Posts by Edward Champion

Edward Champion is the Managing Editor of Reluctant Habits.

5. Compassion Fatigue (The Gray Area)

Emma is a top-notch psychiatrist who can change the lives of the most difficult patients imaginable. But there’s a great personal cost to her formidable talents that she’s not telling anyone about, an internal torment eating away at her inner life that she’s hiding from her patients and her professional peers and that a quiet survivor of an abusive relationship may just have the answer for. (Running time: 25 minutes)

(This story contains intense and emotionally disturbing scenes that may unsettle some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.)

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Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Emma: Colette Thomas
Jenna: Devony DiMattia
Jack: Jack Womack
Gordon: Michael Saldate
Receptionist: Zachary Michael
Subway Preacher: Albert Hastler

Music by Thomas Ragsdale
Houston Person, “As Time Goes By” (courtesy of Free Music Archive, CC)
Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion and nofeedbak (CC).
Subway Sounds Recorded on Location in Brooklyn, New York

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Christopher Byrd, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Argyria Kehagias, Pete Lutz, Lauren Nelson, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Marc Anthony Stein, That Podcast Girl, Tim Torre, Georgette Thompson, Jack Ward, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode. I would also like to thank the psychiatrists and compassion fatigue experts who I spoke with on conditions of anonymity for their considerable assistance with this story.

Thanks for listening!

4.5. The Waiting Room (The Gray Area)

Virginia Gaskell finds herself on the other side of the portal that lured her in, greeted by an extremely exuberant (and strangely familiar) receptionist, some squawking avians that aren’t quite okay with her love of chicken fajitas, and further mysteries about how the universes rupture into each other. (Running time: 7 minutes)

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Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Virginia Gaskell: Chris Smith
Receptionist: Zachary Michael
Demon: Pete Lutz
Ed Champion: Edward Champion
Bird People: Fiona Thraille, Benjamin Macon Fort
Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Jen Elyse Feldman, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, John Osborne, Tom Parsons, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony Stein, Georgette Thompson, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Thanks for listening!

4. Loopholes (The Gray Area)

As a thriving empire faces war with ferocious barbarians, a mischievous scholar named Minerva hopes to bring law and civilization to a great realm populated by talking birds, giant rats, gregarious knights, elemental gods, and menacing malasanders. An unanticipated dispute among the knights gives Minerva an opportunity to uphold the doctrine of moral principles, but Minerva finds herself testing her loyalty to her aide-de-camp while helping others to learn what honor, empathy, and identity really mean. (Running time: 32 minutes)

Play

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Minerva: Rori Nogee
Eris: Gerrard Lobo
Henrietta: Monica Ammerman
Fire: Samantha Cooper
Watson: Christopher Akpobiyeri
Boleyn: Rachel Baird
The Magister: Sarah Golding
Talking Birds: Alan Barrows
Knights: Michael Charles Foote, Jim Kampfil, Matt Leong, Pete Lutz, Tanja Milojevic, John Xavier Miller III, Julia Morizawa, Hans Detlef Sierck, Fiona Thraille, Richard H. Thorndyke, Jack Ward, Tao Yang.

Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion, jobro (CC), _def (CC), Taira Komori (CC), avakas (CC), Martin-Eero Kõressaar (CC), the_toilet_guy (CC), the_toilet_guy (CC), Shanay Groen (CC), jason130178 (CC), baryy (CC), huggy13ear (CC), HDM2013 (CC).

Music: “The Long March Home” by Tim Juliano (licensed through NeoSounds)

Art: Rushen (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Jen Elyse Feldman, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Argyria Kehagias, John Osborne, Tom Parsons, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony Stein, Marjorie Stein, That Podcast Girl, Georgette Thompson, Neil Varma, Jo Anna Van Thuyne, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode. We are especially indebted to Robert Cudmore, Matthew McLean, and Steve Schneider, whose collective insight, inspiration, unfathomable generosity, and encouragement were vital during the development of this highly ambitious story.

Please be sure to also listen to A Scottish Podcast, which is run by many of the fine people who made this program possible, Lost in Williamsburg, whose work with overlapping dialogue has served as partial editing inspiration, and Tom Parson’s forthcoming Organism.

We also recently launched Inside the Gray Area, a behind-the-scenes podcast available for Patreon subscribers who contribute at the $5/month level. Become a Patreon member and enjoy access to this, along with our annotated scripts, which contain many key references that will help unravel the bigger story.

Thanks for listening!

Donald Trump is a Filthy Animal Who Must Be Impeached

It is now impossible to ignore the facts. We live with a corrupt and incompetent and highly dangerous monster who is causing great and unfathomable harm to this country, a dark Lovecraftian creature who has not made this country “great again,” but who has, in fact, made us the laughing stock of the world. This is a rapacious tyrant who openly ridicules the weak and the infirm, sustaining a callous and anti-intellectual streak that not even Richard Hofstadter could have foreseen originating within the Executive Branch. Only 39% of Americans approve of keeping this traitorous train wreck of a leader in office, and one ponders exactly what sterling qualities this minority sees within such a walking piece of offal. Is there some virtue in believing in a bedraggled oaf who cannot sustain a single thought for longer than twenty seconds? Or who cannot read any vital memo longer than a page? Or who openly invites white supremacists and hatemongers into his Cabinet?

But for most Americans, Donald Trump remains the rightly despised cancer, a disgusting fecal morsel that you can never seem to flush down the toilet, a tenth-rate Napoleon who openly resists any reasonable probing into his wanton business dealings and his possible collusion with Russia. He is an illiterate and indolent tax dodger incapable of exercising his mind or his body, yet he amazingly wants you to osculate his liver-spotted and hateful backside. He is surely one of the most oversensitive and graceless world leaders in human history. And now with his repulsively misogynist tweets to Mika Brzezinski, it is safe to say that Donald Trump is an unhinged megalomaniac incapable of practicing the basic duties of dignity that the office requires and who must now be taken out by impeachment. If our two houses lack the courage or the effrontery to do this, then we must lead a campaign to replace any Senator or Representative standing in the way of preserving American’s future in next year’s midterm elections.

This disheveled animal has proven himself unfit to be called President of the United States, much less President of the Alfalfa Club or the self-appointed bipolar king of a psychiatric ward, with his lack of discretion with state secrets, his disastrous meetings with other world leaders, and his openly racist travel ban on innocent Americans. This repulsive beast is not a man, but a mentally unbalanced rapist whose true hues blind the public whenever he is even vaguely challenged. He is a savage and abhorrent mongrel who has caused reading the headlines to become an act of embracing shellshock and chronic fatigue. He is a bully whose pathetic cries for attention, which range from the fake Time Magazine covers that have adorned his clubs and his chronic insistence for sycophantic obeisance, must now be pissed on, ridiculed, openly mocked, and resisted with every principled fiber that this country still has left. The inevitable demise of this feral manboy, who sustains a remarkable vulgarity at seventy-one years that outshines even someone suffering with Tourette’s syndrome, will surely be cause to pop open the champagne. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to attend Trump’s ineluctable funeral just to kick Trump’s mangy and bloated corpse further into the dirt to ensure that the evil bastard is indeed dead and that he will not harm the country for another second.

So what do we do to stop him? It begins with the amoral Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO who is surely one of the most spineless profiteers in recent American history and the man who created this mess by failing to curtail this despicable demagogue’s rise through trolling and harassment during last year’s election, displaying some stones for once in his sad, passive, hell-ravaging life. Dorsey must perform his patriotic duty by suspending Our Fearless Leader’s account for regularly violating Twitter’s policy against harassment and abuse. Dorsey banned the hateful Milo Yiannopoulos and has suspended many alt-right accounts. Since presidential precedent has been so thoroughly eroded, this is a reasonable measure.

It continues with Republicans uniting with Democrats to reject this faux statesman’s stature, as Senators Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse did this morning, by demanding the largest binpartisan investigation imaginable, one that rivals Watergate and Iran-Contra in scope, given the many unanswered questions and Trump’s increasingly secretive affairs. If Republicans can vehemently demonstrate with their actions that they understand Trump is an aberration and potentially a bigger fraud than Rutherford Hayes was in the disputed 1876 election or even the hanging chads when Bush represented the comparatively saner interloper, then we might see some small restoration of representative democracy. All one needs to do is to regularly call their offices and remind these legislators that they will inevitably have to run for re-election, and to not stop doing this. This must be accompanied by active and regular protest.

But most importantly, America must stop calling Donald Trump its President of the United States until he has earned the right to that title. Thus far, Trump’s greatest achievement has involved uniting an increasing majority of Americans against him. He has accomplished nothing especially remarkable in policy or achievement, save the hard-won confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court Justice, our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord, and a series of internal firings that has rivaled Nixon in speed and scope. He has intimidated FBI directors, besmirched London’s first Muslim mayor, shared classified information where he should not have, demonstrated an inability to perform basic arithmetic in his proposed budget, and used Twitter to destroy our alliances. This is a man who neither comprehends nor cares for the way politics operates. Trump has had six months to establish a doctrine, but it essentially involves throwing a random dart into the Seven Circles of Hell and seeing what lands.

When a pestilent rodent invades your property, you don’t let it scuttle around for eternity. The time has come to call the exterminator on Donald Trump. This man is incompetent. He must not be respected. He must be resisted. He must be acknowledged as poisonous vermin eating the walls of this democratic republic. He must be impeached by any means necessary.

This Boy’s Life (Modern Library Nonfiction #86)

(This is the fifteenth entry in The Modern Library Nonfiction Challenge, an ambitious project to read and write about the Modern Library Nonfiction books from #100 to #1. There is also The Modern Library Reading Challenge, a fiction-based counterpart to this list. Previous entry: A Mathematician’s Apology.)

It is worth recalling that the Boy Scout, that putative paragon of American boyhood virtue, originated in 1909 with a man lost in the foggy haze of a mazy London byway. W.D. Boyce was a recently divorced newspaperman cast adrift in the English mist, until he was guided by a uniformed lad known only as the Unknown Scout. This young whippersnapper, who was no soldier and had no tomb (unless you count a mangy Silver Buffalo memorial that presently stands in Gilwell Park), steered Boyce to his destination and refused Boyce’s tip after that gent hoped to consummate his gratitude. The boy did so not because he was a well-paid German stevedore or a terrified Uber driver hoping to hold onto his job, but because he was merely doing his duty and this was enough recompense, thank you very much. From here, Boyce asked the boy about his coterie, was allegedly led to Boy Scouts HQ like a starry-eyed drifter seeking a new easy access religion, and encountered Chief Scout Robert Baden-Powell, an irrepressible do-gooder who intoxicated Boyce with tales of uniforms and valor and decency and truth and justice and many other nouns etched with ostentatious pedigree and scant subtlety that were later memorialized in a handbook published in six fortnightly parts called Scouting for Boys. Four months later, Boyce returned to the States to found the Boy Scouts of America. He had found his calling. Shortly after this, presumably emboldened by the new youthful virtues flooding through his veins, Boyce would marry a well-connected woman twenty-three years younger. But Boyce’s brio was not enough to preserve this second marriage, which dissolved within two years. The Boy Scouts, on the other hand, have continued to endure, albeit with plentiful dissimulation saddled to the “Be prepared” credo.

This legend, which isn’t nearly as imaginative or as thrilling as Robert Johnson signing away his soul to the devil in exchange for spangling guitar chops, has nevertheless become as accepted and as apocryphal as the birth of the blues or any story of rugged outliers founding tech startups in their garages or, for that matter, the cloying cherry tree myth associated with George Washington, a shrewd political operator who claimed that he could not tell a lie despite deceiving many over a lifetime about his professed lack of political expertise. Boy Scout booster (and sex therapist!) Edward Rowan has pointed out that Boyce outed himself in a February 27, 1928 letter, claiming that he was not floating in the Dickensian murk, but merely standing before the Savoy Hotel while contemplating the question of whether he should cross a street. Moreover, others have suggested that there was no fog during that evening. As one excavates further into W.D. Boyce’s history, one learns that this sanctimonious founder was a racist, even denying African-Americans entry into the hallowed organization. (Boyce also published a journal called The White Boy’s Magazine.) By the late 1980s, the Boy Scouts were forced to establish protective measures in response to countless sex abuse cases later documented by reporter Patrick Boyle in 1991. The Boy Scouts of America, a seemingly sacred institution, had been little more than a seductive shawl disguising the ugly American id. It is thus the perfect metaphor for Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, a moving memoir about a boy wrestling with the lies, the duplicities, and the hypocrisies of growing up in America. It is an especially cogent volume in an epoch of fake news, covfefe, and thundering Republican men casually asphyxiating the weak and the vulnerable in the name of old school virtue.

For young Tobias (aka Jack, a sobriquet inspired by an altogether different London), the deceptive pose was a way of being and coping through a rough-and-tumble existence. This Boy’s Life opens with Toby and his mother retreating from an abusive man in Florida by way of a dodgy Nash Rambler with an overboiling engine. Their hope was to find fortune through a desperate uranium hunt by way of a poor man’s Geiger counter. Like many Americans before, the westward journey here is one of escape and, as one pores through the memoir’s crisply paced pages, increasingly about assuming roles that bear no resemblance to reality. The cooing pop songs crooning from the radio provide voices for Toby to emulate, perhaps serving as a staging area for transformation. Yet Catholicism, itself a practice just as fraught with frangible self-abengation as the Boy Scouts, also represents the new terrain from which to launch an identity. Toby’s father, telephoning from Connecticut, claims that the family line has always been Protestant or Episcopalian, but Wolff informs us that he learned of his true Jewish heritage ten years after this revelation. Names, identities, veneers, and backgrounds are the melting pot from which to sprout a respectable soul, yet Toby scoffs at the purported innocence of this problematic chrysalis. “Power,” writes Wolff, placing his budding irritation within the context of his later experience in Vietnam, “can only be enjoyed when it is recognized and feared. Fearlessness in those without power is maddening to those who have it.”

Woolf’s Vietnam memoir, In Pharaoh’s Army, would chronicle similar tensions between patriotic duty and survival, and one must observe that the two memoirs are united by Wolff possessing a gun, that priapic symbol of American manhood that has caused so much recent and needless terror. This Boy’s Life sees these uncertain seeds planted in loam long before basic training. I once had the good fortune to interview Wolff in 2008 and he revealed that he was dead set against narcissism’s pathology overtaking any story. Which leads me to believe that Wolff understands, as William Gass has observed in a notable essay on narcissism and writing, that autobiographers turn themselves into monsters, often hiding deceit behind their confessions. To reckon poignantly with a life, a memoirist must never cover up his shame or settle scores with self-serving vigor, for he invites a dishonesty in which the professed act of soul-bearing smudges the more important ink needed for corrupted but authentic memory.

What is most striking about This Boy’s Life is that Wolff never sugarcoats his life. Nor does he beckon the reader to feel sympathy for him, even as he succumbs to abuse from Dwight, the abominable man whom his mother Rosemary eventually tries to forge a family with. It is the shakiest of new beginnings following an uncertain stint at a West Seattle boardinghouse. There are men who hit on Rosemary, ascribing athleticism to Toby and pledging bicycle gifts that never materialize, and we see only Rosemary’s tears from unseen boorishness. Toby steals and breaks windows with his pals. He puts forth lies. And as Dwight enters Toby’s life, Wolff observes that this minuscule mechanic tries too hard: “No eye is quicker to detect that kind of effort than the eye of a competitor who also happens to be a child.” But Dwight does have a family, including a daughter named Pearl with a prominent bald spot. And just as Rosemary sees possibility in volunteering for idealistic Democratic candidates, she sees an opportunity in Dwight. Much as W.D. Boyce being bowled over by a Boy Scout, effort is enough to plant an acorn for a dubious family tree. Meanwhile, Toby lets loose several “Fuck yous,” memorializing the message into a wall, and gets in trouble with the vice principal. When the vice principal meets with Rosemary, Toby is convinced of his innocence, not unlike Dwight, and the vice principal reveals his own systematic and sanctimonious story of how he quit smoking to buy a Nash Rambler, the very same rickety vehicle that brought Toby and Rosemary to the west.

It is here that the kernel for Dwight’s autocratic adoption of Toby begins to pop with a frenzy of fragile male ego: the belief that laborious effort, even on the most inconsequential acts, somehow makes one a respectable hard-working American. Toby is asked to pick up roadkill. He is asked to wait in a car as Dwight gets plastered in a bar. He is watched as Dwight fuels himself on tugs of Old Crow and Camels. He delivers newspapers and his earnings are pilfered by Dwight. He paints an old Baldwin piano to cover up its chintz. And he is commanded to pluck hard husks of horse chestnuts — a tyrannical tilling with some unspecified life lesson attached in which the product of all this hard labor is never actually used. When Toby gets into a fight with a kid named Arthur Gayle, Dwight coaches him on pugilism, claiming that any defeat is his fault. And throughout all this, there are the weekly Boy Scout meetings. Toby’s plan is to run away from Dwight’s home in Concrete, a Washington hamlet built on shaky slopes that Wolff describes as a graying and dusty landscape with cracking cement banks. It is, like many parts of America even today, a fraying tableau where too much effort gets in the way of existence, disguising the fissures of easily broken lives. One can almost imagine Dwight using the hashtag #MAGA on Twitter had he materialized decades later.

Whether this subjective truth-telling represents a kind of fearlessness or power in its own right is subject to the degree to which you are willing to embrace Wolff’s life story. But it does represent a refreshing alternative to the Horatio Alger grandstanding that too many personal essays wallow in today. (See, for example, most of the material published on Thought Catalog.) David Plotz once chided Dave Pelzer for turning child abuse into entertainment. This Boy’s Life avoids such petty voyeurism, in large part because it nestles Toby’s life and Dwight’s stark assaults by Dwight within the larger American dilemma of how to contend with fakery. And in an epoch where narcissistic dishonesty and “alternative facts” and social media outrage are increasingly the norm, there is a beautiful grace in putting your life out there and not giving a damn how others judge it.

Next Up: Beryl Markham’s West with the Night!