On this gray, rainy Saturday in the middle of week two of COVID-19 induced physical distancing protocols, I’m thinking a lot about Leo.
If you haven’t listened yet, Leo is the name of the fictional narrator in my audio fiction podcast, The Familiar. She spends a lot of time inside pondering what to do and how to reach out to the people she cares about. She’s deeply flawed in many ways, but she’s also a hero in her own world. Faced with hopelessness and negativity, she faces her deepest fears and speaks out into the void. The thought of someone else acting out of pure defeat and despair scares her more than standing up publicly to be vulnerable.
I’ve learned a lot by writing her and all the other stories in the first season of The Familiar. Throughout my writing career, I’ve always heard that you have to treat your characters like shit. Not because you hate them, but because you love them and in order to make compelling stories to show the rest of the world why they should love them, too, you have to push them to their absolute limits. That journey is what turns the everyday into the adventurous, the joe-schmoe into a hero (whether that’s a small h or a big H). As my mom’s pastor Steve Berger recently said in a Facebook Live communion, you can’t have the miracle without the storm. It’s not that Jesus walked on water; it’s that he calmly walked on water in the middle of a storm that was freaking everyone else out. Not every story in the Bible is an example of great storytelling, but most of the New Testament and Jesus’s part is.
For a long time, that was hard for me to do. I’d write a few drafts and eventually realize–or have it clearly pointed out–that I was pulling my punches. Not so with Leo136 or the characters in The Familiar. In their short snippets and concise episodes, each gets pushed to their limits and are forced to reveal their true selves.
In writing them, I actually “practiced” facing some of my own fears. I’m not saying that any one character is me, but of course, so much is pulled from my life (I’m looking at you Episode 1 “Zombies or Snoring?”). For example, after making the show and releasing the first three episodes, I fell into a period of despair. It might have been depression, it might have been a nasty cold that left me with emotional symptoms after the physical ones passed, but either way it was a lethargy I couldn’t shake for a week or two. I felt completely drained and unmotivated to do anything. With all the work to put out the podcast, I didn’t know if anyone was listening and, even if they were, what did it matter because I had no energy to do anything else or even figure out what creatively should come next in my life.
And then I actually listened to Episode 3 “Patterson’s Time.” I remembered these words Leo said at the beginning of the podcast:
If you listen to nothing else I have to say, please listen to this: it’s not all pointless. There’s more to discover, to explore, to surprise and shock you, I know there is. You just have to find some way to change your perspective.
It was a wonderfully odd feeling to hear advice that a past version of myself had written into a character and realize that it applied to me. Like the biggest “Duh!” face-palm moment. Because I already knew the answer. It wasn’t that I needed to do anything else; it was that I just needed to change my perspective, find the light, and lean into it. And it wasn’t easy–as any hero’s journey is–but it held the key to rousing me from my despair back into the beautiful, present moment.
I say this now so you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I say: I really think now is the moment to listen to The Familiar.
And you might think that I’m selfishly saying that to boost our listens, subscriptions, ratings, reviews, and recommendations. You would be right, BUT I’m also saying it because this podcast has a lot to say right now in this current moment.
The Familiar has always been a work focused on broadening audiences’ horizons, altering their perspectives through startling or giggle-worthy discoveries. That was true when I first started it and it’s even more true in this current moment where, through COVID-19, we face limits and restrictions that plant seeds of panic and make us feel deeply alone. It’s easy to feel like we should give up–either by burrowing deeper into isolation or pretending like nothing’s wrong. Each and every story in The Familiar, especially including Leo’s overarching story, shows that there’s a hidden third option. A middle ground in that gray area that might first look like bleak black and white.
At its heart, it’s about connections and the ways in which genuine vulnerability will be met with deep connection and understanding. I would say exactly how, but I don’t want to give away the plot of the first season for those of you who haven’t heard it yet. Trust me: hearing it play out for yourself would be much richer than my description of it.
Right now I feel a lot like Leo throughout the show: I’m putting out the stories that reflect me and my beliefs the most and sometimes it feels like I’m putting them out there in the void, unsure if the people who really need it are actually listening. I also feel like most of y’all who read this blog are already listeners and don’t need the extra motivation to seek it out, subscribe, and make the time to hear it all the way through. But I don’t want to give into the fear. I don’t want to give up or silence myself before I’ve even opened my mouth to speak.