Part of why I write here as little as I do, and in particular why I struggle with consistent posting, is that I’m still absurdly insecure about the choices I make regarding what makes a “good post” for this blog.
Basically, I want every post I write to be worth reading…. I don’t want to be posting just to post, and I want my posts to actually add value to the internets, rather than just reiterating things that have been written better elsewhere a bajillion times already. In particular, I’ve been very reluctant to do posts that are link round-ups or that take bits of other people’s work, comment on them only briefly, and then call that a post. Even though I frequently enjoy those sorts of things on other people’s blogs! Even though there are blogs I read SOLELY FOR their link roundups/book recommendations/etc. I just didn’t feel like that was my “thing”. My “thing” is those big long thinky posts that are either personal/confessional or passionate ranting informed by research. And if I’m not doing that I’m like, cheating or something.
I’m trying to get over that, because while those long-ish thinky posts may be the main thing I have to offer, I also sometimes have things to say triggered by media I consume, or I have cool things to share that I think you’d be interested in hearing about. And this is my blog, and I can post what I like, and no one is going to run screaming. And even if I do run a few people off, it’s probably worth it just for the sake of getting practice writing different sorts of things.
So to that end, I’m going to start doing some different styles of posts in addition to things I already do.
Today’s new format: Stuff I like. Which, as you might expect, is going to be me telling you about something I think is awesome. I’m not going to set up any kind of schedule for these posts, because I don’t want to be pressured to have to write about things I’m not super excited about.
Okay, so now that all that process-y bullshit is out of the way (and I promise, I won’t bore you with that every time I do something like this)… on to the Thing I Like:
Terrified is a relatively new podcast from the Nerdist network, which puts out podcasts and video shows and other assorted things, usually on [you guessed it!] kind of nerdy topics. The basic premise of the show is that the host, comedian Dave Ross, has guests on to talk about things that scare them or things they hate about themselves. The guests so far have been other comedians and other people in show business in some capacity, and the conversations have been FASCINATING. I’ll get to why in a second.
First though, I should mention, for those of you who are ready to roll your eyes and close the tab because you aren’t into podcasts–I didn’t used to be into podcasts either.
Text is my preferred form of media most of the time. I generally miss out on all but the biggest video-based internet memes, because youtube and other such places are just not on my list of usual haunts. I usually prefer reading things at my own pace as opposed to having them read to me or visually presented in a format I have no control over, and outside of a bit of NPR and music, I wasn’t ever much of a radio person either. I did listen to a handful of audiobooks as a kid, but not because I had any choice in the matter–they were a family-road-trip tradition. I tended to find them infuriating, personally… with audio I’d get distracted and miss plot points and not be able to easily go back, and the pace was SO MUCH SLOWER than my own reading speed. 20+ hours to get through an average length book? No fucking way. So when podcasts came along and I realized they were pretty much a new way of consuming content that I’d otherwise get from blog posts or old fashioned radio, with the I was kind of like… no thanks.
That changed for two reasons in the last few years. Number one: lab work. Number two: commuting. Both are tasks that require too much of my attention and/or physical dexterity for reading to be practical, but tend to get too tedious if done for long periods with no secondary entertainment. Enter… audiobooks and podcasts.
When I was in the lab 8+ hours a day and commuting about 2 hours a day, I had an audible (audiobooks!) subscription (still had little patience for consuming fiction this way, but bring on the memoirs/nonfiction!) AND subscribed to 10+ podcasts at any given time. These days, I have a lot less time to fill with audio media–maybe 10 hours a week of bus rides and household chores, give or take a few–and I’ve cut way back, but I still listen to the following fairly regularly:
- Some form of daily news (either the audio of Rachel Maddow’s show, or NPR)
- The Savage Lovecast
- Sex Nerd Sandra
- WTF with Marc Maron
- This American Life
- Terrified with Dave Ross
Some assorted other NPR gets thrown in here and there (Planet Money is pretty awesome), and I don’t listen to every episode of every show listed, but you get the idea. There are other shows that I sort of miss, but I have to be pretty ruthless about keeping the list trimmed down, because otherwise my phone just fills up with crap I never get around to playing. So adding a new show recently, Terrified, was a big deal… but worth it, I think.
If you are familiar with comedian Marc Maron’s show WTF, the Terrified show format might seem kind of familiar… Maron interviews comedians and other entertainment personalities (actors, writers, musicians) about their lives and their work, and they tend to get deep into people’s backstories/traumatic histories/what made them an artist/etc. It can be really funny or really deep or both. Terrified is similar, but the goal of getting to the difficult stuff is more explicit–it’s called Terrified for a reason–, the guest list is different (more up-and-coming 20-something entertainers, not the big names), and it’s shorter.
I skip some episodes of WTF, because sometimes the interviews get into the nitty gritty details of some aspect of showbiz or the music scene or whatever that I couldn’t give less of a fuck about, but I’ve yet to skip an episode of Terrified. Dave Ross is a less well-practiced interviewer, but the subjects of conversation are almost almost relatable to me. These are thoughtful, creative people trying to make something of their lives and their dreams, and they get on and talk about what they struggle with. There was an episode where Dave interviewed Sandra (of Sex Nerd Sandra… once upon a time Dave co-hosted that show) about her sometimes crippling perfectionism. There was an episode where Dave discussed with his guest her past physically abusive relationship with a fellow comedian and the shittiness that happened as a result of having to continue to work in the same community with her abuser after she left him and realized how shitty he was.
One of my favorite discussions happened on the episode with Drew Koshgarian, who blew me away a little bit discussing pretty versus useful art. She explained that some artists are capable of describing their misery really beautifully (her example: Hemingway), and are clearly brilliant observers and communicators of the human experience, but never learn how to be happy/have a satisfying life, while others communicate insightfully about human experience AND about how to make it better. Her biggest fear is being so determined to be a good artist that she succeeds… as the first type of artist, and fails to grow as a human being.
“If I don’t have insight into how to be happier, I don’t want to be talking into a microphone.”
And I have a kind of conflicted response to that concern. I do think misery is a key part of creativity… but only because it is a key part of the human experience. You have to experience some pain to create great art, but not necessarily MORE pain than other people. You can be a generally happy person and still be a great artist.
Also, I could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure Koshgarian wasn’t suggesting that there is no value in the art of miserable people, or in art that doesn’t provide insight on how to live better–we still read Hemingway and Fitzgerald and tons of other artists who died young-ish and tragically after tumultuous lives–but rather that she has no interest in being one of those people or making that kind of art.
I thought that was a very self-aware and beautiful decision to make, even if I wouldn’t make exactly the same one. Personally, I do a lot of writing where I try to share useful insights, but I also write even without a “point” or a “message” sometimes, because I think articulating common experiences in ways that make people reflect on their own experiences and maybe feel less alone can be enough of a contribution to make all on its own. On the other hand, I do try to limit what I once referred to as “unmitigated whining” here–there is only so much raw ranting and misery you can put out before it stops being interesting or useful. I think finding that point of balance is something a lot of creators of all stripes struggle with, though, so it’s a topic worth pondering.
Anyhow, given the crowd that reads here, I thought some of you might also enjoyed Terrified. So if you’re a podcast listener, consider adding an episode or two to your list. If you aren’t, maybe consider turning one on next time you have an afternoon of boring chores to do or a long bus ride ahead.