Today, I noticed that my dear college friend Ryan Scammell had posted a new radio segment (I guess I’ll call it that?). Scammell, as he’s fondly called by all who knew him at Northwestern, has always been the most adept of storytellers, whether he’s working in film or radio, whether he’s talking about his heartbreak or the time he dressed up in a banana suit. He worked for NPR for a while, and some of the films he made in college were just breathtaking—both visually and dramatically. I can’t say enough about this guy’s skills, from writing to directing, and these “audio polaroids” (his words) that he produces are just another example of how he manages to translate his easygoing demeanor into something that just sings. There is certainly an art to being a storyteller; it involves a sort of choreographed abandon, if you will. There are times that craft comes into play, when sequence matters; but there are others when a voice across the slow, blue airwaves is all we need.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this art of storytelling. It started when I began a non-fiction piece about my father’s side of the family—my grandma, my dad, and my three aunts and uncles—who sit around the dinner table on Thanksgiving or Christmas and regale everyone with silly tales of their past or present. They all have that storytelling instinct, the one I didn’t inherit. Somehow, my dad and his brothers and sister can make anything funny, even to those who weren’t there. The piece I was writing about this, appropriately enough, didn’t really work. It’s about 1000 words deep and resting on my hard drive, likely to not be resurrected.
Strangely enough, in deciding to scrap that essay, I started writing another one about Scammell, about his art, and about how we thrived off each other one summer in our early twenties. It was as if, all the way from Brooklyn, he heard my fingers on the keyboard and produced his piece, which alludes to the same time. Oh, and that music in the background, at the end? It’s Thomas Tallis, a composer I introduced him to. I’m just slightly proud—that I gave him something, that he liked it.