The most inspiring two days I experienced all last year were spent at the Gel conference in New York City in April. The very last speaker was a mesmerizing Ira Glass, host of This American Life. At the time, I was not even a listener of the radio show, let alone a fan, but now I’m both. And I’m an even bigger fan today than I was just a week ago.
I listen to the podcast each week, generally when I’m taking a walk, because that’s pretty much the only time when my hands and mind are both free for anything close to an hour. At the beginning of my lunch hour this past Thursday, I cued up an episode I’d missed from October and set forth.
The episode was “Act V” —
We devote this entire episode to one story: over the course of six months, reporter and TAL contributor Jack Hitt followed a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last actâ€”Act Vâ€”of Hamlet.
— and it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I’d been disappointed in the chapter draft I’d just finished because, amid the density of facts I presented, I had teased out very little emotional content. I’d gotten the chronology right, but there was no feeling. And I wondered whether I’d be able to do better in my next draft.
“Act V” was a revelation, and you really should hear it yourself. If you do, you’ll hear a reporter and his subjects alike plumbing the complexity and emotional depth of their material and of themselves, making that material known and knowable, and showing an astonishing capacity for growth.
At the end of that episode I knew that, put simply, if they could do it, I can do it. And if you yourself are struggling to get to the heart of some creative work, rest assured that you can do it, too.