Sixteen years ago, a group of teenagers from around the country were given tape recorders to document their lives for a project called “Teenage Diaries,” and the series aired NPR’s All Things Considered. “Teenage Diaries Revisited” brings back five of the diarists to talk about their lives today. We check in with two of them: Josh, who had Tourette’s Syndrome, and Melissa, who gave birth to her son as a teenager.

Guests

  • Josh Cutler participant, Teenage Diaries
  • Melissa Rodriguez Participant, Teenage Diaries
  • Joe Richman Executive Producer, Radio Diaries

Josh: 16 Years Later

In high school, Josh documented his life with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable tics and involuntary verbal outbursts. Today, Josh has overcome Tourette’s enough to become a NYC public school teacher, but not enough to remain one. Josh’s new diary is about trying to live a normal adult life with a brain that often betrays him.

Josh: 16 Years Earlier

Melissa: 16 Years Later

Melissa: 16 Years Earlier

Transcript

  • 13:24:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Sixteen years ago a group of teenagers around the country were given tape recorders. They were asked to document their lives for a series called "Teenage Diaries." The resulting portraits aired on NPR's "All Things Considered" where millions listened to these young people tell their own story. These diarists included Josh, a teenager living with Tourette's syndrome and Melissa who gave birth to a baby boy as a teenager. This year five of the original diarists return to record their lives today including Melissa and Josh. They are with us in studio today.

  • 13:24:52

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIMelissa Rodriguez is one of the original diarists in the series "Teenage Diaries." She joins us now in studio. Melissa, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:25:00

    MS. MELISSA RODRIGUEZThank you. It's a pleasure.

  • 13:25:01

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Josh Cutler. Josh, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:25:05

    MR. JOSH CUTLERAnd thank you, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here.

  • 13:25:07

    NNAMDIAnd Joe Richman is in studio with us. He is the founder and executive director of the series "Radio Diaries" as well as "Teenage Diaries," which aired on NPR's ATC, "All Things Considered." Joe also teaches radio documentary at Columbia University's graduate school of journalism. Joe, good to see you again.

  • 13:25:23

    MR. JOE RICHMANThank you. Good to see you.

  • 13:25:24

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Have you ever recorded yours or a family member's story? Are you a fan of oral history projects like "Radio Diaries" and "StoryCorps" Give us a call. You can find Josh and Melissa's "Teenage Diaries" and their "Teenage Diaries Revisited" at our website kojoshow.org. And before I forget, tonight at 7:00 pm at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue, Joe Richman and Melissa Block of NPR's "All Things Considered" along with diarists Josh and Melissa will be onstage for a live multimedia presentation of the series "Teenage Diaries Revisited." So, got that out of the way.

  • 13:26:07

    NNAMDIJoe, tell us a little bit about "Radio Diaries" and what inspired the project and how "Teenage Diaries" came about.

  • 13:26:13

    RICHMANWell, the "Teenage Diaries" series started way back in '96, which now feels like, you know, lifetimes ago. But the idea was simple. Give people tape recorders and work with them over a period of time to do stories about their own lives. And, you know, the idea was just to essentially put them in the passenger seat to have them talk directly to people and have listeners be able to experience their lives as it happened.

  • 13:26:35

    RICHMANAnd so Melissa and Josh, for example, had tape recorders for -- they each had it for about a year, I'd say, back when they were teenagers, just recording everything that happened. And we put those together as stories then. And as far as why we came back to it 16 years later, part of it was Melissa's story. You know, Melissa actually kind of disappeared from my life for about a decade and then got back in touch a couple years ago. And it was that process of her getting back in touch with me that made me wonder about what had happened to all of them over the years.

  • 13:27:05

    NNAMDIHow did you find Melissa and Josh and the other diarists originally?

  • 13:27:10

    RICHMANYou know, they were all kind of different ways. Melissa I found through a friend of mine who was -- through a friend of a friend who was Melissa's social worker actually. Melissa can tell you more about this but she had had a very tough life growing up, abandoned at the age of two and in a series of group homes and foster homes. And she was just beginning to create a new family by having a child. And so I gave her a tape recorder to record the months leading up to and following the birth of her son.

  • 13:27:40

    NNAMDIMelissa, going back to those original diaries, can you talk about your life at that time and why you made the decision to become part of the series and record your life?

  • 13:27:50

    RODRIGUEZWell, when I was asked to record, I actually didn't realize how big it was going to actually become. I really thought it was just a diary being recorded.

  • 13:28:00

    NNAMDIJust you and the tape recorder.

  • 13:28:02

    RODRIGUEZJust me and the tape recorder, that no one that I knew would ever listen to it.

  • 13:28:05

    NNAMDIWhat was your life like at the time?

  • 13:28:07

    RODRIGUEZIt was rough. You know, it was hard growing up fast but I got used to it pretty fast, pretty quickly. I'm pretty positive about things so that helped a lot.

  • 13:28:18

    NNAMDIJosh, how about you? How did you decide to become part of this series and record your life?

  • 13:28:23

    CUTLERWell, it was a very difficult decision for me. At that point, along with the lines of what Melissa said, I had absolutely no idea that its popularity would take off to the degree that it ultimately did. But Joe kept pushing me and pushing me. I was quite reluctant at first but I'm glad he did all these years later.

  • 13:28:46

    RICHMANAnd as a grownup diarist you were still reluctant.

  • 13:28:47

    CUTLERYes, yes, I was, albeit for different reasons.

  • 13:28:50

    NNAMDISome things never change. Well, we have a little bit from Josh's original radio diary where you talk about what it's like having Tourette's.

  • 13:29:01

    CUTLERWhen I'm holding in a tic, when I'm holding it in all day in school, I just can't wait to get home so I can explode. I have lots of different kinds of tics. There's coprolalia where you just start screaming profanity for no reason. And echolalia where you just hear something or see something and you have to start repeating it. Like if you see something on TV. Sometimes I grab people and shake them around, usually just my parents, fortunately for that. Even in New York I'd look pretty weird on the street just going up to people and start shaking them around and screaming at them for no reason.

  • 13:29:49

    NNAMDIYou wouldn't necessarily look that different in New York but...

  • 13:29:54

    CUTLERWell, thanks for the vote of confidence I guess.

  • 13:29:55

    RODRIGUEZYou'd blend right in.

  • 13:29:56

    NNAMDIJosh, initially you hesitated to bring your tape recorder into school and talk to your classmates and hear what they had to say about your Tourette's, but ultimately you did. What was their reaction?

  • 13:30:07

    CUTLERThat was probably the most surprising experience of the whole thing for me during my first show. All the kids at school knew I had Tourette's but I had never really discussed it with them in any serious way beyond the very superficial level. And I was initially utterly terrified to bring the tape recorder to school. As Joe can tell you the story, it took many tries before I was actually -- before I was ultimately willing to actually give it a go.

  • 13:30:40

    CUTLERBut the most important thing that I did learn was how interested my classmates were in sharing their feelings both about me and about Tourette's. And it actually ended up bringing both myself and my classmates much closer together than we had ever been before.

  • 13:30:59

    NNAMDIYou know, in preparing for the show I remembered that the first time I saw Tourette's was an NBA basketball player Abdul-Rauf who had Tourette's...

  • 13:31:05

    CUTLERThat's right.

  • 13:31:06

    NNAMDI...when I saw him playing with it. So I went back to some YouTube video today and listened to him talking about it. And he talked about how in a lot of ways dealing with helped him to focus. You became a New York City school teacher.

  • 13:31:18

    CUTLERI did, yes.

  • 13:31:19

    NNAMDIRequires a lot of focus. What do you like about teaching?

  • 13:31:23

    CUTLERI was actually -- if you listen to my more recent program, I've actually been removed from the classroom. I've actually -- I'm currently in a New York City rubber room where I've been for about -- almost the past three years.

  • 13:31:38

    NNAMDIAbout which we've seen a lot of articles. For people who are unfamiliar with that, that has to do with New York teachers in the public school system who for one reason or another -- in your case I think a dispute with a student -- are removed from their classrooms and are put in a kind of limbo...

  • 13:31:54

    CUTLERRight.

  • 13:31:54

    NNAMDI...known as the rubber room for an indefinite period of time.

  • 13:31:57

    CUTLERCorrect.

  • 13:31:58

    NNAMDIWhy were you attracted to teaching?

  • 13:32:00

    CUTLERI initially became an NESL teacher. I have a talent for foreign languages. I speak both French and Spanish fluently, so I figured what better way to put my skills to use than by dealing with children who speak a variety of different languages? And to teaching, I mean, I had a lot of difficulties growing up. And I had a lot of good teachers who mentored me and helped shape me into the person that I ultimately ended up becoming. So I figured if I could return the favor to the following generation, it would certainly be something that I'd like to do.

  • 13:32:35

    RICHMANI know there's something that your mom talks about too in the diary where she said -- you know, she talked about how the kids accepted you for who you were...

  • 13:32:40

    CUTLERThey did.

  • 13:32:42

    RICHMAN...in a way that maybe doesn't always happen in the rest of the world.

  • 13:32:46

    NNAMDIDid you talk to your students about it?

  • 13:32:49

    CUTLERIt's hard. I mean, they were only eight so there's a limit to how much they're going to understand.

  • 13:32:56

    NNAMDIThis is true. 800-433-8850. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Josh Cutler. He is one of the original diarists in "Teenage Diaries" as is Melissa Rodriguez. Also in studio with us is Joe Richman. He is the founder and executive producer of the series "Radio Diaries" and "Teenage Diaries" which aired on NPR's "All Things Considered." Joe Richman also teaches radio documentary at Columbia University's graduate school of journalism. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also send us email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 13:33:31

    NNAMDIMelissa, in your radio diary, you talk about your mother. Let's just hear a little bit of that.

  • 13:33:38

    RODRIGUEZMy mom abandoned me when I was about two, me and my brother. We weren't even little kids. We were babies. And, well, let's see, I ended up in a foster home. Then when I was eight I went to another foster home. Then when I was nine I went to another foster home, then a group home. So I was bounced from one place to another. And when I had my child I was determined to make it somehow, you know, to at least be a decent mother. I mean, my god, my mother gave me two years of herself. Two years. I have sneakers older than that.

  • 13:34:16

    NNAMDIThere are two young men named Isaiah and Tyron here today. Who are they?

  • 13:34:20

    RODRIGUEZThose are my children. I have two boys, Isaiah. He's 17 and Tyron, he's seven, call him Ty-ty.

  • 13:34:29

    NNAMDIAnd they both accompanied you here today. They're way beyond two years old. Who raised you after the age of two?

  • 13:34:36

    RODRIGUEZI'm sorry.

  • 13:34:37

    NNAMDIWho raised you after you were the age of two?

  • 13:34:40

    RODRIGUEZThe state basically. I was awarded to the state real early. The state took care of me so I went to group homes and foster homes and every home you can imagine.

  • 13:34:49

    NNAMDIHow did your experience growing up affect the kind of mother that you decided to be?

  • 13:34:55

    RODRIGUEZThat determined me to be better than what I was offered. You know, growing up it was hard without mothers. I mean, it's already hard without a father. Without a mother that's twice as hard.

  • 13:35:09

    NNAMDIDid you -- are you in touch with your mother at all now?

  • 13:35:12

    RODRIGUEZI am.

  • 13:35:12

    NNAMDIWell, that's part of growing up I guess. Your challenges did not end with having a baby. While you were still a teenager, your son Isaiah was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition at an early age. Can you talk about that?

  • 13:35:29

    RODRIGUEZWhen he was eight months he was diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia. And it was a rough road for us.

  • 13:35:39

    NNAMDII know it was a rough road for you growing up. You said you were in touch with your mother again. I can see how that affects you emotionally. How long have you been in touch with your mother again?

  • 13:35:47

    RODRIGUEZIt's been on and off. We don't communicate a lot but I try to keep in touch enough to tell her, you know, you have a grandson. You know, Merry Christmas. Happy Thanksgiving, those kind of things.

  • 13:36:00

    NNAMDITyron and Isaiah. You've had some tough times supporting them. Can you talk about how you have managed to do that? How you have faced that challenge?

  • 13:36:09

    RODRIGUEZWell, I started working at 15. You know, I first started, you know, little jobs, McDonald's, Friendly's. But I got fired from a lot of jobs because I had to take a lot of time off to go to hospitals with my son. And back then, you had no excuses for missing work. I did, you know, do other things. I became an erotic dancer when I was about -- right after I had Isaiah to maintain our bills. And after that I went to college. I used that money to go to school and started working at the bank. And then customer service has been my forte ever since. Treating people correctly in the right way, that's what makes me feel good.

  • 13:36:52

    NNAMDIIt's what you do. Did recording your experience and having it air on the radio change your life in any way, affect it in any way?

  • 13:37:01

    RODRIGUEZWell, I guess in a way kind of. I've had a couple of people reach out to me through emails. And it made me feel good that there are people there that understand. I thought people would be a little more judgmental, not understanding the situation. But most people have been pretty nice to me so...

  • 13:37:22

    NNAMDIJosh, did it affect your life in any way, participating in the "Teenage Diaries?"

  • 13:37:27

    CUTLEROh, absolutely it did, in more ways than I could possibly imagine.

  • 13:37:33

    NNAMDIBy the responses of people who heard it?

  • 13:37:34

    CUTLERYes. I was stunned that -- I think at least from the first show the most important thing that I learned was I never realized how many people cared. I had no idea that I would receive all this huge outpouring of support. And I'm still touched by it even today.

  • 13:37:53

    NNAMDIJoe Richman, talk about the responses you got to the first time this aired back in, I guess, late 1996, early '97.

  • 13:37:59

    RICHMANYeah, I mean, I think it's partly just reflection of the power of radio, you know. I think that that's -- there is this opportunity for these kind of intimate one-to-one connections. And I think, you know, if I'm stepping out of the way, if anyone's stepping out of the way and Melissa and Josh are telling their story directly to the listener, there's this opportunity there, you know, for someone to feel like they get to know these people that they're actually not meeting at all.

  • 13:38:26

    RICHMANAnd there's that and just, you know, to feel as a listener like you're experiencing someone's life. You're not just being told about it but you're kind of experiencing along with them. So I think that there's -- because of that there's just a real connection that's made through the airwaves. And I think that happened with both of their stories.

  • 13:38:40

    NNAMDIWhat kind of guidance did you give the original diarists, technical and otherwise? And what was the process for editing the audio?

  • 13:38:49

    RICHMANWell, it's a lot of tape. It was a lot -- you know, probably Josh and Melissa both recorded, you know, close to 40 hours of tape for those original diaries that they did as teenagers. Josh -- as we were joking about earlier, Josh and I struggled back and forth a lot, like the school recordings. You were mentioning the basketball player Abdul-Raheem?

  • 13:39:13

    NNAMDIRauf, yes.

  • 13:39:14

    RICHMAN...Rauf with Tourrette's and it reminded me that the only way he actually ended up -- Josh recorded in school was when I bribed him with Knicks tickets. So in some ways it can be a directive process. It's not just holding the microphone up and letting natural life happen. There is a lot of direction and prodding and pushing. And, you know, so sometimes I felt like their parents sometimes back when they were teenagers. As grownups it's a very different thing. Partly they don't have as much time. I don't have as much time. Their lives are continuing. Josh, you wanted to say something?

  • 13:39:42

    CUTLERYes. And along the same lines of that particular basketball player, most people with Tourette's also have obsessive compulsive disorder. And he actually turned that to his advantage because there's one particular aspect of it which requires you to repeat a motion over and over again until you get it exactly right. And as a result of that...

  • 13:40:02

    NNAMDIHe's an excellent free-throw shot.

  • 13:40:03

    CUTLER...he was a 98 percent free-throw shot. He almost never missed one.

  • 13:40:07

    NNAMDII remember that very, very well.

  • 13:40:09

    RICHMANThe advantages of Tourette's.

  • 13:40:10

    CUTLERSee?

  • 13:40:11

    NNAMDINow, in terms of being given the recording when you were a teenager and now, do you find that you did it any differently when you were grown as owe opposed to when you were a teenager?

  • 13:40:21

    CUTLERI would say yes insofar as that I'm more aware of both of myself and of the magnitude of how far this story is going to reach. Because as a teenager...

  • 13:40:34

    NNAMDIYou just turn the thing on and let it roll.

  • 13:40:36

    RODRIGUEZMm-hmm.

  • 13:40:36

    NNAMDIAs a teenager.

  • 13:40:36

    CUTLERRight. I -- since I had never been on the radio before, I had no concept of where this was ultimately going to lead, but as an adult, I knew that millions of people would be hearing it, so I guess in some ways that actually made me more self conscious than I was.

  • 13:40:54

    RICHMANIt also came -- actually it related to your story in very real ways because we struggled with how much of Josh's tics to put in the story, and this funny phenomenon happened with the new diary where he couldn't tic when the recorder was on. His mom called the tape recorder a miracle cure. And so we tried to figure out, well, should the sound of some of those tics -- even though they're not nearly like they were when you were a teenager, they're much more in control, but, you know, should they be in the story, and how should they be, and there was kind of an interesting discussion that happened through the, you know, along the way.

  • 13:41:27

    NNAMDIMelissa, do you think you're basically the same person now that you were when you were a teenager, or have your experiences changed you?

  • 13:41:34

    RODRIGUEZCompletely different. At 18 you have this thought of, you know, there's no limits, there's no consequences, there's no borders. When you get older, you seem to kind of hold yourself back as far as what the limits are. The tape recorders when I was 18, I mean, any topic I would have been talking about. At this age, some topics I was like, oh, maybe that's not a good idea. Time consuming as well.

  • 13:42:01

    RODRIGUEZAs a teenager, you have all this time on your hands. As an older adult, not much time. It took me longer.

  • 13:42:07

    NNAMDIWell, so as an older adult, you probably self censored more than you did when you were a teenager...

  • 13:42:13

    RODRIGUEZCorrect. Correct.

  • 13:42:14

    NNAMDI... because you know a lot more. But in that ten-year gap between the times that Joe heard from you, what was it that made you pick up the phone and call him again?

  • 13:42:23

    RODRIGUEZActually, I was on my computer. I was bored one day, actually, and I Googled myself. I said, everybody's so quiet so I'll Google your name. I said, my name is too common, nothing's going to come up. Sure enough, I typed in my name and my teenage diary picture showed up when I was 18, and my son was not even five months old, and I was just, wow, that is -- it's on the Internet? That's amazing. I just thought it was the most amazing thing since Internet just started.

  • 13:42:52

    RODRIGUEZAnd then I went into the website, and there I see Joe Richman, and I said, I have to contact him. Because the last time I talked to him, we didn't have -- we thought we would at least stay in touch. So I emailed him actually, and I said, you know, I don't know if you're going to remember me, since you have so many people you deal with every day, but, you know, me and Isaiah are doing good now, and that's how we started communicating.

  • 13:43:16

    RICHMANIt was big because I would say when you kind of disappeared, I don't know if I had a lot of confidence that things would turn out so well for you.

  • 13:43:22

    RODRIGUEZA lot of people did not.

  • 13:43:23

    RICHMANAnd they did.

  • 13:43:24

    RODRIGUEZThey did.

  • 13:43:25

    NNAMDIAnd I'll tell you something about radio and about Joe Richman, he immediately remembered who you were.

  • 13:43:30

    RODRIGUEZOh, yeah, he did. He didn't hesitate too long to respond back, and I said, wow, we does remember me ten years later.

  • 13:43:36

    NNAMDIBecause during the course of those ten years, he gave a lot of thought to you and was wondering what was going on with you. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation, but it's a conversation that you can join by calling 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can find Josh and Melissa's teenage diaries and their teenage diaries revisited on our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on Radio Diaries, or in this case, teenage diaries revisited. We're talking with Joe Richman, the founder and executive producer of the series "Radio Diaries" as well as "Teenage Diaries," which aired on NPR's "All Things Considered." Joe Richman also teaches radio documentary at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. And we're talking with two of the original diarists in the series "Teenage Diaries," Melissa Rodriguez and Josh Cutler.

  • 13:46:09

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, Joe Richman and Melissa Block of NPR's "All Things Considered," along with diarists Josh and Melissa, will be on stage for a live multimedia presentation on the series "Teenage Diaries Revisited." But you can talk to them right now if you call or email to kojo@wamu.org. We got this email from Sam.

  • 13:46:36

    NNAMDIHe says, "These two young people on the air now are so brave. I remember hearing the original diaries and was very glad to hear them back on the air and to find out what happened to them." And we got an email from John in Silver Spring who writes, "I'd love to know whether Josh has heard from anyone with Tourette's who heard the broadcast and was inspired by you telling your story on the air."

  • 13:46:57

    CUTLERInteresting question. The funny thing is the vast majority of the people -- I'd say a few people with Tourette's have contacted me, but the vast majority of them had -- didn't have Tourette's or know anyone with Tourette's, or really have any experience dealing with anyone with Tourette's, and that's something that really surprised me that the vast majority of the people I had corresponded with really had no connection to Tourette's at all.

  • 13:47:26

    NNAMDIYou were simply educating them about something...

  • 13:47:27

    CUTLERYes, I was.

  • 13:47:28

    NNAMDI...they knew nothing about. Joe, can you talk about how you see audio diaries as different from video diaries.

  • 13:47:35

    RICHMANYou know, I -- I mean, I love video diaries too in the sense that I love stories that, you know, people are telling their own stories. But there's something that really works through radio with this form, because, you know, video, first of all, people are a little more kind of self conscious, they're a little more awkward, but the main thing is that microphone is so easy to turn your yourself in the way that the video camera isn't. And also as you said before, there's something so intimate about the microphone.

  • 13:48:03

    RICHMANSo I think this form to me just is a natural for radio. It just works better, and in a way, I think it takes advantage of all the things that radio does best.

  • 13:48:12

    NNAMDIYou know, I grew up at a time in a country, Guyana, South America, in which there was no television. Radio was it. So for me, radio was the only broadcast medium with which I was familiar, but for you, Melissa, and for you, Josh, you grew up surrounded by television and video. What was interesting about radio for you? What do you find interesting about doing this for radio, Melissa?

  • 13:48:36

    RODRIGUEZWell, I think it's -- it's more of having your eyes closed and having your ears open, you can actually feel the moment a little stronger.

  • 13:48:47

    NNAMDIAnd for you, Josh?

  • 13:48:50

    CUTLERI've often heard that radio was actually a very visual medium. I think what that means is that rather than watching a program on TV where you actually see what's -- the scene of what's going on in front of you, when you hear a program about someone's life on the radio, it's up to you to imagine it, so you become a more active part of the process as opposed to someone who's just passively receiving the information.

  • 13:49:17

    RICHMANI can see my radio propaganda has worked.

  • 13:49:19

    NNAMDII was about to say because Joe has described radio as a visual medium.

  • 13:49:23

    CUTLERSo that's where I got that.

  • 13:49:26

    NNAMDIJoe, can you expand on that some more?

  • 13:49:28

    RICHMANWell, you know, I think part of it is like when you have to create your own pictures. You know, it's like -- it just -- it's just like a binding agent, you know, it just makes those stories adhere so much more strongly into, you know, into your brain and your heart when you have to do that work. And it's just, you know, it's a more active medium for that way, and I think it's, you know, when the stories are good they live longer and more powerfully inside you.

  • 13:49:52

    NNAMDIIt's what I love about radio myself. Can you tell us a little bit more about the other teen diarists who returned for "Radio Diaries Revisited"?

  • 13:50:01

    RICHMANYeah. There were three. It was Frankie who originally did a story about being kind of a high school football star and also there was a another story about his father being sort of on the run from the law. That's a longer story, but his revisited story was basically about being this clean cut football kid who then got in trouble with crystal meth later on in his life. There was Juan who was -- did his original teenage diary about being an illegal immigrant from Mexico, crossing illegally.

  • 13:50:28

    NNAMDISixteen years later he's got this really wonderful life, two cars, a house, a wonderful family and kids, but he's still undocumented all these years later. And then there's Amanda who did a story about sort of coming out as gay and her parents having a really hard time with it, and she went back to interview parents again to see how much has changed in her life, her parents life, and really in the world over those 16 years.

  • 13:50:51

    NNAMDII remember hearing Amanda's story on the revisited series, but I'd like to hear a little bit about Amanda's story. I think we do have a clip.

  • 13:51:30

    NNAMDIThat was Amanda's mother trying to persuade her that she was not necessarily gay at the time.

  • 13:51:35

    RICHMANAnd 16 years later, her mother no longer thinks is a phase for one thing, and also, her mother actually counsels other parents who have gay kids.

  • 13:51:44

    NNAMDIYeah. So her mother has now turned around to support her.

  • 13:51:45

    RICHMANA lot has changed.

  • 13:51:47

    NNAMDIIf you were to compare what you knew at 17, Josh, to what you know today, what would you say were you in the place of one of those parents?

  • 13:51:58

    CUTLERWow. I mean, what would you ask anybody in their mid-thirties to, you know, compare themselves to when they were a teenager.

  • 13:52:04

    NNAMDIYeah.

  • 13:52:05

    CUTLERI think the more you grow up, the more you realize how much you didn't know as a teenager. I think -- and in general throughout the course of life, I feel that the more you learn, the more you realize how much there is that's still left for you to learn, and the hubris of adolescence makes you think that you know a lot more than you actually do, but of course, as you grow up, at least hopefully, you'll start to come around.

  • 13:52:34

    NNAMDIYou know, the fact of the matter is that my memory is good enough that I do remember that when I was 17 I really knew everything, or at least I thought I did. I remember thinking that I knew everything and that my parents didn't have a clue. Your own experience looking back, Melissa, to when you were 17 compared to what you know now?

  • 13:52:53

    RODRIGUEZWell, I think at 17, I definitely did not know as much as a thought I did. I grew up pretty fast, rushing through life, you know, I can't wait until I turn 21, I can't wait till I turn 21, and here I am at 35 saying, I wish I was 21, I wish I was 21. So I think when you get older, and you experience a lot, you know, at 18 you have book a book -- it's an empty book, and ask you go through your years, you're writing into that book. Now I'm 35 reading that book. So that's how it feels to me.

  • 13:53:22

    NNAMDIBut you went through life pretty fast, but even at 17 you knew you wanted to be a good mother.

  • 13:53:27

    RODRIGUEZI did. That was the -- actually I knew that a lot younger. I think at 17 I realized that I can have kids if I chose to. I have always wanted to be a good parent. I always wanted kids and I always wanted to say, you know, I did that, and I did it at least the best to my ability.

  • 13:53:49

    RICHMANAnd you are -- you are a good parent.

  • 13:53:50

    RODRIGUEZThank you.

  • 13:53:51

    NNAMDIWell, we have Isaiah and Tyrone here to testify about that. Joe, you -- it is my understanding, are also inviting the next generation of teenagers to tell their stories?

  • 13:54:00

    RICHMANWell, when the series aired, we had sort of a contest to have teenagers around the country -- it turns out around the world, submit essays to kind of choose the next generation, and we are now working with two actual, you know, current teenagers. One of them is a girl in Saudi Arabia if you can believe it. She submitted this essay and she's wonderful, and she's doing a story about, you know, kind of female issues, being a young teenager in Saudi Arabia, so that's really interesting.

  • 13:54:26

    NNAMDIThat's fascinating.

  • 13:54:26

    RICHMANAnd there's another girl in Atlanta. So that -- it was kind of this interesting Crowdsource process using the storytelling site Cowbird to get all these submissions, and we got tons of them, and to try to find, you know, a new crop.

  • 13:54:39

    NNAMDIAnd now you can find stories in places as disparate as Atlanta, Georgia and Saudi Arabia. You get a chance to compare the lives of people even though they're the same age, but in different cultures and how they view their experiences.

  • 13:54:53

    RICHMANAnd in some ways, you know, these stories can be about such different things. Josh's about Tourette's, you know, Melissa about being a teen mom, and -- but, you know, on some level their all relatable because they all -- I mean, the successful stories are when they all feel like us on some level, you know, and this girl in Saudi Arabia feels like that to me. I get her, know. She feels like I sort of know her on some level, and that's the kind of Trojan horse anyway, you know, we get to know them a little bit, and then through that get to meet this whole other world that we don't know.

  • 13:55:25

    NNAMDIJosh, you were reluctant 16 years ago, you were reluctant this time around. If it comes around in other 16 years, will Joe find you reluctant again?

  • 13:55:36

    CUTLERIt depends what he asking me to record. It seems the recurring theme is that there's always one thing that I have a tremendous amount of recording for whichever show I'm doing. When I was a kid, it was going to school. As an adult, it was recording my tics. What that will ultimately be if we do another show in 16 years when I'm 50, I don't know what my life is going to be like at that point. But I'm sure the theme will continue as we continue.

  • 13:56:03

    NNAMDIWell, I know in your revisit you talked a little bit about your love life, or your dating life.

  • 13:56:07

    CUTLERYes. Yes I did.

  • 13:56:10

    NNAMDIIn Another 16 years we'll figure out how that all turned out.

  • 13:56:12

    CUTLERI will -- I will too.

  • 13:56:15

    NNAMDIMelissa, if you're asked to do this again in another 16 years do you think this is something you'd be prepared to do?

  • 13:56:20

    RODRIGUEZAbsolutely.

  • 13:56:21

    NNAMDIWhy? You're calculating. In 16 years she'll be 50, 51.

  • 13:56:27

    RODRIGUEZYeah. I'll probably a grandmother.

  • 13:56:29

    RICHMANWell, check it out, Isaiah will be 32.

  • 13:56:31

    NNAMDIWow.

  • 13:56:33

    RODRIGUEZWow. That's interesting to think about. But I would do it again. I enjoyed it. It's, you know, I don't have a diary of my own that I write in a book, not yet, but recording it and listening to it, it makes me realize what's wrong and what's right.

  • 13:56:52

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Melanie who said, "I'm so touched by this story about the teenagers whose diaries you are revisiting, especially that of Melissa Rodriguez. She sounds like a phenomenal young woman and a true inspiration to others who hear her story of perseverance and tenacity. I live in Annapolis, Md., and I won't be able to make it tonight, but I wanted to encourage her. Hopefully she already knows this, but she was a fantastic mother."

  • 13:57:18

    RODRIGUEZThank you. Thank you.

  • 13:57:18

    NNAMDISo there -- there it is. Your story gets -- do you find that as a result of -- we're running out of time, but just this quick one. Do you find that as a result of listening to you people think they know you more than they really do?

  • 13:57:31

    RODRIGUEZWell, of course -- yes. I mean, they know a lot, what I put out there, but there's always details that, you know , I'm still a little hard for me to talk about that hopefully one day it will come out and maybe put all together with all the information that everybody already knows, which is a lot.

  • 13:57:51

    NNAMDIThere is more to Melissa Rodriguez, one of the original diarists in the series "Teenage Diaries," as is Josh Cutler. Josh Cutler, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:00

    CUTLERAnd thank you, Kojo. It's been a pleasure being here.

  • 13:58:02

    RODRIGUEZThank you.

  • 13:58:02

    NNAMDIMelissa, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:03

    RODRIGUEZThank you. It was a pleasure.

  • 13:58:04

    NNAMDIJoe Richman, the founder and executive producer of the series "Radio Diaries" as well as "Teenage Diaries," which aired on NPR's "All Things Considered." Joe teaches radio documentary at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Joe, good to see you again.

  • 13:58:17

    RICHMANGood to see you again. Thank you very much.

  • 13:58:19

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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