Of a Piece

Intro from Jay Allison: How do you maintain family traditions, or build new ones, after a divorce? Would an 8,000-piece jigsaw puzzle help? Michelle Orange thinks so. In fact, she’d even go 12,500. This is a lovely and unconventional radio telling by Michelle and her father about tradition and habit, obsession and commitment, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and the Garden of Earthly Delights.

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Listen to “Of a Piece”

About The Process

Listening to the finished piece, despite 16 months of thinking about and working on it, was remarkably unsettling; it told the story I wanted to tell, but in a far different way than I originally intended. A year passed after a print interview with my dad about the Sistine Chapel puzzle appeared on mcsweeneys.net and then in Brick magazine, and I felt like some follow up might be fun. Radio seemed like a more challenging option, and I thought it would be interesting to see what happened if I was relieved of all the writerly tools I depend on in storytelling. In addition, I had delusions of innovation, despite my limited exposure to this type of radio, I had contracted (airborn?) the idea that much of it was too dependent on scripted voice over narration, you know, like that Sex and the City moment when Carrie arches over her laptop, fingers flying, and we get ready for the predictable “I had to wonder…” device. I wanted to get as far away from that as possible primarily just to see if I could, but also because I felt it would be the most interesting way to tell this particular story.

John Orange & Friend
John Orange & Friend

I pitched the idea to Jay in the fall of 2002 and he thought it had potential. When I went home for Christmas that year, I was packing the recording gear transom had sent me. Over the course of the next month, until my dad’s birthday on January 22, I followed him around the house with a microphone for a week, made the equally ill-advised choice of taping myself as I spent New Year’s Eve alone, returned to Toronto to interview co-workers and came back home to record my dad’s reaction to his birthday present: an even bigger puzzle. I made a rough log of the parts of the roughly six hours of tape I thought might be useful and shipped them off to Woods Hole.

Over the next few months I worked with Chelsea Merz on an edit of the piece. She was so patient with me, and I think we went through maybe four edits before the whole thing went on a bit of a hiatus. I moved from Toronto to New York to attend graduate school and it was decided that full attention would return to finishing the piece in the late fall. In the last script I made, I should note, I was still sticking to my non-intrusive guns, and I thought I had assembled the bits and pieces of my dad, and, to a lesser extent, me in such a way as to create a coherent narrative.

So I was, like, totally wrong, eh? It took a train, a cab, four buses and a car ride to the Transom cottage’s studio, where I was sat down to listen to the edit of my script, before I realized that this was going to be much more difficult than I anticipated/fantasized. I think Jay and I just looked at each other and decided the only thing to do was go to dinner. Over the course of the evening and the next morning our conversations about the direction of the piece led me to a new paper edit. Over the course of reassembling it (the production of this piece has no shortage of “over the course of”‘s,) decisions were made about upping my presence. I suppose what made it easier for me to swallow was the idea of having all of my narration unscripted. I really didn’t want to write. And not because I’m lazy, I swear. I think there’s one exception — in the bus station I had to write down a few sentences because the stares from my fellow booth-dwellers were freaking my beak and I kept careening into Sputterland. Like Swaziland only less coherent.

Bosch’s Garden of Delights
Bosch’s Garden of Delights

I would take the DAT recorder to bed at night in the Transom cabin and try to address the things Jay and I had talked about that day in terms of what the piece was lacking. Then the next day I would direct him to bits that might fit into the loose framework we were working from. Of course along the way much was discarded and I was sort of on the spot to decide about the story I wanted to tell, since there were about six subsets of the story that would require a lot more time to serve it properly. My focus, probably more in line with the original interview, was the dynamic between my dad and I, conversations, proddings, promptings and basically cracking each other up. Some moments I was very partial to revealed themselves, largely through Jay’s ears, to be not quite as amusing, or germane, as I found them to be. Some of the stuff that remained, the cotton ball bit, for instance, I now considered trite and unnecessary. It was balk city in the editing room, I felt things were getting too personal, way way too much me.

I came around. I suppose it should be noted that I limped into Woods Hole after a, let’s say, “draining” fall in New York, and after agreeing that the story was possibly better told from a personal perspective and realizing that mine was the only one on hand, it was all too easy to double fist tapwater in a blanket fort at 3 am and get my muse on. The trouble is then you’ve said all this stuff, and it’s all true and it’s all for the good of the story, but you’re still Canadian, and you’ve broken the code, which, in terms of being sincere, is to zip across the surface of something bottomless and then turn back to admire the ripples when you think nobody’s looking. Use a laugh as dazzle camouflage, efface with dryness, all that, and I couldn’t help but think that somewhere my passport was twitching itself into a full-on panic attack when Jay and I went over my tape.

I had grabbed a handful of CD’s before leaving for Woods Hole, having not given it a lot of thought. Steve Malkmus’ solo debut reminds me of the early puzzle period, and it fit well. I consider Nature Boy to be my dad’s theme song so we found a place for it, and the rest we decided on through trial and error—a process that has never done much for me, I might add, and that I have never enjoyed more.

After three days in Woods Hole we had come up with a framework and had completed enough of the piece that I felt comfortable leaving the rest of the assembly in Jay’s hands. A few weeks later I heard a cut, and like I said, it was jarring. I like it, but I’m jarred. On paper, it’s much easier to conceive of yourself as a character in your own narrative, and when it’s you talking, there’s really no trap door to fall through. It may seem dichotomous but I consider myself a very private person, and I felt I was walking a fine line in exploiting my experiences, which I have never felt before. My dad trusted me in agreeing to be recorded ad nauseum and I took that as my cue in dealing with Jay. He was absolutely invaluable in keeping the spirit of this piece in focus, and I trust him implicitly – another bred-in-the-bone capacity of every writer. Not. So it didn’t come easily, but it came, and here it is.

Tech Info

I have to thank both Chelsea and Jay for all their work, patience, ideas and support in getting this done. Special thanks to Jay for showing me the bitchingest running trail on the Eastern Seaboard. I recorded all the Toronto/London tape on a Sony TC-D5M with a RE50N/D-B microphone. All of the Woods Hole voice over was recorded on an HHB DAT machine. Jay edited and mixed the piece using Pro Tools. We both work on Macs.


Additional support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project
with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Michelle Orange

About
Michelle Orange

I was born and raised in London Ontario and moved to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto. After five years working as a writer/producer at a television station, I moved to New York City in 2003 to study film at NYU. In addition I have worked as a freelance writer, and have been published the The Globe and Mail, Now Magazine, McSweeney's and Pindeldyboz, among others.

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  • Jay Allison

    1.27.04

    Reply
    Introduction from Jay Allison

    How do you maintain family traditions, or build new ones, after a divorce? Would an 8,000-piece jigsaw puzzle help? Michelle Orange thinks so. In fact, she’d even go 12,500. This is a lovely and unconventional radio telling by Michelle and her father about tradition and habit, obsession and commitment, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and the Garden of Earthly Delights.

    ["Of A Piece" was co-produced with me, with help from the CPB-funded Open Studio Project, Transom’s eccentric artist-in-residence program, and Chelsea Merz. Like much of the work on Transom, this is Michelle’s first piece for radio. Thanks to Andy Knight for steering her this way.]

    Also, we’re trying a new thing. "Of A Piece" will be available directly to stations via the the Public Radio Exchange. This means a station can download it and air it today, if it wants to. As always, NPR or PRI national programs may end up acquiring the piece, but this gives stations a first shot for their showcase programs or other local vehicles which air adventurous new work. And, if you’re a listener, drop by PRX and see how you can influence program decision-making by reviewing new content. Check it out here:
    http://www.prx.org/piece/698

  • Andy Knight

    1.28.04

    Reply

    It’s this. It’s pieces like this that got me hooked on Transom to begin with. Maybe I’m biased here, since I’m the one who recruited Michelle, but I think this story is simply wonderful. And there is a musical quality to Michelle’s voice that I hadn’t expected. It’s a voice I want to hear on the radio, and I want to hear it often.

    So, Michelle, what’s next?

  • Michelle Orange

    1.28.04

    Reply

    That’s true, I forgot to mention that I became aware of Transom through Andy, and he really pushed for me to contact Jay. Thank you Andy!

    I can’t really say what’s next, apart from my great interest in this part of the process. I hope to continue learning about radio through the opinions of the people this piece was built for.

  • Jay Allison

    1.28.04

    Reply
    Our Andy

    Damn, I forgot to thank Andy for his match-making too. I’m going to add him to the italics in the opening post.

    I agree about Michelle’s narrative style in this. It’s so real and varying and in the moment. There is some of this in Nubar Alexanian’s Transom piece and in the work Chelsea Merz is doing now. It’s quite unlike most other radio you hear and I like the way it sounds. Almost like a new direction.

  • Helen Coltrinari

    1.29.04

    Reply

    I loved this "piece". There is such poignancy is Michelle’s longing for the "whole" that once was! And the metaphor to life as a puzzle, with pieces missing, fitting, colour, passing by pieces, choas, order…is brilliant! The tradition may continue, though we, listeners, especially those who know some of the "pieces" up close and personal, know that the old tradition will never return. The longing for it is very touching.
    I agree with Andy. Michelle has a lovely on-air voice. I would like to hear more of her stories.
    Thanks for sharing!!

  • Bananaman

    1.29.04

    Reply
    The Multitalented Orange

    Michelle, I did not expect your voice to be so compelling. Your father’s personality shines through, and in many ways is drawn out by your questions and obvious affection.

    You don’t need 2 people to have a tradition. But I hope yours, the one where you continually surprise your readers & listeners, continues.

  • Warren McCrea

    1.29.04

    Reply
    Ted Brunt’s Father-in-law

    Need I say more? I’m still totally amazed by what the next generation is into;and Ted keeps me alive with his continual challenges for me to "take the leap – parachute or no parachute".Keep up the good work, Michelle.

  • John Pick

    1.29.04

    Reply
    Of a Piece

    While I like the overall theme and idea of this piece, I felt that the metaphor of the piece and the analysis of "who would do a puzzle" and "what a puzzle means" was a little excessive. I wanted to hear more about Michelle’s father’s life and his marriage, more about his character, like what other obsessions he might have that are similar. That said, when Michelle brings her father the new puzzle is very fresh and very entertaining.

  • Phil Easley

    1.29.04

    Reply
    At first I was worried…

    When I heard the background music the curmudgeon in me did a knee-jerk reaction. "Why does everybody think they HAVE to have background music?" the little Andy Rooney voice in me asked. I got over that right away, especially when the "bad girl" lyric came up, and ESPECIALLY when Nat King Cole made a surprise appearance. And I got over my early fear that the metaphor would be too "forced".

    I am endlessly fascinated by the question of how much you put "between the lines", what you lead the audience to, rather than what you force on them. It’s not easy to know how much to tell, and how much to just lead and point and hope they "get it". In this story, I liked everything that was put in, and everything that was left out.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    2.01.04

    Reply

    I thought the story about how the story was made was most interesting. There’s Michelle (cute kid picture) bringing one puzzle to her new family
    and another puzzle in tape to another new family of people willing to obsess about a puzzle of a story and to talk about the process. The story about taking numerous buses to get to Woods Hole has natural suspense…
    ]
    At the beginning of the audio story I marveled,
    "oh, you CAN break that rule about "show, don’t tell." You can say ‘this is about’… this is about…"

    For those of us still learning to listen, I’d llike to hear Jay say more about how this is similar to Nubar’s and different from others

    and I’d like to hear Michelle talk about this writing/speaking and how it’s different than her writing at McSweeney’s I read the self-consciously rich and sensual last letter from Italy. Did you have to turn some of your voice off for this? or was the topic and were the players very different? or was the pace of working via speaking what brought out a different voice?

  • Jay Allison

    2.01.04

    Reply
    Cross-posted to Brooke Gladstone’s Topic

    Sweatshirts to Jackson and Nannette for stalwart questioning.

  • Jackson

    2.01.04

    Reply
    The morphology of the piece

    I am honored, Jay. And, Michelle, I really like so much of this.

    I’m guessing here, but was there much discussion of what to lead with? Given the 17+ minutes on offer, I wonder if luxuriating for the first couple on just a description of this jigsaw puzzle — 8000 pieces is one way to look at it, the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) for Pope Julius II (Rex Harrision) in the years of the Agony and the Ecstasy. The puzzle is x ft long and x ft wide. How long did it take to do?

    And then, finally, at the end of the intro, what was the occasion for the giving of the puzzle?

    That’s where the family story comes in, and the image of the puzzle — of an entity broken into thousands of pieces — becomes more than image, it becomes METAPHOR!!!!

    Having said all that, this piece is already at its ease, like the little laugh at the end of Michelle’s intro.

    And then I start wondering about the practicalities — or, to be more precise, the impracticalities — of such a hobby in the city apartment. I suspect your dad would be reluctant to describe how he coped with building the Sistine Chapel right in his own home. You hint toward the end — clearing out your brother’s room, getting a table large enough to handle the Garden of Earthly Delights.

    But there is really only one thing I would like to see sorted out: towards the end (around 15:15 into the piece or so), after you and your father had discussed the difference between habits and traditions, you speak of your own twin traditions of "trying too hard" and "not knowing when to stop."

    If I were your dad, I’d see these more as habits.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.02.04

    Reply
    Nannette

    Thank you for your thoughts, I’ve been thinking them over. As for the difference between a written voice and the one in the piece, I guess I would say that’s what I wanted, or that’s what I could live with. I don’t like listening to things that sound written, in general, I get caught up in the speaker’s attempts to perform, especially if he or she is not a performer. I don’t think a lot of writing outside of Dr. Suess was meant to be read aloud, and whatever tenuous existence it is able eke out depends heavily on its natural habitat–the page. That said, I’m sure there is a style of writing specifically for radio and with performance in mind, but it would be a stretch for me–I make up too many words and am too fond of alliteration–as would be the task of performing them.

    I mainly wanted to depart from that as a challenge, and Jay felt as well that it was a way to keep the piece kind of relaxed, in the spirit of the many conversations between my dad and I that didn’t make it in. I think I had actually written a small bit on the spot and when Jay listened to it he said "Try to say what you’re saying here but with the same quality of this earlier bit." Which happened to be unscripted ramblings. In addition this topic has been squatting illegally in my brain for so long now that I’m not sure I could have addressed it in a fresh way if I had approached it formally. Since I hadn’t planned on the piece having a lot of narration, it may have worked out better that it all kind of came out in a blurt.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.02.04

    Reply
    Jackson

    Ha. Maybe I have elevated my habits to tradition status through sheer force of will. I guess I meant that since those qualities only really apply to me in relation to my dad, maybe they are our tradition, especially at Christmas.

    My dad had to do the Sistine Chapel puzzle in two rooms, it was too big to be contained in the room in the photo. There’s a gripping description of how the two halves finally came together in the McSweeney’s interview.

    I’m glad you found things you liked in the piece, but I am curious, in your description of the intro, is your feeling that the trajectory was too predictable? In I think every edit prior to the finished piece, the first voice heard was my dad’s, as was the last. I guess in relation to Mr. Pick’s comment, did you feel like you wanted more of him and less maybe expository information? Did you feel like you needed that to get a footing in the piece?

  • Michelle Orange

    2.02.04

    Reply

    I forgot to mention, what did end up being the beginning was literally me trying to figure out what the hell I was going to say, I think Jay cut about 4 extra "what can I say"’s before the one that leads into the piece.

  • Jackson

    2.02.04

    Reply
    Hmmm, trajectory….

    like we’re aiming at something with artillery?

    What I liked — what I really liked — was the naturalness of this, esp. your voice in different settings (in the studio, at the diner, at McSweeney’s, at your dad’s).

    Maybe you could have run a bit more with that element. Though, you’re saying "what can I say," in the studio, you are in fact the omniscient narrator. There you actually know what you’re only guessing, searching for elsewhere. You in the studio can, for example, correct you in the diner for speaking of tradition as opposed to habit (not to harp, but generally, I would say part of the editorial process is arriving at consistency. Having said that, the structure of your piece allows you to do the exact opposite.)

    But that does lead me to another question: did you feel somehow hemmed in by what you had taped on location?

  • Jackson

    2.02.04

    Reply
    And, oh, yeah…

    Did I miss what happened to the Sistine Chapel puzzle?

  • Cameron Stallones

    2.02.04

    Reply
    musica

    i had a similar reaction to the background music at first….i felt that the music was pulling the narrative rather than supporting it, but i find that in the radio work i do thats my primary struggle….i’m a big music fan, and sometimes am prone to getting more excited about the songs i’m going to use to score a piece than the piece itself…. and im finding that perhaps letting the music lead isn’t always a mistake, as long as on the whole, it does not dominate your piece. sometimes that kind of pull and push between the two threads can be very pleasant to listen to, as the music can impart a kind of emotion that the text cannot always, while the text can give a depth of information the music cant. sure it can be a hindrance, but when used correctly it can be a powerful effect

    the piece, of course, was wonderful, i loved it…

  • Michelle Orange

    2.02.04

    Reply

    Sometimes I did feel sort of hemmed in by stuff I’d said almost a year ago in a different location, I guess that’s why I balked about having a lot of it included.

    After my dad poured the crazy sealant mixture that came with the Sistine puzzle over it (supposed to hold it together but didn’t) it stayed hidden in a corner of the basement, shrouded in layers of cardboard and plastic. It always made me laugh when he would bring someone down there to look at it–the double click of the bare bulb overhead, the swish of plastic being pulled back–it was like a pilgrimmage. Then after much debate (I once wanted the puzzle on my wall) he decided it should be rolled up. They don’t make puzzle mats big enough for that sucker (I looked everywhere) so he bought some felt, got help sliding it under the puzzle and then very carefully rolled it up.

    Finally, a boy who was doing work on the house (oddly, someone I dated almost 10 years ago and haven’t seen since) told my dad he knew of the perfect container for the rolled up puzzle: a cylinder contractors use as a shell for concrete, I think underground. So anyway those two went to a Home Depot and picked one up (honestly, could it get weirder? He’s like my dad’s new best friend).

    With the new puzzle, last month my dad and I went to a fabric store to pick up a piece of felt big enough to be slid under the puzzle. The only one suitable was this sparkly white felt. Very fancy. Then my dad kept trying to get me to agree to help put the felt under the puzzle, which is in great disarray, almost 1/4 done and the entire border completed. It would have been a nightmare and I avoided it at all costs. I still say wait until it’s done. I did get a handful of pieces in though and pulled my dad out of a tailspin regarding the lower left side of the "heaven" panel by making a clutch strategic adjustment to a cluster of frolicking naked nymphs. He tried to downplay it later but it was huge.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.02.04

    Reply

    Hi Cameron…I see what you mean about the music. Jay had to kind of curb my enthusiasm for the music once I saw the interplay it could have with the piece. For instance I really wanted this Lemonheads song "Something’s Missing" to show up somewhere, I thought it was a great fit. But listening now, it probably would have been too much music. You’re right, in listening there’s a very interesting tension that gets set up between music and narrative and it’s a tricky one. I credit Jay with excellent judgement on that score. heh heh. *cough*

  • Jay Allison

    2.04.04

    Reply

    On the question of voicing in both Michelle’s piece and Nubar’s… both had kinship in the way they were done, and maybe because of that, the way they sounded. Both Michelle and Nubar had made scripts which we tried to honor in audio, but they didn’t work. So, we had to punt. They were both able to deal with the idea of, "okay, we need a bridge from here to here and it needs to be made of the following planks. so go in the other room and talk to yourself." Then, they’d go off with a tape recorder and make the bridge, a kind of exploratory scripting, a self-interview, a planned improvisation.

    The whole production process on these pieces, in fact, was improvisatory…no written script, just sound and forward motion. Throw something into the session, start somewhere exciting, see how it feels and where it goes, throw something else in, keep going, don’t look back. Then, look back. Fix what needs fixing in order to Keep Going. Feel an end and push toward it. Know it when you hear it. Be ready to be surprised, have accidents, discover, improvise. (My friend Jon Carroll from The WELL used to have an intimidating online tagline, "Improvisation separates the men from the boys. And kills the boys.")

    One more thing, to go back to the narrative style thing… Michelle’s and Nubar’s presentation also reminded me a little of what you hear on some Radio Rookie pieces, like Rocky’s and others. They use it to good effect. Mainly, it’s nice to hear someone talking instead of reading, and also not seeming to believe they know everything, even about themselves.

    On the question of music here. The CDs all came with Michelle (oh, I just realized I have to return them). In my own work, I tend never to use non-organic music with lyrics for production. But the nice thing here is, it’s not my own work. I’m interested in trying out other people’s way of telling/hearing. The wonderful This American Life has ruined things for the rest of us, because any time you use music with a story, people say "it sounds like This American Life." They didn’t invent freaking MUSIC, for crissakes. Anyway, I have to say there was something nice about using music with words, partly because TAL doesn’t, but also, why not, once in a while. It makes you listen differently. And finally, this piece is sort of a duet and you could make a case that the music/lyrics supported that.

    Generally, the best thing about these work processes is the dancing part, the mix of leading and following. As an independent producer, you get bored just doing pieces by yourself over and over for 25 years. This is a way to keep from being bored. As a producer, and as a listener.

  • Andy Knight

    2.04.04

    Reply

    As an independent producer, you get bored just doing pieces by yourself over and over for 25 years.

    Maybe you just need a change. Like, maybe, hire a personal assistant who will sit around and give you truly horrible advice while you work. Or, get yourself a nice big drinking problem. Either should keep you entertained.

  • Cameron Stallones

    2.04.04

    Reply
    ha

    The wonderful This American Life has ruined things for the rest of us, because any time you use music with a story, people say "it sounds like This American Life." They didn’t invent freaking MUSIC, for crissakes

    fantastic=) you made my day. and yes i’ve run into that quite a bit myself. i have been working on a radio project for my college radio station, and everyone who I play it for usually gives me the big compliment: "wonderful! it sounds just like This American Life!" meaning, i suppose, that it is a story, its on the radio, and it has music behind it =)

    anyways, as i said earlier, most people have told me to beware of music that pulls away from the text, but as i’ve explored makingmy own pieces, i really find that i do like the tension created by forceful music, as long as its used purposefully. like you said, it causes you to listen differently and react to things differently, and can be kinda fun and subversive if used well.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    2.04.04

    Reply
    a few definitions, svp

    Jay,
    some definitions please?
    "Voicing" means specifically, technically putting the sound of a voice into a piece ? or can it refer to the voice more broadly, putting someone’s thoughts and personality in?

    and as for your usually never using non-organic music:
    "Organic" means original or commisioned? ambient? chosen by the subject?
    merci

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    2.04.04

    Reply
    Michelle’s voices

    Does anyone else who’s read Michelle’s work at McSweeney’s care to comment on her varying voices?

  • Michelle Orange

    2.05.04

    Reply
    varying voices/pretentious quote alert

    Nannette I’m not sure what you’re after…do you think the voices should be consistent? I mean, one is written and one is obviously not. I like the Nabokov quote "I think like a genius, write like a distinguished author and speak like a child." Not for nothing.

    Let’s talk about my varying voices withIN the piece, like what the hell is up with me talking literally like a child only when I am with my dad? I had no idea. Embarrassing story: when Jay and I were listening to it he actually thought there was a level problem, like maybe Chelsea had made an error in making a format transfer or something, and I had a brief moral crisis wondering whether I would let her take the blame for my out of whack voice or hang my head to accept the powder pink garland that marks all daddy’s girls. Thankfully for my already dreadfullly overworked scruple centre he determined independently that the problem was mine alone.

  • Jay Allison

    2.05.04

    Reply
    voice, music, and daughters

    Yes, I thought we’d loaded Michelle’s sound at the wrong sample rate. The cute and giddy rate.

    I liked all her variousness in this piece, but by "voicing" I mostly meant how she used her voice in the narrative parts, the ones that sound kind of meditative and close-miced in a bedroom, because they were.

    As for "organic" music, I mean music that’s tied in some way to the story, or motivated by it, a song that’s mentioned in an interview or music recorded on scene, that kind of thing.

    by the way, and speaking of Daddy’s Girl Syndrome, has anybody noticed a common thread in the last three Transom pieces? That, combined with an essay from my daughter and me in the NY Times Magazine a couple weeks ago, caused Jonathan Goldstein in email to use the appelation "Overlord of Father/Daughter Stories."

  • Michelle Orange

    2.05.04

    Reply
    cute and giddy rate

    Dammit Jay!

  • Jackson

    2.05.04

    Reply
    Speaking of music…

    I’ve ranted about how frequently tedious the music used in radio can be — loops, low-grade atmospherics, tunes and arrangements that have absolutely nothing to do with the story they’re supposed to be reinforcing. Indeed, I had reached a point where if I heard that Satie Gymnopedie one more time on TAL — well, I just don’t know what I would have done. All I can say is thank God someone stole that tape from Ira.

    Michelle, you’ve got a great selection of tunes here, but because I haven’t seen this word anywhere else on Transom, I am offering hosannas to Jay. I tend to get caught in the historical niceties of music — music is a factor of both time and place. But as Blue Jay’s Way with music shows, music is both rhythm and attitude as well. The story leaps from the radio faster than a Dan Rather simile.

    Way cool. Will there be a workshop at some point?

  • helen woodward

    2.05.04

    Reply
    aural perspective

    Thanks michelle (and jay and chelsea) for a lovely and thought-provoking piece of radio. Your dad sounds like a lovely man, and his pondering about puzzling and life is really compelling; my husband had knee surgery last year, and I bought him a 1000 piece puzzle to pass the time while he recuperated; I would find myself surreptitiously sneaking a few pieces in late at night, and totally relate to what your dad was saying, particularly about your mind operating above itself.

    I think your various voices (we all have a multitude), including the one you use with your dad, is what makes this piece real; and it didn’t strike me as particularly giddy, rather it reflected your relationship with him, which is a very complex thing. But that is a matter of aural perspective: I think when we hear our own recorded voice it causes some kind of weird feedback in our brains, as you hear yourself saying stuff which doesn’t necessarily reflect what is going on in your head, or which is too close to what is going on in your head, or something like that.

    Naturally this piece got me pondering my own parents divorce for the millionth time; I think that is a sign of good work (or a self absorbed listener!). I loved that this piece focused on the long term aftermath of divorce, which I haven’t heard much about on the radio, or anywhere until very recently. I heard Of A Piece first a couple of weeks ago, at the same time that I was reading a book called the unexpected legacy of divorce (sorry cant remember author, but highly recommend it), it looks at 30-somethings whose parents divorced way back when they were kids, and I found, rather disconcertingly, many of my "issues" detailed therein. And I think it gave me some insight into your situation too.

    thanks again

  • chelsea merz

    2.05.04

    Reply
    and….

    I was so busy talking about myself, that I forgot to ask a question that Ive been wondering about: has your dad listened? if so was he as suprised by it as you described being?
    and any plans for your next radio piece?

  • helen woodward

    2.05.04

    Reply
    that’s not chelsea

    post #31 is from me, as a follow up to my last posting. strangely the edit button has dissappeared or I would have
    sorry about that.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.05.04

    Reply

    Thank you for your thoughts Helen, I’m kind of divided on the subject of divorce books and studies. I don’t personally see divorce as a strictly negative thing, in fact it can be the best thing two people can do for each other and their children.

    (Not) Chelsea, I think we should start a spam campaign to get a reaction out of my dad. I told him about the piece being finished a couple days after it went up here and asked him to listen but haven’t heard a peep. To tell the truth I’m nervous, that’s why I waited. I probably broke a couple codes. Maybe I should call and strong arm him onto the boards.

    My brother liked it and so did my mom. In fact I may go get the email my brother wrote, just because his PS said "Don’t even THINK about posting this on the Transom boards."

  • Jay Allison

    2.05.04

    Reply
    by the way

    …I only said "giddy" because I knew it would drive Michelle crazy. And you have to admit she’s Cute.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    2.05.04

    Reply

    in a rush
    but just quickly,
    Michelle, I wasn’t getting at anything except that you have quite an enviable range!

    I don’t think that voices need to be consistent among pieces. I just think it’s interesting what brings up the various voices or personalities. Writing/speaking about your dad housed at Atlantic would bring up one voice
    Spending time in Italy alone, another…

    I’ve known the phenomenon of becoming younger around your parents too…

  • Sydney Lewis

    2.05.04

    Reply

    It would be interesting to hear your dad’s reaction to the piece. It’s interesting hearing your reaction to how your voice sounded. The power of the voice-tone, its fingerprint can so powerfully nuance the words. We think we’re saying one thing, someone hears something else or hears under. Do you think this experience will in any way linger for you or make a difference in your writing writing?

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    2.05.04

    Reply

    any lurkers out there want to make a comment?

  • Jay Allison

    2.05.04

    Reply
    yes, that’s right…

    Lurkers unite. Remember, these boards are open to all, and people who seem to know each other or seem comfortable posting, probably don’t, and aren’t. So, join in!

    I just finished a telephonic Q&A with the Kitchen Sisters’ Berkeley J-School class and invited all of them over to listen and post.

    Well….?

  • Jackson

    2.07.04

    Reply
    And while we’re waiting…

    Michelle, you’ve brought to light some of the most tortured relations on the entire planet — adult children and their parents. Even as I type this, I wonder how the hell I am going to keep my mother, living 200 miles away, from getting behind the wheel of a car when she’s developing the attention span of a two-year-old.

    But once I put the question in that light, I realize that my anxiety about my mother is my anxiety. What has working on this story done in terms of how you perceive, respond to, deal with your dad?

    My guess is that short of doing a Michael Jackson and hanging your father by his feet from the fire escape of his apartment, he is not going to leap into this discussion. Were there things, other than puzzles, you had thought of introducing to the holidays?

  • Michelle Orange

    2.07.04

    Reply

    Hi Jackson and everyone…if there are lurkers, I wish they’d come out and be sporting.

    I spoke with my dad last night, and hopefully he will come and post some thoughts here soon. I won’t say anything about his reaction before he gets the chance.

    I’m not sure working on the piece changed much about how I relate to my dad. The question and answer format is a large part of how we have always interacted, I have a bottomless curiosity where he is concerned, so it was just like I had an extra excuse to ask questions and there happened to be a microphone present.

    I guess all of the things I learned about my dad in relation to this piece I learned by watching the puzzle get completed, but in our extensive conversations on tape I learned many things about his family, his parents’ traditional New Year’s parties, how as a kid he had his throat blessed for the feast of St. Blaise (which is also Valentine’s Day)every year that the first big puzzle he worked on was in a hospital waiting room when my grandmother was ill, that he remembers very fondly being put to work weeding the garden by his dad when he was a boy and enjoying it for hours. That my (shameful) paint-by-numbers phase (which happened while he was working on puzzle 1 and that I hid with great vigour) carries on the tradition of him doing them as a kid–apparently doing them so well that his dad hung one on the wall. All kinds of stuff.

    As for Christmas traditions, I guess my big thing was continuing to get a real tree. There was a lot of tape about the fact that last year I was FORCED to get a fake one. My dad tried to play it like he had waited for me to come home to get one because that was the tradition, but that because of work I got home so late that all the trees were gone. I think it was a set-up, he wanted a fake tree all along. Anyway, that was very upsetting to me. I boycotted decorating it, which has always been my job, and I boycotted again this year. Sometimes a tree is not just a tree.

    Another is shortbread. My great great-grandmother’s recipe was handed to me very ceremoniously by my grandmother almost 10 years ago and I made a few key adjustments. Apparently the result is very good, and every year I make it until it’s coming out of my ears, using the cookie cutters I remember from my childhood.

    Going to the Grocery store is Big Fun for my dad and I. I had some of tape of us shopping and goofing off…the Christmas run is a highlight. I remember once I subjected my dad to the Proust questionnaire (I had a phase where I was asking everyone I knew those 37 questions) and his answer to the question "What is your favourite journey?" was "To the grocery store with Michelle."

    One that took some figuring out is stockings. My mother always filled them, and for several years they were kind of up in the air. I remember maybe the first year I woke up at 5 in the morning to run, went downstairs and saw that my brother’s stocking was empty (mine was too, but that was not as big a deal, and I had filled my dad’s) so I ran all over the place looking for a store that was open and bought a bunch of junk for his stocking. That’s right dad!! Shame shame!!!! From there on out I saw it was my job to fill the stockings.

    I think the Christmas I was 21 I went somewhat overboard, just cooking and decorating and stressing for weeks, then having this huge let down when my brother breezed in and left after a day or two. I probably drove them both crazy. I think I’ve calmed down since then.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    2.07.04

    Reply
    enlighten, please?

    the 37 questions sound interesting.
    would it be allowable to post them? or post a link to them? Elsewhere at Transom is the List section, and I think Jay might have (re-)started something with Lists of Questions… There’s a fun wee little book I used to have around: Book of Questions nor List of Questions, but it has no connection with Proust, does it.?

    also, I was relieved to see you mention your mother. Being one of those, one of my biggest fears would be to lose contact with my daughters.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.07.04

    Reply

    I have all the questions written in a notebook somewhere, I will try to find them. I should be able to remember them by memory I asked them so many times. It’s amazing what you find out about people you’ve known for years when you ask them stuff like "What or who is the greatest love of your life?" (My dad’s answer: literature. My answer, at least in 1998: My dad.) I did a list for McSweeney’s once based on answers to that very question. I also like going back and re-doing the questionnaire every few years, see how people’s answers change.

    I just had a bunch of Vanity Fair back issues and I culled what I think are the total number from there.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.07.04

    Reply
    The list

    http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/lists/loves.html

  • Andy Knight

    2.08.04

    Reply

    I’ve got the Proust list, as translated, from French, by German speakers, and posted by a blogger:
    Which is the greatest disaster for you personally?
    Where would you want to live?
    How do you define complete happiness?
    What kind of mistakes do you excuse most readily?
    Your favorite protagonist in a novel?
    Your favorite protagonist in history?
    Your favorite real life-heroines?
    Your favorite literary heroines?
    Your favorite painter?
    Your favorite composer?
    Qualities you like best in a man
    Qualities you like best in a woman
    The virtue you consider the highest
    Your favorite activity?
    Who or what would you have wanted to be?
    What do you consider to be your chief quality?
    What is it you like best about your friends?
    Your characteristic shortcoming?
    Your dream of happiness?
    Which would be the greatest disaster for you personally?
    Who would you like to be?
    Your favorite color?
    Your favorite flower?
    Your favorite bird?
    Your favorite author?
    Your favorite poet?
    Persons in real life you admire most
    Heroines in history
    Your favorite names?
    What do you despise most?
    Historical figures you dislike most
    Military achievements you admire most
    The reform you admire most
    A talent you wish you had yourself
    The way you would want to die
    Your current state of mind?
    Your motto?

    I came across other versions which Google translated from French for me. These other versions all seemed to have the same questions, but in different orders. Also, some word which I think translates better as "composer" or "songwriter" was translated as "type-setter". Many people felt Bach was the best Type-setter. Others say Mozart. I say Gutenberg. Another Site seems to think that there are, um, a different number of questions… I think. But maybe you come out with 37 if you remove questions which are basically the same.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.08.04

    Reply
    Hmm

    Some there I don’t recognize, others that are left out like "What is your greatest regret?" and "What would you change about your family?"

    Thanks for finding those Andy.

  • Andy Knight

    2.08.04

    Reply

    Well, I just noticed that it has "Which would be the greatest disaster for you personally?" twice, and it could certainly be the case that one or both of those are mis-translations of "What is your greatest regret?". But I think most of the differences can be drawn back to the fact that you are Canadian. How? I have no idea. But when in doubt, blame Canada.

  • Michelle Orange

    2.08.04

    Reply
    greatest disaster

    I took that one to be my "What do you consider the lowest depth of misery?", but you’re right, we talk funny.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    2.08.04

    Reply

    Here’s a question for Michelle’s dad:
    Not sure how to address you, Sorry. I missed your name,

    How much did it matter to you what the puzzle was? You now have gotten to know two of the most famous paintings in the world…

    I imagine that in itself is satisfying
    is it anything like getting to know a work of literature?…

    (I’ve dropped out of a larger family Christmas puzzle tradition often because I’m picky about the puzzle. The image has to be something I’d like to learn about, or meditate on. The pure challenge of matching colors doesn’t do it for me.)

    And what about this radio "literature?" Do radio stories compare to any of your favorite reading?

  • Sue Mell

    2.11.04

    Reply
    First Reactions

    Having just moved, I’ve come late to the table, but before I read what everyone wrote, before I give a second listen and start to think, and at the risk of sounding like a total dork and shirking my responsibility to discuss this work as a piece of radio, I simply wanted to say:

    Aw…I LOVED this piece!

  • Cameron Stallones

    2.16.04

    Reply

    "Indeed, I had reached a point where if I heard that Satie Gymnopedie one more time on TAL — well, I just don’t know what I would have done. All I can say is thank God someone stole that tape from Ira. "

    i could do without yo la tengo’s "green arrow"…

  • JeremyRodgers

    2.18.04

    Reply
    People and puzzles

    Hi Michelle,
    I enjoyed that piece very much. I like the metaphor of puzzles to explain the aftermath of a loved one who has gone away.

    That occurence really does leave you with some pieces, I am not sure that they fit together in a predetermined way, though.

    The story you tell makes me think that your dad used the puzzle like a meditation, an idea that I feel is echoed by the narrative of the piece and the quality of your voice.
    Ommmm 🙂

    Thanks for this gem of truths. It gives me pause to think of my own multi-parent universe and the traditions come and gone.

    In the immortal words of Trevor: "What’s it all a-boot?"

  • Michelle Orange

    2.19.04

    Reply
    Hey Jeremy!

    I’m glad you listened and liked it. Jeremy and I worked together in Toronto, along with Trevor the philosopher, who was interviewed for the piece but didn’t make it in (travesty?)

    I think my dad would agree with you that the puzzle is a kind of meditative tool…the mother of all meditative tools.

  • Elliot Margolies

    2.22.04

    Reply
    Order from chaos

    Great job Michelle.
    A day or two after listening, the things I remembered were your dad’s comments about the process (spending an hour for only a piece or two; creating order from chaos; love of form; surprising himself with memory of the pieces in the other room; entertaining himself). He sounds like a very modest, good man – probably a very patient dad. There was one interaction between you where he asks a question and you say something like "That’s what we’re trying to find out…." where listeners can see the two of you smiling at each other.

    I assume it was your idea to link the urge to create order from chaos to the aftermath of your mother leaving and life for the family after that. That was a powerful frame for the story. I didn’t need the opening bit telling me the different themes of the story (I listened to it again today). Your narrative about your mom, and traditions lost, and bringing the puzzle, and your dad’s longterm project, said it all.

    It reminded me of a quote I once wrote down after reading something by Jacob Bronowski, a scientist. I just looked it up…
    "Order does not display itself of itself; if it can be said to be there at all, it is not there for the mere looking……order must be discovered and in a deep sense it must be created….."

  • Michelle Orange

    2.23.04

    Reply

    Hi Elliott,

    Thank you for your thoughts and for the quote–what a great quote.

    I actually didn’t think of my dad as a patient guy until the first puzzle got finished. We discussed it at one point, I told him I never thought of him as particularly patient. His response? "I raised you, didn’t I?" It’s strange how you can only become aware of some of your parents’ defining qualities through the perceptions of others. Now it seems so obvious, he has the patience of a saint.

  • suzannep

    6.03.04

    Reply
    family circus

    hey michelle, thanks for the great story..i’ll get right to the point:
    wasn’t it difficult spending so much time w/ you family/dad…and trying to be objective without flipping out or at least inserting yourself too deeply…even though you (and the puzzles) are the story

  • Michelle Orange

    6.22.04

    Reply
    Hi Suzanne

    Hmmm. It wasn’t difficult spending time with my dad and interviewing him at length, that was generally very fun, for me at least, because I am curious and used the microphone to ask things I normally wouldn’t. I guess the difficult part came in the crunch, when the decision was made to insert myself more as a narrator–I didn’t orginally see myself as part of the story. As I wrote in the "about the process" thing, I had a lot of reservations about that, so yeah, I guess that’s where the flipping out came in. But I was half-flipped at that point anyway, so I had some momentum to carry me through the full flip, for better or worse.

    As for being objective, I’m not sure that that’s something you can worry about, you know? I think even in journalism the best they can do is have a fact-checking department, not an objectivity-checking one. Every story is a construct, I guess the choices that get made can be made with fairness to communicate the intent of what your subject is saying in mind, especially when the subject knows where you live, but even then I just think it’s unproductive to think in terms of objectivity. There were about 20 stories that could have been told from the tape I recorded with my dad, and the one that Jay and I decided to tell didn’t present itself as objective. I wish my dad would weigh in, his response was largely "well that’s interesting."

  • Michelle Orange

    9.10.04

    Reply
    CBC airing

    I am pleased to announce that "Of A Piece"–in a slightly shorter, re-mixed incarnation–will be airing on CBC radio in Canada on Tuesday, September 14 at 11:45 am. Canadians can tune in on CBC Radio One, everyone else can stream it live at http://www.cbc.ca/listen/index.html.

  • charlane bishop

    9.18.04

    Reply

    hi michelle
    i heard your peice on cbc the other day
    i liked it and i liked your narration bits,
    i totally understand your back seat canadian, too personal lets leave it all to nuance and inference …paranoia
    and worse im a canadian from nova scotia and you know maritimers think
    ontarians are like way to direct rude and obnoxious (no offence but you know what i mean right?)
    so imagine my plight in pitching a story to outfront and getting the "this should have more you in it",,,ahhhhh!
    anyway liked the peice alot the dad daughter dynamic is something i’m working with making something out of too
    .it has to be done right.

    charlane

  • Michelle Orange

    9.21.04

    Reply

    Thank you Charlane, so happy to hear some Canadian feedback. What is your piece about? Is the Maritimer bias against all Ontarians or just Torontonians? I used to think it was the latter but then I have also been called a fantasist.

  • Christina Sanantonio

    2.05.11

    Reply

    Recently discovered Transom and am so enjoying working my way through the stories. So enjoyed your puzzle story. Your dad sounds fantastic-loved listening to his quiet humor. Thanks for the hard work to produce this lovely little tale.

  • Robert Russell

    10.17.15

    Reply

    Thank you, Michelle, for an extremely timely account of the bond between a father and daughter. This episode, I believe, goes back to 2006; however, in the year of 2015 it remains all-so relevant.

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