Cocoon Storytellers Share Revelations

By FINNE MURPHY

AARON KIMBALL
Alumna Rachel Liddell ’15 took the stage to discuss her frenzied post-grad job search.

I would consider myself a pretty punctual person, but when I arrived at the Robinson Concert Hall for the fourth annual Cocoon, the seats were already brimming to capacity. Only after climbing to the balcony did I manage to find a place to hear the six stories that would enchant and move me that night.

Three students, two Middlebury community members, a Middlebury alumna and a faculty member took the stage on Friday, Oct. 7 to share stories of love, loss, journeys and hijinks in front of a 400-person audience.

As Co-host and Co-producer August Hutchinson ’16.5 described, “Cocoon is meant to be a pleasant and thought-provoking way for individuals to communally spend an evening, and an experience through which they can better understand the minds and lives of others.”

The annual Cocoon event is a quasi-spinoff of the monthly Middlebury Moth-Up events. More formal and with a two- or three-fold increase of attendees, Cocoon invites members of the community, faculty, alumni and students to tell their stories.

Before the show began, a palpable hum of anticipation filled the concert hall. Like many others in the crowd, I had been to the Middlebury Moth-Up before and knew that something wonderful was about to unfold. The Moth events are not usually so well-lit, but they are always just as packed.

We waited patiently for a few minutes before the two co-hosts, Celia Watson ’17 and August Hutchinson ’16.5, strode into the spotlight. Their brief introduction detailed the concept of the Cocoon and the Middlebury Moth-Up: each speaker has ten minutes to tell a story completely from memory. They promised a riveting show, both with their words and the zeal behind them.    

And then Watson and Hutchinson, who also served as co-producers along with Tabitha Mueller ’18, welcomed the first speaker.

Rachel Liddell ‘15 detailed her post-graduate job/soul search with the confidence and style of a seasoned speaker – in part due to her previous position as the Middlebury Moth-Up co-leader during her time at the College. 

Her journey across the country and back again dredged up her fears about never finding a job she loved. A chance job offer in an industry she had no experience with, however, gave her the opportunity to do what she loves best: tell stories.

Eric Mortensen, the second speaker, introduced himself as “the kid from the Bronx who married the farmer’s daughter.” A Middlebury community member, he presented the story of his own marriage, beginning with a bold phone call that would be answered by his future wife. 

For the first time in Moth history, a duo told the next story in tandem. Brother and sister Olivia Wiggins ’18.5 and Kai Wiggins ’16.5 opened their tale with the possibility that they may have the same heart condition that took their father’s life. Together, with wrenching honesty and beautiful strength, they brought the audience back to the unimaginable day they lost their father.

After a brief intermission, community member Elizabeth Christensen recounted her dynamic career as a lighting technician for stage plays. Her run-ins with forty-foot ladders and the CIA painted for us a picture of a woman devoted to her craft and endlessly interested in expanding her horizons. She now works for the College as a coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Second to last was the charismatic and eloquent Dominick Tanoh ’18. His deep voice and professional cadence gave way to a remarkably silly romp about friendship, Chicago, the end of summer, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and White Fire OG Kush.

Finally, Associate Professor Psychology Kim Cronise detailed the journey she made with a painting, an heirloom that brought with it the wisdom and love of the woman who gave it to her – her mother. Mired in the tumult of her life, the painting carried her through relationship turmoil, cross-country moves and job changes by representing the strength and love of her mother.

The beauty of the Cocoon and the stories that unfold on the stage come from the mutual understanding of vulnerability and trust between the audience and the speaker. They trust us with some of the most personal stories of their lives and we trust them to be honest. What we witnessed last Friday was an emotional and powerful journey through the terrains of diverse yet relatable human experiences, with each story centered on the theme of revelation.

“Revelation to me is a realization,” Watson explained, “a moment of reflection that points to something of greater significance or understanding. I also think of it as a moment that sheds new light on a particular situation and ultimately causes a turning point in one’s life.”

These moments ranged from gaining a better understanding of friends from afar to realizing the transcendent ways our family enriches our lives, from landing a dream job to finding the people we want to spend our lives with.

As speaker Tanoh put it, “Those moments [of revelation] are so rare but when I have them, when I have my revelations, it seems like I can finally see one small part of the patterns in an aggressively chaotic universe… What a revelation is to me: finding some moment of vision despite the constant turmoil that constantly catches us off guard.”