Nashvillians Embrace the Art of Storytelling

By Jeffrey Jenkins on August 20, 2019

Imagine being in a small church basement, full of unfamiliar faces. People kneel in front of folding chairs with their backs to each other before, suddenly, making eerie noises and unorthodox movements.

Amanda Bloomer, 36, was so captivated by her encounter with people speaking in tongues that she shared the story at a recent Tenx9 event.

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Tenx9 (pronounced ten by nine) is a monthly community storytelling night where participants share true tales based around a theme. Nine people have up to 10 minutes to tell a story from their lives. For two hours, they immerse themselves in the experience and allow themselves to be taken to places where only a vast compilation of emotions can take you. Tenx9 originated in Belfast, Ireland, in 2011, and has since produced various chapters around the world including Chicago and Nashville here in the States.

Michael McRay, 27, founded Tenx9 Nashville in 2013 as the first affiliate established outside of Belfast, and he has run it every month since. Through an extensive study of history at Lipscomb University, grad school at Trinity College, Dublin, and a degree in conflict resolutions, McRay has a deep interest in stories and, “what it reveals to us to be human,” he says.

McRay is also the author of two books, so storytelling is something he has invested a lot of time in.

Tenx9 has become a staple of the Nashville community, appealing to the likes of millennials and older folks alike. No creative fiction, poetry or short stories are allowed —  only real, authentic, experiences and sentiments shared with such transparency that provokes the dwindling emotions lingering within you.

“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live,” notes an Irish proverb highlighted on their website that represents the true nature of what Tenx9 is all about.

“That really stood out to me, and I thought I would love to be a part of that,” Bloomer says. This occasion marked her second time performing at Tenx9.

Everyone loves a good story. It was not surprising to see a decent amount of millennials mixed in with a crowd of mainly middle-aged people. The uniqueness and premise of Tenx9 is intriguing enough to draw in a crop of people from any demographic.

“I was really excited to see some younger people at it. It just seems like a place where people can get those connections, which I think is really hard to find in Nashville,” says Adele Malpert, 23, a Tenx9 attendee.

”{Storytelling} allows us an opportunity to be authentic, and vulnerable with each other,” McRay says.

These sentiments are noticeably emulated through Tenx9, as every story told provides an honest recollection of the storyteller’s experience, and is a significant journey into the person’s genuine thoughts.

One such story was that of Bloomer’s, who told the interesting story of her cathartic “transcendental” experience in the back room of a church pretending to speak tongues so as to not seem out of place.

Bloomer says that honesty is the most important element of storytelling to her, and that ”you’re looking for the honesty from yourself or from whoever’s telling the story.”

This honesty was immediately prevalent at the beginning of Bloomer’s performance, as she explains this experience occurring during a time when she was rehabbing from a cocaine addiction and living at a halfway house.

Another story, told by Darlene Valencia, documented her vast family lineage and the interesting facts she discovered while researching her ancestry, and the meaning behind a strange family motto.

Valencia says the most important element of storytelling to her is the formatting of the stories and how they are built up to grab people’s attention.

The variety of stories that you’ll hear at a Tenx9 event is definitely one of its appeals, and likewise, the variety of ways in which you can tell a story are endless as well.

Elizabeth Barr, 23, another Tenx9 attendee, alludes to this by explaining how millennials have utilized social media to tell stories.

“Twitter is a short story that people tell,” Barr says. “I’m really into podcasts right now; I really enjoy that aspect of storytelling. … Now you really can hear different stories from different people, where you normally wouldn’t.”

Barr says the most important element of storytelling to her is “to be willing to go to places, opening yourself up, and not worrying about what other people think. I know that’s hard for me; it’s got to be hard for other people too, so I think that’s pretty important.”

“Storytelling is an opportunity to really understand how someone experiences the world around them, and what’s important to them,” says Malpert. “I think there’s really something magical in terms of what someone chooses to tell a story about in essence that something is significant if I feel the need to tell a story about it… “It feels like someone is giving me a gift.”

Malpert also explains that being genuine when telling or listening to a story is the most important aspect of storytelling to her.

“One of the things that I really liked about a lot of the stories I heard this week (at Tenx9) was just that it sounded like everyone was really telling things how they happened, and in a way that was very true to what they wanted to say,” she says. “I never really got the impression that anyone was holding anything back, and I really appreciated that.”

I am an ambitious writer with a passion for telling stories and using words to create meaningful perspectives. I aspire to use this passion towards a rewarding career as versatile freelance writer. I love music, basketball and am a die hard Michigan Wolverines fan.

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