Seeing in the Dark

This week on State of the Human, we’re hearing stories about people whose vision changed, first throwing them in the dark, then revealing something new. When the lights go out, at first we can’t see anything, but eventually our eyes adjust. We slowly begin to see again, but the world looks a little bit different than it did before. This week, we’ve got four stories about people who learn to see in a new way after finding themselves in different kinds of darkness. A young kid has a superpower to see things no one else can see, but then he loses that ability. A mythologist embarks on a retreat in darkness on a mountain in Wales. An art student learns to see the human body in a new way. And an Oxford University student finds himself, unexpectedly, in darkness.

Producers: Xandra Clark and Sophia Paliza

Host: Xandra Clark

Featuring: Martin Lowenthal, Martin Shaw, Lauren YoungSmith, Ala Ebtekar, Tom Skelton, Dougie Walker

Release Date: 19 June 2013

Original music: John Hollywood

Additional music used during host narration: Johnny Ripper, Robin Grey, Gillicuddy

Additional production assistance: Rachel Hamburg, Darlene Franklin, Lemiece Zarka, Natacha Ruck, Christy Hartman, Charlie Mintz, Victoria Hurst, Josh Hoyt, Nina Foushee, and Jonah Willihnganz.

Warning: This episode contains strong language, and may not be suitable for all audiences

Image via wikimedia



Story 1: The Third Eye

A skeptic has forgotten to see the world he saw as a child, but his mystic mother encourages him to remember.

Featuring: Guru Matt

Editors: Lemiece Zarka and Sophia Paliza

Warning: This story contains strong language, and may not be suitable for all audiences

Image courtesy of Xandra Clark



Story 2: Vivid Darkness

Two different Martins choose to temporarily forgo light and embrace the darkness. Each follows his own path into the dark and finds something there.

Featuring: Martin Lowenthal, Martin Shaw

Producer: Sophia Paliza

Original music: John Hollywood

Additional music: Johnny Ripper, Balmorhea, Lee Rosevere, Zachary Cale & Mighty Moon & Ethan Schmid

Image via wikimedia



Story 3: Seeing Inside Out

A few years ago, surrealist artist Lauren YoungSmith hit a plateau in her drawing skills. To overcome it, she had to learn to see human bodies differently – from the inside out.

Featuring: Lauren YoungSmith, Ala Ebtekar

Producers: Darlene Franklin and Rachel Hamburg

Original music: John Hollywood

Additional music: Broken Gadget

Image courtesy of Lauren YoungSmith



Story 4: Blind-Sighted

When an Oxford University student starts losing his sight, he walks onto the stage.

Featuring: Tom Skelton, Dougie Walker

Producer: Xandra Clark

Original music: John Hollywood

Additional music: Ergo Phizmiz & Margita Zalite, Nic Bommarito, Chuck Johnson

Image courtesy of Urška Mali


Studs’ Nova

Sometimes you don’t really get to know someone until after they die. Sometimes a person’s death can be like the nova of a star, an explosion that broadcasts the star’s existence to places that had never seen it before, right before the star’s light goes out forever. It’s kind of sad when you don’t find out about someone until their death, but it’s also a kind of beautiful and special connection.

Such is the case with my connection to Studs Terkel, a radio broadcaster and oral historian who died in 2008. It was this wonderful hour-long radio program about his work that put him on my radar. Produced after his death by, it brings listeners into the inner circle of Studs’ working community, so that you can feel like you’ve gotten to know him. “Working with Studs” feels kind of like a eulogy, and I feel privileged to get this glimpse into Studs’ life. One of the biggest ways it accomplishes its particular style of intimacy is by taking its time: it doesn’t rush the sensitive information, because that level of intimacy backfires if it comes too early in a piece.

There’s an image, early in the program, of Studs walking out of the elevator, talking as he walked. He does it as if to announce his presence on the floor… but also as a way to think, and to process his own ideas. This is a brilliant way to introduce Studs, as a character. He was an extrovert’s extrovert: he never stopped thinking out loud, and he cared deeply about other people’s reactions to his work.

So this story establishes Studs’ character by beginning with the most noticeable aspect of his personality: his talking. Then, midway through the piece, one voice starts adding a little nuance, asking, “If he was always talking so much, how did he get people to open up to him as well as he did?” Then another producer describes Studs’ tactic for getting intimate with interviewees: he shared a little of his own life in order to gain access to a particular aspect of theirs.

It’s after this that we approach the bigger paradox about Studs’ character: he wasn’t the greatest listener, and wasn’t very comfortable in his own skin. Even though he knew how to evoke emotions in other people’s stories, he didn’t really know about his own feelings.

Notice that this level of nuance doesn’t come until the last section of the piece, after you’ve gotten to know Studs’ more relatable and appreciable aspects. If the piece had introduced Studs as “a man who was uncomfortable in his own skin, who was also good at putting other people at ease,” it would be almost disorienting. You need to ease into that sort of complicated idea.

So don’t always jump straight to the most interesting stuff. Your characters can develop in a way that’s just like getting to know a person in real life. Start with the apparent, the things you notice first, and after that you can work your way toward the more paradoxical, intimate material.

Podcast: Working with Studs
Producted by: Sydney Lewis for in 2010
Duration: 54 minutes

Article written by: Will Rogers on 6/20/2013

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This week on State of the Human, we’re looking at obsessions, the helpful and the debilitating. We’ve got four stories of people battling unwanted thoughts. A philosopher who is disgusted at the sight of food, battles his fears with the help of an obsession. A new father is obsessed with the thought that he’s not feeling enough. An essayist finds that unwanted thoughts manifest in surprising ways. And Stanford athletes remind us that obsession helps you win at sports.

Host/Producer: Charlie Mintz

Featuring: Professor Elias Aboujaoude, Maria Hummel, Jon Kleiman, Nick DiBella, Kristian Ipsen, and Helena Scutt

Release Date: 12 June 2013

Image via flickr



Intro Story: That Fear Led Her to Sell Two Houses

We all have obsessive thoughts, but if you have them for more than an hour a day, and you engage in compulsions to relieve them, you might have OCD. The Director of Stanford’s Obsessive Disorder Clinic helps us understand what the disorder is, and what it tells us about our minds.

Featuring: Professor Elias Aboujaoude; his truth-based account of treating OCD patients is called Compulsive Acts: A Psychiatrist’s Tales of Ritual and Obsession.

Producer: Charlie Mintz

Music: Anitek, Kevin MacLeod

Image via flickr



Story 1: Why Nick Ate a Blueberry

Lots of kids don’t like broccoli. Nick couldn’t stand the sight of it. For almost two decades he ate nothing but cheeseburgers, pizza, pancakes, pasta and cinnamon toast crunch. Then he started worrying his diet was going to kill him.

Featuring: Nick DiBella

Producer: Charlie Mintz

Music: Grapes, Rocavaco, Tigoolio , Anitek, Christos Koulaxizis, KeroDean , EGA

Image via flickr



Story 2: Planet X

Catastrophe is a classic obsession. But obsess over explosions, and you risk missing the silences.

Featuring: Maria Hummel

Producers: Rachel Hamburg and Charlie Mintz

Music: Skill Borrower, Mika

Image via flickr



Story 3: Less Than a Feeling

Ever worry that other people are feeling more than you? Jon did. Then life delivered a moment where it was practically mandatory to feel a lot. And he tried to.

Featuring: Jon Kleiman

Music: Mark Mothersbaugh

Image via flickr



Story 4: Think your way to the top

Pretty much anyone who has ever done anything amazing in the world was at least a little bit obsessed, so in this final story we focus on the kind of obsession required in order to succeed in sports.

Featuring: Helena Scutt and Kristian Ipsen

Producers: Rachel Hamburg and Zainab Taymuree

Image via wikimedia




When is wildness on our side, and when does it have to be eliminated? We’re not be talking about wilderness but wildness. We examine wildness as both a place of terror and a place to find meaning. And, as you’ll hear later, we don’t have to go into nature to find it. We’ll hear a story about what happens when you venture into nature for the first time. We’ll hear from a graduate student who holds some nontraditional ideas about his clothing and is a modern day outlaw because of it. We’ll introduce you to someone who studied Muay Tai in a gritty gym in Oakland. He has to be wild, right? We meet a wilderness rites of passage guide who tells us what happens when we don’t have elders, and finally, we’ll meet Tea. She may or may not raise wolves.

Hosts/Producers: Christy Hartman and Joshua Hoyt

Featured: Andrew Forsthoefel, Dr. Richard White, Andrew Todhunter, Osvaldo Murro, Mason Alford, “Jordan,” Annalise Lockhart, Liam Purvis, Darlene Franklin, Martin Shaw, Melina Lopez, Teresa Yammamoto, Joshua Hoyt

Release Date: 5 June 2013

Music: Ian Brown, Monk Turner and Fascinoma, Gasnoprod

Image via flickr



Teaser Story: What is Wildness?

In this two-and-a-half minute voxpop, we hear how thirty turkey vultures inspire one moment of pure feeling, a wildness that isn’t meant to last.

Featuring: Andrew Forsthoefel

Producer: Marnie Crawford Samuelson

Image via wikimedia



Intro Story: No Place to Hide

Christopher Dorner was a policeman who turned his gun on society itself as he fled into the woods for refuge. This story asks, just how wild was he?

Featuring: Dr. Richard White

Producer: Joshua Hoyt, Sophia Paliza, Christy Hartman

Music: Anji

Image via flickr



Story 1: With Shovel and Saw

But sometimes we do find wildness IN wilderness. Where that wildness comes from can be surprising. Stanford Freshman Mason Alford bring a microphone along to find out what happens when we go into the woods for the first time.

Producer: Christy Hartman

Featuring: Andrew Todhunter, Osvaldo Murro, and Mason Alford

Image courtesy of Caleb Kruse



Story 2: Invisible Lines

Pretty much everyone lives in “the village” nowadays. But who gets to decide what’s normal? We’ll introduce you to a Stanford Graduate student who is VERY frustrated by what “the village” considers normal behavior and abnormal, or wild behavior. It has to do with something very simple.

Featuring: “Jordan,” Annalise Lockhart

Producer: Rachel Hamburg

Music: Podington Bear, Max McClure, First Time Out, DJ Ra So, and Jahzzar

Image via flickr



Story 3: The Cage

Fighting is one of the most quintessential wild behaviors, somewhere up there with survival of the fittest and conquering that which is trying to eat or destroy you. And yet, in some ways it’s no different from Basketball or tennis. It’s just another sport.

Featuring: Liam Purvis, Darlene Franklin

Producers: Darlene Franklin, Charlie Mintz, Christy Hartman

Music: Anitek, Kevin Macleod, Zapac, Broken Gadget ,cdk

Image courtesy of Rachel Hamburg



Story 4: Wild vs. Savage

Dr. Martin Shaw, mythologist and guest lecturer at Stanford, has invested considerable effort in listening to the land. What stories does the land have, and how can we listen? Martin Shaw shares his stories about his work with at-risk youth and why we should pay attention to the lack of elders.

Featuring: Martin Shaw, Melina Lopez

Producers: Melina Lopez, Rachel Hamburg

Music: Sláinte

Image via wikimedia


Story 5: Wolftown

A show on wildness wouldn’t be complete with at least one story about wild animals. In this story, Joshua Hoyt connects with someone from his past. Someone who he thought might be able to shed some real light on wildness. She’s the kind of a mentor, or an elder, like Dr. Martin Shaw talked about in our last story. Her name is Teresa Yammamoto, or Tea. And she’s going to school, I mean, mentor, Joshua Hoyt in the ways of the natural world.

Featuring: Teresa Yammamoto, Joshua Hoyt

Producers: Joshua Hoyt, Christy Hartman, Charlie Mintz

Music: Holly Cole Trio

Image via flickr


Timelapse Niece

I was ten the first time I ever saw an imax movie. At the beginning it did one of those timelapse cityscapes, where the cars become blurs, flying through the city’s streets like blood cells through veins and arteries. It was meant to “wow” the audience and get us settled into our seats for the main feature, but I was so “wowed” that I have no recollection of what the movie we watched was about. I wanted the timelapse to continue. I wanted to watch a whole movie of it… I love timelapse.

Since then I’ve fallen in love with audio, too, and I have sometimes wondered how you could create a similar effect in sonic medium. Now I wonder no more, because producer Tony Schwartz has proven that it can be done, in “Nancy Grows Up.” This piece represents, according to Schwartz “Thirteen years condensed into two minutes and thirteen seconds,” and I think Schwartz is being modest when he says that he’s “using the timelapse technique” in the piece – timelapse is a simple mechanical process that involves shooting film at a slow frame-rate, then playing it back at regular speed so it appears fast. Schwartz’ technique, as you’ll see, is much more creative than this.

Schwartz achieves an effect that’s a lot like timelapse, but the technique he uses to get there involves a higher level of sophistication and manipulation. Schwartz recorded his niece once a year for 13 years, then condensed those annual recordings into a 2 ½ minute piece. He uses editing to create a seamless flow between clips, so that it sounds like she’s abruptly growing an entire year in the space between two phrases.

If you know about timelapse photography, you’ll know that it involves shooting individual frames at regular intervals (say, once every minute, hour, or day) and displaying them at motion-picture speed (usually 24 or 30 frames per second). That way it makes it look like things are moving much more quickly than they did in real-time.

Schwartz also recorded at regular intervals, with a full year between recordings, then stuck the recordings together without a space between them. With motion pictures, the image stays on the screen for just a tiny fraction of the second, in order to create the illusion of motion. You can’t do that with audio, unless you want the words to become indecipherable. So Schwartz used sentences and phrases as his “frames,” then cut those frames together in a way that breezed past a year’s worth of developments at a time.

Sometimes it takes years for a story to unfold. Or more. Take on a long-long-long-term side-project, because the world needs storytellers who can slow themselves down enough to let certain kinds of stories take their time. These stories paint a sped-up picture of reality; and the audiences of these stories will experience a new, fresh perspective of time itself.

Podcast: Nancy Grows Up
Produced by: Tony Schwartz in 1970
Duration: 3 min 30 sec (including Schwartz’s charming 1-minute introduction)

I first heard this story via The Kitchen Sisters, then later on Radiolab.

Article written by: Will Rogers on 06/04/2013


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