26: Love is a conversation
about a new story and an audio community
We had just finished performing Salat when I told
my dad my parents. If the only person who needed telling was my mum, it would have happened already. My -interesting- relationship with my father meant I had been unemployed for three months before I told my parents I quit my job.
It was just after Fajr, the sunrise prayer, 6 a.m. In some distant part of Lagos outside our house, the city had woken up and started its screaming. Where we lived, the silence of sleep still reigned. The only thing breaking the peace was the noise of a lone generator and, me telling my father I was changing careers.
One of the reasons it had taken me so long to get to this point, the telling, was the practice of it. Telling my father pieces of information about my life has always felt like an event. Things that I could throw out into conversation with my mum required some bravery when it came time to tell my dad.
This morning, I had some courage; he sat there quietly and listened. When I was done, he asked me questions. To the uninitiated, it is hard to note this for what it is - love - but I know it. You can tell from the type of questions.
More than a year later, when I told my parents, in the same fashion, about my intent to move out, it was a similar kind of love that greeted me.
“why do you want to move?”
“don’t you feel comfortable in our house?”
“what kind of place do you want to move to?”
It is the love of questions.
I tried to explain to my dad what it was exactly I wanted to do for work. I don’t remember if I used the word ‘podcasting’ I probably said it was some sort of ‘internet radio’. I perhaps said it was journalism of some kind. In an audio piece I made around the same time, I recorded an interaction with my mum where she told me about the confusing situation of trying to explain to her friends what I did for a living.
“I make podcasts”
I told her
What are podcasts?
They are like radio shows but on the internet.
Do you get paid for them? Are you being paid?
I wasn’t. Not at the time. Not for a long time after.
Since quitting my job and telling my parents about it, I have sort of blindly stumbled my way through life. Now and then, I stumble forward; I have done so consistently enough to sort of look like I know what I am doing.
When I started, when I quit my job, I did not know what I was doing. Sitting down there with my dad, talking about a possible Master’s Degree in Journalism, I did not know how much work awaited me. I did not realise that my anxiety, which was already quite bad, was going to get even worse. I did not know anything.
The only thing I knew then was that I had something important to tell my dad and I was scared about how he would react to it.
I recently had that feeling again... and I made a podcast episode about it.
In case you are new here. My name is Mo Isu. I am an audio producer based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently attempting to build a career in audio storytelling and art. This newsletter features personal essays about this journey.
You are reading issue 26. Read the about page for more
Love is community
“I think it should be our first event,”
This was the crescendo of my conversation with Fayfay. We hadn’t expected our chat to get here but we both agreed that this place made sense.
Fayfay and I were working out of a coffee shop today. She’d texted me earlier that morning to share a thought she’d been having.
“How can we maybe try to create something else like ‘love is a conversation’?”
I replied to her with one word
I had been thinking about the same thing.
Love is a Conversation is my most recent podcast credit. In April, Lesedi of Radio Workshop reached out to me with a call to pitch a story to the podcast. One of my goals for the year was to make a story with them. This call was the perfect opportunity to do so. A few days later, we had a meeting and talked about two ideas I had. One of them was for a story about the mental health of Doctors in Nigeria, the other one was a personal essay written around a conversation with my parents.
The second story was titled ‘Things I’d save in a fire’
In a follow-up email I sent to Lesedi a few days later, I said
“I am still picturing the format as a mix of essay and tape but I am quite open to workshopping the idea. I don't want the piece to feel reported. I know that's something that's pretty important for me at the moment. I don't want to talk around the tape, rather I want the tape of my parents to act almost as a guiding light to my own voice in the essay.”
In my first outline for the essay, I say
“This is an essay about growing up as experienced by my parents and me.”
Then I go on to describe three acts for the essay. An act about me moving out, an act about the growing distance between myself and my parents and finally an act about hope of some kind.
I didn’t know what the story would be exactly. The pitch had been sparked by my anxiety around a recent fire scare.
For over a year, I had been playing with the thought of including my parents in an audio story. I wanted to have a real conversation with them. An audio story seemed like the best way to get my parents to really talk to me. The fire scare felt like a good excuse to do so. So that’s what I pitched.
7 months later, after a million rewrites, two interviews (over 4 hours of tape), a bazillion editorial comments and a long final edit, my story, ‘Love is a Conversation’ was published into the Radio Workshop feed.
It’s a story about me, my anxiety and my dad. Here’s the blurb:
Nigerian audio producer, Mo Isu, suffers from severe anxiety. It’s gotten so bad that he thinks it might be time to get some professional help. But is that something his stern, old-school father would approve of? Mo decides to face his fears and find out by having a tough conversation…
Somewhere along the line of making this story, and it was a long line, we (the RW team and me) found a tangible central question for the piece to answer.
I remember the conversation with Lesedi where a lot of the details became clear; the conversation where we identified the person I needed to talk to, my dad; the conversation where we identified why I wanted to talk to him, because of all this fear I had about doing so; the conversation where we realised what it was I needed to talk to him about, my anxiety.
I had chats like this quite a lot. There was a long back and forth between myself and Lesedi (and Rob, my second editor.) There were all these questions that forced me to introspect about this year-long desire to do a story like this. Some of the chats straight up felt like therapy which is ironic given the topic of the episode.
The result is this 20 minute story which is the most personal story I have ever worked on.
I started making audio stories in 2019. The first thing I ever made was a podcast episode about productivity. Back then, I didn’t know what it was I wanted to make. Now, when I meet people, I tell them I make audio stories, personal audio stories. I have learnt very slowly that this is the thing that my curious mind is most interested in doing. When I sit down to talk to someone, I am not as interested in talking about numbers or ideas as I am in just learning about their life, learning about them, and being able to tell a diginifying version of that story for listeners. I am telling audio stories in the chase of moments of hope. I have been doing it for 4 years.
But I have never put myself in the middle of that process.
Not until now.
Today’s essay is, first of all, an invite to listen to the story we made.
Love is a conversation
Back in the coffee shop
I asked Fayfay what she had in mind when she said she’d like us to recreate ‘love is a conversation’.
She wanted to make more stories like mine, exactly like mine, personal stories involving people’s parents.
She had actually been thinking about her dad.
Since this story came out less than a week ago, I have gotten little pieces of feedback from people. In this feedback, I am seeing something universal about the experience I tried to capture in my story. Ironically this is the thought I had when I convinced myself this was a story worth telling (And yes I doubted that a lot.) It feels a little self-serving to make a story all about one’s self but I just thought this story could do the same thing my essays do. I thought this story could act like a type of mirror for everyone else.
In a way, I think it did.
Here’s what I had in mind when I said I wanted to create more stories like ‘love is a conversation’.
I have been thinking a lot about starting an audio community in Nigeria. It’s all I have been able to talk about with the small circle of Nigerian audio makers I know.
I even recently made a tweet about this.
After three months of thinking, I have decided on some of the things I want to do.
Organise listening events. I have attended a number of listening events this year. There’s something about listening as a shared experience. There’s something about being able to talk to someone else after you listen to a good piece of audio storytelling. There’s something about events as a marketing strategy that Social Media just simply cannot give you. While working for Voix, we were able to identify that one of the things we wanted to do for the Nigerian audience was mature their taste in podcast The problem is that Voix was never able to figure out how. Now, I genuinely believe listening events is the way to do this.
Teach people. This is something I have been running away from for a very long time, primarily because I didn’t feel qualified to teach anything. There’s a wave among young people with self-taught skills where ‘teaching’ acts primary as a signal that you have some expertise. I suppose that just hasn’t ever really sat well with me. I really want to grow myself as an expert before I ever consider teaching. I definitely don’t want to make teaching into a business that enrichess me. If I teach, I want it to be because I care primarily about offering value. I feel like I have an opportunity to do that now. I think I can do that simply by talking about how I make what I make. I still don’t feel qualified to teach but I recognise that there’s room to help more people make what I think needs to be made.
These are the two main activities I want to build an audio community around in Nigeria (maybe even West Africa.)
‘Love is a conversation’ is an example of the kind of stories I would like to see more people in Nigeria make. I want to create an opportunity for that to happen. Right now I am in the beginning stages of planning out what this community will look like. You will be the first to hear more about it.
In the conversation with Fayfay, I saw an opportunity to kickstart this journey. I saw our first event.
I am thinking it will be a good idea to organise a small listening event around ‘love is a conversation.’ The event will have a short section for us to listen to the piece together and it will be followed by a conversation where I and Fayfay (who helped with the audio engr) talk about the process of making it. The imagination is that if we can fill a room with a group of people keen on making audio stories like that, we could give them a really valuable experience. And we can kickstart our efforts to empower them with the tools to do so. That’s it. That’s the idea. And I am going to make it happen.
Right now, I am trying to find a venue that will host 20 to 50 people for free. Feel free to email me(firstname.lastname@example.org) if you know someone that would be open to this.
Second, if you are interested in something like this, especially after listening to the episode, i.e you want to make audio stories like this one, leave a comment or send me an email and you will be the first to hear about it.
Okay that’s it.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end.
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This essay took a little over a week and three coffees to write. You can help me write my next issue by buying me a cup of coffee