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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.

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.

 

Stories of the difficulty of being gluten intolerant while traveling in China, being reminded of the magic in life, the complex feelings of a new mother, learning to ride the bus in a new country, and the journey to fix a botched tattoo. Note that the quality of the sound is not as perfect as we would like it to be. These stories are really worthwhile and we want you to hear them. Thank you.

Transcript : Forward to Better - Part 1

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

Sasha Vermel: With a package on the way we get on a 30 hour bus ride from lumper bond vows to convene China, where you muck around and coming in Hiller package arrives, we get it. We bring it back to our hospital and it is like Christmas morning.

Marc Moss: This week on the podcast, five storytellers share their true personal story on the theme “Forward to Better”.

Sara Close: Talking about kids, about love…

Marc Moss: Their stories were recorded live in-person in front of a sold-out crowd on August 10, 2021 at Bonner Park Bandshell Missoula, MT.

Paul Mwingwa: I saw the bus number two, live in the stations. Where does the bus come from?

Jen Certa: And I just felt this pressure, like it was now or never.

Marc Moss: Next week, we’ll hear the final story of the night, told in tandem by two storytellers. More on that later.

Marc Moss: We wouldn’t have been able to produce this event without the help of our title sponsor, Blackfoot Communications. We are so grateful to the team at Blackfoot for their support not only financially, but also for providing volunteers to help staff the event. Volunteers screened guests for COVID, verified ticket-holders and welcomed guests as they arrived at the performance space. Thank you so much to everyone over at Blackfoot Communications for their support. Learn more about Blackfoot over at blackfoot.com.

Marc Moss: Our first story comes to us from Sasha Vermel. Sasha calls her story “Pieces of Home in Far Off Lands”.

Marc Moss: Thanks for listening.

Sasha Vermel: So I’m walking into a post office, including China. It’s a sleepy little college town of 6.6 million people that you’ve probably never heard of. And with my husband in between the two of us, we know about five words of Mandarin. So we are armed only with a first-generation iPhone and a determination to walk out of here with our package.

Sasha Vermel: So we load up the beta version of Google translate. Do you have our package? The words show on the screen, the woman reads them and she speaks into the screen and we wait as the words come up and it says. Where is the chamber of secrets?

Sasha Vermel: I don’t know is that where our packages we’re able to work it out. And she arrived out in the warehouse with our great big package and we legally take it back to our hostel. Now I have always had a strong sense of wanderlust. I was the kind of insufferable 17 year old would sit at the back of break espresso with my best friend, Kendra and Friday at 4:00 PM.

Sasha Vermel: We would read the independent and talk about how much we wish we were growing up in Paris or Tokyo or Seattle. Cause it was the nineties. Now I come by this honestly, there’s these stories that we get from our parents. And this is the story that I got from my mother. Sh e thought that getting married men liberation from her father’s house, she thought it meant travel.

Sasha Vermel: Seeing some places, maybe move into Boulder. But the truth of the matter is they were 20 and 21 years old and they didn’t have any money to travel. And then by the time they did, she was so debilitated by chronic migraines and depression that she didn’t get out of bed two days a week. So the idea of traveling and of going anywhere just really stressed her out.

Sasha Vermel: So when I came into my own, my form of rebellion was to say that I was not going to live my mother’s life. I was going to do all the traveling and all the adventuring that she wasn’t able to do. So now I’m 22, I’m at the iron horse, having a beer with my aunties. I am explaining to them that I have no interest in white picket fences or literally gangs.

Sasha Vermel: They looked at me like, what, what, what, what do you want? I looked at them and said, I want the world. Fast forward. I’m 30 years old and I’m newly married. My husband run that’s, it’s run like DMC. Some of you’re old enough to get that reference. Um, so he’s sort of a six foot, one Israeli J Gillen hall. And he looks at me and he says, I’m ready to have babies only.

Sasha Vermel: I’m still grieving. My mother committed suicide two years before this. And all I wanted was to run away. So I look at him and I say, I’ve never been to India or Thailand. Now the man I married is not one to back away from a challenge. So he says, no, no, no, no, no. You’re thinking too small. What if we just put everything we have into storage and just go traveling and to help, we don’t want to travel anymore.

Sasha Vermel: So a couple of months. We are off. We go to Israel, Jordan Egypt, we live in a beach in India and do yoga for a month. We go to Northern Thailand on motor scooters and travel across it. We attend a rocket festival in Laos. After six months of this, we get to a crossroads where we can’t go on the path that I was planning and run really wants to go to China.

Sasha Vermel: Now, China was the one place that actually scared me. This felt like a little bit far off the backpackers trail that we were on. I mean, we didn’t speak Mandarin and I didn’t really expect people in China to speak English. Um, and then on top of that, I’m gluten intolerant. This means that I can eat anything that has wheat in it, including soy cells.

Sasha Vermel: So if I lose, I get sharp stabbing pains for about two days. And then for the next two weeks, I just feel bloated and constantly hungry. It’s a big deal for my body. So I’m just thinking, how on earth do we go to China where I can’t eat. Or sauce. So I’m not going to back down from this challenge though. So we agreed to contact my dad and Missoula, and he puts together a package of gluten-free food from the good crackers and tasty bites and, uh, some instant oatmeal and a jar of peanut butter, along with a couple of pairs of hiking boots to supplement the flip flops we’ve been traveling in and new underwear.

Sasha Vermel: So we can replace the four pairs that we have been rotating through for the past six months with a package on the way we get on a 30 hour bus ride from long Cavon vows to convenience. Where you muck around in coming until her package arrives, we get it. We bring it back to our hospital and it is like Christmas morning.

Sasha Vermel: We pull out the things I try on the shoes they fit. I leave, leave, throw away the old Fred bear underwear. And I hold a lock, my jar of peanut butter that represents freedom insecurity. And the next day we’re off to our next adventure. We head towards the intersection of Tibet and Shangri-La, which in this case is an actual city.

Sasha Vermel: We’re going to do something called the tiger. Leaping Gorge Trek. We arrive at tiger leaping Gorge at 8:00 AM on a Misty morning in may. Um, it is sort of heavy gray clouds against the blue sky. As we start our ascent below us is a big river, just heavy with spring rock and along the path we see these houses.

Sasha Vermel: And they have shutters and flower window boxes like a Swiss chalet, but they also have the sort of curved Chinese roots, you know, it’s it’s rice patties and this was else it’s sort of disorienting. And I think, oh my God, I can’t wait to tell my mom about this. And then there’s that, that green that comes up when you have a thought that you really want to show with someone who, who isn’t there to receive that anymore.

Sasha Vermel: We, we continue on the trail. We do the 29 switchbacks to get to a place called the knock seat guest house. We’re doing this hike, nicest load. So it’s early afternoon and we’re going to call it quits from the day and just stay there overnight. And so I sit down at a chair, overlooking the courtyard. I hope that my backpack, I pulled out the jar of peanut butter.

Sasha Vermel: I opened the lid, locked the seal cause I haven’t had any yet. And I grabbed my spoon and I take them. And it’s smooth and again, a little, a little crunchy and it’s sweet and salty, and it tastes like comfort. It tastes like home. And as they go to take another bite, we hear that. It sounds because there’s construction going on.

Sasha Vermel: Now. My husband is really up for adventure, but he is not up for construction noises. So he comes over to me and he’s like, let’s go, I’m hungry. And I’m tired. Obviously I’m really bloated for being Chinese food, but it’s not rich having a fund. So I grabbed my backpack. He grabbed the bag of peanut butter and it’s an, a paper bags as he lifted up that glass jar of organic peanut butter shoots out the bottom and splats on the flagstones below is just the butter. Right. But we continue on 10 feet apart in silence because I’m not ready to talk to him.

Sasha Vermel: Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that

Sasha Vermel: softening, but I’m not quite ready to let it go. So as we were almost getting to the next guest house and another sensation comes up in my body because I really have to be, and on one side of me is the mountain. And on the other side of me is a sheer cliff. So this isn’t actually like a real great place to just go.

Sasha Vermel: So we hustle up the last little bit until we get to the halfway guest out, which is at the summit of this particular trip we walk in and it kind of looks like bizarro world, like McDonald lodge right there. And I follow the infographic signs down through the hallways, out to the edge. And then there’s this bathroom stall.

Sasha Vermel: I opened the door and looked down and there’s the two ceramic footpads and the hole in the ground and a squat toilet. There’s a wall on this side of the. At a wall on this side of me and in front of me, where there would usually be a wall. There’s nothing like sky and mountains where the apex of this hike.

Sasha Vermel: And as I undo my button and like go to squat, like I feel kind of dizzy. The view looks like I’m at an elevator right in front of the mission mountain. And if you’ve ever been on a really good hike, you get to the top of the mountain. And there’s this moment where the mountains across from you seem so close.

Sasha Vermel: It’s like, you can touch them. It’s like communing with the divine was AP. I started to laugh. I did it. I felt the most beautiful squat toilet you in the world. I’ve traveled 10,000 miles. And now that I’ve gotten here, it kind of looks like Montana.

Sasha Vermel: So I think to myself, what are you still trying to prove? You’ve been running all the way around the room all the way around the world, and running’s not going to bring your mom back. Maybe, maybe you just have to make peace with the fact that she chose her own ending. Maybe, maybe it’s okay to not try to rewrite the story anymore or just continue to live hero. Thank you.

Marc: Thanks, Sasha.

Sasha Vermel passionately believes that we all have a basic need to hear and tell stories. By day, she is a real estate agent with a sewing and design habit. Born and raised in Missoula, MT she earned a BFA from U of M. In her former life she worked in theater costume shops across the West and frequently performed on stage at Bona Fide and Bawdy Storytelling events in San Francisco.

Marc Moss: Our next story comes to us from Sara Close.

Marc Moss: Sensitive listeners please be aware that Sara’s story mentions suicidal thoughts.

Marc Moss: Sara calls her story “A Lesson in Magic”

Marc Moss: Thanks for listening.

Sarah Close: Okay. So this whole story starts on my bedroom floor. Years ago, I was sitting in my room with my back against my dad, basically my dresser, our house was yellow and the walls in cyber yellow. And so the light was coming in from the south and kind of like bouncing off the walls. And it was really beautiful.

Sarah Close: Um, my two-year-old was feeding across the house soundly and it was just really quiet, maybe big car passing by outside. So for all intents and purposes is beautiful fall day. And then sitting there and I looked down at my hand and I’m holding my phone and shaky and I feel a little panicky. And I’m not really totally sure where to begin just suicide hotline.

Sarah Close: So obviously like I’m up here on stage. This is not a sad story. Like this whole thing turns out. Okay. Um, and so not still the punchline before we get there, but I won’t tell you about a couple of years prior to that there was a phone with a woman that I really respected. I was interviewing her to be a speaker at a conference that I helped to create to this bigger score.

Sarah Close: And she’s a professional storyteller. And so I’m, I’m interviewing her and asking her about all these different, amazing things with it, for work. She’d also just become a mom. So we worked, we kind of sidetracked into more like life land and not work land and was asking me because I’d known her for a really long time.

Sarah Close: And she finally said this to her, like, do you ever, like, have you ever thought about telling your story? And I. Honestly in thinking back on this limit, like, I don’t really remember what came out of my mouth. I just remember that my hand had been through scribbling notes through this whole thing. And I looked down at, at what I was writing and I wrote the words I believe in magic.

Sarah Close: And I do the hot thing, not the kind of like pull quarter out of your ear magic, which my daughter would be super stoked about. And I still haven’t figured it out, but, but like synchronicity, you know, and those, those moments about goosebumps and those sort of like moments of connection in the work in the world is sort of like universal whacked upside the head.

Sarah Close: Not because those things happen to me all the time, but because when they do, I kind of know that I’m on the right path and honest to God magic has helped me turn some of the hardest moments in my life into moments of beauty. And so just to give an example of what I mean by that years ago, um, I lost my partner in an avalanche.

Sarah Close: It’s definitely the hardest, probably most significant moment I’d had with grief to date. I was 24 years old. And for some reason, I, at 24 years old, got tasked with buying and earn, I don’t know, like how many 24 year olds have to go through the process of buying a Fern. But because I knew that was going to be hard.

Sarah Close: I enlisted the friend, didn’t come with me to make sure that I didn’t end up in some sort of like sad person puddle on the floor. Like whatever kind of store sells earns, because I didn’t know what that was at that time. So we’re in the car and we’re driving and he turns to me and he was like, Sarah, like, what do you think the Aaron’s going to look like?

Sarah Close: I was like, well, Johnny, or is that his spirit animal is a tiger. So I bet it’s going to have a tire on it. I was like, kind of joking about, but kind of also like, felt serious about it. We pull into the parking lot, get out of the car and we’d go into the store and we open the doors and walk in, literally there’s the shelf right in the center of the store.

Sarah Close: And you guys have not even joking. There is like one wooden box on the shelf with the tire on it. And I was like, okay, that feels kind of magical. And about six months later from that, uh, I went home with my parents for the holiday. It was my first holiday I had spent without my partner in a really long time.

Sarah Close: And I was so thankful obviously for the parents, for taking me in, um, beyond like, I didn’t really want to be there. You know, like I just, I didn’t want to be there. Like I wanted to with this person and put in, um, and my parents were so amazing. My mom at one point went downstairs to the basement, she friends back on the shoe box and it’s full of those.

Sarah Close: Um, like CPS heathered old photos, and then we start going through them. They’re all these pictures of beds. Is there a way I can go grab a pen? Like you just never know when one of us, isn’t going to be around to tell you who’s in these photos, like, I’ll tell you, you write the names on the back, like, great.

Sarah Close: So we did, this is perfect whole beautiful complete evening. And my dad has to be like, no, I didn’t know. And that was hard, you know, but still it was magical. It was like the universe. This is setting me up to have this experience that I needed to have. I know, like, even though I didn’t know it at the time, so anyways, before I like moved the heck out on you guys, to going back to that moment on my floor, in my bedroom, like there was not a lot of magic happening in that moment.

Sarah Close: I. I just, I was so profoundly sad that it actually physically hurts. Um, and like mark said, I teach yoga. So like any good yoga teacher does, you’re like how you can grab it to be my way out of this. So I’m like trying to pull all these moments of like the things that I was thankful for all these pieces that I was thankful for, because maybe one of them would help me pull myself out of this and it just wasn’t happening.

Sarah Close: So I closed my eyes and I found the number at the top of the Google search and I hit call and the phone rang, and then this message hotlines was closed. I mean, right. Like suicide hotline. Anyway, that’s like a whole different conversation, but the hotline. So I am sitting in there like, holy hell, this was like a really big move.

Sarah Close: And now you’re, and I didn’t know what to do. And this little voice comes on and it’s like, if you’d like to be transferred to our sister hotline press, and I’m like, well, why the hell not like bunches, Crestline? So we’re here. So I press one and it transfers me. And then I kept this God awful, whole music, like the kind of like really annoyingly, upbeat, even if you’re not like a suicidal, depressed person calling for help, it was like the worst.

Sarah Close: And I’m waiting and waiting and waiting. And then this worst picks up at the end of the line. I’m like, oh, thank goodness somebody is here. Somebody is going to help. And she has the thickest. Yes. Jamaican accent. I have ever heard in my entire life. And I literally was like, oh my gosh, customer service.

Sarah Close: Feel like I’m all sure you even know what to do with this. I was so frustrated. But she started talking and she had this like warm speak tone. And so I kind of hung on and she started asking me all these questions, like the right ones that you’d expect somebody to ask, like, do you have a plan? No. Are you in immediate danger? No.

Sarah Close: Is there anybody else in the house to hang up the phone? Cause there was somebody in the house and it was the very person that I took every breath for that. I take everybody for that. I never want to leave this world ever. And for was. So decently across the house with zero idea what was happening first of all, and if I said, yeah, my daughter’s here like a bad mom.

Sarah Close: I could give a reason the child, if she can hold tight services. And for, I would like in this whole thought process in my head and the words came out, yes, my daughter’s here and Jamaican woman transformed an instant into Jamaican mama. I will spare you guys, my Jamaican accent, as I’m going through all these things with her, she was like, oh my gosh, how old is she?

Sarah Close: What’s her name? And we spent the next, like 20 minutes talking about kids about love, about how hard those early childhood years are about our philosophies on everything, being a fades about motherhood, about our moms. And I swear, I could’ve just hung out in that space with her in my room. Forever. It felt like sitting with my mom until eventually we had to both realize like, okay, like I called you and you’re the person.

Sarah Close: And I like, this is a suicide hotline. So she’s like, Hey, it’s holiday weekends, everything’s closed, everything’s closed. And let’s just like, steer you in efficient, getting help. Where are you? And I’m like, where I’m in Missoula. She’s like, well, where’s that? How do you spell it? Cause like everybody asked that, when did you say this word to everybody?

Sarah Close: It’s not here. So I’m like, oh, am I like, I’m in Montana? Where are you? She’s like, oh, I’m in Washington DC. And I said, well, what side? Cause there’s two for anybody that has been there, there’s a marijuana number. Then you decide, she said, I’m on the Maryland side. And I was like, okay, well where in their lens?

Sarah Close: Oh, our county, do you know it? And I literally started to feel the hair come up on the back of my neck because he didn’t know it. And I kind of knew where this was going. And I said, where in Harvard. She said I’m in Columbia. And I’m like, where I’m at Howard county, general hospital. You guys like to make an mama, Jamaican lady, whatever you want to call her was not in Jamaica.

Sarah Close: She was literally working in the hospital where I was born, like on the other side of the country. And she could have probably like my mom’s house was across the street and I was probably in the house we were talking. She probably could have hugged the rock out the window, my parents’ house. And I didn’t know anything else to say other than I, I think you’re my angel, you know, it was just, uh, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more held in my entire life and I, would’ve never connected with.

Sarah Close: Jamaican mama angel, which she doesn’t know that I called her this, it might make a mama angel, had I not Googled or pressed one or waited through that awful holding music or like resisting the shame storm or any of those cases, you know, like there was so many moments along the way to let your stigma and shame and should took the wheel and just lost.

Sarah Close: Um, and then coming out of that experience, I think about my daughter was talking about this earlier today, which she always tells me you’re a calm things can be sad and happy. And I think I was just stuck in this dichotomy of being lost and that really had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t about being lost or about being found, but remembering that we’re always, and in all the ways, connecting to each other, you know, in sometimes.

Sarah Close: Universal hotline.

Marc Moss: Thanks, Sara. Remember, You are not alone. Reach out. | Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255 | projecttomorrowmt.org | “text MT” to 741-741

Marc Moss: Sara Close is a strategist and convener of good ideas and good people. Director by day, yoga teacher by night, but a mom all the time, she’s happiest on the water, on trails, or on the trampoline… but definitely not on snow and is still trying to figure out how to do winter in Montana right.

Marc Moss: Lauren Gonzalez is up next, with a story that she calls “No Girls Allowed”.

Marc Moss: Thanks for listening.

Lauren Gonzalez: All right. Um, where did I start? Do I start now? Okay. All right. Where to begin? Um, I had never wished so hard in my life. To see a penis. Wait, let me back up. Let me back up a little bit. I didn’t always want kids, but when I finally decided my clock is ticking down at the time, my husband and I went ahead and had one and we were delighted, not just because it was a healthy baby, but because it was a moment he got the boy that he could name after his brother who had passed several years previously.

Lauren Gonzalez: And I got the boy that I wanted because girls are mean, and they’re manipulative. I’ve lived the experience. And I know, but also because when I was about eight years old, I got my first babysitting gig and I was tasked with babysitting this girl named Hannah, who was about three years old and somehow our activities together devolved into her throwing toys at me and blocks and like hard matchbox cars like toys hurt when they hit.

Lauren Gonzalez: If you didn’t know. Um, and so I just ended up not knowing what to do. I so desperately wanted to do a good job. Um, and I didn’t want to admit that I needed any help. So I ended up just cowering in the corner and crying tears, streaming down my face and accrues to me. Now I could have left the room, but you don’t, you do what you do in the moment.

Lauren Gonzalez: Um, and it, it was traumatic. And I knew from then on, you know, if I ever have kids one day, no girls. Thanks. Um, so this was my life plan and I knew that it would work out because I just, I couldn’t envision myself mothering girls. So obviously I wouldn’t have any that’s how life works. Right. Um, so we had this baby, Joey, our first born, super mellow, easy baby.

Lauren Gonzalez: So I’m like, man, we’re good parents. Let’s go ahead and have like three to seven more right away. So we get pregnant right away, um, with the second and right away. Off, like I know evil is growing inside. Experience was like a cush Cadillac ride, like very comfortable. Very cool. The second experience was like a bumper car ride at the fair.

Lauren Gonzalez: I just felt like jostled and uncomfortable and nauseous and sick, but still I thought, you know, I held out, I was like my life plan, my life plan. It’s going to work out. We get to the gender reveal party in Demond, M spill out of the cake. And I’m still like food doctor’s practice, which means they can make mistakes.

Lauren Gonzalez: They’re practicing. So, you know, baby penises are cartoonishly small. It could just be, you can’t find it on that little screen. So every ultrasound I’m going and I’m staring at that little screen and I wishing for a penis I’m just wishing so hard and it just never materializes. And then finally the day of the birth comes and out, she comes June Pearl, and I stare into her little base and I just think.

Lauren Gonzalez: How are you and what do you want for me? Because honestly, I didn’t have a whole lot to give. I, I didn’t know how to mother, a girl, honestly, I don’t think I was strong enough. I thought you needed to be a strong woman to mother, a strong woman, and I didn’t have what it took. So I, um, I, we moved forward together.

Lauren Gonzalez: Obviously I took her home, my baby fed her. She still lives with me in case. Um, but I didn’t know what to do. I just felt so much, um, there was no passion, there was no joy in it. It was more like obligation. And I felt very resentful that she was taking my attention away from my first born, my boy. Um, and I felt super guilty because what mom feels this way about their kid.

Lauren Gonzalez: Um, wasn’t an experience I’d expected to have, and it wasn’t my life plan. Um, and so. We move forward. She keeps getting older. She keeps needing from me. She needs love. She needs attention. She needs affection, all these things. And she gets to age to age three, age four. Um, and I turned into this person. I don’t even recognize, um, I, this tyrant I’m yelling, I’m screaming.

Lauren Gonzalez: I don’t know how to control her. Um, she’s very, strong-willed some of you met her then, you know, um, she’s quite the reputation, but I am, I just turned into this tyrant and I it’s the only way I know how to get back control because I don’t want to be that girl cowering in the corner anymore. So I try being the, the, the bullying instead.

Lauren Gonzalez: And I ended up, you know, just trying to take control by being over the top. And I do, you know what it feels like to scream it until your oldest feels terrible? I would slam doors. I would run into my room and just cry out of my bed and think what have I become? I don’t even recognize. I was afraid to be alone with her really.

Lauren Gonzalez: And I’m sure my husband was afraid to leave me alone with her. I just was so angry. I’d never seen that level of anger come out of me before, but I had seen it before because as parents, we only know how to parent the way that we have been parented and in my house, any loss of control. I mean, my dad was known to throw staplers objects, slam doors, yell, and scream.

Lauren Gonzalez: Um, and it’s all I knew how to do. And so I just learned to live in this little box. I learned to be with the adults around me needed and, um, to live really small. And so that’s how I grew up and that’s how I live my life. And then June came around and man, she was born with a strong spirit. And I can tell you is this legacy of anger was my family story for generations, but it’s not our story because June came out with this fighting.

Lauren Gonzalez: And she would not live inside this little box, man. She just, she wouldn’t be controlled. I, I couldn’t get control. Um, and so at some point around age four or five, she and I together kind of learned to live in this strength that exists between the girl crying in the corner and between the bully, throwing the blocks, there’s the strength right in the middle.

Lauren Gonzalez: And she taught me that she taught me how to live there and how to be, to get, I don’t have to get control. I don’t have control over anything. And that, I don’t think I ever realized that, um, until she came along, um, and she has just grown into this amazing girl who wears a backward slip as a dress to the daddy daughter, dams at the Y and is a total creative.

Lauren Gonzalez: I mean, she just sees the whole world in color and learning to see it. Her way has been such an amazing. And then, um, you know, she squirrels away little pieces of trash in her room and this insane filing system that like, she knows if I’ve touched it, but she also, like, she knows where everything is. I’m getting on board, you know?

Lauren Gonzalez: And like, this is the experience that we’re having, we’re doing it together. So, um, you know, I went back when I brought her home from the hospital for the first time. I didn’t know how to process my feelings. And so as a writer, I just blogged about it because why would you not just write about it for millions of people to read on the internet?

Lauren Gonzalez: You know, they put all your feelings out there. Um, and so I did that and I remember my mom telling me, you’re probably going to regret this is how will she feel when she grows up and she reads, you know, your experience and everything that, how it happened. Um, and I can’t say for sure how she was. But I hope that if she has kids, if she has kids, she will know that you don’t have to be a perfect parent.

Lauren Gonzalez: When you start out, you just learn to be the parents that your kid needs. Um, and you make room, you just learned to make group. Um, and you, a lot of times, your healing is found in that process and on that jury. Um, and I hope she sees that as a mother, the experience doesn’t have to look in a certain way.

Lauren Gonzalez: It doesn’t have to feel the way it feels for everyone else. It doesn’t have to be Pinterest worthy. Um, just follow the journey. I mean, you just, everybody gets there in their own way. Sometimes it’s fucked up, but you get there. And then if she doesn’t have kids, I hope that she sees that she was the beauty, that Tam cookies that I was when she first came home.

Lauren Gonzalez: And, um, I couldn’t be more grateful. Um, and she, because of that, she’s capable of. And I can’t wait to see what comes out of her and where we go together.

Marc Moss: Thanks, Lauren.

Marc Moss: Lauren Gonzalez is a Southern-born thirty-something who writes/edits, climbs, (pretends to learn the) drums, sings, homeschools, and mothers two plucky kids (alongside her partner of 10 years) here in beautiful Missoula. Also seen in: the Good Food Store, being overly indecisive in the coffee aisle; the library, labeling it “me time” while the kids play completely unsupervised in the Spectrum area.

Marc Moss: Our next storyteller, Paul Mwingwa, is a refugee from Congo by way of Rwanda.

Marc Moss: We call Paul’s story “Riding the Bus”. Thanks for listening.

Paul Mwingwa: Hello? I wasn’t, they do something about

Paul Mwingwa: But before that, I will tell you how was writing in my country. maybe a city entrance to the big city, which is like low, low, and right.

Paul Mwingwa: The bus to get placed in that the bus. And for some people need to go through the windows to get to the bus and for the money. Then I crossed the border because look, the one I come in, the one down where I spent 18 years as a refugee. In one night, it’s kind of, pick the bus. And when we get up the pass station, they have to make light. He’s the first person to arrive at the bathtub, get in the bus. Then when we arrived here in Missoula, in November, yeah.

Paul Mwingwa: The organization will come refugees here. Tell us how to ride the bus. And this was in need to go to those or Walmart, the one office in stuff, one or two kids at school. And one of my son who was at the Sentinel high school and they tell us we was living close to Franklin elementary school. And from there we should take the bus number two.

Paul Mwingwa: Then the first day Volusia took my son out of school. And the second day I decided to take myself, my son and see where he picking class. Then we take the bus from Franklin elementary school. We were at downtown, all the people in the past to get out, you can drive, also get out. And we decided also to get out, when do we get the other day?

Paul Mwingwa: I asked him, I asked my son, how many buses did you take to come to school? We didn’t want to one bus.

Paul Mwingwa: No.

Paul Mwingwa: I you said, okay. I can ask someone. I ask someone for help. It’s okay to go, to get to certain the last school you missed the bus.

Paul Mwingwa: Number one, then you show the bus number one, getting the bus. Number one, I go to the office every day for my son, then all my way, go back at, at home.

Paul Mwingwa: I was thinking how it guy I boil for 16 years. Can we get you into the bus and they can attend the bus without knowing, and he get out of school. That was a finger about that. And we arrive at the Suffolk. Good for my, for my idea. I was supposed to get out of the dead bus, wait for the bus. Number two can take me to my place.

Paul Mwingwa: Then I get down to the bus and I see him that day. Getting my hand like this, I saw the advice. Number two, live in the session.

Paul Mwingwa: Where does it come from?

Paul Mwingwa: No, it said make it go. I pulled an interpreter. I explained him how the bus, I missed the bus. Oh, Paul, you many mistakes by school, the number and not from your house.

Paul Mwingwa: Don’t tell them the bus number to 10. The number from one from two. And from there, if I got stuff more, if I, the number from one to two, now that my son knows, right. Because when he

Paul Mwingwa: I just said, okay,

Paul Mwingwa: I get the lessons with the lady. I went there for 15 minutes, then another master I saw he’s always number one. Then they saw it and he said, he jumped the gun. Number two, I waited to get to the bus and they can I take, I get my job and the fourth day I was supposed to go work. And when we arrived, You know, a country didn’t have this normal.

Paul Mwingwa: And I felt that it was seeing my kids blend is blue. I did feel that is very cold.

Paul Mwingwa: Now I wake up in the morning. I go to south Suffolk it’s month, wait for the bus. I didn’t wear clothes, which skin protecting me. And I arrived there. I went to. What was it? 15 minutes.

Paul Mwingwa: And I was called, they’ve called the tenant from Corning, this filing my hands.

Paul Mwingwa: All the ears was binding. I assumed the bus number seven, but then I didn’t do that bus faster by sending me out to downtown. I was waiting for the bus number two or bus number one,

Paul Mwingwa: the bicycle riding. I was suffering myself. I was praying while your friends who I put my hands on my issue, they, I lose how it can be one, but they didn’t to get that.

Paul Mwingwa: I get in the bus quickly and they go to the bottom, crying in myself who can, how it can feel better. And finally, on my hand, my. We got, I didn’t know how we get the downtown and it was under the tone means I want to go my way.

Paul Mwingwa: And I explained to my supervisor what’s happened to me, so I miss it by and I knew

Paul Mwingwa: I very cool. We didn’t know that this, but I forget I’ve started to get them all. I said, then my sixth or eighth, I got my lesson from that. I learned how to let the all new you come. I threatened them. Right. Because I would get my gun every time I saw someone outside this door, I went in and when I I’m with him,

Paul Mwingwa: I tried, I have friends. Don’t play with this known by him.

Paul Mwingwa: Thank you for that.

Marc: Thanks, Paul.

Paul Mwingwa is the Refugee Congress Delegate for Montana. He is a resettled refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came to the U.S. in November 2018. Mwingwa is studying Computer Network Design, Configuration and Administration Modules at Missoula College. Today, he works as a Swahili language instructor and private contractor at the Lifelong Learning Center and a food service worker at Providence St. Patrick Hospital. In his free time, he enjoys hiking and walking along the river.

Marc Moss: Jen Certa originally shared this story in 2020 during one of the Tell Us Something live-streamed events. It is such an important story that we thought she deserved a live in-person audience to hear it. Jen agreed.

Marc Moss: Sensitive listeners be aware that Jen’s story mentions sexual assault.

Marc Moss: Jen calls her story “How to Love This World”. Thanks for listening.

Jen Certa: So there’s this thing that used to happen to me every year when the weather would get bummed 45 and it was settled. Sandal weather in Missoula, standing in line at the grocery store, hang out in front of backyard, floating the river and of leaves. Someone would look down at my feet and they would ask me the question.

Jen Certa: I read it. Hey, what’s your tattoo? I hated this question and I hated it because every time someone would ask them this, I was just flooded inside with shame. 10 years ago, I was 24 leaving Montana. And what I thought would be a permanent move. And I was just heartbroken about leaving for the previous few years.

Jen Certa: Montana had been misplaced where I had felt the most alive, most fully myself that I had felt ever in my life. I was so afraid to lose that feeling. And I was just desperate to take with me some kind of a reminder of what this place had meant to me. So I made an appointment at a local tattoo shop like you do when you’re 24 and having a quarter-life crisis.

Jen Certa: And since this was going to be my first tattoo, I was more than a little nervous about how it was going to turn out. So I asked the artist who was going to be doing my tattoo, and you wouldn’t mind doing drawing part of the appointment for me to just kind of help ease my anxiety that I did, what I wanted it to be.

Jen Certa: And he said that he would. So for the six weeks prior to the appointment, I checked in diligently every week with him to see if the drawing that he had promised me was ready. And each week he kind of blew me off. He’d say you’ve been really busy that week and you’d get to it the next day. And that happened over and over again.

Jen Certa: I was starting to feel a little uneasy about it, but he had come really highly recommended by a friend. So I stuck with him finally, the day of the appointment arrived and I still hadn’t seen a drawing. I got there and he asked me to remind him what it was that I wanted. And talk to me. I told him pretty clear disinterest for a few minutes, and then he disappeared in the back somewhere.

Jen Certa: And like, I swear, five minutes later, he comes back out and he hands me this piece of paper and it has a clip art picture on it. And sometimes in a font, but I would say was like a Microsoft word, scripty sort of font. And I didn’t love it. So I asked him if he would be willing to make a few. And he basically told me with the air of someone who’s being incredibly convenience, that it would just be a lot of trouble for him to make some changes to this divine right now.

Jen Certa: And if I wanted to get a tattoo that day, it was pretty much, it was too late. I had waited six weeks for this appointment and I was leaving Montana and another two weeks, and I just felt this pressure, like it was now or never. I don’t remember. It was a warm day and still the vinyl chairs sticking to the back of my leg.

Jen Certa: The air was just fit with this metallic by thing and a tall, pretty intimidating, somewhat annoyed man, towered over me and asked, ready. Uh, yeah, yeah. Ready?

Jen Certa: I said that even though I didn’t feel ready or good about this at all, second, the needle touched my skin. I knew, I knew this. Wasn’t what I wanted for my body.

Jen Certa: In this moment. I knew I was abandoning my intuition, my inner knowing.

Jen Certa: And I said, yes,

Jen Certa: There have been other times in my life where I felt intimidated powerless, where I’ve had a man do things to my body that I did not want. And a 24, no one was forcing me to get this tattoo. I was choosing this. I had power in this situation and I, the way I stayed frozen inside.

Jen Certa: I mean because of that, the hummingbird didn’t come out as soft and elegant. And as I was hoping that it would, and sort of the sort of rough looking like it’s feathers, it kind of in blown around in a wind storm and it was positioned in this sort of aggressive way. Like it was ready to dive on something at any moment.

Jen Certa: And then there was the line from the Mary Oliver poem that I love. There was only one question how to let this. And that Microsoft word fond. Yeah. How’s it turns out the side of your foot is in a great place for a tattoo. So over time, the words faded in such a way that eventually it just read one question.

Jen Certa: I used to tell people what they had asked me what the one question was, question tattoos,

Jen Certa: but the truth is what it looks, what it looked like is not. So you’ll reason why I. I felt so much shame when someone would notice it and why I tried so hard to hide it it’s because this tattoo was a literal physical reminder of psychological scars ones that I didn’t ask for that I profoundly disliked about myself for a long time.

Jen Certa: And that like-mind my, to, I fight really hard to avoid looking at things. Went on like that for about a decade until March 20. The pandemic happened and suddenly, like a lot of people, I was spending a ton of time alone without much distraction. And as the lockdown days turned into weeks and months, I was finding it harder and harder to avoid my own thoughts and to avoid looking at the things I had tried so hard to avoid.

Jen Certa: And of course it was also hard to avoid looking at my tattoo because I wasn’t leaving my house. So I didn’t have reason to wear shoes. And during that time I realized something. I realized that it was not a matter of if I would look at the stars, but a matter of how. I could continue to look at them with self-hatred and God as I have, or I can choose to look at them with some compassion for myself.

Jen Certa: I can’t change the experience that I had of getting that tattoo or of any of the other experiences that it reminds me of. But what I can do is take small steps to reclaim them. So earlier this year I made an appointment at a different local tattoo shop. The artist that I met with. Who I researched thoroughly beforehand, this time was kind.

Jen Certa: And she asked me thoughtful question. As I tried to explain the design that I was picturing in my head fire weed has a somewhat on parent name, but I think it’s beautiful. And it is one of my favorite and become one of my favorite wild flowers in my time as a Montana and even more important to me than that fire, we get 16 from sensibility to grow in burn areas, landscapes that have been traumatized by wildfires.

Jen Certa: It’s the first flower to bloom to reclaim a landscape after a fire scars. And now fire blues from one of my scars too. It’s a reminder that new road and fans forum, you’re going to play some terrible distraction. And also an answer to that one question of my original tattoo, how to love this world like this, including the joy and everything in between, and including me too.

Marc Moss: Thanks, Jen. Jen Certa is originally from New York, but accidentally began a love affair with Montana in 2009 and is grateful to have called Missoula home since. Jen works as a mental health therapist at an elementary school, where she spends her days debating the finer points of making fart noises with your slime and playing “the floor is lava.” When not at work, Jen can most often be found hiking with her dogs and running late for something.

Initially, I had hoped that they would each share a story individually. When they pitched the idea of sharing their story in tandem, I was skeptical. I thought, well, this isn’t a normal year. Why not?

Teresa Waldorf: March 22nd, and I’m not flying to be I’m in a long distance relationship with a man who I think is going to be the next great love of my life. But we’ve been having an argument on the phone. I’m saying I have to cancel my flight. My mom is crying and he’s saying things like, well, at our age, I don’t think we do what our moms tell us.

Rosie Ayers: I had stopped all theater productions, all classes. I had no answers for anything.

On the next Tell Us Something podcast, tune in to listen to them share their experience of a pandemic reckoning that they call “March 22”.

Thanks once again to our title sponsor, Blackfoot Communications. They deliver superior technology solutions through trusted relationships and enrich the lives of their customers, owners and employees. Learn more at blackfoot.com

And thanks to all of 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 work at joyceoftile.com.

Gabriel Silverman: Hey, this is Gabe from Gecko Designs. We’re proud to sponsor Tell Us Something, learn more at geckodesigns.com

Marc Moss: Missoula Broadcasting Company including the family of ESPN radio, The Trail 103.3, Jack FM and my favorite place to find a dance party while driving U104.5 (insert Gecko Designs) Float Missoula – learn more at floatmsla.com, and MissoulaEvents.net!

Marc Moss: To learn more about Tell Us Something, please vistit tellussomething.org.

 

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.
Visiting her brother-in-law in Hong Kong, Jennie had an adverse reaction to all of the walking she’s enduring. In an effort to help her heal, she undergoes a regimen of acupuncture, smudging and drinking a mysterious concoction whipped up by a Chinese Medicine Man.
In this podcast episode, you’ll hear stories about a rule-following good girl making a stand against injustice, a woman who uses kindness to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation in Brooklyn, New York, successful communication during a near-death experience on a mountain road and a neighborhood coming together to protect songbirds in a time of crisis.
In the summer of 2019, Tell Us Something hosted a storytelling summer camp for youth at Zootown Arts Community Center. Seven young women worked together with Tell Us Something director Marc Moss for a week during the summer of 2019 to learn about how to decide what story to share, stage presence, story structure, elements of a story, keeping ourselves, our audience, and the characters in a story safe as well as making an emotional connection with the audience.
Stories of an American tourist’s encounter with the secret police in 1970s Iran, overcoming hate in the grocery store, An Eastern African girl’s first experience in America and an American tourist in Paris just trying to find some relief.