Before coming to Woods Hole, I thought a lot about making stuff, but I never actually did it. And so, when I started working on this piece, I put an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself. It needed to sound like everything I loved listening to, and if it didn’t, it would be an absolute dud. This piece would be the moment of truth as to whether I could be a radio producer or not. Ever.
And because of that pressure, I went through so many rounds of hating what I was working on. I wanted total control over what the story would be, without realizing that that isn’t usually possible — especially with audio pieces. I jumped ship from one story because the main character wasn’t a great talker, another because a couple of interviews revealed that there wasn’t much of a story there. It wasn’t until a few days into our allotted recording time that Rob and I discussed the idea I ended up pursuing: a follow-up on a piece a Transom student did in 2012 about a woman raising a kid with Prader-Willi Syndrome.
When I came home with my first bits of tape, I was sure I had zilch. Anxiety clouded my judgment; I couldn’t really tell what was good tape and what wasn’t. I couldn’t tell what the story was either. By constantly trying to make the piece sound like somebody else’s, it was hard for me to hear what was actually there.
It took me a while, but eventually, I realized that, even though self-doubt is a pretty normal step in the creative process, it shouldn’t be the only one. The moment I stepped away from my harsh expectations of myself and of the story, I became so much more aware of my surroundings when I was with Colleen and Connor (the mother and son). I spent two afternoons with them to learn their after-school routine, plus a morning to see Connor off on the bus. Because I spent that time and allowed things to unfold naturally, I was able to see the details I needed to make my story work: the everyday difficulties and fears of living with this rare disease, but also the joys in their relationship in spite of it.
It can be easy to forget why we want to be in this business. At times, I felt like I needed to just drag my story across the finish line, send in the mp3, be done with it all. We have to remember what we enjoy about audio storytelling. And for me, that meant being engaged out in the field, or putting in sounds in the piece that had no reason to be there aside from amusing me — Steve Harvey’s voice, for example.
The story I ended up with is far from perfect. Listening to it now, I have a million things I want to change. But one of the most liberating things I learned at Transom was that no stories are the be-all, end-all. You have to just keep making things.
And now, I’ll leave you with this. When Cathy FitzGerald — a radio producer from the UK who makes strange, beautiful stories — talked to our class about self-doubt, she read this great quote from Patti Smith’s Just Kids:
“I was both scattered and stymied, surrounded by unfinished songs and abandoned poems. I would go as far as I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations. And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple. When you hit a wall, just kick it in.”
Jessica’s Sonic ID
For the second half of my Transom experience, I was buried deep in my story. When I wasn’t working on it, I was thinking about it — everything that wasn’t working, everything I didn’t like. But then, my classmate Otis advised I go for a walk, bring a recorder, get a sonic. I took his advice. I walked on the bike path, talked to a few reluctant people, and then saw this man in a cowboy hat, staring at one tree for what felt like a long time. Birds were chirping, there was hardly anyone else out, and we had this really quiet, slow conversation about trees. It kind of reminded me of what I love about radio. You can go outside at any time and, if you’re lucky, capture a moment that, no matter how small or mundane, feels real.