Behind-the-Scenes with Nora McInerny

What emotional resonance are you looking for in Terrible Thanks for Asking (TTFA), that you haven’t felt elsewhere?

TTFA started in my inbox. Before my husband Aaron died, he and I created his obituary, which revealed his true identity as Spider-Man. The result was a viral obituary…which was unexpected, to say the least. The other unexpected result was that my inbox was overflowing with people who had read the obituary and wanted to share their stories with me. Not just dead husbands and brain tumors, but a whole host of awful things that had happened. What they had in common was this: the person emailing me was spilling their guts to a complete stranger. Why? Not because these were all people with no friends or family, but because their friends and family had probably assumed that the Terrible Thing was over. That bringing it up was wrong. That the person they loved was... fine. Most likely because they said it was. Because who wants to actually say how terrible they’re doing? What I wanted to do was create a show that made it easier for people to have these conversations when something Terrible happens to or around them. I wanted it to be a pity-free space for emotional exploration.

Did having a dad who was reticent to express his feelings important to the creation of TTFA?

My dad wasn’t always reticent to express his feelings. We just never knew what feelings would be expressed (typically... anger) or when (when we’d incurred some minor infraction like leaving our shoes by the door where someone could trip over them and break their neck, god damn it). I always knew I was loved. I always knew that my dad had pain he couldn’t quite express. And knowing all that, even from a young age, made me incredibly sensitive to the world around me. It also made me the kind of person who HAS to express her feelings. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be the opposite of my father emotionally, but that’s what happened. I think you can sense that in everything I do, from the personal essays I write for Elle and to my books to this podcast.

How difficult was it to attend the Vietnam Veterans reunion, meeting the people who fought alongside your father, while still working to gather tape for this episode?

I spent the entire reunion, and every interview, openly sobbing with every man we interviewed. And I didn’t worry about it one bit. If (producer) Hans Buetow had an additional question, he would just tenderly whisper it to us, I’d repeat it for tape, and we’d keep going. It was one of the earliest episodes we worked on, and a very emotionally intense few days.

What production/ethical/emotional choices did you weigh when recreating the moment Felipe died?

I never forget that these are not my stories. That they belong to other people, and need to be treated that way. That the men I interviewed — and, though we had no idea who they were or how to find them, Felipe’s family — could and would hear this, and that the most important thing was to honor them and their experience. We went through a few versions of that moment. Music? No music? Ambient jungle sounds? We ended up stripping it down to what you hear, because the emotional intensity is enough as it is.

How did you feel after finishing Semper Fi ?

Finishing this episode felt like taking off a lead vest. But in a lot of ways, it felt like I had just scratched the surface of the men that I had interviewed, and what they had gone through in the years following Felipe’s death. Truly, we could produce a season or an entire show about these men. Maybe we will?