Rearranging The Numbers

photo of puzzle books
Listen to “Rearranging The Numbers”

When I came to Transom, I expected the ‘my choice’ story to play a key role in my training as an audio producer because we would have more latitude to experiment with topics, format, and length (to a certain extent!). But the most valuable take-away from producing Rearranging The Numbers was neither technical nor creative. It was learning to reconcile the stories we hear as humans, who have lived experiences and emotional triggers of our own, with the stories we tell as reporters concerned with honesty and objectivity.

Here’s what I mean: if you’re covering an issue you deeply care about, there will be no such thing as an easy narrative. I chose to tell a story about dementia because it is an important topic, given its prevalence, as well as its social, economic and emotional toll on caregivers. And it’s precisely because I cared about this issue that the time I spent with the couple in my story proved to be quite difficult, emotionally. As I drove home from my first interview, I called my mom, in tears. The story I was exploring struck many sensitive chords. It was raw, inconvenient and uncomfortable. I had managed to ask tough questions and prompt honest reflections, but by that point in the workshop I had learned a good interview does not necessarily make a good story. Rather, telling the story required that I do more to document the very things that made it raw, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. So, I returned (twice) to spend time with the couple and record their lives — what turned out to be a whole lot of silence between them. Without this additional time spent gathering tape, without these scenes, my emotional journey might have been easier. My narrative might also have been more convenient. But I’m now convinced the piece would not have been as honest.

Once I had that tape, Rob and Erika encouraged me to use sound creatively to give the listeners a sense of my experience of being with this couple. They suggested I make silence a character in the story, and that I use specific pieces of my recordings as a leitmotif to keep the listener engaged and intrigued. This also proved challenging. I started worrying that creative liberties would detract from objective reporting; that I would be satisfying an artistic pursuit instead of doing justice to the story. It wasn’t until the piece came together — and quite frankly, until after the listening event — that I became comfortable with the fact that the more creative aspects of the piece had actually helped show what couldn’t be told.

Finally, a reflection on intent. From the beginning, I was interested in producing a story about family caregiving in dementia. I was also quite stubborn about wanting to learn how to use storytelling to cover a policy issue. My “plan” was to find a story from which I would tease out clear policy implications. I started at the micro level by contacting a local support group for dementia patients and their caregivers, and hoped to move my way up to the macro level. But I learned that hoping someone’s story would magically lend itself to a policy discussion was wishful thinking. A better approach would have been to identify a policy I wanted to cover and work my way backwards to find a story that would illustrate the policy’s implications.

In any case, I abandoned my policy ambitions once I realized the story I’d found through the local support group was compelling in ways that had nothing to do with policy. Rearranging The Numbers ended up being about the loneliness spouses in caregiving situations face, even when they’re accessing the right resources. And no policy — only individual and collective acts of outreach and kindness — can alleviate some of that isolation.

About Martine’s Sonic ID

Listen to “Martine’s Sonic ID”

This sonic came from my interview for my Ways of Life story. I had four hours of tape from my interview with Pat Stark, a painter who has devoted the last fifteen years of her life to promoting her late husband’s art. Her story was truly incredible and it had what felt like an infinite amount of twists and turns. I was unable to fit it all in a four-and-a-half minute piece. I was particularly sad about having to let go of how she had found — and lost — love again after her husband’s passing. This is what this sonic is about.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

Martine Chaussard

Martine Chaussard

Martine Chaussard is a freelance audio producer and a former public health and policy nerd. Originally from Montreal, Canada, she is now based in Atlanta. Martine is passionate about stories that convey journalistic and emotional truths. She also believes the best outcomes come from collaborations with bold and friendly humans. You can say hi on Twitter. Martine is a member of PRX and AIR.

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