There’s Before Coronavirus (BC). In mid-February, I was at the “In My Mind” slam to listen and blog. I thought nothing of striding into Lakefront Brewery, mixing and mingling. News coming out of Wuhan was ominous, but seemed far away.

Then, there’s After Coronavirus (AC). Yesterday, I freaked when I had to deliver my dead car battery to the parts store to get charged. I masked up. My breathing went shallow and my head turned like a periscope as I tried to track the movements of every person in the store. Before Coronavirus seems to have been several lifetimes ago.

So – April 9, I settled onto my living room couch to blog the first Virtual Story Slam in Ex Fabula history. Ex Fabula’s staff, board and sponsors have risen to the challenge of connecting us when we can’t be in the same room together. They’ve mastered Zoom. Their intelligence, savvy and passion for Ex Fabula’s mission have carried the day.

The theme was “Faith”! The first teller to fill the maximized screen was Leah Anderson. Leah is fluid in her beliefs. She’s alert and open to whatever faith or power serves to get her through at any given moment. Leah left college teaching to become a kindergarten teacher.

Her first year in the classroom, she was paired with a teacher who couldn’t have been less compatible. Her interactions with the children modeled everything Leah hoped NOT to do. Leah really had to get her credentials, so she hung in there, but stress was mounting.

Leah had a massage therapist she turned to regularly. This therapist was a witch too, as she told Leah. She’d ask highly unusual questions during massages – stuff no one else would think to ask. And Leah unloaded her troubles with her classroom nemesis. Have you put her in the freezer yet? Leah was intrigued.

The massage therapist described a spell that involved the freezer. Not a malevolent one. Leah was to write down wonderful things that might happen to the teacher that would have the happy side effect of taking her out of Leah’s life. It worked! Cuts at the school led to her principal’s decision to move her to a different classroom.

Next to fill the screen was Ex Fabula stalwart Barbara Leigh. She described a 1987 trip with her theater troupe when their van left the icy road and crashed. As she woke and realized what was happening, she had an intense feeling that she was held – by a giant hand – and that everything would be okay. She wasn’t afraid.

Things weren’t entirely okay. The compression fracture to Barbara’s spine left her paralyzed from the waist down. A beloved member of the troupe, who’d been driving, was in a coma. But she found herself surrounded by a community of support and love. Barbara described the various acts of kindness, professional competence, humor and community support that proved that her faith – the safe feeling the “giant hand” gave her that night – was well placed.

The sole newbie of the night was Paul Race, and redemption was his theme. He was a high school senior in 1975 with everything planned out. He’d graduate, then enter the Marine Corps six weeks after. He just needed two more credits. He filled his last semester schedule with heavy classes: tennis, golf, bowling and archery.

He was in archery class on the very last day. Their teacher was called out of class to take a phone call. When he came back in, all the arrows had been shot into the ceiling and no one owned up. Peter tore out of there, thinking maybe he’d gotten away clean.

But later that day, the guidance counselor called home and spoke to his mother. And suggested that this prank would hold up Paul’s graduation. His mother wasn’t having it! She told the guidance counselor I’ve had him for 18 years already! You will not keep the Marine Corps from taking him!!!! So Paul graduated, and to redeem himself for making his archery teacher suffer, he eventually became a public school teacher.

Peter May shared a reflection about how sharing stories opens our eyes to how things look to people whose lives are vastly different than ours. He struck up a conversation with the hygienist at his dentist’s. Maria told him she looked forward to a road trip to Texas to visit her sister. As they discussed long hauls on the interstate, Peter learned about her childhood on the road with her family, migrant workers. She described sleeping in the car, or in rest stop restrooms. Contrary to what Peter expected, the sound of cars on the highway soothes her! Peter felt the richer for listening and learning rather than assuming.

Sara Beth Nelson wrapped up the evening. She and her classmates in band used to argue and debate their religious beliefs. Sara felt that non-Christian people could go to heaven. Other classmates said, no. Impossible. After a time, Sara wondered if she was the only one she knew who felt that way.

In her junior year, her friend Dean, a trombone player, took it up a notch. He told her that not only did you have to be Christian to go to heaven…you also had to believe this to be true. If you didn’t, you actually couldn’t be a Christian. That rattled Sara. Well, then I’m not a Christian.

That felt freeing to Sara, but it felt like a loss too. She was mad at Dean. She felt awkward when their band played at an assisted living facility and she came face to face with Dean’s father at the snack table. She was surprised when, after introductions, his dad said I think you’re good for Dean. See, she and Dean and their other friends challenged each other to defend and explore their beliefs. And Dean’s dad was right. Friends like that are good for you.

The Zoom voting process was seamless! Leah Anderson won the crown with her story of effective witchcraft. In all of our homes, cursors found the “leave meeting” icon, and we collectively experienced the pandemic equivalent of a crowd thinning out!

Teller Summaries

  1. Leah Anderson Witchcraft in the Freezer
  2. Barbara Leigh Being Held in a Giant Hand
  3. Paul Race Archery Class
  4. Peter May Living in Her Car
  5. Sara Beth Nelson You are Good for Him