Episode 19 - Podcast MEdley #2
The last time I did an episode like this, I opened up with my motivations, namely that Miscellany Media Studios is working on some audio dramas, and it would be great if my mom could understand how great audio dramas are despite all the petty pot shots taken at them by old school media or even some people in new media. So I made an episode talking about three shows I love and why I love them so much.
Putting that explanation in felt appropriate at the time because it was such a break from my norm that I felt like I had to acknowledge it somehow. Looking back, however, I see two critical problems with this approach. For one, it seems to ignore that the main crux of this podcast has always been my subjective experiences with the media I love, which is an open ended enough description that I can really do whatever I want.
The second problem is that I knew I wanted to make this a reoccurring thing, but setting the first episode up that way left me with few places to go when introducing other episodes. It’s not like I could open up with an update on her progress. Because, guys, it’s only been a few weeks. My mother—as lovely as a woman as she is—was not going to figure out the world of audio dramas that quickly.
Obviously, I’m going to want to talk about more podcasts. Even before I hastily launched this one, they’ve been a huge part of my life, and I spend a respectable chunk of my day listening to them. In real life, I can unapologetically adore them. So why do I struggle to do that here? probably should do that here before I chase away my friends and family by constantly pushing my favorite shows on them even and especially when they are not asking for recommendations.
Yeah, not a good move on my part.
(Music fades out)
Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Episode 19, and I’m going to do what I want.
(Music fades in)
The first show I want to talk about today is Palimpsest, a beautiful word, a beautiful phenomenon, and a beautiful podcast. But it’s a word whose pronunciation I may end up butchering. Whoops. I mean, look at it for a second. It’s the type of word that looks super intimidating in a script. Even if it actually isn’t.
But back to the point. Originally, palimpsest, was the term for when a new piece of writing was scrawled down over a piece of used parchment, one that had been written on before but that older ink has faded away. The word dates back to a time when parchment was difficult to make and was, consequently, very expensive. The old, the memorized, the outdated, or the otherwise worn out would get replaced with something new and more relevant, and the process would begin again. But when you reuse that piece of paper, it’s not completely blank or clean. The writing of days gone by—the ink, the indentation, and the memory—remain. The first time you wrote something down, the parchment was fundamentally changed, and there’s no going back. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you do it deliberately and to make the most out of what you have.
Now we don’t reuse paper in the same way and only write over saved game files in our video games. Consequently, the term has adapted. While technology has limited the need, there are still times when we have to put the present project directly on top of the past one. You can do this in art, for example. You can paint over past works if—let’s say—you wanted to cover up a particularly horrendous effort on your part for the sake of your pride and future career. I mean, it’s one way of getting rid of all the evidence. Or a way to save money on a canvas.
Or maybe, what you’re working on now is inexplicably tied to that past work. The past is the necessary base coat to the present to the point that if you don’t blend the two in this way, there is no present, just a thin veil of what could have been. Something without substance or anchoring…
Oh… wait. That’s… that’s life, actually. Whoops. My bad.
(Music starts up again)
That’s what Palimpsest the podcast is about, in vague terms. It’s about the interconnectedness between the past and present, something that has profound implications for us, but don’t worry. Palimpsest touches on that too. But to get into more specifics, this relationship is both simple and not in a variety of ways. First, the present is built up on the past, layered over it, in fact. Roots from the present and branches from the past are entangled on a level the naked eye can’t always see. Second, as the present materialized, nothing was erased or changed. The past remains, though its purpose has certainly changed. Rather than being the focal point, the center of attention, it’s tucked away, becoming the support system—for better or often worse.
And sometimes it shines through.
That’s what Palimpsest explores in its first season. And with the second season just starting up. Maybe, you know, this is the best time to jump in.
Annalise, our season 1 narrator and hero, stands at the line between past and present. She’s trying to move forward with her life in the way all newly minted adults are, but with so much of the past still lingering in her present, that’s not an easy thing to do. Because, really, there’s an inaccuracy in using hard, immovable lines to divide past, present, and future in our minds or in our speech. In reality, something the past lingers to haunt us. In fact, it often does haunt us, and there’s often no way around it, just through it.
For some of us, anyway. And the personal nature of Annalise’s struggles depicts this rather nicely. Sure, the story is told in her perspective, so I’m not going to pretend that there’s a guarantee that absolutely no one is in her life shares her position, but that’s actually not the point. The point is that she feels alone and the reactions of other people perpetuate this feeling in her. And she’s seemingly left completely alone to sort through the mess of her current world. Which is by no means easy, but it’s her chance to stand on her own two feet against things she’d normally assume were beyond her. It’s a chance for a type of personal growth that seems to be the very thing she needs.
The subject matter can be haunting and at times unsettlingly. And I’m not just referring to the details of the story.
We want to think of the past as something behind us, something we have overcome, and something we have left behind. We want to think that we are free from our past and that such liberation is inevitable. That we don’t need to put in any other effort beyond letting the currents sweep us away. If it’s going to happen regardless then we don’t need to worry about our own failings. We’re guaranteed success, and therefore, we’re guaranteed safety.
But at the same time, we can’t brute force our way through it. Instead, there’s a dance back and forth as we untangle the pains that linger in the air.
Palimpsest, the podcast, is an expertly choreographed ballet. The style—in that metaphor—is important. Because of the delicate nature required in dancing with ghosts. After all, it’s not like they could help you up when you stumble. They might be present, but they don’t have a physical body to bear your weight. And that’s kind of important.
(Music fades out and new music starts)
The next show I want to talk about is A Scottish Podcast. (Pause). No that’s what it’s called. I mean, yes it’s also a podcast with a Scottish heritage. But it’s called A Scottish Podcast. The name works on a couple different fronts.
And if you’re now thinking about a certain cursed Scottish play. Well, you aren’t entirely off on that front, either. A Scottish Podcast is about those types of cursed horrors, and anything paranormal really.
See, you have this washed up radio host and DJ Lee whose just trying to get by after losing his radio career. I mean it was partially his fault, but you know, let’s over look that for now. Okay, actually, that’s not a great explanation. Yes, he’s lost his radio career, but rather than being down and out about it, he sees podcasting as his next LEGAL hustle. So he hit the ground running or crawled through abandon underground tunnels beneath Scotland searching for something mysterious.
Lee’s got this new podcast of his called The Terror Files, and he wants it to be the next big sensation, and he’s going to do whatever it takes to get there. With paranormal investigations, that means going out on location. And in the case of podcasting, that may mean promoting any contextually strange products when the checks clear.
Of course, we aren’t listening to The Terror Files, though it would be a podcast from Scotland, so I can see where the confusion would arise. What we’re actually listening to is a sort of behind the scenes show. We get aspects of the production, like travelling to these locations, events from their day to day lives, and the aftermath of the show’s releases. And this is a part of what I think makes the show so great. This perspective gives them the chance to better utilize Lee’s sense of humor and to follow Dougie, Lee’s friend and occasional side kick, through his own mishaps and misadventures.
It’s not a podcast about things you may or may not be inclined to believe in. It’s not trying to sell you an improbable story the same way it sells hemorrhoid cream. And look, it’s not like The Terror Files isn’t going to be a great podcast. From the glimpses we do get, it looks well done, and I do like shows about paranormal investigations even if they’re occasionally outlandish and campy.
Instead, A Scottish Podcast goes in a different direction. It doesn’t do what it should do or what would likely be commercially successful by current and admittedly culturally outdated models. Instead of ghost stories, we get to watch Lee—whose not a great, angelic hero by any stretch of the term—try to move on to what he thinks will be greener pastures and running for it as hard as he can. It’s a tale of an indomitable and somewhat shameless spirit on his own epic journey. It’s the tale of a modern hero. For one, there’s Lee’s nature. Far more abrasive and crude than anything you would have seen in old stories. Gone are the idyllic days of idolized perfect characters that we could hope to emulate. All of that is over. Even if we don’t want to admit it.
Just like the days when someone could expect to work at a single job or even in a single industry from entrance into the workforce to their exit. Maybe if you’re on the younger side, you don’t know what I’m talking about. But you also may not know what was happening when in movies or television you had the trope of a character receiving a gold watch when retiring from a job. If that’s even a trope but you know what I mean. The gesture can seem overly extravagant and personal, but those were days when people had a different relationships with their jobs. When you stayed at a single company until the day you left the workforce, rising through the ranks and planting firm roots into the office floor. Not in a bad way, necessarily. I’m sure for some people their workplace was a second family.
And that seems nice, doesn’t it? But that’s just not the way things work anymore. No pun intended, assuming that was a pun. I’m really not sure on that one.
Our characters, Lee and Dougie both went for their dream careers only to have things fizzle out, forcing them to find new directions. And that’s the typical experience now. But maybe it’s not even a dream career but just a career. Regardless of the details, we can’t expect our employment situations to last forever. Gone are the days when everyone would take a job with a single company and stay as long as possible. And even if that statement comes without blame or condemnation, it’s not without consequence.
Modern life is one that happens in motion. For all its charms, it can be messy and disorganized as you find yourself once again trying to ground yourself in unfamiliar territory, as you find yourself thrusted into an unfamiliar space, knowing all too well that you’re not going to be there for long anyway. The world around you is and has been constantly shifting. As a result, nothing is easy or perfect, but there’s certainly a pressure to pretend that everything is fine. Because while the reality is gone, the ideals remain.
And A Scottish Podcast blows that right out of the water. Which I think was pretty necessary.
The irony is, A Scottish Podcast is the story of a man trying to dive into the modern iteration of the world he has known, but ultimately, the trajectory of the story without the details does much the same thing. It’s a modern man living a modern life with all its problems therein. Things that he does not always handle well. Like most of us wouldn’t.
But beyond that, it’s also well edited, the characters are funny, and the story moves around rather nicely. But as someone who isn’t Scottish, fair warning for anyone jumping in this podcast. The Scottish dialect can take a few minutes to get used to. With the episodes being so short, I would recommend binging the first few (trailer included) in one sitting just to catch your footing. Even if it takes you a while to come back to it, you’ll still be good to go. Just let yourself fall into this world, and you’ll be all set.
(Music fades out and new music fades in)
The third podcast I want to talk about today, briefly talk about today, is Within the Wires, specifically season three.
I’m sure some of you may be groaning that once again I’m talking about Within the Wires. Sure, this is like my second-point three, third episode on it or whatever the terminology is actually supposed to be. I’m not an expert on that nor do I particularly care to become. And while I may have a lot of thoughts, we’re only like twenty episodes into this series. So why am I revisiting it yet again?
Because I can. Take that.
Okay that’s not actually the reason or justification, I guess. But it’s not a factually inaccurate statement.
Earlier this week, the first episode of season three came out, and considering how addicted I am to this show, it felt like a momentous occasion. Though maybe I shouldn’t have brought that up here because that’s a glimpse behind the production curtain and what my standard turnaround time is for the shows. I have a feeling it shouldn’t be what it is. I mean, should it be what it is? Probably not, but here we are. Also I keep warning you that this was a hastily done show. Are you surprised? Genuinely?
As with the previous season, this story is only loosely linked to the others. They are tied together by the same reality, but that’s an expansive fabric we’re talking about here. Plenty of room for stories and little chance for overlap. Of course, we should also consider the trajectory of the story, which is taking us further away from The Institute where we started in season one. That somewhat feels like a connection.
In this season, we are in the office of Michael Witten, listening to the dictated tapes he makes for his secretary. He’s trying to help build the new society. She’s trying to keep his office running. As an administrator myself during the day, let me tell you. That’s an adventure in and of itself.
With Michael being such an integral part of the rebuilding of this new society, I don’t doubt we’re going to get plenty of glimpses into what this new society is and what went into making it. The teasers definitely support my argument, but look, how could we not? That’s what bureaucracy is all about.
However, those are thoughts for later in the season. (Pause) Come one, you know I’m going to do it.
Right now, I want to talk about how eerily the seasons have reflected my own life. Season 1 was a series of relaxation tapes and was released at a time when I was in a very intense master’s program, stressed out and beginning to feel myself being pulled to a particularly person. A person that felt like home, that felt familiar. And it was something I listened to when I was away from that person, wondering if V was okay when I knew V wasn’t in the best work environment. But you don’t know that part of the story. Yet.
The second season followed a woman trying to piece together the life an emotional distant companion left in the wake of her disappearance. And it came out at a time when I was very aware of how emotionally distant I was and dwelling on the emotional landmine I would be to the person I fell in love with. You know that story. The story of V and my ardent desire that we never end up together, entirely for V’s sake. You know, V is not quite a returning character on this podcast but kind of. It’s hard to say.
Season three is coming out after I have started a new office job. One that I really love. But I’m also working for someone whose doing his best to shape the world, leaving him a bit scatter brained and dependent on me. I’m not even kidding, I feel this season on a deeply personal level. All Michael Witten has to do is take a trip abroad and give his secretary receipts to process—all in languages she cannot read—and this is my life in a different context. I swear.
Now, obviously I’m not accusing the production team of using my life as inspiration for the show. Sure, I was freaked out when the neurons in my brain fired in this particular way, but that’s not the point. Well not exactly.
Apophenia is the human tendency to see connections in what is objectively random data or events. Think seeing faces in toast. Think superstitions. Or think about a day when you woke up late, had the bus you managed to catch break down on a busy street, spilled your coffee when you finally made it into the office, got a giant project dropped on your desk, and then burned your dinner. Technically, those are all separate events that just happened to occur in the same time frame, but in your mind, you are inclined to see these events as a singular string orchestrated by an unforgiving universe.
In my case, it’s seeing Within the Wires trace the trajectory of my life. It doesn’t. Obviously. They don’t know that I exist, and even if they were to find out, time travel is not a thing. They can’t retroactively insert aspects of my life into this show.
Apophenia is not grounded in reality. It’s grounded in our perceptions. Not in the physical world but how we experience it. And it can be a double-edged sword. In college, I had a professor whose wife was once a pediatric nurse. One day he told me something she had said to him, that the children in the hospital often blamed themselves for their illness as a way of making sense of what was otherwise senseless. For now, don’t ask how it came up. That isn’t so important, though I understand the temptation to deflect. But this is apophenia, connecting misfortunates with your own actions, claiming blame that was not ever owed to you just to have things make sense.
That’s the form of apophenia I know all too well.
But as I was writing this script with season one of Within the Wires playing in the background, I started to think that there may be an accepteable iteration of apophenia. One that may not necessarily be bad but instead distinctly human, which explains why it could go either way. After all, that’s just how people work.
Because here’s the thing. Connections between you and the media you love may not objectively be there. Sure, you may share characteristics or circumstances with the characters of a story. You may have gone through the same events. But ultimately, you and the characters are living separate lives on two separate trajectories in two different universes. Theirs being one that doesn’t actually exist. If I flip a coin and you flip a coin across the world, just because we both get heads doesn’t mean we have a special bond. It just means we have something in common, which isn’t how we usually think of the media we love. We think of a connection in some way, a type of bond, if you will. To see a connection and not a commonality is a leap whose justification may be hard to articulate. But it feels right. Even if we don’t know why.
Now yes, the train of thought has gone of the tracks. But my statement at the beginning isn’t an outlandish one, is it? We want to believe that we are connected to the stories that we love. We feel that we are connected, but when pressed on the issue, we may be forced to see that we are not. And that is a deeply unsatisfying answer.
I’ve mentioned before that Within the Wires strikes at different elements of what it means to be human. Truly good stories will do that, and sure, Within the Wires had the advantage of coming into my life when I was in a particularly vulnerable position. Listen to episode 2 if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about.
Within the Wires reveals the story of an alternate reality through distinctly human stories. And in doing so, it draws out this need to seek or outright create connections. These characters are a reality away, but we genuinely feel something for them, even if that doesn’t make sense. And so those common things between us because bonds of some sort. A tie between the listen and a person in a reality that doesn’t exist. We see them as kindred spirits or even friends, and for a moment, we don’t feel so alone. We see their lives as direct mirrors of our own. And sometimes, that can give us hope or other times it can push us to change.
These perceived connections, these needs, these bonds are not just useless filler in our mind. It can be the thing that pushes us forward or back if there’s a wrong we need to right. Or even more simply, it can keep us going.
I’m starting to wonder what would happen to us if we didn’t have this inclination to see something in what is essentially nothing. If it’s not a bad habit but a survival mechanism.
And with that in mind, I think we need to be more grateful for the subversive work audio dramas are doing. Or for audio dramas in general. Because I know, at least, that when they pull me into their world, I feel a little less alone.
This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thanks for listening! If you like what you heard, consider subscribing, we’re on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Player FM, and other players. Find us and transcripts at miscellanymedia.online or on Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on current and future projects, including Night and Ink. Do you want to maximize your productivity? Do you want to create all the things while balancing your day job and personal wellbeing? Let our hosts sort through the advice across multiple dimensions and bring you the best and the worst, if it’s funny.