David Dobbs, the talented blogger and science writer whose work appears The New York Times Magazine, Nature, Wired.com, National Geographic, and others, put down his pen and stepped in front of a microphone in The Bell House in Brooklyn on May 22nd of this year. He was there to tell a story.
Here is how he began:
Six years ago this month I was walking down the front steps of my house in Montpelier, Vermont to drive my kids to preschool. I had my keys in my hand. The kids were already buckled into the car--they said, "C'mon, Dad!"--when I suddenly stopped on the front steps because I realized I had no idea how to actually get to the preschool. This was odd, because I had driven them to preschool and picked them up from preschool scores of times, maybe hundreds. It was a very easy route, maybe four miles long, five turns, that I thought I knew cold. And standing on my steps that day, it was just gone. That route was just not in my brain...
He goes on to talk about his past bouts of depression in a touchingly personal kind of science writing--in this case, delivered through sound, rather than on paper. (And with an unmistakeable, if perhaps unconscious, nod to Garrison Keillor's delivery--which isn't a bad thing.) He talks us through the reporting he did on this weird experience, and he reveals the unexpected results of a brain scan he agreed to.
Dobbs's story, called Lost in your brain, is 20 minutes long, about the time it might take you to read a Dobbs magazine piece, or maybe less. And it's worth your time. You can find it here. It appears on a website called The Story Collider, which introduces its podcasts this way: "We all have a story about science, and at The Story Collider, we want to hear those stories." The site was founded by Ben Lillie, who, according to his bio, was a particle physicist in a previous lifetime, and a StorySLAM champion at the well known and respected storytelling site The Moth.
This is an interesting new option for science writers who are inclined toward performance. When we write, we're always on stage, so to speak, engaging and entertaining our readers--we hope. We don't hear the laughter or derision those readers might express. We don't usually see somebody looking at one of our stories and turning the page without reading. But Dobbs, when he decided to perform this piece rather than publish it, put himself in a situation in which he could hear the laughter--and risk not hearing any laughter, or any applause.
It's a bit of a high-wire act, but Dobbs pulls it off beautifully. It was worth the risk.
- Paul Raeburn