My bed isn’t like the one in the front room. My bed sits on a metal frame with tiny plastic wheels that carve into the pale blue carpet of my shared bedroom that faces the backyard. Breezes drift through my open window, carrying the fresh scent of young green leaves which does little to dispel the staleness of my cluttered, cave-like quarters. I don’t choose to spend a lot of time here, this is where messes are made and dreams are had. But in the front room, everything shines with an off-white cleanliness. Oversized chestnut furniture with outdated stains surround a queen bed, I am just tall enough to hoist my body onto this sea of pillows and blankets. The mattress is a foot and a half thick, draped in a quilt, the heavy kind that traps you under a loving weight of comfort and is lined with cool silky edges.
I like to lay here and let the sunlight that can’t quite reach my own bedroom touch softly against my cheek, forcing my eyes to close. No matter what time of day it is, the sunlight that enters this room is always gentle, it flits through drapes that flow gingerly in the breeze like tired ghosts. I close my eyes and embrace the light, and just listen. Outside I can hear the jovial shouts of skin-kneed kids as they dart across sidewalks, their dirty bare feet slapping the pavement with each nimble step. The sound of traffic is distant from my little cul-de-sac, occasionally an airplane rips through the silence overhead, if you stay long enough you’ll hear train whistles too.
From a small wooden radio, a full voice is speaking neutrally over some topic I don’t care to understand. But I listen to the clarity of his voice anyway, unhindered by any background noise he speaks on and on until calling on another voice to join him. These voices come with ambient sounds, resonating in the distance. I never take in what words anyone says, but the radio is always on in this home. In the kitchen, it’s music of the 1940’s, harmonic songs that always seem just a little off pace. But in the front bedroom, it’s always talking, just talking.
The voices of Carl Kassel, Ira Glass, Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, Kojo Nnamdi, Peter Sagal and Paula Poundstone are part of my home. In any language, their voice would be recognizable and comforting, I don’t need to understand them to feel their warmth, excitement and passion. Talk radio has followed me throughout my entire life, I can recite the intros to RadioLab, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and NPR fundraising pleas by heart. And even with all this listening, I don’t know what makes a good story, but even the experts don’t seem to know. Storytelling is not a consistent experience, because experiences worth retelling are not consistent.
Storytelling through audio alone has always been extremely compelling to me. I figure that if you can capture someone’s with simply your words, then you’ve stumbled upon something significant. Being a huge fan of podcasts, my friend Ian and I are currently in the process of attempting to make our own podcast, so hearing what Jad Abumrad and Ira Glass have to say about storytelling is incredibly important to me. I’ve begun recording sound clips whenever I can, even when there is no discernible dialogue. I thought that maybe this would be the key to stumbling upon a great story, but all I have are a handful of relatively meaningless audio files. As both Jad and Ira discussed, good stories must be sought after, they won’t simply come to you. And once you have them, you need to mold them into something worth experiencing.
I don’t think there is any particular strategy to finding good stories, the most structure you can give to this process is to create a schedule for yourself that forces you to be out in the world, talking to people and listening to the world. I think it must be particularly difficult to keep up with the task of storytelling, already Ian and I have become sidetracked in our attempt to create our own podcast. We have the desire but few ideas, the potential but not dedication. But Glass and Abumrad have me feeling inspired again. I recently interviewed a man who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and is currently hiking the Pacific Crest trail. The interview is not necessarily interesting, but I felt a bit of a thrill just attempting to capture the essence of our brief conversation. I’ve listened to my collected audio content again and again, not knowing if it’s worth listening to or not. And If it isn’t, I don’t know how I’ll find the courage to throw away what doesn’t work, but I know that I must find the will to do just that. This week’s audio storytelling creations will draw me back in to my original projects, and with Jad and Ira’s advice, my podcast might actually live.
In addition to Jad’s video on how radio creates empathy, I also watched this video and included my reflection of it in this blog post: