The Catalyze podcast: SEVEN Talk, by Bex Frucht ’05: “Free Your Tumbleweed Queen”
Today’s episode is a recording of a SEVEN Talk from the 2022 Alumni Forum. This talk, given by Bex Frucht ’05, is entitled, “Free Your Tumbleweed Queen.” Bex is the program manager for The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
More about Bex
Bex Frucht ’05 is a self-ascribed “Tumbleweed Queen” whose eclectic personal and professional journey has taken her from the red carpet to the Rocky Mountains. After a decade of big-city adventures in media, communications, sustainability, freelance writing, and finally anchoring a daily cable TV show and weekly web series—she blew up her urbanite existence to live and work on an 87,000-acre cattle ranch, and has been exploring the intersection of open range and open minds ever since. If it wasn’t for that formative backcountry experience with Outward Bound, she might still be stuck in LA traffic.
Bex loves telling stories almost as much as living them—she’s shared escapades onstage for NPR’s “The Moth,” launched a storytelling series to destigmatize and advocate for reproductive justice, and enjoys helping organizations and individuals wrangle their narratives. As a program manager for the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Montana-based philanthropy, she supports innovative nonprofit programming hosted at West Creek Ranch. Bex also moonlights as an environmental educator, amateur cowgirl, karaoke professional, rainbow influencer, and unicorn believer.
At UNC, she served as senior class vice president and Freshman Camp (now Carolina Kickoff) counselor, and taught a seminar on “The MTV Generation.” She’s lucky to call the funky river town of Livingston, Montana, home, where she floats the Yellowstone with her “Mantana” Kyle Joe, chases their muppet dog Zucca and spoons their kitties—Aldo Meowpold and Ralph Waldo Emerpuss the Catservationists.
How to listen
Catalyze is hosted and produced by Sarah O’Carroll for the Morehead-Cain Foundation, home of the first merit scholarship program in the United States and located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can let us know what you thought of the episode by finding us on Twitter or Instagram at @moreheadcain or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s go! Physical vigor, let me see it. Okay, a little physical vigor to start us off. Shalom, y’all. Howdy. I’m Bex, the cousin formerly known as Becca, and I chose that song because, one, I don’t believe walk-up songs should be exclusive to baseball, and two, the Morehead-Cain website says we set your potential free. So how do you get set free? How do you free your tumbleweed queen? And what the hell is a tumbleweed queen? To me, a tumbleweed queen is your purest, deepest passion and purpose. It is following your joy. Tumbleweed queen is all about B.P.E.: big protagonist energy. B.P.E. is this understanding that you are the main character in your story that you are telling every day. You are the author of your life. You remember Choose Your Own Adventure? That is B.P.E. So, dear cousins and cousin adjacents, I shall tell you how I freed my tumbleweed queen. Because when you get clear on the story that you want to tell, you get clear about the life you want to live. So free, and your tumbleweed queen.
When you’re a kiddo, you don’t have to do that. They just, like, come that way. I remember when I was little, I was a highly dramatic show pony of a child, and I loved dressing up. Surprise! I loved dressing up and flair. I wanted to do elaborate lip sync performances all the time to songs like Kiss From a Rose by Seal, unannounced and uninvited into the middle of my parents’ dinner parties. But sometime in middle school, patriarchy, social messaging, teen movies, peer pressure, whatever it was, it became clear to me I was too much. I needed to tone it down. I had to choose smart or creative. That was my introduction to one of the many binaries that bind us and limit us and trap us. But I chose, and I doubled down on overachiever. And that’s the way I saw myself. I remember in my final Morehead interview—yes, I was in a zebra shirt and big old hoops, so the tumbleweek queen was lurking—but when I showed up at Carolina, I was still really framing myself as an overachiever. So I was like, okay, I watched a lot of West Wing. I’ll take the LSAT. I’ll go to law school. I’ll go to DC in a pantsuit.
I was not imagining anything like this. And I’ll do something really important. And then junior year rolls around, and I’m picking my internship, and I could choose between the George Soros Foundation in Hungary, or I had heard about this opportunity in London with MTV International, and I was like, whew! Y’all know this Britney Mike? You can tell what I wanted to choose. So I did. I listened to the tumbleweed queen, and I showed up in London, and it was a revelation to be in a workplace and in an environment where it was more about my personality, who I am, than my GPA, and shout out to Glenna Patton for that opportunity. You changed my life. I love you, Glenna. So I got back to Carolina, and I scrapped the LSAT and the thesis. That was a really fun conversation with my family. And I decided to pursue a job with MTV after college, and I was in New York with them. And then I moved out to L.A., the capital of kooky tumbleweed queen energy, like, that’s where you go to get that B.P.E. jolt right to the arm. But it wasn’t really until January 2011 when I fully stepped in to the B.P.E., and I made a New Year’s resolution to tell a story at The Moth.
So you might have heard of The Moth. It’s this awesome story hour podcast on NPR, and it’s also a live storytelling show that is all over the world. And I have started going in Los Angeles, and the way it works is you show up, you can throw your name in a hat, and they pick out ten randomly selected tellers to come on stage and share a true life tale from their life. Five minutes long, and it’s just exhilarating. And I resolved I was going to do the show. I show up, drop my name. I was the ninth teller picked out of ten. I was on pins and needles, not knowing if I was going to go. I got on stage with the B.P.E., and it was incredible, the humanity that’s created in a room when folks are authentically sharing and receiving stories, just though that raw humanity was so moving and funny and all the feels. And I really decided I needed to invest in the storytelling scene. And I also decided to start my own story show in a bar in Venice Beach where I lived, and it was called TMI Live. Too Much Information, and I got to hone my narrative craft.
But I also witnessed this array of brave souls who would bear their souls on stage, telling folks things they’ve never told anyone before. The profane and the profound destigmatizing and delighting. It was a revelation and cathartic. The healing that comes from sharing your shame and banishing it. And that’s where the tagline for the show and one of my life mottos was born: oversharing is caring. But plot twist, plot twist. The TV show I was hosting at the time got canceled. My boyfriend broke up with me. I got robbed. And then the worst indignity and tragedy of all, my beloved cat who had gotten me through my turbulent 20s, suddenly died. R.I.P. Grover. Love you. So I was unmoored. I was un-Moreheaded. I had no drive and direction. I had quite literally lost the plot.
What did the protagonist do now? So I returned to my stories. I had this homework assignment that I had kept all these years. It was from fifth grade. I had this rad and morbid teacher who asked us to write our obituary. And so this is how mine read. Love her. “Becca owned a ranch in Yellowstone country where the wolves roamed free. Becca was found on her horse at sunset, dead.” I was like, that is a story I can ride into the sunset. I had always been a crazy horse girl obsessed with wolves. I had not let that girl… I hadn’t given her free reign in a very long time. So I decided to turn my quarter-life crisis into a Morehead alumni discovery internship. And I found a ranch on Instagram that was willing to take on a 31-year-old, unemployed, out of work former TV host in honkytonk boots. And I moved to their ranch for what was supposed to be three months. I left my Venice Beach bungalow and went to a bunk house on the prairie. And it was challenging and humbling, and I wasn’t America’s next top ranch hand. But three months became three years, and I never went back to L.A. And I had these moments of incandescent happiness where my passion and purpose and B.P.E. and tumbleweed queen was just like, through me and my purple chaps riding the range. And I really credit storytelling and the Morehead-Cain Foundation. The experience was giving me the freedom framework to even pursue that plotline.
The Super Blue Blood Moon rose over the ranch in 2018. I knew transition was in the cosmos. Also, my dating apps were set at 100 miles radius, and the horse-to-human ratio was really rough. So it was time. What would a tumbleweed queen do next? What would bring me joy to read on the next page? And I went back to my journals. I had my Outward Bound journal from Montana. Montana had wild wolves, plenty of horses. I headed north. And how did I build community? When I got to Big Sky Country, I hosted story shows. I teamed up with nonprofits and local community theaters, new friends and bookstores, comedy clubs. And the more I authentically shared my story and made space for others to do so, the louder and crazier and more colorful my wardrobe became. I was really channeling that Rainbow Bright thing that my ten-year-old self, like, dreamed of wearing all the time. And I realized, as I put down roots, I blossomed even more. And I also think overshare and over-flair are directly correlated. It’s just science. And I’ve learned you don’t need permission from anyone to wear too much, be too much, say too much, mix till you match.
More is more. Because when you start telling your story, you get clear on the life you want to live. And as the sage George Michael sings in “Freedom”—yes, we’re returning to that banger—“There’s something deep inside of me, there’s someone I forgot to be.” So whatever frees your tumbleweed queen, however your B.P.E.—your Big Protagonist Energy—shows up, whichever binary you need to blow up, whoever you forgot to be, reclaim it, and ride that story into the sunset.