In 2016 I got an email from Daniel Jones, editor of the Modern Love column in the New York Times in which he explained the podcast that was launching, based on the column.
I love podcasts and was excited to listen but there have been over 600 Modern Love essays published and there was no way mine would make the list. I’m a small blogger with a few lucky clips in well-known places, no formal writing education, no connections, no writing community. I live in Djibouti where I’m the only blogger I know.
A year later, I got another email.
The actress Mireille Enos, of The Catch and Big Love, had chosen to read my story, A Child of Two Worlds.
I jumped out of my chair and let out a ‘whoop!’
My daughter Lucy was in the room. She looked up, “What happened?”
“You are going to be on the Modern Love podcast!” I said.
She high-fived me and then said, “What’s that?”
I explained and told her the story, again, which is of her birth. Born on 9/11/05, to a Christian family in a Muslim country, with a Somali midwife, on a day of infamy.
Lucy high-fived me again and returned to the book she was reading.
I decided to binge listen to the podcasts. And it struck me.
This wasn’t going to be just Mireille Enos and Daniel Jones. I was going to have to talk.
Talk. Recorded, to be played for lots of people, without a backspace button. There’s a reason writers write. So we don’t have to talk.There’s a reason writers write. So we don’t have to talk. Click To Tweet
I prepared. What did I want to say? What were they going to ask? What take-away could I give? How was I going to keep my voice from quavering? From sounding like the novice and imposter I know myself to be?
I exchanged a few emails with the radio producers and one phone call.
And then came the day of the phone call.
I was terribly nervous. It turned out I had given them the wrong phone number. My house number changed without me being aware of it. Once I resolved that issue, the the connection was bad. Ah, Djibouti. I am happy in my life here, most of the time, but this would be so much easier if I lived in the same time zone as editors and producers, if they didn’t have to dial internationally, if connections would be guaranteed. I just hoped the electricity wouldn’t cut out, a frequent occurrence.
The connection was so bad I could barely hear the questions. I had to press the landline phone into my ear with all my strength and concentrate and voice back what I thought she had said. This equipment malfunction did little to help my nerves.
My other hand held my iPhone, as instructed, and it was recording my voice, to make sure my own words were as clear as possible.
I’m a hand talker. I use my hands through typing or I wave them around while I talk with my mouth. Partly that has just always been me, partly that comes from speaking Somali for fourteen years, a language with vigorous and dynamic hand gesturing, partly it comes from fourteen years of cross-cultural communication in which “Where is the toilet?” is often best communicated through gestures.
But now, here I was, recording for the Modern Love podcast, squeezing my face between two phones, unable to move my hands a single centimeter. I started to sweat. My heart raced. My voice felt breathy. I took massive gulps of air. I couldn’t think.
I’ve done a few interviews, but not many. It feels strange to prattle on and on, to imagine that someone might be interested in what I’m saying and to receive zero feedback. I’m used to those verbal cues that mean someone is engaged, that I’m not boring everyone, that I’m making sense. But of course while recording for this kind of production, there is absolutely no feedback.
I felt far too longwinded and thought the conversation had lasted at least thirty minutes. When I checked the recording, it came in at just over ten minutes, including our greetings and leave-takings.
And that was it.
Except for that I cried and nearly vomited afterwards. I did not believe it had gone well at all. I was no longer nervous, but terribly disappointed instead.
I sent in the recording, a few weeks later it was live.
I couldn’t listen. I tried a couple of times and turned it off. It was surreal to hear my story in someone else’s voice, to be in essence, played by Mireille Enos.
I asked two friends and my mom to listen first. I tweeted that I couldn’t listen. The producer tweeted back that I needed to, that it was beautiful. The next day I still hadn’t made it all the way through.
It was the weekend, Friday, and I made Lucy pancakes for breakfast. She knows I like to listen to podcasts while I cook.
“Can we listen to our podcast now?” she asked.
I couldn’t refuse. So Lucy and I sat and listened, together. She is eleven years old now and has priceless, dramatic, facial expressions. I watched while her eyes grew bigger, while she laughed, while she smiled with pride, while she absorbed the crux of the story and my adoration of her from that first moment when we met.
And it wasn’t terrible. It was good, even. Mireille had, of course, done an impeccable job with the emotions, the fear, the awe. My part wasn’t too bad either. They had edited out my needless ramblings and focused on the few cohesive things I’d said. Probably no one but me or my husband could hear the terror in my voice.
Oh yeah, I realized. They don’t want to sound foolish either. Editors and producers have their own interests and mine wrapped up together. I needed to relax and trust that they knew what they were doing, that even (dare I say it) I knew what I was doing.
My life hasn’t changed. I didn’t think it would. But I also realized I’m not an imposter. No, I don’t have an MFA. I am not in the center of the literary world. I don’t have famous connections. But I am living my life, I’m not faking that. This means I’ve earned my stories and if I want to tell them, I can. With courage and conviction, with or without a backspace key. To whomever wants to read, or hear, them.I’ve earned my stories and if I want to tell them, I can -- @RachelPiehJones Click To Tweet
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