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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: May 30, 2016

Moths in Flight

by Dame Wilburn

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Storyteller Dame Wilburn

Walking on the concourse, with security in my rearview, I make way for an early breakfast. A sandwich and a Dramamine later, I'm waiting at the gate and all I can think is, “How many socks did I pack? Did I pack my toothbrush? What’s the name of the hotel? Where’s my itinerary?” This is when it feels real - sitting in the sunlight shining through the huge windows at Detroit Metro Airport. It feels like the best day ever. It’s a flight day. Here in the airport, it's busy and empty at the same time. People come and go in all directions, and I am leaving home again. Leaving home to go visit my other family: my Moth Family.

On the plane the nerves kick in again. We start moving and my seat shakes to the potholes on the runway. And for a few seconds the plane gives gravity the slip and I can feel the collective weight of all of us - the plane, the people, the luggage, the fuel, the tires, the momentary fear. Someone says, loud enough for all of us to hear, “Flying is much safer than driving.” I’ve been on enough flights that I’ve heard this a million times. It’s the way the terrified reassure each other. We move from side to side, up and down but I am just eternally grateful for the Dramamine on this flight to a place I’ve never been before.

After landing, I find a taxi for the short trip to the hotel. In those few minutes the driver asks, “So, what brings you to…” I respond that I’m there to tell a story and he smiles. There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have heard of the Moth and those who haven’t. For those who haven’t heard of the Moth an explanation is almost impossible. 

The hotels are always beautiful on Moth trips, if not strange. The decor is regional or breathtaking, but always overwhelming. And finding the line for the front desk can be a task itself, depending on the place. The room reservation is always a challenge when you are a woman with a man’s name. Sometimes an ID helps, sometimes it doesn’t. I grab my room key and head to my room. I open my bag to count my socks and look for my toothbrush before I lay down. By 3:30, no matter where I am, it’s time to walk back into the world and head to the worst part of my day … rehearsal.

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Dame and others backstage before the show.

Moth rehearsals are like volunteering for a firing squad. The director, host, and storytellers sit together to share and listen to each other's story. There is food and water and juice and, if you’ve been out to a couple of shows, there may be a familiar face or two. If nothing else, the director and producer are there and you instantly feel at ease hearing their voices. But often times, we are strangers in a strange situation. Sitting down we get the basics out of the way first - each other's names, and where the bathrooms are - but then it's off to work. I tell my story, and of all the things I will do over the next 2-3 days this is the most unnerving, but I get awesome feedback. By the time the others tell their stories, it’s like we’ve already become old friends.

After rehearsal comes the best part: the meal, the feasting. We are Knights and we are about to go into battle. Knights cannot fight on empty stomachs. We walk the few blocks from the rehearsal site to the restaurant. The plates come and, because of this adventure, I find I’m eating things I would not normally eat. Everything is shared because, remember, "We are family now and I want you to taste this." The fear washes away with wine, jokes, and good conversation, and is accompanied by awe and gratitude.

As the restaurant begins to close down we start hatching the wild schemes for the next day. Sound check is rarely before 5:00 pm which means you have the whole day to learn something about this town, or to do something fun before it’s time to go on stage. As we walk and plot, we sound like a high school reunion heading back to the hotel. Sometimes I go into the city and walk and look and take in what it means to visit these great places, but for tonight I just sleep.

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At the New Bedford MainStage.

At sound check it's always, "How loud do you get? How quiet? What did you have for lunch?" Testing mics takes more than just standing there talking, it takes a lot of planning and adjusting. The folks who have done this before feel good and loose, but the new folks shake and are terrified. Usually, they are a hometown favorite and they have to talk in front of friends and family. But the thing about the Moth is that everyone is on your side. The audience, the producers, your fellow story tellers are rooting for you. They want you to do the very best you can and exceed your expectations of the night. This is a fraternity. We all support and reassure each other. This is the rarefied air of a MainStage storyteller and a rising tide lifts all boats. If none of that works there is always more wine in the green room.

Showtime and the stage is set. The hardest working person for the night is the host. They set the tone for the evening. They get the crowd on our side and hold them there for the next two hours. Waiting for my turn I feel a little sick in my stomach. My knees are acting as if they don’t want to work, but they have to work. We’ve come too far to stop now. The host introduces me with a handshake and a pat on the back,  and then I begin to adjust the mic. This is where the room gets quiet as the applause dies down. The coughing starts as people try to get all their noises out of the way before I open my mouth.

“We return to the days of sitting by a fire listening to someone talk about the things that make us human.”

This is my favorite feeling when I do the Moth. It’s that moment when we return to the days of sitting by a fire listening to someone talk about the things that make us human. From this moment on I’m taking them with me through a particular time in my life and it may or may not match a time in their life. As I share my story, I am transported with the audience until the applause brings all of us back into the auditorium. When I return to my seat. I am told that my story is 11-15 minutes long, but on that stage it feels like a minute. All at once, I am grateful for its brief existence and angered by its brevity, but not too long before applauding for my fellow Moths.

Soon, the show is over, and this is where it gets sad. My flights back to Detroit are always early, and there is a chance I won’t see these people again. They have heard a story about my life, they know things about me that I don’t know about myself. We shared a special thing for days now and, suddenly, we just part. Yet there are never tears. We made something beautiful so there is no need to cry. If I’m lucky I’ll get to take a ride to the airport with one of the storytellers and we can chat before we return to the regular world.  Back to airport food, Dramamine, and traveling companions.

On my flight home I sit next to a woman and she asks what was I doing on this trip. As always, I ask her has she ever heard of the Moth. She opens her phone to show me the podcast app. She smiles and nods and then tells me her story of the first time she listened to the Moth, and suddenly I am now her audience. I smile at her and give her my undivided attention and support. I want her to do well telling this story, because I am on her side.

Dame Wilburn is a community educator with Generation With Promise in Detroit Michigan and Chief Marketing Director for Twisted Willow Soap Company. Dame spends her free time writing poetry, singing, and working on her first book. She says that she is married to the most beautiful woman in the world.

For more stories from Dame, please visit her Storyteller Page.

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