For my birthday this year (March 11th) I decided to give myself the gift I’d been longing for, the chance to live life on my own terms. A big part of this was stepping away from my podcast The U Mind.
There had been a time when I had loved the creative challenges of crafting new episodes of the show, and writing satirical scripts to commentate about the rich bounty absurdity of life offers. Unfortunately, in an effort to garner more listeners and pander to the most vocal commentators of the show, the podcast had mutated into something I no longer wanted to take part in. Admitting this to myself was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
How It Began
At the shows inception, it was just me and another voice actor (or sometimes just me in multiple roles) performing a script I had written or even just improvising ridiculous scenes. It had originally been a send up of the alternative news genre that exploded on to the scene around about 2016. Through mutual contacts, I had been drawn into a podcasting network at the time that was devoted to such fare. Think Info Wars or The Joe Rogan Experience, taking society and science to task by way of intense Googling. Such shows have their place but weren’t really my style.
This experience however, had given me ample knowledge of this genre and its idiosyncrasies. I decided to do two shows as a send up of this format. The first was my audio drama, Creeping Wave Radio, which features a full cast of characters and keeps to a more dramatic style. The seasons of which were so labor intensive that I could only produce about 9 episodes in a year. To keep interest up, I created my secondary podcast “The U Mind”, released on a weekly schedule.
The U Mind interviewed guests who were supernatural entities, cryptids or had been affected by the like. Frequently, characters and themes introduced on The U Mind would resurface in the plot of my Creeping Wave Radio. I was strict about never interviewing real people, because honestly, if you want to talk to them, just log off and step outside. I wanted to create an environment of comedic, surrealist fantasy- to get away from all the real people in my life!
The metamorphosis had begun slowly. I’d have people, who had clearly never listened to my podcast, suggest a guest to me. They were always some local artist, or a guy in a band, looking for free promotion. Initially, I’d tell them flat out “We’re not that kind of podcast!” I’d reference “Comedy Bang Bang” or “Space Ghost Coast To Coast” and be met with disgust and the rolling of eyes.
“Clearly, you don’t take this podcasting business seriously!”
Exactly, that was the entire point! As a compromise, I would write scripts and offer the roles to local band members, or performers, making sure to plug their work at the end of each show. Why not get a little cross pollination from someone else’s existing fan base?
Not surprisingly, there were a number of artist who were offended by this. Some flat out refused the invitation, insisting “I’m not going on a show to pretend I’m someone else!”
The reaction was understandable of course, their work was important to them and my show wouldn’t be promoting it seriously. I started to question if maybe I was limiting myself by not doing more traditional interviews. I had a handful of loyal followers, but I wasn’t pulling in big numbers, maybe 30 downloads in a month. 50 if someone deigned to share my work online.
Playing By The Numbers
The numbers game was important because I couldn’t hope to get monetization or sponsorships. Without these, I was putting in all the time of a full time job without any recompense. I’d already discovered that my other show, which featured a full ensemble cast and music from local bands “Creeping Wave Radio” was not eligible for monetization. Even when the members of a local band agreed to have their song played on air, the label they were signed to didn’t. Not having enough in the budget to cover the rights for music, I resigned myself to simply take the loss and keep with the established format I’d originally envisioned. That meant The U Mind would have to pick up the slack.
Soon the show became a mix of actual interviews, improve and skits. I thought it was funny that people would never really know what they were getting, or who was a genuine guest. That element of surprise, which so delighted me, made other guests hesitant to appear.
“People will think I’m a joke” they’d protest.
Yeah? Join the club. Even though we had started to take a more serious bend, I still struggled to get any traction for my shows. My online “friends” I discovered, only listened if I was interviewing their friends. They almost never shared episodes and if I ever brought up the show, they were quick to snuff out the conversation with something dismissive like, “yeah, I mean it’s cool you have hobbies and all but… can we talk about something interesting?”
I have deep resentment to this day for my social media “friends” that in hind site I realize was unwarranted. They used social media to socialize and assumed I was doing the same. I used social media to market, and figured the social stuff was just a dance you cut in to but long enough to snag a new listener or client. Unfortunately, the dance went on for weeks, months, even years in some cases, without enticing my partner into the audience of my shows.
There’s really no polite way to say, “I’m not your friend, I’m marketing to you!” Indeed, with online marketing, you’re usually trying to convince people that the opposite is true. Unfortunately, people saw me as the kind of friend they could send memes and fart jokes to. The type of friend you could always, always, unceasingly hit up in the DMs when you were bored. Never the type of friend whose time was valuable and who actually cared if you took their work seriously.
The Beginning of The End
In 2020, I decided to switch gears, focusing on regular people who were making a difference in their communities. It was completely against the original concept of the show, and not at all my cup of tea. I’ve become tremendously adept at creating engaging conversation with people, and cutting a dashing social figure out of necessity, but at the end of the day, its all a pantomime and leaves me exhausted. It was one of the reasons I had wanted to do a character based podcast. After all, I’m always playing a character for people anyway, but in the setting of a skit, I’m less bound by the social repercussions of a poor performance.
Still, I figured that since Covid had come to town, people could use something to lift their spirits. We did many fascinating interviews during this period, and did get a boost in the numbers, but I was slowly disengaging with the show. It wasn’t mine anymore, just some huge, amorphous thing I was caught in the wake of.
Whenever you put your work out for public consumption, you can expect a swarm of nags to descend. One particular nag was the worst of the bunch. She had a number of connections through out the art and alternative culture community. She took great pains to remind me of this fact. These connections included former paramours of mine (with whom things ended quite viciously) and other relics from my past I hoped to keep at bay.
You can say, just ignore the “haters” but I genuinely lived in fear of social retribution. In my past, I’d found myself at the center of several defamation parades well before the term “cancelled” had entered the common lexicon. I knew what it was to lose years of your life to a contagion of mud slinging. With the incarnation of social media, I lived in a state of vigilant paranoia. For that reason, I tended to my stable of nags as though they were thoroughbred stallions. (I give a more extensive run down of this in my much longer article Delayed On Account of Hobbling)
When lock downs commenced in the state of California, my prized nag commented,
“This is a historically unprecedented time. Why don’t you interview people about how lock down has changed their lives?”
As much as I hated to admit it, given the source, I couldn’t deny that it was a good suggestion.
“I’ll be your first interview,” She said. It was less an offer and more of a dictate.
Drowning In Banality
Never the less, I put out a notice and rounded up several interviews around this premise. The first one, as expected, was terribly dry and rambling. I attempted to dress it up with some animatics, in order to compensate and add some visual humor. I realized that this was too big a work load for me to replicate with each interview.
While the guests who followed were much more engaging, I felt the show slipping through my fingers. The U Mind had begun as a creative project, an escape from the mundane. Now, it was quickly drowning into banality. Worse than that, it was highlighting the misfortunes of actors, performers and other creative people who’d had their livelihoods snuffed out. Theaters, club and galleries were all shut down, to help curb the spread of the disease leaving creative people without venues.
I’m not sure I drew the parallel between this and my own self imposed lock down, out of fear of social retribution. Perhaps on some unconscious level, this fueled my growing distaste for my creation. The U Mind had now become just another chore.
I tried to salvage my project by including short animatic intros at the start of each episode. The intros would tie into the plot of Creeping Wave Radio, as was the original purpose of The U Mind, priming people for the upcoming season.
My prize nag really disliked this new addition, and made it know to me through perpetual critiques and chastisements of the new style. While the animations were left intentionally stilted, and amateurish (I neither the time or the means to do more traditional cartooning) they took every opportunity they could to diminish my work in the guise of “constructive criticism.” They did their level best to see that I never felt secure in the new direction I was headed.
If I hadn’t been so stifled by fear of the social castigation they might have just blocked them then and there. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of inviting their help. The effect was not dissimilar to inviting a parasite to nestle into your skin.
The Parasite Feeds
They weren’t able to improve the animations of course, they weren’t set up for anything like that. They did however take it upon themselves to put out art and advertisements I never approved of, proposition guests on my behalf and solidify in everyone’s mind that we were a team now. A team in which one partner spent years building the framework and performing all the technical duties for the show and the other bullied their way in and started taking credit.
It was too much for me, and the next animated intro I wrote, for a guest of my nag’s choosing, ended with the show being forced into hiatus. In the plot of the show, the hiatus is brought on by the discovery that an outside party has infiltrated the equipment and has been culling information that could be used against them. Art imitating life.
Without the show as an impetus, I found the courage to sever my ties with my prized nag. Ironically, in all the years I’d spent pandering and placating to try and boost my popularity, what eventually set me free was telling the blunt, unadulterated truth. I simply told her exactly what I thought of her and the critiques she wielded so proudly. Then, I ignored her.
I realized that in so many aspects of my life I’d been pandering, and living bridled by that pervasive fear of social retribution and acceptance. Had I simply kept with the original concept of the show, I might have found an authentic audience.
These days, I’m stepping out as my self, not a mollified version of who I should be. When The U Mind returns, it will be as a more polished version of my original concept and not a frail appeasement. I’m taking this time to develop and fine tune this podcast into something I take pride in. A pride that won’t be diminished by nagging voices, no matter how virulent.
My nag has found another victim, and this time I’m watching from the outside as they employ their same pattern of attack. I recognize all the hallmarks of it, and won’t fall victim to that game again. My energies, instead, will be focused on reviving The U Mind and rediscovering who I am, when no one else is looking.