A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

Header image with the text Marginally Fannish

Tag: Project Management

Why I Love Chatting With My Co-Participants And How It Impacts My Research

I’m a couple of days away from the official (planned) half-way point of my project. By the end of May, I’ll have been working on/recording the podcast for five months, and I have another five months to go to plan, record, and publish episodes. So far, I’ve recorded twelve episodes, nine of which are available online. I’m going to write more in detail about the whole episode-process and how it contributes to my ongoing engagement with analysis and theory. However, first I wanted to outline the ways in which both I and the project have benefited from a specific aspect of the process i.e. the conversations I’ve had with my co-participants before and sometimes after the episode.

Sanjana and Aparna, my friends and co-hosts of multiple episodes, have a more regular presence on the podcast than other participants. In our case, our friendship has consisted of being excitably fannish about a lot of the things we love. In the context of the podcast, it’s forced us to examine our favourite worlds, stories and characters through a more critical lens. Before planning the episode, all three of us suggest fan texts for us to look at. After reading/listening to these, we meet to plan the episode segments based on the themes we’re each interested in exploring. Finally, while recording the episode itself, we have an informal chat guided by the structure this planning-session provides. During all these stages, we’re exposed to new ideas and interpretations – either through the texts we read, through our planning conversation, or during the episode itself. Our conversations help us think of things we wouldn’t otherwise have considered and provide multiple perspectives on the topic. We start thinking about the topics we’re exploring in new ways and they impact what ideas are at the forefront of our minds when we’re watching/reading new media. And I know this because we’re actively talking about these things in the midst of our other conversations after we record individual episodes.

With Episode 3, “Just Let Me Hug a Tree in the Woods: Wicca, Paganism, and Religion in Fantasy Media”, I learned a ton about Wicca and Neo-pagan religions thanks to Anna’s own practices and experiences. Again, this is something that I wouldn’t have considered exploring myself – as someone who isn’t religious, I have very little knowledge about even the mainstream faith traditions, let alone the lesser-known ones. I approached the episode very much as someone learning something new. Some of the texts Anna suggested also allowed me to see how a lot of Western fantasy, including the stories I’m familiar with, are underpinned by Judeo-Christian values. Our episode introduced Anna to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a podcast she ended up falling in love with and continued to listen to after the episode. Additionally, her participation on my podcast inspired Anna to begin her own podcast about LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing) which blends her academic interests in fandom, fantasy and religion with her personal interests of LARPing.

With Episode 4, “A Lot of Gold in Gringotts: Representations of Class and Considerations of Gender,” talking to someone about a British context of class using the Weasley family as a touchstone was very helpful to my own understanding of these issues both in the UK as well as back home in India. As someone who has very little experience with offline fandom (I’ve only been to one fan convention that Ali was at too), our conversation – both before and during the episode – also made me aware of the misogyny in such spaces which I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced myself – either online or offline. That episode as well as subsequent ones which Ali has listened to have introduced her to podcasts like The Gayly Prophet as well as shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ali freely and generously shares her thoughts and recommendations of podcast episodes on Twitter and Facebook, inviting more people into the conversation.

With Episode 5, “It’s Like She’s Not Even There: Misogyny, Masculinity, and Different Cultures”, Anna’s suggested texts helped me identify, articulate, and analyse misogyny in Supernatural and Harry Potter – two fandoms we both share – in ways which I previously hadn’t. Anna is a much more active part of both fandoms than I am or indeed, was even when I was in my early 20s. The perspectives she was interested in and the ones she shared with me were ones which are part of the mainstream discourse in the fandom spaces she inhabits. While planning the episode, Anna began thinking about different cultural representations of Greece (which is where she’s from) and other countries in media after I shared my own perspectives as an Indian fan of largely Western media. Even though we didn’t end up talking about this on the episode, our prior conversations influenced our thinking and opened us up to new ideas.

With Episode 6, “Different Bodies and Different Brains: Depictions of Disability and Ageism in Media”, our conversation and position was strikingly different from our previous episode on representations of race. In this case, all three of us were part of the dominant culture that’s represented in media – both in terms of ability and age. Our conversations negotiating this raised a lot of awareness about how much we don’t know and highlighted our blind-spots. While putting the recommended texts together, and even after the episode, we kept an eye out for articles and books which explored these themes. In my own case, our research and conversations helped put both issues at the forefront of my  thoughts especially since it was such a glaring blind-spot that I hadn’t previously addressed.

With Episode 7, “There’s Never Chicken Tikka Masala At Hogwarts: Different Cultures in Fantasy Media”, we did briefly speak about the things we were interested in exploring while planning the episode (including our own individual engagements with online fandom – Aditi is more active in fanfiction spaces and Tumblr whereas I tend to stick to podcasts and memes on Facebook fan pages). However, what I loved was how much we used our episode as a diving board to talk about other things our conversation had inspired us to think about. We have sporadically been continuing our conversation about different aspects of cultural representations on WhatsApp where we’re both happy about being able to talk to someone about things which we haven’t found space for in our other personal network.

With Episode 8, “Whose Stories Are Being Told: Centering Racial Diversity in Mainstream Hollywood Movies”, I honestly probably wouldn’t have watched the movies had Hibiki not recommended them to me. Of the three, I was only familiar with Crazy Rich Asians but not in a way which made me want to watch the movie. I’m so glad I got the chance to watch all three movies because I loved them in different ways and I loved the different kinds of diverse representations they featured. With this episode, language was a barrier since Hibiki isn’t comfortable with English. I wish I had taken more steps with this because I’m afraid the episode had me monopolising the conversation – where it ended up more as a lecture than a dialogue. However, I did learn a lot about Hibiki’s perspectives both through our planning and episode as well as the essay he wrote for the children’s literature module and our chats during the module. Meeting him personally and having conversations over a period of months helped fill in the gaps the language barrier posed for me personally; however, I don’t think this is reflected in the episode itself. In this case, I think all the other conversations were just as important as the one we had on the podcast. It’s also helped me be more mindful of different language needs and accessibility both while preparing a lecture (that Hibiki was a part of) as well as digital projects in general. Our conversation also presented a different engagement with race and racism than I was personally acquainted with.

With Episode 9, “Destabilise Heterosexuality As A Default: Queer Representation in Media and Fandom”, we didn’t spend too much time planning the episode or chatting because of both our separate academic commitments. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was talking to Diana for our episode. They are much more politically aware and engaged than I am and their points really made me expand my own thinking and challenge preconceived notions I didn’t even know I had. I had a lot of fun chatting with Diana – where we were full of both rage and laughter – and it was a great way to be able to identify the gaps in my own thinking through dialogue with someone who is much more steeped in the theme than I am – both through personal experience as a queer person as well as a researcher studying queerness in fandom.

With Episode 10, (an upcoming episode about dyspraxia, autism, Doctor Who, and fandom), I’ve known Robert for a few years but we’ve never really spoken about disability and trauma before. I did learn about dyspraxia through the Medium essay he wrote about Ryan’s character in Doctor Who. I also knew Robert is steeped in online fandom and was thrilled when he offered to participate on the podcast. I loved our conversation on the podcast because it taught me a lot, including some ways in which I should be more critical of mainstream discourse I’ve encountered. Robert problematised some of the things which appear a lot within fan studies research + shone some new light on certain aspects – merely by sharing his own experiences. I loved our pre- and post-recording discussions even more both because he’s a friend that I don’t get to chat with very often but also because it taught me so many new things in such a compassionate, understanding way – including my own experiences with trauma and anxiety. It was only when Robert shared his experiences with family trauma while planning the episode, that I realised I have my own experience about that – one I hadn’t shared on the podcast or with many of my friends here. Robert also mentioned that he felt uncomfortable about being on a podcast which tries to explore marginalised identities, until our conversation made him realise that he had some experiences and perspectives that were quite marginalised too. With one of the podcast episodes we listened to while prepping for our own episode – the Witch, Please episode about disability and queerness – Robert highlighted the fact that some parts of that were quite triggering since they so closely matched his own experiences and suggested we include a trigger warning in our episode. This is something I hadn’t considered before he pointed it out, and I’m so glad to be able to include that consideration into my work now, even though I hadn’t otherwise. I’m now thinking about triggers even in terms of potential workshops, sessions and lectures I do in future too.

With Episode 11, (an upcoming episode about women warriors in science fiction and fantasy), Lisa and I had a long conversation when we met on Skype to plan our episode – the planning meeting lasted for as long as my podcast episodes usually do. We enjoyed talking to each other about our favourite media and representations of women fighters as well as our own experiences and perspectives. As someone who hasn’t really thought about this issue at all, Lisa’s own background with martial arts as well as her deep-seated love for Mockingbird shone a light on another aspect of fan engagement. It also helped me identify the representations of female fighters I had encountered in some of my favourite media – and how gender and physical ability intersected with other identities – both marginalised and privileged. As with Episode 3, I was happy to get the opportunity to explore a topic which I wouldn’t have suggested myself.

With Episode 12, (an upcoming episode about Fantastic Beasts and Nagini), my preconceived notions which had been shaped by mainstream fandom discourse were well and truly smashed and taught me to be more critical of critique. The whole Nagini controversy had put me off watching Crimes of Grindelwald and I only did because it was one of Lorrie’s recommended texts. I had only ever encountered critiques of Nagini’s arc and the stereotypical representation of East Asian women in Western media. Since I wasn’t a part of that marginalised identity, and as someone who’s grown up in India and had Bollywood movies to represent people who (more or less) looked like me, I didn’t think I had enough knowledge to comment on this issue and took the mainstream critique for granted. However, Lorrie herself is an East Asian woman in the West and she problematises the critiques by providing detailed analysis as well as an unbridled joy for the character of Nagini and Korean representation in her favourite fictional world. (I ended up loving Crimes of Grindelwald – and I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to love it so guiltlessly had Lorrie not been so unabashed in proclaiming her love for the movie while we were exchanging emails). She also pointed out that since she had read the Harry Potter books as an adult, she had always been aware of the more problematic aspects in the series – but this hadn’t diminished her enjoyment of the world and just helped her acknowledge Rowling’s own blind-spots. She proposed this was perhaps different from people who had grown up with the series and now found themselves betrayed by it on finding all these problematic representations. I don’t know about others but this theory definitely resonated with me.

Growing Comfortable With Discomfort – Part 3

Even before I began the project, all my research prepared me for the fact that a lot of my initial plans will seem naive in hindsight and I’ll need to be willing to adapt and be flexible throughout all stages of the research project. I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I’ve met with unanticipated aspects throughout the project (some of which I’ve written about previously). Since this whole process is an educational one, even for myself, I’ve looked forward to learning from my mistakes – or even just learning another perspective. At the same time, whenever I first encountered an alteration in plans, my initial reaction would inadvertently be resistance. I was unsure what degree of change was allowed in my project not only based on early plans but also based on what I’d discussed with my supervisors and with the ethical review committee. However, four months in, I’ve become more comfortable and flexible changing some aspects of the project – despite what my initial thoughts were.

1) Editing out awkward bits in the episode 

When I first planned the podcast, I wanted to preserve the “authenticity” of my conversation with co-participants and not edit the episode too heavily. While I’m still onboard with this in terms of the actual content of the conversation, I’ve grown far more comfortable in marking filler phrases, pauses, stutters and fumbles to be edited out – not just my own but also of my co-participants. While my allegiance remains with the DIY aesthetic of the PhD project (where the quality of the podcast isn’t as important as the conversations themselves), I realise that making it easy to listen to is something which will help make it more accessible and approachable to more people. I’ve also become more confident in editing the transcript to filter the awkward bits out so that for those who prefer reading to listening, the experience is as easy and comfortable as possible.

2) Not doing the actual editing myself 

This is something I’ve been uncomfortable about right from the beginning – the fact that the technical editing is done by Jack, my partner. Jack offered to do this even before I launched the podcast; even though he had never edited audio before, he was confident in his abilities to experiment and figure it out. I was hesitant for two reasons – i) I didn’t want to impose on his time and hold him accountable to my self-imposed deadlines; and ii) I wasn’t sure that I should be getting outside help for any aspect of my project rather than doing everything myself. Initially, I went along with this plan purely as a time-saving exercise. I quickly learned that the podcast recording itself was the least time-consuming part of the episode process – the pre-production (wherein I shortlist texts and organise the episode) and the post-production (marking edits, transcript, intro/outro, publishing) took up much more of my time – about a week. If I added editing to the mix, my already-ambitious timescale would have been delayed and it would add to my overall stress. Lately, however, I’m growing increasingly comfortable with this. The time which is saved is still the most important bit – while I mark out the edits themselves after typing the transcript, Jack does the actual editing on Audacity – while he’s doing that, I can focus on other tasks which need to be done. Additionally, Jack responds to our conversation while editing with his own insights, examples, and experiences as a fan. As a Scottish man who grew up in a small town outside Glasgow, his perspectives and even the media examples are very different from my own knowledge. The conversations we have are interesting and illuminating – conversations which may not have happened had he not been in-charge of the editing. In Episode 7 about the representations of different cultures in fantasy media, he pointed to an episode about encountering unfamiliar food in Star Trek (which is science fiction not fantasy, but the point still held) which made it to the episode’s outro and transcript. Now, I like the idea of expanding the idea of co-creating the project by involving other perspectives than my own in the production process.

3) Using other fan podcasts

For every episode, I suggest some fan texts (mostly fan podcast episodes) for both my co-participants and I to look at to structure our own conversations. I also encourage my co-participants to share their own texts based on their interests and priorities. In the beginning, I was determined only to include those fan podcasts who had provided me with explicit permission to use their podcasts in my research in this way. However, after recording nine episodes of Marginally Fannish, I’ve realised that the ways in which we’ve included these episodes are usually only as discussion prompts to structure our episode and give us topics to talk about or to refer to when they introduce us to new ideas. While I had initially thought that we would be analysing these fan podcast episodes in our podcast, that hasn’t been the case. Furthermore, my co-participants present their own contributions of fan texts, where it isn’t feasible to garner permission from all those involved (this is excluding Breaking The Glass Slipper podcast, which one of my co-participants suggested in Episode 3, and which I then included in my research as a general fandom podcast – after getting in touch with the creators). For some of the upcoming episodes, I’ve included fan podcasts where I haven’t heard from the creators despite getting in touch with them twice before beginning my project. I believe that as far as we’re not analysing or critiquing the podcasts themselves and only using them as references or discussion prompts, it isn’t unethical to use these publicly available fan texts to inform our own ideas and discussions.

4) Co-participants not going through all the fan texts 

When I first began the podcast, I assumed it would be best for my co-participants and I to go through the same fan texts so that we have a common starting point to base our conversation on. At the same time, I was wary of giving my co-participants extra “homework” which they may not have the time or inclination for. I tried to create room for their opinions about this format after they signed participant consent forms. All of them agreed to go along with the format. However, when I started recording, I soon realised that some participants did go through the texts while others didn’t. I was initially uncomfortable about this but chose to ignore it since our conversations were still based on what both the co-participants and I were interested in talking about. After one participant revealed that they were uncomfortable about my choice of texts and the process of going through the texts themselves however, I’ve been much warier of placing the “burden” of these texts and this format on my co-participants. Since then, I’ve made it clear in emails that my co-participants are under no obligation to go through all or any of the texts I’ve suggested. If the participants prefer, we can just have an informal conversation without any resources structuring the episode. I still use the texts since they help me put my thoughts together but my co-participants are no longer required to do this, especially if they already have thoughts about the topic we’re exploring in our episode.

Growing Comfortable With Discomfort – Part Two

When I initially designed my project and its methodology, I wanted to keep the format as open-ended and flexible as possible so as to incorporate suggestions from my co-participants and their priorities/preferences, especially if they differed from mine. About a month into my project, I realised that my theoretical plans may differ from practical considerations; however, even then, I assumed that the overall structure of my project was reasonably dynamic. The overall design involved:

1) Asking participants what themes they were interested in exploring (both from the list I’d developed as well as their own inputs)

2) To make the format more of an informal conversation rather than an interview, I suggested exchanging fan texts about our favourite fictional worlds based on themes of our episode.

In my initial emails, I outlined my plan and sought suggestions from my co-participants about any format ideas they had which could inform the structure. One of my co-participants immediately pointed out that they weren’t a fan in the sense that I had suggested; rather than consider themselves fans of a specific text, they considered themselves fans of science fiction and fantasy as a genre. Hence, the exchange of fan texts based on specific media may not work. That’s the first time I realised that perhaps the format I had outlined wasn’t as flexible as I had envisioned since I hadn’t even considered this alternate expression of fannishness. In my response, I acknowledged that my suggestion may have been limiting. I asked them to suggest any kind of texts – fannish or otherwise – which would help me learn about their perspectives since I was so ignorant of the theme we were going to be exploring. After some thought, they proposed talking about a specific aspect of the theme we were exploring and its engagement with their fandom. This sounded great to me and I scheduled our episode and put it out of my mind.

When I was putting together texts for this co-participant, I shortlisted fan podcast episodes which touched on the theme we were exploring in different ways – either through the hosts applying that specific lens to a popular text or by talking about a more niche text which explored the theme in interesting ways. This included a section which had extracts from a Harry Potter fan podcast. My participant responded saying they hoped I didn’t expect them to talk about Harry Potter since they didn’t like the books too much – something I hadn’t realised. I responded by assuring them they didn’t have to talk about the series at all and explained the reasoning for the inclusion since it helped me understand the perspectives better – especially since it was an idea I hadn’t previously considered. Additionally, I told them I might bring up Harry Potter since I was a huge fan and I use it as a framework for the discussions; however, I may also leave it out since our conversation would ultimately depend on what the participants themselves were interested in exploring.

Shortly after that, the world went into quarantine. My co-participant and I were scheduled to record an episode at the end of March. However, not having heard anything from them by the date we were supposed to chat and plan the episode, I sent them an email assuring them that we could postpone our episode given the circumstances. I didn’t want the podcast to burden any other duties or priorities they may now have. They responded saying they would like to postpone; however, it wasn’t for pandemic lockdown reasons. They revealed that they didn’t like any of the texts I wanted to talk about. They said they would be happy to talk about their own research but weren’t up for looking at new texts. None of this was said in an unkind way; they were quite apologetic about their response.

When I first read the email, I wasn’t able to articulate my feelings. My initial emotion was discomfort, quickly followed by dismay. It was only when I took some time to sit with my feelings and think about them at a (brief) distance that I could unpack my exact emotions. I was initially uncomfortable because I began second-guessing my format and suggestions. I wonder if this has something to do with my imposter syndrome generally – in academia, in the UK, as a fan. I didn’t want to cause offense and I didn’t want to come across as a fool. I interrogated these feelings further and realised I have no problems acknowledging my ignorance or inexperience – in fact, I had done precisely this in my initial emails to all my co-participants. Next, I briefly considered whether I was uncomfortable because I felt like the participant wasn’t being flexible. I dismissed this thought when I realised the true source for my consternation – the format I was so proud of designing (incorporating some advice from my supervisors too) was actually not as open as I had initially thought. While I was convinced that it (and, by extension, I) was flexible and dynamic and responsive to alternate suggestions, my first brush with something not going according to plan revealed how wedded I was to the original plan.

Additionally, I was very ashamed that my co-participant may have felt put upon by the format and felt unable to say so. I sent them an email saying as much and reiterating that their concerns and reluctance were absolutely valid and was deeply apologetic that my assumption of the flexibility of the format format caused their discomfort. It’s not an ethical concern I had even considered about while designing this project. I tend to be excitable and enthusiastic about ideas I love and sometimes end up bulldozing other people’s perspectives; while this is usually inadvertent, it is still something I need to grapple with not just with the planning of episodes but also during the conversations themselves. I don’t want to impose by ideas on others and leave little room for different perspectives – completely the opposite of what I want, actually! For now, I’ve emailed the participant an apology and said I’d be happy for them to participate in any way that they can. They responded graciously and said they would think about an alternate format. At this point, I’m not sure whether our episode will still go ahead – I absolutely would love for it to because I think I have a lot to learn from my participant’s perspective. But even if it doesn’t, I’m still glad to have had the opportunity to learn from my missteps, miscommunication, and discomfort.

Balancing work to avoid being overwhelmed

It’s the third week of the pandemic lockdown and I think I’m finally feeling less of a workaholic and less overwhelmed by all the work I have to do. Of course, the fact that a co-participant originally due to record in March postponed our episode may have helped decrease the workload and my stress. But I’m also becoming more comfortable with the idea that I’m not going to fall behind on work and that I don’t need to be working all the time/feel guilty for not working all the time. Three weeks ago, I was much more overwhelmed by all the different components of the project I had to focus on which only led to me being irritable and stressed out and unable to get everything done. The project elements I was struggling with included:

1) Talking to co-participants on different platforms 

I struggle with constant social media contact even in my personal life and often reply to friends and family a few days after they’ve messaged, simply because checking messages is something I find very stressful. With the participants, while I started off being prompt in replying to emails, the conversations with some participants have now moved elsewhere (such as Facebook or WhatsApp) which I have trouble keeping up with. It’s something I’m still struggling with but I’ve become better at carving out some time to just respond to correspondence (both personal and project-based)

2) Finding fan podcast episodes to shortlist 

I enjoy the process of looking for relevant podcast episodes for different participants and the themes they’re interested in exploring. I love listening to fan podcasts (admittedly, some more than others). However, at a certain point in the month, I want to be able to finalise the texts I’m going to suggest to the participants who’ve been scheduled to record episodes the following month. During that period, I’m deluged by a constant feeling of playing catch-up because I’m listening to a bunch of podcast episodes all day every day. I can’t focus on doing any other work because I feel like I need to only focus on finalising texts (characteristically, I also usually end up finalising way too many texts). What’s helping with this is that by now, I’ve listened to and documented several podcast episodes that fit into themes which we will discuss in future episodes, so I’m not starting from scratch every month.

3) The recording to publishing process 

In the middle of the shortlisting, I also had to work on publishing the episodes I had recorded. The most time-consuming process was typing the transcript, highlighting edits, and then creating a lightly-edited transcript with relevant links and images for the blog. All this was squeezed into too few days because I wanted to stick to my schedule of an episode every two weeks. I’ve only recorded two episodes in March so I’ve been able to better balance this process in the last couple of weeks; I assign a task every day throughout the week rather than trying to get it all done in one or two days. However, April is going to test this balance since I have four episodes scheduled to be recorded. I mentioned to my supervisors that I may end recording the podcast in August rather than October as I had originally planned. This would allow me to keep recording episodes more frequently so I will have all the data. But I can take my time with the publishing process, and publish episodes until October, so I don’t feel overwhelmed by it all.

4) No brain-space to do other things

The most frustrating aspect of being overwhelmed by the aforementioned elements of the project was that I couldn’t bring myself to focus on the other project-related things I wanted to do. I’ve borrowed several books from the public library and found others as ebooks which deal with certain aspects of the intersectional themes and identities I’m exploring throughout my project. I want to supplement my project by reading these since it helps me learn about identities I’m ignorant about + I don’t only want to rely on academic sources. I also felt guilty about devoting time to re-watching Doctor Who or re-reading Harry Potter, since I considered that to be too fun to count as “real work”. However, when I took a week off to travel for my birthday, I re-read The Philosopher’s Stone and realised that reading it both critically and for fun provided me with new insights which went on to inform my thinking and conversations in our podcast episodes. I’m starting to get over feeling guilty about doing these three things for research (albeit secondary research which I also find fun). Which is why I’ve scheduled time every day to do one or more of these activities i.e. read non-academic literature, re-read Harry Potter, and re-watch Doctor Who.

Currently, what has been most helpful in combating this overwhelmed, brain-is-too-full feeling is preparing a realistic and not over-ambitious weekly schedule every Monday. My weekly planner is a blessing since it has limited space for every week so I can’t get too carried away with my to-do lists. I’m definitely going to be using this even post-lockdown since it’s helping me achieve a balance between productivity and relaxation. Additionally, I’m also ensuring I finish work at 5 pm every day (which is when I go for my walk – though I do listen to fan podcasts on my walk because otherwise the walk feels wasted … baby steps!), and I have two days where I don’t work. Scheduling the last three weeks this way has made the working days fly past but without making me feel too exhausted to do fun things by the end of the day/week. It only took me two years of the PhD to learn how time off from work is crucial because it has such a positive impact on the time I’m actually doing the work.

Researching And Podcasting During A Pandemic

I’ve fallen way behind on my fieldnotes with this project. My initial plan was to have post regularly – at least once a week. But there have been a series of disruptions which made that a little difficult – first, my brain was occupied by the anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi, then I went away for a week (and ignored both the world and my work), and now there’s a global pandemic and it feels like the whole world is just waiting in the quiet before the storm.

I’ve read all these Twitter threads, Facebook posts, and articles within the academic community talking about how it’s okay if your productivity takes a hit during the pandemic and, for most people, business won’t be and shouldn’t be going on as usual. The thing is, I’m working way more than I usually would as a pandemic coping mechanism. Filling my brain with work allows me to avoid spiraling into an internet rabbit-hole where I’m constantly refreshing for news and updates about what’s happening in India, in the UK, and the rest of the world. I’m fortunate in that my project isn’t going to be majorly impacted by the lockdown since all my work is online. I’ve also been largely working from home for just over a year and a half, so I don’t have to grow accustomed to new habits. The only thing I haven’t managed to figure out is a good work/life balance – and that’s growing increasingly worse during this self-isolation.

One of the problems is that I love my project very much – possibly too much since I don’t know where my project ends and my life begins. I suppose this is always an underlying risk when working on something you love. However, I’m now definitely starting to feel like my work is taking over my hobbies so my brain is never off. When I try to turn my brain off by just doing a bit of mindless scrolling through social media, there’s the pandemic news everywhere – telling me it’s okay to not be productive (I already know this; I just don’t know how to implement this) or telling me all the fun new things I can be trying out (I would love to be able to do this, but again, there’s the problem of me turning into a workaholic).

Gif of a woman in front of a laptop. Text says: Oh my god I need help.

Since I work from a very tiny flat, it’s difficult to get away from it. Earlier, I used to solve this problem by stepping away from my flat to step away from my work. I’d go on walks around the city or to the library and wander around a museum or something (okay, I might be lying a little bit – this isn’t entirely getting away from work since I listen to fan podcasts while walking. What did I tell you?! I’m turning into a monster!). During our last meeting, my supervisors had warned me that I needed to take breaks lest I fall prey to burnout. Now my brain is very much on the brink of a burnout and I’m not sure how to prevent it. The day before yesterday, I stopped working at 7 pm and felt very proud of the accomplishment? And yesterday, even though I was in considerable period-cramp pain, and even though I usually would have taken the day off, I worked through the pain and worked for six hours. And again, felt quite proud of myself for only working for six hours. Self-awareness isn’t a problem here. I’m aware of the problem. My brain just seems to be intent on self-sabotage.

This week I promised myself I’d be less of a work-obsessed monster. I usually rely on daily to-do lists which often fill an entire page of the notebook and are usually entirely unrealistic and only succeed in giving me a momentary sense of satisfaction when I tick something off, but ultimately result in a pervading sense of guilt of not having ticked everything off the list (which I probably need a functioning Time-Turner or TARDIS to do). This week, I relied on my weekly planner instead. The advantage of this planner is that each day has a very fixed space to write tasks in – just a small box. This forced me to focus on only the key tasks I needed to do and could realistically hope to achieve in a single day. It also helped me pause and take stock of all the things I needed to do over the week and assign different tasks to different days (I know this might sound super obvious to anyone reading this – but I think you underestimate just how disorganised and easily distracted I am and just how many thoughts run through my head every minute). I’m going to stick to the weekly planner method for the next few weeks and see if that helps manage my unhealthy work habit.

My friend (and one of my podcast co-hosts) is trying to be kind to my brain because I seem unable to do it myself. Both my co-hosts have adjusted the episode schedule so that I don’t feel rushed (we were supposed to record last week but they convinced me to push it to this week instead). It helped a great deal. It allowed me to step back a bit and realise I don’t need to be cramming everything into my already work-heavy schedule just to ensure I’m being 110% productive every single day. I haven’t had a day off since the 15th of March i.e. nearly two weeks ago. I justified working through my pain yesterday because I’m determined to take the entire weekend off this time around. But I could easily have taken yesterday off as well as the weekend off. I’m currently accountable only to myself. If my latest episode is published on Saturday or even Monday instead of Friday i.e. tomorrow, it will only ever matter to me (I mean my mother, who seems to have become a dedicated listener of my podcast even though she is only vaguely aware of my research and the things I talk about, might be waiting super enthusiastically – but I doubt it). I’m trying to learn how to be kinder to my brain, but the process is long and slow. And I think one of the first things I should forgive my brain for is not changing overnight.

[My boyfriend just walked into the house. He works in an Amazon warehouse so can’t/doesn’t have to work from home during the pandemic.

Him: How has your morning been?

Me: Okay. Productive. I’m writing a blog post about becoming a workaholic during the pandemic.

Him: Bullshit!

Me: Okay more of a workaholic.

Him: Is that what you wrote? Or are you blaming the pandemic for being a workaholic?

Me: FINE. I’ll write that I’ve always had workaholic tendencies but now I’m becoming worse.

Are you happy now, Jack!?]

Pre-Recording Checklist For Podcast Guests – Part 1

After recording two episodes with guests, I’ve learned that it’s probably helpful to have a checklist handy to make sure both the guests and I have all the information we need for the episode. This list is still evolving and I am and will continue adding things to it as and when I learn from my mistakes through the podcast experiment.

1) Ask guests to send a brief bio before we record. For the first guest episode, I thought of the bio after our episode and had to ask for it, then record it separately from the episode itself. For the next episode, I had the bio ready before we began talking and read it out as part of our recording. It works much better that way.

2) Ask guests to send a photo either of them or anything they think represents their work and/or the topic of our episode conversation. I use this photo for the episode cover art.

3) Ask guests to introduce their own experiences with the intersectional themes we’re discussing during that episode coupled with any other aspects of their identity, work or fandom.

4) Inform them that our conversation will be largely informal and they don’t need to worry about stumbling over thoughts or fumbling over words since I can edit out any bits which aren’t a part of the discussion (mostly um’s and long pauses). I can also edit out anything they said but would rather not appear on the episode.

5) I create an episode outline with themes I’m interested in, a suggested order of these segments, and who takes the lead on each segment (the guest or me) to help me organise my thoughts. Guests are free to use or ignore these based on what they find most helpful.

6) Ask guests what themes they’re interested in talking about based on the texts we went through. Add these themes to the episode outline and rearrange the segments into a sensible order.

7) Tell guests that our conversation will last for a maximum of an hour (though we have gone a little over this in both episodes; I need to keep a better eye on the clock!)

8) Technical reminders for guests:

i) They should preferably be in a quiet room with little to no background noise

ii) They can use either a laptop or a phone microphone

iii) Ideally, they should use earphones/headphones (I learned this the hard way because at some points, I can hear my own voice echo through my second guest’s speakers). If they don’t own a pair, they should use the push to talk feature so that their microphone only picks up sound when they push the button.

iv) We should both record our conversations separately on Skype so that during editing, the audio quality of both our voices is more or less the same. If I only use my audio (which I’ve had to for one reason or another for three out of four episodes), my audio turns out to be clearer than my co-hosts or guests.

v) Guests should preferably record on Skype rather than another software. One of the guests recorded it on a Mac and the audio speed in their file was out of sync with the audio speed in my file. This became so impossible to edit that we ended up only using my audio for the episode.

My Episode Recording to Publishing Process – February 2020

Since I’ve recorded three episodes – two with my co-hosts (one of which was a test anyway) and one (upcoming one) with a guest – I wanted to document my current recording-to-publishing process. At the end of the data generation stage, I’ll be  interested in comparing this process from an early, experimental stage of the project to how/if it develops later, when I’ve grown more used to this whole podcasting thing. Currently, the entire process outlined below takes me a week (which includes a day or two off and/or a day or two working on other things). All my participants have a week to get in touch with me in case they want to exclude any part of our conversation, or if they have changed their mind about the podcast and want to withdraw.

1) Pre-recording meeting

I meet the guests on Skype to plan our episode. First, we go over the relevant tech details for the episode. Next, we discuss the themes we’d like to cover in our conversation (we each take turns outlining what we found most interesting inspired by the texts we read). This is also a good opportunity to meet/chat with people for the first time and establish a rapport since I don’t know a lot of my co-participants.

2) Record

We meet on the scheduled day and have an informal conversation which we both record. Having audio files from both helps in editing so that the voice and volume are roughly similar. I need to do a better job with preparing an informal intro and outro for my guests. This matters less with my c0-hosts since we had an entire episode segment dedicated to introducing ourselves.

3) Type transcript for editing

I listen to the recorded conversation and type a transcript, complete with the stutters, fumbles, awkward bits, and technological glitches. I also mark the spots where I need to insert links to episode text resources.

4) Mark edits

After typing the transcript, I listen to the conversation again while going through the transcript. This time, I highlight those bits which I’d like to edit out of the final episode file. My system is currently:

i) Yellow highlight to definitely delete

ii) Green highlight to delete if possible

iii) Blue highlight to point out technological glitches and see if they can be fixed

I do this with the understanding that it may not be possible to delete or fix all the things; given the option between leaving awkward bits in or risking the conversation sound stilted, I’ll always choose the former.

5) Edit

I send my transcript with suggested edits and the audio files to Jack, my boyfriend and editor. I made the decision to recruit help with the technical aspect of editing to save time. I have more participants than I anticipated, and editing the file myself would add a stressful amount of time to the project. I also like the idea of including more collaboration as a part of the process. I still retain the hope of doing some editing myself at some point, if only to learn a new skill.

6) Transcript for blog

I create a second, clean transcript for the blog. This transcript doesn’t have the time codes (which are necessary for editing) nor does it have the filler words and stutters which may remain in the episode. This is to ensure a smooth reading experience. If, for whatever reason, people would prefer the unedited transcript, I’ve asked readers to let me know, and I’d be happy to send it to them. While creating this transcript, I also mark the spots in which any additional links or images need to be added.

7) Download images

I search for and download all the images and gifs I’m going to use in the episode transcript on the blog. I save all of these in separate, named episode folders.

8) Read transcript to make notes 

I read the transcript and make notes for potential title ideas as well as points for the episode intro and bio.

9) Write episode intro, outro

Based on the notes created above, I write an episode intro and outro.

10) Record episode intro and outro

I record the episode intro and outro on my laptop. This simply involves reading the text I’ve prepared earlier. I send these audio files to Jack to add to the beginning and end of the episode.

11) Write episode bio

Based on the notes I’ve made, I write the episode bio. This bio covers the key themes of our conversation. It goes on Anchor and SoundCloud to provide potential listeners with an idea about the episode. I also adapt the text of this bio to use on social media when I share the link to the episode.

12) Listen to the edited episode

Once Jack sends the edited episode back to me, I listen to the file and cross-check it with the clean transcript which will go on my blog. If there are any further changes I need to make to the audio file, I note down the time stamps and send it to Jack. He makes the changes, sends the file back to me, and I only cross-check the time-stamped bit.

13) Add transcript to blog

I create a new blog post and paste the transcript. This is when I insert the links and add the images.

14) Upload episode 

I upload the episode to SoundCloud (the link of which I use on my website) and Anchor (which shares the episode to Spotify, Google, and Apple among other platforms). I add the bio and a cover image for the episode alongwith some key word tags. I link to the episode on the blog transcript and hit publish.

15) Share on social media 

I share the episode post on social media. First, I share it on the Marginally Fannish Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. Then, I share it on my personal Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. I tag the co-hosts and guests on this post (after checking with them first).

16) Send episode to co-hosts/guests

I also send the episode post to my co-hosts and guests either via email or WhatsApp.

Pre-Podcast Recording (Very) Minor Crisis

On the day my co-hosts and I were supposed our pilot episode, I spent the morning catching up on the two texts A suggested. I’d ended up making so many notes based on the themes and segments we had planned that I didn’t trust my memory to remember all the points. I began putting together an episode outline to help remember all the cues, and realised I was taking up far too much talking-time. I then checked a few elements with S and A and asked them to take over some segments. They, in turn, suggested sharing my outline with them so they could refer to it too. Before sending it to them, I slowly began realising I may have too many notes and warned them about it. I justified it using my pilot-episode-nerves as an excuse (I was nervous, but I’m a chronic over-preparer of things).

This over-preparedness ended up backfiring. Once they saw my outline, A and S were too freaked out since they hadn’t prepared a similar document with copious notes and too many details. They felt extremely uncomfortable about their lack of preparation and wanted some time to make too-many notes too, “as you have scared us” (Aparna said). We then decided to postpone the recording by a day so they could go off to over-prepare too.

This made me conflicted about my process in this particular project. While I’m used to over-preparing for any project, I’m not used to sharing this with collaborators (usually because I work by myself). Perhaps some prior communication about my habits and plans may have given A and S some sort of heads-up about what to expect. But, at the same time, I was trying very (perhaps too) hard not to influence their actions based on mine. I inadvertently also seem to have set a precedent for my co-hosts to follow. S wanted to follow my example since I’d done the most research (which is true, but I don’t think that gives me any insight into the best process for others). P believed that my notes helped them realise they may do better with similar notes.

Ultimately, I’m unsure of whether the notes will end up hindering or helping the recording. But I ended the day feeling a bit Gollumish about sharing my contrived and roundabout process with others!

Gif of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Text says: My precious

Planning A Podcast With Co-Hosts – Lessons Learned

I met my co-hosts Aparna and Sanjana over video chat for our first official podcast discussion on the 12th of January. We had been chatting about the podcast on WhatsApp on and off but we’d scheduled this meeting to decide the format, themes, and schedule of our episodes, as well as draft a plan for our pilot episode.

Sanjana suggested two segment ideas for future themed episodes:

1) What If? – Discuss what happens if a specific element is changed in canon

2) Missed Opportunities – Discuss gaps in canon where we can explore diversity

We decided to introduce segments based on the episode and the texts we were discussing, thereby keeping the format for every episode quite flexible. We also decided to record episodes every three weeks rather than every month to make up for the delay in the podcast schedule (I’m about a month behind). When I told them about my too-many-participants problem, Sanjana pointed out I had to stop looking for more at some point soon. While I had initially planned to do another round of recruitment in mid-January, I’ve now indefinitely postponed this plan. Aparna suggested having multiple guests on a single episode. While I was tempted by the multiple guests format, I was (and still am) hesitant about that since it would mean much less time and space for individual guests to share their diverse perspectives and ideas. I’m still undecided but for now, I plan to have more frequent episodes than I had planned with individual guests. Of course, that might turn out to be a huge mistake and cause my future self to boo and hiss at my current self!

Sanjana suggested that the first theme we explore should be race, which Aparna and I immediately agreed to. Sanjana thought it would be a good place for us to start, considering that we’ve grown up identifying with Western media which features people from another race and how this continues to influence our beliefs. She also believed it would be interesting to explore Harry Potter and Doctor Who, both of which are set “in the world that colonised us.” Later, I mentioned that one of my supervisors had suggested our first episode not tackle race since that is a theme which most intersectionality scholarship delves into the most, often at the expense of others. Hearing this, Sanjana had second thoughts. However, I agreed with her previous points. Furthermore, intersectionality scholarship largely explores the perspectives of black communities in the US who have a very different relationship with race than three Indian women, one of whom is now an immigrant in a largely white country.

Before the race episode, though, we agreed it would be prudent to record a pilot episode where we introduced ourselves and our engagement as fans with fandom. Here, we wouldn’t focus on a particular individual theme and would use it as a test episode, since none of us had any podcasting experience. The day after our meeting, I listened to The Sorting Hat episode of Imaginary Worlds, and thought it would provide a perfect framework for our pilot discussion.

Lesson Learned Number 1: Plan! 

We had initially decided to record our episode on 18th January but didn’t end up talking about the episode at all until the 17th (by which time we hadn’t planned anything). I suggested meeting to discuss the pilot episode before we recorded it on the now postponed date of the 19th/20th. For future episodes both with my co-hosts and with guests, I’ve learned to be more proactive about planning the schedule to prevent delays.

Lesson Learned Number 2: Communicate! 

Sanjana thought the pilot was going to be a mock episode about race. I didn’t think we needed to rehearse an episode before recording it; the pilot episode could act as our experiential learning process. After our meeting, we decided to do a technical test on the 20th and record on the 21st. To avoid miscommunications in future episodes, I’ve learned to clarify plans and not make assumptions about what the other person may have understood.

Lesson Learned Number 3: Discuss! 

By the time we met via video chat on 19th January, Aparna had suggested two articles. Before meeting, we jotted down our ideas for potential discussion topics on a shared Google doc. We decided the segment order collaboratively and organically as Paru made notes on this shared document. We also decided that we’d take turns leading different segments and divided responsibilities collectively. We ended the meeting feeling very good about the usefulness of the meeting itself and excited about our episode. For all future episodes, I’m going to meet my co-hosts and guests – preferably over Skype but at least over email or Instant Message – to discuss the format and themes of our episode before recording it.

Recruiting Participants As Podcast Guests

Due to a series of unanticipated events, I only officially started recruiting participants on the 23rd of December by sharing posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – something I had planned on beginning a month and a half earlier. This was terrible timing both for the UK (holiday season) and India (mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens – something which was also keeping me heavily distracted). Consequently, I was fully prepared that I wouldn’t get enough volunteers the first time around, and I planned to do another round of recruitment mid-January.

Apart from the three social media platforms I used, I also emailed four people I thought may be interested in participating based on previous conversations; of these, three agreed. Everyone else got in touch with me after encountering my posts. My Facebook post largely reached my personal network (which, to be fair, is relatively diverse), of which a few people volunteered. I’m unsure what impact my Instagram post had and I wish I had shared it to my Stories instead of as a post; at least with Stories, I can track how many people viewed it. Twitter was by far the most successful in reaching out beyond the people I knew. My post was shared by 100 people (including some highly targeted fan accounts and fan studies accounts), had 45,905 impressions and 1,216 engagements. Additionally, my boyfriend’s post was shared by someone with a high follower count on Twitter as well (though I can’t gauge the reach of that). For me, Twitter was the best way to increase the social and geographical diversity of my co-participants.

While I had initially planned to recruit ten participants as guests (apart from my two co-hosts), according to my spreadsheet, I currently have twenty-four confirmed participants. I’m currently overwhelmed both by the enthusiasm of my co-participants (in a very good way) but also by the sheer amount of work and data I’m going to accumulate (in a less good way). I’m still excited about the podcast but also aware that I have the tendency to over-commit to things and make things unnecessarily unwieldy. I am also utterly unable to say no to things. My project was already over-ambitious enough as it was when I was planning to record 20 episodes. It’s laughable now that it’ll be about 34! I’m defending this inability to say no to volunteers because 1) People may still drop out; and 2) I am blown away by the enthusiasm and would love to learn from the diversity of perspectives and multiplicity of experiences. I’m sure my future self will curse my past self’s naivety. I’m already laughing at the plans I had made a month and a half ago.

Some of my suggested intersectional themes turned out to be more popular than others, and most co-participants were interested in exploring more than one theme (though my email about potential themes, format, and schedule may have directed their attention that way). My favourite thing was that some people also suggested their own ideas – ideas I hadn’t thought of. While I was initially trying to crowbar all their suggestions into my original ten-theme framework (I’m still doing this to an extent), I quickly realised that I actually like the open-endedness and disruption to my initial plans. While I thought I had kept the format and themes as flexible as possible, my conversations with some participants made me aware that some of my boundaries were firmer than I had intended. I still think the ten intersectional themes are useful, especially for episodes with my co-hosts, but I’m now less beholden to the structure they provide.

Relatedly, my initial plan of dedicating a month to a specific theme quickly fell by the wayside, for three main reasons:

1) Planning episode schedules with different participants

2) The time I needed to listen to fan podcasts in order to shortlist relevant episodes

3) Participants largely outlined a diverse array of themes, some of which coincided with other people’s, which makes the idea of monthly themes a bit unfeasible

Subsequently, while I’ve only been properly at this for a month and a half, my plans have already changed. I’m now launching the podcast in February rather than January. I’m going to have a weekly(ish) podcast rather than a fortnightly one. And I may have to recruit some more participants mid-way through the year based on whether any participants drop out or which themes remain under-explored. Some of the participants who reached out to me explicitly outlined their diverse identities (in tune with the intersectional theme of the project). However, I wanted to make sure I offered everyone a chance to suggest the themes they were most interested in – which may differ from the identities they inhabit – because I realise it can be frustrating always having to only talk about the marginalised aspects of your identity rather than any other things you may be interested in. This may leave some themes unexamined, something I’ll have to re-evaluate come June.

Gif of Chandler Bing from FRIENDS. Text says: That's too much information!

I’m going to be drowning in data and I definitely haven’t made my life any easier. But then again, when do I ever?

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén