We all know that I’ve got a new drug. I wish it were exercise, but whatevs. It’s something even better.

In my previous post, I told you how I stumbled onto the craft of storytelling. Hearing people on stage telling true yarns of their adventures, some happy, some sad, others randomly in between. All of them honest, stark and bare.

Reading my First story at the Holiday Club in Chicago at the Story Club Chicago event. Photo via Lily Be.

I’d quickly fallen in love with this genre that’s steadily building in Chicago and started thinking about telling a story of my own. Though there’s several storytelling events in the city, I’d taken a shine to one called Story Club Chicago. It’s the first Thursday of each month and hosted by Dana Norris. About five minutes after I met her, listening to her talk about her writing, I knew I’d stumbled upon a gem.

Each Story Club has three or four “Featured” story tellers, these guys are the pros. Before they take the stage, there’s an open mic session.  To participate in that, arrive early, put your name in the hat and it’s drawn out.

Last week, I began to wonder if it was time to throw my name in the hat. I went to the Story Club website to see what this month’s theme was. It was “Firsts.” I started thinking about my Firsts. First kiss, first boyfriend, first love, first heartbreak, first car, first car accident, first … you get the gist.

Then out of nowhere I remembered an incident when I was covering the backlash of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. And I vividly recalled interviewing an angry young man. I thought that without a doubt that experience was a First. I had my story.

I sat down one evening to write, spent about an hour tapping away on my computer and then started falling asleep. Yes, it was that scintillating. The next morning I took my mother-in-law shopping while the nanny looked after the boys. Instead of looking for deals, I slipped into a Starbucks and finished the story less than two hours later.

I wasn’t sure how it sounded, so since the random chic next to me seemed artsy and quirky, I asked her if I could read her the piece.  She liked it, and I figured, good enough. I’ll read it tonight.

I tried to explain storytelling to my Norwegian mother-in-law and she sighed saying: “You Americans will do anything to be in the spotlight.” I laughed because, she’s largely right.

That evening, our nanny returned and Hubby, his mom and me headed into the city. I wasn’t sure if I was going to read, but I printed out my piece just in case I found some nerve.

We got settled in and I signed up for open mic while I had the courage. A bit later Dana took the stage,

Image from Story Club Chicago.

her hand swirled the names inside the hat and she pulled out a menacing slip of white paper. My legs went numb.

“God don’t let it be me because I won’t be able to walk to the stage.”

Thankfully, He heard me. A guy got up and did a stand-up routine. Definitely not storytelling, but hey, it’s open mic, meaning it’s a mixed bag of nuts. A couple more people hit the mic and then I started to think.

You know, it would be nice to be called up because my mother-in-law is here and she’s never been to something like this, not to mention my theme of Firsts really seems to fit.

God? Can you please have them call my name?

Then Dana’s hand went rustling about the hat again. “This woman…”

I leaned over and honestly and desperately whispered to Hubby: “God I hope it’s not me…”

… Melanie Coffee!!!!”

Damn. That’s my name. Welp, here goes nothing. I got up on stage and began my tale.

I started off talking about the Sept. 11 attacks and felt the audience brace itself. We’ve all heard of the many horrible stories from that horrible day. But my story was different. It was about a different kind of ugly that came after the planes flew into the buildings. Soon I could feel the group of about 70 warm to me as I talked about my brush with racism from a new perspective.

As I walked through the details of approaching an agitated crowd screaming “Down with brown!” A little voice inside my head goes: I can’t believe you’re reading this story to a room full of white people.

Alas being honest about our experiences helps bring us together.

The following is a link to my story.. It turns out the audience voted me as the winner of the open mic at Story Club and it will also be featured on an upcoming podcast called Broad Shoulders. Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted because I’m sure this isn’t the end of the story.






My New Obsession, Part II: They Gave Me A Mic — 17 Comments

  1. Congrats on having the nerves to get up and do it and win on top of that.
    What a story! I got tense and nerves just reading about you approaching that group. Having worked in tv news, I now know why I chose to be behind the scenes. I would still be sitting in my car waiting for “Uncle” Mike!

  2. Great story Melanie. And of course you won!! Don’t lie- winning is everything. As the great Ricki Bobby says “if you’re not first, you’re last!”.

    Totally kidding. Proud of you and can’t wait to check out the storytelling scene.

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  4. Whoa! Fantastic! This made me cry because I am proud of you. It takes nerve to relate a painful moment for the betterment of others. Good work.

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