#MatteredToMe - March 27, 2020: Quiet Beauty, Grief, and Hope
- Clint Smith's poem "When people say, “we have made it through worse before”" articulates something about the grief and fear and weariness of crisis—and not just this crisis—that is heavy, but the recognition of it feels like a breath.
- These photographs by Abraham Votroba have a quiet beauty to them that is just lovely.
- The breathlessness of David Baker's poem "Checkpoint," how birds and papers and interrogations and nature all run together.
- Cseslaw Milosz's poem "Hope" was on Poetry Daily yesterday. It showed me something new, a new way to think about hope, and I appreciated it for that.
- Finally, Lisel Mueller's poem "Things." At the beginning, the anthropomorphism feels funny, almost ridiculous. And yet that last line says something profound, I think, about why we do it.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I hope some peace finds its way to you today. Tell me, what's mattered to you lately?
Thanks, and take care.
New KTCO: Julian K. Jarboe
This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with writer Julian K. Jarboe. Julian’s debut story collection, Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel, is a mix of body-horror fairy tales, mid-apocalyptic science fabulism, and blue-collar queer resistance. The stories grapple with body dysmorphia and transformation, and the realities of laboring under late capitalism. In our conversation we talked about different communities responses to the climate crisis, the frustration of white feminism, and “science fabulism” as a genre. Then in the second segment, we talked about different aspects of food and community.
Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:
You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.
Crisis, Emotion, and Intention
Depending on where you live, we're about a week or so into our period of isolation and social distancing. Maybe a bit more. I hope not much less. It’s been interesting to me to see the different ways people are responding to this crisis. I don’t mean official responses by government or opinions from media, mind you. I just mean how individual people are feeling, and what they’re saying. It’s interesting to note who is responding by turning toward togetherness and who is responding by lashing out.
I don’t mean any judgment here. It’s a stressful time, and stress brings out a lot of emotions that we’re not always equipped to deal with. I just think it’s interesting. A lot of people are reacting in ways that are unsurprising—people I think of as kind being kind, people I think of as angry being angry, and so on. But it’s not all what I expected.
I don’t know that it’s exactly that crisis shows you who you are. There’s some truth to that, of course—for example, times of deprivation can help you see what’s important to you by showing what you miss and what you don’t. But I don’t know that it’s exactly correct that the “real” you comes out when you’re stressed. Stress can make certain emotions feel more urgent, and can lower certain inhibitions we have about expressing those emotions. But I don’t think that’s more real, necessarily. In part, I think that who you want to be is part of who you authentically are. I think your aspirations are an expression of what you value, and that’s real.
Still, I do think we sometimes find out things about ourselves when we’re in crisis, things that may surprise us in ways we find gratifying or unsettling, or perhaps confusing. Sometimes we might find ourselves behaving in ways that we don’t like, and that can make us feel bad about ourselves. That’s natural, too, but what I hope is that we can take the opportunity to reflect on our emotional processes, instead of just flagellating ourselves.
In crisis, we tend to seek a feeling of safety or control, and this can manifest in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it means turning inward, sometimes turning outward, and either way it can help or hurt others. I think that recognizing our behaviors as safety-seeking can be illuminating. Identifying the emotion without judgment and seeing the underlying need can help us get out of the moment where the emotion is controlling, and instead it becomes clarifying. That is, it can clarify what your desire is and what your need is, and how those aren’t always the same thing. Seeing our emotions and desires and needs with clarity gives us the opportunity to understand what our values are. Once we understand what our values are, we can then make intentional choices to act in ways that align with those values.
Remember, though, that it’s hard to act with intention when we are still inside that emotion. Emotions aren’t a bad thing. Emotions are the way your body tells you that you need something. So it’s important to pay attention to what your emotions are telling you about your needs. But your emotional mind isn’t as good at things like making informed choices, planning, analyzing, weighing options. You need your intellectual mind for that. Neither “side” here is better or worse. Both are performing important functions.
All this is just to say, I hope that you can take some time today—or at least soon—to slow down, to feel your feelings, and to be kind to yourself. I think that’s the way you can end up being able to be kind to others.
#MatteredToMe - March 20, 2020: Gorge, The Two Princes, Tranquillusionist
Many of you already know this, I imagine, but every Friday that I can manage, I post a little list to Facebook and Twitter of things that I read, watched, listened to, or saw that mattered to me. It's just a small thing I do to help me focus on gratitude, to tell creative people that I cared about their work, and to try to share things that others might enjoy. I've been thinking for a while that it would be nice to include these in my newsletter, and this seems like as good a time to start as any.
So, here are some things that mattered to me recently
- I liked how Dion O'Reilly's poem “Gorge” keeps correcting itself, and how it layers and mixes different kinds of desire. Or maybe they aren't so different.
- I've been listening to Gimlet Media's audio drama The Two Princes this week and it is a fun, funny, and heartwarming queer coming-of-age fantasy adventure. I like it a lot.
- Finally, Helen Zaltzman made a special episode of The Allusionist this week, which is just 10 minutes of her reading words submitted by her listeners that they find soothing. It's such a lovely and gentle bit of generosity from a podcaster I admire. I got pretty emotional listening to it, honestly.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. It's been a little challenging for me to keep up with everything lately, but that's okay. I'm trying my best, and I know you are, too.
Thank you, and take care.
New LikeWise Fiction: "Evangelina Concepcion," by Ani Sison Cooney
New KTCO: Jon Sands
This week on Keep the Channel Open I'm talking with poet Jon Sands. I first became acquainted with Jon as one of the co-hosts of the podcast The Poetry Gods, one of my all-time favorites, and the poems in his latest collection, It’s Not Magic, are both exuberant and profound. In our conversation we talked about being braver on the page, about balancing self-love and accountability, and about writing toward growth. Then in the second segment we talked about how having kids changes how you see other people, and we talked about the work of Aracelis Girmay and how she uses personification in her poems.
Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:
You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.
If You're Stuck at Home and Need Something to Listen to
It occurred to me this morning that in the near future—or perhaps already—some people may find themselves stuck at home for an extended period of time, looking for something to do. And that, if that were the case, some podcast recommendations might be welcome. If that sounds useful to you, well, here you go: 36 podcasts that I find bingeable or otherwise suitable for long listens, organized roughly by genre. I'll try to include content notes where appropriate.
Audio Dramas/Audio Fiction:
Most of these are either limited run shows or have defined seasons/arcs that make them very bingeable. A couple are ongoing shows that I still find good for back-to-back listening. In alphabetical order:
- I have been a humongous fan of The Adventure Zone for years now. It's an actual-play RPG show by the McElroy family, and it is both funny and engaging, with delightful characters and excellent storytelling. So far there have been two complete arcs (each arc is a complete and independent story) and a third is ongoing, and there have been several mini-arcs and one-offs. I recommend starting from the beginning. (Content notes: strong language, comic violence)
- Mermaid Palace's audio drama Asking For It is an adaptation of the Goldilocks tale, a story about a young queer woman, music, and the cycle of abuse. Excellent writing and voice acting. (Content notes: intimate partner abuse, drugs, strong language, explicit sexual content)
- The Big Loop is an audio drama anthology, with almost all of the stories told in the first person. Includes both speculative and realist fiction, and really well done. So far, my favorite ep is the SF story "You." (Content notes: some episodes include strong language and mature themes)
- George the Poet's show Have You Heard George's Podcast? combines hip hop, spoken word, and audio drama to deliver both insightful musings about creativity and incisive social commentary. Sounds unlike any other show I know of.
- Ross Sutherland's show Imaginary Advice includes experimental audio fiction, poetry, and occasional audio-blog-style episodes. There's a playfulness to the writing and sound design that I love, and it's consistently surprising in the best way.
- LeVar Burton Reads is just what the title says: in every episode, host LeVar Burton reads a hand-picked and excellent short story. There's a heavy emphasis on speculative fiction, and Burton is a master storyteller. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language and mature themes. See individual episode descriptions for specific notes.)
- In Mija, a young Latina woman from NYC tells her family's story of immigration. It's well done and very immersive, often feeling more like a docuseries than fiction.
- James Kim's MOONFACE is about a young, closeted Korean American man who struggles to communicate with his immigrant mother, because they literally don't speak the same language. It's a beautiful and moving story about identity, queer relationships, friendship, family, and podcasting. (Content notes: strong language, explicit sexual content)
- Murmurs, by BBC Sounds, is a Twilight-Zone-esque anthology show. Each episode is a different horror/SF story about worlds bleeding into each other. The sound design uses glitching and distortion to delightfully eerie effect.
- Kaitlin Prest's audio drama The Shadows is about the arc of a relationship, beginning, middle, and end. I was completely drawn in by the performances, which are viscerally real. Amazing show. (Content notes: strong language, explicit sexual content)
- Tin Can Audio's audio drama The Tower imagines a world in which a seemingly endlessly tall tower exists, and follows one woman's haunting journey as she climbs it. Reminded me of Borges or Ted Chiang. The way that the story is told through a series of phone calls works really well—it's eerie at times, but the conversations between characters are also quite intimate.
- Finally, I'm very proud of my own audio fiction anthology show, LikeWise Fiction, in which I read excellent short stories from many genres, all written by women, nonbinary authors, authors of color, and LGBTQIA+ authors. In the first season I've featured stories by writers including Chaya Bhuvaneswar, Kat Howard, Rachel Lyon, Celeste Ng, JY Yang, and more. I'd love if you had a listen. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language and mature themes, see individual episode descriptions for specific notes)
These are all either limited-run shows or they have discrete seasons that can be listened to like a miniseries. All are strong narrative nonfiction.
- Closer Than They Appear is a 2017 show by Carvell Wallace about race in America, with a mixture of interviews and personal narrative that I found quite compelling.
- Another show by Carvell Wallace is Finding Fred, which is all about Mr. Rogers, both looking at the work he did and asking what we lessons we can take from him to help us live in the often scary world of today.
- The Washington Post's Lillian Cunningham has done three excellent series on American history. The first, from 2016, was Presidential, which looked at each US president from the beginning through today.
- The next of Cunningham's shows was 2018's Constitutional, which is all about the US Constitution and how it came to be what it is.
- And then most recently, Cunningham did Moonrise, an excellent narrative documentary about the space race and moon landing, showing a lot of the darker parts of the story that most of us don't learn about in school.
- Another excellent show about the US Constitution is Radiolab's special series More Perfect, in which each episode is a breakdown and history of one of the amendments.
- For me, the granddaddy of history podcasts is Mike Duncan's The History of Rome, which, over the course of 179 episodes, charts the history of Rome from its pre-republican era through the fall of the Western Empire.
- I also very much enjoy Duncan's current show, Revolutions, which is all about different revolutions throughout history. Each of the show's 10 seasons covers a different revolution, including the English Revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, and more. The current (and final) season is covering the Russian Revolution, and it's excellent.
- Finally, Scene On Radio is, in my opinion, a must-listen. Season 2 is about the history of race and racism in the US, season 3 is about the roots of misogyny and toxic masculinity in our society, and the current season is about inequality in America. Informative, engaging, and excellent.
These are all ongoing shows, so they're not necessarily great for bingeing, but they all have great, long-form conversations about books and literature, and are excellent for a long listen. In alphabetical order:
- David Naimon's Between the Covers has long-form interviews with authors across many genres, including literary fiction, SF and fantasy, and poetry. David is an excellent reader and has some of the best questions of any interview I know.
- Rachel Zucker's show Commonplace features "conversations with poets (and other people)." Rachel gets to deep and intimate places with her guests, and I'm always impressed by what a close rapport she establishes in her conversations. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
- Maris Kreizman's The Maris Review always feels like two pals having the most interesting conversation, it's great. This one includes a lot of excellent memoir and creative nonfiction, much more than other lit shows I listen to.
- The Poet Salon is interviews with poets, and what I love about it is that it manages to have insightful and profound conversations while also showing how fun poetry can be.
- KUT's This Is Just to Say is another excellent poetry show. The host, Carrie Fountain, is herself one of my favorite poets, and I love how she gets her guests to talk not just about their own work, but also about other poems that they love. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
- VS is hosted by Danez Smith and Franny Choi, two of my favorite poets. Their interviews are top notch, and I also just love the way their friendship is so evident when they talk to each other in the intros and outros. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
- Courtney Balestier's show WMFA is another favorite of mine. She's talked to a wide variety of writers but with a heavy focus on fiction, and I like how she focuses on craft. I also quite like the minisodes she posts during off weeks, which are short personal monologues on creativity.
- Finally, I wanted to mention my own show, Keep the Channel Open, which is a series of conversations about art and creativity with people working in all different creative fields, including writers, visual artists, podcasters, curators, and more. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
Last, but not least, here are some shows that didn't fit into the other categories but which I love and which I think are great for extended listening. In alphabetical order:
- Helen Zaltzman's podcast The Allusionist is all about language, and what makes it so great is that it is fun. A lot of the episodes are humorous, many are deeply empathetic, all of them are entertaining and informative.
- Maggie Tokuda-Hall's show Drunk Safari is, sadly, no longer in production, but it is still available to listen to! Essential animal facts as brought to you by dilettantes. This show is the very definition of "delightful." (Content notes: strong language)
- Ear Hustle is about daily life inside prison, and what makes it unique is that it's told by and made by residents and former residents of San Quentin prison. It's a really well-made show, and it shares stories that many of us don't hear often enough. (Content notes: some strong language, references to violence.)
- The McElroy Brothers Will Be In Trolls World Tour is a hilarious faux-documentary series that the McElroys made as a way to sort of scam their way into getting cast in the movie. Honestly, it is the reason I am excited to see that movie. (Content notes: strong language [I think?])
- Of course, the McElroys' flagship show is My Brother, My Brother, and Me, "an advice show for the modren [sic] era." (Each episode opens with the disclaimer: "The McElroy Brothers are not experts, and their advice should never be followed.) I reckon many of you already know this one but it consistently makes my day better when I listen to it, so I couldn't not mention it. (Content notes: strong language, crude humor)
- My Friend Chuck, is by comedian McKenzie Goodwin and erotica author Chuck Tingle, and it's one of my new favorite shows. Each week McKenzie reviews one of Chuck's books, they talk about movies and local news, and they prove love is real. It's very funny and deeply decent. (Content notes: sexual content, some strong language)
- Only Here is a show by the San Diego NPR station, KPBS, and it is all about the unique culture of the San Diego-Tijuana border region, the things that happen only here.
Obviously, I do hope that, wherever you are, you and the people you love are staying safe and healthy, and that this crisis passes quickly. In the meantime, I hope this list is useful to you.
New LikeWise Fiction: "Acknowledgments," by Maggie Shipstead
Episode 10 of LikeWise Fiction features "Acknowledgments," by Maggie Shipstead. On the eve of the publication of his self-referential debut novel, The Canon According to D. M. Murphy, Daniel M. Murphy narrowly avoids a moment of self-awareness.
A more nimble writer than I would find a subtle way to mark this moment as formative, even primal, the ur-accomplishment that would forever lie beyond the green light at the end of the dock. But I will say only this, openly and bluntly: The sound of my own words issuing from the mouth of a pretty woman brought me ecstasy such as I had not known life might contain.
Listen to the story at: