Intro from Jay Allison: We have a series here at Transom we call “Short Lists” where you hear a list of things and then find out how they’re connected. Hairpieces, Coyotes, Village Portraits, Grind Core Punk, Personal Tragedy, Songwriting, Fibromyalgia, Singing at Funerals, Roller Derby… okay, that’s a list of the stories produced by the Transom Story Workshop this fall. The students came here from all over the country (and two from Canada this time), somehow discovered these stories hidden away on Cape Cod, and then, using the skills they just learned, turned them into radio. It’s quite a trick—to go from never having done it, to doing it well. I’m amazed every time.
About “Hiding In The Dark”
I had a lot of reservations about doing this piece, which is about a personal tragedy that I have been trying, and failing, to shake. My reservations, by the way, have not totally abated now that I’ve made the thing; I’m not sure I believe in art-as-therapy, either morally or psychologically, but what we have on our hands here is basically 14.30 of exactly that: me unburdening myself into a microphone, trying to sort out how I feel about the death of my foster brother and his 4-year-old daughter.
First among the reservations was that I was worried about the story being exploitative. There were a lot of roads by which the piece might have been exploitative; the one I worried I was driving down at first was that I was taking a terrible event that happened to a lot of people, chiefly Jesse’s widow, and parading it in front of strangers for — what? The kick of being told it was a good story? These are private people, and it’s not really up to me to deliver their tragedy to the public. It wasn’t until I realized that the story, really, had to be about me,* that I was able to release this fear. The other road, the one I’m still not 100% sure I didn’t go down, was the exploitation of the spectacular way in which Jesse & his daughter died for the purposes of getting people to pay attention to a possibly-factitious grief-quest I had constructed for myself.
*caveats and disclaimers abound, of course, not least of which is that I felt weird about making the story of someone else’s death about how shitty it made me feel
In the end, I decided to take some advice I used to give my own students, back when I was teaching writing: if what you’re creating is making you uncomfortable, that probably means it’s important. I spent a lot of time dancing around this story, trying to give the facts on the ground a miss, in a way that ended up making it feel cold and emotionless and ultimately kind of hard to care about, at least if the reactions of my classmates are any guide. Then I had a galvanic moment at about five in the morning — that being the hour of galvanism for morning people like your correspondent — and completely rewrote the thing: shorter, more fact-full, without any of the nesting plot structures or similes or semicolons (not to mention belletristic vocabulary) which I am, as a person who moonlights as a postmodern engineer of written fiction, wont to use.
As an American, raised in the culture of the happy ending, it’s my instinct now to put a button on this: but it sure turned out great, don’t you think?! I’m not going to do that. I’m still a little unsettled by the story. But I’ve made it. I think I had to make it. All that other stuff, to quote the prog rock band Kansas, is just dust in the wind.
Joseph’s Sonic ID
My sonic is a bit unconventional — a short list, manufactured from the interwebs with the help of classmate Anna Rose MacArthur (the female voice you hear). I made it in fear that I would have no particularly good field tape from which to cull one of the little stories that usually comprise a sonic ID. Then I kind of fell in love with it, once I’d slapped some music under the thing Anna Rose & I had made. I like to believe that this displays adaptability, viz, I am a total introvert and had to figure out how to make an ID without doing the kind of vox pop interview that usually results in a good sonic and which totally terrifies me. It later turned out that such interviewing isn’t so scary, but whatever, I liked this too much not to use it.
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Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class.