A “Cry” Button

There’s one radio trick that brings me to tears every time, and it features quite prominently in a 10-minute piece called “This can go on forever,” by Shea Shackelford and Virginia Millington.

The piece tells the story of an adopted young man who, after having a child of his own, reunites with his birth-mother. The moment when the tears erupt (quite predictably) occurs when a mother, after 19 years of no contact, meets a grown-man version of the baby to whom she gave birth.

But it isn’t just the content of the story that makes me cry. I know this because it happens in non-emotional stories as well as emotional ones. Radiolab, for example, does it all the time; I cry nearly every time I listen to the show.

It has to do with the convergence of two perspectives.

Here’s the formula:

Step 1: Get more than one character telling the same story from his/her own perspective.

Step 2: Choose wisely, after you consider your options regarding the moment when the perspectives converge:

  • Tease it out.
  • Hit the listener with it from out-of-nowhere.
  • Creep up on it slowly, like a zombie in a horror film.

Every producer has her own way of playing with these moments of convergence. For me, the result is always the same: I cry. I sometimes cry so hard my lips curl, and I become wary of the moaning noises that attempt to escape my mouth.

In this piece, it’s the moment when both characters paraphrase the same line.

He says it from his perspective, then she says it from hers. They were both there. They both heard it. They both remember it. To travel with these characters for the 8 minutes leading up to that moment is like watching two powerful magnets draw closer to one another from two sides of a desk. You know they’re going to stick, you just want to watch it happen. And when it does, it’s beautiful.

If you’ve been needing a really good cry, this might be just the thing for you. Or if you’re not one for tears, just notice how you feel when the two perspectives converge.

“This can go on forever”
Produced in 2010 by Shea Shackelford and Virginia Millington at the DC Listening Lounge
10 minutes, 25 seconds
first heard on saltcast
Photo courtesy Carol Broebeck