What I'm Doing

Good Tape

The week we moved to New York, I found out I had been invited to participate in a podcast development program sponsored by the City of New York. There were hundreds of applicants for just 20 slots, so I felt rather humbled to be included.

By the end of the class, I should (in theory) be able to put together a basic audio story that I have conceived, recorded, edited, and otherwise produced on my own. The work is fast-paced—just two weeks in and I’ve completed my first assignment and am in the middle of editing and recording the second.

The class has stretched me in the best possible ways. The thing I always knew I was good at—using words to tell stories—has much higher stakes in this format. For one thing, I have to get someone else to say the words I want to use, then as I twist and shape the words in editing, I have to ask myself if I’m remaining true to their intentions when they said them. When I hear a story now, I just hear the compounded parts of the effort: The music sweeping in at just the right time. The decision to cut here instead of there. The minute instances when I can hear a rough edit. The entrance of the narrator to move the story along.

Growing up, I wanted desperately to be a journalist—Diane Sawyer. Barbara Walters. Connie Chung. Christiane Amanpour.—and yet I remember the slow realization during freshman year of college that it would not be my path in life. After all, unpaid internships presented an impossible hurdle to a poor kid from the south.

There were a lot of reasons I might not have succeeded as a journalist anyway. Again, as a woman from the south, I was taught to be deferential—to move and shift in such a way as to never be a burden to anyone; politeness to the point of non-existence. Combined with my deep reverence for the craft, I struggled with insecurities about “doing it right,” of putting anyone out with my questions, of bothering people who so clearly didn’t want to be bothered. These are not, I suspect, fears that Christiane Amanpour takes into her interviews with world leaders.

A few months ago, I had a chance to interview people I respect and admire. People who make audio for a living, and very good, smart audio at that. I mapped out my questions so that I would not stumble over myself. I learned how to use my phone to record their answers so there were would be no missteps of lost audio. Even with all of my preparation, I can hear the fear in my voice standing next to them. I cannot be indifferent. I cannot ignore their power in the world, or their power over me. It’s a reflex to enthusiastically celebrate things I love.

And so now I am here again, nudged to reach out to the world and ask it questions. It is a delightfully terrifying challenge. The first week we were tasked with creating an “audio postcard,” a snippet of a scene. On my way home from class, I pulled out my recorder and captured the sounds of the 1 train—the bing/bong of the closing door, the static-filled voice over the loudspeaker—and then, the voice of a busker.

At first, I just record him from the other side of the train, and then as he’s about to get off, I ask him if he’ll stay on another minute so I can ask him questions, and he does. He sings his song again for me, closer to my recorder this time. And then the next stop comes and he hops off.

I go home and I listen to what I captured. The sound is not very good, but his laugh is magical. I edit and tweak and walk away a hundred times before I finally say, this has to be done now.

This week the assignment is more challenging. We’re to go out on the street (any street) and ask questions, and from that build a story. My introversion is being tested. And at 33, I no longer look like the “student” I’m proposing to be when I ask someone for a moment of their time.

I encounter language barriers with my neighbors—real or created—and so I ask Google to help me translate.

“Hola, ¿puedo hacerte una pregunta?”

“¿Quién está ganando?”

“¿Qué te gusta de nuestro vecindario?”

They mostly giggle at me, which, incidentally, makes for good tape too.

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Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions: Live from New York

We’re not exactly snowed in, but the streets are still in such an unpleasant state that it kind of feels like I have cabin fever. Here’s what I’ve been catching up on this week.

How Dollar General Became Rural America’s Store of Choice, Wall Street Journal

Analyzing Race and Gender Bias Amid All the News That’s Fit to Print, New York Times

Being a Doctor is Hard. It’s Harder for Women., New York Time

The Reading Life with Parul Sehgal, Book Critic at The New York Times, SSense

Federal Employees Consider What It Would Take for Them to Walk Out the Door, New York Magazine

It’s Really Hard to Come Up with 5 Decent Men…Even in Fiction, Electric Literature

Keila Pulinario Thought Prison Was Tough. Then She Had To Find A Job., Buzzfeed

A Scientific Explanation for How Layers Form in Lattes, New York Times

The Reckoning, New York Times

Algorithms are bad—really bad—for journalism, Poynter

Mario Batali and the Appetites of Men, New Yorker

A Hillbilly Syllabus, Chitucky

Generation Screwed, Highline

Immersive, Powerful Journalism from 2017, Josh Sterns

Deliverance from 27,000 feet, New York Times

A History of Women Who Burned to Death in Flammable Dresses, Racked

The Story Behind the Music of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Vulture

Business Schools Now Teaching #MeToo, N.F.L. Protests and Trump, New York Times

A Friendly Guide to How the Body Decomposes, Buzzfeed

The angry, witty, adventurous life of Jay Caspian Kang, Columbia Journalism Review

I Have a Message for You, New York Times

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21st Century Woman

A Change of Address

 

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” – Tom Wolfe

On Christmas Day, David and I packed up a U-Haul and moved to New York.

There was little public fanfare around the decision or the act, partially because timing, and partially because I felt a little numb.

I had lived in Washington, DC for almost a decade and my geography had in many ways shaped my identity. As I walked along familiar streets in our neighborhood and indulged in “last times” at favorite spots, I still couldn’t fully imagine extracting myself from this place.

Yet, like it had for many people, the year had taken its toll on me. The fraught political climate had made me tense and angry. I was emotionally bankrupt from working at a job I despised. My best friend was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.

Remember that scene in Neverending Story? Yeah, my year had been like that—dark as hell.

And so, we called it. We packed up our things, hugged our landlords/surrogate parents goodbye, and headed north.

Now, I find myself rediscovering what it means to be a local again.

We found an incredible apartment in Harlem; one entire side is made up of sunny windows that look down on a park. We marvel at the quantity of bodegas around us. We hunt for new coffeeshops. We sign up for library cards. We ponder how long it will take us to learn enough Spanish so that we can speak with our neighbors, or maybe not speak, but to at least listen, which seems like the more New Yorker thing to do anyway.

On New Years Eve, we stood on a frigid roof deck watching fireworks blossom around the Empire State Building some 5 miles away, and we fell a little in love.

I don’t ask the city to be a magical balm, but even in this season of intense cold, I feel a little bit of the numbness melting away. And for now, that will do.

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What I'm Reading

The Year That Was

Here we are—almost at the end of a rather terrible year. I suspect we will be processing all of this for a long time, but let us hope we are now nearer the end than the beginning. Let us also hope that the pendulum swings hard in a new direction, that we use this momentum, this anger, this unrest, to build something better.

Like I’ve said before, chaos can create great art, and despite everything else, a lot of great art was made this year, friends. Enjoy a look back.

Year-in-Review

2017 Book Concierge, NPR

NPR’s Book Concierge is now an annual tradition. Maybe you read a few of these that stuck with you? Or perhaps you will spend the next 12-months catching up?

100 Outstanding Pieces of Audio, Bello Collective

I’m so proud of this list. It’s a lot of work, but we found some great shows that deserve your attention. Enjoy.

The Lives They Lived, New York Times

The incredible legacies of some lesser known names remind us there there is much more we can do.

Best of 2017, Longreads

May we all strive to read more than headlines and tweets in the year ahead. 

Best Movies of the Year, Vanity Fair

Let us be transported.

The Year in Graphics, Washington Post

This year has revealed to me how little I know and understand about our systems. Everyone benefits from these explainers.

The 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix, New York Times

A reminder that good things do exist.

The Most Read Stories of 2017, New York Times

The news we could not escape.

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Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions: The Return

Thursday is Thanksgiving, making these next few days the most wonderful time of the year. After a few weeks off for travel, I’m glad to be back right here with you on Sunday morning.

Read

A stunning story from the New York Times on the people who sleep and live in Walmart parking lots.

I’ve written a few times about The Bello Collective—a publication about the podcast industry that I co-edit with two other women. This week, we were mentioned in The New Yorker magazine, and it is like all of my life choices have been validated.

The mythical whiteness of Tr*mp country.

Esquire seems like an unlikely place to find a death positive story, and yet here we are.

Over at Suspension-Solution, my friend Matt invited me to talk about my first beer.

Same.

Some weeks I’m a podfaster, some weeks I’m not. Are you?

I love Honey Nut Cherrios. Oops.

9 experts ponder if there is a way to fix Facebook.

The letters of John Updike.

Tangerine still lingers with me years later. Keep ’em coming, Sean Baker.

Watch

The always spectacular Tracee Ellis Ross with the advice you needed.

Before you watch Alias Grace on Netflix, learn why it ranks up there with The Handmaid’s Tale in describing our times.

Listen

I usually give a new podcast two episodes to show me what it’s about. Currently, I’m tuning in to Battle Scars, The Paris Review and Closer Than They May Appear.

Here are a bunch of shows I discovered at the Third Coast Festival last weekend.

Do

If you’re on Twitter, go follow this list of incredible female journalists.

 

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Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions

It was a really crap week. There was bad news at work. My best friend still has cancer. Jack engaged in hours of inconsolable crying and a refusal to return to our apartment. Like, stopped-in-his tracks, run-out-into-the street-instead-of-re-enter-our-apartment-anxiety. Fuck.

I try to remind myself that there are bright spots though too. I met Sameer, my pen pal, for the first time this week and he is as lovely in person as he is on paper. A good friend of mine is poised for a well-deserved win. Impromptu omelets and gelato with my neighbor. A hug from my best friend at the end of a 40-minute drive. The way HELEN FUCKING ZALTZMAN and ROMAN MARS sometimes just casually slide into my tweets.

And this list. I read and watched a lot this week and I’m so happy to be able to share it with you. Sure, these times are tumultuous, but they are creating art and action—two things we can always use in great supply.

Read

I am so here for micro-fiction. Give me everything you’ve got.

Let’s be friends and celebrate Jolabokaflod.

Paris, I love you.

This data makes me rage.

The man who fell for Jane Austen.

Chirlane McCray has my full attention.

I can’t imagine covering the news in this environment, but still, this is no time to get sloppy.

I have nothing but extreme gratitude for the many mentors and sponsors in my life.

I’ve pulled the ironing board out of the closet, so come back soon, David.

And finally, these, just because they are beautiful and fun.

Watch

This video is 11 minutes long, but it is an impressive piece of investigative reporting.

I wasn’t a big fan of Stranger Things, but, you know, the zeitgeist. The sequel, though, is a lot more fun.

At $1,300 a night, I won’t be staying here anytime soon, but, oh, if I could.

Listen

I regularly listen to exactly one food podcast…until now. Monocle’s The Menu hits all the right spots.

These days Adams Morgan is more baby strollers than rock clubs, but I can still appreciate my neighborhood’s hip early days.

This delightfully unsettling episode of Here Be Monsters probably ranks among my favorite episodes of any podcast ever.

I casually tuned in to Nancy on my walk to the gym last weekend. Halfway there, I stopped to sit on a bench and give this episode my full attention.

I am shook.

For me, Richmond, Virginia, will always represent my figurative adolescence. Having spent summers there in my teens and early twenties, it became the bridge between my childhood in the semi-rural south and my adulthood in an urban metropolis. Now, Richmond has its own podcast about the city’s complicated history.

Eat

Friendsgiving is on hiatus this year and I am wrecked about it. For all my introverted tendencies, I love a good dinner party.

Pondering ways to make this black-eyed pea stew vegetarian friendly.

Ignore the lack of punctuation and just take the advice.

I legitimately have two years worth of parm rinds in my freezer right now. Time to make some make some cheese broth.

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Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions

At my core, I’m someone who wears her heart on her sleeve. For a long time, people made me feel embarrassed about those emotions.

“Why are you crying?”

“It’s not that funny.”

“Calm down. There’s no reason to get excited.”

“Wow, you really just say what you think, huh?”

“Honestly, you use too many adverbs.”

And even still, these emotions lived very publicly because what else could I do? They were me and I am them.

But then, this past year got really weird and really hard and the balance of my feelings skewed towards a lot more bad days than good ones. I found myself trying not to feel much of anything at all. It turns out, not feeling anything is pretty terrible too.

I take comfort in the total unoriginality of these feelings. I know others feel similar anxiety. I know I’m not the only one looking for the bright spots. My dear friend Sameer wrote openly about deciding to go back on his medication for depression after a decade away from it. My very talented buddy Nikki talks about rediscovering the wholeness of our lives.

As for me, I’m trying to reset the balance of emotions. If I don’t love my day job, I can at least find meaning in my free time. I am learning new things again. I am exploring risk.

It’s not adverbs spilling everywhere, but it’s something.

Read

An interview with Amy Tan.

The story behind this picture.

“Print still makes me gasp with delight.”

Nine books for when you need stories to be a defiant act.

Did you know that Mailchimp (yes, the email company) invests $1 million dollars a year into helping the Atlanta arts scene thrive?

Lincoln in the Bardo was awarded the Man Booker Prize this week, a prize it very much deserved. Go read this book. It’s format will make you uncomfortable. Good.

Listen

Imaginary Worlds brings you the story behind Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

Watch

The animated film My Life as Zucchini moved me to tears.

A whole channel of Elizabeth Moss projects, please.

Eat

I fucking love biscuits. They are basically the perfect food.

When I became (mostly) vegetarian, I decided to figure out tofu. After a number of botched attempts, my friend Sylvie took me out to Eden Center and showed me how magical it could be when properly prepared. Now, I can’t get enough of it. You don’t have to be vegetarian to find delight in such a simple product. Washington Post offers up these 8 ways to prepare it.

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