“…And I see something coming at my face.” Leah tells the audience.
“But I can’t make it out because it’s dark, my glasses are wet and I am HANGRY — to say the least—so I yell at my boyfriend, ‘WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!!’ and as I turn around to look at him I see three men behind us waving massive machetes.”
Leah pauses, “My intuition kicks in and I ROAR from my gut in a way that isn’t human. I scream, “FUUUCCKKK YYOOUU” and suddenly all three of them jump back at the same time. I scare the shit out of them with a mama bear roar like I’ve never done in my life — I just keep screaming. And it works.”
“So then my boyfriend starts screaming,” she tells us. “And the men start to scream. And I hear my boyfriend yell, ‘RUN’ and as I turn to run it feels like I’m in slow motion. I’m really, really trying to run, but the mud is thick, it’s raining and the cortisol has flooded my system so I can barely move. I used everything I had to scream and save our lives. The men had started to run the other direction and I just couldn’t move in that mud,” she tells us.
“My boyfriend grabs my backpack, his flip flop breaks in the mud, and I do the best I can to run up the hill to get back to our hostel,” Leah says.
She pauses as the room is silent.
“It was the most painful, excruciating run I’ve ever done. But I’m grateful we made it out alive. And I guess the lesson is… just trust your gut — trust your instincts” she says.
As she finishes, Leah lets out a little sigh of relief for recounting the tale in front of the STORY audience. “I did it,” she says under her breath.
People in the audience snap their fingers and clap. Most are on the edge of their seats and letting out loud sighs. Leah stands in front of them, strong and smiling in her Christmas sweater. She’s been sharing how she and an ex-boyfriend narrowly escaped getting mugged during a trip to Guatemala.
Molly Kittle, the host, quickly stands up and says to everyone, “Ok, ok — what’d you see, what’d you get, what’d you notice. I’m taking three hands for reflection…”
And this is how it goes at STORY in Bernal Heights.
This is a monthly storytelling event organized by Molly Kittle. The venue is Verve Wellness Studio on Cortland Avenue. And every month there’s a mix of Bernal neighbors, enthusiastic storytellers and interesting people who come together with the intention of connecting through sharing personal stories.
Kittle has been hosting this event for almost three years. “We have this zero-sum game in our culture that’s like, ‘I have my ‘one best story’, she explained.
“And I’m trying to show people they have bajillions of stories. It’s about their presence and ability to step into it and speak it that turns it into a story. It doesn’t have to be about the best content. It’s about sharing a part of themselves that feels vulnerable and from the heart. Because that’s what creates connection,” Kittle says.
So there are a few ground rules that help storytellers feel brave and to have the audience participate.
Each volunteer storyteller has five minutes to share a personal story, read something they’ve written, or even sing. Molly offers help to people who want to share or they are free to prepare on their own.
What makes the night unique is the audience participation. They aren’t passive. Instead, after the teller is finished there’s a round of reflection about what people heard and felt. It’s not an opportunity for critique, it’s a way to create a connection between the audience and the storyteller. (If you want to learn more about Molly’s philosophy you can read about that here.)
Her format supports her belief that all great things happen in collaboration. They happen when we ask for help and when we come together. So she’s created an opportunity to experience connection through sharing personal stories.
To participate in STORY at Verve Wellness Studio, check out the monthly calendar and sign up ahead of time.
Photos courtesy of Molly Kittle
Jen Baxter is a content writer and strategist helping companies creatively craft the story of their business online. You can see more of her work at JenBaxter.com or follow her on Instagram @JenBaxterSF