Because I love storytelling and the kind of interviews that wow the listener – and because I drive 2,000 miles per month – I’ve become a bit of a podcast junkie over the last few years.
How To Be Amazing
One of my favorites is Michael Ian Black’s How to Be Amazing, so when I saw it included in SF Sketchfest’s 2017 line-up, I bought tickets and rearranged my travels so I’d be back in time to catch the live version.
What I like about How To Be Amazing is that MIB does that thing that I always want to do with awesome people, which is to sit them down and find out how they got that way. The first episode I ever heard featured Bob Odenkirk – it was fantastic. He talked a lot about his mistakes along the way, which is always reassuring (Stars! They’re just like us!) and spoke about behaving badly to people at times and his regret around that(Stars! They’re just like…). So yes, you’re entertained while learning about the guests, their lives and whatnot, but what I really love is that life lessons naturally emerge – and I know that sounds super cheesy, but the whole premise is “how to be amazing” and if you want to up your own odds at blowing people’s minds with your genius, why not be inspired and glean some guidance when it’s offered?
Going into the live show, I had no idea who MIB’s guest, Grace Helbig, was, but now I do! I feel about a thousand years old saying this: She’s a famous YouTuber! Yep. Super funny. Look her up. Do I have anything in common with a 31-year-old who got famous on the internet? Probably not! (Definitely less in common, I imagine, as my 35-year-old friend who came with me.) (New book idea: All My Friends Are 30: A 40-Something Woman’s Vicarious Living.) But wait! Helbig is also an introvert who found a way to put herself out, way out, into the world. And she had a great line about how extroverts recharge by being around other people, while introverts need solitude to restore themselves, require space to “import the world” so they can then “export creativity.”
Shaping experience into something worth sharing is how art gets made. And while the concept of going forth to learn isn’t new, the specific idea of retreating to better pull the world in is a way of thinking about it I hadn’t considered. (And a more awesome excuse for skipping the parties: “Love to come, but doing some world-importing tonight!”)
Helbig also talked about “following your fear.” Again, not new ground (“You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” etc.), but being reminded of what we already know can inspire just as well, especially if you’re someone who pushes her way through fear on the daily. Like when I was wavering about whether or not to paddle out into near double-over surf yesterday (did) or allowing myself to have a conversation with someone in which I’m left completely vulnerable (working on it) or breaking away from the comfort of bad habits unsure what will show up to replace them (so far, a weird mix of relief and anxiety).
The next day, I had a chance to put these both into action.
Okay, it wasn’t “fear” exactly that had me considering skipping out on Crybabies, another podcast event I held tickets to. More like I didn’t have a date – my original plan of bringing my husband to the City fell apart as he had an art show to prep for and work demands of his own – and the thought of going by myself caused a little loneliness to settle in. I didn’t even know the podcast, I’d just recognized the names of women I admire: Susan Orlean (host) and Mary Roach (guest).
But thinking about the need to pursue the new, to inhabit adventures, to face discomfort, all of it propelled me into my car (I wavered so long I missed my public transit opportunity) and over to the Eureka Theatre.
Where I learned that what Orlean and her co-host, actor Sarah Thyre, do is invite guests to share the music, books, movies, television and other cultural cues that move them to tears and discuss why that’s so. For example, guest Adam Savage brought a Chance the Rapper song and clip from the movie Abyss. Roach read – or tried to read through weeping – a passage from Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. (If you don’t know the story of Shackleton’s failed 1914 attempt to cross the Antarctic continent and his subsequent struggle to keep his 28-man crew alive for the next two years, get on it. “Incredible” understates their journey. I recommend the documentary.)
Fortunately all the crying jags unfold in a context of humor. In fact, at one point Thyre related asking a former guest if there was a word for when you cry and laugh at the same time. “Yes,” the guest replied, “insanity.” Crazy it may be, but also cathartic.
Naturally, this all made me think of my own “cues” – and how terrifying it might be to share them. At least when a successful celebrity type talks about Pavlovian sobbing in response to a corny movie, they still have their fame to fall back on. But the average person? What if you think my prompts are ridiculous?
“There is a fallacy that the powerful emotion of youth mellows with time. Not true. One learns to control and suppress it. But it doesn’t lessen. It simply hides and concentrates itself in more discreet places. When one accidentally stumbles into one of these abysses, the pain is spectacular.” – from Great House by Nicole Krauss
I spent all summer bawling to Beyoncé’s Lemonade film. The visual beauty, the assertion of power, the lyricism woven throughout, the rejection of mistreatment on all fronts during a presidential campaign in which we were beat about the head with threats and the seemingly perpetual abuse continued unstemmed, the resurrection of love – it does me in.
The Sandlot. The whole movie really, but especially the part when Bennie makes Smalls look competent so that he’ll be accepted as part of the team. “Just stand out there and stick your glove out in the air. I’ll take care of it,” he says. And then the end, when the two are grown up and Bennie steals home – tears, every time.
Bill Withers’ “I Can’t Write Left-Handed.”
This scene from Lord of the Rings.
Recently, this song by the Veils.
This list could go on for hours – but the sunrise is unfolding outside the window, nudging me to move on.