Episode 27: When Is it Okay to Bullshit?

Lies seem to be the new norm in our world. There’s probably a bumper sticker that says Lies Are the New Truth. Great bumper sticker, but it has Andrea Askowitz totally freaked out. Andrea is the teacher of the class and the host for this episode, which is about lies in stories and lies in the world. It starts with a story by a new student, Claudia Franklin, that got us thinking about truth and lies in memoir and when, if ever, is lying fair game.

Claudia’s story takes a surprising turn as she imagines what life would have been like if her father wasn’t the hen-pecked man he really was. Her story left Andrea wondering when, if ever, is trust broken between narrator and listener/reader.

Fifteen years ago, Andrea took her first memoir writing class from Terrie Silverman and has lived by and preached the tenet she learned. Terrie said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth.”  Andrea took that to mean that it was okay to exaggerate or change little facts for the sake of a bigger emotional truth.

There’s an unspoken pact between a memoir writer and reader or listener that says, what’s being shared is the truth. But what is the truth?

In 2003, James Frey wrote a book called A Million Little Pieces. The book  was distributed as memoir. But Frey stretched the truth in a few places. In one example, he wrote that he spent 87 days in jail. According to police records, he served 5 hours. A lot of people thought he lied, including Oprah.

Andrea wrote a story once about taking her wife, Vicky, to a tantric sex retreat. The story’s about how she couldn’t handle the intimacy and acted like a clown the whole time. They had to do intimacy exercises including Tai Chi, where, in the privacy of their hotel room, they were instructed to stand facing each other, perform pelvic thrusts back and forth, then arm motions with elbows in, and hands out to the sides. Andrea added jazz hands.

Except she didn’t actually add jazz hands in their hotel room. She wished she had. Instead, in the story she wrote, she added jazz hands because she thought jazz hands perfectly expressed her feelings in that moment.

Allison Langer, co-producer and student in the class, challenged her. When Andrea says she tells the truth, Allison says, “What about jazz hands?”

Before this current presidential election, Andrea would have defended jazz hands as an expression of her truth. Now she’s not sure. Because now something has shifted in our culture. Now, we don’t know what we’re getting from America’s highest office. And now with the normalization of lies no one knows what to believe.

The truth stretching in storytelling that used to be okay for Andrea, doesn’t feel as okay anymore. Now, she’s afraid no one’s going to believe her stories.

What Terrie said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth,” is happening more than ever. Especially outside of the boundaries of storytelling. No one’s letting the facts get in the way of their truth, and that feels dangerous. So, in a panic, Andrea called Terrie Silverman, to ask her if storytellers can be trusted anymore.

Terrie alleviates Andrea’s fears. She says that the rules are different in storytelling and politics. Politics are about manipulation and propaganda. Stories are about getting to a deep truth. Intentions are different. And the number one intention of the memoir writer is to get to his or her truth.

Now Andrea understands why it felt like James Frey broke the pact.  Because we question his intention; He didn’t seem to be going after a bigger truth.

Now Andrea thinks that if anything has changed for storytellers because of the lying culture we’ve been thrust into lately, it’s that now, more than ever, we need jazz hands.

When do you think it’s okay to bullshit? We want to hear from you. Send us your thoughts on Twitter @wrtgclassradio. Or on our Facebook page or email us info@writingclassradio.com

If you live in Los Angeles, take class with Terrie Silverman. Find her online at creativerites.com.

If you want to hear your story on our show, enter our writing contest. Here’s the prompt: Write about something you don’t understand. For more details visit writingclassradio.com.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Diego Saldana Rojas,  Virginia lora, Allison Langer and me, Andrea Askowitz. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Josh Woodward and Kevin McLeud.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. There’s more writing class on our website. Study the stories we study and listen to our craft-talks.   If you don’t want to participate in our writing contest but still want a prompt, pick one of our daily prompts from our website or follow us on Twitter where we post 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?

Episode 25: A Time I Fucked Up Part 2

We picked two winners of our first annual writing contest. Listeners responded to the prompt: A Time I Fucked Up. We got tons of submissions revealing your major fuck ups and tons revealing your little mess ups. One woman’s vacation slideshow accidentally included a naked selfie. Another woman almost killed a sheep. One did kill a chicken. And here’s what gringa Hope Torrents said to her Spanish mother-in-law on Thanksgiving. “Hoy es el dia del polvo,” which means, “Today is the the day of the fuck.”  

What we know about good storytelling is that it doesn’t matter if the mistake was big or small. The story is not as much about what happened to a person, as what the storyteller makes of that experience.

Susan Buttenweiser is the winner featured on this episode. She teaches writing in New York City public schools, in a women’s prison and in a juvenile facility. In her story about getting into a bar fight, she discovers a persistent character trait--a need to be needed. Sometimes that need puts her in danger. But she re-channels that urge into motherhood.

Diego Saldana-Rojas, our audio producer and student in the class, responded to the prompt with a story about the time he fucked up the audio at Writing Class Radio’s live show. Diego is extremely hard on himself and takes the listener into a dark fantasy about torturing himself for repeated failures. Like Susan, Diego is looking to discover what it is about him, what is that persistent trait, that sets him up for failure.

Thank you for listening to Writing Class Radio. We hope you enjoyed hearing from our listeners. We had so much fun with this contest that we’re holding another one. Deadline is April 30, 2017. More details on our website. Here’s the prompt: Write About Something You Don’t Understand.

If you’d like to participate in one of our workshops, visit our website. If you don’t want to enter our contest, but want a prompt to get you writing, we post them on our website or follow us on Twitter @wrtgclassradio where we post daily prompts daily.

Writing Class Radio is sponsored by and recorded at the University of Miami School of Communication. Writing Class Radio is produced by Andrea Askowitz, Diego Saldana-Rojas, Virginia Lora and Allison Langer. Theme music by Daniel Correa. Additional music by Andy G. Cohen, Julie Maxwell, and Rest You Sleeping Giant. 


This episode is sponsored by Puzzle Israel. If you’re looking for a customized tour of Israel with the coolest, smartest, nicest people, go with Puzzle Israel. Find them at PuzzleIsrael.com.

There’s more writing class on our website writingclassradio.com. Study the stories we study and enjoy our craft talks.

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?

Episode 17: Circuit Boys, Gym Rats, Papi Chulos, Fashion Queens, Bears...Which One Are You?

EPISODE 17: Circuit Boys, Gym Rats, Papi Chulos, Fashion Queens, Bears...Which One Are You?


This episode explores perspective, how sometimes it takes years to figure out that something you did or thought was totally fucked up. Bo tells his story about getting blocked from a 1-900 gay hotline. But the story is really about how it took him years to become comfortable enough with himself to stop judging the free expression he witnessed among the gay people he first encountered on Miami Beach 24 years ago.  Bo came from the deep South in search of freedom from oppression. He wanted gay book clubs and stimulating political conversations with other like-minded gay men. But what he found instead were all kinds of people who fit into categories he describes as circuit boys, gym rats, fashion queens, papi chulos, and bears. He felt like he didn’t fit in. He didn’t want to fit in. But when Bo called the gay hotline to try to “save the gay soul” and made fun of it, he realized he was imparting the same hurtful and hateful church messages he came to Miami Beach to get away from.

Twenty-four years later, our teacher Andrea Askowitz sits down with Bo on Lincoln Road, the heart of South Beach to talk about what’s changed and how he changed. 

Andrea tells her own story about trying to “save the straight soul” when she finds out that her next door neighbor doesn’t like lesbians.  (Her neighbor’s housekeeper told Andrea’s housekeeper). So Andrea tries to make friends with her.  When that backfires, Andrea brings cookies to her neighbor but “forgets” to wear shoes. And a bra. 

Set your timer for 11 minutes to be queer. Here’s the prompt: Everyone’s hiding something. What are you in the closet about? Go.

Record what you wrote on the voice memo of your phone and send it to info@writingclassradio.com

Original music in this episode is by Cat Cousteau and Blue Jay. Theme music by  Adriel Borshansky.  

This episode is sponsored by the Sanibel Island Writers Conference, created by Tom DeMarchi, where there’s a powerhouse lineup including: Richard Blanco, Joyce Maynard, Steve Almond, Darin Strauss, Karen Tolchin, Steven Elliot, and Sue Monk Kidd. Awesome, awesome storytellers and authors. And you can take classes with all of them. Including Andrea Askowitz.

November 3-6, 2016. It’s also really, beautiful, perfect beach weather.  Click Sanibel Island Writers Conference before it sells out.