Tuesday, April 30, 2013
There’s an amazing weekly program on public radio that is consuming my life.
I discovered it about eleven months ago, and since then I’ve listened to all seventeen years of archived episodes. The show made it into my Christmas letter as one of the six most notable features of my year.
Every week on the program they pick a theme and present a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme, ranging from personal essays about Israeli poultry to investigative reporting on the juvenile drug court system to interviews with embittered professional Santas. It’s difficult to convey the show’s huge range, though my attempts to do so can be measured in the number of people who now run away when I start sentences with, “I heard on the radio….”
The subjects jump back and forth from public figures and major events to ordinary people who just happen to be fascinating. Naturally, since day one I’ve been imagining future episodes in which I could feature.
It doesn’t hurt that the show has helped launch the careers of essayists such as David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and David Rakoff, all writing frequently in my preferred genre of “I’m rather awkward; here’s how that’s working out.”
For months, then, the voice in my head has been host Ira Glass asking insightful, journalistic questions to turn my perpetual internal monologue into an intriguing radio story.
These self-congratulatory interviews don’t stop at illuminating my creative process, of course. Frequently they spill over into examining the compelling intricacies of my everyday activities.
It turns out that imaginary journalists shadowing you, just like real ones, can bring uncomfortable truths to light. All the hard-hitting nonexistent reporting is leaving me less and less sure of my own striking newsworthiness, and gradually I’m adjusting my vision of episode themes that might apply to me.
Searching the show’s contributor list for comparisons indicates that I am not among the philosophers issuing expressions of such shattering profundity that the only possible reply is a muted monosyllable.
Instead, I’m one of the people who keep eating foods they know will trigger their severe allergies, or at least the guy moved to tears by an American Express commercial on an airplane. The appropriate journalistic response to my statements is, “Wait, what?”
Luckily, like I said, this show tackles an amazing range of topics. They made an hour of compelling radio from an all-night interstate rest stop. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.
P.S.—If you would like to cultivate your own informative, entertaining, and potentially self-doubt-inducing radio habit, you can stream every episode ever at the This American Life web site. If you need more cool stuff to do, I also suggest giving them money for being so awesome.