As a rule, I tend to overthink things. I suffer from what a self-help book I skimmed through one time called “Hamlet syndrome.” Almost nothing I do is done impulsively. Every thought or idea that comes into my head is subject to an obligatory barrage of self-criticism and questioning: “Is this boring?” “Does this make me sound smart?” “Will this make my parents proud of me?” “Is this a masterpiece?” And in no area of my life has Hamlet syndrome had a more toxic effect than on my creativity. Any idea — good, bad, or somewhere in between — gets shot down in its prime, before it has time to grow and flourish into something with potential.
So when it came time to look for ideas for my Transom stories, I was nervous. I found it difficult to even begin researching an idea, because whenever I thought of one, the usual salvo would commence: “Hasn’t that already been done?” “Is that even interesting?,” “Who cares about that?” And almost as soon as I had an idea, I would give it up because I was so afraid of its being utter crap.
So, I can say that maybe the only reason I came out of the Transom Workshop having produced actual work is that I learned when to turn my brain off — when to stop thinking and instead just do.
This piece is a good example. It only exists because I was interviewing a woman about an unrelated topic, and when she offhandedly mentioned Sam Bellamy (the subject of “At Sea”), I had the guts to interrupt her and say, “Wait, what?” It was like a fire was lit in my head: I was curious. I didn’t know why I was curious, or where my curiosity would lead me. I just knew that I was genuinely curious. After weeks of Facebook messages, unanswered emails, third parties, and internet snooping, I finally managed to get in touch with Sam. Once that spark of curiosity was lit, no amount of reason and logic could douse it. It didn’t matter that Sam was hard to get in touch with, or that interviewing him meant a seven-hour drive from Woods Hole … one way, or that, on the surface, the story he told seemed absolutely ludicrous. I didn’t think about it too much. I was curious, and I trusted my curiosity.
So although I generally don’t like giving advice, the one thing I would say to any would-be radio producer is this: curiosity is your best weapon. Try to be more curious every day, to pay attention to the world and to find new things to be curious about all the time. Not only is that a good way to find radio stories: it seems like a good way to live your life, too. And if you’re able to develop and trust that fundamental curiosity that we all have inside of us, but which tends to atrophy somewhere between childhood and adulthood, then we might also be able to quiet the voices in our heads — the voices that question and criticize, the voices that would rather have us do nothing than something.
* photo of Sam Bellamy by Peter Bresnan
Peter’s Sonic ID
It took a three-hour interview to get this piece of tape, but it was worth it. There were moments during those three hours when I considered turning my recorder off because I just wasn’t getting anything usable. But then, while we were standing in a graveyard in Barnstable, all of a sudden something magical happened. I was patient, and finally the radio gods blessed me with this moment of tape. The lesson? Always. Be. Recording.