Old Mr. Ma – Cara at The Moth GrandSlam in L.A.


At The Moth GrandSlam on July 24 at L.A.’s historic Regent Theatre, I was honored to share the stage with some of the best storytellers around as we told stories on the night’s theme: Identity Crisis. Please check out this 6-minute video of me performing Old Mr. Ma, the story of my grandma, me, and my search for her father’s Chinese roots.

About The GrandSlam: These events always feature 10 storytellers who have won local StorySlams. Each tells a five-minute story to a live audience in a friendly competition for one of The Moth’s greatest honors: GrandSlam Champ. On our night, 500-plus people listened to us share the most vulnerable, unusual, ridiculous moments we’ve spent seeking answers to the question: who am I? It was a thrilling night of people connecting through the power of story.

About The Moth: “The Moth’s mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience.” Put simply, The Moth is: true stories, told live, without notes. If you haven’t yet, I recommend listening to The Moth Radio Hour or The Moth Podcast. Beware: it’s addicting.

 

Shelly and The 105 – Cara Shares a Story at Unheard L.A.


The dedicated producers at KPCC In Person recently invited me to perform in their live storytelling series, Unheard L.A.—The Stories of Where you Live. In case you haven’t seen it, please check out the video above. Unheard L.A. puts community voices center stage, true stories of struggle and survival, hope and fear, and the unexpected. This show took place March 11, in my hometown of Downey, at The Downey Theatre, where I used to perform as a teen and once cried in the bathroom after I kicked a fellow dancer during a Charleston routine in Showboat. Telling my story went much better. I felt buoyed by the warm audience, and it was one of the proudest nights of my life to be part of this celebration of L.A.’s eclectic community. If you want to skip to my story about how a freeway changed my life, you can go to 50:51, but I suggest watching the whole terrific show.

 

Just Me and My Cross – Cara Wins The Moth StorySlam in L.A.


After more than a year striving to find my voice in the world of oral storytelling, I won The Moth StorySlam in L.A. on January 23, 2018. The night’s topic was Achilles Heel. It was humbling to win with a story about my weaknesses. I now qualify to compete in a Moth Grand Slam with nine other StorySlam winners. There are no prizes, just the joy of celebrating the human experience with fellow storytellers and an enthusiastic audience. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, if you’re unfamiliar with live storytelling, I recommend checking out The Moth Radio Hour or The Moth Podcast. You’re in for an unforgettable experience in the power of story.

Who was the Liar?

Remember how, to kick off the New Year, I posted my latest performance on the Los Angeles storytelling show and podcast, Two Truths and a Lie? Then you’ll recall I was one of three people who shared personal stories about Survival, and host Dan Shapiro asked the audience to guess which one of us was lying. Ready to find out the answer? Then check out this four-and-a-half minute Reveal episode, in which the liar of the night confesses. Enjoy!

And hey, if you want a refresher on the story I told that night, here’s a video of my performance:

Grampa Versus The Thomas Fire

Looking for a little New Year excitement? Please check out my latest oral story in the Two Truths & a Lie podcast. For this episode, the topic is: Survival. This time I perform a story about fleeing the largest wildfire in California history. The Thomas Wildfire invaded our small town of Ventura the night of December 4, 2017.

Two Truths and a Lie is a live storytelling show in which three performers share personal stories. The catch? One of us is lying. Can you guess who it is? Host Dan Shapiro will reveal the liar in the next episode, so please check out my next blog post for a link to the big Reveal, which will include a confession from the liar of the night. Happy New Year!

On A Limb

I’ve just completed a final revision of my novel—though let’s face it, it ain’t over till the fat publishing contract sings. The twinned elation and depression of completion puts me in the mood to share something. If you read the novel, you’ll find this out sooner or later anyway: turns out this story I’ve been working on for nine years has taken on social topics so uncomfortable they make me squirm. Part of me thinks, “Yes! That’s where the good stuff is.” Another part of me thinks, “Damn, girl, you do go out on a limb, don’t you?” What can I say? This is the book I had in me.

I fear that writing a story which reveals something of the way I see the world, will prompt some to see it as activism, even though my aspiration is to create art. Not that I shy away from action, but I prefer to pick my battles, to lobby for action on climate change, to convince our leaders to do everything in their power to stop it in its tracks and reverse its course if possible.

Yet the novel I’ve written is not about climate. It’s about everything else, everything I’ve faced that many people don’t realize has anything to do with me because I don’t look the part. Because I’ve never looked or behaved like any one categorizable thing. By chance, I believe I’ve lived the leading edge of a trend that scares people, but which is the way of the future if only we avoid causing our own extinction: a mass assimilation of all races, ethnicities, and cultures, until the planet is a soft blend of colors and textures all running into one another, a marriage of the yin and yang of traits traditionally divided into feminine and masculine, and a spiritual life that embraces all humane expressions of love and divinity.

My historical novel is a story of the search for home and belonging. It’s about a girl caught at the center of a struggle she never wanted. All she ever wanted was home and family, but in a patriarchal age she finds herself fighting for freedom and self-actualization, if only to protect her limited feminine sphere.

This novel is also about a man who is all the bad things that can make us fear strangers and, if we live the examined life, can make us fear ourselves.

It’s a novel about the other, about immigrants, about refugees, war, social justice, family violence, sexual abuse, patriarchy and matriarchy, power and control, women’s repression and empowerment, racism and sexism, religion and atheism, friendship and romance and betrayal, heterosexuality and homosexuality and asexuality.

I did not do this on purpose. I only meant to tell a story of two immigrants from two different countries who come together in America. But as I finished the story, the socio-political climate of the real world made it clear why my novel was bound to splinter into so many pieces. When people from different worlds come together to create a new one, one thing is inevitable: collision. This can lead to synthesis or combustion, or both. Anybody who paid attention in high school chemistry understands this. When you combine different elements, both magic and mayhem can ensue.

Maybe if we accept that reality, we can begin to accept each other, even the ugly bits.

A few have suggested I change my novel’s antagonist, because they didn’t know whether to hate him or feel sorry for him. I’ve come to see that this is how bad guys tend to affect us in the real world. I’ve also come to accept that I don’t need to illuminate every last pustule of evil. My new motto as I made my recent round of cuts: “A little bit of my bad guy goes a long way.” Too bad we can’t edit flesh-and-blood bullies this way.

Fiction, it turns out, is not an escape, but an entering into the world at a more profound level. I don’t believe in writing with the idea of teaching a moral or making a point. Rather, I seek to reflect what I discover as I explore human nature. I hope these reflections have something to say to someone who cares to hear it.

It is the story that was in me, so how could I help but tell it? If you ever pick up my novel, The Candlelight Bridge, I hope something in it reminds you of a story of your own, maybe one that you have yet to tell…or to live. Then together we can sit out on our limbs, and perhaps imagine a whole tree strong enough to hold us all, come magic or mayhem.

My Killer Eggs – Live at The Moth StorySlam in L.A.

I told this true personal story at The Moth StorySlam in Los Angeles on June 6, 2017. The theme was “Mystery.” I came in third place, for which I won: nothing…except pride in getting better at this art form every day. I love oral storytelling. What an exciting way to connect with community, share what we all have in commoon, and increase our understanding of one another! If you’re unfamiliar with live storytelling, I recommend you check out The Moth and listen to either The Moth Radio Hour, which also plays on many NPR affiliates, or the online podcast. The stories are funny, moving, surprising…and addicting.