Seven and counting...

One of our Speak Up storytelling shows earlier in the year featured four former storytelling workshop students who have gone on to tell stories at Moth StorySLAMs in New York, Boston, and Burlington, VT. 

 In fact, two of them competed in the same StorySLAM in December of last year in New York, unbeknownst to them.

I don't have the actual count of former workshop students who have gone on to perform for The Moth, but the number easily exceeds two dozen. 

Even more thrilling, six of my former workshop students have gone on to win Moth StorySLAMs. If I include a rabbi from a recent retreat where I taught, the number is now seven. 

One of them has even won a GrandSLAM.

The fact that almost all of these people live in Connecticut makes this number even more surprising. Moth StorySLAMs are held on week nights, meaning these folks committed significant time and resources in order to travel to Boston or New York on a work night to compete in a Moth StorySLAM and arrive back home well after midnight. 

I've also had many of my friends - more than a dozen - go to The Moth and tell stories. Friends who have seen me brave the New York or Boston stage and then followed in my footsteps.

One of my former fifth grade students has gone to The Moth with me and told a story. 

Many, many more friends and workshop students have also told stories on Speak Up stages. 

All of this thrills me. I like to think back to that July evening in 2011 when I stepped into the Nuyorican's Poets Cafe in New York City to tell my first (and what I thought would be my last) story for The Moth. It was a hinge upon which my life has turned forever. It was a moment that ultimately enriched my life and Elysha's life in ways we could never have predicted. It has introduced us to so many remarkable people. Made us so many new friends. Brought me to stages around the country and the world. Launched a business that has us producing shows throughout the state and beyond and has me teaching storytelling to individuals, schools, universities, corporations, and more.

It's been a surprising and remarkable journey. 

But when I think about the multitude of ways that my life changed on that July night in 2011, I often think first about all the other people who I have brought to the stage to share their stories, open their hearts, speak their truths, and kick some Moth ass.

Watching so many people follow in my footsteps into storytelling has been one of the most rewarding parts of all. 

Three years ago, I dreamed of telling a story on a Moth stage. Today I am a storyteller. Life can change quickly if you give it a chance.

Three years ago today, I wrote a post asking for readers to vote on a story pitch that I had submitted to The Moth via their website.

I wrote:

The opportunity to tell a story for The Moth is a big deal to me. So if you have a moment, please click over to The Moth’s website and vote for my story (if you think it worthy) by clicking on the stars beside the story itself.  Rating my story pitch will also register one vote for me.

This represented my cowardly attempt to tell a story for The Moth. Even though I lived close enough to New York City to compete in a StorySLAM by simply dropping my name into a hat, I was desperately attempting to avoid taking the stage and being assigned a numerical score for my performance.

It’s amazing to see how quickly your life can change when you decide to face your fear. Less than a month after pitching that story on The Moth’s website, I decided to stop acting like a coward and went to New York City with my wife to tell a story.

When we arrived at the Nuyorican’s Poets Café, I placed my name in the hat and immediately prayed that it wouldn’t be drawn. When it was, I stayed in my seat for a moment, hoping that the host, Dan Kennedy, might become impatient and choose another name instead. Then Elysha told me to get out of my seat and on the stage.

I did. This is what I saw. 


I told a story about pole vaulting in high school. When the scores were tallied, I was astounded to discover that I had won.

I had become a storyteller.

This victory led me to my first GrandSLAM, where I competed against nine other StorySLAM winners. I placed third that night. I met two storytellers on that stage who I am proud to call my friends today.

My life has changed profoundly since the night I took that stage less than three years ago.

I have gone on to tell stories at 22 Moth StorySLAMs in New York and Boston. I have won 11 of them.

I’ve told stories at six Moth GrandSLAMs and placed a frustrating second in four of them.

I’ve told stories at two Moth Main Stage shows.

I’ve gone on to tell stories for other storytelling organizations like The Mouth, The Story Collider, Literary Death Match, and more. I’ve delivered talks at three TED conferences throughout New England. I’ve been hired to deliver speeches for a variety of reasons. 

Last year my wife and I founded Speak Up, a Hartford-based storytelling organization. Since then, we have produced six shows at Real Art Ways in Hartford. All have been sell outs.

We now teach storytelling workshops to people who want to become storytellers for a variety of reasons. Other venues throughout New England have reached out to us, asking us to consider bringing our show to them.

When someone asks me where I see myself in five years, I laugh. If you’re wiling to say yes to opportunities, as frightening or silly or impossible as they may seem, your life will change constantly.

The future will be impossible to predict. 

Three years ago, I was a guy who wanted to tell one story on one Moth stage. Someday. 

Today, storytelling has become an enormous part of my life.

It’s incredible to think that just three years ago, I was staring a website, asking friends and family to vote for my story, hoping that someone at The Moth would like my pitch enough to choose me.

Life can change fast if you give it a chance.

Why I love storytelling, and why I especially love The Moth

Ever since I told my first story live back in July of 2011 at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in New York City, I’ve fallen in love with storytelling. On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to win another Moth StorySLAM, my second in a row and sixth overall.


Here’s what I love about live storytelling so much:

Back in April of this year, I completed my fourth novel. I also wrote my first short story in more than a decade.

My novel is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2014. A handful of people have read the first draft, and I expect to hear from my editor soon about revisions (though I’m sure it’s already absolutely perfect). But the vast majority of readers will have to wait more than a year to read the book. 

I submitted the short story to a literary magazine. I should receive a response in September. I have no idea when it would be published if accepted.

That’s a minimum of a 17 month wait for the novel and a 5 month wait on the short story.

On Monday I wrote a story about the time a girlfriend and I went to the Virginia State Fair to see a two-headed cow.

I revised the story on Tuesday and Wednesday and then told the story to Elysha on the drive to New York on Thursday. She assisted with further revisions, making suggestions for sections to cut and assisting me with word choice to maximize humor.

About an hour before the StorySLAM, I walked about 40 blocks over to Housing Works from my sister-in-law’s apartment in midtown, speaking and revising the story along the way. I actually removed a large chunk of the story during my walk after realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to keep the story under six minutes. I texted Elysha to see if she approved of the change, and she did. 

About two hours later, I took the stage and told my story.

When I was finished, the audience’s reaction instantly told me how I had performed. I didn’t know if I would win the competition, but I knew that my hard work had paid off. The volume of their applause and cheers instantly told me that I had done well.

The judges confirmed the audience’s opinion by awarding me with high scores, and I was fortunate to maintain my lead throughout the night.

Immediate feedback. That’s what I love about storytelling. I prepare a story over a period of a week or so and then receive immediate feedback about my performance in the form of audience response, and in the case of The Moth, numerical scores.

Having grown up playing a lot of videogames, I’m the kind of person who wants to know how I’m doing at all times. I want to know my score, my opponent’s score, the all-time highest score and everything in between.

Storytelling, and especially competitive storytelling, affords me that opportunity. When I have finished telling a story onstage, I know exactly where I stand. 

It’s the lack of immediate feedback that makes novels and short stories so challenging. Even when my next novel publishes in the fall, the response from readers will trickle in over the course of a year or more.

Granted the novel allows me to reach more readers, and in the case of my last book, in more than 20 countries around the world. but the waiting is hard. Many authors will tell you that it’s one of the hardest part of writing.

When I have a story to tell, fiction or nonfiction, I don’t want to wait to share it with my readers. I want to tell it now. Have it heard now. Receive feedback now.

Storytelling fulfills this need while I wait for my other stories to wind their way through the agonizingly slow cogs of the publishing world.