Middlebury Moth-Up packed the Robison Concert Hall in the Mahaney Arts Center for the group’s largent event of the year: Cocoon.
Last Friday, Nov. 3, marked the eleventh annual Cocoon show and the first time the organization has hosted an on-campus event since the once-monthly Moth-Up events stopped last semester. Cocoon reintroduced its beloved storytelling event last week with stories focused on the topic “playing the long game.” For the show’s producers, Moth-Up fans and first-time attendees alike, Cocoon was worth the wait.
While the monthly Moth-Up events feature only student storytellers, Cocoon is unique because it provides Middlebury employees and community members to participate as well. This year, six storytellers took turns sharing their interpretation of the theme, all the while adhering to the three golden rules of the event’s inspiration, the radio show “The Moth” — stories must be true, unscripted and under 10 minutes in length.
Following his introduction as “the voice of Davis Family Library,” Circulation Services Specialist Mark Saltveit kicked off the evening by describing his evolution as a palindromist — a creator of words or phrases that have the exact inverse second half of the first half. Think “mom,” “dad” or “radar kayak radar,” a palindrome that a young Saltveit proudly developed himself.
Saltveit found a love for palindromes at a young age. Later, he took this childhood passion to a new level. As an adult, Saltveit was underwhelmed by the palindromes that his nemesis palindromist believed made him the “master palindromist.” In collaboration with New York Times Crossword editor William Shortz, he helped organize a palindrome competition amongst his contemporaries, including his rival, to determine who was the best. Saltveit was ultimately named the first world champion of the word game he loved as a child.
Like Saltveit, Beckett Pintair ’24.5 also began his story by describing his childhood. He framed the narrative using a recent phone call with his mom, during which he revealed his plans to add to the collection of tattoos he has accumulated over the last two years.
Pintair explained that from a young age, he sought different ways to escape, partially driven by a dyslexia diagnosis that made him feel like he had no control over his body. Pintair discussed a variety of ways he sought control throughout his childhood. One of the most helpful ways he's been able to practice self-love is through body art.
“I have not had that long of a life so far, so when I heard the theme “the long game,” I immediately started thinking about the things I have been working towards and will be working on for the rest of my life,” Pintair told The Campus. “Learning to love, live with, and accept myself is something that falls into that category for me.”
Pintair concluded his story by announcing to the audience, which included his mom, that he will be getting another tattoo this Friday.
Next up was Assistant Professor of American Studies Karl Lindholm ’67, who took the audience back to a time when Middlebury still had fraternities, required ROTC army courses and was in the midst of the Vietnam War.
Bouncing between college days, the war and the present, Lindholm interwove his personal experiences with those of friends who are no longer here to share their stories. One friend fled to Canada, one joined the radical anti-war movement, one survived the fighting in Vietnam and one was killed while traveling there.
In the silent concert hall, Lindholm poignantly whispered into the microphone that he considers each a casualty of the conflict.
He was followed by Hannah Alberti ’26, who told a heartwarming tale about falling in love with her best friend. Her sweet story recalled all of the most important moments of falling in love with her now girlfriend, tracing friendship, identity exploration, fear of rejection, confession, unrequited pining and a rom-com-worthy conclusion.
“My story was actually just the first thing I thought of when I heard the theme “playing the long game,” Alberti said of her story. “I love telling people about how my girlfriend and I got together; I almost never shut up about her. From there, it was just figuring out which details were the most necessary/funny and the exact order of events.”
Alberti concluded her story by waving to her girlfriend who was watching the performance via livestream, as the audience clapped at the touching moment.
Next, Assistant in Arabic Raghad Sayyed smiled through the entirety of her inspirational story about “saying no to a no.” As a student determined to study languages abroad, Sayyed took the audience through the multi-year process of convincing her father that she was ready to travel and live alone, pointing out to him that if one of her brothers had asked the same thing, they would not have faced such scrutiny.
Calling in backup from her father’s best friend, Sayyed finally convinced him to be allowed to study abroad in Italy and then pursue a Middlebury program in Jordan, where she excelled and was asked to interview to be the Arabic TA at the Middlebury campus in Vermont. When she told her parents that the TA position was in the United States, Sayyed’s father said to her mother, “You have a crazy daughter.” Nonetheless, Sayyed’s story concluded with her father vocalizing how proud he is of her journey.
The evening concluded with Youness Cheboubi ’24.5’s performance. Cheboubi had the audience laughing for the majority of his story, a testament to the fact that the long game is not always the way to go. The realization came amidst an early adventure at the beginning of a spontaneous gap semester last spring.
On a trip to Brazil to visit a friend who was studying abroad, Cheboubi decided to venture out on his own one day. It went horribly wrong.
As he described and acted out the movements of his jog to a nearby mosque, the people he encountered and even a fierce battle with three rabid dogs, Cheboubi transformed the concert hall into the roads, fields and communities he found there. He ultimately decided that he did not want to play the long game when it came to rabies.
Between stories, the audience responses to the prompt, “The greatest scheme you’ve ever attempted,” were read from the scraps of paper submitted at the beginning of the evening. Answers included a camp counselor teaching young kids about communism, one person’s creative reevaluation of daylight savings and another’s never-ending search for a nonexistent flamethrower.
Attendees shared how impressed they were by the evening. “My favorite part of the event was seeing the joy on the storytellers faces after they finished telling a story that clearly meant a lot to them,” Iris Ethier ’24 said . “I was really impressed by their bravery to share so openly in front of a large crowd.”
Joshua Glucksman ’25 agreed that the vulnerability of the event is one of the things that makes the show so special. “Storytelling is actually such a radical form of community building. The vulnerability I saw that was stripped of background music, a script or any visuals, felt extremely human,” Glucksman said.
After seeing the event, Ethier, Glucksman and others were left so enchanted that they mentioned wanting to partake as performers someday. With the cherished event back up and running, it is always possible we will get to hear some of the attendees last Friday speak as featured storytellers at next year’s Cocoon.