Editor’s note: It’s EHN’s five-year anniversary this week! Like in previous years, we’ll be celebrating all week long by featuring exciting work every day to mark the occasion. Today, a piece by Natalie Wilkinson, the co-host of our Ecotones Now podcast, in which she reflects on season 1 & the episode with Anna Guasco in particular.
Hello, my name is Natalie, though many friends know me as Jo. I am an editor and host of EHN’s podcast Ecotones Now. I host this show with the editing and direction help of Emma Moesswilde and Elizabeth Hameeteman, as well as the guest interviewer Diana Valencia-Duarte. We’ll be bringing you season two very soon! We have expanded the podcast project by adding interviews, most of which will be available to watch on YouTube and to listen to during the episodes.
Putting together a podcast has been quite an eye-opening adventure for me. It went beyond merely recording and editing. I juggle schedules, manage expectations, and keep track of numerous email threads. The opportunity has gifted me the experience of dredging through long-forgotten knowledge of sound production and audio formats from my art school days, relearning tools like Audacity and GarageBand. It has felt like an artistic endeavor rather than just podcast production.
I am learning about accessibility from many different angles. Surface level, reaching a broader audience involves experimenting with various mediums. People learn in different ways, and our preferences for how we spend our time vary greatly. While some enjoy reading with their morning coffee, others prefer listening to podcasts during their commute. By providing our articles in the forms of podcasts and blogs, we make the content more accessible than before. But I’ve also found that accessibility goes much further than that.
The process, as much as the product, benefits everyone. I have always been told that I write in a style that sounds better than it reads. I believe that allowing researchers to add intonations to their work provides listeners with a layer of information or meaning. It is my hope that contributors to the podcasts feel the interviewing process gives something back to them as well. Personally, I have always found it helpful to explain my own research and talk about it with someone from a different field or perspective. In producing the podcast and conducting interviews, I have become far more connected to the topics of my research than I ever could have been by only reading about them.
While we haven’t gone too far with the audio production of the project, I have found that even small touches can add emotion. When I first thought about this project, I thought about how to make the podcast slightly more immersive. Profound care has been taken by the contributors of EHN, and I wanted this to come across audibly. If you have listened to any of the episodes so far, you will have heard the soft tones of a bell, or perhaps they sounded like wind chimes. The soft tones that you hear throughout the episodes come from large crystal singing bowls. Sometimes known as standing bells, prayer bowls, or resting bells, these bowls have been used for millennia in countries like Nepal, Tibet, China, and Japan. Their resonance is said to have many health benefits. Personally, I love the evocative depth they add to speakers on each podcast.
The talented musician Christine Murphy masterfully played the singing bowls without knowing the blog post readings. For the first episode, I brought the recordings into Audacity and spent a long time overlapping the bowls’ sounds during pauses in the reading. My aim was to create an underlying current that would enhance the message of each piece. The process felt akin to painting with sound. Perhaps, getting carried away with the artistic process, we scaled back on the sound to be less intrusive, to what I hope is just the right amount.
Because of this process, I listened to Anna Guasco‘s Problems of Place piece multiple times. Gradually the phrases grew in meaning. Anna delves into the issue of ableism in fieldwork, highlighting how certain environments and expeditions are often not designed to accommodate everyone’s abilities. As someone fortunate not to face many physical limitations, I believe it took me these extra listens and even the added evocative tones of the bowl to realize a similar situation my sister was going through at the same time as I edited the piece.
Last summer, my sister embarked on a dream internship as a ranger at a national park conducting marine research. The opportunity seemed perfect until she learned that the research required the carrying of numerous 50-pound barrels up and down rocky trails multiple times per day. Despite her enthusiasm and academic competence, the fieldwork had been designed with someone else’s body in mind; all the other scientists were large, strong men. What I realized from working with Anna’s piece is that sometimes, the solutions to these issues are framed as accommodations. It’s as if we forget who is actually doing the work.
The lack of foresight in designing the project and lack of consideration during the work itself resulted in lost opportunities on all sides and eventually led to a debilitating injury for her. In short, it was the research team that was unable to take advantage of her capabilities.
Anna’s piece became a powerful catalyst for heartfelt conversations with my sister. We unpacked the experience together, better equipped to name the issues at hand: sexism and ableism. On reflection, we noticed that, possibly, the team lead had not considered that she might not be able to do the same kind of work, or perhaps misguided notions of sexism and feminism caused them to ignore it altogether.
Equality for all is more about equitability than the true mathematical expression of the term equal. No body is indeed equal to another, and that is something to be celebrated and from which we should actively seek to benefit. We live in a society with so many advancements that we can benefit from the full range of people that exist. Yet, we often craft opportunities, work, and activities for only a few, and it’s a waste.
It reminds me of just how important this platform is and how thankful I am to be a part of it in any small way. I am so proud to be a part of a group of humans whose commitment is to listening, learning, and growing as a platform for community engagement. There are many who are involved with this project and who seek to both benefit and be benefitted by the full range of people that exist here. I know that, at least for me, Ecotones Now has sparked important discussions and fostered a greater understanding of ableism and sexism in academic settings, and that’s worth its weight in gold, I think.
*Cover image: Singing Bowl in the Himalayas by Anuppanthi.
[*Cover image description: There is a bronze singing bowl on the right of the picture sitting on a grassy rock and at the back is the Himalayas in white and dark blue.]
Edited by Trang Dang, reviewed by Emily Webster.