So they reinvent a fake history for ourselves that doesn’t deal with the complexities. And I think in some ways that’s what the south and the upper Midwest have in common is that there’s a delusion at work about who we were. And that’s why we have a hard time about who we are. So that the kind of self congratulatory history that passes for heritage keeps us from seeing ourselves and doing better.
In the end nothing matters but the work. You can’t control how it’s taken, and the act of telling a story always involves a gap. Sometimes confusion is the risk of ambiguity–I say that to students all the time. It’s true at the fireside and it’s true in the parlor, and it’s true in made-up towns and New York. Two humans face one another, words come out of one, words go into the other mind through the ears and eyes of the listener. It’s a story. It’s simple. The gap is the thing. Make sure you build the bridge.
We have to keep the wolf from the door… We tell stories to continue ourselves. We all think an exception is going to be made in our case, and we’re going to live forever. And being a human is actually arriving at the understanding that that’s not going to be. Story is there to just remind us that it’s just okay.
My favorite episodes of This American Life, because this is a question I sometimes get asked
And by “sometimes” I guess that shakes out to maybe just twice in the last few months? Once was Dave just now and I kind of brain-dumped on Twitter, then realized perhaps it would be helpful and /or benevolent to collect them all in one place. (I always assume everyone listens to the show already but obviously this isn’t true, but either anyway it’s basically just one of my favorite things, and has been very important for me as A Writer, so anytime you want to talk about it with me, just go for it.)
First, my favorites as of 2009, compiled in a list for Paste. Recordings for Someone (specifically, the insane Little Mermaid story) was the first episode I ever heard, in reruns sometime around 2006, so I like to suggest that as a starting place if you’ve somehow never listened. Oh and I think Notes on Camp was the first one that made me cry.
Recent favorites (which I’ve heard via the iPhone app, which is excellent and very much worth whatever few dollars it costs—you can stream every single episode ever for free once you buy it!) include Back to Penn State and The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms.
I also really love Georgia Rambler from 2010. And Trail of Tears, which is just an hour of Sarah Vowell tracing her Cherokee ancestors’ path on the Trail of Tears (including an amazingly hilarious and righteously angry stop in my hometown) and which aired in 1998, I just heard for the first time recently and may be my all-time favorite.
All this was prompted by my exhortation that if you own stuff, you should probably listen to the most recent episode, which is, frankly, gutting.