#ListeningUp

It’s a rare person not on the podcast craze in our time. I usually can’t go more than a week without hearing of a recommendation for a new one from one of my other podcasts, from social media, or from wait staff or bartenders. Occasionally I’ll get recommendations from friends and family, but for some reason they only recommend single episodes of something or start out recommending radio programs that may also be available as a podcast.

Some podcasts I have been listening to for decades; most of the NPR podcasts fall into that category. When I graduated from college I missed classes so much that I tuned into public radio nearly around the clock, a habit made even more intense by the fact that one of my part-time jobs out of college was data entry for a health insurance company. In the mornings I would tune my radio/headset combination to NPR while everyone else listened to rock or country music on theirs (this was Southwest Missouri in the early aughts; coincidentally I was the first person on the floor to know that 9/11 was happening because of my listening choice). I also listened to audio books during pledge season, picking out classic literature from the library.

After moving to California, my first manager there bought me an iPod as a performance achievement gift, and then I could download podcasts from my laptop into it and listen to them as I walked to lunch or during sightseeing adventures. Podcasts always seem to serve as a way to fill the silence; I had moved to California expecting worldly conversation and instead heard a lot of cell phone conversations that were watered down with bragging and filler words. Podcasts blocked out these disappointments, but they also blocked out a lot of the life that I loved in the Bay; now when I go out for a walk, or hop on transit, the earbuds stay stashed in my bag. But I still listen to a LOT of podcasts, even if I don’t listen to them as a multitask activity much anymore. They are like the old time radio programs of the early 20th century, and, yet, still like the classes that I miss at college.

Here are the podcasts I miss, love, and do my best to keep up with when I can:

  • The Writer’s Almanac – This one went the way of the dodo when its host was looped into the business end of the #MeToo movement, but I still listen to old episodes from time to time. The podcast was a 5-minute overview of famous literary and cultural events in history that happened that day, and was aired daily, weekday and weekend;
  • Fresh Air – This one goes all the way back to when I was still in college; Fresh Air is something my mother would catch occasionally so we would have something to share. My favorite interviews are the ones with writers and comedians, but they did have an interview last year with Springsteen that I loved, and Rachel Maddow is also a favorite (she’s been on twice);
  • (Speaking of Maddow…) Bag Man – This was a recent, limited series podcast from Rachel Maddow on the story behind Spiro Agnew’s troubled political career and his fall from power under Nixon. A lot of people remember Agnew as being caught up in the Watergate issue, but he actually had nothing to do with Watergate and was a loaded morality bomb of his own. This podcast actually falls into the “I miss my history courses” reason for listening, and Maddow is a sparkling storyteller;
  • The Daily (New York Times) – This podcast is one of my morning espresso shots; the opening sequence is about 20 minutes of in-depth coverage on one topical item, and then the host comes back for two-minute recap of top headlines. If I don’t want to listen to an entire Trump speech (who does), I wait until this podcast and let them give me the highlights;
  • Up First – This podcast is NPR’s version of The Daily, and is my other shot of espresso. Up First carries a variety of stories in their 20 minutes, however. Both The Daily and Up First are weekday podcasts, not airing on weekends (and in The Daily’s case, on holidays);
  • The California Report/The California Report Magazine – Like Up First and The Daily, but California news only, or how national events affect Californians. There are some lovely history segments, unexpected popular music tie-ins, and a healthy sense of humor with these folks, with just enough gravitas to make updates of the wildfires and the border crossings meaningful as well;
  • Recode Decode – Kara Swisher is one of my biggest heroes, and not just because she has a track history of holding top Silicon Valley leadership accountable. This podcast introduces me to new companies (employment opportunities?) and reenforces, with every podcast, the importance of letting your intelligence shine out, even if you aren’t always encouraged to do so as a woman;
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour – Another NPR favorite. I sometimes find myself annoyed at the easy criticisms for difficult cultural reviews on this show, but for the most part this show tells me about things I might miss in my radar;
  • Make Me Smart – Not NPR but commonly mistaken for being part of the NPR family, Make Me Smart is a half-tech, half-business podcast that kind of works as a companion piece to Recode Decode, with a twist; listeners are advised to send their expertise in for topics as well. There are interviews with topic experts, book club selections, and a special segment where interview subjects and listeners alike are asked the question, “What is something you thought you knew, but it turns out you didn’t?”;
  • All Songs Considered – I used to listen to this podcast a lot when I lived in the Bay because it was long (an hour plus at times) and had enough variety in music to make me happy. When I started a job in San Diego a coworker friend would recommend new music to me all of the time, so I took this podcast off my list, but when I moved on to another job and didn’t hear from him as much I went back to listening to this podcast. The hosts of this program have interviews, best of recent releases episodes, artist hosting episodes, and variety shows for holidays, and the banter is great;
  • Book Riot (any podcast) – Some of the Book Riot podcasts are audio, some are video, and some are by paid subscription, but all of them are good. Book podcasts can be pretty dry and hinting at profound, but these hosts have just enough humor to dress up any aspect of reading (and writing);
  • So Many Damn Books – Unrelated to Book Riot, but another good reader/writer podcast. This podcast features interviews and book recs (I particularly loved their gift suggestions for Christmas);
  • This American Life – Almost everyone knows this one based on associations with Mike Birbiglia and David Sedaris, but if not…this podcast is a collection of three to six segments on a common theme, sometimes topical, sometimes historical, and always quirky. I deeply loved a most recent episode on libraries, which they linked to the Room or Requirement in Hogwarts, and which I heard right after finishing Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, and it brought some tears and laughter;
  • 30 For 30 – Because, baseball.

Yes…I do have a difficult time keeping up with all of them, and even listen to individual episodes of even more.

But they keep me learning, keep me curious, and keep me listening. 🎧

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#SelfDoubt vs #SelfConsciousness

There’s this actor, maybe you’ve heard of him, a fella by the name of Tom Hanks.

Mr. Hanks has been in a fair number of films, he’s produced some, he’s directed some. My personal favorite of his movies is the one pictured above, Cast Away, and it was my favorite movie of all time for a long time. I still watch it about once a month; it helps me process loneliness back in solitude and gratitude when I need to.

Cast Away did not make Tom look glamorous. Hanks’s character (and to play the character you have to look the part) started off the story overweight and a control freak of time (which he tries to explain to the Russians, if you want irony in 2017); by the end of the story he is shaggy and rail thin, no longer a lover of seafood, grateful for something as small as a Swiss Army knife, and someone in awe of time and fate. There are now a lot of photos and memes of this film on the web and social media of Hanks looking nearly gross; ain’t nothing gorgeous in it.

For the past three years Hanks has also been working on a collection of short fiction for publication. The work isn’t necessarily Pulitzer-worthy, but it’s entertaining and touching in some places; one short story is so funny it took me about two hours to read it. Shortly after I finished the book I looked for media supplements on the book; this task was a bit of a struggle because the book was released right before the release of Hanks in the film The Post, and most interviews involve the book for about 30 seconds and the film for about 12 minutes. But there was an interview filmed for The New York Times, on their program Times Talks, where Hanks was interviewed primarily about the book and answered questions from social media and the audience.

One question asked Hanks how he overcomes self-doubt. The question was ambiguous enough to apply to any career in creative work, and Hanks answered as though it applied to his acting, since that was the creative work most folks knew him for. His belief is that self-doubt is the same as self-consciousness; get rid of both and you can create. Sometimes the role requires that you look ridiculous or that you do something you don’t want to do to play the role because there might be a picture of it later…you have dispense of that. You have to make the mistakes and trust the process, he explained.

Just before I read the Hanks book I read another book, Sourdough, by Robin Sloan, that took me to the same place as Hanks’s thoughts on creative process. In the book the main character of Lois has to deal with Silicon Valley hipsters who are too cool for school in product development and nutrition; she also has to deal with analog purist foodies who think that anything high-tech is a fad or corruption. Lois, from the Midwest and feeling far from cosmopolitan, finds joy from simple food and makes mistakes in learning to cook and bake, not to mention making lots of mistakes in marrying tech and life hacks in that cooking and baking. Lois looks silly a lot. Lois is nowhere near glamorous.

Yet, in the reading of Sloan’s book and Hanks’s book and his interview, I feel like I’ve got a standard to move toward. Make mistakes, Jo; so I go back to cooking myself, making messes. I pull out the baseball novel I was working on and botch it up or improve it for one of my writing sessions; I do the same with sessions devoted to other writings. I very well may be making all kinds of mistakes right now in this blog post. I think that’s the place where the best stuff comes from, and I’ll continue to do so. ✨

#NerdCulture

Sorry, Mom…not my f-bomb, but still my amen to Mr. Kennedy’s sentiment.

It’s no secret: my apartment is a structural testament to a deep love of books. I have multiple bookcases, one of them taller than I am, and multiple prints from the designer at Ideal Bookshelf, artwork of differing genres all over the apartment, even on the bathroom walls and over the kitchen sink. I have a pin-up calendar in the kitchen of Hot Dudes Reading, because I think the sexiest thing a man can do is read. (The other stuff a man can do is nice, too, but kind of down the list after reading, writing, cooking, and playing a musical instrument.)

This love of books has gained me some grief in my time…painted me as a hermit, a snob, and a…nerd. The last distinction was the easiest to take (hermit is a struggle because reading is often mistaken to be exclusively solitary an activity, and snob is hard to take because I like literary fiction but the super-pretentious stuff I cannot handle well), after all I have “my books and my poetry to protect me,” to start with from Simon & Garfunkel. The definition of nerd-dom from my past experience (whether with books, in high school band, or in my choice of PBS) has usually involved some kind of social banishment. Sometimes there would be other nerds, a breakfast club of us playing all the tubas and bullied by the football players.

It seems, though, as Dan has so eloquently stated above, that nerd culture has kicked out some of its base. In some cases, some of us have to apologize for liking Coldplay, the planet formerly known as Pluto, The Big Bang Theory, or (gasp) Shakespeare. Can’t I just like the sonnets and be done? But there’s proof now he didn’t write them. So Pluto and Shakespeare can go the way of symbols, like Prince or Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.

Look, newcomers to my lifetime of separation from society…if you find my eyeglasses and my Bradbury suddenly so very fascinating, can you…let me have my Richard Bach and my Woody Allen and my Hemingway anyway? I promise to love the rest of your hipster crossover and borrowing, and let you continue to pretend that you have the same awkward default as Issa Rae. I’ll look the other way at your new-found love of Trapper Keepers if you don’t say that my definition of nerd, lived so long, isn’t enough. 🤓

*****

The past couple of weeks in my world have been a bit hairy at work, for reasons it’s best to keep confidential at the moment, so here’s how I’ve been medicating lately…

Reading, lately: A lot of chef, food critic, and restaurateur memoirs for some reason…but I am trying to give up a lot of meat, dairy, and eggs and therefore my excitement about food is a bit diminished, so I’m hoping to gain some food love back, somewhere.

Listening, lately: nothing in particular and everything in small doses…from Jidenna to Marcus Mumford covering Dylan to James Bay like an old blanket to Ahi to…Springsteen, always. Repeat gets abused.

Watching, lately: HBO’s Insecure, because, well, she IS a nerd, ain’t no hiding. A lot of baseball because the MLB put a For Sale sign on the rest of the season and instead of $25 a month, the rest of the year is $10. Not sure how much of that applies to post-season, but I guess I’ll find out, right? With the current work situation I watch a lot of dumb comedies, like Disjointed on Netflix and Never Stop Never Stopping on HBO, sometimes on repeat like the music.

All of this, and it’s still hot and sticky in San Diego. I still run air conditioning. This forgotten corner of the world is always sunny and festering like a Petri dish. I’m looking forward to autumn, well, someday. 🍁🍂

#DearMrBradbury

Comic Con came to San Diego last weekend, and I have never been in San Diego during one. As a literary snob I'm not much on pop culture, particularly ad nauseum, but I kept my mind open in the beginning days of the con, enjoying the Greek chorus of Cartoon Network balloons:

And the Batmobile:

And, to be fair, half of these pop references came from literature; Congressional Representative John Lewis's graphic collection March, and handmaids, and pedicabs with chairs a la George RR Martin.

But by Day 4 I wanted the lot of the world gone, and got depressed by so many people, and calmly stayed in my apartment under the A/C fan and read and watched the entire first season of HBO's Insecure. I probably drank too much, which didn't help for the long term, but helped at the time.

I needed a game plan after that week, because if situational depression hits you, you need a game plan to deal with it. I write every day, and every day the writing is more of a drill than a process; sit down with a notebook the size of a bar of soap, spit 6 pages, go home. More of a nervous tick than a process, more of therapy than a process (which isn't bad as an approach to therapy, but still), and I realized there was no process.

So there's a new mission: Saturdays I write short fiction. I write a short story a week, like Mr. Bradbury recommended once, and the editing would come when that fiction muscle hits the wall. When the first drafts no longer become a process, then I build on the process. But there was no fiction before, and there shall be now.

The story came out scared and stilted but it's out, and next week there'll be another. I'll stack 'em up. I was so scared in the Midwest of rotting on the couch in bad winter and summer weather; and I lost all patience after Comic Con. If it's going to be hot and weird humidity, and if I have to struggle viciously with loneliness, then dammit…all this shall be to do what I love. I shall make up facts…and fashion them into stories…and tell all the fake news I want, but in a way revealing more truth than idiots in all the governments.

And, please, Lord, let me tell it "puddle-wonderful." ✨

*****

What I Have Been Reading Lately: So much, because, the library for free, and it's too hot and pricey to go out much, so a LOT of reading…How To Be Human, Lucky You, The Zookeeper's Wife, and, currently, Faithful by Alice Hoffman. I get through a lot of New Yorker issues.

What I Have Been Watching Lately: The Zookeeper's Wife, and, predictably, not as good as the book. Paterson over and over because it soothes me. Moneyball because I miss Aaron Sorkin dialogue. Insecure because it makes me laugh and I love her rhymes. Okja, and a documentary out of the Bay Area called What the Health. Cut back on a LOT of meat, eggs, and dairy because of that movie. No, I'm not vegan (I can't be that disciplined and love tasting as I do), but when I mindlessly snack it's mostly hummus, veggies, and fruit. I feel a lot better but I'm still waiting for my skin to clear.

And baseball…so…much…baseball. If you watch enough baseball nuances start to amaze you or crack you up. I was watching a broadcast of the Blue Jays/A's game in Toronto last Thursday and was having a hard time determining the strike zone by the ump's calls. I thought I was losing my mind until I realized that both batters and pitchers were getting frustrated as well. By the 5th inning the Blue Jays' manager had enough and started heckling the ump from the dugout, and then was promptly ejected. Rattled, the Blue Jays' pitcher started grousing to himself on the mound, so one pitch later the ump tossed him, too. The catcher came unglued because his manager and pitcher were ejected a pitch apart, so…yep, the catcher got tossed, too. The crew chief for the umps had to come over and stand by his home plate ump, but I hope the communication was something to the effect of "Cool it, will ya?"

Weird, but funny as all get-out to watch.

Sometimes a girl needs distractions; sometimes she needs any game plan to get up off the dirt.

#NightstandChronicles #Continue #EightSecondsLeftInOvertime

Here, hold my spot.

June’s gonna get away from me and then I’m going to feel the failure more, so here’s a blog post in recap, a replay of a little ditty I like to call “So This is How We Treat Each Other Now.”

The ditty with verses about how during and after the election the catfish walked off wearing a red trucker’s hat, and you miss that catfish, but maybe them dumping you like a school lunch was the final indicator that maybe you shouldn’t have spent so much time getting attached to start with.

Not great timing, though.

So the introvert spends some time alone, finding out more about humanity in fiction than in people.  I hate doing that.  But I’m alone a lot anyway, alone in passions and in person, so might as well disappear into empathy:


I miss compassion.  And if you don’t think it’s possible to learn humanity from a novel, then may I present Exhibit A, which I am reading right now:


This book, like many others, utilizes a wild animal to demonstrate kindness.  One of the characters gets it.  The rest would rather not go there.  While I don’t advocate befriending foxes in order to have companionship, I am encouraged by the fact that foxes or rabbits or squirrels or seagulls don’t use social media.

Yep, it’s a blog…online, nonetheless…and I’ll drop the subject there.

It turns out that my friends can be found in the following pools:

  • People I work with
  • People I worked with
  • People I used to write with (2)
  • People I buy stuff from

Not a great pool.  Some great people in it, but they are busy, and most don’t read. The danger is, the ones who have the most time for me are the first group and the last.

Which means I’m working too much and I’m spending too much and I have no boundaries.  Alone time, then.  With foxes.  Not so much social media.  I don’t want to see who else has walked away because I’m me, and not, instead, loved me because I’m me.

On to what I have been doing lately, as Jamaica would start.  ✨

What I Have Been Reading Lately:  The afore-mentioned fox fable, written by a lovely Brit from the Guardian.  Between this lady, Jeanette Winterson, JoJo Moyes, and JK Rowling, the UK seems to have my ears these days.  I am still working on the Chabon book, though (Moonglow)…more like lingering in it.  Today’s library visit will hopefully include a book on Islamic issues and an old Edward Abbey favorite my brother got me hooked on about six years ago.

What I Have Been Watching Lately:  Still watching Last Week Tonight, still working my way through the entire series of West Wing (again; I usually do this about once a year), still watching a LOT of baseball.  I say “watching” but most of it is the free MLB game of the day playing on my phone and I glance at it if I need a distraction from another work nightmare.  The broadcasts are a boys club of guys trying to crack each other up and sometimes they succeed in getting me to do that.  The free game is rarely the Giants, which is probably a good thing; I still bleed black and orange, but years like this means I get back to the passion of the game in general…and other players in their glory.  Also, I am hooked to the footage of the Flash and the exciting installments of his wins and losses.

I’m also still watching Real Time.  Judge away, America; while you’re at it, I also like other stuff I’m not supposed to, like Hemingway’s fiction and Woody Allen films.  The floor is yours to throw stones.  Yes, Bill Maher does offend me from time to time.  But he wakes me up, too, like Friday’s opening segment with Maajid Nawaz.  Some of my teachers in university angered me beyond measure and got me thinking in the same semester, and I’m used to be offended in otherwise productive discussions.

What I’m Watching On Film:  Last weekend was The Edge of Seventeen–dark, but I love the actors, so that one’s a keeper.  (Pro tip:  I have to dock all movies with puke scenes as 4 instead of 5 stars, so this film had a blemish in case you are also of the nature that you don’t feel you should have to pay any kind of admission price for pieces where someone pukes/pees/poops/etc.). On the rental list is The United Kingdom (David Oyelowo strikes again) and I Am Not Your Negro, which I saw at an indie theatre here in San Diego but which I loved enough to watch again.  Also, I have been rewatching, over and over, the movie Paterson with Adam Driver and Moonlight.  They soothe me.  When movies about verse-writing bus drivers and violence soothe you something’s probably not right in Denmark, but that’s my inclination these days.

What I’m Listening To:  for starters, today with the current social situation, this.  That song is a recurring theme in my life, and I take full responsibility.  Also, a band called First Aid Kit has a lovely song called “I Found A Way” that paints me over so that I can sit in a shadow and nod my head to the beat and agreement.  Also, the remastered Sgt Pepper’s, and the solo album by Dan Auerbach (don’t strain yourself; if you are trying to place that name then here’s a hint–Black Keys).  I have got a dosage of country from the latest season of The Ranch on Netflix, a wonderfully senseless show that I can also play while working to keep from getting spooked (like cattle might), and danced a little in my living room with Garth Brooks’s “Friends in Low Places.”

I do get out, too…dancing on Friday night to a jazz band by the harbor…walks down the jacaranda lane of Kettner…fireworks…cattle drives to promote the local county fair.

Still looking for humanity, after all.  ♥️

Under A Gun

How many of us write/paint/compose/record under the threat of interruption? How many of us create under the guise of every second being borrowed time?

This is something that I have often struggled with. When I lived in San Francisco and lead writing groups, there was the constant interruption of latecomers to sessions, regardless of what the instructions were on the Meetup page. One of the other leaders had the right idea; he held his sessions in a limited-access shared office space, and if you didn’t show up on time, you didn’t get in. But mine were all in cafes and libraries, which gave a variety of poor planners that opportunity to get an audience.

The arrangement finally caught up with me in San Diego County, and I stopped hosting meetings. If folks wanted a group, they would have to show initiative, and people who interrupt a whole meeting with excuses often don’t possess that kind of initiative.

With non-writers or non-creatives, it can even stretch into the “real” world. To make up for being an artist (something that I’m often encouraged to apologize for or be shamed by), I try my best to over-compensate in terms of being responsible. Both at home and at work, the domestic work comes first, and then, if I have all of my chores done, then I write. It makes me think of that jazz standard “Robert Frost.”

Bobby don’t you worry about the dishes,
And don’t you even think about those pans,
Bobby you know it’s not good that an artist like yourself
Should be walkin’ around this world with dishpan hands.

Of course, a little housework and tasks unrelated to writing are good for me…they give me a chance to breathe. But expectations are different than that. If I ask for time to write, then the others are resentful that I’m not doing everything I used to do. If I try to make writing work around what everyone needs, the writing is either non-existent, the topic is around all the crap expected from me, or the writing session is short enough to boil an egg by.

What is a writer to do?

Again, I go to the classics…William Carlos Williams depended so much upon his prescription pads for poetry, and so we have a Post-It note on plums. (He wrote great short fiction, too, and I like to imagine that was done in a fit of creative luxury when he knew interruption wasn’t going to happen. But when would that be for a doctor who still made house calls?) The discipline can dictate, but the discipline has to be present from all sides, with initiative from all sides, not letting any excuse stop the writer, not even interruption.

I am writing this post on an iPhone, because I have been expecting interruption this entire time. What rare sweetness to linger with a piece, one playing-card-sized screen at a time, and make it. It’s almost like making it to the next level for a gamer.