I've been getting a lot of questions lately, so I thought I'd try this out!

After finishing college I was sitting outside of a cafe with nothing to that day. While watching strangers walk past, I wondered if they would stop and share something about their life with a stranger. I took a marker and my notebook and make a sign that said "Hi there! I'm collecting your stories. Please stop and share!" People stopped right away, and I had so much fun I did it again. And again. And now I have over 5000 stories written from strangers all over the country!

People have shared funny stories, tragic stories, surprising stories. It's led to some amazing experiences, and I'd love to share them with you.

Here's some pictures of me collecting and a VERY small sample of some of the stories: http://imgur.com/a/5bUOT

I also post stories and other content at the project's website: http://strangersproject.com

Verification on the site, facebook, and twitter!

Pre-Edits-Edit... 1?: Here are some of the story collections that came up:

Veterans' Stories: http://imgur.com/a/0g39R

Stories from older folk: http://imgur.com/a/J30jC

A SMALL collection of stories that stand out to me: http://imgur.com/a/Ktt3S

Edit 1: You can share your own story here (typed or scanned) if you want! Share Your Story

Edit 2: For those asking about specific stories, I'm looking for specifics to reply with right now! http://i.imgur.com/yVKnW8S.jpg

Edit 3: Whew, I'm back from finding specific stories. Answers coming now!

Edit 4: It's my birthday in a few days. Could you guys all ask me more questions as my present? I'm having a ton of fun doing this.

Edit 5: I'm going to go ask Zach Braff if he will write a story. Edit 5.5: Done

Edit 6: East coasters coming home from work: Hello! Please swing by and ask me a question. I'm dedicated my whole life to this project and this AMA has been a lot of fun and I'd love to answer more questions! Also, hi there. Edit 6.5: If you don't have a question, I'll ask one for you! I'm really that nice.

Edit 6.5.5: Or I'll ask you a question!

Edit 7: Guys we are SO close to beating "Zach Braff's" AMA, Whoever that is...

Edit 8: Everyone this has been such an awesome day. I want to keep doing this. How do I get about 1000 more upvotes? I've got a cat around here somewhere. Help me help you.

Edit 9: Cool! cool cool cool. I see we are doing the trojan horse approach to the front page. Everyone just make this seem like a mediocre IAMA and then FLOOD WIT UPVOTES at 8PM EST!

Edit 10: How many edits are too many edits? I hope it's not ten. But anyways I hope you have some more questions. I bet we could be friends.

Edit 11 (March 8th, 7:45AM EST): Hey all! I fell asleep last night and woke up to a bunch of amazing new questions, emails, and stories in my inbox! I'm going to continue answering, feel free to ask new questions!

Comments: 239 • Responses: 84  • Date: 

ziggurqt65 karma

You're one ingenious girl catcher sanafabitch.

Brandon132447 karma

It's pretty funny... I'd say it's about 70/30 female to male ratio when I'm collecting alone, and closer to 50/50 when I have a female friend collecting with me.

Brandon132430 karma

... is not how I collect.

owleyes2542 karma

I clicked on this link wondering if you were that guy I've seen in Washington Square Park. And lo and behold, you are. Cool. How long do you normally stay out in a day? How many stories would you typically collect during that time?

Brandon132443 karma

That's me! Hello!

I stay out anywhere from 4-10 hours depending on the weather. I get to meet literally hundreds of people every time and the interactions are amazing. All ages and walks of life stop by and talk and ask questions. It's by far my favorite thing to do. On a slow day I'll get about 20 stories, on a good one I'll get around 150.

Washington Square Park is my favorite spot to collect and I'm there all the time. You should say hi sometime! I'm putting this card in my story-bin... I'll have it if you ever stop by!


owleyes258 karma

How awesome! Unfortunately I'm far from the city for college right now, but I will definitely come and say hi once I make it back. Keep up the fascinating work. The aspiring journalist in me loves this kind of story-telling.

Brandon13242 karma

Thanks! I'll be there!

Brandon132441 karma

I'm going to ask my own question.

What's the hardest part about scanning in the entries?

overthecascades19 karma

Aww! What's his/her name?

Brandon132438 karma

Charlie! It's my awesome house-mates cat.

He hangs out in my room during the day and he INSISTS on laying on whatever I'm working on. I tried to get revenge once, but I just think he enjoyed it: http://i.imgur.com/hbxNwtL.jpg

redditicon9226 karma

You should publish a book with the best and most moving stories in different categories and title the book: "Life's experiences" or something catchy like that!

  • I think that would REALLY sell!

Brandon132421 karma

There's a volume of the stories called "Hearts, Minds, & Flesh" available now in print and ebook (for any price) here and a new one with full handwriting coming out this spring/summer!

Waffles22084 karma

Donated 5 dollars for the digital copy. :) Hopefully you find your way into Dallas because I don't see stuff like this here!

Brandon13248 karma

Thanks so much! Your support of the project means a lot. I have a special alert for when someone contributes and when I herd that chime I got all excited. Thanks again!

suntansup3rman1 karma

Any chance you would make it to San Francisco?

Brandon13242 karma

I would love to, but it's not planned for anytime in the near future.

suntansup3rman1 karma

Well if you are ever in town feel free to drop me a line.

Brandon13242 karma

Will do! I loved SF last time I was there.

magiclol19 karma

Did you get any girl's numbers?

Brandon132421 karma

It happens every now and then. Some come directly, sometimes people write them on the newsletter signup sheet (which just asks for name and email), and some write them on their actual stories.

I've made a lot of friends throughout the project, though many people just write and leave without saying much at all.

stevevecc18 karma

Has anyone treated what you're doing negatively? (I don't see how), and if they have, why or how did they do it?

Brandon132450 karma

Some, but it's INCREDIBLY rare. Every now and then I get people that don't understand what I'm doing and have no interest in listening. Here's a few that come to mind:

  • There was a couple that stopped by. The girl was interested, the guy had no interest. She wrote a story while he pouted with his back turned to the table. They went across the street when she was done and I could see them arguing for about 3 minutes. Eventually he walked over by himself and wrote this: http://i.imgur.com/aekmupi.jpg

  • Very similar to the last story, but another couple stopped, the guy has no interest in listening. After I had explained the project to the lady, he chimed in with "Hey man, just so you know, no one is going to participate in your little 'project,'" which was silly because there was several hundred stories sitting on the table in front of him and I had just explained to her how these were a few hundred of the 2000 (that I had at the time) stories in the collection. She wanted to write but he grabbed her arm and pulled her off and I never saw them again.

  • I get a fair number of people that say "You're just trying to sell other peoples stories!" They usually walk off before I can respond, but if I get a chance to tell them you can read all the stories on the site for free, they usually have nothing else to say.

  • A couple weeks ago I met a fellow reddior who asked what i was doing. I tried to explain and he just said "I'm on the front page of reddit all the time. I'd share but you're probably just trying to steal my karma!" and ran off. AMA Request that guy.

whiskey_krik2 karma

"You're just trying to sell other peoples stories!"

I've put together a few books

Brandon13243 karma

You can download the books for free on the website.

whiskey_krik1 karma

but you are also selling them.

Brandon13243 karma

Correct! Which goes into the supplies to run the project. If what you got out of this is that it was "some big plan to make money," then that would make both of us pretty foolish :)

pnoyben1317 karma

This is awesome.
What would you say is the story that stood out the most for you?

Brandon132467 karma

This is a question I get often and never feel confident in my answer. There is such a wide range of stories that come in. However, there is one (well, two from the same person actually) that stand out to me. I got this first entry very early in the project. I was collecting outside of a coffee shop in Ann-Arbor, Michigan when this sort of punk-rock looking girl walked by looking pretty upset. She did a double take at my sign, asked what I was doing, and just a few words into my explanation she grabbed a pen and started writing. She wrote this and walked off.


Months later I ended up befriending one of the baristas at this coffee shop. We I'd bring in stories that I got that day and we'd read them—it was good times. Eventually she said "Hey, can I write you a follow up story?" I said "You wrote a story before?" I didn't recognize her at all. Turns out is was that girl. Then she wrote this follow up.

Note: This is when I used to collect in blank notebooks and people would write one after the other. The entry I'm referring to is the one that starts with "So a few months ago"

http://i.imgur.com/wrtleSk.jpg edit: Uploaded a larger & easier to read image

There's a ton of stories on different topics that have stood out to me, but this one often comes to mind when someone asks that question.

pnoyben1322 karma

Wow to be a witness to someone's turnaround without realizing it until they wrote the follow-up kind of puts everything in perspective.
Hopefully she's doing well now.

Brandon132421 karma

I've since lost touch but I hope so too—she was an amazing person!

Figuring4 karma

What coffee shop?

Brandon13247 karma

This was outside of Espresso Royale on State Street and North University in Ann Arbor, MI (Though I'm now based in NY!)

archieneve16 karma

On a scale from 1 to Lady Gaga, how weird were some of the stories?

Brandon132443 karma

There's a story somewhere about someones obsession with his dancing to Lady Gaga in his underwear whenever he's alone, so I guess the answer is "Lady Gaga."

shennentel14 karma

Have you gotten stories in other languages that you had to translate?

Brandon132422 karma

I get quite a few in different languages and I still don't know what they say! If anyone is fluent in both english and any non english language and would like to volunteer translating some stories, please send an email to [email protected] !

I'll try to find some to post here as well.

BillieSC10 karma

Have you ever worked with Active Minds? I think I remember you from a Send Silence Packing tour.

Brandon132413 karma

I have! I'm very much involved with Active Minds. I've been on all five Send Silence Packing tours! Are you a chapter member? If so, we've met!

For everyone else: Active Minds is a national non-profit focused on changing the conversation about mental health. Active Minds has student-run chapters on campuses all around the US (I believe somewhere around 250+ campuses).

Send Silence Packing is their largest national program. It's a collection of 1,100 backbacks that represent the number of student lives lost to suicide each year in the US. The bags are donated by friends and families who have been touched by suicide and many of them contain pictures and stories of those lost.

I began working with Active Minds just before their first Send Silence Packing tour. I was sitting outside of Amer's (a cafe in Ann Arbor, MI) in early February. It was the first day that I had been out collecting since the winter. It was cold, rainy, and frankly, miserable. I have a rule when I'm collecting stories. I wait until I'm ready to leave, and then I say "one more person." So many times that "one more person" has led to an amazing opportunity. This day, the program director for Active Minds happened to walk past the table I was collecting at. She was on the phone, looked at the sign, and walked past me. A few minutes later, she returned and asked about the project. We talked for quite awhile, and she eventually told me about Active Minds and Send Silence Packing, and then asked if I'd be interested in taking on the first tour of the program.

Fast forward, and I've since done all 5 Send Silence Packing tours. This has involved taking Active Mind's amazing program to over 75 campuses around the US and touching literall thousands of lives. I'd be happy to answer any questions about this as well!

Here's one of my favorite pictures I took during the tour. This lady tok hours to read every single story during our display in Chicago:


nickpeez8 karma

I love Active Minds !! Working with them has found me doing amazing things. I even got someone to start a chapter via reddit.

Brandon13243 karma

Where is the chapter?

wanderingstar6259 karma

Have you ever thought about directly seeking out an older audience?

I'm fascinated with the concept that people who are in their 90s have lived through so many changes, so many historical events. I wish I had a majillion grandparents so I could hear all of their stories.

Brandon13246 karma

I am fascinated with this generation as well. I have a number of stories from this group, but I'd love to get more. I actually talk to quite a few older folk while collecting, but they often want to talk instead of write. I do have a portable recorder that I've experimented with, but I haven't found the right format to use it with the project yet. The biggest problem is that if I am recording someone I can't interact with anyone else approaching, and it's fairly high traffic while I'm collecting.

Here's a number of stories I just pulled out from people in their late 50s-early 90s. I believe the woman on the bottom was 90?


wanderingstar6259 karma

Second to last story gave me chills and broke my heart for that man.

Also, "be as you are with a smile" might be my new favorite phrase.

Brandon13247 karma

Is that great? After I saw that I wrote it on a post-it that's been on my desk for awhile.

Brandon13244 karma

It worked this time! Yesss.

[deleted]2 karma


wanderingstar6252 karma

I can find your first reply, but my reply to your reply isn't showing up! I think it's just something screwy with me, I've been getting weird errors today.

Brandon13242 karma

I am too! I've got a bunch of replies in my inbox that aren't showing up here. If anyone is wondering what that deleted comment is, it's just a repost of my reply above.

TheNimb8 karma

How did listening to all of their stories change you as a person? Did any of the stories make you evaluate how you could be a better person, or how you need to change? Did people tell very personal stories, or get emotional enough to cry?

Brandon132412 karma

It's certainly an ongoing process. I think if anything I started out curious about the people around me and ended up twice as curious.

The stories make me look at my own life all the time. Any time I'm feeling a little lost, upset, or just about any emotion, reading through the stories really bring be back to earth. There's such a wide spectrum that strangers have shared. Some of the stories are people just starting a certain part of their life, others are coming out on the other side. I think perspective is important, and this project constantly forces me to expand mine.

People tell VERY personal stories sometimes. Early on I didn't know what to expect. I quickly learned that when given an anonymous outlet, people can be extremely honest. I've had a lot of people cry while writing and reading (I bring out binders full of stories for people to read while I'm collecting)—but I think they are usually good tears. Even if what they are sharing or reading is difficult, having an outlet is the important part.

I've gotten a lot of comments like "Thank you for being here, I needed this" over the years. And quite a few spontaneous hugs without any words at all.

Roman__8 karma

Wow! This is a great idea. I can't tell you how many times I've been walking past a swarm of people and wondered where they are going in their lives, who they are, what kind of troubles they're burdened by, etc. Do you plan on bringing all these stories together and forming it into a book at any point? I would gladly support! Best of luck to you and your future endeavors.

Brandon13248 karma

Those are exactly the kind of thoughts that led me to starting the project! I've put together a few books (each limited runs). The most recent was called Hearts, Minds, & Flesh. There's 15 copies left before I discontinue it, and then the new book is coming out this summer (I hope)! The new edition will have full scans of the handwriting, whereas the previous volumes were mostly transcribed. There's a lot of personality in the handwriting so I want to include that.

Thanks for your interest. PM me where to send it and I'll send you one of the 15 on me. Just tell your friends about the project!

If you or anyone else wants to support the project and pick up the digital version for any price (even free!) you can do so here

tryingtobebetter17 karma

This is amazing, and what you are doing is awesome. Have you ever heard/read a confession that made you uncomfortable? I am an American veteran, do you get a lot of vets sharing?

Brandon13248 karma

I don't know if there is anything that has made me "uncomfortable," but there are a lot of entries that have affected me emotionally. Whenever someone says "I need you to promise not to read this until I'm gone," I know it's usually going to be one of those.

I don't have a huge amount of vets (at least not ones that use it as their story), but there are some.

An online submission:

"In one year I will be a commissioned officer in the US Army. It frightens me and drives me that people will trust me with their lives, the well-being of their families, and the safety of our future will be placed on my shoulders. I am worried that I wont be able to bring everyone home and that some daughter or son will have to grow up with out their father or mother. The stress has led me to drink and I am worried that I may become an alcoholic. I hope that I can live up to all the expectations that have been placed on me and that I can be a role model for others."

Some handwritten stories:


element_of_supplies7 karma

What's the most shocking story someone told you? Most moving? Funniest? Overall most memorable? Basically I just want some of your best stories!

Brandon132411 karma

I'm back! Sorry this took so long. Here's a few stories that stick out to me. Keep in mind this is just 13 out of over 5000... There are so many more!


element_of_supplies5 karma

Thanks for the reply!

Brandon13249 karma

And thanks for your interest! This AMA has me all smiles.

Brandon13249 karma

This one is going to take some time! I'll respond with some actual full stories... let me pull some out! The stack is pretty large: http://i.imgur.com/QY9ZRzZ.jpg

GimmeTheHotSauce6 karma

Yo, OP. Are you familiar with Studs Terkel, because this greatly reminds me of him.


Brandon13242 karma

Yo C! (Yo Commenter?) ... I'm not, but I'm about to be! Thanks!

ellafitz6 karma

This is awesome. I love the anonymity and the power it gives people to just let their feelings out. I want a hard copy!! :)

I hope you get to keep doing this as long as you want. Best of luck to you!

Brandon13241 karma

Thanks! I intend to do this as long as I can. I'm shooting for 3000 new stories this year!

SenorTurd6 karma

What was the funniest or most comedic story you have gathered?

Brandon132415 karma

I got this one two days ago and it make me laugh when I read it. Pre-school identity crisis.

RadaYay6 karma

Lovely project. From the scanning of the website, majority of stories are eating disorders, cancer and sexual orientation. I wonder if compiling them would be nice for making people feel less alone.

Do you have the topic that you are most interested in? Have you ever honestly become bored of one type of stories and started to just scan them? (ie, "oh man another girl with a whole page on body image issues!") Do you feel like you now have a better understanding of certain topics - for example, the most common ones I listed - than most other people?

Brandon13244 karma


Some of the topics might seem a little balanced right now because all of the content was wiped, and I'm now adding in Story Playlists. Topics will even out over time.

I don't think there's any specific topic I'm most interested in. I DO enjoy being surprised.

There are quite a few "young-love" stories. I still enjoy getting all stories, but if I had to pick one that I have an over abundance of, that would be it.

AintNoFortunateSon5 karma

They say everyone has a doppelganger, have you meet yours yet? Did they share their story with you?

Have you ever heard a story that involved you our someone you know in some way?

Brandon13249 karma

I haven't met my own doppelganger while collecting (though I have outside of the project!).

As far as stories of someone I know, that has happened fairly often. The first that comes to mind is a story from my high-school best friend. I had no idea that she was experiencing any of this during the time I knew her. We didn't talk much after high-school, but we were recently in touch and she told me that she had submitted an entry online 2 year earlier. She told me which one, and I found it. I had read it before, but I had no idea this was the girl I was so close to years ago.

"I had a pretty rocky adolescence, mostly self inflicted. I found out why I couldn't look at myself in the mirror while my brother was on trial for something he didn't do. Nobody ever thought they needed to talk to me about what my uncle did to me when I was two. I could never understand why I would have this nightmare over and over. Then my dad said it in the court room, out loud, for everyone to hear... "molested". Knowing didn't change anything, nobody talked to me about it. Years later I told my parents what my brothers did to me. My father dismissed it, childhood exploration. He beat them when I was younger because my Aunt told him what I said to her, but now as an adult it was dismissed. I tried for years to look at myself in the mirror, but I could only look at the pimple, a hair, my eye brow, my hair, never ever the whole.

My image of myself was terrible. Broken, used, ugly, unwanted; then I met my husband. It changed my world, but until the wedding day I never thought he would go through with marrying me. Who could after what other men have done to me? Then I never thought we could have our own children, I was broken, how could an amazing thing like that happen in such a disgusting vessel as MY body? Then I got pregnant. I wanted to do everything I could to make sure the baby was healthy, and I wanted to have it in a birth center so everything would be perfect. I wanted a girl so she could have a childhood without abuse. We found out it was twins days before I had them. I had two boys, of course. I was scared, I have been scared, what if I have a girl next time, and "childhood exploration" happens to her? I am trying to tell myself there are all kinds of big brothers who never need their sister to "explore" anything. These boys can be different, I will stay home, they won't have idle time when they can get themselves in trouble, I will talk to them about sex and anatomy so there are no unanswered questions. My husband helps me fight this battle in my mind. He is one of those "other kinds" of big brother. He protected his sister, and never "explored" anything. He tells me I'm a good mom and nothing will happen. It has been hard to look in the mirror still, I feel like I have let my future daughter down by having two boys. But I love my boys, they are my world.

Driving yesterday, my husband turned to me and said "I feel guilty loving my life so much…" I feel guilty not loving my life enough… but this morning I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror… really looked, I think I may have been missing out the past 20 some years by not looking. Hopefully I can look at myself the rest of my life and know, I have it good, and I am doing my best."

Bostonfan1015 karma

Have you ever felt unsafe during this project?

Brandon132410 karma

I don't think I've ever really felt unsafe. Having a sign inviting anyone to come share a story opens up a lot of strange situations sometimes, but I've never felt threatened by any of my interactions.

The biggest problem is when you have to pee and there's a crowd of strangers standing around writing stories and asking questions. That's been tough a lot of times.

Bhighkin5 karma

Has anybody ever told you a story that ended up relating to your own life in an unexpected way?

Brandon13244 karma

One literal, one not so much.

Back in Ann Arbor we used to spend out summers bridge jumping. That's as literal of a name as you can get. There were these train tracks going over the huron river that you could jump off of, and it was refreshing and cool. We did it a lot. Well, one day, we arrived to a bunch of emergency vehicles. These were at the "first bridge," the one we didn't usually jump off of. We learned that a girl had been taken away in an ambulance after having her thigh impaled by a pieve of metal as it floated along the bottom of the river.

Fast forward 6 months, I was collecting outside the coffee shop and this girl stops by. She says "You want a story?" I say "Yeah..." and start explaining the project, when she pulls her shorts up as high as they will go and reveals a massive scar on her thigh. "I'm going to tell you about this, then," she says.

As it turns out, she's the girl that was at the bridge right before us earlier on that summer day. I didn't know until later because I don't read the stories until evening. Anyways, that was a pretty unexpected connection.

But most of them are a fairly common story—the "am I doing the right thing with my life?" kind of story.

I gave up a lot to pursue this... And I'm really glad I did. It's led to some other challenges, but I wouldn't trade anything for the experiences I've had during this project.

yourfaceisamess5 karma

I love this idea. You should travel and get different stories from around the world.

Brandon13244 karma

That's a big goal of mine! Now it's just figuring out how to afford it. I've done about 20-25 cities in the US so far, though!

CrimJim4 karma

If you come to my city with the intent of doing this here, room and board will be handled for you and the bus stops right outside my apartment complex.

Brandon13244 karma

That's awesome! I love traveling with it—I've done around 20-30 cities so far! Where are you located?

shannonelaine4 karma

I bought your first book way back when! I absolutely love what you're doing! I remember sitting online for HOURS reading story after story.

How do you maintain your mental health while reading so many heartbreaking stories every day?

Brandon13243 karma

Wow, thanks! Do you mind if I ask if you got it online or in person? I'm always curious about that.

The mental health aspect was a big challenge during the first year of the project. I do get a wide range of both happy and sad stories, but the tragic ones were definitely a weight on me. What really got to me was the idea that someone was sitting across from me sharing a deeply painful part of their life, and I had no idea what they were writing until that evening when they were long gone. I've always made it a policy to not read any story until that night so that it could remain anonymous.

There were many times when 15 happy looking people would sit and write, and 3-4 of them would be deeply tragic stories. There's just no way to tell what someone you pass on the street is going through. That part has really made me think about the people I pass every day.

This led to some pretty emotional evenings. It also made me want to get out there and collect more. I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the start of this and collecting from morning till night every day for that first summer.

There were several things that led to me learning how to deal with my own mental health throughout the project. These aren't in any order:

  • I realized that if someone was taking the time to share their story, no matter how painful, then that meant that they had some kind of outlet. For at least a moment they were able to take whatever weight they are dealing with and lessen that mental burden.

  • I started getting a lot of follow up e-mails of people that said they wrote something pretty heavy and that they were doing better now. Sometimes because they shared it, sometimes because things just got better (which they usually do!). I shared one of those emails here

  • I started running into people in person that had shared in the past and told me how much writing what they wrote helped them. Just last week a girl came up to me and said "I never thought I'd see you again. I just wanted to tell you how much you being there last summer helped me when I needed it most."

  • My work with this project led me to work with Active Minds running a nation wide tour for their bug suicide awareness and prevention program (Send Silence Packing) for students. We visited over 76 colleges with the program and I learned a lot about mental health over that adventure.

shannonelaine3 karma

Thank you so much for the reply! I bought it online - I still have the little thank you note that you sent along with it :)

I really appreciate what you do. Not many people could do what you do on a daily basis, so THANK YOU!

Another couple of questions, if you don't mind... what got you into doing this? Was it your own interest in the human experience?

Also, do you have people collecting in different cities/states for you or do you do it all yourself?

Brandon13243 karma

That is EXACTLY what got me started. A curiosity about the people around me.

So far it's just me, but I'm looking into finding ways to bringing other people into the experience!

tuxwurf4 karma

This is so awesome. No question, but I just had to say that this is really awesome. Wish there was someone like you in my town. I'll email you about that translating thing!

Brandon13242 karma

Maybe you could be that person! It's an amazing experience—you should try it.

dress-up4 karma

I wish this is something I could get involved with. I love people and I love hearing their stories. I always think that people are misunderstood. No questions here. Just hugs and high fives.

Brandon13243 karma

You can! The experiences I've had during the project have been life changing and I want to share that in any way I can. You can get involved from anywhere in the world just by visiting here: http://strangersproject.com/get-involved/

As long as you're interested I can work with you to be involved!

Hugs and high fives right back at you.

Violinist_Gorilla4 karma

This deserves many more than the current (154) amount of upvotes it has.

Best thing I've seen on Reddit in a while.

Brandon13244 karma

Thanks! I wish it had more too.

Figuring4 karma

You work makes me think of Davy Rothbart of Found Magazine. Are you familiar with him? He puts together a magazine of notes and scrapes of paper people find in various places.

Brandon13242 karma

I'm familiar, but I haven't met him! Apparently he lived fairly close to me in Ann Arbor, MI where I started the project. Drats.

FiachB74 karma

Is there any special story that you will remember forever?

Brandon13246 karma

Every time I come home from collecting I read the stories (usually 40-100) and every time I have new favorites. People are just infinitely interesting.

I shared one of my favorites here, but here's another. This wasn't a regular story so much as someone's experience interacting with the project. It was submitted anonymously through the website. It's a little long, but messages like these are something that mean a lot to me.

I wanted to let you know that even though you don’t know it, your idea of the world changed my life a little bit. The fact that someone cares enough to hear so many complex and thought-provoking stories, many inflected with heartlessness and pain, and to bear it no matter what, is truly inspiring.

Recently, I began a downward spiral that was the most terrifying of my life. I was put on medication. I began to pour out some of my life as I started sharing my stories on your site. The entire time that I was medicated my self-concept began to form around the promise of adventure, creativity, and positive energies that I finally realized I still had—they’d just been buried under a thoroughly abrasive lack of hope. I remembered that I had worth, talent. I found magic, and I chase it because now I know it’s there. When I felt so horrible and dreadfully alone I couldn’t bear it, I would share an entry on your site, and realized that the mere thought that someone was reading it and that all my painful experiences weren’t just brooding inside my skull made me feel like a worthy person. Story-sharing was therapy & transcendence – it reached out across all borders, smeared them away. I would share, and then I would let myself cry, bawl, etc. For years, I wouldn’t even let myself cry because it made me feel like even less of a person. I hated myself for it, and so some very unhealthy habits persisted and perpetuated a vicious cycle where growth wasn’t happening. It seemed like my mental illness and the painful experiences surrounding it were camping out in my brain and using my resources like a Bodysnatcher. The fact that it was anonymous made it even easier—no useless judgment calls from half-invested people or professionals who wouldn’t be able to fully handle or process my reality anyway.

From talking to you over time, my suspicions that such a pattern of reading and recording other people’s burdens must take a toll were confirmed. I just wanted to say, I’m sorry. Probably more than ten stories encompassing some form of suicidal thoughts and traumatic stories—those were from me. You’ll never know what they were exactly, but you should know that a face is on some of the stories you probably thought sounded helpless, because that’s exactly how I felt at the moment I wrote them—helpless. That’s not at all how I feel now. Well, sometimes. But way less than ever before, and everybody feels that way sometimes so it’s fine. I can also process that feeling like a pro now, kick the shit out of it. I just wanted to let you know that I would never actually do it, but the thoughts are there and when they were/are really present, sharing them on your site is/was undeniably helpful. Without a venue to share them anonymously, who knows how else I would have processed them? In the past, I processed them in very unhealthy ways, and the other week I realized that sharing my stories on your site marked a serious turning point for me. I know that’s what you’re slightly used to, but I also know that it’s hard and I wanted you to know that even though I thought so many times about doing it and even went so far as to actually purchase a firearm and imagine a funeral and write a note (and edit it, I edited it off and on while thinking about when to do it, but I obviously never did it, which is obviously a very good thing) – I shared that on your site, and sharing makes the pain and aloneness stop, which is the same as blockading the trigger on any gun.

You should just know that you’re beyond appreciated, and I’m myself now, my best self that I was so far from before, and of the people that I have to thank for it, you’re the only one I’ve thanked. Maybe that speaks for how you should remember that the mere opportunity to share stories is therapeutic and wonderful. I’m even really happy about where I am as a person in my life right now, which is a big deal. I feel like so many people arrive at that point so easily, but for me it’s been a long road and I’m really happy to be here and that you (and your project) entered my life at the point that it did. You’re a doll. You’re also clearly a creative and intelligent human being that the world needs more of. I’m sad that you’re leaving, and I just really wanted to let you know all of these things, I hope that it is reflective of your efforts to reshape the world, and that my feedback isn’t too burdensome. Thank you.

OttStew4 karma

You ever get a starnger that turned out to be a famous person (recognizable or not) or someone that you actually knew?

Brandon13246 karma

I'm 79% sure I chatted with Macklemore for about 5 minutes while collecting a few weeks ago. I barely knew who he was, but he looked and sounded really familiar, then it hit me when I got home, googled it, and it was either him or his identical twin.

He (whoever it was) was fun to talk to. He mostly just asked questions and was really excited about the idea of the project. We fist bumped and he walked off.

I am pretty sure Jim Gaffigan was about to write once (he was with his family). He kept looking over at the sign/group of people writing, but didn't approach.

That's all that comes to mind. I've been recognized randomly in other cities though, which makes me feel way more famous than I actually am.

OttStew3 karma

That's awesome. Cool project

Brandon13244 karma

Thanks. You're awesome. Cool person.

Nuudules3 karma

Roughly how many stories have you collected? Did any of them offend you?

Brandon13243 karma

I'm at somewhere between 5000-6000 stories. The last time I did a full count was right around 5000, and I've collected quite a few since then,

As far as offensive entries... Not really. As long as it's honest, I think it's a great addition to the project. Even if the content itself is offensive, it's a look at that persons life.

There WAS a group of 12-13 year old boys that tried to be as offensive as possible (none of the content was true), but it was so over the top that it was just ridiculous. They just attempted to use every bad word/idea they had heard of at once.

overthecascades3 karma

At what types of places do you typically choose to collect? Are there any populations you think you might be missing due to location bias?

Brandon13247 karma

Also, I thought it would be funny to do some pictures of "trying to collect stories" in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park in California... where we barely saw any other humans.


Brandon13245 karma

I usually collect in parks for larger cities, and outside of coffeeshops for smaller cities. I think I'm missing a LOT of populations, and expanding the reach is a big goal for the next year.

drippingPP3 karma


Brandon13244 karma

Thanks so much! I hope you'll check out the site more in the future. I post new stories every day!

Devil-frnd-reqstd-me3 karma

Hey man! I think what you are doing is facinating. Not a question but comment... Lately I've been feeling jaded towards humanity -guns, dictators and whatnot- But reading your thread and the stories that you have posted has made me feel better about myself and my fellow man. Thanks for making a positive change in people's lives.

Brandon13242 karma

Thanks for taking some time to check it out! I'm very passionate about this and so comments like this mean a lot to me.

fordmarkII3 karma

Thanks for this. I wrote one up just then online.


Brandon13242 karma

Thank you for being you.

Figuring3 karma

Can you talk a little about your background. Where did you grow up? What were you like in high school/college?

This is awesome, you have another fan.

Brandon13242 karma

Sure! I never know how much detail to go into with these questions.

I grew up in Pinckney, Michigan. It's technically a village. I was an only child. I was extremely shy for a lot of my life.

I think that's a big part of why I started this project. It's the exact opposite of what I'd imagine I'd be doing in my life. I wish I could think of a less cliche term, but putting the sign up the first day was kind of a "leap of faith" for me. And it worked. I still struggle with social anxiety, which most of my friends would probably be surprised to hear.

I still have the same anxieties I've always had. But this project has helped me to remember that we are all human and we all are going through something. And most importantly, that we'll all be ok.

Figuring3 karma

That is awesome. Did you go to U of M?

Love this AMA man.

Brandon13242 karma

Thanks! I don't go to U of M. I went to Central Michigan, graduated in 2008, lived in Ann Arbor for a few years, and now I live in NYC!

therealtedbundy2 karma

Any stories about overcoming drug addiction? I've been struggling with things for a little while and I really need some inspiration. Or therapy. Who knows.

Brandon13243 karma

Lots. I can pull some out for you, but it will take a little time! I'm on it.

MonaMarie2 karma

I'm so glad I found this AMA & your project--I joined Reddit for a different AMA today but am much happier to have found this! :)

--Besides translating help, any other net-based volunteer work you're currently looking for?

--You mentioned social anxiety/shyness in a comment below; what advice would you give someone with similar anxieties?

--Are you interested in any performance artists or projects like postsecret, etc?

--What's the longest time someone has spent writing a story for the project in-person? What's the average story length?

--Other than filler words & the like, do you recall which word showed up most frequently in the word frequency test? What word would you have guessed to be most frequent?

....And now I've probably asked entirely too many q's! Thanks!

Brandon13241 karma

Hi there! Sorry for the slow reply, I stepped away from the internet for my birthday this past weekend. I hope you stuck around reddit to see this response!

  • Besides translating help, any other net-based volunteer work you're currently looking for?

Yes! I'm hoping to expand the project in a lot of different ways this spring, and there's tons of areas I can use help. This ranges from things like tagging entries with themes to helping creatively expand the project. There's really a way for anyone to help. If you or anyone else is interested just send me an email to [email protected] and we figure out how you can fit in!

  • You mentioned social anxiety/shyness in a comment below; what advice would you give someone with similar anxieties?

This is going to be different for everyone, but I'd really just recommend pushing your own boundaries. That's pretty much how anything new gets done. I used to be incredibly shy, and now I literally talk to thousands of strangers a week. 16 year old me certainly would have laughed at this ever being a possibility. If you struggle with shyness, try something as small as smiling at a stranger once a day. You'll start to learn that people generally react well to kindness and that there's not a whole lot of reason to be nervous. Most people are generally focused on what everyone is thinking about themselves anyways.

  • Are you interested in any performance artists or projects like postsecret, etc?

Yes! I love projects like this. I've been a big fan of cowbird recently as well. I'm always keeping an eye out for this stuff.

  • What's the longest time someone has spent writing a story for the project in-person? What's the average story length?

Longest time: about 6 hours. Average Story Length: 1 side of a sheet of paper. I used to do it in smaller blank notebooks, and people would do one sheet there, too. Now they usually fill up an 8.5x11 sheet. I've noticed that a lot of people will fill whatever container they are given.

  • Other than filler words & the like, do you recall which word showed up most frequently in the word frequency test? What word would you have guessed to be most frequent?

I think love showed up the most, which I expected from noticing it a lot. Also "years old" comes up a lot, and I think it's interesting how many people start off an anonymous entry by identifying their age. I guess for a lot of us that's a big part of our identity... and interestingly it's something we all share at one point or another.

  • And now I've probably asked entirely too many q's! Thanks!

I'd be happy to answer any others! Thanks for your interest.

Axoron2 karma

Wow, this is all very beautiful. I don't have any other words... thank you.

Brandon13242 karma

Thanks for taking the time to check it out.

2SP00KY4ME2 karma

Ever get a story you can't read? I have terrible handwriting.

Brandon13244 karma

I think there's only 2 that I can't read at ALL. Other than that, I scan it and crowdsource the transcription to my social network. Usually as a team we get it solved.

roxursoxoff2 karma

What an awesome project!! Do you have a real job, or do you just focus on collecting stories?

Brandon13241 karma

Part of the year I do web design, part of the year I do this, and part of the year I work for Active Minds running their tour to different college campuses.

mwtillotson2 karma

Have you noticed any patterns among the people who stop and write?

For example, what's the approximate gender split?

Brandon13242 karma

Lots of patterns! This are all casual observations, but here are a few:

  • More female than male (70/30?), except for when I have a female friend collecting with me.

  • Males tend to stop individually but less often in groups.

  • Biggest demographic age-wise seems to be 16-28, but the full range is 4 - 91 (from people that have told me their age)

  • Generally more positive stories when it's sunny

  • Many people from cities everywhere write "Only in _______ (their city)" somewhere in their entry, but the name is pretty interchangeable.

  • Over half the people will look at the sign, walk past it or not approach for a few minutes, then finally come back. It's much less common for someone to see it and approach right away.

  • There's a big snowball effect. The more people around me asking questions/reading/writing the more that approach. On a nice summer day there will be over 20 people writing at once.

I'll add more as I think of them.

mwtillotson2 karma

Thanks for the thorough reply -- that's really interesting.

Do you store the dates and locations of the stories (or collections of stories) that you obtain? I wonder what other patterns could be extracted from the stories themselves, such as the variation of word choice from different regions.

Brandon13242 karma

I do now! I didn't at the start of the project. I wish I had.

Brandon13242 karma

I also used to try to write about each stranger that stopped by, but it turned out to be too high-traffic to keep up.

nickpeez2 karma

You. are. amazing. What are some people/projects you've worked with in the past with Strangers Project? And are there any new collaborations you're excited about?

Brandon13242 karma

Thanks! Besides my work with active minds, I've been slowly buy surely building programs with other mental health organizations as well as some performance/storytelling groups. It's all to soon for specifics, but this is a direction I'm really excited to explore.

adanine1 karma

Thank you for posting something like this and all the effort you've contributed to making people feel heard. I have a cousin that has a condition (No clue what it is) that makes it hard for her to be in any social situation. She's housebound.

I'm going to suggest this method to her. Hopefully this will help her open up, even if it's just a little bit.

Brandon13242 karma

Thank you for taking the time to check it out! I hope that the project can possibly be some kind of outlet for her. Please let her know it's completely anonymous!

adanine1 karma

I've been looking through your site, but I can't find a specific story to use (There are lots!). Would you happen to know of a story for a sociophobe or similar person?

Brandon13243 karma

I know I've gotten some in the past. I'll look through some, thought it may take some time! I'll let you know what I find.

Hulkkis1 karma

If you come to Finland and happen to my town, i can buy you dinner while i write something.

Brandon13242 karma

I would LOVE to come to finland!

mikeyzbizzle1 karma

You mention you can read the storys on your website, whats the url dude?

mrwarhero3001 karma

How many hot girls replied?

Brandon13243 karma

I've interacted with about 9000-10,000 people while doing this, so quite a few!

Earthtone_Coalition1 karma

It seems I'm late to the party, but I have a question about your organization. How do you order the stories at the end of the day? Chronologically? Thematically? Quality? You were able to pull out highlights for this AMA, do you have a short stack of top stories at the ready? I imagine sifting through several thousands pages to try to organize a theme must be daunting.

Brandon13242 karma

I didn't have a very good system until recently. In Jan through Fab this year I finally (with the help of some volunteers) scanned every entry and put them into page protectors+binders. At the end of a day collecting I scan them and they go into the binders in the order that they were collected. They then get added to a database I've built of the stories:


The database is still being filled out, but once it's complete, it will serve as a way to know where stories have been used (website, playlists, books, etc) so they aren't double posted, and it will also be a quick way to find specific entries.

As for the ones I pulled out just now, I literally had the binders spread out on my bed and flipped through till I found ones I remembered. There's a lot of personality to the handwriting so it's just like looking for a face you recognize.

cloudmerchant1 karma

Story sent. I don't know if it will work for your site, but I hope it's interesting.

Brandon13241 karma

Thanks for sharing!

franciscolee971 karma

I've thought about a project like this when I was about 7 years old, and I wondered what the people around me thought, felt, experienced. You doing this project rekindled my interest in this, however, if I do what you did, I feel like I'm taking something away from you and the people who submitted.

Brandon13241 karma

Go out and do it! You can do something just like this or something with a twist or something completely different. If you're interested in it, just go for it. Following something I was interested in has changed my life (and is continuing to). I bet you'd enjoy it too.

Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

Alkaven51 karma

I don't have a question, but I want to share: I just went to your website and clicked on a random story, which ended up being #0012.

Of all the five thousand stories you have, I can't imagine one hitting closer to the gut than that. So much of it resonates so closely--from the desperation that occurred yes, just a little over a year ago, to the awesomeness now--it's quite shocking. And inspiring.

So thanks.

Brandon13241 karma

Thank you for taking the time to check it out and thank you for sharing. I always get chills when I read certain stories that connect with me on a level like that.

I'm glad you're doing well now. I bet you're an awesome person.

chordsNcode1 karma

Do you find people are generally happy with themselves? I imagine a lot of people use this as a pseudo-confessional and a means to cleanse their soul.

Brandon13241 karma

I see both sides of the spectrum. It's hard to guess which side has more stories shared.

A year or so ago I DID do some "word frequency" tests where I ran all the entries I had transcribed through some word frequency counters. I was pleased to see that "love" beat out "hate" overall.

AstronautLibby1 karma


Brandon13242 karma

I'm putting together the new book right now! I'm hoping to have it finished within the month.

bomertherus-2 karma

No offense but I don't care about your story. You are the story collector not the story teller. Your job is to find stories. Please post more stories. I find them fucking fascinating.

Brandon13242 karma

Disregard this AMA and head on over to the site