Intro from Jay Allison: This piece comes from a student in the Transom Story Workshop Fall 2013. For many of the participants, this is the first radio work they’ve ever made, which is not an excuse but a cause for amazement. In their two months in Woods Hole, under the guidance of Rob Rosenthal & Sarah Reynolds and the Transom Team (along with renowned visiting teachers like, this time: Jonathan Harris, Ira Glass, and Andrea Seabrook), they learn the skills of recording, interviewing, structuring, editing, writing, voicing, mixing, etc. etc… while creating work for broadcast. The fun part is not that they just learn the rules, but that they also break them creatively. The harmony in these groups, as they help one another, is inspiring. We asked students to write about their challenges and what they did to surmount or circumvent them. They share their own vulnerability in order to help others, which is part of the wonder of these workshops.
About “Innocence and Experience”
My story started with a question that’s intrigued me longer than I can remember: How does the work we do change us? In particular, how does work that involves coming face-to-face with difficult realities change people? Hospice nurses, police officers, trauma surgeons, social workers — people doing their best to hold the fraying seams of our communities together. What toll does that kind of work take on people?
So I went to the city of New Bedford and interviewed police officers. It wasn’t easy to get access, and when I did there were rules: just one-on-one interviews, no ride-alongs in squad cars, no hanging out at the station collecting sound. I ended up interviewing four different officers, two rookies and two veterans, about how their work affects them. I collected over seven hours of tape, but the sheer amount of recording wasn’t really the problem. The problem was how to turn a question into a story if all you’ve got is closed-door interview tape.
I don’t think I pulled it off in the end, but the failure was instructive. Rob and Sarah wisely suggested I narrow my focus to one or two subjects, so I chose the one veteran and one rookie officer whose reflections offered the starkest contrasts. And then, on instinct, I decided to try to build the story without a narrator.
I’m still not sure if that was the right choice, but attempting a non-narrated piece made me aware of questions I should have asked. Since policing is shift-work, I could have asked questions relating to time: What’s it like getting ready for work? Do you find yourself watching the clock at any point during a shift? What’s it like driving home after a particularly stressful day? Or I could have asked questions about the city’s geography, its distinct north-side, downtown, and south-side neighborhoods, and how police work and its stresses varies from one to the next.
In other words, all along I should have been working to answer the question of structure as hard as I was working to answer the question of how police work changes people.
Because what’s a story, after all, if not a beautifully structured answer to an important question? I patched together some honest and articulate answers to an important question. Not bad. But as Ira says, DB. (Do better.) And as Rob says, Onward!
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Eric’s Sonic ID
I spent a lot of time wandering the New Bedford waterfront before finding a fisherman willing to stop work to talk to a skinny guy with a microphone. In the first 30 seconds of our conversation, Matthew Silva said the words “scallops” and “March” a surprising number of times in a beautiful New Bedford accent. And that’s my sonic.