institute for documentary studies

{Week 14: Radio}

Week 14: Radio

We’re exhausted.
Our computers are exhausted (which is probably why they keep crashing on us).
Our fingers are exhausted (which is probably why I hear the occasional sound of knuckles cracking amidst the clicking of keyboards).
Our brains are exhausted from the endless toggling between Slip and Shuffle mode that makes our radio pieces an intricate game of Tetris and the 11th hour script tweaks more obsessive than Webster writing the dictionary. I keep fudging at the level of single words, transitions like “but” and “now” and “and so…” in that hefty way Ira Glass sucks the story into a conclusive vacuum by saying “And so what have we learned…”
The only thing that keeps me awake and making semi-intelligible changes to my radio feature is pretending I’m a producer for NPR. Yes, I realize the vanity and silliness of this little rehearsal.
Executing radio stories in such a manner, interestingly enough, induces much insistent clicking and scrolling and track-pad-wheeling faith that this edit, this transitional hand-off between narration and interview tape, will bring my piece closer to what I imagined it would sound like in my mind’s ear. Is it better to say “Doug marched on Washington DC” or “Doug protested in Washington DC?” Which smears the mind with more vivid paint? How do I ultimately want my piece to sound?
These are the things we think about, as the date of our gallery show—There From Here—draws nearer. May 16th.
“There from Here” is borrowed from a traditional Maine phrase. I first heard about it while staring at a map of Maine propped on an easel in the Salt Writer’s room. Some topographer had carefully painted the state in light greens and browns, more vertical than horizontal, an elongated parallelogram with a prehistoric coastline. Some of the rocks that populate Maine’s coastline were once molten shale, pressed like phyllo pastry beneath a riotous earth and forced to the surface by the shifting plates. Maine is an ancient state.
The fringes of the Maine coastline are a series of peninsulas, like fingers fanning out into the frigid Atlantic. In order to traverse their surface, you have to go up a peninsula in order to go down another. You can’t hop. You can’t get there from here. There from Here. So, our show takes its name.
It’s a fitting reminder in a time like this. There are no shortcuts when it comes to creative work, no getting from the “There” of Week 1 to the “Here” of Week 14—so different than you thought it would be—without the missteps and the daily efforts on your part to tell better stories. That’s really it. That’s why we came to Salt and it’s made me grateful for every gracious hour, every courageous suggestion, every “Hey can you listen to this” met with “Sure,” in which another student took time out of his or her day to help make my piece better. The nature of Salt is collaborative and these pieces are as much a collective effort as an individual one.
We’re quite a tribe, we 11 radio students. We’ve seen each other’s stories from conception, when they were the faintest of notions and the most cursory of leads, and watched them evolve into these misshapen, susceptible organisms we shaped together over the course of weeks. Now these pieces—14 radio features, a handful of audio postcards and student profiles—are taking on their final form. They are solidifying and settling down. I’ve listened to them all, some several times, and am astoundingly proud to share them with others. It keeps me going, you know? Imagining the look on Erika or Emily’s face when the thing they’ve been laboring over for hours makes someone cry and exclaim, “You did a beautiful job. Thank you for making this.”