It is 11 days since I have had anything to report (I have been totally avoiding working on my project; I blame relationship drama). So, this LDS woman is doing her dissertation on LDS women from divorced families and asked if she could interview me. Of course I agreed. I recorded the interview... nothing really struck me from it as particularly engaging, but at least I have the option of using it. I haven't even checked the audio; just copied it from the 722 to my external hard drive while at work. I need to get in gear. According to my production schedule, I should be done with all recording by the end of January. I will be if I decide not to interview my parents. If I do, I have to wait until my Dad and his wife return from Australia / New Zealand (3.5 weeks from now). I need to listen to all my interviews and take notes / start forming narrative ideas (I should have done that while in Texas, but no dice).
Heard back from Sasha Aslanian! She's a producer for Minnesota Public Radio / American Public Media, by the way. Thank the heavens above! I have real people interested in my work. Even though this journal is already epically long and I am only a week or so into production, I want to include the emails from her... she agreed to be one of my evaluators. 'Tis a miracle.
Hi Kelly, (just noticed that she thinks my first name is my last name. oh well.)
I'm sorry, I meant to call you from work today, or at least to write back more quickly. Your project sounds great, and thanks for your kind words about mine. I'm curious, did you hear the whole hour, or just the 10 minutes on NPR? I ask because in the hour, I was able to include tape with lots of experts, but I also interviewed my own parents. I think your idea of looking at one divorce through the eyes of four siblings sounds fascinating.
I did interview my little brother for the piece, but I ultimately didn't use him. He's a little more reserved than I am, and as a boy, he was also a lot more checked out about family dynamics and out on his dirt bike with his friends. I recorded him when I thought joint custody would feature more prominently in my story. When my family did it, it was still pretty new and controversial, and I felt like if there was a silver lining to my family's divorce, it was that my brother and I had a really close relationship with our dad as well as our mom because he shared so equally in the parenting. But as I got deeper into the project I realized I had already bitten off quite a chunk of social history and had to lop out joint custody.
I'd love to listen to your finished piece and chat with you about your interest in radio. These are tough days for job hunters, but hopefully things will pick up soon.
Keep me posted on the timing, and then do you want to send me a file (through yousendit) or a CD or upload it to an FTP server?
I'm also happy to talk before then.
Best of luck,
This was my reply...
Thank you so so much for getting back to me, Sasha. And thank you for being so helpful and willing to listen to my work. Hooray!
I listened to your entire piece on PRX (how wonderful is that site?!). I was eight when my parents divorced, so I felt a special kinship to your ten-year-old self. I love your description of the joint custody situation with your parents ("two bedrooms!"). I never knew this until I interviewed them, but my siblings hold a lot of issue with the fact that my mom moved so far away (we hardly ever saw each other). I relate with so much of what you and the women in your book group feel...
relationship issues, independence/adaptability, not really seeing how I was affected until years later, etc. Also, the majority of my thesis comes from Judith Wallerstein's research, so it was great to hear her featured in your work.
I have about 12 hours of source material for my 30 minute piece... it is proving an interesting job! I will be finishing up my final rough cut at the end of March. I would love to send it to you at that point (I think yousendit would be best). I submit the final piece to Emerson the third week of April, so that would give me some time to incorporate changes and such. I also work full-time, so that's why my post-production timeline is a little longer than it normally would be.
You are amazing and your work is amazing. Thanks again.
And here is her (almost immediate) reply to that...
Aw, thanks so much. I went and told another Emerson alumn here about you. He's Bob Collins, a longtime editor, broadcaster and online maverick who does our newscut blog.
He says Emerson is much better now than when he went there in the 1970s.
He's a funny guy.
I feel like I always have a ratio of about 30 hours of field tape for each hour of radio. Sometimes 60. We create the illusion for listeners that all moments are riveting.
Talk with you when your piece is ready. Looking forward to it.
YES!!!! I am super pumped on all of this. Who knows where it might lead, right?
Tim MacArthur (another child of parental divorce incidentally) really helped me out today. He digitized the home video of my baptism and then helped me rip the audio from it. What a gem! So, all the recording I have left is the random cassette tapes I found and (maybe) a couple phone interviews with my parents. Huzzah.
My brother just forwarded me an article from NPR.org. Apparently Sasha Aslanian did an audio documentary extremely similar to mine and it was on Weekend Edition this weekend. THIS WEEKEND?!?! The weekend I was recording mine??? Bah. Here's the description of part one of her documentary, "Divorced Kid": America’s divorce rate hit a peak in 1979. Back then, no one really knew how divorce would affect children. Three decades later, the adult children of divorce look back. Not gonna lie, I am pretty disappointed. I felt so revolutionary. I am still excited and still think my work is something special, but it is no longer has the potential to be the only one that exists on the topic. In any case, after stewing about it for a while, I decided to email Sasha the following (with a little bit of my proposal):
I am currently a Master's candidate at Emerson College in Boston. With no previous knowledge of your radio documentary, I started work on something very similar. I was excited to see someone else in my field focusing on it. It means a lot to me. My master's project/thesis is also a radio doc about the effects of divorce on children, but it is based on the varying perspectives of four siblings (a.k.a. my own family--a short description below). It has definitely been an emotionally taxing journey, but I am excited to see it taking shape.
Would you be at all interested in giving the final product a professional listen as I continue through post-production? Maybe even a bit of encouragement on how I could ever hope to work in our field? I know that's a large job to agree to based on a random email, but I thought I'd take a chance.
In any event, I really appreciate your work. My oldest brother forwarded your article on NPR along (he's a good one... he even put up with me interviewing him for 4 hours). I'm so glad it was featured.
Haha. We'll see what happens. I figure you never can tell who might help you out. In production news, I have a zillion ideas running through my brain and I'm not exactly sure what direction to take. I have about 8 hours of material with my siblings, not to mention the cassette tapes and home videos that I am going through. It could go anywhere and I think all my options are reasonably compelling. I talked with Tim Riley (a professor in the Emerson Journalism Department... my day job!) and he said, "As a writer, sometimes you have to kill your children." Meaning, there will be a million things that I would love to include, but it just won't serve the final piece. So, the decision remains: what do I focus on? Also, returned all the equipment today. Feels good.
I meant to write yesterday after Derek's interview. Alas. It is now the late evening of January 3, 2010. All the recording of my siblings is over. Somewhat of a relief and somewhat of a burden because now I have to edit all of this stuff. Each interview ended up being roughly two hours and the group conversation over one of our now famous "sibling dinners" was two hours as well. I also have the home videos and cassette tapes. Oy. A lot of stuff to sift through. But, I'm excited to do it. Derek's interview went well... I copied all the files from the 722 to my computer after his interview. I am really sad to report that the audio is super quiet, but it is clean, so I think I can up the gain without too many problems. The interview with David went really well, too. His was definitely emotionally taxing, though. In fact, all three of the personal interviews were. There are so many things that I didn't know that my siblings felt... so much love for me... so many issues with our parents splitting the siblings up. The sibling dinner was a little stressful for me. Not because of any recording issues, though. That ended up working well... I originally was going to use the AKG 414 on the omnidirectional pickup pattern setting, but I ended up using a bidirectional setting (Derek and I were on one side of the table and David and Crys were on the other [instead of us sitting all around it]). But, anyhow. It was the first time that I really felt like an outsider with my siblings. They have all these shared memories and moments in their adolescence that I was not a part of because I was the only sibling with my mother. There were a lot of inside jokes and even emotional pain that I was jealous of. I don't necessarily wish I had stayed with them, but I definitely wish we were together. If that makes sense. All six hours of the audio I collected while here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area seems a bit on the quiet side. I am not sure how this happened because I monitored the levels on the 722 the entire time. I really hope it doesn't sound awful... that would really take away from the work. I fly back to Boston tomorrow. I am ready to be back in my own space. And start editing all of this, of course.
LATER: I just re-copied all the audio from the 722 to my hard drive on my computer. None of the files sounded nearly as quiet as they did. Huzzah! I'm not sure why the other files were wonky or what could have caused that, but they all sound pretty good (or at least decent enough to work with).
Today was the interview with my sister Crys. It is 1a (technically the 2nd, I guess...I don't suggest coming for only three days when you're working with family because you only hang out and talk and don't do a lot of work). The interview went really well. Crazy story to add to all the drama of yesterday/re-scheduling the sibling dinner? My brother David was driving home from Oklahoma (visiting our Dad/Elynn/Lauren) and his car broke down (with his girlfriend and his two kids). He was not going to make the sibling dinner for that night. After some stress and drama (and my brother Derek, a medical doctor, totally pissing off his boss by refusing to come in on Sunday), it is now scheduled for Sunday night. I have seen that everything is working out for this project to happen, but in some ways... it feels ill-fated! Things have been a little crazy, and I'm sure that it being the holidays does not help. My brother Derek leaves for New Zealand on Tuesday, too, so that makes scheduling interesting. In any case, the interview with Crys. It went really well. My sister-in-law Kelly asked this woman in her ward (LDS church congregation) if I could record in her office. She said yes! For the record, Cheri Measom is a goddess. It is a great space. Quiet because no one is working this holiday weekend. Comfortable chairs and big desk. She originally showed us this really beautiful conference room, but... it was huge. I could tell it would be full of echo/reverb, and sure enough... as soon as I crossed the threshold, I could hear all sorts of echos on my steps/voice/etc. I got a touch nervous, but we went forward and she donated her assistant's office (obliging [unknowing] assistant). I pulled a couple comfy chairs in (kept the other cushiony chairs in there for at least a little sound absorption), closed the blinds (again, almost futile, but trying to control sound as much as possible), and closed the vent. I didn't have control over the ventilation system; there may be a slight hum on the track. I would like to know for sure at this point; it was my intention to listen to the interviews each night and log them a bit. But, like I said, it is hard to do this when you never really see your family. I set up and interviewed Crys from 10a to 1230p. I left the lavaliers/XLR cables/chairs as they were, but took the 722 and my headphones with me (with the intention of working with the sound and at least copying it to my Macbook's hard drive). Didn't happen. It is now 1:17a. I interview Derek in 8.5 hours. I need to sleep.
I’m leaving El Paso and on my way to Dallas / Fort Worth for the recording sessions with my siblings… currently flying over the great state of Texas. I collected everything in El Paso that I could (letters/tapes/home videos)… I’m looking forward to going through the tapes and seeing if anything is usable. Though some of the following tale is not directly related to my project, I think it is an interesting anecdote that describes the life of a producer.
I woke up this morning at 6a. Though my flight didn’t take off until 10:35a, I was having trouble sleeping. Today is my first intense recording day, and I only have an hour or so to put everything together once I land (because of the schedule change, the sibling dinner / recording session is happening at 3:30p and must be done by 6p). I also was supposed to get my full paycheck today (I hadn’t been getting all my pay because taxes on tuition come out of my checks… this is a detail that has all sorts of backstory and a host of irritating minutiae). I wanted to get my checkbook balanced before getting in to Dallas (I don’t think I’ll have a free moment once I’m there). Turns out Emerson’s lovely Finance office made a mistake and reported $919 for a ninth credit that I am not registered for, leaving my paycheck (for the ninth week in a row) at around $160. Since all reason pointed to me receiving a full paycheck today, I have all sorts of bills coming out (and rent is due in Boston tomorrow, January 1). So, by 7a, I had already sent an irate email and cried to my parents. My parents are not the richest people in the world (to put it diplomatically) and it is a big stress for me to be financially dependent at all. But, miracle of miracles, Tom/Mom had saved $500 for my graduation gift. I will be receiving this gift early so I can pay living expenses. I had originally intended to purchase a Tascam DR-100 field recorder. Looks like that won’t be happening. In any case, I get packed up… Equipment shoved in my North Face backpack, laptop in a second carryon, and everything I can muster in my suitcase to be checked. I can tell it is overweight, so my fantastic step-father and I start weighing our options. It comes to Tom saying… “Well, we’ll just have to pay it, but I only have a credit card.” Okay. We hit the road for the El Paso airport. Pull up to the Skycap.
Them: Your bag is ten 11.5 pounds overweight.
Us: Okay, we’ll pay the $50.
Them: You can’t pay here. We don’t take cards.
Okay, so I head inside and Tom goes to park the car. I call Tom elated that there is only a short line (so unlike airports) and he can just circle the place and come back so I can return his credit card. Miracle! I check-in (I have about 30 minutes until takeoff at this point) and check my bag. Put it on the scale.
Them: There’s an issue…
Me: (cutting her off, I admit it) I know, but here’s the card. I’ll just pay the fee.
Them: You can’t pay in this line...
Me: (realizing that I did not actually get a boarding pass, but a printout that said I must head to the gate to get one) Wait, what? I don’t have a boarding pass?!
Them: No, you are late checking in, so you need to go to the gate…
Me: BUT I HAVE TO GO STAND IN THAT OTHER LINE?!?! Please, please. You have to help me. I have to make that flight.
I considered telling her all about my master’s project and how I will shortly be talking about divorce (and recording it all) for about 15 hours over 3 days, but I relented and just gave her a frustrated look (with a touch of desperation, of course). The wonderful Southwest Airlines employee said something to the effect of “Forget it” and just put my bag through. I will forever be grateful to her. It is now about 20 minutes to takeoff and I still need to get through security. Shoot. I take off running (now only burdened with two bags and my pig neck pillow named Jamon [“Ham” en espanol]) and make it to security. I take off my boots and belt buckle, take my laptop out of its case and throw everything on the belt. Thinking I got off scot-free, I rejoice and start putting my clothes back on. Unfortunately, the backpack doesn’t make it (this is the one filled with field recorders, microphones, XLR cables, and a weighty mic stand). The TSA need to inspect it. Oy. I tell them what is in the bag (even added the detail about how much an AKG 414 mic costs), but they still must go through it. I beg for them to be gentle. They’re not. I am now dangerously close to missing my flight. Finally, all my crap is given the go-ahead and I dash off to Gate B6 (so grateful this all happened in El Paso where the airport is not gargantuan). And, suspense over, I MADE IT. I even had time to call Tom (my trusty sidekick in this debacle), my Mom (to thank her for saving me with that $500), and my sister who will be picking me up at the airport in Dallas. I’m on the flight. My equipment is safely stored in the overhead compartment. My laptop is functioning. I have a Diet Coke. Oy vey. Let’s hope the recording sessions have nothing in common with this morning (other than the Diet Coke part).
In better news, I had some time to organize the questions I plan to use as launching off points for the group session and individual interviews. I’m allowing for tangents, but this is the general structure:
Group Interview (all four of us…happening in about two hours)
I just finished watching the video of my baptism. The sound on the home video is bad, but I think it will be perfect for the piece. Right at the end, my family all breaks down and starts laughing. I don't know if you'll be able to hear it, but I can probably narrate that detail. This all went down on my 8th birthday, so my mom also sings "happy birthday" on it. Might be an interesting bit to include. At the end of my baptism on the video, there is a little bit of all of us kids in a GTE parade. The announcer says something to the effect of "memory lane 1992"... that might be a cool bit to use to introduce that section on the piece. I could start with their courtship, then the early marriage, then when we get to the divorce part, use that as the intro? Not a bad idea. I averted a major production crisis today (or what could have been). My sister-in-law called to tell me that my brother had to work on the night that I planned to record the conversation between us siblings. I kind of freaked out and vented to my mom about how "no one is taking the time for this and it is important and I only ask them for three days out of the entire year and blah blah blah"... it turned out fine. In fact, it probably turned out better. Originally, we were all going to chat over dinner after I had interviewed all three of them. Now, I'm going to record a conversation BEFORE any of us chat one-on-one. I think this will actually be good because we won't be sick of talking about it at that point. Ha. Also, it will get their brains in the reminiscing mode... ready to brain dump when we have our one-on-one recording sessions. My mom is being really supportive of this. My dad not so much. My siblings are all being super cooperative. I get easily stressed out. When the first plan went wrong, I freaked. And it actually ended up better. I need to chill.
I am in El Paso... looking through my three trunks of stuff still at my mom's home. I read through old journals of mine. I found a couple of gems from 1996-- one describing how I'd feel if I ever lost my mother and one about cooking her dinner after a long day at work (reminded me of those long days alone). I also found a box of letters from my Dad. I don't remember how I got these. I think my Dad had saved them and then gave them to my sister. She then gave them to me? In any case, I opened up the box and started going through them. Found some poetry he had written for my mom (and some she wrote for him), old anniversary cards, and THE BEST FIND OF ALL: cassette tapes he recorded for her while he was serving his mission. I am particularly excited to listen to one marked, "Honey, this tape has been given all my love and consideration - it will be best heard alone and in the dark - this tape communicates my thoughts about us. Love you very much, yours forever. Richard." I really REALLY hope these cassette tapes still work. It would be so amazing to have some audio from the time when my parents were in love. I'm not sure how I will work it in to the project (maybe in an intro part... describing how things used to be?), but it is SUPER awesome to have found these. I didn't even know they existed. Brilliant! I am going through home videos as well. Haven't found any hidden gems there, but I have secured the VHS tape of my baptism (the last real family event we had). My family sang together there and I anticipate ripping the audio from it. I haven't watched it in years, so hopefully it is useable. In crap news - I am getting sick. My voice is getting scratchy, I'm coughing, and I'm congested. It is making my voice sound like crap and I am worried that it will affect my interviews with my siblings that I have in a few days. Please bless this is gone by the time I need to record my voice...
I met with Tim McKenna on December 15 to reserve my equipment. All went according to plan, which I felt was a good omen. It was kind of remarkable to get everything I wanted for as long as I wanted (I picked up the goods yesterday and I do not need to return anything until January 6. Es un milagro!). Yesterday's pickup included: 3 XLR cables, Zoom H4 recorder, 722 recorder, 3 extra batteries for the 722, 2 lavalier microphones, a Beyer shotgun microphone, and a boom pole (for the shotgun). I had an appointment with Pierre today. I hauled all this stuff over to his office. We went through the logistics of recording a conversation (the 2 lavs and the 722). We figured out all sorts of issues and I am SOOOO glad we met beforehand. I would have freaked out and not been able to get the quality I'm after. Restoring the 722 to factory settings did the trick for most of it, and some of the buzz we heard in the headphones originally turned out to be the lav wires crossing over the XLR cable. After sorting out the conversation recording scenario, we went into the "recording around my sister's kitchen table" scenario. I originally got the shotgun for that, but as we tested it, we realized the mic's pickup pattern was way too narrow and it made for a crappy deal. So, Pierre came up with the AKG 414 on a table/podium mic stand. The EDC typically doesn't allow the 414's to leave campus, but Pierre made it happen. And Bruno Caruso lent me a table mic stand (the EDC doesn't carry those). The AKG 414 has an omnidirectional setting, so that will work much better. I returned the shotgun/boom pole (the less financial responsibility to the EDC the better [I'm already over $7k or so]). Tim McKenna worked with me to get the AKG... he said no one has ever checked it out before. It is a Christmas miracle! Another Christmas miracle: being able to leave my office and run all over and take care of everything. Working at Emerson is the only way I could have made this Master's happen. So, things are off to a decent start. I leave for Texas in two days... I shouldn't admit this, but I can't afford a new insurance policy for this equipment. Praying nothing happens en route (I'm transporting all the equipment as my carry-on luggage).