Baylor’s community is one teeming with stories. Every person on campus possesses an entirely unique world of experiences, interests, opinion, culture, and knowledge. Each of our students and faculty has a brain to use and a heart to share—we are a whole universe of explorable intellectual and spiritual depth.
Next year, Mike Kelly will be teaching an English elective called “Intro to Digital Narratives,” which will introduce new opportunities with audio storytelling. In anticipation of this, Kelly proposed the idea the working together in order to gain a sense of familiarity with the recording equipment and format for making a podcast. The thought floated around for a couple of weeks until Dr. Robin Fazio reached out with a story idea. And soon, the first episode was set to connect listeners to Baylor’s organic garden, run by Fazio, as an attempt to shed some light on the details and purpose of the garden.
We weren’t entirely concrete on what the story was going to be when we went down to the garden with a field recorder, microphone, and a pair of bulky headphones. I had written a couple of basic questions down on a sticky note beforehand, but that was about it. When was the organic garden established? Why? What do the students get out of it? What happens to the plants once they’ve grown? Why are there chickens wandering around? The bulk of the story eventually fell upon the words of the gardeners. And appropriately so, since they were the ones working and Kelly and I were the ones following them around. Most gardeners were digging holes roughly three or four inches deep and filling them with worm casting so they could put new plants in the row. They had to measure out the length of the row and the distance between the holes and make sure the soil wasn’t compact.
It was a little weird to disrupt people working so hard to ask them to explain to me what they were doing like I was five years old. Coming up to someone you already know and pressing a microphone into their mouth as you look them in the eyes and ask them their name requires a certain coolness that I most certainly do not have. A lot of the original audio is dotted here and there with panicked giggles. You have to get pretty close to the interviewee for your levels to be right, and I was constantly wiggling the microphone around out of fear of accidentally bopping somebody in the face with it.
The awkwardness did fade away, though, as Kelly guided me through how to get past the formality of an interview. The premeditated questions only provide surface information, and as people keep answering, you stop interviewing and start listening. What everyone was doing and explaining was incredibly interesting, and so the flow of knowing what to ask and when to follow up with something came relatively quickly. Over time, the dialogue between us and the gardeners became less informational and more educational. They went from telling us their names and how long they’d been working in the garden to confiding in us how much they’ve learned over the years. The garden went from being a place where plants grow to a place where people grow. Gardeners attributed their newfound leadership, intuition, and time management abilities to Fazio’s guidance as they picked up on how the garden functions on a day-to-day basis.
And we ended up with a story about a place in Baylor’s community where students are bound to learn things not commonly found in the classroom and experience personal growth. The greatest thing is, anyone can tell a story like this. You don’t have to have any previous radio experience, you don’t have to know anything about editing, you don’t even have to have a “good voice.” Personally, the sound of my voice signing off for the Baylor Notes is one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever heard. I had no idea what was going on, and I was so afraid of messing it up. But the story eventually takes over, and you go from paying attention to levels and making sure you’re recording to just having a conversation with the person in front of you. The important stuff, like writing a script and choosing the best bits of audio, comes later.
It’s worth learning to share the stories around you that you think need to be told louder. Intro to Digital Narratives is going to facilitate the crafting and spreading of connections around Baylor. Because, truly, every person that you see every single day on campus has a story to tell. All you have to do is listen.
Editor's Note: To listen to Anika's podcast about the organic garden, click here