Each episode reveals what the news ignores: everyday acts of kindness and courage that transformed someone’s life.
Last fall, a good friend suggested I submit my unsung hero story to the Hidden Brain podcast. A short segment at the end of each episode where they invite people like me to tell the world about a time when someone, usually a stranger, demonstrated an act of kindness toward them.
I had the perfect story.
It took me a while to craft my two-minute audio pitch and hit submit. Then it took a while for them to listen to it and email me that they were interested. It took some more time to schedule an interview and go over more details with a producer. Then I waited.
In the meantime, Hidden Brain had apparently received so many submissions (so many stories of random acts of kindness!) that they decided to create a spin-off podcast, My Unsung Hero.
On December 30, 2021, the last released episode of the year, my story finally aired! Listen here. It’s surreal to hear the incomparable Shankar Vedantam tell parts of my story! Thanks to everyone on the Hidden Brain/My Unsung Hero team who helped shape my story and put it in the world.
After listening, I’m sure you’ll be hooked on the podcast just like me. And, if you want to know more about my story, you can buy my book, More Than Everything, here.
Vacation Week! I was off this week and had one goal…write 5,000 words on my work-in-progress, young adult novel. But here I sit on Saturday afternoon with zero words written and I’m not even a little bit disappointed.
Because I did something way more fun!
I’ve been listening to The Moth on NPR for years. Ever since I heard my first episode, I’ve dreamed of one day being on stage, sharing true stories from my life. Connecting with people in a medium that resonates to my core and speaks to my heart. Storytelling. This week, that dream came true.
A few days earlier I had received an email about a Moth Story Slam in Houston, and for the first time, I was going to be off work and could actually go. Immediately, I began crafting a story in my mind, spent the next few days fine-tuning it, then drove to Houston, put my name on the list, and was one of ten people chosen at random to tell a five-minute story!
The theme of the night was Chemistry and the ten storytellers each had a slightly different take on that theme. There were designated judges pulled from the audience (I’m guessing there were around 200 people there) and each storyteller received a score of 1-10 from each set of judges.
I was the second storyteller of the night and didn’t know I was going to get on stage until the host called my name. After she did, I made my way to the side of the stage, as previously instructed, and waited as she made the audience laugh by reading funny anecdotes about dangerous combinations. It was a short wait but I somehow had the presence of mind to snap this photo, and text my husband that I was on stage!
My husband did not have the week off, so I was in Houston all by myself. I’d driven down, gotten a hotel room, then called an Uber to take me to the venue (Warehouse Live) and I’d been sitting in the audience alone. Now I was alone back stage getting ready to stand behind that very microphone and tell the story I’d prepared.
And that’s what I did. My story (Chapter 16 from my memoir, More Than Everything) was about my one and only psychedelic drug experience in the 1980’s. The audience was fun and receptive. They laughed at all the right places and gasped when appropriate, then applauded loudly when I finished. I stayed on topic, kept it within the five minute time frame, and got great scores (9.0, 8.5, and 7.7) but I didn’t win. And that’s okay.
I DID IT!
There were so many great stories and everyone did so well. I felt like I shared the stage with a bunch of professionals. And as soon as my turn was over, I wanted to do it again.
Later, many people approached me to say they enjoyed my story. One guy thought I should have won. One girl asked about my process, and another told me she loved my story and my outfit. A radio producer asked me if I had other stories and handed me his business card. People were so nice and friendly and supportive. It was surreal. It was fun. It was exhilarating. The whole experience felt almost serendipitous. Like clicking on that email set me on a path that led me straight to that stage to share that story with that audience.
It is an experience I’ll remember forever. And I want to do it again. And again. And again. Maybe some day one of my stories will make it on the radio.
After the show, I Ubered back to my hotel, sat in the bar, and drank a margarita to celebrate.
So while I didn’t get any new words written on my WIP, I got something so much better…a rich, beautiful, forever experience ripe with stories I’ll tell for a long time to come.
You know those twenty minutes of euphoria that happen twice a year if you’re lucky? That brief, beautiful moment where everything is done and you feel like you’re winning at life?
The refrigerator is full, the dishwasher is empty. You’ve gone to the dentist, the doctor, gotten the oil changed in your car, the registration is up-to-date, your taxes are paid, there are no presents to buy, no parties to attend, nothing that needs doing because you did the work, paid attention, got things done, and have everything under control?
I experienced this joy last Sunday, when for a small window of time, everything was done. I danced around the house like a superhero, patted myself on the back, drank a glass of wine and took a bubble bath in celebration.
But the universe has a way of keeping us in check. Showing us the other side of the coin.
Reminding us nothing lasts forever.
Monday brought me a runny nose and a cough, Wednesday’s gift was back spasms that had me like: you didn’t really need to stand up today, did you? and then came Saturday. Saturday morning with its sunshine and promises. Still coughing, still feeling like crud, but excited by warmer temperatures and NO RAIN, I made myself a cup of coffee and went out on my back patio to enjoy.
Things were looking up.
Within minutes I got stung by a venomous caterpillar and spent the next twelve hours in excruciating pain. Yep, the universe reminded me who’s boss. It decided that five days of fighting a cold, slogging to work when I felt like staying in bed, enduring rainy day traffic and cranky co-workers wasn’t enough. The universe, in all its wisdom, decided yesterday was the day I needed to be introduced to this fuzzy fellow.
Meet the Southern Flannel Moth, a/k/a the Megalopyge opercularis, the Southern Stinging Caterpillar, or Puss Moth Caterpillar. They are a bi-annual (spring and fall) phenomenon found from Virginia to Florida to Texas. They love shade trees (especially oaks, pecans, elm, and citrus) and if you’re allergic, their sting can send you to the ER faster than you can say fuzzy wuzzy. These guys are fuzzy, but ferocious.
Above is my picture of the actual culprit. Here’s a better photo I found online:
On my patio, the lime tree my daughter got me for mother’s day looked like it needed rotating, so I bent down, hugged the container and turned it. When I did, I suspect this creepy crawler moved from the plant to the front of my sweatshirt. Or it fell out of a tree. I didn’t see it.
When my arm brushed against its back there was an instant stinging, burning pain. I looked down and saw him there, stuck to my shirt. My husband used a stiff leaf to fling it away. My arm was on fire … like a thousand fire ant bites or a dozen wasp stings.
The stung area didn’t look like much, just some redness, but it felt like hell. We washed my arm with soap and water. Poured bleach on it, scrubbed it with mechanic’s de-greaser, and made a baking soda paste.
I set up camp on the couch, and over the next few hours, switched out an ice pack every thirty minutes while I watched the first four episodes of The Romanoffs on Prime Video to take my mind off my misery. It kinda worked. But not really. But wow! What a show.
Hubby scoured the internet looking for anything that might help. Between episodes, we tried different remedies. Scotch tape to remove the poisonous hairs from my skin, vanilla extract, aloe vera. Tylenol did nothing for the pain. We tried anti-itch cream, pain relief rub, even magnesium oil. Nothing put a dent in my discomfort.
I’m not a baby. I survived 25 hours of labor and gave birth without medication. I have a high pain tolerance. But after six or eight hours of bone crushing, burning, throbbing agony, I questioned whether it would ever stop. I questioned my sanity. I questioned the existence of God.
Most of what we read online said the pain would subside within an hour or so. But then we read an article that said, in some cases, the pain lasts up to twelve hours. And that’s when I knew. The universe was going to make me suffer even longer.
The pain continued. And, after the skies grew dark, my mind grew numb, and my body grew exhausted, it was time for bed. The sting occurred at 10:00 am. It was now 9:00 pm. Still in misery, I brushed my teeth, put on my jammies, and crawled into bed.
And magically, within minutes, I felt an easing. A loosening. A promise that this pain, just like the euphoria of feeling on top of the world, and in control of everything, would not last forever.
As I drifted off to sleep, it was with the knowledge that this too had passed. I survived a week that started off bad, got worse, and then ended with unbelievable pain.
Life is a balancing act.
I lost a beautiful Saturday. Gained a healthy respect for caterpillars, and am kinda afraid to go outside right now. But I’ll keep getting up every day, going to work, doing all the things, and one of these days, I will be on top again, if only for a few brief moments.
Everything has an opposite. One cannot exist without the other. Good. Bad. Love. Hate. Euphoria. Pain. Control. Chaos.
And nothing lasts forever.
Not the common cold, not bad weeks, or rainy months … not even autumn, when the Puss Caterpillar invades Texas.
One way I do this is by padding my schedule with extra drive time so I can slow down and not be affected by traffic. If it takes twenty minutes to get where I’m going, I give myself thirty or forty. Now, if I catch every light red, or get stuck behind a slow poke, there’s no anxiety.
If it takes me an hour to get ready, I give myself an hour and a half. This allows time to deal with a mascara emergency, or a wardrobe malfunction.
I’ve examined all areas of my life where I can add a few extra minutes here or there to all my tasks, and it’s like magic. I don’t rush and I don’t worry or fret. And I still get everything done.
Now I have pockets of extra minutes in my day to think, to daydream, to puzzle things out…to let my mind relax–which is a sure way to cultivate creativity!
I know I’m a few days early for a New Year’s Resolution post. But that’s not really what this is. This is a post about making a positive lifestyle change. A permanent change. A change that will make me a better person.
It won’t be easy. The important things never are.
As decent human beings, we strive to learn, to do good things, and be better people. Becoming our authentic selves takes time, dedication, and—what I’ve realized lately—it takes good listening skills.
We are all guilty of interrupting our companion to interject our next thought, our next idea. With close friends and family, it is a dance we do, and it is generally accepted and expected. There’s a rhythm and a flow to these conversations.
But what about with strangers? I’m one of those people who have trouble remembering names. I think it’s because I don’t listen well enough. I’m too busy being shy and insecure. Being an introvert. I’ve been too busy listening to the negative speak in my head…no one wants to hear what I have to say…no one will remember my face, my words, or my ideas…
I’m over that now.
Now I’m ready to grow into a better listener. I’m ready to sit in the stillness between the words and soak them in. Be mindful. Give the words as much time and space as they need to take up residency in my memory. Slow down. Be in the moment. So rather than answer reflexively with platitudes, I can respond with thoughtful confidence, praise with genuine heart, and comfort with loving care.
I want to learn to listen so hard that I can hear snow flakes falling, fish swimming under the surface of the water, and leaves hitting the ground.
But I can stay silent on the abc (already been chewed) chewing gum epidemic no more.
This is the ghastly sight I see when walking up to the front door of my local drug store. Come on, people! Seriously?! You just spit your foul gum onto the sidewalk for others to step in? GROSS. Grow up already.
Just because your mommy isn’t there with her hand held out – to take your sticky gum – like when you were a kid, doesn’t mean it’s okay to throw it on the ground. There are garbage cans outside most stores. There are store receipts in your purse or pocket that work perfectly well for this purpose…there are tissues, new and used, scraps of paper everywhere…but a healthy percentage of you think the best idea is to spit your nasty gum on the ground?
Even if I don’t step on your disgusting refuse while it’s still wet (which is a whole other rant) I will step on it because THERE’S SO MUCH… so many of you seem to do this that it’s damn near impossible to avoid stepping on it.
PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE. Stop the grossness! If you can’t throw away your used chewing gum in a proper way, then STOP CHEWING IT!