Climbing Aboard The Arc

Every once in a while I get the opportunity to do something really great, but usually life has a way of keeping me from focusing entirely on the moment.

Birmingham, Alabama has an interesting showcase for local storytellers and writers called Arc Stories. It began as a coffee shop event and has grown into quite the showcase, complete with a crowd of up to 400 people regularly in attendance, a podcast, Soundcloud recordings, and local radio program on NPR.

A few weeks ago after considering it for years, I finally bit the bullet and decided to submit a story to Arc Stories. I noticed on their website that their latest show would focus on the topic of “Lost in Translation,” and if you know me or you’ve read anything  I’ve written, you know that at some point, inevitably in my life’s adventures, this could pretty much be on my family crest. I decided that this would be the event for me to submit a story that I had written a few years ago about my time staying with a family in Japan. I uploaded it to the Arc website, and promptly forgot all about it.

A few weeks later I received an email that informed me that I had been selected to be part of the live show. I was of course, thrilled, but then I looked at my calendar. I had roughly a week to get my story edited, submit a recording of myself, attend a rehearsal, and then actually do the show. Also during that same week I was supposed to fly to New England for a few days, return to teaching after a summer break, and start classes in my PhD program.

Panic set in, and after a good long cry (I’m only sort of kidding), I decided I could pull it all together and what was really going help me succeed would be a well structured daily scheduled. My anal retentiveness came out in full force and I organized virtually every minute of the next 10 days. Every meal, gym workout, three mile run, meeting, leisure activity – everything- was planned.   It was truly a thing of beauty.

I flew to Vermont on Friday and worked on my editing on the way up, and occasionally when I had a few free minutes while I was there,  and I got it into a format that I felt was workable. I was encouraged, and felt really confident that all of my worrying was for nothing.

Then Monday morning rolled around. I woke up, and I did not feel good. Overnight, a sinus infection had settled in my head. My throat hurt, and I have had enough of these over the years to know that this was going to be a nasty bout. I flew back home that night, and apparently I must have looked terrible. At one point on the flight, the attendant came by and checked on me to ask how I was feeling. I explained my situation to him and he came back with some hot tea, honey, and Jack Daniels.

Just like mom used to make.

The homemade remedy helped me to make it home after the long red eye flight, but the next morning I was still feeling terrible, so I went to the doctor. Two shots and an antibiotic prescription in hand, and I was feeling like the show was still going to happen, and I could pull everything together that I needed to in order to be entertaining.

On Wednesday everything began to crank back up with work and school, but I was focusing on the show on Friday night. I completed the editing, and made a recording of myself. I was shocked when it came out to nearly 20 minutes, but I hadn’t budgeted time in to do another recording so I had to send that version off to the good folks at Arc. It was too long and that would mean another serious edit.

I took out my favorite red pen, and I started whacking away at it. I cut and cut and cut. I honestly had no idea how long it was going to take to perform the story until I was at rehearsal later that night. I barely made it under the time limit wire, but I was so loopy from all the medication that I was taking, I couldn’t remember what was saying, and totally forgot how the whole story was going to end. This isn’t the best approach when telling a story to a group of strangers and trying to make a good impression.  No one seemed to mind, but I was embarrassed.

I spent the next day moderating between trying to avoid people so I wouldn’t have to talk and I could “save” my voice, and frantically rehearsing whenever I had a few minutes.

By Friday, I felt like I was ready, but my voice and my body weren’t. I was losing my voice and I felt horrible. Desperate, I called the doctor and begged for help. He called in a stronger antibiotic and a steroid. I picked them up that afternoon, slammed them down and went to sleep for several hours.

When I woke up my voice still was at it’s best. I could hear a slight raspy quality in it, and when I spoke too loudly it actually sort of hurt, but I got dressed and headed out.

I have to say that I was really impressed with the crew at Arc Stories. The experience was well organized and the evening went really smoothly. The variety of storytellers involved caught me off guard, and I think it made the night flow well together. I opened the second half of the show, which means I was a nervous wreck for the first 45 minutes of the night. I wasn’t terrified to speak in front of the 400 people, but that my voice would completely give out on me, and in the course of 15 minutes I would degrade into sounding like a heavy smoker before eventually having to listen to myself slowly fade away into nothingness.

When it was my turn to speak, I gave it everything I had, and at one point toward the end, I actually could feel my vocal chords straining and tightening up and I tried to force them persevere. I’ve seen pictures of myself  on stage, and it’s clear that I’m straining (see below).  The muscles in my neck look tight and my veins are bulging. I could hear it in my voice, too.


When it was all said and done, I was exhausted but happy. I was pleased with the job I did, and the audience laughed at all the right parts. My voice was shot, though. I was there with a friend who told me that I sounded like a different person when I came off the stage. It took the weekend, and a whole lot of sleep to recover from the previous week and to get my voice back in full.

Ultimately, though, it was all worth it. I think I tend to strive under pressure. I’ve listened to the recording of the night a few times now and I think that my voice, the medical induced mania, and the exhaustion all added to the storytelling. A friend of mine asked me if I thought maybe I was subconsciously crafting a perfect storm to help with the showmanship of the night, and I immediately shot that theory down, dismissing it all as fate. I wasn’t that “method.”  After I gave it some thought, though, I had to admit, that I had created the storm- minus the illness. I put the stress on myself. Maybe the Fates had conspired, but I certainly had helped by over scheduling myself and upping my stress levels. Regardless, I was happy with the end result, and I think that if anything it gave the story more reverence.


Have a listen and hear for yourself.  I’m in the second half of the show.

The full podcast is here:

Or you can jump to the chase here:

The original story, in its entirety, is here.



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Categories: Asia, Stories, Thoughts


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