Walking in Someone Else's Shoes Feels Impossible Right Now

Andrea Askowitz is the host of Episode 22. She talks about how writing a good story and understanding the results of this presidential election require a mammoth effort in understanding someone else’s point of view, an effort she is failing at right now. She interviews Stephen Elliott, who is the author of seven books and two movies and the founder and senior editor at The Rumpus, about the job of a memoir writer.

Stephen says that in literature, memoir and in life there are no bad guys. “Everybody is part hero and part villain. Most people know that intuitively. But sometimes in our writing we get so angry at somebody that we decide to portray them as strictly a villain. And we forget that somebody loves them. That they’re capable of love. That they do good things. We don’t look for the reasons why they do what they do. We paint them as evil and that’s just never an accurate portrayal of anybody, so it comes off as false because you’re not really exploring that person’s character.”

It is our job, according to Stephen, to strive for honesty, which is not someplace you arrive at, but a constant quest.

To get her students closer to the real truth, Andrea had them write from another person’s point of view or to put themselves in another person’s position. Chaplin tries to understand his dad by writing about a time they worked the same difficult job. Allison Langer also tries to understand her ex-boyfriend Gerald by writing letters in Gerald’s voice.

Andrea and Allison have a conversation about a time recently when Allison stepped into someone else’s shoes. She was teaching a writing class and felt challenged by one of the students. Allison was able, in the moment, to realize that the student probably just needed to be known as someone more than the way she appeared. Andrea on the other hand, has been struggling for months to put herself in her friend, Esther’s shoes. Esther spent the months leading up to the election spewing vitriol against Hillary Clinton, including arguments professing the superiority of male bosses. Andrea knows that to tell an honest story, she has to be able to really understand Esther’s motivations. But she’s not sure she can. Certainly not now.

Yaddyra Peralta, a new student in Writing Class Radio, does the hard work in figuring out why her brother, who hurt her, did what he did.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Andy Benoit, our new sound guy, Diego Saldana-Rojas, Allison Langer, and Andrea Askowitz.

Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by The Mann Sisters and Kevin Myles Wilson.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication.

This episode is sponsored by The South Beach Jazz Festival, created by David New. Every act at the festival features a performer with a disability. This is a perfect sponsor for this episode because the Jazz Festival’s mission is to help people experience what people with disabilities experience. One event is called Lights Out Miami Beach, Dining in the Dark. On Saturday Dec. 10 at Nexxt on Lincoln Road participants will eat blindfolded while listening to jazz. Tickets available for all events December 7 through 11, 2016 at sobejazz.com.

There’s more writing class on www.writingclassradio.com. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks. If you don’t like the prompt I just gave you, pick one of the daily prompts from our website. Or follow us on Twitter, @wrtgclassradio where we post daily prompts daily.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story.  What’s yours?