I knew a girl there via the Internet. She wrote an incredible livejournal that I followed religiously. She posted pictures of spiral staircases, told stories of trudging through snow to see a French movie at the corner art house cinema, and lived with her black cat Minou (‘kitty’ in French). She had come from New Jersey and gone to French immersion in Chicoutimi and now lived in Montreal, speaking French, sipping lattés, and going to festivals. From reading her journal, I knew she hosted friends from around the world who read her blog. I emailed her and asked if I could come in two weeks and stay indefinitely. She said yes. I bought my plane ticket and gave my two weeks notice at work the next day.
I ended up staying for eight years, mostly illegally until I figured out a way to immigrate in 2008. I immersed myself in writing workshops at Quebec Writers’ Federation and discovered a storytelling series that had just started called Confabulation. It was modeled after The Moth and run by the incomparable Matt Goldberg, a fantastic improviser and storyteller. He asked me to tell a story on the theme “lessons learned.” Other than that incredible writing class back in Portland, I had never performed a story for people in my own voice, on stage, without notes. I looked at it as an opportunity to push myself as a writer. An audience would give me instantaneous feedback – if they laughed, that part was funny, if they looked bored, that part was….boring. I wrote and I wrote and I outlined and I practiced in front of the mirror and finally, after a few beers, I was ready to go on stage.
I told a story about posing as a 35 year-old Australian man on the Internet when I was 11 and having a secret, 3-year love affair with a Mormon woman in Idaho. It was the first time I’d told anyone this story. People in the audience gasped. They roared with laughter. They were silent, in rapt attention. I had never experienced such joy in my life. I came away from that experience knowing my voice as a writer, the stories inside me that needed to be told and were worth telling, and the magic of connecting with strangers on a stage through a personal story.
I ended up telling stories at almost every single Confabulation, as well as other storytelling series around Montreal like This Really Happened, Yarn, and Literary Death Match. Eventually, Matt made me a co-producer and we put on Confabulation together. I taught a two-day intensive storytelling class to English Quebecers through the Blue Metropolis Foundation and Quebec Writers’ Federation, which ignited my love of teaching others to tell their stories. Teaching was like performing – I connected with people through storytelling – but I also learned invaluable things about writing through the act of teaching others. I’d been a lover of radio like This American Life for a long time, and discovered other incredible shows like Radiolab and 99% Invisible. I started co-hosting and producing a radio show on Montreal’s community station, CKUT, where I interviewed artists, welcomed musicians live in studio, and experimented with radio drama.
All of this conspired to create the style of storytelling that I love so much: personal, polished and emotionally powerful. I moved to Minneapolis in September 2013 to further push my limits as a storyteller and was blown away by the sheer number of storytelling events and the enthusiasm for true stories. I was fortunate enough to teach a storytelling class at The Loft Literary Center, initiating more people into the world of storytelling. Every day I wake up excited to tell another story in this city.
(Photo Credit: Brian Fanelli)