2004’s bluest shirt. Photo credit: The Moth, duh.

Allow Me To Brag About A Story I Told At The Moth That I Refuse To Listen To

I told a story for The Moth way back in 2004. It was one of their main stage shows held at Crash Mansion in New York City and it was hosted by author Jonathan Ames. The theme of the show was “Who’s Your Daddy?”

It turns out, to my horror, that audio from that ancient show exists. It exists and you can listen to it! I refuse, however. Hearing my voice from that distance may trigger flashbacks to what I refer to as The Troubles. Those were years in a blender. I don’t understand why every time travel story doesn’t abruptly end with the time traveler going back in time and crying his or her eyes out because we were all beautiful once. Beautiful but dim.

Let me explain why I can’t bring myself to listen to this old recording in a longwinded, self-aggrandizing fashion. First, though, let’s all learn a lesson together: the past is an ex-lover who never gets over it.

I don’t do “humblebrags.” I believe in boldfaced bragging: I can fry a perfect egg. For a brief time I had an office Segway at a men’s magazine where I was an editor. And, once, almost 12 years ago, I told a story at The Moth, I think, about going to a shooting range while my father was undergoing chemotherapy. He had died two years prior. During those two years, and the following seven, I drank alcohol. But there’s a twist! I’m an alcoholic. All things considered, there are more shocking twists. That one was a doozy to me though.

I didn’t know that then, of course. All I knew was that I knew how to avoid it, all of it, the teeth, the ghosts, the grief. He was dead, and I went swimming.

The Moth recently published a recording of that story via their podcast. I thought this performance was lost. It wasn’t. I can’t listen to it. The thought of listening fires all my anxiety torpedoes. I’ve also never been able to stand the sound of my own lisp. Plus it’s mildly embarrassing, like discovering old gush notes passed during class in high school.

I don’t even really remember telling the story. I remember the scotch. And the host, who was very kind. I remember the encouragement of The Moth staff. But the whole standing in front of a microphone and a packed house to show off the incisions? No. I must have gone into a liquor trance. I don’t even know the man telling the story anymore. The man telling that story in 2004 was afraid. He was in pain. He would eventually black out that night, wake up, and do it all over again and again and again. Drunks prefer a simple life schedule.

You can listen to it, though. I think you should. In addition to being a braggart, I am also hopelessly vain. So tell me it’s good. Tell me my voice is sturdy, like, if a tree could talk, that would be my voice. A sexy tree. Tell me that the story made sense. That I didn’t sound nervous. Tell me I sounded sober. Tell me you didn’t hear the wounds smacking their lips. Tell me you didn’t smell the booze. Tell me I’m not pathetic. Most of all: tell me I sound handsome.

I’m afraid to listen because I’m afraid I’ll try to talk to myself, like a dog who barks at his own reflection in the mirror. Shout “Go to therapy!” Or “Stop being such a self-pitying wuss!” Shout that everything works out, ugly. But, hey, at least it works out, kiddo.

A moth is a goth butterfly. Eventually, I would emerge from a cocoon transformed into a goth butterfly. (The cocoon is a metaphor for the support of friends, the love of family, and the help of mental health professionals.)

The story I told was originally published in the now defunct New York Press, an alternative weekly newspaper. (RIP New York Press.) I wrote it, drunk, while visiting my family in Texas and emailed it the moment it was done, and immediately got a response back from the editor. The internet was so much more fun back then, before it filled up with so many people. It was one of the first times I was ever able to take hurt and turn it into just enough money that I’d have to pay taxes on it. That story doesn’t exist online anymore. I have three yellowing copies of the newspaper back in Texas. No one read it except for one key person, and that’s why I ended up on The Moth.

I was coached by Catherine Burns, who is the current Artistic Director of The Moth. I am a shameless name-dropper. If Hogwarts had a Storytelling Professor, Catherine would be a great choice. She is funny and intense and open-hearted and if you ever get the chance to give her your trust, she will pull a story out of you like an exorcist. She’s also a friend. An old friend. The kind of friend who picks up up when you fall down. Anyway, Catherine helped me turn my emotionally-raw overshare into a performance. That’s what she did, and does, and has done for an entire generation of storytellers all over the world.

The Moth, if you don’t know, and you may not, is an organization dedicated to storytelling. How could you have made it this far into whatever this is — blog post? Medium thing? Overlong feelings essay? — without knowing? Moving on. It started out small, and now it is big. Their ranks include hundreds of people — the world-famous, and the beginner alike — telling true, hilarious, heartbreaking and, most of all, human stories about life. It’s a fucking delight. Important, silly, affirming, honest, shocking. So good. If a deep-space probe loaded with The Moth’s entire catalog were discovered floating in space by aliens, they would understand what it meant to be a living, feeling, thinking being on our planet during the turn of this century.

Anyway, go to one of their many GrandSlams. Tell a story. Listen. You’ll have a great time.

One thing The Moth teaches it’s storytellers is to end your story strong. This story will have a weak ending. There will be no twist. You should donate to The Moth. Then brag about it over brunch to your friends. It’s much cooler than subscribing to The New Yorker (which is a magazine I love even if I read it for the pictures.)

Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. Personally, I’m going to listen to one of their other podcasts. There are so many to choose from. Real voices in your ear, telling you we’re all in this together.

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