photo of the Alvin
Listen to “4500m”

The number one lesson I learned at Transom: forget your dream story.

Well, don’t forget it, but be prepared to ditch it. This particular story is the result of several shattered dreams and a lot of coffee. I had originally been working on a piece on the Compassion and Choices movement on the Cape. My “dream story” was to explore this controversial issue through a single character — someone who had a terminal disease with fewer than six months to live, who was trying to obtain an illegal lethal prescription to end their life. Surprisingly, I did find a couple of people who fell into different traits of this dream character I had conjured in my mind’s radio, and they were (sort of) willing to talk. The more I interviewed, however, the more lost I became. And I quickly, though not quickly enough, realized I was in way over my head — that a good, broadcastable story on such a contentious and complicated subject would need months of research into law, philosophy, religion, and would need many more voices. I only had two weeks left!

Then, one of my friends told me about Bruce, an Alvin pilot at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Once again I let my mind go wild. I devised an outline of a dive based around the psychology of deep water diving. I imagined a dark, nerve-racking soundscape to go along with the fear and mystery that must accompany diving deep into unknown waters. I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound, and it became my new dream story.

But my dream was crushed yet again. Bruce had no fear, no compelling psychological angle. In the interview he was very to the point and methodical, which I probably should have anticipated. There was nothing at stake. All I had were facts. Fascinating facts, but facts nonetheless. However, he was a great talker. He was interesting, and there was definitely a story among the facts and figures he had provided about diving in Alvin. I just had to be persistent. I met with Bruce two more times (one interview was actually inside the Alvin!) to get as much descriptive tape as possible. I eventually did get what I needed to still create the world with sound as I had hoped. A semblance of the dream story was attainable, but it didn’t come easily.

And here it is, at last: the final product. I’m quite happy with what I’ve made, and while it may not be my exact dream story, it’s a story I am very proud of and genuinely enjoy listening to. It may be a cliché, but sometimes you have to deviate from the dream/plan, and sometimes that deviation can end up being more compelling than the original intent. Don’t get caught up in what could or what should be; just make it work.

I won’t stop dreaming, but I will dream more flexibly.

Shelby’s Sonic ID

Listen to “Shelby’s Sonic ID”

In a last ditch effort to find sonics on Martha’s Vineyard, I walked into an antique shop at the end of a stretch of stores on a street in Tisbury. The shop was full of fascinating trinkets, such as old salt and pepper shakers, vintage cameras, and beautiful Czech paintings. I was totally immersed and almost lost track of my mission. And then I met Rosemary. She had opened the shop just two weeks prior to our impromptu interview, and had filled it with treasures all from her personal collection. Her goal: downsize before… well, you know.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

Shelby El Otmani

Shelby El Otmani

Shelby is an independent producer living in New Hampshire. Her interests range from neuroscience to experimental theatre, and if she could she would spend her days studying every subject under the sun. Shelby is currently an intern for The Truth and The Organist. You can contact her by email at elotmani.shelby [at] gmail.com and find more of her work at PRX.

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