“In New York, people are like, what, independent producer, you don’t work for anywhere, what’s wrong with you? And just owning that space of being like, yes, ’cuz I wanna make my own things that are timeless. And I think a lot of podcasts are more concerned with timeliness than timelessness.”
—Bianca Giaever ’12.5
Intro: The scared is scared of things you like.
P: You’re listening to Midd Moment, a podcast of ideas from Middlebury’s leaders, independent thinkers who create community. I’m Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury and professor of religion. My guest today is public radio producer and filmmaker Bianca Giaever, Class of ’12.5.
Bianca’s career in multimedia storytelling launched while she was still a student at Middlebury. It was in her film classes at Midd that she directed two viral videos: Holy Cow Lisa, and the beloved The Scared Is Scared, which has over 1 million views on Vimeo and was named Best Web Video of the Year by USA Today.
Since then, Bianca has won a Daytime Emmy and made a career doing commercial work. I’m catching Bianca on her way home from the Bread Loaf School of English, where she spent her summer drawing inspiration from the oldest of Western storytelling, the Bible. We spoke about the myth of life moving in a linear direction, the ancient routes of contemporary storytelling, and the deadpan humor of poet Franz Wright.
I’m so delighted you made the time to stop in Middlebury to speak with me today on your way out, Bianca. Thanks so much for being here.
G: Thank you.
P: So how was your summer at Bread Loaf?
G: So I was in Professor Goldman’s Five Books of Moses class. I didn’t wanna be a storyteller without that foundational knowledge of the Bible. So it was fun to read.
P: Some of your work is very secular and yet there is a certain kind of element of mystery in the everyday. Tell me how you see the link or the relationship between that mystery in wonder that you find in the everyday as well as the kind of secular, mundane part of your storytelling?
G: Yeah, so the joke in our class has been that I was raised orthodox atheist. My parents are very…religion has been not been a part of my family for generations. But I think that left me searching for meaning in other ways and needing to look into everyday life to find, what is this about? Why are we here? And of course being a freelancer in New York City, you’re just prone to existential crisis. So yeah, through my work I’m definitely searching. And I feel I’ve always been a little antiestablishment, being an independent producer. And that allows me to do that type of story that is unpitchable to the media. Where you’re like, for an example, I just went into a Catholic church and found a person and followed them for six months. And reported on their life. That’s not something you could ever pitch to someone, but it’s meaningful. It can be beautiful. And that piece ended up being about loneliness and faith. And we didn’t know where it was going, and we worked on it together. And so, as an artist, I can go places through radio that other journalists wouldn’t be able to go.
P: Tell me a little bit more about artist and freelancer in New York. Is that something that you realized you wanted to do when you were at Midd, or even earlier than that?
G: Definitely not. I mean I thought I was gonna have a very mainstream job in public radio. And the success of The Scared Is Scared set me off in a different direction, where I was feeling a lot of pressure from the outside world to do things independently. People were like, you have a voice, that was interesting. Keep doing things on your own. But that’s definitely easier to do within the structure of academia. When you get to New York City and you’re just working on your own, it’s a lot lonelier, the path.
P: So how did you manage the loneliness and the anxiety?
G: That’s like an ongoing question—medication.
G: Yeah, that’s what the work is about, is trying to manage it and I don’t feel like I have it managed at all. It’s like an ongoing struggle for sure to balance everything.
P: And so when you were at Midd, you thought maybe mainstream media. You’d be either a writer or a producer for some CBS or another show-
G: Yeah, actually I applied to a job at The Moth like as I was making The Scared Is Scared. I think I drove down to New York. I got a speeding ticket on the way back. I remember in Whitehall, New York, there’s a speed trap there. Watch out for that.
P: I got one near Albany so-
P: That whole corridor is-
G: Yeah exactly, so yeah, that’s where I thought I would be. And then The Scared Is Scared just allowed me to go down this other path which has been a lonelier path, but I think a very rewarding one in that each piece I make feels very personal.
Recording: Bianca: So, did your mom tell you what I’m doing?
Bianca: Do you have any stories that you’d want to be in a movie?
Asa: No, I don’t know. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe. I can’t even. I don’t even know what happened yesterday. No-o-o-o, you can show that they were-
P: Let’s talk about The Scared Is Scared, and what your creative process was in that space. It immediately pulls you in. The costumes, the way that you talk to the young boy throughout is really engaging. And it also is lovely because what the boy says isn’t immediate on the screen. So it’s almost like you’re reflecting the thought process, which I think is a lovely, very creative way to think about doing a video. So, tell me a little bit about that creative process and also what your experience was afterwards when it went viral.
G: So the film was made in only 10 days during J-term. I was doing an independent study with Professor Jason Mittel. And I think its uniqueness comes out of having radio experience and then trying to translate that into film and trying to make my radio stories visual. I just sort of stumbled across this style that at the time felt really different, like you’re saying. You hear the word orange or whatever and the screen turns orange. But that piece also came out of years of radio experience of working in storytelling. My major was narrative studies. I was an independent scholar. So I had been thinking about storytelling and studying This American Life and the structures they use and the questions they ask. And then at Middlebury, I also did the fellowship in narrative journalism. Which was key, because we had to create four radio stories really quickly. So by the time I was making The Scared Is Scared, I felt really ready and my skills in audio were really sharp. People think that he was my nephew or something and that I just happened to hold out a microphone. He happened to speak those profound words right away. It was just hours of work behind that and it was all extremely strategic. I’m a pretty competitive person and I wanted to have the best film in the film department. It wasn’t coming out of some like joyful, floaty, whimsical place. I was incredibly dedicated and we had been making films every week of the semester for my film-production class. I would stay up all night every Sunday night, ’cuz our films were due Monday morning. And then I would fall asleep with one shoe on in my dorm room ’cuz I was so exhausted. So I decided age six was the best age to get a story from, and I interviewed between five and ten six-year-olds in the town of Middlebury. Jason Mittel’s son was six, and so he connected me to his son’s friend group. And I also interviewed his son, so I had to cut my professor’s son which is, like, a little bit awkward. He was great, but he wanted like sharks and exploring trains, and stuff I didn’t have the budget for.
When I got to Asa, we only spent 45 minutes together, approximately. And he said lots of other stuff, but I kept trying to pull him back to that story. And from listening to a lot of This American Life I wanted it to have a what-it-all-means portion.
Recording: Asa: The point of the story is you don’t really wanna go when something’s closing, ’cuz then you’ll have to wait to go back there.
Bianca: Yeah, I’m about to graduate in three weeks and it feels like my school is closing for me.
Asa: Yeah, if something feels like you’re closing, you should just say, okay, I’m fine. I usually let it go. I just think of something that I really like to do and you just think of something else until the nervous has gone out of you. I let that thing disappear out of my head, out of my ears, out my mouth. When the scared feeling comes into you, the scared is scared of things you like.
Bianca: Yeah, that’s true. That’s good advice. That’s why I just need to think of things I like when I’m scared.
G: I just kept asking, what’s the point of the story? What’s the point of the story? And so that’s when he said the scared is scared of things you like, and he said a lot of other things that I cut.
And also sharing about myself, which I was wondering can a six-year-old connect to the emotional experience of being an adult and that anxiety that I experienced profoundly? And so I was telling him I’m really scared to graduate. And he really…I think an adult stranger had never earnestly shared their feelings with him before and he really responded. He took it really seriously, and I think the magic of that moment between us translated. And he’s still out and about performing in the choir in Middlebury. I have-
P: Are you still in touch with him?
G: I’m friends with his mom on Facebook. It sort of feels like, will we break the magic if we meet again? I don’t know.
P: Right, right right.
G: It’s intimidating. It changed both of our lives I think, in different ways. He kept a map of where people were watching it and he’s gone really in a theatrical direction. Which is interesting, ’cuz it’s like when the outside world validates you, how does that change your life? Cuz it feels good and you want more of that.
P: When you’re six.
G: And when you’re 22 and maybe older.
P: The interesting thing, from what you’re saying, is that the narration and the narrative power of your experience in radio actually translated interestingly to video. Do you think the film would have been different had you had more experience in video rather than radio?
G: Yeah, I think it’s a blessing that I had more experience in radio. Because I wouldn’t have been able to get that story if I had put a camera in front of a six-year-old’s face. It’s very intimidating and that’s what I love about radio, is the intimacy. He had almost forgotten that I was recording or having a conversation. Particularly at that time there weren’t a lot of podcasts, even though it was only like seven years ago. I felt like a seven-minute story like that would be unpitchable. You can’t go to This American Life and be like, I just wanna talk to a six-year-old about our feelings. They would’ve been like, what the heck? But at that time people were watching online videos. So if you added visuals to your radio story, it was simply kind of a trick to get people to listen to my radio stories. I think the audio is just as powerful.
P: I do too. Well, it’s also because you make the audio visual.
G: Exactly, most of my films if you experience them with your eyes closed, they still work. And I would love to make a feature film that’s nothing on the screen.
P: But just audio.
G: Yeah and submit it to film festivals.
P: Right, and have people see.
G: Yeah, my dream is people at Sundance just listening to a radio story for 90 minutes peacefully in the dark.
P: So do you think it went viral because of its simplicity? Because of its spontaneousness that of course was also not spontaneous in certain ways?
G: It’s hard to say why something goes viral. It’s such a specific X factor. I think people have a lot of nostalgia for their childhoods. And it reminded them of either having kids or being a kid and the way their imagination worked at that age ’cuz you can really feel him generating the story in real time so freely. And just the advice that he gave me was so genuine and unique and profound and relatable. I think it’s helped a lot of people. I’ve certainly gotten a lot of letters.
P: One of the things that I would suggest in thinking about why it went viral would be that having an adult take a child story seriously is a huge deal.
G: Yeah totally.
P: And I think that is watching that relationship unfold. It’s not that you’re just listening to the child. You’re listening to the child being heard.
G: Totally, and that’s what’s nice about being an independent radio producer, is I don’t feel like I need to get any story to bring back to the New York Times, where it’s planned out beforehand. I can really just be present and watch where a person’s mind goes.
G: Errol Morris does that too. And that’s what I love about his work, is he’ll sometimes just leave people alone by themselves in a room for hours and just have them monologue.
G: But yeah, one time a Hollywood person told me that The Scared Is Scared hits all four-age quadrants. Which is such an LA term.
G: But it’s true. Kids can watch it, old people can watch it, middle-aged people can. Everyone can watch it together.
P: For different reasons.
G: Yeah, it’s like a Pixar film in that way.
P: Yeah, so we talked about what it was like a little bit for it to go viral. Were you expecting it?
G: Not at all. I actually am always chronically disappointed in my work and think I could do better. And I’m hard on myself so I was like, that was no good. I don’t know. Maybe it was too long. And I had a little screening for it in Dana and a small handful of people came and clapped. And then walked away and that was the end. It wasn’t that big of a deal, and then I actually graduated and I posted it online that day, I think. And I was going on a trip to Israel with a friend and as the plane was taking off, it actually crashed Vimeo. It crashed the website at that time, so I was like emailing with the Vimeo people. There was a French guy across the aisle who’s like, you’re supposed to have your phone off. I was like, this is the biggest moment of my life, sir! Yeah, so.
P: To hell with the plane.
G: Yes, totally. I was like, I’ll take us all down. It’s fine.
P: It’s not as if you had an ambition to be well known in this space through this video. And so, the accidental nature of it, especially when you’re just graduating, right, you’re just trying to figure out what your next trip is gonna be after graduation, etc. Right?
P: So how did you experience all of that? Especially since it was literally the day after that all of this started, right
G: Yeah, it was incredibly difficult. I mean, it put me in a weird place where people were expecting something that successful to happen again, and it came from such a genuine moment in my life. And it was really tied to a place, being here, leaving this place, having been here for four years and had this experience. It wasn’t something I could recreate, whatsoever. I had no idea how to recreate it, I didn’t know where to recreate it. I didn’t own a camera, I didn’t have money for costumes, I didn’t have friends around to pose in my shots. Like when I was making Scared Is Scared, I just picked the first seven people who walked down that path and said, will you be in this film? And everyone said, sure. In the real world you have to pay for locations, and you have to present your idea ahead of time, and get secure funding, and blah blah. And there was a lot of people wanting to help me, but I just felt this enormous sense of pressure to deliver something, frankly, that was magical at that time, and I couldn’t recreate it so there was a lot of beating myself up about that.
So it’s like feeling really high and low at the same time, ’cuz a lot of people being like, that was really good, and me feeling like I couldn’t recreate it. And then my friends were getting rejected from internships, and I was getting a lot of opportunities, but I didn’t feel worthy of any of them.
P: So you had a brief moment of exhilaration around the success, and then immediately you were plunged into some of the anxieties that you talk about with Asa, right?
P: And the anxiety of disappointing became a kind of dominant theme almost right after graduation.
G: Yeah, and that lasted five years, until I was able to be like, all right, I can make other stuff. And it’s okay that your most successful thing that everyone loves the most happened when you were 22.
P: Right, right. I am thinking about Annie Dillard, who wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when she was in her 20s.
G: Oh really, yeah.
P: And the same thing, of huge recognition and great honor, she had to really just redo her whole life as a result.
G: I think there’s a myth that life moves in a linear direction.
P: Well, that’s something that I was really interested in talking to you a little bit about. The relationship between chronology, linearity, and the fact that when you did your work on Franz Wright, there isn’t that chronology and linearity. You wanted to make it different.
G: Mm-hm, yeah.
P: So tell me a little bit about that, ’cuz you designed your own major at Midd. Narrative studies is all about time, and so talk a little bit about how you think about time.
G: Yeah, yeah. So we’re talking like The Scared Is Scared is the best thing I’ve ever done, which I don’t think it is. It’s the most recognized thing I’ve ever done.
G: But the Franz Wright project was two years of my life, not 10 days, it was much deeper in many ways. So yeah, I’ll explain the project. Through my freshman year roommate’s older brother, he contacted me and said, “My poetry professor just died, he was really amazing, sort of a tortured artist. And you should just check out his house, ’cuz it’s really interesting.” So I drove to Waltham, Massachusetts, and met with his wife, who was still completely grieving his death. And the house was completely wild, there was writing all over the walls, poetry everywhere, just beautiful, watercolors of his poems, and interesting words taped everywhere.
And I didn’t know where this project was going at all, and I started talking to her, and I found out that he had left behind an archive of over 500 tapes that he had made as he was dying, because he could no longer use his hands to write. And so he would work on his poems into a tape recorder. He was kind of a Luddite, he didn’t even really know how to use the recorder very well, so he didn’t know when he was taping or not. And so he unintentionally recorded a lot of conversations between him and his wife, or him muttering to himself, or talking to himself, or monologuing in the middle of the night.
And his wife just totally trusted me. She hadn’t listened to the tapes and she let me get the first listen, which was an incredibly intimate experience. And so I had this strange experience, and I’m sure a lot of historians and anyone, a lot of scholars probably have, where you feel really connected to someone who’s died, through what they’ve left behind.
Recording: Franz: The only animal that cries, that takes off its clothes and reports to the mirror, the one and only animal that brushes its own teeth, somewhere. The only animal that smokes a cigarette, that lies down and flies backward in time, that rises and walks to a book and looks up a word heard the telephone ringing on the darkness downstairs, and decided to answer no more.
Bianca: Like most people, I had never heard of Franz Wright, but in the poetry world he’s well known for two things, one, his work.
You feel a kind of lightning that you can practically see in the gaps between phrases.
Struck like a tree by lightning.
It’s like I almost have to duck, you see that video on the internet of those two girls that ate the spiciest pepper on the planet…
G: A lot of radio stories, particularly in America, are into plot, which is great, plot is great. And they move chronologically through time, and I think I was interested in exploring something, I don’t know, literary sounds pretentious, but that’s why I’m interested in studying literatures. ’Cuz I wanna be able to apply some of those techniques to podcasts that feel a little more artful in the way they deal with, maybe, character, or time, or whatever.
So I was weaving together three different threads: the thread of his wife grieving two years after he died, the two years before he died of him making the tapes, and then my experience listening for two years after he died. And it’s hard to jump through time in radio, this is why it’s not done very much, because in film you can just have a text card that says, seven years later, seven years earlier, they look older, they look younger.
But if you miss that cue that we’re now jumping through time when you’re listening, because you’re driving or you’re doing laundry, then you’re completely confused and out of the story. So I worked with my producer, Jay Allison, quite closely to figure out how often do we repeat, we’re seven years later, guys, or how much do we trust the listener to be paying attention, and trying to trust the listener by making a complex radio story that requires a lot of attention, and hope that they’ll understand based on the tone of it. And sort of the way it’s presented, that if you listen to this with a candle going in a dark room, that’s gonna be your best listening experience.
G: And that’s how I want everyone to listen to my radio stories.
P: It’s also what you want for the Sundance Festival.
G: Right, exactly.
P: Similar kind of thing.
G: It’s the full attention.
P: It seems to me that the whole work, it’s kind of like a whole constellation of three different things around the question of grief.
P: And it’s almost his grief for his own life in those two years, as well as your understanding of the grief, and that moment when Beth, the wife, is grieving.
G: Yeah, yeah, and that’s what’s beautiful about radio being able to mix time periods, so his ghost was present for her and for me, and me thinking about my future a lot during that time, just being in my mid 20s. And him thinking about his past and the life he’s lived is that time did start to blend together. So in a way, it didn’t matter so much and that was the effect that we wanted to have.
P: There is an element of contemporary disjuncture. We’re always distracted, we’re always seeing different things at once, that’s a part of your work. I also think that there’s something very ancient about the breaking of a frame and also about deadpan. I mean, I don’t know if you experienced this in reading biblical stories, but they’re quite hilarious and they’re very deadpan at the same time.
And so I think there is a way in which, even though you feel like you were interested in the Bible because of wanting to know more and not knowing enough. I also can see how you could be attracted to it as a genre given the work that you’re doing.
G: It’s been very inspiring ’cuz the text is confusing. There’s narrative threads that are completely abandoned, there’s things that are not explained, and I think that’s what stood the test of time. And I think we have a fear of confusing people or leaving people behind, but really those are the stories that people keep returning to.
G: So it’s made me braver, I think, in my storytelling.
P: I also loved that very concise definition. I’m thinking constantly in my own work about what makes a classic. For many years, I defined a classic as that text which people are always invited to, okay? It’s an invitational thing to read again and again, we talked about this in the class.
G: Yeah we did, we talked about Ulysses, yeah.
P: Yeah, however, I also think that another way to define a classic is something you just said, which is it makes you braver. It’s a wonderful way to think about a classic and that’s one of the reasons why you come back and read it again, and again, and again.
P: So we talked a little bit about your bravery around being independent. We also know that you’ve worked for big companies like Jet Blue or Annie’s Mac and Cheese. And yet you’ve been able to do work for them that doesn’t necessarily compromise who you are. You would be able to recognize Bianca in those commercials. So, talk to us a little bit about what it was like to do that work, when did you make the decision to do that work?
G: Yeah, that’s a great question. So by making the choice to be an independent producer, which is, I think, a role I’ve grown into the older I get. In New York, people are like, what, independent producer, you don’t work for anywhere, what’s wrong with you? And just owning that space of being like, yes, ’cuz I wanna make my own things that are timeless. And I think a lot of podcasts are more concerned with timeliness than timelessness.
But anyway, so separating my income from my work, my artistic work, has been a really important leap toward making the art that I wanna make. It’s been incredibly freeing. I began with a strong resistance to doing commercials because they’re basically stealing what feels like this precious part of your identity that you so authentically brought into being over so long. Like the magic of The Scared is Scared, they wanna take it and use it to sell something and that feels really bad. So the first time I did a Jet Blue commercial I was having a ton of anxiety, they want everything that you hold most precious. They want your fonts, they want your name, they want these, it feels like you’re being robbed.
And then I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes, Errol Morris, at a film festival, and Errol Morris and a lot of filmmakers make their livings doing commercials. I had basically an opportunity, I presented my work and he complimented me after and I had an opportunity to ask him one question.
And the one question I asked him was how do you do commercial work, do you feel like you’re being robbed or how do you feel about it? And he sort of he looked at me like that’s the one question you’re gonna ask me? He was like, do it or don’t do it. He’s like, are you taking the money, are you doing good things with the money, are you doing what you want to do? And I was like, yes, yes. And he was like, great, and so he just made it seem so simple. He was just so much older and he was like, you young person having all these crises like just take the money or don’t take the money. Do you know?
P: It’s very straightforward.
G: It’s very straightforward and I was like, okay, yeah, I am doing what I think is important work and I have an incredible amount of time to do that because of these jobs. I only need to do like two or three a year to make like 70 percent of my income, the rest is made through freelance journalism. And it just gives me that padding and security that as a financially anxious person I need. It’s an opportunity to work with a large budget and to make connections with people you wanna work with down the line. And to be in charge of a large production that’s not necessarily your own artistic baby. So it’s actually really good experience for if I ever am making my own feature. I’ll feel very confident in the directing position having directed so many commercials at this point.
P: Tell me about the moment when you were first approached, did you get a phone call, did someone find you while you were doing something else?
G: Yeah, so after The Scared Is Scared came out, it was insane, I was getting like 200 emails a day. So it was overwhelming, and I actually, I was in a film class at Middlebury where we would try all the different roles on a film set. But I never got to be director ’cuz my equipment was always late so I had to be the PA. So I’d never actually directed anything and it was totally a fake-it-till-you-make-it situation. I did a fashion video for a designer named Rachel Antonoff, and that was-
P: That was the first commercial thing that you did?
G: Yeah, though that was weird. That is like a respected artistic fashion brand, but it wasn’t a big money job. It-
P: So it felt okay?
G: Yeah, no, it definitely felt like artistically okay, but then, so the process of doing commercials was I got commercial representation through a company called Missing Pieces. And so it was actually a friend of mine that I had met in New York when I was just taking a bunch of meetings after The Scared Is Scared, and so all the commercial work comes through him. So I’m never meeting directly with Jet Blue. There’s actually 15 middlemen who are collecting money along the way. They will vet all the jobs for me and they’ll be like, this one seems perfect for you, here’s why. This is why we know the brand is good, da da da. And then you pitch against other directors so every job you get, you have to win. Being a female commercial director is a whole other conversation. There’s very few, you end up getting a lot of jobs pitched to you for women’s products, which is there’s a case to be made for and against that. I wanted to try making commercials not in women’s products ’cuz it’s easy to get pigeonholed doing shampoo commercials or Tampon commercials. And you’re pitching only against the five other women who are doing at that level and then it feels like really competitive against them. So, but then also it’d be weird sometimes if a male was directing those. The type of director people wanna see is the one with the uncompromising vision and it’s so antithetical to my creative process.
On The Scared Is Scared it worked really well because I was working with my friends and it felt like they were putting parts of themselves into the graphic design or the costumes or whatever. And we had the time to stop and ask the actors, what do you think about this, da, da, da, and that’s, to me, the way the creative process—I mean, everyone’s different. Sometimes the maniacal director really gets a great result.
P: I do think that it’s about being uncompromising about being collaborative that makes a difference. You’re being uncompromising about the creative process, doing it your way is actually creating a path for other women who are creative and independent, or independent creatives.
G: Yeah, directing is fascinating. I mean, it’s a very delicate balance leading any team, ’ if you are questioning everything and collaborating on everything, you’re not gonna get what you need to get done in the amount of time you have. And money is so tight on film sets, which is another reason this model has developed. So it’s definitely a balance.
P: It is absolutely a balance, I agree with you completely. We could talk forever, but I have two big questions that I think are so important for the purposes of this podcast. The first is, what did you take from Midd that you have now brought into your own creative life?
G: Yeah, wow, that is a really huge question.
P: I have a bigger one after this.
G: Oh god. Middlebury still is a huge part of my life. I am in Haymaker all the time, I return to Vermont all the time, I love it here. Especially living in New York City, it’s such a relief when you’re like, where am I going to go to dinner? I’m either going to go to the Arcadian, or Flatbread, or Taste of India. My professors have remained mentors in my life. Coming to Bread Loaf has been an incredible experience, academia, I feel very comfortable in this environment. And I think there’s definitely a stigma in the journalism world that if you go back to school, it’s because you couldn’t take it in the real world sort of thing. And why are you studying the Bible? What does that have to do with what we’re doing? So I think Middlebury has a certain earnestness, and curiosity to both the students and the professors, that I think like comes through in my work. And I think I just got really lucky, where I found the place that was really open to those elements of my personality that were there already.
P: And those two qualities don’t necessarily go together.
P: Frequently, earnest people may not be curious, and curious people may not be earnest, so.
G: Yeah, I was thinking about it, I was thinking about this class I just took with Professor Goldman, and that’s what made it so special, is people were really earnest and really curious. So those are the two words that I would say have defined the experience, that I’ve tried to take with me into professional environments, even when it feels like going against the grain a little bit.
P: Yeah, it probably helps you feel that you’re keeping your integrity.
P: I think that matters a lot. A lot of our students feel pressure to succeed.
G: Mm-hm. Right.
P: And one of the jokes I frequently make at Convocation is, the person next to you was an opera writer, started their own NGO, and traveled in the Amazon, and speaks three languages. And the worst thing is they were really nice about it, right?
P: Cuz that’s what Middlebury is all about. So you’ve experienced the kind of linear progression of career in a very condensed way that many people would say, that’s the success that we feel the pressure to achieve.
P: And yet, you’ve got some really interesting perspectives about that, and that would be great to hear you talk about that.
G: Yeah, I mean, anxiety and loneliness are huge themes in my work, because I think those are some of the major issues that my generation is facing. Particularly coming out of Middlebury there’s a lot of anxiety, and these are really slippery emotions to talk about, because they’re so private, and they’re felt so privately. And so I think, by being an independent producer and making work outside the framework, I’m constantly trying to reach for those feelings and pull them out into the open. Going back to your Middlebury question, I think Middlebury has been the strongest community I’ve ever had in my life. I think feeling grounded in this community gave me the confidence to work outside of the establishment, because it was a group of people who were like, we support you and we care about you no matter what. And that’s been key to going down this path, it feels much more unstructured, it takes a lot more courage, and there is no linear progression or payoff. And that’s the thing with making art, is there’s no degree you can get, or steps you can follow, that’s gonna pay off. There’s gonna be possibly years, and I think a lot of Middlebury students wanna be helpful. And I think feeling helpful is actually a big challenge.
P: Do you think that your work has been helpful?
G: With The Scared Is Scared I get a lot of positive reinforcement that it was helpful, with other pieces not so much, and I think that’s what can be really hard and anxiety inducing. Did I just spend a year not being helpful?
P: One of the ways that I, as an educator, help people keep that curiosity, is to ask what’s your one question? What’s the one question that you’ll always be asking your whole life? And you’ll never fully know the answer to, but you’ll always really enjoy asking.
G: Mm-hm, I mean, the first thing that came to mind is just, what is this all about? What is this?
P: This, meaning life?
G: Yeah, someone was saying, I mean you would probably know, some Buddhist monk who stares at a wall all day and just ask themselves, what is this? That’s their question that they ask over and over.
G: And it’s like, I could do that. What is this, what is this?
P: Right, right.
G: I feel like I could go around the world into any new place. What is this, what is this?
P: I think you can actually see in some of the work that you do, that question.
This has been a fantastic conversation.
G: Thank you.
P: I’m so glad that you took the time to come and talk to us on your way out. And I just wanna wish you the best in your work, Middlebury is following you, and is incredibly proud of the work that you’ve done so far, successful or not, it doesn’t matter, right?
P: We just want you to do your work.
P: So thanks again for being here.
G: Thank you.
Hi, this is Erin Davis, producer of the show. Midd Moment is produced by myself and Juliette Luini, Class of ‘18.5, with help from Chris Spencer.
If you have a Midd Moment to share, a time when things came together in a particularly Middlebury way, share your memory on social media using #MiddMoment, or record a voice memo and email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to include your Midd Moment in a future episode of the show.
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