Intro from Jay Allison: Jonathan Menjivar is a young-ish producer (he's 24) and this is his first shot at a first-person story, practically his first shot at any story (see Neal Pollack Takes On America ). He came to produce it here in Woods Hole in the little cottage on Park Road.
The piece began as a travelogue and became increasingly intimate. There is some bravery involved in looking publicly at your own life and relationships as you're living them, especially when you're young. We think Jonathan is a promising new voice and his piece raises intriguing questions about personal narrative, story movement in time and space, perspective, levels of involvement, resolution, etc. Discuss 'em.
Notes from Jay Allison
This piece is not constituted of emotion recollected in tranquility. It is a story told in its own midst. It’s an attempt to look at what is happening while it’s happening, while the emotions are current.
Jonathan came to work on it here in Woods Hole with the Transom crew as part of our sort-of-artist-in-residence program, in which we give support, gear, and a place to stay to someone with a story to tell.
Our goal in this is to support emerging producers and to explore process. During production, we huddle and cajole and advise, but finally the piece belongs to the producer and receives its premiere here, for you. We hope that the ensuing open discussion will be useful, because it will contain various perspectives – the producer’s, ours, and yours . Please listen and join in.
Notes From Jonathan Menjivar
About a year ago, just as the discussion for my last Transom piece was starting to die down I left behind all thoughts of anything like the Internet and went to Poland with my girlfriend Justine. But I brought along my tape recorder. I had a vague plan to make a piece without any after-the-fact narration. Just talk into the tape recorder and capture all of my impressions as they happened. You know, because it’d just be fresher that way. It was my first time out of the country (except for weekend jaunts to Mexico which doesn’t really count when you’re from California) so I figured that maybe if I rattled off enough I might say something interesting. Turns out I didn’t.
Justine did have interesting things to say though. And I ended up capturing this other thing, this dynamic between me and Justine that seemed to take on a life of its own – more than just the trip to Poland, more than just the story of Justine.
Working on a story about someone you live with isn’t a good idea if you don’t have the space and distance to do it. I told the Transom folks about some of the material and they offered me the chance to intern for a month. They not only gave me over 800 miles of distance from Justine but provided some much needed advice along the way. Thanks all around.
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Notes For Editing
To summarize, redundantly, my general thoughts, expressed in a bossy opinionated way. Take ’em or leave ’em…
Always keep alive a sense of what is HAPPENING IN THE TIME AND SPACE OF THE PIECE. You begin with packing to go on a trip and on a mission. That intention must remain alive. Help us know how things are going. Check in with us. Tell us WHERE we are from time to time, how long into the trip it is, and how the mission is going.
The mission, it seems to me, must have to do with LOVE, CONNECTION, UNDERSTANDING. The purpose of your trip can’t be tossed off at the top, e.g. “I wanted to understand her better.” The stakes have to be higher, concrete. The way you two pack your bag supports this. You are required to undergo CHANGE, if only in your perceptions, in the course of this trip. Our questions, as we go along, will be — is he changing? why? would I change if I were him? what will happen if he does or doesn’t?
Pick the characters that are important and develop them. Let the others fall away. Always remember the main characters are you and Justine. We always need to be learning something about the two of you — and YOUR RELATIONSHIP — in learning about anything else. Otherwise, the information just hangs there and we don’t know what to do with it. Am I going to be quizzed on this, we wonder? Or can I relax, because i know I’m being looked after. Keep our eye on the ball.
Keep alive the idea of your American-ness. That’s the one thing you have in common with all your listeners. To the degree your perceptions are in some way “American” it will help streamline the cross-cultural story for which you and Justine are our poster children. I am still intrigued by what you said last night about how you never felt more American than when you were in Poland. Develop that maybe.
Think SCENES. Set up places where things HAPPEN, where change takes place, even if only in your mind. Think footnotes. It allows you to dip into the past, while remaining within a scene. Never take us into the past without telling us WHY we’re there. It’s a short piece, not a novel, and we can’t be without bearings for too long. I’m really not trying make you over-linear or obvious, just solid and directed. Tell a good story. The way you would around the table. Every part has a purpose toward a goal.
Think CHARACTER. I need to build a GROWING sense of who Justine is, and who you are in relation to her. What must I know and when must I know it?
Re-examine your sequence. Pull all the information out on index cards, look at what each scene or moment in terms of how it functions as a story element or character growth and ponder whether it should be moved. Remember, we always need reasons to CARE about each step along the way. That’s your job.
Be able to graph the curve of 1) your change, 2) Justine’s change or reaction to you, 3) your change together. This is what you’ve made us care about in your opening. Keep us posted. it can be very subtle. It can be in the way you eat, or the way she touches you differently, or in how loud you sing. My sense is that there is a move from outsider to insider, from discomfort to comfort, a move toward “adoption” of a context and family and new hybrid identity. It’s a love story, dude. But it can’t be over-romantic. It needs to have awareness of itself.
Cut all details you can’t defend in terms of the forward motion and layering of the story. Give us less rather than more. Do we need *both* quotes from Kundera or would one do, with a quick modifier? Remember, it takes time to absorb information as a listener in real time, and if you jam too much into our brains, some of it just won’t fit. Breathe.
Build toward the ending with the ring. Drop clues. Give us questions, your questions, make us accomplices in your decisions/transformations. The main question I have on the ending is it feels just to pat to stop right there. I’d love an ellipsis and it occurred to me, and maybe you or Viki suggested it earlier, leave that stuff about the SIZE of the ring as the last thing… a tail out. Go out on that, on the continued negotiating, pondering, FITTING. I like that. It’s still romantic, but less naive.
all for now…
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