“I’m willing to bet you I had the craziest neighbor as a child and not the kind of crazy you want to mess with,” Junior Bailey Schott told the crowd of roughly twenty students Tuesday morning at the Freedom Café.
Schott, a student from Jaed Coffin’s creative non-fiction class told the story of this crazy neighbor and how a specific altercation with this neighbor helped define who he is today.
“I was riding my bike with no hands and I got too close to the edge of the road and slipped into Carol’s yard and heard, 'Hey! Go Home!' As a troublemaker, I decided to do it again and ride a circle in her lawn—doing the show for no one but myself. A few minutes later she came out on her back deck and lifted something over her head,” he said.
It was in this moment that Bailey explained as the longest 10 seconds of his life when he realized what was tucked behind her back: a gun.
“I got closer to see what it was and I got about halfway down her driveway and realized it was a shotgun, as she pointed it at me. And for the longest 10 seconds of my life, I stood frozen in shock,” he explained to the crowd.
Schott was one of the four other students who told their stories about a defining moment which shaped who they are to this day. Schott’s story about a gun being pointed at him as a young teen was one that someone may expect having trouble speaking upon—not Schott though.
“I wrote a bulleted script and read it a couple of times. I also recorded myself saying the story aloud, but other than that I kept it more on the spot and natural. I felt good about it after because I felt like I delivered my story and kept everyone entertained,” he described.
Each student was assigned to a different group each depicting a different theme, from defining moments, loss, and more. So, what exactly was Professor Coffin trying to recreate that Tuesday morning at the café? The Moth Story Hour.
The Moth has been around since 1997 and has been focused on providing people with the opportunity to share their stories. Their Moth Radio hour started in 2009 and now airs throughout over 400 different stations. As well as a weekly podcast which re-runs the stories which were featured on the radio hour.
Their focus on the craft and art of storytelling has opened the doors to a plethora of different people to share their voice and ideas—one of those people being Coffin.
Coffin appeared on the show in November of 2018 with his story titled “Poppins’ Coffin” which tells what seems to be the humorous experience of Coffin and his family getting their first cat, that turns into a love story—finally coming full circle to a greater message.
“I want to provide students with this big thing, slowly introduce it, and trickle this big thing down into this small thing that they can be a part of,” explained Coffin when talking about bringing the Moth Story hour into a classroom environment.
Coffin said that he had originally tried to bring this idea to a coffee shop in Portsmouth to provide students an opportunity to get off campus and be exposed to new places and things but found it to be problematic trying to get students out there.
But despite the issues surrounding the Portsmouth idea, Coffin didn’t give up and booked the Freedom Café located in Durham this time around. The idea, for his students to gather in a totally different environment, jacked up on free coffee and tea and get away from the usual classroom setting and to just simply do something different, something they might not have been exposed to in college.
“For me, it’s important to stray away from the traditional route of here’s your syllabus, complete these assignments and you will get a grade. I want to do things differently; I want to provide students an opportunity to get involved in things they might be passionate about, things that are different and new,” he explained.
Schott said despite his lack of experience speaking in front of a group, Coffin did a proficient job preparing him and his classmates for this experience—showing them multiple examples of Moth stories, providing group time in class to help prepare and time outside of class in one on one conferences.
“After I wrote that script, I gave him my synopsis of the story without reading from the script and he’d listen but also give feedback as I went. He’d tell me to elongate some parts by letting the audience into my mind and telling what I was thinking,” he explained.
This one on one time deemed greatly beneficial for Schott. Saying that without Coffin’s on the spot critique and advice, he wouldn’t have had the knowledge or awareness of when to bring it back full circle and provide the audience with the idea that at the end of this story, this event, in turn, shaped his behavior and taught him a lesson.
That lesson, simply put, people you think you know very well could snap and pull a shotgun out on you at any moment.
As well as the actual presentation of the speeches, according to Coffin a big part of a Moth Hour is the visual and audio production of it. So, Coffin put one of his students up to the challenge of producing this event. That student, Christian Kiss.
“I’ve been working with this stuff for about two years now. Coffin has been supportive of this passion of mine and offered me the opportunity to record and capture this event,” explained Kiss, a communications major who has a passion for filmmaking and photography.
Kiss explained that Coffin has gotten him gigs outside of this event as well, working with the Paul Creative Arts Center and a project of theirs’s last semester but nothing like a Moth Story.
“I’ve never recorded live talking events, so I’ve been dealing with some microphone issues but nothing major. It’s been fun to work with my classmates in this way,” he said.
Kiss also explained that Coffin is like no other professor he’s had on this campus, always providing students with the ability to do with what speaks to them and what they enjoy doing—rather than forcing material in their face.
“He always makes it a point to us that if we have something more important to do than come to class to make that a priority, but he obviously still wants us to show up,” explained Kiss. “The thing that he says bothers him the most is when he walks through Ham Smith and looks into classrooms and see’s students head down and slouched in their chairs, he’s made that a point of emphasis for that not to happen in his classes.”
Coffin looks to implement this not only in his creative non-fiction classes but also in other courses he teaches. Despite him being an assistant professor here on campus, he is willing to continue to take these risks of different assignments and open classroom environment in order for students to be exposed to new opportunities like moth hour readings and other events that in turn create a better learning environment and help keep his students involved and interested.
“Speak, I mean no stress… but just speak,” Coffin said with a big smile on his face to the first speaker of the morning.