07 March 2011

Sound Bytes

I just finished an hour long interview with Radio Boston's Meghna Chakrabarti. We have more in common than just the letters in our first names. We are both relatively new at being moms. We hate that children sometimes get sick. We wish it were easier to help them feel better. Revolutionary ideas.

Now ultimately what will happen with the recordings she made today is that they will be edited and rearranged and pieced together into a story, one that is easy to listen to, that carries the audience along an arc from beginning to end. At the end, hopefully, listeners will feel almost uncontrollably compelled to buy multiple copies of Between Expectations. Also, and more importantly, they will have a sense of how amazingly difficult it is to be a parent of a sick child - or to be that sick child - and will go forth into the world to be a little bit more understanding, a little bit nicer to the people they interact with.

Is that too much to hope for? Maybe. We'll see what Meghna and her team of sound engineers come up with. And when I have an air date, I will let you know.

It was a somewhat odd experience, standing in a hallway at the back of the Children's ER, people walking by, voices carrying down the corridors, children crying in the not so far distance. It was odd to stand in a place I have spent so much time and do nothing but talk.

She wanted to know about some of the children I wrote about in the book. She wanted to know about moments when I had been frightened or angry or sad. She wanted all of that to miraculously and eloquently come forth from my lips and into her microphone.

"I wrote it all down," I wanted to say, "in part because it was so hard to talk about."

But that doesn't make for a very good interview. So I talked. I have no idea what I said, but I said it.

A little more than an hour. She looked at the timer on the recorder and said something like, "wow," as if we had gone way over budget. So we wrapped things up. We parted ways. She took with her an hour of my voice and hers, punctuated by overhead announcements and the laughter of families, and she will turn it into something bigger than just the words that were spoken.

But it is only an hour. An hour compared to the three years I spent in residency or the five years it has taken for this book to find its way to the shelves of bookstores, an hour is nothing.

When Public Affairs called me beforehand to remind me that my views are not necessarily those of the hospital - (Did they hear somewhere that I am a radical left wing nut who believes that children should have access healthcare? Shocking!) - they also suggested I practice answering questions beforehand, out loud, in front of my husband. They said the question itself is not overly important and that I should decide upon one or two things I want to say, one or two points I want to get across, and find a way to fit them in.

They were not telling me anything I did not already know from watching The West Wing. Debating is all about steering the conversation and having talking points, even more than it is about how many people it takes to pick out your tie.

The problem is, I don't have any talking points. My residency was long and it was messy and there were many children I wrote about in a book and many more who I didn't write about but whose stories deserve to get told someday and somewhere else. Maybe these children and their families have talking points, things they would like to say if only someone would listen. I bet they do. I hope they do. But I would also guess they would be long and complex and nuanced. They would not sound like a politician in a reelection campaign. Life just isn't like that.

So I don't know how this interview will sound when it airs next week. My husband will tell you, I'm not very quotable. I ramble too much and try to include too many details. I'm not funny, at least not Sammy Davis Jr., Jr. funny. But I think I can live with that.

And, I suppose that's what sound engineers are for.


  1. Hi Meghan, I truly enjoyed speaking with you today. No, you don't speak in sound bites! But, I'm not looking for a polished, agenda-driven interview. You were thoughtful and honest, which is what I think our listeners can and will appreciate.

    When I said "wow" about the hour that had passed, that was not because we'd gone over time. I could have spoken with you for much longer. I'm sensitive to the fact that you're a busy physician who was speaking to me on her time off, so the "wow" was just me being glad and grateful for your time.

    Certainly an hour is nothing in comparison to the years you spent writing the book. But an hour is also much longer than the few minutes that most media outlets set aside to feature stories such as yours.

    And by the way, I hope you didn't consider our conversation a debate, as you've written in your post. I certainly wasn't debating. Simply asking questions about the many moving stories you shared in your book so that our many listeners might hear and be interested in what you have to say.

    Thank you again for talking with me today. I will let you know when the story is due to air on Radio Boston.

    - Meghna Chakrabarti
    Co-Host, Radio Boston
    90.9 WBUR, Boston's NPR News Station

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Meghna. I so much enjoyed speaking with you as well. And it didn't feel at all like a debate. Still, I am powerless to resist a West Wing reference when one comes my way. I hope you don't mind!

  3. I don't mind. I just didn't want people to think I was doing a mean C.J. Cregg impression on you!

  4. "I wrote it all down....in part because it was so hard to talk about." Of all the wonderful truths that you (Meghan MacLean Weir) have captured, that one speaks to the depth and purity with which you view and feel each small patient who for one reason or another, has been fortunate enough to be placed before you. You transform all that internal unexpressed miasma of emotional, psychological and even spiritual response, into a piece of writing - each with its own size, shape, hue and tone that is roughly, sweetly, carefully framed for others to savor. Thank you.