1.5. Dissociation (The Gray Area)

Greg Sutton, a fidgety young man who is a little too fixated on selling himself, sees his psychiatrist for the first time in months, hoping to find answers about his lost childhood and how to get back the woman he loves. But his own quick fix solution to his problems is not quite what the psychiatrist had in mind. (Running time: 5 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion


Greg: Charlie Harrington
Emma: Colette Thomas

Edited by Edward Champion
Foley: Edward Champion
Art: id-iom (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Claudia Berenice Garza, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Pete Lutz, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Paul Sating, Marc Stein, 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.

1. Hello (The Gray Area)

A man wakes up in his apartment with a hazy memory of the night before. He’s greeted in bed by a mysterious woman who keeps saying, “Hello.” But she seems to know far more about his life than he ever could have told her in one night. And as the rats gnaw mercilessly from within the walls, she has a few bold and shocking answers as to why he’s so afraid. (Running time: 22 minutes)


Written and directed by Edward Champion

He: Tim Torre
She: Emily Carding
Gordon: Michael Saldate

Edited by Edward Champion
The Gray Area Theme by Alex Khaskin (licensed through NeoSounds)
Foley Sources: Edward Champion and erpe (CC license, slight changes).
Cover Image: Jason Lander (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Chris Fletcher, Claudia Berenice Garza, Sarah Golding, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Pete Lutz, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Paul Sating, Marc 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 emotionally revealing episode.

0. Prologue (The Gray Area)

Virginia Gaskell, an underappreciated 66-year-old cult writer forced into a rest home, contends with mysterious voices summoned from her typewriter and an obscure literary interviewer named Ed Champion. (9 minutes)


Written and directed by Edward Champion

Virginia Gaskell: Chris Smith
Ed Champion: Edward Champion
Orderly: Zachary Michael
Demon #1: Greta Christie
Demon #2: Pete Lutz

Edited by Edward Champion
Foley Sources: Edward Champion, Superex1110 (CC license, slight changes), and nothayama (CC license, slight changes).

Special thanks to Jonathan Ames, Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Erin Bennett, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Emily Carding, Robert Cudmore, Devony DiMattia, Chris Fletcher, Claudia Berenice Garza, Sarah Golding, Daniel Handler, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Fred Kiesche, Matthew MacLean, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Paul Sating, Gary Shteyngart, Darin Strauss, Marc Stein, Scarlett Thomas, Georgette Thompson, Tim Torre, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Why S-Town is Worth Your Seven Hours

I have now listened to all seven hours of S-Town Podcast and here are my thoughts:

1. If you are a podcaster, a radio maker, or an audio drama producer, you really need to listen to this. This is a gripping and endlessly fascinating portrait that is a game-changer for radio journalism in its depth and nimble wrangling of disparate story threads. The series not only atones for Serial‘s shaky second season, but somehow manages to top that justifiably famous podcast’s gripping first season, which is no small accomplishment.

2. It has one of the best first plot points I have ever heard on radio, which occurs at the end of Episode 2. I don’t want to spoil the twist, but let’s just say that the surprise not only causes us to become even more invested in the story, but consummates an exquisite tonal shift. We are led to believe that we are listening to journalism, but it turns out that this massive series is more akin to a Ron Chernow biography, with supreme attention to the specific psychological details that cause one person — in this case, the brilliant and remarkable geometric maverick John B. McLemore — to live a specific life.

3. The series is smart enough to both present a panoramic portrait of its main character and to leave certain questions oblique and unanswered. In doing so, the contradictions inherent in McLemore transmute into something even more poignant, more representative of a chasm in current American relations between urbanites and small town residents, between North and South, and between the dark and the light. It’s there in the way Brian Reed, our seemingly knowing guide, confesses what he doesn’t know and mispronounces “palaver.” It’s there in his fear and his uncertainty.

4. Uncle Jimmy and the tattoo parlor early in the series: Jesus, this is stunning “you are there” reporting. Usually such atmospheric details are buried because a radio show of this type becomes more about the journalist puffing up his own ego and wanting to land streetcred (or a self-congratulatory appearance on the Longform Podcast). Brian Reed, however, somehow manages to be both thorough in his investigation, yet not always knowledgeable or certain about what he’s getting into. I’m sure that much of this tone has to do with the expert editing contributions of Ira Glass and Sarah Koenig, but I hope this tactic becomes more prominently practiced! Podcasters, you have the technology! Go out into the field! Take risks! Dare to be vulnerable! Don’t get comfortable with your armchair Skype recordings. Stop hiding behind your “I’m a badass journalist” narration and be humble! Confess what you do not know! Be active!

5. If I have any criticisms, it is probably with Episode 5. The series loses its way a bit with Rita, straying from its concise focus on McLemore by conveying information that could have been communicated in half the time. Plus, we never quite get the full story of Tyler, the adopted young man who McLemore took under his wing. But this minor flaw is more than atoned for by the surprising personal revelations in Episode 6, in which “grief manual” takes on an unanticipated meaning.

6. In many ways, this series is a celebration of autodidacts. But it’s also one of those portraits that actually has you wanting to feel more compassionate and more present with misfits, outsiders, and those seemingly brilliant people that all of us seem to think we know, but we really don’t.

7. I love the clockmaker subculture and all the horologists in far-off corners of the world. Biographies often become too steeped in one subject, but McLemore’s influence upon others is a vital part of his story. Reed and company get huge props from me for expertly balancing the presentation of a man’s life with the “fingers pointing back” from his peers.

8. The series’s final half hour is harrowing and emotional stuff. It hits you like a locomotive. And you’ll know it when it happens. It is such a perfectly crafted moment. You feel this incredible emotional wave slam into you where you realize, “Oh my god! Oh no! That’s his real life! That’s his pain.” S-Town goes there in ways that I didn’t think possible from the This American Life crew. So kudos to them for amping it up. It’s inspiring to see all these radio veterans show us that they still have a few new tricks up their sleeve.

If you have seven hours, get on S-Town soon. You’re going to want to listen to this before the clickbait media merchants bombard us with their insipid and needless contrarian “S-Town is overrated” hot takes. Do not listen to them! This is great, highly compelling radio. And it has very much inspired me to do better work as an audio drama producer.

Stop Reading My Tweets as the Story of My Life!

The panic starts in Le Havre. I’m sitting by the seaside drinking complimentary mimosas and I suddenly realize that I don’t speak French. I’ve been flown out here by some crazed Scandinavians, who successfully raised $600,000 through a Kickstarter campaign after they learned about my Twitter account and became very big fans. I wish I could be more grateful for this, but there is something about being flown out to another country on someone else’s dime that turns me into a raging egotist. I suddenly want to berate valets whenever I feel that I’m not being pampered to my exacting standards. My Belgian publicist, shortly after reminding me that 70,000 people died every month during the Battle of Verdun, tells me that she’s just read the entirety of my tweets — all 40,300 of them — while preparing a turkey dinner for her dying nephew. She leans close to me, not long after misting up a bit about her nephew, and says, quietly, “You should prepare yourself for invasive publicity.” And that’s when I ask if she’s ensured that all of my meals in Le Havre are gluten-free.

There are other tweeters who love this sort of thing, who somehow believe that they are towering pundits by way of affixing numbers before their reductionist sentiments and demonstrating that they are more impulsive than sage. Some have even called themselves “journalists” or “writers,” despite copious factual mistakes and grammatical errors in their 140 character dispatches. And as my Belgian publicist turns in her resignation notice and throws one of my half-imbibed mimosas into my face, I can’t help but ruminate upon my own trivial problems, which seem much bigger than a dying family member. I’ve always found the presumption of autobiography when applied to my tweets a little lazy and like so totes really really unfair, dude! Or, as Donald Trump would tweet, VERY UNFAIR!

I went through it during my @drmabuse Blue Period. On May 3, 2016, I changed my Twitter page background to blue and kept it that way for about four months. In interviews, at festivals, at live readings of my tweets, journalists and readers alike would ask me — white, Californian — if anyone in my family was blue. There was the uncomfortable moment in which I was chased into an alley by various members of the Blue Man Group, who all called me “brother” and “family.” I broke down in tears and reluctantly affixed the hues of the Detroit Lions to my crumbling emo face. Not even my questionable percussion skills could dissuade the Blue Man Group of their position. As far as they were concerned, I was blue.

My new tweets are about a single, childless man living on Mars (I have since moved to Brooklyn after realizing that oxygen was hard to come by on the red planet). But I’ve no interest in acting as a spokesman for single life, Martian exploration, or Blue Pride, or for anything, really. I tweet because it is a place to hide or, more frequently, because I am bored or procrastinating.

Yes, I read other people’s tweets and speculate about them. Yes, I realize that I am the biggest gossip of this community, disseminating all manner of lies and unsubstantiated rumors about people when I’m not complaining about other tweeters I run into at parties. I have been told that I should place my fury into more meaningful subjects such as ICE’s callous war on immigrants, the fight for fifteen, or unarmed African-Americans being harassed and shot by the police. But what do you want from me? The New York Times Book Review, which is too gutless to publish polemical pieces about substantive subjects, needed a whiny essay that I could bang out in about an hour. Plus, I have tweets to promote. It’s important for me to honor the Scandinavians who went to all this trouble. I am neither Muslim nor African-American. And I was told by the editor that the world needs more essays about light-skinned people’s problems. So here I am!

Why don’t people just read the tweets, though? What is behind the fascination with the real-life connection between twitters and their work? It’s almost as if people are fond of using their imagination, feeling entitled to speculate in order to make sense of other voices. Well, I am the tweeter! Not you! It’s my way or the highway! And I am very irritated that you choose to be perfectly normal and daydream about people who amuse you with their half-baked sentiments on Twitter. Well, if you can (and we both know you can’t!), maybe you can hang out with me and realize that I don’t really have the inside track on Han Solo’s real name and that my views are a lot more nuanced and that, despite my ardent Duolingo efforts, I still can’t speak French very well. In a hundred years, nobody will care about this essay. So if you can, forget about me. Just be there with the tweets and realize, after they amuse you, that they are just as forgettable as 90% of published fiction.

And don’t forget to send thoughts and prayers to my Belgian publicist.