The Back Story Behind Titling “The Vitality of the Struggle”
by Susan Leem, associate producer
"You always have in your writing the resistance outside of you and inside of you, a shadow upon you, and the thing which you must express. In the beginning of your writing this struggle is so tremendous that the result is ugly…but the essence of that ugliness is the thing which will always make it beautiful. I myself think it is much more interesting when it seems ugly, because in it you see the element of the fight … the vitality of the struggle."
—Gertrude Stein, How Writing Is Written
Naturalist and author Terry Tempest Williams used the phrase “the vitality of the struggle” in our interview to explain that she doesn’t have the answers to the broad rhetorical questions (e.g., “What do we do?”) people sometimes bring to her.
This phrase resonated with our senior editor, and Krista soon supplanted the show’s working title with this instead. Williams noted on our reflections page that this phrase is inspired by American writer and thinker Gertrude Stein. Williams writes:
"I have always held that phrase close. It does feel like poetry because it holds the paradox of our human condition."
What Title Would You Have Given It?
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Did you get a chance to listen to this week’s show with Prof. Ellen Davis discussing her approach to sustainability — through an agrarian reading of the Bible — along with Wendell Berry reading his poems?
If you haven’t, swell. This Sunday morning exercise is ripe for the picking. Then you’ll have a fresh perspective unencumbered by the content. You won’t get mired in the details of summarizing or full description. You are our target audience. You are the listeners we want to grab with the title and draw in. Now, if you have heard the show, that’s great too. Then you’ll have an insider perspective, an intimate understanding of the interviews and readings. The content may inform your decision. And you may sympathize with our plight.
Here are a few titles we considered:
» “The Poetry of Creatures”
» “An Exquisite Attention to a Fragile Land”
» “Land, Life, and the Poetry of Creatures”
Show titles do a lot of work. They appear in one-minute bumpers to the show and within the show itself. They are part of promotional spots on the radio. The appear in iTunes podcast feeds and on our email update, websites, Facebook page, blog, Twitter. Duke University will uses it in their communication.
Which one would you have chosen? What’s an alternative you might suggest? Should it be just catchy? Should it tell you more about the show? Should it be a tease? How will it render in a graphic for our online channels. Will it help in our search rankings?
These are the few of the questions we ask when titling. And, as you can see, we struggle mightily with this task. We labor, we strive, we grope, we concede. But we always end up with something. For this show, I can’t help wonder if we could’ve done better.
Interfaith, Interreligious, Pluralism, Dialogue, Etc.
Mitch Hanley, senior producer
We often struggle with crafting interesting or catchy titles for each new program. Sometimes we latch on to something one of our guests said in the interview, as was the case with our recent program, which may win the dubious honor of having the longest title: Curiosity Over Assumptions, Interreligiosity Meets a New Generation.
But, please do know that it was not without much debate and extensive brainstorming among our entire staff to try to arrive at a title for the work of Aziza Hasan and Malka Haya Fenyvesi. With humility, I share some of the runners-up:
- Reimagining Interfaith (blah)
- Jewish-Muslim Relationship: The Next Generation (starring Patrick Stewart!)
- Us & Them - Engaging the Other in Jewish/Muslim Conversation (blah)
- The Next Generation of Interreligious (still a bit Trekky)
The struggle had to do with our attempts to avoid the words “interfaith,” “dialogue,” and “pluralism,” which we felt do not sufficiently carry the meaning and real importance of the work that many are doing around the world. We also didn’t want to invoke images of intergalactic pluralism (still a far off dream, I’m afraid).
Krista even brought up the shortcomings of these terms in the interview. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
Ms. Tippett: I feel that the word “interfaith” or the adjective “interfaith,” even like the word “pluralism,” these words themselves are kind of safe and benign and maybe even boring. When, in fact, when people really have their hands and lives dug into this stuff, as you do, it’s anything but. I mean, it’s very dramatic. It’s galvanizing. It’s changing human life. Do you think about that, that problem of the words themselves getting in the way of communicating to the larger society, what the power of this is?
Ms. Hasan: Absolutely, and I’m glad you brought that up because, when we first started the program, that’s how I would describe it. I would say, you know, this is an interfaith dialog group, and it just wasn’t deep enough. I mean like I’ve been there, done that. I don’t need to do hugs and hummus. If anything, I want to be part of something that’s real, and so to be able to finally like understand the complexity beneath the surface and the importance of having honest conversations that deal with issues like identity and diversity of opinion and gender and so many other things.
Ms. Fenyvesi: I also think a lot about what one of our Fellows who’s actually a Rabbinical student right now said to me. He said, “I really feel like NewGround is about what it means to be Muslim and Jewish in America today.” So that’s not as short as pluralism or interfaith, but I think there’s something about it that really covers what we do.
So what do you think? What words really capture the importance and essence of this work? Or do the existing defaults — e.g. interfaith, pluralism, dialogue — work just fine?
Speaking of… religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas?
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Update: Added a short list of possible new titles (KM, 3:04pm)
We had our first formal meeting here at the SoF ranch yesterday to allow for some brainstorming around the idea of changing the title of the program. This is an idea in its first exploratory stages, and it may or may not lead to a new name for the show and for the Web site.
But we’ve felt the impulse to examine the possibility of a new name for some time. “Speaking of Faith” sounds too narrowing to some ears, too exclusively “Christian” for a show that covers all religious thought and a lot of areligious or nonreligious thought as well, to others. Our so-called “tag language” says we are the “conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.” Throw in a strip mall and the kitchen sink, and that’s a pretty big topic area, inclusive of almost every imaginable subject. And we like that inclusiveness, that expansiveness, and want out title to capture that.
The possibilities that follow presume Krista’s name as part of the title: First Person; How We Live; Common Life; The Conversation; Listening Generously; The Human Condition; Consider This; Outreach Speaking … with Krista Tippett.
Please — weigh in! Tell us what you think! What should we call this conversation with Krista Tippett? What do you think of the options listed above?
SoundSeen: Titling a Show on Seane Corn’s Yoga
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
In between the interviewing and scripting, the SOF staff congregates for two editorial sessions where we hash out the details of each week’s program. The first — which we call cuts and copy — can be really rough around the edges; the second — which we call the final listen — is more of a fine tweaking of script changes, music selections, Web language, and, at times, we’re still coming up with a title for the episode.
This happens to be the case for our upcoming show on yoga as conveyed through the experience of instructor Seane Corn (I dig her Jersey accent!). We regularly struggle at naming each program, especially because there are various approaches to it: an apt description of the content, a clever literary device, a poetic encapsulation, a highlight of an outstanding idea, keywords that trigger curiosity, etc.
But, the title has multiple purposes. It’s spoken by Krista in the radio and podcast; it populates the subject line of our e-mail newsletter and browser title; it complements the feature image for the program Web site and all sorts of data in third-party vendors like iTunes, Google, Facebook, last.fm, Yahoo, and so on. Can one title serve all masters? Probably not. But, in the end, we just want people to listen to the show so we’re trying to take a more direct approach in front-loading the words or ideas that will appeal to you and others. See what we came up with.
I’d love to hear where you stand on our titles, or if you have thoughts of your own. I’m open to advice. Cheers.