Ignorance Was Bliss
I spent my entire professional life in the fields of mental health and criminal justice. My favorite, hardest and most important work was specifically in the fields of correctional psych, forensic psych, and crisis assessment.
I grew up in upstate New York, and went to college near the Canadian border; my first psych internship was actually immediately next to the bridge between Ogdensburg, NY and Johnstown, ON. After that, I studied criminal justice and mental health counseling in Boston, then spent several years in New Hampshire. I’ve worked in the NH State Prison system, a couple of different locked psychiatric facilities, and then several emergency rooms and eventually all manner of community settings.
I broke my back in 2014, and while I can move around a whole lot better than I could then, I’m still often stuck, as an acquaintance once pointed out, sitting on my couch listening to true crime podcasts all day. One thing I’ve noticed is that, quite often, I would hear someone ask, “But why would he do that?” or, “How could that happen?” or, my personal favorite, “Well, that’s crazy. That could never happen to me.” After a while of talking back, alone, long after they had moved on to new things, I decided to give this podcasting thing a try, myself.
I do give some background, of course, but I’m not trying to create a deep-dive, detailed, narrative style podcast. That has already been done, brilliantly, by so many people I admire. I can’t see any reason to try and compete with them, or even just add to the noise, when I already cannot find enough hours in the day to listen to everything I’d like to hear. My goal, instead, is to try and answer some of those questions, at least from my own perspective. I don’t pretend to have all, or even most, of the answers… but I can usually come up with one or two.
Over time, the focus of my show has widened to include the normal, the average, the ordinary, that all of us can understand… but we continue to think of ourselves as somehow screwed up, weird, wrong. We’re not. You’re not. Honest.
Just make sure you really want to know. Because the most important certainty I carry, from all my time working with inmates and patients and onlookers, is that the only real difference between “us” and “them” is a key. And that everything we experience, from crippling anxiety to serial murder, is maybe not rational, but there is a logic to it. I can make things understandable.
Share an experience that has shaped who you are today.
It's not about the fall; I've fallen down a whole lot. It's about getting up again. In 2010, I effectively died in childbirth. I spent ten days in a coma, and when I woke up, I had almost complete aphasia (I'd forgotten how to speak) and amnesia for the full year leading up to the birth. I experienced significant brain injury because, it turns out, brains don't like being unconscious for that long. Crawling back out of that hole, learning to speak and write again, introducing myself to strangers only to discover they were relatives, and generally finding some new version of myself, was a long and scary process. Eventualy I was back to working as a psychologist when, in 2014, I stepped wrong on a playground and broke my back. I spent the next three years at home, on permanent disability, moping. I felt like I was no longer playing the lead role in my life, I was just serving as a supporting role for my family and would eventually fade to black. Then, on New Year's Day 2018, I was feeling overwhelmed by four kids, my father had just moved in, and I just needed some sense of relevance and competence in my own life and in the world. So -- depending on who you ask -- I either gently tapped my husband on the shoulder, or I grabbed him by the shirt, and I said, "I'm Going to Start a Podcast." He's a smart guy, so he was supportive and let me figure it out myself. Finding a way to feel productive and smart again is priceless. And the connections I've made, with creators and listeners, are magical.
Tell us about your podcast audience.
My listeners are curious and smart. They're willing to listen to opposing points of view, or to people they're certain they have nothing in common with, just to see what they have to say. I'm not afraid to disagree with a guest, but not in a contentious or heated way. And there are no topics that are off-limits, whether that means sex, religion, violence, crime or even animals. It's episodic in nature, so if one episode is difficult for personal reasons, skip it and come back for the next one.
What makes your podcast unique?
Ignorance Was Bliss started out as a True Crime podcast, or perhaps True Crime adjacent. I spent a lot of time explaining what forensic psychology is, so I figured I'd maybe take 20 episodes to talk about some cases, then move on to some new hobby. Instead, a podcast was born.
My very earliest episodes were scripted and planned out, and then I happened to chat with another podcaster who suggested we collaborate on an episode. That was when I found my strength -- not in preparation and writing, but in talking, listening, and letting people tell their stories.
After about a year, I pulled the lens back, because I wanted to talk to creators from other genres. Now I start every episode with perhaps a vague idea of what my guest has done, but I never know what we're actually going to talk about. It's not an interview, it's a conversation, and everyone has a story worth telling.
What does success look like, as a writer? And is it crucial to stay within one genre or is it safe to consider other stories?
Guest: Dan B. Fierce
Ignorance Was Bliss online: https://linktr.ee/iwbpodcast
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