Intro from Jay Allison: This piece was produced as part of the Transom Story Workshop Spring 2015 session. Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.
About “Despair, Inherited
Jeff and Tenley’s story is an example of a radio fantasy come true. When we were preparing questions for our story in class, I wasn’t sure of what I was going to find in the field. I had found a news article about the Samaritans in Cape Cod and their program to help suicide survivors and told Rob of my intention to contact Jeff House — the article identified him as a suicide survivor turned advocate for suicide prevention whose daughter also struggled with depression.
At that time, I still didn’t know exactly what was wrong with the daughter (if she was a suicide survivor herself) or how much access Jeff would allow. But Rob urged me to interview both father and daughter about their relationship with each other and with depression and suicide.
When I got to Jeff’s house, the story Rob envisioned was there waiting for me. All I had to do was not screw it up and make sure I was really careful in dealing with such a heavy subject. I was constantly concerned about going too far, about offending them, about the possibility of their backing out. I knew I had a great story in my hands and I didn’t want to risk losing it. And then I made a mistake and asked Jeff why he had failed to kill himself. Fail. That was the word I used. He corrected me and I apologized but decided to be honest and added: I don’t know what words we’re supposed to use when talking about suicide. I think the fact that I was candid made him trust me. If you heard my raw tape, you would actually hear his voice changing after that. He became more open. He went deeper.
This is something I hope to remember if I ever doubt my ability to handle a difficult interview: you’re allowed to be vulnerable. You’re allowed to make mistakes. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to fix it if you mean well. And, as Ira Glass reminded us in class: You’re not bastards! We mean well. We want to tell a story so it will make a difference, so it can help someone. We’re not bastards. We’re compassionate, empathic human beings and we have a chance to honor our characters.
Jeff and Tenley’s reaction after hearing the story during the listening event confirmed that for me.
That’s what I found at Transom, too: a community of beautiful people committed to telling beautiful stories and to helping each other. If you ever feel you’re being a bastard and you’re insecure about the way your story’s gonna turn out, relax and look around. You’re one of them! They’re there for you!
Catarina’s Sonic ID
I had two amazing hours of tape with Shirley Nisbet, a painter in Falmouth that was the subject of my 4:30 minutes Creative Life piece. There was so much of my conversation with Shirley that I wanted to include, I ended up turning this lovely description of the four seasons into a Sonic. The reason I like it so much, besides her beautiful accent and the pace of her voice, is that her observations on nature reveal us so much about how she makes art. It’s as if we’re in her head the minute before she starts painting. Hearing her describe the seasons makes me want to close my eyes and travel somewhere else. Which, it turns out, it’s a lot of what her paintings are about.