Ground Zero is a performing arts center nestled in the basement of Nugent Residence Hall. Like most basements, it is dimly lit and humid yet cozy and comfortable. Armchairs and couches face the small stage that is less than a foot off of the ground. In the corner is a bar that serves soda and water out of coffee mugs. Decorating the walls are paintings, posters, vinyl records, and other paraphernalia.
On Saturday, November 5, I sat in the corner next to a friend, a large model skull wearing a party hat, and what I believe was a painting of Jeff Bridges playing the saxophone. The only lights were small red, orange, and green spotlights that pointed towards the stage. There were around 30 to 40 people there but I could hardly make out any faces across the room. A paper plate was passed around. If you were interested in sharing a story, you had to sign the plate. Once it was full, the stories began.
“My father once told me, ‘Son, never talk about your problems. Half of them don’t care and the other half are glad that you have them’”, the first story began. Most of the stories were lighthearted and anecdotal, like this one. There was also one about one person’s attempt to go swing-dancing in Albany, only to have all the buses he takes to get there meet with improbable accidents. Another person shared the story of his trying to go on a date with the best friend of his ex-girlfriend that he had dated for four years. One of the last speakers told the story of the time he performed a concert in a club that turned out to be the home of an eccentric squatter.
Other stories were more sincere and personal. One person told a story about how a homicide in his hometown affected the people he knew, himself, and his ability to empathize. Another talked about how a near-death experience brought her closer to her sister.
Most of the stories, however, fell somewhere in between these two sides. There was one person who told the surprisingly humorous story of how she was unknowingly taken to a mental health retreat. Another talked about his experience being lost in the wilderness for 36 hours yet maintained a good sense of humor about the entire ordeal.
The most poignant of these stories was one that brought together both humor and sincerity incredibly well. So well, that it won the competition. The story was about how her parents met, began to date, but then eventually parted ways after her father moved back to his home country of Malaysia. However, they were brought back together three years after he had left when her mother discovered a calculator that he had given her as an anniversary present. Within the saved answers of that calculator was his home phone number in Malaysia. She called, they reconnected, and shortly eloped.
The whole night demonstrated the power stories have to not only bring people together and make them feel connected, but also to communicate complex emotions and thoughts that are often difficult to express. I really enjoyed the competition and I sincerely hope there are more in the future.