinai. The red sea. So we have to fly from Luxor to Cairo and then back over to Sharmel shake.

And I’ve got the book in my suitcase because I don’t have a good place to dispose of it. And there’s military patrolling in the lobby. So I’m nervous and all of my high school model, UN torture accounts and midnight express recollections are just forefront of my head. There’s nothing to be done. So we checked the suitcase and I just hoped.

Nobody was going to be looking in the suitcase. And all I could think of was, I don’t know if the airline personnel rifle through suitcases here. I don’t know if airport security rifles through suitcases, if they do random checks. But when we went to Egypt, there were far less tourists because of the economy and the political situation than there typically are.

So the odds of my suitcase being ransacked in my pornography, contraband found were much higher than they otherwise would be. And I was thinking about. But when we finally get to the airport at Shama shake, we go to the baggage carousel. I am not panicking, but I’m nervous and I’m waiting for the bag to come out.

And, you know, I don’t know if you guys have the same experience. I do my bags always the last one out, regardless of the airport. So I had that in mind and I was prepared, but we waited for a long time for the bags to come out. And finally my son suitcase comes out. Okay, good. That means our suitcases are here.

That’s good. And then after a while my daughter, Alex, his suitcase comes out. Good. We wait still no suitcase for me. We wait, my wife’s suitcase comes out. Okay. That’s good. Three to four. Where is my suitcase. So I’m waiting and waiting. And finally the baggage carousel stops and my suitcase isn’t there.

What are the odds that only my suitcase is not showing up? I mean, that’s, what’s screaming in my head amongst all the visuals of midnight express. So there weren’t a whole lot of English speakers there, but Dina speaks Arabic and she was able to find one of the airline staffers who’s assured her that there were no other suitcases.

So my suitcase was gone. He said, he’d make some calls. So we waited for 20 minutes and I’m sweating. He comes back and assures us that the suitcase is in Cairo. It got held up. He doesn’t know why he will look into it and give us a call at the hotel. So rather than spontaneously combust, Tried to clamp everything down for the sake of the children.

And we all went to the hotel and I was getting panicky at this point. I was a little panicky because this was way too close to midnight express in the prison pipeline than I ever wanted to be. And I was legitimately nervous. So we go there and then Deena and I are trying to have the conversation with.

Explaining to the kids. Exactly. What’s going on, how daddy brought contraband at Egypt. And we were trying to have the conversation about who’s going to go back to the airport when we get this call. And what’s that call going to sound like? So we’re talking about that and I say, look, this is my bag. So I should go there because it’s not your problem.

You shouldn’t have to go there. And if something happens with it, then I should be the one to be there. Dina is much more logical smart and everything else than I am. And she pointed out the fact that I can’t communicate with anybody at the airport valid point. And she also, which I found out later, she was putting on a good face.

Cause she was as panicked as I was. But at the time I didn’t know that. And she said, I’m sure this is just a mix up. And it’s just like a random mistake. So let me go to the airport and clear it up. Oh, We got a call after we sweated all afternoon. And all I can think about was what I’ve already told you.

And we waited all afternoon for that call and I’m trying to figure out how do we react when one of us is arrested in a foreign country and the other has to take care of the kids and get them back. What’s the number of the consulate. We finally get a call and they said our suitcases here, so we can go pick it up.

And that’s all they told us. So at least there’s no bad news over the phone. There was no military guy knocking on our door, but Dina goes off to the airport. And so I’m left with the kids and I’m just realizing, you know, she is not only in Egypt’s eyes and Egyptian citizen, but I’m also realizing that the bag that I use for this.

Was her suitcase and had her identification on it. So if they rifled through and found our pornography in our suitcase, it would have her name on it. And she’s an Egyptian citizen. And that could make things a lot more difficult if we’re trying to extricate ourselves out of criminal charges in Egypt. So that’s how I managed to ramp up the stress level in my head while she was gone.

And it was kind of a fever pitch. She comes back finally after about 45 minutes and she’s got. And my suitcase is unmolested and Henry Miller is in the middle of it all wrapped up, just like it wasn’t Luxor. So that was a huge relief. And then my whole crescendo of panic and stress and midnight express was receding, but it left a heavy residue of paranoia because now I see this book, this Henry Miller book that I don’t want to see again, that’s ruined my vacation, caused me more stress.

In years, I’m getting rid of this book. How do I get rid of the book? Because the wastebasket, the mattress thing, it’s the same as the hotel in Luxor. I don’t have a good choice here. So I just decided I’m, I’m destroying the book. I’m going outside. That’s our wastebaskets in the hallways. I’m going to destroy it.

I told Dina that and she said, all you have to do is rip up the cover. The rest is fine, and I’d read enough of the Henry Miller book already to realize it. If somebody were to see me throw out the book, fish it out and leave. The text is much more pornographic than the tastefully done, black and white photo on the cover.

So I didn’t want to risk it because I was completely paranoid at this point. So paranoid that rather than use the wastebasket on our hallway, I went up to slights of stairs. I told Dean and the kids I’m going to meet you in the restaurant go. So they left. I went up two flights of stairs. I ripped up the.

And I didn’t want to just throw the book in the wastebasket because you all realize that somebody could just walk around the corner out of the elevator and see me fish out the book and then pipeline to prison. So I figured if I had defaced that nobody would fish it out of the wastebasket. So I’m just frantically tearing up the pages, stuffing them in the waistband.

I bought a quarter of the book, go down a flight of stairs, repeat, go down a flight, skip my floor because I’m not going to have the incriminating evidence on my floor. I’m a smart criminal, right? Go down one more floor, shred everything while I’m looking around madly stuffed it in the waste basket. And then I’ve just got a little bit left.

So I go to the restaurant, there’s a bathroom off the restaurant. I walk in casually with the book under my shirt. I look in the bathroom. There’s nobody in there. So I shred the rest of the book, stuffed it in the waste basket, grabbed some paper towels stuff and over those pages. And then only then after Henry Miller is safely stuffed in the wastebasket of the restaurant bathroom.

I went over at dinner with Dean and the kids we snorkeled, we scoop it up. We had a great vacation. I was free and it was a fantastic feeling. We ended our vacation and two months later, it’s my birthday. Dina gave me a copy of Tropic of cancer by Henry Miller. So I was finally able to read Tropic of cancer and I didn’t like it very much. .


Brian is originally from the Great Lakes country and came to Missoula from Indonesia in the mid-90’s to go to the University of Montana. He has since discovered that Butte is the more interesting place, but is settling for Missoula anyway.

I caught up with Brian in August of 2020.

Brian Upton: Hey Brian, can you hear me okay? Yeah. Can you hear me?

So have

Marc Moss: you listened to your story since he told it?

Brian Upton: You know, I think I listened to it once. Just stay here. It and that was probably, uh, two, three years ago. It’s hard doing it yourself. It

Marc Moss: is hard to listen to yourself, but I ended up having to do it a lot. So I’ve gotten used to it.

I listened to it again today. The first time since. Um, at the time I wasn’t the one producing the podcast. So I think the only time I really heard it was when you did it on stage. And I listened to it again today. How much did you practice that?

Brian Upton: Well, it doesn’t show, but I’ve practiced it quite a few times.

Your workshop was a huge help and kind of getting some response and figuring out how to refine it. But because I was having a hard time keeping to the time limit with. I didn’t keep too. I, I ran over it. I dunno how many times? Probably at least six to eight, if not over a dozen times. Just mostly to try to get it to 10 minutes.

Marc Moss: The first time you were in the motel. I forgot about you putting in the suitcase.

Brian Upton: I should have destroyed the book. Initially saved myself a lot of.

Marc Moss: All right.

Brian Upton: That wasn’t me trying to build the suspense. It was. That’s how it went. My stress just was on a huge upward trajectory about that book and who may find it or how I can get rid of it before somebody nails me for violating Egypt anti-pornography laws.

Marc Moss: So they actually have laws on the books.

Brian Upton: Yeah. I have not seen them, but my wife who used to live there assured me that it’s illegal. You know, it’s, it’s not Saudi Arabia, but it’s still a Muslim country. And I I’m sure I believe it.

Marc Moss: Yeah, I believe it too. And I’ve not even after you told the story, I thought, man, I really had to see midnight express and I never got a chance to see it yet, but I can imagine it.

Wasn’t very pleasant.

Brian Upton: Midnight express is I haven’t seen it in probably a couple of decades, but I did see it twice at different times. One when I was probably just out of high school and the second probably when I was around 30. And it’s a good movie. It’s a, it’s a compelling story. It’s a very good movie, but also it hits you probably particularly if you’re male, it’s in a pretty visceral way.

And that that’s kind of why it was in my frame of reference while I was there in Egypt and feeling like I was susceptible to the criminal justice system. Yeah.

Marc Moss: Well, one of the things that I appreciated so much about your story is many people want to tell a story about traveling and it’s such a difficult thing to do, right?

Because you know, you’ve been traveling. Potentially weeks or months. And how are you going to pick the one thing, the one event that epitomizes the trip, you can’t include everything. So what are you going to do?

Brian Upton: You know, market and a lot of ways. That’s true. But one thing I’m appreciating about this conversation is that I can also set the record straight because that was, that was definitely kind of traumatic for me. , but really the defining, , Aspect of that trip was getting to meet my wife’s family and the relatives.

I mean, now my relatives over in Egypt, in Cairo and Alexandria, and they were so gracious and friendly and warm, all of them and her father’s side was a very big family and they actually, so it was. , so lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, and that experience was just so fantastic. And that’s how I remember the trip.

That’s the first thing I think of. I don’t think of my trauma over Henry Miller’s book. That’s not the first thing that I remember thankfully.

Marc Moss: Right. And that’s what I’m, I guess one of the points I’m making is because. That’s a completely different story. The story of meeting your wife’s family in a foreign country who has a completely different culture.

And that, that story, I think, would be a fascinating one to develop as well, but it would be a completely different trajectory.

Brian Upton: Right. And, and I love that story and that memory, it was, that was my first time to Egypt. That was my first time meeting any of these relatives. So yeah, that was. It was pretty amazing.

It was pretty amazing. And it’s a total counterpoint in the total opposite side of the coin to that terrible few hours. When I was waiting for my luggage to arrive, to see whether somebody had taken that book out of it

Marc Moss: has, has your, um, extended family. Dina side of the family. Have they listened to your story at all? Do you know?

Brian Upton: I, I highly doubt it. I, I’m not even sure how many of them really speak English. There were just a few that, that were very fluent in English that kind of served as our translator, Dina speaks Arabic, but I don’t.

So I, I highly doubt any. Would have caused to have Googled and found it. We certainly didn’t bring it to anyone’s attention. Right.

How many

Marc Moss: languages does Dina speak?

Brian Upton: She speaks three Indonesian, English and Arabic. I think she would tell you her Arabic is a little rusty conversationally and she knows some French. She took French for a number of years in college or high school.

Marc Moss: Actually makes a lot of sense, knowing what she does at the university, with all the international students that come through.

Brian Upton: Yeah. That’s definitely her passion and she’s so good at interacting with all sorts of people from anywhere on the planet. It’s always a pleasure to, to see that and to see the relationship she builds.

It’s pretty amazing.

Marc Moss: Well, it sounds like your experience meeting her family. You can see where she gets it.

Brian Upton: Yes. And her parents both, you know, both of her parents immigrated to the United States from Egypt in the sixties, her father to go to school. So her father didn’t come from wealth or anything. And he really.

He really built up a solid foundation for his family in the United States. He came to the university of Minnesota to get his bachelor’s and he went or excuse me to get his master’s. And he got a doctorate at Oxford, Mississippi, um, after Dina was born. So she was born in Iowa where her father was teaching at Simpson college, which is the same college that.

George Washington, Carver after Iowa state university rejected him for being black. Um, Dina grew up in Iowa until she was five and then went to university of Mississippi at Oxford for her father to get a doctorate. And when he finished that he taught at university of Wyoming. So they moved there, but her father just kind of his educational pursuit.

And his Intrepid newness, uh, coming to the United States alone and teaching in rural Iowa and going to the south and getting a doctorate and living in Wyoming. He was definitely, I unfortunately never got to meet him because he passed away when Dina was 10, but, um, his fortitude and Intrepid, nearness and ability.

To obviously navigate a whole lot of human landscapes. Definitely, definitely lives on through Dina. Yeah.

Marc Moss: And what a different upbringing than you coming from Butte, America.

Brian Upton: Oh yeah. I actually grew up in rural, mid Michigan and. Lived there till I was 18. And then I met Dina our freshman year of college at American university in Washington, DC.

Um, but yeah, very different. I mean, Dina, Dina is very interesting because she knows she grew up in Iowa, Mississippi and Wyoming, but also grew up in Alexandra Egypt because after her father passed away, her mother, um, Moved to Alexandria, Egypt and Dena went to high school there at an American school and they would go back to Wyoming during the summers, but that was part of her growing up too.

So to counterbalance the deep south, the rural Midwest and Rocky mountain west with urban Alexandria, Egypt is a lot of experience growing up that I certainly didn’t have.

Marc Moss: Right. And I don’t know for whatever reason. I always imagine that you’re from BU even though I know you’re not right. I always forget that right away, but

Brian Upton: no, I love Butte so much.

Marc Moss: Did you get any sort of feedback from people who were there or heard it later after.

Brian Upton: Yeah. I heard from a few people, um, that night afterwards when we were leaving, um, and, and a few people that have heard it, um, on the Telus something website, you know, and months or years later, um, and you know, the people that, that want to say something to you about it are the ones that are being gracious and want to say something nice.

That was nice to hear. Um, but yeah, that’s about all I’ve I’ve heard.

Marc Moss: Well, before you decided to tell a story, um, your history will tell us something initially you had never heard of it. Right. And, and I think I put up tickets for, uh, like a premium for the KBG, a fundraiser, the local college readiness.

Fundraiser and you and Dina got those tickets. And then I think they were like season tickets or something. Right.

Brian Upton: Okay. Yeah. You have a really good memory. Cause I I’m trying to remember. I think that would have been in 2014 or maybe 2013 and yeah, we, I had donated to K BGA cause I think that’s a fantastic station.

Always appreciate that. And part of the premium. Yeah, years’ worth of tickets to tell us something. And I believe that’s the first time I’d heard of probably wasn’t the first time I heard of it, but the first time it really resonated with me. And then I was like, oh, wish I could go to this. Um, so we went and yeah, that was when it was at the top hat.

And the very first one, we went to it just bowled me over at great stories. You know, you have a great. Presentation of the whole thing and the way you make it an event and a community was very obvious right then and there just made a huge impression on me and it just looked fun. So I remember stalking you after the end of it, to just tell you what a good job you’re doing.

I can’t remember if I asked to do a story or if you said, do you want to do one? But I, I thought that was amazing that I could have an opportunity to do that. And I remember you writing my name down in your black book. Yeah. I

Marc Moss: have a little book that I can carry around in my back pocket for those reasons, because anybody that ever says that was great.

I always say you could do this too, because that, I mean, that’s part of the point of it, right? I can do this. Everybody has a story to tell and I want it to feel inclusive for everybody. And so when you said this was awesome and I had a good time, I immediately invited you didn’t think you would follow up at all.

Most people don’t, you know, um, and you gave me your number and then yeah.

Brian Upton: So,

Marc Moss: um, I can’t remember how long after your first time. At the show you decided that you wanted to tell a story, but, um, how did you decide that was the story that you wanted to tell?

Brian Upton: I knew that was the story I wanted to tell, because I’d already told it to, you know, groups of friends and family, because that, that was a pretty.

Scarring experience for me, but it was also, it seems to me pretty funny in retrospect, but at the time it was pretty scary. Um, so I just kind of enjoyed telling it, cause it was kind of cathartic and I always got a kick out of seeing people’s reactions to various parts of the story. So I knew that would be the story to tell.

And I don’t think I have another one that, that, uh, That is equivalent,

Marc Moss: maybe not equivalent, but I bet you have another one,

Brian Upton: maybe.

Marc Moss: So did you ever, I know that Dana for your birthday gave you a Tropic of cancer and you read it and you weren’t really that impressed by it. Did you ever get around to

Brian Upton: reading Tropic

Marc Moss: of cancer Capricorn?

Brian Upton: I did not. I. My recollection is I thought that was a little more interesting as far as I got through it in Egypt. Um, because Henry Miller was talking about growing up pretty poor and working class, New York city. I forget which borough, but he painted a pretty evocative picture of that. And it’s so different.

Um, from the New York city of today, that it’s, I found it really interesting. Um, I, I never finished Tropic of Capricorn, but when I read Tropic of cancer, it was certainly interesting in its own way. And he was pretty evocative about how living in Paris was, um, at that time around the turn of the century, I think, uh, and that also was so different than how.

Most people experience Paris now. I mean, when he writes about cold drafty flats with lots of vermin and lights and it just didn’t sound at all, like the place, most of us kind of envisioned our experience there, but the book was also, um, super massage monistic and I don’t know something about it. Really enjoy all that much, but it’s scratched the itch.

You know, he was one of the guys that Shakespeare and company in Paris, uh, that bookstore, um, he knew Paris. So it was, uh, it was a good thing to pick up in Paris. It served that purpose.

Marc Moss: He was, uh, revered enough that they created a library for him in big Sur, California, the Henry Miller library. And I had the occasion to go there and I think it was 2003 or 2004. Um, I had a job that put me on the road and it just turned out that I was on the road. In that part of the country when jello Biafra was on a spoken word tour.

Oh, wow. You know, Jello Biafra is

Marc Moss: do. Yeah. The dead Kennedys lead singer. And if

Brian Upton: you’ve ever, you heard him speak at the Henry Miller library. Yeah.

Marc Moss: And if, if you’ve ever heard him do a spoken word show, I mean, it is like Henry Rollins. On steroids. I mean, he is in your face. He is super political and the people who come to events at the Henry Miller library, some of them, it seems like maybe never have read Henry Miller.

Brian Upton: Absolutely I, yeah, you’re right about that. And I bet that you’d also be. And that Henry Miller is probably surprised a whole lot of people. I didn’t know anything about him when I picked up his books. And I can imagine if other people think they’re going to pick up some kind of quaint, uh, 19th century, early 20th century author, who, who wrote in Paris, they probably didn’t know necessarily what they’re getting into when they started reading things like Tropic of cancer.

Marc Moss: Right. And I like put Charles Bukowski in that same sort of thing, but people said about this great American poet and all of a sudden they’re in this misogynistic bullshit. Um,

Brian Upton: yeah. You know,

Marc Moss: it’s and it’s, uh, then, then we have the question. How much of that was the person and how much of that was the art and how much of that is forgivable?

If. You know, and like, I don’t have answers to any of those questions, but it’s interesting to read some of those pieces of literature. And now with the knowledge that we have go on that guide and sort of cringe.

Brian Upton: Yeah. I would say Henry Miller is pretty cringe-worthy and I certainly don’t know the answers to your questions either.

I would assert that, um, my sense of traffic, of cancers, that we were seeing a pretty unvarnished look at the man. Um, that was my sense of it. Yeah.

Marc Moss: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you want people to know about your story or your experience?

Brian Upton: Um, I think the only thing I would add is that, you know, the experience of telling it can be as you know, intimidating, a lot of people, you know, public speaking is a pretty common phobia. Um, and it can be kind of nerve wracking to kind of prepare for that and know you’re going to go up in front of a stage of people.

I would just reinforce for anybody listening that the environment you create is very, uh, friendly, nurturing. It’s, uh, it’s an environment where you don’t really feel as nervous as you might think you would. And that’s in part because of. The workshops you do, and kind of getting people used to who they’re going to be on stage with and getting used to telling their story.

But it’s also, I think, a real tribute to the community that you have built and encouraged with with that audience. I think most of the time, those audiences certainly now are, are kind of regulars. Um, and I, I can’t say enough about how you’ve cultivated a good diversity from Missoula. Of speakers. And, um, the experience is just a really good one.

And when I was on stage at the top hat, which granted is not as imposing as the wilderness stage, that that tell us something has evolved into, um, but still that was a lot of people you packed into the top hat and it wasn’t, it felt, it felt good. And, and that’s, I think attribute to you. And I’ll also add that I’d never even heard when I was up on the stage, the little gentle gong that tells me I exceeded the time limit.

So, so you’re gentle to your participants in many ways.

Marc Moss: Well, the gong is as much for the storyteller as it is for the audience to key them in to know that we’re about to wrap. But

Brian Upton: also I’ve been here when I was the storyteller.

Marc Moss: Yeah. And I think at the time I think I might’ve been the one with the gone.

Now I’ve got a governor who is a loud enough timekeeper, , Marissa Crerar. So if you’ve ever listened to or ever been in the audience, you can recognize her laugh. She has this very distinct laugh.

It’s interesting to see, uh, Events are evolving during this time.

COVID and, , the, , live streaming events in particular. , the April show that we did the storytellers knocked it out of the park. I saw it and they didn’t have any interaction with the audience at all. Um, and I asked one of them, I had the opportunity to talk to her pretty in depth about that experience.

And she said it was all. Oh, the green room. , , I had a little breakout rooms, , for the storytellers to go quote unquote backstage. And they were just building each other up, back there. You know, they weren’t even listening to the stories as they were being told, because they’d heard them enough and we practiced them and us.

They were just like backstage having fun off my.

They all bonded and they’d never met each other in person.

Brian Upton: Well, that’s, I didn’t know you had done that. Um, that’s great. I, I really appreciate that. Tell us something is doing the virtual events during the pandemic, because a that’s really about the only way you can do it. And it’s just a great way to introduce, I think a lot of other people. The whole, tell us something, um, kind of event, but that’s, I can see some of the storytellers maybe being glad they’re not in front of hundreds of people on a stage with lights shining in their eyes.

Um, and maybe having it be an easier experience, but I can also see it being perhaps a little more difficult because you’re just trying to stare into a camera to make eye contact with the audience. And as being a little kind of empty with no feedback. So I guess it would depend on the person. I could see it going both ways, being maybe easier and a better experience, or maybe a more difficult or experience without all the people, but I’m sure, glad you’re doing it because yeah, we were part of that audience and, and again, I mean, those, those stories are great.

And I guess one of the other things that would be, uh, I’d like to comment on, especially for anybody that hasn’t been to a tell us something event is one of the things I’ve always appreciated too, is that in a number of the events, there’ll be a side splitting, hilarious story. The same night as there can be a really, really moving emotional, sometimes traumatic.

Story that just in some ways they just don’t go together at all. And in other ways it’s a great way to, um, really appreciate the, either emotional depth of one story or the humor in another story, because you get to compare them to each other. Okay. It kind of lets you kind of travel a whole human gamut in one night and I’ve always appreciated that, especially when, and I think this is how you usually structure it when sometimes there’s a traumatic event that somebody recounting is followed by something that has a lot more levity and it is funny and, and that’s always a nicer way to, to travel that emotional path.

Marc Moss: I think of it, like you would think of making a mix tape or, uh, if you’re a musician creating the structure of an album, what songs you want to include, it’s one thing. But then the order of the songs is just as important. And I learned that the hard way, because one night there were, I think, five. Pretty heavy stories.

And I stack them pretty close to each other without any levity in between. And I had people walking out because they could not handle it. And I had people talk to me later and say, man, those stories were good, but I just couldn’t, I couldn’t take it anymore. And I had to leave and that taught me a lot. Um, those conversations were important to hear.

And when I started thinking about it in the way that you would think about. What do you want to include in a mix tape or if you’re an author or like what short stories do you want to include and in what order, or if you’re a poet, you know, how do you want to order the poems you have in a collection? I think the order is just as important as the stories themselves.

And that’s my job as a curator is to try to determine how are these stories going to land most effectively for the list. So that the storyteller and their experience can be the most effectively honored.

Brian Upton: And sometimes I think you do a great job really easy.

Marc Moss: Well, thanks. I appreciate that. Um, but it took years to figure that out.


Brian Upton: love the mixed tape analogy. I think that’s perfect. And, and, uh, I’m a little concerned if you had people that had walked out after four or five. Stories of levity who wants to, who can’t take five grade funny stories? No, no. They were the heavy stories. Oh, they were heavy. I misunderstood. They were

Marc Moss: five, five stories of heaviness was sort of lined up one against each other.

Um, and that was a big mistake on my part to do that, to do it that way. And, um, People let me know. And I’m really glad they did because I probably would have made that mistake multiple times, but I only had to make it once. And that might be the only time in my life where I’ve only had to make a mistake once before I’ve learned the lesson.

Brian. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. Um, I appreciate you and all your support of telecommuting over the years, and I’m glad that you were able to participate. Okay.

Brian Upton: It’s always great to talk to you, mark, and, um, thanks for the opportunity and thanks for everything you’re doing for the community that you enjoy.

So have given us a lot and we appreciate it.

Marc Moss: Well, I appreciate. , acknowledging Joyce. She doesn’t often get credit and she’s just as important as me in this work that we’re doing. So I appreciate it. I appreciate you. And I hope you have a story worthy weekend.

Brian Upton: You too, Marc . Thank you. All right. Thanks, Brian.

All right, we’ll see you.

Marc Moss: Okay.

Thanks, Brian. And thank *you* for listening today.

Next week, I catch up with Laura King.

Laura King: Yeah, so actually I’m super excited about the project itself and gathering these stories. My cousin and I have two great uncles who are pretty interesting historical figures and lots of glass, both lawyers, and I’m a lawyer.

So that’s kinda fun. , one of them was very conservative and the other one was very liberal. So we’ve got a guy who is an FBI and involved in propaganda, supporting Japanese internment, on the one hand. And then we’ve got, the other guy who was, a criminal defense attorney and, very active in, you know, abolition of criminal punishment and, the efforts early, early efforts to legalize marijuana.

Marc Moss: Tune in for her story, and our conversation, on the next Tell Us Something podcast.

Thanks to Cash for Junkers, who provided the music for the podcast. Find them at

Thanks to our in-kind sponsors:

Joyce Gibbs: Hi, it’s Joyce from Joyce of tile. If you need tile work done. Give me a shout. I specialize in custom tile installations. Learn more and see some examples of my [email protected].

Gabriel Silverman: Hey, this is Gabe from gecko designs. We’re proud to sponsor. Tell us something. Learn more at gecko design socks. Oh, it

Marc Moss: was a little broadcasting company. Learn more at Float Missoula. Learn more at podcast production by me, Marc Moss. Remember to get your tickets for the next in-person tell us something storytelling.

Marc Moss: I live at the Willma on March 30th, tickets and more information at log jam, To learn more about tell us something, please visit tell us

Because storytelling is an art, I’ve always hired local artists to design a poster for each event. The posters of Tell Us Something are amazing in their own right, and I thought that it would be fun to sit down with some of the artists to chat about their process and see what makes them tick. What inspires them, how they work, and how they came to design the poster that they designed for Tell Us Something. So, this week on the podcast, join me as we go behind the scenes with local artist Courtney Blazon. Courtney designed the poster for the June 2019 show. The theme that night was “What Are the Chances?”

Transcript : Interview with Courtney Blazon

welcome to the tell something podcast

i’m mark moss i know what i’m doing but
if somebody wanted to know how do you
become an artist i’d be like
you just work hard since around july of
i have been interviewing tell us
something storyteller alumni about their
experience sharing a story on the
telesumming stage
why they chose to share a story and what
they’ve been up to
since having shared their story i have a
lot more of those interviews to share
with you
this week though i’m going to introduce
you to one of tell something’s poster
for me it was important for my life and
important for my work that i had a
studio at home where i could shut the
where like at a certain time at the end
of the day
i’m not looking at that piece of work
anymore because storytelling is an art
i’ve always hired local artists
to design a poster for each event the
posters of tell us something
are amazing in their own right and i
thought that it would be
fun to sit down with some of the artists
to chat about their process
and see what makes them tick what
inspires them
how they work and how they came to
design the poster
that they designed for telesomething so
this week on the podcast join me
as we go behind the scenes with local
courtney blazon courtney designed the
poster for the june 2019
show the theme was what are the chances
i kind of knew pretty quickly what i was
gonna do for it
and i usually settle on an idea pretty
and i don’t know if that’s just because
i’m generally like
this is the time i have allotted for
this you better snap to it
courtney blaizon is an artist and
illustrator living and working in
missoula montana
she graduated from parsons school of
design where she earned her bfa in
she’s shown her work in missoula at the
brink gallery
dana gallery allez gallery and the
missoula art museum
outside of montana she has shown work in
seattle portland
new york philadelphia san francisco and
most recently at the center for the arts
theater gallery in jackson wyoming
hello good morning hi how are you
um well how are you doing good thank you
good thanks for agreeing to talk to me
courtney’s work has been featured in new
american paintings the western edition
studio visit magazine and
she is a past recipient of a montana
arts council artists
innovation award courtney is represented
by radius gallery in missoula montana
big thanks to our title sponsor the good
food store and thanks to our enduring
02:45 and blackboard
thanks to our champion sponsor trufood
missoula and a very special thanks to
our blue ribbon sponsor
joyce of tile courtney blaizon’s pen and
marker drawings reference
fields of science history cultural
studies myths and fairy tales
her images take us someplace between the
known world
and a dreamscape a surreal marriage of
naturalism and fantasy the results can
be simultaneously whimsical
and grotesque witty as well as
the tension of these unions suggests our
own struggle
to achieve balance in a chaotic world i
caught up with courtney blaizon last
we chatted about the historical context
much of her work references
life as a professional artist and some
of the large-scale works
that she has done recently before
finally talking about the poster that
she made for tell us something
in june of 2019 i’ve also been thinking
about these interviews as a record
of a specific time in our collective
pandemic history
they shared glimpses into the moments of
life during quarantine
how we were coping and how we are
somehow continuing to go about
our daily lives
i just moved to a new place so that was
really nice
yeah lots of very i mean different than
a normal summer
like yeah for sure yeah um
yeah like our maid fares aren’t
this summer in the same way so that’s
are you doing a online version of the
maid fair
i mean somewhat but we’re basically just
posting everybody who would have been in
the maid fairs
page and sort of letting them offer
discounts if they want
but we’re not doing anything like
with video or yeah i
i just i feel like that kind of bubble
where that was like at the beginning of
sort of quarantine
like there was a lot of live events and
i felt like they were really popular
and like really necessary and i feel
like now
now that it’s summer especially and
we’ve kind of gotten used to the
the whole thing like i don’t know that
we’d be able to capture an
audience in the middle of summer inside
you know like i feel like that was the
way that we are all connecting
at the beginning of this and i don’t
know if now people feel like they can
just be together outside
distance that it’s just like
oh yeah it’s interesting it just doesn’t
seem like
it didn’t it ended up not seeming worth
our time
and a lot of our major artists didn’t
want to
extend their time towards trying to do
something special so
summer in montana is pretty short
take advantage of it yeah especially now
who knows what the winter is going to
look like right yeah
exactly yeah we just want to be outside
doing stuff as much as possible right
yeah i know some of the art fairs around
the state have still
happened and that’s another thing we
struggled with
but we just felt pretty worried about
like if if an outbreak had been traced
to our event we would have felt
really irresponsible right and and we
uh we’re not even in a phase where we
would have been able to allow that big
of a crowd anyway
with missoula county so yeah so we just
decided to be
preemptively just cancel it and then
hope that we can recoup with
some of the other events that we have
i’m lucky that i don’t have all my eggs
in that basket though
so i’ve got other ways that i can still
make money and stuff
have you been talking to a lot of
artists and writers and
creatives i talk to
only one other tell us something poster
artist in the way that we’re talking
you’ve heard this idea on the tell us
something podcast before that
the in-person live performance vibe that
a traditional tell us something brings
is very difficult yeah i just feel like
certain things like in our
experience like in our in our creative
can translate to online and can be
just as successful if not more in some
and then other things we’re just i think
we’re finding just can’t
you can’t duplicate it right yeah
yeah you just have to kind of roll with
because it’s an unstable profession to
begin with like
yeah it’s gonna be unstable in any
way and i think like creative people who
are self-employed
already feel that instability or already
kind of know
how to chart those waters if they’ve
been doing it long enough
so it it becomes i mean at least for me
became pretty easy to adapt
to because i was pretty used to
feeling some moments of floundering
financially or or you know so yeah
for me at least it was kind of like
yeah no i wouldn’t say easy i if i said
easy i
don’t think that’s the word but it it
was a an experience i was kind of
equipped for because i i’ve had periods
of good
stuff happening in periods where i’m
like i’m never going to get a job again
you know kind of feeling you have
just built your career around saying yes
yeah and i don’t it’s interesting
because over the past
two years i’ve been in the process of
saying no to more things and
cutting more things out of my life as
i’ve it’s become more clear to me what i
really want and then also i’ve been
getting enough work
where i’m able to say no to things like
it was really just last
year or two years ago that i quit doing
summer markets
um i basically except for the summer
maid fairs have given up vending
all together and i only do the summer
made the majors in missoula basically
because that’s how i started really
getting known i feel like if people came
to my booth
at market and so i still want to keep my
toes in that a bit
i’ve given up doing private kid lessons
because it just wasn’t something i
wanted to do
i feel like i’ve been in the process of
shedding a lot of those things that i
said yesterday
at the beginning of my career in favor
of things that
really made me fulfilled and
so it’s been interesting to have been
saying no to things that then would have
been pretty hard to do
anyway um it was like um
an interesting interesting timing to
have been
paring those things down um
yeah but you’re right i absolutely and
like i know a lot of
artists who wouldn’t go that route of
like just say yes but for me it just
was the right way to go about things so
i i had a really large
pool and then it made
when one part wasn’t working i could
always rely on another part to
pay my bills and so it’s always been
i’ve never felt too insecure because
i’ve always had something that
i could put my hand in and be able to go
okay i can make money this way
if commissions aren’t working right now
or but it’s only you know 10 years on
and i’ve
finally been like i it’s time for me to
i need to drop something or i’m never
gonna sleep
um you know so like i don’t
i don’t want to spend the next 10 years
making products
for for me like that’s not fun or joyous
or i’d rather take that energy and
try to build more clients for my
illustration work
so yeah it’s been like i’ve been in a
period of sort of
reconfiguring and growth and
it almost gave me sort of some time to
just like slow down and be quiet
and i was getting a lot of family
commissions during
this whole period and i i think because
people are home
and they’re thinking about their spaces
so that was really good for me or it
gave me a focus
yeah yeah and do you
draw everything on an ipad or like a
tablet or how do you how what’s your
not my family commissions like the
portrait commissions i do for families
are all
pen and marker on paper and then all my
illustration work
that is for like but i do a lot for big
sky brewing company and that’s all on
the ipad because they often want
corrections or
they’ll the packaging is not just the
can but it’s the bottle
it’s the bottle it’s the can it’s the
box that the
cans would come in plus the box that the
bottles would come in and
there’s a lot of different iterations of
one design
so the ipad makes it super easy to
do all those changes and then for my
personal work i
mostly do that on pieces of paper
with real materials and this summer too
i had a residency
at the historical museum and that was
six weeks so i had a studio on site
and i was able to just dive into
um historical research about missoula
and that was re that was another like
awesome thing to have during this period
i was going to just say when are we
going to get to see that that sounds
yeah so i am working on
it so i did this body of work that
showed at the missoula art museum
could be without a summer it was like
very very
huge drawings with lots of detail
you want to talk about a rabbit hole
head to to see
courtney’s exhaustive process
for this project learn the history of
volcano tambora
see courtney’s early sketches for the
work and read the notes that she took
during her research and i’m doing i’m
doing something similar with this body
of work i’m
going to recreate the period of time in
missoula which was like
1890 to 1905 roughly
on west french street where that section
of town was called the badlands
and it was a really i mean it was a it
where all the brothels were we had a
so i i’m going to create that i’m hoping
it probably won’t be for a year
when i do bodies of work like this i
think i spend
about half the time doing the research
getting the sketches ready
and then the second half of the time is
actually doing the work
so right now i’m still in research and
development phase but i’ve been able to
talk to
so many amazing missoulians who have so
much knowledge about
this period of time until march 2021
you can check out the historical mural
courtney is talking about
in the alley next to radius gallery
called allez
gallery for a video teaser of the mural
and a link to the allez gallery website
well i mean it took you a long time to
do that
piece at the zack which is beautiful
and it has like that all of that yeah
that was about that was about 300 plus
hours and it was just a lot of work and
i was i was at the time in a studio that
that was a lot of work and i was working
in a really really
really small space
so i could only work on four of those
panels at a time
this is a little different just because
in the piece
for the zax i could kind of just draw
whatever i wanted
i didn’t have to try to be true to
history at all
so this one will be a little bit more i
want to honor
sort of real historical things while
still keeping my sort of
surrealistic point of view and
stuff like that but i love that i love
that i have pieces that are just like
sort of
stream of consciousness and then pieces
that are more researched and
right now my my sort of workload and my
life my work life feels really balanced
between work that yeah
like because some of my work i mean it’s
work right like doing a family portrait
is work
because you don’t want to get anything
wrong and it’s going to be something
that will be in their home
and hopefully be passed on to their
children or
so those that i take really seriously
and they feel more like work
but that mural felt like a lot of work
but also like really playful
yeah it seemed like you were having fun
with it yeah absolutely
and i just i didn’t really have to
as long as it wasn’t inappropriate for
children i really had
so much freedom i think
i’ve been really fortunate during this
period of time to
have a number of things that have kept
me afloat
i don’t suffer from lack of
creativity i think i just like
can kind of force myself to do things
even if i’m not
feeling it just because it’s like a
muscle and i’ve already well developed
go to work yeah it’s a job
it’s a job like i i don’t feel like i
have the
the freedom to not do it just do it
and that extends to my even my personal
work even when i don’t want to show up
and do something for myself like i still
go just do it you’ll feel better
so that’s kind of that discipline i’ve
built over the years has really
served me and the other side of it is
my life changed like zero percent in
terms of
how i conducted my daily life when we
were in quarantine my life remained
exactly the same because i’ve already
been working from home for a decade
so nothing changed i was still home
right you know like it’s more like just
a half an hour that you’re actually on
the zoom and then the rest
that by seeing friends and stuff like
that was really
and i did some virtual you know drink
dates with friends
and that was really nice and even like
how the zac
did their mini auction online and like
it was all on
zoom and it was just you could see
in it that was so cool
yeah that was a good example of how an
online event can
have success but it fell at the right
time because people were
so like people were just like what is
going to happen
and it felt like so it was so new
the experience of being like oh we can’t
we have to stay home and so seeing all
the faces of the people
you love in the community online and
like then seeing people bidding on
because i think they almost made as much
as they would of
having the event which was like what a
what a great
it just makes you feel like mozilla is a
great place
in that way it is but it definitely is
yeah it
it definitely is i just also think that
has kind of it it couldn’t be recreated
again because i think now we’re so used
to this
i don’t know i maybe i’m wrong but it
just seems like
we’ve kind of gotten used to what it
means to be staying within our circle
and we’re all kind of changed because
of it and both negatively and positively
yeah you’re talking about zoom meetings
and you’re only on the call for the time
that you’re on the call and that’s it
and you can go back to work
yeah that’s been my experience too and
it’s like i kind of don’t
want to have coffee meetings again
i know i’d like to just go like let’s
just do zoom
like this is great i don’t need to go
out and spend that extra time
you know like i it doesn’t it feel like
this is gonna kind of change how people
i think so i mean certainly certainly
for me you know i had somebody say hey
do you want to go have a socially
distant coffee and i was like no i don’t
yeah because because i’m working and
if i leave the house that means that’s
you know half an hour to get to wherever
we’re going to meet
the time that we’re meeting and then
another half an hour to 45 minutes to
get home oh wait i
i actually i can go yeah i do need to
a loaf of bread or you know like no
yeah let’s have a half hour meeting and
like that’s the end of it and now i’ll
go back to work
yeah i love that too it’s actually
that’s become something that
i feel like is going to be really
for me just be like let’s just do this
and that’s going to be so much easier
for everybody
i think if you’re somebody who needs
people you’re going to want to do that
anyway but
i kind of like being just in my zone
when i’m in the middle of work i just
want to stay there and that
needing stuff just breaks it up too much
yeah for sure you kind of come back
feeling unfocused or you’re like
you end up running a bunch of errands
just because you’re already out
yep so yeah going back to
work and art yeah i bet you if i had
asked you you know this year to do
something you might say no because
paring that down so thank you so much
making no not in that way actually i was
more just talking about like
vending oh yeah it was more just like
vending and then yeah but stuff like
that i still love doing any opportunity
have where i’m actually just drawing i
can’t say no to that
it’s like more just like i like to draw
and any excuse to draw
it was just like the things in which i
wasn’t actually just doing the thing i
want to do
i don’t want to do the peripheral stuff
i just want to do the art
i know what i’m doing but if somebody
wanted to know
how do you become an artist i’d be like
you just work hard
there’s no secret you’re just
you work hard you’re tenacious you
you want it more than the other person
who would want it i don’t know
um you’d be nice be nice to people but
be honest or not that honesty and nice
but i mean be transparent if you want
amount of money for your work say it
make a contract i mean there’s just so
many things that like and maybe those
valuable things to tell people now that
i’m thinking about
like these aren’t obvious for me i
always think
be an easy person to work with but don’t
be a pushover
and that feels like the best advice that
i was given was
be tough but always be fair and
keep record keep track of every
interaction you have
just in case somebody says you didn’t
tell me that right
or whatever right maybe it’s not obvious
it feels obvious to me
but because you’ve been doing it for 10
right right and isn’t it funny it’s like
you can do it as many years as you want
it still feels new like oh what if i
what if i can’t do it anymore
yeah for me it was important for my life
and especially important for my work
that i had a studio at home
where i could shut the door where like
at a certain time
at the end of the day i just said i’m
not looking at that piece of work
in my little place in the basement it
was there all the time
and it was making me crazy
the mental things just be like i’m
shutting the door on that
and i’m moving on to another part of my
and i yeah i mean i work more than
i should but i’ve been working really
hard also just on like
i gotta sleep more i need to find
some other hobbies not really but i mean
you know yeah i also need a little
balance in my life
it’s been nice also i’ve been finding a
lot of solace and
hiking this period
of times it’s been like yeah it’s just
remembering that that’s one of the great
reasons to live
in missoula is that you could every day
of the week you could go to a different
hiking spot
has been very very very beneficial for
my brain
yep after the unexpected and refreshing
business advice workshop
we started talking about the poster that
courtney produced
for tell something so i wanted to ask
you about
the poster that you made for us yeah
did you immediately know what you were
going to draw when i asked you to do it
and you knew what the theme was or
um i actually did some research
about like where’s my i thought i would
my fingers i gotta grab it to look at it
so it was um because i think i like
i kind of knew pretty quickly what i was
gonna do for it
and i usually settle on an idea pretty
and i don’t know if that’s just because
i’m generally like
this is the time i have allotted for
this you better snap to it
how many events have you had in posters
at the beginning i was having
an artist design like a 24 by 36
screen print and we would just use that
same just
yeah and like with the idea being we
would sell some and nobody actually
wanted to buy anything that big
so i have you know lots of those if you
want one
um but we would just like
change the color scheme each for each
event to
differentiate it from each other
right and then
i decided you know that’s not okay
uh let’s make it really special and
let’s highlight different artists in
so then i don’t know when i made that
choice but
it was like maybe the fourth year that
we were going
right and four different artists every
year and that was
pretty awesome and and so before covet
i got marlowe to frame i
had him printed on nice paper
and she framed every single poster that
we’ve ever had and we were going to have
an art show the art of tell us something
because of our 10-year anniversary right
and so
i’m counting them now one two three four
five six i don’t know there’s like
50 something like that that’s amazing
yeah and so i paid her to frame the
posters and then coveted came and i was
like well we can’t have an art show now
and so i’ve got all these
sitting in my living room oh my gosh
yeah but she did it
uh it was going to be a quiet coffee
it’ll happen at some point i hope so you
know when we’re allowed to get back
together again
yeah so i i
i kind of like because i like i have a
hard time
hooking into being excited about a
project until i can
find some intellectual
excitement in it so i tend to just look
like if the word was
chance so i just started to look up like
and then like what it was historically
and then like like the roman gods of
and i think like i was kind of just
that’s the way i can get kind of excited
about it if i feel like it has a back
i always think it’s like an actor who
who needs a backstory for their
character even if
even if nobody knows it but it gives
them uh
a way to be really excited and invested
in what they’re doing
so i kind of knew as soon as i picked
that one and i think it was because the
because you gave me options i think of
two or three
yeah ones yeah and i think i picked
right away because i knew it would have
like i could come up with something that
had a narrative behind it yeah
and that because because until or you
know mentally that’s just what i need to
get myself invested so i think like
the chance like i looked up like chance
meaning and then like kind of what it
would have meant in like
the roman period or the greek period and
then like luck of the draw and
and the dice are kind of obvious but i
use little sort of ancient
looking dice and
yeah okay so for tuna is that your name
yes for tuna yeah so i kind of knew
right away
what like that it would go that route
and then i would kind of try to figure
it out in that
but i didn’t want her to be like
blindfolded or anything
because she’s both greek it was like
i had an artist i was working with for a
in helena the theme was didn’t see that
uh-huh and she and she without me asking
her to
she provided me three proof of concept
drawings and said you know which one do
you like yeah and one of them
featured a girl in a blindfold and i was
you know i get it i get it and also
like think about how people will feel
when they see that and she was like oh i
never even considered
yeah right
yeah yeah thanks for not putting a
blindfold on her
yeah so the thing on her head is
supposed to be her blindfolded
blindfold pulled up as if she’s seeing
yeah i mean and that’s just something
that i did like that you know because
then i was including what would have
been in the original representation but
it was in a different format because
like i don’t think it’s a good idea to
a blindfolded person because you don’t
yeah it just doesn’t make you’re right
it doesn’t make people
feel comfortable and if that’s your aim
but for a poster it’s not
did she have other concepts though that
oh yeah yeah she did a great she did an
awesome job and it was fun you know it
was fun to have somebody
ask me right right i know like
that’s not always the case right some of
us don’t
necessarily sketch out concepts and then
you just go for it
yeah and i do like it because when i do
like for the beer labels i have to have
concept drawings
yeah and when i’m doing something like
that i guess
yes you did give me the choice and i was
like oh well i’ll just i’ll just dive in
which is cool yeah yeah it’s
but it is it’s also nice to have that
i think sometimes and also like what if
she had chosen the blindfolded one you
would have been like
oh yeah i would have paid her and then
done something else you know like right
i would have been like well here’s your
money i can’t use this
but we had an agreement and you and you
and you met your side of the agreement
and i didn’t give you clear enough
my fault you know has it been
interesting working with artists
do you find that they’re all kind of
in a way and how they approach work
or they taught me a lot about about
communicating right
right the the guidelines that i gave you
once you said you wanted to do it exist
some artists didn’t hit any of those
points and that was like
well they didn’t because i told them to
do whatever they wanted and they did
and then they gave me a piece of work
that i couldn’t use
and it’s because right so that’s why i’m
like okay it has to have
some sort of living thing in it you know
and it has to be
easy to read and you know all that stuff
and some you know some artists gave me
like a really beautiful piece of art but
it doesn’t have
the information that is necessary to
promote an event on it you know yeah
yeah and i think so like really good
that you provide
provide those now because i think
artists even if they think they don’t
want them they for this case they need
to have
some guidelines for sure
yeah and i i mean yeah i made
assumptions right
oh i’m hiring courtney blaizon she knows
how to do this stuff
and then courtney blazon gives me a
piece of work that it’s like beautiful
but the lettering is such that i can’t
read it you know like i’m
using you just so that i’m not pointing
out you know anybody else but
and i’m not saying that you did that you
definitely didn’t you gave me
a beautiful poster that it was easy to
read and we sold out the wilma
you know oh good i thought it looked so
good when i saw it like around the
around the town you know when it’s
because you just suck some up
right oh yeah they were everywhere yeah
yeah it was just exciting to see it i
was like that was
good yeah it does it looks great
and it was fun too like even from the
street you could tell what it was
if you were just riding your bike down
the road you might not be able to read
it because you were going fast but
yeah it was it was a great position yeah
it’s funny i i’m always telling stories
to people and they’re always like
particularly i have like a pretty
interesting life with my dad
and people are always saying you should
try to do something for tell us
and i feel like that would make me want
to vomit just the thought of
standing up in front of a crowd i mean i
know i could do it probably and
because i’m kind of also a cam
you know like i i like to chat
but i’m sure i could but do people want
to vomit
it’s kind of scary so
telling a story is scary and
also really fun and if you can take that
energy and turn it into you know it’s
energy so you can manipulate it to your
yeah and so take that nervous energy and
turn it into an
enthusiasm or excitement or whatever
you need to get through the story but by
the time you hit that stage
you’ve practiced your story enough and
you’ve gotten enough feedback from
not just other storytellers but me you
know i’m like that’s part of my job is
help you crash because you don’t go up
there and tell a story you like practice
and you
you people tell you what is working and
what isn’t working
and stuff like that yeah i mean in the
early days
it was just get up there and do it and
people did great at that but as things
started progressing
i realized that i need to also step up
my game and
help them craft their story somebody
might tell me a story and it’s like
three minutes long and it’s like that’s
not your full story let’s think about
this and
and then by the time they get on the
stage it’s a beautiful piece of art you
wow yeah that’s amazing yeah that’s a
gift that you’re giving the community
to and hopefully like you feel
appreciated by
the you know the community i
feel really lucky really like that like
i i’m always cutting a deadline right to
the end
myself it gives you a
fire under your butt but it’s like it’s
just like a mental exercise of
i don’t care if anybody listens this is
what i do yeah yeah
i mean because i’m the same way like
i’ll force myself to finish a piece of
work that’s for me but i’m like
literally nobody but me cares
but it’s important for my mental
well-being to just stay
somewhere in that realm of
holding myself accountable i’m sure for
some people it’s other things like
exercise and sleep and what you’re
for some of it’s related to like i just
need to do this to stay
accountable to myself and
like i like to dress up every day
whether i’m leaving home or not
and it’s just my way of saying like okay
you’re working now
and yeah yeah stuff like that
i don’t know i like i like the act of
changing out
of my sleeping clothes into something
that is
about being present and
focused and yeah
yeah well courtney thank you for talking
with me today i’m speaking of work
i like i do have to go to work okay well
have a good day mark and thanks for
chatting with me
thank you courtney you have an awesome
day as well and uh maybe i’ll see you
around in the neighborhood
sounds good bye all right bye