workshop episode 3.5: Walk in My Shoes - Jessica Abel
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workshop episode 3.5: Walk in My Shoes

In our third workshop episode we critique a few of the character profiles posted in the Out on the Wire Working group. This week: stories about Lithium mixers, a future detective noir, a sci-fi allegory about identity, and the true story of a transgender woman’s journey at an Orthodox Jewish university.

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Here are the character profiles we talked about on today’s show:

Jayson Merryfield

Focus Sentence: Sidney Koizumi, a private detective working in a dystopian Los Angeles a hundred or so years in the future, accepts a commission from a domestic servant who is looking for a troubled young girl she raised for many years. Sid accepts this job because times are hard and she needs the money, and also because she identifies with the missing girl and the mental and social problems she is going through, but as she searches for and then finds this girl and the truth behind her, Sid finds the two of them embroiled in an assassination plot, a political battle between the licit and illicit powers in the city, and the individual struggle to find and create your own personal niche in a turbulent and violent world.

 Profile: Sidney (Sid) Koizumi is a 32 year old half-Asian half-Hispanic private investigator, living and working in the run-down outskirts of Cal City (which is, itself, an amalgamated mega-city encompassing most of central and southern California). She is average in height and heavier in weight, taking after her father’s solid physique, and has short black hair that is more often than not pulled back into a lazy ponytail for simplicity.

She was raised by her father, a blue collar worker and (reluctant) community organizer, who was killed in gang-related violence nearly a decade ago. Her mother, a beautiful, intelligent woman, has significant issues with drug and alcohol addiction and was in and (mostly) out of Sid’s life as she grew up. She leveraged her father’s reputation and contacts to help start her business at the beginning of her career as a private investigator, and has since built her own network of contacts and acquaintances all across the city.
Like her father, she is quiet and reclusive by nature, does not have many close friends, and often spends her evenings in the same bar that he frequented on a regular basis. She is not anti-social though, and has friends and a few lovers spread throughout the city, but is inclined to seek out quieter ways to spend her off hours in contrast to the social chameleon she is required to be in her job. Also like her father, she’s not one to pick a polite word when an impolite one does the job better.

Emma Jacobs

Profile:Joy (then named Jay) didn’t think there was anything unusual about her until the first day of kindergarten, when she arrived at the schoolyard and ran over to play with what she saw as her natural peer group – the girls – only to be greeted with disgusted cries of “Eurgh, it’s a boy!” This was her first lesson about gender, and it set the tone for how she thought of her own gender identity for the next fifty years: as something horrifying that she should be ashamed of and keep hidden.

Instead of exploring this, she focussed on another part of herself: her Jewishness. Unlike being “male,” being Jewish was a category she understood and felt at home with, even though she grew up in a secular household. Her religious faith and her passion for Jewish history and literature developed into a career as an English professor at an Orthodox Jewish university in New York. There she met a woman and fell in love – and when, a few months into their relationship, Joy told her: “Sometimes I feel like I’m a woman,” her girlfriend replied: “Feel like a woman? What does that mean, to feel like a woman? Most of the time I don’t even feel like a woman.”
They got married, had three children, and began a family life that was both happy and sad, full of love and full of imperfection. Joy went through periods of deep depression, times when she felt like she didn’t really exist and was dissolving inside her own skin. She couldn’t get rid of these two fantasies that repelled her and obsessed her in turn: one was killing herself; the other was becoming a woman. At the point when I’m picking up her story, Joy is in her mid-fifties, and after one of her darkest periods of contemplating suicide, she’s just made the decision to transition genders at last.

BJ DuVall

Focus: In a futuristic setting where identity is malleable, a rich, white hetero male is able to remove from himself all the markings of his class and identity in order to become completely anonymous for some illicit gain, but when he does this, he loses all of those markings and finds himself outside of the privilege that he was born into, and must struggle to regain them or learn what life is like without them.

Profile: Jeremy Crucible is a young, self centered, upper-middle-class white man that was born into his comfortable life, and who never had to work to attain anything, So consequently, he never works to better himself. He is bitter that he doesn’t have more, and laments his station in life, thinking that he deserved better. He feels that others have it better than him, and fails to recognize just how nicely he has it. He can be a bully at times. He doesn’t like to see anyone bring up social issues, as it causes him to react like “oh yeah? what about ME? what about MY problems?” He’s pretty much a jerk all around. As Jessica Abel put it, “He’s no Luke Skywalker.”

Julia Chen

Profile: Julia is a writer who noticed the usage of lithia water as a common mixer with whiskey in a James Joyce story. Julia was surprised at the notion that common mixers could change with time – perhaps an obvious concept but one she never gave much thought to – and remembered reading that lithium, and in drinking water, improved several measures of mental health. Julia – a history major, mental wellness proponent, and whiskey drinker – wanted to explore what the changing status of lithia water throughout the late 20th century says about our drinking culture and use of chemical elements as medicine.

But I didn’t really like being the focus, so I wrote another one, using my object as the character:
Lithia water is mineral water that contains lithium salts. It was hugely popular in the early 20th century due to acclaimed health benefits. Demand for lithia water outgrew what the few natural lithia water springs could produce, and companies started to infuse regular mineral water with lithium. Lithia water also became widely used as a mixer and a cocktail ingredient. The FDA started clamping down on lithia water’s claims (from treating kidney disease to impotence to keeping “the blood pure”), effectively ending its popularity. Lithium was widely accepted as a psychiatric drug by mid-century and decades later, lithium in water was found to have positive health effects. Unfortunately, it was no longer on the American mindset or taste palate. Lithia water’s hyperbolic marketing made it successful but ultimately became its downfall. The FDA was still rallying against their claims as late as 2012.

Out on the Wire Bonus Pack

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Check out the Out on the Wire Bonus Pack. Featuring all of the new interviews we conducted for the show, plus our soundtrack music by Matt Madden. It’s ten bucks (or more, if you’re feeling generous.) It’s a great way to spend more time with our fabulous guests and support the show.

Includes full length interviews with:

Stephanie Foo (This American Life)

Jonathan Mitchell (The Truth podcast)

Larissa MacFarquahar (The New Yorker)

Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet)

Our edit with Robert Smith and Jess Jiang (Planet Money)

Rob Rosenthal (the Transom Workshop, How Sound)

Get the pack!

See you next time with Episode 4: Bare Bones

Answer these 10 quick questions
to uncover the real reasons why you’re not able
to take control of your creative work.