A Reflection on Identity and the Process of Making a Podcast About Who We Are

In October, I started recording talks with friends, family members and friends of friends. The project is a podcast called Jonah Asks. But the project is also an individual experiment in trying to sustain connections and thinking about what it means to be a conscious human in 2021. Now that fifteen episodes are up, and a few more are in the works, it’s a good time to think about what it means and why I’m doing it.

Our Many Selves

It’s been over ten months since mid-March 2020, when the world paused. Rebelle Harmony was not-yet three years-old, and our weeks were occupied with working, recovering from sickness, and juggling parenting with life. Like most of you, we were suddenly at home all the time and struggling to adapt.

The idea of staying conscious of the various aspects of identity started becoming important to me when Rebelle Harmony arrived. Time to sit and ruminate, to write, to think beyond the temporary moment...time to yourself becomes precious when you become a parent who spends your days at home with an infant. In some ways, the last year is so perplexing to some with children because they rarely spent their days at home…with their children. In that sense, it is a gift. In the sense of achieving a balanced self…it’s an ongoing challenge. For many who are fortunate enough to work from home, the line between work and personal life has evaporated. The issue of keeping a single-minded focus becomes an even bigger problem that it was when work and home were separate.

The world of parenting is ever-shifting. The world is more transparently not yours. It becomes ours. This world is bigger and brighter and directly tied to the future, pulling us out of our own heads. Still, without conscious effort, that tension of a world that requires so much more of you…it can wear a person — now a parent — down.

Balancing our many selves: So what selves am I talking about?

The need for that initial balance is between Life Partner and Daddy. This balance is never fully achieved. Anyone who shares parenting responsibilities understands this. Finding time for each other is never easy. Finding time for each other when you have the energy to do more than sit on a couch together and relax is even harder. Now that 90% of the outside-the-home options are gone, sitting on a couch together after bath and bedtime routine…that’s what we’ve got. This isn’t to complain about this need when you’re healthy and have solid jobs, food security and a stable living situation, but it is to acknowledge the difficulty of finding time to be intimate, or spontaneous…or both.

Beyond relationship and parenting balance, add in work. If you’re lucky enough to have both partners working, you’re negotiating how the work and parenting responsibilities are managed.

For the last four years, work means teaching at night. The self that is Teacher Jonah. Then, after two years of infant and early toddlerhood, mix-in preschool drop-off and commuting across the bay twice a week for a midday teaching job. We were ready to send RH off into the preschool universe. We liked the place we’d found. Within a couple of months, she started getting the typical toddler colds. From November thru mid-March, we were all dealing with some kind of illness. Hand, foot and mouth virus works its way through the toddlers. Colds. Flus. What might have been a flu (or a virus) with a lingering cough and exhaustion in December eventually subsided in early-January, then returned a few weeks later. You just keep going. Then the world stops.

Aside from work and family life, there are other selves.

What does being a son or a daughter mean when you hit middle age? It means friends are losing parents. It means figuring out what an adult relationship with your own parents means, if you haven’t already established that. It means realizing that healing your self means being honest and finding healthy boundaries. That the triggers that you’ve noticed popping up in your 20s and 30s —situations that trigger anxiety or anger or disappointment — do not have to throw you off anymore. That becoming conscious of those triggers and working to calm yourself can help smooth out the psychological bumps embedded early on.

And what about the creative self? The writing, the music and the artistic self that is constantly tugging at you to tap into the deeper urges of expression. They demand a chance to exist, too.

Becoming a parent can bring back that creative self. Children need songs. They need silliness and improvisation. Then that creative self collides with the responsible self. Let’s have fun…..…but then we have to clean up! Run, run, run…….uh-oh….diaper time? Let’s listen to music and relax………why won’t you nap??

And what about friendship? What about conversations that help rejuvenate and restore the non-work, non-parent, non-partner, non-obligated self? The parts of us that need to talk and share? That have been disconnected and long to reconnect? Too often, this time gets dedicated to social media or to addictive behaviors. We distract ourselves from what we really need with instant-gratification scrolling, clicking and watching.

I’ve created a survey for listeners to provide feedback on their listening experience. If you’re interested, click below. I’d appreciate it!

Setting Up Conversations as Interviews

Without time and planning, achieving any balance seems impossible. September 1st. That was the date in my mind for most of the summer. Our playdates mostly evaporated. The parks closed for a while. The options were limited, and my lovely little girl was becoming exhausting. We had a spot at a preschool. We just needed to make it to September. When it arrived, I was able to find some balance. I planned for my night classes. I walked the dogs in the morning…not so easy with a three year-old. I wrote more.

Then, I started to think about reconnecting with more people. I’d arranged phone calls and Zoom calls with friends and family in the late spring and summer, but I thought about making it a project.

Now that I’ve recorded almost twenty interviews, I can step back and reflect on the process.

Discovery: Momentum, Enthusiasm, and then…Fear and Doubt

Any new project, once it gains some momentum, comes with an initial boost of enthusiasm and intensity. A new addition to the creative self. I’ve always enjoyed asking questions and hearing stories, improvising a conversation, and connecting. The process of working through ideas and connecting thoughts is satisfying. Laughing is contagious.

Learning the technical aspects of recording and editing were mostly a fun challenge, and not a huge hurdle. The time required to type up the show notes and create posts for a website became a consideration. Are these show notes for my own research? If I find common threads (which I definitely have) through the various interviews, will the notes direct me on how to incorporate the themes into future episodes?

All the interviews could become research for future themes.

The parenting episode. The work-life-balance episode. The childhood family dynamics episode. The creative process episode.

Questions about how sustainable this is and how I should frame this project kept coming.

What can I reasonably expect from it?

What am I looking for?

Who should I ask to be interviewed?

How do I deal with rejection or those that aren’t comfortable being recorded?

How much energy should go into promoting the podcast?

Is the process the only thing that matters?

If so, how do let go of my ego?

***

I haven’t answered all of these questions. I’m still wrestling with many of them. I’m starting to realize that the questions are okay to have and that the sustainable aspect of the project should be my focus.

So I created a list of five ideas to keep me going.

  1. Process over product
  2. Consistency of recording (weekly if possible) over frequency of episodes.
  3. Why I’m doing this — this is good for me: intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation.
  4. Connection over disconnection
  5. Numbers are just numbers

But…I still need feedback to keep myself motivated. I’m not a natural researcher. I’ve been conditioned by the Internet to demand interaction. I know that if I want anyone to hear this thing I’m pouring myself into, I need to create engagement opportunities.

So, here’s a survey. If you have listened to the podcast, your feedback would be a great way to support the project.

Thanks as always for listening and helping push this project forward.

Enjoy our democracy and stay safe,

Jonah

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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