How Are You Who You Are?

June 19th, 2008 | Produced by Eric Winick
with Jay Allison
Doug and Lynn Nadeau, 1962

Doug and Lynn Nadeau, 1962

Photo Gallery   Photo Gallery – you can click this while playing the audio(use ‘n’ on your keyboard to move through the slideshow)

Intro from Jay Allison

The Nadeaus were, to most eyes, an ideal family–enlightened,
brilliant, prosperous. But then things turned upsidedown. In a
remarkable series of events, Doug and Lynn Nadeau were forced to
re-define their identities, to confirm the foundation of their
love.

About How Are You Who You Are?

In November 2004, I contacted Lynn Nadeau and asked if I could chronicle her late husband Doug’s life in some fashion. To my surprise, she was open to the idea. Although I’d known their son Greg since grade school, and had occasionally been a visitor to the Nadeau’s grand Victorian in my home town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, I had no information at my disposal – no recordings of Doug, Lynn, or their sons, and had spent little time with the man himself. What I did know was that Doug had lived an extraordinary life, and that he had a story worth telling.

Doug, Lynn, Greg & Ted Nadeau, 1988

Doug, Lynn, Greg & Ted Nadeau, 1988

Lynn delivered on her promise, turning over piles of documents from Doug’s life, in particular the last eighteen years, in which Doug had done battle with the encephalitis that changed and ultimately claimed his life. I set to work formulating a narrative and was granted access to videos of Doug’s memorial service and to a documentary that appeared on Marblehead’s cable channel in 1998, six years before Doug’s death. Selected clips of this material were presented to Emily Botein of PRI’s “The Next Big Thing” in the spring of 2005, which was around the time that I discovered Transom.

Emily encouraged me to interview Lynn Nadeau, and Transom showed me how to make it happen. Spending every dollar of my tax refund, I purchased a Marantz PMD670 digital audio recorder, a Shure Beta 87C cardioid microphone, and Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones. I downloaded Audacity (at Transom’s urging) and ventured north to Marblehead to capture Lynn’s remarkable voice.

Soon after this, I was accepted into the month-long National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. Although ostensibly there to spend a week developing a new play, I utilized the rest of my time to work on audio projects, including the Nadeau piece. (I think it’s fair to say that I was the only writer sitting in his room that month experimenting with Audacity.)

I came away from the O’Neill with a half-hour-long edit featuring audio of Lynn from the interview, barely audible clips of Greg and Ted from the memorial service, and only-slightly-better-sounding audio of Doug from the cable documentary. Music was by a mishmash of composers, among them Radiohead, Angelo Badalamenti, and Clint Mansell. It packed an emotional punch, but it was also a bit of a mess.

The piece lay fallow for some time. “The Next Big Thing” folded, and a blind submission to “This American Life” yielded only a curt form response. It was then that I mailed the piece to Transom, where I’d started the journey two years prior. (Note to self: when you think a piece is done, don’t send it out blindly. Send it to people who know radio. Believe it or not, they’re out there, and willing to listen.)

In November 2007, three years after I’d first approached Lynn with the idea, I received an e-mail from Jay Allison inquiring as to whether I had any desire to continue working on the piece. I immediately answered “yes,” and contacted Lynn to let her know that the story might see the light of day after all.

Months of discussion via e-mail ensued in which Jay encouraged me to rethink the piece – perhaps, he suggested, it wasn’t a documentary about one man’s struggle with a disease, but the story of a marriage, told by an outsider impressed by a family so unlike his own. Jay questioned my music choices, pointing out something that had not occurred to me – that with radio documentaries, it’s not necessarily about what “sounds good,” but what is most organic and germane to the piece.

Greg, Ted, Lynn and Donna, 2003

Greg, Ted, Lynn and Donna, 2003

In May 2008 I accepted Jay’s invitation to come to Woods Hole and work beside him in his studio. It was there, over the course of three and a half days, that we painstakingly re-edited the piece, re-wrote and recorded the voice-over, removed pesky “p-pops,” chose new music (Beethoven, from an e-mail detailing Doug’s eclectic musical preferences), and removed the scratchy audio of Greg and Ted. The latter decision was by far the most difficult for me, but upon reading through the script, we realized that the piece flowed better, and felt more focused, when it concentrated on Lynn and Doug. The boys would have a presence, of course – one couldn’t tell the story of the family without them – but they would appear in the narration only. These changes resulted in a much-improved edit that ran twenty-one minutes, down from the original thirty-one.

I am deeply indebted to Lynn Nadeau for allowing me the opportunity to describe her amazing, frustrating, inspiring life with Doug. And of course I have nothing but praise for Jay Allison and the staff of Transom, for believing in this piece and for giving me a platform to share the story. Having initially consulted Transom as a definitive source of information about audio tools and techniques, it feels natural and appropriate for the piece to find its home here.

Eric Winick

Eric Winick

About Eric Winick

Eric Winick hails from Marblehead, Massachusetts, birthplace of the American Navy. He is the founder of Yarn AudioWorks, a web site devoted to extemporaneous storytelling and to the oral tradition. As a playwright, his work has appeared in some way, shape, or form at Wordbridge Playwrights Lab (SC), O’Neill National Playwrights Conference (CT), and in NYC, at 59E59 Theaters, the Brick Theater, Theatre at St. Clements, Manhattan Theatre Club, MCC Theatre, and Reverie Productions. A graduate of Middlebury College, Eric serves on numerous advisory boards; resides in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; and works as Director of Marketing for the off-Broadway theater Playwrights Horizons.



Additional support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project

with funding from
Corporation for Public Prodcasting


21 Comments on “How Are You Who You Are?”

  • Benjamin Chesterton says:
    wow

    that it an awesome opening to a radio programme .. actually its a masterclass in how to start a radio programme. Normally i hate scripting to open with but that is brilliant.

    I have just come back from teaching radio in Kenya following the post election violence. I would have loved to use that as an example.

    congratulations

    Benjamin

    http://www.duckrabbit.info/together

  • Anonymous says:
    your role

    Eric, I’m resistant to narration too (if I understand correctly, you wanted this piece to tell itself with the music and the tape you had). Even when there is not enough tape, I do my best to keep myself out of it, but sometimes a piece needs you. How did you open up to this idea? Listening to the piece I get a sense that your history with this family also sent the piece in a certain direction that it may not have gone without you. Any comments about that?

    What an incredible story!

    Sarah

  • Jay Allison says:
    emotion vs. analysis

    I’ve had comments on the piece, both as critique and praise, that it is not "moving" in the usual way, but more emotionally distanced, more intriguing to the mind than affecting to the heart.

    I think this may be true. What does anyone else think about that? Does a piece about a powerfully emotional story like this need to be emotional? Are the emotions here, restrained and removed by time, sufficient to create interest, empathy and understanding?

  • Sydney Lewis says:

    Eric,

    This is a challenging topic for a debut piece, and such an unusual and powerful love story. How is the family feeling about the finished piece? Do they feel it offers something the video documentary didn’t?

    I have to confess, I saw the photos some time after hearing the finished version of the piece and they had an impact. I imagine I would have absorbed the piece a little differently had I a simultaneous view/hear experience. My imagination delivered a different Donna than the Donna that Doug was.

    Lynn was so incredibly generous. Did you run versions by her for reactions, or finish and say, here’s what I’ve done with your story? Really glad you hung in with this story.

  • Eric Winick says:
    Response to "Your role"

    Actually, I always had the piece structured with narration. It seemed that there was just too much backstory to put entirely in Lynn’s hands. I will say that initially, there was audio of Greg and Ted reading essays about Doug at the memorial service, and more of Doug himself. But as you can read in my essay, as Jay and I focused the piece on the marriage, a lot of that wound up on the cutting room floor.

    As for my history with the Nadeaus… this was very challenging. How to work myself in without making the piece about me. Again, I have to hand it to Jay, because originally I was reluctant to be anything but a casual observer. Jay was the one who pushed me to inject more of me into the piece, saying things like, "Lynn told me that…" or "When I heard Lynn say that…" His contention was that as long as I was telling the story, I needed to be an active participant — and I agree!

  • Eric Winick says:
    Response to Sydney Lewis

    Hi Sydney,

    Lynn is thrilled with the finished piece. It’s amazing to me that no one has told their story up to now, and I think she feels that way as well, so this is a nice bit of closure for her. I’m not sure how they feel about this version vs. the video doc, but I will say that that show was primarily about Doug. There was very little Lynn in it, which to me was a real shame. It also never saw a life outside the local cable channel for which it was shot.

    As for your second question: Lynn’s heard every version of this piece — which is to say, the first (31 min) edit and this one. She’s always been supportive, always quick to point out inconsistencies, and more than willing to share documents and photos.

    Really, she couldn’t be happier about the piece, in all of its forms.

    Thanks for your kind words.

  • Hammad Ahmed says:
    Perhaps hearing Donna could have helped

    I think the emotional restraint in this piece is totally appropriate. Isn’t one of the major epiphanies for Lynn–that she learns to face her sorrows head on? That the heart is resilient and that relationships require mental toughness even in the absence of emotional closeness? If she were to break down and cry, we may have a harder time believing what we are hearing…

    At the same time, however, the character of Doug/Donna comes off as very cold and unforgiving in this piece. I wonder at the decision to leave his voice out (mostly) and whether that was unfair. Erik says Donna was teary-eyed during the interview. Given the emotional restraint of the rest of the piece, it may have been a nice counterpoint to witness Donna’s hyper-emotional side.

  • Eric Winick says:
    Response to "Perhaps hearing Donna could have helped"

    As with the decision to leave the boys’ voices out of the piece, excising Doug’s was also a difficult choice. Jay was part of this decision, so I hope he’ll weigh in, but I believe several factors went into the decision: certainly one was that we wanted to keep the length down and felt that Lynn’s was the more crucial voice in the piece; also the audio of Doug from that video doc was not optimal, and his Parkinsonian speech patterns at that point (1998) made him a little hard to understand.

    Side note: Doug was teary-eyed during the conversation I had with him at the Nadeau house in 1999. He was perfectly composed during the video doc, from which this audio is taken.

    Thanks so much for listening to the piece.

  • Betsy Hanger says:
    From a family with a trans member

    Thank you for your respectful, dignified, and ultimately heartbreaking story. I kept hoping throughout that you wouldn’t sensationalize Doug/Donna’s medical condition — not the Parkinsons, but her transsexuality. While we don’t yet understand the underlying causes of this life-long condition, those of us with young trans family members (mine is now 18, but transitioned at 14) hope our loved one will be able to avoid causing the kind of heartbreak that Lynn suffered. Donna was able to be true to herself in the end, and that is a triumph. That she had to disappoint her family and law partners so deeply is the tragedy. Your story makes that clear by inference and suggestion. Thank you for your sensitivity and good luck in all future endeavors.

  • Melissa Allison says:
    Emotion

    Kind of responding to Jay’s prompt here…

    I think the held-in tone really helps a listener focus on the complexity of the story. It’s a love story, but it’s also about identity, a neurological illness, heterosexual upper class new england culture, and more. I think too much emphasis on any one of those would have lessened the piece. They’re nicely held in balance.

    In a way, Lynn’s extreme composure helps me understand how she could live with all of that ambiguity for so long. And the fact that she loved/cared for him even when he couldn’t love her back is a nice twist near the end. Lynn not wanting to have to lie/hide feels like a nice contrast to her controlled voice.

    I’m wondering Eric, if you were to do the piece over from scratch (planning, interviews, music, everything) is there anything you’d do differently?

    Thanks so much for this important piece.

    -Melissa

  • sally kingsbury says:
    Great and engaging story

    Eric – You created and edited a fine piece.
    I liked your discussion of how Jay helped you
    make decisions about how the story was told.
    Lynn was a great choice as the family storyteller.
    She carries so much complexity as a participant and
    analyst of her family’s life situation. She is
    so humane and so human – a very remarkable person.

  • Eric Winick says:
    Response to Melissa

    I second that "emotion." Thanks for the kind words.

    You have to remember, I was SUCH a novice when I started this process. Still am, to some extent. When I first headed down this road, I had no idea what I was doing. None. I knew there was a good story and that there was some found audio and video. That was it. It wasn’t until Emily Botein suggested that I interview Lynn that that things began to take shape. I then edited that interview and some of the found audio into something resembling a piece and sent that out, thinking, Well, maybe someone will see the potential here.

    The point is, all along, I was prepared to do more with it. When Jay and I started working, there was only a little discussion about interviewing the boys. We had Lynn’s audio and basically built the piece around her. Which I think is a totally viable way of going about it.

    But if I was to do it again, I’d definitely bring Greg and Ted into it. I’d probably interview Lynn again, maybe get her on the beach where Doug collapsed — both to set the scene and get some more ambient sound. As far as music goes, I went up to Woods Hole thinking I’d found the perfect stuff — Christopher O’Riley plays Radiohead — and it couldn’t have been more wrong. So I deferred to Jay in this instance, and would do so again.

    What impact would these choices have on the overall piece? They’d make it a lot longer, I think — which has its advantages and drawbacks.

    Happy squidding!

  • Jay Allison says:
    single focus

    As Eric says, bringing in the whole family would certainly be a viable option. Creating scenes, using sounds, comparing perspectives. That would all be interesting, I have no doubt.

    But, this particular piece, it seems to me, is about Lynn, about the challenges to her love for her husband and the effects of his illness and behavior on her family and her life. Given that focus, I think we made a reasonable decision to keep the narrative tight to her perspective.

    (interestingly, even though Doug’s voice is in the piece, it seems some people don’t remember it.)

  • Jay Allison says:
    Version of this piece on ATC

    FYI, a version of this piece aired Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered. In order to fit, it had to be cut about in half.

    HearingVoices.com brokered the connection and Larry Massett of HV did the edit for Art Silverman at ATC, with permission from Eric and me.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97591676&ps=cprs

  • marcia wilson says:
    stanley prowler

    i came across this piece by researching an old friend of mine named stanley prowler who died 2004 but had a niece named lynn nadeau.
    i loved the piece. it makes me feel all’s right with the world when people are loved in all their manifestations. stanley was a very special and wonderful person so i’m not surprised his niece is the same.

  • Marc says:
    Re: One of THEE MOST amazing pieces I’ve ever heard.

    I’ve often wondered what humans really are — who people are when stripped of all, ALLLLLLL the illusions and rules: rules of church, society, family, gender, nationality and ethnicity. Who we REALLY are with no control, no power, no money, no status, no gender. Best I can come up with — is we’d be a WHOLE lot happier. Maybe, I hope, that’s what the other side is like. When we leave behind the morass of this spiritual boot camp within which we live.

    Love not only has NO COLOR — but it has NO GENDER, NO RELIGION, NO SEXUAL PREF. NO NONE of the list I wrote above.

    One of my all time favorite movies is Crying Game. If you don’t know it — it would behoove you to watch it with open mind.

    Doug Nadeau (& Lynn by her commitment) show some of the bravest, steel balled TRUE — TRUE — courage I have rarely, if ever, seen.

    May we all learn something from them.

  • J. says:

    Hi there,
    I realize that this is an older podcast, but I wanted to express that I was really disappointed with how Donna was portrayed. First of all, calling her “Doug” and “he” throughout the story was deeply invalidating of her experience as a transgender woman and her right to self-identify as such – particularly since her voice and identity were expressed only through the eyes of her wife and Eric the narrator. I understand that sometimes in storytelling, transgender people might be named as the gender and name they were assigned at birth, but in stories that are told after they transition/request to be called by a different name and gender, those wishes should be respected. Secondly, Donna comes across as cold and uncaring without any context for why she might be distant. Perhaps she felt like nobody (even her wife) understood or truly accepted her. Lynn herself admits to feeling “disgusted” by Donna’s decision to cross-dress and then transition and said that their sons were not understanding. Lynn also continued to refer to Donna as her “husband” Donna and “he” which might have been a deeply painful wound that Donna dealt with – particularly as she was also dealing with her health deteriorating and presumably didn’t have a lot of options to get out of the situation. A lot of times trans people are seen only through the eyes of the cisgender people around them and through the very narrow and not flattering lens of popular media – e.g. Crying Game or otherwise trans-woman-as-perpetrator/cold/distant/violent/confused/mentally ill person. Transgender people are real, complex and oftentimes pretty normal people and deserve to be seen through a more complicated and nuanced light just like anyone else, and I think that this story lost the opportunity to show that.
    I hope you can take this feedback forward to any projects you do in the future or the next time you tell this story.
    Thank you for reading.

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