2012 SHORTDOCS WINNER! Neighbors of the Murrah Federal building recall the 1995 bombing that altered the life and culture of Oklahoma City.
Glass, Not Glitter, by Abby Wendle was one of four stories chosen (from 180 submissions) as a winner in the 2012 ShortDocs Challenge. The Challenge, a collaboration with EveryBlock, invited anyone and everyone to produce a short audio story that featured at least two neighbors and included a color in the title, and three seconds of narrative silence.
Read more about Abby's ShortDocs experience Behind the Scenes, and listen to the other 2012 ShortDocs winners:
The Red, White and Blue Bus, by Luke Eldridge
Crown the King: Red Takes Black, by Adam Kampe
Red White and Bruised, by John Musto
Before working for This Land Press, Abby Wendle had only visited Oklahoma once. Raised in Ohio, she’s spent most of the last decade on the east coast working with the BBC, NPR and RadioLab. While such a bold move might seem risky to other journalists, Wendle believes the medium is in a place where brave experimentation is required. Since arriving, Wendle has made herself at home eating more meat than she has in the past decade and acquainting herself with how to handle an AK-47.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Abby Wendle
What's your background? How do you spend most of your days?
I've been a public radio listener since preschool. My parents never tuned in to the classic rock or pop stations on air in Youngstown, Ohio and as a result, when my friends asked me in the first grade who my favorite singer was, I had no answer. But I knew I loved listening to Red Barber, doing impersonations of Gracie Allen for my father and hearing American voices talk with people from far off places.
As a young adult, I had no intention of working in radio, but after saying yes to a series of fortunate opportunities, I found myself in New York City listening to David Isay speak about the power of letting people tell their own stories on the airwaves. I borrowed a pen from my friend and wrote "radio" on my left shoulder, perched like a little Jiminy Cricket reminding me to live a life of listening close.
I am thrilled to be spending most of my days doing just that as the audio producer for This Land Press, a new media company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I also spend a significant amount of time making funny faces inside my headphones while editing interviews, field recordings and music.
How did you hear about the ShortDocs Challenge?
About three weeks after my editor hired me in the spring of 2011, he pinned a Third Coast Festival competition invitation to the wall above my desk. Having produced few podcasts, I let the deadline pass and put my ears and heart into the work of producing short radio segments for This Land. When the Short Doc competition rolled around this year, I pinned the new invitation up and spent several minutes every day staring at it, thinking about whose story I wanted to help tell.
Please explain how each rule manifests in your SD.
There are many levels of neighbors in my ShortDoc. The most obvious is that all of the people who speak in the story were working close to the Murrah federal building when it was bombed. Some of them were literally neighbors to the bombing, working in buildings right next door. Others were down the street or a few miles away.
On a more philosophical note, I learned what it means to become a neighbor through this assignment. I am not from Oklahoma and knew little about the Murrah bombing besides what I saw on t.v. in April, 1995. When my editor suggested that I take a trip to OKC and ask people in the downtown area to recount what they heard on the day of the bombing, I was terrified. I had no idea how to walk up to strangers and ask them to share a horrific memory. I approached people in what I think of as a "neighborly spirit." I was as gentle as possible, almost whispering my request and taking long pauses to give me time to watch their faces and them time to shake their head, "no," and walk away. I was shocked by how many people wanted to open up and share their experiences with me. As a neighbor, I gave hugs, gave silence, gave tears and gave Oklahomans as much time as they needed to get through as much of their story as they desired to share with me and my microphone.
Color in title refers to:
Glitter (and we can argue about if glitter is a color or not - my colleagues and I did) is a reference to a line in my piece from a woman describing what she sees covering the streets after the bomb went off at the Murrah federal building in downtown OKC. I remember the moment in our interview when she recounted standing at her office window, slowly realizing that the streets were covered with glass, not glitter. I remember her voice cracking. And I remember being silent for awhile after she said it.
I think the demand for 3 seconds of narrative silence was the most intriguing rule in the competition. It perplexed me for awhile. I knew the story (short as 3 minutes is!) had to have the weight to carry such narrative silence. I suppose it could have been a 3 second build-up of tension before the scare in a scary story or a 3 second pregnant pause in a funny or embarrassing anecdote. But I wanted the 3 seconds to hold a certain reverence for something lost. Once I began interviewing neighbors of the Murrah building and once they began opening up, finding 3 seconds of silence in reverence was obvious. This story demands silence.
Did the rules help or hinder your experience producing your SD? Which rule was hardest to follow?
I enjoyed the rules. I especially liked the demand for 3 seconds of narrative silence. I don't know that I'm in any one boat when it comes to radio production aesthetics, but I do enjoy the push for slow radio and so the rule to be silent was a pleasure to follow. I don't think any of the rules were particularly difficult. Reporting on a story that 17 years on still causes people to choke up with grief was a challenge. But it was also a privilege. I'm looking forward to the next set of SD rules.
What's your next story about? (whether it's in the works or not, yet...)
I've got a whole slew of next stories. I'm most excited about a trip down to McGee Creek south of Atoka, Oklahoma, to go fishing with a guide named Chuck Justice, riding Spanish mustang Indian ponies in Antlers and heading west to Guymon to record a tractor ride through fields watered with a center pivot irrigation system.