DIY: At Home Birth on National Preserve Radio

Video and Sound

A satirical podcast that re-imagines Octavia Butler’s short science fiction story “Bloodchild” as a DIY radio show.

Music from Bensound.

A brief reflection: I wish we had recorded in a soundproof room, and with a higher quality microphone (actually, make that two higher quality mics, because my Theatre BA-approved voice kept smothering Lindsey’s low-key delivery). I’m proud of the script, and I’m grateful to Lindsey for veering us in a humorous direction, away from my self-serious brainstorm. I liked our professor Marina’s suggestion to include realistic screams as a counterpoint to the ironic dialogue. I think I need to spend more time in the uncanny valley. As an aside, big thanks to Eddie Pruette who graciously agreed to scream, moan, vomit and perform grubectomies on a moment’s notice. And I just realized I totally forgot to compensate him with falafel! Better get on that.

On Plagiarism and Shame

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Kirby Ferguson would have you embrace the remix. Jonathan Lethem is similarly ecstatic about the gifts of our forebears. Of course, lifting polished stones to pave our own paths can pose some problems, which Ferguson and Lethem acknowledge. Ferguson says, “this idea that everything is a remix might sound like common sense until you’re the one getting remixed.” For many of us, it’s a lot easier to rob than get robbed. Lethem brings up “contamination anxiety” and it resonates with me. My first lesson in plagiarism was a lesson in shame.

I was 9 years old and beginning to think of myself as a poet. I wrote a poem that was a hodgepodge of Nelly Furtado lyrics, including the refrain “there’s a shadow in the sky, and it looks like rain.” I proudly showed it to my parents. My mother, who doesn’t know a Nelly from a Furtado beamed and praised my talents. My father, who gave me the album, shook his head and said, “this is plagiarism.” Even without the formal definition I knew it was a dirty word. Sadly, Dad done fucked up. He could have taught me the importance of attribution, but instead taught me to get better at hiding my tracks, like shit in a litterbox. Although cats don’t really have shame, which makes this a poor analogy. O to be a cat, blissfully unaware of plagiarism!

I remember another time in high school when our assignment was to write and deliver an informative speech. When one boy stood up and began to recite his speech, we could feel that something was off about it. The teacher cut him off. “What the hell are you doing? You just printed this off of Wikipedia. That’s disgusting. It’s unacceptable.” The teacher reamed him out in front of all of us for what felt like an eternity. I think in a way the kid was trying to be funny–he was using big words that he clearly didn’t know. But he was also probably insecure that he didn’t know that many words, and didn’t know how to write a speech, or give a speech, and anyway, nobody deserves to be made into nothing for 5 minutes. No one deserves to be pushed to the limit on how red your face can get, and how low your eyes can get cast.

Shame is why Muddy Waters can seamlessly name his influences but deny their influence. Shame is why Lethem’s old teacher insists that “serious writing is Timeless”–he is ashamed of pop culture bubblegum that works with shades of pink to obscure “the true human condition” or whatever. I’m working on shedding my shame. I’m working on giving more gifts. I’m reminded of this quote from Ira Glass that is tangentially related, about closing the gap between your taste and your abilities. One of the ways we’ll close the gap is by remixing, and remixing shamelessly.

Passing Stranger Reflection

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Recently my mom and I were walking through the East Village and my mom said, “When I first came here, it was all Puerto Ricans. Now it’s all gringos. I’m the only Puerto Rican here!”

On the sound walk Passing Stranger by Pejk Malinovski, I felt very aware of my New York heritage–how many places are there in America where a Puerto Rican lady and a Brooklyn Jew can meet at a labor union and fall in love? It sounds like the set up for a joke. For my mom, the punchline is probably that the gringos have nipped the budding romances of the next generation of Jews and Boricuas.

I thought it was clever how I was cued to walk to a new location by hearing footsteps, along with a “make your way down 12th street.” I liked how there were some musical cues as well, like a wire brush on a drum set that is so reminiscent of shuffle steps. This was effective right off the bat, when I heard the recorded sound of footsteps on the winding stairwell in the church, though I could not hear my own. It was oddly comforting to be reminded of all the people who had tread there before. Still I wonder, what gives footsteps so much power in the context of an empty church?

People talk about how the city used to be so dangerous, but the crack and gangs and broken windows are completely foreign to me. I liked the moment in the sound walk where the car fire was described–breaking it down for parts and filling it with trash and setting it aflame, until a firetruck would lazily roll up and the whole block would cheer. I love the idea of a neighborhood united by a garbage fire. I looked at an empty parking space and imagined a bright burning car. It was an anchor for me. The trouble I had with the sound walk was an abundance of stimuli. There was the city bustle, music, poetry and placards. Sometimes it felt like I was hearing and seeing nothing at all, like a kind of static.

My favorite moment was when I stopped in front of PS 61, a school I substitute teach at all the time! Listening to the kids recite their “I wish” poems was amazing. “I wish a was a chocolate-covered flying horse,” and “I wish I was a bird so I could tell the other birds to be quiet.” Adults have so many pretensions and insecurities, but children are natural fucking poets. I remember a kid named Oliver in one of my sub classes at PS 61 wrote about what happened when he got cold: “My legs were clicking together like rain.” Of course earlier in the day he leapt up during morning meeting, bent over and shouted “SPANK ME,” a poem not nearly as sophisticated. But a poem in its own right.