In my spare time: Floating in a sea of storytelling


Ernest Hare, US star of Vaudeville, phonograph records, and radio, listens to the radio with headphones. Circa 1921-1925. Bain News Service photograph via Library of Congress website.

Ernest Hare, US star of Vaudeville, phonograph records, and radio, listens to the radio with headphones. Circa 1921-1925. Bain News Service photograph via Library of Congress website.

I recently discussed with someone how I spend my free time. For a moment I could not remember what I do with it.

I’m a piddler, a person who often pisses away his time.

I get lost in things like definition searches to make sure piddler, or one who piddles, is a real word. Then I’ll click a link and learn that the term “hipster” has been in use since the 1930s.

Sigh.

I behave the same way with Facebook and Twitter.

I go through stops-and-starts reading books or watching television series friends recommend.

I run, but don’t consider that free time. It’s a built-in part of my life — therapy really.

Then I remembered the activity I make time for but forget to include because of how ever-present it is — listening to podcasts.

Nerdy, sad, whatever. I know.

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I miss Serial, the show hosted by Sarah Koenig  that was released weekly starting in October. The This American Life  spinoff explored the conviction of Adnan Syed for the 1999 Baltimore killing of his high school sweetheart, Hae Min Lee. Serial was a strong piece of investigative journalism that placed Koenig the reporter in the middle of the telling and left me (and millions of other) wondering what the “Truth” was with each installment. The series ended in December with troubling ambiguity and a promise to return this year with a new subject.

In the meantime, I have other wonderful podcasts, old and new, to listen to.

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In January, NPR launched Invisibilia, a show whose title is Latin for “all the invisible things,” according to its producers, Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller. Specifically, the show “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” Brilliant, nerdy, and deep.

Two episodes in, Invisibilia explored the thinking on thoughts with two lives as case studies and how fear shapes our lives by showing what its absence looks like in a person.

Liking Invisibilia was actually a gimme. Spiegel and Miller both had their hands in creating two of my longtime favorite podcasts, This American Life and Radiolab.

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When I’m not absorbed in the long-form audio show, usually when I am doing dishes or running, I listen to shorter shows like Criminala podcast with “stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.”

If I want to blush, I flirt with The HeartOriginally called “Radio Smut,” The Heart recently joined the Radiotopia network of podcasts launched a couple of years ago by public radio producer and 99% Invisible host Roman Mars. The show is “an audio art project and podcast about intimacy + humanity.” It regularly features ads for sex toys sponsors, hence the blushing, and is unapologetic, honest and beautiful in exploring human sexuality.

Other Radiotopia podcasts I enjoy include 99% Invisible (a show about design, architecture and things that shape our man-made world),  Love+Radio, Strangers, Radio Diaries and Fugitive Waves

mothI’d also be remiss not to mention The Moth, a podcast of people telling true stories before a live audience, and Marc Maron’s WTF, a great hour-long interview session between Maron and a guest.

I’m such an audio pig, but honestly, each podcast mentioned is wonderful in its own way.

In a world of flailing journalism business models and mediocre reporting, I am passionate about proselytizing future podcast listeners. To spend one’s free time being educated, entertained and reveling in good storytelling is something akin to a spiritual experience for me.

The list above is also a personal reminder of what I — me, the self-doubting, self-critical, guy who sees himself as a piss-poor writer with a touch of the ADHD — would love to do, to spin a yarn in half as interesting a fashion as what these podcasts do.

That requires a good idea, a bit of skill and time — a lot of time.

Perhaps this post will kick me in the ass and inspire me to chip away at some stories that intrigue me. I’ve gotten pretty far into the story behind this picture, but stopped as the grind of work beat me down over the holidays:

Elizabeth "Little Bit" Shields, Rev. Claude Ely and Richard Quehl Deputy Sheriff (Baptism) December 9, 1971.

The photo was taken in the 1970s. In it are a suspected murderer and someone who inspired some of the greats of early rock-n-roll.

Or I may stay a podcast listener, piddling my time away by filling my heart and my head with all the minutia and the invisibilia that this current audio renaissance has to offer.

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