Zoe Nightingale is my spirit animal.

 

This post is gonna be so spiritual, yo.

I’ve been working very hard on myself for the past few years – seeking to be a better version of myself, to be true to myself, and to be genuine in the world. And to not judge others, to “stay on my mat” and manage my own shit without worrying what’s going on with others. Recently I tripped and reverted to old patterns, compromising who I am to be someone I’m not for someone else, and as I pick myself up, and try to redirect my energies, I remember all of those koans and promises and words of wisdom to myself, and be again who I am.

I started listening to podcasts in the morning as I get ready instead of the morning news because, well, for one, I don’t have a TV in the bathroom or bedroom anymore, and 2, the news’ consistently bloody and violent depictions of the world really aren’t how I want to start my day, and I leave early enough usually that traffic is not a problem. I started listening to Criminal, then Serial, and I got hooked.

I used to think podcasts were a waste of time because, other than Outriders, I’d only stumbled on the ones that were bro-tastic dudes shooting the shit about their lives for twenty minutes before finally getting on to the topic of the conversation. I prefer structured, storytelling podcasts, not without personality, but with a little more payoff and a little less Diggnation.

Ms. Elissa introduced me to The Heart, and Love + Radio at a time in my life when I most needed help understanding my heart, when I was wrestling with emotions and trials that I couldn’t process. Hearing others’ stories helped me start to process my own, especially the F*CK LOVE episode of The Heart. I still re-listen to that episode occasionally because it’s a sublime piece of work, and it tells two different stories of love and devotion with wildly different takes on marriage.

I was hooked.

Podcasts in the Radiotopia network cross-promote, so I heard of several other podcasts that interest me, and occasionally I listen to those, but I crave episodes from The Heart and Love + Radio, because everything in my heart is still in process. I heard L+R: The Adventures of Zoe Nightingale and I was stunned. This woman is an amazing interviewer (my biggest problem with my documentary career) and her ballsy technique is something that I truly want to master. She asks the craziest questions, the leftest of the left-field, and it puts people off-kilter, and their truth just blossoms from her interactions. And I LOL at least once every episode, unexpectedly. While talking to a street preacher, she blasted out this observation and I was laughing so hard and so unexpectedly (because it’s SO TRUE) I had to sit on the side of the bathtub to catch my breath:

“I think you went to jail for something AWESOME, like…you were like one of those Mexican druglords with like a gold God and like a skull and crossbones on and you were just like ballin’ out in like a Bentley with like 3 hot Columbian girls sucking your dick while you’re driving down the road…because you HAVE TO ball-out that hard to have to come to Jesus THIS hard…”

Immediately, I subscribed to the podcast. And I listened to a few episodes, and in addition to the wild stories and the take-no-prisoners interview style, there’s a touching of the truth in her work. She gets to the heart of the stories of the people that she interviews, through what seems like the zaniest methods, but in the end she treats her subjects in such a non-judgmental way that their humanity shines through.

My other favorite interviewer, documentarian Werner Herzog, speaks to subjects with candid honesty and takes them for exactly who they are in a serious, deliberative manner while exposing the quirks and character of his subjects, and their internal truths.

Zoe comes on like a freight train and blasts through their facades to reveal what lies inside. Both treat their subjects with humanity and dignity, but Zoe’s approach is to expose herself, and to pummel them with preposterous comments to gain rapport with her audience, while Herzog, Old Man Documentary, approaches every kook and weirdo with the respect given a sitting president. Zoe’s candid, open, nothing-to-lose spirit is inside of me, too, Zoe just got there first.

The One Where I Got It

One morning as I was getting ready and driving to work, I heard the episode Where the Women are All Strong, the Men Are All Good Looking and the Children Are All Above Average, and it stunned me how closely I identify with Zoe, this broadcaster whose techniques and dedication to the truth I deeply admire. I’m including a transcript and the audio link in a separate post because the contents of that interview are fascinating, so much so that I had friends work tirelessly to transcribe it for me (thank you SO much, you)…

1: Finding My Voice

This is the step in the life-journey that I’m on, because for so very long I allowed other people to try to push me into their little boxes. I still kind of do, often. But I’m star-shaped, not square. I have pointy bits that interfere with being put into square boxes. And who the fuck needs a box anyway. I used to only be in touch with my star when I was drunk or otherwise over-excited about something and allowed my emotions to override the social controls I’d built to be “acceptable”. Now I’m trying to overcome those Pavlovian reactions, to be true to myself and listen to what I really want. And live my own reality, shine and all.

2: Empathetic Interview-Speak

I love this quality about Zoe’s interactions, how she is able to sound as if she’s completely non-judgmental and on their side. This is the kind of empathy I want to find, not just professionally as a potential documentarian, but personally. To be strong in myself and yet allow others to be who they are. I already believe in “you do you as long as it doesn’t interfere with me doing me” but this kind of sharing is important, and shows great strength. I want to be the empath that truly does absorb others’ emotions and radiates not just my empathy, but a healing of sorts. I just found this article today that kind of explains how I empathize, but in reality, I’m more between the two types of empath because I’m not yet healed.

Actually, Carri isn’t an empath. Not yet. She hasn’t served her apprenticeship yet; she hasn’t done the work. She doesn’t know herself well enough…

An empath is able to empathize with others because they know what belongs to them and what belongs to someone else. Until then, we’re busy putting ourselves in everyone else’s shoes, feeling everything as if it’s us that’s going through it…

So now let me tell you about Billie…She knows that she doesn’t have to believe media hype and that, for every ‘bad thing’ that happens in the world, there is also so much kindness, so many more ‘good things.’…she breathes in the emotion she’s picking up, and she holds it in a space inside her… holds it there for the other until she understands its quality, truly gets the power of the energetic communication…then she breathes into that space in which it’s held all the love, compassion and calm she can find, and she has a huge well of that…when she’s felt its quality change, when she’s transmuted it, she breathes it back out into the world.

3: Love Me Or Hate Me

I have no idea yet what it is that makes me the sort of person that people either love or hate. I think it’s tied in to the concept of “being real”. I’ve been told privately, by many people, on many occasions that I am “the realest person they know”. I hate playing games and being fake and mostly because I’m not good at it. I wish my bullshit-ometer was stronger because I get hoodwinked (less often these days) by sneaky people I never suspected. But I don’t understand why that happens to me, not that I think I’m everyone’s BFF, but I never act to intentionally harm anyone. But people intentionally harm me. And maybe it’s because they understand me as little as I understand them. Or because they see the same “invincible” shell of the Dragon personality and don’t see the fact that dragons need their team as much as they need to lead.

4: Life is short

I’ve had my share of struggles recently, a very rough four or five years, some of which I have written about, some of which I haven’t. Like the breast tumor that was removed, but still fucks with my head. I remember thinking then, deeply regretting that I had never had children. I realized I wanted at least one child. But I also realize with a father who has spent less time with me in my life than stores do with Christmas decorations displayed, that I am going to be exceptionally picky about the father. If I ever marry again. My ex and I never had kids, and I really do think now that it’s because I knew that wasn’t going in the right direction. But I am also afraid of the things life can do to you, especially if it doesn’t kill you. I know others have it worse than me, but I would like to have just one quiet, peaceful year of growth. No more loved ones and family members lost. No more struggle to exist, no more health problems.

5: Transformation begets struggle

I have tried to do so much to be a fair, generous, loving, accepting person, and in this process to love myself more as well. I’ve always been interested in broadening my perspectives, experiences, being exposed to different viewpoints, even when they hurt me. It’s a long journey, but it’s my favorite one yet. I’m learning who I am at my core, and I couldn’t be paid enough to go back to the me I was in my 20s. My Self is so much richer now. And I am striving to strengthen myself, but as I become a better person, as I know and express myself, certain people began to have trouble with who I am, much less like me anymore. They did not grow with me, and as we grew apart, it grew harder and harder to even have a civil conversation. So, yeah, fuck lemonade, lets make sangria.

6: Elusive closure

There are a few things I haven’t blogged about in my life, and didn’t understand why I was avoiding them. Avoiding the cathartic process of writing about it, crafting the post, and releasing it out in the world to hopefully help someone else. I just couldn’t say the words and let it out. Can’t now, even, on some of the most painful topics. It stopped working for me that way when Chicken died. Everything else just started piling on top of me, like pāhoehoe billowing, cooling, solidifying. And some of them have to do with other people…which is why this part of the podcast got me right in the chest. That’s why. I get it now.

Z: “It’s, I mean, it’s, I’m not ready to talk about that.”

JS: “Ok, I guess that’s what I’m asking you, and I’m not pushing you to talk about it. I wanna know what makes someone like yourself, who’s so open with the world and your own processing. What makes you ready to talk about the things that are still edgy for you?”

Z: “Well, that’s about when I’ve done enough meditating, and enough soul-searching, and enough writing about closure, and I haven’t found that closure yet, so when there are things that I’m still sorting through, then it’s not the time to be open about it.

“Because I don’t actually know my position yet, and anything I talk about, I wanna give anybody who’s in that story the dignity of a response, and the dignity of me telling the story from a clear mind that’s really processed it properly. Because speaking from an angry, burned, sad, or broken heart doesn’t lend itself to honest storytelling, it lends itself to, a one-sided view of a portrait that’s a spectrum of beautiful colors and sadness that I’m not done painting yet.

7: I♥NY

My first trip to New York I was terrified. I’d never traveled alone before, and I’d never taken the subway alone before, and it was so overwhelming. We were starting to realize that our relationship wasn’t working out, and things were difficult and strained. I was exhausted and needed to be alone, and that trip…it was revolutionary. I did so many things by myself (which I’d been convinced I wasn’t competent to do), I ate when I wanted to, went where I wanted to, met my idol, started filming again…that trip was a huge turning point in my life, when I found again that I wanted to live. The energy and the diversity…the place of my rebirth…I miss NY so much.

8: Empathy and everyone

When I heard her say this, I thought…this. This is also true for me. People come to me for advice on everything, and they have never come back and told me I’m wrong, or that I fucked up their life with my advice. They keep coming back. And this, this caretaking, this service, this comforting of others…I love this. I know their feelings, especially when they’re broadcast at a high level. Last year was a very difficult one for my team at work, so much chaos and surreal psychological manipulation of the fabric of the team. Everyone had their emotions blasting through psychic megaphones, so much emotional noise, and while I tried to help, talk them through things (because I knew who the problem was and what needed to be done about it), but I was so overwhelmed by their hurt and fear and tension. There were certain people that I couldn’t spend much time with because, in the middle of my depression, the stress and tension placed on me by this individual on top of everyone else’s misery…it was hell. And I had to work, think things through, and make a difference. Toughest professional time of my life mostly because I can’t turn off the emotions. I’m learning, though. It’s a process, and a journey.

And having so many facets to my story, I recognize that everyone else has many facets to theirs, as well. And these stories – they’re what draw me to documentaries. The hidden gems in every person’s past, present…they’re fascinating. And by hearing from them, seeing their stories unfold, watching them talk about their stories…I feel what they felt, as if those experienced happened to me. The same reason I cry at roadkill, and cannot watch violent movies or TV shows…I channel emotions. I relish it. And I always want to help people heal, in any way I can.

9: Choosing my muse

I, too struggle with topics. Like this very blog – I write so much and I have no idea if anyone ever reads it. If you’re reading it, thank you – comment and let me know! But I do it mostly for myself, but with the types of work I want to do, documentaries and so on, if you know me, you know I have some niche interests, and I don’t know if anybody cares about that. And I’m going to admit, I don’t want to have to deal with the Internet – the hate and the bashing and the one-star reviews. So I worry that what I want to do won’t be at all interesting to anyone but me. But that shouldn’t stop me. But sometimes it does.

So thank you, Zoe – thank you for being you, for speaking your truth, and along the way, helping me understand mine…