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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Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions: Bounce Back Edition

David and I lived through shared food poisoning. That’s really all you need to know about last week.

Read

The real story behind Steel Magnolias.

Frances McDormand is one difficult woman.

Sometimes we find kindness is unexpected places.

We always knew this was going to hurt.

I have heard nothing but praise for this difficult story.

A conversation with Tom Hanks will cure what ails you.

And finally, these are good for a chuckle (or a canceled wedding).

Eat

I walked a mile to Trader Joe’s last night looking for this cake, which is usually found among their shelves. Seems like everyone else had the same plan because they were sold out (don’t worry though, I walked home with an entire box of eclairs instead).

Listen

More Perfect is back.

I am transfixed by the Polybius Conspiracy right now.

A whole list of podcasts of, by, for women from the Bello Collective.

I saw an Apple commercial and noticed the name of this band. Wondering if it was real or not, I looked them up and I must tell you, I am delighted.

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Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions #18

I’m heading to Los Angeles this week; I consider this an act of karma since fall is making its real first appearance in D.C. right now. It’s like the world agrees summer should last forever—or at least one more week. While I’m there, I’ll be attending the Werk It festival, a women-only conference on podcasting. I’m rubbing shoulders with people that I find deeply impressive, so I’ll be doing power poses and practicing my networking pitch before my flight.

David’s been away for 6 weeks now. He left the week before his birthday, so his presents and cards are still sitting on our desk like weird little ghosts of birthdays past. If all goes well, though, he’ll be joining me in LA for a few days and maybe even get to relax a little. Thanks to everyone who reached out to make dinner plans or just sent a text message these past few weeks, they’ve helped stave off any loneliness that could have manifested in his absence.

 To Read

  • What a badass.
  • Nigella Lawson on the unappealing pressure of Instagram worthy food. Also, please let me look even a fraction of this fabulous at 57.
  • Even if you don’t like horror, Stephen King is responsible for some of the great dramas too, including Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand by Me, and The Dark Tower, not to mention one of my favorite non-fiction books, On Writing. Here are some of the best quotes from his books.
  • I’m low-key following this kind of interesting series from Splinter called 16th minute on people who became internet famous.
  • This essay basically says the only thing I care to say about Hugh Heffner.
  • I just started Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and the first chapter has me pretty intrigued as to where this is all going.
  • I’m only part of the way through Star Witness from Electric Lit, but I like this modern take on serialized content that comes out in pieces.

To Listen

  • Earhustle has consistently been one of my favorite new podcasts, even if it leaves me conflicted about how we portray prisons. This excellent episode looks at how people who are (sometimes unfairly) serving life sentences cope with the end of life as they knew it.

To Eat

  • If you’re still lucky enough to have peaches and tomatoes at the market, you will not be sorry to buy up the lot and make this panzanella.
  • There is no one who gets “alive” food better than Naturally Ella. Even the carnivores among you can find something here to enjoy.
  • The first thing I plan to do when I get back from LA is make this granola, and thus acknowledge that sometimes I am that girl.
  • These cookies.
  • I’ve never even heard of grape pie, but the crust on this beauty might just have to be my next challenge.

To Do

  • The Kennedy Center now hosts free weekly yoga classes, and while it’s uber-weird that the ushers just stand around and quietly observe your down-dogs, it’s kind of worth it to spend your bridge poses looking up at the light installations.
  • I’m staying here for part of next week and I am so ready to surrounded by lush green things. If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, you are seriously missing out on one of my favorite parts of travel.
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Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions

When I was sick as a kid, my mom would make us a bed on the sofa. While burning with fever, or hacking up a lung, the cool sheets and proximity to television felt like a special treat. As I moved in and out of consciousness, mom would offer up medicine or grilled cheese or my favorite magazine. When I was in college, I got really sick my senior year—sick enough that I missed three days of classes. My mom drove the three hours to JMU to come check on me. She brought medication I was too ill to go get on my own, my favorite magazines, and yes, grilled cheese.

Sick days are the best parts of childhood that no one really talks about.

I say this because I’ve been sick for almost two weeks. The first week was a lot like this scene in When Harry Met Sally. By the second week though, I was fairly delirious. Coming home from work and falling asleep by 7 PM and waking up only when my alarm went off at six the next morning.

There was no one to bring me medicine, no one to make me grilled cheeses.

Sick days are the worst part of adulthood that no one really talks about.

Short Reads

I’m here for this light show.

What I wish I’d had the guts to do the last time I saw this.

The myth of the domestic goddess.

The women standing between you and nuclear war.

The evolution of burial clothing.

Even if you have a family or a significant other, you should really do more stuff alone.

Long Reads

  • I finished David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding and felt it was the slow evolution of watching one of my favorite writers turn into a crotchety old man.
  • Call Me By Your Name was as lovely a book as I’ve read in a long time. A film of the same name comes out in November.

Watch

I know I’m late to the game, but Hidden Figures was pretty great. Nocturnal Animals was a surprisingly good sleeper. My delirium led me to watch Mud and The Good Place, but both were also surprisingly enjoyable.

(I know, I should be ashamed of how much television I’ve watched in the past two weeks.)

Eat

I started seeing a trainer and he gave me a recipe for an insanely good smoothie that I’ve already made a few times (and I don’t even like smoothies). It’s about 240 calories all in and thanks to the peas is power packed with protein (which is super helpful to mostly-veg folks like myself).

Green Smoothie

  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1/2 cup kale
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup berries or other fruit
  • A small wedge of ginger

Add ingredients to a blender and hit liquify, or put the ingredients in a freezer safe ziplock bag and store for the week ahead.

I made a Fig and Almond “breakfast cake” this week, but had generally meh feelings about it because it tasted to healthy (tip: it’s not).

One more thing

One of my high school classmates died last week. Even though we hadn’t spoken in many years, it really shook me. His friends made a memorial and it’s well worth watching.

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