Nantucket Shuffle

photo of Nantucket harbor
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There’s a sort of storytelling where you throw yourself into a place, an event or someone’s life with your recorder running and figure out the narrative as you go. Two stories that exemplify this are “Just Another Fish Story” by Molly Menschel and “Dyana, Goddess Of The Moose Hunt” by Jamie Yuenger. I wanted to do a story like theirs because that was how I’d been living before Transom (sans recorder). I would show up somewhere and figure out how I was going to work, sleep and eat when I landed. So that’s what I did. I had a vague idea about a story involving housing insecurity but no real plan or characters or setting.

I stuck out my thumb and hitchhiked along Route 28 telling everyone I met what I was doing. A guy in a beat-up pickup truck heading out of Mashpee gave me my first break: “You want housing insecurity? I’m going to drive you to Hyannis and you’re going to get on the boat to Nantucket. You’ll find what you’re looking for there.” He was right. I did. The point is, like Molly and Jamie before me, I talked to strangers to get what I was looking for. And one doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) get into their cars to do this.

On the ferry over, I talked to people. I ended up hitching a ride off of the boat with a furniture maker (see my sonic below) who introduced me to some locals who knew what I was looking for even if I didn’t. They were preservationists on the island with stable, affordable, year-round housing. However, even if they weren’t going to be featured in my story they put me in touch with people who would. In addition, I now had well-respected community members to vouch for me. Time and again, having folks vouch for me opened doors that would otherwise be shut to outsiders. Even if someone didn’t have what I needed for my story, I didn’t shut them down. I kept my eyes, ears and mind open to them and their thoughts. I talked to people on the street, in line at the store, even at bars (which can be a gold mine of people willing to talk your ear off). All I really did was keep an affable disposition, open mind and the tape rolling.

Just by keeping that openness, I got everything I was looking for; including a couch to crash on while I was reporting. Except that couch was also my biggest blunder. One of my more promising angles went something like this: “It’s hard to find somewhere to stay on Nantucket if you’re on a budget, and even if you do, the conditions are often overcrowded. But thousands of workers come here every year anyway looking for lucrative employment.” And then all of a sudden, I’m sleeping in an overcrowded house with workers who came here seeking well-paying jobs. Look at me go! I’ve got my story. Except I don’t. I couldn’t report on the house because I was living there rent free. I was essentially accepting an in-kind gift. Spending an extended period of time inside of this story, I had to keep ethics in the front of my mind at all times. Who’s paying for dinner, drinks or accommodations? What kind of message or expectation of reciprocity is being sent? It can be a thin and murky line. But at the end of the day, it’s better to err on the side of ethics than come home with a pile of tainted tape and risk potentially doing unintended harm.

About Redmond’s Sonic ID:

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Listen to “Nantucket Shuffle”

Aspen Golann makes furniture in traditional styles of times gone by. It took her three months to make a traditional Nantucket Windsor chair by hand.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

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