Everybody Plays the Fool Sometime

So every once in a while, I host a meetup with a group I call The Heart City Story Club.  It's my attempt to get local storytellers together so that we can network, bounce ideas from each other, learn from each other, and so on.  I usually get a handful of folks together at Sarah's Coffee House in Hartford for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.  It's a bit chaotic and disorganized on my part, but it seems to work once in a while.

At this afternoon's meetup, I somehow mentioned the fact that I may have pissed of Ira Glass with my recent blog post on how I analyzed the intros to a few recent episodes of This American Life.  I posted said blog post on the Northeast Storytellers Facebook page, and I believe I used the word "formulaic" in the post.  I was hoping to spark a bit of discussion on story structure.  I chose not to also post on the more-popular NYC Storytelling Facebook page, as I knew at least one TAL staffer is a member there.

Two days later, TAL producer Seth Lind posts on the This American Life Facebook feed a screenshot of an email where Glass jokes about writing the same intro over and over.  And so I immediately wonder -- is someone over at TAL on Northeast Storytelling, and did they point Ira to it, and did Ira get miffed or amused at it?  

Over the past week or so, I've "somehow" told a few friends about this, because, hey, the idea that someone so legendary actually paid attention to something I posted is too good to not connect the imaginary dots over.  So, of course I "somehow" told the gang today at the Heart City Story Club about it.  How could I not?

The key here, though, is that I've no idea if this far-fetched chain of events is true.  I'm sure Ira Glass has far more important writers out there to read who have come up with the same thoughts I've come up with.  I direct you, dear reader, to Mark Twain's concept of mental telegraphy to see how multiple people can come up with the same thought at the same time.  

And so, my friend Aaron suggested that I find out once and for all if it's true.  "Why don't you ask the guy?"  Now that seems reasonable, am I right?  Just email Ira Glass to ask if he read my blog post.  I decided later this evening that I would instead write Seth Lind a note to see, considering it was his post on the TAL Facebook page.

I only got as far as opening an email window and putting in Seth's email address before I stopped my self.  "Excuse me, but I'm a nobody.  Did the biggest name in radio for the last twenty years read my crappy blog post and comment on it?"  I had visions of delusion circling my head.  I didn't want to appear the crazy fan that I know I must be.  And so, I closed the email window without sending.

That was about twenty minutes ago as I write this, and I'm regretting it already.  I regret it because I do this sort of thing a lot.  I'll stop myself before acting like a fool.  You know, the safe route.  I'm guilty of this with Random Waves.  My whole reason for starting this podcast was to create this one story on this one shrine in Hartford.  One man is at the center of the story, and I know how to find him.  I've got his Facebook page, though he does only speak Spanish.  However, I know multiple people that would be happy to translate for me.  And yet, Ive hesitated for at least a month now.  Why?  Because I'm afraid of getting his door slammed in my face.  I'm afraid of being foolish.  Of having people see me being a fool.  So the episode doesn't get worked on.

Those sorts of thoughts plagued me on many an adventure that never panned out.  But I very much want to end that cycle!  I can at least hope that writing that out loud, as it were, will be a good step in that direction.

Who knows, I may write Seth Lind after all.

Time to Make the Doughnuts

I had a drink with Loki, the subject of the next episode of Random Waves about two weeks ago.  It was after a night of "wallyball" -- volleyball played on a racquetball court.  We went to one place, and it wasn't working out for Loki.  We met up at a second place, which was too crowded.  So, we ended up next door to that place, a relatively new ramen place.

The small place stunk of backed-up toilet when we walked in, but it was so small that suggesting that we leave immediately wasn't going to be discrete.  So, we sat down at the counter and I ordered a beer and NO FOOD.  That is, until I broke down and got an appetizer.  But hey, the smell was gone by that point.

I've got a Toastmasters friend who was a head chef and has convinced me never to eat out ever again.  Until I eat out again.

This evening had all the earmarks of a nasty night barfing into the toilet.  Thankfully, that did not happen.  Yet still, it was a great night.  Loki told me something about the podcast that really hit a chord.  He wants the podcast to go out so that it might help other people to know what he's been through.

Now, I have to admit that first and foremost I've been doing this podcast for me and me alone.  This is a hobby of mine, and I enjoy, well... at least certain parts of the process.  (Damn you, transcription.  Damn you to Hell.)  But to hear that what I do can help others, that's an eye-opener of sorts.  It makes me feel a bit ashamed that I've been doing this solely for me.

There's a trope in TV and movies of the artist (in whatever media or form) wants to give up, but some kindly person tells them that they have a gift and it would be an afront to God Himself to keep it from the world.  I'm no artist, and God is not listening to this podcast.  But I've got some 45 subscribers, and some of them must be listening for some reason.

Time to make the doughnuts.

We've now arrived at Act Two. Act Two. Who am I Supposed to Be, Anyway? Here's Chris Hall.

My web surfing is crap.  There is so much good, intelligent, thoughtful content out there, yet I frequently surf the equivalent of junk food.  I'm not sure why this is, though I do try to add something respectable in my browsing history once in a while.

Sometimes, however, my internet junk addiction sends me to interesting stories.  A recent Cracked.com article about YouTube celebrities yielded the following insight -- there's a "YouTube voice."  The most-popular vloggers out there affect a speech cadence that's made for the high-speed style of their videos.  The Atlantic published an article about it, complete with an analysis by a linguistics expert and a list of basic characteristics.  And holy crap, it's really spot on.  I'm hearing the YouTube voice in my head now as I write this.

I thought a bit about putting on such an affect myself.  For months and months, with respect to my on-stage storytelling, I've worried that I was missing something that held my craft back.  Was it structure?  Was it not opening up?  Was it my image?  My voice?  So, I came back to those same old anxieties, and wondered if my voice should be worked on.

This isn't a misguided notion.  I've heard the on-mic/off-mic voices of a tiny number of radio personalities, and yeah, people do talk differently on-mic.  My most surprising example is 99 Percent Invisible's Roman Mars, who I listened to being interviewed on Jessica Abel's Out on the Wire podcast series.  Chatting in a cafe Roman is NOT radio Roman.  Well, yeah, sure, he's the same guy both ways.  But he does have a radio voice, and there's nothing wrong with that.  I need my own radio voice.

The YouTube voice is not really going to work for Random Waves.  It's not like I'm describing myself playing a horror video game like PewDiePie.  So, I Googled "podcast voice" and came up with the funniest impression of Ira Glass outside of Saturday Night Live (If you're a fan of This American Life, you will NOT be sorry clicking that link).  I also found this lament on how "NPR voice" has taken over the podcast "airwaves".  And so, it looks like my search is over -- there's an accepted way to sound on an intelligent podcast.  Listen to Ira Glass, right?  Of course, you can exchange "Ira Glass" with "Glynn Washington" or "Robert Smith" or "Zoe Chase" or whomever.  It's still going to be the same story -- model my voice on someone else.  

...

I've been having this conversation with myself over finding my voice.  Do I emulate people I admire, and wait for my voice to emerge?  Do I stumble around in the dark, using my voice no matter how it sounds now?  Should I have the confidence to not be worrying about this at all?  But don't the great the stars out there have stories about the idols they wanted to be in their youth?

Sigh.

I'm about to record narration for my next episode.  I know I want to be more engaging on the mic, so I'll need to think about which way I'll go with it.  I guess we shall see.

99 Percent Invisible Almost Turned Me into a Master Criminal

Sam Greenspan's manifesto on Transom.org encourages radio producers to wander in the world, field recorder in hand.  Like the "flaneurs" (men of leisure) of 19th century Paris, a producer should meander through the streets, observing and discovering stories.  It reminds me of Sean Cole's story of a fence he stumbled upon while drunk one night.

I do enjoy coming across unusual, unexpected things, though I've never wandered specifically to find them.  I did come across the Colt Park Shrine by way of a wrong turn while driving to watch a girl I had a crush on play rugby, but that was while driving.  To get out and walk -- that is another story.  I'd much rather scour the street view images on Google Maps.

However, when I heard a 99% Invisible story on Knox Boxes yesterday, I became a bit of a wanderer, albeit with a specific purpose in mind.  If you don't want to read that or listen about it on a segment on this podcast, here is the brief rundown... In order to save firefighters time and keep them safe, some buildings install a locked box near the entryway with keys to all the important doors.  A master key for the city is stored on the firetruck.  The lock boxes, called "Knox boxes" for the most-common supplier, are a bit of overlooked architecture that you'll start seeing everywhere once you know what they are.

I'm intrigued by this.  Stored in plain sight near a door on buildings across the country are keys to get in.  And very few people know about it (prior to the podcast being released, at least).  I must admit, I was tempted with visions of becoming a clever criminal who could break into office buildings without any sign of forced entry, if only I could figure out how to break into the Knox boxes.  Ah, but why take that risk?  I'll need to find my name somewheres else...

I was still curious, however.  I'm assuming these boxes would of course be found in NYC or San Francisco.  But what about Hartford?  So, this afternoon, I parked downtown and took off wandering.  I walked up and down streets, searching building walls for these boxes.

Not every building has them, apparently, but few do.  About a half-hour of walking around produced about eight or so boxes.  Here's one at the main entrance of TheaterWorks.

 
 

There it is, in plain sight, without anybody knowing what it is!

But the interesting thing that happened when I was walking was that I was, for a time, super-sensitive to the building and spaces around me.  I found an electric car recharging lot I never knew existed.  I found a small park, that I also never knew existed.  I found stores I had overlooked, and discovered that other business had failed when I wasn't looking.  I really saw the city like I hadn't really done before.  Amazing!

Of course, this is only part of the game of being a flaneur.  Next, I'll need to find an interesting, populated spot, take my field recording gear in tow, and actually wander around looking for interesting people and their stories.  As an interesting side note, last night I also read about WCAI's use on "sonic IDs": brief little vignettes of local people.  I do believe these two activities would go hand in hand, am I right?  Maybe it's time to try this out for Random Waves?

I Know All There is to Know About the Crying Story Game

I'm around two or three weeks late in getting the next episode of Random Waves out.  This is not good, but I totally understand why I'm delaying.  I've been worried about writing this one.

Back in August, there was one bit of feedback that poked up again and again.  It was too long.  I imagine that to mean that I wrote it in a boring, long-winded way.  I've gotten that, in so many words, in feedback on my storytelling.  Too much set up.  Too many chronological details before the tension is set.  So, when it comes to this new episode, I'm scared I'll write another stinker.  Too many details in the set up.  People getting distracted before the good stuff.  I tried writing this episode twice now, only to give up.  I couldn't figure how to structure it.  So I took another week off it to clear my head.

About two or three days ago, I listened to an episode of This American Life.  Now, TAL will put a "prologue," a brief anecdote or story at the head of their episode as a cold open.  This particular prologue was awesome.  It had tension and surprise twists.  It was entertaining.  So I thought to myself: I need to study this story.  What makes it so good?

And so, I took pen to paper and listened to prologues from six recent episodes of This American Life, and I discovered something surprising.  Now, everybody who's ever looked into how TAL tells stories, or listened to Ira Glass talk about his show, will know the standard story structure they use -- this happened, then this happened, then let's reflect on all of that (repeat as necessary).  But what I found was that these prologues all use a structure subtly more complex, and that they all tend to use this same structure.  In other words, these prologues are formulaic.  TAL hit on a great formula to lure people into their show, and they appear to use it consistently, episode after episode.

In one sense, this is amazingly comforting.  Here's a formula that's time-tested over 500 episodes, over twenty years, that I can just use for my stories.  No thinking required, at least until I develop my own voice!  On the other hand, this is depressing.  I'll be listening for this structure in every single episode of TAL from now until eternity, or at least until Ira retires and some new writer is given the chance to experiment.

Have I just ruined this show for me?

In case you're curious, below is the basic formula for every modern cold open of This American Life.  Now, this is only gleaned from six episodes from the last six months, so it is not an extensive survey.  But it's pretty consistent in this small sample size, so I'm inclined to believe this holds true for many more episodes from recent years.

  1. Set the scene, ending with tension
  2. Surprise!
  3. Back and forth between Ira and the subject, explaining the surprise
  4. The subject's reflection on what happened
  5. Ira asks a big question
  6. What happens next
  7. Surprise!
  8. Another back and forth resolving the second surprise
  9. The subject's reflection
  10. Ira's reflection

This formula will grow and shrink depending on how much material they have to work with.  A shorter story may lack the second surprise.  Or the second surprise may come from a third party that enters the story after the big question.  Or there may not be an interview, so you just get "set up/surprise/what happened next/Ira's reflection," which I suppose is the basic cellular building block of this structure.

I don't know if this carries on to the larger stories of the episodes, but I suspect there might be something similar going on.  I may follow up with an analysis some day.

As a side note, knowledgable readers will make note that TAL's music is a huge part of that show's appeal.  I didn't bother to discuss that here.  I'll direct you to two amazing posts on the subject over at the Transom.org website: here and here.   You'll be glad you checked them out if you're into podcasting.

For every blog post belonging to me as good belongs to you.

One of the fifteen or so podcasts I subscribe to is Nate DeMeo's The Memory Palace.  I'm a fan of DeMeo's writing and narration.  He uses wonderful phrases and language.

Usually, his episodes only last for maybe seven minutes or so, but on the eve of Election Day he released an unusually long episode.  Nate DeMeo recorded a recitation of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself (it's apparently a special bonus, so it doesn't appear on his website; you'll have to check the iTunes feed yourself for it), a full 98 minutes worth of nineteenth century poetry action.

Now, since I usually listen to podcasts while driving, this episode became especially challenging to make it past the first ten minutes.  Maybe blame social media for short attention spans.  Maybe blame our education system for abandoning classical education.  Maybe blame me for being born with a century and a half of language evolution between me and this poem.  But for whatever reason, the poem was lost to me.  The language was lost to me.

This afternoon, I decided to give it a fourth and final try.  I was at home, lying on my bed, so I had the advantage of being able to read along with DeMeo as he read aloud.  And it worked, sort of.  Of course my mind wandered.  I'm not used to paying that much attention to one thing for so long.  But some of it came through.  And what did make it through was beautiful.  At least, the first half of the poem.  I'll come back to the rest at some other time.

I've been struggling to get this latest Random Waves episode completed.  Right now, I'm trying to write it.  I abandoned my first two drafts pretty quickly.  I'm making the same mistakes I made with episode 1 -- too much chronological buildup before the key moment.  The idea of getting to the point is apparently foreign to me, or at least uncommon.  It makes me a bit worried, quite frankly.

But then I hear something like Song of Myself, and I hear how it is recited so evocatively, and it makes me want to write better.  To give you something better.

There were a few times I felt this way.  Once was when I saw the guitarist from a band called Spiritual Rez, this tiny man with gigantic dreadlocks, take on a very wild solo.  Once was when I saw a troupe called Taiko Za play at Hartford's riverfront.  And once was when I heard a monologue from Mike Daisey.  I want to perform.  I want to perform well.  But can I write well-enough to perform well?

My God, it's full of Hand-Axes.

Every year around this time, I re-read a motivational article on the Cracked website in order to pump myself up for the next year.  The article's premise is this -- you are only as valuable insomuch as what you contribute to the world.  It's a good read if you want to get motivated to get off the couch.  Somewhere around 24 million pages views over the last four years concur this fact, apparently.

Tucked into the final paragraphs of that article is interesting video clip from Matt Ridley.  In it is an interesting little anecdote about an Acheulean hand-axe and a computer mouse.  The clip is a great one to watch, and it's relatively short and to the point.  But if you'd rather not bother, here is the synopsis:  in the distant past, a single person would make all the tools he needed by himself (or herself).  But in today's world, a huge amount of people work on separate pieces or processes for modern tools.  For the computer mouse example, there are growers who made the coffee for the oil well driller to drink while supplying petroleum to someone who molded the plastic for someone else to assemble the parts that someone else designed and so forth.

That's progress in a nutshell.  While before, one person made all the tools by themselves, now teams of people who don't even know each other get "together" to make what we use.  It allows for specialized knowledge and leveraging individual strengths.  It allows us as a species to be relatively wealthy and more productive.

So, I watched that clip, and I immediately thought about my podcast.  Here I am, trying to do this all myself.  Here are some of the tasks that I do to make an episode...

  • Root out episode ideas (networking, reading, researching, etc)
  • Research said ideas
  • Interview people
  • Transcribe the interviews
  • Write the episode
  • Perform the narration
  • Edit the interview audio
  • Find royalty free music and audio to find
  • Add said music and audio to the piece
  • Master the final audio
  • Export the audio to iTunes
  • Promote the episode
  • Write posts for these blogs
  • Find appropriate royalty and attribution free images for the blog and podcast

Now wonder it takes so long to produce each episode!  This is particularly true considering how much I hate transcibing interviews.

In other words, I'm not producing a computer mouse.  I'm producing a hand-axe. 

I kind of touched on this during a previous blog post, but what if I did indeed get people to collaborate with me on Random Waves?  What if I found someone really into producing audio that is looking for a project to have as a hobby?  Are there folks out there looking to practice their voice work?  Any writers out there looking for an interesting project?

The biggest question of all of them is this:  as I'm doing this as a hobby with zero profit, are there other people looking for the same zero profits???

Over the past two years, I rejoined Toastmasters after a long hiatus.  It's not just a public speaking club; you can also practice leadership skills there.  I'm currently testing out my powers of delegation, so my questions above are coming at a good time for me.  Can I delegate parts of Random Waves to make the episodes come out better and more frequently?

I'll need to meditate on this...

Make the Connection

The holidays are all around us now -- Christmas is past, Chanukah and Kwanzaa are in the present, and New Years Eve is right around the corner.  I've been spending time in-between shopping for gifts and visiting with friends and family to work on episode 06 of Random Waves.

I'm excited about this upcoming story.  A young man with thoughts of suicide is saved by random connections with strangers.  In a way, this story is what Random Waves is all about -- random human interactions that help us out along our paths through life.

In this holiday season, there may be someone you know that might be thinking of suicide.  A lot of times, the signs are too subtle to notice.  This is why simple connection is important -- keep in touch with others, say hello, ask about their day, and so forth.  It'll help your friends and acquaintances, and also help you out as well.  Who doesn't need connection in their lives?

Can't find someone to talk to?  There's always someone online or a phone call away.  Here is the link to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.  

Once More into the Breach

Before I became a podcaster, I wanted to be an on-stage storyteller.  One night, driving home late from work, upset about my job, depressed about my career, I listened to an excerpt of Mike Daisey's "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" on This American Life.  Now, hip readers will know that this monologue, originally presented as a true story, was found a week later the broadcast to be largely made up in parts, and is a bit disgraced.  But in the week before the reveal, this performance hold a charm over me.  I was amazed with how well it was written and spoken, and I wanted to hold an audience like Daisey.

From that one night driving down I-84, I ended up spending a lot of time, money, and effort trying to become a great storyteller.  There were workshops and shows and pitches and trips down to NYC and up to Northampton.  But I seemed to never get beyond a certain level.  People would compliment me after an open mic in Easthampton or a show in Hartford, but then I'd get the lowest score at a Moth slam in New York.  Now, I'd expect something like that -- I was competing against amazing comics, authors, and storytellers in the center of the true, personal storytelling universe.  Of course I would start small.

But I could never figure out how to get better.  I could never figure out what was wrong with how I would tell a story that made it not compelling.  For example, if I were to be at a party with my friend Greg, and each of us were to tell a story, it's certain money that I'd lose my audience within a minute and Greg would have them hanging on his every word.  I've seen this happen twice.  And I couldn't see what was different between us.  And this maddened me.  Not understanding was driving me crazy!   I spent many a blog post on my previous Wordpress page pontificating on it.  Was it structure?  Was it stakes?  Was it my voice?  Was it my clothes?  What?  What?  What?!

This past week, I think I got a clue.  I was listening to a story on The Moth podcast, and something occurred to me.  Here was a woman that was telling a story that in and of itself wasn't extraordinary -- she was laid off from an NGO, so she started her own NGO with no experience.  But in every word, she was invested in what she was saying.  She opened up her heart, and let you in.  Aha, I thought.  This was what I wasn't doing.  Every word I've been saying is a mask.

Now, I've been told this before many times*.  Sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtle.  But this tie, I was ready to tell myself this and listen to it.

Why now?  I'm going to guess it has to do with producing Random Waves.  When I produce an episode, I'm looking for real, open communication from my interviewees.  I know that makes for compelling audio, for compelling storytelling.  Who knows, maybe I've become attuned to honest communication.

Now, as luck would have it, a few days later (this morning, actually), a pair of Moth storyslam tickets became available for tomorrow night.  Once I got them, I immediately began re-composing one of my stories in a way that I'll add more honest communication and take away the masks.  I can't promise anything, but I hope it'll make some difference.  Kindly wish me luck!

Also, I hope to take this lesson into my podcast narration.  I recently wrote about the Offshore podcast and how I want to sound like they sound, in a way (I don't want to clone them, of course!).  They certainly have the communication going strong, so let's see if I can do the same.

* Side note:  sorry to everyone who told me that and I didn't take action.  I'm the type of person that needs to hear themselves say it first.  No disrespect intended.  I'm just stubborn that way!

The Drudgery Report

For many people, it seems, the default activity to do when one is home sick is to watch Netflix in bed.  This evening after work, I did just that myself.  That is a shame, by the way, because I blew off playing "Wallyball" (volleyball played in a racquetball court) and attending one of the biggest holiday parties in Hartford's West End to do so.

Being sick sucks.

But it is about nine days before I told my friend I'd complete the upcoming episode of Random Waves, so it is time to get cracking.  By cracking, I of course mean finish writing the transcript of my latest interview.  So, I poured a finger of whiskey and got to this horrible task of interview transcription.  An hour or so later, I'm feeling it and got maybe five more minutes of interview written down.  Joy.

But it just goes to show you that podcasting is not all fun research and fun recording stuff.  It's a bit of drudgery, too, that begs for procrastination galore.  I've been thinking about how this podcast is zero-budget and all DIY.  After a few more episodes, I should be quite the expert tinkerer at this business.

I'm just happy that I've got a few interested listeners while I muddle my way towards internet greatness.

So, How Do You Pronounce Your Name?

It was a good evening for Random Waves.

It all started at about 3:30 this afternoon.  "Ukrainian Hero Speaks in Hartford," the event title said.  Mykhailo Havryliuk.  3 PM at my friend Tomas' house.  All last-minute.

I knew this because my friend Sofia, who co-founded Maidan United, a organization sending money and aid to those affected by the conflict in Ukraine, was going, and Facebook is very good in telling you what your friends are up to.  Now, Sofia and I have spoken in the past about getting some sort story together about the conflict, so I texted her to see if I could interview the hero.  Maybe I could get a war story or something.  In the next five minutes I got the following info -- he went through torture during the Euromaidan protests, he's a politician now, he probably doesn't speak English, and he's OK with being interviewed.  A quick internet search turned up a famous video of his torture and the fact that he's a minister of parliament.

Holy crap.  Within ten minutes, I had secured an interview with a Ukrainian Minister of Parliament.

"I'm 25 minutes out," I texted as I rushed out the door.  On the drive to Hartford, I furiously ran questions and answers through my mind -- what my podcast is, do I call myself a freelance journalist, how do you pronounce your name.  You know, standard interview questions, haha.  When I parked my car, I was scared.  I was going to be found out as a fraud and told to go home.  I was in over my head, though I know that this is exactly how you move ahead.  You take risks.

Well, it turns out that Sofia's texts meant that it was ok that I came over, not that Havryliuk was ok being interviewed.  He wasn't even told about me.  So, I stood in the back of the crowd of fifteen Ukrainians as they sat and stood around a dining room table discussing stuff with the minister.

In Ukrainian.  It was all in Ukrainian.  I understood nothing.

I stood there in the background, pretending to understand.  I got some context from the expressions and how words were spoken, but it took a sidebar with Sofia to understand what was going on.  It was a discussion of politics and asking for financial support.  Very little if anything about war stories or torture.

I kept my field recording equipment and ate some dinner, thinking that I'd crapped out.  But Sofia did introduce me to some of the guests, and I spoke with a few about what it was like in Ukraine.  And then it happened.  A narrative came up out of everyone's stories.  A narrative of revolution and hopes that never materialized and frustrations in the diaspora.  Here was a hero who held the hopes of a nation and failed to deliver when he went to Parliament.  And there's a bit to take away to the crazy times we're having now in our country.

So many great stories.  And my field equipment was still in my bag.  Crap.

So, I've written down an outline of an essay I'll write on this narrative and record it for a future episode of Random Waves.  I'll do it Nate DiMeo style.  No source recordings, just interpretation.

All in all, it was a good evening.  I learned a hell of a lot about a country I don't know much about, and met a few people named Victor along the way.  Good times.

Imma Need an Intern

Lately, I'm not sleeping particularly regular.  Teaching new courses will do that to me.  Nerves and all.  And so it went that I woke up around four thirty this morning.  I tried going back to sleep, but it wasn't happening easy.  A shame for this to happen on a Saturday.

So, I got up and eventually went to work on the upcoming Random Waves episode.  I have somewhere around 65 minutes on interview to transcribe, and I started this morning.  I took many breaks for many purposes, and I ended up by late afternoon typing about the first five minutes.  That's right.  Five minutes.

I hate transcription.

But I know I have to do it.  Even if I have a story already in my head, the act of transcription brings back all the quotes that I've forgotten, and I start rewriting in my head as I type it all out.  It's useful as anything.  I just don't enjoy it as much as the other parts of production.

So, maybe I'll see you all mid-2017 when I get all 65 minutes typed.  :)

Pat Pattison Partakes in Podcast Planning

Episode five of Random Waves is in the works, and I want to enhance the production values a bit with this one.  I'm thinking about using a cold opening for this one, kind of what you see happen on This American Life and many other podcasts... narrator introduces a scene, a tension point or question is presented, and then the narrator introduces the show.  It's what the big boys (and girls) do, so I want to try that out for myself.  Now, I can't guarantee what I come up with will be a permanent fixture for Random Waves.  Just like my stories, the podcast is subject to randomness.  I eventually want to develop my own style, but for now, copying great techniques will be good enough.

I'm thinking that my current theme "music," the wireless tones and morse code, will not fit with my cold openings, for two reasons.  First, the theme works better as an opening in itself, or at least it was conceived that way.  I'll need something that can slip in following my identifying the podcast.  Second, I want to add a brief tagline with the podcast title, like -- "You're listening to Random Waves, the podcast that explores the random interactions we encounter every day."  Something like that.

After listening to the first seven episodes of Offshore, I wanted to try to create a theme like theirs.  It's an acoustic bass line with Hawaiian-esque percussion and maybe a guitar or uke over it.  It's subtle and perhaps reminiscent of the islands.  Of course, I wouldn't copy it, but I like the idea of a prominent acoustic bass line.  Something slow a deliberate.  Almost hardboiled detective story-ish.  I imagine an melodic bass line with a complex high hat pattern overlaid on it.  Simple and subtle.

But is is Random?  Does that vision reflect what this podcast is all about?  I'm a fan in what Pat Pattison calls prosody -- all the elements in a piece work together to communicate the same thing, whatever is meant by "thing."  The podcast story subject and the music and theme should all communicate the same thought.

So maybe I need to think more about what I want the podcast to be, then use those thoughts to drive the theme.

Let me meditate on that. 

Beers and Stories

There's been a lot of activity here at Random Waves HQ over the past few days.  Two potential story leads ran dry, but a third lead popped up, and it's a good one.  A friend told me of his story last Friday night, and I interviewed him this evening after work.

The interviewing conditions were less than ideal, yet ideal at the same time.  There we were, sitting on the floor in this friend's reverb-y apartment.  My picnic blanket did nothing to dampen the room, nor to cushion my legs.  But there we were, sitting on the floor interviewing over a couple of beers.  And it is a really great story, too.

For other podcasters out there, have you ever had a moment where your interviewee says a few lines unprompted and you're like in your head saying, yeah, that's gold right there, that's how I'll end this story, with that quote, and you're all keeping composure as to keep him talking without interruption?  This was one of those interviews.  Awesome.

Unfortunately, I do have plenty of stuff going on over the next few weeks, so I may not finish this episode until Christmas.  But it'll be a Merry Christmas for all when Random Waves episode 5 comes out!

Book'em, Danno.

On last Wednesday's blog post, I mentioned I started listening the Offshore podcast.  In four days, I've managed to catch up with the existing seven or eight episodes.  And I have to say that I'm really impressed by it.

The podcast takes a page from Serial, where the entire season is dedicated to one criminal case.  However, unlike Serial, where the producers tried to determine guilt or innocence through their reporting, Offshore's first season looks to understand race relations in Hawaii through the lens of the death of a Hawaiian man.  That's a fundamental difference that sets these two podcasts apart -- the former is plagued by sources who do not want to be quoted on tape talking about a murder, leaving the producers to fill in hours with mindless "follow me" drivel; the latter gets plenty of interviewee cooperation through asking questions on context.

But what really brings me in is the tight production quality.  The writing is great.  Jessica Terrell's reporting and narration are professional.  The audio production is professional and tight -- none of the heavy-handed we're-novel-therefore-you-must-love-it-no-matter-how-annoying-now-give-me-a-genius-grant approach of Radiolab.  In short, this is the type of podcast I'd love Random Waves to be.

Wow.  I just slammed to amazingly popular podcasts that are better than I could ever dream my own would become.  I'm downright rude or something.

The 36 Chambers of Podcasting

In a previous blog I used to "maintain," I mentioned that I needed to perform what I called "Kung Foo."  This is a reference to Stephanie Foo, producer of Snap Judgement and This American Life fame, and her propensity to dig deep into a community to find stories to produce.  Foo will dig extensively, through contacts, long-form comedians, Craigslist, old newspaper articles, and so forth to find someone to reach out to.  Back in August, while search for a World War 2 era whorehouse in Phenix City, Alabama, I figured I should be doing this in Hartford.

(By the way, I was looking for that place in Phenix City for a story.  Let's set that record straight right now, ok?)

I've been kind of doing this low-key since then.  Mostly, it's been asking friends about interesting stories and characters.  And it's funny -- my friends understand the concept of an interesting story, but they to a man and woman don't seem to get the concept of an interesting character.  That one is harder to wrap one's head around if you're not a writer, I suppose.  Perhaps I need more writer friends.

In any event, I'm following up on two leads right now through friends, one of which will turn into an interview on Monday (yay!).  And tonight, I cold-emailed a poster on Craigslist.  This is my first cold-email off their, so please wish me luck on this!  Unfortunately, it's not a post about a particular event or person, only an organization, so it may very well be a dead end.  But I'm proud of myself that I've actually reached out.  

So, possibly maybe I'll have the next Random Waves episode out by Christmas.  This would be, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

The Long and Winding Road is Awesome

As I write this post, I'm recovering from a long day of driving.  I drove up to Mirabel, Quebec, for work, and it was about 10 hours or so of driving altogether.  Now, there are a few good things about driving up as opposed to flying up, one of which is that I can catch up on all my podcast listening.  I subscribe to fifteen different podcasts, though I'm only actively listening to maybe six or seven at a time.  I listen to them mainly in 20 minute clips in my car on the way to and from work, so you can see how I can get backed up in my iTunes feed.  A five or six hour drive can make mincemeat of my unheard episodes.

I was listening to an episode of HowSound on the way back home this morning.  Now, HowSound is a podcast about how to make great radio stories, the kind of stuff I'm trying to do with Random Waves.  The latest episode discusses the great writing of the intro in a podcast called Offshore.  And HowSound's host Rob Rosenthal is absolutely right, Offshore is brilliantly written.  It looks like I'll be subscribing to podcast #16 shortly.

But what really struck me was Rob's pointing out of all the tricks of the trade Offshore uses to lure their listeners in to want to hear the rest of the story -- start with an anecdote, connect the story with a larger theme, have a story that answers a big question, let the audience know that what they're going to hear is unusual, and have the audience follow the journalist as the story unfolds for them.  Now, some of these tricks of the trade were already known to me, but Random Waves episodes so far DO NOT use any of these.  This episode of HowSound is a bit of a wake up call for me to get my writing skills on fleek.

Of course, since I've only been producing Random Waves for three episodes so far, I can forgive myself for this.  The first few episodes -- for me -- are all about learning this craft of audio storytelling.  I'm learning how to conduct an interview, how to use my equipment, how to find royalty free music and audio, how to host a podcast on iTunes, etc.  This includes how to write a compelling story.  So, if a suck now, it's to be expected.  Actually, it's to be celebrated -- I get to listen to more of HowSound episodes because I still have much to learn, and it's an enjoyable podcast to listen to!

Sure, You Could Go Home Again, but What Would Jeff Goldblum Say About It?

I am old.

Well, ok, it's all a matter of perspective, but I've reached an age where random clips trigger memories of childhood.  Tonight, one such trigger got me watching Hannibal Smith drive the punk from The Bad News Bears across the Cursed Earth.  I remember watching this occasionally on Channel 11 when I should have been exploring the world and making new friends, but hey, that repurposed BTR-80 was so Goddamned awesome.

It's just one of those movies from my youth where cool scenes stuck in the corner of my mind, but the title or plot doesn't.  I eventually stumbled across the name Damnation Alley off Wikipedia somehow, and I finally watched the whole thing tonight.

It sucked.

I mean, even most the cool parts of it that stuck with me sucked.  This movie is horrible.  And it makes me sad that those happy memories of giant mutant scorpions eating women pushed off the backs of dirt bikes are now ruined forever.  Lost... like tears in rain.

With the Random Waves podcast, I'm trying to dig up and preserve old memories.  I hope those remembering the remembrances don't get depressed off how less magical or important things seem in the decades afterwards.  Hopefully, I don't damage the past by revisiting them.

...

Just the same, if anybody remembers a movie or TV show from the late 70's or early 80's where a Native American shaman is being chased in the Pacific Northwest and spreads colored chalk across a road which becomes a invisible wall to destroy the pursuers' jeep, do tell me the name of it.  I can't wait to watch the rest of it again! 

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons / Rosa Pineda. Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 3.0 Unported License)

D'oh!

A few days ago, I blogged about the importance of networking when creating a podcast.  Friends and acquaintances are important!  Well, today proved that fact.

I'm a member of the Dwelling in Downtown Hartford Facebook page.  Now, I may not be a resident of Downtown Hartford, but I spend enough time downtown and around other parts of Hartford that I joined.  Seriously, this Facebook group is THE group to join within the city.  The mayor's office, the chief of police, the local Congressman, and all the movers and shakers in New England's Rising Star are on there.  I swear -- this page is where the Yard Goats got their name... but that's the subject of another blog post...

Now, when I started working on the Random Waves podcast, the one story I wanted to do was on the Colt Park Shrine.  I came across this place back in like 2001 or so when making a wrong turn somewhere, and it's been in the back of my mind ever since.  There's some info online if you dig, but there's precious little story out there, save for one Hartford Courant article.  I love the idea of documenting the stories behind a fragile place that could be gone at any time.  I call it the folk history of Hartford.  And so, I'm working on it now for a podcast episode hopefully in the near future.

The central figure of this story is Ramon Gordils, the man who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary on Warame Avenue in the summer of 1999.  With whatever story I do, it'd be awesome to have an interview with this man.  But where do I find him?  It's been 15 years since anybody did a story on the shrine.  Google searches turned up very little on this guy who would be in his sixties now.  Is he even alive?  In Hartford?

With nowhere else to turn, I went to Dwelling in Downtown Hartford.   I asked if anybody knew Gordils and could help me get an interview, expecting nothing but a few unhelpful suggestions.  I did get one or two unhelpful suggestions, but I also got two messages from acquaintances.  Two!!!  One person did a quick search and found more than I ever could find myself -- his Facebook profile.

Facebook.  Profile.

Why didn't I think of searching Facebook???????    Geez Louise, I use Facebook multiple times a day!!!!!   (Yeah, yeah, I know I know...)

Heh, it just shows that sometimes we make things too hard on ourselves, and a random stranger is needed to show us the way.

Friends and acquaintances!

Take the Long Way Home

So I spent the day yesterday at the Toastmasters International District 53 Fall Conference up in Amherst, MA.  Yes, I know how boring that must sound to you, dear reader.  But I am a toastmaster, so for me this was actually fun and interesting and so forth.  And I stayed much too late, considering I was up at five in the morning to get to the conference, and it was over an hour's drive away from home.  I left fairly tired.

Yet despite of (or, maybe because of) being exhausted, I chose to not take the highways home, instead telling my phone to take me on a more direct route between Amherst and Vernon.  One that involved all secondary roads.  I did this because I've driven down I-91, I-291, and I-84 so many times over the past few years.  It's sooooo boring.  I much prefer taking the narrower roads through the countryside.  Even if it is dark and late.

I especially love driving through the main streets of small towns.  There's something about the look of old storefronts lining a street designed decades ago.  I honestly can't explain it, but there's something about streets that time have passed by.  Maybe there's something timeless there?  Maybe it's just a window into how we as a culture were back then?  Maybe it's just a reflection of what's inside of me?  Don't ask me just yet.

In the Random Waves podcast, I try to find the non-mainstream stories to document and write about.  Maybe it's the equivalent of driving through Monson when I could have easily driven past the Basketball Hall of Fame.  Maybe it's uncovering something eternal?  Maybe it's a window to cultures the mainstream isn't familiar with?  Maybe it's just a reflection of what's inside of me?  Don't ask me just yet.