lessons

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.

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Marc Moss

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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. tellussomething.org

 

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

[music]

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 logjampresents.com

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.

I

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 cashforjunkersband.com

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 missoulabroadcasting.com. Float Missoula. Learn more at floatmsladotcomandmissoulaevents.net 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, presents.com. To learn more about tell us something, please visit tell us something.org.

Free from jail at 16, Stephanie faces a corrupt system and overcomes an inept foster parent. Stephanie calls her story “The Smartest Girl in the Jail”. We also talk about her band, her podcasts, and about how things in the system don’t seem to have changed much since she was 16.

Transcript : "Smartest Girl in the Jail" - Interview with Stephanie Hohn

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

This week on the podcast, I sit down with Stepahnie Hohn to talk about her story “The Smartest Girl in Jail”, which she told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT back in October of 2012.

Stephanie: I’ve just had unusual experiences or, you know, bad experiences that people would like to pretend aren’t something happening in their community.

So I kind of wanted to tell that just to be like, Hey, just so you know, like, this is, this is what’s happening, you know, here that’s, this is what it’s like for people.

Marc: The theme that night was “Forgiveness”.

We also talk about her band, her podcasts, and about how things in the system don’t seem to have changed much since she was 16.

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 Stepanie’s story and our subsequent conversation…

We will be in-person for the first time since August 2021. We are running at 75% capacity, which allows for listeners to really spread out at The Wilma. Learn more and get your tickets at logjampresents.com

Stephanie Hohn shared her story in front of a live audience at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT on October 9th, 2012 at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT. The theme was “Forgiveness”.

Free from jail at 16, Stephanie faces a corrupt system and overcomes an inept foster parent. Stephanie calls her story “The Smartest Girl in the Jail”. Thanks for listening.

Stephanie Hohn: So, um, I got out of prison when I was 16 and I’m here to go to college. I finished two years of high school in six months because I was the smartest girl who’d ever been at that prison, which is possibly not a compliment. Um, but it’s something that the program director told me when I left. And I got out of a van with no handles on the inside.

The good food store parking lot. So I could meet my foster mom and we could have small talk for an hour and then go to my parole meeting and pretend like we met before, which worked well. I got to sit there at a table with five adults that I’d never met before, telling me all of the ways that I could go back to jail.

Most of them seem to include Maureen, not liking me or me not being able to find a job. And I came out with $5 and the clothes that I was. And I think I also maybe had chapstick, um, cause that’s what I had when I had gotten arrested and that’s what I had. And when I moved here, so worrying took me to Ross or something to pick out some clothing so that I could have something professional to wear, to try to get a job and begin paying my way as soon as possible.

Cause she didn’t want to do it. Uh, and I was sitting in the dressing room, looking at my. And I could see like, so clearly what a big hole I was in, because I didn’t know how to do any of those things. I didn’t know how to tell them what they wanted here or how to get a job, or I don’t know how to make people like me.

So I stayed in there and I cried for as long as I thought I could get away with. And then I went back out there, but eventually I, I did manage to get a job. Start going to college and all of those things. But the main problem was Maureen, because she was very unstable. Um, she’d picked me up from work. A lot of the times really smashed, tell me a bunch of strange stories and then try to take me to bars and not understand why I didn’t want to go with her and be like, no, come in don’t you want a beer?

No. Um, I’m 16 and on parole Marine, I don’t go in the bar with you. Um, and then she would cheat at pool, which is not necessary when you’re playing pool with me because I’m horrible at pool and she would still lose. And then she would try to get me to drive her car home, and I still don’t know how to drive.

And then we would go home and she would spend the entire next day in bed crying until I had to call her sister to come and take care. So it was trying to talk to my parole officer about this. And I got halfway into the story and he stops me and he looks at me and he says, Maureen is more important to us as a foster parent than you are as a kid in our program.

And if there are any problems with her and you cannot live there anymore, I’m not going to find you another placement. You can just go back. So I took that to me in, Hey, Stephanie, shut the fuck up. So I did, um, and I didn’t tell them anything else about her and it seemed like things were going okay. Um, she decided that she was going to go to AA because every time that she freaked out, it seemed like she was drinking.

So she was like, oh, maybe there’s some connection between this. Um, But when I, we were supposed to go to a movie together and she decided that she didn’t want to go or that she wanted to go out drinking with a friend from out of town. Um, she’s like, you know, I’ll pick you up after movie, just call me. Oh, good.

So you’ll be drunk then and driving you. That’s awesome. Uh, but I called her after the movie and she comes and picks me up completely smash and grabs me by the arm. Like for emphasis of shock, Stephan, Stephan, I fell in love tonight. Um, and first they used to tell me about some girl that she met at the bar that she’s going to go back and steal away from her boyfriend.

Um, no previous lesbian tendencies there, but you know, whatever. Uh, the only problem is I have to work at eight o’clock in the morning, the next day. And my work is all the way across town. So I’m a little worried. It’s like, we’re gonna, are you gonna be okay to drive me home tomorrow? Cause it’s it’s two right now.

Be to work at eight. She’s like, no, no, no, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. Cause there’s another lady in the sheets. Me congratulate me. She actually did the finger guns. So not, I didn’t have that. I was like, oh God, you not want to see that at all. So I wake her up the next morning they got alone and she takes me to work and it seems like it’s fine.

I mean, she’s a little drunk still, but it’s like Sunday morning. There’s no other car. She asked me what she should bring me when I’m going to get off work. So I was doing a double shift. I had to go to the other store. It was like, coffee should bring me coffee. She was like, okay, let me bring you coffee.

It seems fine. I get about halfway through my shift and I get this phone call. Um, and it’s Marine just speaking really fast. And it sounds like she’s like outside or something like the phones all crackling. And she just starts like speaking all in a rush. It’s like Stephanie, Stephanie said. I have to go see my mom.

If she go see my mom right now, I was like, like, like now, now she’s like, I don’t know. I’m on the way to the airport. I’ll call you back. Click, like looking at the phone. I’m like, yeah, I’m going to jail. I am going to jail. I’m going to fail college and get fired and I’m going to go to jail. Um, so I look at the phone for like, you know, a couple of seconds decide there’s not really anything I can do about it, but it back and go back to work.

Um, I get about halfway through. And Maureen’s boss and her best friend, Jocelyn calls me and she’s like, Hey, it’s Ryan picking you up today? It’s like, I don’t think so. She’s like, yeah, me neither because her mom just called me from Indiana. And she says that she’s there. And, um, I don’t know where her car is also the dog.

Um, so yeah. What do you want to do about that? I was like, oh, well, if you could just give me a ride to work, that would be cool. Uh, so that happens. And so about a month ago I was walking down the street and I’ve run into her and we made eye contact and then couldn’t take it back. So we had to talk to each other and she, she seemed eager in a strange way to sit down and have coffee with me.

It didn’t seem like it was coming from her. So I kind of got the impression that she was on the ninth step, but, um, I sit down and I have some coffee with her and it’s about like, I thought she starts telling me about how every night in her room, she was drinking by herself and she never mentioned it to anybody.

You know, she’d had like a history of mental problems. I was like, I’m shocked. Um, but. She she’s asking me if I could forgive her, but even as she’s saying it, she’s almost taking it back. Cause she’s like, oh, I feel like I wasn’t a very good big sister to you. I’m like, oh, I like how you’re minimizing your responsibility in this situation, even as your attempt to take some sort of responsibility.

Um,

so I mean, she seemed, she seemed to need it. So, so I gave her my forgiveness, but I don’t think that it meant anything. Um, So what actually happened was, uh, she didn’t ruin my life. She actually ruined hers because a Marine was a social worker here in town and she could no longer get a job after that here.

So she had to move in with her parents and spend five years going to nursing school, which I thought was a poor career choice for somebody like her, because. Um, people die in hospitals and I don’t know how well that would work for her, but regardless, that was her, her decision. Um, after that I was kind of my parole.

Officer’s like golden girl. He got like copies of my sat scores and my college transcripts and like put them on his wall. Like there was some child’s crayon drawings or something. And we tell everyone about what a success I was is if he had been some kind of assistance to me instead of a constant hindrance, uh, I got to sit down at those meetings with the five people that I didn’t know and be asked like, well, why didn’t you tell us, why didn’t you tell us that she was so unsealed?

I did. I told you, you told me not to tell you anything else. So I didn’t, um, and I think maybe guilt was his motivating factor for trying to be nice to me after. Uh, I ran into him a while ago and he said that he mentions my story in the talks that he gives about being a parole officer as if, you know, he played some role.

Uh, something interesting that Maureen did tell me was that I’m apparently the only person who went through that program, who didn’t go back to jail, which they recognized as not a flaw in their program. But as the rest of them being worthless criminals, and I’m the only redeemable one. But I think that when you’re constantly told that you are the disposable factor in a situation that you become, that if you’re not a stronger willed person or the smartest girl in the jail.

So, you know, I guess, I guess that’s the whole.

Marc: Stephanie Hohn, raised by wolves, is an activist, artist and traveler.

I caught up with Stephanie in July of 2020.

A quick warning for sensitive listeners, towards the end of our conversation, Stephanie describes assault with frank language.

Marc: Are you practicing via zoom with your band?

Stephanie: So my band all works at our shop aside from our singer, who is the sister of one of our band Pampers. And so we’ve been meeting in person because we already are around each other all day at work. Anyway, it’s like at that point we’re already pretty exposed.

So we might as well.

Marc: And are you performing?

Stephanie: We did some live streams when quarantine first started to happen for us, like when we were laid off from our jobs, but shelter in place hadn’t been put into effect. And then when shelter in place happened, we all took it pretty seriously. Everybody stayed home, you know, for that amount of time.

And then once, you know, The places that we were working at opened back up again, we were like, well, at this point we might have sold to start practicing it person. We are hoping to record an album this year. We have enough music for it, and we’re kind of ready to go on that front, but it’s just a matter of like that being something we can do.

Cause I don’t really know if people are doing that right now,

Marc: Matt. Oh,

Stephanie: well, that’s good to know.

Marc: I’m pretty sure. Yeah. And he’s, I’ve worked with him before. He’s

Stephanie: yeah, we, um, we’ve been working on some merchant. I’ve made some shirt designs and I’m screen printing those myself and stuff. So we’ve got like a lot of, a lot of things.

But

Marc: do you have your own screen printing setup or do you use?

Stephanie: I have my own right now. Yeah. I have used the Zack in the past and I think if I was going to do something. More complicated or, or trying to do a lot of shirts that I would probably use their setup. But, um, since we’re kind of doing like print to order, I just have a small setup and we’re doing simple designs and we just have three shirt colors, and three ink options.

And I mean, , I feel like, um, what I’ve been doing, it has actually been hand adding second color details myself, just with like a brown.

’cause you can do, you can do wet on wet with like a water-based ink. And so I’ll just do the whole, like, if it’s like a black shirt and I’m putting a white design on it and I wanted like some yellow accents, I’ll just do the whole thing in yellow and then the whole thing in white. And then I’ll go in and add the yellow on top of it by.

And I, I feel like that’s like been a good result, but that’s only for a few things. If I was trying to do a whole bunch, it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Marc: Right. And it’s fun too.

Stephanie: If you’re just, if you’re just kinda messing around and like having fun.

Yeah, for sure. And because I, I do the t-shirt section at my job now, it’s pretty easy for me to get blank shirts at a lower cost. So it’s not like terribly expensive on our. You know, once you have all the supplies, so hopefully, yeah. Hopefully people are into it. It’s been kind of weird. Cause I haven’t felt like it’s something that I should be promoting right now.

I mean, even like thinking about live streaming or a band practices, it’s like, we know why it’s okay for us to be meeting, but that I feel like that might be hard to communicate as like setting a bad example for other people. You know,

Marc: that makes sense. But, I mean, I’ve seen all of the band members except for the one you mentioned at the shop and you know what I mean?

It makes sense that you’re allowed

Stephanie: to get together. Yeah. I mean yeah, Claris do sister, so they obviously see each other at their house. So it’s not, yeah, there’s, there’s a, there’s a point at which it’s like, I mean, if one of us got COVID at this point, we would all have to quarantine regardless.

Marc: Where can people

Stephanie: listen? I actually have it up on streaming, right? So it’s called the spooky town radio show. And it’s, it’s on like Spotify and apple podcasts and stuff it’s available there.

Marc: So anybody could subscribe to the spooky

Stephanie: town radio show. It’s all people from. Yeah, just voice actors from here in town.

And all the fully sound effects are things that we made ourselves for the most part. So, you know, when you hear like a door shutting or whatever, those are all real sounds that we recorded to

Marc: that’s fun. Do you find yourself watching around when you are out and about recording? I’ve

Stephanie: tried a few things.

Usually there’s like a specific sound effect that I want to use. And I’ll try to like, write a scene around that. Like if I, if I get a really good like door creaking noise or something like that I also recently have come across a. Some like, you know, compilations of different sound effects for like cheesy horror movie things.

So I’ve been using that to add like background music to scenes. But a lot of it, , there’ll be like, like a dun dun duh, on a piano. And like most of the time, like we’ve actually recorded that on the piano or, you know, something like that. Right.

Marc: Yep. I mean, I I’ve started since I’ve started editing audio, I paid attention to sound more and like, Walking across a wooden floor.

That’s like a deck, a wooden deck in your bare feet versus walking across the same floor and a pair of Dansko shoes versus walking upon across the same floor in a pair of combat boots. You know, like the sound is different, even performing the same activity. And I, I think it’s fun to play with. A sense of place

Stephanie: using sound.

Yeah, we haven’t done this as much yet, but we’re hoping later to maybe go to locations and just record a lot of ambient noises to use those like background noise for different scenes, like so that if, if people are in like a convenience store to just go and record some sound in a convenience store or something, and just use that as some, as some like flavor.

But we’ll, we’ll see, like what is available it’s so it’s, it’s a horror comedy podcast. It’s based loosely off of a role-playing game called monster hearts, but

Marc: pretty nerdy

Stephanie: stuff, stuff. Yeah. I’ve been, I’ve been doing a lot of role playing games. Um, I had a D and D group for a little while that was, uh, Doing discord games and everything.

Well, both things were shut down. So we were still calling each other and doing stuff. I recently wrote a little tabletop game where you play as a shop cat.

Marc: Um, uh, are the cats in the game named after the shop? The

Stephanie: shop. As S as illustrative examples. Yeah, it’s, it’s called perfect crimes with the P P U R O

I feel like I I’ve had a little bit more time to explore like those weird little creative projects. I learned how to, sew I’ve been working on that which is something I always was interested in making clothes, but I never, you know, really sat down and like really tried to make myself do it.

Because there’s just, yeah, there’s not like. At least I don’t feel comfortable, you know, going out and doing activities that much for right now. Yeah. I’m trying, I’m trying to minimize the number of like places I’m going and things that I’m doing. And then I just have a few things, like, you know, having band practice, because I feel like.

Those are reasonable, but yeah, I’m, I’m really, I haven’t been to a restaurant. I’m probably not going to one for, you know, the rest of this year.

Marc: Right? Exactly.

Stephanie: I’m really surprised at how people are just, you know, not, not wearing masks. Not really. It seems like they just got sick of taking precautions and or if they ever did it in the first place, you know?

Marc: Right. Well, we’ll see how this winter goes. I think it’s going to be pretty, pretty brutal.

Stephanie: I. At the beginning of the year, I had signed up for a CSA share. And so I just started getting that. But I remember like when we were having, you know, some grocery store shortages and stuff, like thinking about how good it was that I signed up for that, cause it’s just a local farm.

There’s no supply chain issues at all. They’re like, you know, and it was already paid for and they were doing just fine as, you know, a small group of people on their farm. So maybe, you know, considerations like that will make people kind of pivot to more local options.

Marc: You told your story in the first year of telephoning, it was October 9th,

Stephanie: 2012. It’s definitely a long time.

Marc: It’s been a long time and that was the same night. The former owner of the top hat said goodnight and goodbye to essentially her dad. So that’s how long ago it was.

It was before the remodel. It was still a dive bar. What was that experience like for you?

Stephanie: Well I think, I mean, if you’ve listened to it, I think you can tell that I was pretty nervous. I was, you know, I was pretty young also at that time and I just had a lot of like stage, right. I was in college at the time and I guess I still have this experience, but I have it a lot.

Or I had it a lot. Then when I was talking to people my own age, that like everybody’s life experiences were so different from mine, that when I would tell stories about my life, people would legitimately like not believe me, or would think that that sounded like fake and made up. And I, I honestly. I feel like that still does happen because I’ve just had unusual experiences or, you know, bad experiences that people would like to pretend aren’t something happening in their community.

So I kind of wanted to tell that just to be like, Hey, just so you know, like, this is, this is what’s happening, you know, here that’s, this is what it’s like for people.

Marc: Yeah. I mean, I thought that’s was the power of your story. People have. Perception of our town as being liberal and we take care of everybody.

And, but no, I mean, people are expendable in the eyes of the system and you certainly were. I mean, I think that somebody in your, you even said in your story, like somebody told you, like, I’m not going to try to place you in. If Maureen disappears, you’re going right back to jail.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. His name was Brett Gordon and his, his wife was my assigned therapist, so there was no real and I was required to go to therapy.

So it’s like there was no real confidentiality which is one of the things that I think about now when people are wanting to kind of pivot more towards a more social workers and away from police is how intertwined those systems are for us. Social workers and cops who were canned in hand. I I’ve had, you know, some pretty bad experiences with caseworkers when I was a kid too.

So I don’t know if that’s like 100% going to solve all of our inequality issues.

Marc: I wonder if better training would be helpful with that

Stephanie: too, or, or them. Not as, as a meshed into the system. I mean, the main, the main issue in Montana is funding. We have some of the highest, like reported cases of child abuse of like any state it’s very high here and we have some of the lowest funding.

And so there just aren’t enough places for kids to go if they’re in dangerous situations. And so the. Wants to place people back with their parents, if they can justify it at all. And the number of people that I was in group homes with, or that, or that I was in, in prison with, who went back to households that were very, very clearly unsafe and were causing a lot of the problems that were supposed to be addressed by incarceration, you know, it was ridiculous.

Marc: One of the things that you did in your story that was so heartbreaking and beautiful and kind towards the end, when you were talking about, and you didn’t name the guy, but they just named it now, but you said that he talks about you and his programs and the T know as your sort of success story. And you said that as if he had any role in that and all of the rest of the.

People in the program all went back to jail and you were the only one who didn’t. And that the beautiful thing that you did was you said, you know, something about they didn’t have self enough self-awareness and then this is these, aren’t the words that you used, but they didn’t have enough self-awareness to think that maybe there was a problem with their program and it wasn’t the girls and the fact that you were just giving that love to.

Even just in that little tiny sentence was so cool.

Stephanie: Well, some of the, some of the people that I think about the most well, , if we’re talking about, you know, systemic inequality, at least half of the, of the girls that I was in prison with were native American and they’re not half the population.

And there there’s a reason for that. And it’s because of the. That things are covered on reservations. Reservations are not legally part of the state. They are part of our country, but they don’t have to abide by state laws, which means that federal law enforcement and tribal police are the only people who are able to help with issues on the reservation.

So if you get in trouble and you’re from the reservation, it’s immediately a federal. So the level, the level of incarceration that they experienced when there are problems is extremely high,

Marc: that’s so messed up.

Stephanie: And there was one girl I remember who was very clearly mentally ill. Like she had schizophrenia, she had like hallucinations that she would respond to like visual and auditory hallucinations, and she was repeatedly. Getting put in jail. I think when I was there, she was 15 and she had been there three times already.

And it was for things like minor drug offenses non-violent things when, obviously what she needed was mental health help. And instead they just kept putting her back into her household, uh, which had a lot of its own dysfunctions. And that’s, that’s just going to, or as far as I know, that was her second.

You know, the whole rest of her life when she was at least a teenager is just being on parole, getting a parole violation for some minor offense, going back to jail over and over and over again, when really what she needed was, you know, mental health support.

Marc: Yeah. I mean, that’s, I think that’s been the case for decades, right? Yeah.

You did some nervous, but you also sounded like I need you to hear this. Like that was sort of the attitude. It sounded like you were confident in that way.

Like, and you told the story in such a compelling way. And I was. So I’m still so grateful that you wanted to share it.

Stephanie: So I’m not in college now, but w when I was going to school, I wanted to do creative writing and I feel like people always wanted me to do memoir. And then also when I did it, I sort of felt like, I dunno, like a, like an object.

To them, because it’s like the things that I was was trying, the stories that I was trying to tell them were so out of the norm for them, that it didn’t, it seemed like affection. It didn’t seem like a real story that had really happened to them. Um, but I’ve been trying to work on doing that more just because of, you know, thinking about some of the different people that I was around.

Who probably never, were able to either get out of that cycle or have never , been able to tell their story because it was too hard for them to say, you know, so I don’t know but that’s hard work because it’s just, it’s upsetting, you know?

I’ve always been more interested in like speculative fiction because it’s easier for me to do, but I kind of feel like people, I don’t know, I probably have stories that it would be good for people to hear.

At the same time. So I’ve been, I’ve been trying to do more of that kind of stuff.

Marc: Beyond the nervousness of telling your story, was there anything afterwards after that event was over, did you have any buddy come up to you and say anything?

Um,

Stephanie: there was one lady, like right after I got off stage, who I think said something to me along the lines of, oh, I always wonder it’s like what, what the deal with you was? Or like, something like that. So it kind of sounded like she’d seen me around town and like noticed me or thought I was weird or something was just wondering like what, who that person is.

I found kind of like a strange comment. I was like, I don’t really know how to respond to that, but

I imagined that sh that, that, like, it made her confront whatever assumption she’d made about me. And she was like, oh, I’ve learned something. But it, I, I definitely took it as like, oh, I’ve seen you as a local weird. And I was wondering like, why is that girl dressed like that or whatever? Yeah, I definitely, I remember that one specifically.

I think that I had maybe one other person recognized me, , and like want to be my friend after that, but it was like, It was kind of a, it was kind of an odd individuals. I don’t think that really went anywhere, but well, and I don’t know, cause I, because I was a minor when all of this happened my record has been expunged and so I, I guess I.

I am open about that with people that I know well, but it’s not necessarily something that I like would open up with talking to people, like normally like on like a day-to-day basis. I’m not like, by the way I was in prison when I was a kid, like but it’s something that is definitely really present in my mind with political issues.

Like I do. I don’t know. I do consider myself. To be an ex-con, even though that’s not how I think most people perceive me or what they are that they think about that. And so I, I definitely like it’s, it’s impacted the way that I like think about all of those issues and probably will for like the rest of my life.

Marc: Sure.

Stephanie: . I mean , our whole outlook towards imprisonment I think has, has gotten worse over time for sure.

And I think. I think, I mean, hopefully, you know, this moment that we’re in right now, when people are looking at the role of police, I think the natural next step is to look at the role of prisons and to, to ask if like they’re accomplishing the goals that we claim we want them to accomplish. Um, because I think it’s at least from my experience, I don’t think anyone was helped by.

You know, I don’t, I don’t think that most of the girls that were there were truly a danger to the community. I think that they needed, they were people who were at risk at, in their homes and they didn’t have another place to put them there. Wasn’t another option for them. And that’s the say nothing of the situation, you know, of boys.

Way worse. I mean, the, in Montana, the, unless things have changed since then, they very well could have, it’s been quite awhile, but Riverside in Boulder is the girl’s prison here in Montana. And it can only hold about 20 girls, pine Hills as the boys. And it can hold 120 boys. So I’m sure that their situation is worse.

Yeah. From what I’ve heard, it’s much more violent there. So yeah, I mean, you’re taking people out of an abusive situation and putting them into a much more abusive situation. How is that going to help them improve their behavior? It’s only going to make them more likely to respond to threats with violence because that’s, those are the only tools that have.

I mean if, what we actually wanted to do, if we’re like, oh, , I’m concerned that these children are committing crimes in the community. I’ll just give you some examples of some of the, some of the crimes that people were were in there for that I personally knew there was a girl who was in there for check fraud because her mother had abandoned her and their other siblings for a second.

And so they had just, they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have anyone else to contact. So they were just writing checks to the grocery store and I’m sure for also frivolous things, but they were writing checks off of her bank account. And when her mom finally showed back up, she decided that she wanted that money back.

So she reported her daughter for this crime so that she could get, you know, restitution fees from that. And when she was done with her stay in prison, that girl was put right back.

Is that like, it’s not a real stuff. That’s true

Marc: in time of COVID, you know, sometimes the safest place for kids is in school and now they can’t go to school and they’re forced to be with their abusers for the entire.

Stephanie: Yeah. And they’re, they’re not able to receive, you know, if they’re a part of a school lunch program that’s gone now. I mean, the, the food bank has definitely been, you know, doing their best and working over time. But I definitely, when I was a kid, I had to steal food from the grocery store because my parents weren’t feeding.

Marc: That shouldn’t you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t end up in jail for that.

Stephanie: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s the problem is the problem there that something was stolen from the store or is the problem there that a 12 year old felt like they, that was the only way for them to get through.

I think it’s just easier for people to, to like, feel sympathy for younger kids, because when like a five-year-old acts out, everyone’s like pretty sure that it’s not their fault or at least like, they’re like, well, there’s probably problems at home. But when like a 14 year old is acting out, then people kind of are like annoyed by it.

And they feel like maybe this is just a bad kid. I don’t think we give kids enough, like leeway as they get older to understand that like they don’t have control of their situation. And that’s why they’re acting like that. Like when you see a, like a toddler screaming in the store, your first response is to think that like, oh, they’re over tired.

You know, whatever they, like, they don’t have control over their life. They’ve been pushed to a point that they’re acting like this, but we don’t, you know, we don’t give teenagers that same breathing room or that same like sympathy.

Marc: I see teenagers coming into the store and acting out. How do you respond to that?

Stephanie: I mean, I guess I haven’t really. Too many, like teenagers acting out in the store, there are definitely some kids shoplifting and I’ll just be really straight with them about it, where I’m like, I see what you’re doing. , I know what this looks like, and , I need you to stop doing this. That’s pretty much what I do cause I don’t have the ability to do too much more, but.

I had a, I saw a lot more of that kind of stuff. I used to work overnights at a gas station and there would be neighborhood kids that would try to come into the store and hang out, you know, at like midnight bunch of 12 year olds want to hang out in the gas station and mess around. And there was one girl in particular who would try to go up to cars outside and see.

Th they could get money from people just ask like people who were stopping to get gas, if they would give her a few dollars. And, and her, I did pull aside and I was like, do you realize how close we are to the interstate? And that no one knows where you are and that , somebody could, grab you.

If you’re out here at midnight, they know that there’s nobody paying attention to you. Do you realize how fast you would be gone? You need to seriously consider the danger that you’re putting yourself in right now.

Marc: What does she say?

Stephanie: She kind of like scoffed, you know, I think because when you’re in a survival situation, you’re like, well, I know this is dangerous, but this is, what I need right now.

But I didn’t see her doing it again, at least when I was working there. So hopefully she found some better options, but I was like, I, I know that there isn’t help for you. If I call the police, they’re not going to help that person. I don’t think there’s any community support for that person. She’s going to have to figure out how to help herself.

So I don’t know. Usually I just kind of, yeah. I mean, I don’t really think there’s anybody who can help those kids. I don’t know who to direct them to. I’ll I’ll I can do is like give them personal advice.

Marc: Do you ever weigh in with any of these opinions at places like. City council meetings or when they asked for public comment, you can type up an email or whatever and say, look, this has been my experience.

Or do you think that’s just not, it’s not worth it.

Stephanie: I guess I haven’t. I mean, I don’t really,

I don’t really know, like the. The, the, like the first issue is funding. For sure. We do not fund these services, you know, and people are happy to donate to like the Watson children’s home because it’s it’s children. But as you get older, they’re less inclined to want to help you. One of the big problems with finding placements for kids that have already been in trouble is that there are a lot harsher requirements to foster.

A kid that’s been in jail. You can’t have any other children in the home, for example. And I think it’s called something different. I, I think when I was doing it, it was called guide homes, but it might be different, but there, yeah, there aren’t like, there aren’t an adequate number of foster parents.

There’s not an adequate amount of funding for group homes. There’s like a lot more drug rehabs than there are any other types of shelters. Like every time. I got in trouble because I would say because I had an abusive home life, the, the amount of times that the cops were called to our house, because there was like physical fighting going on was probably dozens of times.

And I would just temporarily, you know, be in a group home for a little bit. And then they’d put me back with my mom and it just happened over and over again until eventually things escalated to a point. They put me in jail. And every one of those incidences, in my opinion, was a self-defense situation for me, where I did not initiate the physical altercation.

But in the state of Montana, it’s not illegal to hit your child with an open. That’s considered corporal punishment and it’s legal. So if your parents are like slapping you in the face and you hit them back, you did not defend yourself. That’s assault

as, as a really absurd example. Uh, one time I was being fish hooked, like I, my mom was dragging me across the floor by my face, and I bit her thumb because it was in my mouth and I got a ticket for my.

I got an assault ticket for doing that and it’s like, I was being assaulted when that happened. So I like, I really feel like the whole, the whole system, you know, is so. It’s so messed up that I don’t really, I mean, you’d have, you’d have to completely

restructure.

Yeah. And people would have to consider it a priority and they’d have to, you know, I, I think that would be definitely like a step once people started considering, you know, their, their opinion toward incarceration injury. But yeah, I mean, there, there are whole towns, like deer lodge that are just based off of their prison.

That’s what everybody in that town does. So like that’s where all of their income comes from. So where are those people going to really question like their only source of income or is it easier for them to just decide that everybody who’s in that jail now

is there in Ohio? That’s how he feels. If you’re in prison, you did something to deserve to be there.

And I’m just like, dad, that is not true. You know?

Well, like 100% of people in jail definitely didn’t do it. Like that’s. I mean, even if you just like, think about regular statistics of anything, 100% of something, it’s not, it can’t possibly be. There’s, there’s gotta be at least one person, not one little outlier who didn’t do it. And it’s, it’s exponentially more than one person.

But even if we agree that the, every person who’s in prison committed the crime that they’re in prison for, we still, if our goal is to, to have people who have committed crimes reintegrate into society. And, and like be normal, productive members of it. We are not achieving that.

Marc: And so what’s the answer we don’t have.

I mean, there’s, we can’t solve this now. You and I can’t anyway, you know?

Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m I mean, hopefully as people start to consider what role does. Should have in our society that they can also then look at like what role prison should have, because if you, if you don’t have police arresting as many people you’re still gonna have in your community, there are going to be people that are committing crimes,

There already are people that commit crimes that there really aren’t any consequences for. I mean, you know, sexual assault is the first thing that comes to my mind as far as people who, I mean, I know I can think of like probably five or six people just in the community, off the top of my head that have never received any, you know, any justice.

Marc: Yeah. And then that’s a whole new conversation to talk about why people don’t report and when they do report the victim blaming that happens and the retraumatization of the person who reports.

Stephanie: Yeah. The, the lack of testing, like the really low, like amount of punishment that people receive, even if they are convicted.

Yeah, I mean a whole, a whole other bag of worms, but there I, yeah, I don’t think that I don’t think that the police are effective at their stated goal. And I don’t even know if those goals need to be achieved, but we would have to build. Whole other institutions to deal with these issues and it could be done, but people would have to want to do it like collectively, that would have to be a priority for everyone to think.

Okay. When there’s a homeless guy on my property, you know, Spain gin for money, I want him to leave, but I don’t want to call the cops. Who do I. You know, and there are like homeless outreach things, but they don’t have very much funding. So we would have to, we would have to want to help, you know, the prov relo increase their staff so that they’d have somebody to come do that we would have to increase what shelters, so that people who had been drinking would have a place to sleep, regardless, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Each one of these things, you know, there are other systems. That could probably more effectively help them, but we would have to prioritize doing that. Cause the, I mean, every, every situation, every dangerous situation is, is a cop, the correct person to come deal with this, or could somebody else do a better

Marc: job, somebody with different and better training for the state of situation.

Stephanie: Yeah, you shouldn’t be, you shouldn’t be getting the same person to come take care of a dangerous dog in your yard that you would call. If you were sexually assaulted, that you would call, if there’s a homeless guy that you would call, if your house got broken into, those are not the same problems and they can’t all be solved by the same tool.

Marc: is there anything else that you want to say about your story before we.

Stephanie: Um, well, if people like it, I’m, I’m glad that they heard that. I would say that I was an outlier, at least as far as my like, ability to like react the way that they want you to, to that situation. Cause I, I think a lot of people, if they were suddenly left on their own, you know, as. I don’t think they would just keep going to work.

Right. Which is what I did. They would probably freak out and, and it definitely occurred to me like, well, I’ve been told that if this, if there’s any problem, I’ll just go back to jail. So now that there’s been a problem, like I think a lot of people would just freak out at that point. Cause they already know that no one’s going to help them.

That’s been their experience that no one will help them. So I’m not, I’m not surprised that all the other people that they put in that situation had a bad outcome. Like they were set up to have that bad outcome. And I don’t really know that that situation has changed to my, to my knowledge. There hasn’t been, you know, any changes to those programs, but.

Marc: Most people would freak out in the same circumstance. How did you not freak out? How did you keep moving forward?

Stephanie: Well, I mean, I have really, I don’t, I don’t know if I want to say that I haven’t respected authority, but I like from the, like, I didn’t have babysitters after I was four. And so for the majority of my life, I’ve been pretty responsible.

My own safety and, you know, taking care of whatever I needed to do on my own. And so I think that like, that’s always been, my approach is like I have to solve this problem. Without generally thinking that like an adult would help me or I should be asking for permission from somebody. That was just my default.

And so it didn’t really occur to me at the time. You know, to tell anybody about what was going on or to ask somebody about it. I just continued to do what I’d been doing, because that was already the plan that I had in place. And I was like, well, I have no control over what she does or what they do about this.

But maybe if I just like continue doing what I’m doing. Everything won’t totally fall apart. Or if they do decide to like, put me back in jail, at least maybe like my boss will still give me a good recommendation or something like that. I don’t know. I like, I didn’t, I was like, I don’t have control over what they do.

So I’m just going to keep, keep doing what my original plan was and hopefully it’ll work out. But I got told that things, that I was the plants that I was making, weren’t going to work out and. I like basically made them work out through force of will, like over and over in the course of being in the system.

So I think I was kind of used to that being the outcome. When I first went to Riverside, which is the girls jail, their plan was that when I was done being there, that I would go back to living with my mom and that I would go back to high school and. Just with like the amount that, that situation had escalated over the last couple of years, I was like, if I go back to living there, like someone’s going to die.

Like it’s getting to the point where I feel like it’s going to like go somewhere really bad. So I was like, I can’t, I can’t do it. I can’t go back there. So what do I need to do to not go back? So I stopped communicating with my parents about. I yeah. At 16, I was like, I’m not going to, if I like refuse to have a relationship with her and I refused to talk to her and I’m extremely uncooperative with that, they’ll have to find, you know, their placement.

And then I basically did a year and a half of schoolwork while I was there so that I could graduate. And they told me from the beginning were like, you’re not going to be able to get enough credits to graduate. And. You’re you’re going to have to go back with my mom. Neither one of those things happened because I like made them not happen.

So I don’t know. I think like you just have to, whatever, like your goal is, like, you just have to focus on that above what anyone else is telling you, because. They’re probably they’re wrong if you like, if you dedicate everything towards one thing you can accomplish, I’m Stephanie

Marc: Hall and everybody

thank you so much for spending the time with me this afternoon.

Stephanie: Yeah, I have a band. I have a radio drama. I have a podcast where I review horse books. Yeah,

it’s called pasture med time.

Marc: Um, man, I love that about you, that you like puns as much as I do.

Stephanie: Well, my, my friend Melanie is a, is a big horse book fan. She’s been a horse girl, her whole life. And I am not a horse girl. Although now people think that I am because I have this and they send me horse things, but essentially she has all of her childhood horse books, like the things that she was reading when she was like nine, and then I read them and.

I’m like, Melanie, did you realize this book is just about domestic violence? She’s like now what?

Marc: I was just, I’m just going to subscribe as soon as we hang up, I want to be present with you right now, but I’m out to pasture. What does

Stephanie: that, is that what it’s past your bedtime, past your

Marc: bedtime. So their horse, their children’s horse bedtimes. That you, you deconstruct them.

Stephanie: Yeah. I just read the last the last season we read the full unicorns of ballon or series, and now we’re doing some like one shot horse books.

We also did a one episode on black lives matter and the protest horses, there’s been a lot of people that have been bringing their horses to protest.

The Compton Cowboys. There’s the fleet street writers’ club there’s nonstop writers in Houston and, um, Brianna noble, who I think a lot of people have seen pictures of her in Oakland with her, her horse Dapper Dan, I think the most interesting thing about all of those is like the immense level of training that an animal like that would require to be in a.

Every one of those people that you see bringing their horses to a protest, just like put in so much work and time for them to be able to be in that environment. It’s really impressive.

Marc: Thank you, Stephanie. I will talk to you again soon. I hope and stay safe out there.

Stephanie: I’ve just had unusual experiences or, you know, bad experiences that people would like to pretend aren’t something happening in their community.

So I kind of wanted to tell that just to be like, Hey, just so you know, like, this is, this is what’s happening, you know, here that’s, this is what it’s like for people.

Marc: Thanks, Stephanie. And thank *you* for listening today.

Though I was unable to find the podcasts that Stephanie hosts, for links to some of the podcasts she mentions in our conversation, head over to tellussomething.org

Next week, I catch up with Jim Beyer

Jim Beyer: Oh, it was the Sturgis adventure. Yes.

Marc: “Message from God”.

Jim: “Message from God.” Yeah. Yeah, because I practiced that for a week. while driving around Montana, I just tell it to myself over and over and over again so that it, , would be, um, shortened and, um, , yeah, nearer to perfect. So.”

Marc: Tune in for his 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 cashforjunkersband.com

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 logjampresents.com

Thanks to our in-kind sponsors:

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Podcast production by me, Marc Moss.

To learn more about Tell Us Something, please visit tellussomething.org.

Jeremy N. Smith and I chat about his story “Always, Only, At Least", which he told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT back in October 2014. The theme that night was “The Things We Carry”. We also talk about podcasting, some of the podcasts that he hosts and co-hosts, storytelling, and being in service of others. I caught up with Jeremy in August of 2020.

Transcript : Interview with Jeremy N. Smith

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

This week on the podcast, Jeremy N Smith and I chat about his story “Always, Only, At Least, which he told live onstage at The Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT back in October 2014.

Jeremy: Always start the onions before the garlic and the Sauter will ruin it only use parmigiano Reggiano cheese, not just something called Parmesan. You know? So, uh, the zucchini, at least 30 minutes to remove any impurities before trying to use the zucchini.

Marc: The theme that night was “The Things We Carry”.

We also talk about podcasting, some of the podcasts that he hosts and co-hosts, storytelling and being in service of others.

Jeremy: You know, if it’s a trick with Marcella Hazan and I’m like, I’m going to make the sauce and it’s going to take me a while. Why don’t you guys make the pasta? The good thing. If you’ve got a couple that’s visiting, if they’re engaged, see if they can make pasta from scratch together. It’s a really good relationship, test.

Marc: 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.

Jeremy: If you’re in your own head down on yourself and someone can somehow put you to work, it’s just hard to stay in your feelings when you’re busy and when you’re bodily busy. And when you have a responsibility. To these other people.

Marc: 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.
We will be in person for the first time, since August, 2021, we’re running at 75% capacity, which allows for listeners to really spread out at the Wilma.

Learn more and get your [email protected]

Last year, and in 2020 when I was cutting these interviews together, the format was that I would play the interview, then play the storyteller’s story.

Jeremy, never having heard the new version of the Tell Us Something podcast, assumed that the order was the opposite — that I would play the story first, and then play the interview.

As I’ve been thinking about our conversation, I wonder if he’s right. So I decided to try it that way.

Jeremy shared his story in front of a live audience at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula, MT on October 9th, 2014. The theme was “The Things We Carry”.

Finally arriving in London to be with his girlfriend after a long-distance relationship, Jeremy instead takes the train to Amsterdam for an extravagant formal dinner. Over the course of the next year he cooks all over the world, memorizing portions of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Jeremy calls his story “Always, Only, At Least”. Thanks for listening.

Jeremy: I traveled in Europe for a year after I graduated from college. And when I left to go on that trip, I had a backpack that I put two pairs of pants, two shirts, socks, underwear, toothbrush, and a tuxedo because my mother told me you’re going to Oxford. And in Oxford, there are balls and two balls. One must wear a tuxedo.

And she was right of all the places I was going. I was aimed toward Oxford because my girlfriend had just a few months earlier, won a Rhodes scholarship, which is one of the top academic awards. You can get like 30 people in the country, get it of all graduating seniors in college. And it pays for three years of graduate school at Oxford, all expenses.

And so I had scrambled after she won that we had dated long distance. We were not at the same college. We were thousands of miles apart. And we had dated long distance for four years. And I didn’t want to stay long distance for seven years. So I just applied to anything and everything I could to get across the ocean.

And I got a crazy scholarship. You won’t believe it, but it paid me to travel in Europe for. Poor me poor me. Uh, there were requirements. I was not allowed to have a job or enroll in any institution of formal study.

So, uh, I land in London, look it up. Henry Russell Shaw fellowship. It was on my business card. Okay. Uh, I land in London. I take a bus to Oxford. I get there. She greets me and she says, you know, I don’t think we should live together. Uh, you know, I don’t, I don’t think we should necessarily like see each other that often, uh, you know, we’ve done the long distance thing for so long.

It’s just a lot to go from, from almost nothing to everything. Okay. Um, And I checked my email the next day. And I get a message from my friend, Paul, who has just been fired from his job and a.com in San Francisco. And he is cell celebrating. Or if you, if you call it that he’s using an entire severance package to throw a formal dinner party in Amsterdam,

My mother is a genius black tie.

I take the train across England through the channel tunnel, into France, Belgium Amsterdam, 24 hours later. The entire time, of course, I’ve warned my tuxedo because you know, you don’t want it to wrinkle. And I get there. Paul’s at the train station. On one of those big Dutch bikes, he says, get on the back James Bond, we ride to his apartment and his apartment, the apartment of a friend he was crashing in and it is filled with like Noah’s Ark worth of food.

It’s just every fancy, amazing cheese meat, vegetable of every color, shape, size, whatever. And it’s like five hours till till dinner. And he says, you’re making this, this, this, and this. And he’s bookmarked the pages in a book. I have never cooked in my life and I start looking. It’s a book I’ve never read a cookbook.

It says essentials of classic Italian cooking by Marcela Hassan. It’s got like a white haired lady with a wooden spoon on the sort of side. Uh, and I start reading and these three words, uh, it says. Only at least all the time in this book always start the onions before the garlic and the Sauter will ruin it only use parmigiano Reggiano, cheese, not just something called Parmesan, you know, S uh, soak the Q a the zucchini at least 30 minutes to remove any impurities before, before you’re trying to use a zucchini for anything.

Okay. So recipe one is like a story. Finn spinach pasta with the ricotta cheese ham. There’s like not somewhere, uh, chard and it’s 10 pages long. The recipe. Well, Paul’s, I turn around Paul’s chopping, dicing, cooking, baking, whatever. Okay. So it’s a step. Make the pasta refer, you know, 30 pages. There’s 30 pages of in a different chapter, how to make the pasta.

And it’s like make the pasta. I mean, it’s like the star with the spinach you get, I’m literally elbow deep with flour in just a few minutes. Okay. Beating the eggs in and time passes. I’m immersed. People start coming in. Beers are cracked. Backs are slapped. People are calling me shifts. I’ve got a, you know, an apron over my tuxedo and I’m cooking this, that and the other and it’s proceeding.

And it’s amazing. And at the very end, this dish is like, like a Yule log or something. And it’s, it’s wrapped in cheese cloth at the very end, this pasta that’s been stuffed with all these things. And then that’s like dropped like Jacques Cousteau into this boiling water. And we took it up and, you know, it’s midnight when it’s unfurled and the steam and the cheers and I’m with friends and it’s a transformative moment.

And I, I go back the next day, party’s over and I get there and my check-in with my girlfriend and she feels the same way she felt before my transformative moment. She has not had a transformative moment and. So, okay. I’ve got this belt. I’m actually going to travel on my traveling fellowship and I hang up my tuxedo in her closet and I take my backpack with my shirts and pants and shorts and toothbrush.

And I go to the bookstore and I get S essentials of classic Italian cooking by Marcela Hassan. And I started carrying that instead of the tuxedo. I go to France and I’m, you know, baking zucchini and I go to Italy and I’m making pizzas and, you know, spaghetti, carbon are, I, you know, spend a, like I meant to spend a week.

The ferry gets wrecked with bad weather and I’m S I’m stuck in the island of San Tarini, the Southern most island of the Ajai at sea for like three extra weeks with like three Argentenians where the only tourists on the island. I’m making like Osso Buco and, uh, and I’m telling stories from our Chella has essentially of classic Italian cooking by Marcela hands-on and telling people why they should never use a garlic press and how, you know, if you don’t have Canton, you know, imported San Marzano tomatoes, who are you and a year passes in this fashion.

And I, at the end, And now I have a long distance relationship and we are very good at a long distance relationship. And at the end of this summer that I’ve been home, we’ve been doing the email. Okay, I’m going to go back. It’s going to work. We’ve been fools. We’re great together. I get a one-way, we’re going to get an apartment together in Oxford.

She’s moving into the dorms. I get a one-way ticket and I fly across with my back. And I get there and I land in London, I take the bus and I get out and she greets me and she says, you know, I don’t think this is a very good idea.

So I say, well, you’re splitting the ticket home with me and putting our money together. We find a ticket. That’s like the first ticket we can afford is in a week. And I have a week in her apartment. Uh, she goes to class, I watch TV, you know, Breed and I cook and I’ve got all the time in the world, you know, I want an eggplant Parmesan sandwich.

Okay. You know, it’s six o’clock in the morning. It’s six o’clock at night. You know, I just, I take the eggplant, you know, I salted bread, you know, saute it. I’m chopping the tomatoes. I’m getting the right cheeses, you know, it’s midnight. Okay. I got that. It’s pulling out of the oven. Okay. Now I gotta make the bread.

Cause I want to say. You know, I get the olive oil, I get the flour, you know, always only, at least kind flower, of course. Uh, and I make the bread and, you know, at six in the morning, I gotta let it cool. You know, at least half an hour. And you know, I slice it, I eat it while watching television. It takes five minutes and then I’m like, oh, what am I going to for dessert?

And that’s the next 12 hours. So my girlfriend comes in last. And I pull in like an olive oil bread, whole wheat, olive oil bread out of the oven. And she goes, Ooh, warm bread. You know, and she cuts it and puts butter on it. You’re supposed to let it sit at at least half an hour. Uh, but. But she doesn’t know that she doesn’t do it.

And I watched the butter melt and I could say that that was my, my heart. Right. Um, and you know, that’s not true because here I am 13 years later, but it, you know, it felt like that at the time. So, uh,

you know, you can lose your backpack. And you can outgrow your tuxedo and you can even have a cookbook that gets kinda warned to shreds, and you can’t use that too much anymore, but, you know, I knew those recipes now. I had them with me. I’d had spent a year cooking them over and over and over and I could make them for new friends.

I could make them for new girlfriends. I can make them for my eventual wife and now for our four year old daughter. And, you know, I think those are the most precious things. We carry the ones that, that are, you know, no one can take with us because we know them by heart. And I think they’re the most delicious ones as well.

Thank you.

Marc: Jeremy N. Smith is a journalist, podcaster, and author of three acclaimed narrative non-fiction books: Breaking and Entering, Epic Measures, and Growing a Garden City.

Jeremy has written for many outlets including The Atlantic, Discover, Slate, and the New York Times.

He hosts the podcasts The Hacker Next Door, Stimulus & Response (with high performance coach Damon Valentino), and You Must Know Everything (with his daughter Rasa). Jeremy speaks frequently before diverse national audiences

A graduate of Harvard College and the University of Montana, Jeremy lives in Missoula, Montana, with his wife and daughter.

I caught up with Jeremy in August of 2020.

Marc: Hey Jeremy.

Jeremy: Hey Marc.

Marc: Hey, how you doing?

Jeremy: I’m all right. How are you?

Marc: I’m surviving.

Jeremy: Well, now you’re just getting all braggy on me.

Marc: Editing out my laughter because it sounds so dumb on the podcast.

Jeremy: I think you’re overthinking. I think, it should be your new income stream. You should pay people to add in laughter you know, like, well, what do I want to do? I want to say these, I want to say these jokes and you do laugh. And then, you know, the listener is just like, yeah, I guess, guess it wasn’t funny. Keep the laugh. What is car talk? Do you listen to people? Listen to car talk for 30 years because of the card rights or because they just liked the way the guys laugh.

Marc: Oh, that’s true. No, I think part of it is tell me what that sound was. Can you make that sound again?

You know how they, they ask the callers to make the sound of their cars.

Marc: Jeremy, and I sort of geek out a little bit on Car Talk before we started talking about his podcast that he does with his daughter Rasa, You Must Know Everything.

You know, she’s nine, right?

Jeremy: Yeah. She just turned 10 last week. Yeah.

Marc: Yeah. I listened to your marketing story with her and also the behind the scenes one today.

Yeah. Backstage. Yeah.

Whose idea –was it your idea to do that show? You Must Know Everything or did Rasa suggest it, or

Jeremy: So, You Must Know Everything is a concept I had years ago when Rasa was basically born and I had these life lessons that I wanted to impart to my child, but they would occur to me and she’d be like two years old.

I was four years old or six years old or older, but nevertheless maybe not in a receptive space. Old enough to kind of, you know, get these key lessons or they would occur to me when she was at school or daycare or whatever. So I was going to kind of write them down and have like the big book of everything you need to know.

You Must Know Everything was sort of a joke. And I think she kind of had an inkling of it and I’ve actually written up pieces and sort of shared them, you know, with a few friends and family, just little snippets. And she was like, well, what are you going to show me this book of everything I need to know?

And, you know, I showed her a little piece once, but then , in this pandemic, we’re here, we’re home together. And I was like, oh, you know what? I shouldn’t write them down. I should just tell her and record it. And she’s now old enough, enough time had passed that I was like, she’s a genius. I don’t need to.. Dumb it down or smart it up. I just needed to just talk as if I’m talking to Rasa and that’s exactly the right level of intelligence for anyone. And also what I’m just being much more heartfelt and direct and obvious and honest, if you know , that , the audience is listening in on this, this really intimate conversation and my real genius move was realizing it should go both ways. I have as much to learn from her as she does for me. So we trade off. As you noticed, when you heard those two shows.

Right. Every other episode, I’m the leader. And I’m like, here’s the theory or the lesson or whatever I need to tell you, you needed to know. And then the other is her telling me what I need to know. And by the same token we have these other segments and I, I don’t know how those came up. They just came organically in the first time we did it.

So we just kept it where we read it, discuss the poem. And again, the person is the leader of that particular show, leads the discussion of the poem and the reading. And then we have, you know, the vexing question, the last segment of the show, where you can ask the other person anything, it can be a point of philosophy, but it’s often sort of like, you know, why are, why don’t we say a pair of pants when it’s just one of them?

Or, you know, when did the earth and the sun closest to each other, that one is the warmest. Are those unrelated to each other? Or, you know, how does a. Dandelion become, you know, go from a flower to a missing spheroid thing or how many people can fit socially distanced space, six feet apart in the state of Montana, you know, whatever questions you have a animal vegetable geopolitical.

Then I asked her how, like, once I’m like, how could it be nicer to myself? Like I was like, I’m nice to you. You’re nice to me. How can I be nice to me? Yeah, that was like an example of vexing questions. So anyway, whoever the leader has to in an answer that same question. So then you got to kind of pause and go, okay, shoot.

I gotta go figure out how a country officially changes its name as is the case of the former country of Swazi land. You know, that was a vexing question. So, you know, you can get those two, so there’s a sort of magic school, bus research science aspect of.

Marc: And you, you open that up to anybody. You know, you say, you can tell us what your vexing question is, and we will answer it

Jeremy: You go to, YouMustKnowEverything.com and there’s the submit a vexing questions button.

Marc: Right. And so that’s my question is it’s not my vexing question. It’s my question about, logistically.

Are, are people utilizing that?

Jeremy: Yeah, I’d say about one in every three. We get from the audience and I’d love there to be more, I think one challenge is of course our audience is families. But often if it’s a kid with the vexing question that see, or she has kind of email, that’s one reason I did it via this web form.

So you don’t have to have email, you can just go to the website and type it in on the borrowed iPad or whatever. Right. But yeah, we, we, we go,

Marc: Okay, well, I mean, you were on the Pea Green Boat and so that must have hopefully boosted your listenership.

Jeremy: Yeah. But what’s awesome about the, Pea Green Boat is the children’s programming on Montana Public Radio and we’re there, you know, twice a week and sometimes on their Saturday morning programming too. And what’s cool about that is yes, it’s children’s programming, but. Everyone of all ages of all demographics, listen to that show. It has to have the most diverse clientele. I’ve getting so many texts from people that I’m like, I know you are a unmarried, unmarried childless 52 year old dude. I played basketball with, you know and you’re, you know, saying, Hey, I heard you had the Pea Green Boat. So you know, it’s, it’s got a wide, wide stance. The Pea Green Boat.

Marc: So I want to thank you right up front, because you organized the very first live in-person storytelling event I’d ever attended.

Jeremy: Yes. The magic of The PEAS Farm, right?

Marc: Yeah. It was "Eat Our Words". Yeah. And it was because of you that I was inspired to do this.

Jeremy: Well, That’s amazing just because I know how amazing the events you put are are, and how you’ve seen it grow and how much storytelling you’ve nurtured and just how the audience is so moved. So to be like, I’m the father of the father of the father of all that pleasure in my own way. It’s, it’s a lot of, I’m like 8 times removed from all that hard work and amazing stories, but it’s just, that’s, that’s inspiring to me because it means you can just do something that’s kind of random and cool, and, you know, you can do it three or four times and it can have this other effect.

So thank you. And you’re just never, I say that to people all the time, like you don’t, you know that good. You do, but you also, like how else could you don’t know that you do yeah. A follow up. So you know, back at you, I hope you’re, you know, I know you’re getting good feedback, but just whatever feedback you’re getting. Each of those people is speaking for so many other people.

Marc: I know. And , I just wanted to acknowledge the influence you had on the whole thing. But I still want to talk to you about the first story you told at the very first event. The theme was "Dear Diary". It was December 2nd, 2011. It was 70, 75 people in the Missoula Art Museum. Packed.

Before, Tell Us Something happened then Debra Magpie Earling had just read from her book, The Journals, of Sacagawea. And then we sort of pivoted into this other room and, and we had Tell Us Something. And you , closed out the night with this beautiful story about Anne Crosby.

Jeremy: Yes. So what can I tell you about that story? What did I, what did I not leave in the air? I mean, I said it all

Marc: I listened to it again. For the first time, since I heard it, because then at the time I was not the one editing the podcast. And so I listened to it again today.

And your, your ability to paint a picture of a person, you didn’t even say that she was beautiful at first, you just talked about what the environment was like when you walked into a room and you saw her. If you go back and listen to it again, it’s, it’s beautiful. So thank you for telling it.

I gave you no guidance at the time. I was just like, please do this. I respect you. And I think you’re great. Please help me. And you did, there was no workshopping or anything. How did you decide that was going to be the story?

Jeremy: Well, I remember I love to follow the prompts because I think that you find things from the prompt, as opposed to thinking this is a story I want to tell, and I’ll just make it work, whatever the prompt is. And I think also by telling something out loud or by just writing the story does a lot of writing itself and a good story, even though you’re the one telling it, even though it happened to you should have the ability to surprise you and.

When you said, dear your diary. I just had this vivid picture of really the first and practically only diary I’ve had for most of my life. And it was like this fourth grade, fifth grade kind of diary. And I don’t even know if it was, I’ve had the sort of fancy leather bound books where you take the strap and sort of, you know, curve it around to around the knob to close it and all the good kind of fancier dyes.

But I feel like this was just one of those like 80 page Mead journals, but it was like, I just had to pour out like my first crush into this journal. And it was like, I remember even just so vividly. Just my outraged at like the crushing actual fourth grade boyfriend complaining that he had to like buy her a necklace and me just being like, I gotta, I just like going home and being like this, you know, this guy doesn’t understand anything, you know, this is the one, he only the moon, the stars.

And just, just sort of pouring that out into this journal that then hilariously, I remember taking one of those, like a walk on her locks, master locks or whatever their. The w the like combination ones where you’re spending three times the one-way and then two times the other way. And one, the other, like, best like my locker lock and like, putting that on the journal, like through one of the three holes that was punched at this, that was locking it, which obviously that’s not how locks work.

If you like, put it through one of the three holes you could still just like open the book. It might be hard to lie completely flat on a table. And it’s not like I thought that that was the security measure, but somehow that was like a sign of it’s value to me. The only thing, I don’t think I actually locked my bike.

I remember like that stolen. So, you know, the only thing I actually had a lot, like my gym clothes, God bless somebody say it’s stolen them. But like, I just remember this, any patients, you know, 99 cent notebook. And that was the sort of diary. And I just, so when you said diarrhea, just remembered that one.

That was like the dear diary conversation I had. And I just remembered this kind of evolving relationship that I had with this crush and that ironically, or rarely or whatever the word is the world has with this crush. You know, it’s just so rare that like, your crush is like everyone’s crush. I think maybe it isn’t cause it’s my experience, but like, you know, that’s how I think I started that story where, you know, I’m at a sleep over and people are like, say who you like, and I’m excited.

Cause I’m going to say this. I’m going to say it out loud for the first time, the only time. And then you can’t say, okay, Her cause it cause duh, that’s obvious. And I was like, oh, you know, I am a cliche. I didn’t even do this thing. I’ve never even said out loud as a cliche, I have a crush cliche. And that, that, that then even evolved to the point.

As I said, you know, in high school, the yearbook company that makes your books in Texas, right. Not, not where I was from, make your books for all the yearbooks for all high schools chosen her photo right now as the photo for like getting a yearbook in America. So, you know, just kind of being like, oh, I’m not maybe as seeing the person inside as, as I might’ve wanted to believe, like you want to in your sort of nobility of your crushes, but then yeah.

And then there was that term in the last conversation we had and in a way, the only conversation. That was significant was, you know, after graduating Polish and seeing her again, and kind of getting to know her as a person and that, you know, transforming how I saw her, like just how I saw seeing people.

Marc: Do you know if she’s heard the story?

Jeremy: God, I hope not. It’d be so embarrassing. It’d be terrible. I hate that, but you know, it could happen. I have to live up there with that possibility. I was so dumb. I should’ve, I should’ve changed the name or I should just tell you that I used a fake name. But you know, my, my life we live on, but I would say,

you know, if I were Anne Crosby and I heard that story, I would feel so honor,

Marc: Because you saw her as a person finally

Jeremy: after like a hundred years, but yes, yes. Yes. We’re all on a journey within sometimes it takes many lifetimes right now I’m on the road is still, probably never been seen as a person. Right. You know, I remember my grandmother talking about me, Marilyn and rose at a party once and she just said, Marilyn Monroe wanted to talk about what she was reading, you know, you’re just like, yeah, of course.

Everybody’s got a path. Okay. Everyone’s got a path. Yeah, no, no, that’s good. I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a romantic. So I think you story is about someone going through change. No change, no story. You can have funny things happen.

You can have quirky incidents, but you have to like literally have your life change as a result of what happens. And that could be internal or it’s not a story. And so yeah, of course you’re going to have love. And what happens after love or crushes and what happens after crush, right? Those are, yeah, those are one of the building blocks of the story and I’ve travel.

You’re going to have tragedy otherwise, no change, no story.

Marc: Right.

Marc: You know, every time someone shares with me, I always feel like I need to share a story with them too, you know, to let them know that I get it, that I have a shared experience. And it sometimes veers into almost the non-sequitur realm or gets way off track. Yeah, I did that here. I’m trying not to do that as much.

And just recognizing that I do it is a good. I’m working on it. Okay. When we pick up again here, we’re talking about the second story that Jeremy told at, Tell Us Something, “Always, Only, At Least”.

Marc: And at the time, when you told that story about going to London, you made this reference of like, don’t use a garlic press. And I was like, oh God, I’m a jerk. I use a garlic press and,

but I didn’t know any better. And so then I immediately stop using a garlic press and only bought a fresh garlic.

Now I grow my own garlic.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Last year we had 400 plants that we harvest it now.

Well, what’s great about Marcella Hazan that cookbook author is that the standards are only minimums. There are no, there’s no satisfying her. There’s just only being potentially acceptable. So, you know, that’s what I kind of highlighted in my title of that story, you know, only use canned 10 being reported, San Marzano tomatoes, right.

You know, so pure cucumbers, not cucumber soak, your zucchini zucchini, my British edition and my British edition, of course, they’re called courgettes. Soak your zucchini for at least 30 minutes to remove impurities you know, always of course peel your garlic in a certain way.

You’ve got your order. And so I just think that there’s actually something really relaxing about structure and discipline. And someone who has this amazing vision. I remember our mutual friend, Jason Wiener talking about perhaps another mutual friend, Bob Marshall of vegan pizza. And I was like, why is he such a good chef?

And he’s like, well, and Jason just said this off hand, it was a brilliant remark. He said, well, you know, all good chefs, all great chefs are creative control freak. And I love that combination of creative control freak. And, you know, Marcelo has on certainly creative control freak. And so, you know, it’s sort of aspirational to do something that she would find acceptable.

She’s a sort of Mr. Miyagi of, you know, cookbooks Italian cookery. So, you know, by her actual nature or actual personality, she could have been completely congenial and she looks very grandmotherly and is very kindly, but. She knows the right way. And she’s going to tell you to do with the right way and you can, you’ll do what you want to do.

She’s going to tell you the right way to do it. Yeah.

Marc: What you’d never said in the story, which a thing that I took away from the story was that this opportunity to go to this party and your friend, oh, hi James Bond. You know, he said to you, he doesn’t even acknowledge your, your potential heartbreak that you’re going through. He just puts you to work. And in service of others,

Jeremy: I think it’s such a gift.

If you’re in your own head down on yourself and someone can somehow put you to work, it’s just hard to stay in your feelings when you’re busy and when you’re bodily busy. And when you have a responsibility. To these other people. You said they were my friends, they were not my friends. They were strangers.

They were his friends, but right. Yeah. We had to have a dinner put on and all of a sudden it was wheat and it wasn’t me in my own head. And so that was great. And I certainly tried to learn that where, you know if people come to dinner, I love to make an elaborate dinner. But if there’s some way to kind of include them, like, yeah, I want you to bring the toppings for the pizza, or I’ve done that exact same trick.

You know, if it’s a trick with Marcella Hazan and I’m like, I’m going to make the sauce and it’s going to take me a while. Why don’t you guys make the pasta? The good thing. If you’ve got a couple that’s visiting, if they’re engaged, see if they can make pasta from scratch together. It’s a really good relationship, test and story to tell.

And then you destroyed. So they kind of kind of work at their own. I’m like, ah, I’m busy. This is boiling, you know, trying to ask questions and let them figure it out. It’s such a gift. And it’s one of the geniuses of like the youth harvest program at the peas farm. It’s like, ah, you’ve got these quote unquote troubled teens that have been sentenced by youth court.

Yeah. You could put them in juvenile detention. You can send them to hoods in the woods program or you can put them on a farm and be like, we got to grow this because these people are going to come and they want to eat these carrots. And these people are actually house bound, seniors or they’re military veterans or other people in your community.

So totally. I totally get you on a complaint. Or do you want us to talk about your tattoos? Do this or that, or talk about mom or dad or bitch, but like, you know, we just got to get the carrots first. Let’s just do that. And then, you know, over the course of the season, I’ve seen that be transformative for people.

That was one of the subjects of my, my first book Growing a Garden City, you know, was that program. So, you know, I steal that insight from Josh Slotnick and some of the other people that were behind that program. And in there’s a, You Must Know Everything episode called DOE where I talk about my pizza dough recipe, and I share that with Rasa and I’m like, these are her 18 words that are the best shortest, fastest, most guaranteed way to win friends and influence people.

And the 18 words or just the ingredients for the recipe. And I’m like, learn how to do this. And you can just go anywhere and do like, you can have no skills, you can have no talents, you can have nothing of interest so you can know no one, but if you say I’m making pizza tonight, do you want to come over?

It’s all gonna change. It’s all gonna come your way. So, you know, that’s what I was kind of sharing in that episode. So that’s an example. It’s kind of a crossover, I guess, between Tell Us Something and You Must Know Everything

So I have a hacker one. That’s like a limited series. It’s like a spinoff from my book breaking and entering the hacker next door. And it tucks these 10 different hackers in 10 different kinds of specialties of hacking and interviews them about kind of who they are, their background and their all hackers for good.

They’re all using their skills to protect people. Right. And that’s that, but then I bet You Must Know Everything with Rasa. And I have this other one, that’s very trippy and it’s called stimulus and response. And it’s with this high performance coach friend of mine. So he’s super keyed into like elite athlete, CEO teams kind of group flow, high performance space.

And it’s like, how can. The rest of us, these high-performance mindsets exercises, tools, techniques that use to thrive. How can we use it to just kind of survive better? So it’s not like doing a million pushups. It’s like, here’s a different way of looking at yourself or a breathing exercise or a visualization thing.

So, you know, it’s a podcast I like to think of is not exclusively, but best enjoyed, you know, in a basement with a buddy, just kind of chilling out, filling the field. And we go to some super trippy places. There he is a very like yes, and conversation. So, you know, a typical start of an episode would be like, do you think we are individuals sessions?

Or are we all connected? And then it’s like, what’s the science, what are the visualizations? What are the techniques? You know, how can we kind of step through that? And that’s been super fun to do. That’s the only way I guess I make that, like, I can listen to later with a certain amount of distance, because it just has a certain intoxicating effect where it just it’s about kind of changing your mindset.

Marc: So I guess then the next question is: analytics

This is a thing that I struggle with so much. Do you pay attention to any of that? And if you do, how are you managing that?

Right. So I assume I analytics, you mean. How many people are listening, downloads, audience size, and I guess things like retweets and mentions.

Is that what you mean?

Mostly.

Jeremy: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a total crucible, unless it’s huge, right? It’s just hard to not feel less than, or not enough, or want more, especially if you’re putting in so much time and getting value out of it.

And I think, you know, to me, I’ve tried to have satisfaction on multiple levels. Like intrinsically, ideally, can I be pursuing projects that I would do no matter what? And also if it’s a new media for me, can I be learning? So either way I’m kind of creating and it’s also an internship. And also if I want to do something that’s really meaningful, is it meaningful to me if it’s

Marc: Jeremy cuts out a bit here. What he was saying was, “is it meaningful to me if it’s reaching a small number of people, but I feel like it could move the needle?”.

Jeremy: you know, something like You Must Know Everything it’s so heartwarming and life affirming in a broad sense.

I hope that I feel to the degree that it reaches people, I can be sort of satisfied, even if it’s not really. Very many people for each person it goes to. And I guess the other one, cause it’s about sort of mindset and transformation and who you really are and why we’re really here stimulus and response in a similar way.

I can be like, well, if I was in person and I was talking to 70 people, that’s a good, that’s a huge book event, you know? So yeah, it’d be great if it was 700 or 7,000 or 70,000 or 700,000 or 7 million, but can I kind of get right with it and those ways, and I go crazy and beat myself up and feel bad. And I think I just have to recognize that’s a separate discipline of like reaching audience and marketing and promoting.

I can pursue that discipline and see if I can succeed at it and its own terms. But if I’m not succeeding on something I’m not doing, then I should at least recognize that and not kind of beat myself up to like, okay, you know, I’m trying to do something that’s meaningful where I’m learning, where it’s intrinsically important and rewarding.

And if I’m also trying to gain audience than let me do that, but don’t let me beat myself up. Cause I’m not getting all these other things out of it too. Yeah, my joke, I was saying to someone the other day, he was like, are you making money from the podcast? I was like, well, dude, I know people that do it. And I know people that make money. I’m not, I’m still, you know, figuring it out, trying to learn from that.

My joke was like, yeah, I’m self-employed so what did you say? You know, when you’re a writer, it’s like a range between self-employed and self unemployed. Got it. So my joke, cause yeah, I’m self unemployed, so yeah, I’m working all the time for myself for nothing. So that’s a lot of. Yeah, it’s just that kind of hustle.

And I don’t know. I mean, I think that’s probably one reason I appreciate that Stimulus & Response and the headspace, it puts me in because it’s about getting a bigger perspective.

Marc: Yeah. And right now that’s so important

Jeremy: right, right. Like we’re in the steam punk post-apocalyptic future of like the sort of mix of high technology, local food and plague. And so, you know, it’s not that surprising that, you know, we’re not all just.

Mass media superstars or niche media superstars. I think that you know, here’s an example, exercise that the performance coach co-host, I’d say most of the response time you do, he was like, you could do with, with podcasting or Tell Us Something he’s like on one piece of paper, write down everything that you hate about writing, like having to hustle have to sell what you don’t get paid, you know, the anxiety, dah, dah.

So I could say like hosting a radio show being ahead of a nonprofit, all just the, the grind, having a podcast and he’s like, right that. Right, right. Just all the, all the, all the terrible things, just all the things that are just so. So it’s like, okay. Sort of thought about it kind of did it a bit. And he’s like now flip the paper over, like, okay.

He’s like now write down all the things that you love about it. You know, what are all the amazing things? The freedom, the creativity, that connection, the expression, the discovery for example, the unexpected, you know, a company, you find the comradery the righteousness, whatever you want to say. I was like, okay, so doing that now, I’m getting more excited, more positive.

And he’s like, what do you notice? And I was thinking about it. And then I was like, oh, he totally Jedi mind trick me up. They’re not the same piece of paper, a paper in my mind for three weeks. It’s like we think of these things as like, here’s the good thing. And just the bad thing is if we could have the good thing without the bad thing, but maybe there’s not a good thing, a bad thing.

They’re just together. They’re just one, this like your strengths are the same as your weaknesses. You know, your weaknesses are the same as your strength. These all, all these kind of burdens bothers or are part of the balloon and the benefit. And just the, yeah, it’s really annoying to have the burdens in the bothers, but I think it’s even worse to think like we’re doing it wrong because we have them and we’re failing because we have them and that load of self judgment, that’s even more painful.

It’s just like, you know, this is just the piece that they’re on the same piece of paper. I can work on a totally different thing, but it’ll have its own two pieces of paper. So anyway, I don’t know if that’s the only do that’s been useful.

I mean, it’s useful to me already on, I’ve got a grant on my face, bigger than I’ve had in a long time.

And as soon as we hang up, I’m going to go subscribe to, to this new podcast that you’ve turned me on to.

Thank you, brother.

Marc: Thanks, Jeremy. And thank *you* for listening today.

You can find the schedule for The Pea Green Boat and listen online at mtpr.org.

For articles about The Lost Journals of Sacagawea, go to tellussomething.org.

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

On the next Tell Us Something podcast, tune in to listen to Stephanie Hohn’s story “The Smartest Girl in Jail,” which she shared at a Tell Us Something storytelling event back in 2012. Stick around after her story to hear her thoughts on it, as well as learn what she’s been up to since COVID struck.

Stephanie: I’ve just had unusual experiences or, you know, bad experiences that people would like to pretend aren’t something happening in their community.

So I kind of wanted to tell that just to be like, Hey, just so you know, like, this is, this is what’s happening, you know, here that’s, this is what it’s like for people.

Marc: she shared her story at a Tell Us Something storytelling event back in 2012. Stick around after her story to hear her thoughts on it, as well as learn what she’s been up to since COVID struck.

To learn more about Tell Us Something, please visit tellussomething.org.

 

Bonnie Bishop talks about what it was like to be the first person in Tell Us Something history to share her story in a live-streamed setting. We talk about the pandemic, about collective grief and about what it means to begin returning to life beyond quarantine. After our conversation, you can hear the story as Bonnie shared it on the Tell Us Something live-streamed stage.
This week on the podcast, we check in with Anna Haslund, the first Deaf storyteller to have shared a story on the Tell Us Something stage. We talk about her story and what it was like to share a story on the Tell Us Something stage. We also talk about her excitement to compete in the Miss America Pageant representing her state as Miss Montana. During our conversation, Anna also shares some of the unique challenges Deaf people face during the pandemic. After the interview, stick around for the story that Anna calls “Joe + Balthazar”. Anna's story takes us on a wild horse ride in which she performs a daring horse rescue on a forest service road in Montana.

Transcript : Interview with Anna Haslund

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

This week on the podcast, we check in with Anna Haslund, the first Deaf storyteller to share a story at Tell Us Something. We sat down in July of 2020 during the midst of the pandemic. And she shared with us what it was like to share a story at Tell Us Something, her excitement

to participate in the Miss America Pageant representing her state of Montana, as well as some of the unique challenges that Deaf people face during the pandemic.

All this, coming up. Big thanks to our Title Sponsor, The Good Food Store, and thanks to our Enduring Sponsors, cabinetparts.com and Blackfoot Communications.

Special thanks to our Champion Sponsor True Food Missoula. Each year across Missoula, nonprofits raise money during Missoula Gives for expanded programming, special projects or, sometimes, just to keep the lights on.

Tell Us Something looks forward to your support during Missoula Gives May sixth and seventh. Learn more at missoulagives.org. So, Anna,

[Marc] You’ve been coming to Tell Us Something for how long?

[Anna] Wow, I think it’s been about five years.

[Marc] So, how did you come to decide, that you wanted to tell a story?

[Anna] Good question. Let me see.

So, my interpreter Bonnie actually told me that there was an event called Tell Us Something, and I hadn’t heard about it.

And so I went and was in the audience. And then I felt that I could probably get up there too. And I know that there weren’t any Deaf people that had done it before, so I feel that would be really empowering for me to get up there and just tell a story.

And then the audience, oh my gosh, they were so supportive and so excited! And when I finished the story they were all applauding for me in sign language, and it was just such an honor and I, I like being representative for the community.

So, I felt inspired.

[Marc] And when you told your story.

What was it like afterwards?

[Anna] So, it just felt like a really big change for me.

I’ve always been a very, like, closed and personal person, but getting up there and telling the story, I felt, y’know, just some new emotions and I was able to get out of my shell some more and make some new friends.

And we all supported each other. It was great.

It feels like I’m part of a big family now [Marc] You are!

[Anna] Exactly.

[Marc] So you’ve done this twice. You’ve told a story twice.

Is there one that you enjoyed telling more than the other one?

[Anna] It’s hard to choose but I think the one that I told about the, the two horses, you know, Joe, and then the other horse. So, Yeah, I think those, that was my favorite one to tell. [Marc] Yeah. Everyone loves horse stores.

[Anna] Yeah.

And they know that when I was trying to make that sound, you know, for the kissing the horse? That the audience, looked like they really enjoyed that too. [laughter]

[Marc] Yeah. You told a story about heartbreak too

Did that guy,

did he get to listen to it?

[Anna] So yeah actually he did, and he contacted me, and you know he apologized for the whole experience. And so you know we’re friends, you know, once in a while we’ll see each other but just friends. [Marc] His loss

[Anna] Actually yeah! [laughter]

[Marc] So what have you been up to since then? I heard you have some news.

[Anna] So I am so excited to let you know that just last month,

I was in a competition for Miss Montana for the Americas, and I won!. Oh my gosh, it was my first time! And the first time that there’s been a Deaf woman, representing the state!

And so I think the first time going to be doing some kind of appearance is going to be in November of this year. And hoping that I can give speeches like in schools and different communities, and and really inspire people and empower — yeah so yeah. Montana’s

just my home and I am excited to represent it.

[Marc] That’s awesome.

So when is the pageant itself?

[Anna] So in October, sometime I’m going to be competing on the national level.

And I think next month I’ll get more information. But I’ll keep you updated! It’s on my Facebook page!

[Marc] Anna won the Miss Congeniality award during the Miss America Pageant. Ultimately, the crown went to Miss Virginia,

Camille Schrier.

[Anna] I know when I was in the pageant previously, I was given the award for Miss Congeniality.

You know we could always have more people around it, just everybody go together.

And I want to say, just thank you so much to my, my two directors they have been so nice and respectful, and professional and working with me and we all work together, so it’s been such a great support system.

[Marc] So, so proud of you. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for

letting us know about that.

[Anna] Thank you. You’re welcome.

[Marc] And so the next time you tell a story at Tell Us Something you’ll be Miss America, is that right?

[Anna] [laughter] Maybe! Is there anything else that you want listeners to know before we play their story, your story for them.

[Marc] Is there anything else that you want listeners to know before we play your story for them?

[Anna] So I think it’s important for people know, I wanted to share–

You know, with this coronavirus that’s happening, It’s been really hard for Deaf and Hard of Hearing to be able to communicate because of the mask requirement.

It covers most of your face.

So what’s been really cool is that there’s these masks with a clear window, that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people use, I have a friend that actually makes them.

Emily, she’s from Washington State.

And there’s also a place of Darby here in Montana. And they worked really hard to provide the community with a way to be able to provide access for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.

I know it’s hard like if you’re trying to communicate someone needs to read your lips, you have to remove your mask so for just for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people also it’s hard to communicate.

If they rely on reading lips. So, these masks are incredibly helpful. So that’s that’s a good idea.

[Marc] And, can you provide us a link to where we can order those masks?

[Anna] Oh absolutely, I’d be happy to give you that information for the contact.

[Marc] Great. Thank you so much.

[Anna] You’re welcome.

[Marc] And I don’t have any other questions. Is there anything else that you want to talk about?

[Anna] Oh, wow.

I don’t know! Let me see.

I could ask you about your experiences with your business. Maybe what do you think about inviting more Deaf people to tell stories?

[Marc] I mean, I’ve always wanted to do that, I don’t know how to encourage them. Do you have any advice on how I can be more inclusive?

[Anna] Good question.

So there’s a Deaf school in Montana that we could contact, and see if there’s anyone who will come and tell stories.

And they have interpreters there that we could put on video if we do do it remotely.

There’s always different access ways. And there’s —

I’d be happy to also myself just contact my Deaf and hard of Hearing friends and try to get them up here on stage to tell a story. I mean if I can do it, I think anyone can.

And I want to thank Bonnie, my interpreter and also Denise for interpreting. I know it’s hard to get interpreters for all the stories and all of your events and I know it can be frustrating and captioning is really frustrating and hard to get to look

just right. But the interpreting and the captioning is really important for people who aren’t completely Deaf but also hard of Hearing, and they can’t catch all the words.

So part of what I want to do is just help bridge communication gaps, and, um–

People, I know, are always fascinated with sign language, and they’re always watching the interpreter, which is great!

Like my best friend Erica, she got fascinated with sign language. And now she’s going into an interpreter program in Oregon to become an interpreter. So I’m so excited to see how she develops and I know when she’s done I’ll definitely be hiring her too!l

[Marc] Well, I can tell you this, that, I have a friend you this that I have a friend that knows ASL but she’s not an interpreter.

And, even before I started bringing Bonnie and Denise on to help interpret,

I didn’t know that I needed to bring on certified interpreters.

And so, I was asking other people to do it, and they kept telling me “no”. But they didn’t tell me why.

And so I’d been working on getting interpreters, interpret the stories for a couple years, before

I finally talked to Bonni–er, Denise, excuse me. And I asked her, like, what why aren’t, why isn’t anybody saying “yes” to this? And she explained

The requirement for certification.

And so then, finally,

We developed this relationship. And, here we are.

[Anna] And it’s great that you’re more comfortable, you know, having the interpreters there, and just having them be a part of the whole thing, and….

I know, communication is so important. And I know people don’t always understand that sign language is a foriegn language.

[Marc] Right.

[Anna] And that writing back and forth with people is ok,

But because it’s foreign language, that can be difficult. So using a certified interpreter, who knows ASL, it’s just so important to match communication styles.

With this pandemic. It’s changed so much. There’s so many emotions that people are experiencing, having to realize, you know, what can happen with the pandemic. It’s really difficult.

I know that we’re not alone with our struggles in communication and everything else and–you know, I know eventually, maybe, COVID will be gone. It could be years, it could be five minutes, I don’t know.

You can only try your best, you know, and like I always tease my friends, my family.

You know, like right now we’re sitting six feet away.

And sometimes, you know, I sign larger, and then, say, we’re not six feet away [laughter] and I say, “Oh, excuse me! That’s too close!” So.[laughter]

Yeah.

[Marc] Well, thank you so much, Anna, for being here today. And… uh oh….

[Anna] You’re welcome. And thank you for allowing me, you know, giving me the honor to do this little interview.

[Marc] Yeah,

[Anna] It makes me

[Marc] I appreciate you being here.

[Anna] proud.

[Marc] Thank you.

[Anna] You’re welcome. Thanks.

[Marc] After the break, watch and share her story, live on stage, and she shared it in front of a sold out crowd at the Wilma in Missoula, Montana. In September of 2019.

Thanks again to our Title Sponsor The Good Food Store, learn more at goodfoodstore.com.

Thanks to our Enduring Sponsors, cabinteparts.com, and Blackfoot Communications. Learn more at blackfoot.com.

Special thanks to True Food Missoula. You can find them at truefoodcsa.com. And Joyce of Tile, you can find Joyce at joyceof tile.com.

Anna Haslund loves the community with her kindness. Loves to help the community with her kindness.

She is the one who breaks the barrier and and can do the impossible.

Watch out for her crazy skill with yaassss kicks!

Her nickname is Anna Banana.

Note, that Anna is Deaf, and her story will be voiced by Bonnie Kurian.

The way to clap for Deaf people is to wave your hands like this. [clapping in ASL]

So, after her story is finished, the house lights will come up, and we can all show our love for Anna together.

Please welcome Anna Haslund.

[clapping]

[laughter]

>>About four years ago.

Me and my best friend Erica were in Frenchtown at an organization called Heart, which is an equine recreation and therapy organization.

We were volunteering with those horses.

Erica asked me if I wanted to go up to Flathead to pick up four new horses for this therapy ranch. And I was so excited, I said, “Of course I do”.

So it was me and Erica, and her half sister, Selena.

We met the owner up there at this other ranch.

And he said, “Go ahead and pick your horse.” So I looked at all the horses, and I saw this beautiful perfect horse. He was huge. Brown and flowing mane.

And I felt a little nervous though. I knew it was important that we had to be able to trust each other.

So I offered him my hand and he sniffed my hand and let me pet his nose. And I asked the owner, I said, “What is this horse’s name?” He said, “Oh the horse’s name is Joe.”

And I said, “Well, that’s really funny. My mom’s name is Joe [laughter] so, apparently this is meant to be. This is a good connection.”

So I got on the horse. We’re riding along. And the way most people communicate with a horse is they make a clicking sound, well I can’t click, so I decided to make a kissing sound instead. [laughter] it worked great.

It worked great. He liked it.

[laughter]

So a few months later, Erica and I decided that we wanted to take these horses out on a trail ride.

And there were four of us. Again, it was Erica.

Selena, she was about seven at the time,

And the ex-wife of the owner. I’m not sure how she got in the group but.

[laughter]

So we’re riding along. We keep going.

We’re on this forest service road. Was a nice big road. Perfect for four people, four horses.

So we’re all riding along. We go on up a few miles, we were just going to go up and turn around and come back.

Everything was going on great.

And of course I was on the lead horse, which is ridiculous, because I’m Deaf!

[laughter]

But, here I go. About 10-15 minutes, I started feeling in my gut like, “Something’s not quite right.” I turned around and oh my gosh, Erica is waiting frantically!

And I knew quickly, that something had to be wrong. So I’m trying to kiss at my horse again to get him to stop.

I turn, we turn around and we see that the ex-wife was on one of the meanest horses. She yanked on the reins and he kicked her right off. And she actually broke her leg.

So I look over at Erica.

And we see Selena. It’s her first time on a horse. Now she is scared to death. She’s screaming hysterically. And we knew that we needed to calm her down so that her horse didn’t get scared and buck her off.

So trying to keep her calm. We don’t want her to scare the horse.

And now we are trying to figure out, “What are we going to do now?”

How are we going to get four horses down?

And oddly enough, these two men come walking up the forest service road. We thought, “Well this is perfect timing.” And they asked if they could help. We said, “Uh, yeah, that’d be great!”

[laughter]

So we said, “How are you going to help?” “So we have a truck right over here.” So they were able to pick up the ex-wife and put her in the truck. Helped her out.

We said, “Bye.”

[laughter]

So then Erica takes me to the other horse, and she brings me the reins to guide the other horse down the trail and the reins slipped out of my hand. And the horse.

He just kept trotting along like nothing was going on. And I thought, “Oh great! Now we have a runaway horse!” So I have to get next to this horse. I’m riding my horse. I’m trying to use my horse to guide the other horse, so that I could grab the reins.

And while we were going down the Forest Service road, it was really curvy. We finally get to a flat spot.

I look at my horse, I look at the other horse, and I have this incredible plan. I know it’s a little crazy, but it’s a great plan.

So I’m talking to Joe, and I’m saying, “Stay here. I have faith in you. Do not take off on me. Just stay with me.” So I go over sidesaddle, and Erica is looking at me. She knows exactly what I’m going to do. [screaming] She tries to tell me not to.

 

I jump off a Joe. I scream, I land. I kind of felt like, Zorro, actually. [laughter] I jump over.

I land on this horse, this mean one. His name is Balthazar.

[laughter]

 

And I feel, “This is incredible! I really should be in a movie! This was amazing! I should be a stunt person.”

So I grabbed the reins. I pull him back.

Everybody’s absolutely shocked. Erica says, “You are insane! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

I said, “Well, I actually can’t believe I did that myself! [laughter] But, look, everything’s everything’s great now there’s no more problems.”

[small laughter]

So the ex-wife was taken to the hospital. Yes, she broke her leg.

Selena got over her fear of the horses, and she’s fine.

And Erica and I are still best friends, thank God. Now we have a story we can tell our grandchildren for years to come. What crazy risk takers we are.

[laughter]

[large applause and clapping]

For a video of Anna and her friend Erica, visit tellsssomething.org. If you want to support what we do, recommend the Tell Us Something podcast, to just two people who have never heard it before, and rate us on your favorite podcasting app, it really helps get the word out.

Please, plan on donating to Tell Us Something during Misosula Gives May 6th and 7th. Learn more at missoulagives.org.

If you ever want to drop me a line, you can find me ar [email protected], that Marc, M-A-R-C @tellussomething.org.

Thanks to our in-kind sponsors, Logjam Presents. Learn more about them out at logjampresents.com

Thanks to Missoula Broadcasting Company. Learn more at missoulabroadcasting.com

Float Missoula. Learn more at floatmsla.com.

GeckoDesigns.com

Missoulaevents.net, makers of Cheddarboard.

Podcast production by me, Marc Moss.

To learn more about Tell Us Something, visit tellussomething.org.

Stay safe, take care of yourselves, take care of each other, get vaccinated, and have a story-worthy day.

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

00:01
i’m mark moss i know what i’m doing but
00:04
if somebody wanted to know how do you
00:06
become an artist i’d be like
00:07
you just work hard since around july of
00:10
2020
00:11
i have been interviewing tell us
00:13
something storyteller alumni about their
00:15
experience sharing a story on the
00:16
telesumming stage
00:17
why they chose to share a story and what
00:20
they’ve been up to
00:21
since having shared their story i have a
00:23
lot more of those interviews to share
00:24
with you
00:25
this week though i’m going to introduce
00:27
you to one of tell something’s poster
00:29
artists
00:30
for me it was important for my life and
00:32
especially
00:33
important for my work that i had a
00:35
studio at home where i could shut the
00:37
door
00:38
where like at a certain time at the end
00:41
of the day
00:42
i’m not looking at that piece of work
00:43
anymore because storytelling is an art
00:46
i’ve always hired local artists
00:48
to design a poster for each event the
00:51
posters of tell us something
00:52
are amazing in their own right and i
00:55
thought that it would be
00:56
fun to sit down with some of the artists
00:59
to chat about their process
01:01
and see what makes them tick what
01:03
inspires them
01:04
how they work and how they came to
01:06
design the poster
01:07
that they designed for telesomething so
01:10
this week on the podcast join me
01:12
as we go behind the scenes with local
01:15
artist
01:15
courtney blazon courtney designed the
01:18
poster for the june 2019
01:20
show the theme was what are the chances
01:24
i kind of knew pretty quickly what i was
01:26
gonna do for it
01:28
and i usually settle on an idea pretty
01:32
quickly
01:33
and i don’t know if that’s just because
01:35
i’m generally like
01:37
this is the time i have allotted for
01:39
this you better snap to it
01:41
courtney blaizon is an artist and
01:43
illustrator living and working in
01:44
missoula montana
01:46
she graduated from parsons school of
01:48
design where she earned her bfa in
01:50
illustration
01:52
she’s shown her work in missoula at the
01:54
brink gallery
01:55
dana gallery allez gallery and the
01:58
missoula art museum
02:00
outside of montana she has shown work in
02:02
seattle portland
02:03
new york philadelphia san francisco and
02:06
most recently at the center for the arts
02:08
theater gallery in jackson wyoming
02:12
hello good morning hi how are you
02:16
um well how are you doing good thank you
02:20
good thanks for agreeing to talk to me
02:23
today
02:24
courtney’s work has been featured in new
02:26
american paintings the western edition
02:28
studio visit magazine and juxtapose.com
02:32
she is a past recipient of a montana
02:34
arts council artists
02:35
innovation award courtney is represented
02:38
by radius gallery in missoula montana
02:40
big thanks to our title sponsor the good
02:42
food store and thanks to our enduring
02:44
sponsors
02:45
cabinetparts.com and blackboard
02:47
communications
02:48
thanks to our champion sponsor trufood
02:50
missoula and a very special thanks to
02:52
our blue ribbon sponsor
02:53
joyce of tile courtney blaizon’s pen and
02:57
marker drawings reference
02:58
fields of science history cultural
03:01
studies myths and fairy tales
03:03
her images take us someplace between the
03:05
known world
03:06
and a dreamscape a surreal marriage of
03:09
naturalism and fantasy the results can
03:12
be simultaneously whimsical
03:14
and grotesque witty as well as
03:17
disturbing
03:18
the tension of these unions suggests our
03:20
own struggle
03:21
to achieve balance in a chaotic world i
03:24
caught up with courtney blaizon last
03:25
summer
03:26
we chatted about the historical context
03:28
much of her work references
03:30
life as a professional artist and some
03:32
of the large-scale works
03:34
that she has done recently before
03:36
finally talking about the poster that
03:37
she made for tell us something
03:39
in june of 2019 i’ve also been thinking
03:42
about these interviews as a record
03:45
of a specific time in our collective
03:46
pandemic history
03:48
they shared glimpses into the moments of
03:50
life during quarantine
03:51
how we were coping and how we are
03:53
somehow continuing to go about
03:55
our daily lives
04:00
i just moved to a new place so that was
04:04
really nice
04:05
yeah lots of very i mean different than
04:09
a normal summer
04:10
like yeah for sure yeah um
04:15
yeah like our maid fares aren’t
04:17
happening
04:18
this summer in the same way so that’s
04:22
weird
04:23
are you doing a online version of the
04:25
maid fair
04:27
i mean somewhat but we’re basically just
04:30
posting everybody who would have been in
04:32
the maid fairs
04:33
page and sort of letting them offer
04:36
discounts if they want
04:38
but we’re not doing anything like
04:40
virtual
04:41
with video or yeah i
04:44
i just i feel like that kind of bubble
04:49
where that was like at the beginning of
04:52
sort of quarantine
04:53
like there was a lot of live events and
04:55
i felt like they were really popular
04:57
and like really necessary and i feel
04:59
like now
05:00
now that it’s summer especially and
05:02
we’ve kind of gotten used to the
05:05
the whole thing like i don’t know that
05:07
we’d be able to capture an
05:09
audience in the middle of summer inside
05:13
you know like i feel like that was the
05:15
way that we are all connecting
05:17
at the beginning of this and i don’t
05:20
know if now people feel like they can
05:21
just be together outside
05:24
distance that it’s just like
05:27
oh yeah it’s interesting it just doesn’t
05:29
seem like
05:30
it didn’t it ended up not seeming worth
05:32
our time
05:33
and a lot of our major artists didn’t
05:35
want to
05:38
extend their time towards trying to do
05:41
something special so
05:44
summer in montana is pretty short
05:48
take advantage of it yeah especially now
05:51
because
05:53
who knows what the winter is going to
05:54
look like right yeah
05:56
exactly yeah we just want to be outside
05:59
and
05:59
doing stuff as much as possible right
06:03
yeah i know some of the art fairs around
06:05
the state have still
06:06
happened and that’s another thing we
06:09
struggled with
06:10
but we just felt pretty worried about
06:16
like if if an outbreak had been traced
06:18
to our event we would have felt
06:20
really irresponsible right and and we
06:23
wouldn’t
06:24
uh we’re not even in a phase where we
06:26
would have been able to allow that big
06:28
of a crowd anyway
06:29
with missoula county so yeah so we just
06:32
decided to be
06:34
preemptively just cancel it and then
06:37
hope that we can recoup with
06:39
some of the other events that we have
06:43
i’m lucky that i don’t have all my eggs
06:44
in that basket though
06:46
so i’ve got other ways that i can still
06:49
make money and stuff
06:50
have you been talking to a lot of
06:52
artists and writers and
06:54
creatives i talk to
06:58
only one other tell us something poster
06:59
artist in the way that we’re talking
07:02
you’ve heard this idea on the tell us
07:03
something podcast before that
07:05
replicating
07:06
the in-person live performance vibe that
07:08
a traditional tell us something brings
07:10
is very difficult yeah i just feel like
07:13
certain things like in our
07:16
experience like in our in our creative
07:19
experiences
07:20
can translate to online and can be
07:23
just as successful if not more in some
07:26
ways
07:27
and then other things we’re just i think
07:29
we’re finding just can’t
07:31
you can’t duplicate it right yeah
07:35
yeah you just have to kind of roll with
07:37
the
07:37
[Music]
07:39
because it’s an unstable profession to
07:41
begin with like
07:42
yeah it’s gonna be unstable in any
07:46
way and i think like creative people who
07:48
are self-employed
07:50
already feel that instability or already
07:53
kind of know
07:54
how to chart those waters if they’ve
07:57
been doing it long enough
07:59
so it it becomes i mean at least for me
08:02
became pretty easy to adapt
08:04
to because i was pretty used to
08:08
feeling some moments of floundering
08:13
financially or or you know so yeah
08:16
for me at least it was kind of like
08:19
yeah no i wouldn’t say easy i if i said
08:22
easy i
08:22
don’t think that’s the word but it it
08:24
was a an experience i was kind of
08:28
equipped for because i i’ve had periods
08:31
of good
08:32
stuff happening in periods where i’m
08:33
like i’m never going to get a job again
08:36
you know kind of feeling you have
08:39
just built your career around saying yes
08:41
basically
08:42
yeah and i don’t it’s interesting
08:44
because over the past
08:47
two years i’ve been in the process of
08:50
saying no to more things and
08:51
cutting more things out of my life as
08:54
i’ve it’s become more clear to me what i
08:55
really want and then also i’ve been
08:57
getting enough work
08:58
where i’m able to say no to things like
09:01
it was really just last
09:02
year or two years ago that i quit doing
09:05
summer markets
09:07
um i basically except for the summer
09:09
maid fairs have given up vending
09:12
all together and i only do the summer
09:14
made the majors in missoula basically
09:16
just
09:17
because that’s how i started really
09:19
getting known i feel like if people came
09:22
to my booth
09:23
at market and so i still want to keep my
09:25
toes in that a bit
09:27
i’ve given up doing private kid lessons
09:30
because it just wasn’t something i
09:31
wanted to do
09:32
i feel like i’ve been in the process of
09:34
shedding a lot of those things that i
09:36
said yesterday
09:37
at the beginning of my career in favor
09:40
of things that
09:42
really made me fulfilled and
09:45
so it’s been interesting to have been
09:47
saying no to things that then would have
09:49
been pretty hard to do
09:50
anyway um it was like um
09:55
an interesting interesting timing to
09:57
have been
09:58
paring those things down um
10:02
yeah but you’re right i absolutely and
10:03
like i know a lot of
10:05
artists who wouldn’t go that route of
10:07
like just say yes but for me it just
10:10
was the right way to go about things so
10:12
i i had a really large
10:15
pool and then it made
10:18
when one part wasn’t working i could
10:21
always rely on another part to
10:23
pay my bills and so it’s always been
10:26
like
10:27
i’ve never felt too insecure because
10:29
i’ve always had something that
10:31
i could put my hand in and be able to go
10:34
okay i can make money this way
10:36
if commissions aren’t working right now
10:38
or but it’s only you know 10 years on
10:40
and i’ve
10:41
finally been like i it’s time for me to
10:43
i need to drop something or i’m never
10:45
gonna sleep
10:46
um you know so like i don’t
10:50
i don’t want to spend the next 10 years
10:52
making products
10:54
for for me like that’s not fun or joyous
10:57
or i’d rather take that energy and
11:01
try to build more clients for my
11:03
illustration work
11:05
so yeah it’s been like i’ve been in a
11:07
period of sort of
11:09
reconfiguring and growth and
11:12
it almost gave me sort of some time to
11:14
just like slow down and be quiet
11:17
and i was getting a lot of family
11:19
commissions during
11:20
this whole period and i i think because
11:23
people are home
11:24
and they’re thinking about their spaces
11:26
more
11:27
so that was really good for me or it
11:30
gave me a focus
11:32
yeah yeah and do you
11:35
draw everything on an ipad or like a
11:38
tablet or how do you how what’s your
11:39
question
11:40
not my family commissions like the
11:43
portrait commissions i do for families
11:45
are all
11:45
pen and marker on paper and then all my
11:48
illustration work
11:50
that is for like but i do a lot for big
11:52
sky brewing company and that’s all on
11:54
the ipad because they often want
11:56
corrections or
11:58
they’ll the packaging is not just the
12:00
can but it’s the bottle
12:01
it’s the bottle it’s the can it’s the
12:04
box that the
12:05
cans would come in plus the box that the
12:07
bottles would come in and
12:09
there’s a lot of different iterations of
12:12
one design
12:14
so the ipad makes it super easy to
12:17
do all those changes and then for my
12:20
personal work i
12:22
mostly do that on pieces of paper
12:27
with real materials and this summer too
12:30
i had a residency
12:31
at the historical museum and that was
12:35
six weeks so i had a studio on site
12:38
and i was able to just dive into
12:41
um historical research about missoula
12:44
and that was re that was another like
12:47
really
12:48
awesome thing to have during this period
12:53
i was going to just say when are we
12:54
going to get to see that that sounds
12:56
awesome
12:56
yeah so i am working on
13:00
it so i did this body of work that
13:03
showed at the missoula art museum
13:04
could be without a summer it was like
13:06
very very
13:08
huge drawings with lots of detail
13:11
you want to talk about a rabbit hole
13:13
head to courtneyblazon.com to see
13:16
courtney’s exhaustive process
13:18
for this project learn the history of
13:20
volcano tambora
13:22
see courtney’s early sketches for the
13:24
work and read the notes that she took
13:26
during her research and i’m doing i’m
13:29
doing something similar with this body
13:31
of work i’m
13:31
going to recreate the period of time in
13:35
missoula which was like
13:37
1890 to 1905 roughly
13:42
on west french street where that section
13:45
of town was called the badlands
13:47
and it was a really i mean it was a it
13:49
was
13:50
where all the brothels were we had a
13:51
chinatown
13:53
so i i’m going to create that i’m hoping
13:56
it probably won’t be for a year
13:58
when i do bodies of work like this i
14:00
think i spend
14:02
about half the time doing the research
14:04
getting the sketches ready
14:06
and then the second half of the time is
14:08
actually doing the work
14:10
so right now i’m still in research and
14:12
development phase but i’ve been able to
14:14
talk to
14:15
so many amazing missoulians who have so
14:18
much knowledge about
14:19
this period of time until march 2021
14:24
you can check out the historical mural
14:26
courtney is talking about
14:28
in the alley next to radius gallery
14:30
called allez
14:31
gallery for a video teaser of the mural
14:33
and a link to the allez gallery website
14:36
visit tellusomething.org
14:40
well i mean it took you a long time to
14:42
do that
14:43
piece at the zack which is beautiful
14:46
and it has like that all of that yeah
14:52
that was about that was about 300 plus
14:55
hours and it was just a lot of work and
14:59
i was i was at the time in a studio that
15:02
was
15:04
that was a lot of work and i was working
15:06
in a really really
15:08
really small space
15:11
so i could only work on four of those
15:12
panels at a time
15:14
[Music]
15:15
this is a little different just because
15:18
in the piece
15:18
for the zax i could kind of just draw
15:22
whatever i wanted
15:23
i didn’t have to try to be true to
15:26
history at all
15:28
so this one will be a little bit more i
15:30
want to honor
15:31
sort of real historical things while
15:34
still keeping my sort of
15:36
surrealistic point of view and
15:40
stuff like that but i love that i love
15:42
that i have pieces that are just like
15:44
sort of
15:46
stream of consciousness and then pieces
15:47
that are more researched and
15:50
right now my my sort of workload and my
15:52
life my work life feels really balanced
15:56
between work that yeah
15:59
like because some of my work i mean it’s
16:01
work right like doing a family portrait
16:03
is work
16:04
because you don’t want to get anything
16:06
wrong and it’s going to be something
16:08
that will be in their home
16:10
and hopefully be passed on to their
16:13
children or
16:14
so those that i take really seriously
16:16
and they feel more like work
16:18
but that mural felt like a lot of work
16:21
but also like really playful
16:23
yeah it seemed like you were having fun
16:25
with it yeah absolutely
16:27
and i just i didn’t really have to
16:31
as long as it wasn’t inappropriate for
16:33
children i really had
16:34
so much freedom i think
16:38
i’ve been really fortunate during this
16:40
period of time to
16:43
have a number of things that have kept
16:46
me afloat
16:48
i don’t suffer from lack of
16:52
creativity i think i just like
16:56
can kind of force myself to do things
16:59
even if i’m not
17:01
feeling it just because it’s like a
17:02
muscle and i’ve already well developed
17:05
go to work yeah it’s a job
17:09
it’s a job like i i don’t feel like i
17:12
have the
17:13
the freedom to not do it just do it
17:16
and that extends to my even my personal
17:20
work even when i don’t want to show up
17:21
and do something for myself like i still
17:23
just
17:24
go just do it you’ll feel better
17:27
so that’s kind of that discipline i’ve
17:30
built over the years has really
17:32
served me and the other side of it is
17:35
like
17:35
my life changed like zero percent in
17:38
terms of
17:38
how i conducted my daily life when we
17:41
were in quarantine my life remained
17:43
exactly the same because i’ve already
17:45
been working from home for a decade
17:47
so nothing changed i was still home
17:50
alone
17:52
right you know like it’s more like just
17:54
a half an hour that you’re actually on
17:56
the zoom and then the rest
17:57
that by seeing friends and stuff like
18:00
that was really
18:01
and i did some virtual you know drink
18:04
dates with friends
18:05
and that was really nice and even like
18:08
how the zac
18:08
did their mini auction online and like
18:11
it was all on
18:12
zoom and it was just you could see
18:14
everybody
18:15
in it that was so cool
18:18
yeah that was a good example of how an
18:21
online event can
18:22
have success but it fell at the right
18:25
time because people were
18:26
so like people were just like what is
18:28
going to happen
18:29
and it felt like so it was so new
18:32
the experience of being like oh we can’t
18:36
we have to stay home and so seeing all
18:38
the faces of the people
18:40
you love in the community online and
18:43
like then seeing people bidding on
18:45
things
18:46
because i think they almost made as much
18:48
as they would of
18:49
having the event which was like what a
18:53
what a great
18:56
it just makes you feel like mozilla is a
18:59
great place
18:59
in that way it is but it definitely is
19:03
yeah it
19:03
it definitely is i just also think that
19:06
experience
19:07
has kind of it it couldn’t be recreated
19:10
again because i think now we’re so used
19:12
to this
19:13
i don’t know i maybe i’m wrong but it
19:15
just seems like
19:16
we’ve kind of gotten used to what it
19:18
means to be staying within our circle
19:20
and we’re all kind of changed because
19:24
of it and both negatively and positively
19:28
yeah you’re talking about zoom meetings
19:32
and you’re only on the call for the time
19:34
that you’re on the call and that’s it
19:35
and you can go back to work
19:37
yeah that’s been my experience too and
19:39
it’s like i kind of don’t
19:40
want to have coffee meetings again
19:44
i know i’d like to just go like let’s
19:46
just do zoom
19:47
like this is great i don’t need to go
19:50
out and spend that extra time
19:55
you know like i it doesn’t it feel like
19:57
this is gonna kind of change how people
19:59
operate
20:00
i think so i mean certainly certainly
20:03
for me you know i had somebody say hey
20:05
do you want to go have a socially
20:06
distant coffee and i was like no i don’t
20:08
actually
20:09
yeah because because i’m working and
20:12
if i leave the house that means that’s
20:15
you know half an hour to get to wherever
20:17
we’re going to meet
20:18
the time that we’re meeting and then
20:20
another half an hour to 45 minutes to
20:22
get home oh wait i
20:24
i actually i can go yeah i do need to
20:27
get
20:28
a loaf of bread or you know like no
20:30
exactly
20:33
yeah let’s have a half hour meeting and
20:35
like that’s the end of it and now i’ll
20:36
go back to work
20:38
yeah i love that too it’s actually
20:40
that’s become something that
20:42
i feel like is going to be really
20:44
beneficial
20:45
for me just be like let’s just do this
20:48
online
20:49
and that’s going to be so much easier
20:51
for everybody
20:52
i think if you’re somebody who needs
20:54
people you’re going to want to do that
20:56
anyway but
20:57
i kind of like being just in my zone
20:59
when i’m in the middle of work i just
21:01
want to stay there and that
21:03
needing stuff just breaks it up too much
21:06
yeah for sure you kind of come back
21:08
feeling unfocused or you’re like
21:10
you end up running a bunch of errands
21:12
just because you’re already out
21:14
yep so yeah going back to
21:17
work and art yeah i bet you if i had
21:20
asked you you know this year to do
21:22
something you might say no because
21:23
you’re
21:24
paring that down so thank you so much
21:27
for
21:28
making no not in that way actually i was
21:32
more just talking about like
21:34
vending oh yeah it was more just like
21:37
vending and then yeah but stuff like
21:39
that i still love doing any opportunity
21:41
i
21:41
have where i’m actually just drawing i
21:44
can’t say no to that
21:46
it’s like more just like i like to draw
21:48
and any excuse to draw
21:49
it was just like the things in which i
21:51
wasn’t actually just doing the thing i
21:53
want to do
21:54
i don’t want to do the peripheral stuff
21:56
i just want to do the art
21:58
i know what i’m doing but if somebody
22:01
wanted to know
22:02
how do you become an artist i’d be like
22:03
you just work hard
22:05
there’s no secret you’re just
22:08
you work hard you’re tenacious you
22:12
you want it more than the other person
22:14
who would want it i don’t know
22:17
um you’d be nice be nice to people but
22:20
also
22:20
be honest or not that honesty and nice
22:24
mister
22:25
but i mean be transparent if you want
22:28
comp
22:28
amount of money for your work say it
22:31
make a contract i mean there’s just so
22:32
many things that like and maybe those
22:34
are
22:34
valuable things to tell people now that
22:37
i’m thinking about
22:37
like these aren’t obvious for me i
22:40
always think
22:41
be an easy person to work with but don’t
22:43
be a pushover
22:44
and that feels like the best advice that
22:47
i was given was
22:48
be tough but always be fair and
22:52
keep record keep track of every
22:54
interaction you have
22:55
just in case somebody says you didn’t
22:58
tell me that right
23:00
or whatever right maybe it’s not obvious
23:03
it feels obvious to me
23:05
but because you’ve been doing it for 10
23:07
years
23:08
right right and isn’t it funny it’s like
23:11
you can do it as many years as you want
23:13
it still feels new like oh what if i
23:16
what if i can’t do it anymore
23:19
yeah for me it was important for my life
23:22
and especially important for my work
23:24
that i had a studio at home
23:26
where i could shut the door where like
23:29
at a certain time
23:30
at the end of the day i just said i’m
23:32
not looking at that piece of work
23:33
anymore
23:34
in my little place in the basement it
23:36
was there all the time
23:38
and it was making me crazy
23:42
the mental things just be like i’m
23:44
shutting the door on that
23:46
and i’m moving on to another part of my
23:48
day
23:49
and i yeah i mean i work more than
23:52
i should but i’ve been working really
23:55
hard also just on like
23:56
i gotta sleep more i need to find
23:59
some other hobbies not really but i mean
24:03
you know yeah i also need a little
24:06
balance in my life
24:08
it’s been nice also i’ve been finding a
24:10
lot of solace and
24:12
hiking this period
24:16
of times it’s been like yeah it’s just
24:20
remembering that that’s one of the great
24:22
reasons to live
24:23
in missoula is that you could every day
24:26
of the week you could go to a different
24:28
hiking spot
24:30
has been very very very beneficial for
24:34
my brain
24:35
yep after the unexpected and refreshing
24:38
business advice workshop
24:40
we started talking about the poster that
24:42
courtney produced
24:43
for tell something so i wanted to ask
24:45
you about
24:46
the poster that you made for us yeah
24:50
did you immediately know what you were
24:53
going to draw when i asked you to do it
24:55
and you knew what the theme was or
24:58
um i actually did some research
25:02
about like where’s my i thought i would
25:05
grab
25:05
my fingers i gotta grab it to look at it
25:09
because
25:10
so it was um because i think i like
25:13
i kind of knew pretty quickly what i was
25:15
gonna do for it
25:17
and i usually settle on an idea pretty
25:21
quickly
25:23
and i don’t know if that’s just because
25:24
i’m generally like
25:26
this is the time i have allotted for
25:28
this you better snap to it
25:31
how many events have you had in posters
25:35
at the beginning i was having
25:39
an artist design like a 24 by 36
25:42
screen print and we would just use that
25:45
same just
25:47
yeah and like with the idea being we
25:49
would sell some and nobody actually
25:51
wanted to buy anything that big
25:53
so i have you know lots of those if you
25:56
want one
25:58
um but we would just like
26:02
change the color scheme each for each
26:05
event to
26:06
differentiate it from each other
26:09
right and then
26:12
i decided you know that’s not okay
26:15
uh let’s make it really special and
26:17
let’s highlight different artists in
26:19
missoula
26:20
so then i don’t know when i made that
26:22
choice but
26:23
it was like maybe the fourth year that
26:26
we were going
26:28
right and four different artists every
26:30
year and that was
26:31
pretty awesome and and so before covet
26:34
hit
26:35
i got marlowe to frame i
26:39
had him printed on nice paper
26:42
and she framed every single poster that
26:45
we’ve ever had and we were going to have
26:46
an art show the art of tell us something
26:48
[Music]
26:50
because of our 10-year anniversary right
26:53
and so
26:54
i’m counting them now one two three four
26:58
five six i don’t know there’s like
27:02
50 something like that that’s amazing
27:06
yeah and so i paid her to frame the
27:09
posters and then coveted came and i was
27:11
like well we can’t have an art show now
27:13
and so i’ve got all these
27:15
sitting in my living room oh my gosh
27:19
yeah but she did it
27:24
uh it was going to be a quiet coffee
27:27
it’ll happen at some point i hope so you
27:30
know when we’re allowed to get back
27:32
together again
27:33
yeah so i i
27:37
i kind of like because i like i have a
27:39
hard time
27:40
hooking into being excited about a
27:43
project until i can
27:44
find some intellectual
27:48
excitement in it so i tend to just look
27:51
like if the word was
27:52
chance so i just started to look up like
27:55
chance
27:56
and then like what it was historically
28:00
and then like like the roman gods of
28:03
trance
28:03
and i think like i was kind of just
28:06
that’s the way i can get kind of excited
28:08
about it if i feel like it has a back
28:10
story
28:11
i always think it’s like an actor who
28:14
who needs a backstory for their
28:15
character even if
28:18
even if nobody knows it but it gives
28:19
them uh
28:21
a way to be really excited and invested
28:24
in what they’re doing
28:26
so i kind of knew as soon as i picked
28:29
that one and i think it was because the
28:31
word
28:31
because you gave me options i think of
28:34
two or three
28:36
yeah ones yeah and i think i picked
28:39
chance
28:39
right away because i knew it would have
28:41
like i could come up with something that
28:45
had a narrative behind it yeah
28:48
and that because because until or you
28:51
know mentally that’s just what i need to
28:53
like
28:54
get myself invested so i think like
28:58
the chance like i looked up like chance
29:01
meaning and then like kind of what it
29:04
would have meant in like
29:05
the roman period or the greek period and
29:09
then like luck of the draw and
29:12
and the dice are kind of obvious but i
29:14
use little sort of ancient
29:16
looking dice and
29:20
yeah okay so for tuna is that your name
29:25
yes for tuna yeah so i kind of knew
29:28
right away
29:29
what like that it would go that route
29:32
and then i would kind of try to figure
29:34
it out in that
29:37
but i didn’t want her to be like
29:39
blindfolded or anything
29:41
because she’s both greek it was like
29:43
yeah
29:44
i had an artist i was working with for a
29:47
show
29:48
in helena the theme was didn’t see that
29:51
coming
29:52
uh-huh and she and she without me asking
29:55
her to
29:56
she provided me three proof of concept
29:59
drawings and said you know which one do
30:01
you like yeah and one of them
30:03
featured a girl in a blindfold and i was
30:05
like
30:07
you know i get it i get it and also
30:10
like think about how people will feel
30:14
when they see that and she was like oh i
30:15
never even considered
30:17
yeah right
30:20
yeah yeah thanks for not putting a
30:22
blindfold on her
30:24
yeah so the thing on her head is
30:26
supposed to be her blindfolded
30:28
blindfold pulled up as if she’s seeing
30:32
yeah i mean and that’s just something
30:33
that i did like that you know because
30:35
then i was including what would have
30:36
been in the original representation but
30:39
it was in a different format because
30:41
like i don’t think it’s a good idea to
30:42
have
30:43
a blindfolded person because you don’t
30:45
no
30:46
yeah it just doesn’t make you’re right
30:49
it doesn’t make people
30:50
feel comfortable and if that’s your aim
30:53
but for a poster it’s not
30:55
did she have other concepts though that
30:57
made
30:58
oh yeah yeah she did a great she did an
31:00
awesome job and it was fun you know it
31:02
was fun to have somebody
31:05
ask me right right i know like
31:08
that’s not always the case right some of
31:11
us don’t
31:11
necessarily sketch out concepts and then
31:14
you just go for it
31:16
yeah and i do like it because when i do
31:20
um
31:21
like for the beer labels i have to have
31:23
concept drawings
31:25
yeah and when i’m doing something like
31:28
that i guess
31:29
yes you did give me the choice and i was
31:31
like oh well i’ll just i’ll just dive in
31:33
which is cool yeah yeah it’s
31:36
but it is it’s also nice to have that
31:38
option
31:40
i think sometimes and also like what if
31:41
she had chosen the blindfolded one you
31:43
would have been like
31:44
oh yeah i would have paid her and then
31:47
like
31:47
done something else you know like right
31:50
i would have been like well here’s your
31:52
money i can’t use this
31:54
but we had an agreement and you and you
31:56
and you met your side of the agreement
31:57
and i didn’t give you clear enough
31:59
instructions
32:00
my fault you know has it been
32:02
interesting working with artists
32:04
do you find that they’re all kind of
32:06
similar
32:07
in a way and how they approach work
32:10
or they taught me a lot about about
32:13
communicating right
32:14
right the the guidelines that i gave you
32:18
once you said you wanted to do it exist
32:20
because
32:22
some artists didn’t hit any of those
32:24
points and that was like
32:26
well they didn’t because i told them to
32:28
do whatever they wanted and they did
32:31
and then they gave me a piece of work
32:33
that i couldn’t use
32:34
and it’s because right so that’s why i’m
32:37
like okay it has to have
32:39
some sort of living thing in it you know
32:42
and it has to be
32:43
easy to read and you know all that stuff
32:45
yeah
32:46
and some you know some artists gave me
32:48
like a really beautiful piece of art but
32:49
it doesn’t have
32:51
the information that is necessary to
32:53
promote an event on it you know yeah
32:56
yeah and i think so like really good
32:58
that you provide
33:00
provide those now because i think
33:02
artists even if they think they don’t
33:04
want them they for this case they need
33:07
to have
33:08
some guidelines for sure
33:12
yeah and i i mean yeah i made
33:15
assumptions right
33:16
oh i’m hiring courtney blaizon she knows
33:19
how to do this stuff
33:21
and then courtney blazon gives me a
33:22
piece of work that it’s like beautiful
33:24
but the lettering is such that i can’t
33:27
read it you know like i’m
33:29
using you just so that i’m not pointing
33:31
out you know anybody else but
33:33
and i’m not saying that you did that you
33:35
definitely didn’t you gave me
33:38
a beautiful poster that it was easy to
33:40
read and we sold out the wilma
33:42
you know oh good i thought it looked so
33:45
good when i saw it like around the
33:48
around the town you know when it’s
33:50
because you just suck some up
33:52
right oh yeah they were everywhere yeah
33:55
yeah it was just exciting to see it i
33:57
was like that was
33:58
good yeah it does it looks great
34:02
and it was fun too like even from the
34:04
street you could tell what it was
34:06
if you were just riding your bike down
34:08
the road you might not be able to read
34:10
it because you were going fast but
34:13
yeah it was it was a great position yeah
34:16
it’s funny i i’m always telling stories
34:19
to people and they’re always like
34:20
particularly i have like a pretty
34:22
interesting life with my dad
34:24
and people are always saying you should
34:26
try to do something for tell us
34:28
something
34:29
and i feel like that would make me want
34:30
to vomit just the thought of
34:32
standing up in front of a crowd i mean i
34:36
know i could do it probably and
34:39
because i’m kind of also a cam
34:43
you know like i i like to chat
34:46
but i’m sure i could but do people want
34:49
to vomit
34:50
it’s kind of scary so
34:54
telling a story is scary and
34:58
also really fun and if you can take that
35:01
nervous
35:02
energy and turn it into you know it’s
35:03
energy so you can manipulate it to your
35:05
will
35:06
yeah and so take that nervous energy and
35:09
turn it into an
35:10
enthusiasm or excitement or whatever
35:13
you need to get through the story but by
35:16
the time you hit that stage
35:18
you’ve practiced your story enough and
35:19
you’ve gotten enough feedback from
35:22
not just other storytellers but me you
35:24
know i’m like that’s part of my job is
35:26
to
35:27
help you crash because you don’t go up
35:28
there and tell a story you like practice
35:31
and you
35:31
you people tell you what is working and
35:34
what isn’t working
35:35
and stuff like that yeah i mean in the
35:38
early days
35:39
it was just get up there and do it and
35:42
thankfully
35:43
people did great at that but as things
35:46
started progressing
35:47
i realized that i need to also step up
35:50
my game and
35:51
help them craft their story somebody
35:54
might tell me a story and it’s like
35:55
three minutes long and it’s like that’s
35:57
not your full story let’s think about
35:59
this and
36:00
and then by the time they get on the
36:02
stage it’s a beautiful piece of art you
36:03
know
36:04
wow yeah that’s amazing yeah that’s a
36:08
gift that you’re giving the community
36:10
to and hopefully like you feel
36:13
appreciated by
36:15
the you know the community i
36:18
feel really lucky really like that like
36:21
i i’m always cutting a deadline right to
36:23
the end
36:24
myself it gives you a
36:28
fire under your butt but it’s like it’s
36:31
just like a mental exercise of
36:33
i don’t care if anybody listens this is
36:36
what i do yeah yeah
36:39
i mean because i’m the same way like
36:41
i’ll force myself to finish a piece of
36:43
work that’s for me but i’m like
36:45
literally nobody but me cares
36:48
but it’s important for my mental
36:51
well-being to just stay
36:53
somewhere in that realm of
36:56
holding myself accountable i’m sure for
36:58
some people it’s other things like
37:01
exercise and sleep and what you’re
37:03
eating
37:04
for some of it’s related to like i just
37:06
need to do this to stay
37:09
accountable to myself and
37:12
like i like to dress up every day
37:13
whether i’m leaving home or not
37:15
and it’s just my way of saying like okay
37:17
you’re working now
37:19
and yeah yeah stuff like that
37:23
i don’t know i like i like the act of
37:25
changing out
37:26
of my sleeping clothes into something
37:28
that is
37:29
about being present and
37:33
focused and yeah
37:36
yeah well courtney thank you for talking
37:39
with me today i’m speaking of work
37:41
i like i do have to go to work okay well
37:44
have a good day mark and thanks for
37:47
chatting with me
37:48
thank you courtney you have an awesome
37:50
day as well and uh maybe i’ll see you
37:52
around in the neighborhood
37:53
sounds good bye all right bye

I worked with the team at Gecko Designs to rethink the Tell Us Something website back in 2017 and they have been providing hosting and routine maintenance for the website ever since. Join head honcha Melissa Kaplan and me for an in-depth vist about Gecko Designs, the Tell Us Something experience, and telling a story on the Tell Us Something stage. After our conversation, you can hear the story as she shared it with her husband and head honcho of Gecko Designs, Gabriel Silverman.
This week on the podcast, Dagny Deutchman and I revisit the story that she shared about guiding a river trip on the Salmon River. In the story, she shared how she dealt with a client who inappropriately expressed his displeasure at having to use a groover. We talk about how she might handle that differently. Dagney shares how Tell Us Something changed her life and we talk about some of the sleep research she’s been doing as she pursues her PhD.
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