Leaving A Mark

Intro from Jay Allison: Radio students from all over the country, plus Canada and Australia, came to live on Cape Cod for a couple of months to attend the Fall 2012 Transom Story Workshop. Rob Rosenthal and Sarah Reynolds ran the class with dedication, and made sure the students came away with skills enough to craft lovely pieces… which they did. The students found remarkable stories sitting under the noses of us who’ve been living here for decades. Come listen. It’s impressive to hear such work from a group of people just starting out, and it’s encouraging too, because there’s bound to be more of it.

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Listen to “Leaving A Mark”

*Note: this piece contains language that some people may find offensive.

About “Leaving A Mark”

I saw a Craigslist post titled “SWASTIKA TATTOO” and naturally decided to click on it. Someone was trying to get help covering up a small swastika tattoo. The author didn’t provide many details, but mentioned the tattoo was done in younger years. Still curious (and perhaps a little nosy), I called the number listed. Bruce answered. He had gotten the tattoo in the 80s, while he was in prison for some drug-related charges. Long story short, he eventually allowed me to interview him and we agreed to meet up. I interviewed him in his truck.

My original idea was to do a story about Bruce getting his swastika tattoo covered up. I wanted to answer the question: why now? To find out what made him change his mind. But after my interview with him, I realized that including the actual cover-up was no longer necessary. A different story presented itself, and I found myself recalling one of the first things we learned in the workshop: know what you want going into a story, but also be open to having that shift or change.

Once it was time to put the piece together, I knew right off the bat that I couldn’t be the narrator–using acts to summarize what Bruce told me would have done a disservice to the piece. His voice carried the power of his story, and I didn’t want to disturb that. Yet I also knew that I had to include myself, because it became evident during our interview that we had some kind of strange but easy rapport, despite our vastly different backgrounds. That meant I had to leave myself in as the interviewer and make our conversation part of the story. It became a story about Bruce and his life experiences, framed around our brief encounter.

Which brings me to my final thought: I believe I REALLY lucked out in finding Bruce and in getting good tape. Being forced to record the interview in Bruce’s truck (cars are always a last resort for recording interviews) was a blessing in disguise, and I’m so glad I decided to keep the recorder running, even after the interview “ended.” If I hadn’t continued recording and if Bruce hadn’t said the things he said, I wouldn’t have been able to capture the gems that begin and end my piece or structure the story in the way that I did.

Listen to More Pieces from this Story Workshop Class

Emily Hsiao

About
Emily Hsiao

Emily caught the radio bug while hosting a music show on her college station, KUCI. Two quarters of a 2-4 a.m. time slot couldn't keep her away. She soon realized radio is a perfect medium for the narrative--Emily's background is in literary journalism--and she shifted her focus to learning audio storytelling. Emily lives in Los Angeles, where she continues to listen to great stories and make things with her hands (editing audio counts as handiwork!). Emily is a member of AIR. You can hear more of Emily's work at PRX.

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  • Robert Wright

    12.08.14

    Reply

    I’m impressed. This is a good piece. Emily has an engaging style and I look forward to hearing more of her stuff.

  • D. R. Cohen

    12.08.14

    Reply

    Heard Emily’s story on THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode about regret. Really enjoyed the story, reporting and her style. Glad to learn about The Transom Story Workshop at the same time. Keep up the good work – Emily & Transom!!

  • Edgar

    12.12.14

    Reply

    Touching piece. Was Bruce able to have his tattoo removed?

    • Emily Hsiao

      12.22.14

      Reply

      Thanks for the feedback. Bruce eventually did get the tattoo covered up—they charged him $25, but he’s glad he went through with it.

  • Liz

    1.17.15

    Reply

    What is the name of the book or the name of the author of the book that Bruce read, which led him to want the tattoo removed?

    • Emily Hsiao

      1.20.15

      Reply

      Hi Liz,

      The book was ‘Inside the Gas Chambers’ by Shlomo Venezia.

      Thanks for listening,
      Emily

  • Chloe

    11.26.15

    Reply

    Very moving story

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