I look forward to writing more regular posts; I've got thoughts and topics lined up that just aren't getting here because I'm working toward The Project's deadline, which is February 1 (in its current, and likely final, definition).
But I need to add this quick note.
On Tuesday, I drove to Greeley, Colorado, to record for broadcast a short (500-word) essay that I wrote for NPR's "This I Believe" project, which has since evolved into its own separate effort, still closely linked to NPR. The topic is spinning, and more.
I recorded it for our regional NPR affiliate, well-established and respected community radio station KUNC.
I'm told the piece will be broadcast today at 3:44 pm Mountain time, and repeated on Sunday, 1/10/2010, at 7:34 and 9:34 am (still Mountain time).
Within its broadcast area, KUNC can be heard via radio. Outside that area, people can listen by going to the station's website and clicking on the blue rectangular button in the upper left corner, above the station's logo, that says "Listen live." I'm told that the piece will also be archived, and that I'll be sent the link when it's available.
Recording was fun. I've had a cold, but figured I would be okay to do the job although I might sound a little huskier than usual. I fixed myself a big mug of Gypsy Cold Care tea, liberally dosed it with honey and lemon, and sipped it as I made the 45-minute drive to the station.
When I arrived at the station's offices, which are on the fifth floor of a modern office building, Brian Larson took me into the studio for the reading-and-recording.
The last time I was on radio was about thirty years ago (before my daughter was born), and that was a 20- or 30-minute interview. It was all live. I've also done a lot of public readings of my work . . . again, always live. If you flub, you keep going. By comparison, this was easy: digital recording, with the option of punching in a re-take for any sentence that didn't work just right.
Microphones have come a long way in the past thirty years. Yet the biggest trick to the process was the size of the mic and its screening, which made it hard for me to see the pages I was reading from. Fortunately, I had printed a special copy for the occasion, with large type and generous line-spacing.
Brian told me that if I didn't like the way I said something, I should just start that sentence over again immediately and he'd cut out the problem spot and end up with a clean recording. After the first time, I got the trick—mostly, that involved getting used to the fact that I could re-speak a line I wanted to improve. I took advantage of it a few times. My re-takes involved spots where I couldn't adjust the sheets of paper around
the mic fast enough to keep them in my view, and one place where I got
off the rhythm of a sentence.
When we were done, Brian asked me if I wanted to listen to the rough version. I said, "Sure!" Although my voice usually sounds strange to me when it's recorded, it sounded a little less strange than usual, even with a bit of a cold. When it was done, I said, "I can live with that—both the text and the recording."
Brian then delivered me to Kirk Mowers, who will do the intro for the piece. He interviewed me casually, making some notes on his computer. I'll be interested in what he says. I'm not sure the answers I gave him were especially interesting or coherent. We did get to talking about wool, and he mentioned that he can't wear it because it itches, so he got the quick overview of how many types of wool there are and the idea that there might be some that he could wear just fine. It's a little dangerous to talk with me about wool.
The whole process was comfortable and enjoyable. Lots easier than writing the essay!
I wrote the piece over an intense three weeks in the summer of 2005. Because of the length, and because you have to choose ONE overriding topic, this was one of the most challenging pieces I've ever written. The project's guidelines offered helpful tips for hitting the mark for the specific task and format.
I knew relatively quickly what I wanted to write about, but the essay went through five significantly different drafts ("trash and start over") before it was completed. The first draft of the core essay is radically different from the final one—and that first draft is more like my "normal" essay style than the finished piece is. To meet the goals of the "This I Believe" project, I needed to become more direct in presenting my thoughts than usual (I often leave the reader to draw conclusions and connections) and to cut out a number of narrative elements. What I believe did not change from first to final. Through the revisions, the way I expressed that belief gained a great deal of clarity, while I also think it lost some nuances. (I like both versions.)
I am still completely comfortable with this essay. I could, of course, write a whole series of essays on many things that I believe in—and that series would begin with this one.
Here's the link to my original essay. Before the recording, I modified it slightly (at stoplights on the drive over) to adjust for the passage of time. I learned to spin longer ago than the original reflects. I tweaked a few sentences; I'm a perpetual reviser. Although those who read my posts know that our Border collie died just before Thanksgiving, I left her in the essay, both as a memorial and because her fur is still being spun into my yarns. (I managed to read that passage without a do-over, although I was worried about it and it was kind of like walking a fence: tears? no tears. Whew.) And I left the reference to spinning with friends in the afternoon, because that was true in reality at the moment I wrote the final, original draft and was still true on the day of the reading, although in a less literal sense. Changing that would also have required me to rewrite the whole ending of the essay.
KUNC's site will also host a copy of the slightly revised piece, as I recorded it: Brian was following along on a printout of the original as I read, and asked me to send them an updated file to go with the completed segment. I'll add links when I have them.