stones-323807__180 legalA touchstone is a smooth, dark stone but metaphorically, it is a point of reference, leading us along a path. When I get stuck or stalled, unsure of the next action, I wait for my next touchstone, that clear signal, the green light in the form of an idea, a success, the right person or opportunity that shows up to say This is next.  Now this. You’re on the right track. 

Lately, my touchstones have been showing up a lot and pushing me forward.  I’m not special. Everyone has touchstones.  In fact, maybe I’ve taken longer than most to follow mine. But they are appearing, solid and shining.

There were the questions, the curiosities. The desire for the next right action.

What if I tell the story that scares me? Follow it.

My story won! Follow that.

Get it published. Another touchstone. Keep going.

An invitation from another, bigger magazine to write for them. Keep going. 

What if send my story, an excerpt from my memoir, to the most respected person in the field related to my theme. The child advocate, the one whose work I admire more than any other because it is in an area near and dear to my heart, and to my own writing? The worst that can happen is he ignores it. Or his staff ignores it. But what if this story is about much more than just me? What if it helps others? 

My heart says go. Just do it.  

His response is more generous and encouraging than I could have imagined. And he puts my story on his blog the next day. I am honored, happy, grateful. Touchstone.

His colleague requests a Skype interview.  Keep going. I say yes.

Emails from others. An invitation to speak. Touchstones. They keep appearing. 

I am busy, I am breathless, scared, and absolutely certain I on the right path.

I think that touchstones shine more brightly with an uncluttered background. I think that I had to simplify, clear out the half hearted yeses and the fear in order to see what was waiting for me.

It all feels overwhelming but exactly right. It feels like of course this is it.  I knew it all along. I just had to remember, to find the clues and to follow them. 

What if…?
What’s next…?

Touchstones were once used for testing alloys of gold.  Is this real? Is this valuable?

I think that we recognize our touchstones when we see them. We just have to ask from the heart.  We have to ask like we mean it.

And when they appear, telling us yes this is real,  this is valuable, we cannot say no.

The Moth Story Slam : live storytelling

Are you a writer, a storyteller, or a playwright looking to showcase your work? Or maybe you are someone who would enjoy hearing a variety of true stories told live on stage? An evening at the Moth may be just perfect for you.   In case you aren’t familiar with it, it’s an open mic forum in which speakers tell five minute true stories on stage without scripts or notes. stock-photo-8991028-red-curtain-stage

I guess what led me to the Moth (besides that I’ve enjoyed listening to Moth Radio hour) is that I figured it’s a writerly thing to do and a challenging, fun, inspiring way to develop some outside interest in my book-in-progress.

Essentially, each five minute moth story is a mini-memoir. I’ve heard and read all about the drudgery of book promotion, even if you are fortunate enough to get picked up by a publisher, and I figured this sounded like a pleasant way to attract interest. Besides, I knew that raising my comfort level with telling a story, rather than just writing it, would be a good skill to develop. I ran into other writers who were there for the same purpose. This excerpt from a New York Times article about the Moth convinced me it might be a good idea:

“A lot of my best clients, I’m finding at the Moth,” Mr. Chromy said. At events, he said, half the people telling stories already have representation, and other agents and publishers are usually there looking for talent.

People who can win over a live, if half-drunk, audience have skills beyond writing, he said. “If you are able to do a good reading, you probably have a facility for self-promotion,” Mr. Chromy explained. “Publishers are looking for that, too. Everybody says they’re going to be a great promoter, but a lot of people freeze up.”

 It does not come natural to me, generally, to be speaking to large audiences. Or even small ones. Heck, I can get tongue tied ordering a coffee if I feel rushed. But if I have prepared a piece of work that I am very satisfied with, or passionate about, and it feels authentic and worthwhile to me, then I think of it as a gift I am delivering to the audience, and then there is no stopping me. If my story is powerful enough, it carries me.

So I was super- excited-beyond- happy-ecstatic-to win! I actually came in first place! I was surprised, but truth be told, not hugely surprised. I was hopeful. I knew it was possible. Why not? Someone has to win and I had been incubating my story for, well, I don’t know, forty years or so? At least four years in an intentional way.

I planned to win. I mean planned.

During the week leading up to the event, I lived and breathed the Moth 24-7. Well maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it was on my mind.

I spent about half my time on preparing and rehearsing the story. The other half of my time was spent on mental preparation; I read the book Feel the Fear and do it anyway by Susan Jeffers. I watched approximately thirty-five moth stories on YouTube for inspiration, tamed fearful thoughts, focused on the empowering ones, meditation; any form of training the brain that I knew to be effective, I used. I got ready.

And then the night. Tickets always sell out. When you get there early, you sit with the very loud music and a whole lot of people around, right up until it is time to begin the stories.


My idea of preparing right beforehand is sitting quietly in a room alone and doing some yogic breathing. No such option here. Sink or swim baby. This is the venue. But once it’s time for storytellers to take the stage, the music stops. The audience falls silent. And ten lucky people get their names chosen from the hat.
I was the eighth story teller to go on stage. I knew to expect the bright light shining upon me-the one that took me by surprise my first time. I knew the MC would adjust the microphone for me. I knew not to think about what I did with my hands.

All those pesky details that we were encouraged to hyper focus on in public speaking classes in school? Watch your hands. Stand this way not that. Lean in, lean out. Forget about it. Why do we have to make things so complicated? Here’s my off-the-cuff, simplified instruction: Know your subject. Love your subject. Believe in it. And if you don’t believe in it, then find a new subject. Then go for it.

I knew it went well. Definitely not perfectly. Certainly room for improvement. As soon as I finished, I knew what I wanted to do differently next time. But I was thinking there’d be a next time. And I was pretty satisfied.

The judges give out the scores for each speaker just a few minutes after each story, so once I got my score, I was pretty sure I was in the lead with just two more story tellers to go after mine. As a writer, it feels a bit strange to get a score and then to hope it is the best score, which means of course that you hope all the other fabulous, sincere, creative storytellers do worse. That was weird. I don’t typically compete. They were all good! Writers and storytellers support each other!

But if it had to be just one of us, well, I wanted to go to the GrandSLAM. The anticipation of it all had me wondering for a brief moment if I should have just kept my writing a quiet activity instead of bursting forth into the world of competitive storytelling. I mean it’s a little out of my comfort zone. It’s kind of scary.

But then I remembered the author’s words from the fear book: If you aren’t feeling fear you aren’t growing.

I guess I am having a bit of a growth spurt.

I did it.

And there is all that psychology about how girls play it small and don’t do enough healthy bragging, so I’m going to make up for all my girlhood years of not bragging right here and now and set an example for girls:

I WON!!!! I FREAKIN’ WON! And I am THRILLED! I was GOOD! Really GOOD! I WON I WON I WON! And I am SO happy about it!!

Okay, I’m done. Not positive how healthy that was, but it felt good.

(Quite honestly, looking back, it occurs to me that I can’t really remember much that I should have been bragging about in my girlhood, but anyway. Now I can. I’m a late bloomer, what can I say?)

And I am grateful. Because I got the chance to do this! I live near a city that hosts this event and I had the time and the support and my name got picked and I actually had this opportunity. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Which reminds me, there was this tiny older woman who moved to the U.S. from another country(I forget where) several years ago with her husband; she hadn’t wanted to move but knew it was for the best and so here she was. Her story trailed off into randomness a bit and she was a little difficult to understand, but she had something to say dammit and we live in a place where we get to do this. She wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. She was enjoying herself. And she was genuinely happy for me when I won. I was standing next to her on the stage at the end when they called my name and she took my hands and was just beaming. And I loved her.

The day following this event, I woke up happy but drained. It had been a late night and the days leading up to it had taken all my energy to prepare. I had the overwhelming urge to do nothing but organize my Tupperware drawer and reflect on the event.  But that night was my writing group meeting, which turned out to be a good thing. Because once the party’s over, it’s back to the keyboard. Writers must write.

So in a couple months or so I will compete against nine other winners (from nine other Story Slams) in the GrandSLAM championship. It will be a bigger venue, with a larger audience. I’m not really sure what happens after that. I’m taking it one step at a time.

The Moth is a fun event for audience members as well. You can order a drink and a snack and sit back and take in the stories. This takes place in cities all around the U.S.

But perhaps you too have a story you’d like to share? Humor, tragedy, mishap? It’s all material. People want to hear it! Maybe I’ll see you on the stage. It could happen.