I’m going to make an embarrassing and possibly diagnosable confession here: for years, when I was a kid, I used to narrate a radio show in my head on my way to and from school, a walk of about five minutes each way.
I’d like to be able to tell you that I was seven or so when this was going on, but I can clearly remember actively engaging in this activity until at least my freshman year of high school—at which point I also remember another part of my brain loudly telling me that it was time to grow out of that crap, that only weirdoes do that kind of thing.
In my adolescent fiction class, we often spend a good bit of time at the beginning of the semester talking about how adolescence differs from other life stages, and the biological, cultural, and (increasingly) neurological bases for those distinctions (see also “undeveloped cerebral cortex”).
But for me, that transition from childhood to full-blown teenagerhood boils down to the shift from the moment when those twin thoughts existed in my brain and the moment when the radio station went off the air for good. I couldn’t tell you exactly when it happened—and I won’t say that I didn’t still have a rich fantasy life after that—but the things I imagined afterwards were the garden-variety teen-girl fantasies about cute boys (and being a famous actress living in New York, married to the drum major, now a symphony conductor, or to Mikhail Baryshnikov. OK, so even my fantasies were geeky).
I wish to god that I could remember what the radio show was about, though. I know that it was a very sustained and episodic sort of fantasy; I can distinctly remember “part one: the walk home for lunch” picking up where it left off for the walk back to school afterwards, the baloney sandwich in between functioning as kind of a commercial break.
I’ve had the radio show on the brain lately, though, as I’ve been preparing for (and now attending) a digital-audio institute at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. In trying to piece together an understanding for myself of what it is I’m doing here, I’ve been starting to see connections between a lot of episodes in my life that I previously would have considered unrelated, from the radio show to my training in folklore to being a public-radio freak to my (probably annoying) affection for playing clips of various sonic materials in class.
And I really want to be able to do this stuff myself—in a sense, to make the radio-show fantasy a reality. Not in the talk-show sense (which is what I think the fantasy format was), but in the sense of bringing shape and life to the stories that most interest me in a way that makes them accessible to others…but without the kind of academic intrusiveness that’s often a part of “presenting” one’s fieldwork.
What I can tell you after the first 24 hours of this intensive workshop experience is that it’s all vastly more complicated than I ever imagined. It’s not unlike doing folklore fieldwork, in the sense of having to balance vision, intuition, and technical skill to get good materials. But the enormous number of additional considerations that come into play when you want to broadcast those recordings—well, it’s overwhelming. Where do you sit? Is the sound of the refrigerator running going to trash your whole session? How do you get people to speak in complete sentences and use the phrases you want them to use? Blah blah blah.
And christ, we haven’t even started talking about editing yet. That’s this morning. Gah! My head is going to explode! But possibly in a very good way…