This post comes on the heels of the ridiculous fourth episode of Baggage Claim, which we can try to intellectualize but, at the end of the day, is nothing more than a seven-minute poop joke.

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And just like that, we're four episodes in.

If you're with me this far, your listening experience opened with a harrowing tale of mortality and survival. And then there were two absurd episodes about my arrival in Colombia, my frustrating incapacity to do anything productive, and a sequence of pathetic mishaps in various social interactions. Are we dealing with life and death, or are we dealing with dumb social situations? What the hell is this show anyway?

And then... Poop Waits for No Man. It's a seven-minute poop joke. That's it. After a near-death experience, this dude just has to poop?

I know, I get it.

There are, really, two reasons for this. Remember, this is a thirty-episode season, and I've already penned and recorded the whole show. These episodes you're currently hearing were roughly done by the mid-spring and early summer.

In the early going, I knew I was at least a talented writer. One capable - on paper at least - of penning a successful story. I knew the mechanics of structure and storytelling - I knew how to make a story work. I could write eloquently - like, individual sentences. I also knew the specific story I was telling. I knew the central character arc (my own) and the individual characters and the logical progression, at least holistically. But the idea of actually narrating, sound designing, producing and editing an audio experience? I had no idea. I had no talent for it whatsoever. I had to redownload GarageBand to my laptop because I deleted it when I first bought it.

And then I actually began producing, and I learned almost immediately that what works on paper won't necessarily work in a verbal storytelling format (and especially so in an immersive environment like Baggage Claim).

In that moment, I made a decision that present-me has come to appreciate: I decided to give my future self latitude. I knew that as I wrote and recorded and experimented that I would become more effective and deliberate. I'd be operating from a place of more knowledge about what works and what doesn't work. About what strengths I have to lean into and what I need to can entirely. So I gave myself the widest possible container to play with. In the early going, I decided the show doesn't need to be this or that. It doesn't always need to be precisely a certain way.

To a point, anyway. Two glaring exceptions:

  1. The show needs thematic consistency, and it's a show is tied to only one theme. That theme will make itself more and more present as the show unfolds. But I knew that, at no point, could a single episode ever stray from the ultimate conviction of the story being told.
  2. The show needs production consistency. It has to sound the same and feel the same. The episodes can be their own little franchises, but, at the end of the day, they're all still McDonald's. They all still need the golden arches: the sound design, the music, the introductions and the branding. Those things don't change.

But the way to set boundaries is to play with them. After I wrote and recorded the original first two episodes (what are now "A Guy Needs a Pen" and "About a Bracelet"), I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. I penned six or seven episodes that will either never see the light of day or have been relegated to bonus episodes. And I improved! I got better! And that's just about the moment when I wrote and recorded what, to me, really felt like my first two good episodes: "Treading Water" and "Poop Waits for No Man." And those two episodes couldn't be farther apart.

There. I have my parameters. This is the range of the show. This is as wide as the box gets. On one hand, we'll explore (with all warranted seriousness) life and death and catastrophe. On the other, we'll operate in the raw humor of daily life.

And that leads me to a final point: you're really not hearing a television show. This isn't run through a battalion of network executives drilling down what the show can or cannot be. You're listening to one guy with a $200 microphone figuring out how to tell the most important story he has to tell.

You'll feel the parameters close a bit after this. You'll hear more thematic consistency. I got better at it, after all. But Treading Water and Poop Waits for No Man? Those two episodes were the moment I realized I'd turned a corner. And I'm happy to share these with you early. Proud, even, though I know what follows is more technically sound.

Anyway, that's what the hell that was. You have your parameters. See you next week.

Will Conway

About

Former political software guy. Now a traveler and adventurer, which isn't a job, and host of the @heybaggageclaim podcast, which really isn't either. Travel stories no one tells.