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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